Saturday, May 28, 2011

Calif. School Tells Elementary Students There Are More Than 2 Gender ‘Options’

Who says elementary school is too early to start discussing gender issues?

This week, educators at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland, California, are teaching young children all about the complicated world of “gender diversity.” The school has designed curriculum for every grade level. Amid the resulting controversy, Principal Sara Stone is defending the initiative, claiming that it is in line with what parents want:

“If we don’t have a safe, nurturing class environment, it’s going to be hard to learn. Really, the message behind this curriculum is there are different ways to be boys. There are different ways to be girls.”

A gender expert and trainer was brought in to speak to the children:

“[There's] a lot of variation in nature. Evolution comes up with some pretty funny ways for animals to reproduce. It turns out that there are not just two options.”

The trainer also told the children that this diversity applies to human beings as well. It is this rationale — that gender is pliable and that there are “more than two options” — that has some people frustrated. The San Francisco Chronicle has more on the curriculum:

A one-hour elementary school lesson on gender diversity featuring all-girl geckos and transgender clownfish…fourth- and fifth-grade students learned about the crazy world of gender within the animal kingdom with lessons about single-sex Hawaiian geckos, fish that switch genders and boy snakes that act “girly.”

Naturally, this has created an outrage. The idea that the school district would cover such complex issues with young children has led the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, among other groups, to get involved. According to The Washington Post:

“Conservative legal defense organizations are providing counsel to parents who oppose the teaching at Redwood Heights by a gender spectrum trainer.”


CT: Group would end seniority-based teacher layoffs

Leaders and supporters of a Connecticut group seeking education law changes are pushing lawmakers to stop school districts from using seniority to determine which teachers could face budget-related layoffs.

Leaders and supporters of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, including the superintendent of Hartford’s schools, have criticized “last in, first out’’ seniority-based layoff policies for years and reiterated their opposition yesterday in a gathering at the state Capitol.

They say this year’s state and local budget constraints make layoffs a real threat to talented new teachers, who are first in line for cuts in many districts while seniority shields other teachers even with well-documented ineptitude.

“We’ve got to find a way to factor in teacher performance to the layoff process, and that’s what we’re here today calling on the General Assembly to do,’’ School Superintendent Steve Tracy of Derby said Tuesday.

Derby’s Teacher of the Year is among those facing possible layoffs because, despite her skills, she has only three years of seniority, the superintendent said.

However, representatives of the state’s largest teachers union say four-fifths of the districts where they represent educators already have factors beyond seniority to determine layoff decisions.

Those procedures are best set at the local level in collective bargaining rather than by legislative mandate, they said.

“In districts that have negotiated this, it works,’’ said Mary Loftus Levine, policy director for the Connecticut Education Association union. “We think we need a reality check here. What we need are solutions, not scapegoats.’’

Any legislative changes to prohibit seniority-based layoffs in Connecticut would have to be approved by June 8, when the General Assembly adjourns.

A bill died in the Legislature’s Education Committee this spring, so the item could be revived only if the coalition persuades lawmakers to tack on the measure to another active bill.

Coalition chief executive officer Alex Johnston would not say whether specific legislators have promised to push the measure, but said Tuesday that they “wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t think there was a real chance of passing this.’’

State law requires school districts to notify nontenured teachers by April 1 if there is a possibility they could be laid off, but in stable budget years, those notices are later rescinded as budgets are settled.

This year, education officials say job cuts are inevitable in some districts because Connecticut’s state aid to districts is not increasing and one-time federal stimulus grants for education are running out in many communities.


The Drug of Choice for Public Schools

Dependency on government

Dependency on government is as detrimental to a society as drug addiction is to an individual. A situation in Pennsylvania — likely similar to situations in other states — reflects a continued unhealthy dependence on the federal government.

Briefly, Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2011–2012 budget had $1.1 billon less for education. That’s the same amount of money the state didn’t get from the federal government for education. The Parent Teacher Organization moms want the governor’s political head.

During a multi-district meeting, the parents from 12 different school districts gave an earful to legislators from eight different senatorial and legislative districts in parts of Chester, Delaware, and Lancaster counties. It’s an area of the state where the elephant rules, and has ruled for generations. To say the region is predominantly Republican is an understatement. So naturally, these parents, most of whom are registered Republicans, want more taxes on Marcellus shale, corporations, cigarettes, and gasoline, more taxes all around for public education.

True, some of them might be RINOs and a few others are Democrats, but most talk a straight Republican line. Yet, they want largess from government, state and federal. They’ve grown so dependent on largesse from the state and the feds that they give up on their own traditional values.

Some of the state budget cuts are steep, but steeper on some districts than others. The Coatesville School District will lose $8.5 million in one year while the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District — in a more affluent area — loses $1.1 million. All the districts are laying people off and cutting programs.

PTO moms and dads, and school board members as well, can only see one thing: Get more money from Harrisburg and Washington so the districts don’t have to pare back anything and the board members won’t have to make those types of tough decisions. Indeed, they want more money so they can build new and larger schools and have sports fields that are as immaculate as those in the professional ranks.

Few of them think outside the box, of sending their kids to a private or parochial school or homeschooling or, heaven forbid, even contemplating the idea of completely ending all government involvement in education and letting the free market provide educational services. Some do pursue other alternatives, of course. One artistic 7-year-old home-schooled girl taught herself Abobe PhotoShop and Illustrator simply by watching videos on YouTube.

Another family transferred their daughter from the Chadds Ford Elementary School to a private school in Delaware after comparing a third-grade English class. The public school kids were writing book reports based on cereal boxes — with the ingredients as characters — while the same age group in the private school was reading Supreme Court decisions. Using Cap’n Crunch as a school teacher may be a novel way to approach reading and writing, but which group of kids stand a better chanced of understanding the world around them, the first group or the second?

What government-hungry folks fail to look at are historical facts. The United States became the leading industrial nation on the planet and raised the standard of living for more people than any other country long before the federal government ever got involved in education. The Department of Education didn’t come into existence until 1980 under the Jimmy Carter administration.

And long before that, the United States came into existence because of such men as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin who were never forced into a mandatory 13-year, K-12 sentence of government-controlled and government-programmed education. They had a few years of formal education, learning to read, write and do math, but beyond that they were mostly self taught or worked with tutors or family members. They read history and philosophy, much of that on their own. They weren’t strapped to a school desk for six hours a day.

A government-provided education is not necessarily an education at all. It works well for some, but in all too many cases it’s just a way to socialize kids, teaching little more than obedience to authority or simply acting as a babysitter who is boring kids half to death.

What has happened during the past decades of government intrusion into education is that people know more about reality TV shows than they do about the Constitution. Worse yet, they care more about those TV shows than they do about the Constitution or their own liberty.


Friday, May 27, 2011

More destruction coming for British schools

Poorer pupils to get priority access to good schools over those living nearby.

In the absence of significant discipline, pupil behavior is a major determinant of how good a school is. Pupils from poor backgrounds are often unruly so will simply destroy any school into which they are inserted. It will not benefit the poor kids but it will destroy the educational chances of all the kids. No kid will learn anything much in a chaotic environment.

One hopes and imagines that few school heads will take the "opportunity" that has been handed to them. Would any head want to preside over a behavioral sink?

