Saturday, February 05, 2011

Have American Teachers Moved “To The Left” Of President Obama?

It seems like a strange time to “move to the left.” But it seems to be happening nonetheless.

Since his self-confessed “shellacking” in last November’s election, much has been said about how President Obama’s rhetoric has shifted to the philosophical “right.” Gone are the pejorative remarks about how Americans must stop consuming more than their “fair share” of the earth’s resources, and the scolding of oil and pharmaceutical companies for earning “record profits” (the President would probably be thrilled if any American business were to set profit records today).

“In” are the kinds of comments that are typical of an American President. Mr. Obama recently announced that he wants to embrace “Thomas Edison’s principles,” and that he desires for Americans to “invent stuff” and “make stuff.” He has even stated that he wants to open-up more foreign markets so American companies can sell more of their products and services globally. Indeed, the past few weeks have seen a dramatic change in the President who spent two years bowing to foreign heads of state, and lamenting America’s superpower status.

But while the President and most of America have moved to the right, big labor doesn’t even seem willing to move the center. In fact, some unions that represent America’s public school teachers seem to have moved further towards the philosophical “left,” even as state and local governments struggle with debt and deficits, and in some cases, the threat of bankruptcy.

A disconnect between the President and the National Education Association is not new. Despite the undying allegiance of the NEA to the Democratic Party, Obama has still been a bit of an infidel for government school bureaucrats because of his support of charter schools.

It’s a concept that has become so popular with parents in recent years that presidential candidates can no longer politically afford to reject it. Still the concept of “charter schools” - schools that are publicly funded, yet managed by private sector individuals and organizations -creates market competition for conventional government-run schools and school districts, and the NEA rejects the idea outright. In fact, the NEA publicly denounced President Obama’s “Race To The Top” agenda at their annual convention last July, precisely because the agenda entailed support for charter schools.

Now, further evidence of a labor union moving starkly to the left of our President has emerged from the very “red” state of Idaho. While the Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction have embarked on a effort to completely revolutionize public education in their state, the Idaho Education Association (the statewide chapter of the NEA) seems to have been caught flat-footed, and some of its members seem to have succumbed to brazenly Marxist responses.

On January 10th, Idaho Governor Butch Otter delivered the annual “State of the State” address, and on education funding he promised “a fundamental shift in emphasis from the adults who oversee the process and administration to the best interests of our students.” Two days later on January 12th, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna addressed the state legislature announcing his “Students Come First” initiatives, a plan that would established what he refers to as “customer driven education.”

It’s an outrage that in the milieu of American public education, students often do not “come first” and that decisions are frequently made that serve the interests of employees and not the “customers.” Similarly, “success” is frequently defined by public education bureaucrats in terms of how much taxpayer money is spent (“per pupil spending” is the buzzword of choice), rather than by what is produced with those expenditures.

So in a state that is bound by its own constitution to balance its own budget, Superintendent Luna has vowed that public schools in Idaho will teach “more students at a higher level with limited resources.” To achieve this he proposes that school activity should “not be limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars and geography,” but rather that students should be issued laptop computers with access to online, on-demand instructional content (Luna has already connected high school students this way with Idaho’s state colleges and universities). He also wants to incentivize more productivity from teachers by offering bonus pay opportunities and wants “full transparency” for how taxpayer money is spent (Luna has uncovered evidence of local school districts paying fulltime salaries to “teachers” who do nothing but organize union activity).

Responses from unionized teachers have been swift and visceral. Most noticeable is the opposition to the “bonus pay” proposals, with cries that it would simply be “unfair” if some received a bonus while others did not (note to teachers: Karl Marx would be thrilled with this “everybody deserves the same amount of everything” economic reasoning – but it’s not a “bonus” if everybody gets one). And while the private sector thrives in a world of online conferencing and “webinars” every day, some of Idaho’s public school teachers insist that such technology has no place in their profession.

It’s sad to see college-educated adult professionals clinging to such simplistic and selfish thinking, and it’s infuriating that children are held hostage to it. But for the moment it’s coming from “big labor” – and not so much from “big government.”


Left State University

William Irvine is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University. He is one of the most courageous and honest professors in the country. Recently, he wrote a column concerning Wright State’s decision to invite the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to speak on his campus. Although he disagrees with many of Reverend Wright’s views, he publicly welcomed him to the campus because he believes that a university should be a marketplace of ideas. That view alone makes Irvine exceptional among today’s professoriate.

Irvine calls out his university for being “curiously one-sided in the speakers it brings to campus.” He notes that liberal speakers are routinely invited and that ultra-liberal speakers including Wright and Angela Davis are occasionally invited. No one seems to think it strange that avowed communists and those with significant criminal backgrounds are paid to speak on campus at considerable expense to the taxpayer. But politically conservative speakers are scarce and in the case of John McCain and Sarah Palin pay for the privilege of using campus facilities.

William Irvine is the rare professor willing to confront his colleagues’ hypocrisy and to publicly quote their silly defenses of rigid ideological conformity. When he confronted another professor with the idea that the university should invite conservative speakers his colleague responded by asking “You mean someone like Glenn Beck?” This kind of reaction shows how off-center our universities have become. What educated person could consider Glen Beck to be more extreme than Angela Davis?

Another professor reacted to Irvine’s reasonable suggestion by saying that it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring any Holocaust deniers to campus. The statement is an odd one indeed. It suggests that most conservatives refuse to accept the Holocaust as fact. I think liberal supporters of abortion are today’s true Holocaust deniers.

