Saturday, August 06, 2011

Beware Those "Radical" Ideas

Anticipating his entry into the presidential race, the Washington Post ran a long piece on Texas Governor Rick Perry's ideas about higher education. "A man of grand plans," the headline warned, "criticized as not sweating the details." Are the headline writers at the Post on summer break? Did the temps have to dust off headlines from the Reagan era? Reagan's ideas were constantly dismissed by the bien passant as "simplistic." So anyone who gets tagged as simplistic by the Post gets an immediate benefit-of-the-doubt from me. As Margaret Thatcher said at Reagan's funeral, " . . . his ideas, though clear, were never simplistic. He saw the many sides of truth."

So what has Perry done to earn this epithet? He's taken on the higher education establishment in Texas. He has proposed - gasp -- that Texas's four-year institutions develop a plan to offer bachelor's degrees for no more than $10,000. "Skeptics," the Post tells us, say that the goal cannot be achieved without sacrificing "academic quality and prestige." It shows, these same unnamed critics assert, that the governor has a "record of plunging into splashy ventures, at times, despite the complexities, constituencies, or sensitivities involved."

So it's half-cocked to suggest that universities, even public universities, reduce their fees. But when President Obama suggests digging ourselves ever deeper into debt to further subsidize higher education, that's a complex and nuanced approach? Has Obama thought deeply about the problem of the higher education bubble? Has he considered that for decades the federal government has been subsidizing college and graduate work (through grants and loans) and that as a consequence, institutions of higher learning have been jacking up their fees?

Mark Perry, at The Enterprise Blog, has offered a handy chart showing the trend lines for the consumer price index, housing prices and college tuition from 1978 to 2011.

"Between 1978 and 1997, home prices increased annually at about the same rate as general prices, but then appreciated at a faster pace over the next decade. In the ten-year period starting in 1997, home prices increased by 68 percent, or more than twice the 29 percent increase in overall prices, and that home price appreciation caused an unsustainable housing bubble that burst in 2007 and contributed to the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

During that same 1997-2007 decade that home prices increased by 68 percent and created a housing bubble, college tuition and fees rose even higher -- by 83 percent. In fact, college tuition and fees have never increased by less than 73 percent in any ten-year period back to the 1980s. And in the decades ending in 2009 and 2010, college tuition increased by more than 90 percent. The still-inflating increases in the price of higher education are starting to make the housing bubble look pretty tame by comparison."

In addition to suggesting that tuition be reduced, a panel appointed by Governor Perry suggested that professors were "wasting time and money churning out esoteric, unproductive research." Shocking. The panel suggested dividing the research and teaching budgets to encourage excellence in both, while also introducing merit pay for exceptional classroom teachers.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that students are flocking to colleges and universities in flat, freezing North Dakota to take advantage of lower tuition rates. Enrollment at public colleges has jumped 38 percent in the last decade, led by a 56 percent increase in out of state students. Colleges around the nation, the Journal advises, must now compete for a new kind of student: "the out-of-state bargain hunter."

Admittedly, North Dakota benefited from oil revenue and spent generously on its colleges and universities over the past 12 years. But in a time of straightened circumstances for everyone, how does it not make sense to have colleges and universities compete on price?

Obama seeks to forestall this commonsense solution by once again increasing government subsidies. Student loans, courtesy of Obama, can now be "forgiven" after 20 years of payment, or after 10 years if students choose "public service." Who pays the difference? You know who.

Just as it seemed to be such a great idea for everyone to own a home, we've spent decades subsidizing everyone who wanted to go to college. The result has been an upward spiral of prices, which in turn causes politicians like Obama to call for more subsidies.

And Perry is the simplistic one?


Brainless British school authorities

British bureaucrats just love finding excuses to put other people out.

When her seven-year-old daughter complained of dry lips, Joanne Wilkins gave her a tiny tin of Vaseline to apply at school. But when Ellie-Maye went to use it, it was confiscated – because it is not a prescribed medicine.

And when Mrs Wilkins queried the decision, she was told if she wanted her daughter to moisturise her lips, she would need to take her out of school to apply the Vaseline.

‘This is health and safety gone mad,’ said Mrs Wilkins, 28, a project manager, yesterday. ‘Where has common sense gone? I can’t believe how my daughter was humiliated. ‘This harmless ointment was taken away in front of all her friends. She was made to feel naughty and as a result was close to tears – all over a tiny pot of Vaseline.’

Mrs Wilkins took advice over her daughter’s dry lips from her pharmacist. She said: ‘She recommended Vaseline Lip Therapy. It is the basic original Vaseline – just petroleum jelly - and is colourless and odourless. ‘She could apply it as often as she wished and it comes in a tiny pocket-sized tin that Ellie-Maye could easily carry in her schoolbag.

‘In fact, Ellie-Maye needed help opening the tin and the first teacher of the day helped her and had no problem with the Vaseline at all. But at lunchtime, when she went to apply the Vaseline again, a second teacher she asked to help open it said she shouldn’t have it in school at all. ‘Then in front of all Ellie-Maye’s friends, she took it away.’

The next day, puzzled as to why the Vaseline had been confiscated, Mrs Wilkins went to see Graham Prince, headmaster of Wistaston Church Lane Primary School near her home in Sandbach, Cheshire.

Mrs Wilkins, who also has a son Issac, two months, with her husband Nick, said: ‘Ellie-Maye was really upset and I thought there must be some mistake. ‘But he just confirmed that unless the Vaseline was prescribed then she was not allowed to use it in school.

‘I was shocked – especially when he suggested one way round it was to “medicate” Ellie-Maye by taking her out of school. ‘Alternatively, I could come to the school to apply it. I thought this was ridiculous that I would be expected to find time off work or that Ellie-Maye’s education should suffer in some way.

‘Anyone of any age can buy Vaseline in the supermarket. As she had my permission to use it and you don’t even need to buy it from a chemist, it seemed such an over-the-top reaction.’

Mrs Wilkins has now been forced to have the Vaseline prescribed with a doctor’s note – at a cost of £15. She said: ‘My GP said that as it wasn’t a medicine and doesn’t need to be prescribed, it shouldn’t be done under the NHS. It would therefore need a private doctor’s note.

‘It seemed ridiculous as the little tin to buy costs under £1. However, as Ellie-Maye still suffers from dry lips and I don’t want her to suffer, I’ve had no choice.’

Last night the school head refused to comment. However, a spokesman from Cheshire East Council said on behalf of the school: ‘The school has to be one hundred per cent certain that any ointment or medication that a child brings into school is safe to use.

‘Our school policy sets out that any type of oral ointment or medicine to be self-administered in school should be prescribed by a physician. ‘Our only interest is the protection of children in our care and it is with this in mind that we applied our school policy.’ [Rubbish!]


Political pastor stands up for morality in Australian schools

THE Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile has used a parliamentary debate on his bill to remove ethics classes from schools to claim they teach the philosophy behind Nazism and communism.

The O'Farrell government used its numbers in the upper house to give Mr Nile's bill priority yesterday morning, allowing it to be introduced ahead of all other legislation.

It followed a meeting between the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and Mr Nile 10 days ago where it was agreed that the government would allow the bill to proceed after Mr Nile threatened to use his party's votes to "torpedo " the government's wages policy.

Introducing the bill, Mr Nile said he did not believe children were being taught the difference between right and wrong in the ethics classes, which are being taught as an alternative to special religious education lessons.

"It's relative ethics, which is the basis of secular humanism, " Mr Nile told parliament. "I believe this is the philosophy that we saw during World War II with the Nazis and with the Communists. " The comments were branded "outrageous " and "an act of extreme cowardice " by opposition and Greens MPs.

The move to allow debate on the bill sparked renewed accusations that Mr O'Farrell had done a "deal " with Mr Nile in return for his support for the wages policy.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said the arrangement was "the first down payment " and was "clear evidence that a deal has been done ". The Greens MP, John Kaye, said the government was "clearly delivering for [Mr Nile] on this. How far does this deal go? ".

The government supported a move by Mr Nile's colleague, Paul Green, to adjourn debate on the ethics bill until September 16. Mr Nile said the adjournment was "so that the Coalition can give further consideration to it".

Despite saying he would take Mr Nile's bill to cabinet and the party room for consideration, Mr O'Farrell insists the government will not support removing the classes from schools. Such action had been an election promise.

Mr O'Farrell has defended the decision to allow the debate by arguing that every MP has the right to have every bill they present debated in parliament.

