Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jury Finds Muslim Students Guilty of Disrupting Speech

Jurors found 10 Muslim students guilty Friday of disrupting a lecture by the Israeli ambassador at a California university in a case that stoked a spirited debate about free speech.

Jurors delivered the verdicts in Orange County Superior Court in the case involving a speech by Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010 at the University of California, Irvine.

The students were also convicted of conspiring to disrupt Oren's speech. The students were charged with misdemeanor counts after standing up, one by one, and shouting prepared statements at Oren such as "propagating murder is not an expression of free speech."

Prosecutors say the students broke the law by interrupting Oren's speech on U.S.-Israel relations and cutting short the program, despite calls to behave from campus officials. Defense attorneys argued the students had a right to protest.

Nearly 200 people packed the courtroom to hear closing arguments at the trial that some community members called a waste of taxpayers' money and an effort to single out the defendants because they are Muslim.

Prosecutor Dan Wagner told jurors the students acted as censors to block the free flow of ideas and infringed upon the rights of 700 people who had gone to the Irvine campus to hear Oren.

Wagner showed video footage of university officials pleading with students to behave but said they kept interrupting the lecture. Wagner also showed emails sent among members of UC Irvine's Muslim Student Union planning the disruption and calculating who was willing to get arrested.

Defense attorneys countered there were no hard rules for the speech, and the students may have been discourteous but didn't break the law. Lawyer Reem Salahi, who represents two of the defendants, said the demonstration was modeled after a series of protests at UC Irvine and elsewhere in which students shouted at lecturers but weren't arrested. She said the students never intended to halt Oren's speech entirely but wanted to express their views on the Israeli government's actions in Gaza.

During the case, attorneys showed dueling pie charts breaking down how much time the students demonstrated, how long their supporters cheered, and how much time Oren spoke. The evidence was intended to show whether the meeting suffered a significant disruption.

Attorneys for the students -- who attended UC Irvine and nearby University of California, Riverside -- argued before the trial that charges should have never been filed and that the issue was already handled on campus. In 2010, the students were cited, released and disciplined at UC Irvine, which revoked the Muslim Student Union's charter for a quarter and placed it on two years of probation.

Earlier this year, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed criminal charges against 11 students, prompting an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of Jewish, Muslim and campus groups. Charges against one defendant were later dropped.


Standardized Testing Under Attack ... Again

As predictably as fall marks the beginning of the new school year in campuses across the country, so, too, does it usher in new attacks on standardized testing. The 2011 version comes in the form of a new book, "SAT Wars," a collection of essays that purports to be an authoritative account of the controversy over one particular test used by most selective universities in their admissions process. But far from being an unbiased account of the pros and cons of using any standardized test -- much less the SAT, one of the most thoroughly studied, modified, and continuously validated tests in history -- the book is really an attack on standardized testing per se.

Currently, the overwhelming majority of selective schools require that students submit their SAT scores or the alternative ACT, when they apply for admission. The test is used as one measure among several -- usually including high school grades, class rankings, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, application essays, and other factors -- to choose among applicants. But a move to make the SAT optional has taken hold at some selective schools. At Bowdoin College in Maine and Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, those students who choose to do so still submit their scores, but those who don't wish to, do not. Naturally, students who score less well than they had hoped are more likely to opt out of submitting scores.

The movement away from requiring the SAT has picked up steam in the last few years, ostensibly driven by the desire to increase racial and ethnic diversity at colleges. If it's true, this would be troubling enough, since the desire to achieve a predetermined ethnic or racial mix should play no role in determining who gets into college. But, in any event, the real motive behind the SAT-optional movement is more complicated and self-serving.

It is true that, on average, SAT scores for whites and Asians exceed those for blacks and Hispanics. The mean combined SAT score for math and reading for whites in 2010 was 1064; for Asians, 1076; for Hispanics, 914; and for blacks, 857. For years, critics of the test have argued -- without much evidence -- that these score disparities prove that the test is biased. The Education Testing Service, which administers the SAT, as well as other standardized tests used in college and graduate school admissions, has worked strenuously over the years to ensure that no racial or cultural bias creeps into the questions on the test. Moreover, ETS has spent a great deal of time and money recalibrating the tests and validating them to prove that test scores accurately predict academic success in college.

Although some of the essays in "SAT Wars" argue that both racial and gender bias is built into the test, there is little hard evidence to back the claim. Not only do SATs predict first-year college grades reasonably well, but their predictive value also continues throughout students' tenure, according to a carefully done meta-analysis of several studies by M.A. Vey and others in 2003. And rather than underestimating subsequent performance for minority students, SAT scores actually slightly over-predict how well black students will perform once in college.

So why are increasing numbers of selective schools deciding to make the test optional for applicants? The motive may have less to do with promoting diversity than it does with promoting higher college rankings by the schools that have gone SAT-optional.

Since the 1980s, U.S. News & World Report's annual issue announcing the rankings of competitive colleges and universities has become the most popular way to determine the quality and standards of America's colleges. Although SAT scores ostensibly count for only 10 percent of the overall ranking, a study of the correlation between average SAT scores and college ranking showed that there was an almost perfect correlation (.89) between the two. Thus, if lower-scoring students choose not to submit their scores at schools that permit it, the school's ranking may stay artificially high, even as the quality of the students admitted drops.

Standardized testing for college admissions began as way to level the playing field for students of ability to overcome whatever social or economic disadvantages they might have had when applying to elite schools. Traditionally, elite schools relied less on how academically promising the applicants were and more on whether they were well-connected. It is high irony now that those who most want to eliminate standardized testing do so claiming that they are promoting fairness -- when in fact they're still only promoting themselves.


Degrees in "Management" versus "Business administration"

Some British developments

What happens if you are not good at people management

What’s the use of having a first-class degree in law/maths/economics if you don’t have a clue how to get the best out of the people working for you? It is your management skills you need to develop and, increasingly, providers of distance learning courses and other vehicles of executive education are developing products which address that deficit. There is more to business than poring over spreadsheets. The human landscape is far, far more important.

At Ashridge Business School in Hertforshire, the uptake for the new 'virtual’ Masters in Management course, introduced in April 2010, has been so good that the current 70 students are expected to expand eight-fold in the next four years. It is a remarkable rate of growth, but not untypical of the fast-moving business-studies environment of 2011, where good managerial skills are increasingly prized and education providers are falling over themselves to come up with attractive products.

"About a third of our students are from the UK, the rest from overseas," says course director Roger Delwes. "Some are from Australia, where we have a reciprocal arrangement with the Melbourne Business School at Mount Eliza, and others from emerging economies, from Nigeria to Eastern Europe."

Competitively priced at £16,000, less than half what you could expect to pay from an MBA from a good business school, the course comprises a three-term postgraduate certificate, a three-term diploma, a six-month special project and five days of face-to-face teaching at Ashridge. Although there is some flexibility, the full masters qualification is achievable in 2-3 years and would require an estimated 12-15 hours’ work a week over that period.

"Some of our students already have a first degree," says Delwes, "but most already have several years’ working experience, in fields ranging from financial services to sports administration to the hydrocarbon industry."

Although most of their students tend to come from the private sector, Ashridge has identified several public-sector areas of work, notably the health service, where enhanced management skills are likely to be in demand.

"Take GPs," says Delwes. "Ten years ago, they would have spent 99 per cent of their time exercising their clinical skills. With the re-organisation of the health service, they are going to have to learn to be managers as well as clinicians, understanding budgets as well as anatomy. Courses like ours can help them achieve that."

If the MBA is a familiar part of the education landscape, and can involve some quite rarefied theoretical study, masters degrees in management have a more practical relevance. "People doing MBS are typically investing in their intended future, whereas those who enrol for degrees in management are investing for the present," says Delwes. "They may have been frustrated by the day-to-day challenges of creating an effective working environment, and want the tools to improve their performance."

The Masters in Management is the first 'virtual’ course offered by Ashridge and, in terms of content, is learning-driven rather than curriculum-driven – in other words, students need to relate their studies to their own working situations, rather than get bogged down in abstract theory.

"A lot of distance learning courses require long, uninterrupted hours in front of a computer," Delwes explains. "We want to vary the mix and get students to apply what they have learnt to their own workplaces, particularly during the special project with which the course concludes."

If Ashridge has identified a lucrative niche in the market, it is not alone. More and more UK universities now offer masters degrees in management, delivered either on campus, through online courses or through educational models which blend the two.

"The MBA may remain the gold standard in business circles, but the value of strategic management skills is increasingly being acknowledged," says Barry Blackham, head of curriculum and student experience at the Derby Business School, part of the University of Derby. "There are just so many people in different stages of their careers who need to be taught to look at problems in the workplace in the round, not just make things up as they go along."

