Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Teachers Unions Won't Tell You About School Layoffs

The media and education establishment’s hair has been on fire over the thousands of layoffs that are occurring in American public schools. They’ve bought into the union line that school funding is in crisis, when in reality, spending is unsustainable.

Because of collective bargaining agreements, many school districts’ hands are tied and layoffs are the only option. They can’t save money by changing employee health insurance policies, or obtaining salary freezes or wage concessions, because the unions won’t allow it.

This all supposedly leads to what the unions denigrate the most (besides Republicans): larger class sizes.

The Obama education stimulus package accomplished two things: it temporarily maintained artificially large school employment levels and created the layoff “crisis” that school boards are now grappling with. You see, the stimulus lasted for two years and provided money to keep unnecessary staff on the job. But then the money was cut off and schools could no longer afford to keep extra teachers on the payroll.

So school districts are now laying teachers off, some by the thousands. And the layoffs may be justified.

Census figures, first dissected by the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci, show that government school employment rates have been increasing as student enrollment has been decreasing.

“The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession. That year, 48,238,962 students were enrolled in the U.S. K-12 public education system. That was a decline of 157,114 students from the previous year. They were taught by 3,231,487 teachers (full-time equivalent). That was an increase of 81,426 teachers from the previous year.”

No wonder there’s a “crisis” – so many people and so little work, and a lack of tax dollars to keep everyone employed.

But that’s strange, because, as Antonucci points out, per pupil spending has continued to rise across the nation.

“Per-pupil spending rose 2.6 percent, and spending on employee compensation (salaries and benefits) rose 2.3 percent. The United States average for per-pupil spending was $10,499, with 25 states spending more than $10,000 per student.”

Those facts are such stubborn things. Unions would have us believe that the resources taxpayers invest in education are not sufficient to maintain quality schools. But their arguments must be taken with a grain of salt. If we need fewer teachers, the role and power of teachers unions will suffer. As Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said, “the greatest resistance (to school reform and budget cuts) comes from the guardians of the status quo who still guard the status quo long after the status quo has lost its status.”

Society should be focused on maintaining the necessary number of teachers for today’s student population, instead of keeping a bunch of educators on the public payroll for no particular reason.


Working class pupils 'perform better in Slovenia than UK'

Poor children in Britain are more likely to be condemned to educational failure than in most other developed nations, new figures show. In a damning indictment of Labour’s legacy, it emerged that deprived pupils in countries such as Estonia, Indonesia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Mexico and Slovenia perform better than those from Britain.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows some 31 per cent of poor children internationally manage to exceed expectations for their social class in school tests. But in Britain, the proportion slumps to just a quarter – placing the country below the global average and 39th out of 65 countries.

It suggests disadvantaged children in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have less chance of climbing the social ladder than in the majority of developed nations.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said achievement among the poorest pupils was a “scandal” and suggested a £30billion rise in the schools budget under Labour failed to improve results.

The comments came as the Government threatened to convert hundreds of the poorest-performing primary and secondary schools into independent academies under the leadership of private sponsors in an attempt to drive up standards. Some 200 of the worst primaries will be pulled out of local council control as early as 2012, it emerged.

Addressing head teachers in Birmingham, Mr Gove said: “The scandal which haunts my conscience is the plight of those students from the poorest backgrounds, in the poorest neighbourhoods, in our poorest-performing schools who need us to act if their right to a decent future is to be guaranteed. “We still have one of the most segregated schools systems in the world, with the gap between the best and the worst wider than in almost any other developed nation.”

He added: “Just over half of students get a C pass in GCSE maths and English. And the half which fail are drawn overwhelmingly from poorer backgrounds and are educated in poorer-performing schools.”

In the latest study, the OECD analysed the number of students who “overcome their socio-economic background” to perform well at school. The data – based on independent maths, reading and science tests sat by 15-year-olds in 2009 – shows the proportion of pupils drawn from the poorest 25 per cent in each country who go on to perform above the international average for their social class.

According to figures published this week, more than 70 per cent of poor pupils in parts of China and Hong Kong exceeded the standard expected of them. Korea, Singapore and Japan were also named among the top-performing nations.

Britain was ranked 39th out of 65 countries, below other European competitors such as Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Ireland and Sweden. It was also rated lower than the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but it outperformed Germany, Austria and Russia.

The Government has already pledged to bring exams into line with rigorous tests sat in the Far East amid fears school standards are slipping behind other nations.


Only a specialist US school can help autistic Australian boy, say family

A MELBOURNE family is moving to the US for "emergency education" because it believes the Victorian school system has failed their 11-year-old son. The autistic boy is from one of at least nine families suing the Education Department through the Federal Court for discrimination and what they claim is inadequate education.

Some families say they have spent up to $100,000 on therapy, tutoring and legal fees in their bids to get their "left behind" disabled children up to speed.

While experts warn parents their court battles could come with big financial and psychological costs, the desperate mums and dads say legal action has become a last resort.

The mother moving her family to the US next month said she sent her "severely autistic" son to three Melbourne schools before researching overseas options.

The family will continue Federal Court action against the Education Department after settling in a US school that specialises in teaching autistic children. "It's very hard going to court, but it's also very hard not to. We're hoping to avoid a ghastly outcome for our son," the mother said.

"It's a pretty lonely life for him at the moment. He does not have grade-five language and he doesn't have much confidence around his peers. But he's a learner, so we're excited about him making progress."

Documents lodged with the Federal Court show the family's claims include expenses for "emergency education" in the US. Other students with discrimination cases in the Federal Court include:

A GIRL, 13, with several diagnosed learning disabilities who, according to her mother, has been denied funding for an aide despite "having the reading and writing skills of a grade one (student)".

A BOY, 16, allegedly suffering low self-esteem, anxiety, bullying and victimisation because his learning difficulties were not properly addressed by a Melbourne high school.

Bendigo mother Anne Maree Stewart is also considering legal action against the state education system. She claims her son Matthew, 9, who has a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, has at times been "treated like a piece of dirt" because of his disability.

Children with a Disability Australia executive officer Stephanie Gotlib said education standards were the chief concern for parents of disabled children.

But child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg urged parents to think carefully about legal action. "I can certainly understand their frustration. But the psychological impact of having your shortcomings paraded in the public arena may not be in the best interests of these kids."

An Education Department spokeswoman said its $550 million Program for Students with Disabilities supported 20,000 students.


Friday, June 17, 2011

School Surveys 7th-Graders on Oral Sex‏

A middle school in Massachusetts is under fire for requiring children to complete a graphic sex survey -- without parental knowledge or consent -- that included questions about sexual partners and oral sex.

The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Education against the Fitchburg School Committee. They are representing the two middle school-aged daughters of Arlene Tessitore.

Tessitore said her daughters, both students at Memorial Middle School, were told they had to complete a Youth Risk Behavior Study. “Kids were actually told to sit down and take them,” said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The parents here are very upset.”

