Saturday, June 04, 2011

Don’t nationalize education

A number of educators, academics, and political figures recently signed a statement released by the Albert Shanker Institute favoring a “common content core curriculum” for all public schools in the United States. The idea has an obvious appeal: Simply select what students should learn and tell the schools to teach it. However, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” There is no single best curriculum for all students in all districts, and any attempt to create one at the federal level opens the door to political meddling in educational content.

Across the country, there is widespread disagreement among educators, politicians, and the general public about what constitutes a good curriculum. Even within districts, conflicting interest groups fight heated battles over curricular changes.

On April 26, a group of students took over a board meeting of the Tuscon Unified School District, protesting a proposal that would change the district’s Mexican American Studies program from a social studies credit to an elective. Student supporters of the program chained themselves to the board’s dais and could not be removed by security. Under a national curriculum, disputes such as this would have to be resolved at the federal level. Congress would determine what students should learn. Allowing Congress to serve as the custodian of truth in the teaching of history, social studies, and other subjects is asking for trouble.

In fact, our current system is already too centralized, with state legislators and boards of education committing new crimes against veracity every time curriculum design comes up for debate. Last spring, conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education pushed through a new social studies curriculum. Among other changes, the new curriculum required a greater emphasis on the “conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s,” and excised the insufficiently religious Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who inspired revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, replacing him with overtly Christian figures such as John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas. The left plays this game just as much as the right. California’s guidelines forbid textbooks to “cast adverse reflection on any gender, race, ethnicity, religion or cultural group.” That sounds well-meaning, but it has led to a whitewashed version of history for fear of offending any interest group.

We should return decisions about educational content to the local level. That would not make these arguments disappear, but it would give parents the greatest opportunity to find a curriculum that suits their educational preferences.

Furthermore, localized curricula would give teachers more flexibility in meeting students’ individual educational needs. When I pursued teacher certification, I encountered repeatedly in my coursework the idea that every student learns in different ways. Good teachers must vary the information they present and how they present it in order to appeal to the different aptitudes and interests of their students. A national curriculum may not completely strip teachers of the ability to tailor lessons for the particularities of their students, but every new mandate from on high removes a little more autonomy from the educators who know their students best.

Many American schools are in desperate need of reform, but more federal micromanagement is not the solution. We need more autonomy for schools to innovate and serve the individual needs and interests of their students, and greater choice for parents to hold those schools accountable. A national curriculum would take us in the opposite direction — toward heavily politicized subject matter and no alternatives for students whose needs are left out. Reforming education in this country is not one large problem — it’s millions of small ones, and a national curriculum would only make them harder to address.


Florida teacher who punched student won't be charged

Sandra Hadsock clenched her teeth, balled up her right fist and closed her eyes. The 5-foot-5 art teacher's first punch was a wild haymaker, just glancing the towering student's right cheek.

Then, as she drew her arm back again, Hadsock gripped the boy's jacket collar and leveled a right cross, catching him square on the jaw. His head snapped to the side and his mess of orange hair blew back.

Now, three weeks after the incident was caught on a student's cell phone videocamera, the State Attorney's Office has decided not to file criminal charges against Hadsock, who had been arrested on a single count of child abuse.

Hadsock landed at least one punch on the student's face, causing a minor cut on his lip, authorities said. But the video doesn't provide conclusive evidence that the 64-year-old veteran teacher wasn't acting in self-defense when she swung at the student who called her vulgar names, prosecutor Brian Trehy said.

Students who witnessed the incident said the teen made contact first and the teacher was responding to that, Trehy said.

"You couldn't put a piece of paper between them," Trehy said. "You can't tell if he actually made contact, but it's certainly reasonable to believe that it could have happened."

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon with Hadsock and her attorney, Ty Tison, she expressed relief that the criminal chapter is over.

"It was the right thing to do," Hadsock said of Trehy's call. "I was defending myself, and he made the right decision."

Hadsock and Tison offered previously unreleased details that led up to the incident outside Central High School's classroom D102.

The student licked a classroom window and left saliva, Tison said. Hadsock and another teacher asked the boy to clean the window, and he refused. Hadsock told him to go to the principal's office.

At that, the student launched a verbal assault, calling her a "f---ing c---" as he walked across the room toward her in what Hadsock felt was a menacing manner, Tison said.

"Step back right now!" Hadsock shouts. But instead of stepping back, the student steps forward. Hadsock punches him twice, and another boy pulls him back.

"Oh my God!" a girl exclaims. "He didn't do anything. You can't punch him in the face." "He pushed into me," Hadsock, visibly shaken, says.

"I didn't touch her," the student responds. "You guys saw that, right? I didn't touch her."

Tison said the video "speaks for itself." "If she would have done nothing, you might have been talking about some very severe injuries to a 64-year-old teacher," Tison said. "She wasn't going to wait to find out."

The student was suspended but not arrested.

A married mother of two grown daughters, Hadsock started with the district as a substitute teacher in 1985 and became a full-time teacher three years later, a faculty member when Central opened in 1988. She has a clean disciplinary record and was voted by students for the school's Teacher of the Year award last school year.

She said she hopes school officials will consider the facts of her case and her record, and allow her to return to the classroom, but it's still unclear if that will happen.

She was suspended with pay after her arrest and will have a predetermination hearing this summer as the school district conducts its own investigation, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt did not return messages Thursday.

"I've been doing this for 22 years, and it's part of who I am, a teacher who makes a positive influence in kids' lives," Hadsock said. "I'm a very optimistic person so I'm seeing a near future where I'm back making lesson plans and getting my room in order for next year and doing the job that I do so well."

In the meantime, she is not allowed to have student contact, which means she won't be able to attend Central's graduation ceremony tonight.

Hadsock's story touched a nerve with readers. Many who posted comments on cheered her for sticking up for herself. She said she has received correspondence from strangers throughout the country offering words of support.

The writers agreed that bad student behavior is an epidemic, she said, and it's causing good teachers to leave the profession.

"For a solution, I think you need well-trained teachers, but you also need good parenting and students who want to learn and who understand the need for, and are grateful for, a good education," she said. "Our values have gotten backward somewhere, and we need to reassess as a nation what's important."


CA: Parents defenseless against gender 'diversity training'

As teachers spent May 23 and 24 using all-girl geckos and transgendered clownfish to teach gender diversity lessons, a California school has raised concerns with teaching that there are more than two genders.

Students in all grades at Oakland's Redwood Heights Elementary School got an introduction to the topic on Monday, as teachers told them there are different ways to be boys and different ways to be girls. In the lesson called "Gender Spectrum Diversity Training," documents released by the school say that students were taught that "gender is not inherently nor solely connected to one's physical anatomy."

Another document from the school advises parents that "when you discuss gender with your child, you may hear them...exploring where on the gender spectrum and why."

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), says it is difficult to imagine the liberal indoctrination endured by elementary students.

"No child in kindergarten should be introduced to the question of whether or not they really are a boy or really are a girl," he contends. "That has no place in public schools, and these schools are engaging in an area that without question results in children having problems that they likely would not have had otherwise."

He questions the legitimacy of the topic. Meanwhile, legal counsel is being offered to parents who oppose gender-diversity lessons.

"Legally, there is no right under California law for parents to opt out from this kind of outrageous pro-transgender indoctrination," Dacus laments. "Nonetheless though, as legal counsel, we are giving them advice as to how to protect their children."

Some of the reading list includes Boy, girl or both? and My Princess Boy for grades K-1, What is gender? and 10,000 Dresses for grades 2-3, and Three Dimensions of Gender for grades 4-5 -- the age group that was also introduced to the song, "All I Want to Be is Me."


Friday, June 03, 2011

Fat City: Thank you, Illinois taxpayers, for my cushy life

By David Rubinstein, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago

After 34 years of teaching sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I recently retired at age 64 at 80 percent of my pay for life. This calculation was based on a salary spiked by summer teaching, and since I no longer pay into the retirement fund, I now receive significantly more than when I “worked.” But that’s not all: There’s a generous health insurance plan, a guaranteed 3 percent annual cost of living increase, and a few other perquisites.

Having overinvested in my retirement annuity, I received a fat refund and—when it rains, it pours—another for unused sick leave. I was also offered the opportunity to teach as an emeritus for three years, receiving $8,000 per course, double the pay for adjuncts, which works out to over $200 an hour. Another going-away present was summer pay, one ninth of my salary, with no teaching obligation.

Easy Street

I haven’t done the math but I suspect that, given a normal life span, these benefits nearly doubled my salary. And in Illinois these benefits are constitutionally guaranteed, up there with freedom of religion and speech.

