Saturday, January 15, 2011

Students’ rights weighed as colleges try to assess threats

A growing majority of colleges nationwide are keeping tabs on students through "threat assessment teams" charged with identifying dangerous students, causing debate to erupt over how much power the schools should have as they try to flag disturbing behavior.

Two states — Virginia and Illinois — now legally require such teams and 80% of colleges nationwide have started them since the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead. At Pima Community College in Arizona, a Behavior Assessment Committee identified alleged gunman Jared Loughner as a person of concern months before a weekend massacre that killed six and injured 13 others, and the school suspended him.

Questions are now being raised about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the teams. In the wake of the Arizona shooting, some experts are questioning whether the school could have done more to help Loughner, or to alert authorities beyond campus borders. "There's a dangerous person put out in the community," says Stetson University College of Law professor Peter Lake.

Other critics say administrators may try to use threat assessment teams for their own purposes. In a case involving a student dismissed from Valdosta State University, a federal judge ruled that the former president improperly called for an investigation into the student's mental health, employment and grades mostly because the student opposed plans to build a campus parking garage.

Since April 2007, news reports show that at least 67 people have been killed and 69 others injured in attacks by U.S. college students.

Threat assessment teams, also given softer names such as "behavioral intervention" or "student of concern" committees, spread quickly after the Virginia Tech tragedy, where various officials each noticed red flags but didn't connect the dots in time to stop Seung Hui Cho from going on a rampage.

Nobody tracked threat assessment teams before 2007, but experts such as Brett Sokolow, past president of the National Behavior Intervention Team Association, say about 20 colleges had them before Virginia Tech. The association estimates about 1,600 campuses have them today.

United Educators, which insures 1,160 schools and colleges, recommends such teams as a way to identify students who may pose a risk on campus, gather information to assess the situation, and determine whether there is need for an intervention. That could involve, for example, an evaluation for disability services, a referral for medical treatment, a call to parents or suspension.

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to submit confidential reports detailing concerns about behaviors they've seen. The reports go to a committee, which meets regularly to discuss cases and intervene when necessary. "We try to look at each case objectively, to see whether we're dealing with a goofy, immature kid, or someone who's truly a danger," says Patricia Lunt, head of Campus Assessment, Response and Evaluation (CARE) Teams at Northern Virginia Community College, which enrolls 78,000 students.

Last year, the first year the school began tracking students, 130 reports were submitted, about half involving "concerning" behaviors such as verbal threats, erratic or disrespectful behavior or talk of suicide. Fewer than five students were dismissed, Lunt said.

Pima Community College, which suspended Loughner and steered him toward mental health treatment, has been praised for following standard policies. "The school did what they were supposed to do, which is protect their school, require an evaluation," says Brian Van Brunt, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling at Western Kentucky University.

Some mental health officials argue that suspension is inappropriate. "The fear is that rather than using (teams) as a vehicle to support students, they're using them as a vehicle to get rid of them," says Karen Bower, senior staff attorney at Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, an advocate for mentally ill people.

"Colleges are in a unique position to engage students and work with them, support them to get them the help they need …They are in an environment where people can reach out and make a difference." She says the existence of threat assessment teams might discourage students from getting the help they need.

Students' rights groups say administrators are infringing on students' free-speech rights. "Putting innocent outbursts into a campus database is a chilling way to police discourse on campus," says Adam Kissel, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "In the name of security, behavioral intervention teams are encouraged to go far beyond what they need to do."

Advocates acknowledge colleges face complicated decisions. "No one wants to be the college who fails to react. But no one wants to be the college that overreacts," Sokolow says. "The key is do due diligence."


British Labour Party's showpiece school closes after only two years

In good Leftist fashion, its design brief was to ‘rip up the rulebook’ -- and it did. It paid no heed to its potential clients and arrogance got its just reward. Parents just didn't like it and refused to send their kids there

A flagship secondary school championed by Labour is to close just two years after it opened – but the taxpayer will be paying for it for another 23 years. Christ the King in Huyton, Merseyside, was held up by former education secretary Ed Balls as a shining example of what the defeated government had done for pupils.

The school, which cost £24million to build and set up under the controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI), was meant to transform the prospects of children in one of the most deprived areas of Britain, and its design brief was to ‘rip up the rulebook’ and inspire ‘awe and wonder’ in pupils.

But it has become the first school opened under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme to close because not enough parents will send their children there.

The joint Roman Catholic-Church of England school should have 900 pupils but has been half-empty since it opened because Catholic parents want their children educated at a full faith school and are prepared to send them up to four miles away.

Yet because it was built under the PFI, its private sector builder and owner will be paid millions for the next 25 years.

Private Finance Initiatives allow the government to build schools and hospitals without raising any public money up front. They were introduced under John Major’s Tory administration in the early 1990s, but taken up with huge enthusiasm by Labour.

Under PFI a private company constructs the building, and then leases it to the government for, typically, 25 or 30 years, before it reverts to public ownership.

In theory it sounds like a good way to invest in infrastructure, but in reality the taxpayer ends up paying far more over the long term. As Chancellor Gordon Brown regularly used PFI to keep spending off the public books and stay within his strict borrowing rules.

While in power Labour created 544 PFI projects, mostly schools and hospitals, which will end up costing taxpayers almost five times the original sum.

Under the original plans, the projected cost was expected to be £3,100 a year for every family in the country. But now, according to Treasury estimates, the PFIs will cost a total of £245billion by 2047-48 – or £14,800 for every household.

Labour had planned to rebuild or refurbish all 3,500 secondary schools in England by 2023 at a total cost of £55billion, but the Coalition scrapped schemes which had yet to get under way.

At last year’s Labour Party conference, Mr Balls hailed Christ the King as ‘magnificent’ and said it was a ‘tragedy’ that his successor Michael Gove had scrapped the school-building scheme.

But the Christ the King project, drawn up by Labour-run Knowsley Council, appears to have been deeply flawed from the start. The council closed the area’s two Catholic secondaries to make way for it.

But Catholic parents, who form the majority locally, have shunned the new joint-faith school and sent their children to Catholic schools miles away in Liverpool and St Helens. As a result, around half the 180 available places are unfilled in the current academic year.

Ian Smith, Lib Dem leader of Knowsley council and a former teacher, blamed Labour’s ‘social engineering’. ‘There are two different communities in Huyton – Church of England and Catholic – and they do not mix,’ he said. ‘The council steamrollered over them to grab Government money. Now it has blown up in their face.’

The closure of Christ the King School confirms everything this paper has argued for years about the Private Finance Initiative — a scheme monstrously abused by Labour to conceal reckless spending from the Treasury’s books.


The rise of soft courses: Half a million British students fail to hit High School target

More than 550,000 pupils failed to achieve five passes in traditional subjects at GCSE because they were signed up to take easier options such as hairdressing, league tables revealed yesterday. Only one in six youngsters achieved the standard which is now expected of them by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Mr Gove believes this leaves them lacking basic academic skills and ill-prepared to enter the workplace or further education.

The findings are the result of a controversial new ranking system for secondary schools – called the English Baccalaureate – which Mr Gove says exposes the shift under Labour towards ‘soft’ courses such as hairdressing salon services.

To meet the Education Secretary’s new measure, all pupils are expected to score A* to C in the five core GCSE subjects of English, mathematics, science, languages and humanities. But just 15.6 per cent of pupils passed the threshold last summer.

In more than half of state secondaries – some 1,600 – fewer than 10 per cent achieved this. And in 270 schools, there were no pupils who achieved it.

Mr Gove wants this measure to be one of the statistics parents use to judge the value of schools. But his plan has sparked a major political row and provoked furious reaction from headteachers and teaching unions.

Yesterday Andy Burnham, Labour’s education spokesman, accused Mr Gove of telling youngsters they can ‘study Latin but not ICT’. Teaching unions claimed he was ‘relentlessly elitist’.

But Mr Gove maintains the toughening up of standards is necessary to reverse more than a decade of downgrading of core subjects in favour of easier alternatives. He is furious that poorer children are being fobbed off with easier subjects because they are not seen as capable of tackling harder ones.

Under Labour, there was an astonishing 3,800 per cent increase in uptake of non-academic GCSE-equivalent courses, including sports leadership and computer skills.

