Saturday, June 25, 2011

ACLU sues over Douglas County school vouchers

The Colorado ACLU and two other civil liberties groups filed suit Tuesday challenging the Douglas County School District's voucher plan, which would allow students to attend private schools with public money.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the group also intends "as soon as possible" to ask the court for an injunction to stop voucher payments from going to private schools.

"We all support the right of parents to send their children to private schools," Silverstein said at a news conference Tuesday. "The issue is they cannot do so with taxpayers' money."

Thirty miles away, Douglas County School District officials and board members held a news conference of their own, defending the groundbreaking program they say provides opportunities and choices for all students. "It is unfortunate that we have to spend time and resources defending what is in the best interest of our students," said District Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen. "But we are prepared to do that."

Indeed, when it unanimously approved the voucher plan in March, the school board directed district staff to prepare financially to defend the program in court.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as the national and state organizations of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the suit in Denver District Court on behalf of plaintiffs including the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, a rabbi, a United Church of Christ pastor, Douglas County's library district director, and a handful of Douglas County parents and activists.

They contend the district's "Pilot Choice Scholarship Plan" violates the state constitution by allowing public funds to be channeled to religious schools.

The district expects to raise money to assist in its legal defense. "I am confident in our democratic process and that we will prevail over this lawsuit," school board president John Carson said.

District's approach

The district will have powerful organizations of its own backing it in court. "Within the next few days, the Institute for Justice will move to intervene in the case," said Michael Bindas, senior attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based group.

Douglas County's program is similar to others that have survived court challenges, Bindas said. The Douglas County School District's will as well, he contends, because it is neutral on religion and leaves the choice of school up to parents.

The voucher plan was approved by the Douglas County school board in March after months of debate that revealed deep fissures among parents in one of the state's most successful, and its wealthiest, school district.

The plan allows up to 500 students who are currently enrolled in one of the district's public schools to apply to attend a private school.

The district will give the participating students 75 percent of the funding it receives from the state for each student, or about $4,575, to attend a private school. The other 25 percent will stay with the school district. Students who receive vouchers from the district must take CSAP exams.

The district, like most others in the state, faced massive budget cuts this year, and district leaders touted the voucher plan as a financial boon.

The district opened the program to more than 100 schools in and near Douglas County. Of those, 33 applied to participate. As of Tuesday, 19 schools had received district approval to participate. Of those, 15 are religious in nature.

Under the terms of the agreement between the district and the participating schools, any student who attends a parochial school must be allowed to opt out of any religious education offered there.

According to the district, 497 students have qualified to receive vouchers — which the district calls scholarships — for for the 2011-12 school year.

The voucher amount would cover tuition at few of the district-approved private schools.

At Aspen Academy, one of the four non-religious schools, tuition is $11,957 annually for grades five through eight. Aspen Academy has accepted several Douglas County students, a school official told The Denver Post in April.

Earlier law struck down

Seven years ago, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a voucher program created by the state legislature in 2003. That law would have provided students from failing schools statewide $4,500 toward tuition at the private school of their choice. That program directed local school boards to allocate the money to private and religious schools to cover the vouchers.

The court ruled the law improperly stripped local school districts of authority.

This time, the ACLU will focus on the religious nature of many of Douglas County's partner schools.

In addition, Silverstein targeted what he called "accounting shenanigans," in which the district will count the 500 students who receive vouchers as public school students for state funding purposes, when in fact those students will be attending private schools.

In addition to the district, the lawsuit names as defendants the Colorado Department of Education, which allocates public money to school districts based on the census of students enrolled in each district, and the state Board of Education.


'Learning Challenge' is Just More Federal Waste in the Making

Though the U.S. Department of Education rolled out its "Early Learning Challenge" on May 25, it's not too early to predict failure -- likely little or no boost for tots working on their ABCs, and surely a waste of $500 million extracted from taxpayers.

The program, part of the next phase of President Barack Obama's Race to the Top plan, works like its progenitor: To win some of this kickback of federal taxpayer money, states promise great deeds from early education and childcare programs (pre-K to third grade).

Any state doing so, however, invites the feds to point a knife at their back. The federal government will decide what programs and means of administering them merit these taxpayer dollars -- and has the power to take them away, just as the Obama administration is threatening to zero out Medicaid payments to Indiana because of the state's refusal to continue funding Planned Parenthood.

In addition, the feds' track record in this area is poor, to say the least. The federal government has bungled this crusade for decades, spending $167 billion (in 2009 dollars) since 1965 on Head Start (the central federal program for this age group) to widespread acknowledgement -- from the department's own studies, no less -- it has no effect on children beyond first grade. None.

The Department of Education assures us the same people who oversee Head Start will decide which states win Early Learning grants, which is roughly equivalent to having Charlie Sheen decide who should date your daughter.

Those Head Start officials will exert outsized influence on state proposals and the legislative changes states make to boost them. In the last round of Race to the Top, 42 states and the District of Columbia adopted "Common Core" curriculum standards, for example, because the administration made it clear states that did not would be docked on their Race to the Top applications. Several of these states, like Massachusetts, had previously boasted higher standards than the Common Core.

Iowa spent $70 million last year on its early childhood education programs - the cost began at $15 million in 2007. Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, is trying to voucherize the program because, like other states, Iowa is overspending on education and the recession has hit property values so hard the state isn't taking in close to enough money to pay for it all.

Not only does this suggest that whatever new programs states start with Early Learning money, costs will grow and overwhelm state budgets (as is the general tendency with government programs), it also indicates bottom-up efforts work much better than the top-down plans likely to come from this "challenge."

The most important and dangerous consequence of the Early Leaning Challenge and Race to the Top in general is how they train states to look to Washington, D.C., for education directives. As teachers' unions everywhere have taught us, centralizing control away from families is the best way to kill creativity, waste money, stunt local and national economies, and dispirit everyone involved. Creating a frenzy in one, federally directed avenue will just stampede states over a cliff.


British Universities must tell students which subjects are best to study

Universities will be ordered to publish secret data on the A-level subjects most likely to win places on degree courses, under a radical shake-up of higher education. For the first time, admissions tutors will be required to tell pupils which options to choose in the sixth form to maximise their chances of getting into the most selective universities.

It follows concern that tens of thousands of candidates from state comprehensives are effectively barred from elite institutions by being pushed into taking “soft” A-levels, while middle-class pupils at grammar and independent schools receive better advice from teachers and parents.

The move is likely to lead to a drop in the number of teenagers studying subjects such as media studies, art and design, dance and photography – often secretly blacklisted by top universities – in favour of tougher options such as English, maths, history, geography and the sciences.

The reforms will be outlined in a long-awaited higher education White Paper to be published next week. The document will map out a wide-ranging programme of reforms for English universities to coincide with the substantial increase in student tuition fees next year. In a key change, it will propose scrapping existing admission quotas in favour of a more market-based approach.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, is also keen to increase the amount of information available to prospective students in an attempt to ensure they receive value for money. He wants each university to draw up “student charters” – written guarantees on issues such as the number of lectures they will receive, support and feedback from tutors, graduate job prospects, standards of accommodation and academic and sporting facilities.

In another development, every university will be required to publish detailed information outlining the A-level courses students should take to secure places. Data will eventually be uploaded to the Government’s Unistats website, designed to help students apply to university. Other reforms include:

* Allowing top universities to admit as many bright students – those gaining at least two As and a B at A-level – as they want, to promote competition between institutions;

* Relaxing controls on the number of students taking degree courses at former polytechnics and further education colleges that charge less than £6,000, to keep the student loans bill down;

* Placing around eight per cent of remaining government-funded places in a central pool and allocating them in an “auction” to institutions with the lowest fees;

* Giving private education providers more incentives to run degree courses officially accredited by the Government, increasing diversity in the sector.

Earlier this year, the Russell Group, which represents leading institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, published lists of A-level subjects favoured by admissions tutors. Mr Willetts wants this data to be released more widely by every selective university.

Figures released this week showed that comprehensive school pupils were significantly more likely to take soft A-level courses than peers in private and grammar schools.

