Saturday, April 23, 2011

Education Department Financial Aid Rules Backfire, Harming Students

The Education Department tried to restrict the use of financial aid by for-profit colleges by barring them from getting more than 90 percent of their funding from federal financial-aid programs.

How did they respond? By raising tuition, so that at least 10 percent of their students’ education would not be paid for by federal loans and grants. Thus, financial aid actually encouraged them to increase tuition, radically increasing their students’ future indebtedness.

The net result was to “create a perverse, no-win ‘Catch-22’ that could prevent low-income students from attending college,” by encouraging such colleges to raise tuition to outstrip rising financial aid by more than ten percent.

Over the past three years, the federal government has increased student aid by more than 40 percent. As a result, students are entitled to as much as $15,000 in grants and loans during their first year of study. The result has been to drive up tuition at some colleges by even higher percentages.

For example, Corinthian College has diploma programs in health care and other fields that can be completed in a year or less. Until earlier this year, many of those programs had a total cost of about $15,000, which meant that federal grants and loans could cover nearly 100 percent of their cost. In response to the Education Department’s rule, the college raised tuition to comply with the 90/10 rule.

As a result of increasing federal financial aid, colleges have been able to increase tuition faster than inflation, year after year, secure in the knowledge that they can rake in ever-rising government subsidies and skyrocketing tuition. College students are learning less and less even as higher education spending explodes.

Students have little choice but to pay inflated tuition bills into the education industrial-complex, as they vie with each other for scarce entry-level jobs by acquiring ever more degrees that show their ability to jump through hoops and master difficult (but largely useless) skills. The net result is an educational arms race in which people compete to see who can acquire the most paper credentials. There are now 8,000 waiters and 5,057 janitors with PhD’s or other advanced degrees, and millions of Americans have useless college degrees.

The Education Department recently made college officials’ lives more difficult by trying to alter the burden of proof long used by many colleges in sexual harassment cases (despite the lack of any legal basis for doing so), and by seeking to discourage procedures such as cross-examination that safeguard accuracy and due process in campus disciplinary proceedings.

Another recent Education Department rule that is likely to backfire on students is discussed here (the so-called “gainful employment rule”).


Massachusetts Pro-Life Group Riled by State-Funded Sex Education Website

A state-funded sex education website that claims getting an abortion is "much easier than it sounds" has angered a Bay State pro-life organization that says the site glorifies the controversial procedure.

Linda Thayer, a former Boston teacher and vice president of educational affairs for the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told Fox News that the website, is a misuse of state funds and claimed it downplayed the medical procedure. She also claimed the website provided a "road map" for teenagers to get an abortion without informing their parents.

"Any minor girl who reads this website, whether she's pregnant or not, basically gets a road map on how to get an abortion without telling her parents," Thayer said on Wednesday. "They're really setting these girls up if they follow through with an abortion." also downplays the potential physical complications associated with abortions, claiming that the website's characterization of abortions as "safe and effective" to be a "deceptive sleight of hand," Thayer said.

On the site, Maria informs readers that she was "overwhelmed" by different birth control options when she and her boyfriend began having sex.

"I did some Internet research, but I got overwhelmed with all the different birth control options (the ring? the cap? the patch?.. what’s the difference?!)," the site reads. "I decided to talk to my aunt – she’s a doctor and knows a lot about this stuff – and she helped me figure out what was best for me."

Abortion, meanwhile, is characterized as a "pretty hot topic" that some believe is wrong while others believe it can be a "good and responsible" choice.

"While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it can sometimes be hard to get truthful information because some people may try to get you to think the same way they do," the website reads. "What’s important is how you feel about it. One of my friends who had an abortion told me that it was a difficult decision to make, but she felt that it was the best choice she could make for herself, her boyfriend, her family, and her future."

The website also claims that abortions are "more common than you might think," with roughly 4 out of every 10 U.S. women having at least one abortion by the time they reach age 40.

"My Aunt Lucia says that abortions are safe and effective, though some people may experience temporary discomfort," Maria says on the website. "She also says that early abortions have less risk than those done later in the pregnancy."

The website has been produced since 2008 by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts with $100,000 in annual grants from the state Department of Public Health. Those funds also cover a sex-crisis hotline and other outreach efforts, according to the Boston Herald.

Calls by to the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts were not immediately returned on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Haag, chief of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, defended the website in a statement issued to the Boston Herald. “We feel strongly that the issues that are addressed through the Maria Talks Web site are essential in safeguarding the general, sexual health of youth by informing them of their risk for unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections," Haag's statement read.

The Massachusetts Department of Health also released a statement defending the site. "The website strives to provide accurate, complete, and non-judgmental information about all aspects of sexual health, including sex, abstinence, birth control, pregnancy, pregnancy options, sexually transmitted infections, sexual violence, and information for gay, lesbian, and questioning youth," the statement read. "The website is intended to be accessible to teens through the site's narrator, 18-year old Maria, who provides accurate information in a youth-friendly way."


The black headmistress who saw lynch mob in a British parent's poster and called police

For a poster advertising a primary school parents’ meeting, it is certainly unusual. Using models, it depicts scientist Charles Darwin surrounded by an angry mob wielding flaming torches and makeshift weapons. According to the school governor who created it, City executive David Moyle, it is a satirical joke about pushy middle-class parents demanding higher standards.

Yet when black headmistress Shirley Patterson saw it, she believed it represented her surrounded by white parents. She reportedly compared it to a scene from Mississippi Burning, a film about the Ku Klux Klan’s racist lynchings, saying it left her ‘fearing for her and her family’s safety’.

She called the police, claiming harassment. Then a council inquiry spent weeks determining the race of the Charles Darwin figure. Now Mr Moyle has been suspended from the governing body of Goodrich primary school in fashionable East Dulwich, south-east London, and is considering withdrawing his two younger children.

Although the police realised Darwin was white, and said no crime had been committed, Southwark council insisted it had ‘appropriately’ investigated the ‘deeply disturbing’ poster. The Labour authority refused to reveal details of its inquiry – which involved half a dozen officers at a time when 500 jobs are set to be cut.

And it will not discuss how a model of a white, bearded, Victorian scientist could be confused with a black 21st century headmistress.

But a friend of Mr Moyle said: ‘Southwark council summoned David for a meeting and told him the posters amounted to harassment. ‘A two-week investigation was carried out into the toy Charles Darwin’s ethnicity, before it was ruled “indeterminable”.

‘But the council inquiry, carried out by a whole team of officers including the assistant director of access, inclusion and education, Pauline Armour, ruled the poster was “an image of violence and intimidation”, and “deeply disturbing and damaging to children”.’

