Saturday, July 02, 2011

Teachers Could Defer Obama Support

Widespread unhappiness among teachers about President Barack Obama's education policies is threatening to derail a National Education Association proposal to give him an early endorsement for re-election.

The political action committee of the NEA, the nation's largest union, adopted a resolution in May to endorse Mr. Obama. The proposal will come before the NEA's 9,000-member representative assembly on Monday at the union's annual convention here.

The union has never endorsed a presidential candidate this early in the campaign cycle, instead waiting to make the decision during the election year. But union leaders, anticipating a tough re-election campaign, wanted to bolster support for the president early on, a move that has run into opposition from union members.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the proposal has produced "lively debate" among the union's 3.2 million members. But he said conversations have focused mainly on whether to endorse the president so long before the election, rather than whether to support him at all.

"The next 18 months are going to be a toxic political environment, and it is really important for us to help balance the message," Mr. Van Roekel said. "President Obama has been a champion for education and for the right of middle-class Americans to bargain and have a voice. I think it's important to support him now."

Whether the rancor over the early endorsement will have long-term consequences is unclear. At some point, the NEA is likely to endorse Mr. Obama, as the union has never endorsed a Republican.

The NEA convention comes after teachers unions spent the last few months fighting nationwide efforts to scale back their power. In several Republican-controlled states, including Idaho, Ohio and Wisconsin, lawmakers severely restricted union collective-bargaining rights.

Organized labor, a power base for Democrats, could be crucial to Mr. Obama's re-election bid, especially in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said in an email that the campaign welcomes debate about education policies. "But there's no doubt about the president's commitment to education," he said. "The president increased access to higher-education funding at a lower cost to taxpayers, boosted early-childhood education funding and provided incentives to strengthen elementary and secondary education."

Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have had a testy relationship with teachers unions. The unions don't like the administration's embrace of charter schools—public schools run by non-government entities—or its support for the dismissal of ineffective teachers in low-performing schools.

NEA members have been particularly hostile to Race to the Top, Mr. Obama's initiative that awarded grants to states that embraced education overhauls such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. At last year's convention, NEA delegates gave the initiative a "no confidence" vote. One speaker was Diane Ravitch, an education historian critical of Obama's education policies.

This year, Vice President Joe Biden is one of the speakers who will address the convention.

Many delegates voiced displeasure as they gathered for this year's convention. Even some who said they planned to vote for the endorsement offered tepid support.

"The Obama administration does not deserve this endorsement now," said Fred Klonsky, an elementary-school teacher from outside Chicago. "We need to vote it down and send a message that this teacher-bashing campaign has got to stop."

Lynnette Teller, a delegate and school librarian from Rochester, Mich., said she supported Mr. Obama in 2008, but hasn't decided yet if she'll support the endorsement. "I'm not convinced he's supported teachers as much as he could have," she said.

The California Teachers Association, which has 1,100 convention delegates, also has wavered. Last month, the California State Council of Education, a smaller group of teachers that advises the delegates, voted the endorsement down. The full caucus has yet to take a position, but during a caucus meeting Thursday, a speaker won applause when she attacked the early endorsement.

Dean Vogel, chairman of the California delegation, said the State Council vote reflected antipathy toward Mr. Duncan, not Mr. Obama. "That vote signaled absolute discouragement and anger with the policies of the U.S. Department of Education," he said. "But I think we need to look at the big picture and see Mr. Obama is good for education."

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Mr. Duncan, acknowledged "differing views" between unionized teachers and the administration. "But, on the whole, our partnership with labor is having a positive impact on student learning and the teaching profession," he said.


British youth can't read or write, business leader claims in immigrants jobs row

Too many young people are unable to read, write or communicate properly and do not work hard, a business leader claimed, as mass immigration is named by the Government as the biggest threat to challenging the benefits culture.

The Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost, said business leaders knew there was a problem with youth unemployment but they could not afford to ignore cheaper skilled foreign workers.

Mr Frost said employers needed the "best people" and identified what he said were the problems with too many of Britain's youth, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said businesses expected "young people to come forward to them who are able to read, write, communicate and have a strong work ethic and too often that's not the case".

He added: "There's a stream of highly able eastern European migrants who are able to take those jobs and that's why they're taking them on. "They are skilled, they speak good English and, more importantly, they want to work."

His comments were in response to disclosures ahead of a speech by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, which is expected to urge business leaders to take on young people coming off welfare and "not just fall back on labour from abroad".

Mr Duncan Smith will say the Coalition’s attempts to get millions of people off benefits are being undermined by immigrant employment. He will add that tighter immigration controls are vital if Britain is to avoid “losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness”.

He says only immigrants with “something to offer” should be allowed into the country and that too often foreign workers purporting to be skilled take low-skilled jobs that could be occupied by British school leavers.

He warns David Cameron that a “slack” attitude to immigration will result in the Coalition repeating the mistakes made under Labour, when the vast majority of new jobs generated before the recession were taken by immigrants.

His comments represent the strongest criticism of immigration since Downing Street strategists advised that the Government should be tougher on the issue. They will be seen as a warning to Mr Cameron not to allow the Liberal Democrats to dictate a softer policy on the issue.

Mr Duncan Smith, who is in charge of a shake-up of the welfare system, will make his comments in a speech in Spain and they come as official figures show that the UK population is growing at its fastest rate for 50 years, driven by immigration.

“Even as our economy starts to pick up, and new jobs are created, there is a risk that young people in Britain won’t get the chances they deserve because businesses will continue to look elsewhere,” he will say.

The Work and Pensions Secretary will tell his audience that, before the recession, foreign nationals accounted for a “significant portion” of the rise in employment in Britain.

He will add: “And as we come out the other side we are seeing the situation repeat itself, with more than half of the rise in employment in the past year accounted for by foreign nationals. As a result of the last government’s slack attitude to immigration, it has become easy for businesses to look abroad for workers.” Mr Duncan Smith believes that some companies are using immigration as “an excuse to import labour to take up posts which could be filled by people already in Britain”.

He will say: “That’s why we must take tough action on this to tighten the rules on immigration across the major entry routes — work, student visas and family settlement — so that only those who have something clear to offer to the UK are able to come in.” The Coalition is placing a limit on the number of non-EU workers allowed into the country each year, but Mr Duncan Smith believes that companies and immigrants are still abusing the system

He will say: “I think there’s been a red herring in this debate around skills. A good proportion of foreign nationals in jobs in the UK are in semi or low-skilled occupations.

“And we know that a significant proportion of those coming into the UK purporting to be high-skilled workers have actually been doing low-skilled jobs once in the UK.”

He says Britain needs an immigration system that gives the unemployed “a level playing field”. “If we do not get this right then we risk leaving more British citizens out of work, and the most vulnerable group who will be the most affected are young people,” he will say.

“Controlling immigration is critical or we will risk losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness.”

The warning from Mr Duncan Smith is timely. Recent polling by No10 indicates that immigration, welfare benefits and crime are key concerns for voters.

Frank Field, the Labour MP and a government adviser on poverty, recently uncovered figures indicating that, in the first year of the Coalition, 87 per cent of the 400,000 newly created jobs went to immigrants.

Mr Duncan Smith had already unveiled plans to simplify the benefits system with a single universal credit designed to ensure that those in work were better off. He also introduced a work programme under which private firms were paid to train and return the long-term unemployed to the workplace.

In a rare speech on immigration earlier this year, Mr Cameron said he wanted to bring annual net migration down to just “tens of thousands” by 2015.

In 2009, Sir Terry Leahy, then the chief executive of Tesco, said the standards of too many schools were “woefully low”, leaving employers to “pick up the pieces”.


An Australian teachers' union defends credentialism

They've got a vested interest in believing that their teacher qualifications are worth something

The Northern Territory Education Union has slammed the Territory Government over its plans to employ people who are not qualified teachers to teach in Territory schools.

