Saturday, December 24, 2011

Denmark: Schools drop Christmas traditions out of consideration for Muslim students

Schools are increasingly changing Christmas tradition in order to take into account a growing number of bilingual children.

At the Klostervænget school in Copenhagen, the school administration changed a few verses in the 'A Child is Born in Bethlehem' hymn sung by the children because they thought it would be preaching too much to the bilingual children.

At Møllevang school in Aarhus the school administration asked a music teacher to choose hymns that took into account the Muslim students, after students in a 3rd grade class and their parents protested that the children were expected to sing "Here come your little ones, Jesus".

At the Nørrevang school in Slagelse, the school administration canceled the Christmas ceremony in church, since the priest insisted on saying the Lord's prayer, and the school administration thought it would insult some of the students.

These examples show that various schools with many students of immigrant background are changing the way Christmas is celebrated. The schools feel they're in a dilemma between Christian traditions and taking into account the fact that increasing numbers of students are Muslim.

"By us it's important that all children have the same rights and obligations. Nobody should feel excluded, and therefore we won't go into a church with some of the children. Instead we're having the Christmas celebration at school," says Tom Schultz, principal of the Nørrevang school in Slagelse.

Anders Balle, head of the principal's union, asks principals to be pragmatic. "We shouldn't let go of the cultural part of Christmas, but they shouldn't be preaching either." He says students should be allowed not to participate in events in churches.

Education Minister Christine Antorini (S) doesn't want to intervene if schools decide to drop hymns. "But I think there's a fine balance that parents can ask that their children be exempt from religious events that are not part of the curriculum."


Teachers Union President Deems Education Too Complex for Tax-Paying Rubes

It’s so reassuring to have the intellectual elites in our nation’s teachers unions, like Sandy Hughes of Tennessee, looking out for us rubes.

Hughes, a local union president, is pitching the idea that school board membership be limited to people who “have worked in the education field,” because the issues at hand are “so complex” and too complicated for average citizens.

In other words, all will be well if taxpayers just get out of the way and let the wise and wonderful union folks run our schools, no questions asked. All we have to do is keep paying the taxes, then mind our own business.

This is a perfect example of the snobbery and arrogance that is so pervasive in the public education establishment.

A stay-at-home mom that wants to be on the board? Sorry. Business owners who know how to control labor costs and balance budgets? They don’t have the right skill set, according to Hughes. Public education is too "complex" for them.

Hughes didn’t happen to mention the 80% graduation rate in her county, the 52% of 3-8 graders who aren't proficient in reading or the 62% who aren't proficient in math. Perhaps she thinks those statistics are acceptable, and the public school accept them, too.

There's another issue at play here. Most communities throughout the nation elect school board members. Teachers unions throughout the nation provide millions of dollars in campaign contributions to get their hand-picked candidates elected, then lo and behold, they negotiate juicy, expensive contracts with their pet board members.

Union leaders have clearly thought this through. Some have actually produced How-To manuals, such as the Michigan Education Association’s “Electing Your Employer – It’s as easy as 1-2-3!” In it, the union details every step necessary to elect union-friendly school board members.

The only problem is that, with a board full of union supporters, nobody is looking out for the interests of students and taxpayers. But of course, people who aren’t dedicated to the union agenda have no business on school boards, according to Hughes. We obviously don’t understand the process. It’s all too “complex” for us.


Fewer black students at Oxford and Cambridge

Oxbridge recruits from a high IQ pool. Very few blacks would be in that pool

The number of black students being awarded places at Oxford and Cambridge dropped even lower last year, according to newly released figures.

Fewer than one in 100 students beginning courses at Britain's two oldest universities in 2010 were black, including just 20 of the 2,617 British students accepted to Oxford, a fall from 27 in 2009.

The number of new black students at Cambridge dropped to 16 among an intake of 2,624, compared with 25 the previous year, admissions data show.

The statistics come months after David Cameron branded the universities' ethnic admissions figures as "disgraceful", incorrectly claiming that just one British black student had been accepted by Oxford in 2009.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the incoming head of Ofsted, told the Sunday Times it was the role of schools to press more black pupils to apply for places at Britain's most prestigious academic institutions. He said: "The statistics clearly show that [state] schools aren't doing enough to encourage black and ethnic minority students to apply to the top universities."

Oxford said it had accepted 32 black students in 2011, an increase from last year, and said white pupils were more than twice as likely as black pupils to score three As at A-level.

Cambridge said 15 per cent of students at the university last year were from ethnic minorities, compared with five per cent in 1989.


Friday, December 23, 2011

TN bill would force failing eighth-graders to stay behind

A state lawmaker wants Tennessee schools to stop promoting eighth-graders to the ninth grade when they are not academically ready.

Teachers acknowledge that the practice — called social promotion — is fairly common, but state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed a bill that would force teachers to retain eighth-grade students who have failing grades at the end of the year or do not demonstrate basic skills in one or more subjects of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

If the law had been in effect this year, at least 8,000 Tennessee eighth-graders would have been held back because that’s how many scored below the basic level in reading on the state exams they took in the spring of this year.

State Board of Education Executive Director Gary Nixon supports the proposal, but other teachers and school administrators fear it could lead to a higher dropout rate among embarrassed teenagers. “One reason we don’t retain is because of the research showing what happens when they get retained. … All the kids know, and hopelessness is the bigger issue,’’ said H.G. Hill Middle School Principal Connie Gwinn, an educator of 31 years.

Under Kelsey’s plan, students with disabilities would be exempt. All other students would have the opportunity to attend summer school, elevate their grades and go on to high school with their classmates in the fall. Opponents of the bill insist schools would need more money to fund additional intervention programs in the summer.

But Kelsey said something has to be done because too many students are coming out of high school without basic reading, math or other skills. “This will help our graduation rate and ensure students who enter ninth grade will succeed there,” he said. “Unfortunately, we set many of them up for failure right now.”

Roughly 20,000 Tennessee students in grades 4-8 score below basic each year but get promoted anyway, and find themselves unsuccessful in high school, the lawmaker said.

Kelsey said this bill is a natural progression in education reform. In 2010, legislators enacted a law requiring TCAPs to count for up to 25 percent of a student’s final grade. Earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to make third grade a gateway year, meaning that in 2012 students in the third grade must score “basic’’ or above in reading to enter the fourth grade.

Every spring, students in grades 3-8 are tested on grade-level reading, math, social studies and science on the TCAP. Depending on how many questions they answer correctly, they land in one of the following levels: below basic grade level, basic, proficient or advanced. In reading, for example, eighth-graders answer about 50 reading questions. Those answering about 85 percent correctly are considered advanced; those answering 41 percent or fewer are “below basic.”