In 2005, 15,000 so-called ‘soft’ GCSEs were taken. This soared to 575,000 last year. Mr Gove said yesterday: ‘Labour got its priorities wrong and said kids from poor homes could not do difficult subjects.’

He added that previous ranking measures encouraged ‘many great schools and great heads to offer certain non-academic subjects rather than more rigorous subjects’.

Parents can now view results based on the English Baccalaureate measure (A*-C in the five specified core subjects) and on how many pupils gained five A*-C grades including English and maths. They can also see financial information to judge if their head is making the best use of his or her resources.

However, Mr Gove was forced to defend himself during an interview on BBC Radio 5 live. A caller said: ‘Children go to school to work out who they are and what they want to study. ‘My guess is that this just reflects your own personal, narrow experience of education ... I’d just ignore your silly English Baccalaureate.’

He replied: ‘You are free to use the information published today to produce your own findings.’

Chris Keates, of teaching union NASUWT, said: ‘The Coalition Government is pursuing a relentlessly elitist approach to education, condemning schools to live or die by the narrow range of subjects identified in the English Baccalaureate.’

Grammar schools cemented their dominance of league tables, taking nine of the top ten places. Of the top 50 schools, 80 per cent are grammars.

The results will prompt calls for the Coalition to increase the number of grammars, which on average receive more than five applicants for every pupil place.

David Cameron has said that he will not increase the number of grammars, although Education Secretary Michael Gove has said they will be allowed to increase in size.

World-renowned independent schools criticised the new rankings after sinking to the bottom on a technicality.

Schools such as Eton, Harrow and Marlborough achieved lower results than some of ­England’s worst-performing comprehensives because they swapped conventional GCSEs for the more rigorous International GCSE, which is not recognised in the tables. The result is that the rankings showed 142 independent schools with no pupils achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE.

Some 216 state secondaries face closure or take-over after failing to hit basic GCSE ‘floor targets’.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Christian Group Says University Is Forcing Nursing Students to Participate in Abortions

A Christian legal group filed a civil rights complaint Tuesday against a Tennessee, alleging that the school’s nursing program violates federal law by requiring applicants to participate in abortion procedures.

Vanderbilt University has denied the claim, but the Alliance Defense Fund claims that the school’s nursing-residency application materials violate national laws that prohibit schools receiving federal funds from requiring someone to perform or assist in abortions.

According to ADF, the school requires applicants to sign an acknowledgment, stating: “I am aware that I may be providing nursing care for women who are having” procedures, including terminations of pregnancy.

“It is important that you are aware of this aspect of care and give careful consideration to your ability to provide compassionate care to women in these situations,” the documents state. “If you feel you cannot provide care to women during this type of event, we encourage you to apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program to explore opportunities that may best fit your skills and career goals.”

The ADF complaint, filed on behalf of an unnamed Mississippi woman, was submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. According to HHS, Vanderbilt received $313.6 million in federal funding during fiscal year 2008.

“Christians and other pro-life members of the medical community shouldn’t be forced to participate in abortions to pursue their profession,” Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a news release.


British teacher fired for taking two boys sledging wins fight to save his career

A teacher who was sacked after letting pupils ride a sledge to demonstrate its design properties escaped being struck off yesterday, in a ­‘victory for common sense’.

Design and technology head Richard Tremelling, 37, took his class of 15-year-old GCSE ­students on to slopes at the back of their school during the morning break to test his 30-year-old sledge, which he called a ‘design classic’. A disciplinary hearing was told that he allowed two boys in the class to go on the sledge after checking that the two slopes were safe for the exercise.

But although neither pupil suffered any injury during the ten-minute session – and neither they nor their parents complained – Mr Tremelling was sacked from his £40,000-a-year post. The school ruled the married father of three had breached its health and safety policy, which required a written risk assessment and pupils to be wearing appropriate protective clothing and headgear.

Yesterday, Mr Tremelling’s two-year ordeal ended with just a reprimand from the General Teaching Council for Wales after a two-day ­disciplinary hearing that generated 800 pages of paperwork.

The reprimand will stay on his record for two years, but does not bar him from teaching. After the Cardiff hearing Mr Tremelling told of his ‘sadness’ that his decision to extend a lesson that had gone ‘fantastically well’ resulted in two years of investigations, an appeal against dismissal and a disciplinary hearing.

The teacher, who has 12 years’ experience, said he hoped his treatment would not deter others from acting in a similar fashion in future, ‘where it was safe to do so’.

Mr Tremelling’s union representative, the NASUWT’s Colin Adkins, said his dismissal from Cefn Hengoed Community School in Swansea in June 2009 was ‘totally unjustified’ and like ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’. In a swipe at the ‘obsession’ with health and safety, Mr Adkins said: ‘Teachers are not making decisions based on what’s best for the pupils, but what is best for them. They are too mindful of what can happen if things go wrong, even in situations where the risk could be judged as negligible.’

Mr Tremelling, who lives in the city, said after the case that the GCSE syllabus at the time of the incident in February 2009 ‘made it clear students should have the opportunity to evaluate and test existing products’, and it was in that context that he used the sledge at a time when there was about three inches of snow on the ground. ‘During the actions I took I made sure the safety of the pupils was ­paramount,’ he said.

Mr Tremelling, also an officer in the Territorial Army, has been unable to find teaching employment since, but wants to return to the profession.

Allegations relating to health and safety breaches cited by the school when it sacked Mr Tremelling were not upheld by the GTCW yesterday. But he was found guilty of unacceptable professional misconduct after he admitted failing to act on an instruction days earlier from the headmistress, Sue Hollister, not to allow children on to the snowy slopes. The GTCW panel also found that Mr Tremelling had ‘initially denied’ the sledging incident when questioned by the head, who was tipped off by another teacher.

A spokesman for Cefn Hengoed Community School stood by its decision to sack Mr Tremelling.

Rex Phillips, NASUWT Wales Organiser, said: ‘The outcome of today’s hearing demonstrates that employers are far too ready to sack teachers who have acted in good faith. This is a ­victory for common sense.’


Australia: Medical training in critical condition

By Professor Bruce Robinson, dean of the Medical School at the University of Sydney. He fears a shortage of internship places similar to what has been seen in Britain and elsewhere. He offers some solutions

In my office recently I saw a patient with a large pituitary tumour. It was causing multiple symptoms, including partial blindness. The patient didn't require surgery; his condition can be managed with medication and he will be cared for entirely as an outpatient.

Consequently, although young doctors in training - interns, residents and specialists-in-training - could have learnt much from this person and his condition, it is unlikely they will cross paths with him.

This is not an isolated case. During my 30 years of practice, hospitals have become places where only acutely sick people and those requiring elective surgery are admitted. This represents a small fraction of the work of clinicians in 2011, much of which deals with chronic illness.

Clinical training programs for young doctors, though, have changed little in the past three decades. While opportunities have increased for students and young doctors to undertake some of their training in general practices, they rarely spend time in specialist rooms. Nor in private hospitals or health centres, such as Aboriginal Medical Services. Nor do they benefit from the brilliant training opportunities available internationally, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.

Postgraduate medical training in Australia generally consists of a one-year internship and one or two years of residency. Graduates cannot be registered to practise without completing an internship. To become a specialist generally requires between five and seven years' further training either in a hospital or in general practice, depending on the specialty.

The theme that has underpinned most of the clinical training of young Australian doctors is "only public hospitals and only in Australia". The result: not only are we unnecessarily placing additional pressures on the already struggling public hospital system, but trainee medical staff are missing many important lessons in patient care. This is to our detriment.

The Herald recently reported on the predicament of international medical students in the invidious position of being able to complete their medical degrees but unable to secure internships. Training certainly does not stop after internship; further training is required for all young doctors to become proficient, and there are inadequate places to accommodate future requirements.

So far the state has fortunately been able to provide intern positions for all who require them. All graduates from last year were offered places and in NSW we understand there will be sufficient positions for those who complete their studies this year.

But if it ever comes to the point where medical graduates are denied the opportunity to work as doctors because governments have not provided sufficient training places, it would be both a disaster for the individuals and a poor reflection on the state and federal governments who fund and manage health workforce training.