Yesterday Mr Nile gave notice of a new bill that would close the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross, which was made permanent by the Labor government last year.

Asked during question time if he would support closure of the centre, Mr O'Farrell said the government "has no plans to close the MSIC" but that if it comes into the parliament Coalition MPs would be granted a conscience vote. He said Mr Nile had not raised the issue with him.

Earlier, the government combined with crossbench MPs in the upper house to block an attempt by the Greens to force it to table any documents relating to Mr Nile's meeting with Mr O'Farrell.


Friday, August 05, 2011

Schooling Matt Damon

Actor Matt Damon is a walking, talking public service reminder to immunize your children early and often against La-La-Land disease.

In Damon's world, all public school teachers are selfless angels. Government workers and Hollywood entertainers are impervious to economic incentives. And anyone who disagrees is a know-nothing, "corporate reformer" ingrate who hates education.

Last week, the liberal box-office star addressed a "Save Our Schools" march in Washington at the behest of his mother, a professor of early childhood education. He attacked standardized tests. He praised all the public school teachers who "empowered" him and unlocked his creative potential by rejecting "silly drill and kill nonsense." Speaking on behalf of "an army of regular people," Damon decried the demoralization of teachers by ruthless, results-oriented free marketeers whom he mocked as "simple-minded."

What Damon's superficial tirade lacked, however, was any real-world understanding of the deterioration of core curricular learning in America. Students can't master simple division or fractions because today's teachers -- churned out through lowest common denominator grad schools and shielded from competition -- have barely mastered those skills themselves. Un-educators have abandoned "drill and kill" computation for multicultural claptrap and fuzzy math, traded in grammar fundamentals for "creative spelling," and dropped standard civics for save-the-earth propaganda.

Consequence: bottom-basement U.S. student scores on global assessments over the past two decades. Blaming the tests is blaming the messenger. The liberal education establishment's response to its abject academic failures? Run away. This is why the Save Our Schools agenda championed by Damon calls for less curricular emphasis on math and reading -- and more focus on social justice, funding and "equity" issues.

Out: Reading is fundamental.

In: Feeling is fundamental.

After his drippy pep talk absolving teachers of any responsibility for America's educational morass, Damon then lashed out at a young libertarian reporter who had the audacity to ask him about the negative impact of lifetime teacher tenure. "In acting there isn't job security, right?"'s Michelle Fields asked Damon. "There is an incentive to work hard and be a better actor because you want to have a job. So why isn't it like that for teachers?"

It's elementary that people will work longer and harder if they know they will be rewarded. There's nothing anti-teacher about the question. (And before teachers-unions goons go on the attack, I am the child of a public school teacher and the mother of two children in an excellent public charter school by choice.) But Damon's hinges came undone when confronted with the mild question.

"You think job insecurity makes me work hard?" he retorted. "That's like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when she has tenure." Gathering all the creative potential he could muster, Damon unleashed crude profanities on Fields. "A teacher wants to teach," Damon fumed with his mother next to him. "Why else would you take a sh**ty" salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really loved to do it?"

Never mind that most out-of-work Americans would find nothing "sh**ty" about earning an average $53,000 annual salary plus health and retirement benefits for a 180-day work year.

Damon went on to deride standard, mainstream behavioral economic principles as "intrinsically paternalistic" and "MBA-style thinking." And when the young reporter's cameraman pointed out that there are bad apples in the teaching profession as in any profession, Damon called him "sh**ty," too.

Tinseltown stars can afford to put emotion over logic, progressive fantasy over practical reality. The rest of us are stuck with the bill. And those whom bleeding-heart celebrities purport to care most about -- the children -- suffer the consequences of bad ideas.

Interminable teacher tenure in America's largest school districts, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, has produced a rotten corps of incompetent (at best) and dangerous (at worst) educators coddled by Big Labor. As the D.C.-based Center for Union Facts reports, "In many major cities, only one out of 1,000 teachers is fired for performance-related reasons. ... In 10 years, only about 47 out of 100,000 teachers were actually terminated from New Jersey's schools."

By contrast, as the educational documentary "Waiting for Superman" (produced by avowed liberal turned reformer Davis Guggenheim) pointed out, one out of every 57 doctors loses his or her license to practice medicine, and one out of every 97 lawyers loses their license to practice law.

In Los Angeles, it's not just meanie tea party terrorists making the case for abolishing teacher tenure. When the Los Angeles Times exposed how the city's tenure evaluation system rubber-stamped approvals and ignored actual performance, the district superintendent admitted: "Too many ineffective teachers are falling into tenured positions -- the equivalent of jobs for life." USC education professor Julie Slayton acknowledged: "It's ridiculous and should be changed."

Pop quiz: Would multimillionaire Matt Damon apply the same warped employment practices and dumbed-down curricular standards to his own accountants that he champions for America's public school teachers? Film at 11.


Elite ISN'T a dirty word as Eton headmaster says it's time to reclaim tarnished term and celebrate success

Society should not be ashamed of elitism, the headmaster of Eton College has insisted. Tony Little believes the term should be ‘reclaimed’ because striving for excellence is vital for success in all walks of life.

He says that elitism has become mistakenly confused with ‘social exclusion’. The headmaster of Britain’s most exclusive school, where fees are £30,981 a year, agreed that Eton was ‘elite’.

He added: ‘But what we need to do is reclaim the word elite. ‘We live in a very strange society where it is possible to talk with impunity about elitism in football, but not in medicine or plumbing or other aspects of life. I would like the plumber I engage to be an elite plumber, and I want to see an elite doctor – it’s to do with excellence. ‘And we are unashamed that excellence is at the heart of what we do. The word has become muddied of course by the notion of social exclusion and that is an important issue.’

His comments come amid concerns that mediocrity has been institutionalised in state schools by encouraging teachers to neglect the brightest pupils, alongside a ‘prizes-for-all’ culture. A recent report by the Policy Exchange think-tank revealed that teachers focused on bumping up pupils from a grade D to a C, rather than those in other grade divides, to improve their rankings in school league tables. And in Key Stage Two results released this week, the number of 11-year-olds exceeding the standard for their age group fell in English, with a dramatic slump in reading prowess.

Mr Little, interviewed for magazine publisher Archant Life London, rejected claims that Eton is restricted to the wealthy and privileged. He said: ‘Eton is more of a mixed clientele than most people would appreciate. For example, 20 per cent of our boys come here with significant financial help, so there is a wider range of backgrounds than I expect people would be prepared to accept or understand.’

Financial help at the school in Berkshire, where most of the 1,300 students enter at age 13, comes in the form of scholarships and means-tested bursaries which can be up to 100 per cent of the fee.

Mr Little said: ‘It’s not just the people who can’t afford anything. ‘It’s the people who used to be able to afford it who now can’t. We are talking about swathes of Middle England – the GP, the country solicitor – who would now find it nigh impossible, unaided, to match the fees of a place like Eton.’

Mr Little wants Eton to have ‘needs blind’ admission in future, which would further widen access to less well-off families. A handful of independent schools currently aim to fund enough bursaries to achieve this, among them St Paul’s School in South-West London.

However only the wealthiest institutions, with wide networks of former pupils in highly-paid jobs, have a realistic chance of raising the millions to fund bursaries for any pupil who needs them.

The Eton admissions process involves testing students’ skills and abilities, evaluation of a report from the pupil’s current school and a face-to-face interview. Five assessors with no knowledge of family financial circumstances then decide who will be offered a place.

Mr Little said: ‘We are ‘‘needs blind’’ in the sense that we look at boys purely in terms of their calibre as candidates to come to Eton. ‘But we are only ‘‘needs blind’’ up to the limits of our bursary pot. That’s what we are working on, to try to build up more money.’


More universities to be created under British government plan

Specialist colleges with just 1,000 students will be allowed to call themselves universities for the first time under Government reforms being published today.

More than a dozen small-scale institutions – often specialising in media, the arts, education or agriculture – could win the right to full university status as soon as next year, it is revealed.

Currently, higher education colleges must attract at least 4,000 full-time students – at least 3,000 of whom must take degree courses – before winning the prestigious title. But the Coalition is proposing to slash the minimum threshold to just 1,000.

Ministers claim the move will improve the status of many small-scale colleges that can already award degrees to undergraduates.

It is likely to herald the biggest expansion of universities since more than 60 former polytechnics and higher education colleges were awarded the title by the Conservatives in the early 90s.

