Saturday, April 09, 2011

Education Department 'Dear Colleague' Letter Shreds Presumption of Innocence in Harassment Cases, Ignoring Supreme Court

By Hans Bader (An attorney who once worked at the federal Education Department)

To promote due process, some college disciplinary systems recognize a strong presumption of innocence, requiring clear-and-convincing evidence of guilt for discipline. That practice is now called into question by a recent Education Department letter that ignores a Supreme Court decision and federal appeals court rulings to the contrary.

In an April 4 “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) claims that schools cannot use a clear-and-convincing standard of proof typical in school disciplinary procedures for sexual harassment cases: “A school’s grievance procedures must use the preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints of sex discrimination.” See Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence Background, Summary and Fast Facts. “Preponderance of the evidence” means that if a school thinks there is as little as a 50.001% chance that the accused is guilty, the accused must be disciplined.

To satisfy this OCR requirement, schools that have long used a clear-and-convincing standard in disciplinary cases would have to suddenly create a special exception for sexual harassment and discrimination cases, giving people accused of such offenses less due process than they would otherwise receive. This would be a major departure from existing practice for schools, like Harvard Law School. Harvard’s “Policy and Guidelines Related to Sexual Harassment,” adopted by faculty vote in April 1995, contains the following provision: “Burden of proof: Formal disciplinary sanctions shall be imposed only upon clear and convincing evidence.” The Education Department’s rule also conflicts with faculty collective bargaining agreements mandating a clear-and-convincing standard.

The Education Department’s claim that complainants have a right to demand discipline whenever the evidence ever-so-slightly favors them is at odds with the Supreme Court’s Davis decision, which spelled out when sexual harassment in the schools violates the federal civil rights statutes that OCR is charged with enforcing. (See Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999).)

In its Davis decision, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the argument that complainants have a right to demand particular disciplinary sanctions, much less automatically require a school to “suspend or expel” someone accused of sexual harassment, saying that there is no violation of Title IX unless school officials behave in a way that is “clearly unreasonable”:

“We stress that our conclusion here — that recipients may be liable for their deliberate indifference to known acts of peer sexual harassment — does not mean that recipients can avoid liability only by purging their schools of actionable peer harassment or that administrators must engage in particular disciplinary action. . . the dissent erroneously imagines that victims of peer harassment now have a Title IX right to make particular remedial demands . . .courts should refrain from second guessing the disciplinary decisions made by school administrators,” who “must merely respond to known peer harassment in a manner that is not clearly unreasonable.”

The Supreme Court further emphasized that to successfully sue a school district for damages, a complainant alleging sexual harassment must show that school officials were “deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment, of which they have actual knowledge.”

Applying this “deliberate indifference” standard, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that where a school district is unable to conclusively determine that harassment has occurred, it is not liable even where that conclusion was “flawed,” and led to future harassment. (See Doe v. Dallas Independent School District, 220 F.3d 380 (5th Cir. 2000).)

The Davis decision also said that a school does not have to discipline people in ways that would give rise to “statutory or constitutional” claims against it: “it would be entirely reasonable for a school to refrain from a form of disciplinary action that would expose it to constitutional or statutory claims.”

For a school to discipline people based on a mere “preponderance of the evidence” standard, as the Education Department now demands, might well violate state law if it conflicted with collective bargaining agreements or other provisions mandating a “clear-and-convincing evidence” standard.

Even in the workplace, where employers are stringently liable for mere “negligence” — not just for “deliberate indifference” — they are not automatically liable for giving the accused a clear presumption of innocence, as federal appeals courts have made clear. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held that an employer was not liable for sexual harassment, where it refused to discipline the accused because the evidence did not convincingly prove the existence of harassment, citing the absence of a corroborating witness. (See Knabe v. Boury Corporation, 114 F.3d 407 (3rd Cir. 1997).) That employer escaped liability despite requiring more than a close case for discipline, as a preponderance of evidence would mandate, since its refusal to impose discipline in the face of uncertainty was reasonable as a matter of law.

Another federal appeals court, the Fourth Circuit, has also rejected the idea that discipline is required if it is unclear whether the accused is guilty. It emphasized, “the legal standard of ‘prompt and adequate remedial action’ in no way requires an employer to dispense with fair procedures for those accused or to discharge every alleged harasser. . . ‘[A]n employer, in order to avoid liability for the discriminatory conduct of an employee, does not have to necessarily discipline or terminate the offending employee as long as the employer takes corrective action reasonably likely to prevent the offending conduct from reoccurring.’. . . And a good faith investigation of alleged harassment may satisfy the ‘prompt and adequate’ response standard, even if the investigation turns up no evidence of harassment. . . . Such an employer may avoid liability even if a jury later concludes that in fact harassment occurred.” (See Harris v. L & L Wings, 132 F.3d 978, 984 (4th Cir. 1998).)

Similarly, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an attempt to hold an employer (Wal-Mart) liable for harassment because it failed to discipline a harasser where it was genuinely unclear at the time it refused to discipline him whether he was guilty: “It would be unreasonable, and callous toward [the accused harasser’s] rights, for the law to require Wal-Mart to discipline [him] for events he denies, of which Wal-Mart could not find evidence.” (See Adler v. Wal-Mart, 144 F.3d 664, 678 (10th Cir. 1998).)

Thus, even in the workplace, there is no rule that the “preponderance of the evidence” standard (discipline upon a mere 50.0001% chance of guilt) is the one that always has to be applied to avoid harassment liability; indeed, it may be unreasonable to discipline a someone with no previous history of harassment where it is unclear whether he is in fact guilty.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has elsewhere sought to evade the requirements of the Supreme Court’s Davis decision by suggesting that its “deliberate indifference” standard for liability applies only to lawsuits against schools, not OCR investigations. But even if true, that is no help to OCR.

Even if the Davis standard for collecting damages in a lawsuit is somehow different than the standard for whether a violation of Title IX is established (for administrative purposes), the Education Department would still have to show a statutory violation happened in the first place, and recognizing a presumption of innocence is not a violation, as workplace cases reveal.

In the workplace, deliberate indifference need not be shown for a violation, and the question of damages liability and the existence of a violation are one and the same. That’s because the workplace antidiscrimination statute, Title VII, is not a spending-clause statute like Title IX, but instead automatically imposes damages liability for all but certain disparate-impact claims. Nevertheless, the courts have held that the mere existence of harassment in the workplace does not lead to liability on the part of the institution in which the harassment took place: for a violation to have even occurred in the first place, the institution must have failed to take reasonable steps in response to the harassment, and giving the accused the benefit of the doubt is not unreasonable and thus is not a violation to begin with. Thus, “a good faith investigation of alleged harassment may satisfy the “prompt and adequate” response standard, even if the investigation turns up no evidence of harassment.. . .Such an employer may avoid liability even if a jury later concludes that in fact harassment occurred,” (See Harris v. L & L Wings, 132 F.3d 978, 984 (4th Cir. 1998)), and “an employer, in order to avoid liability for the discriminatory conduct of an employee, does not have to necessarily discipline or terminate the offending employee.” (See Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 414 (3d Cir.1997).)

OCR’s own 1997 interpretive rules regarding sexual harassment in the Federal Register explicitly borrowed from Title VII workplace precedents in laying down OCR’s test for whether a Title IX violation has occurred to begin with, thus incorporating those workplace limits on what is a violation of laws against sexual harassment. (See, e.g., 62 FR 12034 (1997)).

Even if OCR’s position were not at odds with Supreme Court precedent (and thus void), which it certainly is, OCR’s new mandate is procedurally improper and not a valid administrative rule.