Teach for Australia is a program that began in Victoria last year and will now be introduced in the Territory. Under it, anyone who has graduated from university in any field can apply for a position as a teacher.

The Teacher's Registration Board recently ruled there was nothing in the Education Act to prevent people who have not had formal teaching qualifications from teaching.

In Victoria, people who take part in the program receive fortnightly visits by university tutors to check on their progress.

Matthew Cranitch from the NT branch of the Australian Education Union says there is no way that will happen in the Territory, given the remoteness of many schools. "They will literally be thrown in the deep end," he said. "These schools, these remote schools, they are very hard to staff for a reason." Mr Cranitch described the plan as a bandaid fix.

The union says Katherine High School and Barkly College are two schools where the program may begin next year.

Education Minister Chris Burns will not say which schools are being considered, but insists it is not about a teacher shortage. "It is all about attracting the brightest graduates, people who are very committed, as an alternative pathway to teaching in the Northern Territory and I think it's a positive thing," he said. "I don't really feel the union should be opposing it. I want to enter into constructive discussions with the union."

Mr Burns says he believes the program is a good idea. "This is not a blanket permission by the Teacher's Registration Board for bulk graduates for Teach For Australia to come to the Northern Territory," he said. "The important thing to emphasise here is there is less than 1 per cent vacancies in the Territory. "We are attracting quality teachers here."


Friday, July 01, 2011

Canada: Islamic Ritual Prayer Conducted At Toronto District School Board Middle School

No separation of church and State in Canada?

Every Friday my daughter's school cafeteria changes into a mosque as dozens of Muslim boys and their imams (Islamic preachers) lead Islamic ritual prayers and no one else can even walk through the cafeteria.

Some imams (Islamic preachers) come from the outside of the school and lead Muslim students in the Islamic prayer and this happens at the school Cafeteria after the lunch on Fridays. All other non-Muslims are in classes in the afternoon when they are using the cafeteria as mosque. There is a mosque nearby but the Muslim kids pray in the school

School administration take part preparing the Cafeteria and making it into mosque every Friday and no one but Muslims can use the Cafeteria during the Islamic prayers on Friday.

And there are a number of other incidents involving Islam and other anti-Christian issues that I complained about, including a white convert to Islam who was a supply teacher and who openly promoted Islam and bashed Christianity last year!"


Jobs gloom for a third of recent British university graduates as they languish in posts that do not require degree

More than a third of recent graduates are unemployed or languishing in stop-gap jobs that do not need a degree, official figures show. Students have been running up debts only to find themselves jobless or doing work for which they are over-qualified. One in ten of last year’s graduates – 20,000 – are unemployed and more than a quarter are in dead-end jobs.

The figures, published yesterday by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, will raise serious concerns about the value of getting a degree at a time when tuition fees are to rise to £9,000 a year.

Researchers analysed the destinations of 213,390 full-time first degree graduates who left university last summer. Some 133,940 were in employment only – equivalent to nearly two thirds. This is up from 59 per cent the year before. The remainder were unemployed, in full-time further study or a combination of further study and employment. Just 56 per cent of those employed were in an ‘occupational job’. Some 17 per cent of graduates were in further study.

The average salary for last year’s graduates was £20,500, the figures show – just below the £21,000 threshold at which they will have to start repaying their tuition fee loan from next year.

Michael Ossei, personal finance expert at, said the situation left potential students facing a dilemma. He said: ‘Going to university used to be the norm, but it is now becoming a catch-22.’

Universities minister David Willetts said: ‘The graduate jobs market is showing encouraging signs of improvement. However, graduates still need to work hard to maximise chances of success.’


Britain may at last have the education boss it needs

Since becoming Education Secretary last May, Mr Gove has scythed back the powers of the state. He has displayed shrewdness about the politics of deficit reduction. In short, he has been, by some distance, the most impressive member of the Cameron Cabinet.

The quirkiness has not disappeared entirely. Within hours of his appointment, he wandered into Downing Street and stepped on something slippery. Whoaa! He went head over tail, his pratfall being caught by the cameras. It was a very Govian moment and he responded by hooting with laughter.

At the Commons Despatch Box, similarly, he is never dull. He twirls words and phrases like a drum majorette with her jewelled stick, explaining the deficiencies of the educational Establishment.

Mr Gove has gone about his task with precision, loosening the grip of egalitarianism on our schools. By egalitarianism I mean the creed of state-imposed homogeneity — the socialist belief that people’s life chances are best met by government ordaining everything from the centre.

This Left-wing idea has, Gove believes, betrayed the poor whom the Left always claim to want to help.

Mr Gove speaks with a personal experience rare in the upper reaches of Cameron’s Conservative party. Adopted as a baby, he was reared a world away from Eton. His adoptive father worked in the Aberdeen fish trade.

His humble background means that Labour are unable to smear him as some Cameroon ‘toff’.

And yet the teaching unions were complacently pleased when he landed the job. They thought they would soon ‘have’ this pigeon-chested figure. He came across as a Keith Joseph de nos jours. You surely remember Joseph, the croaky, bafflingly intellectual prophet of Thatcherism. Mr Gove seemed to be similarly unworldly; a bit funny to look at on TV; his mouth full of words but his feet not always on planet Earth.

They soon wondered that had hit them. Within weeks, Mr Gove pushed through Parliament an Act which created Free Schools and more Academy schools (semi-independent state schools).

Wham. It was done even before the old stocks of Education Department notepaper, with Labour’s dumbed-down logos, had been replaced by something more dignified.

Labour screamed that Mr Gove was ‘rushing’ his policies — but what on earth was wrong with rushing? Children grow up fast. The ‘take more time’ argument is always used by enemies of change. What they mean is: ‘Give us another year of fat salaries and juicy pensions.’

Under the last Education Secretary, the dogmatic Ed Balls, a philosophy of ‘every child matters’ was a euphemism for a relentless bias against excellence, pursued with almost Iron Curtain zeal.

Mr Gove immediately set about dismantling the power of the state-ists. He gave teachers protection, allowing them to retain anonymity in allegations of abuse by pupils.

This was not some small gesture. The statistics were terrifying. A third of all teachers had been accused of mistreating pupils — an absurd situation which was pretty obviously the result of unruly teenagers trying it on with a weak system.

Mr Gove, who has never been troubled by the guilty conscience of privileged liberals, called the bluff of the school bullies.

He also encouraged a return to discipline, uniforms and more rigorous schoolwork. Out went many Mickey Mouse subjects. In came the English Baccalaureate to encourage a greater breadth of learning.

He allowed teachers to ban pupils from bringing mobile phones and worse into the classroom. He demanded a return to ‘proper’ history teaching which gave youngsters an idea of British heritage.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Toddlers as young as two ready for sex education, says new guide

PARENTS are being urged to start talking about sex with their children from the age of two. A new sex education guide by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society says discussing sex is not going to make kids go out and "do it". [Really? The expansion of sex education in British schools has coincided with an upsurge in teen pregnancies there]

"Talk soon. Talk often" author Jenny Walsh, of La Trobe University, writes that talking about sex with young people actually had the opposite effect. "We can be so worried about getting it right, perfectly right, that we end up saying nothing at all," Ms Walsh wrote.

The booklet says many parents are still nervous talking about sexuality, including topics such as bodies, babies, love and sexual feelings. It recommends talking to children as young as two about sex and continuing until they are 17. From birth to two years old it is important to start using the right names for body parts, the guide says.

It also covers everything from what you should do if you find your child "playing doctors" to how to approach masturbation.

Family Planning Victoria welcomed the new sex education guide. "We would say that old idea of sitting down and having a talk is absolutely not the way to do it," FPV deputy CEO Elsie L'Huillier said. "There should be a whole process where the issue of sexuality comes up as a natural conversation. It's not a highly stressful 'Let's sit down and talk'."

She said some parents still felt embarrassed to discuss sexuality issues with their children, but it was changing. "There's a reluctance or taboo in some families about being frank about sexuality. It's a big jump for them," she said.