The Derby Business School has a proven track record of delivering online degrees, adding new courses every year. Its MSc in Strategic Management has proven particularly popular in southern Africa, notably Botswana, where there are 45 students enrolled on the course, and Malawi, where there are 80.

Whereas UK students enrolled on the course study entirely online, students in Botswana and Malawi benefit from what Blackham calls "the flying faculty model". Most of the time students have to work on their own, from textbooks or online materials; but two or three times a year, teachers from Derby will fly out to Africa to field questions and deliver face-to-face classes. In countries where internet usage is not widespread, the human touch is often vital in helping students achieve their full potential.

"They are a very mixed lot, and at very different stages in their career," says Blackham. "One of the students is the Malawi Minister of Transport, one of the most senior members of the government. Another is a chicken farmer. NGOs, we have found, are also prepared to fund key staff in their extra-curricular studies. But, if the students have arrived at us via different routes, they all seem to benefit from the course, mainly because it has direct application to their work."

One of the key modules in the course, which typically takes between two and three years, is Decision Analysis, which focuses on long-term strategic planning, particularly its financial aspects. "You’re not going to turn people who are not mathematically gifted into brilliant statisticians," says Blackham. "But what you can do is help them find their way around statistical reports prepared by others, and give them the intellectual confidence to deal with accountants, economic analysts and the like."

And it is not just individual managers and would-be managers benefiting from the new trends in executive education. Large and medium-sized companies are increasingly turning to business schools to help them resolve organisational and managerial issues that would once have been handled in-house.

'Our clients include some of the top FTSE companies, as well as major companies in the USA, Australia, Canada and other countries,’ says Bill Shedden, director of the Centre for Customised Executive Development at the Cranfield School of Management, part of Cranfield University in Hertfordshire, the UK’s only wholly postgraduate university.

Companies which use Cranfield’s services are typically looking for a strategy for developing a cadre of middle and senior managers or for implementing major organisational change. "They don’t expect us to tell them what they do," says Shedden. "They expect us to work with them to come up with solutions that are tailored to their needs. Those solutions, increasingly, will involve such teaching tools as network learning and 'webinars’, where you can work face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world."

A once leisurely world of residential staff colleges and week-long conferences at five-star hotels has been superseded by a much more concentrated form of executive education"Companies are under pressure to show tangible results quickly,’ says Shedden. 'They have also had to cut down on travel costs and are reluctant to let key staff take time off for study purposes."

It is a fast-changing environment and, as Shedden acknowledges, business schools have to learn from the mistakes of the past. "With the emergence of the net, a lot of schools thought e-learning was the future and put a lot of effort into developing appropriate online material. But that’s where they came unstuck. All they were basically offering was sophisticated books which were readable on a computer. But how many senior bankers or businessmen would have the time or inclination to read such books?"

Flexibility is the new by-word, with increasing emphasis on interactive forms of learning. A company in the United States or Australia which deployed Cranfield’s services might start off with a short immersion period, with managers studying podcasts and online material, but after that the group would be as important as the individual in the learning process.

"We recently did a full-blown business simulation with a company in Miami," says Shedden. "The entire exercise was virtual, with nobody having to move from their desks. But it was a huge success in education terms."

In a complex business world, learning the art of good management has never been harder. The good news is that there have probably never been more diverse or innovative ways to teach managers to manage.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Exciting Schools

School spending has doubled over the past 30 years. Yet what do we get? More buildings and more assistant principals -- but student learning? No improvement. If you graph the numbers, the spending line slopes steeply, while the lines for reading, math and science scores are as flat as a dead man's EKG.

Why no improvement? Because K-12 education is a government monopoly, and monopolies don't improve.

And yet I'm happy to announce some good news: Cool things are starting to happen in classrooms.

I was surprised to meet kids who said they like school. What? I found school boring. How can it be that these fourth-graders tell me that they look forward to going to school and that math is "rockin' awesome"?

Those kids attend one of those new charter schools. Charters let them escape the bureaucracy of regular schools, including, often, teachers union rules. These schools compete for kids because parents can always choose another school. That makes them better.

Not every charter school is good, but the beauty of competition is that bad ones go out of business, while good ones expand. Then good schools teach more kids. Choice and competition produce quality. Anyone surprised?

Government schools rarely improve because no matter how bad they are, they still have captive customers.

The Harlem charter schools admit kids that bureaucrats label "at risk of failure." But these kids learn. And they do it at lower cost.

I visited another charter chain, American Indian Public Charter Schools in Oakland, Calif., that gets similar top results, also at lower cost.

"Kids in American Indian Public Charter Schools score so far above the average for the state for public school children that there isn't even a word for it," says Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom.

Those schools use methods different from the charters in Harlem. For example, they pay some kids to tutor other kids.

Both charters do something that regular public schools rarely do: fire teachers. One charter principal calls it "freeing up a person's future." You cannot maintain quality unless you can fire people, said Deborah Kenny, founder of Harlem Village Academies.

While bad teachers might get fired, good teachers are given freedom.

"They can choose their textbooks, teaching methods -- as long as they, every quarter and every year, make sure that the students are learning what they need to learn," Kenny said.

In Harlem, 43 percent of eighth-graders pass state math tests. In Kenny's schools, 100 percent pass. So if charters work, why aren't there more of them? Because teachers unions hate them. The president of the Newark Teachers Union, Joseph Del Grosso, doesn't want charters in what he calls "his schools."

"Over my dead body, they're going to come there," he told me.

Because of that attitude, people who try to start charter schools often find that bureaucrats make it hard. But in one city, most kids now attend charters. How did that happen?

It happened because when Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, it also destroyed the school system. Some school reformers thought that might be a blessing.

"It was probably one of the worst school districts in the country," said Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana state superintendent of education. The state faced a choice: Rebuild the old system or build something new. It built something new. Opening charters became easy. Today, most kids in New Orleans attend charter schools, and test scores are better.

Ben Marcovitz started a charter school called Sci Academy. "We have complete control over the quality of our instruction."

At first, only a third of his students were proficient on state tests. Now, Sci Academy's test results are among the best in the city.

Competition drives schools to try different things in order to succeed. It's similar to what happens with consumer goods -- computers, refrigerators, cars -- that get better every year.

If charter schools do this well, imagine what a really free and competitive system -- one without compulsory tax financing and bureaucratic chartering procedures -- could do.

Our kids deserve a free market in education.


Trendy teachers cheat the poor and lay the groundwork for riots

Katherine Birbalsingh

WHEN I became a teacher some 12 years ago in London, I genuinely believed that the only way one could make a difference to the underprivileged was to work for the state. I believed the state education system stimulated social mobility.

But my time teaching in some of London's inner-city schools has taught me much. I have seen things you would never believe. As every year ticked by, I became more and more frustrated with the lies we teachers were having to tell the public. We had to pretend that our schools were better than they were in order to trick parents into sending us their children. Ninety three per cent of our children in Britain are educated in the state sector and there is a great divide between the private and state sectors.

The state sector is always trying to prove that it is just as good as the private sector, if not better. And because everyone knows, deep down, that this simply isn't true. Let's face it, British children are now rated 16th in the world for science, 25th for reading and 28th for maths, according to the OECD's 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report. The 2000 PISA report ranked British children as fourth for science, seventh for reading and eighth for maths. We now spend more than 80 billion ($123bn) a year (double what we spent in the 1990s) on education and yet British schoolchildren have plummeted in the international league tables.

So I wrote a book, To Miss with Love, with the intention of it being published anonymously because I knew just how dangerous it was to speak to the truth. But then, before publication, I spoke at the Conservative Party conference in October last year about our broken education system, revealing some of my thoughts on what needs fixing. As a British teacher recently told me, there was nothing I said in the speech that teachers don't say everyday in staffrooms across the country. We simply aren't allowed to say it out loud. The state school system literally prevents its teachers from speaking their minds.

The riots in London did not come as a surprise to British teachers. We have not only been predicting that kind of general chaos for years, but we experience it on a daily basis in our schools. We have many Australian travelling teachers who enter our school system as supply teachers. Generally, they are shocked by what they see and experience in our classrooms. It is the same for German, French or Spanish teachers. The only visiting teachers who are used to our behaviour problems and low standards are those who come from the American inner cities. And riots, of course, are not unfamiliar to them. The difference between the American and British school systems is that the international community knows just how bad American schooling can be. But Britain still lives off its old reputation as the Mother Country, leading the Commonwealth and its empire in all that is true and good.