Whitehead said the girls were deeply disturbed by the subject matter of the study – including questions about suicide, drug use and sexual behavior. “One of the questions is, ‘have you ever had oral sex,’” Whitehead said. “You’re talking about kids who probably don’t even know what oral sex is.”

He said the survey also delved into even more graphic language. “It’s adult material,” he told Fox News Radio, noting that one question asked students what method they used to prevent pregnancy during their last sexual encounter. “It goes down a whole list, including birth control pills, condoms and one of the answers is ‘withdraw,’” Whitehead said. “Adults know what this is, but kids have to imagine or go online to find out what it means.”

Principal Fran Thomas told Fox News Radio that students were indeed given the survey – and admits it was graphic. But Thomas said the school has nothing to do with the content and they were required to administer the survey to fulfill a grant requirement.

“I can take no responsibility for what’s on that survey,” Thomas said. “It’s not generated by the school system.” Thomas said the survey was funded by a federal grant and administered by LUK Inc., a local social services agency -- in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control.

The organization’s leader did not return numerous calls for comment. But according to its website, LUK, Inc.’s mission is to “challenge and support youth & families to recognize and fulfill their unique and productive potential through community-based prevention, intervention and education services.”

A spokesperson for the CDC denied any involvement in the Fitchburg sex survey. The CDC said only seven states and six urban districts include sexual identity questions on their YRBS surveys – and the questions are optional.

But Principal Thomas disputed that notion. “It was not optional,” he said. “It’s part of a grant that they applied for and the district said you have to administer this survey.”

According to Whitehead, parents were sent a “passive consent” opt-out form. However, Tessitore said she never received the form and never gave permission for her daughters to take part in the survey.

“It was a case of the school telling parents what they were going to do,” he said. “If parents want their kids to answer these kinds of questions as federal law requires, they should give written consent. But if they don’t give consent, I don’t think public officials should be asking children such questions.”

Thomas said he understands the concerns expressed by the parents. But should the middle school be asking children questions about oral sex? “That’s not a question I’d be asking,” Thomas said. “That’s not information that needs to be gathered in an indiscriminate manner – asking every single student these sorts of questions.”

Thomas said it wasn’t appropriate. “I think there are many things that schools are called upon to do because they think they’ve got a captive audience,” he noted.

Whitehead wants the Department of Education to step in and demand that the Fitchburg school follow the law when it comes to parental consent. “Parents send their children to public schools to receive an education; not to become subjects of governmental data mining,” Whitehead said.


What’s in your best interest?

I find it fascinating that the New Albany-Floyd County government school system is working hard to find a way to avoid complying with the new state law that helps charter schools make use of empty school buildings.

Who would have thought that an entity in charge of teaching kids would be so against the basic idea of sharing with others?

On the other hand, I’m equally fascinated that the Indiana Public Charter School Association thinks it’s OK to force the sale or lease of property for $1 when such property is clearly worth much, much more.

Who would have thought that an entity that believes in applying business methodology to education would be so against the basic idea of paying fair market value for a piece of property?

I can certainly understand NA-FC being concerned about maintaining their control over local buildings like the currently unused Galena school. The school district has enjoyed a countywide monopoly for a long time and they have nothing to gain if one of the schools is possibly turned over to a competitor.

I can also understand why Indiana charter schools think they deserve to have control of some of the assets built up over the years by local school districts. After all, charters are government schools too. (It’s like tater tots and hash browns. They look a little bit different and some prefer one over the other, but in the end they are both just greasy processed potatoes.)

What’s really interesting is how both groups are scrambling to claim they are the ones looking out for the “best interest of the taxpayers.” It’s laughable really, to hear both parties talk as if taxpayers were some sort of entity that had a singular interest at heart.

It’s not true of course. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible. Taxpayers are individuals, with unique desires, interests, goals and opinions. There is no magical transformation of those widely varying individual differences when they are all forced to fund a government program.

Some taxpayers want the people who control the NA-FC government school system to do what they can to keep the building out of the hands of other government funded educational entities.

But their neighbors may want a government funded charter school to have the opportunity to use Galena school for the special Republican-mandated discount price of $1.

And still other neighbors may want to sell it off to the highest privately funded bidder and move the property completely out of government hands, returning any and all proceeds back to individual taxpayers.

So there is no such thing as either group working for “the best interest of taxpayers.” The school corporation is interested in the school corporation. Charter schools are interested in charter schools.

If these groups really cared about the taxpaying individual, they would understand the real need society has in completely separating school from the state. They would stop using force and respectfully request funding for their educational offerings. They would allow complete individual freedom in determining whether or not to fund either of their options. They would focus on gaining clients by marketing the benefits of their alternative and actually earn voluntary funding by providing a useful and valuable service.

As long as these groups do not behave in this manner, you can be sure they care nothing about individual interests. They will continue to force you to fund them and as a reward you will get to watch them fight over who gets to use the buildings to indoctrinate kids on ridiculous, false and impossible ideas like “the best interest of taxpayers.”


Chicago Blocks 4% Teacher Raises

The board of education voted unanimously Wednesday to rescind 4% raises that teachers were scheduled to get in the next school year, setting the stage for a fight between the city and the teachers' union.

David Vitale, president of the newly seated Chicago Board of Education appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said the board valued teachers but with the city's budget troubles, "we cannot reasonably expect to pay" the raises.

Annual 4% raises are written into the teachers' contract, subject to a vote by the board of education. The contract was negotiated in 2007, and this is the first year the board has voted the raises down.

Mr. Vitale said the salary increases would cost the district about $100 million, pushing the district deficit to $712 million on a $5.5 billion operating budget. Chicago teachers will still receive pay bumps for years of service and additional college degrees ranging from about 1% to 5% for most teachers, district officials said.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, blasted the board and Mr. Emanuel, saying the district has given away too many tax breaks to businesses. "This city did not get into this financial mess by overpaying teachers," she said in a prepared statement. "Thirty-thousand hard-working teachers negotiated a contract in 2007 and have spent every day of the last four years keeping our promise to the children of Chicago."

Ms. Lewis asked during the board meeting for the contract to be honored. Union leaders have until midnight Monday to accept the decision or seek to renegotiate the entire contract. Ms. Lewis said she would talk to her membership about the next step.

The board also voted to block salary increases promised to seven other unions representing lunchroom workers, janitors and other school employees.

The vote comes as school districts nationwide are asking teachers to forgo raises or make other concessions. In districts ranging from Los Angeles to Fabius-Pompey, N.Y., teachers have capitulated, partly to avoid layoffs. The battle over teacher salaries gained national attention after Wisconsin lawmakers voted to cap teacher raises and strip unions of most bargaining rights.

School districts are being squeezed as federal stimulus dollars run out, states cut education budgets and teacher pension obligations rise. Chicago district officials expect to lose about $260 million in federal stimulus money and $77 million from the state for the next fiscal year.