We have a critical shortage of medical practitioners. Australia spends millions advertising internationally for doctors. Denying work opportunities to smart, well trained and motivated medical graduates from our own universities when we need doctors defies reasonable sense.

Governments and their agencies responsible for ensuring adequate numbers of health professionals need to improve their performance.

A shortage of internship places looms and new positions must be provided. Unless the number of specialist training positions increases significantly, a similar shortage is inevitable. But it is not simply a question of numbers.

Broadening the training opportunities for young clinicians will, ultimately, improve the quality of our medical workforce. We know the solutions. Instead of relying on big city hospitals, we could have more specialty training positions in country hospitals. We could have more young doctors learning in specialist rooms, and we could place these doctors overseas where they would be exposed to different ways of preventing and managing illness and allocating resources. All these non-traditional settings - that is, non-Australian public hospitals - offer rich opportunities for gaining one ingredient that contributes to becoming a good doctor: experience.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Australia: Academic paints a picture of arts as a priority in classrooms

The recommendations below seem overblown but there is no doubt that our cultural heritage should be taught: Poetry, drama, literature generally. Yet precisely that has been largely erased from school curricula in recent decades. I doubt that all children should be taught specialized skills such as painting, potting, sculpture and dance, however. I think that can safely be left to specialized courses for those with a particular inclination in that direction

The arts should be embedded in the teaching of all subjects as a way of cultivating creativity and imagination in schoolchildren, according to a paper published yesterday by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

The paper, by the University of Sydney academic Robyn Ewing, highlights international research that shows students who are exposed to the arts achieve better academic results, are more engaged at school and less likely to leave early, and have better self-esteem than students who do not have access to the arts.

Professor Ewing said integrating the arts with other disciplines had the potential to engage students who were unmotivated by traditional forms of learning, lifting their performance in other subjects, such as science and maths.

She expressed concern that the publication of results from national literacy and numeracy tests was contributing to a neglect of other kinds of learning.

"If we don't empower kids to think creatively and to be imaginative and also to see things from a range of different perspectives, which is what the arts do, we're selling them short in a world in which actual knowledge is changing so rapidly," she said.

The review of hundreds of Australian and international research studies comes as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority develops a national curriculum for the arts.

Under the proposed curriculum, due to be published next year, the arts, including dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts, would be mandated for every student from the first year of school to year 8 for a minimum of two hours a week.

Professor Ewing said policymakers needed to change the way they thought about the arts, and treat it as a priority rather than an add-on.

She said governments had not matched their rhetorical commitment to the arts with resources for arts education and teacher professional development.

"In lots of schools the arts is on the fringe, but it could be so powerful if it was embedded."

She said children from affluent families were more likely to be touched by the arts through visits to museums and art galleries, and through theatre and concert performances, and their parents were more often able to pay for art and music lessons. Yet children living in poverty or who were vulnerable or at risk often stood to benefit the most from the arts.


Beware Bipartisan School Reform

If everybody on the Hill is happy, Americans probably shouldn't be

We are in for a season of grisly partisan bloodletting—or at least some pretty fierce jello wrestling—over health care, budgets, and pork, if the coverage of the opening days of the 112th Congress is any indication of things to come. But when it comes to education policy, politicians and pundits are inexplicably full of sunny optimism.

Patient zero in this epidemic of cheer is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post this week expressing the hope that people on both sides of the aisle will “do something together for our children that will build America's future, strengthen our economy and reflect well on us all.”

Set off by Duncan, the rest of the political news pack followed with stories about how this year’s anticipated rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—re-christened No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001—is going to be totally bipartisan and awesome. But any touted bipartisan action by Congress should be regarded with suspicion—the more touting there is, the more suspicion is merited—and education reauthorization is no exception.

It’s true that Democrats and Republicans sound more alike than they ever have on education policy. Reform is no longer a dirty word for Democrats, for instance. And Republicans want to spend more on teachers, by and large. Duncan highlights one point of rhetorical unity in his op-ed: “On many issues, Democrats and Republicans agree, starting with the fact that no one likes how NCLB labels schools as failures.” The word failure is uncomfortable for the adults involved in education policy. In fact, it’s a word that rarely sneaks into politics at all. The fact that No Child Left Behind set things up so that a government venture of any kind would wind up being forced to label itself a failure is pretty remarkable.

But agreeing to stop using hurtful words in cases where schools “are making broad gains” won’t do a darned thing to improve messed up schools. If big chunks of a school population still can’t read or do math anywhere near grade level after years and years of second chances—the criteria to become a failing school under NCLB—that school actually is failing. Even if the scores were worse last year.

And agreement on how to talk about fixing schools is a far cry from actually fixing schools. To listen to politicians talk, everyone is up for more flexibility and more accountability, but when it comes to concrete proposals, the two sides are still miles apart. Even in his kumbaya op-ed, Duncan slips in mention of his opposition to “federally dictated tutoring or school-transfer options.” Though the jargon obscures what he’s talking about, it’s school choice. Those options are the heart of No Child Left Behind reforms. All the now-unfashionable monitoring and testing requirements instituted in that law were geared toward figuring out which kids deserve the backing of the feds when they’re ready to bail out of their sub-par schools and go looking for something better inside (or outside) the traditional public school system.

The underlying political dynamics don’t suggest that Congress is ripe for big bipartisan bear hugs, either. The newly Republican-dominated House isn’t going to like the idea of Obama taking credit for “fixing the schools” if a bill passes. And teachers unions remain a force to be reckoned with. They have had a rough year; nobody likes to be depicted as the anti-Superman in theaters nationwide. The National Education Association gave Democrats $2 million in the 2010 cycle, and the American Federation of Teachers gave $2.6 million (compared with a comical $8,000 to Republicans). They expect a return on that money, and the kind of returns they’re looking for are not bipartisan agreements about the virtues of transparency.

With both sides talking nice, but staking out clear territory, it's unlikely that education reauthorization will be a bipartisan love fest. Still, as Teach for America VP and ex-Mr. Michelle Rhee Kevin Huffman points out in U.S. News and World Report, “the relevant committee chairs and ranking members (Tom Harkin and Michael Enzi in the Senate, John Kline and George Miller in the House) are experienced pros” and known moderates. A bunch of high-ranking moderates in education slots simply means that there's a slightly increased chance something might wind up on the president’s desk. It tells us nothing about whether that something will be any good.

K-12 education in the United State is in a bad way. If education reauthorization goes smoothly, that will be a clear sign that no one decided it was worth it to rock the boat, even if everyone involved says that they are opposed to the status quo.

No matter what happens with education reauthorization in this Congress, a fight over a controversial bill is unlikely to be a clear win for anyone. Education reform is tricky, and even the avid backers of testing and federally-madated choice agree that neither reform has proven to be the silver bullet reformers hoped for in 2001. The proposals on the table in 2011 are just as murky. Which means most legislators—moderate and bipartisan-inclined, or otherwise—will just want to make the issue go away. If they can find a solution that keeps the adults in Washington happy and doesn’t use up too much valuable time on the floors and cloakrooms of Congress, they’ll take it. That’s bipartisanism, and it isn’t the same thing as success.


UK student who threw fire extinguisher from building jailed for 2 years, 8 months

THE British student who threw a fire extinguisher from the top of a London building amid violent student protests against rising college tuition fees was jailed yesterday for two years and eight months.

Edward Woollard, 18, threw an empty fire extinguisher from the roof of the London headquarters of the ruling Conservative Party after protesters stormed the building Nov. 10.

He pleaded guilty to causing violent disorder two weeks later after being caught on camera throwing the extinguisher, which nearly hit police officers below.

Tania Garwood, the mother of Woollard, told The (London) Times on Monday of the moment her son admitted to her that he was caught on camera throwing the fire extinguisher.

Garwood, 37, said her son did a "terrible and awful thing" that he is now paying for.

"What he has done is a terrible and awful thing, which he is paying for now ... I brought up my children to take responsibility for their actions, and he has," she said. "I believe he deserves to be punished -- I just hope it is the right punishment. He is a loving, caring [He didn't care about all the people below him], gentle man. He has got a lot to live for. He has got a lot to learn. I hope he has the chance to continue his education, and it hasn't ruined his life."


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Does Asian Parenting Cause Asian Success?