Marie Stopes International Australia CEO Maria Deveson Crabbe said there was no right age to start sex education - it depended on individual families. "I think it is important to recognise that these topics have been stigmatised, but there is no point in burying our heads in the sand." She said sex education was important because poor knowledge of sexual health and decision-making can have long-term impacts.


Bureaucracy assists British teachers' strike

With thousands of teachers on strike for the day, Anne Atkins volunteered to help keep local classrooms open - only to be rejected at every turn

When I heard Education Secretary Michael Gove’s old-fashioned call for parents to volunteer if their child’s school is threatened with closure by the teachers’ strike, I thought, well, why not? Mums’ Army, Big Society, ra-de-rah, and all that.

Up to 10,000 schools in England and Wales expect to be affected by today’s union walk-out in protest over changes to public-sector pension schemes. Even public schools such as Eton and Cheltenham Ladies’ College are braced for walk-outs, while masters at St Paul’s will down tools for the first time in the school’s 500-year history.

Parents, of course, will be hardest hit. For those who aren’t free to take Gove up on his suggestion to take a lesson or two themselves today, mothers and fathers will have had to take time off work to look after their own children, or make other childcare arrangements.

I’m lucky. I’m available to volunteer. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit inconvenienced if my eight-year-old daughter couldn’t go to school: I work from home, our house is always full of people, and she is perfectly able to educate herself for more than a day. Nor do I side with one party or the other: I come from a family of teachers, have the highest regard for them, and believe they can’t ever be paid enough if they’re good.

But I do believe children are infinitely more important than politics; I like my daughter’s friends hugely and their mothers just as much; and I’ve learnt that we pull together in life – particularly women, and particularly mothers. I dare hope there are things I could contribute in the classroom and, if it will help, that’s reason enough.

I rang my daughter’s school. One of the perks of my husband’s employment as chaplain in a boys’ public school is a place for our daughter in the sister establishment. I was confidently told that we don’t close for hail, snow, wrong kind of leaves, bubonic plague or world war. Certainly not industrial action, which our staff won’t be engaging in. No, silly me, of course not.

But since I’m on the telephone, I said, what would your response be to parents volunteering? My daughter’s school, I discovered, has the strictest policy possible. Not only do you have to be thoroughly vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) in order to do anything – help the girls off with their coats, let alone accompany them to the lavatory – but the charitable trust that also employs my husband uses its own “enhanced” CRB check “which would show up the library fine you didn’t pay at the age of 14”. Crikey. I rack my brains: what else do they know about me?

An unchecked parent could just about watch the girls walk down the street under close supervision of a teacher. “Forgive my asking,” I said, properly curious now, “but is that for PR purposes? Or because you believe it really protects them?”

“It is so there is absolutely no comeback whatsoever,” says the voice on the line. “We do everything we possibly can to keep them safe.”

I should have found all this reassuring. No one is going to abuse my daughter while helping her blow her nose, at least no one who hasn’t the wit to jump through that hoop, anyway. Instead, I put the telephone down rather sadly. Was there any point in my volunteering for anything? The school already know me. My husband is the chaplain and I presented the prizes at Speech Day. Not, I hasten to add, that I would want any exceptions made on that account, or any other.

Never mind. There are plenty of state schools in the vicinity. One of them could surely do with an extra pair of hands if they’re going to be short-staffed. Half a dozen phone calls later, I had discovered not only that very few schools in my area are threatened with closure, but that none – not a single one – would ever contemplate help from anyone who doesn’t have CRB clearance. One said that it followed local authority guidelines to the letter, though when I asked the LA what those were, I was told they didn’t have any.

Henlow Middle School, about 10 miles from my Bedfordshire home, is trying very hard to stay open for the sake of its 500-plus pupils, who are aged between nine and 13. The school wants to do everything it can to continue as usual under difficult circumstances. But to cope with the teacher shortage – the strike coincides with a Year Five visit to Kentwell Hall – it would have to turn away most pupils in Years Seven and Eight. A little free help might make all the difference.

“Gosh,” said the receptionist when I offered to pitch in, “what a great idea. How kind.” She went off to ask. A few minutes later, she came back with the dreaded question: are you CRB-approved?

Afraid not, sorry. “In that case, we can’t.”

If I’d been through the standard check, would they have accepted?

“Definitely, yes.” Without it, not even a parent they’d known for years would be let into the school to help supervise Year Six’s activities week.

Hang on. I’m struggling to find a subtle way of putting this. What could be more likely to indicate a raging paedophile than a complete stranger with no connection to the school and no obvious motive, offering to spend the day unpaid, hanging around children? And yet if I’d had that little bit of paper, they would automatically assume I’m safe – and more so than someone they know, with children at the school.

Despite the Coalition’s pledge to “return to common-sense government”, almost one million CRB checks were made on volunteers in 2010 – a sixfold increase since the bureau was launched in 2002. One Leicestershire school last year banned parents from its sports day as it could not guarantee they had been vetted by police. Several high-profile children’s authors, including Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine and Philip Pullman, gave up visiting schools in protest at being forced to undergo CRB checks.

My family has come up against CRB anomalies of our own. For several years, our son had been junior leader on a Scripture Union Beach Mission. One year I asked why he wasn’t helping as usual. “No CRB,” he said. “But you never had one before,” I said. “I wasn’t 18 before.”

A few years ago, our other son was going off to help on a children’s Christian holiday camp, again something he’d done for years. He wouldn’t be looking after children, but washing up with other adults. He’d bought his train ticket, packed and was ready to leave, but the CRB check he’d applied for months earlier still hadn’t arrived, so he couldn’t go.

I rang the head office, spoke to someone senior, said our family had been helping the same camp for years, they knew us all extremely well and his sisters and brother were already there. It all cut little ice until I played the disability card – our son has Asperger syndrome, not that you’d know it – and common sense prevailed: the authority agreed to turn a blind eye.

I’ve had my own brush with the CRB. I recently offered to help at our daughter’s Saturday morning theatre club. They were embarking on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and finding it daunting. I trained, then worked, as an actor. For years, I ran the educational side of the Original Shakespeare Company, taking workshops to schools. I’ve enthused classes of children as young as five acting Shakespeare. I studied English at Oxford. All this, buckshee. The response? “A CRB check will have to be done by the sports centre.” I never heard any more from the club.

There has been one happy exception in all this nonsense. When my husband became Chaplain, I offered to teach the boys to read lessons in Chapel – something garbled almost inaudibly. For two terms I gave my time, several hours a week, running workshops, having them to our house for curries, teaching them how to project and prepare and interpret and communicate.

Supervised? My husband attended when he was free, but sometimes he wasn’t. And the response from the boys was terrific. Their readings changed beyond recognition. They gained confidence, discovered Biblical treasures, pleaded for more.

Naturally, neither I nor any of my family has ever committed any crime. But we’d be forgiven if one day the Criminal Records Bureau pushes us over the edge.


One Australian State rebels on proposed national curriculum

THE Baillieu government is staging a rebellion against the national curriculum, with state Education Minister Martin Dixon vowing Victoria will not relinquish control over "critical areas" such as languages.

A defiant Mr Dixon said the "current draft" of the national curriculum for languages would "drive down the standards of languages education in Victoria" if it was implemented.

The national curriculum for languages is being developed on the assumption that only 300 to 400 hours would be spent studying a second language between prep and year 6 - about half the hours recommended by the Victorian Education Department.

The states last year agreed they would "substantially" implement the national curriculum in maths, English, history and science by 2013. A national curriculum is also being developed for the arts, geography and languages. They will be rolled out after the first four subjects are implemented.

But Mr Dixon said last night the Coalition would not relinquish jurisdictional authority over critical areas of the national curriculum such as languages education. "The Commonwealth government must wake up and stop pushing Victoria towards the lowest common denominator in education," Mr Dixon said. "We will continue to demand Victoria's high standards form a minimum baseline for national reform."