Professor Irvine has discovered something I have also discovered about the liberal professoriate; namely, that they see no reason for debate. In their eyes, the debate is over on all the major issues of the day. Of course, in their eyes they won all the major debates. Now, the reward for winning these debates is that we can proceed into the implementation phase. Of course, professors rarely use the word “implementation.” They just mindlessly repeat the word “diversity” like catatonics in padded cells.

Professor Irvine has also discovered that suggestions of bringing people like Thomas Sowell to campus are met with one pretty serious problem: Most liberal professors have never heard of Thomas Sowell.

Many years ago I suggested that Sowell should be required reading for college students. The reaction was amazing. According to one of my left-leaning colleagues - one who actually knows who Thomas Sowell is - the students don’t need to read Sowell because they were raised in conservative homes where those ideas were regularly espoused.

Notice the intellectual sleight of hand my “liberal” colleague employed. His argument is against intellectual diversity. The $64,000 question: Why oppose intellectual diversity? The answer: Since parents do it for eighteen years it is only fair that professors be allowed to do it for four years.

Professor Irvine has accurately identified a big problem in saying that it is now possible for students to get a college “education” without ever encountering a conservative professor. But the problem is even bigger than that. Most professors now believe it is desirable for students to get a college “education” without ever encountering a conservative professor. Their idea of “liberal education” is nothing more than a poorly disguised war on conservatism. This anti-conservative mindset is so entrenched that one of my “liberal” colleagues wants to remove the entire Cameron School of Business from UNC-Wilmington (where I teach). He explicitly stated that a school of business has “no business at a liberal university.” Between his puerile and antiquated lectures on Marxism he denies the existence of any liberal bias. This is the personification of self-indulgence and anti-intellectualism.

Professor William Irvine says that we do not have a fair hearing of conservative views on campus but instead “liberal professors galore, who will be happy to tell you what they imagine the conservative viewpoint on various issues must be and why these viewpoints are wrongheaded.” This statement is bull’s-eye accurate. And his follow-up statement is brilliant: “This is a pale substitute for a genuine political debate, but it is, on many campuses, what students have to settle for.”

Good for him. This debate should remain focused on the shortchanged students. College is not becoming less expensive. But it is becoming less relevant.

The public challenge issued by Professor Irvine is one that every professor, conservative or liberal, should issue to his university. That challenge comes in two parts: 1) Hire at least a few conservative professors. (I’m open to this idea. What better way to remedy the historical oppression of conservatives!). 2) If you cannot stomach hiring conservative professors then at least hire some conservative speakers.

Of course, today’s “liberal” professor will agree to neither of those suggestions. He uses affirmative action to promote his self-esteem not to promote “a diversity of perspectives.” And he uses the word “diversity” only to hide his deep-seated intellectual insecurity.

Our universities are no longer committed to revealing the truth. They are committed to suppressing the truth. And among those truths is that tolerance is not the academy’s most enduring intellectual achievement. It is its most transparent moral weakness.


Australia: Victoria's Education Minister Martin Dixon launches new bid to restore order in classrooms

TEACHERS will seize back control of their classrooms from unruly students under a bid to restore discipline in Victorian schools. The new Baillieu Government will next week push for new laws allowing principals to search students, lockers and school bags for weapons and other dangerous items.

Education Minister Martin Dixon also wants to reverse students' declining respect for authority. He wants to put a stop to bad language, sloppy dress and mobile phones in class.

It follows a surge in schoolyard violence, with Victorian schools now reporting more than 12 assaults every week. Over the past decade, the number of students aged 10-14 committing violent acts has jumped by 80 per cent. "Put simply, violent behaviour in the school yard will not be tolerated," said Mr Dixon, a former principal with 15 years' experience.

"These new powers will ensure principals and teachers have clear authority to maintain order and safety in schools. "We want to send a strong message that we will protect that authority."

Mr Dixon said restoring respect was his top priority. "There's a growing number of parents that have got a lack of respect for any level of authority, whether it be police or school principals," he said. "(And) there's an increasing use and threat of violence in schools. "Assaults, verbal or physical, on teachers and principals used to be unheard of, but they do occur now. It is an issue. We've got to protect principals from that too."

Under the legislation to be debated in Parliament next week, principals would have the power to order students to open lockers and school bags, and turn out their pockets, to prove they were not carrying weapons. Any potentially dangerous items - including glass bottles, sporting equipment and trade tools - could be confiscated.

The legislation would not permit teachers to conduct body searches, but would legally protect them for handling prohibited items, such as knives or guns, before handing them over to police.

Mr Dixon said he was personally opposed to mobile phones in classrooms, sloppy dressing and swearing in school grounds. But principals would set the rules and penalties in their own schools.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh said the move would make schools safer.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Black Education

Walter E. Williams

In my "Black Education Disaster" column (12/22/10), I presented National Assessment of Educational Progress test data that demonstrated that an average black high school graduate had a level of reading, writing and math proficiency of a white seventh- or eighth-grader. The public education establishment bears part of the responsibility for this disaster, but a greater portion is borne by black students and their parents, many of whom who are alien and hostile to the education process.

Let's look at the education environment in many schools and ask how conducive it is to the education process. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nationally during 2007-2008, more than 145,000 teachers were physically attacked. Six percent of big-city schools report verbal abuse of teachers and 18 percent report non-verbal disrespect for teachers.

An earlier NCES study found that 18 percent of the nation's schools accounted for 75 percent of the reported incidents of violence, and 6.6 percent accounted for 50 percent. So far as serious violence, murder and rapes, 1.9 percent of schools reported 50 percent of the incidents. The preponderance of school violence occurs in big-city schools attended by black students.