Scholars familiar with twin and adoption research will be sorely tempted to summarily dismiss Yale Law professor Amy Chua's recent defense of Chinese parenting. It's hard to find a stauncher defender of what Judith Harris called "the nurture assumption." Chua:
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it.

Chua then lists all the fun things she denied her kids, the thousands of hours of academic and musical drill, and her generous helpings of shame.

My initial reaction is exasperation. Yet another essay on parenting that doesn't even contain the words "genes" or "heredity"? A vast literature finds that heredity is not merely part of the reason for family resemblance, but virtually the whole story. How can a professor at Yale act as if this consensus doesn't even exist? Nevertheless, there are two big reasons why Chua's piece deserves a closer look.

First, Asian parenting techniques seem so extreme, and Asian success seems so pronounced, that most people find it counterintuitive to deny causation.

Second, and more importantly, twin and adoption researchers have largely neglected Asian populations. The vast majority of twin and adoption studies focus on largely white samples in largely white countries. Bruce Sacerdote famously studied the effect of (largely white) American parenting on Korean adoptees, but to the best of my knowledge this social experiment has never been reversed.

When you put these two points together, the defender of the efficacy of Chinese parenting could easily say, "Aha! So you can't disprove our intuition that the extremely strict discipline typical of Asian parents causes Asians' adult success." And taken literally, this defender of Chinese parenting is right. Existing twin and adoption evidence can't "disprove" their claims. But the same holds for all empirical research. Even in a double-blind experiment, the nay-sayer can still stonewall, "Your results work for your sample. But my sample is slightly different, so who's to say?" The reasonable approach isn't to demand decisive disproof of your initial position, but to calmly weigh the available evidence. By this standard, Chua's claims about Asian parenting fare poorly.

1. There are plenty of strict non-Asian parents. Chua warns us that, "[W]hen Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers," but she also admits that:
I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise.

So Chinese-like parenting styles are already in the data after all. If strict parenting worked the wonders Chua claims, existing twin and adoption research should detect big effects. They don't. Educational and financial success does run in families, but the reason is almost entirely heredity.

2. Why does the power of Asian parenting seem so intuitive to Asians and non-Asians alike? The reason, most probably, is that people make a big distinction between intelligence, where they admit that heredity plays a major role, and character, which they imagine is entirely environmental.

They're very wrong to make this distinction. Not only do genes have a strong effect on character, but upbringing does not. By the time they grow up, adoptees' work ethic and discipline moderately resemble their biological parents' - and barely resemble their adoptes parents' at all. See Loehlin's chapter in Unequal Success for the best single summary of the evidence.

3. Even more importantly, twin and adoption research shows that heredity has a stronger overall effect on educational and financial success than existing measures of intelligence, character, and everything else predict. Identical twins have much more similar incomes than fraternal twins - far more than their extra IQ and personality similarity can explain. The lesson: Genes demonstrably affect success in more ways that we currently understand. It's cheating to give parenting the residual.

4. Before we marvel at Asians' success, it's worth getting a handle on how successful they really are. They definitely earn more than whites, but only about 15% more. Yes, that pools all Asians together, including recent immigrants. But even if we double this figure to 30%, it's a modest difference that genetically-influenced differences in IQ, personality, and the like can easily explain.

5. Chua doesn't mention a minority that has been far more successful than Asians in general and the Chinese in particular: Jews. How would she explain Jews' vast educational and financial success? Yes, Jewish parents have been known to stress education and nag their kids to become doctors and lawyers. But very few are strict enough to meet Chua's standards. How do they pull it off? If you'll buy a genetic explanation for the Jews, why not for the Chinese? And if Jewish parents were far stricter, wouldn't we be quick to falsely attribute Jewish success to Jewish parenting?

The upshot is that the tough love that Chua heralds is not just pointless, but cruel. The defender of Chinese parenting might retort, "Well, at least it does no lasting damage." But only massive future benefits could conceivably justify the truly sadistic things that Chua proudly admits she did for her children's alleged benefit. Here's how she once taught her daughter piano:
I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling...

To my mind, the mere memory of this experience is lasting damage of a heinous kind.


Some skepticism about religious education

We are all so concerned about nabbing the hearts and minds of our littlies.

Childhood is seen as critical in the battle for the brain. Is it because children are seen as malleable meat for the proselytisers and propagandists? Or is it because this is a stage of life where compulsion is often mandated, so you have them trapped. Either way, both godless and godly are battling for educational air space.

There is a national debate surreptitiously raging about what godly or ungodly stuff should cleanse or pollute their tiny developing minds. Nationally, the Labor government has poured hundreds of millions into the Howard-created National School Chaplaincy Program, which may face a challenge as unconstitutional in the High Court. So God promotion is now bipartisan. But it always was.

Wayne Goss’s Labor government in Queensland created the chaplaincy program in that state in the early 1990s, and Labor’s premier Peter Beattie upped the ante in 2006, pledging $3 million for the program after five Liberal MPs started baying for Jesus. In Melbourne, during the state election campaign, then education minister Bronwyn Pike refused to allow the Humanist Society of Victoria to teach in religious education time as it is not a religion. That spat is headed for the courts and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The new Baillieu government has not yet made its view known on this matter. In NSW, the St James Ethical Centre conducted a successful trial on a secular ethics course, and the NSW Labor government has had to introduce legislation to ensure the Coalition can't dump the classes if it gets into government (given how on the nose NSW Labor is, this is a prudent move).

I suppose you expect me to rail against those politicians, scared of the Christian backlash, cravenly court the God vote. And part of me does want to throw that predictable tantrum. But before I do, let me opine on the question of how just how impressionable is the malleable meat of childhood. The orthodoxy is that the teaching of the parents’ incumbent faith moulds the brain forever. This is reflected in the Jesuit motto ‘‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’’, allegedly based on a gender-specific observation of St Francis Xavier. But that phrase was crafted in an age where one could monopolise the data input into your children’s brains and what is more, emphasise it with terrifying corporal punishment. Tragically, we live in a different world where kids have power and access.

Modernity might alter the Jesuit orthodoxy. I just wonder how influential all this godly and godless peddling might be in the future. Certainly the mullahs of Iran, kept in power by a violent military dictatorship, abhor and are powerless before the liberation of the young offered by the internet. The young mind is now free to roam the world in search of inspiration and education. Some tedious teacher sermonising on God in any land seems lame to the power 10.

Let me give a trite but emblematic illustration. One weekend, I am travelling down St Kilda Road in Melbourne with my 21-year-old daughter and I pass a building that has loomed large in my life. The Melbourne Synagogue is extraordinary. It stands out like a beacon with the incandescent green verdigris of its massive faux-Byzantine dome. It was the place of my bar mitzvah and endless days of compulsory worship. I must have spoken of it endlessly. And yet my daughter, who was compelled to study secular Judaism for her humanist bat mitzvah for a couple of years, insouciantly asks, ‘‘What’s that building?’’ I was horrified. How could she not know the building that played such a massive role in my life, our neighbourhood and our conversations?

Well the point is that the values of her upbringing count for not much when competing with all of the other intellectual sources of data in her life. She, like most engineering students, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of alcoholic beverages; a dazzling dexterity on Facebook; an exhaustive knowledge of contemporary musicians and, being slight of stature, an expertise is surfing mosh pits.

And so I have a somewhat jaundiced view of the competing battles to proselytise the young. The propaganda can be self-defeating. Adults have an endless moral panic about the young. We have some justifiable fears that they will kill themselves sticking junk up their arms or drink down their gullets. But we take those justifiable (although sometimes exaggerated) fears and extend them to other areas such as their cultural ignorance and moral turpitude.

I lament the fact that my kids don’t know the King James Bible and are religiously illiterate. But there is nothing I can do about it. And I think there is not much that the educational bovver boys of faith and the supine politicians they have snared can do either. I reckon the Chaplaincy Program is pouring an immoral amount of money down the educational toilet. There is nothing more boring and alienating than RE teachers. They are the unwittingly the assault pioneers of unbelief.


British exam board accused of 'brainwashing' pupils with inaccurate climate graph

Near enough is good enough in climate science, apparently

Britain’s largest exam board has been accused of “brainwashing” pupils by forcing them to use an inaccurate temperature graph that exaggerates the scale of global warming.