Why do I put “worked” in quotation marks? Because my main task as a university professor was self-cultivation: reading and writing about topics that interested me. Maybe this counts as work. But here I am today—like many of my retired colleagues—doing pretty much what I have done since the day I began graduate school, albeit with less intensity.

Before retiring, I carried a teaching load of two courses per semester: six hours of lecture a week. I usually scheduled classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays: The rest of the week was mine. Colleagues who pursued grants taught less, some rarely seeing a classroom. The gaps this left in the department’s course offerings were filled by adjuncts, hired with little scrutiny and subject to little supervision, and paid little.

Sometimes my teaching began at 9:30 a.m., but this was hardship duty. A night owl, I preferred to start my courses at 11 or 12. With an hour or so in my office to see an occasional student, I was at the (free) gym by 4 p.m. Department heads sometimes pleaded with faculty to alter their schedules to suit departmental needs, but rarely. Because most professors insist on selected hours, to avoid rush hour and to retain days at home, universities must build extra classroom space that stands empty much of the day.

The occasional seminars were opportunities for professors to kick back and let graduate students do the talking. Committee meetings were tedious but, except for the few good departmental citizens, most of us were able to avoid undue burdens.

Another perquisite of the job was a remarkable degree of personal freedom. Some professors came to class unshaven, wearing T-shirts and jeans. One of the deans scolded the faculty for looking like urban guerrillas. He was ridiculed as an authoritarian prig.

This schedule held for 30 weeks of the year, leaving free three months in summer, a month in December, and a week in spring, plus all the usual holidays. Every six years, there was sabbatical leave: a semester off at full pay to do research, which sometimes actually got done.

Most faculty attended academic conferences at taxpayer expense. Some of these were serious events, but always allowed ample time for schmoozing and sightseeing. A group of professors who shared my interests applied for a grant to fund a conference at Lake Como. It was denied because we had failed to include any women and so we settled for an all-expenses-paid week at Cambridge, England.

The grandest prize of all is, of course, tenure. The tenured live in a different world than ordinary mortals, a world in which fears of unemployment are banished, futures can be confidently planned, and retirement is secure.

All of this at a university without union representation!

To be fair, the first years of a newly hired assistant professor can be harrowing. Writing lecture notes to cover a semester takes effort. But soon I had abundant material which could be reused indefinitely and took maybe 20 minutes of review before class. Adding new material required hardly more effort than the time to read what I would have read anyway.

The only really arduous part of teaching was grading exams and papers. But for most of my classes I had teaching assistants to do this, graduate students who usually knew little more about the topic than the undergraduates.

My colleagues, to their credit, promoted me to full professor knowing my ideological heterodoxy. I fear that a young Ph.D. looking for work today who challenged the increasingly rigid political orthodoxies would have a hard time. But the discipline of sociology is so ideologically homogenous—a herd, as Harold Rosenberg put it, of independent minds—that this problem is rare. Universities cherish diversity in everything except where it counts most: ideas.

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Harvard, donating 4 to 1 in favor of Democrats in 2008, was one of the more politically diverse major American universities. Ninety-two percent of employees at the University of Chicago donated to Democrats. The University of California favored Democrats over Republicans, 90 percent to 10 percent. And William and Mary employees preferred Democrats to the GOP by a margin of 99 percent to 1 percent. Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush.

Gross also found that 25 percent of sociologists characterize themselves as Marxists, likely a higher percentage than members of the Chinese Communist party. I would guess that if Lenin were around today he would be teaching sociology and seeking grants to fund the revolution.

The research requirements to achieve tenure and promotion are rigorous. The top journals reject as much as 90 percent of the work submitted, so accumulating the half-dozen or so articles usually required to be tenured took sustained effort.

But it is not clear what value this work has to those who pay the salaries. As Thomas Sowell has argued, building a scholarly reputation requires finding a niche that no one else has explored—often for good reason. I am hard pressed to explain why sometimes exquisitely esoteric interests should be supported by taxpayers: This expertise certainly does not match the educational needs of students. (Full disclosure: The book that established my scholarly reputation is titled Marx and Wittgenstein: Social Science and Social Praxis.)

The work done by most of my colleagues did bear on issues of wider relevance and not all of it was so ideologically compromised as to be useless. But the readership of academic journals is tiny, and most of this work had no impact beyond a small circle of interested academics—for understandable reasons. Philip Tetlock, a research psychologist at Berkeley, tested the accuracy of 82,361 predictions made by 284 experts including psychologists, economists, political scientists, and area and foreign policy specialists, 96 percent with post-graduate training. He found that their prognostications did not beat chance. The increasingly ideological nature of social science will not improve this record.

To be sure, some of my colleagues were prodigious researchers, devoted teachers, and outstanding departmental, university, and professional citizens. But sociologists like to talk about what they call the “structural” constraints on behavior. While character and professional ethics can withstand the incentives to coast, the privileged position of a tenured professor guarantees that there will be slackers.

An argument can be made that, compared with professionals in the private sector, college professors are underpaid, though according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “by rank, the average [salary] was $108,749 for full professors.” It is difficult to compare the overall goodness of different lives, but there is a back of the envelope shortcut. In my 34 years, just one professor in the sociology department resigned to take a nonacademic job. For open positions, there were always over 100 applicants, several of them outstanding. The rarity of quits and the abundance of applications is good evidence that the life of the college professor is indeed enviable.

The life of a professor is far more attractive than that of most government employees, but elements of professorial privilege can be found in the lives of other public sector workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the quit rate for government workers is less than one-third that of the private sector. Applications for federal jobs exceed those for the private sector by at least 25 percent, and when workers move from private to federal employment their earnings, according to Princeton’s Alan Krueger, increase by 12 percent.

And then there are the public schools. Because K-12 education is local, generalizations are difficult. But there are many egregious cases. Less than 2 percent of teachers in Los Angeles are denied tenure. In the last decade, according to LA Weekly, the city “spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance.” Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, liberal, and former union organizer, described union leadership as an “unwavering roadblock to reform.” Teachers in Florida gain tenure after three years of “satisfactory” evaluations and, in 2009, 99.7 percent received this evaluation. Michelle Rhee said that when she took over the D.C. school system in 2007, 95 percent of the teachers were rated excellent and none was terminated. Just 0.1 percent of Chicago teachers were fired for poor performance between 2005 and 2008.

This circumstance has attracted the attention of public officials. Illinois, with the support of some prominent Democrats, is desperate to cut back a public employee pension system that, even with recent reforms, will go broke within 10 years. John Kasich, Republican governor of Ohio, has proposed that the teaching load of college professors be increased by one course every two years.

Such efforts at restraint are routinely met with Wisconsin-like howls of outrage. One of my colleagues, whose retirement benefits exceed the $77,900 household income average for retired government employees in Illinois, was indignant that the state had managed to require an additional $17 a month for his dental insurance. How dare they!

Protests against efforts to reform pay scales, teaching loads, and retirement benefits employ a “solidarity forever, the union makes us strong” rhetoric. What these professors and other government workers do not understand is that they are not demanding a share of the profits from the fat-cat bourgeoisie. They are squeezing taxpayers—for whom the professors purport to advocate—whose lives are in most cases far harsher than their own.


There is a grumpy but shallow reply to Rubinstein by philoophy professor Roderick T. Long here. My own experience (tenured) teaching Sociology for 12 years in a major Australian university was very similar to what Rubenstein reports. The major difference is that I always speed-read student assignments so spent little time on it. My marking was not degraded by that however. Colleagues even congratulated me on how good I was at marking!

I also did what academics are supposed to do: Spend heaps of time on research. But, judging by their output and other things that I saw, I was very much the exception in that regard among my colleagues. There were many periods when I was the only academic in the Department who was actually in his office -- usually poring over computer printouts or hammering away on my old Olivetti typewriter. I also used to spend half a day a week in the "current journals" section of the library -- but I doubt if I ever saw a Sociology colleague there -- JR

Indian-American girl scoops $40,000 spelling-bee prize with 'cymotrichous'

Ms. Roy is the ninth Indian-American in the last 13 years to win. How come such a tiny minority is so outstanding -- even when many would come from homes where English is not the first language? No mystery really. Indians are extremely verbal. Talk is one of India's major exports. When you call the call-centre of a large organization, your query will often be routed through to India

Sukanya Roy, a 14-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, wins the 2011 US National Spelling Bee by spelling the word 'cymotrichous'.

Miss Roy took top prize in the 84th annual US National Spelling Bee after she saw off her competitors over 20 rounds of on-the-spot spelling at the final in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

After winning, the teenager, who was competing in her third championships, was shaking with excitement.