The rebellion comes as the federal government announced Victoria would receive less than a quarter of the "reward funding" that will go to New South Wales and Queensland under a national agreement to lift literacy and numeracy, because it set itself more ambitious targets than other states.

"Already we have seen national reform in literacy and numeracy reward low aspirations and punish those who aim high as Victoria has done - with more than $21 million cut from Victoria's reward payments by Julia Gillard this week," Mr Dixon said.

In a submission to the national curriculum authority, Victoria said there was "widespread concern" among language teachers that the hours allocated for learning languages in the draft paper were less than the state guidelines. The Victorian Education Department recommends some 150 minutes a week in primary school, which works out to 700 hours before year 7.

The state curriculum authority also questioned why Hindi - one of the world's most widely spoken languages - was not one of the 11 languages included in the national curriculum. It said it was not clear how the 11 languages were selected and considered there was also a strong argument for the Australian sign language, Auslan, to be included.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which made the submission on behalf of government, independent and Catholic schools, also criticised the curriculum for using too much jargon. It said specialist terms, such as "ideational functions", "rhetorical organisation" and "heritage learners", would be unfamiliar to many.

The criticism comes after the NSW Board of Studies castigated the national curriculum authority for "ignoring" classical languages and failing to address an "alarming" decline in languages education brought about by a focus on literacy and numeracy.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority said the "indicative hours" were only intended as a guide for the curriculum writers. "No decision has been made about how many hours will be spent in the classroom."


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fraud Up and Down the U.S. education System

From beginning to end, the incentives are AGAINST accurate assessment of educational progress

In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz the Wizard tells his constituents that he wants an educated populace, “so by the power vested in me I will grant everyone diplomas.” Welcome to the education system of 2011. Much of what we now observe comes right out of the Baum novel.

When Charles Eliot was president of Harvard, he was asked why there is so much intelligence at this college, He replied, “because the freshman bring so much in and the seniors take so little out.” My guess is if a university president were completely honest today, he might say the freshman bring almost nothing in and leave by taking nothing out.

The question is: if the society spends billions on primary, secondary and higher education, why is it that so little is accomplished? There are, of course, many answers to this question, but I would argue the overarching reason is fraud, fraud at every level in order to satisfy political demands.

At the elementary school level it is simply embarrassing to have a large number of students leave who are illiterate or semi-literate. As a consequence, students pretend to read and teachers pretend to assert their competence. Test scores are altered to satisfy political concerns. In a society suffering from the Lake Woebegone effect in which everyone is above average, you can’t tell Mom that Johnny and Mary cannot read at grade level. Rather than declare inadequacy, you change the grade. The disparity between NAEP scores – the gold standard of evaluation – and state sponsored tests is startling with NAEP scores 20 to 30 percent lower on average. Obviously some manipulation is at work.

When scores are low, mayors and governors are held accountable. Since most are vulnerable to the political heat, the incentive to cheat is overwhelming. In fact, across the country there is a euphemism for this cheating: scrubbing. This practice suggests that teachers should “search” for clues in the test that would allow for an alteration in scores.

At the high school level, graduation rates are invariably employed as a standard of evaluation. Yet here too most scores are bogus. If a student is pushed through the system through social promotion, his cognitive skill may be near zero, but he is added to the percentage of graduates nonetheless. Rigor rarely exists as a demand or a practice, a condition that explains in large part why American students compare unfavorably to foreign students on international tests in language skills, math and science.

Once holding a diploma in their hands, however questionable their skill level, these high school graduates are now deemed college ready. Since America has a college for everyone and the society is committed to mass education, students who can read at only a marginal level or who cannot solve quadratic equations are seated in institutions of higher learning.

Surely something has to give. Invariably remediation must take place, but that is insufficient to deal with widespread incompetence. Obviously course content and requirements are modified. A physics instructor at the City University in New York told me recently it is impossible to teach real physics when your students are incapable of engaging eight grade math.

Of course there are exceptions to the lugubrious picture I’ve painted. Yet in far too many cases fraud from one level to another is passed on like a virus that cannot be controlled or cured. In fact, most teachers and professors who know the truth become complicit in this institutionalized fraud in order to retain their jobs. They simply cannot say college isn’t for everyone and most students are not prepared to engage in college work or that rigorous exit requirements at any level do not exist. Hence, there is the clarion call for more money; there is the deceptive claims about the success of our educational systems and there is the belief this investment is worthwhile.

Unfortunately there is rarely a soul who will say fraud keeps this system going and like it or not the emperor hasn’t any clothes.


MD: Parents see political slant in 3rd-grade text

Some Frederick County parents are upset over a third-grade textbook that they say promotes such ideas as government-sponsored child care and universal health care.

The county’s Board of Education met Wednesday to discuss “Social Studies Alive! Our Community and Beyond,” a book the county has used since 2004 but has come under fire in recent months.

The book examines culture, government and public service in the U.S. and other countries, but some parents have pointed to passages in the text they believe subtly promote foreign political systems while disparaging the U.S. “The entire slant of the book is you’re getting used to the idea of government running your life,” said Cindy Rose, a parent who requested that the book be removed from the county’s curriculum. “Government is setting the rules. We’re all going to live by it, and we’re all a collective society,” she said.

Board members chose Wednesday not to eliminate the book from the county curriculum, instead allowing it to come up for review next school year as part of a mandatory eight-year review cycle for all books.

Mrs. Rose was the lone parent to testify during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, after which board members discussed the text for more than an hour.

Mrs. Rose has taken issue with several chapters in the book, including one that explains how many Americans struggle to pay for health care while countries such as Canada and Sweden provide care free of charge or for a small fee. The book states that those countries’ “communities pay the rest of the bill,” and asks the reader whether he or she believes health care should be a public service.

Critics have argued the text endorses expanded government but fails to fully explain that its public services are paid for by taxpayers. “Do you get much pushback from an 8- or 9-year-old?” said board member James C. Reeder Jr. “It seems to me either were leading them in a certain direction or were trying to get them to evoke a certain response.”

School officials have defended the book, saying it provides important lessons in multiculturalism and is not a primary text but just one of various books the county uses to teach social studies in third-grade classrooms.

Jim Gray, the county’s social studies curriculum specialist, said the book serves a valuable purpose but that teachers are not forced to use it and have the option of replacing it with other materials. The book “provides an opportunity for every culture in our community to see itself,” he said. “I think that’s a very important thing.”

While some school board members raised questions about the book, board member Angie Fish said she believes it highlights the differences between cultures.


Striking teachers' unions betray staff, pupils - and British education

By Katharine Birbalsingh

One day during my teacher training, we were all herded into a large hall where union representatives sat smiling behind their stalls. We dutifully queued up and signed on the dotted line, not least because the option of not belonging was, in essence, hidden.

Everyone agreed to allow £150 to leave their bank accounts every year because that's what teachers do: we belong to unions. Except for me, that is. I had to use the loo, was bored of queuing and left with the intention of signing up later. But by September I was busy working and couldn't see the point of paying money to a union for nothing.

In those first couple of years, every teacher who heard of my lack of protection from the big, bad bosses (whom I have never met) rushed to warn me I was putting my life in danger. Even if I didn't worry about being fired for incompetence, what if a child were to accuse me of something? Who would defend me? Eventually, I capitulated and signed up.

In state education, there is social obligation to belong to a union. The most ardent union supporters belong to the National Union of Teachers (NUT): they are the driving force behind tomorrow's teachers' national strike. They tend to be loud in the staff room, forcing others to toe the line. They push the mantra of evil senior management exploiting staff, and bully younger teachers to buy into it.

The idea of holding colleagues to account or requiring high standards of teaching is not on their agenda. Good teachers keep their heads down, ignore the fact they are paid the same or considerably less than the worst teachers, and get on with the job.

Interestingly, it is not just bad teachers who are vocal in support of union power. The union grip on schools, psychologically and socially, is more pernicious than that. Some young teachers, good and bad, are radicalised by senior ones. The veterans seek out the more vulnerable and awkward young teachers, who may want to be part of a club or simply be looking for approval and to feel valued.