Climate experts have accused AQA of “scientific illiteracy” and “propaganda” after a graph in its most recent Geography GCSE exam paper contained a series of inaccuracies which magnified the rise in global temperatures.

The graph wrongly presented the current warm period as the hottest on record and pinpointed the world’s current average temperature at 59.5 degrees Fahrenheit (15.3C), when it has in fact never risen above 58.1F (14.52C).

The exam board also overlooked the last ice age, which peaked around 20,000 years ago, instead marking the “previous glacial period” at around 180,000 BC.

AQA ignored the universally-accepted temperature records taken from Antarctic ice core samples over the last 15 years and instead opted to use a graph taken from a children’s textbook first published in 1990.

The ice core data has been used to reconstruct global temperatures going back 800,000 years, showing that the previous four interglacial warm periods were hotter than today.

Kato Harris, head of Geography at South Hampstead High School in north London, has written to the exam board to highlight the errors. He said: "It is demoralising and frustrating when we are trying to be accurate, rigorous teachers, imparting to our pupils the latest scientific knowledge, only for the exam board apparently to show ignorance of scientific developments in the last 15 years."

The graph published in the exam paper was titled ‘Timeline of the mean world temperatures over the last million years’, even though no such record exists.

Pupils were asked to mark with an X the “recent rapid rise in global temperatures”, as well as the coldest period.

AQA said the graph was simply meant to show “generalised trends” in global temperature and claimed that it displayed a "similar" pattern to the ice core reconstruction.

But Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, said the graph contained “shocking inaccuracies”. “I have no idea where they have got their data from, but it’s completely wrong. The graph exaggerates the case of global warming and it shows scientific illiteracy. “I think this is highly misleading and the fact that it was included in an exam papers just shows how suspicious we should be with a lot of the information presented to students.

“There is a lot of pressure on schools and exam boards from government to educate our children in this way, but if we want to have a well educated population children need to know how science works, and they shouldn’t be brainwashed with misleading information.”

The Global Warming Policy Foundation has recently commissioned a report into the way children are taught about climate change in schools.

Piers Corbyn, owner of the independent forecasting business WeatherAction and a vocal climate sceptic, said the inaccurate graph amount to a “dereliction of duty” by the exam board.
“The fact that an exam board is using this type of graph is monstrous and totally unacceptable,” he said. “On one hand, the government and schools claim they want children to be objective, yet in the real world pseudo science is used to propagate an ideology to justify increased taxation and carbon trading, and this anti-science must be stopped.”

The decision to pass over widely accepted climate data in favour of a “simplified” graph will also be seen by some as further evidence that exams are being “dumbed down”.

A spokesman for AQA said: "We always seek to ensure that we use accurate information that is up-to-date and relevant, but just as importantly we need to ensure that figures are fit for purpose, appropriate for the qualification and, as was the case here, applicable for both foundation and higher tiers.

"The figure is a graph showing generalised trends of global temperature. It was taken from a highly regarded and widely used Geography textbook, Geography: An Integrated Approach. We took if from the 3rd Edition published in 2000 but the graph also appears in the 4th edition published in 2009. We therefore expect that many teachers and candidates will be familiar with this graph.

"The ice core data is very detailed and would have had to have been simplified for the purposes of the question that we wished to ask. Therefore we used a graph readily available in the textbook above that showed similar general trends."


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CA: Lousy schools split some Democrats from union fold

Democrats soon will have to decide whether they are the party of the idle rich – i.e., the party of retired government employees, many of whom spend 30 or more years receiving pensions that are the equivalent of millions of dollars in savings – or the party of the poor, the downtrodden and the working class.

Fortunately, there are some Democrats who are serious about all that "helping the little guy" rhetoric, especially in the area of public education. In a recent article titled "Democratic schism opens on fixing schools," the Sacramento Bee detailed the "growing chorus [of Democrats] arguing the party must move away from its traditional allegiance with teachers unions in order to improve chronically low-performing schools."

We all know that many of this state's larger school districts operate as efficiently as Soviet-era bureaucracies, and their educational product is the equivalent of the former Soviet Union's consumer goods. There's a reason for those dropout rates of 20 percent to 50 percent, a human tragedy when you consider the typical futures of the students who are cast aside by the current system.

This isn't a slam on the many fine public schoolteachers, but it's clear what happens when unaccountable bureaucracies, protected from competition and reliant on taxes rather than the free choice of consumers, produce things. Unions make it nearly impossible to fire the worst employees and create work rules that stymie innovation and reform.

The late Albert Shanker, longtime leader of national teachers unions, once famously said, "When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of schoolchildren." Shanker was just being truthful about the purpose of unions. The rest of us need to be just as forthright about the need to tame those unions if we're seriously interested in improving education rather than simply in seeking more taxpayer money to prop up the same-old failed, bureaucratic system.

The story in the Bee profiled former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who last year lost her bid to become state superintendent of public instruction to a union ally, Tom Torlakson, but who now heads the California chapter of a political action committee called Democrats for Education Reform. Romero is a tried-and-true liberal who understands that union dominance undermines traditional liberal values. Several years back, she was one of only a handful of state senators from either party to take on the police unions over their unconscionable protection of abusive officers.

It's beyond me how Democrats can claim to be for education yet align themselves with those forces that oppose every serious reform that would help poor kids, just as I could never understand how Democrats could claim to stand for civil liberties even as they stifled open-government rules that would shine a light on police officers who abused people's rights.

Democrats for Education Reform released a report in October, "Busting the Dam," which succinctly captures the nature of the problem: "It is no secret that most of the efforts to reform K-12 public education systems in the last quarter century have been stymied by political gridlock. Although education pioneers like Teach For America and KIPP have demonstrated the tremendous potential impact of innovation, special interests (primarily but not limited to teachers unions) have built up symbiotic relationships with elected officials to the point that they are able to assert de facto veto power over the kinds of changes which could fundamentally alter the way education is delivered in our communities."

That's a politically careful way of spelling out what others have said more directly, with some Democratic leaders describing the struggle for education reform as the new civil-rights battle of our era. Conservatives have long championed market-based education reforms, but they have had little impact and they must now find new allies among the state's dominant Democrats.

This intra-Democratic battle is crucial given that the Republican Party has been shoved to the margins in California. Judging by the November elections, California voters apparently want this to be a one-party state, given Democrats' clean sweep of state constitutional offices and the passage of Proposition 25, which gives the majority party the power to pass budgets with a simple majority rather than with a two-thirds supermajority. There's not much the GOP can do other than watch from the sidelines.

Democratic political consultant Garry South wrote in a column recently that he had been offering Republicans advice for years – that they should nominate a more diverse slate of moderate candidates for statewide office. "This election year, the Grand Old Party took most of my free, unsolicited advice. ... But in the end, it didn't matter, every one got mowed down."

Although I question a lot of South's advice, I do agree with his conclusion: There is nothing Republicans can do at this point to become a viable statewide party.

That means solutions on all the big issues are going to have to come from the other side. Those of us on the right need to exploit this schism within the Democratic Party and side with reformers such as Romero.

Of course, the unions are gloating about their enhanced political power in Sacramento, with the election of Jerry Brown as governor. The Orange County Employees Association and Sen. Lou Correa (the Santa Ana Democrat who authored legislation that sparked a decade of pension-hiking), for instance, are hosting an inauguration party "celebrating the election of the People's Governor." I always associate talk about People's leaders and People's republics with places that have a decidedly authoritarian bent.

But while the union-dominated Left is celebrating, just maybe we'll see the beginnings of a serious debate about union power, thanks to those Democratic politicians who are interested in reform. That's a sliver of hope for the new year in a state that is starting to seem hopeless.


Welcome to Personal Responsibility 101

Mike Adams

Back in 2002, I decided to join the fight against campus speech codes because I considered them to be the principal threat against liberty in the 21st Century. I was also concerned that Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that looking at our schools today is a good way to see what the nation will look like in twenty years. I knew that speech codes had to be defeated in order to avoid a situation in which citizens were easily deprived of their rights because they were never aware of them in the first place.

At the time I joined this fight, it seemed like every public university had an unconstitutional speech code. Today, that number is more like 67%. One of the main reasons for the improvement is the efforts of a group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. And now, FIRE has crafted an ingenious plan that promises to build on its momentum and make unconstitutional speech codes the exception, rather than the rule, at America’s public universities.