Sir Steve Smith, the vice-chancellor of Exeter University and president of Universities UK, said: “We can’t have students from poor backgrounds taking the wrong courses, but universities have not always been explicit enough in outlining which courses they accept and which they don’t. “As it currently stands, the students with access to the best information and guidance are naturally those from the better-off backgrounds.”


Friday, June 24, 2011

The abuse of higher education

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s request for transparency and accountability in higher education has set the faculty furies loose.

On May 16, Gov. Perry responded, “The big lie making the rounds in Texas is that elected or appointed officials want to undermine or deemphasize research at our colleges and universities. 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.”

What Perry seeks to achieve in Texas would be a laudable goal for every state in the country.

Let me start at the beginning. I began college teaching in 1961 at the University of Michigan. In the ‘70s I began to witness the steady demise of higher education—not higher research, but higher education.

Today, higher education is actually abusive—in two ways. One, it is staggeringly and unnecessarily expensive. Two, too many good teachers are taken out of the classroom.

How did we get in this mess?

It began in the ‘70s with the glut of Ph.D. graduates. I watched it happen with my colleagues. With more and more applicants applying for fewer and fewer positions, administrators needed new ways to distinguish among candidates. As it would be difficult to assess teaching abilities of a new Ph.D. candidate, focus switched to the quality of their publications.

It logically followed that publication replaced teaching; education became replaced with research. Publication was first, students came second. Prestige and image outside the classroom replaced teaching within it.

When I began university teaching, the average teaching load was five classes, or 15 credit hours per semester. It then dropped to four classes, then to three classes, and then today commonly to two or even a mere one class. Reduced teaching loads were granted so that professors could conduct research. It was now the external prestige of the university that mattered—more so than the internal education of students.

But much research has now become virtually worthless. I could cite a plethora of examples to support my charge, but let me cite just three representative examples.

John Silber, former dean at the University of Texas-Austin and president of Boston University, recently told the Texas Tribune that many products of research “aren’t worth anything.”

Hofstra University law professor Richard Neumann reported at a conference this April that it costs approximately $100,000 for a tenured law professor to publish one article per year and that 43 percent of law review articles are never cited by anyone. In Neumann’s words, “At least a third of these things have no value.”

World Shakespeare Bibliography reports that from 1980 to mid-2010, there were 39,222 scholarly articles published on Shakespeare. Professors can research and publish anything they wish; it’s a free country. But should they be given reduced teaching loads, at student and taxpayer expense, to publish the 39,223rd article?

Today, countless professors are virtually semi-retired. They teach one or two classes, totaling often some 40 students a semester. Their salaries are in six figures, and they teach 30 weeks a year, with 22 weeks off. Once they get tenure, indolence often sets in and they don’t have to research or publish anything.

A study released this May by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity revealed that of the roughly 4,200 faculty members at the University of Texas-Austin, the 840 most productive teachers taught 57 percent of all student credit hours, while the least productive 840 taught only 2 percent of all student credit hours. For the lower 80 percent of faculty, the average teaching load was 63 students per year.

CCAP reported that if the lower 80 percent of faculty taught just half the load of the top 20 percent – roughly 150 students per year – UT-Austin would save more than a quarter billion dollars per year. That savings would be enough to reduce tuition by more than half.

I suspect that many universities in the country aren’t as bad as UT, but abuse is nonetheless rife. Too many students are taught by young, inexperienced teaching assistants, and costs continue to rise exorbitantly.

Residents in every state should put relentless pressure on regents and trustees of universities to demand transparency and accountability of teaching loads and research. Of research, the public and regents must ask: how does each research project serve either students or wider societal needs?

Administrators and faculty will fight this exposure tooth and nail, but they must be held accountable for expenditure of public money. Only then will we get the best worlds of teaching and research.


One in four British state schools flouts duty to teach RE

Hundreds of state schools are killing off religious education by ignoring their legal obligation to teach the subject, it was claimed yesterday.

Since 1944 it has been enshrined in law that all five to 16-year-olds must study the subject at school. Typically, guidelines state it should comprise at least 5 per cent of their curriculum – equivalent to one hour every week – and all 14 to 16-year-olds must take at least half a GCSE in religious studies.

But research published yesterday shows one in four comprehensive and academy schools do not teach religious studies at GSCE. And some 31 per cent of grammars are now shirking the obligation.

The findings come as the Government seeks to leave the subject out of the new GCSE performance measure, the English Baccalaureate. And the Coalition has removed the onus from schools watchdog Ofsted to police take-up of the subject.

As a result, schools have less incentive to teach the subject and increasingly think they can get away with breaking the law, it is claimed. And religious experts fear RE is now at serious risk of completely disappearing in many schools.

Religious education has been integral to schooling in Britain since the Church of England first provided schools for the masses in 1812.

In 1870, when the State opened schools, it remained a core component. And with the Education Act of 1944 it became law for pupils aged five to 16 to be taught RE. Initially the law simply required schools to give ‘religious instruction’.

This remained unchanged to 1988 when the Education Reform Act established a mandatory National Curriculum of ten subjects, including RE. Over time the subject has broadened to include all major world religions and atheism.

Ed Pawson, chairman of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, said: ‘There has been a dramatic slump in the take-up of RE in secondary schools. ‘Once it dies out at GCSE level, it will die right across the board. ‘Nobody is policing the teaching of RE and the Government offers no incentive for it to be taught. It would be an absolute tragedy if it died out. ‘The subject is more relevant today than ever and gives pupils an understanding of their culture and heritage, and the culture of others.’

The association conducted a poll of almost 2,000 secondary schools and found more than 500 are breaking the law by failing to teach RE to children aged between 14 and 16.

It predicts this trend will surge by at least 10 per cent next year – and says the introduction of the English Baccalaureate is the key reason.

The English Baccalaureate is given to teenagers who score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject, which is limited to history and geography.

But campaigners said that RE should have been included and its exclusion sparked a wave of protest.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘RE remains a vital part of the school curriculum. That’s why it remains compulsory for every single student up to 16.’


New spelling test for British 11-year-olds in primary school exam overhaul

All 11-year-olds will be forced to sit a new-style test in spelling, grammar, punctuation, handwriting and vocabulary to drive up poor standards of English, it emerged today.

Some 600,000 pupils will take the toughen-up literacy exam at the end of primary school as part of a major overhaul of Sats tests, it was disclosed.

It will replace an existing exam in writing composition which has been branded “pointless” by teachers because of inconsistent marking and fears young children struggle to come up with creative prose in formal test conditions.

An independent review of assessment in English primary schools said a more focused exam based on fundamental literacy skills would “raise attainment” in these areas and give teachers more freedom to monitor children’s composition throughout the year.

The review – led by Lord Bew, the crossbench peer – also recommended:

* Maintaining existing tests in maths and reading;

* Keeping the current system in which teachers informally monitor children’s speaking and listening skills;

* Introducing three year “rolling average” results for schools alongside annual scores to stop small primaries being penalised by sudden dips in grades;

* Giving children at least a week to sit tests if they are ill on exam day – replacing the current system in which absences are marked down as “failures”;

* Investigating the possible use of on-line testing and marking as a long-term replacement for traditional pen and paper exams.

The conclusions come amid claims from teachers and academics that Sats promote a culture of “teaching to the test” and lead to a narrowing of the curriculum.

Last year, a quarter of state primaries boycotted the exams as part of industrial action staged by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers. Today, both unions welcomed the reforms, saying they appeared to mark a “step in the right direction”.

But the NASUWT union branded the report a “fudge”. Chris Keates, general secretary, said: “The simple and straightforward question Lord Bew was asked to look at was the relative merits of teacher assessments versus externally marked testing, whilst ensuring public confidence. “However, he has ducked the issue and come up with a fudge.”

Currently, children take three exams in reading, writing and maths during the final May of primary education. Results are published in national league tables.

At the same time, teachers informally assess pupils’ progress in all three areas – alongside speaking and listening – and these results are released at the same time. In today’s report, Lord Bew proposed beefing up the role of teacher assessment by publishing results before formal exam scores.

He also criticised the existing writing test, which asks pupils to pen a piece of prose, verse or a formal letter. It is then marked for composition, spelling, grammar, punctuation and handwriting.