"My heart started pounding, I guess. I couldn't believe it," Miss Roy told broadcaster ESPN, immediately after receiving her trophy.

The finals have been screened live on US television since 2006 and drew and audience of over one million last year.

The winning word, cymotrichous, is an adjective relating to having wavy hair. Miss Roy, who also speaks fluent Bengali, said she knew the word immediately. "I just wanted to spell it right," she said. "I really didn't want to get it wrong."

Besides the trophy, the newly-crowned champion speller took home a $30,000 cash prize, a $2,500 US savings bond, a complete reference library, a $5,000 scholarship, $2,600 in reference works and other prizes.


18 Signs That Life In U.S. Public Schools Is Now Essentially Equivalent To Life In U.S. Prisons

In the United States today, our public schools are not very good at educating our students, but they sure are great training grounds for learning how to live in a Big Brother police state control grid. Sadly, life in many U.S. public schools is now essentially equivalent to life in U.S. prisons.

Most parents don't realize this, but our students have very few rights when they are in school. Our public school students are being watched, tracked, recorded, searched and controlled like never before. Back when I was in high school, it was unheard of for a police officer to come to school, but today our public school students are being handcuffed and arrested in staggering numbers. When I was young we would joke that going to school was like going to prison, but today that is actually true.

The following are 18 signs that life in our public schools is now very similar to life in our prisons....

#1 Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has announced that school officials can search the cell phones and laptops of public school students if there are "reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school."

#2 It came out in court that one school district in Pennsylvania secretly recorded more than 66,000 images of students using webcams that were embedded in school-issued laptops that the students were using at home.

#3 If you can believe it, a "certified TSA official" was recently brought in to oversee student searches at the Santa Fe High School prom.

#4 A few years ago a class of 3rd grade students at one Kentucky elementary school were searched by a group of teachers after 5 dollars went missing. During the search the students were actually required to remove their shoes and their socks.

#5 At one public school in the Chicago area, children have been banned from bringing their lunches from home. Yes, you read that correctly. Students at that particular school are absolutely prohibited from bringing lunches from home. Instead, it is mandatory that they eat the food that the school cafeteria serves.

#6 The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending huge amounts of money to install surveillance cameras in the cafeterias of public schools so that government control freaks can closely monitor what our children are eating.

#7 A teenager in suburban Dallas was recently forced to take on a part-time job after being ticketed for using bad language in one high school classroom. The original ticket was for $340, but additional fees have raised the total bill to $637.

#8 It is not just high school kids that are being ticketed by police. In Texas the crackdown extends all the way down to elementary school students. In fact, it has been reported that Texas police gave "1,000 tickets" to elementary school kids over a recent six year period.

#9 A few months ago, a 17 year-old honor student in North Carolina named Ashley Smithwick accidentally took her father's lunch with her to school. It contained a small paring knife which he would use to slice up apples. So what happened to this standout student when the school discovered this? The school suspended her for the rest of the year and the police charged her with a misdemeanor.

#10 A little over a year ago, a 6 year old girl in Florida was handcuffed and sent to a mental facility after throwing temper tantrums at her elementary school.

#11 In early 2010, a 12 year old girl in New York was arrested by police and marched out of her school in handcuffs just because she doodled on her desk. "I love my friends Abby and Faith" was what she reportedly wrote on her desk.

#12 There are actually some public schools in the United States that are so paranoid that they have actually installed cameras in student bathrooms.

#13 Down in Florida, students have actually been arrested by police for bringing a plastic butter knife to school, for throwing an eraser, and for drawing a picture of a gun.

#14 The Florida State Department of Juvenile Justice has announced that it will begin using analysis software to predict crime by young delinquents and will place "potential offenders" in specific prevention and education programs.

#15 A group of high school students made national headlines a while back when they revealed that they were ordered by a security guard to stop singing the national anthem during a visit to the Lincoln Memorial.

#16 In some U.S. schools, armed cops accompanied by police dogs actually conduct surprise raids with their guns drawn. In this video, you can actually see police officers aiming their guns at school children as the students are lined up facing the wall.

#17 Back in 2009, one 8 year old boy in Massachusetts was sent home from school and was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation because he drew a picture of Jesus on the cross.

#18 This year, 13 parents in Duncan, South Carolina were actually arrested for cheering during a high school graduation.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Middle School Yearbook List Compares Hitler and Bin Laden to… George W. Bush

Who says young people aren’t political? A quasi-scandal has broken out at Arkansas’ Russellville Middle School. The school’s yearbook featured a list of the “Top 5 Worst People of All Time.”

Some of the world’s most horrific murderers and maniacs were included: Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson…

Few people would argue that these individuals don’t deserve a spot on that roster. Each went on murderous rampages and were, arguably, mentally-imbalanced. However, it‘s the list’s last two names that are causing a stir: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The former president and vice-president don’t seem to share many characteristics with the other men they were clumped with.

Once the yearbooks were printed, the district attempted to remedy the alleged oversight. KLRT-TV has more:

"Superintendent Randall Williams calls the list “an oversight.”

Parents caught it after the yearbooks were printed. The district’s solution was to cover the list with tape. It didn’t work.

“Really?” said Williams when told the tape could be pulled off. “Well that’s disappointing because the yearbook supplier told us this was a definite fix.”

There’s no word yet on potential disciplinary measures for the teacher responsible for managing the yearbook’s production process, though the principal maintains that it was an accident.

Mediaite asks another important question: Where did the list come from?

Williams explains that the teacher in charge of the yearbook didn’t put it in and is “very, very, very upset” about missing it before printing.

Apparently some of the students pulled the thing off of the website, a site where people just make lists of stuff.

A cursory search didn’t find the exact list in question although there are a ton of “worst people” rankings that do feature members of the Bush administration like this one, this one, and this one.


Dumb British High School examiners

Impossible maths paper puts university places at risk, say A-level pupils

A-level students fear their university places may be at risk after they were set an ‘impossible’ question in a maths exam.

One of Britain’s biggest exam boards apologised for the blunder yesterday which affected a paper sat by nearly 7,000 students.

A teacher who saw the exam paper spotted the error and alerted the OCR last Friday.

Yesterday furious students flooded social networking sites calling for the exam to be re-run.

The question, which could not be solved, accounted for more than 11 per cent of marks.

The exam board pledged to take the mistake into account, but students said the precious minutes wasted on it meant they failed to reach other parts of the test.

On The Student Room website, one teenager said: ‘They should definitely give us a re-sit.’ Another said: ‘I spent 20 minutes on that question (as it was worth the most marks) and had to rush everything else. I really needed to get an A and now I am scared I won’t even get a B.’

The error centred around a 90-minute ‘decision mathematics’ AS-level exam sat by students in 335 schools and colleges. AS- levels are normally sat in the first year of two-year A-level courses. In the final section, students were presented with a diagram showing a network of tracks in a forest. The exam board failed to calculate the length properly, which meant it failed to tally with their mathematical equation.

An OCR spokesman said: ‘We have several measures in place to ensure candidates are not unfairly disadvantaged as a result of this unfortunate error. ‘Because we have been alerted to this so early, we are able to take this error into account when marking the paper. We will also take it into account when setting the grade boundaries.’ He added: ‘We will be under- taking a thorough review of our quality assurance procedures.’


In Australia's academe, the Left show the totalitarian stuff of which they are made: Larissa Behrendt revisited

Larissa Behrendt claims to be an Aborigine and pretends to wisdom about Aboriginal affairs -- but she is as pink-skinned as I am and has nothing new to offer on Aboriginal policy. She is nothing like a real Aborigine, even if she has some remote Aboriginal ancestry. She is just a conventional Leftist. She is comfortably ensconced with others of her ilk at the University of Technology, Sydney, far away from the day-to-day problems of real Aborigines. Her many awards and honours suggest that her claims of Aboriginality have served her well, however. It's so comforting to give awards to "Aborigines" who are just like us. It helps to hide the real and sad differences that need to be dealt with constructively -- JR

Janet Albrechtsen

This is about a big idea: the human right to free speech. Yet in the academic world devoted to human rights where Larissa Behrendt earns her living, free speech is often scorned. As the poster girl for urban academics, the law professor has done a first-class job of exposing the Left's lack of commitment to free speech.

Behrendt is entitled to her views. But as a high-profile indigenous academic with a long list of public appointments - professor of law and director of research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney, former chair of one of the Australian Research Council's panels that hands out taxpayer-funded research grants and so on - Behrendt is accountable for what she says and does.