Tennessee has joined Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, and the Chicago and New York City school districts in implementing certain gateway grades for promotion.

Kelsey is confident this latest proposal will be adopted. The state board of education favors ending social promotion for third and eighth grades. “The state board is supportive of assuring students who are promoted have the skills to be successful in the next grade,” Nixon said.

Teachers and school administrators agree that retaining students in younger grades is more beneficial to the student. “The majority of our retentions are in kindergarten,” said Yvonne Smith, elementary supervisor for Wilson County Schools. “The earlier you can catch a child and find out what they are lacking, takes less time to get them caught up ... plus from a social aspect, it’s not as hard on them.” It may take 30 minutes of intervention per day in kindergarten, versus four hours per day for struggling fourth-graders, she said.

Wilson County school board member Vikki Adkins said retaining students would lead to overcrowding at the eighth-grade level because the failing students would join the new eighth-graders coming into the school. “It may mean a lot of portables in middle schools,” Adkins said. “I would be opposed to any legislation like this.”

Metro Associate Superintendent for High Schools Jay Steele said he’s not in favor of the bill because students fall behind for different reasons and should not all be retained.

“There is no reason a 17-year-old child should be in an eighth-grade classroom, so that’s where I think flexibility has to be built in so that a district can decide on a case-by-case basis what’s best for the child,” Steele said.

Metro Schools had already planned its own intervention program for over-aged middle school students more than a year ago, but the $1.5 million initiative has yet to begin. Currently, about 750 ninth- and 10th-graders older than their classmates are still struggling and not expected to earn enough class credits to graduate with their peers.

To support his argument, Kelsey points to a study done at the University of Colorado that analyzed Florida’s social promotion policy. Marcus Winters measured third-graders who failed state exams by a few points and were retained, put in summer school and then paired with high-quality teachers. He compared them with third-graders who barely passed exams and were not retained. Winters said he found a large increase in math and reading scores of the students retained.

“The long-term effect that we are most interested in, we can’t see yet, because our students aren’t old enough, like high school graduation rates and whether they go to college or how they do in the labor market,” Winters said. Research on ending social promotion in sixth through eighth grades is virtually nonexistent or has shown no real effect, he said.

A Chicago study found its dropout rates didn’t change after the system stopped social promotion.

In Georgia, which has gateway grades in third, fifth and eighth grades, school districts ignored the law and promoted failing kids anyway.

Bellevue Middle School grandparent Tonia Mattison said the system is flawed all around. Her grandson, a fifth-grader, lives with her and performs at the basic level on exams, but she pays for private tutoring.

She said eighth-graders should not be penalized because their parents or teachers never intervened. “Denying them at that age level is not something that just started at eighth grade. If there is a problem, isn’t it a problem to rectify at an earlier age?”


Class war as British universities seek to break 'middle-class monopoly'

Students applying to university will have checks made on their school and family background under a move to create a more diverse student population.

Two thirds of universities will use data covering students’ social class, parental education or school performance next year to give the most disadvantaged candidates a better chance of getting on to degree courses, reports the Daily Telegraph.

For the first time next year, they will be required to set targets for the number of disadvantaged students being admitted in a move that coincides with a sharp rise in tuition fees. It represents an escalation of the current rules that merely require institutions to generate more applications.

Figures suggest that more than 20,000 students at almost 100 universities are already admitted to degree courses each year using contextual data and this number could rise in 2012 and beyond. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted that it was 'valid and appropriate' to use this information to pick out applicants with 'potential'.

Private schools will be alarmed at the move as this scheme risks penalising academic pupils from top performing schools.

In the latest study, researchers surveyed almost 100 universities on their use of contextual information. The report, by the organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, which advises universities on admissions policies, found that 41.5 per cent of institutions used this data to admit students in autumn 2011.

But it said that almost 63 per cent of universities 'indicated that they plan to use it in the future', including for next year’s admissions when tuition fees will rise from £3,000 to a maximum of £9,000 a year.

The survey suggested that universities aligned to the elite Russell Group, which represents Oxford, Cambridge and other leading institutions were 'more likely to be using contextual data' than other institutions.

Almost 23 per cent of universities said they were planning to make 'lower offers' to some candidates from poor backgrounds — potentially awarding them places with worse A-level grades than students from top schools. This was up from 18 per cent in 2011.


Australia: A good school culture can have powerful effects

Religious schools generally have an advantage in that respect. And, being private, they don't have to put up with disruptive students

A SCHOOL in Melbourne's east founded on the principles of Christian Science has outperformed selective-entry government school Melbourne High in this year's VCE results.

Melbourne High has dropped off the list of top three schools for the first time since figures were made publicly available in 2003, outflanked by Mac.Robertson Girls High, Huntingtower School and Loreto Mandeville Hall.

Huntingtower School in Mount Waverley, an independent school based on the teachings of Christian Science, has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the rankings. In 2003, 15 per cent of its subject scores were 40 or above, and it was outperformed by 63 schools. This year Huntingtower School placed second, with 36.6 per cent of subject scores 40 or above. VCE subjects are marked out of 50, with a study score of 30 the average, and more than 40 considered an excellent result.

Huntingtower principal Sholto Bowen said the school encouraged its students to support one another rather than compete against each other.

"We are creating a sense they are all part of a team and not trying to beat [one another]. We are not trying to actually beat other schools," Mr Bowen said. "Every student knows it's their responsibility to help every other student when they are feeling stressed or under pressure. I don't think we do anything that couldn't be done by anyone - we are just creating that culture of kindness and understanding and support."

Mr Bowen said the school believed that every child expressed the infinite intelligence of God. "We want them to get the idea they have no limits," he said.

Christian Science is derived from the writings of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, and the Bible. No doctrinal instruction in religion is given at Huntingtower and all faiths are welcomed.

The school's website says that while Christian Science is perhaps best known for its emphasis on healing by spiritual means, the wishes of parents of Huntingtower students for medical attention for their children is respected at all times.

Kahli Joyce, one of 57 VCE students at Huntingtower, attributes the school's success to a strong network between students and teachers.

"It was not only about the academic side of things, we also took time out to bond as a year level," said Kahli, who hopes to study biomedicine at Melbourne University.

Year 12 students attended a weekend retreat early in the year, where they discussed team and individual goals, and wrote positive affirmations about every student.

"Throughout the year we were always together as a year level, and in the common room we would take time out to find out how everyone was going. That really helped give us a positive learning environment."