Poor pupils can be taught perfectly well in a well disciplined environment but that is not an option in Britain today

Ministers will today signal an end to ‘selection by mortgage’ by allowing the most popular schools to discriminate in favour of the poorest children. A new admissions code will let academies and free schools prioritise children on free school meals – whose parents earn less than £16,000.

Currently, only pupils with special needs, in the care of local councils or with siblings at the school can be given such priority when it is oversubscribed.

The move, criticised as an assault on the middle classes, has prompted allegations that the Coalition Government is attempting to socially engineer secondary school admissions.

It will spell an end to well-off parents buying a home in the catchment area of a popular secondary school to secure places for their sons or daughters. In future, even living right next door to an oversubscribed school may not guarantee a place for a pupil. In London, property prices can be inflated by as much as £400,000 close to the best institutions.

The announcement today from Education Secretary Michael Gove is likely to trigger a backlash from many Conservative MPs and the party’s traditional middle-class supporters, who are already angry that the Coalition has ruled out any return to selection by ability.

At present, one third of all secondary schools – 1,070 – are either an academy or in the process of becoming one. Two secondaries become academies every day and the Government wants all schools to convert eventually.

And with many academies heavily over-subscribed – some by ten applications for every place – competition is fierce. This year one in five pupils in England missed out on their first choice of school.

Mr Gove’s proposal will be seen as an attempt to appease Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition, who have pushed existing plans to boost funding for underprivileged children. The Education Secretary believes the change will provide a vital boost for social mobility.

Whitehall sources close to Mr Gove yesterday stressed any change would not be ‘prescriptive’, and schools would simply be permitted to admit children entitled to free school meals in preference to others if they wished to do so.

However, Mr Gove is also introducing incentives for schools to select more poor pupils – the pupil premium and a new performance measure. Under the pupil premium, schools will receive extra funding based on the number of pupils on free school meals. And a new league table performance measure will rank schools on the achievements of their most disadvantaged youngsters.

These incentives will encourage in-demand schools to select poorer pupils over those from wealthier backgrounds who may live on the doorstep.

But schools wishing to prioritise disadvantaged children will have to consult the community first, as is the case with any changes to admissions criteria.

In addition to the controversial new criteria, today’s code will give priority to the children of serving troops – of which there are some 35,000. These children will be able to queue-jump during the application process and will be accepted at ‘full’ primary schools.

The code will also enable selective schools to expand, by removing caps on the number of places they can offer. Many grammars are intending to increase their capacity by as much as 50 per cent by 2015, which will make a selective education more accessible.

Mr Gove’s move follows a report by the Sutton Trust which found England had moved from ‘selection by ability’ to ‘selection by mortgage’.


Mind-boggling Increase in Tuition Since 1960 Even as Students Learn Less and Less

There has been a truly mind-boggling increase in college tuition since 1960. For example, law school tuition has risen nearly 1,000 percent after adjusting for inflation: around 1960, “median annual tuition and fees at private law schools was $475 … adjusted for inflation, that’s $3,419 in 2011 dollars. The median for public law schools was $204 … or $1,550 in 2011 dollars … in 2009 the private law school median was $36,000; the public (resident) median was $16,546.”

Due to market distortions like the proliferation of unnecessary state licensing requirements that require useless paper credentials, and financial aid that directly encourages colleges to raise tuition, colleges can raise tuition year after year, consuming a larger and larger fraction of the increased lifetime earnings students hope to obtain by going to college. As George Leef notes, “long-term average earnings for individuals with BA degrees have not risen much and in the last few years have dipped.”

Meanwhile, college students learn less and less with each passing year. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” Thirty-two percent never take “a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

People thought college was too expensive back in 1960, when tuition was just a tiny fraction of what it is today. For example, they worried about the rising cost of a law school education, and the resulting increase in student loans and debt: “The cost of attending law school at least doubled in the [past] 16 years,” “raising the question whether able, but impecunious, students are being directed away from law study … schools reported that students were reluctant to take out loans owing to ‘fear of debts, particularly during the low income years immediately after graduation.’” They could never have imagined what a monumental rip-off college tuition would be today.

Cultural factors may also have contributed to students’ willingness to pay exploding law school tuitions. Too many people have gone to law school in recent years thanks to the romanticization of the legal profession in shows like “Ally McBeal” and “L.A. Law” that make law look sexy and exciting. (Legal shows also falsely suggest that most judges are wise and that the legal system is swift and just, rather than conveying the unpleasant reality: that our legal system is a slow, costly, inefficient mechanism for enforcing often-arbitrary legal norms that are invented by judges and lawyers or enacted by legislators who frequently do the bidding of special-interest groups.)

For a fascinating discussion of how the country has been harmed by legal norms invented by law professors who dislike free markets, and by massive lawsuits launched by law school litigation clinics, read Walter Olson’s book Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America, which got good reviews from some law professors and the Wall Street Journal.


Fast-track teaching program gets green light for West Australian schools

A version of "Teach for America" -- but anything that exposes the usual ludicrous four-year "teacher training" courses is welcome. I was a successful High School teacher without one minute of teacher training

A program that launches top-ranking university graduates into teaching positions within months will be rolled out across WA next year, addressing shortages the state government has struggled to fill.

The Teach for Australia program is in its second year in Victoria and the ACT, with dozens of graduates placed in low socio-economic and disadvantaged schools across the states.

The program has previously drawn criticism from the State School Teachers Union of WA, which claimed the fast-tracked program was undermining those who had completed traditional teaching degrees, and would place the already-disadvantaged students into a further vulnerable position.

However, the founder of the program has defended the high quality graduates accepted into TFA, which only places its graduates in schools where teachers refuse to go.

It had previously been reported that the TFA graduates would not have the authority to teach in local schools, but the WA College of Teaching has confirmed that they can work in WA after being issued with a Limited Authority to Teach.

This permits the graduate to work in a particular area, only when there is no registered teacher for that position, and where no teaching graduates will go.

Successful applicants will be placed in schools in term one next year, after completing a six-week intensive course through the University of Melbourne. This will mark the start of a two-year degree at the school, through which they will continue to teach at an 80 per cent load, allowing one day per week for studies.

TFA chief executive officer Melodie Potts-Rosevear said that ideally there would be between 25 and 30 new graduates in the program next year who would be ready to be placed in a WA school.

With the aim of the program to put the graduates where no other teachers want to go, she said it is a balancing act ensuring the school was big enough to accommodate at least two graduates, and that there was adequate support in the form of a mentor based at the school.

"We'll recruit as many as we think that are suitable and can fill genuine vacancies," she said. "We just respond to what the school's needs are, and it just becomes a bit of a matching process. "The school really has to be big enough to have two vacancies that we can fill, along with a mentor that can support them on a day-to-day basis. "Schools where there's only two or three classrooms are probably not suitable to the program."

She said they tried to get a minimum of two graduates at a school, and that they tried to "cluster" the graduates among schools in a close vicinity so that they have a support network.

TFA has been a success in its short two-year history in Victoria, with dozens of graduates among the best in their field choosing to take up the program.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reflections on gifted programs

Full disclosure: The idea of schools without gifted programs fills me with visceral meritocratic outrage. In junior high and high school, tracking was the only thing that made my life bearable. In my memory, normal classes were a combination of Waiting for Godot and Lord of the Flies. So I thought it best to mellow out a few days before commenting on Arnold's recent posts on gifted programs.

The basic approach of the research Arnold discusses - compare the subsequent test scores of kids just above the gifted threshold to the test scores of kids just below the gifted threshold - seems reasonable to me. But how should we interpret the results?