What's the solution? Violence, weapons-carrying, gang activity and student or teacher intimidation should not be tolerated. Students engaging in such activity should be summarily expelled.

Some might worry about the plight of expelled students. I think we should have greater concern for those students whose education is made impossible by thugs and the impossible learning environment they create.

Another part of the black education disaster has to do with the home environment. More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwedded mothers, who are often themselves born to unwedded mothers. Today's level of female-headed households is new in black history. Until the 1950s, almost 80 percent of black children lived in two-parent households, as opposed to today's 35 percent.

Often, these unwedded mothers have poor parenting skills and are indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their children's education. The resulting poorly behaving students should not be permitted to sabotage the education of students whose parents are supportive of the education process.

At the minimum, a mechanism such as tuition tax credit or educational voucher ought to be available to allow parents and children who care to opt out of failing schools. Some people take the position that we should repair not abandon failing schools. That's a vision that differs little from one that says that no black child's education should be improved unless we can improve the education of all black children.

What needs to be done is not rocket science. Our black ancestors, just two, three, four generations out of slavery, would not have tolerated school behavior that's all but routine today. The fact that the behavior of many black students has become acceptable and made excuses for is no less than a gross betrayal of sacrifices our ancestors made to create today's opportunities.

Some of today's black political leadership is around my age, 75, such as Reps. Maxine Waters, Charles Rangel, John Conyers, former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, Jesse Jackson and many others. Forget that they are liberal Democrats but ask them whether their parents, kin or neighbors would have tolerated children cursing to, or in the presence of, teachers and other adults. Ask them what their parents would have done had they assaulted an adult or teacher. Ask whether their parents would have accepted the grossly disrespectful behavior seen among many black youngsters on the streets and other public places using foul language and racial epithets. Then ask why should today's blacks tolerate something our ancestors would not.

The sorry and tragic state of black education is not going to be turned around until there's a change in what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior by young people. The bulk of that change has to come from within the black community.


School Reform Advocates Champion Choice

Hundreds of Chicagoland residents flocked to a townhall meeting on education reform last week, as school choice advocates continued a nationwide push to highlight the issue during National School Choice Week. The program, which was co-sponsored by local conservative talk station AM 560 WIND, featured a panel discussion among syndicated talker Michael Medved, political strategist and author Dick Morris, and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The trio traded ideas on how to improve America’s schools and attempted to diagnose a number of the system’s key flaws in a discussion moderated by John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute.

“Our current system is wrong. Competition is the bedrock of America, and it’s time that education reaches the market economy,” Hastert asserted, prompting nods of agreement from his co-panelists. “It come down to a core American value: equal opportunity,” Medved added. “Conservatives don’t believe in equal outcomes. But from the time of founding, part of what this country is about is everybody gets a shot. That’s what we’re affirming here tonight,” he said.

Morris suggested that by injecting greater competition into the system, individual schools and districts could serve as educational laboratories. “We’ve tried testing, standards, and funding increases. The only remaining option is opening up the status quo to experiments,” he said, arguing that outcomes should dictate future priorities. “Let’s find out what works, and let the money go with the kids. At that point, when people ask which schools to close, the answer is the empty ones.”

During the wide-ranging discussion, the panel explored a number of potential experimental programs, from inner city public boarding schools, to significantly shortening summer break, to reinstituting trade schools as a viable and respected option for students.

“We have this idea in the US that every child is the same. We also have this idea that every single American child should go to college. That’s not a good idea. College prep work sets up a huge number of children for guaranteed failure. It’s perfectly possible to make a great living and be a wonderful citizen without being a college prep student,” Medved said.

The applause turned to boos and jeers at any mention of teacher’s unions -- although panelists were quick to draw a distinction between what they called the corrupt practices of unions and individual teachers. At one point, public school teachers in the crowd were asked to raise their hands. They were greeted with a prolonged ovation. “Good teachers transform lives, but not every teacher is equal, unless you’re talking to the unions,” Morris said, echoing a sentiment featured in a short film trailer that played during the event.

Medved added a word of caution: “Let’s not just make the teacher’s unions the big bad enemy,” he implored the audience, citing his own mother’s publicly-funded health benefits that helped her afford medical treatment after suffering a stroke. “Teachers making a respectable living and receiving good benefits is not something to oppose. If we do, we’ll lose that argument. The problem is the corruption of unions who protect the worst teachers who have no business being in a classroom. We are not on the side of bad, lazy teachers,” he said.

Each speaker praised innovative steps that have already been taken by some jurisdictions, including tying driver’s licenses to school attendance for teens. Ultimately, though, government policies can only go so far, Hastert contended. “It’s not just money or policy that leads to success. Parents need to care. Then, teachers will care because parents care. We can’t legislate that, but we should encourage it,” he said. “Home schooling is the epitome of that idea, and the people involved in that movement are very vocal. I take my hat off to them.”

Many of the audience questions dealt with breaking the disproportionate strength of the unions, which led to an extended discussion of Governor Chris Christie’s ongoing battle with the New Jersey Education Association. “Christie has started to do what people say can’t be done. He is changing the psyche of the public. But for us to do here [in Illinois] what he’s doing out in New Jersey, we need a different governor,” he said to loud applause. Democrat Pat Quinn was elected to his first full term as Governor of Illinois in November.


Geography lessons 'not good enough' in half of British schools

Children’s knowledge of capital cities, continents, world affairs and the environment is in sharp decline because of poor geography lessons, inspectors warned today. In a damning report, Ofsted said teaching in the subject was not good enough in more than half of English state schools.