Meanwhile, Jewish schools also performed extremely well, with Bialik College, Yeshivah College and Mount Scopus Memorial College all in the top 10. The top Jewish schools were Bialik College in Hawthorn and Yeshivah College in St Kilda East, which both had 33.3 per cent of study scores 40 or above.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hamline University, Minnesota: Closed Hearts, Closed Minds, and Closed Doors

“At Hamline, students collaborate with professors invested in their success. They are challenged in and out of the classroom to create and apply knowledge in local and global contexts, while cultivating an ethic of civic responsibility, social justice, and inclusive leadership and service.” – From the Hamline University website

Hamline University is not a liberal arts college as it claims to be. It is an illiberal arts college that has just disgraced itself in the national court of public opinion. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer was hired to teach at the school but then abruptly canned by those who did not want even a single high-profile conservative faculty member. So much for the “civil and open exchange of ideas” Hamline promises to prospective students. It is nothing short of false advertising meant to lure students into an ideological echo chamber that will leave them deep in debt and shallow on exposure to controversial ideas.

Tom Emmer holds conservative views on taxes and health care reform but neither of those issues mattered in the eyes of those who wished to exclude him from the Hamline faculty. Hamline officials reneged on a job offer for one reason and one reason only: Tom Emmer has publicly stated his opposition to same-sex marriage. And the faculty will not tolerate such intolerance.

The view of some faculty members and some in the Minnesota media can be roughly summarized as follows: If Tom Emmer supports marital discrimination then he cannot claim to be a victim of viewpoint discrimination at the hands of Hamline progressives.

That sort of rationalization is dangerous, of course, because it knows no bounds. There was virtually no discussion of this issue on campuses until the late 1990s. The idea that everyone must jump on the same-sex marriage bandwagon in order to retain a job they have already been given is sure to kill any remnant of diversity that might be found on the campus of Hamline University. Imagine the strange variations of this kind of we-can-discriminate-against-you-because-you-advocate-discrimination logic:

1.)You support the African American Center therefore you cannot claim to be a victim of traditional marriage laws that exclude same-sex marriage.

2.)You support the Women’s Resource Center so you can’t complain that you were denied a job because you are black.

3.)You supported the firing of Tom Emmer so you cannot claim to be a victim of sex discrimination.

Tom Emmer was hired to teach business law not to teach Sociology of Marriage and Family. His most important qualification is a law degree and extensive law practice in the State of Minnesota. It should not matter that he lacks a certificate of completion of sensitivity training from the local LGBT Resource Office.

Aside from the same-sex marriage controversy, there is an issue over the general character and integrity of the supporters of the Emmer firing. Some of those supporters of the firing say it really was not a firing because there was never really a hiring – just a pending hiring. Internal memoranda and emails put the lie to that rationalization.

In an Oct. 6 e-mail, a Hamline professor/administrator urges Emmer to make a quick decision on when he can teach, not whether he will teach, so she can prepare the spring schedule for business students.

An Oct. 7 e-mail, from an associate dean for academic affairs, states that Emmer “will be joining” the Hamline faculty within the School of Business. In other words, upper administration, not just lower administration, characterizes the hiring as a done deal.

If you click on the two links I have provided (above) you will see additional supporting documentation. I thank my readers in Minnesota for directing me to this information. They are helping to hold an allegedly Christian university accountable to the truth, if not the Truth.

It is a shame that Tom Emmer will not be teaching at Hamline. Given that he received over 43% of the vote in the Minnesota governor’s race, he probably would have been good for fund raising. Tom Emmer also would have been good for the ascertainment of truth. Sociology professors could have invited him to guest lecture and to debate in their classes. Even if they thought his positions were wrong, students could have benefited from a greater appreciation of the truth via its collision with falsity.

Maybe progressive faculty members at Hamline are just insecure with their beliefs. Or maybe I misunderstood the United Methodist Church with which Hamline is affiliated. I knew they had open hearts, open minds, and open doors for those who support the gay agenda. I thought they also had room for those who place God above contemporary notions of social justice.


"Obesity" used in Massachusetts to hobble Christmas cheer

Westford school officials are getting tough on classroom holiday parties. They’re banning sugary snacks and sweetened beverages from the celebrations this year.

Students are being told to leave the Christmas cookies, cakes, candy bars, and soda at home and to bring fruits, unsweetened juices, popcorn and raisins instead.

Superintendent Everett Olsen says the ban on holiday sweets has nothing to do with being politically correct, rather, his motive is simply promoting a healthy lifestyle.

“We aren’t trying to take the Christmas out of Christmas. We’re not trying to take the enjoyment out of children’s lives. We’re just trying to act responsible,” he told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mike Macklin. The school’s goal is to avoid the types of sweets that pile on empty calories and contribute to childhood obesity.

School officials say they’re also hoping to protect the growing number of children with severe food allergies.

The new policy comes as schools across Massachusetts get set to implement stricter state-mandated food policies aimed at reducing child obesity.


Teach primary pupils mechanics: British education boss calls for schools to adopt Far Eastern-style curriculum

Primary school pupils are to be given tougher lessons to ensure they keep up with those in the Far East, in a sweeping shake-up of education.

It means schools in England will borrow some principles from their high-achieving counterparts in Asia.

That includes teaching separate lessons in grammar rather than treating the discipline as an optional ‘add on’, amid concerns that too many pupils get to 16 without even a basic grasp of spelling and punctuation.

Primary school children should also receive lessons in basic scientific concepts such as how machines work and how plastic is made, according to the interim findings of an independent review ordered by Michael Gove.

The Education Secretary wants to stiffen up the National Curriculum to create a ‘gold standard’ lesson plan modelled on the world’s most rigorous exam systems. To do that, teachers should look to the Far East, he said - in particular the high-performing countries of Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

A government-commissioned review of the curriculum, to be published tomorrow, reveals children in Singapore are introduced to scientific concepts in year six. But in England, children do not learn about 'motion around a pivot' or the 'operation of simple machines' until between years seven and nine.

The report, by the Expert Panel, will also say that successful Asian education system make sure all pupils have mastered a subject before moving on to tackle the next part. That is in stark contrast to England where some children are left behind if they do not grasp the topic.

A Whitehall source told the Sunday Times: 'It is wrong to conclude that England should simply import these examples lock, stock and barrel. 'But the consistent theme that does emerge is that some countries do set materially higher expectations in some areas in terms of what they believe children can and should master at different ages.'