If OCR wishes to impose a new rule overriding college disciplinary codes and collective bargaining agreements as to the burden of proof (as it is effectively doing), it has to do so in a formal rule, after notice and comment, and explain how to justify its departure from federal appellate court rulings about what a violation of the antidiscrimination laws is, and how to reconcile its new mandate with the Davis decision. Its unexplained departure from its past rules mimicking the standard workplace test for liability renders this new legal mandate invalid under the D.C. Circuit’s Paralyzed Veterans rule, which says that longstanding agency rules cannot be changed without notice-and-comment, even when the agency is merely amending an interpretive rule, unless that rule is being amended to comply with a superseding court decision. See Paralyzed Veterans of Am. v. D.C. Arena L.P., 117 F.3d 579, 586 (D.C. Cir. 1997). (The only arguably superseding court decisions since OCR issued its harassment guidance have been those that narrowed the definition of harassment: like Davis, which made clear that harassment must be both severe and pervasive, not severe “or” pervasive as OCR claims; and the 1998 Gebser decision, which dismissed a lawsuit for failure to show “deliberate indifference”).

Remember, it’s not the harassing student or professor who is being sued under Title IX, since Title IX liability is on the part of the school, not the harassing student or professor. (See, e.g., Smith v. Metropolitan Sch. Dist., 128 F.3d 1014, 1018-19 (7th Cir.1997).) So it’s the school, and its action in response to the harassment, that has to be culpable in order to violate the statute, not just the harasser’s own conduct.

And it’s not in any way culpable for a school to give someone a presumption of innocence.


Rudyard Kipling... doesn't he make cakes? How a third of British children have an exceedingly poor knowledge of literature

More than a third of children think Rudyard Kipling makes cakes, according to damning research. The study, carried out among eight to 12-year-olds, also found that one in five thinks Phileas Fogg, the principal character in the 1873 Jules Verne novel Around the World In Eighty Days, is just the name of a snack brand.

The poll of 217 children nationwide found just 15 per cent had heard of Arthur Conan Doyle, 17 per cent knew J.M. Barrie, 19 per cent Robert Louis Stevenson and 31 per cent Lewis Carroll.

Ignorance about Kipling – the novelist and poet behind the Jungle Book, Kim and stories of imperial India – and other books, confirms fears that many children don’t count reading as their leisure activity of choice. If a new book came out, 31 per cent would read the book, but 69 per cent would prefer to see the film.

And when asked what their favoured after-school activities are, 78 per cent chose TV and 69 per cent went for games consoles. Fewer than a third of boys – 31 per cent – were likely to read a book for pleasure.

The implications of a lack of enthusiasm for reading could be devastating. A study by the OECD suggested that the UK had plummeted down international tables measuring reading, maths and science ability.

And a recent report by ChildWise found that children in Britain sit in front of a TV or computer screen for four-and-a-half hours a day. It found that children now spend an average of one hour and 50 minutes online and two hours 40 minutes in front of the television every day.

The reading research was carried out to support an initiative to print extracts from children’s books and poems on breakfast cereal boxes. The Roald Dahl Foundation has signed up to it, along with Puffin books and Asda, which commissioned the study of children’s reading.

Extracts from four of Roald Dahl's children's books, combined with interesting facts about the author and details of a creativity competition for youngsters will appear on Asda shelves nationally from today.

Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Children's Books, said: 'We're delighted to be supporting this imaginative campaign to inspire kids to read and fire their imaginations.

'We've selected the extracts very carefully and we're hopeful that by doing so many thousands more children will soon be hooked on books. Roald Dahl is the world's favourite children's author and the perfect choice to launch this important campaign.'

Children’s author Tamsyn Murray said: ‘There are far more tugs on kids’ time today than ever before and that means that we need to find new ways of getting kids hooked on reading and awakening their imaginations.’


Australia: An ideology-driven educational systen victimizes teachers as well as students

Teachers often not free to teach

CHRISTOPHER Bantick (Viewpoint, April 1) did a great job summarising and supporting all the false analyses and "solutions" for fixing our dreadful state of education.

He, like others on this particular bandwagon, starts with the explicit premise that the quality of the teacher determines the quality of education and doing something about "poor" teachers will therefore fix the problem.

The implied premise is that principals, parents, students, administrators, bureaucrats, theorists, lecturers, education ministers and everybody else who has any bearing on schools are blameless and helpless victims of teachers and their unions and that all would be well if a way could be found to "fix the teachers". Anybody who has ever worked in a school knows that teachers are at the mercy of just about anyone and everything. The "best" teachers can do next to nothing in a class of unco-operative students and much less when the students don't even attend.

Our failed system has for decades been propped up by spending billions of dollars that should not need spending, by endless propaganda, by bullying and belittling members of the public who question its approaches and results, by denying anything's wrong, by intimidating teachers, by government slogans and by dumping every fad, pointless innovation or ill-fated attempt to deal with system-caused problems on to teachers. The same system has for decades persecuted teachers who tried to resist mindless dictates they knew to be wrong and harmful to children's education.

If the teaching unions were anywhere near as powerful as the Davis Guggenheim thesis in the film Waiting for Superman, as cited by Bantick, makes out, they would be in a position to stop many of the things that turn capable, dedicated teachers into "failures" unrealistic, unnecessary and uncompensated-for workloads constantly being added to an already unmanageable job, lack of support (often outright hostility) from parents and employing authorities, lack of authority commensurate with their responsibilities, insolent children and stress levels that in any other field would have been the subject of a judicial inquiry years ago.

But they aren't. They cannot even protect their members from suffering the worst rates of attrition and early death of any profession.

The true causes of our problems lie in the system itself. Along with the indiscipline of vast numbers of children, its foundational ideologies have given rise to an overcrowded curriculum and a mountain of peripheral activities, an emphasis on process and method over content and achievement, the shunning of the critical fundamentals of learning and the substitution of essential drilling of basics with creativity and fun, all of which have led to an increasing dependence on time-wasting PR to make it seem the school is doing a good job.

Many brighter children have survived this type of schooling, but many more have not. For many who needed remediation, it hasn't worked and the system has never asked itself why.

Teachers can be blamed for this only to the extent that they participate in this regime of system-mandated idiocy.

This is not to deny there are under-performing teachers, or to argue that they should be protected. It is to emphasise that the problem is the system, not the teachers, and that nobody in any job can be said to be below standard if there are no standards, or if they are denied the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability.

Teaching, more than any other profession, suffers this denial of opportunity.

The most glaring flaw in Bantick's argument is that he delimits education to just teachers. But surely any attempt to remove teachers on the basis of quality must apply equally to parents, students and administrators, especially those who undermine the rightful authority of the one who has to teach.

We must never forget that the ideologies responsible for all of this also laid the foundation for the abolition of teacher authority, a social calamity that the bad-teacher thesis bypasses in its entirety.

Would-be reformers need to go back to the 1960s and look at the philosophies and ideologies that, without any consultation or mandate, were injected into our education systems and labelled "progress".


Friday, April 08, 2011

Solving the College Affordability Problem

Top quality free education is already easily available. It's just the credentialling that needs sorting out. Maybe diploma mills might come into their own! If you know your stuff, it's unlikely that people will look closely at your credentials -- JR

How much should a college education cost? According to the College Board, the average cost of earning a degree at a private, 4-year university is now more than $100,000. If tuition prices continue to rise as quickly as they did during the past decade, a college degree will cost more than $200,000 by the time today’s third-graders are applying. That price tag is enough to cause most parents to break into a sweat.

Is a college degree really worth this cost? Some bright minds think Americans are paying way too much. In fact, Bill Gates--one of the country's most famous college dropouts--thinks it should be closer to zero. He told an audience last summer: “Five years from now, on the web, for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”

One could argue that the bright future Gates described is already here. The Massachusetts Institute for Technology has already put all of its instructional materials, including lectures, online and made it available for free. Other schools, including many elite universities, are following suit. For example, using iTunes University, you can already download free lectures from Stanford, Yale, and dozens of other colleges.

The trend of a free and open higher education system will revolutionize higher education, and fundamentally change the way that the world learns. As Gates argues, someday soon, anyone—anywhere in the world—with internet access will be able to learn from the best professors and teachers.

Of course, access to instruction isn't the only, or even primary, reason why most American students go to college. A big part of what today’s students are purchasing for that $100,000 is the degree itself—the credential that signals to employers and society in general that one is able to learn and can survive four years of classes and exams.

But alternative credentialing systems, like AP tests and CLEP exams, are already in place. And the realization of Bill Gates's vision of free online higher education will surely be followed by new credentialing systems that allow people who learn online to prove their accomplishments and signal their value to employers.