Geography – traditionally a cornerstone of the curriculum – is often undermined by a lack of space in school timetables after being edged out by exam practice and other subjects such as citizenship.

Many primary teachers lacked specialist geographical knowledge, the watchdog said, meaning classes often descended into a focus on superficial stereotypes. The subject had practically “disappeared” in one-in-10 primaries.

In secondary schools, classes were often merged with history to form generic “humanities” lessons that focused on vague skills instead of geographical understanding.

Ofsted said the decline severely reduced children’s ability at all ages to grasp key geographical issues, identify countries or capital cities and even read maps properly. In the worst secondary schools, most students were “spatially naïve” and unable to "locate countries, key mountain ranges or other features with any degree of confidence”, the study said.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: “Geography provision was outstanding in over a quarter of all the schools we visited but just over half were not using geography to good effect to support pupils in understanding their role in their locality, their country and the wider world.” She added: “Where provision is weaker, schools should focus on developing pupils’ core knowledge in geography, particularly their sense of place.”

Geography is currently a compulsory subject for pupils aged five to 14. But Ofsted’s study – based on inspections of 91 primary and 90 secondary schools – found serious weaknesses in the teaching of the subject throughout the education system.

Geography was “more or less disappearing” in one-in-10 primary schools, the report said. In half the schools visited, pupils in some classes were taught no geography at all.

Improvements were often undermined by primary teachers’ “weak knowledge of geography, their lack of confidence in teaching it and insufficient subject-specific training”, the report said.

Teachers’ lack of expertise occasionally led to a focus on “cultural or exotic aspects” of some countries which could reinforce stereotypes, it was claimed. One lesson for eight and nine year olds seen by Ofsted began with a teacher asking what pupils knew about India. Children said Indians were “famous for their camels”, “do yoga”, “wear colourful clothes” and “ride on elephants”, but the teacher did little to challenge their stereotypes and misconceptions, Ofsted said.

At secondary level, more than half the schools visited cut the amount of time spent teaching geography in the first three years. In many cases, tuition was reduced because timetables were overloaded with other subjects, such as citizenship, or time spent providing “catch-up sessions in English and mathematics”.

Around a third of schools merged history and geography together to form "humanities" lessons, but these classes "tended to focus on generic learning skills rather than knowledge and understanding that was specific to geography", inspectors warned.

The report said “uninspiring teaching” at the start of secondary school led to a reduction in the number of teenagers opting to take a GCSE in the subject. Some 97 secondaries failed to enter a single pupil for GCSE geography in 2007 but by 2009 it increased to 137. Almost one-in-10 academies – the independent state schools championed by the Coalition – shunned GCSE geography altogether, it was claimed.

The report – Geography: Learning to Make a World of Difference – recommended better on-the-job training for teachers, a more rigorous focus on geography in the first three years of secondary education and a rise in the number of fieldtrips for all ages.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Education: We need Wal-Mart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’ll get no objection from me.


British boys' schools decline in shift towards mixed classrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Research achievements among Australian universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Brooklyn College Rescinds Appointment of Pro-Palestinian Activist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Science report card: Most US students “not proficient”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Australia: Should Italian and Chinese lead the new national curriculum?

Foreign languages are an enthusiasm of mine and I have some qualifications in three of them -- but I cannot for the life of me see why everybody should study them. Learning a foreign language is a huge task (and really huge if the language is Asian) and that diverts energies from the large range of other important subjects. And for what? I doubt that 1% will become translators as we have plenty of naturally bilingual people in Australia anyway (children of immigrants) -- JR

Should all students have to study a second language before year 7 as planned under the new national curriculum? The curriculum will cover 11 foreign languages with Italian and Chinese the first to be developed.

Latin and other classical languages have been left out, raising concern. Language teachers say this is a major omission because a knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek underpins understanding of literature, art and the English language. The sign language Auslan has also been left out, also raising concern.

Italian and Chinese have been given first priority because the national curriculum authority says they "represent languages that cater for the greatest range of learners". "Chinese is a national priority, and Italian is learnt by the largest number of students in the primary years and the second largest number of students enrolments over all." Indonesian, Japanese and Korean are also deemed national priorities as part of the second stage of the language curriculum development.

Traditional European languages including French and German and Spanish will also be included because they are among the most commonly taught languages in Australian schools. The national curriculum authority has included Spanish as a "language of global importance".

Parents are hotly debating these priorities, with some saying the options are too narrow and locking their children into choices too early. Some say they want their children to have wider language choices until at least year 10.

Parents have been telling talk-back radio this morning that they disagree with the national priorities given to some languages over others.


Israel Supporters Denied Entrance to Anti-Zionist Event at Rutgers

On Saturday night, January 29, anti-Zionist organizations barred hundreds of Jewish and pro-Israel gatherers from attending an event on the New Brunswick campus comparing Israeli actions to those of the Nazis. The program, titled “Never Again for Anyone,” was intended to coincide with the UN sanctioned International Holocaust Remembrance Day and “honor” the victims of the Holocaust. I, along with Rutgers University Hillel President Sarah Morrison and many others, viewed this event as an outright minimization of the Holocaust and defamation of the Jewish people.

Upon circulating information pertaining to this event around the tri-state area, the Jewish community along with those who seek to preserve the righteous memory of those murdered at the hands of the Nazis sought to audit the event. BAKA – Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, the host of the event, printed on the event page on Facebook that the event was free and open to the public. In addition, the group Never Again for Anyone, which is the host of the abhorrent tour, printed on the website for the event that a suggested donation of $5-$20 would be asked for at the door. Only after 200-400 pro-Israel supporters showed up did the event–held in a state school, paid for by both tax dollars and student fees–begin to discriminate who could enter the event free-of-cost.