A new curriculum had been planned for 2013 - with alterations to the English, maths, science and PE syllabuses. Other subjects would have been introduced from 2014. But all changes will now be delayed until 2014 so more radical proposals can be debated.

The move has prompted criticism from Labour, who have suggested the review is 'in chaos'. A spokesman said the panel was being sent back to the drawing board for failing to fit Gove's 'ideological creed'.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Skills gap an America-wide problem

Federal Reserve policy makers say that while the American job market shows signs of improving, they are still concerned with the “elevated” level of unemployment. One reason may be because employers can’t find qualified help, according to economists like Dean Maki.

The number of positions waiting to be filled this year has climbed to levels last seen in 2008, when the jobless rate was around 6 percent. The housing bust and ensuing financial crisis put people out of work whose skills may not correspond with those needed by the health-care providers and engineering firms where jobs go wanting.

“What’s going on here is a mismatch of the skills of the unemployed and at least some of the positions that are becoming available,” Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital in New York, said in an interview. “This seems to be slowing the pace of filling those job openings.”

The issue has come to the forefront in Maine, particularly through meetings Gov. Paul LePage has held around the state with employers. Employers have consistently said they have open positions – looking for everything from skilled machinists to computer programers — that go unfilled, due to a lack of qualified applicants.

Nationwide, a dearth of skilled applicants may prevent the unemployment rate from declining further and could crimp consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Companies also may remain reluctant to expand their workforces as the threat from Europe’s debt crisis and political gridlock in the U.S. weighs on the economic outlook.

Over the three months ended in October, the average number of positions waiting to be filled climbed to 3.26 million, the most in three years, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday in Washington. The jobless rate, which averaged 5.8 percent that year, was at 9 percent in October. It fell to 8.6 percent last month, in part reflecting a drop in the size of the labor force, the agency’s data showed earlier this month.

Compared with the 13.9 million Americans who were unemployed in October, that means that that there were about 4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007, the report showed.

During the years leading up to the 18-month U.S. recession, millions of Americans sought out jobs in industries that are now struggling, according to economist Julia Coronado.

“A lot of people went into real estate, construction and finance and acquired a lot of skills that are now not as useful to the current economy,” Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York, said in an interview. “You just have a skills mismatch in this economy.”

Sixteen percent of small-business owners said they had openings that were difficult to fill in November, up 2 percentage points from the prior month, according to results of a survey issued yesterday by the National Federation of Independent Business. While the share is usually between 20 percent and 30 percent during economic expansions, last month’s reading was the highest since September 2008.

“There’s no doubt that employers need more hiring flexibility, but at the same time they continue to struggle to find talent with mission-critical skills,” said Jonas Prising, president of the Americas for Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc., the world’s second-largest provider of temporary workers. “The lack of demand for products and services and the ongoing skills mismatch profoundly impact hiring decisions.”

Manpower’s 2011 Talent Shortage Survey, issued in May, showed 52 percent of companies polled said they found it more difficult to find qualified help. That was up from 14 percent in 2010 and the highest percentage in the survey’s six-year history.

In addition to the displacement caused by the recession, the relationship between job openings and unemployment may have shifted because of the extension of jobless benefits or the detrimental effects of long-term unemployment, according to Zach Pandl, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs in New York. The change means the equilibrium level of joblessness, or the rate equated with steady inflation, has probably climbed to 6 percent from 5 percent before the economic slump, Pandl wrote in a Dec. 8 research report.

“The economy has been expanding moderately, notwithstanding some apparent slowing in global growth,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement at the conclusion of its meeting Tuesday in Washington. “While indicators point to some improvement in overall labor market conditions, the unemployment rate remains elevated.”

Concern over the economic outlook may also be affecting employment. The threat that the euro region may slide into recession, causing a global slowdown that would also limit U.S. growth, may be encouraging companies to hold back.

For example, the performance of the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, which measures the cost of using options as insurance against declines in the S&P 500, also foreshadows payroll gains, Maki, a former Fed economist, said.

“When the VIX index is elevated, it means job growth is going to be more subdued,” he said. The gauge climbed as high as 48 in August and closed yesterday at 25.4. It averaged 16 in the five years leading up to the recession that started in December 2007.


British Pupils could be forced to study history and geography until the age of 16 in curriculum shake-up

Pupils may be forced to study history and geography until they are 16 under plans for a shake-up of the national curriculum. An independent review ordered by Education Secretary Michael Gove called for the move yesterday as part of a wider drive to address concerns that England’s schools are falling behind the rest of the world.

A separate report yesterday warned of a sharp decline in history teaching, with 159 schools not entering a single pupil for a GCSE in the subject last year.

Recent studies have exposed a shocking ignorance about history among school-leavers. One found that half of all 18 to 24-year-olds did not know Nelson led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, with a similar proportion unaware that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.

Under the proposals, all pupils in England would be required to study history, geography, a foreign language, design and technology and the arts until at least 16, even if they are not planning to take a GCSE in them.

At present pupils can drop these subjects at 14. An expert panel appointed by Mr Gove found that the curriculum in England narrows earlier than in countries with more successful education systems, where pupils are required to study key subjects such as history for longer.

As a result, many youngsters are ‘deprived of access to powerful forms of knowledge and experience at a formative time in their lives’, the panel said.

A move to make these subjects compulsory would tie in with the Government’s new English Baccalaureate, awarded to pupils who gain at least five Cs at GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography and a foreign language.

Tory MP Chris Skidmore, vice-chairman of the all-party history group, warned that the decline in history teaching had potentially far-reaching consequences.

Mr Skidmore, who will use a Commons debate today to call for history to be made compulsory, said: ‘At the moment we are the only country in Europe, apart from Albania, that allows children to finish history at 14. ‘There are dozens of schools where not a single pupil is studying history beyond that point. ‘Yet history is a subject that binds us as a nation. Having a common understanding of the past helps us to create a more coherent and tolerant society.’

Mr Skidmore said the subject was becoming increasingly confined to the most academic schools, particularly in the south.

Yesterday’s proposals are part of wider reforms designed to boost England’s competitiveness by improving the curriculum. Other suggestions include requiring children to learn their times tables at a younger age.


New patriotic computer game for Australian schools

GRADE 3 students will be asked to play a patriotic computer game as part of a program to help them embrace what it means to be Australian.

The Aussie Clue Cracker game has been approved by the Australia Day Council and will be included in the history curriculum across the nation next year to help students better relate to Australian symbols.

As well as all of Australia's national symbols and days, students will solve questions to identify symbols such as the MCG, the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney Opera House, a didgeridoo and a Digger.