The review said composition should now be assessed informally by teachers throughout the final year of primary school. The other elements “where there are clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers” should be subjected to a new externally-marked test, it said.

The changes – which are likely to be accepted in full by the Government – are set to be introduced as early as next year.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, welcomed the review team's report, adding: "Their recommendations represent an educationally sound approach while taking account of different opinions. They are fair for teachers and schools.

"They give an opportunity for pupils to showcase their abilities. They still give parents the vital information they need about how their school is performing, in a range of new and different ways.”


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yale backs down (sort of)

After abruptly cancelling the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of anti-Semitism – and subsequently enduring two weeks of criticism – Yale University is now launching the new Yale Program for the Study of anti-Semitism (YPSA). Ignoring the past two weeks’ absurdities – the hysterics who called Yale anti- Semitic because of its decision and ham-handed handling of the issue – the new center is most welcome. That one of the world’s leading universities recognizes anti-Semitism as worthy of scholarly study is significant. This center should study anti-Semitism past and present, in the United States and the world – acknowledging the characteristics that define what Robert Wistrich calls “The Longest Hatred” and its many variations.

It is surprising how lonely this new program will be; there are few such centers in America. In an age of super sub-specializing, and despite campus hypersensitivity to all kinds of injustice, that five years ago there were no American centers studying anti-Semitism is scandalous. Dr. Charles Small deserves great credit for launching the first center in America, and for demonstrating how illuminating such centers can be.

Small needed to be a pioneer because anti- Semitism in America is often obscured by a cloak of invisibility. The “Longest Hatred” is today a most overlooked, masked and rationalized hatred. The obscuring is partially because American Jewish history is an extraordinary love story, a tale of immigrants finding a welcoming home suited to their skills, values and ambitions. American anti- Semitism does not compare to European anti- Semitism. The whys and whats of these differences are fascinating and also invite study.

The invisibility cloak works most effectively in hiding the “New anti-Semitism” – which singles out Israel and Zionism unfairly, disproportionately, obsessively. “Delegitimization” – an awkward term for an ugly phenomenon – is familiar to pro-Israel insiders, but means nothing to most others, many of whom simply explain all hostility by pointing to Palestinian suffering. This rationalist analysis ignores Israel-bashing’s irrational, often anti- Semitic, pedigree. The modern anti-Semite often claims, “I am not anti-Semitic, I am just anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.” And the discussion quickly becomes muddled, because there are valid criticisms to level against Israel and Zionism, as there are about all countries and nationalitisms.

ON CAMPUS today, the burden of proof usually lies with bigots to demonstrate they are not biased. Except, somehow, the burden usually falls on Jews when we encounter bias. Treating Israel as what Canadian MP Professor Irwin Cotler calls “the Jew among nations” frequently is anti-Semitic. Especially on campuses, the discussion is distorted because much modern anti- Zionist anti-Semitism comes from the Red-Green alliance – that unlikely bond between some radical leftists and Islamists. They should be natural enemies, yet they unite in hating Israel and Zionism.

Because so many professors and students are progressive, especially at elite universities, they frequently dismiss criticism of leftist anti-Semitism as McCarthyite or “neo-con.” But the anti-Israel hatred found on the Left has its own morphology and pathology. Good scholarship could explore its roots in the Stalinist 1930s and the anti-colonialist 1960s, could compare its European and American strains, while explaining what it says about the Left’s stance toward the Western world and the Third World.

More broadly, there is an historical mystery involved in how Zionism was tagged with the modern world’s three great sins – racism, imperialism and colonialism – and why Israel is compared frequently to two of the 20th century's most evil regimes, apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

In abandoning the realm of the rational, these accusations also demand study. Consider that Israel’s struggle is national not racial, so how is Zionism one of the few forms of nationalism deemed racist? Knowing that colonialism means settling land to which settlers have no prior claim, why are Israel’s origins called colonial? And how does imperialism properly describe the world’s 96th largest country holding on to neighboring territories it acquired after a war fought in self-defense, given that there are security as well as historic-religious reasons, and given Israel’s willingness to return the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 in exchange for the mere promise of peace? With so many absurd accusations piling up, and frequently echoing with historic anti-Semitic tropes, scholars can provide clarity – without addressing the right or wrongs of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Scholars can also clarify the relationship between this genteel, often masked, “progressive” indictment and the cruder Islamist indictment – part of a systematic campaign to delegitimize Zionism, ostracize Israel, and characterize Jews as apes and pigs, monkeys and shylocks. How central is this rhetoric to the Islamist movement? What is the significance of the ugly caricatures and words emanating from the Arab world? It is not anti-Islamic or anti-intellectual to note and analyze the centrality of Jew-hatred in this anti-Western ideology.

We need consciences, not scholarship, to condemn anti-Semitism, and we have institutes galore to track it.

Scholars can help define boundaries, create categories, sharpen vocabulary, explain origins, compare phenomena and provide context – also giving a reality check and warning of pro-Israel overreactions too.

Anti-Semitism has been around for too long, done too much damage, perverted too much contemporary diplomacy and campus politics, to be ignored.

Yale University should be congratulated for relaunching this program. Others should follow.


Feds crack down on campus flirting and sex jokes

When I was growing up it was widely believed that colleges and universities were the part of our society with the widest scope for free expression and free speech. In the conformist America of the 1950s, the thinking ran, few people dared to say anything that went beyond a broad consensus. But on campus anyone could say anything he liked.

Today we live in an America with enormous cultural variety in which very few things are considered universally verboten. But on campus it's different. There saying something considerably milder than some of the double entrendres you heard in cable news coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal can get you into big trouble.

These reflections are inspired by a seemingly innocuous 19-page letter on April 4 from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to colleges and universities. The letter was given prominence by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has done yeoman work opposing restrictive speech codes issued by colleges and universities.

OCR's letter carries great weight since there are few things a university president fears more than an OCR investigation, which can lead to loss of federal funds -- which amount to billions of dollars in some cases.

The OCR letter includes a requirement that universities adopt a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof for deciding cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In other words, in every case of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault, a disciplinary board must decide on the basis of more likely than not.

That's far short of the requirement in criminal law that charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And these disciplinary proceedings sometimes involve charges that could also be criminal, as in cases of alleged rape.

But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include "humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable" (University of California at Berkeley), "unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people" (Iowa State University) or "elevator eyes" (Murray State University in Kentucky).

All of which means that just about any student can be hauled before a disciplinary committee. Jokes about sex will almost always make someone uncomfortable, after all, and usually you can't be sure if flirting will be welcome except after the fact. And how do you define "elevator eyes"?

Given the prevailing attitudes among faculty and university administrators, it's not hard to guess who will be the target of most such proceedings. You only have to remember how rapidly and readily top administrators and dozens of faculty members were ready to castigate as guilty of rape the Duke lacrosse players who, as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded, were absolutely innocent.

What the seemingly misnamed Office of Civil Rights is doing here is demanding the setting up of kangaroo courts and the dispensing of what I would call marsupial justice against students who are disfavored by campus denizens because of their gender or race or political attitude. "Alice in Wonderland's" Red Queen would approve.

As Lukianoff points out, OCR had other options. The Supreme Court in a 1999 case defined sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims' educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." In other words, more than a couple of tasteless jokes or a moment of elevator eyes.

Lukianoff and FIRE have an admirable record of defending students' and faculty members' free speech regardless of their point of view, but anyone familiar with their work knows that the most frequent targets of campus disciplinary groups are male, conservative, religious or some combination thereof.

I wonder whether there is some connection between this and the dwindling percentage of men who enroll in and graduate from college. Are we allowing -- and encouraging -- our university administrators to create an atmosphere so unwelcoming and hostile to males that we are missing out on the contributions they could make with a college or graduate degree?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has shown an admirable openness to argument and intellectual debate. Perhaps someone will ask him whether he wants his department to be encouraging kangaroo courts and marsupial justice on campuses across the country.


One in four primary school pupils in Britain are from an ethnic minority and almost a million schoolchildren do not speak English as their first language

More than a quarter of primary school children are from an ethnic minority – an increase of almost half a million since 1997, it emerged yesterday.