1. The study measures the effect of gifted programs on standardized test scores, not educational attainment, college attendance, college rank, income, or occupational success. So while the research is good as far as it goes, it doesn't measure the long-run benefits that proponents of gifted programs really hope for. And if you know the Transfer of Learning literature, you'd shouldn't expect gifted classes to have much effect on test scores unless they teach to the test.

2. You might think that if gifted programs don't boost test scores, they can't boost educational or financial success. But that's wrong. In a human capital model, gifted programs could work by boosting non-cognitive skills. And in a signaling model, gifted programs could work by weeding out and scaring off lower-quality students.

3. At least according to the most knowledgeable person I've talked to, higher-ranked colleges give their graduates a substantially higher rate of return than lower-ranked colleges. The analogy between gifted and regular classes seems strong enough that we should expect the same result - and be suspicious if we don't find it.

4. Yes, it's easy to object, "The marginal and the average effect are different." But in the case of gifted programs, the marginal and the average effect probably are different. I knew many marginally gifted students growing up. The classes moved too fast for them. Their choices were: do well in regular classes or poorly in gifted classes. I can easily believe that gifted classes didn't help their marginal students get better diplomas or better jobs. But it's hard to believe that gifted classes didn't help their good students get better diplomas and better jobs.

5. The marginal/average distinction is especially relevant when there's censoring. The highest possible grade is usually an A. But all A's are not created equal. An A in a gifted class looks a lot better to selective colleges than an A in a regular class. If you can earn A's in gifted classes, you benefit: selective colleges will give you a chance. If you can't earn A's in gifted classes, though, the benefit is harder to see.

One last thought: Some libertarians want government enterprises to run as poorly as possible to expose the evil of the system. Others want government enterprises to run as well as possible to give taxpayers the maximum value for their money. When Arnold writes...
Either you believe your bright kids should experience going to class with students who are not so bright, or you don't. If you don't, then pay for private school. G&T allows you to send your kids to private school while claiming they are still in public school.

... he at least sounds like the first kind of libertarian. Suppose for the sake of argument that gifted classes have zero long-run benefit. Even so, what's wrong with giving young nerds a classroom of their own to spare them thirteen years of boredom and peer abuse?


Virginia Court Upholds Student's 'Spitwad' Expulsion

A county court in Virginia ruled Tuesday that high school overreached by expelling a student for firing so-called "spitwads" at three classmates in December, but the court would not order the school to reverse the expulsion.

Andrew Mikel, 14, a freshman at Spotsylvania High School, was charged under the school’s zero tolerance police with “violent criminal conduct” and weapon possession for using the body of a pen to blow small, hollow plastic balls at three other students.

John W. Whitehead, the student's lawyer, may be the ideal representation for Mikel. Whitehead admits to shooting spitballs well into high school. He says if laws were as binding as they are today, he'd be "guilty about 500 times" for spitball infractions. He called the teen an "ideal student" with a 97 average and a desire for military service.

“He wanted to be a Navy SEAL,” Whitehead said, pointing out that Mikel’s father served in the Navy. He called Mikel another “victim in a long line of victims of school zero tolerance policies whose educations have been senselessly derailed by school administrators.”

Although Mikel was first threatened with felony charges, he was instead charged with three counts of criminal misdemeanors. Hoping to put the incident behind him, Mikel offered to mow the lawns of his victims’ house, Whitehead said. But the school “would have none of it.”

The appeal was to be reinstated and have his record cleared, but this is the first step of many in the court process. And despite the fact that the court did not reverse the expulsion, Whitehead said the fact that the court agreed that the school overreached is a positive step for his client.

One of the main reasons for the legal push is to clear Mikel’s name because he had hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy after graduation and can no longer be considered as an applicant after being charged with misdemeanor assaults. "We're going to fight this until his record is cleared," Whitehead said.

School officials were divided on the issue at the time of the incident. Principal Russell Davis called it a "clear-cut case" for a minimum "365 day expulsion," in an email to Assistant Principal Lisa Andruss and Spotsylvania's coordinator of school safety, John Lynn. The email was one of several documents secured by the Mikels through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"We have an obligation to protect the students in our building from others who pose a threat to the over-all safe learning environment," Davis wrote.

Lynn, on the other hand, wrote in the same string of emails that he was "not at all comfortable expelling or suspending this student for the remainder of the year," recommending instead that Mikel be allowed to return to school after his initial 10-day suspension.


School discipline on agenda among Australian conservatives

Discipline in Victoria's public schools, the rising cost of construction for major projects and federal Labor's carbon tax will be under the spotlight at the Liberal State Council meeting this weekend.

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will address the meeting at the Melbourne Convention Centre on Saturday, while Premier Ted Baillieu on Sunday will thank party members for their contribution to the coalition's state election victory.

There is likely to be an air of celebration at the event, the first official Victorian Liberal Party gathering since the coalition swept to office six months ago.

There is also optimism about the party's prospects federally, as opinion polls have consistently shown the coalition in an election-winning position and Mr Abbott closing in on Julia Gillard as preferred prime minister.

Motions on the agenda include setting up a tribunal to toughen up discipline at public schools. The Waverley North branch, which is moving the motion, says there is a discipline crisis in many state schools, with teachers under siege from unruly pupils.

It wants teachers to have the power to report serious breaches of discipline to the tribunal, including physical and verbal assaults and intimidation.

In its motion, the branch says almost 14,000 students were suspended in state schools last year and a lack of discipline in public education is the reason many parents send their children to private schools. "Parents want more confidence to choose a government school," the motion reads.

A call from the Geelong branch to have speed camera revenue directly invested in road safety initiatives is also on the agenda. "The loss of public confidence in the validity of speed cameras as a tool to reduce road trauma requires attention," the motion reads. "To not address these issues would mean the party risks the same voter backlash which the Labor Party received in the lead-up to the last election."

Auditor-General Des Pearson is investigating the state's speed camera system and is expected to report to government in about August.

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Mary Bluett said it was wrong to suggest only government school students had behavioural issues. "I ... get offended by the notion that these issues are only issues for government schools," she told AAP. "In terms of bullying and physical altercations, it's hardly a government school issue only."

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal said he welcomed more support from the Department of Education in dealing with abuse or violence from students and parents.

But he denied there was a lack of discipline in government schools. "The notion that there is a discipline crisis in government schools is a real furphy," Mr Sal said.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Miseducation of America

Back in the ‘good ole days’ (which usually tend to have occurred exactly one hundred years before the phrase is uttered), doing business in America was simple. Entrepreneurs completed deals using only back of the envelope calculations and a firm handshake. They didn’t need any of those Wall Street wizards with their fancy forecasting and analysis methods. Big Government wasn’t looking over your shoulder or strangling you with red tape. You didn’t need a fancy college degree to make something of yourself. All you needed to achieve wealth were willingness to work hard and a spark of inventiveness.

A profile of the typical millionaire in the United States seems to confirm this narrative. Most millionaires, according to the seminal book, The Millionaire Next Door, didn’t make their money in some highly complex business. In fact, it was usually some ordinary business – say construction or dry cleaning – that vaulted them into the ranks of the wealthy. Although fairly educated – almost 80% have a college education – education was not the distinguishing factor that accounted for their wealth. Nor was it above average performance in the marketplace, inheritance, or even the type of profession they occupied. The single biggest factor among them was their propensity to save.