Most teachers believe fervently in their union. If you ask them why, they will say something about being protected from evil management. If you're a bad teacher, there is some sense in this, for unions are powerful and will stand in the way of a headteacher trying to get rid of you. Heads know firing a teacher is practically impossible in a school beholden to the local authority. It is estimated that in the past 40 years, only 18 teachers — out of the 500,000 in the UK at any one time — have lost their jobs because of incompetence.

In academies or free schools, which are independent of the local authority, unions do not have the same kind of power. Instead of taxpayers' money going to the local authority, where bureaucrats decide how to use it, the money is given directly to schools and heads decide how it should be spent.

Academies and free schools can set their own pay and conditions (thereby giving heads the option of rewarding good staff financially) and employ non-qualified teachers who haven't been forced to sign up to a union. Thus, if the centralised state education system is broken up — which will increasingly be the case if Education Secretary Michael Gove's free schools revolution succeeds — unions will no longer be able to call for national strikes with ease.

More importantly, they will no longer be able to protect bad teachers. A more open system will reduce union power. So it should come as no surprise unions are pumping huge amounts of their members' money into an anti-academy, anti-free school campaign.

They pay members' travel expenses to attend anti-academy rallies, spread propaganda about free schools selecting pupils (simply not true and not allowed) and spend thousands on flyers to go up in every staff room.

After all, if unions become redundant and lose members, who will pay the union bosses, who earn more than £100,000 a year?

Naturally, unions can't say this out loud. Instead, they pretend they are defending teachers and children. They argue that Mr Gove is destroying our education system and values.

They deny simple facts that prove our education system is failing: that nearly half of our children are unable to get at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Even worse, a staggering 84 per cent fail to achieve five C grades at GCSE in the academic subjects specified by Mr Gove's proposed English Baccalaureate: English, maths, science, a foreign language and either history or geography.

These are the core subjects we take for granted that our children are learning at school, yet the majority are leaving school without what is considered to be a pass by employers.

Before I am vilified, let me say the basic concept of a union is admirable. They are meant to protect workers against exploitation.

But if only this were what modern teaching unions are doing. Teachers sign up to them because we believe they will help us when in need and ensure our profession is highly regarded. But they keep poor teachers in their posts and give us all a bad name by lowering standards.

Degrading our profession, as teaching unions are doing, helps neither teachers nor children. Children are left to rot in chaos, the public believes teachers are inadequate and lazy, and the profession is considered unsavoury by many talented graduates.

But persuading teachers their union may not be acting in their interest could be difficult. The culture in schools is such that rejecting the role of the NUT representative or questioning the union mantra is considered to be letting the side down.

At the free school I am setting up, I would be happy for teachers to belong to any union they may choose, because I believe in freedom and encourage people to debate ideas. I only wish unions could do the same.

If they did, they would also be doing a marvellous job for our children: staff would be held to account, bad teachers would be weeded out, the public would respect us and teachers and children would fare better in the classroom.

The concept of a union defending the worker is one we should seek to reshape, instead of allowing political ideology to consume everything in its wake.

I am not alone in thinking this: according to a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research, only 21 per cent of teachers think schools have enough freedom to sack incompetent colleagues.

That would tally with what I used to hear teachers say behind closed doors. They hate the fact children are let down by less competent staff. But as with everything in our broken education system, they have to shut up.

Wake up, teachers of Britain — you are being duped. Deep down, I know you know it, just as we all know standards have dropped, behaviour is out of control and our children are being failed, year after year.

Unions don't care about teachers. Neither do they care about children. If they did, they wouldn't be going on strike. When you look carefully at what they're doing, it's clear they care only about themselves.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GOP Lawmaker Challenges Duncan on watering down No Child Left Behind

The Republican chair of the House education committee said Thursday he won't rush into a revamp of No Child Left Behind and challenged the Obama administration's suggestion that states be allowed to waive parts of the law.

In a news conference, Rep. John Kline responded to Education Secretary Arne Duncan's assertion last week that he would waive some requirements of the law for states that adopt changes he has championed, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement and overhauling the lowest-performing schools. Mr. Duncan wants the changes made before the new school year.

Mr. Kline said, "We can't be driven in the House or the Senate by [Mr. Duncan] or by the president's deadline." Mr. Kline questioned Mr. Duncan's legal authority to tie waivers to policy changes not authorized by Congress and sent him a letter Thursday seeking more clarity on the issue. "He is not the nation's superintendent," Mr. Kline told reporters.

Mr. Kline said he plans to break the law into five or six smaller legislative bills and try to pass them by the end of the calendar year. The bills would focus on charter school expansion, more flexibility for schools in spending federal money, stricter requirements for teachers and rewriting rules that punish schools for missing federal student achievement standards.

No Child Left Behind, one of President George W. Bush's key domestic achievements, requires that schools test students in math and reading and punishes schools when they fall short of score objectives set by the states. The law has been criticized for labeling too many schools as failures, narrowing school curricula and prodding states to water down standardized tests.

President Barack Obama and Mr. Duncan have pushed Congress to overhaul the law and, until recently, it was expected to be one of the few bipartisan accomplishments of 2011. But Republicans have begun to push back, especially tea-party Republicans who want to reduce the federal role in K-12 education.

A spokesman for Mr. Duncan said the waiver package the secretary is considering, which he wouldn't detail, complies with the existing law. "Congress may need more time to finish its work, but states working to implement reforms needed to prepare students for college and career need greater flexibility now—in real time, not Washington time," said the spokesman, Justin Hamilton.

Mr. Kline's education committee passed a measure earlier this week that encourages states to create more high-quality charter schools, which are public schools run by non-government entities. Next, he said, the committee will tackle funding flexibility.


Let us choose good schools

The basic principle of equal treatment by the law is not complicated. But while many current-day self-described civil rights activists agitate for "rights" of distinctly dubious provenance — universal health care, "affordable" housing, same-sex "marriage," etc. — they ignore an obvious unequal treatment by government affecting the most vulnerable in our society: the lack of educational options for millions of poor and minority children.

In standard school districts, children are enrolled in a school based on their home address. Getting out of that school requires their family to move to another district, make enough money to send them to a private school or alternative public school (if allowed), or have enough free time and ability to homeschool them. Poor families are severely limited, if not hopeless, on all three counts.

There is a severe disconnect in this regard between self-styled civil rights advocates and the people they profess to champion.

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 4 that the NAACP, which purports to care for the interests of black Americans, joined the United Federation of Teachers in a lawsuit against New York City to keep 22 of its worst schools from closing.

One of these, the Academy for Collaborative Education in Harlem, had only 3 percent of students performing at grade level for English last year, and 9 percent in math. Another, Columbus High School in the Bronx, has a graduation rate of 40 percent, a good deal worse than the abysmal citywide average of 63 percent.

When thousands of black parents held a rally to protest the lawsuit that would keep their kids trapped in these atrocious schools, the NAACP responded with indifference. Lawsuit critics "can march and have rallies all day long," said state NAACP President Hazel Dukes. "We will not respond."

* * * * *

Similarly, a lawsuit in California is thwarting parents who used the state's new Parent Trigger law to demand the failing McKinley Elementary in Compton be converted to a charter school. Their kids remain stuck in a school where they can't learn.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education unanimously rejected the practice of public schools segregating children based on race. The Topeka NAACP recruited the 13 winning plaintiffs in the case that concluded "separate but equal" was not equal.

Today, poor families of all races are routinely slotted into separate, or minority-majority and failing, public schools, where they dwell in learning environments so unequal that 3 percent of students can test at grade level in English while teacher unions still insist their members deserve the jobs at which they've clearly failed. Instead, unions blame the children, their parents and every other possible scapegoat.