The Government’s annual school census painted a picture of a changing Britain where schools are under mounting pressure from mass immigration.

In some areas, only 8 per cent of primary pupils are from a white British background. Nearly one million children aged five to 16 – 957,490 – speak English as a second language, up from almost 800,000 five years ago. And 26.5 per cent of primary pupils – 862,735 – are from an ethnic minority. When Labour took office in 1997, the total was 380,954. At secondary level, the total of ethnic minority children – 723,605 – has risen from 17.7 per cent to 22.2 per cent in five years.

The biggest group of ethnic minority pupils were Asians [from India & Pakistan & Bangladesh], making up 10 per cent of primary pupils and 8.3 per cent of secondary pupils. The number from ‘other white backgrounds’ in primaries has almost doubled since 2004 – from 74,500 to 136,880 – reflecting arrivals from Eastern Europe and other new EU member states.

In Manchester, Bradford, Leicester and Nottinghamshire white British primary pupils are in a minority. And in Luton just 30 per cent are classified as white British. In some London boroughs, such as Newham, only 8 per cent of children up to the age of 11 are from a white British background.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of think-tank MigrationWatch, said this was an ‘inevitable consequence of Labour’s policy of mass immigration’. He added: ‘We now have nearly a million schoolchildren whose first language is not English and who consequently need extra attention which can only be at the expense of English-speaking students.

‘This underlines the need for the Government to meet its commitment to get net migration down to tens of thousands by 2015.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Having English as a second language doesn’t always mean that English skills are necessarily poor. It only shows the language the child was initially exposed to at home – the evidence is clear that once English is established, children catch up and even overtake their peers.’

Overall, 24 per cent of children in primary and secondary schools are of an ethnic minority – 1,586,340. The DfE classification of ‘white British’ does not include Irish, traveller, gipsy or Roma pupils.

A record number of parents are lodging appeals after their children were refused places at their primary school of choice. DfE figures show there were 42,070 such appeals in 2009/10 – a 10.5 per cent rise on the year before and a doubling since 2005/6. Immigration and families trying to get into sought-after schools have been blamed.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Texas Teacher Chastises 6th Grade Students for Watching Fox News Instead of CNN

In Late May 2011, I was contacted by a parent who told me a troubling story of finding out that her daughter’s 6th grade classmates were being chastised for watching Fox News (see what the teacher said below). The School is in Lumberton ISD in Lumberton, TX and the teacher is Karen Talbert who teaches science class. Upon learning this information, I wanted to make certain that this information was correct before going forward. I talked to fellow teachers of Karen Talbert who told me that Mrs. Talbert was a nice lady who was not shy about expressing her political opinions. I believe that she is a nice lady and I believe that it is perfectly fine to express one’s opinion, but is it appropriate to express your personal political opinions as fact to impressionable 6th grade students?

My next step was to meet with the family. They are a nice family who seem genuinely concerned that their daughter is being told by a teacher which news stations to watch. The most troubling part is that these parents almost did not know what happened in their daughter’s class. That is the problem with a leftist agenda in schools. It mostly goes undetected because the students believe their teachers tell them only right things so there is no reason for them to run home and tell their parents what their teacher said in school. When I met the parents of this 6th grade girl, the mother sat down and wrote out the following statement about the incident:
“One night last week we were all sitting at the dinner table and our daughter asked 'is Fox News the national news?' We said yes and asked why. She told us that her teacher told the class that Fox News was bad and that they should only watch CNN.

Our daughter is 12 years old in 6th grade at Lumberton intermediate School. Her teacher who is telling the class this is Mrs. Karen Talbert, a 6th grade science teacher. We started to tell our daughter that this was not right of her teacher and that she should not listen to the teacher’s personal views.

Our daughter then told us about the time that one of her classmates was talking to another classmate and she made the comment 'Fox News said that Obama was not making good decisions.' Our daughter then told us that Mrs. Talbert went up to this girl’s desk and put her hand down on the desk and started yelling at her about how Fox News doesn’t know what they are talking about and they never tell the whole story so if you want good news and the right news you need to watch CNN. Our daughter said the classmate looked like she was going to cry because the teacher was getting so upset.

As a parent, I am not concerned what news station someone else watches. My concern is that a teacher should not be giving her personal political views to students. They get enough bad influences as it is and they don’t need it from teachers too.”

That statement is straight from the mother of one of the little girls in this science class.

It is not surprising that there are liberal teachers in this conservative community of Lumberton, TX. It was only a couple years ago that I passed out an American flag to every house in Lumberton on the anniversary of 9/11. The flag came with a flyer promoting conservative values. I was not very surprised that I got an email from someone who was not happy. This person said she was a liberal and said I was wrong and that she will pray to Mother Mary to have her son Jesus help us conservatives make it through this Democratic Rule.

The thing that surprised me though was that this person signed this letter as “Michelle Champagne, Junior English and World History Teacher”. As you can see, this person did not sign her letter as a concerned citizen. She signed her letter as a high school teacher. I certainly would question what kind of a slant that she has in her history lessons.

We wonder why there is such a strong movement in Texas towards Homeschooling and Private Schools. It is because parents do not want their children indoctrinated by a leftist agenda in Textbooks or even by liberal teachers themselves, such as this Lumberton ISD teacher chastising students for watching Fox News.

Public Schools are a double edged sword. On one hand you want to send your kids there to learn. On the other hand it is horrifying to see the immoral and violent environment that children have to be in at many public schools.

It was just in the last few months that Mansfield ISD was exposed for mandating Arabic Culture training, or how about the incident at Seagoville ISD (Dallas, TX) where the teacher watched a bully beat up another student and did not even call for help, or how about when a school like in Lumberton ISD performs a play with vulgar language and that talked about minors putting ads online to get laid.

How about when parents are selective in the negative influences their children are exposed to and then their child gets on the school bus and the music is blaring songs that glorify sex and violence. I remember a couple of years ago my little brother was humming a very inappropriate song that he did not even know what the words meant in the song. I asked where he learned that song and he told me on the school bus. Most schools, like Lumberton ISD, have radios on the busses and there are no restrictions to what is played to the students of all ages riding on the bus.

I could go on and on about the immoral and violent environment of many public schools, but you get the point already.

I am very concerned about the negative and inappropriate environment that children are forced to be in at Public Schools. I hope this story of a Lumberton ISD teacher telling children that Fox News is bad will open up the eyes of parents so that the parents will start asking more questions and demand that schools do a better job of creating a safe and neutral environment for their children.


'Unacceptable' exam blunders in bungling Britain

Exams taken by tens of thousands of schoolchildren have contained errors this summer.

The Education Secretary ordered the qualifications watchdog to intervene after tens of thousands of pupils taking Latin, maths and physics papers were presented with impossible questions or printing mistakes.

It is believed at least nine tests have now been affected by errors this summer, sparking claims from head teachers that the credibility of the exams system is under threat.

The latest mistakes came just weeks after Ofqual ordered all exam boards to carry out emergency checks on papers being sat throughout June to eradicate further mistakes.

On Tuesday, one board at the centre of a series of blunders issued a fresh apology and pledged to sack staff responsible.

In its first intervention since the mistakes came to light, the Department for Education said the errors were "completely unacceptable". "The Secretary of State is angry about these and other errors," a spokesman said. "He has said repeatedly that the exam system is discredited and action must be taken. The department has been in close contact with Ofqual and the Secretary of State is speaking to them today to get a briefing on what action they are taking.”

The latest errors centred around two GCSEs in maths and Latin and an A-level physics paper. One maths exam set by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance included questions originally answered by pupils taking the same test in March.

The printing error affected up to 31,659 pupils taking the exam at 567 schools and colleges on Tuesday morning.

AQA said some schools had received the correct paper, while others received the "problem" paper, which had new questions at the beginning and end, but old ones in the middle. Some schools were sent a combination of correct and problem papers.

The exam board apologised for the error, adding: “We are in the process of investigating with our printers how this problem has arisen.”

Two more errors in tests set by the OCR exam board also came to light. One A-level physics paper – sat by almost 8,000 students on Tuesday morning – contained a measurement given in both centimetres and metres, when it should have been in metres only. One question was affected, worth two to four marks.