Wealthy people, on average, save a far higher percentage of their income than their non-wealthy counterparts. Some would argue that of course the wealthy save more, because they do not need as much of their income to cover living expenses as ordinary people. But the data refute this. The propensity to save is a precondition, not a result of wealth. On the other hand, in some professions which demand a higher ‘appearance’ of status – say doctors or lawyers – people tend to live at or above their means. They save a relatively small amount of their income, and have fewer investments in stock, real estate and other productive assets.

Although highly educated and respected in their fields, they are also some of the most highly leveraged in terms of debt. Interestingly, their education seems to play a part in their failure to accumulate wealth. By delaying their entry into the work force through long educational careers, and accumulating consumption-related debt, many of today’s professionals start out in a hole that they never – despite their high intelligence – seem to dig themselves out of. It is telling – and a bit shocking – that even President Clinton (one of the most successful politicians in modern history) – says he did not have a cent to his name before he left the White House after two terms as President. How could this be? Here you have a family with two Yale law degrees and a Rhodes scholarship between them, years of working in Government and private practice – and they could not accumulate any wealth?

It is not uncommon to meet these types – the highly pedigreed professionals who, at mid-life resign themselves to dying with their student loans outstanding. While it is common for ex-Presidents to give speeches and receive honoraria, the Clintons seem to have created a cottage industry out of paid media appearances and book advances. In the respect, they are somewhat reminiscent of the aging baseball stars who earn a living by signing autographs and memorabilia at trade shows. Trading one’s popularity as a sports star however, seems slightly less degrading than spending ones’ post-White House years as a permanent campaigner. But when you’ve got your student loans and your children’s student loans to pay, what are you going to do?

Paradoxically, those self-made millionaires that earned their wealth over a lifetime of work and savings – tend to want something different for their children. The parents of an immigrant Indian family that saved enough from working at a 7-Eleven to eventually acquire their own franchise do not want their children to follow in the family business. They want their kids to get an elite education and become doctors and lawyers. In a sense, these are not strictly economic aspirations – they are status symbols. Education, like fancy cars, homes, and jewelry is not always an investment. Sometimes it’s a form of consumption.

What’s the difference? The true test of whether an education is an investment or merely a form of conspicuous consumption is whether the degree or skills one learns is likely to increase one’s earning ability by more than the (time and monetary) cost of the education. This seems like a simple process to gauge – much like a back of the envelope computation – but it is something that many college graduates fail to clearly consider before incurring huge debts and spending years collecting degrees. While college graduates earn on average more than non-graduates, they tend to enter the work force later with more debt. This is especially the case with people that spend on ‘name brand’ educations. It is increasingly clear that there is a disconnection between the price and the value of higher education.

It’s obvious by now that the latest collapse of the U.S. stock market and the ensuing recession was spearheaded by experts – those same people who received fancy degrees from Ivy League institutions. They sold the public on their complex mathematical models purporting to show huge profits – all the while masking the risk of a total blow up. In many respects, this is the societal effect of a miseducated population. It is the result of an over-reliance by many people on the advice of experts, and the reliance of those experts on theoretical constructs that have little bearing on the real world. It is a classic case of mistaking the map for the territory. Popular writer and educator Nassim Taleb, when describing the cause of the market collapse, was blunter. He aptly describes it as a case of “scholarship without erudition.”

Taleb’s argument is simple yet nuanced. By concentrating for a long time on complex problems, experts tend to become experts in solving known problems -- such as the probability of winning a casino game (where all of the possibilities are known). But this tunnel view prevents them from considering the broader factors that account for real world events in which there is no complete information – be it business performance, the stock market, or the riskiness of complex financial derivatives. In part, it is the level of education that deludes them into believing that they can manage the complexity of making large bets for small gains.

Under conditions of uncertainty that entrepreneurs confront in real word business situations – tunneling (or focusing on known problems) – is far less effective than remaining open and widening one’s perspective. Remaining open requires the ability to suspend belief about what’s happening, to get out of the textbook and into the decision under imperfect information. This type of perspective is becoming a lost art in today’s world of hyper-specialized experts.


NYC Teacher Claims She Was Harassed, Then Fired Over Her Christian Faith

Anita Wooten-Franci, an assistant special education teacher at PS 224, claims that she was teased, harassed and then wrongfully terminated last June. While the school claims she was fired for allegedly grabbing a child, Wooten-Franci denies this charge and insists that her firing was based on her Christian beliefs.

When it came to public displays of faith, the former assistant teacher says that she was careful not to influence her students, but that she did appropriately pray, listen to Christian music and lead a worship group during “non-instructional hours.”

Wooten-Franci claims that the school’s principal — George Andrews — was vocal and often offensive about his dislike for her Christian beliefs. She says that Andrews would frequently make negative comments and that he told her, “You can’t be praying in my school.”

The New York Post has more:

In one instance, [the principal allegedly] criticized the disabled woman for using the elevator and told her to take the stairs. When she protested, he allegedly said, “Why don’t you just pray?” Then he laughed.

At the same time, she says, the school was going to hell in a handbasket, with school administrators charging students for bake sales “even though no charity received the proceeds,” and using money from the school’s Special Needs Funds to pay for lunches and parties, the suit claims.

It was after she complained about these issues that Wooten-Francis says she was slapped with a false charge (that she laid her hands on a child). Following this allegation, she spent time in a “rubber room” and was subsequently fired. Now, she is suing the Department of Education and is confident that “…the truth will come out.”


Weak teachers will be removed from British classrooms in just one term as heads get new powers to fire

Radical plans to fast-track the sacking of almost 20,000 incompetent teachers have caused fury among unions. Education Secretary Michael Gove yesterday unveiled proposals to enable heads to axe bad teachers within a term, rather than the current average of more than a year.

He will also stop the ‘dodge’ of teachers putting off disciplinary proceedings by going on sick leave with full pay, by allowing hearings to be held during this absence.

And incompetent teachers will no longer be able to move from school to school as heads will be granted access to the ‘performance data’ of potential staff.

Under the proposals, the time it usually takes schools to remove poorly performing teachers will be cut from a year or more to one term, the equivalent of a few months.

Restricting the time a headteacher can formally observe a class teacher, known as the 'three-hour observation rule', will be scrapped. Complex and prescriptive 'capability' procedures for dealing with performance will also be overhauled.

Ministers say the system 'fails to respect the professionalism of headteachers and teachers'. Around 60 pages of 'unnecessary' guidance will be axed, the Department for Education (DfE) said, and it will be made clear that staff illness need not bring disciplinary action to a halt.

But while school leaders welcomed the moves, one teaching union said the measures will give headteachers 'a licence to bully'.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: 'Not content with subjecting teachers to a significant two-year pay cut, assault on their pension provision and savage cuts to education budgets causing job losses, ministers today have added insult to injury by effectively proposing that teachers will be on a permanent capability procedure.'

She added: 'Stripping away safeguards to ensure that teachers are treated fairly and professionally will not deliver high performance. 'These proposals will give headteachers a license to bully.'

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: 'Society places a great deal of faith in teachers. 'It's vital for all concerned that systems are in place to ensure performance is managed and poor performance is addressed resolutely.

'This will mean that those who place their trust in the profession can be reassured. 'There are really very few weak teachers in the country but we must be able to help those that are to move on quickly, fairly and respectfully. 'This is only right for the vast majority of dedicated and skilled teachers in our schools, as well as for pupils themselves.'