Michael Podgursky, a University of Missouri-Columbia economist who studies teacher compensation, said salary increases, rich pension agreements and the teacher hiring binge that districts went on during their flush years have created the current mess. He said nationwide student enrollment has increased by about 20% since the 1980s while teacher employment has grown by about 40%.

"We have a ton more people on the payroll and they are all marching up the salary schedule," he said. "The result is a huge sponge sucking up resources."

Nationwide, the average teacher salary has increased steadily to about $55,350 in 2009-10 from $31,367 in 1989-90, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. Adjusted for inflation, the increase is about 5.7% over that 20-year period, according to the union.

The Chicago vote wasn't a surprise. Mr. Emanuel, who controls the nation's third-largest school system, has warned for months that teachers would have to sacrifice.

In a prepared statement, Mr. Emanuel commended the board for "courage in facing the hard-truth of a $712 million deficit" and its "commitment to ensuring the public schools are accountable to Chicago's taxpayers."

Mr. Vitale said the district would rather eliminate the 4% pay increase than raise class sizes, cut early childhood education or discontinue a violence prevention program.

He said the district already has trimmed $75 million from the budget, including cutting administrators. He wouldn't rule out teacher layoffs.

Mr. Vitale said he awaits the union decision on whether to accept the pay freeze or open the contract. "Our hope is we can work productively with them to solve this [budget problem] and put children first," he said.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

U.S. students’ grasp of US history lags

From presidents to precedents, knowledge sparse

US students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released yesterday, with most fourth-graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought US troops in the Korean War.

Overall, 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Federal education officials said they were encouraged by a slight increase in eighth-grade scores since the last time the history test was administered, in 2006. But even those gains offered little to celebrate, with fewer than a third of eighth-graders able to answer even a “seemingly easy question’’ asking them to identify an important advantage that the American forces had over the British during the Revolutionary War, the government’s statement on the results said.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by only 2 percent of 12th-graders correctly answering a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision’’ of the US Supreme Court in the past seven decades.

Students were given an excerpt including the passage “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,’’ and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct.

“The answer was right in front of them,’’ Ravitch said. “This is alarming.’’

The tests were given last spring to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth-graders, 11,800 eighth-graders and 12,400 12th-graders nationwide. History is one of eight subjects — along with math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics — covered by the assessment program also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The program defines three achievement levels for each test: “basic’’ denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient’’ represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced’’ means superior performance.

The students did best in economics: 42 percent of high school seniors were deemed proficient in the 2006 economics test, a larger proportion than in any other subject over the past decade. But Jack Buckley, commissioner of the statistical center at the Department of Education that carries out the tests, said that because the assessments in each subject were prepared and administered independently, it was not really fair to compare results across subjects.

On the history test, the proportion of students scoring at or above proficiency rose among fourth-graders to 20 percent from 18 percent in 2006, held at 17 percent among eighth-graders, and fell to 12 percent from 13 percent among high school seniors.

On the test’s 500-point scale, average fourth- and eighth-grade scores each increased 3 points since 2006. But officials said only the eighth-grade increase, to 266 last year from 263 in 2006, was statistically significant. Average 12th-grade scores dropped to 288 from 290 in 2006.

While changes in the overall averages were small, there was significant upward movement among the lowest-performing students — those in the 10th percentile — in fourth and eighth grades, and a narrowing of the racial achievement gap at all levels. On average, white eighth-grade students scored 274 on the latest test, 21 points higher than Hispanic students and 23 points above black students; in 2006, white students outperformed Hispanic students by 23 points and black students by 29 points.

History-education advocates contend that poor showings on the tests underline neglect shown the subject by policy makers, especially after the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading but in no other subject. The federal accountability law, advocates say, has given schools and teachers an incentive to spend less time on history and other subjects.

“History is very much being shortchanged,’’ said Linda K. Salvucci, a history professor in San Antonio who is chairwoman-elect of the National Council for History Education.

Many teacher-education programs, she said, also contribute to the problem by encouraging aspiring teachers to seek certification in social studies rather than in history.


Scandal of British school failures: 'Almost half not providing a good enough education'

Almost half of schools in England are not giving pupils a good enough education, inspectors said today. Around 45 per cent of those that have been assessed by Ofsted since the start of the academic year were found to be just satisfactory or inadequate.

As education watchdog Ofsted focuses more on weaker schools, inspections of institutions deemed to be 'outstanding' has been deferred unless there is a noticeable decline in standards.

Overall more than a third of schools inspected since the start of the current academic year were found to be 'satisfactory' while six per cent were declared inadequate. Only 10 per cent of schools were given the top rating and the remainder were given a 'good' rating.

When they are inspected, rather than being given a numerical score, schools are given a rating of outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate. Nurseries, primaries, secondaries, special schools and pupil referral units that receive the latter two ratings are effectively judged as not being good enough.

Between September 2010 and April this year around 1,849 of the 4,062 schools that were visited by inspectors were judged to be satisfactory or inadequate. Nearly half (1,805) were judged to be 'good' with only 408 being given top marks.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: 'Ofsted's current school inspection arrangements set out to be more challenging to schools, so it is encouraging to see 54 per cent were judged good or outstanding. 'Greater involvement of headteachers and senior staff in the inspection process is helping schools better understand areas for development and action.'

The watchdog added that because of the focus on weaker schools there is no direct comparison with grades of previous years.

Concentration on poorer performing schools reflects moves by the Government to raise standards and from January no school that is deemed outstanding will face inspection unless standards slip.

Data for the whole of the academic year 2009/10 show that eight per cent of schools inspected were found to be inadequate, 37per cent were satisfactory, 43per cent were good and 13per cent were outstanding.


Female predominance in Australian universities too

There are a lot of very highly paid jobs in the mining industry nowadays which would appeal to people who like operating heavy machinery etc. There are some women driving Haulpak trucks but not many

Ben McCulloch, a final-year education student at the Burnie campus of the University of Tasmania, is hoping for a position in a local primary school next year. Picture: Chris Crerar Source: The Australian

AS an education student, Burnie local Ben McCulloch says being a male on his female-dominated campus is "like being in training" for when he graduates as a primary teacher.

"It helps me get used to working with lots of females," he said.

Mr McCulloch, 21, is one of just 130 male students - 27 per cent of the student body - at the University of Tasmania's Burnie campus. It's a trend mirrored on regional campuses across Australia, with at least a half having less than one-third male students.

Of Australia's 106 regional campuses, only 10 had a majority of male students in 2009. Another eight had equal representation, but all are micro-campuses with fewer than 20 students.

The data released to the HES reveals a picture of female dominance at most regional campuses, magnifying the trend of feminisation in metropolitan universities. Richard James, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, said the percentage of domestic female enrolments on Australian campuses was approaching 60 per cent.

He said since the 1980s women were using education for social mobility, while men had work options not open to women.

"There are pull factors keeping men out of higher education . . . work opportunities women don't have access to," he said.