Last night Mr Moyle, who is also a volunteer cricket coach at the school, said: ‘The poster and subsequent events have taken up way too much of my time this year. I was very surprised and disappointed that the school executive tried to criminalise me over it, especially in light of the amount of time my wife and I have given to Goodrich over the last eight years.

‘If there was a perceived problem with the image I would have thought they could have spoken directly to me about it. ‘And as an ardent supporter of local government, I was taken aback by the reaction of the council, who not only fully endorsed the disproportionate reaction of the school management, but also contrived additional charges about the poster that had no relation at all to the original complaint.

‘The only people involved who have applied common sense to this incident are the police and the parents of the school, and to them I am grateful.’

The friend added: ‘David is really angry. He feels he can’t have his children in a school where the headmistress tried to have him arrested. The posters were supposed to be poking fun at parents, representing them as a peasants’ revolt. ‘And the parents, teachers and police saw nothing racist about it. But once the council got involved it escalated.’

Mrs Patterson, 53, replaced a popular long-term headmaster of Goodrich school when he retired in 2007. Ofsted inspectors rated the school, which has around 700 pupils aged three to 11, a lowly ‘satisfactory’ in 2008.

In January, newly-elected parent governor Mr Moyle, who lives nearby in a £650,000 Victorian house with wife Lisa, a former treasurer of the parents’ association, and their sons aged 12 and ten and daughter of eight, was asked to advertise a meeting. He found the image on a website mocking ‘creationists’ angered by Darwin’s theory of evolution, and stuck posters around the school.

The next week he was told Mrs Patterson had complained to the National Union of Teachers.

The friend said: ‘Mrs Patterson was previously at a school where lots of children come from migrant families and English is not their first language. ‘But East Dulwich is quite gentrified, and a lot of middle-class parents here want schools that rival prep schools. ‘They want academic excellence.

‘She feels everyone is against her and has over-reacted to a poster she thought symbolised her.’

Mrs Patterson, who lives with her daughter in a £250,000 flat in Camberwell two miles from the school, refused to comment.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Bull About Bullying

There is a lot of talk from many people about bullying in school. The problem is that it is all talk. There is no sign that anybody is going to do anything that is likely to reduce bullying.

When politicians want to do nothing, and yet look like they are doing something, they appoint a blue ribbon committee or go to the U.N. or assign some Cabinet member to look into the problem and report back to the President -- hoping that the issue will be forgotten by the time he reports back.

When educators are going to do nothing, they express great concern and make pious public pronouncements. They may even hold conferences, write op-ed pieces or declare a "no tolerance" policy. But they are still not going to do anything that is likely to stop bullying.

In some rough schools, they can't even stop the bullying of teachers by the hooligans in their classes, much less stop the bullying of students.

Not all of this is the educators' fault. The courts have created a legal climate where any swift and decisive action against bullies can lead to lawsuits. The net results are indecision, half-hearted gestures and pious public pronouncements by school officials, none of which is going to stop bullies.

When judges create new "rights" for bullies out of thin air, just as they do for criminals, and prescribe "due process" for school discipline, just as if schools were little courtrooms, then nothing is likely to happen promptly or decisively.

If there is anything worse than doing nothing, it is doing nothing spiced with empty rhetoric about what behavior is "unacceptable" -- while in fact accepting it.

Might educators abuse their power, if the courts did not step in? Of course they could. Any power exercised by human beings can be abused. But, without the ability to exercise power, there is anarchy.

When responsible officials are prevented from exercising power, then bullies exercise power.

President Barack Obama has joined the chorus of those deploring bullying. But his own administration is pushing the notion that a disproportionate number of suspensions or other punishments for members of particular racial or ethnic groups is discriminatory.

In other words, if a school suspends more black males than Asian females, that is taken as a sign of discrimination. No one in his right mind really believes that, but it is part of the grand make-believe that pervades our politics and even our courts.

For years, there have been stories in New York and Philadelphia newspapers about black kids beating up Asian classmates. But do not expect anybody to do anything that is likely to put a stop to it.

If these were white kids beating up Hispanic kids, cries of outrage would ring out across the land from the media, the politicians, the churches and civic groups. But it is not politically correct to make a fuss when black kids beat up Asian kids.

None of this is unique to the United States, by the way. The same mushy-minded attitudes have been carried even further in Britain, both as regards criminals and as regards bullies in the schools.

Britain was once one of the most law-abiding nations on earth. But the reluctance of the left to put some serious punishment on criminals has been carried so far there that only 7 percent of convicted criminals actually spend any time behind bars. Britain has now overtaken the United States in various crime rates.

Years ago, there was a book published in Britain titled "Murder in The Playground." The boy who ended up killing a fellow student on the school playground had previously committed crimes ranging from motorcycle theft to arson that created more than $50,000 worth of damage in school. For the latter, he was given 24 hours' detention.

People who say that we should learn from other countries almost always mean that we should imitate what other countries do. But one of the most important things we can learn from other countries is to avoid the mistakes they have made.


Education Showdown

The irresistible force of school reform meets the immovable object of teachers unions

"When Oprah starts talking about it, we're almost there," says Julio Fuentes, president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. School choice is "definitely a mainstream topic right now," Fuentes crows at National School Choice Week festivities in Washington, D.C., in January. "Five or six years ago, when I got into this movement, we were viewed as the crazy voucher folks in Florida running around trying to pass legislation. Now Oprah is talking about it, so we're no longer crazy. We're making sense. We're making progress."

Oprah isn't alone in her late-breaking interest in education reform. Documentaries about school choice are popping up like pimples on a middle school boy, first among them the wildly successful, Sundance-winning Waiting for "Superman," by director David Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame. President Barack Obama spent 1,000 words of his 7,000-word State of the Union address this year on schools, referring to public education as "a system that's not working." Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked off the new year by writing in The Washington Post that "few areas are more suited for bipartisan action than education reform." Old Democratic mayors are saying nice things about reform, and new Republican governors are saying mean things about the status quo. And then there's Oprah, who devoted one of her final episodes to school reform. Her guests included Guggenheim, education technology champion Bill Gates, and the controversial former chancellor of the District of Columbia's public schools, Michelle Rhee.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act—rechristened No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001—is overdue for congressional reauthorization. On the state level, tight budgets and partisan rivalries are driving a reevaluation of how education money is spent. Policy makers are taking a fresh look at the way teachers are compensated, considering drastic reductions in administrative overhead, and reconsidering the role of technology in schooling. Independent charter schools and publicly funded vouchers are on the rise.

None of these ideas are new, but implementing them has taken on a new urgency. Is 2011 finally the year for serious education reform?