But the real truth is that not only does the state in Britain tie teachers' hands, but it does the same to parents, resulting in a breakdown of authority both in our schools and in our homes. Some parents try desperately to bring their children up properly and struggle. I have spent my career meeting parents who are brought to tears because of their unruly teenagers. Some say that they cannot discipline their children because their children threaten to call the police and cry abuse. Every time their child misbehaves, rather than being able to discipline them appropriately, they remember their neighbour or their friend or their cousin who was handcuffed in their own house and hauled away by the police, their children put into social care for a night, all because of some made-up story.

I remember one Jamaican woman pleading with me in school, desperately wanting to discipline her daughter but the parenting classes she was attending at the council suggested she use more praise. She said to me, "But how can I always be praising her when she gets so much wrong?" The "prizes for all culture" doesn't just exist in our schools. It is endemic in our society to a point where not only do we not question it, but those who have old-school values are forced to conform to the "gold stars for everyone" mantra dictated by the state.

The same thing happens at school. The bad children are constantly receiving prizes simply for remaining quiet or for turning up on time. The teachers, in order to win round the bad children, are taught by their line managers and teacher training institutions that praise is what is needed to motivate children. So we all use it to saturation point, devaluing the worth of the gold star. Meanwhile, the good children, who are left in the dark because no one notices, eventually become bad in an effort to gain some attention.

Eventually, the cool gangster lifestyle that these children have pumped into their minds six to seven hours a day from MTV takes over. Their understanding of "success" is not marriage, a job and a couple of kids. It is cars, women and bling. Our bookshops were not looted, and if you didn't have a sports or mobile phone shop on your High Street, you knew your community was probably safe. Who allows our children to watch so much MTV? The very parents who are exhausted because their children are spiralling out of control and yet are told by the council they should use more praise, or the single parents, encouraged to stay single by the state with promises of free flats and welfare cheques, who can't possibly juggle a full-time job, three or four children, a household and a life.

The schools struggle to keep order, partly because of the low standards of the education system but also because teachers are encouraged to constantly do group work and entertain the children. Children must never be bored, and if they are, or if they disrupt, it is the teacher's fault. Children are never held to account for what they do. Is it any wonder that some of them decided to show the police that they were in charge and went out looting?

State schools ought to promote social mobility. They should not simply perpetuate the class system and ensure that those who go to private schools are taught well, and only those taught in leafy suburb middle-class state schools stand a chance of a half-decent education.

Unfortunately a number of people with power believe that the way to improve education for our children is to ban tradition from our classrooms _ stop being so fuddy duddy and appeal to children by making things more "fun".

We believe it is unfashionable to have desks in rows and so some schools actually ban traditional rows in favour of always having desks in groups. Some schools abandon the more traditional academic subjects altogether and do not teach them at all. In an effort to raise their standing in the league tables, schools will have children take drama, PE, or media studies, abandoning, history, physics or French to do so, and our so-called progressive thinkers rejoice, saying that these subjects are more suited to certain children. It is funny how the children these subjects suit are never their own.

The tradition of competition which we celebrate in the world of sport has become unfashionable in the academic classroom and innovation requires that children never be given grades and are never allowed to know where they stand in comparison to their peers. Tradition in education has become a dirty word and is reserved for the elite while innovation is what is given to the poor.

The irony is that the rejection of all that is traditional comes from people who were themselves beneficiaries of a very traditional education but remembering some of their classes at school as being boring, are now trying to reform the education system for these kids to make it more interesting. So they can be very well meaning people. So, for instance, Richard Branson who famously dropped out of school at 15, thinks schools overeducate children, and stunt the early sparks of entrepreneurship. But what Branson forgets is that he had the most traditional of educations - having been educated at one of Britain's top private schools and yet he is the most extraordinary entrepreneur. And Branson underestimates just how much his education has contributed to his success. What Branson was able to take away at age 15 from school, far outstrips the standard of education that some of our Western youngsters are currently accessing even at university level. Some of our university degrees are the equivalent in standard to what children used to do at age 15 in school in the 1970s. Branson would probably find these degrees ludicrously easy.

General thinking around school being boring makes it possible for us to have reached a stage where teachers are no longer expected to teach and instead they must be facilitators of learning with constant group work going on, where the teacher is rarely standing in front of the class, but instead moves amongst the children who are all busy doing something. The idea here is that "doing" is more interesting than "listening". And that might very well be true. But the problem comes when we think that "doing" needs to happen most of the time. This means that the teacher, a great source of knowledge, almost becomes redundant as a fountain of knowledge and instead becomes a bit of a referee. We don't value the importance of teaching knowledge for the children to then do something with. Innovation is considered to be only "doing" - a complete rejection of all that is traditional.

The problem is that we all underestimate the knowledge that we have and use everyday. Try to read any article in the newspaper and you'll find that there is an assumption of background knowledge. Recently, I read an article about Carla Bruni. To understand just the title and subtitle, one would have had to know who she was, that she is married to Nicholas Sarkozy and you'd have to know that he was the President of France, what being a president means, and, indeed, you would have to know what France is - is it a city? Is it a country? Is it in Europe? You may laugh, but I have, as a teacher had conversations with 14-year-olds in which they simply don't understand the difference between France and Paris. For them, it is all the same! I can't tell you the number of times I've had conversations with kids about Winston Churchill where they think he's "that dog" off the insurance advert.

Ordinary people don't realise just how little some of our kids know. What we also forget is that the very thing that got us to where we are now was the kind of education that we had - our teachers actually teaching us knowledge, so that we know the difference between Paris and France, us sometimes being bored in lessons and learning the discipline to struggle through - how many people in business clinch a deal because they know the soft skills of being polite, know how to sit through a boring lecture, and are able to concentrate enough to still pick up what is necessary to impress the client? It is through the study of tough rigorous academic subjects that soft skills are often acquired. Traditional educations are not bad. And most of the progressives perpetuating this in our schools have benefited from one themselves. In other words they climb the ladder to the top and then unwittingly pull the ladder up from under them.

So in the past 30 years, the concept of teaching knowledge in our classrooms has nearly disappeared altogether. Teaching historical facts or lists of vocab which rely on memory skills is considered old-fashioned. Instead, we think it better to inspire children to be creative through constant group discussion and project work. But background knowledge is absolutely essential to enable children to capture new ideas. For instance, when cars were first invented they were called horseless carriages. So to understand the new concept of a car, one had to have knowledge of horses and carriages, and the idea of something being "less" something else. In fact, modern neuroscience has shown that in order to grasp new concepts, pupils require a great deal of background knowledge.

As background knowledge is provided unequally in different homes, it is our duty in schools to level out the playing field. In some homes children are lucky enough to have tutors employed, conversations over dinner about the day's news events and, as such, they can pick up facts about history, geography as they go. But instead of ensuring that all of our children should have access to that knowledge in school, we turn away from knowledge acquisition which is considered boring and teach skills like being empathetic or forming a point of view through what is a very seductive and seemingly better way of teaching. It seems more "fun" and the progressives like the idea of finally breaking free from the restriction of their own educational backgrounds.

So putting desks in rows in considered archaic, rote-learning is abandoned completely, even the idea of classrooms having walls is rejected _ encouraging chaos all around _ and our children quite literally are leaving school without basic knowledge in subjects such as English, maths and history. A recent study from the University of Sheffield showed that 20 per cent of the children leaving school in Britain are functionally illiterate. Schools, quite simply, need classrooms. And classrooms, in turn, require walls. When I first told my father that we were spending billions of pounds on schools building walless classrooms, he was baffled. You see, he grew up in poverty-stricken Guyana where he went to a school that had no walls because they couldn't afford them. So for us to now spend billions recreating what the developing world is trying to move away from seems like lunacy. But that's exactly what we're doing.

If we want to equip our children with the power to change the world, they must first have knowledge of it and understand it. Unfortunately the "progressives" think that somehow knowledge is right-wing and boring. But this is simply not true. What makes Tony Benn, the well known British socialist who has campaigned against injustice all over the world, such a great speaker, or what gave Ian Flemming such a creative mind that he should create James Bond? What ensured that Churchill would be an inspirational leader, moving back and forth between the Liberal and Conservative parties? What ensured that Obama would be the first black American president? Their very traditional educations! Thomas Jefferson had a classical education but was so forward thinking that he signed the Declaration of Independence and Mark Zuckerberg is obsessed with Classics but is the founder of the transformational and innovative Facebook. What made these people into successes was the traditional educations that they had, the inspirational teachers who taught them, the love of learning that they picked up with their walled classrooms, desks in rows, with the teacher teaching at the front.