The reforms come as part of wider proposals to create more competition and diversity in English higher education. It follows the publication of alternative plans to grant full degree-awarding powers to private colleges and give students greater access to subsidised grants and loans to take part-time courses.

But the move is likely to anger traditionalists who fear a further expansion in the number of full universities risks devaluing the status of the higher education system and making it even harder for employers to differentiate between institutions.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said universities should be required to teach a range of courses. “What worries me slightly about some of these higher education colleges is that they are very highly specialised,” he said. “An important criteria for me is whether the spread of the courses offered is what you would expect from a university. “It is an essential part of the university experience to learn one subject but interact with a wide variety of students specialising in a number of different fields.”

But David Willetts, the Universities Minister, told the Telegraph: “I want to see a more diverse higher education sector without in any way sacrificing higher education standards.”

Ministers will set out proposals in a consultation document being published today to introduce “wider access to [the] university title for smaller institutions”.

Under plans, higher education colleges with 1,000 full-time students – at least 750 of whom are studying for a degree – would be able to apply for the university title.

Those able to qualify include institutions such as Norwich University College of the Arts and University College Falmouth, which specialise in art, design and media courses, and Bishop Grosseteste University College, which specialises in education and teacher training. Others include agricultural and veterinary science colleges such as Harper Adams and the Royal Agricultural College.

In all, it is believed the title could be extended to around 14 institutions. Those eligible for the change already have degree awarding powers and carry out Government-funded research.

Prof Peter Lutzeier, principal of Newman University College, Birmingham, a Catholic institution specialising in a range of academic subjects, welcomed the change. “While we operate in the same way as universities – conferring our own degrees comparable in quality to those from full universities – we are currently prevented from using the universally-understood term of ‘university’ due to size alone," he said.

"This creates a real perception challenge that means smaller higher education institutions have to spend additional time and resources educating students and employers about the nature and quality of their institution, as well as finding it more difficult to develop international links due to a perceived ‘lack’ of full university status.

“This state of affairs is not only confusing for the public but is also something of an anachronism given that many of our most prestigious full universities actually operate on a smaller, collegiate system. "The collegiate approach is widely praised for allowing students to benefit from high levels of one-to-one tuition and support so why should newer institutions effectively be penalised for following a similar model?"


Thursday, August 04, 2011

MO: Law banning teachers, students from Facebook “friendship”

A controversial new law in Missouri designed to protect students from sexual misconduct bans direct contact between educators and students on social networking websites, but has prompted criticism from those who say it goes too far in its effort to clearly define digital boundaries.

Senate Bill 54, also known as the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act," was signed into law on July 14 by Gov. Jay Nixon. The law requires state school districts to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities within 24 hours, and holds those districts liable if they fail to disclose suspected or known abuse by past employees.

It also bans registered sex offenders from serving on local school boards and strengthens criminal background checks on school bus drivers.

But one provision of the bill -- section 160.069 -- also prohibits teachers in elementary, middle or high schools from establishing, maintaining or using a "work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian," effective Jan. 1. "Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student," the new law reads.

The new law is believed to be the first of its kind nationwide. Other states and school districts have only recently formed guidelines and policies on student-teacher online interaction.

In Massachusetts, some districts have adopted a model by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees that bans "improper fraternization" via Internet and telephone.

Elsewhere, teachers in several districts in Toledo, Ohio, have been told they can communicate with students when it directly relates to school matters. But some teachers say Missouri's approach, although well-intended, is heavy-handed and will ultimately hurt students by restricting access to educators.

"Throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to social networking is bad policy," said Todd Fuller, spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, which represents 44,000 members statewide. "There's so much gray area in this bill that it's difficult for us to define them," Fuller said.

MSTA officials have recently received calls from educators on an "hourly" basis regarding the provision. Some callers have inquired about potential ramifications of the social networking clause, while others are concerned about breaking the new law unwittingly.

"What happens if I use a third-party website to communicate with students?" Fuller said, mimicking an educator. "That's not public. There are lots of elements beyond Facebook that are part of social networking that I don't think this bill takes into account."

State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, sponsor of the bill, told that the social networking provision bans solely "exclusive access" between a teacher and a student. "We are in no way trying to stop communication between educators and students," Cunningham said Monday. "We are allowing school districts to form their own policy with this and to police themselves. The social media aspect comes in because we're finding that it's an early pathway to sexual misconduct."

The bulk of the legislation, which was approved unanimously by the state's Senate on April 7, will take effect on Aug. 28 -- just in time for the new school year.

Districts will have several additional months to implement the social-networking aspect of the new law. "Frankly, a teacher that has nothing to hide will be real pleased by this, because it's going to show their good work," Cunningham said. "A good teacher is going to like this."

Randy Turner, a communication arts teacher at East Middle School in Joplin, Mo., told he's fearful districts will ban usage of social-networking sites altogether to eradicate any potential gray areas. "I understand people have concerns about who their children are having as friends on Facebook, but I know many teachers who have used Facebook, and all of them have been professional," Turner said. "We're not getting on there to be pals. It's a professional service."

Turner said he's also worried that the new law removes an important "avenue" for contact between teachers and students -- both during times of emergency and during the everyday grind of homework. "A student having difficulty with a classroom assignment probably won't want to advertise on Facebook that he or she is having a problem with it," he said.

Under the new law, Turner said teachers wouldn't be able to respond directly to seemingly innocuous questions like whether school will be in session tomorrow or to directly disseminate information during times of emergency. Turner said he used Facebook extensively in May following the tornado that killed at least 116 people in Joplin.

In a statement to, Facebook officials said a growing number of teachers everyday use social networks as a "valuable educational tool" to answer homework questions or to identify bullying. "It is imperative that this law does not limit schools' and teachers' ability to use technology in this way to educate Missouri's students, and we are working with the education and legal communities to investigate," spokesman Tucker Bounds wrote in an email to

Meanwhile, Robert Sigrist, assistant principal at Central High School in St. Joseph, Mo., said Cunningham's primary intention with the new law was to ensure that "inappropriate communication" does not take place between teachers and students online.

"This is an evolving thing," he told "It still has to be worked out as to what is acceptable. This is new technology, especially for people who don't tweet and aren't on Facebook, so there's always concern for the unknown."


NYC: Exam cheating is next cry for anti-test, anti-school reform activists

When the state releases the 2011 public school test scores on Monday, New York City kids may very well show gains over last year. If so, the children will continue an upward trend in achievement with improvements that are all the more impressive because the state has toughened the material and raised the passing grade.

Applause will be in order, but parents instead can expect stepped-up efforts to discredit the results. The better the children do, the louder the attacks will be. This is because anti-testing activists have formed an alliance with teachers unions to undermine the credibility of standardized exams in general. The activists are simply wrongheaded; the unions are calculating.

New York is among the states that are moving toward gauging teacher performance and deciding tenure based on how well students learn, with one big measure being progress on standardized tests. Discredit the exams, and no teacher can be held accountable.

The latest tactic is to raise the specter of widespread test cheating. The logic: When you raise the stakes for teachers, teachers will improperly help kids boost scores. For example, by erasing wrong answers and replacing them with correct ones.

Cheating can happen, and has happened recently in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington. So, aha, it must be happening on a grand scale in New York City - never mind that there has never been any hint of widespread fudging here. The instances that have come to light have been scattered and far from prevalent enough to drive up scores in 1,700-plus schools.

Meanwhile, the last independent investigation found zero evidence of cheating. Then-Controller William Thompson conducted the probe as he was running for mayor against Michael Bloomberg, giving Thompson incentive to prove reading and math improvements during the Bloomberg administration were a fraud.

Despite an 18-month-long audit, Thompson reported that he found "no instances of cheating" on any of the four tests in three subjects he examined during the 2008 and 2009 school years.

Recognizing that unions and activists will use scandals in other cities to stave off accountability, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and state Education Commissioner John King are setting up a high-level panel to ensure the integrity of student testing in New York.

That's a good thing, provided that Tisch and King take a statewide approach and do not suggest, without evidence, that the public has any reason to doubt student test performance.


Strong Australian dollar offers education bargains overseas

The $A used to buy around two thirds of a greenback. It now buys around $US1.07, roughly a 50% increase in buying power. It's been similar with the pound sterling. It's more realistic to look at it the other way around however. The Greenback and to some extent the pound have drastically lost value while the better managed "colonies" (Australia and Canada) have remained stable. So an $A now buys a lot more in the USA and the UK. And that makes private school fees look cheap overseas. Australians are big users of private schools. About a third of Australian students are educated privately and for High School the percentage is even higher

Japanese yen buy a lot of Greenbacks at the moment too. Even though the Japanese economy is in a bit of a pickle these days, Japanese politicians are nowhere near as destructive as Mr Obama

FORGET Sydney's breeding grounds for the rich and privileged - if you want to give your child a shot at being a prince, prime minister or poet it's now cheaper to send them to Eton.