"At least some of the women who are going on to tertiary education are doing so because there isn't another option."

Professor James said the courses at regional campuses, which tended to be female-centric, also played a role in keeping local boys away.

Women also were clustered in low-status, low-paying vocational courses, such as nursing, teaching and child care. "These are highly feminised professions, teaching increasingly so in the past 30 years."

Writing in today's HES, Andrew Harvey from La Trobe University said raising the participation rate of regional men required "a shift in focus from the supply of places to demand for them". Regional campuses were "a necessary but insufficient condition for attracting regional men."

"Universities will need to work more closely with schools, industry and communities to increase the pool of applicants."

This would require new selection methods to reduce the dominance of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, which had a strong correlation with wealth, improved pathways via vocational education and entry for mature-age students based on work experience.

Mr McCulloch said while most of his male friends went to university, they all left for the mainland, Launceston or Hobart. His decision to stay in Burnie was primarily economic; he could live at home and keep his job. But he also hoped to get an appointment to a local school after he finished his degree in October.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More hatred of Christianity in the educational system

A California school district has canceled a fundraising program featuring memorial bricks, scuttling proceeds of $45,000, after two women submitted Bible verses in their tributes.

The two women, Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna, had filed a court complaint in January against the Desert Sands Unified School District after the district blocked them from placing the Bible verses on bricks to be installed in walkways at Palm Desert High School in Palm Desert, Calif., about 10 miles east of Palm Springs. The women sought an injunction against the district to compel it to allow the scripture bricks.

Instead, school district officials have decided to rescind the fundraiser and refund money of every community group or individual who purchased a memorial brick, according to a court filing last week with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The move has angered advocates of religious freedom in the public sphere. "Christians should be allowed to express themselves on public school campuses just like everyone else," David Cortman, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a written statement.

Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian organization, initiated the lawsuit for Hart and Caronna. "It is cowardly to shut down everyone's participation in this program simply out of animosity toward Christian speech," Cortman said. "There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about a Bible verse on a brick when a school opens up a program for anyone to express a personal message. The school could simply have allowed the Bible verses, but instead, it chose to punish everyone."

Hundreds of other messages had been accepted for the bricks, Cortman's organization said, including inspirational and religious themes, such as a quote from Mahatma Gandhi and a Bible quotation -- "Yes, it is possible" -- written in Spanish.

Hart, of Palm Desert, and Caronna, of Rancho Mirage, were informed after submitting their bricks that they would not be included because the religious content risked an unconstitutional establishment of religion, Alliance Defense Fund officials said.

According to the court complaint, the bricks were offered in two sizes and prices: 4 inches by 8 inches for $100 and 8 inches by 8 inches for $250. Alliance Defense Fund officials told a total of $45,000 was raised as a result of the sales.

Desert Sands Unified School District officials have not responded to repeated requests for comment. Robert Hicks, the school's new principal effective on July 1, told in an email that he was unable to comment.

According to last week's filing, district officials agreed to provide a copy of guidelines to be used for approval of any future memorial bricks within the next two years at any school within the district.

In February 2010, the school's parent-teacher organization announced the fundraiser, which was later approved by the school and the district. No limitations were given at the time as to the content of the messages, which were to be used to "create a legacy, commemorate a special event or given recognition to various entities," according to Alliance Defense Fund.

Peter Lepiscopo, a San Diego-based attorney who served as local counsel on the matter, confirmed during a brief phone interview late Monday that the case had been finalized last week. "The case has been settled," he said.

Asked if the fundraiser is expected to be launched again, Lepiscopo replied: "We'll see at this point."


Are philanthropists backing the best charter schools?

The central problem confronting American education is not that we lack models of excellence; it is our inability to routinely replicate those models. Build a slicker cell phone or brew a tastier cup of coffee and the world beats a path to your door. Find a better way to teach kids everything from calculus to Cantonese and... crickets.

Our failure to replicate educational excellence has been recognized for years. In an attempt to overcome it, philanthropists have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into scaling-up networks of charter schools — hoping to grow the great ones and crowd-out the laggards. Regrettably, this strategy isn't working.

Over the past half-year I collected data on the donations made to networks of charter schools in California — any group of two or more charters that share the same management, methods, or founders. I then studied the academic performance of these networks on the California Standards Tests, controlling for individual student characteristics, school-wide peer effects, and addressing a concern known as selection bias. As a check on those results, I also looked at charter networks' AP test performance. If philanthropists were consistently directing their generosity to the highest-performing networks, there would be a strong correlation between grant dollars and academic performance.

There isn't. The three top-performing charter school networks rank 21st, 27th, and 39th in terms of the grant funding they've received, out of 68 total networks. In fact, the correlation between CST scores and grant funding is so tiny as to be negligible — it's a 1 on a scale from 0 to 10. That's smaller than some correlations we see due to random chance. For instance, the correlation between the length of the networks' names and their CST scores is twice as strong as the correlation between grant funding and scores.

The AP results are worse; higher grant funding is associated with lower AP performance, though the correlations are negligible in magnitude.

This disappointing overall result is not due to a lack of excellent charter school networks. For example, low-income black and Hispanic students at the top-ranked American Indian Public Charter Schools outperform the statewide averages for middle- and upper-income whites and Asians.

AIPCS resoundingly outscores famous charter school networks like KIPP (which also does well), and even beats two of the most prestigious and academically selective public schools in the nation: Lowell High in San Francisco and Gretchen Whitney outside of Los Angeles. Lowell and Whitney receive thousands of applications each year, of which they accept only a small fraction — and they consider the applicants' test scores in their admissions decisions. AIPCS consistently outscores them despite accepting all applicants or using a random lottery when oversubscribed.

Nor is the problem that growth inevitably breeds mediocrity. There is no significant relationship between enrollment growth and academic performance. So we have models of excellence, and there is no intrinsic reason why they can't be replicated, but our philanthropy-plus-charter-schools model isn't managing to do it. Why?

Rather than merely speculate about the cause of our failure and immediately hop on another education reform bandwagon, perhaps it's time we pull over and look at a map. As it happens, there already are a number of places around the globe where educational excellence is scaling up. Where top teachers use the Web to reach not hundreds or thousands of students but hundreds of thousands. And where they are rewarded for doing so with salaries in the millions of dollars. There are successful networks of schools that have grown not merely to a few dozen schools in a few dozen states, but to tens of thousands of schools in scores of countries.

Why do top teachers in Korea's for-profit tutoring sector become celebrities who earn more than the nation's professional baseball players? Why has the Japanese tutoring chain, Kumon, expanded to serve over four million students worldwide? Could it be because the tutoring sector operates within the same free enterprise system that has resulted in the massive scale-up of excellence in every other field? Is it an accident that when we reward education entrepreneurs for their success, their success grows? Could it be that philanthropists have failed to consistently fund the best charter schools because they do not expect a return on their investment, as hard-nosed venture capitalists do?