Irresistible Force

There is no denying that U.S. schools are ripe for reform. Per-pupil education spending has doubled in the last three decades, while test scores have remained stubbornly flat. American kids squat solidly in the middle of the pack in international testing, with 15-year-olds ranking about average in math and reading, slightly below average in science. Dropout rates in major cities are approaching 50 percent.

But schools have been this bad for a long time. Why the sudden surge of interest?

While reform remains primarily a Republican hobbyhorse, the conversion of some prominent Democrats has brought energy and life to the pool of exhausted political players. Michelle Rhee, the best-known of the eponymous Supermen in Guggenheim's documentary, identifies as a Democrat and worked for Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty (who lost the 2010 Democratic primary to a candidate backed by the teachers union). The Obama education team, led by Duncan, has been more open to talking about education reform than any Democratic administration in recent memory. Recently departed New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is a Democrat as well; he first made his name prosecuting Microsoft for antitrust violations in the Clinton Justice Department. Democratic campaign strategist Joe Trippi actively supports school choice. Even the rabble-rousing minister and lefty activist Al Sharpton has joined a new, Gates-funded lobbying group called Democrats for Education Reform.

Newark, New Jersey, boasts the reform dream team of zippy young Democratic Mayor Cory Booker plus fat and happy Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The two politicians are planning a massive education overhaul, which may include big cuts in the city's morbidly obese education bureaucracy, more support for charters and vouchers, and performance pay for teachers, all fueled by a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The media have been friendly toward their bipartisan effort—Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah together as well—making reformers giddy. "When the most liberal paper [the Newark Star-Ledger] in the state endorses a voucher bill," says Derrell Bradford, executive director of New Jersey's Excellent Education for Everyone, "the only thing stopping you is you."

But if all obstacles had indeed been removed, parents would have widespread education choice, and public schools would be noticeably on the mend. Neither is yet close to being true.

In urban school districts, where schools have been disaster zones for at least a generation, despair is breeding robust cooperation. But areas of bipartisan reform agreement are smaller on Capitol Hill and in statehouses around the country. More radical school choice proposals, such as vouchers for private school tuition, are mostly off the table. Usually when the two parties join hands it's not to change the status quo but to protect it. When Republicans talk about fixing schools, they often mean simply giving kids and parents ways to bail out of the worst of the worst. When Democrats talk about reform, they tend to prefer spending more to patch things up and build on top of the existing system. Both sides wind up voting for increased spending in the short and long run.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which controls the flow of federal K–12 funds to the states, is typically revisited every five to seven years. Duncan and others are hopeful they can get some form of education reauthorization to the president's desk for a signature this year despite the Republican takeover of the House. As Teach for America vice president (and former husband of Michelle Rhee) Kevin Huffman points out in U.S. News and World Report, "the relevant committee chairs and ranking members (Tom Harkin and Michael Enzi in the Senate, John Kline and George Miller in the House) are experienced pros"—and known moderates, the sort of people more likely to keep the spigot open than push radical reform.

In this regard they are in step with the president, who despite a reformist reputation has a mostly status quo record. Obama's main boast about K–12 education reform in the State of the Union address 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 more accurate to say, "In addition to pouring money into a system that's not working, we launched a relatively insignificant competition called Race to the Top."

At $4.4 billion, Race to the Top spending accounted for just a small share of the $500 billion spent on education at the federal, state, and local level. That said, by refusing to give states the money until after they implemented reforms such as publicizing information on teacher quality and lifting caps on charter schools, the administration did manage to elicit a decent-sized bang for its buck. As Obama correctly noted, "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."

In education policy, Washington has tended to be the worst kind of backseat driver. The real power to set curriculum and allocate resources rests with the states, meaning the federal government can only bribe, cajole, and reprimand from a distance. But the bribes keep getting bigger and bigger, which means state policy is increasingly subject to the whims of the feds; many reformers would like to use that influence to advance school choice. In the case of Race to the Top, the piles of cash were big enough (a couple hundred million dollars per state in most cases) and the rules specific enough that they gave state legislators, governors, and education bureaucracies sufficient incentive to risk ticking off teachers unions a little.


Let the market decide what British universities charge

The Coalition's university funding policy is turning into an entirely predictable shambles. It was right to raise the level of tuition fees, both to shift the cost of university education from the taxpayer to the students who will reap the economic benefit, and to encourage a genuinely competitive market in higher education. However, by imposing a cap of £9,000, that market has been badly distorted.

Initially, ministers were insistent that universities would charge the maximum only in "exceptional circumstances". To no one's great surprise – other, it seems, than the minister responsible, Vince Cable – the overwhelming majority are charging the maximum fee.

This is already being described as the Stella Artois route: even our less illustrious academic establishments want to be seen as "reassuringly expensive". Indeed, Graham Henderson, vice-chancellor of Teesside University in Middlesbrough, made no bones about it in this newspaper yesterday, when explaining why his institution wanted to charge £8,500 a year, almost as much as Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial College: "Our students are checking that we are not charging the bottom of the spectrum, because they don't want to be seen as second-rate."

The result is not just sky-high fees all round, but a significant shortfall in the higher education budget. The Government will have to advance more money than expected in the form of student loans, leaving less to fund university places: it is estimated that up to 36,000 will be lost as a consequence.

While this newspaper has long argued that too many youngsters are being shoved through the university system, the rationing of places should be based squarely on academic ability, not on a cash shortage caused by an ill-designed funding mechanism. Once again, a sensible Tory policy has been fatally compromised by the necessity to pander to the Liberal Democrats – a common theme in so many of the Coalition's reforms.

What can be done? One solution would be to remove the £9,000 cap, and allow a true market to develop. Our best universities – which are world-beaters – would be able to charge significantly more, channelling much of the surplus into bursaries for poorer students, while the less distinguished would have to charge significantly less, or fail to fill their places.

The more innovative could also start to market two-year courses – as the [private] University of Buckingham already does – that would offer an attractive lower-cost option.

Mr Cable seems to spend much of his time these days perfecting his role as the Coalition's licensed dissident. It is a pity that he does not spend longer ensuring that the policies for which he is responsible are fit for purpose.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Students not eager to redistribute GPA scores

Petition to Redistribute GPA Scores:

The College Republicans at the University of California-Merced ask fellow students, who support raising taxes on the rich, if they would be willing to redistribute their GPAs. They don’t think it’s a good idea because they earned their grades.


Academic Rot

Walter E. Williams

The average American, as parent, student and taxpayer, has little idea of the academic rot at so many of our colleges. Save for a tiny handful of the nation's colleges, what distinguishes one college from another is the magnitude of that rot.

One of the best sources of information about our colleges is the New York City-based Manhattan Institute's quarterly Web magazine, Minding the Campus, edited by John Leo, former columnist for U.S. News & World Report.