Thanks to a robust Aussie dollar, parents can now bypass Sydney schools like Knox Grammar and The King's School and send their young blue bloods into the land of future lords and ladies at top British schools.

The tuition and boarding fees of elite private schools such as Cranbrook, Newington, The King's School and The Scots College are now more expensive than their once more posh English counterparts - yet lacking the illustrious alumni.

Cranbrook can boast gambling magnate James Packer as an old boy, but Eton has the pride of the parade in princes William and Harry.

However, what local schools lack in old boy status, they make up for with value for money, according to executive director of the Association of Independent Schools, Geoff Newcombe. "The quality of boarding here is very different from what it was a few years ago," Dr Newcombe said. "Many kids have to board because they live in distant places.

"There has been an incredible effort to make their accommodation more like home. It's on a very different level from the English schools. Eton is pretty basic.

Annual fees for board and tuition at Cranbrook for a Year 12 student top $51,621, while Eton charges $46,137.

At The Scots College, board and tuition is more than $49,000 for access to its honour board, which features Hollywood film director Peter Weir and artist Brett Whitely.

But Winchester, the most expensive boarding school in England, costs just $46,686 and boasts cricketer anti-hero Douglas Jardine and Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon among its famous alumni.

At Trinity Grammar the annual fees are $48,650 for an association with rock singer Richard Clapton, at Newington (nursery of chef Neil Perry and Wallaby captains Nick Farr-Jones and Phil Kearns) they are $45,432 and at The King's School (which produced Hollywood film director Bruce Beresford and former deputy prime minister John Anderson) they are $44,082.

Those fees rival the costs of top boarding schools in the US.

St Paul's in New Hampshire, which boasts among its old boys media baron William Randolph Hearst and US presidential contender Senator John Kerry, charges $45,000. Groton School in Massachusetts asks $44,266 and prides itself for the fact that most of the Roosevelts went there.

And Middlesex School in Massachusetts charges $43,809 and can gush about actors Steve Carell and William Hurt hurtling through its hallowed halls.

One of the cheapest of the best in the US is Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. For just $38,558, students can walk in the famous footsteps of author Gore Vidal, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The calling of teaching

Key to the future of liberty

I’m spending this week speaking at an Institute for Humane Studies seminar for college students interested in libertarian ideas. This follows my participation two weekends ago at another IHS seminar, one for graduate students and faculty members interested in becoming better teachers. One great thing about both experiences is the opportunity to be around, and inspired by, other great teachers. It’s also great to teach in a room where the students are all thrilled to be there and excited to hear you talk. As comedians would say, it’s an easy room.

The two seminars have also got me thinking about teaching and its role in the liberty movement. Having spent my career at an institution where I teach a lot and where teaching is highly valued, I’m long used to thinking about the power of the classroom for young people in general.

However, only recently has the libertarian movement begun to think seriously about how important really good teachers are to opening people’s minds to our ideas, especially at the high school and college levels, when students are most amenable to them. Part of this new focus has been driven by the realities of higher education, where we have done well at producing more Ph.D.s but face a climate where tenure-track jobs are dwindling and competition makes it hard for everyone to get one at a research-oriented school. More libertarian academics are going to wind up at places like mine, and to be successful both as a professor and at generating student interest in liberty, they will need to be excellent teachers.

Greatest Impact

Not everyone will be the next Hayek. Most of us will have our greatest impact in the classroom, where the number of students we teach over a career can add up very quickly. That’s going to be many more people than the number who read our relatively obscure scholarly articles (though not this column!).

So how does one become an excellent teacher? At the evening reception the other night, one of the students here asked me precisely that question, and I answered with three terms: passion, empathy, and love.

Expertise and excellent teaching have the same source: passion about the subject. If you aren’t passionate about what you do, I’m not sure how you can be a truly excellent teacher. That same passion should also lead you to become knowledgeable about your subject. I love economics, and it’s what drives me to know more, to write, and to master the discipline. I think my passion comes across in my classroom and in other public speaking. Every year Israel Kirzner gives an introductory lecture for graduate students at FEE’s Advanced Austrian Economics Seminar. Even in his early 80s he gives that talk with the passion of someone doing it for the first time and as though it was the most important thing in the world. That is a mark of an excellent teacher.

Seeing the World as Students See It

Empathy is the ability to see the world as your students see it so you can offer explanations they can grasp. I don’t mean just using examples that touch on their culture but something deeper. An excellent teacher has to be able to explain concepts and use words that are accessible to the student. This often means eschewing the technical language of the discipline, or at least not starting there. Really great teachers are really great “explainers” because their audience perceives them as clear communicators. Doing that requires knowing your audience, and that requires this sort of empathy, which is often the result of careful listening to the questions students ask. Great teachers aren’t just great speakers but great listeners too.

Love here is not about the subject matter; it’s about the students. Great teachers really like and respect their students. They treat them fairly, they treat them as adults, and they hold high expectations for them. They also listen sympathetically and try to give them the benefit of the doubt until they demonstrate they don’t deserve it. Students respond to teachers whose default mode is to love them in this sense. If you don’t like and respect your students, that will come across quickly in the classroom and you will lose many of them in the process.

The power of great teachers is never to be underestimated. If we are to move forward to freedom, a key part of that process will take place in the classroom, where young people’s views of the world are up for grabs. No matter how right we think the ideas of freedom are, they have to be communicated and taught in ways that are powerful and effective. That means great teaching. The more great teachers we have and the more we think about how to do the job well, the better the prospects for liberty.


'Million Teacher March' Falls About 992,000 People Short

Teachers unions and their supporters hoped to draw 1 million people to Washington D.C. last weekend for their "Save Our Schools" rally. They apparently fell about 992,000 people short.

The embarrassing attendance underlined one major truth – there is no mass movement to maintain the status quo in our nation’s public schools. The only people defending the current system are those who profit from it, like the leaders of the nation's teachers unions.

The "Save Our Schools" message was honest in one respect – the union goal is to save public schools as they currently exist. Notice that there was no call to improve the quality of education for students, because that's not what the unions are fighting for.

Their only concern is to maintain a system that has kept unions financially health for decades. The fact that American students are struggling in this system is not on their agenda.

The unions certainly did their best to draw a crowd, even going as far as inviting Matt Damon to be a keynote speaker.

The burning question in my mind was if Damon would draw more people to this rally than he did to his recently flopped film "Green Zone." The answer was a definite no. And he got a little temperamental when pressed by a reporter from ReasonTV:

Person behind the camera: Aren't 10 percent (of teachers) bad though? Ten percent of teachers are bad. Ten percent of people in any profession should think of something else.
Damon: Well, okay, but I mean, maybe you’re a shi**y cameraman. I don't know.

A popular theme of the rally was to attack student testing. See, if the establishment can get rid of any sort of objective measure of student performance, then they can dicker about subjective measurements for employees, such as how much they work, how much they care and how hard they’re trying. It has been a full-frontal attack on objective measurements, which they’ve deemed "high-stakes."

The unionists were also complaining about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, collective bargaining reform in Ohio and boogeymen such as the Koch brothers.

Once hoping for 1,000,000 teachers in front of the White House, they could only rustle up about 8,000 attendees, according to unofficial Parks Department estimates. Even grading with a curve, that’s a big fat "F."

But never fear, they have millions of people behind them, Damon said. They just happened to be at the beach or on vacation because, after all, it’s summer, you know. Perhaps the real reason for the poor turnout is that millions of union teachers throughout the nation disagree with their leaders' rejection of necessary reforms.

Either way, the poor turnout demonstrated that there isn't much enthusiasm nationwide for maintaining our public school system in its current form. Most people want change, and all the union bluster in the world will not alter that fact.


Top A-level students to be offered cut-price degrees and cash incentives at British universities

Students with top A-level grades are set to be offered cut-price courses and cash sums by universities desperate to attract them.

These deals are being aimed at pupils with grades of at least two A's and a B after the Government announced they can take-on as many students as they want as long as they meet those standards.

At Britain's top universities 85 per cent of people will achieve those grades, meaning many will benefit from the bidding war.