First, the organizers of the event asked all of those who gathered together in opposition to the event to stand in a separate line and wait for seating to take place. Meanwhile, those in anti-Israel apparel, keffiyahs and hijabs were taken aside, given green wristbands, labeled as event “staff” and given free entrance. At one point, the hosts of the event, which ranged from groups like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network to the International Socialist Organization, tore apart a suggested donation sign leaving only the admission fee visible. The group then said students could attend free-of-charge if they became members of BAKA. However, this policy once again did not apply for the Jewish students hoping to attend. In fact, at one point, I signed my name and the woman behind the desk read it and furiously crossed out the information I had just posted.

This event demonstrates better than any protest or counter-rally ever could the vehement anti-Israel and concurrently anti-Semitic sentiment growing not only on the campus of Rutgers but across the country. The organizers of the program did not want any recording devices to be inside the event, continuing a recent trend among anti-Israel organizations on campus that have become increasingly secretive. Clearly those who opposed the comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany would not want to monetarily support the creators of the event. So by denying audio and video recording along with the admission of Israel supporters, BAKA effectively removed any open transmission of the program.


Britain's problem pupils will have to enrol at 'boot camps' run by former soldiers

Disruptive children will be sent to ‘boot camps’ run by former soldiers under Government plans. Expelled pupils are to receive a ‘military-style education’ at the special units separate from mainstream schools. Former army officers who fought in Afghanistan will keep the youngsters under close supervision while teaching them teamwork and basic skills.

There will be a strong emphasis on physical exercise including assault courses and training similar to the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme. Children will be taught maths skills by learning how to use a map in a forest. They will also be expected to volunteer in their community.

Michael Gove yesterday paved the way for the measures as he unveiled his Education Bill, which focuses on boosting standards and improving behaviour in schools. If passed, the Bill will grant the Education Secretary powers to order a local council to close failing schools. And it will strip academy sponsors of their involvement in a school if that school under-performs.

The Bill also seeks to hand teachers more power to tackle bad behaviour in the classroom while freeing them of the reams of unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy introduced under Labour.

There are currently 16,000 youngsters under the age of 16 who are outside the school system, often because they have been excluded and no school will take them in. At present they are taught in one of more than 400 Pupil Referral Units which local authorities are obliged to provide.

Yesterday Mr Gove said most local authority-run referral units ‘are not up to snuff’ and expressed his desire for them to be closed and reopened as academies. He said he envisaged that they would be run by and modelled on charities such as Skill Force, which trains and hires veterans to teach disadvantaged and disruptive young children.

Peter Cross, OBE, head of Skill Force, said he had ‘been in talks’ with ministers about the possibility to running alternative referral units based on the current Skill Force courses. Skill Force already ‘teaches’ 4,000 pupils a year on its once-a-week, two-year course. These pupils, often on the brink of expulsion, are selected by schools to attend the courses.

Mr Cross said the charity has incredible success rates which he attributes to providing the pupils, many of whom are from single families, with a strong male role model.

He added: ‘Many of the veterans have served in Afghanistan. They are used to solving problems. And they have all been given military-style training. They adapt this for the youngsters and they treat them like adults.’

Mr Cross said the charity had also placed injured war veterans alongside their teachers with dramatic effects. ‘It teaches them about responsibility, compassion and courage.’

The Bill also makes it easier for head teachers to expel violent pupils. At the moment they can exclude a pupil for carrying a knife or acting violently. But their decision can be overruled and the head is forced to reinstate the pupil. The Bill states that a heads’ decision can be reviewed but it cannot be overturned.

It will also give the Government more power to intervene in schools that are failing and where pupil behaviour is out of control. Mr Gove will have the right to order a local authority to close a school that is in special measures, requires significant improvement or has failed to comply with a warning notice.

The Government will also be able to direct councils to give a warning notice to an under-performing school, He said that local authorities had not been tough enough on failing schools in the past. ‘More than two-thirds of local authorities had never issued a warning notice; only 100 warning notices had been issued during the history of this provision,’ he added.

‘Now we can insist that local authorities issue warning notices, and not just for schools in special measures but also for schools in the Ofsted category above that – notice to improve – and also for schools where there are real reasons for us to have concern.’


Monday, January 31, 2011

Palintologists @ The MLA

At almost any gathering of the self-described intellectual elite, it seems that irrationally celebrating hatred of Sarah Palin is practically mandatory. The 2011 Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention was no different. In his lecture entitled "Hicksploitation: or, the Cultural Emergence of Sarah Palin," Scott Herring of Indiana U-Bloomington had a lot to say about Sarah Palin. Of course, all of it was negative.

Herring began by describing Palin as the "once and future proponent of faux populist conservatism." He talked about how Palin has repeatedly said that she is not a hillbilly, and how Palin has stated that the media keeps trying to portray her as one. Herring said that he essentially hoped the media were portraying her as a hillbilly in the "context of the sexual and racial" origins of the term "hillbilly." He spent the rest of his lecture tying "the Right" to the hillbilly lifestyle-as it is portrayed in 1970's hillbilly pornography. To back up his point, Herring argued that "hicksploitation" (or the exploitation, sexual and otherwise, of hicks) rose in popularity at the same time that "Christian fundamentalism" spiked-and that therefore, the correlation must imply causation.

To be fair, Herring teaches "Gender Studies" and not logic.