The magazine's Winter 2010 edition contains an article by Dr. Candace de Russy, former member of the board of trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), titled "Hate-America Sociology." De Russy's colleague sent her a copy of a student's exam from an introductory sociology class found lying in a room at an East Coast public college. The professor had given it a perfect score of 100. Here are some of the questions asked and the student's written response:
"Question: How does the United States 'steal' the resources of other (third world) countries?

"Answer: We steal through exploitation. Our multinationals are aware that indigenous people in developing nations have been coaxed off their plots and forced into slums. Because it is lucrative, our multinationals offer them extremely low wage labor that cannot be turned down.

"Question: Why is the U.S. on shaky moral ground when it comes to preventing illegal immigration?

"Answer: Some say that it is wrong of the United States to prevent illegal immigration because the same people we are denying entry to, we have exploited for the purpose of keeping the American wheel spinning." ...

"Question: What is the interactionist approach to gender?

"Answer: The majority of multi-gender encounters are male-dominated. (F)or example, while involved in conversation, the male is much more likely to interrupt. Most likely because the male believes the female's expressed thoughts are inferior to his own.

"Question: Please briefly explain the matrix of domination.

"Answer: The belief that domination has more than one dimension. For example, Males are dominant over females, whites over blacks, and affluent over impoverished."

Out of retaliation fears, de Russy withheld the name and university of her colleague who sent the exam. Teaching students hate-America indoctrination is widespread, as I've documented in the past.

A few years ago, according to UCLA's Bruin Standard, Mary Corey, UCLA history professor, instructed her class, "Capitalism isn't a lie on purpose. It's just a lie." She continued, "(Capitalists) are swine. ... They're bastard people."

Rod Swanson, a UCLA economics professor, told his class, "The United States of America, backed by facts, is the greediest and most selfish country in the world."

Professor Andrew Hewitt, chairman of UCLA's Department of Germanic Languages, told his class, "Bush is a moron, a simpleton and an idiot." The professor's opinion of the rest of us: "American consumerism is a very unique thing; I don't think anyone else lusts after money in such a greedy fashion."

An English professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey tells his students, "Conservatism champions racism, exploitation and imperialist war."

University officials are aware of this kind of academic rot, but not university trustees who bear the ultimate responsibility for the university's welfare. Trustees are mostly yes-men for the president. Legislators and charitable foundations that pour billions into colleges are unaware as well. Most tragically, parents who cough up thousands in tuition to send their youngsters off to be educated, rather than indoctrinated, are unaware of the academic rot as well.

You say, "Williams, what can be done?" Students should record classroom professorial propaganda and give it wide distribution over the Internet. I've taught for more than 40 years and have routinely invited students to record my lectures so they don't have to be stenographers during class. I have no idea of where those recordings have wound up, but if you find them, you'll hear zero proselytization or discussion of my political and other personal preferences. To do otherwise, I consider to be academic dishonesty.


Scandal of Britain's untrained teachers: Thousands don't have degrees in the subjects they teach

More than a quarter of teachers in many subjects do not have any qualification beyond an A-level in the course they teach, official figures reveal. Almost a million children are taught maths by ‘inadequately qualified’ teachers, and English doesn’t fare much better.

Government statistics on nearly 140,000 secondary school teachers – collected for the first time – show a shocking proportion of teachers do not have a degree in their subject. Education experts warn that this ‘alarming’ lack of qualifications will result in schools becoming trapped in a spiral of slipping standards.

A quarter of maths teachers in secondary schools – 26.6 per cent or 8,745 – do not have a degree in their subject, and nor do 28.7 per cent of geography teachers, 31.4 per cent of physics teachers and 55 per cent teaching religious education. Worse still, 63 per cent of business and economics teachers and 82 per cent in media studies do not have a degree in their chosen field.

Of the ‘core’ subjects included in Education Secretary Michael Gove’s new performance measure, the EBacc, biology is the only subject to have a high proportion of teachers, 92 per cent, who are subject specialists. A total of 7,560 of 36,600 secondary school English teachers – 21 per cent – do not have an English degree.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: ‘The lack of qualifications held by teachers is alarming and will have consequences. ‘It is little wonder that in comparison with the rest of the developed world, our standards are slipping. It takes more than a good degree to make a good teacher. But sound subject knowledge, gained from a degree, is absolutely key. ‘How can teachers passionately communicate their subject if they do not have a good level of understanding about it?’

He said the Government urgently needs to break the cycle of inadequate training because it results in less qualified students and, as a result, a smaller pool from which to find the teachers of the future.

Yesterday’s figures, from the Department for Education, were collected as part of the 2010 school workforce census. In previous years the Government has used a sample of staff to gauge the level of teachers holding degrees. This year they sought to gather information on all 200,000 qualified teachers, and 140,000 responded.

The figures follow Mr Gove’s pledge to attract more graduates with first-class honours into teaching to raise the status of the profession. However, the Coalition has also cut the number of training places and axed ‘golden hellos’ for all but maths and science teachers. Graduates with less than a 2:2 degree will no longer be eligible for teacher training funding.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘We are trying to increase the number of graduates in subjects coming into teacher training.’

A Department for Education spokesman added: ‘It’s clear that the leading systems are built on teachers with expert, specialist subject knowledge. ‘We’ve struggled to attract enough graduates in shortage subjects like physics, chemistry and maths for a long time. That’s why we’re taking radical steps to toughen up recruitment and training. ‘We are going to overhaul professional development so existing teachers keep their skills and knowledge up to scratch.’


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New York Health Officials Back Off Proposal to 'Legislate Fun'

New York health officials pulled back a proposal that would have placed new regulations on classic kid games like tag and Wiffle Ball that officials deemed unsafe.

Just in time for summer camp season, the list was delivered to towns, villages and camp operators, and in a surprise to many, games like kickball were placed in the category of “significant risk of injury.”

In turn, public outcry called for the state to stay off their handball courts. Some had called it an attempt to "legislate fun," as the proposal faced increasing criticism from lawmakers and recreational sports businesses.

Dave Mullany, president of Wiffle Ball Inc., based in Shelton, Conn., told that he was shocked to hear that lawmakers in Albany recently identified the activity as "poses a significant risk of injury" along with other iconic childhood pastimes, like dodgeball.

"It's crazy," Mullany said on Tuesday. "Amid all this talk of us becoming a nation of overweight kids, we really need to promote activity and kids having fun. Should these kids go to summer camp and sit quietly with their hands folded? It's a little disconcerting to see fun being legislated."

The New York Health Department maintains these lists make sure camps have the proper medical equipment to treat any injury that may result from any particular activity. The games range in danger from archery to kickball.