In the wake of tuition fees rising to a maximum of £9,000 from 2012, it has also been claimed today that some middle-ranking universities may perform a U-turn and reconsider charging the full fees. The decision sparked days of violent student protesters causing chaos and millions of pounds worth of damage in central London.

This change of heart has come a matter of weeks before the next cohort of A-level students apply for university places across the UK.

Sir Steve Smith, outgoing president of Universities UK and vice chancellor of Exeter University, says changes brought in by the Coalition will force many institutions to offer enticing deals to students. 'They are going to have to work out if they start buying AAB students,' he told the Sunday Times. 'One of the implications is that those students become like gold dust for their reputation. So you might have an incredibly strong series of incentives.'

Cash deals are already being offered in Essex and Kent to attract students for next year, where students getting three A's will get a £2,000 scholarship regardless of their financial circumstances.

Goldsmiths College in London is to waive the £9,000 fees for ten of the brightest students from the borough of Lewisham, where it is based.

De Montfort University in Leicester is also offering £1,000 to students with AAB grades or above at A-level.

Meanwhile it seems students going to less prestigious universities will also benefit from a fee cap of £7,500. Universities Minister David Willetts has taken 20,000 student places and put them in a central pool only for institutions up to that price bracket.


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Who cares about the poor in the education debate?

Have you ever noticed that when members of Congress argue with each other on national television, they do more than just disagree? They invariably seem to describe their opponent’s position using very different language than their opponent uses.

For example, a conservative’s support for pro-growth tax cuts becomes “tax cuts for the rich” to a liberal opponent. A liberal’s case for investing in people becomes “wasteful, big-government spending” to a conservative.

I once viewed these word twists as a mere debater’s ploy. But then I came to realize much more is involved. There are quite a few liberals who actually believe their opponents want nothing more than to cut taxes for the rich. There are more than a few conservatives who really believe that liberals favor wasteful government spending as such.

Psychologists might call this “projection.” Instead of trying to understand what other people are trying to say, the projector imposes his own world view on others — in effect, assuming that his reality is everyone else’s reality.

I assume something like this goes on in the minds of many sports fans. They act as though they have something in common with the athletes they root for. The home team winning becomes a surrogate for local values, customs and mores triumphing over foreign values, customs and mores. In reality there is no connection at all between the fans and the athletes other than the fact that the home team pays the players’ salaries.

There is a difference between football and politics, however. In football it doesn’t really matter who wins. In politics, it does matter. If you are at all rational, you want good policies to win out over bad ones.

You would think that academics whose professional job is to approach the world as scientists would be immune from the psychological tricks people play on their own minds. But you would be wrong. Academics can be among the worst offenders.

Writing at Health Affairs the other day, Princeton University economist Uwe Reinhardt described the current budget impasse in Washington by declaring that this country has been in:

"A long ideological war fought over the distribution of economic privilege in this country, a war that has been raging unabated for over three decades now. One side in this war believes that the current distribution of income and wealth in this country is fair, as it rewards generously those who contribute commensurately to the economy and properly gives short shrift for those who do not — e.g., unskilled workers… The opposing faction believes that the current distribution of income and wealth no longer is the product of a genuine meritocracy, and even if it were, that health care, education and legal care are so-called social goods to which rich and poor should have access on roughly equal terms, regardless of their own ability to pay."

Is this your understanding of what the fight is all about? It’s certainly not mine. I’ll save health care for another day and take up education.

There has indeed been a three decade struggle — involving hundreds of millions of dollars spent on referenda, lobbying, court cases and elections. Just about every large city in every state in the country has been in the thick of the battle, including Washington, D.C., the one city that is controlled by Congress.

Hardly anybody in this struggle uses words like “equality” or ‘distribution of privilege,” however. This struggle is all about liberating poor (mainly minority) children from bad teachers and bad schools. The specifics are varied. They involve taxpayer-funded school vouchers, privately-funded vouchers, public school choice, private school choice, tax credits for private schools, charter schools, etc.

In every case, the reformers are pitted against the teacher unions. The issue is always the same: are schools essentially a jobs program, serving the interests of the people who work there? Or is their primary purpose to serve children?

[I realize there are many other reform efforts underway, including massive spending by the Gates Foundation. These efforts generally are not controversial, however, and therefore involve no “struggle.” That’s because they almost never involve firing a bad teacher or closing a bad school. For that reason, noncontroversial reforms may amount to little more than throwing good money after bad.]

The three-decade-old school reform struggle is not partisan. It has attracted many people of good will. Some have been willing to spend millions of dollars of their own money on the effort, including the late Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate economist.

However, I would guess that 90% of all people actively involved on the reform side of the struggle are conservative Republicans. The opposing teachers’ unions give almost all their campaign contributions to Democrats. When the Washington, D.C., voucher issue came to a head in Congress, the Obama administration sided with teachers against students, along with almost all the Democrats on Capitol Hill.

I mention these partisan factors only because of Uwe’s very strong implication that the political left in this country supports equal educational opportunity while the political right does not. Not only is that observation wrong, if anything the reality is quite the reverse. Not only has the political left consistently supported unions against kids, I find no evidence of a belief in equal educational opportunity in their personal lives. Is there any liberal Democrat in Congress who sends his/her children to D.C. public schools? Or do they all send them to the very private schools to which they would deny poor children admission by means of a voucher?

What about liberal professors at Ivy League universities. Where do they send their children to school? Do they select institutions of privilege? Or do they send their children to the same schools ordinary parents do?

Most conservatives in this country do not profess to believe in equal educational opportunity. They’re not hypocrites. But many of them have been willing to give inordinate amounts of time and money in an effort to liberate those at the bottom of the income ladder from poor quality schools.

These days, the folks on the right are not the ones standing in the schoolhouse door, telling poor minority children they cannot come in. The ones doing that are at the other end of the political spectrum.


Third of British 11-year-olds fail to grasp the 3Rs: 200,000 pupils STILL struggle to read, write and add up

One in three pupils is leaving primary school without a proper grasp of the basics, official statistics reveal today. Around 200,000 still struggle to read, write and add up, despite billions of pounds poured into education under the last Labour government.

The figures, unveiled by the Department for Education, will raise fears that thousands of pupils will find it hard to cope with the secondary curriculum from next month and may fall even further behind.

The Coalition has already pledged to drive up poor standards with a focus on arithmetic and the ‘synthetic phonics’ reading scheme, where children learn the 44 letter sounds and how they blend together.

There will be a toughened up literacy test for 11-year-olds in spelling, grammar, punctuation, handwriting and vocabulary from 2013. And a reading test is also being introduced for six-year-olds next year. Currently, children sit three exams in reading, writing and maths during the final May of primary education. The results are then published in Key Stage Two national league tables in December.

Last year, 35 per cent failed to reach the expected standard, known as ‘level four’, in all three tests. The figure is expected to be about the same this year.

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said there may be ‘a bit of improvement this year’ as schools pay more attention to the measure. ‘The Government distinguishes between performance measures and accountability measures,’ he explained. ‘This combined figure (for reading, writing and maths) is a performance measure and therefore public information. Schools recognise this is being presented so they’re putting more effort into it.

They would pull out the stops if it became an accountability measure.’

Last year, the proportion of pupils passing English, combining the reading and writing paper, was 81 per cent. This was up from 80 per cent in 2009, but no better than in 2008. In the reading paper, just 84 per cent of pupils hit national targets, down from 86 per cent in 2009 and 87 per cent in 2008. Results in writing increased from 68 to 71 per cent. The proportion of pupils reaching the standards in maths rose from 79 to 80 per cent. Overall, 65 per cent of children reached ‘level four’ in reading, writing and maths, up from 62 per cent in both 2009 and 2008.

Previously, all 600,000 Year Six pupils used to take science SATS and the results were also used to compile school league tables. But now a representative sample takes the test. Last year, 81 per cent achieved ‘level four’.

This year’s national curriculum tests were hit by controversy as almost 2,000 headteachers reported problems, raising concerns that pupils had been let down by poor marking. More than a third of heads questioned by the National Association of Head Teachers said that the problems with marking were ‘severe’ or ‘outrageous’.

Reaching the required ‘level four’ in maths means 11-year-olds should be able to do basic tasks such as multiply in their heads. For reading, they should understand themes and refer to the text when explaining views. Pupils should also be able to use grammatically complex sentences and spell accurately.

Last year, Ofsted estimated the cost of delivering Labour’s literacy and numeracy programmes since 1998 at £4.5billion.