Forward thinking elected officials now have the opportunity to expedite the arrival of the free college era, and—in the process—solve a major problem for American families while providing big relief for taxpayers and federal and state budgets.

For too long, efforts to solve the college access and affordability problem have focused on increasing subsidies—grants, loans, and scholarships—for students to attend college. Increased student aid subsidies have contributed to today’s high tuition prices. The College Board reports that total federal support for all forms of college student aid programs was $146 billion in 2010—an increase of 136 percent over just a decade ago.

Instead of this continuing this failed approach—an approach we simply can no longer afford—elected officials should focus on dramatically lowering the costs associated with earning a college education. For example, Governor Rick Perry recently called on the Texas higher education system to develop a new program through which students can earn a college degree for only $10,000. Presumably, this initiative will take advantage of the exciting efficiencies that are happening thanks to online learning.

Leaders in Washington and in state capitals around the country should follow Governor Perry’s lead. Governors and state legislatures should require state-funded universities to follow schools like MIT—putting lectures and course content online for free. Like Texas, state higher education systems should create new credentialing systems to allow people who learn online to demonstrate their mastery and work towards a degree.

Congress and the administration have a responsibility to taxpayers to support reforms that will lower the $150 billion annual burden of student aid programs. For example, Congress could require a college that receives a certain level of direct federal subsidies place a percentage of its instructional content online for free. This initiative would follow the tradition of the Library of Congress—creating a national library of college lectures that all citizens can use. President Obama could use his bully pulpit to challenge universities across the country to do their part to solve a critical national problem.

Very few of our country’s many, big problems have simple and inexpensive solutions. We can’t afford to pass this one up.


Britain's Labour Party government put mediocrity ahead of bright children

Labour institutionalised mediocrity in schools by encouraging teachers to neglect capable pupils, according to an analysis of GCSE results. Teachers focused their attention on bumping-up pupils from a grade D to a C in order to improve their ranking in school league tables.

Meanwhile those youngsters who were considered bright enough to get a grade B or higher at GCSE have been neglected. And those at the bottom of the pile – who would take too much work to get to grade C – have been consigned to the scrap heap, according to research by the think tank Policy Exchange.

The analysis of GCSE grades from 2000 to 2009 shows the proportion of pupils getting A*, A and B grades has remained static while the number achieving a C grade has soared by 25 per cent. This is the first time the practice, which has become so ingrained that it is even incorporated in teachers’ manuals, has been illustrated in an authoritative study of GCSE results.

One manual reminds maths teachers: ‘Students who achieve a GCSE grade C or above in mathematics help to boost the school’s statistics and so show the school in a better light for Ofsted and for league tables.’ As a result schools have failed to help hundreds of thousands of bright pupils better their chances in life, the report suggests.

Professor Deborah Eyre, author of the study, said: ‘Children who try harder do better. But because of a fear of appearing “elitist”, pupils are not being encouraged to put in the effort which will bring about excellence. ‘We need an approach which will recognise and nurture signs of high performance in every subject – both academic and vocational. ‘There are many more pupils capable of high performance than we currently recognise.’

Schools watchdog Ofsted has found that some 46 per cent of students do not feel they are intellectually challenged at school.

James Groves, of Policy Exchange, added: ‘Schools need a focus on high achievement. If we are to produce enough skilled adults who will be able to compete in a vastly tougher global economy, then we cannot afford to waste any potential at all. ‘Just being able to master basic skills is no longer enough. We need a workforce that can take on anyone in the world and beat them.’


Drift to private schools continues in Australia

In my home State of Queensland, one third of students overall go private and an even higher proportion are in private High schools. Anyone who can afford to wants out of government schools, particularly in the teenage years of their kids. British parents must be envious. Only 7% get private schooling there -- JR

ENROLMENTS in state high schools have dropped as parents look increasingly to the private sector to educate their teenagers.

Figures released yesterday, taken on Day 8 of the academic year, show overall enrolments in Queensland state schools increased less than 1 per cent between 2010 and 2011.

But all of that growth was in primary schools. State high school enrolments dropped slightly from 174,721 on Day 8, 2010, to 174,685 in 2011.

Similar figures provided by the Queensland Catholic Education Commission show their enrolments in high schools went up about 3 per cent, while the state's population has been growing at about 2 per cent a year.

Enrolment figures for state primary schools were much brighter. They increased their Day 8 numbers from 307,147 students in 2010 to 310,104 this year. Prep enrolments grew by almost 5 per cent from 40,974 to 42,912 this year.

Queensland Secondary Principals Association president Norm Fuller said he was unsure of why enrolment in high schools went down by less than 40 students.

He said principals had anecdotally reported that some parents had moved their children from the private sector to their state schools after looking at data on the My School website.

But Shadow Education Minister Bruce Flegg said the figures were "a continuation of a very long-term trend" of parents voting with their feet because there was a perception of more opportunities and better discipline in the private sector.

The figures were released yesterday, only a day after The Courier-Mail applied for the data through the Right to Information process.

While the figures are normally released in the weeks after Day 8, Education Queensland initially delayed them this year because of the floods. The numbers are expected to go online today with a statement that overall, enrolments grew by 1.1 per cent between 2009 and 2011.

Independent Schools Queensland said they had not yet received their enrolment figures.

It is the third year in a row that Queensland state school Day 8 enrolments have grown less than one per cent overall, while the Catholic sector has been growing at about 3 per cent.

But Education Minister Cameron Dick said Queensland parents knew state schools offered quality education and the enrolment figures proved it. "Sixty-seven per cent of all Queensland students attend state schools, the third highest proportion in Australia and higher than the national average," he said.

The Day 8 figures, and those supplied by the QCEC, are initial data collections at schools with an official census carried out for the Australian Bureau of Statistics later in the year.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

BOOK REVIEW of The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For

Parents and taxpayers shouldn't get overheated about faculty salaries: tenure is where they should concentrate their anger. The jobs-for-life entitlement that comes with an ivory tower position is at the heart of so many problems with higher education today. Veteran journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley, an alumna of one of the country's most expensive and best-endowed schools, explores how tenure has promoted a class system in higher education, leaving contingent faculty who are barely making minimum wage and have no time for students to teach large swaths of the under- graduate population. She shows how the institution of tenure forces junior professors to keep their mouths shut for a decade or more if they disagree with senior faculty about anything from politics to research methods. And she examines how the institution of tenure – with the job security, mediocre salaries and low levels of accountability it entails – may be attracting the least innovative and interesting members of our society into teaching.


As staff walk out at a school plagued by violent pupils, teachers who dared to confront thugs in classrooms across Britain reveal how THEY were the ones to be punished

Staff at a struggling secondary school who are today staging a walk-out in protest of an escalating wave of verbal and physical abuse from pupils have won support from a teacher who made a similarly strong stand against classroom indiscipline.

Beleaguered teachers at the Darwen Vale High School in Blackburn, Lancs, overwhelmingly voted to go on strike in protest at what they see as the lack of support from senior management in dealing with pupils’ challenging behaviour. The children had been pushing, shoving and constantly swearing, leaving hard-pressed staff at the end of their tether.

Last month, a disciplinary hearing decreed that Michael Becker, 63, a teacher with an ‘exemplary’ record, should be allowed to return to the profession he loves despite an earlier conviction for assaulting a pupil. Mr Becker, 63, of Stutton, Suffolk, who reacted firmly to an unruly pupil, said: ‘I have enormous sympathy for these teachers who daily run the gauntlet of rowdy and aggressive children. I applaud their action.’

Two years ago, Mr Becker was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay £1,875 costs by Suffolk magistrates who believed the account of a disruptive 13-year-old who was in his class. The boy said the teacher had used unreasonable force to eject him from a lesson. Mr Becker has always contested that he had merely grabbed the boy by his belt and sweatshirt and removed him to a nearby storeroom when he refused — after repeated warnings — to stop telling particularly offensive and inflammatory racist jokes and leave the classroom.