These children are not hopeless cases. Those given the chance to attend charter or private schools under voucher or scholarship programs do better than their equally qualified counterparts who apply but aren't lucky enough to get chosen in the lotteries these programs use. And the fact that these programs must use lotteries — because so many parents want their children to have a chance at a better education — tells all you need to know about whether parents are to blame for burdening their children with low expectations.

* * * * *

Yes, public schools, administrators and teachers are not solely to blame for poor performance in urban and minority schools. They can work only with the students and cultures they are assigned. But the current structure of restriction and restraint — of government-mandated incompetence — is a disaster and must change. That means giving all parents and children the freedom to choose schools.

Public school funds should attach to each child, not a particular administrative structure. That would grant power to the powerless and force schools to compete for students by educating them successfully.

When public school quality varies so widely, equal access means not merely a chance to attend a local school, but that public funds follow the child to any accredited school a family may choose.


'I'll end culture of re-sits and toughen up GCSEs': British Govt. minister vows to bring back REAL exams

Pupils will be forced to sit their GCSEs as final exams instead of in bite-size chunks under radical plans to toughen up the tests. The Education Secretary has attacked the effect of modular GCSEs – where teenagers take several exams throughout the year, with the chance to retake them – saying they have dumbed down education.

Michael Gove said the system introduced under Labour had created a 'culture of re-sits' that has led to students retaking modules until they get better grades. And he said that while other countries had made their examination system more rigorous, England had gone backwards.

Mr Gove said pupils will now sit final exams at the end of their last GCSE year. They will be marked down for bad spelling, punctuation and grammar in all courses with a 'sustained section of writing' including geography and history.

Mr Gove also criticised exam boards for a series of blunders in GCSE and A-level papers sat by some 250,000 pupils in recent weeks. 'Exam boards have made big mistakes – this is heart-breaking for the students. So we need to change the way that GCSEs operate. Some GCSEs are broken into bite-size chunks. 'This means bits could be re-sat, so instead of concentrating on teaching and learning, more time was being spent on practice for exams.

'This meant that less time was being spent on developing a deep and rounded knowledge of the subject. 'I think the modular system was a mistake, and the culture of re-sits is wrong.'

And he added: 'Other countries have more rigorous exams and curricula more relevant to the 21st century. 'If you are looking at the way grades are awarded, the real question is whether our exams are keeping pace with other countries. 'Our children will be competing for jobs with children from across the world.'

Modular GSCEs were introduced in 2009 under reforms designed to make the exams less stressful. Pupils currently take modular GCSEs broken into units spread across two-year courses, rather than just sitting exams at the end.

The system mirrors A-levels which were made modular in 2000, with critics saying the change has made the qualifications easier to pass.

Mr Gove yesterday said he will now turn his attention to A-levels - having previously indicated he would like to scrap modules for them as well.

Education expert Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said Mr Gove's announcement was a 'move in the right direction'. He added: 'It has been true that schools have been game-playing modules and re-takes mean that the exams aren't a good comparison of what young people can do.'

Mr Gove will also announce today that trainee teachers who fail basic spelling and maths tests will be barred from the profession. Trainees will be allowed only three attempts to pass basic literacy and numeracy tests which, at present, they can retake an unlimited number of times. 'They will not be allowed to start trainee courses until they have passed.

Among the questions asked in the trainee tests are:

* Teachers organised activities for three classes of 24 pupils and four classes of 28 pupils. What was the total number of pupils involved?

* There were no [blank] remarks at the parents' evening. Is the correct word: dissaproving disaproveing dissapproving disapproving?

The plans, which will take effect from 2012, come as figures show a staggering 10 per cent of trainees had to retake basic numeracy tests more than three times.

Additional plans include a move to stop government funding for applicants who have not gained at least a 2:2 in their degree.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Teachers attacked in the halls, mouse droppings on the desks: Welcome to the School from Hell

And it's in the good ol' U.S. of A.! A triumph of NYC liberalism

Mouse droppings coat the surfaces, desks and computers. Trash cans lie overturned in classrooms. The floors are littered with thousands of spat out sunflower-seed shells. MS 344, the Academy of Collaborative Education in Harlem, is New York's worst-performing middle school. It is also known as the school from hell.

And the pupils are the worst part. They assault teachers, destroy the facilities and steal from each other in the halls. They are out of control.

Since last year the Department of Education has twice tried, and failed, to shut the school down.

One teacher found a used condom in her purse. She told the New York Post: 'It was literally war. I was pushed, shoved, scratched, thrown against the wall, spit on and pick-pocketed. I just wanted peace.'

MS 344 has been branded by the state a 'persistently dangerous' schools. Last year just two of 88 eighth-graders passed the state's exams for maths or reading.

The United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP both went to a Manhattan court to block the closure last week, arguing the Department of Education did nothing to fix the failing school. A judge is expected to make a decision soon.

Letters from staff to ex-Chancellor Joel Klein begged for Principal Rashaunda Shaw's removal. Staff members complained Ms Shaw does not impose discipline or respect. Staff say the principal is always late, never leaves her office and hired a sister-in-law and her boyfriend's ex-wife.

Ms Shaw, 35, also hired former Staten Island Assistant Principal Odufuyi Jackson, a friend who was arrested in 2009 on felony charges that he conspired to steal more than $100,000 in Social Security. Last year he pleaded guilty to attempted fabrication of business records. He was demoted to teacher, but staff claim the principal also has him doubling as a dean.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said: 'A number of allegations are being investigated.

One teacher told the Post: 'It needs to be closed, closed, closed, because it's an unsafe place for children. It's heartbreaking that the small percentage who want to learn don't get the education they deserve.'

It was also reported that one teacher was transferred after a student threatened to rape his wife. Another teacher tried to stop a student from hitting him was accused of using 'corporal punishment.'

A UFT spokesman said the union has met with MS 344 staff in the past year over safety and health fears, as well as alleged harassment from Ms Shaw. The union could cite no results from its effort.


Coming Soon: The Federal Department of Standardized Minds

The story of federal intervention in education is one of abject failure. Coming in large supply only since President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” Washington’s educational undertakings first resulted in billions of misspent dollars, then billions of misspent dollars coupled with increasingly rigid “accountability” rules. The result of both phases has been squandered funds and academic stagnation. But rather than accepting the lesson that centralized control of education is doomed to failure, inside-the-Beltway educationists are doubling down, pushing for a single national curriculum.

The proximate impetus for the current national standards push is the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The law—a bipartisan 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—is intended to be all things to all federal politicians, a “no excuses” hammer against academic failure that also protects state and local school control. So the law demands that all states have standards and tests in mathematics, reading, and science; test all students on a regular basis in those subjects; and have all students make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward 100 percent math and reading “proficiency” by 2014. However, it leaves it to states to write their own standards and tests and define “proficiency” for themselves.

The incentives for states are obvious: Set the lowest “proficiency” bars possible so they’re easy to vault and in so doing, stay out of trouble under the law, which institutes a cascade of punishments for schools or districts that fail to make AYP. It’s a structure that makes little logical sense but gives federal politicians the ability to simultaneously claim to be unforgiving on educational futility while also being staunch defenders of state and local control.

That these perverse incentives have been prevailing has been borne out in comparisons of state standards with those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federal testing regime that, in contrast to state testing under NCLB, is unlikely to be gamed because how a state or district performs on NAEP carries no rewards or punishments. Federal comparisons have shown that states had either set very low proficiency levels before NCLB or lowered them in response to the law. Indeed almost all states have set their proficiency marks equivalent to “basic” or below on NAEP tests.

This standards bottom-scraping, coupled with significant variation between states in their standards and proficiency measures, has energized the current national standards drive, which has been spearheaded by the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and the right-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute. A major rationale for imposing national standards, as enunciated in the 2006 Fordham report To Dream the Impossible Dream: Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America’s Schools, is to “end the ‘Race to the Bottom’” set off by NCLB. If states have to use the same standards, advocates reason, they won’t be able to hide their poor performances behind differing proficiency definitions.