If she wants to follow an out-dated agenda of postcolonial guilt, treaties and indigenous sovereignty, she is free to do so. Some will agree with her. Many others will disagree with an agenda best described by anthropologist Peter Sutton as pie-in-the-sky. They will argue that real progress depends on eradicating violence against indigenous women and children.

Yet when Behrendt tweeted that watching bestiality on television was less offensive than watching Bess Price, a strong supporter of the Northern Territory intervention, on ABC1's Q & A, Behrendt clearly rejected the merits of debate. She undermined her own credibility as a defender of human rights when she transformed an important debate about indigenous violence into something petty and personal.

Behrendt's email apology does not hide her deeper contempt for free speech when she defaulted to the Left's standard tactic of trying to muzzle those with different views. Those who stray from the orthodoxy are not just wrong, they are evil - worse than watching bestiality. Ergo, those with evil views should not be seen or heard.

And then there's the hypocrisy. Behrendt and her fellow travellers are using discrimination laws to try to shut down Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt for expressing strongly held views. Behrendt said much worse things about Price.

Just imagine the fatal career consequences had a white academic tweeted in the way Behrendt did. Defending Behrendt and her appointment to the government's review of Aboriginal higher education, chairman of the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council Steve Larkin said the tweet fiasco had nothing to do with higher education.

This is not just about a throwaway tweet. As The Australian reported on April 19 and 20, Behrendt tried to stop the National Indigenous Times from publishing the views of human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade, whose focus is protecting indigenous women and children from violence. While Behrendt said she had had no conversations with Stephen Hagan, editor of the Times, she wrote an email to the newspaper's general manager Beverley Wyner and her husband, John, which noted her distress at discovering McGlade was a likely new contributor.

In the email, Behrendt writes: ". . . I felt that this meant that our paper was giving all her views legitimacy, including her personal attacks on me." What happened to debate, Dr Behrendt?

In fact, Behrendt's disdain for free speech has everything to do with higher education. As naive as it sounds, the heartbeat of free speech should be at its healthiest within our universities. Instead, free speech risks flatlining when a professor of law ridicules and shuts down opponents. Warren Mundine told The Australian: "If you don't have free debate in academia, then where the bloody hell are we going?"

Consider this too. Since 2002, Behrendt has been a director of the Sydney Writers Festival, a cosy, taxpayer-subsidised couch where like-minded people sit and nod in agreement. At no stage has historian Keith Windschuttle been invited to talk about his contributions to history. He's been invited to the Adelaide Writers Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival. Even Byron Bay luvvies have hosted him. But not the writers' clique in his home town.

There is a devastating human cost here. It is no coincidence that the human right to free speech is the critical driver of human progress. Progress doesn't come from sticking with the herd. In every sphere, the best ideas often challenged the mainstream. Behind every advance, there is a dissident voice, a radical idea, a genuinely curious, bravely independent mind. Yet so many on the Left, who mistakenly wrap themselves up as progressives, have little time for such voices of dissent.

As Mundine says: "This is about serious debate. Nothing could be more serious than the issues raised by Bess Price in regard to violence against women and children within our society. This really gets down to the very fabric of what our society stands for."


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A school with a difference

And a school that does NOT demand adherence to the party line, unlike most American universities

This might be the most mysterious school in China. The gates are closely guarded by the People's Armed Police, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Headmasters of this place, a training ground for future leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), are always one of the country's vice-presidents, if not the president. Former headmasters include Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi and Hu Jintao.

It is also a haven where possible cures for China's economic and social ills are discussed and debated, and where policy trends are set.

Situated next to the Summer Palace, an 18th century imperial retreat in suburban Beijing's northwest, the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China - the Central Party School - is like no other university or college in the country.

Without the usual hustle and bustle, the 100-hectare leafy campus is extremely quiet, and almost empty. There is no bicycle congestion. Instead, the roads outside school buildings are lined with black Audis, the German brand selected as the government's official sedans.

The serenity and security are prepared for those who study there - provincial governors and ministers, young and middle-aged officials, their guest speakers and sometimes the country's top leaders.

The speeches that top leaders deliver at the Central Party School, and their articles printed in the school's publications, often signal new strategies and policies that will be adopted by the central government.

Seeking new solutions

The most recent example is the notion of innovative social governance - keeping a handle on social issues while fulfilling people's fundamental interests - brought about amid growing public concerns over unbalanced and unsustainable development.

In February, at the opening ceremony of a seminar for provincial and ministerial officials at the school, President Hu Jintao called for new methods of social management in a bid to "ensure a harmonious and stable society full of vitality", Xinhua News Agency reported. Hu acknowledged that the country is "still in a stage where many conflicts are likely to arise", despite remarkable social and economic development.

In his speech, Hu highlighted the necessities to "improve the structure of social management", which must be achieved through the Party committee's leadership, government's responsibilities, support from non-governmental organizations and public participation.

In March, at the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, a proposal high on the agenda called for establishing a sound social management system with Chinese characteristics during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period.

More detailed plans have since been drafted, including one for a comprehensive and dynamic national population database. Zhou Yongkang, secretary of the Central Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Communist Party of China, made that proposal in an article published in Qiushi, the CPC central committee's biweekly journal.

Steering the policymaking in China is a tradition for the Central Party School, according to Wang Haiguang, a professor in the school's history department.

Broad range of programs

The Central Party School, founded in 1933 in Jiangxi province, has trained 61,024 officials under different types of programs.

Provincial and ministerial-level officials usually undergo two months of training on political science, public management, economy and history. Young and middle-aged officials spend six months to a year at the school, usually followed by a promotion.

Since 1981, the school also has offered postgraduate and doctoral programs for about 500 non-official students. They focus on philosophy, economics, laws, politics and the history of the Communist Party of China.

"The Central Party School has played an important role in several critical stages in China's history," Wang said. "In some way, it is partly navigating the country's development through influencing decision-makers."

Following the end of the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), Hu Yaobang, then headmaster of the Central Party School, led a fervent discussion about the criterion for "testing truth" among the officials receiving training at the school.

At the time, whatever Mao said was regarded as the truth or principle to follow. The discussion led by Hu was whether this rule should continue.

The discussion was held in a stubborn social environment still dominated by the notion of "two whatevers" - "we will resolutely uphold whatever policy and decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave."

It led to the publication in May 1978 of a commentary piece, titled "Practice Is the Sole Criterion for Testing Truth," in Guangming Daily. The concept put forward in the article won approval by the majority of Party members, but it also touched off a fierce national debate. The debate was believed to be a great movement to free the minds of Chinese people from personality cults, and also a solid ideological foundation for the economic reforms and opening-up that would follow.

Freedom of speech

Although outsiders expect the Central Party School to be conservative, the school tolerates free internal discussions, even without limits. Li Tao, a 27-year-old postgraduate student at the school, was surprised by the freedom of speech in class.

"Teachers told us there were no taboos in their teaching, and officials can debate on almost any sensitive issues in the country," Li said. "This is actually a place of mind emancipation and free speech."

"Officials might be discreet in talking to strangers or in public, but their internal discussion in class is unbounded," said Wu Zhongmin, a professor at the Central Party School who focuses on social justice research. "Sometimes their opinions can be really audacious and revolutionary.

"The Central Party School is a place where officials and researchers debate about the future of the country and the Party," Wu said. "They have to face the problems and find ways to solve them. Speaking empty words or simply flattering makes no sense here."

Discussions are closely linked to the most sizzling social problems, such as illegal land grabs, inequality between rural and urban areas, and corruption. To give trainees a better understanding of these problems, the Central Party School sometimes invites outspoken scholars to give lectures.

One speaker, in 2009, was Yu Jianrong, head of the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a prominent advocate for farmers' rights. He addressed the rapid urbanization that has resulted in farmland being taken up for construction projects and the use of the petition system for redress.

Some farmers, believing they had not been adequately compensated for their land, appealed to the petition system. But going over local officials' heads by petitioning can lead to ill treatment by officials whose job performance is downgraded when they do not handle problems well locally.

Wang Changjiang, director of the school's Party Building Teaching and Research Department, said officials are aware that mishandling such social problems could create greater chaos.

"China has so many problems now," Wang said. "As the country's governors, officials have no reason to ignore those problems. They must bear in mind that only reform and changes to the Party can help it stay in power."

Social and economic changes also have led to changes in officials' mindset, he said. In the early 1990s, higher ranked officials were unaware of some of the problems at the grassroots.

Wang said he met strong opposition from trainees when he tried to talk about democratic reform in 1996. But in recent years, more high-ranking Party leaders began to realize the need to carry out government reform following economic progress.