Mr Gove said: 'Heads and teachers want a simpler and faster system to deal with teachers who are struggling. For far too long schools have been trapped in complex red tape. 'We must deal with this problem in order to protect the interests of children who suffer when struggling teachers are neither helped nor removed. Schools must be given the responsibility to deal with this fairly and quickly.'

According to figures from the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), 15 teachers were struck off for incompetence between 2001 and the beginning of last month, and there have been 81 competence hearings in that time.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: 'The Government's proposals to merge the regulations for managing teachers' performance and objectives with those dealing with under-performing teachers are unfair, unjust and unworkable. 'The proposals turn performance management on its head. Instead of helping teachers become even better at teaching, it will give heads an easy way to get rid of teachers that they dislike.'

Ministers have already announced other reforms to boost teaching standards, including moves to raise the degree requirements needed to start a teacher training course, and a review of the professional standards teachers are judged against.

They are also considering allowing grammar schools to expand. Although the Coalition has refused to increase the number of selective schools in England - currently 164 - it is likely to allow existing ones to increase their intake. At present the number of places they can offer is restricted by local councils, which fear their expansion will make other schools in the area less attractive.

However, Education Secretary Michael Gove is ready to scrap the rule with the publication of a revised schools admissions code this summer.

The most sought-after grammar schools, which dominate league tables for GCSE and A-levels, have up to ten applications for every place. Many are looking to boost their intake by at least a sixth from 2012, and as much as a half by 2017.

Grammar school war

Mr Gove’s move is likely to reignite the bitter row over grammars within Tory ranks. David Cameron was accused of a ‘humiliating climbdown’ after ditching policy backing their return – and now faces calls to come to the aid of two long-established grammar schools in Reading.

Michael Fallon, Tory MP for Sevenoaks, Kent, has fought for a new grammar school in his constituency. He said the Education Secretary’s plans will be a step forwards but stressed the need for more selective schools.

‘Many places at grammars are taken by pupils from outside the county they are in,’ he said. ‘Expansion of existing grammars will at least take some of the pressure off places. But what we really need is more grammars.’

There are 158,000 pupils currently at grammar schools – nearly five per cent of the school roll. Heads predict that the move could boost this figure by 50 per cent within the next five years – the equivalent to each grammar taking on three additional years of entry.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Commencement Season Disconnect

Like millions of families this month, we attended a commencement ceremony this past weekend, at Mills College, a liberal arts college for women in California. Mills was founded as the Young Ladies’ Seminary, and a few years later was bought by missionaries Cyrus and Susan Mills, who relocated it to Oakland and directed its educational emphasis to the training of young ladies as missionaries. Saturday’s ceremony was notable, therefore, for the complete and total absence of any mention of God.

The gods of today’s “progressive” education were regularly invoked throughout the ceremony, however, including those at the top of the pantheon, “Social Justice” and “Diversity.”

Predictably, the graduate student representative’s presentation culminated by her quoting the high priest of progressivism, FDR.

Immediately following that address, an honorary degree was conferred on a lively lady of 89, whose Japanese ancestry had resulted in her being forcibly removed from Mills in 1943 and interred in a “War Relocation Camp,” together with her family and neighbors, until she was able to later attend college on the East Coast and pursue a career in nursing. The great sorrow of her long life had been having her hope of being—in her words—a “Mills Girl” dashed, and receiving the honorary degree clearly meant a great deal to her.

While she made mention in her talk of her internment and shattered dreams having resulted from “Executive Order 9066,” no one seemed to make the connection between the Executive issuing that order—FDR—with the Great One quoted not five minutes prior.

Which makes Bob Higgs’s recent presentation at Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala even more refreshing: “Societies flourish when they permit a million flowers to bloom, each in its own time, and its own way.”


Scottish schoolgirl wins right to use her iPod in exams as she can't concentrate unless she's listening to music

A schoolgirl has won the right to use an iPod while sitting her exams - after claiming she can only concentrate while listening to her favourite music. The girl won the unprecedented concession after threatening legal action against her school and examination authorities.

The Mary Erskine School for girls in Edinburgh, where boarders pay nearly £18,000 a year, has been forced to buy a new iPod that is loaded with the girl's choice of music by a teacher - to ensure no exam answers are hidden among the tracks.

Staff had initially refused the request, fearing it would open the door to the possibility of cheating. The girl's parents then took her case to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) examination board, which also ruled it out.

However, it was forced to back down after reportedly being threatened with legal action under the Equalities Act because the girl, a year six pupil, (equivalent to year 13 in England) often struggles to pay attention in class.

SQA bosses have allowed the pupil, who is in the middle of her Higher exams, to listen to the iPod as long as it can be 'proved not to contain any prompts'.

School staff are understood to be unhappy with the decision but were forced to comply as the SQA is the governing body for Higher examinations.

The pupil has to sit in a separate area to prevent the noise from her headphones distracting other students.

The move has been allowed under what the SQA calls 'special arrangements'. Now, SQA chiefs are bracing themselves for a flood of similar claims. Exam invigilators are also furious because loading the iPod has added to their workload.

They fear traditional exam invigilation will be severely disrupted because hundreds of other pupils' iPods may have to be checked.

One insider said: 'Everyone is very angry that this has been allowed to happen. The implications are massive. Once this girl has been allowed to do this, there's nothing stopping all pupils bringing in their iPods.

'The amount of manpower it will take to put music on every student's iPod and check they don't contain study notes will be overwhelming. 'It will also present quite a logistical challenge to ensure those who do not have them are not interrupted by the noise.'

Nick Seaton, spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said: 'I would have thought the whole idea of using an iPod, or any other portable music device, in an exam would be ridiculous. 'Exams are a serious matter and they lose their integrity when some pupils are treated differently from others.'

Thousands of Scottish schoolchildren are in the middle of their Standard Grade, Intermediate II and Higher exams at the moment. All other schools have a blanket ban on iPods inside the exam hall.

Linda Moule, deputy head at The Mary Erskine School, confirmed that the pupil has been allowed to use an iPod.

The SQA said the ruling would not automatically open the floodgates for other pupils. A spokesman insisted: 'This decision sets no precedents. We receive many requests for "special arrangements" to be made every year and each is treated on its individual merits. 'In this case the iPod is new and the music is loaded by the school and given to the candidate in the hall. It is removed by staff once the exam is over.'


British teacher who challenged rowdy pupil sacked after 30 years in schools

A teacher with 30 years’ experience told yesterday how he was sacked after a rowdy pupil claimed he grabbed his arm and left four small scratch marks.

Ronnie Lane, 56, admitted confronting the unruly 15-year-old boy, who had special educational needs, after he had repeatedly wandered the classroom ‘scrunching up’ other boys’ GCSE art coursework. The married teacher agreed that during the lesson in July 2009 he did touch the boy’s arm while asking him to release another pupil’s painting, to stop it being damaged.

But a tribunal in Liverpool heard how ‘minutes’ after leaving the room to find a colleague, the boy claimed Mr Lane had grabbed his right forearm so hard it left nail marks. Despite a retired senior police officer saying the injuries could have been self-inflicted, Mr Lane was sacked from West Derby School – even though the boy later refused to assist investigators.