FIRE has put hundreds of university presidents and university attorneys on notice that their wallets could be hit if they violate the free speech rights of students on their campuses. What they are trying to do is to attack the use of qualified immunity, which is used to exempt administrators from personal liability for monetary damages.

By sending nearly 300 certified letters to public university administrators across the nation, they are directly challenging the most dangerous problem in higher education today; namely, the continued shielding of those who knowingly violate the First Amendment in defiance of well-established law.

It is bad enough that public university administrators have been shredding the First Amendment for decades in order to ensure that their own political, social, and religious views will be advanced without challenge. It is far worse that the taxpayers have been footing the bill when they have been caught doing so. But that is all about to change.

Recently, some judges have been deciding that college administrators are not shielded from personal liability in cases involving gross violations of the First Amendment. The case of Valdosta State University student Thomas Hayden Barnes is illustrative. Barnes was expelled in 2007 after he peacefully protested plans by then-President Ronald Zaccari to use $30 million in student activity fees to build two parking garages. The court decided the infringement was so gross that a reasonable administrator could not have been unaware of the illegality of the expulsion.

The recent spate of letters sent by FIRE will ensure that other similar rulings follow. The legal doctrine of qualified immunity only protects government officials from personal liability for monetary damages for violating constitutional rights if their actions do not violate “clearly established law” of which a reasonable person in their position would have known.

For years, public universities have argued that their speech codes did not violate clearly established law regarding students' First Amendment rights. But for the past generation, we have seen one legal decision after another striking down these codes. Having seen registered letters informing them of the decisions, administrators will no longer be able to argue that “a reasonable person in their position” would not have known the law.

FIRE is now able to add another recent precedent to the long list of cases that will help undercut the doctrine of qualified immunity. In McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010 struck down policies banning "offensive" or "unauthorized" signs as violations.

FIRE is also citing these important decisions in its letters:

•DeJohn v. Temple University, where the Third Circuit invalidated a university sexual harassment policy for being overly broad and vague in violation of the First Amendment;

•Dambrot v. Central Michigan University, where the Sixth Circuit declared a university discriminatory harassment policy to be obviously unconstitutional;

•College Republicans at San Francisco State University v. Reed, where a federal court enjoined enforcement of a university civility policy that placed the supposed right to be unoffended above the First Amendment.

Adam Kissel of FIRE summarizes the position of FIRE nicely when he states that the organization has found an appropriate balance between the carrot and stick approaches to dealing with university administrators. First, they offer online suggestions for public universities that have at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. The suggestions show them what they need to do to comply with the law.

But if they will not listen, there is strong language in these registered letters meant to awaken their conscience to their duty to obey the law. For example, FIRE says: "You must be aware that maintaining university policies that prohibit constitutionally protected expression is an unlawful deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 for which university administrators may be sued in their individual capacities for punitive damages.”

The letter continues: "Given the sparkling clarity of the case law with regard to the unconstitutionality of speech codes at public universities, please be advised that claims of immunity from personal liability put forth by individual university administrators will likely be unsuccessful."

The approach of FIRE will work in the same way that capitalism works better than socialism; namely, through reliance on private ownership and individual interest. In other words, it is a strategy that attaches real consequences to individuals with power, rather than to an esoteric and powerless collective.

Campus speech codes are no longer public property inherited by unknowing public servants. The speech codes now belong to those who oversee their maintenance. And they ignore them at their own peril.


Fired over 'elf n safety, British teacher who took two boys of 15 sledging as part of technology lesson

A teacher was sacked after letting children use his sledge in the snow as part of a lesson – because he failed to carry out a risk assessment. Richard Tremelling, 37, took the racing sledge into school to demonstrate design technology to his class of 15-year-olds.

As part of the demonstration, he tested conditions on two snowy slopes himself before deciding they were safe enough for two boys to follow suit. The boys were unharmed. But Mr Tremelling was sacked from his £40,000-a-year job as head of technology for breaching health and safety rules. Yesterday he appeared before the General Teaching Council for Wales at the start of a two-day hearing to decide his future.

Campaigners and MPs said the decision to sack him was ‘absolutely disgraceful’ and ‘ludicrous’. Nick Seaton, chair of the Campaign for Real Education, warned that the ‘heavy-handed’ punishment ‘would only succeed in discouraging good candidates from joining the teaching profession’. He added: ‘I don’t think too many people would consider sledging to be dangerous for children of the age of 15, particularly when under the watchful eye of their teacher.

‘Mr Tremelling should be commended for thinking outside the box and attempting to make his lesson more interesting for his class by introducing a practical element. That he has lost his job over it is absolutely disgraceful.’

Rosa Fernandes, presenting the case, said: ‘Mr Tremelling took the sledge to school without the authorisation of the head. ‘He failed to carry out appropriate risk assessments and failed to provide a written risk assessment. ‘He didn’t ensure pupils were wearing protective headgear and protective clothing.’

Mr Tremelling told the hearing he took the sledge into the 650-pupil Cefn Hengoed Community School in Swansea as a teaching aid to incorporate the weather conditions into a lesson. He said he discussed the manufacture and use of the sledge with pupils during a revision class. ‘A number of pupils stayed behind interested and excited,’ he added. ‘They wanted to see it in use and, giving it some thought, I agreed.’

The experienced teacher said he conducted a ‘mental risk assessment’ before sliding down a small slope, covered in two to three inches of snow, on the sledge. Two of the pupils, aged 15, then volunteered to ride the sledge, one after the other. Mr Tremelling said: ‘I told the first boy to follow the track marks that I’d laid out – which he did in a safe manner.

‘I wanted to demonstrate sledge control so I moved to a different slope. I went first – it was a bit fast so I was not happy for the child to go from the top. ‘He started from halfway down the slope and completed the turn correctly. ‘The whole process took less than ten minutes and I was sure it reinforced their knowledge.’

Tory MP Philip Davies said Mr Tremelling’s case was a perfect example of the ‘health and safety obsession’ in Britain today. He added: ‘What has happened to this teacher is absolutely ludicrous, even in this day and age. The school appear guilty of a ridiculous overreaction.’

Lord Young, the former Cabinet minister and Tory peer, completed a report into the health and safety rules surrounding classrooms and school trips in October. He recommended introducing a single consent form to cover all activities a child may undertake during their time at a school. Other recommendations include cutting back a 12-page risk assessment that teachers have to complete before each school trip.

He criticised the ‘enormous bureaucracy’ which caused many teachers to avoid organising such activities, depriving millions of children of a vital part of their education. All his recommendations are now being implemented.

Mr Tremelling was suspended following the sledge lesson after a snowfall in February 2009. He was dismissed in January last year. He denies unacceptable professional conduct and faces a reprimand on his record, suspension or being struck off if the allegations are proven.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Permanent debt bondage from America’s student loan racket

Harvard tuition for the 2010/2011 academic year is $35,568. Add room, board, health insurance fees, books and supplies, local transportation (if needed), plus miscellaneous and personal expenses raises the total to nearly $60,000. Moreover, with annual tuition/fees hikes, incoming freshmen may need $70,000 for senior year expenses.

According to an October 28 Los Angeles Times article titled, "College costs increase faster than inflation":
"State budget cuts and declines in philanthropy and endowments help push (college tuition costs) up much higher than general inflation across the country this year, amounting to an increase of 7.9% at public campuses and 4.5% at private ones, according to a new study by the nonprofit College Board."

In fact, some schools, like the University of California, raised fees by 32%, then announced a further 8% hike. The University of Illinois announced a 9.5% increase. Other public and private schools followed suit, some by over 10% when fewer students can pay it. The College Board said for the decade ending in 2008, tuitions rose 54% after 49% in the previous decade.

Student Loans/Debt Information

The Project Student Debt web site has a wealth of information on student loans and debt. Using US Department of Education data for the 2007/08 academic year (the most recent available), it said two-thirds (or 1.4 million) of 2008 college graduates had student loan debt, a 27% increase from 2004, breaking down as follows:

* at public universities, it was 62%;

* for private nonprofit ones, 72%; and

* at private for-profit institutions, 96% were debt entrapped.