“A lot can be misread,” Claudia Hutton, a department spokeswoman told “For example, Arts and Crafts sounds like it’s glue and paint, but in some cases they use power tools.”

Leaders at the department are also relatively new and are working with legislation that was authored during the previous administration. Hutton said the department is open to suggestions from residents before it implements any new guidance and the decision is likely to be made on May 16.

The department created the list of risky recreational activities in response to a state law passed in 2009. The law has yet to be implemented.

"People talk about how we're less and less active and that we're concerned about the increasing waistlines, so to kind of limit what kids do for activity and recreation is somewhat ludicrous," Mullany continued. Mullany also noted that Wiffle Ball is the only activity identified by brand name. "It catches you off-guard when you see something like this, and especially as the only brand name mentioned," he said. "I'm sure I'll be hearing from friends who are parents."

The games are not banned at camps, but they come at a play-at-your-own-risk cost. Camps that want campers to play the games will be required to pay a $200 registration fee and have medical staff on hand.

There are roughly 2,300 regulated summer camps in New York that are required to be under permit and be inspected twice a year by the state's Department of Health.

The state claims that this has resulted in markedly low levels of serious incidents. State statistics claim that of more than 640,000 children who attend camps, less than two-tenths of one percent are injured in any manner. Games/activities on the warning list:

* Capture the Flag

* Crab Soccer

* Dodgeball

* Flag Tag

* Flag Football

* Ga Ga

* Kickball

* Nuk-em

* Red Rover

* Steal the Bacon

* Tag (all varieties)


Public education: Failing in America

Education programs, systems and methods in America today are ancient and obsolete. The university concept of colleges and degrees, for example, is a medieval invention. University graduates still wear the same cap and gown costumes of many centuries ago.

But graduation doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore. Almost everyone graduates now. We see kindergartners today wearing the traditional cap and gown for “graduation” up to the first grade. They “graduate” with cap and gown from elementary school too; but most of them still can’t read.

Compulsory primary and secondary public school systems in America took hold in the late 19th century. What began as a method to provide all children with a basic education in reading, writing, and figuring, has become a grand thirteen year daycare program to “socialize” children into the American collective. There’s more emphasis now on teaching kids what to think than how to think.

By most accounts, compulsory education isn’t working. Arne Duncan, Secretary of the US Dept of Education, admitted recently that this year, up to 82 percent of public schools could "fail" the government's "No Child Left Behind" standards. "No Child Left Behind” is broken and we need to fix it now," he declared. "This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed," "We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk."

According to Secretary Duncan then, President Bush’s law creating achievement standards for schools is responsible for the schools’ failure to meet the standards. He thinks that if we stop labeling schools as failures, they’ll no longer be failures. If the law were only fair, he imagines, the kids would do so much better. The obvious truth, however, is that 80% of compulsory American public schools can’t even meet basic academic achievement standards.

Meanwhile, in the land of perpetual fruits and nuts, The California Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act law is pending. It would require school textbooks and teachers to incorporate information on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans into their curriculum.

I can’t imagine exactly what information they want to teach about that beyond the fact that lots of normal people, both gay and straight, like to tickle each other’s private parts now and then. Admitted, that’s an interesting subject, but surely not for a compulsory public school classroom. Public schools have no business instructing children on cultural values and preferences. Those are purely private matters.

School officials from a small district in the state of Maine have decided to purchase at taxpayer expense $200,000 worth of Apple's brand new iPad 2 tablet computers, one for each new kindergartner in the district, now and every year in the foreseeable future. I’m sure the little five-year-old Einstein’s will have a wonderful time with them before the majority of the delicate machines are kaput within a week or two.

Give a responsible toddler a $500 computer; he’ll likely use it as a hammer.

So I don’t think any of these crackpot ideas are going to work, but if they do, maybe they can pass similar laws requiring expensive equipment and information on how to read.


Education costs in Canada

A 2009 study by Toronto-Dominion Bank found the total cost for a four-year degree, including academic fees plus living expenses, was $77,000. If you stayed at home, it went down to $52,000.

Fast forward 18 years from 2009, enough of a time span for a child to be off to university, and the costs more than double. The costs of a four-year degree will go up to $137,000 if your child goes away and will be $101,000 even if he or she stays at home.

“Can you realistically ask a child to take on that type of financial burden?” asks Craig Alexander, chief economist with the bank. “The answer I would reach is no, and this is why parents are having to save for children’s education expenses.”

Saving for your children’s education has become a necessity unless you want them to face a lifetime of debt, even if that savings comes at the expense of money that might have been earmarked for retirement.

The federal government has helped nudge us along this education path by offering parents valuable incentives if they save for their child’s education. Since 1998, Ottawa has topped up all registered education savings plans by 20% to a maximum of $500 per year and $7,200 lifetime.

The results have altered the landscape for RESP plans. Total assets in RESPs before 1998 were $4-billion — a time when none of the major banks even offered the program. Today, there are more than 70 financial institutions that offer RESPs, and as of 2009, assets had climbed to $26-billlion.

Mr. Alexander says all you have to do is look at tuition rates over the last four years and you get an idea of how difficult it has become for children to make it on their own.

“The average rate of increase of tuition rates is running at 4% annually. It’s not astronomically high, but with inflation running at 2%, it means tuition is rising at twice the rate of consumer prices,” the economist says, noting in the past four years alone the average annual tuition rate has risen from $4,500 to $5,000.

Yet, it’s all worth it based on a purely financial decision. “The rate of return on education is the highest of any investment you make. It’s better than cash, bonds or equities. The real issue is how do you finance that education,” Mr. Alexander says.

Peter Lewis is vice-president, regulatory and corporate, with Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation, which at 51 years old is the oldest education savings plan in the country. He says parents used to make monthly payments on an education plan to shelter income and profits from tax, but it didn’t reach a critical mass of popularity until Ottawa started paying people to make contributions.

“I think part of what has also happened is an increasing understanding of the need for education,” says Mr. Lewis, adding 70% of all jobs today now require some form of post-secondary education. “If you as a parent want your child to have success, a post-secondary education becomes important.”

The real challenge when it comes to getting parents to save is convincing low income families to put money away for an RESP. The latest statistics from 2009 show only 19% of Canadian low-income families applied for the Canada Learning Bond, which pays out as much as $2,000 per child without having to put any money in at all. “The participation rate drops as you go lower down on socioeconomic ladder,” Mr. Lewis says.

David Sharone, product manager of registered plans with Bank of Montreal, says the message just has not gotten through to those eligible for the free money.

“We’ve got to figure ways to increase that number. We’re meeting with government to try to solve it. There are lot reasons why — low-income people might not go to the bank as often, there might be financial literacy issues — but it’s free money if they just open the plan. There should be enough incentives out there for everybody to open an RESP.”