Yesterday Mr Lane, from Wallasey, Merseyside, said he had only just returned to work that month after spending eight months off suffering from stress. He was teaching art to more than 20 GCSE students when the boy – referred to only as Student J – started disrupting the lesson.

‘He was getting out of his seat and walking round the room. This went on for 25 minutes. ‘He went to the other side of the room and grabbed another student’s coursework. When I asked Student J to return it, he did – but he then took it again. ‘I went over to Student J to take the work but he also grabbed hold of it, saying “Go on, rip it”. ‘I placed my hand momentarily on his wrist but he said “Get off or I’ll stab your eye out!”

I handed the work back to Student SR who thanked me, and asked Student J to leave the room but he refused so I left to summon help.’

The tribunal heard that on Mr Lane’s return, Student J complained to the other teacher, telling her: ‘Look at the marks on my arm.’

The tribunal was told that two days later Mr Lane was suspended and after several hearings, including an unsuccessful appeal, he was sacked for gross misconduct.

Vice chairman of governors Jonathan Jones told the hearing that a disciplinary panel had reached the opinion Mr Lane had ‘failed to control a challenging class’ and his conduct in grabbing the teenager ‘was not acceptable’. Mr Jones admitted that despite requests by Mr Lane’s union representative that all the boys in the class make witness statements, it was never done.

Instead only a handful of students’ statements were considered. Student JP wrote that Mr Lane merely ‘touched’ the pupil and claimed Student J ‘embellished the story’.


Monday, May 23, 2011

IL Tea Party Activists Expose Alleged Gift Cards-For-Votes School Scam

One thing I love about tea party activists is their commitment to government transparency and accountability. When they see the media speaking no evil, hearing no evil and seeing no evil, they do the media’s job for them. Citizen journalists are quickly showing the media to be biased and growing irrelevant.

The tea party activist to receive the gold star this week is Lennie Jarrett of Grayslake, Illinois.

In the Grayslake, Illinois School District 46, three tea party members decided to take action by running for three available seats on the school board this spring. I wish more would do the same thing.

Their opponents were two incumbents with strong teachers’ union ties. One of the incumbents, Mary Garcia, also serves as the teachers’ union president in neighboring District 30. The other, Susan Fecklam, reportedly ran a coordinated campaign with Garcia.

The incumbents were obviously concerned about the presence of the tea party candidates on the ballot, and what they might do to the union agenda if they were elected.

So what did the incumbents do? They allegedly broke the law, or violated school policies, by using school email accounts to promote their campaigns, and by bribing 18-year-old students to register to vote, on the presumption the kids would vote for them.

These alleged misdeeds were discovered by Lennie Jarrett, founder of the Lake County Tea Party, through a freedom of information request. He sought and received more than 300 pages of school emails that he believes proves the two candidates, as well as the District 46 superintendent, crossed the line during the recent campaign.

A political campaign on school time

Jarrett said he learned about the alleged misdeeds when he was told that Garcia emailed a state official from her District 30 account, asking for a campaign contribution. That led him to file the freedom of information request, which led him many other Garcia emails.

In one email, sent to School District 46 Superintendent Ellen Correll, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barkley and several union leaders, Garcia wrote, "I think that all members of both unions should be appraised of this information. There will be no collective bargaining with these three (tea party candidates) on the board. I am very afraid that Sue and I will not have the funds necessary to fight a 'party.'"

Using school equipment for political activities is a violation of the code of ethics in District 30, where Garcia teaches, according to Jarrett.

Another e-mail, sent by Correll to a fellow superintendent in a nearby district, said "Mary Garcia is wondering how many signs or fliers you would take?"

Superintendents are prohibited by law from participating in any political activities, according to Jarrett.

Yet another e-mail, sent by campaign manager Alex Finke to Fecklam and copied to Garcia, allegedly refers to an effort to hide campaign contributions.

By law, the joint Garcia/Fecklam campaign would be required to form a campaign committee and make a detailed campaign finance report if it raised or spent more than $2,000, according to Jarrett.

"Anything you spend counts toward the $1,999.99 that you and Mary would be allowed to spend," Finke allegedly wrote. "The only way around it would be to lie and pay me cash. Then I could claim that I am volunteering for you."

The fourth, and perhaps most disturbing email was allegedly written by Fecklam to Garcia at her school district address. Fecklam bragged to Garcia about her efforts to bribe 18-year-old high school students who live in the district to register to vote before the school board election.

It is a felony to offer bribes to anyone for voting or registering to vote, according to Jarrett.

"Don't let them turn us in; gifts to register to vote is probably illegal! I did offer Erika (Garcia's daughter) more gift cards if she can gather up even more friends!"

Holding the cheaters accountable

It's bad enough that teachers’ unions at the local, state and national level have become more preoccupied with politics than they are with students and education.

Now it appears they are willing to bend or break laws and regulations to guarantee victory.

Perhaps they've come to believe they somehow own the public schools, or have some special right to use school property for their own purposes. Perhaps they forgot that the schools are owned by taxpayers like Jarrett, who are watching and willing to hold them accountable.

"This is not about whose policies are best or whose are wrongheaded," wrote Paul Mitchell, a local tea party activist, in an article posted on the Lake County Tea Party website.

"It's about how elected officials and employees of School District 46 have abused their positions and their access to benefit themselves at taxpayer expense, and at the expense of the school children entrusted to them."

Jarrett has not been sitting on his email discoveries. He shared them with the District 46 school board at a recent meeting, as well as the Lake County State's Attorney and Illinois Attorney General.

A large group of parents and concerned citizens showed up at the school board meeting to complain about the alleged campaign abuse, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.

"You dishonor this community," parent Joan Siefert reportedly told the pro-union candidates at the meeting.

Garcia is reportedly already under investigation for her activities by a School District 30 ethics review board. She could reportedly face various types of discipline, up to and including termination of her employment as a teacher.

Garcia has already suffered at the polls. Two of the tea party candidates, along with Fecklam, were elected to the three school board seats in the April 5 election. Garcia is no longer on the board.

Meat Loaf – and supporters of good government – would say that two-out-of-three ain't bad.


The Feds, The Economy, Your State And Your School Board

The wisdom of the American people is prevailing in some of the most unlikely places. Unfortunately, the local public school board is typically not one of those places.

As the federal government goes deficit-crazy and state governments continue to feel the recession’s impact, some good things are actually starting to develop. Fiscally conservative ideals are emerging in states as diverse as Wisconsin, Idaho, New Jersey and Ohio

In these states and in others, governors and legislatures have stood-up to the ever-expanding demands of government employee unions, reigned-in employee compensation growth, and have cut state spending. Even in liberal Massachusetts the Democrat-led House of Representatives voted last week to limit the powers of their state government employees’ unions.

This is good news for the American taxpayer, and good news for the overall U.S. economy. But when state governments start to spend fewer tax dollars, that often means fewer state tax dollars are flowing to local public school districts. And when that happens, the affairs of local public school districts can get especially outrageous.

Your local school district may be the exception, and its collective behavior may be entirely “above the board.” But the sad reality for teachers, students, and parents, is simply this: in the face of tight budgets, most local school boards across the nation would rather fire teachers, than reign-in other school district expenses. The reason for this is simple: when teachers lose their jobs, students suffer – and “student suffering” gets parents and other voters in the mood for a tax increase.