When, last month, the General Teaching Council ruled that he could return to the classroom, Mr Becker said: ‘I’m delighted. I feel I’ve been vindicated. I just cannot describe the relief. I believe common sense has, at last, prevailed.’

And so, it would seem, do his many supporters. Roland Gooding, the former headteacher at the special school where Mr Becker gave ‘exemplary’ service for more than three decades, told the tribunal he ‘would not hesitate’ to employ Mr Becker again — adding public interest would not be served if he was forbidden from teaching.

At a time when schools are experiencing shortages of science and maths teachers, it would indeed seem a folly to ban Mr Becker from teaching, as he is a specialist in both.

His other passion is music: the school band, which he set up and ran, made ten albums — the proceeds of which went to charity — and appeared on television. In recognition of this laudable work, Mr Becker and his wife Ilona, 62, a retired secretary — who are parents to a grown-up son and daughter, and grandparents — attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

However, Mr Becker acknowledges that he did ‘overstep the mark’. He has also expressed genuine apologies and regret. But he would like to see the law clarified so other teachers fully understand what constitutes ‘reasonable’ force in removing disruptive pupils from lessons.

For his experience is not a one-off. It is replicated on a daily basis in classrooms throughout Britain, where teachers are expected to exercise almost saintly forbearance when confronted with pupils’ insolence, foul language and rowdyness.

‘All the power is with the children now,’ says Mr Becker. ‘Indiscipline is rampant and it seems to be a mark of honour to bring down a teacher.’ Mr Becker believes his experience is an extension of the barmy extremes of political correctness that currently hamstring every aspect of school life: the ludicrous health-and-safety zealotry that dictates pupils can’t make collages out of old eggboxes or loo roll holders any more for fear of contracting salmonella or ingesting germs; the nannying that forbids conker fights; and the absurd ‘risk assessment’ exercises that precede every trip outside the school gates.

Moreover, today’s discipline strategies are short-changing the diligent — an inequity not lost on Mr Becker. ‘Pupils stroll round classrooms as if teachers don’t exist,’ he says. ‘The boy I reprimanded was using his mobile and telling racist jokes. He was being unbearably insolent. It infuriated me that he was denying the other pupils their entitlement to learn without disruption, so I removed him.’ He adds: ‘Teachers should be allowed to teach. It’s a scandal that the system has forsaken those who want to learn.

‘My colleagues are constantly struggling with disrespectful and sometimes violent pupils. I know of one teacher, in a middle school, who is told to ‘f*** off’ 20 times a day. While other countries — many in Asia — are ascending the educational league tables, we are sliding down them.’

While parents would once support teachers’ efforts to discipline their children, now they are more likely to collude with their unruly offspring against their teachers.

Rita Burgess (not her current name), 55, teaches at a primary school in a deprived area of Liverpool. Her experience proves just how skewed in favour of children’s ‘rights’ the system has become. A year ago, two of her nine-year-old pupils were brawling in the classroom. She intervened to separate them. One of the children then ccused Mrs Burgess of assault, claiming she had strangled him.

The entire incident had been witnessed by the school’s assistant head, who testified that Mrs Burgess had merely broken up the fight. Had common sense prevailed the incident would have ended there, with a stiff reprimand and sanctions for the pupils.

But it didn’t. Preposterous though it seems, it was Mrs Burgess — a teacher with an unblemished record and 23 years experience — who was put through the wringer.

‘The headteacher said he could not take my word, which was corroborated by the assistant head, about what had happened,’ says Mrs Burgess. ‘He said if he did so, the parents would assume I’d colluded with my colleague to take sides against the children.’

What happened next is the stuff of nightmare. Mrs Burgess was suspended from her post for six weeks while the head carried out his investigation. In the time it took to accrue evidence — which exonerated Mrs Burgess unequivocally — she began to suffer from depression. ‘It was terribly stressful. I thought I was going to lose my job,’ she says. ‘Worst of all was the sense of utter betrayal.

Presumably the headteacher was obeying “procedures”, but we’ve now reached the point where heads are so frightened of litigation they give more credence to the word of children than to the testimony of two responsible adults.

There have been many instances of older pupils who’ve conspired against teachers and told lies just to get rid of them.’

Mrs Burgess’ experience is commonplace. It is replicated in schools all over Britain and it indicates how the ‘human rights’ of unruly pupils are trampling over the far more compelling right of the well-behaved to be educated.....

Mrs Burgess’ comments strike a chord with Basil Howard, a former head of religious education at a Midlands comprehensive. Mr Howard, dismayed by the daily verbal assaults on him by pupils, left the profession suffering from stress to become a social worker. He says: ‘I took my job seriously. I was a good, imaginative teacher. Even so, unruliness in the classroom was routine.

‘Pupils would wander aimlessly around, the more disruptive of them swinging Tarzan-like from the curtains. ‘“Mr Howard is a ****” was engraved indelibly by penknife and ink into desks. And I was expected to suffer this in silence. “You are a useless w***** and RE is pathetic,” was a typical torment.’

Like Mrs Burgess, Mr Howard notes that today even the most unruly pupils are indulged because they have ‘conditions’ that warrant quasi-scientific labels. ‘I believe the rot set in when teachers’ obligation to maintain discipline was undermined by pupils’ rights,’ he says.

‘Kids who are simply too idle to work are now excused because they have “learning difficulties”. My years as a social worker have taught me that children genuinely afflicted are, in fact, a tiny minority.

‘Moreover, teachers have become afraid to damage the fragile sensibilities of their pupils and school reports are so cloaked by euphemism that they are meaningless. What happened to the short, sharp shock of the one-liner? “Must do better” and, “An awful performance” leave no room for doubt or misinterpretation. ‘The pendulum has swung too far in favour of tolerance and acceptance.’

Small wonder, then, that so many pupils, denied boundaries and discipline at home, have no sense of the meaning of such out-moded values as respect, diligence, reliability and courtesy.


Nearly two-thirds of Australian teachers want to quit - survey

NEARLY two-thirds of Australian teachers are considering quitting their jobs for a new career.

The Centre for Marketing Schools was commissioned to survey staff satisfaction levels of 850 teachers in government and non-government schools in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Centre for Marketing Schools director Dr Linda Vining said the survey confirmed the "deeper issues" of concern to teachers.

They included a lack of communication between staff and principals, and feeling undervalued and not being consulted.

"Teachers are feeling steamrollered . . . they are feeling that things are happening too quickly," Dr Vining said. "Through my research comes a sense they feel they are not valued members of the team - they are simply there to work and for many of them that's not fulfilling."

The survey also found:

SIXTY per cent of teachers said the school's direction was not clearly communicated.

FIFTY-ONE per cent did not feel part of a close-knit school community.

FIFTY-FOUR per cent said communication between staff and management was poor.

TWENTY-SEVEN per cent said the school principal was not approachable.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill said he had been "concerned about the morale of the workforce" when he was put in charge of the portfolio.

He said he had since announced a range of new policies aimed at improving communication between the central office and teachers.

"Many of the Supporting our Teachers initiatives are directly aimed at addressing teacher morale - such as the Public Teaching Awards, a major conference about teaching in the 21st century, a new outstanding teacher classification, a new recruitment policy and the Teacher Renewal Program," he said.

Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le Duff said a more strategic approach to teacher retention was vital. "It seems unusually high that such a high proportion of people in teaching would be looking for alternative careers," he said. "But we certainly have to accept that people are more mobile in their occupations than a few years ago . . . and be more strategic in what sort of career pathways we're offering teachers."


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

SCOTUS: Tax credits for religious schools okay

The US Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by taxpayers in Arizona challenging a state tax credit program that primarily benefits parochial schools. In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court said the taxpayers lacked the necessary legal standing to bring their lawsuit.

The action sweeps away a ruling by a federal appeals court panel that had struck down the tax credit program as a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

The majority justices did not directly address the larger constitutional issue. Instead, the 19-page decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy focuses on whether the complaining taxpayers had suffered a direct and personal injury from Arizona’s religious school tax credit program.

Justice Kennedy drew a sharp distinction between government expenditures from the general treasury that directly benefit religion versus tax credits that provide individual citizens an opportunity to decide for themselves whether to direct the credited funds to a religious school.