Australian church school bans lesbian partners

STUDENTS at a leading Perth girls school have launched a campaign for the right to bring same-sex partners to their school formal.

A group of more than 40 past and present St Mary's Anglican Girls School students have confronted school authorities and started a Facebook campaign to argue for better gay rights. But they say school bosses are refusing to back down and have told them that bringing a same-sex partner to the school ball is "inappropriate".

WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Yvonne Henderson said the school could be breaching the Equal Opportunities Act by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Kia Groom, 24, who graduated from St Mary's in 2003 is leading the campaign. She said she formed the online group St Mary's Anglican Girls School Diversity this month. She said "there are students at the school who don't feel comfortable" and the school policy was "damaging".

Other former students claimed the school chaplain, who is a member of the Facebook group and supported acceptance of gay students, was fired for being "too different" and "open-minded".

St Mary's declined to answer questions when contacted several times this week.

Ms Groom said gay rights had been raised many times at the school and each year students had elected representatives to approach the principal about bringing same-sex partners to the formal. And each year they were denied. Students were now determined to change the policy ahead of the next formal early next year. "To me that is just unacceptable and it just shocked me ... there was no further explanation as to why," Ms Groom said.

"As a result, my school ball experience was fairly sub-par because I didn't get to spend the night with who I wanted to ... the whole thing was tarnished."

Ms Groom, who is bisexual, said coming to terms with her sexuality was made more difficult by the school. She said it tried to "nip lesbian behaviour in the bud".

Association of Independent Schools of WA executive director Valerie Gould said schools could make their own policies.

The Education Department said it supported healthy growth and development of students and ensured people were treated fairly in public schools.

But Ms Yvonne Henderson said though there were some exceptions for religious schools, anyone had the right to lodge a complaint if they felt they had been treated "less favourably". "Our stance is the Act and the Act makes it quite clear that it is unlawful," she said.

Gay and Lesbian Equality WA co-convenor Kitty Hawkins said other public and private schools had similar policies. Some public school students were required to meet school heads to "prove they were gay" or in a same-sex relationship before being allowed to bring a same-sex partner.

"I understand that many single-sex schools wish to foster environments where they are able to mix with other genders, but this is still an inadequate reason (to exclude same-sex couples)," she said. "Same-sex attraction and trans-genderism are not contagious and allowing one or two same-sex couples to attend a dance together will not insinuate that the entire year will then follow suit."

Ms Hawkins said same-sex couples and trans-gendered students were bullied and teased, which often led to mental illness, self-harm, substance abuse and even suicide. "Schools public or private have an obligation towards their students to ensure that they are able to learn within an environment that is safe, respectful and accepting," she said. "To bar same-sex couples from a dance sends a strong message. For a young person in such an environment, this can be devastating."


Monday, August 01, 2011

Obama's Early Learning Challenge and Our Failed Education System

The Obama administration is seducing states with $500 million grants to get them to enroll kids into accredited, pre-kindergarten programs. The Early Learning Challenge (ELC) is yet another bribe under Obama’s “Race to the Top,” the $4.35 billion incarnation of an endless stream of education “reform” projects implemented since President Dwight D. Eisenhower catapulted education to national prominence in 1957 following Russia’s launch of Sputnik.

ELC is run jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education (DoE) and Health and Human Services (HHS). All grants will have been awarded by year’s end. While at least two states have already received windfalls for signing on ($700 million for New York and Florida), some 14 states’ education agencies are still dithering. They know only too well that carrots come with strings, many of them turning out to be unfunded mandates.

State Departments of Education are virtual clones of the federal parent, typically referred to as a State Education Agency (SEA); they receive pass-through money from the U.S. DoE plus revenues from state taxes. Every time an SEA takes federal bait, it loses more of its autonomy through federal oversight, although at this point it’s hard to imagine how much more state and local agencies have to lose. ELC follows a textbook oversight scenario, typical of federal agencies providing grant monies to states:

The federal department grades each state’s application according to a scale. Winners then use the grant money to implement their “own” proposed reforms — which must reflect the current administration’s political agenda — and federal officials judge how well each grantee is “complying,” often by sending their department's own inspection agents to the site. This is how the U.S. Department of Justice, for example, conducts its grant inspections for everything from the Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s anti-gang initiative grants. In the case of ELC, the Education Department’s Implementation and Support Unit’s agents complete on-site program reviews of each state receiving monies.

For concerned citizens seeking a sea change in American politics overall, it is important to recognize that modern schools are the single most influential factor in a child’s development — even before parents. This is mainly due to the fact that government encourages, bribes, and even intimidates parents into handing over their youngsters to be institutionalized (e.g., early childhood programs) as soon as possible, preferably prior to the age of reason, which generally is determined by child experts and theologians alike as being around the age of 7 years. The rationale behind ever-earlier childhood programs is that most parents are ill-equipped to do the job — i.e., lacking in the required skills, psychology credits, time, and resources.

However, once a parent enters the child into the system — be it a public or private entity (exception: non-accredited neighborhood co-ops) — government oversight kicks in, monitoring the child and evaluating parents to a greater or lesser extent. If you don’t believe it, try keeping your child home from school for a week without some exceptionally good reason and see what happens.

The first thing any pre-school program does is to address the child’s socialization skills — i.e., how he relates to others, whether he makes friends, how well he cooperates. Now, for parents who are below the age of 55 — so-called “Gen-X-ers” and "Gen-Y-ers” (or “Millennials”) — which means a majority of parents at this juncture — this may seem normal. But it is, in fact, a huge departure from earlier eras.

Prior to the 1970s (and especially pre-1955), parents were considered the child’s first and most important influence, whether they actually schooled their offspring or not. They wielded authority and served as role models (as per 1950s sitcoms Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best).

Thus did youngsters learn the dynamics of group interaction through the relatively small setting of the family. They learned what behaviors worked and which didn’t. Discipline typically was doled out with a mixture of tough love and tenacity. Talking back, tantrums, disobedience, surliness, unresponsiveness, refusal to share workloads and belongings, not “catching on” to day-to-day routines, and frequent run-ins with neighborhood children — all these were noticed by parents and set off the appropriate alarm bells without any help from “experts.” Mothers, in particular, worked hard with youngsters who displayed any of these tendencies so that, by the time such youngsters attended school, around age 6 or 7, the lion’s share of such conduct had been brought under control, even if a child still remained, in most teachers' judgment, “a handful.” Every child was seen as an individual, each displaying certain characteristics, but “packaged” differently.

The job of the teacher, always in collaboration with the parent, was to smooth out the rough edges that every child naturally possesses, so that by Graduation Day at age 17 or 18, the pupil would be capable of making life choices that incorporated the best of his or her innate talents, goals, and tastes so that any weaknesses were less apt to hold the student back.

Today all that has changed. Early education, in particular, is intentionally built around peer pressure, so that the child learns to value his peers more than he does his parents, teachers, or other adult authority figures. This attitude carries on into the teen years, college or trade school, and adulthood. Thus does the child adapt by adopting the kind of blind conformity that borders on homogenized thinking as opposed to individuality — a situation which, at least for America’s experiment in freedom, is disastrous.

A nation will not get leadership, or “thinking outside the box”; it will not get innovative ideas or engage in healthy debate on issues-of-the-day as long as children are inculcated with this type of conformity — mislabeled “compliance” and “teamwork” — because what it morphs into is conformity of thought, not merely adherence to traditional norms. To modern parents, this may seem like splitting hairs. To our Founding Fathers, as noted historian Henry M. Wriston said in a 1952 commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania, it was the difference between self-determination and blind submission, the difference between innovation that leads to a high standard of living and a nation’s stagnation.

Today, we are rapidly losing the competitive edge and innovative spirit for which our nation was once famous. A major reason is 40 years of narcissism and psychotherapy passed off as education. It permeates our culture despite the few private schools that still attempt to invoke rigorous standards.

The typical graduate today emerges from school believing that being called a liberal Democrat is high praise. Its opposite, according to a joint National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) study, reprinted in an American Psychological Association bulletin, is to be “dogmatic,” “authoritarian,” “paternalistic,” “inflexible,” “rigid,” and possibly mentally ill. What our naïve graduate does not know is that these unsuspected Marxist leanings will summon the siren song of egalitarianism. But should he (or she) ever deviate from the Party line, that song will descend like a hammer.


Investing in their children's future: UK parents 'biggest spenders on private schooling in Europe'

Parents in Britain spend far more educating their children privately than those in any other European country, a study has revealed. In a damning indictment of our state system, 11.3 per cent of school funding in the UK comes directly from the pockets of parents – almost double the level in France.