"The Central Party School might be the most ideal place for such discussions," he said, "because you can't find anywhere else where hundreds of high-ranking officials gather for months."

International exchanges

Since the mid-1990s, the Central Party School has welcomed another group of guest speakers - top leaders from foreign countries - in a bid to give Chinese officials a wider horizon and better understanding of different cultures, values and political systems.

Most recently, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, gave a speech titled "Europe and China in an Interdependent World" on May 17 during his visit to Beijing. Besides talking about the economic crisis, he also addressed human rights, climate change and other concerns common to both Europe and China.


Report reveals one in three children in London doesn't own a single book

Three in ten children live in households that do not contain a single book, a poll has found. The survey of more than 18,000 youths across the country has shown large numbers do not own any books or read on their own, fuelling slumping education standards.

This was coupled with the finding that children with no books are two-and-a-half times more likely to fall below the expected reading level for their age.

One teacher in the capital told how, when he asked his pupils to bring in a book from home to speak about with the rest of the class, a nine-year-old boy brought in the Argos catalogue. 'It's the only book my family have,' the youngster told his teacher.

The study also found almost 40 per cent of those aged eight to 17 live in homes with 10 or fewer books – although 85 per cent of those aged eight to 15 own a games console, and 81 per cent have a mobile phone.

The research, conducted by the National Literacy Trust, follows official statistics showing one in five children leaves primary school without reaching the expected level of progress in English.

The same proportion leaves school without an A* to C grade in both GCSE English and Maths.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has highlighted the problem, which has seen England slip from 7th to 25th in the world literacy rankings, and said he wants children to read 50 books a year.

Researcher Christina Clark, who led the poll of 18,171 eight to 17-year-olds in 111 UK schools, found children with no books had ‘lower levels of attainment, negative attitudes to reading and read less frequently’.
A young girl being given one-on-one reading lessons. According to the National Literacy Trust, 80 per cent of parents rarely find time to read with their young children (stock image)

A young girl being given one-on-one reading lessons. According to the National Literacy Trust, 80 per cent of parents rarely find time to read with their young children (stock image)

Sir Jim Rose, former director of Ofsted, said: ‘We are in serious trouble. We need to do something urgently. It is a responsibility we cannot afford to shirk.’

A separate study of 70,000 people in 27 countries, by Nevada University, recently found that children who grew up in a home with 20 or more books remained in education three years longer than those born to families with empty bookshelves.


Scottish School orders pupils to wear baggy clothes 'to deter paedophiles who like boys in tight trousers'

Furious parents yesterday criticised a school after they were asked to buy their children baggy clothes to deter paedophiles. King's Park Secondary School, in Glasgow, asked parents to ensure modesty in their children's uniform in a bizarre letter which claims sex offenders may be taking pictures of schoolboys in tight trousers.

The letter, dubbed 'paranoid in the extreme' by one parent, was sent home even though police say there have been no incidents of schoolchildren in the area being targeted. And children whose parents fail to conform to the approved dress code could be forced to miss out on fun school trips.

The letter says: 'We believe an appropriate school uniform protects children from being targeted by sexual predators. 'There is recent evidence in south Glasgow of adults photographing schoolgirls in short skirts and schoolgirls/boys in tight trousers, then grooming them through the internet. 'We must do all we can to keep our children safe. A modest school uniform is more appropriate than fashion skirts, trousers or tops.'

The crackdown on pupil attire has been slammed by shocked parents whose children don't want to obey the strict rules. One blasted: 'There is no way an ugly uniform is going to deter a predator and determined sex offender. 'This is just paranoid in the extreme. There are better ways to safeguard children than spreading needless panic.' Another added: 'It is laughable to think the uniform can act as some sort of paedophile-repellent.'

The tough new policy forces cash-strapped parents to shop from an approved list of items available only at high street store Marks and Spencer. Girls can wear only knee-length pleated skirts or trousers and boys loose-fitting trousers.

A school source claimed the rules were sparked by the case of pervert Barry McCluskey, 39, who pretended to be a schoolgirl to target schoolchildren online. He managed to make contact with 49 girls from his King's Park home between 2007 and 2010.

The source said staff were not willing to take any chances and felt clothing could act as a safeguard for the children in their care.

But Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said school bosses should have spoken to police if they had such real fears of predatory paedophiles. He said: 'The school needs to bring this to the attention of police as a matter of urgency.' Tory MSP Ruth Davidson added: 'This situation sounds very worrying.'

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said there had been 'extensive consultation' over the draconian new uniform rules. He said: 'The welfare and protection of pupils are the highest priority.'

However, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said 'shock tactics are not required'. Chief executive Eileen Prior said: 'Creating a link between school uniform and paedophilia seems to be a dangerous and unhelpful one for everyone involved.

'It implies that young people are in some way responsible for the activities of paedophiles, which is an extremely dangerous argument and one which has echoes of the comments sometimes made around rapists and women's dress. 'If there is evidence of activity by a paedophile in the area, then police and parents should be informed and involved.'

She added: 'Many parents - and indeed young people themselves - are keen to have a dress code in school which requires everyone in the school community to dress in a way which is appropriate for a working environment.'

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said: 'This situation raises some very serious issues. 'The school needs to bring this situation to the attention of the police as a matter of urgency. 'Likewise, if parents have any concerns whatsoever they should be raising these with the police.'


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

N.J. Senate Republicans discuss strategy following state Supreme Court education funding decision

New Jersey Senate Republicans have been asked to consider taking a unified position on public education that includes removing the Supreme Court from school funding decisions and granting the Legislature the power to determine what it means to provide a "thorough and efficient" education in public schools.

A Republican strategy memo, laid out in an e-mail from Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) to his caucus Friday and obtained by The Associated Press, asks fellow GOP senators for feedback on a three-pronged education plan in wake of a Supreme Court order requiring the state to invest $500 million more in 31 poor school districts.

"The purpose of this e-mail is to put forth what I believe to be the strongest course of action for the caucus as a whole and solicit your feedback and/or approval or disapproval," Kean wrote.

The plan includes supporting a constitutional amendment ending judicial interference in school funding decisions and giving the state wiggle room to reduce education funding in lean budget years. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Steven Oroho of Sparta and co-sponsored by the other 15 members of the GOP caucus, was introduced in January but hasn't gained traction. It would require voter approval.

"It was meant as a framework for discussion within the caucus in light of the latest Supreme Court decision," Adam Bauer, communications director for the Senate Republicans, said of the e-mail. "It's a proposed plan for discussion — nothing's formalized, nothing's finalized."

Many Republicans, including Gov. Chris Christie, have disagreed with prior Supreme Court rulings on school funding, which have repeatedly ordered more funding for poor districts, known as Abbotts, in cities lacking a sufficient tax base to fully fund public education. Most recently, the court determined that Christie's education cuts were too deep to provide poor children with the "thorough and efficient" education the constitution requires. The order scrambled the state budget-making process weeks before a balanced budget must be adopted by June 30 and left some clamoring for the Legislature to assume a stiffer posture against the activist court.

"I have a plan for the Republicans, keep the funding formula intact," said Senate Democratic Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), an advocate for public education funding. "And we need to build in models of successful school districts. The great equalizer is having a quality educational system that is accessible for all."

Besides pushing the Oroho amendment, Kean's approach includes advocating a change in the school funding formula so it allocates more money to suburban districts without shortchanging city schools, and embracing Gov. Chris Christie's education reform agenda, including ending traditional teacher tenure, tying teacher evaluations to student achievement and establishing merit pay.

Kean suggests a push to make the Abbott districts more accountable for the money they receive, but he doesn't specify where additional funding would come from for 174 other districts the court says are inadequately funded. "This course of action stays true to Republican principles, complies with public opinion, removes the court from school funding decisions, and requires accountability within the education system," Kean said in the memo. "It satisfies the sentiments expressed at our last caucus without alienating large swaths of the public."

Kean cites recent polling data to build his case to the caucus, saying solid majorities of women, independent and Republican voters all oppose education cuts in suburban and poor districts. "Cuts to education are deeply unpopular, even among Republicans; beating up on Abbotts isn't wildly popular with Republicans, let alone anyone else; everyone understands that money isn't the best way to improve education, but they're not willing to give it up; and reform proposals put forward by Gov. Christie and GOP senators dealing with tenure, merit pay, and salary caps are stone cold winners," Kean wrote.

Kean's memo doesn't suggest possible support for other proposed constitutional amendments sponsored by Republicans in the Senate or Assembly that allowing certain court orders to be defied or giving the Legislature final authority over public education. It also doesn't mention an amendment proposed by Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Oxford, that would do away with extra funding for poor children, and would provide equal school aid for each student no matter where they live.