“When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute [to the tax credit program], they spend their own money, not money the state has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers,” Kennedy wrote. “Arizona’s [tax credit law] does not extract and spend a conscientious dissenter’s funds in service of an establishment [of religion],” he said. “On the contrary,” Kennedy said, “respondents and other Arizona taxpayers remain free to pay their own tax bills, without contributing to [the religious school tax credit program].”

The decision is important because it signals the intention of five members of the court to enforce a narrow interpretation of when taxpayers may be permitted to file lawsuits seeking to prove the government is engaged in unconstitutional support for or entanglement with religion.

In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the decision will make it harder for ordinary citizens to challenge government actions that they feel violate the First Amendment principle of government neutrality concerning religion. “Today’s decision devastates taxpayer standing in establishment clause cases,” Justice Kagan wrote in a 24-page dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. “Appropriations and tax subsidies are readily interchangeable,” Kagan wrote. “What is a cash grant today can be a tax break tomorrow.”

She added: “The court’s opinion thus offers a road map … to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge.”

Supporters of the tax credit program praised the ruling. “Today’s decision marks the fifth time in recent years that the Supreme Court has rebuffed efforts by school choice opponents to use the courts to halt programs that empower families to choose a private school education,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Arizona Chapter of the Institute for Justice.


Detroit goes charter

It's the only thing they had left to try

A bold — for the U.S., anyway — experiment is taking place in Detroit, which recently announced plans to convert nearly a third of its public schools into charter schools as soon as this fall.

Detroit already has a larger percentage of schoolchildren in charter schools than any other city except New Orleans and Washington, D.C. The Big Easy's transition to charters was driven by the disaster of Hurricane Katrina; the District's, by the disaster of the D.C. school system itself. Detroit is moving to charters largely out of fiscal necessity.

Teachers' unions and other usual suspects often object to charter schools on the grounds that they drain money from the public schools — a complaint that overlooks one salient fact: Charter schools are public schools. (Many, however, are not unionized, which does a lot to explain the union objection.) In fact, some school-reform advocates believe they will be the salvation of the public-school system, staving off the voucher campaign and saving public schools from wholesale abandonment.

It's telling that the charter movement has taken off in major urban areas saddled with terrible schools, rather than places — such as Virginia — where the mostly suburban systems meet parents' expectations. A principal reason people flock to the suburbs, of course, is to move to a better school district. If the charter movement can restore big-city school systems to some semblance of health, then they might also bring about what stadium and convention-center projects have not: an urban renaissance.


British school on the verge of a breakdown: Teachers set to walk out over pupil misbehaviour

Teachers at a struggling secondary school will stage a walk-out tomorrow in protest at a wave of verbal and physical assaults from pupils. Staff at Darwen Vale High School voted overwhelmingly to go on strike in protest at the lack of support they say they have received from senior management.

The threat came the day after Education Secretary Michael Gove announced a ‘back to basics’ crackdown on bad behaviour which he said was rife in too many schools.

Yesterday parents told how children at Darwen Vale in Blackburn, Lancashire, had been staging a low-level rebellion, challenging teachers to fights, pushing and shoving them and constantly swearing.

Problems are thought to have begun after the school moved to temporary premises during a £22million rebuild under Labour’s now discredited Building Schools for the Future programme.

Some teachers have allegedly been the subject of malicious allegations by pupils trying to get them suspended, while teenagers have been filming lessons on their mobile phones and threatening to post the footage on the internet.

As a result, lessons are expected to be cancelled tomorrow for all 1,150 pupils as staff form a picket line outside the school’s temporary premises. In a ballot, 95 per cent of the school’s 31 National Union of Teachers members voted in favour of the strike. Two thirds of the 29 members of the National Association of Schoolteachers/Union of Women Teachers also voted to walk out.

Parents said teachers had been complaining of a dramatic deterioration in behaviour and lack of respect since the school moved to near a former council estate. One father said: ‘It’s not the best school and there are a lot of badly behaved pupils. I’m not surprised the teachers are striking – I wouldn’t want their job.’

NAS/UWT Lancashire representative John Girdley said: ‘We sincerely hope that changes can be implemented as a matter of urgency in order to allow the staff of the school to continue to deliver the high standard of education which our pupils deserve.’

But Darwen Vale head teacher Hilary Torpey said the problem had been vastly exaggerated. In a letter to parents, she wrote: ‘It is unfortunate that matters that were being dealt with by the school about appropriate behaviour and ways of managing it have been made public in this way and blown out of all proportion.’

She said the school, which had a ‘good’ pupil behaviour rating following an Ofsted inspection in June, had been revisited by auditors following the claims and they had again been ‘highly complimentary’.

The behaviour at Darwen Vale has a long way to go before it reaches the depths of violence and anarchy that blighted what was dubbed Britain’s worst school.

The Ridings in Halifax gained notoriety in the 1990s amid shocking accounts including a 14-year-old boy fondling a French teacher’s breasts in front of a class. In 1996, teachers voted to strike unless 61 pupils were expelled. Two ‘superheads’ were appointed and they mollified staff by expelling 12 students and suspending 21. By 1998, Ofsted inspectors reported a ‘remarkable transformation’, but the school slipped back into chaos and was closed in 2007.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

College Professor Arrested for Closing Student’s Laptop in Class

Professor Frank J. Rybicki teaches Mass Media at Valdosta State University. The other day, he was arrested for assaulting a student in his class and is now facing battery charges.

Did he punch the student? No. Did he throw his chair across the room at the student? Definitely not. Did he inappropriately get a bit too intimate with a student? Not even close.

He was arrested for shutting a student’s laptop in class. The student, the professor claims, was web-browsing on sites not related to the course, instead of taking notes. After he closed her laptop, an argument ensued between the professor and the 22-year-old girl. Then, soon after the argument, the professor dismissed class early because he was so upset.

That was Friday. The following Monday, when the students came to class, instead of being greeted by their professor, they were greeted by officers. Inside Higher Ed has the story:

Frank J. Rybicki, assistant professor of mass media at Valdosta State University, did the equivalent last week when he shut the laptop of a student who was allegedly web surfing as opposed to taking notes. She filed a complaint (reportedly about a finger or fingers that were hurt when he shut the laptop) and the university’s police arrested him on a charge of battery. The Georgia institution suspended his teaching duties there, although not his pay.

The professor–and the students in the class–were asked by the University to not answer any questions relating to the incident. Still, Professor Rybicki did have a few words to say about this fiasco:

While he declined to discuss the incident specifically, Rybicki did answer a few questions. Asked if students shouldn’t look at non-class websites while in class, he said that was “pretty obvious.” Asked if he had ever caused physical harm to any student, he said “absolutely not, never.”

Many students have come to the defense of the professor. One said that his arrest was not justified “because he is a great teacher and she [the student with the laptop] was on Facebook, when we know not to be on other sites while the teacher is teaching.”


We Don’t Need Know Education

By the satirical Mike Adams

I’m getting to be a crabby old man and I’m not even fifty. But working at a liberal university for eighteen years has taught me never to accept responsibility for my actions or my disposition. Instead I blame my most recent bad mood (the one I’m in right now) on a student who just asked me a question about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Leon, (1984). Wanting to know the holding, he asked if it meant “that the police can rely upon a search warrant they don’t reasonably no is invalid.” I almost told the student there was know way he was going to pass my course if he didn’t no the difference between “know” and “no.” But I just new I would get in trouble if I did.

Of course, when criticizing the low quality of students in higher education it’s important that we not pick on males only (that would be sexist). No discussion of the declining quality of student communication skills would be complete without talking about the role (or was that roll?) of female students. After all, they make up more than 50% of the student body on the average college campus. You are (like totally) aware of their presence when you hear a conversation like the following, which occurred last Tuesday right outside my opened office door:

“I’m just like not real sure what I want to do when I graduate? I like thought I would like major in business but there’s a lot of like math and stuff? Plus, the classes in sociology are like easier and like way more interesting? I just seriously like need to focus on like what I want to do when I get out and stuff?”