The figures indicate that families are increasingly unhappy with the quality of our state schools – pushing them to opt out and pay expensive private fees.

By contrast, just 6.2 per cent of school funding in France comes from parents, compared with 4.8 per cent in the Netherlands, 3.2 per cent in Italy, and just 0.1 per cent in Portugal. Even in the U.S., household spending accounts for just 8.6 per cent of funding.

The results reflect not just the numbers of British children going to private schools, but the higher fees they are charged compared with Continental ones.

The report, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, also showed that money for education from private sources – including business funding for academy schools – soared under Labour, rising from 11.3 per cent to 21.9 per cent between 2000 and 2007.

Around 510,000 children in the UK are privately educated, with average fees at almost £4,200 a term. Top schools charge around £30,000 a year, however.

Fears over discipline and a dumbing down of the curriculum are thought to be driving the disenchantment with the state system.

Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, West Yorkshire, said: ‘Parents who send their children to private schools are not all rich and snobbish. They are people who make enormous sacrifices because they do not think state schools are up to scratch.

‘Private schools are popular because of the ethos they have which state schools are seen to lack. It’s to do with discipline, standing up when the teacher comes in the room, turning out nice people who treat people with respect. ‘And there’s the fact that exams have been dumbed down so much.’

Margaret Morrissey, of campaign group Parents Outloud, said: ‘There is a problem in cities, where parents have little confidence in inner city schools and so have to give up on something else and pay for their children to go private. ‘Part of this is the perception that the increasing number of children whose first language is not English would hold their child back.’

The OECD report also found that students in Britain pay more towards their university education than in any other European country – even before the huge rise in tuition fees unveiled earlier this year.

And parents here also have to contribute far more to their children’s nursery education.

In total, across all forms of education from age three to when students graduate from university, British households pay 21 per cent of education costs – with the Government contributing less than anywhere on the Continent.

The comparable figure in France is just 7 per cent, according to the report. The OECD figures are from 2007, the latest ones available for all countries.


Values in dispute: secularism and tolerance in Australian education

By theologian Joel Hodge

Religious education in schools remains a vexed question for our society that no longer knows what to believe - or perhaps knows too well what it believes (or at least, certain sections of the population do), particularly as some turn towards more activist forms of agnosticism and atheism. For example, in Victoria, certain groups, including The Age, continue to protest against religious education in its present form (e.g., The God Complexity, The Age, 24/7).

These "secular" or atheist groups are arrayed against religious education for various reasons. Some of these reasons coalesce around certain arguments, particularly to do with tolerance and secularism. Since these groups and The Age rarely define tolerance and secularism in any depth, it might be worth reflecting on the use of these terms for the current debate. I will give a succinct rendition of these arguments, and analyse the problems with these arguments.

Firstly, tolerance: it is argued that Australia is a multi-religious, multicultural society that should not impose certain religious beliefs on people, but should be tolerant of different beliefs, with the implication that different religions should be studied alongside each other. The first point that one should note about this argument is that it is a belief: tolerance is a belief and value that structures how we see and behave toward each other. No-one can scientifically prove tolerance to be a valid or fool-proof way of running a society. Certain facts can be argued in its favour, but in the end, it can only be believed as a good and fruitful way of relating and acting (as it is in the West, though not necessarily in other places). I personally believe that tolerance can be a positive force in some circumstances, though it is not enough to have a successful society. Tolerance often sounds more like forbearance to me, rather than real acceptance of and engagement with the other.

The second point that one can notice about modern tolerance is that it is a belief that subjects other beliefs to it. In other words, it equalises different beliefs or social forces by subjecting them to its form of belief. In the case of "religion", it subjects the more prevalent forms (such as Christianity) to itself in order to control them, and then, equalise them with smaller forms. It may just to give smaller belief systems a chance to profess what they believe. This is not what modern tolerance is only about, however. It involves a power-play by the dominant elite to subject those social movements and beliefs to itself.

This second point, then, leads to my third point: tolerance is usually not real tolerance in our society, and because of this, we apply tolerance selectively for particular gain. For example, in the realm of sport, we allow many different sporting expressions in Australian society, however we do not reduce the more dominant forms, such as AFL, to the level of the less popular forms, such as bowling or synchronised swimming, by giving them the same media exposure or forcing children to learn and play them, out of tolerance. If we did, we would probably have widespread civil unrest. Real tolerance is not subjecting everything to the same playing field, but allowing different religious and cultural forms to exist in their own way. Do we really do this in Australian society? Do we really allow different religio-cultural forms, such as New Zealanders, or Hinduis, or Arabic cultures, to exist in their own form? No, because there's an existing culture, language, belief system, and way of life in Australia to which other cultural forms adapt themselves.

Therefore, for the religious education debate, the argument about tolerance can be seen as a ruse to subject a certain dominant belief system (Christianity) to another, atheist secularism. Modern secularism has no great respect for different religious forms, but wishes to equalise and subject all of them to its agenda. This does not mean that "religion" can't be studied in some form in schools. I think it should, but we should be clear what religion is: it is not just Christianity or Islam, but involves studying all belief systems that structure how we think about ourselves and how we act toward each other, which could include forms of modern secularism, nationalism and sport.

Now to the second term that is used widely in the "religious education" debate: secularism. We are repeatedly told that we live in a secular society and that our education system is secular. Yet, the term "secular" is rarely defined. Often it is used to mean "anti-religion" (which really means certain forms of religion such as Christian) or "anti-sectarianism". Professor Peter Sherlock has given a short and insightful history of the debate over Christian education and secularism in Victoria schools (on the ABC religion & ethics page) that might help some to have a better appreciation of the complex history of this debate.

The way that secular is used in modern Australia usually means the exclusion of religion, specifically Christianity. Yet, the problem with this argument is that there is no way to properly define religion to the exclusion of other belief systems, such as nationalism, capitalism or sport. Furthermore, secular has not always meant "anti-religion". In some sense, it has meant the carving out of a space in which politics and religion are separate. However, we should note that in modern times the state took on particular powers in doing this, and over time, this has meant other incipient belief systems have taken over education and culture, such as forms of nationalism.

The final point to make in regards to this "secular" push is that it sees itself as defending a certain secular legacy against religious aggressiveness, which should not be allowed in the public realm. For example, the Christian educators in schools are made out by certain media agencies to be radical proselytisers imposing their beliefs on children. While this can happen, this kind of argument is unjust to the ordinary people trying to positively contribute to Australian society by affirming that children are loved, not just by imperfect humans but by their maker, God. Furthermore, it is a straw argument constructed to make out religious people as aggressors and secular people as righteous defenders. This kind of conflictual dualism is unhelpful to the debate and should be abandoned.

The defensiveness of certain groups in the religious education debate seems ultimately to do with the beliefs and values underlying Australian society. Each side to this debate has beliefs and values they wish to put forward, and we should be honest about this. Though this is not always the case, one of the problems with the state education system, as John Howard intimated, can be the lack of coherent and consistent beliefs and values that provide a foundation for children and society. This problem is an element in this debate that people often ignore (and contributes to the defensiveness of some). Christian churches (and others) have defined values that they offer, to which many parents are increasingly attracted as is shown by the growth in Christian schools and support for religious education (which, by the way, makes The Age's argument about moderate Christians turning against religious education dubious).

Nevertheless, some of the fear of Christian beliefs should also be better dispelled by Christians because, while Christianity does provide an over-arching framework for understanding our lives, it is not (and should not be) a closed system. God is often taken as the final answer, but God is just the beginning of a journey into the mystery of existence; one that Christians profess has to do with an open and affirming love which can orient us, but not control or overwhelm our freedom.

Therefore, we need to examine our beliefs in this debate much more deeply and not use smokescreens to cover our real intentions and agendas. In this way, we might be able to find common ground.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

‘Just right’ parents and No Child Left Behind

By Harold Kwalwasser

Every time I think about the phrase “parental involvement” in elementary and secondary education, I am reminded of that wonderful porridge in the fable of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Like Goldilocks’ demand for her porridge, educators often want their parents “just right.” They don’t want them too activist. At that point, they start to think of parents as meddlesome control freaks, or shills for some undeserving child who will face a bad grade or some other punishment without a parental rescue.

But at the same time, educators don’t want parents uninvolved, particularly when it comes to convincing their kids about the benefits of education. Without that parental support, educators fret that they are incapable of stirring listless kids to take a real interest in their own learning.