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pressure applied in Chicago?

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel may have dodged an early fight with the teacher's unions.

Illinois is on track to pass a major set of education reforms -- without much of the drama that has dogged the effort in other jurisdictions like Washington D.C. -- and Wisconsin.

“The changes to Illinois’ education system agreed to by all parties will make Illinois a national model, and set a standard for other states to follow,” said Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children.

The bill under consideration is the result of negotiations between education groups Advance Illinois and Stand for Children, teachers' unions, and school administrators and it reforms tenure, establishes performance as a hiring standard and limits seniority and the right to strike. The Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association have all backed the measure.

On the campaign trail, Emanuel backed an early version of the bill that the unions originally opposed, using harsh rhetoric against the teachers unions.

"Chicago kids are being cheated out of four years' worth of education," Emanuel said in February signaling he backed reforms to tenure and curtailing the right to strike. Teachers, he said "are working very hard in adverse conditions in many places but they are not underpaid."


“We will sacrifice quality if necessary”

An unguarded comment by the new president of Britain's National Union of Students shows how denigrated university education has become

From Britain’s government officials right through to anti-cuts protesters, it seems everyone agrees about one thing in relation to Higher Education: universities should be engines of social mobility. They should give a boost to students from poorer backgrounds and help them to make their way up the career and social ladders.

The newly elected president of the National Union of Students (NUS), Liam Burns, spelt this out very clearly. Speaking to the Scottish Herald before his election, he said we should put aside the archaic idea that universities should encourage the advancement of knowledge and the pursuit of truth, and welcome the fact that unis are now training grounds for youngsters who want to have brighter career prospects.

‘I think we should be honest about our priorities’, he said. ‘At the end of the day, the point of the university has changed. If you look at when only five per cent of the population went, that was about knowledge, discovery, pushing boundaries, people talked about the crème de la crème. [Now], it is about social mobility and people changing their lives. The reality is you need that bit of paper [a degree] to get into better jobs with greater earning potential and influence. So we want as many people to get one as possible, at the expense of quality if necessary.’

‘At the expense of quality…’ It is a remarkably naked assertion of the denigration of education from being about quality (knowledge, reflection, truth) to being about quantity (getting as many young people through as possible in order to improve their ‘earning potential’).

This outlook has been widespread on recent student demonstrations against the Lib-Con government’s plans to cut HE funding and enforce student fees. If young people don’t get that ‘bit of paper’ that acts as a passport to a better job, the protesters have argued, then it’s all over, we’re doomed. Student commentators described the government’s plans as a ‘breathtaking attack on social mobility’ while protesters waved banners pleading ‘Don’t cut our futures’, ‘My dream for a better future will be over’ and ‘No degree = no hope’.

When students and their representatives see the primary role of Higher Education as providing a path towards ‘greater earning potential’, then it is clear that they have bought into the idea of themselves as consumers. Apparently they are simply the consumers of a product (education), whose time at uni is really just an investment that should eventually pay off in terms of increased social mobility. Indeed, many students have even started to demand refunds for ‘poor teaching’, when universities fail to deliver and provide those measurable outcomes that students expect as a return on their investment.

If the student movement has bought into the idea of Higher Education as a kind of investment, that begs a serious question: why shouldn’t students have to pay for this service? If HE really is just about improving prospects and lifestyles, then perhaps there should be fees, much like when adults take night classes because they want to move higher up in their firm of field of work? In this sense, it is not surprising that Liam Burns, who explicitly elevates ‘earning potential’ over ‘knowledge, discovery, pushing boundaries’, reportedly believes that the idea of a free education is now ‘untenable’ outside of Scotland, and that a graduate tax, imposed upon graduates who earn above a certain threshold, is the way forward. (Burns played a key role in keeping Scotland itself fees-free.)

Once a university education is no longer treated as something that has an intrinsic value, regardless of the outcomes upon graduation, then the arguments for keeping it free, the idea of keeping it shielded from market forces, become increasingly spurious. In buying into the language of social mobility, anti-fees student campaigners are shooting themselves in the foot.

In fact, in arguing that ‘knowledge, discovery and pushing boundaries’ should be deprioritised in favour of boosting social mobility, student representatives undermine the very basis on which degrees were once seen as valuable. Degrees were traditionally a mark of academic excellence; having one made you stand out from the crowd. If, as Burns now seems to be suggesting, the quality of degrees should be compromised so that ‘the crowd’ can all be awarded one, then degrees will cease to have the cachet they once had. And organisations will have to find other ways of selecting the best employees.

Ironically, they might have to do that by falling back on older, quite problematic methods: the school-tie approach, perhaps, or the question of whether your degree is from a ‘good university’ or a ‘bad university’. The hollowing out of degrees, the elevation of quantity over quality, not only robs young people of the chance to stretch their minds and seek knowledge - it also implicitly invites organisations and institutions to develop various ways to separate people into ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ categories.

With their talk of social mobility, especially for poorer students, student representatives may think they are being radical. But in truth, they are buying into the very marketisation of HE that the coalition government itself is encouraging. Furthermore, in failing to defend the traditional role of a university, these new student consumers will find that their ‘investment’ is less likely to yield either a decent education or a passport to a brighter, more brilliant future.


One in six British schools bans conkers over "elf 'n' safety" fears - and leapfrog and marbles are also under threat

Traditional school games such as conkers and leapfrog are dying out because over-protective teachers have irrational fears about health and safety, a survey suggests.

Researchers found that conkers have been banned from nearly one sixth of playgrounds for fear that they could cause injury or trigger a nut allergy, even though they are not nuts.

British bulldog contests have been banned from more than a quarter of playgrounds and even innocuous games such as leapfrog and marbles are going the same way.

Of 653 heads, teachers and support staff questioned, 29 per cent said British bulldog has been banned in their school, 14 per cent said pupils are forbidden from playing conkers and 9 per cent said leapfrog had been banned. Some 5 per cent said children were prevented from playing marbles and the same percentage said chasing games, such as tag, had been stopped.

The trend has been blamed on the rise in bureaucracy and red tape in schools and an increase in the number of parents who sue. Education experts have accused ‘over-zealous’ teachers of ruining childhoods.

Tim Gill, former director of the Children’s Play Council at the National Children’s Bureau, said schools have ‘forgotten how to give children a good childhood’. He added: ‘Bumps and scrapes and dealing with life’s trials are part and parcel of growing into a confident and resilient person. ‘You can only learn through experience.’

He said teachers who insist they are hampered by red tape are ‘confused’ because ‘bureaucracy barriers are not as great as they think they are’.