Perry's higher education policy taking on a tea party flavor

Rick Perry had been governor of Texas for all of 13 days when he announced in January 2001 that higher education would be his top legislative priority. He called for voucher-style funding, an expansion of online learning and a dramatic increase in student financial aid.

More than 10 years later, reinventing public higher education remains a work in progress for the state's longest-serving governor.

That effort has taken an unusual turn lately, with prominent alumni, donors, business leaders and university officials questioning Perry's initiatives and those of his appointees to university governing boards. The governor, for his part, has accused critics, whom he did not name, of lying.

"The big lie making the rounds in Texas is that elected or appointed officials want to undermine or de-emphasize research at our colleges and universities," Perry wrote in a recent column in the American-Statesman. "That disinformation campaign is nothing more than an attempt to shut down an open discussion about ways to improve our state universities and make them more effective, accountable, affordable and transparent."

The GOP governor's higher education message has long had a populist tone, but it has taken on a tea party flavor of late. That's not surprising inasmuch as he has cultivated a political profile since the early days of the last gubernatorial campaign that emphasizes smaller, cheaper and more economically minded government, said James Henson , director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

At a time of declining state funding for colleges and universities, for instance, Perry has urged governing boards to develop $10,000 bachelor's degree programs and freeze tuition for four years.

"From a political point of view, the governor is on fairly safe territory being critical of the status quo in higher education," Henson said, adding that his approach appeals to his voting base more than to traditional Republicans, some of whom have been critical of the Perry administration on higher education.

Perry's pronouncements could mesh with a strategy to position him for a presidential or vice presidential candidacy, Henson said. The governor said last week that he would think about running for president.

"Conservative think tanks, which I think he listens to and trusts, have been very suspicious of the tenure system and the research mission of a lot of tier one universities," said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at UT. "It's not bad politics (to challenge the status quo), given his constituency and perhaps long-term interests."

Debate over the future of public higher education in Texas reached a full boil in March when Gene Powell, Perry's choice for chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, hired a $200,000-a-year adviser who had written dismissively of much academic research. The adviser, Rick O'Donnell, was dismissed after charging that officials were suppressing data on professors' salaries and workloads.

O'Donnell previously worked for charitable foundations run by Jeff Sandefer, a Perry donor and architect of several Perry-endorsed recommendations, including bonus pay for teachers based solely on student evaluations. When the Texas A&M University System adopted such a bonus system, the Association of American Universities called it a simplistic approach.

Some of the governor's appointees to the UT board, including Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich , have pressed the nine UT academic campuses to pull together extensive data on faculty salaries, workloads, research grants and other measures of productivity — an exercise that UT President William Powers Jr., the Ex-Students' Association and others have faulted because it does not account for the quality and impact of professors' work.

Powell has both defended the regents' right to request such information and criticized an analysis of the draft data by an Ohio University researcher, who concluded that 20 percent of UT-Austin professors instruct most of the school's students.

The broad outlines of Perry's higher education policy, with an emphasis on affordability, access and accountability, first emerged on Jan. 3, 2001 , when he began crisscrossing the state to promote proposals from his Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities, a panel he established in 1999 while he was lieutenant governor.

The most important recommendation called for overhauling the way public colleges and universities are funded. Instead of appropriating money to schools, the state would place it in the hands of students.


British School reprimands seven-year-old boys for playing 'army game'

A primary school has been condemned by parents for disciplining two seven-year-old boys after teachers ruled playing army games amounted to "threatening behaviour". Staff at Nathaniel Newton Infant School in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, reprimanded the two boys after they were seen making pistol shapes with their fingers.

Teachers broke up the imaginary classroom shoot-out and contacted the youngsters’ parents, warning them that such behaviour would not be tolerated. The school, which caters for around 180 pupils aged four to seven, said the gun gestures were “unacceptable” and were not permitted at school.

However, parents have described the reaction as “outrageous”, while family groups warned that “wrapping children in cotton wool” damages their upbringing.

Defending its policy, a spokesman for Nathaniel Newton Infant School said: “Far from stopping children from playing we actively encourage it. “However a judgement call has to be made if playing turns into unacceptable behaviour. "The issue here was about hand gestures being made in the shape of a gun towards members of staff which is understandably unacceptable, particularly in the classroom."

A father of one of the boys who was disciplined said: "It’s ridiculous. How can you tell a seven-year-old boy he cannot play guns and armies with his friends.

"Another parent was called for the same reason. We were told to reprimand our son for this and to tell him he cannot play 'guns' anymore. "The teacher said the boys should be reprimanded for threatening behaviour which would not be tolerated at the school.”

The community primary school was rated as “good” overall in an Ofsted report published last year, but warned that children oughtt to have greater freedom to play. The inspectors praised pupils’ behaviour as “outstanding”, telling them in a letter: “Your behaviour is excellent and you work very well together.” They added that they had asked teachers to “make it easier for the children to play and learn outside”.

Parenting groups condemned the school’s reaction to the children’s game of soldiers, warning that it risked causing a rift between the school and parents.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of the family lobby group Parents Outloud, said: “It is madness to try to indoctrinate children aged seven with political correctness in this way. “Children have played cowboys and Indians like this for generations and it does them absolutely no harm whatsoever. “In my experience, it is the children who are banned from playing innocent games like this who then go on to develop a fascination with guns.

“We cannot wrap our children in cotton wool. Allowing them to take a few risks and play games outside is an essential part of growing up. “By reprimanding these youngsters at this age, the school makes a very big issue out of something trivial, which will divide the parents and teachers.”

The case follows a string of similar incidents in which children’s playtime activities have been curbed by overzealous staff over health and safety concerns. Earlier this year, a Liverpool school banned youngsters from playing football with anything other than sponge balls amid fears youngsters might get hurt.

Research last month also found that one in six British schools had banned conkers over concerns of pupils being hit in the face. Other traditional playground games such as British bulldog and even leapfrog are prohibited at 30 per cent 10 per cent of schools respectively, a study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union found.

Marcus Jones, the Tory MP for Nuneaton, said: “It is quite apparent that the seven-year-olds would be playing an innocent game. "This is political correctness gone mad. When I was that age that type of game was common place and I don't remember anyone coming to any harm from it."


Monday, May 30, 2011

Why College is Not For Everyone

Katie Kieffer

Peter Thiel is rocking the boat of higher education. The libertarian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and co-founder of PayPal is sending liberal college administrators into a tizzy with his latest push to encourage young innovators to ditch college for two years and pursue entrepreneurship.

Last week, Thiel awarded 20 young people with “20 Under 20” Thiel Fellowships: $100,000 and two years of mentorship to develop entrepreneurial ventures in science and technology.

Thiel’s dismisses conventional wisdom, which says that college is the necessary next-step for success after high school. He understands that conventional wisdom is conventional ignorance now that the American university system is broken.

Today’s students pay bloated prices so universities can hire a fleet of non-academic staff to monitor student speech codes, distribute cookies in campus lounges and court elites like Bill Clinton to speak on-campus and warn young people never to believe: “There is no such thing as a good tax…”

Tuition is rising and debt loads are mounting while students at institutions as prestigious as Stanford’s Graduate School of Business are failing to learn basic skills. When Stanford graduate students rely on private coaches outside the classroom to teach them how to write for business, you know higher education is deteriorating.

I took a hybrid route for my own higher education. I went to college and started an entrepreneurial venture at the same time. My path was unique and challenging, so I understand first-hand that Thiel is offering young entrepreneurs the opportunity of a lifetime.

In college, your liberal arts professors may provide you with tips on how to outline your thoughts, but they generally expect that you already know how to give a 10-minute presentation or write a 15-page paper. Meanwhile, your business professors do not teach you how to run a business. Rather, they lecture you on business models, assign you to read case studies and tell you to look for an internship.

Looking back, I realize that I really did not need college. I think many young people do not need college to become successful. The real world lessons I took away from my college experience came from running a conservative student newspaper on a shoestring budget out of my dorm room and from the experience I gained during my internship in commercial real estate.

Today, historic numbers of high-school graduates are going to college. More than ever, parents are pouring their hard-earned savings into college educations for their children.

Venture capitalist, author and parent James Altucher argues that it is irrational for parents to blindly pay for their child’s higher education. New York Magazine reports Altucher as saying: “What am I going to do? When [my daughters are] 18 years old, just hand them $200,000 to go off and have a fun time for four years? Why would I want to do that? … The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.”