None of the young woman’s sentences were actually questions. But the inflections at the end of each sentence (along with the general lack of confidence in anything she said) made them sound like questions. I mean, it made them like sound like questions? I’m sure that that woman has a Facebook account with a “like like” button. So she can like seriously like. And stuff.

Of course, it is racist of me to have just given two examples of declining student quality using white students. Let’s (like totally) fix that by recounting a conversation I heard just this morning as I was walking up the stairwell in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building, which is sure to be re-named Mike Adams Hall after I retire.

“You did dat. I did not do dat. Yo. Dats right. It’s yo fault. My situation? What about yo situation? I do dat. I do dat. But dats because you done did dat. Dats what I’m sayin’. Dat’s what I be sayin’.”

I have no idea what that young Hyphenated-American student was saying to his cell phone. All I know is that I have the song “Zip-a-dee-do-dat” stuck in my head. Thanks to the Diversity Office it’s the new “Song of the South”!

As much as I enjoy broaching these topics with humor the results aren’t funny when these students get out into the real world to compete in a full-time job applicant pool. So there has to be a serious discussion of how this problem became so pronounced and what can be done about it.

It would be tempting to blame these kinds of problems on the university English departments. After all, they rarely teach students English these days – opting instead to indoctrinate them into post-modern philosophy and radical feminist politics.

It would also be tempting to blame the Schools of Education that pay wacky professors like Maurice Martinez to teach “black English” to white students. Instead of asking the minority to conform to the majority they do the exact opposite – probably because it is more difficult and, hence, would require greater government intervention (read: greater federal grant opportunities).

But the problem is much broader than that. It is a problem stemming from our basic educational mission of promoting multiculturalism and diversity. In this age of diversity we are reticent to correct students for speaking in a “wrong” way or to reward them for speaking in a “right” way. To do either one of these things is to admit that there is a right or wrong way of doing things in any given cultural or social context. Professors who are unwilling to agree that English is the “right” language to speak in this country are hardly willing to assert that there is a right or wrong way to speak it.

President George W. Bush was considered an idiot by most college professors simply because he was inarticulate. One of my colleagues even circulated an email saying that Bush was responsible for the fact that most college students are inarticulate. But Bush is no longer in office and the problem keeps getting worse. Multiculturalism has come up short in our efforts to promote linguistic skill and social competency. It’s time for a new strategery. I think you gnome sayings. Gnome sayin’?


British schools have been hiding true extent of pupil bad behaviour for years, claims Education boss

Bad behaviour is rife in schools – and heads have been hiding the problem for years, the Education Secretary has warned. Michael Gove said yesterday that schools were suffering from a ‘real behaviour problem’.

And headmasters have conspired to hide the true nature of yobbish behaviour in the classroom by concealing naughty pupils and incompetent teachers from Ofsted inspectors, he added. As a result, thousands of teachers – trained at the taxpayers’ expense – have fled the profession, citing bad classroom behaviour as the reason. And with 1,000 children being suspended every school day for abuse and assault, their disruptive behaviour is interfering with the education and life chances of tens of thousands of pupils.

Mr Gove’s comments will enrage teachers’ unions, who insist behaviour in schools is good and that any attempt to paint a bad picture is ‘scaremongering’.

Mr Gove announced his ‘back to basics’ plans as he published guidance for schools on dealing with bad behaviour. Under the updated guidance, which has been reduced from 600 pages to 50, school heads will be able to press criminal charges against pupils who make false allegations about teachers in England. They will also be able to confiscate mobile phones without fear of being accused of infringing pupils’ rights.

Launching the guidance, Mr Gove said he was told by teachers that ‘weak teachers are invited to stay at home, we make sure disruptive pupils don’t come in, and the best teachers are on corridor duty. We put on our best face for inspections’.

He added: ‘We rely on Ofsted to let us know how behaviour is in many schools. It is certainly the case that in some schools the behaviour problem is critical. ‘We do know from recent evidence that the single biggest reason [for teachers leaving the profession] is because of poor behaviour.

Tens of thousands of children face being turned away from primary schools because a migrant baby boom has led to a severe shortage of places.

London alone faces a shortage of some 70,000 primary places in the next four years, according to a report, and Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield and Hove, are under enormous strain.

Parents in the worst-hit areas will have to separate their siblings and send their four-year-olds on 30 minute bus rides across their borough to get them into a school. The rapid increase in numbers, which will cost £1.7billion, is being attributed to a baby boom fuelled in part by rising net migration – which more than doubled under Labour.

Many migrants were young and have since started families. It has been predicted 500,000 more primary places will be needed by 2018.

A sluggish housing market has compounded the crisis because parents are effectively trapped in areas with too few school places.

Others have found they lack the cash to send their offspring to private schools.

‘The biggest barrier to entry is the fear of not being safe in the classroom. These are both indicators of a real behaviour problem.’ Two-thirds of teachers believe bad behaviour is driving staff out of the classroom, according to the Department for Education.

Mr Gove’s behaviour tsar, Charlie Taylor, said the guidance should encompass rules on school uniform and advice on recruiting educational psychologists. He said a school uniform, with top buttons done up and a nicely tied tie, can ‘set the tone for a school’.

Mr Taylor added: ‘You need to have the high expectations; you need to have the rules in place and the boundaries. ‘But in any school, and in particular in a deprived need to do a bit extra with them.’

Pimlico Academy in Central London, where Mr Gove launched his guidance, has a full-time education psychologist and four part-time psychotherapists to work with children with the most serious problems.

Concerns that schools are hiding badly behaved pupils from Ofsted were raised at a Commons select committee hearing last year. Tom Trust, a former member of the General Teaching Council for England, told the committee: ‘Getting evidence from head teachers is not always reliable because they have got a lot to lose. Ofsted’s views on behaviour are not worth the paper they are written on.’


Monday, April 04, 2011

Florida Education Reforms Succeed, Spread to Other States

Florida is widely recognized as the state leader in education reform. Students in the Sunshine State have made the strongest academic achievement gains in the nation since 2003, and they are one of the only states that have been able to narrow the achievement gap between white and minority students. Yesterday, the Washington Post highlighted the Florida model, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s role in its creation:
“The president who turned No Child Left Behind from slogan into statute is gone from Washington, and the influence of his signature education law is fading. But another brand of Bush school reform is on the rise.

“The salesman is not the 43rd president, George W. Bush, but the 43rd governor of Florida, his brother Jeb.

“At the core of the Jeb Bush agenda are ideas drawn from his Florida playbook: Give every public school a grade from A to F. Offer students vouchers to help pay for private school. Don’t let them move into fourth grade unless they know how to read.”

State leaders seem to know a good reform strategy when they see it, and many across the country are beginning to embrace the Florida reform model.

Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Governor Gary Herbert of Utah just signed the Florida-style A-F grading system into law in their respective states. The scale grades schools and school districts on a straightforward, transparent scale designed to inform parents and taxpayers about achievement results. The move will arm parents with more information about school performance – a necessary step to improving education. State leaders in Indiana, Arizona and Louisiana also recently implemented the A-F grading scale.

While transparency about school performance is essential to results-based education reform, providing parents with opportunities to act on that information is crucial. Many states are now working to enact that most important piece of the Florida reform model – school choice.

In Indiana, a school choice bill – what could become the largest in the country – is under consideration that would provide significant new education options for families. According to the Foundation for Educational Choice, the House bill under consideration would create a new voucher program that would allow children to attend a private school of their choice. Scholarship amounts will be determined on a sliding scale based on income, and after three years, the cap on the number of eligible students would be lifted.

Moves to embrace the Florida reform model – in whole or in part – illustrate the great capacity of state leaders to look toward what works in education and modify it to meet the needs of local communities.

By contrast, Washington has been trying for nearly a half century to push education reform from the top down, despite being far from the students and schools their policies impact.

The Washington Post goes on to say that “[Jeb] Bush left office in 2007, and his legacy is much debated.” While some may like to debate which of the reform elements of his plan were most effective, there’s little room to debate the results.