The education program designed by the Australia Day Council includes activities allowing students to design their own individual flags to show what best represents them.

National Australia Day Council chief executive officer Warren Pearson said the program was designed to reinforce the power of the symbols that all Australians could relate to.

"This is the bread and butter of being Australian," Mr Pearson said. "These are the things that resonate in our hearts and minds as Australians. "There is nothing in this list of symbols that excludes anybody, these are things we can celebrate - different aspects of our identity."

The program will be available for all schools and teachers to use in their lessons, but will not be made mandatory.

Similar to a web-based version of the popular board game Guess Who, grade 3 students will work through questions to identify the 24 national symbols, either as individuals or small groups on school computers, or as classes working on electronic whiteboards.

Mr Pearson said the Aussie Clue Cracker would be released next month, before Australia Day. It would be available for schools to use as part of their history lessons throughout the year and was relevant to all national days and events, he said.

The interactive lessons will incorporate sound bites, images and music to reinforce Aussie symbolism.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Alarming' Achievement Gap in Seattle Schools

(Seattle, Washington) School officials have analyzed student performance by correlating language spoken at home and student test scores.
African-American students whose primary language is English perform significantly worse in math and reading than black students who speak another language at home — typically immigrants or refugees — according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools.

District officials, who presented the finding at a recent community meeting at Rainier Beach High School, noted the results come with caveats, but called the potential trend troubling and pledged to study what might be causing it.

Michael Tolley, an executive director overseeing Southeast Seattle schools, said at the meeting that the data exposed a new achievement gap that is "extremely, extremely alarming."

The administration has for years analyzed test scores by race. It has never before broken down student-achievement data by specific home language or country of origin — it is rare for school districts to examine test scores at that level — but it is unlikely that the phenomenon the data suggest is actually new.

In fact, some national experts said the trend represented by the Seattle data is not surprising.
Besides being "extremely alarming," the results are contentious and will be the basis of many heated discussions.

Palestinian Hip-Hop Group Comparing Israelis to Nazis Performs for Oregon Public High School Students

An online petition has been landing in the inboxes of pro-Israel Americans this month, many of whom are expressing shock at the Portland public school system for allowing a Palestinian hip-hop group with offensive lyrics justifying terrorism and comparing Israelis to Nazis to perform at a city high school.

The group, named DAM, was invited to perform at Lincoln High School last month. Simply knowing the band’s name, DAM – blood in Arabic and Hebrew – raises serious questions why school officials would position this group in front of impressionable students. Their lyrics raise even more questions about the judgment of these school officials.

Sponsored by Portland State University Christians United for Israel, the petition states:
The lyrics demonize Israeli Jews, calling them rapists and Nazis, justifying terrorism against them.. (”You’re a Democracy? It’s more like the Nazis…Your raping of the Arab soul gave birth to your child: The suicide bomber.”) These lyrics are threatening to Jewish students at Lincoln, and do not represent the mainstream opinions of Palestinians and Arab Israelis.

A sample of the group’s work: one DAM song called “Min Irhabi” or “Who’s a Terrorist?” is filled with anti-Israel propaganda and in-your-face lyrics, that many parents – regardless of their political stripe – would just as soon not have their children get a free helping of at school. With these few lines, one gets the picture:
Who’s a terrorist? I’m a terrorist?
How am I a terrorist while I live in my country
Who’s a terrorist? You’re a terrorist!
You’re swallowing me while I live in my country
Killing me like you killed my ancestors […]
Click here to find out more!

Democracy? I swear you’re Nazis
With all the times you raped the Arab spirit
It got pregnant and birthed a boy called the suicide bomber
And here you are calling us terrorists

The petitioners say even though students and parents voiced their concerns about the band’s content to the school board, the board went ahead with the performance, “despite the physical and emotional fears of the students.” The petition is asking the school board to apologize and assure students that “events with hate speech will not be tolerated again. Presently, the school board has found no breach in Lincoln High School’s policies on hate speech.”

The Jewish Review reported on the November 4th concert at a Lincoln High School student assembly. Teachers tried to prepare classes before attending the assembly. One teacher didn’t bring his class, because he felt he didn’t have enough time to prepare them. Students reported the event lasted an hour with band members speaking English, but some of the lyrics were not translated. The report did not say if the song “Who’s a Terrorist” was performed. One attendee said many “asked the trio what they thought could be done to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:”
“One of their answers that really bothered me was that they said the land of Israel should not be controlled by a Jewish government. It seems innocuous on the surface, because it looks like they are advocating for fairness and equality.” But what “went over a lot of heads at the assembly,” she explained, was that if there is no Jewish state, then eventually there will be no Jews in the Middle East. There is currently “only one Jewish country” among all the Muslim/Arab ones, she said, and “they are saying that the Jewish state doesn’t have the right to exist.”

[A Wilson high school student who also attended, Jewish Student Union President Becky] Davidson said that a lot of kids in the audience “just didn’t know. They were like, ‘Yeah, we want equality, too.’ It’s really idealistic, but it’s not the reality.”

After the rappers’ comments, Davidson said that [student Shoshi] Singer heard a girl in the audience say, “Oh, my God, I hate Israel! It so sucks.”

According to Davidson, when DAM members said, “We need to have equality for all people in Israel” they suggested that this would be accomplished when Israel was no longer a Jewish state.

The Jewish Review also reports the school allowed a panel discussion on November 1st to address concerns over the hip hop group’s invitation. The assembly three days later was called “optional,” meaning teachers could decide if to bring their students.

It reports the public school’s Arab Studies Program is funded by Qatar Foundation International, which also sponsored the hip hop group’s visit to the high school. Last year, Israeli, Spanish and British newspapers reported that the Qatar Foundation had given money to extremist Muslim cleric Yusuf al Qaradawi who advocates “terrorism, wife beating and anti-Semitism” and that the foundation gives money to the terrorist group Hamas:
Michael Cahana, senior rabbi for Congregation Beth Israel, attended the panel discussion as the rabbi of many families whose children attend Lincoln. He said, “This is not a free speech issue; it is an educational issue. Certainly from a Jewish perspective the lyrics of DAM’s songs promote terrorism, which strikes me as really inappropriate to bring them to a high school. To have a vibrant discussion [outside of a school] makes sense. But when you bring a group into a classroom” or, in this case an assembly, “it carries a certain responsibility. And I don’t see that responsibility being met.” […]

From the sidelines Peyton Chapman, Lincoln High School principal, jumped in with, “If the word ‘Nazi’ comes up at the assembly, we’re going to discuss it.” The Holocaust “was an incredible horror. We don’t want to have it repeated.”