It is not cruel and unusual punishment to expect an 18-year-old to finance his or her own higher education. In fact, forcing them to do so could help them decide whether they even need college. My parents told me, “You’re on your own for college.” So, I chose to be a college student and an entrepreneur simultaneously because I had a boatload of self-motivation, I was blessed with an academic scholarship that allowed me to graduate debt-free, and, because I had developed a growing network of accomplished mentors who generously coached me along the way.

Parents, before you feel tempted to write out that six-figure tuition check, consider doing yourselves and your child a favor by honestly assessing the skills that your child demonstrates. If your child thrives within structure or if they want to pursue law or medicine, then college is likely the right path. However, if your child thrives in a creative environment, is self-driven and is constantly innovating, you should consider offering them your own version of Thiel’s 20 Under 20 fellowship as an alternative to subsidizing their college tuition.

Thiel contends that many parents shy away from even thinking about a nontraditional path for their children because they view college as an insurance policy. “I think that’s the way probably a lot of parents think about it. It’s a way for their kids to be safe … an insurance policy against falling out of the middle class. …Why are we spending ten times as much for insurance as we were 30 years ago?”

That’s a good question. More high-school students and their parents should consider whether there is an entrepreneurial, Thiel-style alternative to success before they impulsively jump into college debt.


Crying Rape

Mike Adams

People often assume that self-described liberals are more supportive of due process than self-described conservatives. That certainly isn’t the case when we talk about the illiberal bureaucrats who run the United States Department of Education.

The notion that an adult charged with a felony should be put on trial using the same standard of evidence used for someone who has been issued a parking ticket is absurd. In fact, it is more than absurd. It is offensive to well-established principles of due process and fundamental fairness.

Recently, however, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced new guidelines that will force due process to take a back seat to political correctness. These guidelines will apply to sexual harassment and felony sexual assault cases.

The OCR has decided to teach universities something they already know; namely, that sexual assault and sexual harassment are serious offenses. In the process, however, they are putting innocent students at risk of being wrongly convicted of offenses that could potentially destroy their careers and reputations.

According to the new OCR guidelines, any college that accepts federal funding or federal student loans (close to 100% of our nation’s colleges) must now employ a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases. This lowered standard replaces the traditionally accepted standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which, according to most triers of fact, is close to 100% confidence of guilt. In contrast, “preponderance of evidence” means the campus judiciary only needs to be 50.01% confident that a person is guilty of a given offense – even if that offense is rape, which, regardless of degree, is always a serious felony.

This mandate from the federal government will have profound real-life costs for real students. If we learned anything from the infamous Duke Lacrosse case it is this: Academia is quick to blame people for creating a “rape culture” on campus and slow to take responsibility for false accusations.

Unfortunately, Duke was not an isolated case. At Stanford, student jurors in sexual misconduct cases are actually given "training materials" that say things like, "Everyone should be very, very cautious in accepting a man's claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence” and “An abuser almost never 'seems like the type.'"

In other words, even highly respected universities like Stanford try to create unfair and partial juries prior to rape adjudications – in clear violation of the spirit of the 6th Amendment (Do you remember when liberals cared about the “spirit of the law”?). Adding a mere “preponderance” standard to such a toxic environment would be a recipe for disaster – disaster in the form of wrongful felony convictions.

The OCR mandates are not merely confined to actions. They apply to students' speech, too. Columbia University already lists "love letters" as a form of sexual harassment. The University of California, Santa Cruz, classifies using "terms of endearment" as sexual harassment. (Who could have ever imagined that one could be endeared and harassed at the same time?). At Yale, "unspoken sexual innuendo such as voice inflection" is considered sexual harassment. The absurdities are seemingly endless in 21st Century “hire” education.

Shortly after the evidence revealed that the accuser in the infamous Duke Lacrosse case was lying, I wrote a letter to Duke Professor K. Holloway. She was the ringleader of the “Duke 88” – a bunch of professors who publicly accused the Duke Lacrosse players of both rape and racism before they had their day in court. In my letter, I urged her to take responsibility for damaging the reputations of innocent students at her own university. Her response is printed below in its entirety:

“Mr. [sic] Adams: You have made the error of anticipating that I have some interest in what you have to say. I do not. K. Holloway.”

Professor Holloway may not be a rapist. But she is clearly a racist. Nonetheless, she has inspired me to write to the OCR with a modest proposal for handling sexual assault cases on college campuses.

Under my plan, any time a collegiate man is charged with rape his accuser is automatically charged with criminal libel. Is she fails to prove her case then she is automatically convicted and expelled.

I plan to write to Professor Holloway because I anticipate that she has some interest in what I have to say. My anticipation might be in error. But, unlike sanctimonious feminists, I’m prepared to face the consequences if I’m wrong.


British parents are choosing smaller preparatory schools

There’s not a trace of Hogwarts about Belhaven Hill, a small boarding prep school on the East Lothian coast, which is exactly the way headmaster Innes MacAskill likes it. The house itself looks and feels like a large family home, and at weekends MacAskill and his wife, Sandy, take a bunch of boarders down to the local supermarket to buy ingredients for the “come dine with the headmaster” contest.

The traditional values and homely atmospheres of small prep schools such as Belhaven seem to appeal to the post-credit crisis generation of parents. While the recession has prompted a fall in pupil numbers across the independent sector as a whole, Belhaven has grown by 5 per cent over the past year – to a grand total of 118 pupils. Figures from the Independent Schools Council show that almost 75 per cent of its 154 small prep schools are either maintaining their numbers or expanding.

In terms of fees, the ISC’s small prep schools (with a maximum of close to 150 pupils) are cheaper than their larger counterparts. Average day pupil fees at an ISC small prep school total just over £2,700 per term compared to £3,464 at a larger ISC prep school (with an average of just under 300 pupils).

But according to Henry Knight, headmaster of Woodcote House School in Surrey, which has 100 pupils, parents feel they’re getting even more value for money from the individually tailored approach offered by smaller prep schools, than from the one-size-fits-all style of larger establishments. His school has grown by more than 10 per cent in two years. “We know every boy, and understand exactly what it is that makes them tick,” he says.

Marcus Peel, who heads Malsis School in Yorkshire, which has 120 pupils and is maintaining numbers, believes that smaller prep schools offer more opportunities for pupils to participate. “In a small community such as ours everybody is somebody,” he says. “There are boys in our 1st XV who would never get near a first team in a bigger prep school and it’s the same for musicals and theatrical events.”

Mark Pyper, until recently headmaster of Gordonstoun in Moray, Scotland and himself an alumnus of a small prep school, observes that the quality of individual pastoral care is generally better at smaller, more intimate schools. “The experience of personal development in a family-type environment is something which the small prep school is uniquely placed to offer,” he says.

But if you want your child to go to a top ranking senior school, should you not be considering a larger, high-flying prep school? Richard Brown, headmaster of Dorset House, prep school in West Sussex, whose pupils go on to, among others, Winchester, Harrow and Wellington, insists that size has little impact on the quality of education. “There is no lack of rigour in a small school,” he says. “Results can be attained much more effectively when children are happy. It is about inclusivity, partnership and preparing children for today’s challenges – not wrapping them in cotton wool.”

Leadership is an intrinsic part of life in a small prep school, according to Knight, and this sets pupils up for the rough and tumble of senior school. “Everyone will be given the chance to lead at some level,” he says. “Not just as prefects and sports captains but also as tuck, chapel and dormitory monitors.” At Hanford School, a full-boarding establishment for 100 girls in rural Dorset, there are four committees of sixth formers who carry out roles around the school and look after homesick juniors.

Barnaby Lenon, headmaster of Harrow School in North West London, notes that smaller schools instil a sense of duty and self-confidence: “We find that boys from small schools have an ingrained confidence and sense of responsibility which comes from having had leadership roles at prep school,” he says.

The down side of a smaller prep school is usually the facilities – or lack of them. There’s a good chance the sports centre and theatre will be less sophisticated than at a larger prep school. But Richard Brown, whose school has grown by 12 per cent this year to 144 pupils, believes the smaller schools make up for this by offering an “authentic” childhood experience instead. “Small prep schools provide an antidote to a world where children grow up too quickly,” he says.

Malsis School is dotted with dens, with trees to climb and a stream to dam, while Hanford School has ponies, dogs, cats, chickens and large kitchen gardens. In summer children are taken riding through the countryside by “galloping matrons” before jumping into a (chilly) outdoor swimming pool.