In 2008, graduating seniors had an average debt burden of $23,200, a 24% increase from $18,650 in 2004. At public universities, it was $20,200. For private nonprofit ones, $27,650, and at private for-profit universities, $33,050.

However, given how government data is manipulated, true totals are far higher and rising exponentially. Many graduates have debt burdens approaching or exceeding $100,000. If repaid over 30 years, it amounts to a $500,000 obligation, and if default, much more because debt obligations aren't erased.

Moreover, regardless of inflation changes, tuition and fees rise annually. As a result, future costs are less affordable. Greater debt burdens are created, and for many students, higher education is out of reach.

For most others, completing college includes debt bondage because of what Valley writer Stephanie Kraft called "Killer Loans" in her October 14 article, saying: "....a large segment of the population is squeezed for interest payments and fees on loans taken out to pay for college, or for graduate or professional school."

The numbers are staggering – $96 billion loaned annually to attend college, graduate, trade or professional schools, excluding "shadow" borrowing. It includes tapping home equity, retirement accounts, other sources, and credit cards. A 2005 Smith College survey found 23% of students use plastic for college tuition and fees.

In the past decade, student loan debt ballooned over four-fold. In 1977, about $1.8 billion was borrowed. By 1989, it was $12 billion, and in 1996 $30 billion. According to the Student Loan Debt Clock, its cumulative principle and interest exceeds $877 billion, surpassing credit card debt for the first time last June, and will exceed $1 trillion in early 2012.

At its present rate, it increases $2,854 per second, entrapping most borrowers and forcing others to default. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) last September: "The percentage of borrowers defaulting on their student loans (rose) for a third year in a row, reaching an 11-year high of 7 percent," based on US Education Department data – again grossly understated to hide a serious problem for millions."

The data is based on the number of graduates defaulting within two years of graduation so only capture "a sliver of the defaults that occur over the life of a loan," according to a CHE analysis. It estimates that one in five government loans entering repayment in 1995 defaulted. For community college graduates, it's 31% and at for-profit schools, 40%.

Yet little is reported on the scope of the student loan racket. The web site Student Loan Justice explains it, saying: "The federal student loan system has become predatory due to the Congressional removal of standard consumer protections and.... sanctioned collection powers that are stronger than those for all other loan instruments in our nation's history."

As a result, student borrowers are greatly harmed by unmanageable loan demands. Along with inflation and annual tuition/fee hikes, most graduates face an enormous burden, with no consumer protections, even in default. Once entrapped, escape is impossible. Debt bondage is permanent, and future lives and careers are impaired.

Congress ended bankruptcy protections, refinancing rights, statutes of limitations, truth in lending requirements, fair debt collection ones, and state usury laws when applied to federally guaranteed student loans. As a result, lenders may freely garnish wages, income tax refunds, earned income tax credits, and Social Security and disability income to assure defaulted loan payments. In addition, defaulting may cause loss of professional licenses, making repayment even harder or impossible.

Under a congressionally established default loan fee system, holders may keep 20% of all payments before any portion is applied to principal and interest due. A borrower's only recourse is to request an onerous and expensive "loan rehabilitation" procedure whereby they must make extended payments (not applied to principal or interest), then arrange a new loan for which additional fees are incurred. For many, permanent debt bondage is assured. No appeals process allows determinations of default challenges under a process letting lenders rip off borrowers, many in perpetuity.

"This fee system and associated rehabilitation schemes have provided a massive revenue stream for a shadowy nationwide network of politically connected (lenders), guarantors, servicers, and collection companies who have greatly enriched themselves at the expense of misfortunate borrowers."

As a result, millions of students and families have been gravely harmed, relegated to lifetime debt bondage. Yet industry predators thrive. The fee system is their "lifeblood," providing on average 60% of their income through "legalized wealth extraction" – a congressional sanctioned extortion racket like Wall Street and unscrupulous investment companies scam customers.

Lenders thrive from defaults, deriving income from debt service and inflated collection fees. A conspiratorial alliance of lenders, guarantors, servicers, collection companies, and government prey on unsuspecting borrowers. Lifetime default rates approach up to one-third of undergraduate loans, higher than for subprime mortgages. "This is, in fact, is higher than the default rate of any known (US) lending instrument...."

An Example of Systemic Predation

Sallie Mae (SM) is the largest student loan originator, servicer and collector, managing over $180 billion in federally guaranteed and private loans from over 10 million borrowers. If they can't repay after 270 days, loans are in default. Washington pays SM the balance plus interest. For repayment, collection agencies like General Revenue Corporation (GRC), the nation's largest, impose 25% loan collection fees plus 28% commission charges on borrowers, and can garnish wages and other income for payment.

No statute of limitations applies. For GRC and other predators, a steady profit stream is assured at the expense of borrowers. Even schools benefit by raising tuition and fees far above inflation rates and income growth, making college more expensive, less affordable, and assuring higher future defaults on greater amounts.

Obama's student loan overhaul was a scam. Effective July 1, 2010, it does little to mitigate lenders' ability to rip off borrowers in perpetuity, yet he called it "one of the most significant investments in higher education since the GI bill." He lied.

A Final Comment

More than ever, higher education is out of reach for millions. Most others require substantial scholarship and/or student loan help. During times of economic crisis, families are greatly burdened to assist financially. A 2008 National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education study said they contribute, on average, 55% of their income for public, four-year institutions, up from 39% in 2000, and higher still today to meet rising school costs.

As a result, today's higher education means crushing debt burdens at a time systemic high unemployment and fewer good jobs make repaying them onerous to impossible. America's ownership society is heartless, favoring capital, not popular interests, a policy with strong bipartisan support.

More here

Northern English colleges popular

Usually, the North is much looked down on by people in the Home Counties (S.E. England)

Some of the country's top universities - including Oxford and Cambridge - could be failing to attract the brightest students because of the higher cost of living in the south of the country.

Figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that, while there has been an overall slight increase in the number of students applying for a university place this September compared to last year, there are wide variations between colleges.

And although universities in the Midlands and the north have seen interest in courses skyrocket by as much as 50 per cent, some highly-ranked colleges in the more expensive south have seen a dip in applications - fuelling speculation that cash-strapped students are applying for university places with one eye on their wallets.

The University of Derby has seen applications increase by 50 per cent, while Liverpool Hope and Edge Hill, near Preston, have witnessed application increases of 37 and 35 per cent respectively. Conversely, applications for Cambridge and University College, London, are down by about one per cent and Oxford has seen a five per cent fall in British applicants. Bournemouth University applications are down nine per cent on last year.

Ian Roberts, admissions director for Manchester Metropolitan University, which has seen applications increase by 20 per cent, suggested that students could be attracted to northern universities because of cheaper living costs.

'There seems to be an emerging north-south divide,' he told The Sunday Times. 'The northwest is well served by local universities and clearly the recession is having an effect. The northwest has lower living costs and represents good value for money.'

Kelvin Everest - pro-vice chancellor at Liverpool University where applications are up 21 per cent, added: 'There's an emerging trend of more students studying at home and for recruits coming from around the country, as they are going to find Liverpool cheaper. 'It's also on the back of a general rush for places ahead of 2012.'

According to the British Council, a student living in London is likely to spend almost 60 per cent more than if they were studying in Liverpool - £9,500 compared to £6,000.


British schools inspectorate warns of 'dull' school science experiments

Thousands of children are being let down in school science lessons by boring experiments, according to Ofsted. Inspectors warned that practical work was too prescriptive in up to a third of secondary schools as pupils were left “merely following instructions”.

Despite improvements in recent years, these schools were more concerned with preparing pupils to pass exams than carrying out their own scientific investigations.

The study – based on inspections of 221 state schools and colleges in England – praised a rise in the number of teenagers taking separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics.

But inspectors suggested some secondaries also pushed pupils into taking less academic vocational science courses between 14 and 16 – “restricting” their chances of studying the subject at A-level. Just one in 100 of these students go on to take advanced science qualifications in the sixth-form.

At primary level, children’s grasp of science was often undermined by a lack of expertise among teachers, which “limited the challenge for some more able pupils”, it was disclosed.

Since 2007, the performance of the brightest pupils aged seven to 11 has declined, Ofsted said.