A Latin GCSE sat by up to 8,000 pupils in 540 schools and colleges on Monday asked candidates to answer a series of questions about a piece of prose. But the questions contained three separate references to either the wrong author or the wrong characters contained within the text. The errors were collectively worth 14 out of 50 marks.

Bene't Steinberg, director of public affairs at Cambridge Assessment, which operates the OCR board, insisted the errors covered a tiny proportion of the 16,000 questions set every year. But he added: “We are very upset and angry about this and, when we get to the bottom of what’s happened, the person responsible will lose their job.”

David Craggs, headmaster of Gad’s Hill independent school in Kent, attacked the AQA printing error, adding: “It is vital that pupils, parents and employers have faith in the examinations. Unfortunately, episodes such as this undermine the credibility of the exam system as a whole.”


Pathetic Australian public school leaves kids wearing blankets

WHILE most schools insist on ties and blazers, Greensborough College's new uniform policy is likely to be somewhat more unusual - blankets will be allowed to be worn in class. The school council will vote today to amend temporarily the uniform policy and allow students to bring blankets to school due to occupational health and safety concerns.

"The school is responsible for the well-being of children and this is the only way we can see we can meet their needs," said school council president Glen Martin.

Greensborough College's power supply is so inadequate, the electricity has cut out four times this winter, leaving students shivering in classrooms without heating. "It is always on bitter cold mornings … if the power goes out even the gas heaters don't work," principal John Conway said.

Year 9 student Nick Goldsmith said students were already allowed to wear beanies and scarves in class - provided they were in the school's colours of navy blue and white.

"Last Thursday the year 12s were doing a GAT [general achievement test] and the power went out," Nick said. "It does get pretty cold."

Conditions at Greensborough College, which was promised a $20 million upgrade by the previous government, are so Dickensian a corridor floor collapsed last year, trapping bags under the building. "The building has been sinking into the ground for over 40 years - the stumps are rotten," Mr Conway said.

An audit found the school needed a 400-amp power supply rather than the existing 300-amp supply. However, this would cost $187,000 and the Education Department told Greensborough College it would have to fork out for a quarter of the cost. "I've written a submission to the department, saying I can't pay that," Mr Conway said.

He said Greensborough College's enrolments had jumped from 355 to 986 in the past 10 years, and the school had to spend all its cash reserves on things like new lockers just to cope with the influx of students. "We had to spend locally raised funds on facilities development, including building a new kitchen," he said.

Mr Martin said parents were frustrated the Baillieu government had not committed funding to the school and hoped the blanket uniform policy would highlight the deprivation. "The government is spending nothing in the northern suburbs on education - we are the forgotten suburbs," he said.

Local Labor MP Colin Brooks said students at Greensborough College should not be punished because of the way their parents voted. "It's time that the Premier stopped dithering and intervened in this embarrassing saga," he said.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said the education department was working with the school to help overcome its power supply and facilities issues. "The department has provided more than $80,000 for internal electrical works at the school and is also currently undertaking an energy audit of the school site," Mr Dixon said.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Florida teachers union sues state over new pension law

The state's largest teachers union joined with other labor organizations Monday in suing Gov. Rick Scott to overturn a new 3 percent payroll contribution demanded of 655,000 government workers who belong to the Florida Retirement System.

The Florida Education Association said the suit was the first of several it intends to file to block policies enacted by the Republican-ruled legislature. Union attorney Ron Meyer said a challenge is coming soon to the merit-pay plan that became the first bill Scott signed into law.

Scott and other state officials are named as defendants in the class-action suit filed Monday on behalf of 11 public employees who are members of the retirement system.

A central provision of the lawsuit claims the legislation (SB 2100) violates a contractual agreement with public employees that dates to 1974, when the pension plan was converted to a "noncontributory system" for workers. "We believe a promise is a promise and the state of Florida should live by the promises it makes," Meyer said after filing the suit in Leon County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit also asks the court to issue an injunction ordering the 3 percent contributions, which kick in July 1, to be segregated in a state account pending the legal outcome. Meyer said it's likely the case will eventually go to the Florida Supreme Court.

Scott said he was confident the state would prevail. "Asking state employees to pay a small percentage into their pensions is common sense," Scott said. "Floridians who don't work in government are required to pay into their own retirement. This is about fairness for those who don't have government jobs."

Scott in his budget proposal this year recommended even more sweeping changes to the state's pension fund, including 5 percent payroll contributions from employees. Lawmakers, however, settled on demanding 3 percent from the paychecks of retirement system workers, pulling roughly $1 billion into the state treasury and helping close an almost $3.8 billion budget shortfall.

Teachers and other school personnel represent the majority of the 655,000 members of the retirement system affected by the new law. But the 11 workers suing the state include members of the AFL-CIO; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Fraternal Order of Police; and Service Employees International Union.

After the lawsuit was filed, the Florida Police Benevolent Association filed a motion with the court, seeking to join the legal challenge.

Officials with Palm Beach County's teachers union praised the Florida Education Association's lawsuit. Executive Director Tony Hernandez said the 3 percent contribution is "a form of taxing teachers to balance the state budget."

"It's unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game," said Kathi Gundlach, acting president of the Classroom Teachers Association, the county's teachers union. "This affects our teachers' livelihoods," she said.

The Palm Beach County School District is expected to save $55 million in fiscal 2012 with the savings it gains by having to contribute less to employees' retirement accounts, Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said. "The state reduced our funding more than $90 million," Burke said. "We're banking on that money to help the budget."

The FEA and many of the unions represented in Monday's lawsuit had been heavy backers of Democrat Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Scott in November. House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West praised the lawsuit, echoing claims about the contribution amounting to an income tax.

"Florida House Democratic Caucus members fought this unconstitutional attempt to balance the state budget on the backs of our public servants," Saunders said. "I am pleased to see the FEA continue the fight against this mandatory personal income tax."


An extended school year in Britain?

Schools will open throughout the year and teach on Saturdays under a Coalition plan to raise education standards, it emerged today.

The Government’s flagship “free schools” will be given new powers to shake-up the academic year by axing traditional holidays and staging booster lessons outside the normal timetable, it emerged.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the plans would help working parents and provide extra tuition for children falling behind.

In a speech on Monday, he praised one school in Norwich that is proposing to open for six days a week for 51 weeks of the year. Others are planning to keep pupils in school until at least 5pm or stage regular weekend lessons.

The disclosure came as it emerged some 281 bids have been made to run free schools since March. Of those, it is believed 100 will open next year.

Free schools are state-funded institutions run by parents, teachers’ groups, private companies, religious organisations and charities.

On Monday, it emerged that Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Coalition’s favourite head teacher and principal of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, is to open his own free school in the south of the deprived London borough.

With complete freedom from local authority control, the schools can rewrite the curriculum, deviate from national rules on staff pay and set their own admissions.

Mr Gove said others would also use their freedom to alter the length of the school day and academic years. "Free schools offer a genuine alternative and they have the freedom to be different; like the Norwich Free School, which will integrate high-quality education and child care year-round,” he said.

"The school will be sited right in the heart of Norwich so that working parents can make full use of the affordable extended school provision, which will be available on the school premises for six days each week, 51 weeks of the year."

The school – being opened by a group of teachers and working parents in September – says it will run an "extended service" paid for by families, before and after school. The only time it will be closed is for a week at Christmas and bank holidays. The school is also planning to split the year into six terms, with a two-week break between each and four weeks off in August.

The West London Free School, spearheaded by writer Toby Young, which is also due to open in September, says it expects pupils to stay in school, or at music and drama clubs until 5pm between Monday and Friday.

Mossbourne Academy, which was opened under the last Labour Government, already operates a longer school day and opens at weekends.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange conference, Sir Michael said the school had helped to raise standards by having the children stay in school until "six, seven or eight in the evening". Often they have their evening meal at school, he added.

A Government spokesman said: "Free schools and academies can open year-round if they want to. They can change the school day, the length of the school term however much they want."


Britain's church schools under threat, warns Bishop of Oxford

The Church is in danger of being driven out of public education by Government reforms and a generation of teachers ignorant of even the basic tenets of Christianity, a senior cleric has warned.