Tom Dawson, headmaster of the 100-place Sunningdale School in Berkshire, which featured in a BBC Two documentary last autumn and has grown by 10 per cent this year, believes that flashy facilities can be a red herring. “If parents want a £5 million sports hall and a 50 metre pool, bedrooms with en suite facilities and plasma screens then they will go to a big school which can offer all that,” he says. “But if they want a school where every member of staff really knows all the children, where there is a real family atmosphere, where they won’t be lost in a crowd, then they will choose a small school.”


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Perpetuating Federal Spending on Education

The tea partiers are demanding that Congress not raise the debt ceiling but instead avoid default by cutting spending dramatically. Federal spending on education emerges as the discretionary item in the federal budget most available for the knife, and a House bill is being introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., that lists 43 education programs to be cut.

We've spent $2 trillion on education since federal aid began in 1965. The specified goals were to improve student achievement, eliminate or narrow the gap between upper-income and low-income students, and increase graduation rates from high school and college.

We have little or nothing to show for the taxpayers' generosity. Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan admitted that 82 percent of public schools should be ranked as failing.

So how will the army of educrats, whose jobs depend on billions of dollars of federal handouts, save their jobs? They've come up with an audacious plan that pretends to be useful in enabling them to discover what works and what doesn't, but it is so large and complicated that it would take years and require a huge computer-savvy payroll and billions of taxpayers' dollars.

And incidentally, it would be illegal because it's based on using executive branch regulations to override federal statutes.

This plan calls for a computerized system to track all Americans from cradle to grave by cross-linking all their school and college academic and extra-curricular records, including tests and appraisals by supervisors and peers, with health, welfare, employment and income data. The data gatherers used to talk about collecting K-12 data, and then they moved to Pre-K-16, and now their lingo is pre-birth to entry into the workforce.

States already collect a lot of data that have nothing to do with students' academic achievement, including Social Security numbers, family income, medical exams, and criminal and administrative penalties. Now the plan is to enter additional data on preschool experience, prenatal care, daycare, early childhood education and after-school activities.

This plan would computerize and combine information not only from the Department of Education, but also from the Department of Health and Human Services (which would include Head Start, WIC, Parents as Teachers and after-school programs) and from the Department of Labor. The goal is to give the government access to a giant computer data warehouse with personal information on all children.

This data-gathering plan is another example of the overreaching dictatorial bureaucracy trying to restrict parents' rights over the care and upbringing of their own children. The liberals really mean it when they say they want the village (i.e., the government) to raise and teach children, control their school curriculum and ultimately decide what adult job they can get.

The people who seek to control the lives and education of our children should be restrained from implementing this plan by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), formerly known as the Buckley Amendment, which passed in 1974. FERPA states that school and college records cannot be disclosed, or transferred to other agencies, without consent of the parents of kids under age 18 or the student if over 18, unless the information is not personally identifiable or other exceptions apply.

Both the No Child Left Behind law, which applies to elementary and secondary schools, and the Higher Education Act, which applies to colleges, reaffirmed FERPA's prohibition on the government developing a national or interagency database of personal information on students. But the Obama administration is now trying to get around FERPA by the subterfuge of having the states build the databases and assign each child a different ID number.

States are bribed to participate in this vast data collection by grants from a pot of federal money and by the threat of withholding other federal grants if states don't comply.

The Obama administration looks upon schools and colleges as giant reservoirs of young people who can be indoctrinated with "social justice" (i.e., America is somehow an oppressive, unjust society), multiculturalism instead of patriotism, and diversity in moral and immoral behaviors.

The people and groups working to achieve national control of education curriculum view the collection of enormous amounts of personal information about every student on a longitudinal basis, with tracking from "pre-birth" and preschool through postgraduate experience and into the labor force, as the essential path to achieve control of school curriculum and to guide kids' opinions about America.

This type of collection of personal information on all children is the mark of a totalitarian state, not a free America. It is reminiscent of the notorious "dangan" or dossier that Communist China maintains on every citizen (in folders stacked in giant warehouses in the pre-computer age), with complete information on every child through his years of school, which is then available to his employer when the kid goes into the labor force.


Teachers' children 'prioritised' in British school admissions overhaul

Schools will be able to prioritise places for the children of teachers, cooks, cleaners and caretakers under a Government reform of admissions rules, it emerged today. They will be given new powers to prioritise sons or daughters of staff members for the first time as part of a plan to give more power to individual schools. Ministers insisted the change would allow heads to attract the best candidates and ease the burden on parent teachers.

But the move is likely to raise fears it could lead to a further reduction in the number of places available for other families in local catchment areas.

The Coalition’s draft school admissions code also requires all schools to admit children from Armed Forces families before other pupils and gives flagship academies and free schools the power to prioritise poor youngsters eligible for free school meals.

In another new development, the document will allow twins and other multiple birth children to be admitted to infant classes – even if means pushing them above to 30-pupil legal limit – to stop brothers or sisters being separated at a young age.

Teaching unions warned that the move could also lead to a rise in class sizes, undermining children’s education.

But the Government insisted the new code meant more parents would be able to get their children into the best state schools. It was also revealed that all schools – including selective state grammars – would be able to expand to take in more pupils.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said: “The school system has rationed good schools. Some families can go private or move house. Many families cannot afford to do either.

“The system must change. Schools should be run by teachers who know the children’s names and they should be more accountable to parents, not politicians.

“Good schools should be able to grow and we need more of them.”

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the number of special interest groups awarded reserved places could lead to unsustainably large classes in some schools.

Since 1997, primary schools have been banned from squeezing more than 30 infants into the same lesson.

“The idea that primary class sizes could go beyond 30 for whatever reason is a backward step,” she said. “This is of no benefit to anyone, least of all children.

“Large class sizes will increase the dependency upon teaching assistants who, while providing very useful support and back up in the classroom, have been shown to have little effect on attainment.

“We need to see class sizes reduced to at least 20 to ensure pupils get the maximum support and attention from their teacher.”

The measures announced today form part of the Government's plans to slim down the admissions code, amid concerns that it had become too unwieldy.

The code - which will go out to consultation before being introduced for children starting school in 2013 - is around 50 pages long, compared to the old version which stretched to around 130 pages.

In one controversial development, schools can decide to prioritise staff during the admissions process. They must set out their own definition of "staff" - possibly widening it out beyond teachers to include all support workers, including cleaners and caretakers.

The new proposals also include:

* Increasing the number of places available in good schools by making it easier for popular establishments to take more pupils;

* Banning local authorities from using area-wide "lotteries";

* Giving parents more time to appeal after being rejected from the school of their choice, with the current 10-day deadline being extended to 30 days;

* Reducing bureaucracy by requiring schools and local councils to consult on admissions arrangements every seven years, rather than every three years, if no changes are proposed;

* Simplifying transitions from one school to another when families move to a new area during the school year.


Teaching assistants 'fail to improve British school results'

Hundreds of millions of pounds spent drafting teaching assistants into schools has failed to improve pupils’ performance, according to research. A rise in the number of support staff in the classroom has had “no impact” on standards, said a report published by the Sutton Trust charity.

The study suggests that assistants can “positively affect” pupils’ attitudes towards education but may undermine lessons when used as a substitute for proper teachers.

It comes despite a sharp hike in the number of classroom assistants hired under Labour, with 213,900 employed this year – almost three times the total a decade ago.

In the latest study, academics from Durham University analysed the different ways English schools could spend additional cash pledged by the Government to improve standards among poor pupils. The so-called “pupil premium” – worth an extra £430 per child each year – is being introduced in September.

The study found no benefit to hiring teaching assistants. Setting classes by ability and imposing a hard-line policy on school uniform could actually have a negative impact on pupils’ results, it was claimed.

Researchers found only minor benefits associated with the introduction of school uniforms, reducing class sizes, introducing performance-related pay for teachers and running after school clubs.

They said setting more homework had a “moderate impact” on standards, equivalent to a maximum of five months’ extra education over the course of a year.

But the study said the most effective techniques included providing pupils with feedback on their work and encouraging them to think about their own studies.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The key to improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is not necessarily how much money is spent in schools, but how much is spent on what is proven to work in the classroom.”

Labour encouraged a dramatic increase in the number of classroom assistants as part of a landmark deal to give teachers at a least one half-day a week to plan and prepare work. Under the move, teachers are no longer expected to do a series of administrative tasks, such as photocopying and putting up displays.

But unions have claimed that many schools are simply using support staff as cheap labour, often leaving them in full charge of lessons.

A Government-funded report in 2009 found that assistants were used as temporary cover in more than 80 per cent of schools.

One-in-10 state primaries and 40 per cent of secondaries admitted regularly turning to support staff to fill in for absent teachers for more than three days at a time. Some used assistants for a whole term.