The reluctance of teachers to let children play has been revealed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Its research has also shown that pupils are being taken on fewer school trips due to too much form filling, a lack of time and funding, and safety fears. One primary school teacher told researchers: ‘Apparently the main problem with conkers is that nut allergy sufferers are increasingly allergic to them.’
'Right, Perkins, I'm just going to check your pockets for any conkers'

A secondary school teacher said: ‘Bulldog is banned because of the number of broken bones it generates.’

In total, 15 per cent of those questioned said fewer playground games and sports are played at their school now than three years ago. More than half, 55 per cent, cited concerns over pupil safety as the reason. And 42 per cent said there was a fear of being sued if a child was hurt during a game. In total, 57 per cent of those questioned said there was a growing trend of ‘risk aversion’ in schools.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘Risk in any school trip or activity should be recognised, assessed and managed, rather than avoided. ‘Young people are often less safe when there is an adult saying “be careful” – they then don’t trust their own instincts.’

Peter Cornall of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said increasing numbers of children are allergic to conkers, which are the seed of the horse chestnut tree. This is not because the conker has known allergens, but because fewer children play outside and build immunity to germs that may be on conkers. But he added: ‘Teachers are taking matters too far.’


Monday, April 18, 2011

Conventional education will go the way of farming

Food is vital for survival, yet less than 2 percent of America's population works in agriculture. That's a big change from 100 years ago, when over 40 percent of the workforce was toiling away on the farm. If I had been born at the start of the 20th century in Kansas, rather than at the end of the 1950s, no doubt my life would have been spent on the farm.

Agriculture was labor-intensive then, requiring plenty of strong backs, human and animal alike. In addition to nearly half the human workforce, 22 million animals worked the fields. Now 5 million tractors and a dazzling array of farm implements do the work of thousands. Farms have become more productive and specialized. And the number of farms has plunged, while the average-sized farm has quadrupled.

According to the USDA's website, in 1945 it took 14 labor hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on two acres. By 1987, it only took 3 labor hours and one acre to produce the same amount. Now, it takes less than an acre.

We have a wider array of food available to us than ever before. Created by fewer people. The division of labor continues to work wonders. Thank goodness we're not all stuck on the farm. According to the occupational employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 419,200 were employed in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupations in May of 2009.

The same May 2009 report listed 8,488,740 people employed in education, training, and library occupations. So more than 20 times more people are needed to educate a small portion of the population than to grow food for everyone. But what about serving the food? Yes, food-preparation and food-serving occupations totaled 11,218,260 employees, serving the entire population of over 308 million.

Meanwhile, it takes more than 8 million to educate the 81.5 million that are enrolled in school. History and technology would say this surely can't last. A proud father recently told me of quizzing his kids about scurvy. And while his young daughter gamely took a wild guess, his crafty teenage son ducked into the next room to google it, quickly emerging to give the correct answer that the disease that killed so many centuries ago is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.

What schooling is for many is a 12- or 16-year sentence wherein young people are penned up, talked at, cajoled, quizzed, and tested, for the most part on facts and figures that can now be retrieved in seconds with a handheld device.

The budget for education in the United States was $972 billion in 2007, according to the 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States — all of this money and all of these people for the promise that a life of employment success follows. Just as buying a house was the surest of investments, investing in an education is thought to be a sure bet. But the housing bubble has popped, and the education bubble is afloat, looking for a needle, according to PayPal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel.

"A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed," says Thiel. "Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It's like telling the world there's no Santa Claus."

In an article for TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy accentuates Thiel's point, writing, "Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe."

As home buyers leveraged up to buy McMansions in the housing boom, parents and students are borrowing thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, for degrees from big- (and small-) name universities, with the idea that when they come out the other side, with diploma in hand, the employment world is their oyster.

Other than the connections one makes at the Ivy League school, or Stanford, or Whatever State U, what's the point? Years of lost productivity, mountains of debt, and a piece of paper that likely has nothing to do with the job skills needed for this century.

Community-college English instructor Professor X is haunted by the similarities between the housing and education bubbles. In his book, entitled In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, X writes, "I, who fell victim to the original pyramid scheme of real estate … have used the educational pyramid scheme, the redefining of who college students are, for my own salvation."

Thiel and Founders Fund managing partner Luke Nosek have decided to pluck 20 talented teens out of the college quicksand and pay them $100,000 each over two years to start companies rather than sit through lectures, go to football games, and pile up student-loan debt. Thiel calls it "stopping out of school."

Great things will come from these "20 under 20." But for the rest of the millions left on campus — and in grade and high schools — few are learning to think and write, while all are gaining the highest self-esteem in the world.

This is the information age, yet the ability to communicate is not being taught, or not sinking in. College English instructor Kara Miller wrote on that few of her students had received writing instruction in high school, and that correcting student papers was so time consuming that the task was virtually overwhelming. She quotes Vartan Gregorian, the former president of Brown University, who rightly understands that "the ability to read, comprehend, and write — in other words, to organize information into knowledge — must be viewed as tantamount to a survival skill."

In a piece questioning the need for colleges offering majors in business, David Glenn writes that employers are looking for "22-year-olds who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data, and they're perfectly happy to hire English or biology majors."

Yes, the facts and figures are a click away. The ability to use, understand, and communicate those facts is what must be taught and currently is not. And it doesn't take an army of 8 million and a budget of 1 trillion dollars and counting to do it.


British middle-class children disadvantaged by University admission reforms

Middle-class schoolchildren could be denied university places in favour of students with lower grades from poorly-performing schools under reforms to the application process.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) will include statistics about each applicant’s school on all forms from 2012. Each application for entry will show the average GCSE and A-level performance of the candidate’s school and the proportion of pupils in their neighbourhood who go on to higher education.

This way universities will be able to see how well a pupil is performing compared to other students from the same school and local area.

The proposals have been put forward by vice-chancellors who face being penalised if they fail to hit government targets for the proportions of students admitted from deprived families. It will enable elite institutions to make lower offers to students from poorly-performing schools who they believe have academic potential.

Universities must hit government targets in order to be able to raise fees to the maximum level of £9,000 from 2012.

However, critics have warned that it will penalise children who are educated privately. Helen Wright, headmistress of St Mary’s Calne, Wiltshire, and president of the Girls’ School Association, described the system as “morally wrong”. She told the Sunday Times: “This is too much of a broad brush approach and is not sensible. “In the end decisions will be based on guesswork based on stereotypes.” She said schools that had high grades were likely to be “teaching its pupils well”.

The proposals have been backed by Universities UK, the vice-chancellor’s association.

However, Graham Stuart, Conservative chairman of the education select committee, said that “hard-working youngsters” could have their results disregards “because of nakedly political interference”.