These questions have obvious, if inflammatory, answers. Until we let education participate in the same free enterprise system that drives the scale-up of everything from iPhones to Facebook, excellent schools and teachers will remain floating candles—beautifully illuminating their immediate vicinity, but doomed never to touch off a wider blaze.


British government school pupils 'held back by soft High School courses -- leaving just one-in-six qualified for elite universities'

Just one in six comprehensive pupils stands a chance of studying at an elite university – because they take the wrong A-levels, figures show.

Russell Group universities, such as Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, only accept those with top grades in three or more core A-level subjects.

But official figures show that each year just 15 per cent of state school pupils are entered for three or more of these A-Levels – maths, sciences, English literature, the humanities or modern and classical languages. Instead they take ‘soft subjects’ such as media studies and law, which will deny them places at more than 20 prestigious universities.

Almost a third of private school and grammar school pupils take three core subjects, data for 2010 shows.

State school take-up varies widely by local authority. In Knowsley, Merseyside, just 1 per cent of pupils did three core subjects compared with 25 per cent in Hammersmith and Fulham, West London.

Tory MP Elizabeth Truss who requested the figures in a Parliamentary question, blamed schools for pushing pupils into easier subjects. ‘They are being missold low quality subjects that are not accepted at top universities to boost results,’ she warned.

Dr Wendy Piatt, of the Russell Group, said: ‘Too few students from some state schools opt for science, maths and language A-levels, restricting their options at university.’


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SCHUYLKILL VALLEY, Pa.: Two HS Students Skip Graduation Walk After They’re Barred From Wearing Army Sashes‏

Two high school students decided to skip their graduation walk after they were told minutes before the ceremony that they could not wear symbolic Army Sashes. The two boys have signed up to join the military and say they just wanted to honor the country. But school officials say that violates the rules.

Joel Hunsicker and Jordan Marker go through regular physical training every Thursday since they enlisted in the US Army. “I’m willing to sacrifice my body, my mind, my soul and my life to make sure that people can have a better life,” Marker said.

The young men wanted to demonstrate their commitment by wearing US Army sashes or stoles during commencement from Schuylkill Valley High School.

“We get our army stoles on we‘re just about to go out and the one teacher said you got to leave that here you can’t wear them. I said what do you mean we can’t wear them,” said Marker.

“We won‘t wear them and we’ll go sit with our parents and honor our fellow students by supporting them by sitting there and watching them,” Hunsicker added.

This morning, Marker described the situation in more detail to “Fox and Friends,” and said both students refused to make a scene and argue the policy. Instead, the honored their fellow classmates by silently protesting:

The school superintended told WFMZ that the decision not to allows the sashes was in no way a statement against the military. Rather, the school has a policy that works to keep the focus on academic achievement. [Bulldust!]


University degrees 'not worth the money', say British parents

A third of middle-income parents believe university is on longer worth the investment following a hike in tuition fees, according to a research. Some 31 per cent of mothers and fathers from relatively well-off households say courses are too expensive following a decision to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year, it was claimed. Half of those questioned also insisted that degrees no longer offered children the same start in life.

The conclusions are made in a report by Edge, a charity chaired by Lord Baker, the former Conservative education secretary. It follows a move by the Government to increase the cap on fees from £3,290 to £9,000 for students starting undergraduate courses in 2012.

Ministers insist that the reforms will actually make university more affordable for school-leavers. Although fees are rising, the earnings threshold for repayments is higher and students will pay off less every month than under the current system. Debts are wiped out after 30 years and it is believed a third of graduates will never repay the full amount.

But Lord Baker suggested that more children should pursue practical courses, such as apprenticeships, as an alternative to higher education. "For too long, middle income parents have been blinkered to the alternative education options to university for their child,” he said. "The vocational route provides something incredibly valuable to a young person because it equips them with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace."

In the latest study, researchers PCP surveyed 500 parents from households with an income of between £15,000 and £40,000. Some 57 per cent of parents with children aged 11 to 18 said a university education was less valuable than it was 10 years ago and 47 per cent claimed degrees no longer gave young people a good start in life.

It came as university leaders admitted that the new funding system had not been explained to parents properly. A separate study by Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, found that a third of parents had little or no understanding of changes being introduced from next year.

Sir Steve Smith, UUK president, said: “As vice-chancellors we are aware that it is more important than ever that our universities go out and tell a positive story of what we can offer prospective students.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "Going to university depends on ability - not the ability to pay. "New students will not pay upfront costs, there will be more financial support for those from low-income families and everyone will make lower loan repayments than they do under the current system once they are in well-paid work.

"A university degree is an excellent investment in your future. Students and their families need to know that applying for student finance is quick and easy and can be done online."


All British pupils 'should study maths to 18', say experts

This is rather stupid. Many children have no aptitude for maths. And what if they are going into a field that does not need it? What if one wants to follow many distinguished Englishmen and read classics at Oxbridge?

All children should be forced to study mathematics up the age of 18 to prevent the vast majority of pupils leaving school with poor numeracy skills, according to experts. Sixth-formers should take a new generation of specially-tailored courses amid fears hundreds of thousands of young people lack the basic level of maths demanded by universities or employers, it is claimed.

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (Acme), which represents academics and teachers, said fewer teenagers in Britain studied the subject to a high level than in other developed nations. Skill levels are so poor that around two-thirds of students taking maths-based degree courses lack the basic knowledge needed to get by, the study found.

Many universities are being forced to downgrade the entry requirements for courses in order to fill their places, researchers said.

Acme – an independent advisory panel based at the Royal Society – recommended that all young people should study maths for a further two years to remedy the failings.

Ministers already want pupils who fail to get a C grade GCSE in the subject to continue studying it in the sixth-form, but the latest study goes much further by calling for all pupils to take an advanced course in maths.

Prof Dame Julia Higgins, Acme chairman, said: "In the last 30 years, many university subjects have become more mathematical but the number of students with the appropriate level of mathematical skills has not risen far enough to match this. "All young people should study some form of mathematics to the age of 18 in order to better prepare them for higher education and the world of employment. "In order to do this, additional courses need to be developed for study at the post-16 level."

Currently, fewer than one-in-five students take advanced maths courses beyond the age of 16 – leaving Britain trailing behind many other developed nations. By comparison, between 50 and 100 per cent of teenagers in other countries, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Japan and Korea, study maths to a decent level.

The report found that around 330,000 students were currently taking degree courses that required a high level of mathematical knowledge, including maths, statistics, engineering, science, finance, business studies and even social sciences. But Acme suggested as many as 210,000 of these students struggled with the demands of courses after leaving school with poor levels of maths.

The report, which followed a two-year investigation, blamed the rise of school league tables which prioritise short-term cramming to pass exams at the expense of developing pupils’ problem-solving, reasoning and communication skills. It also found that official rankings pushed pupils into taking easier subjects at GCSE and A-level instead of tougher options such as further maths.