"Social conservatism is linked to conservative politics inherent in hick flicks/exploitation films," Herring stated. As an example, he read the abstract for the film "Orgy in the Ozarks," and said that hick flicks exemplify "complex sexuality" that is present in modern-day "queer conservatism" found in the Republican Party. He argued that hick sexploitation films are "a side of working class conservatism."

He used the movie "Bloody Mama" as another example, stating that "queerness enhances rather than contradicts family values." The movie shows a woman "maintaining family at all costs," which he equated to "social conservatism." He argued that there is a "connection to the New Right" shown in the movie, which ties the KKK to Christian fundamentalism in the same scene, "merging Old Right advocacy with hicksploitation with the New Right." Herring claimed that contributions of hicksploitation to "Right coalitionality has been obscured" by books like Going Rogue, which apparently intentionally misled people from the alleged truth that conservatives are perverted hillbillies. Herring argued, "She [Palin] and her extended family remain tainted" by the "queer genealogy" of hicksploitation and the "New Right."

It is truly astonishing that a professor at any university would make such strange generalizations based on such specious evidence. Herring assumes that because hick flicks and "Christian fundamentalism" emerged at around the same time-which is also an assumption that may or may not be correct-that therefore the two are linked. That is the same as assuming that because the iPhone 3GS came out at the same time as the Tea Party, the two must have caused each other.

Furthermore, in his lecture, Herring did not consider the political leanings of the creators of the 70's hillbilly porn he was so interested in discussing. It turns out that the director of Bloody Mama, Roger Corman, is an "acknowledged liberal" who "declared that he likes to get a politically liberal point of view into his movies." In making his conclusions, Herring is using an avowed liberal's depiction of conservatism in pornographic film to make his assumptions about Sarah Palin's alleged "queer genealogy." One would think that in the academic world, flawed methodology like this would not fly.

However, over the years the MLA has become known for its irrational hatred of all things conservative or traditional. While Herring's illogic is embarrassing for him and sad for the students who pay tuition to take his classes, it is entirely in keeping with the traditions of the MLA Annual Convention.


Academic Advice to Congress

An academic has recommended a plan of action for the new U. S. Congress that is actually partly grounded in reality. In her book, Closing America's Job Gap, Mary Walshok, a sociologist at the University of California's San Diego campus, recommends that Congress:

1. Encourage Start-Ups. Congress needs to create and keep good jobs in America by supporting innovative start-up companies that create jobs and provide incentives for retraining people to be qualified for new technologies.

2. Bottom Up, Not Top Down. Rather than federal top-down strategies for job creation, evidence from across America indicates the time has come for a bottom-up approach that harnesses the wisdom of local communities. The federal government needs to invest regionally in the kinds of collaborations that are already producing good jobs in high tech, biotech and clean tech, for which specialized training may be needed.

3. Tax Incentives for Training and Tuition Assistance Programs. Investment in employee training is rising but could use a boost. According to the University and Professional Continuing Education Association, employers want to increase their investment in employee education, a clear recognition that they need a highly skilled workforce to remain competitive. The government should provide incentives.

4. Tax Incentives for Time Off for Continuing Education. One roadblock to "reskilling" is that many employees find it difficult to pursue continuing education while balancing work and family obligations. Employers should offer flexible, convenient educational options to help increase participation. Tax incentives for doing so would go a long way.

5. Support Regional Business Clusters. In today's environment, regions need to be thinking about the industry clusters that can harness their assets to grow innovative new enterprises that can contribute to job creation. Central governments in advanced countries have launched numerous programs to promote growth-producing collaboration in key industry clusters. In fact, 26 of 31 European Union countries have cluster initiative programs, as do Japan and Korea. The United States needs cluster strategies that include provisions for workforce development.

6. Assemble the Right Team. Federal programs should maximize the resources provided for regional collaboration. Bring together the four key players in economic growth: the research community; the entrepreneurs and investors; the economic development associations; and the educators and workforce training organizations.

7. Help Adults, Not Just Kids. Congress needs to include adult learners in their education plans, not merely undergraduates and graduate students. Many members of Congress believe that an undergraduate or advanced degree will provide the knowledge and skills sufficient for a professional career spanning several decades. In today's world that is no longer true. Expanding on the job training and lifelong learning options are critical.

8. Think Globally. Congress needs to stimulate training programs to assure Americans have a clear sense of the enormous effects of globalization and new technologies on all industries and all workers and what they must do to be competitive. Six out of 10 university students believe their education has not prepared them to address these issues, according to a 2010 IBM survey of 3,600 students.

9. Invest in the Skilled Trades. The United States is not investing as much money and time in technical skills development as other nations. Examples of skilled jobs include: electricians, carpenters, plumbers and welders. Shortages of skilled workers are acute in many of the world's biggest economies, including the United States and Canada, where employers ranked skilled trades as their number one or number two hiring challenge, according to Manpower's 2010 Talent Shortage Survey.

10. Time for an Upgrade. Congress should help American employers invest in upgrading their workers' skills at the levels most European and Asian employers do. U.S. companies have fallen to eighth place for investments in training and employee development, as ranked by the World Economic Forum.

Of course, she can't quite bring herself to use the phrase tax cut, hence it is an incentive. Moreover, like liberals since the Clinton years, she is skittish about calling for increased government spending, preferring the term "investments."


One in five British graduates out of work as unemployment rates for university leavers doubles

The latest official figures highlight the nightmare scenario faced by recent graduates who have saddled themselves with crippling debt for the sake of a degree.

It emerged that the unemployment rate among those who graduated less than two years ago and are actively seeking work - 18.5 per cent - has hit its highest level for more than a decade.