A rush to introduce new academies and changes to the curriculum could threaten the very “survival” of the church schools system unless urgent action is taken, according to the head of the Church of England’s Board of Education.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, also warned that a tide of secularisation had undermined the standard of teaching of the Christian faith. Even in schools run by the church itself many teachers now lack a “default understanding” of Christianity, he said.

The warnings are contained in a hard hitting report about the state of faith schools and religious education to be debated by the Church of England’s General Synod next month.

Around a million children are currently being educated in Church of England schools with a similar number benefiting from a Roman Catholic or other Christian education. But the bishop said that a “call to action" was needed to maintain the "proud history" of the Church of England's contribution to education.

He described the Coalition’s education programme as the “the most fundamental shift in the publicly funded school system” since the 1944 Education Act which introduced the system of grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical institutions.

But he said that "very short notice" had been given for many recent changes as the Government agenda is "driven through” Parliament adding: “This is not the best way to build for the future.”

Amid doubts about the level of influence the Church will continue to have in schools which convert to become independently run academies, some feared that the religious foundation could quickly “drift until it had no meaning”, he added. “The changed rationale and growth of academies requires action now to ensure the survival of our provision,” he said.

The Bishop, who provoked controversy earlier this year with plans to cut the number of places in church schools, also stepped up his criticism of the decision to exclude RE from the new “English Baccalaureate” standard. The decision had had an “immediate and depressing effect” on the number of pupils choosing the subject, he said.

But he added that a wider tide of secularisation also threatens to the teaching of Christianity. “Standards in RE are not healthy,” he said. “In particular the teaching and learning about Christianity is generally not well done.

“The Church of England should not be overly complacent about the quality of teaching about Christianity in its own schools. “Syllabuses generally do not give enough help to teachers now entering the profession who lack even a default understanding of Christianity. “While Diocesan Boards of Education still provide in-service support for teachers the mountain is very large and progress is slow.”


Monday, June 20, 2011

Who cares about American history?

by Jeff Jacoby

WHEN THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION last week released the results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress -- "the Nation's Report Card" -- the bottom line was depressingly predictable: Not even a quarter of American students is proficient in US history, and the percentage declines as students grow older. Only 20 percent of 6th graders, 17 percent of 8th graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrate a solid grasp on their nation's history. In fact, American kids are weaker in history than in any of the other subjects tested by the NAEP -- math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics.

How weak are they? The test for 4th-graders asked why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure in US history and a majority of the students didn't know. Among 8th-graders, not even one-third could correctly identify an advantage that American patriots had over the British during the Revolutionary War. And when asked which of four countries -- the Soviet Union, Japan, China, and Vietnam -- was North Korea's ally in fighting US troops during the Korean War, nearly 80 percent of 12th-graders selected the wrong answer.

Historically illiterate American kids typically grow up to be historically illiterate American adults. And Americans' ignorance of history is a familiar tale.

When it administered the official US citizenship test to 1,000 Americans earlier this year, Newsweek discovered that 33 percent of respondents didn't know when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, 65 percent couldn't say what happened at the Constitutional Convention, and 80 percent had no idea who was president during World War I. In a survey of 14,000 college students in 2006, more than half couldn't identify the century when the first American colony was founded at Jamestown, the reason NATO was organized, or the document that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Numerous other surveys and studies confirm the gloomy truth: Americans don't know much about history.

Somewhere in heaven, it must all make Harry Truman weep.

He never attended college and had no formal intellectual credentials, but Truman was an avid, lifelong student of history. As a boy he had devoured Plutarch's Lives and Charles Horne's four-volume Great Men and Famous Women, developing an intimacy with history that would later become one of his greatest strengths. "When Truman talked of presidents past -- Jackson, Polk, Lincoln -- it was as if he had known them personally," the historian David McCullough wrote in his landmark biography of the 33rd president.

Truman may have been exaggerating in 1947 when he told Clark Clifford and other White House aides that he would rather have been a history teacher than president. Yet imagine how different the NAEP history scores would be if more teachers and schools in America today routinely imparted to their students a Trumanesque love and enthusiasm for learning about the past.

Alas, when it comes to history, as Massachusetts educator Will Fitzhugh observes, the American educational system imparts a very different message.

While the most promising high school athletes in this country are publicly acclaimed and profiled in the press and recruited by college coaches and offered lucrative scholarships, there is no comparable lauding of outstanding high school history students. A former public school history teacher, Fitzhugh is the publisher of The Concord Review, a journal he began in 1987 to showcase the writing of just such exceptional student scholars. The review has printed 924 high-caliber research papers by teenagers from 44 states and 39 nations, The New York Times reported in January, winning a few "influential admirers" along the way.

But this celebration of what Fitzhugh calls "varsity academics" amounts to just drops of excellence in the vast sea of mediocrity that is American history education. Another kind of excellence is represented by the National History Club that Fitzhugh launched in 2002 in order to encourage middle and high school students to "read, write, discuss, and enjoy history" outside the classroom. Beginning with a single chapter in Memphis, the club has grown into an independent national organization, with chapters in 43 states and more than 12,000 student members involved in a rich array of history-related activities.

"Our goal," says Robert Nasson, the club's young executive director, "is to create kids who are life-long students of history." He and Fitzhugh have exactly the right idea. But as the latest NAEP results make dismally clear, they are swimming against the tide.


Some British university students are now heading to America to study

With the cost of a British university set to triple, we are no longer sneering at the price Yanks put on education. Instead, we'd quite like a slice of that ourselves.

It was revealed this week that the number of British students applying to top American universities has risen by one third in the past year. The news was greeted not with outrage, but with resigned nods of the head.

"There's no question the fees increase has opened up the whole US market," says Norman Renshaw, whose firm InTuition Services helps find American scholarships for British undergraduates. "The question parents are asking is whether the increase in UK fees will mean increased investment on the part of those universities. And the answer is no. So they're coming to the conclusion that they should look elsewhere."

More and more their gaze is heading westwards. According to the Fulbright Commission, which facilitates the flow of students back and forth across the Atlantic, there has never been a greater British interest in American colleges.

"The number of UK students in the States is 8,861, two per cent up on the previous year," says the commission's senior adviser, Lauren Welch. "And that's just for the year 2009-10, which is before the fees increase became a big issue. Plus, we've had a 30 per cent increase in web traffic, and at our last US College Day, in London, we got 4,000 visitors in one day, which was 50 per cent up on the previous year."

While British universities are turning down more applicants per year, American universities are making strenuous efforts to harvest this sudden, abundant crop of young Brits.

"More British citizens come to Florida than any other nationality - only now we want to import not just holidaymakers, but students," says J Robert Spatig, of the University of South Florida, in Tampa, who has been on four fresher-hunting trips to the Britain in the past nine months.

"In fact, your £9,000 fee mark is pretty much the same as the amount we charge," he says, "which is $15,000 [£9,375 at current exchange rates]. The cost of living is much lower in the US, and on top of that, we are in a position to extend scholarships that start at £4,000 per year, and go up to £6,000 for your most able students. All of a sudden, we have become less expensive than your University of Manchester. Plus we have better weather."

Not all American universities are as fee-friendly as South Florida, however. According to the US College Board, average undergraduate tuition rates are £12,000 at state-funded universities and £16,800 at their private counterparts. And that's not including living costs of around £5,500 per year. The top institutions charge higher fees, around £23,750.

"It's very likely that you'll end up applying to a university you've never heard of," says Welch. "That doesn't mean it's not top-notch. There are 4,000 universities in the United States, of which 70 are ranked among the world's top 200."

True enough, the choice is astonishing: there are 700 universities in California alone, as opposed to 300 universities and further education colleges in the United Kingdom. So where do would-be applicants start? And how do they know they're applying to the kind of institution that appears in Social Network, rather than Animal House?

A good place to look is one of the university ranking guides, such as those compiled by US News (America only) or software firm QS (worldwide). Things to consider are size of student population (from 4,000 to 40,000) and level of academic requirement (the lower it is, the better your chance of a scholarship).