Dame Julia added: “Students are leaving school without the mathematical skills required for the next stages of their lives, whether that is the workplace or further study.

“This is a fundamental failing that must be addressed if we are to have mathematically-literate future generations capable of rising to the challenges of a new, more technologically-dependent and competitive world.”


Monday, June 13, 2011

Duncan Threatens to Alter No Child Left Behind

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is threatening to use the power of his position to alter key elements of No Child Left Behind if Congress doesn't renew and upgrade the education law before the next school year begins.

Mr. Duncan is promising to waive specific requirements of the law in exchange for states agreeing to adopt other efforts he has championed, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement, expanding charter schools and overhauling the lowest-performing schools. Effectively, he's warning Congress that if it doesn't overhaul the nine-year-old law, he'll bypass lawmakers to get his way.

"Principals, superintendents and children cannot wait forever for the legislative process to work itself out," Mr. Duncan said in a conference call with reporters. "As it exists now, No Child Left Behind is creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents and teachers."

No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush's signature domestic achievement, has been up for renewal since 2007. Congress has so far extended it on a year-by-year basis.

The law requires states to test students in math and reading and punishes schools that fall short of score objectives set by the states. The law has been widely criticized for labeling too many schools as failures, narrowing the school curriculum and prodding states to water down standardized tests.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan have aggressively pushed Congress to overhaul the law and, until recently, it was expected to be one of the few bipartisan achievements this year. But Republicans have begun to push back, especially tea-party Republicans who want to reduce the federal government's role in K-12 schools.

Mr. Duncan's pledge to use the waiver process didn't sit well with two Congressmen working to renew the law. "Given the bipartisan commitment in Congress to fixing No Child Left Behind, it seems premature at this point to take steps outside the legislative process that would address NCLB's problems in a temporary and piecemeal way," Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in a statement.

Rep. John Kline, Republican chairman of the House education committee, has said he feels no urgency to move a bill, despite Mr. Duncan's pressure. "He'd like to get this done before they go back to school in September. We're not going to do that," he said in a May interview with the Wall Street Journal. He said he hopes to have the matter settled in 2011, partly because it's more difficult to pass ambitious legislation during a presidential election year.

Mr. Kline is particularly hostile to Race to the Top, Mr. Obama's pet program that provides competitive funding for states that embrace the education changes he favors. The president has repeatedly cited this as a key to his administration's success in education and a blueprint in reauthorizing No Child Left Behind.

Jennifer Allen, Mr. Kline's spokeswoman, said the Congressman didn't know details of Mr. Duncan's recent waiver promise, but said, "Chairman Kline remains concerned about any initiative–including waivers–that would allow the secretary to pick winners and losers in the nation's education system."

Mr. Kline said his committee would pass legislation in small pieces so that members, particularly newly elected ones, can understand it.

The law as it stands gives the education secretary broad authority to waive certain provisions. Mr. Duncan wouldn't offer specifics on which provisions are under consideration, but said he's opposed to one that currently punishes schools for not reaching high, specified goals, even as they make dramatic improvement. He also said he might offer states flexibility on how they can spend federal education money.

Mr. Duncan said individual states could apply for waivers and he might approve them in exchange for agreements to embrace other education changes. States that already have adopted reforms favored by the administration also would be considered.

"There is zero intent here to abandon accountability," Mr. Duncan said. "In fact, ideally, this flexibility would be in exchange for courage and reform."


Yale, Jews and double-standards

Last week Yale University announced its decision to close down its institute for the study of anti-Semitism. The move has been widely criticized as politically motivated. For its part, the university claims that the move was the result of purely academic considerations.

While not clear-cut, an analysis of the story lends to the conclusion that politics were in all likelihood the decisive factor in the decision. And the implications of Yale’s move for the scholarly inquiry into anti-Semitism are deeply troubling.

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was founded in 2006. Its purpose was to provide a scholarly approach to the study of contemporary and historical anti- Semitism. It was attached to Yale’s Institution of Social and Policy Studies. It was fully funded from private contributions. Yale did not in any way subsidize its activities from the university’s budget.

Since its inception, under the peripatetic leadership of its Executive Director Dr. Charles Small, YIISA organized seminars and conferences that brought leading scholars from all over the world to Yale to discuss anti-Semitism in an academic setting. Its conferences and publications produced cutting edge research. These included a groundbreaking statistical study published by Small and Prof. Edward Kaplan from Yale’s School of Management that demonstrated a direct correlation between anti-Israel sentiment and anti- Jewish sentiment.

At a large conference last August titled, “Global anti-Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity,” among other things, YIISA confronted the genocidal nature of Islamic anti-Semitism. The conference produced more than 800 pages of scholarly research materials on all facets of anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitism in Western academia.

Senior Yale lecturers like Yale’s diplomat-in-residence and eminent international security studies scholar Charles Hill, and Yale’s Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature and Holocaust survivor Geoffrey Hartman, served on YIISA’s faculty advisory committees and participated in its activities. According to YIISA’s website, several dozen Yale professors and lecturers from throughout the university community were associated with YIISA. Their participation in its activities contributed to the institute’s comprehensive study of anti-Semitism. As the only center of its kind throughout North America, YIISA’s activities were widely covered by the media. Small and other YIISA personnel have been regularly interviewed in the US and global media on subjects related to the world’s oldest and most resilient form of bigotry.

In response to my query over the weekend, Yale’s Press Secretary Thomas Conroy wrote that the decision to close YIISA was made by a faculty committee during a routine five-year review of the program. The committee “concluded that [YIISA] had not attracted a critical mass of relevant faculty or stimulated sufficient new research.”

Yale Prof. Donald Green, who heads the Institution for Social and Policy Studies that housed YIISA, released a statement explaining that YIISA, like all other programs, was evaluated by two set criteria: Its success in publishing articles in top-tier academic journals and its success in attracting a large number of students to its courses. Green claimed that unlike his institute’s centers for the study of American Politics, Agrarian Studies, Field Experiments, and its Ethics, Politics and Economics major, YIISA failed to achieve the required success in instruction and publication that would merit an extension of its operations.

On the face of it, these measures of success appear to be reasonable measuring rods of the worthiness of YIISA’s continued operation. But upon reflection, the use of these criteria to determine YIISA’s academic viability is deeply unfair. These criteria are reasonable for politically neutral or popular subjects like agrarianism or American politics. But sadly today, at Yale and throughout the world, the subject of anti-Semitism is steeped in controversy and an objective analysis of its various aspects is considered politically incorrect. Consequently, a decision to use routine standards of assessment for a non-routine subject is not a fair decision. Indeed, it is reasonable to argue that it is a politically motivated decision.

From several perspectives, YIISA’s conference on anti-Semitism last August was a stellar success. The conference, which was held over three days, attracted more than a hundred top tier scholars and policymakers from around the world. It was heavily covered by the American and global media. In its willingness to address head-on the genocidal nature of Islamic anti-Semitism generally and Iranian anti-Semitism in particular, it was a path-breaking event in academia. The same can be said of its willingness to host open discussions of the prevalence and policy implications of Palestinian anti-Semitism.