Traditional education in Britain these days is reserved only for the rich. Yet tradition is what has given us our most explosive revolutionaries. Stokely Carmichael who led the Black Panthers and was a major player in the civil rights movement in America dropped gang life, so inspired was he at his science specialist school and so busy was he reading Darwin and Marx. Mandela went to an elite Methodist mission school. Revolutions are created with traditional thinking. That doesn't mean you can't ever do any type of group work, or can't ever go on to a computer. But it should not be a fight to have a school system where our poorest children should have access to an education that includes knowledge-acquisition, competition, a non-prizes for all culture, high standards of behaviour, and in an environment where everyone reaches for the very best.

This is where I believe there could be a real role for free schools in our inner cities in Britain. Our Conservative government has brought out these new proposals, copying the free school movement in Sweden and the Charter school movement in America. This month, our first batch of free schools opened - there were 24 of them. As free schools are free to do what is best for their children and do not have their hands tied behind their backs by the state, they are able to reject the cultural pressure that is felt in some of our ordinary state schools, and do something different. They are free to provide children with the tradition that is found in our better private schools.

They can offer an extended day, lessons that are about knowledge acquisition, and competition to drive up standards. They can provide classrooms with desks in rows and they can offer the more traditional subjects - and by this I don't mean Latin necessarily - I simply mean the opportunity to do Spanish or history or the chance to study biology, chemistry and physics as separate subjects. The tradition of benchmarking children can be upheld, standing at assembly and holding high standards for uniform and behaviour can simply become part of the norm. In fact, bringing traditional thinking of this kind is to trail blaze and indeed be innovative. How wonderful it is that the free school movement should allow individuals in any community, to take responsibility, to know what issues face their particular community and to have the freedom to set up a school that can do something positive and new.

So I am trying to set up a free school in the depths of south London to do exactly what I say is needed, and educate these children in such a way so that riots like the ones we witnessed last month will not happen again. The ordinary people of south London - the poor, the single-parent families - are desperate for another choice of school in the area because there aren't enough school places and they know how generally awful the schools are. Yet there are those from the National Union of Teachers and the Socialist Workers Party who oppose us. There are those, and it has to be said, they are the middle classes, who can afford to make up for their state school's issues by employing tutors at home - who want to stop free schools from opening because they hate the idea of individuals taking away responsibilities and power from the state.

The only way our poorest children can succeed is for them to receive the same quality of education as our richest. They need the privilege of a traditional education - the type of education that most of us, it not all of us in this room have been lucky enough to have had. There is a quote that I love which sums up what I am saying: The education that is best for the best is the education that is best for all. Why did the riots happen? Because 20 per cent of our young people are functionally illiterate and do not know the difference between right and wrong. Because the education that is best for the best is kept only for the very few.

I only wish that these problems were confined to Britain. But I believe that in the West, these trends are to be found everywhere, and no doubt in Australia too. Some countries, such as Britain, are simply more advanced in their decline. My advice to all of you is to learn from our mistakes in Britain. Do not go down the trendy and very tempting route of believing that all that glistens is gold. I believe in conservative values precisely because they conserve what is traditional. If Australia learns from the hideous mistakes that Britain has made, I am certain that the old-school values that we have lost in Britain will ensure your country's future success.


First-class? Top-level British degrees up by 34% prompting fresh concerns over grade inflation

The number of students graduating with a first-class degree has risen by a third over the past five years, prompting fresh concerns about grade inflation.

About one in seven graduates now obtains the top qualification, calling into question the worth of some degrees.

Almost 47,000 students gained firsts in 2009-10 compared with 34,825 in 2005-6 – a rise of 34.5 per cent, according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. At the same time, almost half of graduates were awarded a 2.1 in 2009/10. Numbers gaining 2.1s have risen by 14.4 per cent – from 137,235 to 156,950 – over the same period. By contrast, there was only a 2.9 per cent increase in the number of graduates achieving a 2.2.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said degrees have been subjected to ‘extraordinary grade inflation’ since the expansion of higher education in the 1990s.

Calling for a ‘starred first’ degree to identify exceptional students, he said: ‘Grades are inflating to the point that the classes aren’t going to be useful to future employers. They are going to have to take into account the university and the A-level results to distinguish between applicants.’ ‘I suspect what we will have to do is what has already been done in A-levels and GCSEs, which is to have a starred first.’

Universities have been trialling a graduate ‘report card’, aimed at giving a more accurate picture of students’ achievements. But the new Higher Education Achievement Report – a six page document – continues to list graduates’ overall degree classification.

There have been claims some lecturers turn a blind eye to plagiarism in a bid to help institutions climb league tables. University whistleblowers have also alleged external examiners have been ‘leaned on’ to boost grades.

The Commons select committee on innovation, universities, science and skills noted different institutions demanded ‘different levels of effort’ from students to get similar degrees.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Huge rejection of government High Schools in Australia

On previous occasions, I have extrapolated from State statistics that about 40% of Australian High School students go to private schools. This compares with about 7% in England and probably reflects at least in part the greater Government financial support for private schools in Australia. But private schooling is still a considerable expense for families so the 40% figure probably represents just about every family that can afford those expenses.

Government schools are clearly on the nose. Discipline has largely been abolished there over the last couple of decades so such schools have a reputation for being chaotic and thus providing a poor learning environment.

Although I attended State schools myself, I sent my son to a local private school. There are so many private schools in Australia that one does not usually have to travel far to find one. At his school my son had (male) teachers who were enthusiastic about mathematics, something rarely found in State schools, I'll warrant. Since my son now has a B.Sc. with honours in mathematics and is working on his Ph.D. in the subject, he is an example of the effect that school choice can have.

Fortunately, my 40% estimate can now be firmed up. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has just released Australia-wide data on schools. See the excerpt below. It turns out that for Australia as a whole I was only one percentage point off. The figure is 39%, not 40%:

In 2010, there were 3.5 million students formally enrolled in all Australian schools (an increase of 7% since 2000). Of these students, seven in ten (66%) were enrolled in government schools, two in ten (20%) in Catholic schools and one in ten (14%) in Independent schools (compared with 69%, 20% and 11% respectively in 2000).

Although government schools continue to educate the majority of students in Australia, the number of students enrolled in non-government schools has been increasing at a faster rate over the last decade. Since 2000, Catholic and Independent schools had the largest proportional increases in the number of students (11% and 37% respectively) while the number of students in government schools increased by only 1.3%.

In 2010, there was little difference between the proportions of male and female students enrolled in government and non-government schools.

In primary and secondary schools

In 2010, around two million students were enrolled in primary schools and around 1.5 million students were enrolled in secondary schools. A higher proportion of students were enrolled in government primary (69%) and secondary (61%) schools than students enrolled in non-government primary and secondary schools. The proportion of students enrolled in Catholic and Independent schools was lower in primary schools (19% and 11% respectively) compared with secondary schools (22% and 17% respectively).

Many students may not remain in one particular type of school (government or non-government) for their entire schooling. For example, some students may attend a government primary school and complete their education in a non-government secondary school.

A media report on some other aspects of the new ABS data here. Private school graduates are much more likely to go on to univerity etc.

Michigan on Brink of Massive Education Reform

On Friday September 9, Michigan State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) announced he would introduce legislation giving teachers in his state right to work protections. The bill already has the support of Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall.) Richardville’s Freedom to Teach Act would allow teachers in Michigan to choose whether or not to join a union. Currently, Michigan educators are forced to pay union dues simply to keep their jobs.

In his press release Richardville said he wants to “keep more money in the pockets of teachers.” The Majority Leader noted that the money taken in the form of forced dues “belongs to the teacher that earned it [and that] it is up to them to contribute based on personal choice, not because the school district extracts it from paychecks and deposits it in the hands of the union bosses.”

The bill is part of several education reforms giving more choice to teachers, parents, and children. Among other reforms are bills which would allow the expansion of charter schools and allow access to online learning. Last week, the Michigan House passed a bill, which would not go as far as Richarville’s but would bar the state from collecting dues for teachers unions.

Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland), the bill's primary sponsor told The Detroit News, "I don't understand how giving people money back in their paycheck is a bad thing … It makes [unions] more accountable.” Yet that may be precisely what the union and its allies don’t want. Leading opposition to the bill is Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), whom Richardville criticized for wanting to “to continue to see hundreds of dollars removed from teachers pay to support a $200,000-a-year plus salary for union bosses who haven't seen the inside of a class room in years.”

With the backing of the leaders in both houses Freedom to Teach is likely to pass—even without help from Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who recently said during a televised town hall meeting that Richardville’s bill is not on his agenda. This is the same position Governor Snyder holds on more encompassing right to work legislation for the state, but he has said that he would sign a right to work bill if it came to his desk.

The Governor’s reticence on labor reform may be due to his trying to muster support for other priorities, including a controversial publicly financed bridge from Canada to Detroit.