The result so far has been the creation of so-called “Common Core” standards, grade-by-grade benchmarks in mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) created by the NGA and CCSSO, which were released in June 2010. States have already been coerced into adopting them by the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” competition, a $4 billion, stimulus-funded beauty contest in which the federal government selected winners based on what it considered the prettiest state promises to initiate preferred reforms including adoption of the Common Core standards. In addition Washington has awarded $330 million to two consortia of states developing tests to accompany the standards.

This is likely just the beginning of federal shoving and bribing. President Obama proposed connecting national “college- and career-ready” standards to much bigger pots of federal education money in his 2010 “blueprint” for reauthorizing NCLB. If this were to become law states would almost certainly be required to adopt national standards lest they lose far more than just a shot at part of $4 billion, including perhaps their entire share of the formula-apportioned $14.5 billion delivered under the law’s first title.

Despite the potentially huge transformational impact the national standards movement could have—most notably, Washington taking de facto control of the curricula of every government school in the nation—the drive has received scant media attention. Why?

The answer lies in a previous effort to set uniform curriculum standards for the entire country, one from which standards advocates learned valuable political lessons.

In the 1990s President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton each attempted to create and implement “voluntary” national standards and tests. Unlike the current initiative, the federal government openly commissioned and funded the creation of the would-be standards. The standards in some cases were highly detailed, and the effort was much ballyhooed by both presidents.

When the proposed national standards were eventually released they were quickly destroyed by vehement high-profile opposition from across the political spectrum. This was especially true for the U.S. history standards, the first released, which were widely seen as hopelessly politically correct. The high degree of detail in the standards and their transparent federal origins were their undoing.
Sneaking In

From that experience, it seems, current advocates learned that national standards must look innocent and come in quietly through the back door. They have maneuvered carefully to adopt that strategy, keeping their efforts low-key and repeating ad nauseum that the movement is “state-led” and “voluntary.” In addition they have so far avoided the extremely contentious subject of history and prescribed almost no specific reading selections in the ELA standards. They have also assiduously avoided offering any specific content so people will have little that’s concrete to object to.

Specific content, however, is almost certainly coming. For one thing the tests being funded by Washington will have to assess something, and because under a reauthorized NCLB, performance on them is likely to drive rewards and punishments for schools, districts, and states, they will ultimately dictate what the real standards are. Unfortunately, what those tests will contain will probably not be cemented until 2014, when they are supposed to be completed. By then, if the standardizers get their way with a reauthorized NCLB, all states will already be locked into national standards and testing.

In addition to having the tests on the horizon, some standards advocates are putting together more detailed curriculum guidelines that they would like to see accompany the standards and, quite possibly, be pushed via the federal treasury. In March the Albert Shanker Institute—an arm of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—released a manifesto calling for the creation of curriculum guides that signatories recommended be coupled with, among other things, “increasing federal investments in implementation support.” Unfortunately in education “federal investments” are often synonymous with federal extortion using taxpayer money.

It’s not as if national standards have driven achievement, although that’s what their champions would have us believe. As such proponents as AFT President Randi Weingarten are fond of pointing out, most countries that beat us on international exams have national standards. Therefore, they argue, national standards must produce better outcomes.
No Link to Performance

The thing is, there is actually no correlation between having national standards and performance on exams like the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). Why not? Because almost all countries that participate in the tests have national standards, meaning that both the top and bottom ranks are dominated by educationally centralized nations. So while the eight countries that outperformed the United States on the 2007 eighth-grade TIMSS mathematics exam had national standards, so did 33 of the 39 countries that placed beneath us, as well as 11 of the 12 lowest performers. Meanwhile, whenever Canada—which has no national-level education authority—participates in international exams, it finishes near the top.

So the one piece of evidence that supporters cite to show that national standards are necessary to academic success is bunkum. Their problem might be, as I explain in Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards (2010), that there is very little research of greater rigor to draw on. Indeed what research there is has been conducted largely by one man—Cornell University economist John H. Bishop—and he has focused not just on national standards but national standards coupled with high stakes for students, such as grade-promotion and graduation decisions. Even that shows at best no meaningful positive effect on achievement, with any benefits disappearing when such variables as national culture are accounted for.

Of course even were national standards shown to have strong positive impacts on academic achievement, before the federal government could twist state arms to adopt them, it would be necessary to show that doing so is legal. At least it should be necessary.

The gateway question for the legality of federal action is whether or not the steps being contemplated are constitutional. In almost all things education—save striking down discriminatory provision of schooling by state or local governments and exercising control over education in the District of Columbia—the answer will always be, “No, it is not constitutional.” Education and schooling are nowhere to be found in the specific enumerated powers given to the federal government in Article I, Section 8, and as both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton made clear in the Federalist papers, the “general welfare,” “necessary and proper,” and taxation clauses do nothing to change what that means: Washington cannot govern education.
The Constitution Doesn’t Matter

Unfortunately, the Constitution ceased to be adhered to decades ago, as evidenced not just by federal education involvement but countless other things Washington does. Yet keeping federal hands out of curricula isn’t just required by the Constitution—it is also enshrined in federal law. Neither the Department of Education Organization Act of 1979 nor the No Child Left Behind Act gives the federal government authority, as NCLB puts it, “to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic achievement standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction.”

In light of all this the national standards crusade clearly has crippling empirical and legal shortcomings. Those practical matters aside, though, the ultimate problem is that moving to even greater centralization of education is lurching education policy further in exactly the wrong direction. We know from experience both inside and outside of education that individual freedom is the key to sustained, dynamic success, both because it spurs competition, innovation, and efficiency and because government power tends to be taken over by narrow special interests who use it for their own advancement instead of the “public good.”

This latter reality is borne out brilliantly in education, with teachers’ unions having accumulated massive political power—the National Education Association almost single-handedly forced creation of the U.S. Department of Education—and having consistently used that power to enact laws and contracts that give them strangleholds over taxpayer money and government school employees. Administrators’ and school boards’ associations are also big political players.

Meanwhile, though not easy to see because most states and nations have embraced the same government-monopoly schooling model, the superiority of freedom in education is well established. Research from the United States and around the world—where there is often significantly greater educational freedom than in the United States, though nothing close to ideal—reveals that the more freedom there is in education, the better the outcomes.

Of course, the most compelling evidence of the superiority of freedom comes from outside the government-intensive realm of education. It is the lightning-fast evolving and improving computer industry. It is the incredible scaling up of in-demand products ranging from Starbucks coffee to iPads. It is the American versus the Soviet economy. And it is the huge productivity improvements we see in almost every market-based industry but do not see in American elementary and secondary education.

What we clearly need in education, but have had less and less of as the decades have passed, is freedom. Unfortunately, the most powerful drive in education today—the national standards movement—is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.


Practising Christians 'will no longer get priority' at Church of England schools in admissions shake-up

A pretty clear admission that the C of E is no longer a Christian church

The Church of England is to attack the middle-class dominance of its popular schools under a shake-up of admissions rules. CofE board of education chairman, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, will today issue guidelines ordering schools to be biased in favour of the 'disadvantaged'.

His controversial measures will signal the end of the current points system under which places are offered to children whose families are most involved in the Church. Critics claim middle-class families take up religion to gain places, giving them a stranglehold over the best schools.

The Church will not have the power to enforce the guidelines as they are merely recommendations. But if they are followed, they could mean buying a house near a good church school will not be enough to secure a place. At present property values can soar by around £50,000 in London if close to a top school.

In addition, the guidelines will encourage schools to give priority to 'inclusiveness' if they serve communities not 'reflective of the wider area'.

This opens the door for schools to give places to ethnic minorities and immigrants who are not Christian.

Mr Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, will say the guidelines are 'a reminder of what Church schools are for in this sea of change' and will help demonstrate the Church is 'committed to distinctiveness and inclusivity'.

There are 4,831 Church of England schools, many of which perform well in league tables and are heavily oversubscribed. Most currently select children using points awarded for everything from how regularly parents worship to how long they have been in the Church.