But as far as campus politics were concerned, YIISA’s conference was a failure. Like nearly all university campuses in the US, Yale is dominated by the political Left. YIISA’s conference was denounced by the leftist blogosphere which alleged that it was discriminatory against Muslims.

The Left’s rage at the conference was further incited by the PLO’s decision to condemn the proceedings. In a letter to Yale’s President Richard Levin, the PLO representative in Washington, DC Maen Rashid Areikat, demanded that the university disassociate itself from the conference.

Areikat wrote, “It’s shocking that a respected institution like Yale would give a platform to these right-wing extremists and their odious views, and it is deeply ironic that a conference on anti-Semitism that is ostensibly intended to combat hatred and discrimination against Semites would demonize Arabs – who are Semites themselves.”

Then there is Iran. In January 2010, Iran announced that it was instituting a boycott of 60 institutions. Yale was among them. Although the regime did not explain the reason for the boycott, university officials attributed Tehran’s decision to YIISA’s activities in spotlighting the regime’s role in promoting genocidal anti-Semitism.

Due to the boycott, Yale professors involved in research in Iran were forced to end their activities. These professors reportedly blamed YIISA rather than Iran for the cancellation of their research projects.

Deputy Provost and Political Science Professor Frances Rosenbluth served on the faculty committee that reviewed YIISA’s performance and concluded that the university should close the center. In recent years Rosenbluth appointed Judge Richard Goldstone and Iran-regime apologists Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett to serve as senior fellows at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. Last September the Leveretts brought their students to New York to hold a seminar for them with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Unlike the YIISA conference, the move did not stimulate any significant controversy at the university.

Sources involved with YIISA allege a senior university official privately complained that “YIISA’s activities harm the Yale Corporation.” The clear insinuation was that due to YIISA’s activities, Yale has had difficulty raising money from Arab sources.

Politics arguably has also played a role in YIISA’s difficulty in publishing articles in top tier academic publications and even in attracting students to its courses. Today the discourse on anti- Semitism has been corrupted by politics. In the current atmosphere, publishing scholarship on topics like Islamic Jew hatred, or anti-Semitism and progressive politics is widely viewed as a career ender. Scholars who are interested in these subjects are therefore likely to opt out of publishing articles or books on them.

By the same token, the toxic nature of the intellectual environment related to anti-Semitism, anti- Zionism and contemporary forms of both arguably renders top tier journals averse to publishing articles on them. So too, in light of the politically correct echo chamber that governs university politics and appointments, it is eminently reasonable to assume that an article about these subjects would be harshly treated in peer-reviews.

In this context it is worth recalling the history of cowardice at Yale in the face of Islamic criticism. In 2009, Yale University Press was slated to publish a book about the 2005 Muhammad cartoon controversy. When the decision was met with furious responses from various Islamic quarters, Yale caved. It decided to censor the cartoons that were the subject of the book from the book itself.

In short, the discriminatory atmosphere that dominates academic discourse on anti-Semitism generally and Islamic anti-Semitism in particular makes it difficult to use the generally objective assessment tool of the number of publications in top-tier journals to judge the academic value of YIISA.

As for student participation, the predominance of political correctness on university campuses acts as a deterrent for students who would otherwise be drawn to courses on the subject. A Yale student who aspires to an academic career will be quick to recognize the study of anti-Semitism – and particularly its contemporary manifestations – is an academic dead end.

There are Jewish organizations that are dedicated to educating university students about anti- Zionism and anti-Semitism in all their varieties.

Foremost among these organizations is Stand With Us, which in its 10 year history has become active on scores of campuses in the US and worldwide. Stand With Us publishes fact sheets and booklets to inform students about the facts regarding Israel and the Middle East that are systematically removed from their course syllabuses.

While significant, the contribution these groups make to the discourse on anti-Semitism is generally limited to the level of student activism. Professors and their politically correct measuring rods for academic worthiness are largely insulated from their efforts.

The inequities in the academic treatment of research and instruction on anti-Semitism make Yale’s decision to close YIISA all the more lamentable.

Indeed, in and of themselves they justify a move by Yale and other universities to aggressively promote YIISA’s activities and establish similar institutes. If a top-ranking university like Yale had been willing to truly back the academic study of anti-Semitism, it would have empowered students and faculty alike to research and study the subject.

In their responses to inquiries about the decision to close YIISA, Yale spokesmen were quick to say that Yale remains committed to studying anti-Semitism. They pointed to Yale’s Hebrew and Jewish studies courses as proof of the university’s support for free inquiry on the topic. But their protestations ring as hollow as the message of YIISA’s closure is clear. The study of Islamic anti-Semitism is an academic third rail. Do it at Yale and you are done for.

YIISA’s closure also sends a clear message to Jewish donors concerned about the anti-Jewish turn that so many top universities are taking. To date, wealthy Jewish donors have operated under the assumption that they can impact the hostile discourse on Jewish issues on campus by providing piecemeal support for specific programs. In the case of YIISA, Jewish donors believed that they had developed a beach head in a hostile campus environment that would bring a dose of reality into the otherwise hallucinogenic discourse on Israel and the Islamic world.

Yale’s decision to close YIISA indicates that the piecemeal approach is not effective. One institute cannot impact the virulent faculty hostility to Jewish related issues on campuses like Yale. It also cannot compete with the deep pockets of Arab governments.

YIISA’s closure indicates that a new strategy of concentrating Jewish philanthropic resources is required. Supporting a handful of carefully selected universities will probably have a greater longterm impact on the general discourse on issues like contemporary anti-Semitism than spreading smaller amounts of funding across a larger number of institutions.


Recognising that role models are important doesn’t make you a patronising Lefty

I think that Katharine Birbalsingh has a small point below but I doubt that is very important. Cream will rise to the top regardless. There have been many examples of people from humble backgrounds rising to the top by their own efforts. Abraham Lincoln of course springs to mind. But I guess that people of modest ability may benefit from good examples

Once at a London dinner party I met a white English guy, married to a Nigerian woman who was soon to give birth. They lived in Lagos. I asked him about his future family and whether they would return to London. He shook his head. “I would never bring my children up in London. I would only ever bring my children up in Nigeria.”

I grinned. “Really? Why?” “Because my children will be black. And I want them to grow up in a country where being black and successful is perfectly normal.”

Secretly I was impressed that this white man should understand this point: that role models are essential for children to make successes of themselves. People like to think that they alone are the masters of their destinies. They ignore the various influences that will have supported them psychologically when they were young. They ignore the privilege that helped to get them to where they are. That isn’t to say that these influences and privileges are ALL that matter. But they do have a part to play.