The Senate Minority Leader has warned Snyder that Freedom to Teach could jeopardize cooperation with the bridge project. Whitmer told the Michigan news website, "If they really want to reach across the aisle and try to build support . . . they've got to take some of these issues (Right to Teach) off the table or we're going to get mired in partisan battles and that doesn't help anybody."

Ironically if Democrats oppose the bridge because of Freedom to Teach they will harm other unions. Buried in the pending legislation authorizing the bridge are handouts to organized labor such as hiring set-asides for union members as consultants for the project. The project would also be subject to state prevailing wage laws—which generally set wages closer to inflated union wages rather than market pay rates and can increase costs by up to 22 percent.

Aside from inter-union squabbles caused by pulling support for the bridge as a result of Freedom to Teach, the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest teachers union, may have problems if right to work is given to teachers. Tom Garnet of the Mackinac Center reports that John Ellsworth, a former MEA local president, estimates that between 10 percent and 40 percent of MEA’s membership could leave if given the choice, because “some don't think they are getting real value from the $90 per month in union dues” teachers are forced to contribute. This isn’t idle speculation. In Wisconsin, the teacher’s union had to lay off 40 percent of its staff after Governor Scott Walker (R) ended automatic payroll deductions of union dues.

Why would rank-and-file union membership consider paying dues a poor value? Maybe because the MEA has increasingly been more focused on partisan politics than on education. It was one of the chief drivers of recall efforts against Republican lawmakers this past summer. Out of roughly 20 recall efforts, including the Governor and Richardville, the union only managed to gather enough signatures for a recall of the House Education Committee Chairman—after spending a quarter of a million dollars on the signature effort.

A reduction of the MEA’s power would be good news for parents and children. The union has been opposed to reforms that increase choice and accountability. On its website, the union voices its oppositions to one bill because it “allow[s] districts to hire/place teachers with demonstrated effectiveness and qualifications” and because “experience [longevity] will not be a factor if a district is reducing its force. Individual performance will instead be the major factor in staffing decisions.”

Richardville and other Michigan lawmakers who are trying to curb teachers unions’ privileges will face stiff opposition. If they are successful, Michigan could see an education system that puts teacher performance, parental choice, and children’s welfare ahead of union political agendas and forced dues.


Voucher Program in Colorado Would Advance Liberty

In March 2011, the school board in Douglas County, Colo., voted 7-0 to implement a school voucher program. It was designed to provide concerned parents with 75 percent of the education money provided by the state for their children if the parents preferred to send their children to the private school of their choice.

The other 25 percent of the state funds would remain with the government schools even though the student for whom the funds were intended was not in attendance.

Structured this way, the voucher plan seemed like a win-win for both parties – the parents would be empowered to send their children to the school of their choice, and the government schools would still get paid by the state, even in cases where they didn’t have to teach.

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State found something it didn’t like: many took their children out of a government school and placed them in a Christian one. This, in the minds of AU, was no different than imposing special taxes for the targeted support of religion.

Writing for AU, Karen B. Ringen suggests that 21st century school choice programs are no different than 18th century special “assessments” for the particular support of religion, assessments which James Madison opposed. This comparison does not bear much analysis. Neither the state of Colorado nor Douglas County have imposed a tax designed to support one, many, or all religions. Instead, the governments collect income, property, and other taxes to cover the expense of educating Colorado’s school children, among other things. Douglas County then empowers parents to make choices about the education of their children. They can leave their children in the public schools or they can choose a private school that better serves the needs of their children. Parents may choose secular or religious private schools. This is a far cry from the special religious tax that Madison rightly decried.

Douglas County’s school choice program advances rather than undermines religious liberty. Government maximizes religious liberty when it minimizes its influence on religious choices. When parents decide how their children will be educated, they make an inescapably “religious” choice. Education, whether it is labeled “religious” or “secular,” rests upon foundational presuppositions – about the nature of reality, about right and wrong, and about how humans acquire knowledge. These foundations are, broadly speaking, “religious.” A “secular” public school is not neutral about these foundations, even though its presuppositions might be hidden. When the government pressures families to choose secular public education, it undermines their religious freedom. Empowering parents to make real choices about educating their children augments religious freedom. AU may not like the choices some parents are making, but it cannot plausibly contend that facilitating choice minimizes freedom.

In this sense, Madison is very much on the side of Douglas County in this dispute. In Madison’s own words: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

Douglas County is not forcing AU to support a religion with which it disagrees. Instead, it is enabling parents to educate their children in a manner consistent with their own religious convictions.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conservative policies pay off for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina took home the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education this year, and with it $550,000 in scholarship money for high school seniors.

In winning this year’s award, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, or CMS, beat out 74 other eligible districts and three other finalists: the Broward County and Miami-Dade school systems in Florida and the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. All four districts have been finalists before.

"Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a model for innovation in urban education," said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who announced the winner at a ceremony Tuesday in Washington. "It has taken on the tough work of turning around low-performing schools, created a culture of using data to improve classroom instruction, and put a laserlike focus preparing students for college and careers."

The CMS district serves about 135,000 students, 53 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. About 67 percent of its students are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Among the achievements that the prize panelists highlighted, Charlotte-Mecklenburg:

* Narrowed the achievement gap between its African-American students and both district and state white students at all levels in reading and math. It also narrowed the gap between Hispanic and white students at all levels in math and for middle and high school students in reading.

* Had the highest SAT participation rate for African-American seniors (62 percent) of all 75 districts who qualified for the Broad Prize.

* Was more successful than at least 70 percent of other North Carolina districts at increasing the percentage of low-income middle and high school students who performed at the highest achievement level in reading and math.

The panelists also highlighted a number of the district’s practices, including a lauded strategic staffing initiative put in place by former superintendent Peter Gorman, who left the district in June. The initiative moves the most effective principals into chronically failing schools and allows them to bring with them top teachers, who are given financial incentives. The panelists also noted changes Mr. Gorman made to how layoffs are conducted – now based on performance as well as seniority – and how teachers are compensated, as well as the district’s openness to alternative sources for teachers and principals, including Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools.

At the ceremony Tuesday, musician John Legend delivered the keynote address, calling education reform the “civil rights issue of our generation.” A number of members of Congress, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) of California, the House minority leader, emphasized both the importance of what the Broad Prize recognizes as well as the bipartisan support for many education reforms.

“We can help create a better environment for schools, but we can’t make them better from here,” said Senator Alexander in his remarks. “That’s why the spotlight Broad places on these four outstanding districts ... is so important.”

The Broad Prize, which is sponsored by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, is the largest award of its type. It was started in hopes of rewarding districts that make big improvements in student achievement, promoting best practices that other districts can follow, and spurring competition and creating incentives for districts to improve. Last year’s winner was the Gwinnett County Public Schools outside Atlanta.

It awards $1 million a year in total scholarship money (reduced from $2 million in the past few years to make the award more sustainable). In addition to the money CMS receives, each of the other three finalists will get $150,000 in scholarship money. The money is designed to go not to top students who probably have other scholarships available to them, but to those students with financial need who have made big improvements over their high school career.

“We started the [Broad Prize] because the public is down on urban education, and we said we’ll find districts that are doing great work and get them to share their best practices with other districts,” said Eli Broad, in an interview after the winner was announced. Still, he says, “there’s a long way to go” in education reform. “We’ve made progress, but we have to make a lot more progress, faster than we’ve done in the last 10 years.”


If it's good enough for Eton: State comprehensive sees grades rocket after headmaster cuts class sizes to 15 pupils

These relatively small gains are entirely consistent with a placebo ("Hawthorne") effect rather than any effect due to class size itself

A comprehensive has seen its pupils’ grades rocket after cutting class sizes in English and maths to levels normally found in private schools. Headmaster Adam Dare slashed the number of 11-year-olds in these lessons from 26 to 15. Pupils studying English GCSEs have equally small classes.

As a result, the number of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C – including English and maths – has risen from 35 per cent to 43 per cent this year. The A* to C pass rate for English has increased from 41 per cent to 59 per cent.

Mr Dare has employed extra teachers at King Richard School in Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, to enable him to honour the class size pledge.

The secondary school used money it received from government funds for specialist status, deprivation and free school meals.

The head said: ‘If you were at Eton like our Prime Minister you wouldn’t expect to be in a class of 30. If small class sizes are good enough for Mr Cameron, they’re good enough for our kids.’

He added: ‘I am in no doubt that our class size guarantee has contributed to an improvement in grades. ‘The core of good progress is good teaching but it’s hard to provide good teaching in a big class. ‘Children need individual support and to have their voices heard in the classroom. If all you are expecting from students is a C grade, you can afford to have class sizes of 30-odd. ‘But if you want them to achieve their full potential and aim for the As and A*s, less is more.’