The conclusions come just weeks after a major report found UK schools had fallen in an international league table ranking standards of school science.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, insisted it was vital that teachers who “still lack confidence in scientific enquiry” are given more help and on-the-job training. “This report highlights what the best schools are doing to ensure science courses prepare pupils for continuing education, training and living in a technological society,” she said. “This should be a stimulus to better practice and improvement.”

Ofsted investigated standards of science in schools and colleges in England between 2007 and 2010. It found pupils’ progress in the subject was good or outstanding in 70 per cent of primary schools and around two-thirds of secondaries. Lessons were worse in colleges where science was often regarded as the worst-taught subject.

The report – Successful Science – said a decision by the last Government to axe science Sats tests for 11 and 14-year-olds led to widespread improvements in schools. It helped schools “avoid an undue concentration on revision” at the end of primary school and half-way through secondary education, Ofsted said, freeing teachers to provide more stimulating lessons.

The report said more secondary schools were also offering an “increased range of courses” for 14- to 16-year-olds, including the option to take three separate sciences.

But it suggested at least a third of secondaries – where pupil progress is no better than satisfactory – gave students “limited” opportunities to “design and carry out experiments”. “Too much of the practical work was prescriptive, with students merely following instructions,” said the report.

“These schools were often influenced too much by the specific ways in which practical work and scientific enquiry skills were assessed for GCSE sciences and, as a result, were less concerned with providing opportunities for wider-ranging investigations.”

The report added that in primary schools a “lack of specialist expertise limited the challenge for some more able pupils”.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Arizona Bans extremist Latino Studies Program in Tucson school

A new immigration debate is burning in Arizona this week after the state's attorney general declared a Tucson school district's Mexican-American program illegal -- while similar class programs for blacks, Asians and American Indians were left standing.

"It's propagandizing and brainwashing that's going on there," Tom Horne, the new attorney general said earlier this week referring to the Latino program. He ruled it violated a new state law that went into effect on Jan. 1, the New York Times reported Saturday.

When he was the state's superintendent of public instruction, Horne wrote the bill challenging the program. The legislature passed it last spring, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law in May at a time when Arizona was mired in protests against its new anti-illegal immigration law.

Now, adding to an already combustible racial and ethnic climate in the heavily Hispanic state, 11 teachers have filed suit in federal courts challenging the new ethnic-studies law, the one that is backed by Horne.

In the Tucson school case, the state claims that the Latino program is more about creating future activists and less about education.

Horne's fight with Tucson goes back to 2007, the Times reported, when Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, told high school students in a speech that Republicans hated Latinos. And Horne is a Republican.

Arizona school districts may lose 10 percent of their state funds if their ethnic studies programs fail to meet new state standards. Programs that support the overthrow of the United States government are banned. Also prohibited are classes that encourage hatred or resentment toward a race, or that focus on one race, or that support ethnic solidarity instead of individuality.

Horne said that Tucson's Latino program violated all those provisions. The district has 60 days to comply with the new law, although Horne indicated that the program would be ended anyway. He said that other districts ethnic-studies programs could continue, absent any complaints.

At Tucson High Magnet School where nearly all the students enrolled in Curtis Acosta's Latino literature class were Mexican-American, students expressed anger, asking how they could protest Horne's decision. "They wrote a state law to snuff this program out, just us little Chicanitos," Acosta told the New York Times. "The idea of losing this is emotional."

On the other side, Horne was asked if he felt he was being compared to Bull Connor, the Alabama police commissioner whose violence against blacks and other freedom fighters became the image of bigotry in the 1960s. Horne said he had joined the March on Washington in 1963, and lashed out at his critics, saying, "They are the 'Bull Connors.' They are the ones re-segregating."


Teachers MUST be free to touch children, says British education boss as he vows to restore common sense in schools

Michael Gove has said music teachers must be free to touch children to show them techniques, after a performers' group said all physical contact should be avoided.

The Musicians' Union sparked outrage when they released a video, supported by the NSPCC, telling teachers not to get too close to youngsters - amid fears they could be branded paedophiles. They insisted the policy was necessary to protect tutors who are suspended instantly when an accusation of inappropriate touching is made.

Education secretary Mr Gove said the video was pandering to peoples' fears and teachers have branded the tape a 'hysterical over reaction'.

The film - entitled 'Keeping Children Safe In Music' - shows a sinister looking music teacher helping a boy to play the violin. As the teacher intervenes to correct his play by putting a hand on his shoulder and his fingers in the correct place on the strings, the youngster looks concerned.

In a letter to the Musicians' Union general secretary John Smith, Mr Gove wrote: 'By telling your music teachers that they should avoid any physical contact with children, it sends out completely the wrong message. 'It plays to a culture of fear among both adults and children, reinforcing the message that any adult who touches a child is somehow guilty of inappropriate contact.'

The Department for Education 'is taking steps to restore common sense to this whole area' he said.

Mr Gove confirmed in October last year that he intends to scrap so-called 'no touch' rules which discourage teachers from restraining and comforting children.

In his letter, Mr Gove added: 'It is entirely proper and necessary for adults to touch children when they demonstrate how to play a musical instrument, when they show how to play certain sports, when they are leading a child away from trouble, when they are comforting distressed or disconsolate children and when they are intervening to prevent disorder and harm.'

He added that it is 'particularly important' that music teachers are confident in demonstrating techniques.

In the video, a voiceover message says: 'When you're teaching instruments, there are times when you need to demonstrate particular techniques. 'In the past, this has often been done by touching students, but this can make students feel uncomfortable, and can leave teachers open to accusations of inappropriate behaviour. 'It isn't necessary to touch children in order to demonstrate: there's always a better way.'

Diane Widdison, the national organiser at the Musicians' Union said the video was made to protect teachers. 'When allegations are made against music teachers they are suspended immediately while an investigation is carried out and their careers are damaged or ruined even if they are declared innocent,' she said.

'In one recent case the parents of a child learning the guitar complained that the teacher had touched their child's finger to pluck a guitar string. 'In many cases having to be more creative and find alternatives to touching reinforces the learning process because it ensures that children are thinking for themselves.'


Only one British child in six gets five good High School grades as pupils switch from academic subjects to 'soft' courses

Only 15 per cent of children get five good grades in traditional subjects at GCSE. The shocking figures – to be released next week – highlight the consequences of a shift toward ‘soft’ courses.

A Labour shake-up in 2004 gave pupils more scope to study non-academic GCSE equivalents – and these options have surged in popularity by 3,800 per cent. They include certificates in personal effectiveness, salon services and preparation for working life.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants schools to switch to a so-called ‘English baccalaureate’ comprising English, maths, a science, history or geography and a language.

Currently five in six pupils fail to get A* to C grades in five of those disciplines. And that figure is inflated by the superior performance of children at independent schools.

Mr Gove has also altered the threshold at which schools are officially deemed to be underperforming. Labour put them in that category if fewer than 30 per cent of their children got five A* to C grade GCSEs, including English and maths.

That threshold has been raised to 35 per cent, meaning many more schools will be branded as failing. In nearly every other developed country in the world, children are assessed in a range of core academic subjects at 15 or 16 – even if they are on a vocational route.

In France, for example, all children take the ‘brevet des colleges’, which assesses French, maths, a modern foreign language and one from history, geography and civics.

But Labour gave non-academic qualifications – including computer skills and sports leadership – parity with traditional subjects in league tables in 2004. The move helped fuel a damaging collapse in the number of children taking academic courses as schools pushed weaker pupils into other areas to improve their standing in league tables.

Mr Gove told the Daily Mail: ‘We are publishing more information which shines a light on the last Government’s failure to give millions of children access to core academic knowledge in other subjects. Universities, colleges and employers value rigorous learning in subjects such as French and German, history and geography, but under the last government access to this core was limited.

‘And the very poorest lost out most. That is why we are supporting schools and teachers in their effort to give every child access to the best that’s been thought and written.’

In 2004, around 15,000 non-academic qualifications were taken in schools. By 2010 this had risen to around 575,000 - mostly at age 16 – a 3,800 per cent increase. Since 1997, there has been a 31 per cent decline in the number of children studying a modern foreign language. The number of children taking any GCSE science – single, double or additional sciences – fell by 60,000 between 2007 and 2010.