Tim Hands, master of Magdaean College school, Oxford warned that such statistics could not take into account factors such as private tuition and described the measurements as “crude”.

In a recent newsletter Ucas said: “For the 2012 application cycle, Ucas will be able to provide additional contextual data from publicly available data sets to those institutions who wish to use it. This is one of a number of shared services being developed by Ucas for the benefit of the Higher Education sector, and comes in response to a number of requests from institutions to provide such information.”


Many useless British degrees

Data from the Complete University Guide reveals a drop in students landing graduate jobs or places on more advanced postgraduate courses after finishing their degree. At most universities, some 64 per cent of students found decent jobs or further study, compared with 68.5 per cent two years earlier.

Graduate prospects were particularly hit at many former polytechnics and new universities amid rising competition for sought-after positions during the economic downturn.

Figures show just 45 per cent of students who left Bolton University in 2009 – the latest available data – secured graduate jobs or places on further courses, such as PhDs. It means more than half were either unemployed or found low-skilled jobs that were not linked to their degrees, such as shelf-stacking and working behind a bar.

According to figures, 53 per cent of students who left De Montfort in Leicester gained decent jobs or places on other courses, compared with 69 per cent a year earlier. Graduate prospects dropped from 71 per cent to 61 per cent at Bournemouth University, 67 per cent to 55.5 per cent at Leeds Metropolitan and 58.5 per cent to 49 per cent at London South Bank.

But other universities ensured more students found graduate jobs, often after offering courses in employability skills or better careers guidance.

This included Plymouth, Huddersfield and the University for the Creative Arts in London.

More students from Buckingham – a private university – graduated with a good job or place on another course, strengthening the Coalition’s claim that more students should consider studying with private providers.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

CA Senate Passes Bill Mandating Homosexual History in Public Schools‏

The state Senate has approved legislation that would require California’s public schools to include gay history in social studies lessons.

Supporters say the move is needed to counter anti-gay stereotypes and beliefs that make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children vulnerable to bullying and suicide.

Opponents said it would burden an already crowded curriculum and expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, passed Thursday on a 23-14 vote. The measure now goes to the Assembly.

It leaves it up to local school districts to decide what to include in the lessons and at what grade students would receive them.


Progress at last in Indiana

Indiana is on the verge of taking its most important strides forward on education in decades.

The final, and most important, piece fell into place Friday when Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that he would ask the General Assembly to expand full-day kindergarten to every school district in the state. That unexpected announcement, which dropped late in the legislative process, was made possible by a much better than expected revenue forecast.

Mitch Daniels made all-day kindergarten a key piece of his first campaign for governor in 2004. And he was able to greatly expand the option early in his tenure as governor; about 75 percent of districts in Indiana now offer all-day kindergarten. Friday's announcement, if approved by the General Assembly, would finally complete the task.

Beyond that critical milestone, the General Assembly also is poised to significantly expand the number of charter schools, increase pay for high-performing teachers, create a sensible voucher program that would improve educational options for low- and middle-income families, strengthen the accountability system for schools, and revamp work rules that hinder the state's best teachers while protecting those who underperform.

The drive to adopt such reforms hasn't been easy. Defenders of the status quo have made wild assertions that Daniels and his supporters are trying to "destroy'' public schools and "punish'' teachers. While the proposed reforms certainly deserve thoughtful critique, the over-the-top rhetoric coming from opponents, including some in the General Assembly, has been counterproductive.

The true goal of each of the reforms isn't a mystery. It's to significantly improve student achievement in a state that has an undereducated workforce, a reality that hinders economic growth in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Will all-day kindergarten eventually help make Indiana more competitive? Research indicates that it should.

So too should giving families more choices in educating their children. Recent studies have shown, for instance, that students in Indianapolis charter schools fare better than peers in their old schools. Early results from a University of Chicago study have uncovered similar results from Florida's voucher program.

None of these reforms, including all-day kindergarten, is a panacea. But taken in total they provide Indiana with a momentum on education that it has not had for many years.

A legislative session all but derailed by an ill-conceived and lengthy walkout is on the verge of ending on a very high note. But it won't be the lawmakers who are the true victors. It will be the children of Indiana.


UK student union elects radical Islamists

The student union at Westminster University in central London has elected to its top leadership posts two people linked to a radical Islamist group with an anti-Semitic history.

The two have ties to Hizb ut- Tahrir, a group calling for an Islamic state or caliphate. The group has been barred from organizing and speaking on campuses under the National Union of Students (NUS) policy of “no platform” for racist or fascist views.

“Our rules state individuals or members of organizations or groups identified as holding racist or fascist views are not allowed to stand for election or go to, speak at or take part in conferences, meetings or any other events,” said NUS president Aaron Porter.

Tarik Mahri, 23, was elected president of the Westminster student union in polling on April 1. He is a member of the “Global Ideas” society, which was banned last year by the university after inviting senior Hizb ut- Tahrir member Jamal Harwood to address students.

In his election manifesto, Mahri called for the creation of “segregated sports activities” for women, and his Twitter feed and Facebook profile are littered with calls for Shari'a law and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

Jamal Achchi, 26, was elected vice-president. He has been accused of circulating Hizb ut- Tahrir documents that call on Muslims to overthrow democratic regimes and establish the Khilafah, a worldwide Islamic theocracy run by mullahs.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was once led by Omar Bakri Mohammed, who was expelled from the UK in 2006. Residing today in Lebanon, the radical cleric has recently been charged with fundraising for al-Qaida.

Since the 7/7 terrorist attack on London in 2005, the government keeps Hizb ut-Tahrir “under continuous review,” but has not yet banned the group despite regular calls by the Conservative party to do so.

The group, which has been outlawed in a number of countries, including Germany and Egypt, calls for “the dismantling” of the “illegal entity” of Israel. In 2001, part of a statement removed from its Web site said: “In origin, no one likes the Jews except the Jews. Even they themselves rarely like each other.”

Islamist radicalization on campuses is a huge concern in the UK. A review of extremism by Universities UK, the organization of vice-chancellors in Britain, was launched last year after it was discovered that the failed 2009 Detroit airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a former president of the Islamic Society at University College London.

“Hizb ut-Tahrir despises democracy and believes Shari'a law must be imposed over the whole world, by force if necessary,” said Shiraz Maher, a former member of the group and now a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalism at King’s College London. “I think unless we challenge this we are sleepwalking into a very dangerous future.”

Raheem Kassam, director of Student Rights, an organization that tackles radicalism on campus, and himself a former Westminster student, said there has been a “grassroots Islamist movement” there for many years and that he had “experienced” it himself.

“What’s disgraceful is that the Student Union refuses to subscribe to the NUS’s no-platform policy for extremists and that the university allows this to continue,” Kassam said.