The number has almost doubled since the start of the recession in 2008 when it stood at 10.6 per cent and statisticians believe it equates to around 80,000 graduates.

Meanwhile a record number of students, 320,000, are set to graduate this summer which suggests up to 64,000 of these will also be onsigned to the unemployment scrap heap.

The shocking figures come as prospective students face a mountain of debt with tuition fees increasing three-fold to £9,000 in 2012.

And they follow reports suggesting all graduates will struggle to secure a job at a top firm unless they undertake an internship while studying.

But rising student debts mean many simply cannot afford to do unpaid work, and many internships are unpaid.

Union leaders said the figures heap further misery on students and warned the Government that they will ‘fail a whole generation’ if they do not make immediate investment in education and employment.

The worrying statistics, from the Labour Force Survey, also show that graduate unemployment has increased faster than for the UK as a whole.

By the end of the recession, the unemployment rate for new graduates was 2.3 times higher than the rest of the UK -18.5 per cent compared with 7.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2009.
Chris Grayling: 'Young people are shouldering the burden of the Labour Government¿s mistakes'

Employment Minister Chris Grayling: 'Young people are shouldering the burden of the Labour Government¿s mistakes'

At the start of the recession, the rate for recent graduates was around twice that of the UK -10.6 per cent compared with 5.2 per cent.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: ‘These new figures show that graduates are encountering an exceptionally hostile jobs market and the Government persists with policies that put the burden of the country’s debt on the young.

‘Following the disappointing growth figures earlier this week, NUS calls on the Government for renewed targeted investment in education and the reinstatement of the Future Jobs Fund to support graduates into employment.’

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: ‘Today’s graduate unemployment figures are further bad news for students and young people. The coalition has slashed university budgets, tripled tuition fees, axed vital support for college students and the Future Jobs Fund.

‘Those who do make it through university are going to face a difficult job market without support, but saddled with record levels of debt. She said a ‘whole generation would be consigned to the scraphead of inactivity’ if the Government did not make immediate investment in education and jobs.

The ONS figures show that young people aged 21 to 24 who have left education and have a degree are still less likely to be unemployed than those of the same age without a degree - 11.6 per cent compared with 14.6 per cent.

But unemployment rates for graduates aged 21 to 24 increased by 6.3 percentage points over the recent recession, while rates for non-graduates of the same age rose by 5.3 percentage points.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: ‘These figures are further evidence that young people are shouldering the burden of the Labour Government’s mistakes.

‘The priority now must be to create financial stability in the economy so businesses will invest and create jobs.’

Official figures last week showed almost a million young people aged 16 to 24 - 951,000 are unemployed, which is the highest number since records began.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Education and the State of the Union

Barack Obama spent about 1,000 words of his 7,000-word State of the Union address on education, which might make you think this will be a big year for education reform.

But despite an abundance of words like “forward” and “progress,” Obama mostly patted himself on the back for what he had already done for America’s schoolkids, and then told parents to step it up (“Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done”) and everyone else to get a teaching certificate (“to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice—become a teacher”).

The president’s primary boast about K-12 education was that “instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.” It would have been far more accurate to say: “In addition to pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.”

At $4.35 billion, Race to the Top spending barely touched the $500 billion spent on education at the federal, state, and local level. But by refusing to give states the money until after they actually made changes to the way they do business, Race to the Top did elicit a pretty big bang for the buck. The president said that “for less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.”

The grant application process pushed states to report out more information about teacher quality and lift caps on the number of charter schools, for instance, just in order to be eligible for the funds. And perhaps most important, the piles of cash were big enough and the rules specific enough that they finally gave state legislators, governors, and education bureaucracies sufficient incentive to risk ticking off teachers unions a little.

But those same unions remain a powerful force in how the other 99 percent of education money is spent. The amount used to incentivize states toward reform is dwarfed by the money pouring in to preserve the status quo. Last fall’s $10 billion in grants to the states to protect education jobs demonstrated that a little old-style lobbying for handouts can have a much bigger, easier payout than making the case for hard fought reforms that piss off teachers unions.

Meanwhile, Obama mentioned education reauthorization only in the vaguest terms, urging Congress to “replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.” No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on data collection and testing, is now thoroughly out of favor with pretty much everyone. Vague murmurs about a more robust way to measure teacher quality without relying exclusively on testing data are on the rise. But education funding is a partisan issue, thanks in large part to the massive donations of the major teachers unions to mostly Democratic candidates, and it will play out in a partisan way on the floors of the House and Senate. Everyone already says they know “what’s best for our kids.”

Obama also urged more college attendance using the same language of international competition that ran through the rest of the speech—“America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.” But he chose not to allude to the new, controversial Department of Education rules that would limit access to federal dollars by for-profit career colleges.

Obama got one thing right, though, at least on the federal level: “Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.” And that’s the most depressing part. A program that doled out a measly $4 billion in chunks ranging from $75 million to $700 million probably is the biggest step we have taken toward school reform in a couple of decades. And it’s not much.


British student union leader pulls out of speaking at fees rally after protesters hurl anti Jewish abuse at him

Antisemitism has always had its chief home on the Left

The national president of the NUS pulled out of speaking at a student fees rally after being surrounded by demonstrators calling for his resignation and shouting anti-Semitic insults at him. Protesters shouted ‘Students, workers, hear our shout! We want Aaron Porter out!’ and ‘Aaron Porter we know you, you’re a f******* Tory too!’

One photographer reported chants of ‘Tory Jew scum’ directed at Mr Porter, who is facing calls to step down as NUS president by members of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, who claim he has ‘lost the confidence of the movement’.