This year King Richard School, which has 760 pupils, recorded 120 A* and A grades at GCSE, with 14 students achieving five or more A* and As. Just seven students achieved five or more A*s and As last year.

Mr Dare said that in a perfect world he would apply the small class guarantee to all subjects. He has applied it to Year Seven to give pupils ‘the best possible start’ in the basics and to Year Eleven because of the importance of their exams.

Year Eleven pupil Lily-May McQuilken, 15, said: ‘Last year there were 26 of us in an English lesson and our teacher didn’t have time to come round to everybody. Now that has changed and it feels much more personal. It has also given me extra confidence to speak out in class.’

Figures from the Department for Education show the average class size in state secondary schools is 20.4.

Schools are often criticised for focusing on lifting the D students to a C to improve league table ratings. But Mr Dare said he is aiming for the top grades so his school-leavers can aspire to the best universities. 'We want more of our kids thinking "when I leave here I'm going to go to University College London or Cambridge".'


Lord's Prayer rejected by Australian Grade-School

A WEST Australian government school has banned students from reciting the Lord's Prayer before assembly in response to complaints from parents.

Edgewater Primary School, in Perth's north, ended the 25-year practice after some parents said it contravened the WA Education Act, which stipulates schools cannot favour one religion over another.

Edgewater principal Julie Tombs sent a letter to parents yesterday saying the prayer would no longer be recited before each fortnightly assembly.

She said although most students' parents favoured the tradition, only 36 per cent responded to a survey asking for their views. "We acknowledge that of the parents who did respond to the survey, many wanted to retain the Lord's Prayer and it is right that we continue to recite it at culturally appropriate times such as Christmas and Easter, as part of our educational program," Ms Tombs said in a statement.

"However, at this school we have students from a range of backgrounds and it is important to consider all views and not promote one set of religious beliefs and practices over another."

Ms Tombs said students would continue to recite the school creed, which includes a reference to God.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said although it was "desirable" for students to recite the prayer at assembly, it was ultimately the school's decision. "My own view is that WA is basically a Christian-based community and I think its desirable to have the Lord's Prayer said," Mr Barnett said today.

"(But) that decision rests at the school level. Certainly schools can, and I would encourage them to, have the Lord's Prayer. "I don't think it offends anyone; it just simply reflects the values and backbone of our society."

Mr Barnett said it was part of Australia's "culture, our history and it's reflected in our institutions and laws".

Anglican Dean of Perth John Shepherd said although religious demographics had changed in recent years, there was still a place for the Lord's Prayer to be recited at government schools. "I think there is a place, just as there is a place for exposing children to the full knowledge of other faiths," Dr Shepherd said.

"I do acknowledge that it's not simple, (but) it does embody values to which we all ascribe. "I think it is a valuable addition to the educative process."


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The federal government doesn’t belong in the education system

In 2008, America spent about $9,000 per student for their education. With that kind of money, you’d expect American students to be ranked at the top academically, but they’re not.

In fact, an article in the Atlantic states, “only 6 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced-proficiency level in math, a share that lags behind kids in some 30 other countries, from the United Kingdom to Taiwan.”

For this, many states and elected officials have blamed the lack of competition within the education system. And in response, a movement of school choice is leading to the opening of charter schools around the nation.

Charter schools gives parents more options of where to send their child. Also, they have more freedom from the many regulations of public schools by allowing students and teachers more authority to make decisions.

And now, through a series of bills amending and reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, Congress wants to be more involved in the ever-growing school choice movement.

One of these bills, H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, reforms and reauthorizes charter school support programs for FY 2012 through FY 2017.

A summary of the bill from the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) states this bill “reauthorizes the Charter School Program’s competitive grants to state educational agencies to support new charter school development and provide technical assistance, but expands the list of eligible applicants for such grants to include governors and a state’s charter school board… and provides financing assistance to charter schools to acquire, construct or renovate facilities.”

Despite the good intentions of this bill, it runs afoul of the basic Constitutional enumeration of powers between the federal and state governments. Constitutionally, the federal government has no role in setting education policy, and any extension of the federal government’s role in any aspect of K-12 education is at best problematic. After all, at a time when the size and scope of the federal government needs to be rolled back, this bill is estimated to cost about $1 billion over the 2012-2016 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts.

“Time and time again we have seen the federal government use tax dollars to gain control over local and state governments,” says ALG’s Wilson. “The fear with this bill, while well intentioned, is that it will take away from the very reason charter schools were started in the first place—independence and freedom from influence.”

In fact, studies show federal government involvement in education does not help students academically. In a Cato Institute report looking at K-12 education subsidies, author Neal McCluskey found:

“The average NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress ] mathematics score rose just two points to 306 in 2008 from 304 in 1973. The average NAEP reading score rose just one point to 286 in 2008 from 285 in 1971. These scores are on a 500-point scale. Other measures show similarly poor achievement, or at least a lack of improvement. For example, the percentage of students who had completed high school within four years of entering ninth grade is 75 percent today, about the same as it was in the mid-1970s.”

Despite increased spending by the Department of Education from $12.5 billion in 1965 to $72.8 billion in 2008, measured in constant 2008 dollars, student improvement has remained stagnant.

If the history of the education system in America proves anything it is that pushing another education bill through Congress and sending states more taxpayer money to encourage a specific agenda will not accomplish the intended results.

Educating America’s youth best belongs in the hands of parents, school districts and local governments. The charter school movement has grown by leaps and bounds by state and local government action. The focus of charter schools is on the students’ academic achievement. Let that focus continue without more involvement from the federal government.


Gov. Jindal To Campaign on Behalf of School Choice Candidates as Part of His Re-Election Effort

Louisiana school board candidates who favor vouchers and oppose tenure are expected to receive a boost from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is up for re-election this fall, and a new political action committee. Jindal has been an ardent proponent of school choice initiatives, which puts him at odds with the teachers unions.

All eight of the elected seats on the 11 member Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) are open to primary challenges on Oct. 22. The other three seats are appointed by the governor.

Only one incumbent, Linda Johnson, a Plaquemine resident, has announced that she is not running for re-election. Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma, a former BESE president who has served on the board since 1992, recently announced that she would seek another term. Houma had previously indicated that she would step down but reconsidered at the behest of Gov. Jindal. At least six of the elected seats could be highly competitive.

In April, a new statewide group called the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education, which includes teachers unions, local school board officials and local superintendents, came together in an effort to oppose Jindal’s school choice initiatives and to back its own candidates.

The organization includes leaders of the: Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA); Louisiana Association of School Superintendents (LASS): Louisiana Association of School Executives (LASE): Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE); Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT); Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, (LRTA); founder/board chairman and directors of Research on Reform, Inc.; and the creator of the blog “Louisiana Educator.”

“What we see in the state leadership is simple capitalistic ideology, a kind of `Disaster Capitalism,’ not an emphasis on quality education,” Dr. James Taylor, president of the Louisiana Retired Teachers Association, said in a press release.

Charles Hatfield, a coalition member who works as an analyst with Research on Reforms, Inc., described the Jindal Administration position on education as “market‐driven propaganda, a sort of ‘gain’ game with school performance scores perpetuating a myth to the public.”

Joe Potts, President Emeritus and a member of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, another Coalition member challenged the idea that schools should be run in a more business-like manner. “Why should schools need to be run more like a business, when it is well documented that more than half of all businesses fail?” he asked.

But a new political action committee (PAC) called The Alliance for Better Classrooms (ABC) has also entered the fray. ABC will spend at least $1 million on “reform candidates” who support its policy objectives, Lane Grisby, a Baton Rouge contractor who helped form the PAC, has told members of the press.

The Alliance favors “student-based budgeting,” which gives principals more flexibility in local appropriations, school choice programs and annual teacher evaluations. Gov. Jindal and former Superintendent Paul Pastorek frequently secured 6-5 votes on BESE to advance many of the policy changes that ABC also supports.

The school voucher program known as the Student Scholarships for Education Excellence (SSEE) program has been active for the past four years in New Orleans. Initially, vouchers were limited to the kindergarten through third grade, but they have expanded each year to include a higher-grade level.

Currently 1,697 voucher recipients are enrolled in private schools, less than 5 percent of the 40,000 public school students. But supporters now see an opportunity to expand the use of school vouchers throughout the state given the steady rise in demand for scholarships over the past few years. The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), for example, has asked that lawmakers consider the use of school vouchers in Baton Rouge and Shreveport.