The move follows the criticism of Dr Ian King, the Government admissions watchdog, who last year said faith schools were discriminating against immigrants with complex admissions procedures favouring middle-class children.

Mr Pritchard is also to launch an attack on the Coalition's education policy, saying: 'What's going on in education today is probably the biggest programme of reform since 1944. 'The changes are tumbling out at a bewildering pace and schools are scrambling to keep up.'

The new guidance says the Church would like to see schools that currently only admit children from Christian families 'provide some open places available to the local community'.

It stresses that children who are disadvantaged because they come from an ethnic minority background should be given preferential treatment, and supports Church schools that are more inclusive of pupils from other faiths, such as Islam.

The document says Church schools are underpinned by a belief in the value of all human beings being entitled to 'the highest possible standards of education and care'. And it says schools which not 'diverse' should consider changing rules which usually give priority to local families over those from further away.

The report, as well as affecting hundreds of thousands of families in England, could increase political tensions between the Coalition and the Church after the Archbishop of Canterbury's attack this month on it having policies 'for which people did not vote'.

David Cameron has sent his daughter, Nancy, to the popular St Mary Abbots primary school in Kensington, and recently had his youngest daughter, Florence, christened at the nearby church.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

All charters are not equal

In the debate over how to improve the nation's educational system, there is typically no middle ground on the value of charter schools. You're either for them or against them. But in their fervor, both sides are missing a more fundamental question: Which charters work, and why?

Charters — publicly financed schools run by private entities with flexibility on curriculum, teacher pay and dismissals — can make valuable contributions, but not always.

Enough charters (more than 5,000) have been tried in enough places for enough years to start drawing some conclusions. One has to do with the way failing students are treated. In traditional public schools, that's considered the student's problem. At successful charters, teachers are expected to find ways to reach them and move them forward. That's one common denominator economist Margaret Raymond has found in her research of charters for Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

Effective charters also are usually organized around a single guiding principle. At High Tech High, which opened in San Diego in 2000 and is now part of a growing network, the principle is that students learn best by being engaged in projects. The culture at KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program) schools, a 99-school network with remarkable results, is built around motivating students to work long, hard hours with college as the prize. KIPP extends the time students spend in class through longer days, twice-monthly Saturday classes and summer school. To engage parents, a KIPP teacher visits each student's home and works on a "learning pledge," which is signed by the teacher, the student and the parents.

Still, KIPP and other high-performing charters are not the norm. Raymond's 2009 study of charters in 15 states and Washington, D.C., found that just 17% of charters were providing superior education opportunities for their students, half were no different from traditional schools and a third delivered results that were worse than public schools.

For anyone interested in reform, the Stanford study provided plenty to chew on, but few educators took a bite. Only a handful of states contacted the author for data that identified the schools and their performance. Most states and localities seemed utterly uninterested in facts that might shake their preconceptions.

A few districts took a more sensible approach. New York City contracted for its own study, and Raymond found some brighter news: More than half of charters delivered better outcomes in math than traditional schools. A non-profit educational group in New Orleans commissioned a study, too, and is using the data to award grants to effective schools.

New York and New Orleans are unafraid to close ineffective charters — something that was supposed to be central to the charter experiment. In exchange for taxpayer funds and freedom to operate outside the traditional school format, charters would be highly accountable. Somewhere along the way, accountability got lost. It's as tough to close a bad charter as a traditional failing school. Yet shutting down bad charters is as important as learning from successful ones.

As debate swirls around charters in Georgia, Indiana, New York City and other locales, there's no reason that the successful models shouldn't own a larger share of the education marketplace.

All that stands in the way are school boards afraid to close failing charters, and misplaced battles that pit charters against traditional schools.


Union Apologists: Why Keep School Seniority? Older Teachers Have Mortgages!

Some people can find an excuse for anything, including the ridiculous practice of “last in, first out,” which protects veteran teachers during periods of layoff in public schools.

We’ve heard unions complain that seniority must be maintained so that “administrators can’t discriminate against certain individuals (based on their age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, for example) or play favorites…”

Further, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers theorized that efforts to dump the LIFO policy are “an effort to pit union members against each other, to get us sniping and backstabbing to keep our jobs.”

Perhaps the Philadelphia school board is simply interested in retaining the best teachers, regardless of seniority? Nah, that couldn’t be it.

Now consider this doozy from a Michigan newspaper reporter-acting-as-columnist, William F. Ast III:

“What's wrong with observing seniority when forced to lay off some employees?

“Employees with seniority are more likely to be established in the community. They are more likely to be paying mortgages. They are more likely to have children, with all the expenses and responsibilities associated with parenthood. Surely that's worth some consideration, and I'm a little tired of those who say loyal workers deserve no loyalty from the top.”

So teachers with mortgages deserve special job protections. They could be completely worthless at their job – a negative influence, in fact – but they have obligations they must meet. That means taxpayers and parents must tolerate their incompetence to make sure they don’t lose their house, right? Never mind the fact that children aren’t learning.

Unions have also claimed that seniority systems prevent school boards from laying off the highest paid teachers first.

This all, of course, runs contrary to common sense. School leaders want the best teachers, regardless of age, sex or race. Parents and students deserve no less. A seniority-based system is one of the greatest injustices in American public schools. It was adopted from auto companies and has no place in education.

With America’s academic performance in decline, we must make sure we have the best possible educators in every classroom. If that means a lesser teacher with a home mortgage loses their job, so be it.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and Ast once again prove that the fight in America’s public schools really is about adult issues, not students.


Exam results in Wales plummet after school league tables are abolished

Another failure of "progressive" education

Schoolchildren have dropped an average of two grades in their GCSEs as a result of a decision to abolish league tables. It is one of a number of disturbing failings in Wales’s education system revealed in a shocking new Radio 4 programme recorded by John Humphrys.

SATs tests have also been ditched and a controversial new approach to the teaching of three to seven-year-olds – the Foundation Phase – has been introduced. The current generation of Welsh 15-year-olds, the first to have been educated under the new system, have been outperformed by pupils in every region in England, including the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, similar economically and socially to Wales.

In Testing Times, Today presenter Mr Humphrys looks at the measures introduced by the Welsh Assembly in the field of education over the past decade. Because performance figures in Wales are not published, the BBC used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain statistics for the first time in ten years.

Meanwhile, the latest report from PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which looks at education systems worldwide, states that Wales has slipped well below the average for the developed world for reading and is even worse for maths.

While making the programme, to be broadcast today at 1.30pm, Mr Humphrys returned to the Welsh primary school where he was taught 60 years ago – and was shocked by what he found. He said: ‘There’s no sitting in regimented rows with the teacher at the front. The Foundation Phase means very roughly that children learn through their own experiences.

‘According to the jargon, it focuses on ‘‘experiential learning and active involvement’’. What it means in practice is that children learn by playing or doing rather than being taught in any conventional sense.’

PISA says the abolition of SATs has also had a negative impact. Children in England are tested at seven, 11 and 14, but in Wales the tests for seven-year-olds were dropped in 2001 and the others were axed in 2004.

The head of PISA, Andreas Schleicher, told Mr Humphrys: ‘Whether abandoning those kinds of assessments was the right thing is up for debate.’

The programme reveals the most damaging change has been the abolition of school league tables.

Professor Simon Burgess, of Bristol University, told the radio presenter: ‘The removal of league tables in Wales led to a serious decline in exam performance. This was of really quite a sizeable magnitude of around two GCSE grades per student. So that’s like getting a D grade rather than a B.

‘Obviously parents want lots of things from a school. The league tables give them a way of working out which would be the best schools for their child. If you remove that information there’s less pressure on schools to perform well.’

And according to the BBC’s education correspondent, Ciaran Jenkins, who contributed to the programme, parents in Wales are being denied information about their country’s failing schools.

Mr Jenkins said: ‘If you’re a parent in England you log on to the Department for Education’s website or the BBC and there’s a wealth of information about every school’s performance. In Wales there is nothing at all.’