The protest march attended by thousands began peacefully and was escorted by mounted police, but around 150 demonstrators broke off the agreed route and headed towards the city centre, where they targeted Mr Porter. He had been due to speak at the rally but his appearance was later cancelled.

It is understood NUS leaders made the decision, although police sources said he would have been asked if he thought it a good idea to appear in public.

Shortly afterwards a protester called on a loudhailer to break up and return to the march meeting point. He urged: 'Avoid being kettled, break up and spread your lines.' Another confronted the officers and told them: 'Your jobs are next GMP.' Some demonstrators wearing balaclavas were seen wrestling with police and at least 14 arrests were made.

Demonstrations to highlight the effects of public spending cuts on young people were also held in London today. Chanting 'No ifs, no buts, no education cuts', sixth form learners joined under-graduates and others outside the University of London Union ahead of a march on Parliament. The slogans could hardly be heard over the sound of drums as the rally got under way.

Parallels were drawn with the current unrest in Egypt with some demonstrators calling for 'revolution' A group of students let off flares outside Downing Street this afternoon

Anger at Government proposals to raise tuition fees and scrap EMAs (Education Maintenance Allowance) appeared to be contained to the slogans chanted by protesters and emblazoned on placards. One drew an analogy between events in North Africa and that in the UK. 'Ben Ali, Mubarak... Cameron, you are next,' it read.

As marchers weaved their way through the streets of London, a group at the front started chanting: 'Revolution, revolution.' Most, however, seemed content setting their sights on getting the Government to rethink plans to hike tuition fees and cut education budgets.

Under the coalition proposals, universities will be allowed to charge £6,000 a year, or £9,000 a year in 'exceptional circumstances'. Students also feel aggrieved over the planned scrapping of EMAs, which provide poorer sixth form students with financial assistance.

Moritz Kaiser, a 17-year-old sixth former from Oxford, was among those protesting. 'The tuition fee hike will affect my family quite badly and it is unnecessary when you look at how much is lost in tax avoidance.' A dual British-German national, he now intends to head to the European mainland to avoid the additional bill. 'I was going to study here, but in Germany it is only 500 euros a year, and you get a free bus pass,' he added.

His friend Lucio Pezzella, also 17 and at sixth form college in Oxford, said the 'wrong people were being punished' for the economic plight the UK finds itself in. 'Ordinary people shouldn't have to pay for a crisis brought on by the bankers,' he said.

At a potential flashpoint along the route - Topshop in the Strand - students stopped to yell abuse directed at owner Sir Philip Green, whose tax arrangements have attracted controversy. 'Pay your tax, pay your tax,' they chanted. The store was guarded by a line of police, keeping protesters apart from the bemused shoppers trapped inside.

Shortly before 2pm, students started running towards Tory HQ at Millbank Tower. Police attempted to stop their advance but a few broke through and made their way to the entrance. One protester was tackled to the ground and held there for several minutes. The 18-year-old from Essex, who declined to give his name, claimed he had been kneed in the chest and punched by officers as he remained on the ground being restrained.

Later, some of the students moved on the Egyptian Embassy to join those protesting against President Mubarak's regime. 'London, Cairo - unite and fight,' they chanted on arrival.

In other angry scenes, a group of demonstrators started throwing sticks at police. Two arrests were made this afternoon.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: 'The Government respects the right of all citizens to engage in lawful and peaceful protest. 'Our student and university finance reforms are fairer than the present system and affordable for the nation. 'No student will be asked to pay upfront costs, there will be more financial support for poorer students and those who go on to earn the highest incomes will make the largest contributions after they have graduated. 'Our reforms also put students in the driving seat.'


Australia: Get tough on bad school teachers, say parents

VICTORIAN parents want bad teachers sacked and schools with poor results to be named and shamed. A national schools survey found most of the state's parents feared their children would fall victim to physical or cyber bullying and believed alcohol and drug abuse among students was getting worse.

Nearly 5000 Australians responded to the Sunday Herald Sun online survey, revealing parents wanted schools and teachers to be more accountable for their children's performance at school.

Responses from the 1646 Victorians surveyed showed parents and teachers were often at loggerheads about what was best for students. At the heart of the great divide was parents' demands for more information about their children's schools and for teachers who don't make the grade to be sacked.

Of 794 Victorian parents surveyed, 63 per cent believed the worst-performing teachers needed to be expelled from the education system. On the flip side, teachers achieving good academic results should be paid more than their colleagues, according to 79 per cent of parents.

Schools were also in the firing line, with 67 per cent of parents calling for a rating system for schools, and more than half saying under-performing schools should be publicly named and shamed.

Mordialloc mother Jenny Power, who has two school-age children, called on the Department of Education to provide more information on schools' academic performances. "Most parents are limited for choice when it comes to schools, but it would be nice to know how your own kid's school stacks up against the others," Ms Power said. "If teachers aren't achieving what they should in the classroom, they shouldn't be there, just like any other profession."

But Australian Education Union president Mary Bluett said ranking schools and sacking low-performing teachers was a simplistic approach to fixing a complex system. "Education does suffer from the fact that everyone has been to school and everyone thinks they are an expert," Ms Bluett said. "Certainly, nobody wants incompetent teachers, but having said that, I'm happy to say the overwhelming majority of teachers are very competent."

Ms Bluett said existing ways to measure schools' performances - including NAPLAN tests - didn't give an accurate picture of teaching standards.

Up to 76 per cent of teachers were against ranking schools and only 13 per cent supported naming and shaming schools that under-perform in numeracy and literacy.

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