If the concert during school hours wasn’t offensive enough, the school’s Arabic teacher, Sarah Standish, posted a notice on her blog to which the school’s website links offering students extra credit if they attended an off-campus screening of a documentary about the group and submitted a 300-word essay about the experience. In the same post she included a letter trying to assure parents that “DAM does not advocate violence of any kind.”

Perhaps a Lincoln senior Emilie Cohen summarized the issue most eloquently:
“My biggest concern is that our principal is supposed to keep us physically and emotionally safe. And with this group and their published videos it makes me feel like they hate Jews; they hate Israelis. I personally don’t feel emotionally safe knowing that these people – who hate me without even knowing me – come into my public school, spreading their message. …why would our principal allow this group to come in?”

The anti-Israeli curricula and atmosphere on American college campuses has faced scrutiny in recent years; this Portland case suggests there may also be a growing problem in K-12 schools.

It should be noted the members of DAM are Arab citizens of Israel who identify themselves as Palestinian. Their opinion of the city where they were raised – Lod, next to Ben-Gurion International Airport – is that it’s occupied Palestinian territory, not Israel. Or, in other words: there is no place in their world view for Jews to have their national homeland.


The school where pupils have etiquette lessons: British government school hires expert to teach students how to get a job

A state school is hiring an etiquette expert to teach teenage pupils how to act and dress to get a job. The day-long course covers posture, how to 'dress for success', speaking clearly and using the right cutlery.

There is even guidance on the correct way to eat asparagus, spaghetti and the tricky consumption of shell prawns.

The 16 to 18-year-olds at the co-educational Bishop Heber School, in Malpas, Cheshire, will also learn how to enter a room and greet people properly.

Headteacher David Curry said. 'On paper everyone is the same - the only discerning difference is what an interviewer sees in person. That ability to carry yourself is hugely important. “The children don’t find it patronising, they are genuinely eager to take these skills on.”

Mr Curry asked the company Public Image to organise the course - due to be held next month - after a talk on the importance of social skills from an outside speaker.

The pupils will be filmed doing role play exercises which they can then watch to see how they are coming across to employers.

Parents have been asked to pay towards the cost of the course at Bishop Heber. The school, which has over 1,000 pupils, has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted

Diana Mather, managing director of Public Image, said the training helps put state and privately educated pupils on a 'level playing field'.

She told the Daily Telegraph: 'Privately educated students and school boarders are given much more of this sort of training. 'Whether it’s the debating society, school presentations or attending functions with people from older generations, they become more at ease communicating appropriately.

'Women in particular need a bit of help judging what’s appropriate. If girls wear low-cut tops and short skirts to an interview then she’s got to expect some sort of reaction, after all we’re all human.'

Miss Mather, a former television presenter, already runs courses at private schools which include a talk on what is expected of young adults in the 21st century.

Susan Anderson, Confederation of British Industry director for education and skills, said the majority of schools fail to teach pupils what employers are looking for in the workplace. She said: 'Competition for jobs is intense and unemployment remains high, so [schools] need to explain these skills better and make sure they embed them in teaching.'


A world of offers for Australia's brightest students

I tried to persuade my son to go to Oxford for his doctoral studies because of its recognition factor but he eventually decided that an Australian university was the best one in his field

THE answer to the ritual question among school leavers - "where are you going?" - is throwing up some startling answers, as well as a challenge to Australia's leading universities. What began as a trickle is now a small stream of outstanding academic talents using their HSC as a passport to travel.

Rowena Lazar, 18, first in the state in Italian beginners, couldn't pick up her award from the Education Minister last week; she was in Oxford, interviewing for a place for next year. Timothy Large, 17, first in extension two maths, had flown in on the morning of the ceremony from his interview at Cambridge. Harry Stratton, 18, first in classical Greek and Latin, has his heart set on Harvard or Yale.

Large and Stratton, from Sydney Grammar, both secured the highest possible ATAR ranking of 99.95 but neither will complete their undergraduate degree in Australia. And they will be followed by many of their peers. Schools such as Grammar and Queenwood run information nights at which US colleges make their pitches. This year as many as 30 Grammar school-leavers have applied to overseas universities, a figure which has alarmed Australian rivals.

Record numbers of Australians are now studying their first degree in the US, with about 1500 undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the 2010-11 academic year, an increase of 14.6 per cent.

Many leading schools report a growing trend among their best and brightest to aim immediately to begin their tertiary study overseas. "It's definitely increasing and it's confirmation that we measure ourselves on global standards, not on regional or even national ones," said Tom Alegounarias, the president of the NSW Board of Studies.

James Harpur, the principal of Queenwood, said numbers were rising. "This year we've got five UK applications and two to the US," he said. "It's often fuelled by ambition and a desire to broaden their horizons. That's the confidence they have which students didn't have several generations ago. It wasn't on our horizon."

The trend has disturbed domestic universities, which attempt to attract the sharpest minds with lucrative scholarships. But Mr Harpur said departures were motivated by ambition rather than a belief there was "anything inherently wrong with Sydney universities".

Sydney University and the University of NSW target top performers with scholarships, some exclusively for those with the highest ATAR in the state.

The University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Derrick Armstrong, said: "We would argue that we were one of the leading universities in the world. The education here is very high quality in a research intensive environment." However, he said it was understandable students would seek the opportunity to study overseas.

Peter Taylor, the executive director of the Australian Mathematics Trust, said an increasing number of Maths Olympiad students were heading overseas, particularly to Cambridge University, but they were not necessarily getting a better education.

"It's a perception they've got, but I can't see why, because for instance Sydney University runs an outstanding course for high flyers. They're absolutely in as good quality company as anywhere else."

Professor Taylor said some were attracted to a degree from Cambridge's Trinity College as a status symbol. "If someone's determined to go to Trinity, it's pretty hard to stop them."

Tyson Churcher, 17, from Northern Beaches Christian School, wants to study maths at Cambridge. He's just back from an exam and interview. "The opportunity to study at Cambridge would be enormous. You can't really call any university the best but it's certainly up there," he said.

Tyson, shortlisted for a scholarship at UNSW, has applied for a scholarship at Cambridge. He's unsure what to do if he is accepted. "I would have to think about it because the cost is certainly daunting but the opportunity is great," he said.


Monday, December 19, 2011

An 'end point' for race-based admissions

WHEN THE SUPREME COURT, in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, narrowly upheld the use of racial preferences at the University of Michigan Law School, it emphasized that such preferences were barely tolerable under the Constitution. They could be used only as a last resort, the court ruled, they must not unduly harm non-minorities, and public universities had to start finding ways to phase them out.