Florida students have demonstrated the strongest gains on the NAEP in the nation since 2003, when all 50 states began taking NAEP exams. Moreover, between 1998 and 2008, the average score for black students increased by 12 points in reading from 192 to 204. In Florida, it increased by 25 points—twice the gains of the national average. If African American students nationwide had made the same amount of progress as African American students in Florida, the fourth-grade reading gap between black and white would be approximately half the size it is today.

If federal policymakers truly wanted to help education reform flourish, they would relieve states of the bureaucratic red tape and heavy handed mandates, and allow state leaders to have more control over how education dollars are spent. As the recent replications of the highly successful Florida reform model show, state leaders are eager to do what works and what’s in the best interest of students.


Pupils could face police action as British government announces surprise raids on schools to tackle bad behaviour

Britain's worst schools will face surprise raids by inspectors and heads will be able to press charges against pupils under moves to stamp out discipline problems in the classroom.

Teachers will also be given powers to confiscate pupils’ mobile phones in a package of measures designed to end years of politically correct official guidance that gave disruptive children the upper hand.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who will unveil the plans today, is determined to reverse the collapse in classroom discipline that has resulted in 1,000 children a day being suspended from school for abuse and assault.

As well as confiscating mobiles, which are banned in many classrooms, teachers will be allowed to search the phones for evidence of cyber-bullying and inappropriate material.

And they will be allowed to break up fights and manhandle unruly pupils out of the classroom. They will also automatically be given the benefit of the doubt when facing malicious allegations from children or parents – and given anonymity while the claims are investigated.

Under the new rules they will then be allowed to launch criminal action against their own pupils who have made false allegations about them. The youngsters will also face expulsion over the claims.

Teachers will also be allowed to hand out automatic detentions to misbehaving students, without having to give parents 24 hours’ notice.

The 50-page document replaces more than 600 pages of complex guidance on discipline.

Mr Gove will also press the schools inspection body, Ofsted, to carry out more unannounced raids at the worst schools. At present most schools receive many months’ notice before an Ofsted inspection – giving them time to cover up the worst problems. New powers to carry out so-called ‘no-notice inspections’ have been used only five times in 18 months.

A government source said Mr Gove expected the powers to be used more widely, adding: ‘In the small number of schools with very bad behaviour problems we need more no-notice inspections. It must become unacceptable for schools to tolerate persistent serious problems.’

Mr Gove said the new measures would hand power in the classroom back to teachers. He added: ‘Improving discipline is a big priority. Teachers can’t teach effectively and pupils can’t learn if schools can’t keep order.

The new regime will remove the controversial ‘no touch’ rules, which banned teachers from any physical contact with pupils.

The guidance also gives teachers far greater protection against malicious complaints from pupils and their parents. One in four teachers has faced false allegations from a pupil, while one in six has had unfounded allegations made by parents.

Chris Yeates, the leader of teachers’ union NASUWT, yesterday criticised the ‘disproportionate’ powers allowing teachers to search for mobile phones – despite having previously branded mobiles ‘offensive weapons’ used by bullies.

Charlie Taylor, head of a tough inner-city school for excluded pupils, has been appointed as a school discipline tsar to drive through the reforms. He said: ‘For far too long, teachers have been buried under guidance and reports on how to tackle bad behaviour. I am determined to make sure I help schools put policy into practice.’


Millions of Australians behind on basic skills; threatens Australia's international competitiveness

Not as bad as the USA but getting there

AUSTRALIA'S international competitiveness is under threat because up to eight million Australian workers don't have the reading, writing or numeracy skills to undertake training for trade or professional jobs.

The nation's 11 Industry Skills Councils will today call for a new campaign to tackle endemic numbers of workers with poor reading and writing skills, launching a report detailing the problems being faced by industry training bodies.

The bodies say they are confronting inadequately prepared school leavers, an ageing workforce struggling to cope with technological advances and overseas-born workers with English as a second language.

The report, No More Excuses, calls for the Council of Australian Governments to develop a national "overarching blueprint for action on language, literacy and numeracy".

The report will reignite the skills debate at a time when industry is warning of the re-emergence of shortages of trained workers and Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have thrust workforce participation and getting the long-term unemployed into work to the front of the political debate.

The report says "the situation looks as if it could be getting worse, not better" in terms of the language, literature and numeracy skills of workers.

"International studies have shown that over the past two decades, Australia's literacy and numeracy skill levels have stagnated while those of other countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, have improved.

"By continuing to accept the current levels, we are limiting the future success of individuals, businesses and our economy," the Industry Skills Councils say in a joint statement to be released today.

The report calls for industry training programs to be provided with specific funding to tackle language, literacy and numeracy gaps faced by students and overseas-born workers with English as a second language.

It also calls for recruits to be given better advice about the language and maths requirements of training courses.

Forest Works chief executive Michael Hartman, who runs training programs for the forest, wood, paper and timber products industry, said literacy and numeracy were the "foundation of productivity".

A failure to improve skills among both school leavers and experienced workers would see Australian businesses fall behind international competitors.

Electrocomms and Energy Utilities Industry Skills Council chief executive Bob Taylor told The Australian a decade of calls for skill-ready school leavers had failed to achieve any tangible improvements.

And the resources and infrastructure industry skills council, SkillsDMC, writes in the report that some indigenous recruits on resources projects have learning levels as low as primary school grade four.

This means that providing them with literacy and numeracy skills "is costly and time-consuming, and often results in the employee spending more time at training than at work".

Mr Taylor said industry had been complaining about the poor quality of literacy and numeracy among school leavers looking to enter the trades for more than 10 years and there had been no improvement.

He said the report was aimed at ending the "blame game" and incorporating basic reading, writing and numeracy skills into preliminary training courses.

He said lack of skills in this area was a "real issue" in terms of drop-out rates of apprentices and schools needed to become more focused on providing the relevant skills to the 70 per cent of students who would not attend university and seek work in a trade.

Mr Taylor said preliminary training courses to allow regional workers access to jobs on the National Broadband Network included facets of basic literacy and numeracy training.

He said it was "quite frustrating" that basic maths and physics of the 15- to 16-year-olds seeking trades in the 1960s was superior to today's 18-year-olds seeking trades.

Mr Hartman said his industry was confronting literacy and numeracy problems among older workers who had been long-term employees in industries that were suddenly facing technological change.

He said under current training arrangements, there was not a lot of money available to enable trainers to help students struggling with basic literacy and numeracy skills and this needed to be addressed: "It is a major problem in our society; unless we tackle it, we'll fall further behind in terms of international competitiveness and the skills of our people."


Sunday, April 03, 2011

DOE fines Virginia Tech for shootings response

Virginia Tech will have to pay the maximum $55,000 fine for violating federal law by waiting too long to notify students during the 2007 shooting rampage but will not lose any federal student aid, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday.

Department officials wrote in a letter to the school that the sanction should have been greater for the school's slow response to the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, when student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 students and faculty, then himself.

The $55,000 fine was the most the department could levy for Tech's two violations of the federal Clery Act, which requires timely reporting of crimes on campus.

"While Virginia Tech's violations warrant a fine far in excess of what is currently permissible under the statute, the Department's fine authority is limited," wrote Mary Gust, director of a department panel that dictated what punishment the school would receive for the violation.

The university avoided the potentially devastating punishment of losing some or all of its $98 million in federal student aid. While that's possible for a Clery Act violation, the department has never taken that step and a department official said Tuesday it was never considered for Tech.

University officials have always maintained their innocence and said they would appeal the fine, even though it's a relatively small sum for a school of more than 30,000 full-time students and an annual budget of $1.1 billion. The amount would cover tuition and fees for one Virginia undergraduate student for four years, or two years for an out-of-state undergrad.

"We believe that Virginia Tech administrators acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them at the time," spokesman Larry Hincker said in a statement.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that receive federal student financial aid to report crimes and security policies and provide warning of campus threats. It is named after Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old university freshman who was raped and murdered in her dormitory in 1986. Her parents later learned that dozens of violent crimes had been committed on the campus in the three years before her death.

The Education department issued its final report in December, finding that Virginia Tech failed to issue a timely warning to the Blacksburg campus after Cho shot and killed two students in a dormitory early that morning in 2007. The university sent out an e-mail to the campus more than two hours later, about the time Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and faculty, then himself.