But that's just the start. In terms of prestige (and cost), you need to know if your intended alma mater is one of the eight north-eastern Ivy League universities such as Yale, Harvard or Brown, where Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, went to study; one of the 30 "public" Ivies (less famous, but still top-notch, for example Michigan, North Carolina at Chapel Hill); or one of the 62 Association of American Universities colleges (membership by invitation only). Private universities tend to be smaller and more expensive than state-funded ones. Liberal arts colleges have a broader curriculum, and are geared more towards undergraduates, while research colleges are more graduate-orientated.

After finding some possible colleges, a student must take a Sat, or scholarship aptitude test, which is like a grown-up 11-plus, incorporating maths, writing and critical reading. The Fulbright Commission offers limited hand-holding, but you can expect a warmer embrace from organisations that specialise in finding places and scholarships for Brits.

The boldest claims are made by InTuition services, which guarantees 10 academic scholarship offers, or a refund of your fee (£1,560). It also runs a sports scholarship trip to Florida, on which you spend 10 days trying to impress US college coaches (£2,340). For a more modest fee (£995), Pass4Soccer puts on a showcase event, during which young British footballers attempt to catch the eye of American coaches.

"Getting a US soccer scholarship was the best thing that ever happened to me," says Pass4Soccer's Tom Nutter, a former England Under-16 footballer, who went to Texas A&M University in 2005, on a 75 per cent scholarship. "The facilities are tremendous, and you get treated like a real professional. I got to play against lots of guys who went on to play for the US national team, and at the end of it all, I came out with a degree, which I might not have got if I'd tried to make it as a pro in England. You're a student first and an athlete second; the coaches would actually go round the lecture halls in person to check you were attending the classes."

There's one thing that all British students acknowledge: you're expected to work much harder at an American university. "You take five subjects per semester, and in each you have to attend two lectures and one discussion per week, or you get marked down," says 24-year-old Edward East, who went to the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville.

"You've got to keep your grade point average up all the time," says Lauren Hewett, who is on a tennis scholarship at the University of Tampa, Florida. "I was never entirely comfortable with idea of continual assessment for every piece of work you do, and for every class you attend or don't attend," says Adam Alfandary, who, instead of reading history at Cambridge, chose a liberal arts degree at Amherst College, in Massachussetts. "But you learn early on that you're in a place where people are uncompromisingly serious about education."

Ask any of these students whether it was worth the hard work, and they all respond in the affirmative.

"I've been offered a world of opportunities," says 21-year-old Laura Tunbridge, who was rejected from all her first-choice universities in Britain, but won a scholarship at Yale. "I've been to Ecuador to study Spanish, to Vermont to ski, and to New York to see the City Ballet. Because Yale is a liberal arts college, you study such a wide range. I'm majoring in film studies, but I've studied Spanish, philosophy, astronomy, English, applied mathematics and theatre."

As well as broadening minds, it seems a transatlantic degree strengthens character, too. "He's so much more mature and confident than when he left Britain," says accountant Barbara Allen of her son Will, who has just finished a degree in nano-physics at McGill University, Montreal.

"His time there has given him a truly international perspective. He's still only 22, yet the idea of going to live and work in a foreign country leaves him undaunted. I'm in no doubt that it's been money well spent."


100 'free schools' to open in Britain next year

More than 100 schools run by parents, teachers and charities will open in little over a year in a boost to the Coalition's Big Society programme, ministers will say.

Some 281 applications have been made in the past three months to establish a new wave of "free schools" - government-funded institutions run independent of local council control.

New figures show almost 60 per cent of bids to open new-style schools have been made by community groups. Around a fifth come from independent schools seeking to open satellite campuses for parents unable to pay for a private education.

In most cases, applicants are attempting to establish new schools because of a shortage of places in the local area or to "address historic academic failure", the Government said.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will use a speech today to insist that his "free school" policy is on track to meet initial targets. Last month, Labour said the Big Society idea - designed to devolve power to communities - was "descending into farce" after Lord Wei, the peer in charge of the reforms, said he would stand down.

Addressing a conference in London today, Mr Gove will point to "extremely promising" recent "free school" applications as evidence that the reforms are working. "Our critics said it was impossible to open a school in little more than a year. Several will open this September," he said ahead of the speech. "Our reforms are about creating a generation of world-class schools, free from meddling and prescription, that provide more children with the type of education previously reserved for the rich."

Under the policy, any non-profit making group can apply to open a school free of local council interference. The group will have almost complete independence to hire staff, set teachers' pay, alter the academic year and write the curriculum.

Some 323 applications were made to open schools last year with about 90 per cent rejected because of weak business cases. Forty were improved, and about 14 schools are expected to open in September.

Of 281 applications made under a new, more rigorous, regime launched this year, it is estimated that around 100 will open in September next year. Of those, most are for mainstream schools, although a small number of bidders are seeking to open institutions for pupils with special needs or those expelled from ordinary primaries and secondaries.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Indoctrination Fridays: California Federation of Teachers Works Unionizing Propaganda into Curriculum

The California Federation of Teachers thinks it’s important for kids to learn how to run a business. I come from a small business family, so I’m cool with that. The curriculum immediately starts off on the wrong foot, though, because it’s not from the perspective of an entrepreneur, but rather a disgruntled employee.

A “Labor Studies Curriculum for Elementary Schools,” entitled “The Yummy Pizza Company,” takes up to 20 classroom hours over a two-week period. Important concepts in the 10 lessons, such as the value of work and money management, are critical components, but are quickly overshadowed by the fact that 40% of the curriculum is about forming Pizza Makers Union Local 18. That’s right – the program is focused on teaching kids to unionize.

I don’t suppose this creative curriculum has anything do to with current issues, like collective bargaining privileges for public employees. Teachers wouldn’t be so blatant as to involve young children in their political issues, would they?

Art lessons are incorporated into the curriculum. Students are assigned the task of designing a union logo and membership cards. Math is also a focus. Part of the lesson involves calculating “union dues as a percentage of wages.”

But the lesson doesn’t end with forming the union. What’s next? Contract negotiations, of course! Yes, elementary kids are then taught the finer points of collective bargaining. Members of the Pizza Makers Union may “vote to accept offer, negotiate further or strike.”

The next lesson covers “Unions in the real world,” where “Students will learn about a real union and how it helped its members,” as well as “some labor history and a few prominent labor leaders.”

Kids are then encouraged to interview their parents about whether or not they belong to a labor union. Additionally, students will “act out the life of a labor leader.” One wonders how students will manage to depict the thuggery that union bosses have become famous for.

At the end of the curriculum, San Francisco teacher Bill Morgan gave a first-hand account of his use of these lessons.

“Like many teachers involved in the labor movement, I have tried to bring labor and workplace issues into my classroom. The best I could manage was some isolated history lessons about this or that strike, or some organizer who showed exemplary courage or dedication.”

But Morgan felt he needed a stronger lesson to drive his point home.

“At this point, I decided, as the Curriculum stipulates, to explore the down side of management – labor relations.” So he decided to cut students’ pay in the classroom Yummy Pizza shop.

“This is where the lesson became reality. A storm of protest arose, and many of the students decided to follow the example of Cesar Chavez (who we were studying) and go on strike. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven students present that day voted to strike, and strike they did. With my few faithful scabs, I tried to make pizza that next day. Strikers kept coming over to them, trying to convince them to walk out. Three did, and I was left with only three helpers. When we went downstairs to the yard to see our pizza cookies, things got uglier. Picketers walked back and forth in front of our stand, strikers came up and sneezed on the cookies, and told the other kids not to buy them and a scuffle broke out over a sign.”

Are you freaking kidding me?

Morgan says he successfully propagandized his students.

“Just say we were able to confront in an organic, not imposed way, some of the central economic and social issues of our society. I would encourage anyone who is interested in labor and workplace issues to use the ‘Yummy Pizza’ curriculum,” he ended.

These 20 hours of educational time are little more than a back door way for labor unions and their most strident activists to foist their propaganda on unwitting elementary students. Morgan acknowledges the subtle manner he used to deliver his ultimate message. It is critical parents are aware of it, be on the lookout for it, and if they choose, try to root it out of their schools.