It sounds cynical, I know. But think about it from the vantage point of political strategy. if school boards actually tried to manage the taxpayers’ money in such a way as to serve the students, first and foremost, then every effort would be made to retain good teachers and keep class sizes small. This would mean that school boards would look “up the food chain” in to the administrative ranks, rather than “down to the classrooms,” when the need arose to cut the budget.

But that’s generally not what happens in most public school districts. The preference for board members is usually to eliminate teacher positions, or at least to “threaten to eliminate” teacher positions – because when budget cuts are felt in the classroom, voters become more amenable to tax hikes – and tax hikes usually provide more money for the school district to spend.

Consider the case of the Mount Diablo School District in the San Francisco suburb of Concord . Like every other public school district in California, Mount Diablo is being threatened with a dramatic shut-off of state tax revenues, as the bankrupt state government grapples with a budget deficit of somewhere between $10 and $15 billion – a deficit that is expected to swell to about $25 billion by the middle of 2012.

So the elected members of the Mount Diablo School District met in open session last week. They heard public testimony, with local residents pleading to “spare the teachers jobs” at the open microphone. Members of the board even offered their own impassioned dissertations about how “every one of our teachers is a human being,” and many of the teachers “have their own families,” and they all “touch our families in such important and necessary ways…” And then the board voted unanimously to terminate one-hundred eleven of those “human being” teachers. Unanimously. No dissenting voters.

After getting the “dirty work” completed, the elected board members at the Mount Diablo School District then proceeded to vote in favor of spending over $9 million on school building upgrades. All in the same school board meeting, all on the same night.

The board made it clear that the $9 million or so that they were spending on structural enhancements was money approved directly by voters and designated for such purposes, and could not possibly have been spent on retaining teachers. Legally speaking, it was probably accurate that the revenues could not simply be used for “more urgent purposes.”

But doesn’t this speak to a degree of mismanagement by the district board? Why wouldn’t a school board in California be anticipating a shortfall in state tax revenues, given that the state government is broke, and begin strategizing a way to retain teachers, rather than enhancing buildings?

The mismanagement of the Mount Diablo School District becomes even more apparent when you turn the calendar back a couple of months. In March of this year, the district board voted to raise the salary paid to the district legal counsel by $28,000.00 (that person now takes home $190,000 annually), the facilities and projects manager got a raise of $11,000, and the director of certificated personnel got a nice $6,000.00 annual income boost (each one of these employees also receives taxpayer funded healthcare and retirement benefits).

If school districts genuinely cared for students, then budget cuts would more often happen at the district office rather than in the classroom. But nobody wants to raise their taxes just so the Superintendent or the staff Attorney can keep their six-figure salary and benefits. Thus, “firing teachers” becomes the best political strategy.

Students, parents, and teachers deserve much better.


British Government to give green light to first fully free state run boarding school -- for black kids

It is thought to be first time that a state primary school has ever bought its own boarding school to educate its children. The joint venture between the Government and the Durand Education Trust will see inner city children from south London educated at a school in Sussex.

The Government has committed up to £17.34 million phased over four years to contribute towards the capital costs, with significant investment already made and committed to by the school’s foundation for the remainder.

Under the plan, children will leave Durand Primary School, in Lambeth, south London, aged 13, and board for four nights a week, free of charge, at the school, built on the site of a former public school in west Sussex.

Durand has committed to funding the furnishing of the middle school and will pay for the construction of sixth form accommodation for older children.The first pupils will start to arrive from September 2012.

Unlike like other state boarding schools, where a fee is payable, Durand will ensure that the cost of boarding is paid for, so that parents do not have to pay a penny. Almost half of the children that attend Durand Academy receive Free School Meals and more than 95 per cent are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds. Some 40 per cent live in overcrowded households.

The new all-through Academy will provide 250 places for years 7 - 9, 375 boarding places for years 9 - 11 and a proposed 250 places for post-16 pupils.

Greg Martin, the school’s executive head, told The Daily Telegraph: “This project will transform life opportunities for children and families from Stockwell’s estates. We believe that all children deserve the best education and this project will help us to deliver that for our intake.”

Mark Dunn, former chairman of West Sussex Council, said: “This is a hugely exciting and welcome development. Not only will the proposed project bring alive the school in West Sussex again but it is also offer life changing opportunities for hundreds of children.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The poorest children are too often left behind because of weak schools and lack of opportunity. "This unique and pioneering project, led by one of London’s best primary schools, will give disadvantaged pupils the type of education previously reserved for the rich. It is vital that we concentrate resources on the children who need it most.”

Last April The Daily Telegraph disclosed how Durand Primary in London purchased St Cuthman’s, a former public school in west Sussex, for a seven figure sum.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Academic Freedom at Florida State University

Last week I wrote about the publicity — mostly negative — that Florida State University was receiving as a result of accepting a grant from the C.G. Koch Foundation to fund positions in the economics department. I know a lot about the issue, because I am a professor of economics at Florida State.

The publicity has kept up. Every day I’ve been getting e-mails from people near and far, some from people I know, some from people I’ve never met, passing along a link or offering an opinion. The story has been covered in the New York Times and Businessweek, among other outlets. I admit to being somewhat entertained by all the publicity, which is easy for me because unlike my Dean or university president, I have not been in the direct line of fire in these attacks on my department and university.

In what I wrote last week I was just trying to state the facts as I saw them, as someone with more knowledge about the deal than most people who offered their opinions. I didn’t pass judgment. I tried to present objective facts, and let readers decide.

As someone close to the grant in question, I do have an opinion, however, and my opinion is that the Koch grant does not compromise the academic integrity of Florida State University, has not limited our academic freedom, and has provided unambiguously beneficial results to the university — unless you count the negative publicity. So, (1) we were right to accept the grant, and (2) we should defend ourselves by explaining why we were right.

FSU President Eric Barron mostly followed through on that in this letter posted on the university’s web site that explains the facts better than I did. I say “mostly followed through” because after defending the procedures we followed, explaining how all decisions made with regard to this grant were made by our department, and saying, “…much of what has been written has been distortion of reality. We did not deserve the attack on our integrity. Certainly, our Economics faculty deserve much more credit for actively debating their concerns and then for committing themselves never to compromise their high scholarly standards,” he finishes the letter by saying, “I promise that we will be diligent in working to prevent outcomes like this in the future.”

If the outcome was beneficial to the university, and if “We did not deserve this attack on our integrity,” then why would we want to prevent outcomes like this in the future? Reading his letter, I am sure the outcome President Barron was referring to was the negative publicity, not the grant’s impact on the economics department, or the academic integrity and academic freedom in the university. Still, I am a bit uneasy about the caveat at the end.

One result of this is that today President Barron has asked our faculty senate to create a committee to investigate the possibility that the grant led to undue outside influence of university activities. I welcome the investigation, and am also not unhappy that the press is giving our state-supported university some scrutiny. We should be held accountable. I just think that in this case the facts are at odds with what most commentators have been reporting. So, investigate, and find out the facts. This is, after all, a state university that is heavily supported by taxpayer dollars.

One thing that aggravates me about all this is a nagging suspicion that the main catalyst for the negative publicity has less to do with issues of academic freedom than with the fact that the money came from the Koch Foundation. We have a group of faculty in the FSU economics department who have undertaken decades of academic research, published in reputable academic journals, that demonstrates the benefits of market institutions and limited government to prosperity. The work we have been doing for decades is consistent with the type of academic program the Koch Foundation wants to support. Having common interests, the deal was struck that was beneficial to both the Foundation and us.