It isn’t just a coincidence that children often end up doing something similar to what their parents did or that they might choose the same career as their best friend’s father or an old uncle whom they admired. Neither is it surprising that white middle-class American kids in New Jersey can listen to gangster rap and sing merrily along to the screaming talk of “hos” and “bitches” without being remotely influenced by this gutter culture. Yet Snoop Dogg bans his children from listening to his own music because he knows that it may very well ruin their lives. The only “female” dog his children will hear about is their own pet golden retriever.

Recognising that role models are important doesn’t make one into a good-hearted, patronising, excuse-making Lefty. It simply means one is accurate in one’s analysis of culture and human nature. Where such leftist-type thinking takes a wrong turn is when it is widely believed that role models are ALL that matters. Clearly, good schooling, inspirational teachers, high expectations, boundaries and direction are just as important, if not more so.

People tend to identify with those who look like them, sound like them, those who are part of their culture, who speak their language and so on. This shouldn’t come as any great surprise. That isn’t racism. It’s just the way we are. When you’re abroad and you meet some fellow Brits, you suddenly start chatting because you share something in common and you feel comfortable. In the same way, little boys and girls look around and identify with those who are like them. Manicure shops are often staffed by Korean and other East Asians in London just like Pakistanis often run corner shops up North. People tend to follow their own. Sure, there are always exceptions – Eminem can ask Slim Shady to stand up – but I’m describing a general trend.

“In Nigeria,” this white man argued, “black lawyers, doctors and bankers are everywhere.” In the day, when I would search for black professionals to speak to my kids, finding them was difficult. A black state-educated – better yet, educated in the inner-city – doctor or banker? It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But find a black rapper? They were a dime a dozen. In fact, some of the kids themselves were experts at it.

Sure, you can conclude that the reason for this is that black people have rhythm in their blood or that they’re all too stupid to do well at school to enable successful careers. Or you could consider the matter for a moment and conclude that perhaps on this one a little more thinking is required.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Glamorous historian seeks role at 'new Oxford University’

Amanda Foreman, the glamorous historian, wants to lecture at A C Grayling’s proposed New College of the Humanities. A C Grayling’s plans for a private university to rival Oxford and Cambridge have received a glamorous boost.

Amanda Foreman, who once posed naked behind a pile of books, tells Mandrake that she wants to lecture at the London-based New College of the Humanities.

“If they asked me, then I’d love to do it,” the historian says at The Oldie literary luncheon at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, in London. “Since I’ve had baskets of babies, I haven’t had time for lecturing.”

Foreman, 42, whose book Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was turned into a film starring Keira Knightley, has five children, but has squeezed in some lecturing. “I did a talk in New York with William Shawcross that raised something like half a million dollars,” she says.

Prof Grayling’s plans for the New College of the Humanities, which will charge fees of £18,000 per year, have provoked such hostility that the philosopher was forced to abandon a talk after a smoke bomb was thrown.

“Obviously, it’s expensive, but I’ve heard that they’re going to fund-raise for it, like they do at private universities in the States,” says Foreman, pictured right. “If they don’t offer bursaries, people won’t go. There aren’t enough rich and clever people out there.”

She supports the rise in fees at other universities. “There was a lot of crap being taught before, like David Beckham studies, Mickey Mouse courses,” she claims. “Hopefully, the rise in fees will stop that kind of course.”


Two British primary school teachers face sack after children serve Irish coffee - even though only one parent complained

Two teachers are facing the sack for allowing pupils to serve Irish coffee to adults at a primary school charity event – even though just one parent complained.

Acting headteacher Steven Raby and a colleague are being investigated for alleged ‘gross misconduct’ after the nine and 10-year-olds sold the whiskey-laced drink to parents.

None of the children was allowed to try the coffee and they were supervised by staff at St Bridget’s Primary School in Warrington, Cheshire.
Warrington Council is investigating St Bridget's School headteacher Steven Raby and a colleague for 'gross misconduct'

Warrington Council is investigating St Bridget's School headteacher Steven Raby and a colleague for 'gross misconduct'

But Mr Raby and his colleague now stand accused of ‘using children to sell alcohol on unlicensed premises’.

Joanne Prinsep, who has two sons at the school, said: ‘Hardly anyone even had the Irish coffee. It’s completely ridiculous.’

Pinaki Ghoshal, assistant director of children and young people’s services at Warrington Borough Council, said: ‘We are conducting an internal investigation into this matter following a complaint from a parent.

'Until this is concluded, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment.’


Australia: Aptitude tests show benefits

IQ rediscovered

APTITUDE tests for school-leavers have proven their value as a way into universities for clever students who would have no prospect of making it on their final exam results, a trial has shown.

A report on uniTEST, released yesterday by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, concludes the assessment facilitated the admission of students who "otherwise would not have received a place, and that these students performed on par with their counterparts who gained entry through other means, most commonly through Year 12 scores".

"While the evidence is limited, both uniTEST and control group students appeared to report similar levels of academic engagement as well as learning and skill development," the report found.

UniTEST was developed by British company Cambridge Assessment and the Australian Council for Educational Research, which also conducted the pilot study. Six universities participated across three years, and while the report does not reveal which ones, the study's lead author, ACER's Hamish Coates, said the Australian National University, Macquarie, Flinders, Deakin and Monash universities were among those who had taken a keen interest in the issue.

During the pilot, almost 1500 people sat the uniTEST, with about 400 gaining admission. The report concluded at least 165 who might have missed out on entry via normal channels had been admitted.

"Scores appear to be particularly helpful for students from historically under-represented backgrounds, and have been shown to be less influenced by important characteristics like socio-economic status," it said. It concluded uniTEST scores combined with achievement scores were an improved predictor of grade point averages during the first two years of university.

Dr Coates said Australia was "drunk" on achievement data including admissions scores such as the Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks. While higher education had grown strongly during the past three decades, there had been no commensurate change in the admissions system and well-designed aptitude tests were part of the answer. "[Not only can we] get people in the door, but once they are there we know they have the intellectual capacity to succeed," Dr Coates said.

The need for a transparent and efficient means of admission was crucial as the system moves to uncap enrolments from next year, and in light of the Bradley target of 40 per cent participation.

Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz supported the uniTEST study, which captured students who might otherwise not qualify for university yet were perfectly capable of succeeding. "We need an admissions system that can find hidden talent that is not revealed by ATAR scores," he said.

However, DEEWR said low uptake in the pilot program meant the department had not drawn any definitive conclusions about the value of uniTEST. "While the report recommends the national implementation of uniTEST, the government does not intend to direct universities to undertake specific enrolment practices," it said.

University of Melbourne expert Richard James, the lead author of a paper on tertiary admission for the Victorian government in 2009, wrote part of a chapter in the current report. "Aptitude assessment deserves a higher profile in university admissions than is presently the case," said Professor James, director of the university's Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

"But aptitude assessment will not be appropriate for all institutions and for all courses. We are likely to see admissions criteria and practices diversify as we move into a more deregulated environment and aptitude assessment ought to be part of the mix."