“The status quo will argue that vouchers will hurt the system, but they’re not going to hurt the system if their schools are competitive,” said Chas Roemer, a board member running for re-election. “But if a school is not the school of choice then we need to ask why. We also need to ask why it’s right to send a child to a school that is not working.”

Roemer has been endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), which has also lined up behind some of the new challengers including Kira Orange Jones, executive director of Teach for America in Louisiana, a non-profit group aimed at eliminating inequality in education. Orange Jones will face off against incumbent Louella Givens, a New Orleans lawyer and former teacher, who has consistently voted against reforms favored by Jindal and Pastorek.

LABI and ABC are also looking to unseat Dale Bayard of Lake Charles and favor his opponent Holly Boffy of Lafayette. LABI has endorsed Boffy, who was Louisiana’s 2010 teacher of the year. Boffy is also an outspoken opponent of teacher tenure.


Ban teaching creationism at school, say British academics

The teaching of creationism should be outlawed in school science lessons, a group of leading scientists have said.

And the curriculum should be changed to ensure evolution is taught from when children start school, according to academics including Sir David Attenborough and Professor Richard Dawkins

Those behind the call for ‘evolution not creationism’ say teaching that God created the world is dangerous and must be prevented by law.

Drives by creationist groups at schools mean there is a sense of urgency, they add.

Evolution – the idea that we are shaped by advantageous genes being passed through generations over billions of years – does not feature in the national curriculum until the time of GCSEs.

The discussion of creationism and the theory of intelligent design – a view that evolution is fine-tuned by God – is encouraged but not part of the curriculum.

Prof Dawkins, a geneticist and author of the God Delusion, said last night: ‘We need to stop calling evolution a theory. It is as solidly demonstrated as any fact.’

Jack Valero, of Catholic Voices, said evolution should not be used to suggest God does not exist.

Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said pupils should be taught to respect all views about how life began.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Dinner with Ahmadinejad

Why is a man who represents all that liberals hate being welcomed onto campus?

The Columbia Spectator is the student newspaper at Columbia University, the school I was once proud to call my alma mater. A report in that newspaper raises the following question: Are leading American universities producing moral illiterates?

According to the Spectator, a group of students who are members of a group called CIRCA, the Columbia International Relations Council and Association, has been invited to attend a private dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he travels to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week. A student spokesman for the group, asked if the invitation provoked controversy within CIRCA, seemed surprised by the question. “Everyone was really enthusiastic,” said Tim Chan. “They’re thrilled to have this opportunity.”

Ahmadinejad represents everything that campus liberals profess to hate. In order of importance, those things would be: (1) persecuting homosexuals; (2) cruel and abusive treatment of women; (3) brutal treatment of minorities; (4) shooting opponents of the regime in the streets; (5) restricting free speech; (6) building nuclear weapons; and (7) sponsoring terror worldwide. Tehran provides material and moral support for Bashar Assad’s murderous regime in Syria, which has mowed down protesters by the thousands in the past few months. The Iranian regime is also guilty of fetid anti-Semitism, and has the blood of many American soldiers who served in Iraq on its hands — though it isn’t clear that the latter two offenses rate very highly with Columbia students.

Even as members of CIRCA were eagerly anticipating dining with one of the world’s true fiends, the Iranian government was refusing to release American hikers Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, who were recently convicted of espionage after a secret trial and sentenced to eight years in prison. Both Bauer and Fattal are graduates of Berkeley, and believers — if you can extrapolate from their backgrounds in “sustainable development” and freelance photography for leftist outlets like Democracy Now! — in liberal causes. Even if members of CIRCA feel no particular solidarity with the hikers as fellow Americans, they might at least feel something for fellow members of the liberal clerisy. But apparently not.

College students are old enough to be responsible for their own moral decision-making, but the faculty and administration of Columbia University certainly provided an appalling example in 2007 when they invited Ahmadinejad to speak. Oh, university president Lee Bollinger tried to quash some of the controversy the invitation sparked by calling Ahmadinejad a “cruel dictator” to his face. But those insults only made Bollinger seem an ungracious host, and did little to mitigate the damage that issuing the invitation in the first place had done to Columbia’s reputation. The invitation, Bollinger insisted, arose out of Columbia’s “almost single-minded commitment to pursue the truth.” Simple-minded might be closer to the mark. As for truth, how exactly does offering the prestigious forum of a famed university to a Holocaust denier advance the search for truth?

There is a world of difference between tolerating and respecting differences of opinion within a university (notably absent when it comes to conservative ideas by the way), and tolerating actual despots with the blood of innocents on their hands. Ahmadinejad’s regime has presided over executions of young homosexuals. Two were hanged in a public square just 24 months before Ahmadinejad stepped to a podium at Columbia. Here is how Human Rights Watch describes the current situation:

Since Iran’s crackdown against anti-government protests following the 2009 presidential election, the human rights crisis in the country has only deepened. Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about the broad-based targeting of civil society activists, including lawyers, students, women’s rights activists, and journalists, and a sharp increase in the use of the death penalty. Yet the government’s record of cooperation with international institutions, particularly with UN mechanisms, remains extremely poor.

Something is inoculating Ahmadinejad from the total contempt members of the university community would ordinarily feel toward someone with his views and his behavior. It is impossible, for example, to imagine the university inviting fellow Holocaust denier and racist David Duke to speak to the students and faculty. And it’s equally impossible to imagine that students would be “thrilled” by a dinner invitation from Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.

My suspicion is that the harshly adversarial pose of the university toward American society and culture leads to a misplaced benefit of the doubt toward enemies of this country. It is Ahmadinejad’s very hatred of the U.S. that makes him intriguing to Columbia.


School says American flag is dangerous

And harass an autistic kid. No flexibility or sensitivity in evidence at all

A Dover woman said she's upset that an American flag her son took to school was taken away by school staff. Theresa Stevens said the flag, which is attached to a roughly 24-inch wooden stick with a standard gold spear tip, was given to her seventh-grade son, Shawn, by a family friend, the mother of U.S. Marine Cpl. Gary Fielding, who is about to deploy to Afghanistan. "When he saw how upset the mother of this boy is that's going to Afghanistan, he wanted to do everything in his power to show support for her son," said Stevens.

Stevens said Shawn took the flag to Dover Middle School to be patriotic and to tell his friends about Fielding's service. "He wants to bring patriotism back one person at a time, starting with his peer group and adults that have lost their way," Stevens said.

Stevens said her son, who is autistic, is very patriotic and has a deep interest in U.S. history. "He's amazing," she said. "He's the most unique individual I have ever met. He knows everything about American history. He knows every war we've ever fought. He knows dates, times and places of when bombs were dropped, and why we got involved in wars."

But Wednesday morning, Stevens said she got a call from the school. "I got the phone call at 8:30 yesterday morning," she said. "'This flag needs to be immediately removed from school because it can be considered a weapon.' I don't understand how an American flag can be considered a weapon."

Co-Principal Kimberly Lyndes said the spear point of the flag's stick was the problem. "A student came to school yesterday with a flag that was rather large and didn't fit inside the backpack," she said. "A staff member felt that it could potentially be dangerous because of the pointy end and took the item and let the student know and the parent know that they took the item and could pick it up. "It had nothing to do with patriotism or it being a flag. It was about potential danger and school safety."

Stevens accused the school of being inconsistent. "So can pencils, so can protractors, so can any of the school supplies that they give to these children, and their stance is, 'Well, we don't let them wave them around in class, and your son has autism,'" Stevens said. "Really? That's your stance?"

Lyndes said the boy wasn't disciplined over bringing the flag to school. "This was not a disciplinary issue at all," she said. "The student was spoken to. The situation was explained. I spoke to the parent at length about the situation to make sure that everyone understood that this was a safety concern."

Stevens said she isn't letting Shawn take the flag to school, but she plans to discuss the matter with school officials next week when she meets with them for an individualized education plan meeting about her son. "When somebody shows up with an American flag on American soil at an American school, that's his First Amendment right to do so," Stevens said. "Just because he's 12 doesn't mean he doesn't have constitutional rights." Stevens said she hopes the school will reconsider.

Lyndes said that the issue wasn't one of patriotism or expression, but rather safety. "We have American flags in every classroom," she said. "We do the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Patriotism is definitely embraced at Dover Middle School. This incident had nothing to do with the fact that it was a flag. It was the pointed stick that the flag was on."

SOURCE. Video here.

One in five pupils learns nothing after the age of 11, says former British private school head

One in five British pupils 'learns nothing' at secondary school, according to head of the country's leading private schools' group. He says children in this country are falling behind the rest of the world, with those of all abilities failing to reach their potential.

The chairman of the Independent Schools Council said that the underachievement of the bottom 20 per cent - especially boys - was more exaggerated than in countries such as China, Finland and Japan.