"We are mindful … that '[a] core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race,'" Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for a 5-4 majority. "Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time…. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point…. We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."

But eight years later, race-based admissions show no sign of moving toward "a logical end point." If anything they are more entrenched than ever. Far from using skin color as a last resort, many universities make it an explicit condition – as Abigail Fisher, a white high school senior, discovered when she applied to the University of Texas in 2008. Roughly one-fifth of the freshman class is selected according to a formula that takes race into account; when Fisher was rejected she sued the university on the grounds that its racial preferences violate the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Relying on Grutter, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the university's policy. Now Fisher is appealing to the Supreme Court.

Perhaps in 2003 there was some justification for O'Connor's expectation that universities, noting Grutter's many caveats – the majority used the words "narrow" or "narrowly" 20 times -- would be extremely wary of employing racial preferences. There is no such justification today, and it would be a fine thing if the Supreme Court used the Texas case to say so. It ought to reiterate what Chief Justice John Roberts – who was not on the court in 2003 – memorably wrote in a more recent opinion: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

There are many reasons to do so, beginning with the sheer moral repugnance of judging people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. More than 140 years ago, New York attorney John Jay – grandson of the nation's first chief justice – urged the Supreme Court to proclaim that the post-Civil War amendments had "destroyed the only exception recognized by the Constitution to the great principle of the Declaration of Independence, and that … all state legislation establishing or recognizing distinctions of race or color are void." Had the high court laid down that principle then, decades of segregation, repression, and racial cruelty might have been avoided.

Nowadays, of course, racial preferences in higher education are justified as both a means of benefiting minorities and of adding diversity to the universities that admit them. But as the Pacific Legal Foundation, the National Association of Scholars, and several other public-policy organizations argue in a friend-of-the court brief, those ends can be achieved without resorting to racial preferences. As proof they point to California, which has banned the use of racial preferences in public higher education since enacting Proposition 209 in 1996.

California's colorblind policy hasn't deprived underrepresented minorities of access to higher education. Quite the contrary. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of black, Latino, and American Indian students offered admission to the University of California system soared -- from 7,385, or 19.6 percent of all students accepted, to 16,635, or 42.6 percent of the total.

"Since Proposition 209 became effective in 1997, minorities continue to seek and be offered admission to the University of California in greater numbers without resorting to racial preferences," the amicus brief argues. "Accordingly, the University of Texas's argument that a race-conscious admissions policy is necessary to ensure a diverse student body rings hollow." Nor is California alone in rejecting racial preferences: Similar measures have recently been adopted in Michigan, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, and Florida.

"Racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially … dangerous," O'Connor wrote in Grutter. In a nation as multiracial and multiethnic as ours, it is not only unjust but unsafe to allow public institutions to indulge in racial preferences. Fortunately, it is also unnecessary.


The death of History: Experts fears after shocking figures show subject is all but extinct in some areas of Britain

Experts have warned of the ‘death of History’ after shocking figures revealed the subject is becoming virtually extinct in some areas of the country.

MPs have been appalled to read new research stating that in one local authority – Knowsley, on Merseyside – just four pupils managed to pass the exam in the entire region.

The report concludes that a child growing up in the Home Counties is 46 times more likely to pass A-level History than a pupil living in deprived parts of the North.

The findings, contained in a report being published tomorrow, come amid growing alarm in Government over the lack of historical knowledge being demonstrated by school leavers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove was horrified by a recent survey that found that half of English 18 to 24-year-olds were unaware that Nelson led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, while a similar proportion did not know that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.

Mr Gove has ordered schools to widen their teaching away from narrow syllabuses which have been mockingly summarised as ‘Cowboys and Nazis’.

The report, produced by Tory MP Chris Skidmore for the Commons All-Party Group on History, shows how the subject is being concentrated in private schools and selective grammars – and increasingly neglected in comprehensives.

Last year, less than 30 per cent of 16-year-olds in comprehensive schools were entered for GCSE History, compared with 55 per cent of pupils in grammar schools and 48 per cent in private schools.

Alarmingly, there were 159 comprehensives where not a single pupil was entered for GCSE History; and in a majority of state secondaries, less than a quarter of pupils now take the exam.

Mr Skidmore says the fact that the subject is increasingly being confined to the most academic schools – which tend to be concentrated in the south of the UK – has produced a growing North-South gulf.

Teachers in comprehensives appear more likely to put their pupils forward for ‘soft’ subjects such as Media Studies, which are less valued by employers.

He will argue this week that pupils should no longer be able to drop History at 14, with the subject instead being made compulsory until the age of 16.

In Knowsley, one of the most deprived areas in the country, out of nearly 2,000 18-year-olds who had been eligible to take A-levels, just 11 pupils took the History exam and only four passed. In the whole of Leicester, out of 1,638 A-level candidates, just 68 passed History.

This contrasts with affluent southern areas such as Cambridgeshire, where 665 pupils (out of 6,038 candidates of A-level age) took the exam and 557 passed.

Even if Knowsley were as populous as Cambridgeshire, according to the analysis, only 33 pupils would have taken the exam and just 12 obtained passes – making it 46 times less likely that they would leave school with the qualification.

Mr Skidmore, MP for Kingswood, said: ‘There are now areas of the country where History has become a dead subject, forgotten by schools and pupils once they are able to drop it at 14.

‘The future study of the past is being eradicated in entire regions. A subject that should unite us as one nation has now become the subject of two nations. In entire communities and schools, often in some of the most deprived areas of the country, the study of history has been shunned; elsewhere, it has become the preserve of more affluent areas and schools.

‘This cannot be healthy for the future of the nation. This needs to end. There has never been a stronger case for making the subject compulsory to 16.’

Last night, Mr Gove said reforms he had introduced, including the introduction of an English Baccalaureate, had already started to reverse the decline in the number of history students.

‘Every child deserves a chance to study history,’ Mr Gove said. ‘It helps us appreciate the heroism and sacrifices of those who fought to make this country a home of liberty and it enables all students to analyse evidence so they can sort out good arguments from bad. ‘Under the last Government, history was neglected and the poorest students in the most deprived areas suffered most.’


Don't give ground to Labour's free school critics or they will go 'in for the kill', says Lord Adonis

A former Labour Education Minister warned against giving ground to Labour critics of the Coalition’s ‘free schools’ because they would seize on any concession and ‘move in for the kill’, writes Simon Walters.