Who else should we appeal to if we want outside support for this type of program? The Ford Foundation? The Carnegie Foundation? As I described in this book, published well before our department had any contact with the Koch Foundation, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie would turn over in their graves if they knew how the money from their fortunes was being spent today. Those foundations would not support a program like ours.

If a department wants funding to support programs that are friendly to markets and suspicious of big government, they have to get it from donors who have similar views. And, those donors would be wise to try to structure any grants so that the money is spent in ways consistent with their ideas. That’s what happened in our case.

Florida State University has been under attack for accepting a grant from the Koch Foundation, but my view, as someone very close to the situation, is that we were right to take the money, and that we should stand up to critics and explain why.


Gov. Scott Walker Fights Republicans, Unions in Mission to Expand School Choice

School choice is on the move in Wisconsin, at least in Milwaukee County. The state Assembly has approved a bill that will increase the number of voucher students in Milwaukee, and increase the number of private schools they can choose from.

But an idea recently suggested by Gov. Scott Walker, to spread voucher opportunities beyond Milwaukee to Green Bay, Racine and Beloit, received a cool reception from Senate President Mike Ellis, as well as several other Republicans. Ellis also questioned a reform, embedded in the governor's budget proposal, that would lift income restrictions from voucher programs so all families would be eligible to participate.

That leads me to wonder if some Republicans, once committed to the concept of public school reform, have lost their nerve in the face of obnoxious union rallies and recall efforts.

I also wonder if Walker might have received a more positive response if he had targeted the entire state for voucher eligibility, in the same manner as Indiana. Only expanding to three cities may not sit well with legislators from areas that would not benefit.

School choice is best for all families and students. Every child is unique, and parents are best equipped to choose a school that fits their needs.

The state of Wisconsin provides a certain amount of money for every K-12 student in the state. What's wrong with letting parents spend that money at the school of their choice?

Walker sought to build momentum for school choice expansion with his keynote address to the National Policy Summit of the American Federation for Children in Washington, D.C. last week.

He focused on the idea that all students have the right to equal access to a quality education. "Every kid, no matter where they live, no matter what their background, no matter what their parents do for a living ... deserves the opportunity to have a great education because they each have limitless potential," Walker told his audience.

"We have 100,000 kids that we serve in the city of Milwaukee. Roughly 20,000 go to choice schools but that means that 80 percent of our families are looking at some other option and the majority of which are (using) public schools ... many of which fail to live up to the standard we expect for each and every child in that community and in our state.

"We fail as a country, we fail as a nation, we fail as a society if any of our kids slip through the cracks. We have to make sure every single one of them have the same opportunities we'd want for our children and grandchildren."

Walker referred to studies that show Milwaukee children in the voucher program are 17 times more likely to graduate from high school than their counterparts in Milwaukee public schools.

"If you look at the kids who come into the Milwaukee parental choice program, they more often than not come in (with lower learning levels) than kids in the Milwaukee public school system. But in the end, one of the most important outcomes is that they're 17 percent more likely to graduate by the time they're done.

"One of our greatest challenges is keeping kids in the system all the way to graduation ... It used to be that just graduating was enough to get a job, but these days you've got to have a two-year or four-year post-secondary education component just to get a job in our society. If you're not making it through graduation you're going to be another statistic."

Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers’ union, is trying to recall several Republican senators from office and destroy the GOP majority in the chamber.

The union’s president, Mary Bell told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that research "does not support broadening choice."

I believe the only research that matters is the research conducted by the parents of every individual student in Wisconsin and America.

If they find a school that fits their child's needs - be it public, public charter, private or religious - they should have a right to use their share of state money to enroll their child in that school.

Somehow our society has been blinded into thinking that government-run schools have an exclusive right to K-12 students. State constitutions mandate that governments provide an education to every student in their jurisdiction. That does not mean those students have to attend government-run schools.

By providing the means for students to finance an education, the state has met its constitutional responsibility. At that point the state should step aside and let parents decide where that education will take place.

As far as I can tell, the only reason for enforcing geographic school boundaries is to provide a guaranteed clientele, and guaranteed jobs, for unionized teachers. That's not a very good reason to keep any kid trapped in any school that's not meeting his or her needs.

Scott Walker seems to understand that. The union doesn’t and it’s unrealistic for us to hope otherwise. Will legislative Republicans?

Leaders should be going bold in their attempts to save children from failing public schools. This is not the time to be pussyfooting around, making sure the adults aren’t offended by reforms that put the interests of children first.


A fight for Britain's remaining selective schools

David Cameron was last night facing a fresh row over academic selection as protesters mounted the first bid in a decade to axe the 11-plus. The Prime Minister was braced for calls to come to the aid of two long-established grammar schools which are facing a concerted campaign to abolish them.

In the first move of its type since 2000, campaigners are poised to force a ballot on changing the selection policy of the two schools in Reading, Berkshire.

Last night, local Tory MP Rob Wilson angrily condemned the campaign as ‘profoundly wrong and retrograde’ and called on his constituents to fight to retain the schools.

But the battle will revive the bitter internal Tory splits of four years ago when Mr Cameron sought to rebrand his party’s image by promising that a future Conservative Government would make no effort to revive grammar school education across the country.

The row, one of the fiercest in which Mr Cameron was involved as Opposition Leader, led to Tory MP Graham Brady angrily resigning from the front bench after party bosses claimed the schools impeded social mobility.

One Conservative MP privately said last night: ‘Cameron was never against existing grammars but this whole issue is always incredibly toxic for us.’

The dispute will also prove difficult for several leading Tory MPs, including Immigration Minister Damian Green, who went to one of the grammars at risk – Reading School for boys.

It is now 11 years since campaigners against the 11-plus last tried to abolish selection at a particular school – Ripon Grammar in North Yorkshire. Using legislation introduced by the Labour Government in 1998, they forced a ballot on the admission policy there – but were defeated.

But last night it was confirmed that a group of parents in Berkshire had begun the process of forcing a vote on the future of the Reading School and the town’s other grammar, Kendrick School for girls.

The group said grammar schools were ‘a luxury Reading can no longer afford’ and claimed the ‘vast majority’ of children educated in them came from outside the town. In a joint statement, the two schools hit back by saying they were both recognised as ‘outstanding’ by education watchdog Ofsted and that scrapping selection would fundamentally change their ‘unique character’.

A statement said: ‘Parents rightly want their children to go to outstanding schools. Reading and Kendrick Schools believe that many parents would therefore wish to keep open the option of grammar school education for their children.’

Under schools legislation, parents of local ‘feeder’ schools for the two grammars are eligible to vote in the ballot. But Mr Wilson raised fears that as they had to ‘opt in’ to be registered to vote, a determined minority of anti-selection parents could carry the day. ‘I urge parents to sign up to vote in the ballot and ensure their voice is heard. We must not allow excellence and aspiration to be destroyed by the misconceived action of a small number of people,’ the MP said.

In the mid-seventies, there were more than 800 grammar schools across the country. But years of anti-selection policies and fears of ‘elitist’ education have seen their number whittled down to just over 160 now.

In 2007, Mr Cameron – keen to transform the Tories’ traditional image – made it clear that a future Conservative Government would not seek to reverse the grammar school decline. ‘There will be no reintroduction of grammar schools and no re-introduction of the 11-plus in the huge swathes of the country where they were abolished,’ he said then.