Barnaby Lenon, a former headmaster at Harrow School, also said in a Daily Telegraph interview that the most gifted children were not reaching their full potential. 'The biggest problem that this country faces is the underachievement of the bottom 20 per cent of pupils, particularly boys, who appear to learn nothing at school after the age of 11,' he said.

'That's the biggest challenge. But the research is also pointing to the fact that those at the top end - the top 50 per cent academically - are not reaching the level that the top 50 per cent are reaching in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Finland.'

Mr Lenon waded into the debate after recent revelations that one in five children leaves primary school without having reached the standard reading level for an 11-year-old. 'The contrast in achievement between the best and the worst is greater than in many other countries,' he added.

He said that private schools could help address these problems by holding 'masterclasses' and by sponsoring state academies - but he denied that they were responsible for the problems. The chairman of the ISC, which represents 1,234 schools, said it was 'silly' to blame the private sector when it only accounted for 8 per cent of British schools.

He called for wider reform of the curriculum and exam system in order for the country to raise its standards to a competitive international level. He said: 'When I was headmaster at Harrow, I recruited 15 to 20 boys a year from Hong Kong. In every case, they were two years ahead of English boys at maths. 'You do not get that same sort of tail of underachievement in countries like China, Japan and Finland.'


Sunday, September 18, 2011

SAT reading scores at all-time low

Scores on the critical reading portion of the SAT college entrance exam fell three points to their lowest level on record last year, and combined reading and math scores reached their lowest point since 1995.

The College Board, which released the scores Wednesday, said the results reflect the record number of students from the high school class of 2011 who took the exam and the growing diversity of the test-taking pool -- particularly Hispanics. As more students aim for college and take the exam, it tends to drag down average scores.

Still, while the three-point decline to 497 may look small in the context of an 800-point test, it was only the second time in the last two decades reading scores have fallen as much in a single year. And reading scores are now notably lower than scores as recently as 2005, when the average was 508.

Average math scores for the class of 2011 fell one point to 514 and scores on the critical reading section fell two points to 489.
Other recent tests of reading skills, such as the National Assessment of Education Progress, have shown reading skills of high-school students holding fairly steady. And the pool of students who take the SAT is tilted toward college-goers and not necessarily representative of all high school students.

But the relatively poor performance on the SATs could raise questions whether reading and writing instruction need even more emphasis to accommodate the country's changing demographics. Roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year had a first language other than English, up from 19 percent just a decade ago.

Jim Montoya, vice president of relationship development at the College Board, said the expanding Latino population was a factor, as well as greater outreach to get minority students to take the test. But there are others, too.

"It's a lot of little things," he said. For example, he said, the number of black students taking a solid core curriculum -- a strong predictor of success on the test -- has fallen from 69 percent to 66 percent over a decade.

The College Board, a membership organization that owns the exam and promotes college access, also released its first "College and Career Benchmark" report, which it said would eventually be used to help show states and school districts how well prepared their students are. Based on research at 100 colleges, it calculated that scoring 1550 or above on the three sections of the test indicated a 65-percent likelihood of attaining a B-minus or above average in the freshman year of college. Overall, 43 percent of test-takers reached that benchmark.

The SAT and rival ACT exam are taken by roughly the same number of students each year. Most colleges require scores from at least one of the exams but will consider either. In recent years, some colleges have adopted test-optional policies allowing applicants to decline to submit test scores at all.


'Racial Bias' Claims Insult Families of Color

Cherylyn Harley LeBon

It’s September, so it’s back-to-school for American kids and other children around the world. Many families pack away the swimsuits and beach gear, unpack the notebooks, lunch bags, brand new shoes, and look forward to the regular routine.

This fall is also an interesting time of reflection in our country.

Record numbers of Americans are living below the poverty line, the housing foreclosure rate continues to climb, and rising unemployment will, in fact, keep some of these children going back to school on the school lunch program longer than expected. In these desperate times, people resort to desperate measures - engaging in scare tactics and myths so often embraced and perpetuated by the liberal media. Chief among these myths is the controversy surrounding the SAT college admissions test. Disturbingly, the media’s promotion of this myth is creating confusion among students and families considering college options.

Opponents of the SAT test argue that the test determines who gets into college and who does not, and should be, therefore, abolished in favor of “test optional policies.” This argument is largely promoted by the group Fair Test, which advocates an end to standardized testing in college admissions.

Fair Test's roster of supporters includes George Soros, the infamous billionaire who has bankrolled and several other left-wing groups and politicians. Fair Test touts itself as an educational organization, but it is a special interest group recognized by the mainstream media as a credible source on educational testing issues.

The sad result of this misinformation is the effect on students and families preparing for college, particularly students and families of color. Fair Test continues to argue that the SAT is biased against minority and low income students. In fact, the goal of Fair Test is to play the blame game and portray minority students (or any students who do not perform well on the SAT) as victims in their sandbox game of Limousine Liberal politics.

The racial bias myth was definitively laid to rest several years ago in the peer-reviewed journal American Psychologist. University of Minnesota researchers Paul Sackett, Matthew Borneman and Brian Connelly examined the issue and reported that any inference that group scores are linked to bias is, “unequivocally rejected within mainstream psychology.” The only people still advocating that the SAT is racially biased are patriarchal liberal groups including Fair Test who play the race card when other options fail.

Others have also refuted the claims of racial bias in standardized testing.

In 2008, Jonathan Epstein, a researcher with Maguire Associates, studied the impact of test-optional policies in college admissions. Epstein discovered that test-optional policies at colleges and universities lead to artificially inflated average SAT scores among incoming freshmen. He found this resulted in further confusion for prospective students and families and “is not in the best interest of any institution or higher education in general.”

As parents, we all want our children to grow up and become productive members of society. The college search process is an important step in helping our children make major life decisions. A political group is advocating for the end of standardized testing, and continues to mislead students and families by attempting to influence an academic professional organization overseeing college admissions. The result will be to marginalize successful black students or those who come from other racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups.

Promoting the racial bias myth also harms students by creating the wrong expectation that the deck is stacked against them. The truth is, every SAT question is exhaustively pre-tested and carefully analyzed for any bias.

Questions are reviewed by panels of K-12 and college educators and questions which indicate any bias are never used in the actual test. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of the nation’s top historically black colleges and universities accept the SAT as an admissions requirement. Score differences may exist among some students in different groups, but they do not indicate bias in the SAT, and are an unfortunate reflection of inequities in K-12 education across thousands of school districts.

The continued claims of racial bias in SAT testing are insulting to all families of color when interest groups portray us as victims incapable of advocating for ourselves. The policies of Fair Test and other liberal interest groups reveal that these groups are more concerned with the politics of race than educating the children of this country.


Sex education will NOT be taught to children as young as five, after British Coalition ditches plans

Proposals for compulsory sex education for children as young as five have been ditched. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the Coalition would not implement the controversial plans put forward under Labour and had ‘no plans to change the law on sex education’. This means that teaching sex education will remain optional in primary schools.

Family campaigners feared that statutory sex and relationship education (SRE) could lead to teenage pregnancy being seen as acceptable by impressionable youngsters.

SRE is taught in Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education lessons, although elements such as the facts of reproduction are also contained in biology classes.

Under Labour, the then Schools Secretary Ed Balls planned to make PSHE classes a part of the compulsory national curriculum in primary and secondary schools from this month. This would have seen lessons in relationships and sex starting at five, with prescribed content for each age group.

The Coalition has now launched a review of PSHE but Mr Gibb said ‘the Government has already ruled out making PSHE education as a whole a statutory subject within the curriculum’.

In a letter to Graham Stuart, chair of the education select committee, he added: ‘The Government has no plans to change the law on sex education or parents' right to withdraw their children from sex education.'

Over 2,000 people signed a letter last March calling on Parliament to ‘decisively' oppose the plans contained in the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

Mr Balls was forced to drop the proposals - along with another ten flagship policies - a month later in a bid to push through the Bill in the final days of Parliament - a period known as the ‘wash up'.

At the time, the Tories said the party had agreed to compulsory sex education but wanted parents to be able to choose to ‘opt out' if their children were below 16.

They claimed Mr Balls ‘preferred petulance' by scrapping the plans entirely in the ‘wash out', after disagreements between the two parties over the opt out age.

The Coalition has now launched a review of PSHE, proposing a strengthening in the priority given to teaching about relationships, the importance of positive parenting and teaching about sexual consent.

Primary heads and governors will continue to decide whether or not to provide sex education and what it should involve beyond the compulsory science requirements - such as the biological facts of reproduction - laid down by the national curriculum.