Lord Adonis said opponents of the schools, such as the journalist Fiona Millar, partner of Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, ‘would stick pins in their eyes’ sooner than agree with any aspect of the flagship policy, which switches power from town halls to parents.

The comments by Lord Adonis – who helped Tony Blair launch academy schools, which paved the way for free schools – are revealed in a new book by writer and free schools advocate Toby Young.

During a cab journey after both appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, Mr Young, founder of the West London Free School, asked Lord Adonis if, rather than dealing with his opponents ‘aggressively’, he should enter talks with people such as Ms Millar who, like her partner, is a strong supporter of comprehensives.

Young says Lord Adonis gave him ‘a look of withering contempt’, and said: ‘They’re not interested in constructive dialogue.

‘Don’t you get it? If you extend any sort of olive branch they’ll see it as a sign of weakness and move in for the kill. I dealt with the same people – the Socialist Workers Party, the Anti Academies Alliance, the NUT – for most of my ministerial career and they would rather stick pins in their eyes than admit they have common ground with someone like you. ‘Their attitude to free schools is the same as to academies: they won’t rest until every last one has been razed to the ground.’

Mr Young says Lord Adonis persuaded him to ‘stick to my guns – and I was right’.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Public School Defends Posting Nativity Scene Despite Potential Church-State Challenges‏

A superintendent at Green County Tech Primary School in Paragould, Arkansas, is taking a strong stance in support of a Nativity scene at an elementary school in his district — a scene that has been posted for 20 years without incident.

After ordering the bulletin board be taken down, Superintendent Jerry Noble has decided to allow it once again.

The traditional Nativity scene includes the words, “Happy Birthday, Jesus,” which Noble, a Christian, is adamantly defending. After receiving two complaints this year, the superintendent initially consulted with lawyers and decided to remove the Nativity. But — the community’s reaction led to a change of heart.

“Enough is enough,” Noble explains. “It’s His birthday. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday. One person should not be offended by that. We don’t leave it up all year. We’re not promoting religion. It’s not an effort to convert anybody.”

He explains that he initially removed the Nativity, because he didn’t want to put the school district at risk. “I could not take it upon myself to get the school in a legal entanglement over separation of church and state because we would have to use tax dollars to fight it and that’s not my job to do that,” he explained. But once he removed the display, the community criticized the decision.

Then, a group came forward to support the school if and when a legal challenge against the display was waged. So, Noble decided to put the board up again. “To be honest with you, we offended a lot more people by taking it down than leaving it up,” he said.

The Paragould Daily Press has more about the legal issues potentially facing the district:

…the school district’s attorney, Donn Mixon, who advised him to have the decoration removed. Mixon admitted he was not given all of the details surrounding the controversy and was simply asked whether a nativity scene displayed in a public school was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. [...]

“I gave the opinion that yes I believe, based upon what I was told about it, that if challenged, it could well violate the First Amendment,” Mixon said. “Prayer at graduation, the posting of the Ten Commandments, those are all issues that have been litigated under that establishment clause. The courts have generally held that if public schools do those types of things… that can violate the Establishment Clause.”

The district’s pro-Nativity stance is already frustrating those opposed to Noble’s actions. The American Civil Liberties Union Arkansas (ACLU) has already said that the school must abide by the Constitution. Rita Sklar, the state’s ACLU director, has come out strong, saying that it’s sad to see Noble and others not respecting the First Amendment. Fox News Radio has more about the controversy:

The Nativity scene was erected by Kay Williams, a counselor at the primary school. She’s been doing it for more than 20 years without any hint of controversy.

“We do live in the Bible Belt,” Williams told the Paragould Daily Press. “One thing that really disturbed most of [the supporters] was we hear about things like this all the time in other parts of the country. But, this is kind of a first for the Bible Belt, here in Arkansas.”

Noble says that Christians have been silent for too long.


British Children must learn times tables by age nine under tough new curriculum plans

Children will have to learn their times tables by the age of nine under plans to toughen up the National Curriculum.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to create a ‘gold standard’ lesson plan modelled on the most rigorous exam systems in the world.

He will signal the change on Monday when an independent review publishes evidence that standards in England lag far behind other countries.

The report by Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment, a research group and exam board attached to Cambridge University, found that pupils in Singapore are expected to master times tables and division by the age of nine, compared with 11 in England. And secondary school pupils are taught quadratic equations at 13, a year or more before their English counterparts.

Meanwhile, pupils in Hong Kong learn about plant and animal cells aged ten, while the subject is not tackled by English students until secondary school.

Mr Gove is also expected to introduce separate grammar lessons in response to fears that many get to 16 without a basic grasp of spelling and punctuation.

He will also set more rigorous reading lists, including Homer, Sophocles and Shakespeare, after learning that countries with ‘fast improving’ education systems such as Poland expect their pupils to read extensively.

The Government had originally intended to publish details of the new curriculum in the New Year, but ministers have decided to delay the move for a further 12 months because they want such a radical re-write.

A Government source said: ‘We want to create a gold standard National Curriculum that survives longer than a government’s term of office.’


Many Australian Schools steer clear of Christmas

CHRISTMAS greetings, nativity scenes and carols are under attack in a growing number of Australian schools, kinders, businesses and organisations.

As our cultural diversity increases, more people are trying to secularise the holidays or appeal to a broad range of faiths, rather than just Christians celebrating Christmas.

After 39 years of nativity plays and carol-singing, Albert Park Preschool no longer celebrates Christmas. It is having an End of Year Concert rather than a Christmas concert, and there will be no nativity play or Christmas carols.

The final newsletter to parents does not mention Christmas, instead wishing parents a "happy holiday season" and a "count down towards holidays and a variety of celebrations".

"We are a community kindergarten and our community is very mixed in terms of a variety of cultures and beliefs," teacher Melissa Popley said. "I believe - and I have had to convert others about this - that to focus on just one religion is not inclusive of our kinder community."

Ms Popley said children chose to sing non-carol Christmas songs at the concert, including Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The only Christmas decoration is one tree made of tinsel and decorated with children's hand prints, she said. Ms Popley said the new approach was a reflection of the new teaching framework that requires preschools to "show respect for diversity".

Kerrimuir Primary School in Box Hill is wishing its students "Happy Holidays" rather than Merry Christmas on its
website this year.

Other schools to opt for "Happy Holidays" include Sandringham College and Bright P-12 College. Hundreds of Victorian companies are also now using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas in messages.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke said people shouldn't feel shy about celebrating Christmas. "If employers with a diverse work force want to tailor additional greetings then they could do so," she said.