In fact, one superintendent I interviewed for a book I just completed on education reform told me that he “did not have a parental outreach strategy” because he expected it would not likely yield good results, and he did not want to give his principals and teachers an excuse for why their children were not learning.

Unfortunately, there are simply not that many parents who are “just right.” And that is a problem for No Child Left Behind.

Ten years after NCLB’s passage, we know two things to be true. First, there is little evidence the obligations for parental consultation have improved the quality of education in Title I schools.

More importantly, there is no evidence that the process has stoked any kind of populist movement for school reform. That is not surprising since the money spent on parents has been insufficient to make the involvement genuinely robust enough to be effective. So, what the provisions have done is allow schools to build a façade of parental involvement without really disrupting their preference to deal with only those parents who are indeed “just right.”

The law has done no better with uninvolved parents. There are still legions of children who lack adequate support at home. No one thinks NCLB has done much to reduce the numbers. And nothing in Title I or elsewhere has pushed schools to find a Plan B: If whatever parental involvement efforts wind up failing, what are the schools going to do to ensure the social and emotional development of their students? It is as if those students are to be punished because, once again, their parents are not “just right.”

No new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, known in its current form as No Child Left Behind) is going to change educators’ attitudes any more than it is going to make some uninvolved parent suddenly take a great interest in his or her child. Some things one cannot mandate.

But there are some things that a new ESEA can do. First, it can entice school administrators and teachers to increase real parental involvement – even if that is not what they really, deep in their hearts, want to do. How?

An example: The Obama administration wants districts to follow one of four distinct strategies to overhaul failing schools. Rather than mandating the four, the law might afford districts the right to select their own strategy – provided it was adopted in a public referendum where at least a significant percentage of voters participated. Otherwise, Washington’s rules prevail. If a superintendent’s choice is to deal with her parents and voters or with Washington, she might well choose to deal with those she can shake hands with any day.

By giving districts the option to address this problem and potentially lots of other issues first through a process requiring broad parent participation, a new ESEA gives parents a new way to be involved, even if it gives greater control to those who are not “just right” in the eyes of administrators. Moreover, it bridges a difficult divide in Washington over the degree to which Washington should be able to dictate what happens on the ground. There is local control if the districts take advantage of the opportunity to act, and federal direction if they do not.

And when it comes to parents not supporting their kids, the law might give districts a greater incentive to develop a Plan B. The experience of some private, parochial, charter, and even some traditional public schools is that they do better when they acknowledge an institutional obligation to promote the social and emotional well-being of their children.

Indeed, the irony of asking school staff to take on such obligations is often that it actually significantly increases parental involvement. In Lawrence, Ma., for example, the district adopted a staff mentoring program in 2000. Not only did that give students a district adult to support them, it increased the likelihood their parents would become more involved. At the start of the effort, just 18 parents turned out for parents’ night. In 2009, it was 1800.

A new ESEA can authorize that money devoted to drug or crime prevention and special education may also be used for children’s social and emotional development, including, for example, district mentoring. No one doubts that a more motivated and confident child is less likely to get into trouble or seem impervious to learning. It is prevention rather than repair, and it is assuredly money well spent.

These ideas may not make the new ESEA “just right,” but we are getting closer.


Violence in Britain's badly behaved schools sees 900 suspensions PER DAY

Bad behaviour is blighting Britain's schools with almost 900 children suspended every day for attacking or verbally abusing their teachers and classmates, new figures show. Every school day 13 pupils are permanently expelled for attacks and abuse and 878 are suspended in England's primary and secondary schools.

The figures, from the Department for Education, include physical assaults, racist abuse and threatening behaviour. In total, they show school children were suspended on 166,900 occasions for assault or abuse. And pupils were expelled on 2,460 occasions.

And the level of violence in primary schools was also high with children aged four and under suspended 1,210 times and expelled 20 times.

Across all of England's primary, secondary and special schools, boys were around four times more likely to be expelled than girls, with boys accounting for 78 per cent of expulsions.

The suspension rate was also almost three times higher for boys than for girls, with boys accounting for 75 per cent of all temporary exclusions.

Overall, the statistics, for 2009/10, show a slight drop from the previous year.

The most common reason for exclusion was persistent disruptive behaviour, which accounted for almost one in four, 23.8 per cent of suspensions and nearly a third, 29 per cent, of expulsions.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: 'With thousands of pupils being excluded for persistent disruption and violent or abusive behaviour we remain concerned that weak discipline remains a significant problem in too many of our schools and classrooms.

'Tackling poor behaviour and raising academic standards are key priorities for the coalition Government. 'We will back head teachers in excluding persistently disruptive pupils, which is why we are removing barriers which limit their authority.'


Are we on the brink of REAL reform in Britain's schools?

A year ago, when the Coalition was only a few months old, it looked as though Education Secretary Michael Gove might fail in his brave mission to dramatically improve the British schools system.

Back then, stubborn civil servants openly resisted attempts at much-needed reform. Gove also suffered huge embarrassment when he tried to reform Labour’s chaotic and wasteful school building refurbishment programme, after muddling up some of the names of the schools involved.

As criticism rained down, it was to the eternal shame of his government colleagues that few offered Gove public support as he courageously took on the Leftist educational establishment.

The powerful teachers’ unions, sensing ministerial weakness, were ready for the kill. Gove’s Labour shadow, the ever-combative Ed Balls, was merciless in his mockery.

The opprobrium directed at Gove, whose geeky image was brutally ridiculed, was so intense that even some of his supporters in the Tory Party feared he might not survive.

But that was a year ago. Since then, Gove has done much more than merely cling to office. With his ambitious programme of reforms to improve standards and liberate schools from the dead hand of council control, he has become the great potential success in a government that does not have much to boast about.

Under his stewardship — mostly unheralded, with the main political focus recently concentrating on the sick state of the economy and phone-hacking — a promising revolution is happening in secondary education.

The academy programme — inherited from Labour — that gives schools more freedom to run their own affairs has been vastly expanded. When the Coalition government came to power last year, there were only 203 academies out of more than 3,000 secondary schools in England and Wales. Now there are 801, with hundreds more expected to become academies this autumn.

Academies are run by independent charitable trusts, which get sponsorship from local businesses and charities. Their governing bodies have more scope to hire teachers of their choice and can decide on pay and conditions.

In this way, they can run their schools without being dictated to by bureaucrats in local authorities. They can also apply to take over failing nearby schools.

By the end of this parliament (in 2015), it is estimated that as many as 80 per cent of all the country’s secondary schools will have become academies. Breaking the power of local authorities that have for years run our schools so incompetently will be a massive achievement.

For too long these wasteful monopolies have been allowed to let Britain plummet down the international league tables.

Of course, reducing the corrosive power of councils over education has been the aim of successive governments.

Gove also wants to overhaul the national curriculum to bring a return to academic rigour in subjects such as maths.

A tough new head is soon to be appointed to Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, and the Government’s no-nonsense adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor (who believes in the importance of uniform and strict standards), is drawing up plans to help struggling schools.

But one of the simplest reforms has the potential to have the biggest effect: the introduction of the English baccalaureate, which measures how many pupils get a C-grade or better in five core traditional subjects: English, maths, a foreign language, history or geography and a science.

The so-called ‘E-Bacc’ has been bitterly resisted by elements of the teaching profession, who preferred to steer pupils towards softer subjects.

Together these are the most important set of education reforms introduced by any government for decades. It is long overdue. For all the numerous betrayals perpetrated on the public by politicians in the post-war era, few can equal the appalling mess made of education.

Ironically, the casualties of a pernicious culture, which discriminates against grammar schools and the rigour of absolute standards, were those children from deprived backgrounds whom those on the Left wanted to help. The devastating result has been a decline in social mobility.

But if this process is to be properly reversed and meritocracy restored, the Government will have to go further than Gove’s reforms.

Talent must be encouraged regardless of background and ministers must allow a return to some form of selection — enabling academies to choose pupils on the grounds of academic ability.

But such a revolution is unlikely given the opposition of the Leftist Lib Dems who prop up the Coalition.

David Cameron has a poor track record on the issue, having, in opposition, crudely accused those calling for the creation of more grammar schools as ‘delusional’.

The biggest irony is that most of the Tory and Lib Dem ministers who are blocking a return to selection (Cameron, Osborne and Clegg) went to selective top public schools. But at least under Michael Gove, a proper start in the right direction has been made.