Morgan isn’t the only union activist pushing this stuff in his classroom. In nearby Berkeley, 2nd grade teacher Margot Pepper explained in a 2007 edition of Race, Poverty & the Environment, “For over a decade I’ve been teaching my six-, seven-, and eight-year-old students to strike against me.” Like Morgan, Pepper acts like the mean boss and invites confrontation and leads students to specific conclusions.

“…I give workers hints, like reading Si Se Puede by Diana Cohn, about the Los Angeles Janitor’s strike, or encouraging them to engage in a tug of war with me over a jump rope in which they all have to join together to bring me down. One year, students snuck into the classroom and made picket signs out of construction paper, masking tape, and poles made of linked markers or meter sticks. I’ve found it’s best to demote supervisors to a non-managerial position just as we go to lunch, so they will feel a sense of solidarity with workers, instead of terrorizing them into complacency, as nearly happened this year.

“Once workers realize I’m powerless before their united action, they immediately overthrow all class rules. They scream until I surrender. After the class quiets down, I quickly explain that some rules exist to benefit the boss, the others, for the good of all. They ratify each rule anew, and have consistently thrown out the new contract as benefiting only their employer.”

Socialists realize they don’t need to win political offices to change America. They can do it through education, the arts and the media. Changing culture in general, they know, will be far more damaging to the American experiment and harder to undo than an election. That’s precisely what they’re doing.


School sports under threat in Britain

This is the time of year when schoolchildren learn that there’s more to life than lessons, and the nation’s playing fields, heavy with the whiff of freshly mown grass, resound to cries of “Come on, Phoebe! Break her legs!” School sports day is a quintessential part of British life, but its future is threatened by regulation, greed and paranoia – and the game is ours to lose.

Last week, Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture – a brief that apparently encompasses the promotion of competitive bean-bag passing – launched the latest in a long line of mostly inglorious government initiatives intended to revive sport in schools. Based around a series of regional “Games Festivals”, the programme will culminate in a national schools’ event in September.

Not that the minister over-played his suitability for the task. “I went to a sport-mad school,” he said. “Sport was compulsory. And I was completely useless at it.” Ah-hah, but this sorry admission was simply to tease out the bigger point: that competition offers benefits even for those children who fail to win the prizes.

It was hard to argue. Any look at the national kidscape reveals the scale of an unfolding disaster. No previous generation has been so unfit, overfed and – bizarrely in an era of sporting celebrity worship – so ill-disposed to exercise. The consequences are all too obvious. Computer games, TV and junk food are becoming the recreational norm for our children. If they get any fatter, we’ll have to start taking school photos from the air.

Yet there are those who do argue. Most come from within the state school sector, and their thinking goes that children could be traumatised by losing, so it’s better that no one should win. One upshot has been that the once-happy and wholesome ritual of the school sports day has become a battleground of ideas. In some places – particularly the big cities – the competitive element has been virtually stripped out in favour of “fun ’n’  fitness” days where everyone has a teamly romp, but no one is allowed to win anything. While in the better-off shires and boroughs, the redoubts of aspiration, a crazed culture of death-or-glory has taken hold. And that’s just among the parents.

Last year in the Telegraph, the comedienne Kathy Lette chronicled the ordeal that middle-class mothers must now endure with the approach of sports day. “Once upon a time,” she wrote, “the mothers’ race involved nothing more than a few fun, gentle heats, mums running in their stockinged feet, perhaps balancing an egg on a spoon. But ever since the advent of the alpha-mum – that breed of woman who has given up her high-powered job to be a high-powered mummy – the mothers’ race has become gladiatorial. My local park, Hampstead Heath, is chock-a-block with deranged, determined mothers, panting along with their personal trainers, trying to achieve Olympian stamina for the big day.”

Exaggerated? Not by much. “It’s the scariest day of the year in Notting Hill,” says Rachel Johnson, editor of The Lady. “Most of the mummies spend a whole year cross-training.” But as the competitive stakes have risen, the school playing field has become a treacherous place for today’s win-at-all-costs parents. According to Bupa, half of Britain’s physiotherapists have treated an adult with a sports day injury. Sprinting caused the most problems (33 per cent of injuries) followed by the three-legged race (17 per cent) and the sack race (15 per cent).

“School sports days can be surprisingly competitive,” said Dr Peter Mace, assistant director of Bupa, which commissioned the survey. “Men and women should warm up beforehand and not over-exert themselves.”

Palpitating with pushiness, and consumed by the desire to see all opposition crushed, the parents then get behind their children. Once, a schoolboy’s idea of embarrassment was that his mother might come to sports day in the wrong hat. Now, it’s that his dad will pick an argument with the headmaster. Schools routinely witness abuse and barracking of judges, and fights among spectators.

Not that parental enthusiasm is necessarily a bad thing. Dan Travis, a Sussex-based tennis coach, who campaigns across the country for traditional sports days, says: “In many cases, the parents are the last line of defence. They are the ones who stand up for sports day. They don’t accept this idea that losing will cause upset and disappointment to their children. They understand that that’s how life is, and they want competition.”

Yet the problems with sports day go well beyond trendy educational thinking. During the New Labour years, more than 2,000 playing fields were sold off, and although the rate has slowed, they are still vanishing. Today’s teachers – burdened with paperwork and target-setting – claim they no longer have time to run sports days. The insistence on criminal record checks has deterred many who would have volunteered to help in their place.

The health and safety contagion has delivered further blows. Schools routinely cancel sports days if it’s too wet, too hot, too cold or the field is bumpy. Recently, in the West Midlands, parents were contacted by lawyers offering to seek compensation payments for sports day injuries or sunburn. The result, says Josie Appleton, head of Manifesto, a civil liberties group that fights excessive regulation, “is that children are leading ever more sanitised, dull, unadventurous lives. They need the reality check of competition.”

It wasn’t always like this. The sports day tradition grew out of a stern Victorian belief that the best should always be encouraged, and the rest helped by their example. From it developed the notion of “muscular Christianity”, a particular speciality of public schools. With the 1902 Balfour Education Act, organised sport spread rapidly to the state sector, although the big day’s Spartan packaging was gradually softened with the encouragement of families to attend and the introduction of “fun” events such as the egg-and-spoon race.

Today the challenge is to save it. And not pull a hamstring in the process.


Lazy parenting blamed for kids being behind at school

Hang on! Most things that kids used to do as play have been banned as unsafe. No wonder they just watch TV

LAZY parenting is resulting in children starting school developmentally disadvantaged because they watch too much TV instead of playing and being read to.

A neuro-psychologist in the UK, Sally Goddard Blythe, researched the link between children who missed out on simple childhood activities and those who started school with learning problems.

She found many toddlers were watching 4.5 hours of TV a day instead of playing, and went on to start school with poor emotional development and motor skills.

Dr Marc de Rosnay, an early childhood development expert from the University of Sydney's school of psychology, said children were put in front of a television screen too often.

"We are living in a world where there are lots of opportunities for a child to be engaged with no one for an extended time," he said. "There is some decent research that shows that motor skills develop when kids are out and about and experiencing the physical world ... as a nation (we now have) more children growing up with low levels of activity. "There are government recommendations about how much TV kids should be watching, and it's not much."

While he stopped short of saying that parents who did not read to their children or interact with them were "neglectful", Dr de Rosnay said there were developmental consequences for children who missed out on that nurturing. "It's fair to say that children who miss out on interacting with their parents, peers and siblings will find themselves at a disadvantage compared with children who have had that interaction," he said.

But he added that using play to develop a bond and trust between parents and child was more important than teaching a child to read at a young age.

"We live in a world now where children are meant to be numerate and have the first steps of letter recognition before they start kindergarten," he said. "We used to live in a world where kindergarten was the place that was done."

Dr de Rosnay said there was no evidence that if a child started school unable to read and write it would affect their long-term learning.

Ms Goddard Blythe found that almost half of all UK five-year-olds who started school only had the motor skills of a baby, including the inability to hold a pencil. The cause, she said, was because parents had not spent enough time playing with their children or letting them play with others.

Ms Goddard-Blythe also argued that when children missed out on being read fairy tales, it impacted on their ability to understand "moral behaviour" and how to deal with emotions.