That e-mail was too vague, the department said, because it referred only to a "shooting incident" but did not mention anyone had died. By the time a second, more explicit warning was sent, Cho was near the end of his shooting spree. "Had an appropriate timely warning been sent earlier to the campus community, more individuals could have acted on the information and made decisions about their own safety," the department said in its letter.

A state commission that investigated the shootings also found that the university erred by failing to notify the campus sooner. The state reached an $11 million settlement with many of the victims' families. Two families have sued and are seeking $10 million in damages from university officials. That case is set for trial this fall.

Virginia Tech argues that, relying on campus police, it first thought the shootings were domestic and that a suspect had been identified so there was no threat to campus. The university argued that the Department of Education didn't define "timely" until 2009, when it added regulations because of the Tech shootings.

Hincker, the university spokesman, outlined six other serious incidents at other college campuses before and after the Tech shootings in which notifications were not given for hours, or in some instances the next day, and the schools were not punished.

"The only reason we want to appeal this is that it gives us the process to explain how a notice given on one campus can be OK if it's this long, and a notice given on another campus is not OK if it's this short a time period," he said. "As best we can tell, it's whatever DOE decides after the fact." The education department rebuffed that argument, saying officials should have treated it as a threat because the shooter was on the loose.

Through its appeal, Hincker said the university hopes to find out how the department came to its conclusion. School officials were never interviewed, he said, and the department refused to share materials or respond to Freedom of Information requests sent by the school. If the school loses the appeal, it could fight the fine in court.

Several victims' family members maligned Tech for saying it would appeal. "This is in black and white," said Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was injured in the shootings. "They're going to spend more money appealing it than just paying the fine, because they do not want to admit they did anything wrong."

Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was shot but survived, said she was not surprised by the maximum fine. "I feel like it's par for the course, if you will, for what they are allowed to do," she said. "I think it is a woefully, woefully, woefully sad amount of money for the staggering loss of life."

Andrew Goddard, whose son Colin also was injured, said even a smaller fine would have accomplished a purpose. "The bottom line is just having a monetary amount points out what they did was wrong," he said. "There's really no way you can replace 32 people, or even seek to equate that with money. I'm not too worried about the amount. Even if they charged them a dollar, it would have done the same thing."

Only about 40 schools have come under review for Clery violations in the 20 years that the law has been in place. The largest fine to be levied was $350,000 against Eastern Michigan University for failing to report the rape and murder of a student in a dormitory in 2006.

S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security On Campus, a nonprofit organization that monitors the Clery Act, said it's "a shame" the department had only really began fining schools for noncompliance in 2005. "If the Department of Education had sent a stronger message about having to follow the law and that something faster would be expected sooner, the shootings at Virginia Tech may have never happened," Carter said.


Hanky-panky to make a government school look good

Rhee was hornswoggled

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its "shining stars."

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes' staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district's elementary schools, Noyes' proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

This is a series of documents obtained by USA TODAY through public-records requests. It details a back-and-forth between two District of Columbia agencies on test-score investigations.
Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That's more than half of D.C. schools.

Erasures are detected by the same electronic scanners that CTB/McGraw-Hill, D.C.'s testing company, uses to score the tests. When test-takers change answers, they erase penciled-in bubble marks that leave behind a smudge; the machines tally the erasures as well as the new answers for each student.

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

"This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.

A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.

USA TODAY examined testing irregularities in the District of Columbia's public schools because, under Rhee, the system became a national symbol of what high expectations and effective teaching could accomplish. Federal money also was at play: Last year, D.C. won an extra $75 million for public and charter schools in the U.S. government's Race to the Top competition. Test scores were a factor.

USA TODAY initially looked at Noyes only because of its high erasure rates. Later, the newspaper found that Wayne Ryan, the principal from 2001 to 2010, and the school had been touted as models by district officials. They were the centerpiece of the school system's recruitment ads in 2008 and 2009, including at least two placed in Principal magazine.

"Noyes is one of the shining stars of DCPS," one ad said. It praised Ryan for his "unapologetic focus on instruction" and asked would-be job applicants, "Are you the next Wayne Ryan?"

In response to questions from USA TODAY, Kaya Henderson, who became acting chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools after Rhee resigned in October, said last week that "a high erasure rate alone is not evidence of impropriety."

D.C. "has investigated all allegations of testing impropriety," Henderson said. "In those situations in which evidence of impropriety has been found, we have enforced clear consequences for the staff members involved, without hesitation."

Henderson, who was Rhee's deputy, said the system would identify only schools where violations of security protocol were found. "For the majority of schools" investigated, there was "no evidence of wrongdoing," she said. Out of fairness to staff members, she said, she declined to identify all the schools that were investigated.

There can be innocent reasons for multiple erasures. A student can lose his place on the answer sheet, fill in answers on the wrong rows, then change them when he realizes his mistake. And, as McGraw-Hill said in a March 2009 report to D.C. officials, studies also show that test-takers change answers more often when they are encouraged to review their work. The same report emphasizes that educators "should not draw conclusions about cheating behavior" from the data alone.

Haladyna notes, however, that when entire classrooms at schools with statistically rare erasures show fast-rising test scores, that suggests someone might have "tampered with the answer sheets," perhaps after the tests were collected from students. Although not proof of cheating, such a case underscores the need for an investigation, he says.


Lefties, not Etonians, are closing British libraries

Zadie Smith is wrong about libraries – and the BBC were wrong to let her broadcast her attack on the 'cuts', writes Simon Heffer

Just as some of us believe in Father Christmas or the Lone Ranger, I have long believed there is no institutional political bias in the BBC. I have made many programmes for the corporation over the past 20 or so years and have never encountered any blatant example of it. I know some senior BBC executives who I think might even vote Conservative – not that that signifies a freedom from Leftism these days. However, one contribution to the Today programme this week made me think I might be wrong.

It was the piece-to-microphone by Zadie Smith, a novelist, about the closure of libraries. For five minutes she was allowed to broadcast an attack on the “cuts”, and the effect they were having on these institutions. She did so with her assertions, prejudices and misinformation going unchallenged.

Miss Smith happens to be a woman, a Leftist and a member of an ethnic minority. I fear there are some people in the BBC for whom that formula signals the need to suspend disbelief. No man of the Right from the ethnic majority would ever be given such a platform to make such assertions. The editor responsible should be the subject of the most rigorous inquiry, to say the least.

Miss Smith and I would agree that libraries are good. We would disagree about why they are closing. She says it is because the Cabinet is full of people from “Eton and Harrow” who simply don’t care. Not a single member of the Cabinet went to Harrow. Only one, the Prime Minister, went to Eton. Two other OEs, Sir George Young and Oliver Letwin, attend Cabinet but are not members of it. The BBC seems not to mind that she says these dishonest and unpleasant things. Had someone spoken in the same way about homosexuals, Muslims or even Jews, the world would have ended.

Libraries are closing not because of “cuts”, or because of a callous, privately educated clique whose bookshelves are so capacious and well-stocked that they have no need of public provision – they are closing because mischievous Leftist councils of the sort supported by Miss Smith choose to close them rather than make savings elsewhere.

If you sack diversity officers or lesbian outreach workers, that merely makes sense, since the productivity and social value of such jobs are minimal. If you close a library, you harm children, the elderly and the intellectually curious poor who are already betrayed by our dismal education system. The political point made is therefore far more satisfying. (Miss Smith seemed to think another purpose of libraries was to be somewhere from which her mother could steal books, but let that pass.)

The BBC is making “cuts”, because the Government feels the revenue from generous licence-fee settlements past has been squandered or badly deployed. The BBC should not have diversified into the guide books business nor given an £18 million contract to one rather ordinary presenter. There long ago ceased to be a link between funding and quality in the BBC: look at the job of informing, educating and entertaining that Radio 3 does on very little money.

So the BBC is touchy about “cuts”, and Miss Smith was a suitably high-profile voice to articulate this anger. But she was also wrong. There is another side to the coin, and in the interests of impartiality I trust we shan’t need to wait too long before seeing or hearing it.