Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gov. Jindal stresses education reform during inaugural ceremony

Louisiana state office holders took their oaths of office in low key events across Baton Rouge. Gov. Bobby Jindal changed up his inaugural, so it wouldn't compete with the BCS title game in New Orleans.

The old state capitol Mark Twain once described as the ugliest building on the Mississippi River was the back drop as Jindal took the oath of office for a second time as governor.

He started his inaugural address by acknowledging what he called the "elephant in the room." "I am fully aware as my kids have reminded me, that my inaugural as governor is not the most important thing that will happen in the great state of Louisiana today," said Jindal referring to the big LSU-Alabama match-up in the Superdome."

Jindal hit the high points of his first-term, including successes in ethics reform, job creation and tax cuts. But he spent most of his speech setting the stage for the next four years.

"In America, we believe every child deserves and equal opportunity to a quality education," said Jindal.

The governor is putting major emphasis on improving Louisiana's chronically poor performing schools. "Reforming and improving education should not be a partisan issue," said Jindal. "Getting kids ready to face the challenges this world has to offer, getting them prepared to succeed and triumph should not be a political matter."

While the governor has yet to release details of his education reform agenda, it will likely include controversial items such as additional charter schools, vouchers and teacher evaluations tied to student achievement.

"Education reform is critical to the state," said state Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-Lakeview. "We end up on the bottom of the list in most categories every year and that's a critical aspect we have to tackle and win." "We got to take care of all the kids in Louisiana and that's what some of the fright is," said state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.

Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin said there is already some push back from teachers unions and school districts where students are already making the grade. "One of the reasons to emphasis it today because some of these are going to be tough votes for a bunch of these legislators," said Erwin.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, Jindal headed to a special luncheon with lawmakers in downtown Baton Rouge. Then, he and his family were expected to head down to New Orleans to watch his beloved LSU Tigers in the BCS. "Geaux Tigers," said Jindal.

State legislators also took their oaths of office. John Alario of Westwego was elected senate president. Representative Charles Kleckly, a Republican from Lake Charles, was elected house speaker.


British schools that dared to liberate their pupils

Charles Moore reviews The Grammar School: A Secret History

"Sapere aude” (“Dare to be wise”) is the motto of Manchester Grammar School. It is emblematic of the grammar-school tradition, for several reasons. The first is that it is old: it appears on the coat of arms of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, who founded the school to help the poor boys of Lancashire in 1515. The grammar-school phenomenon is as old as the public-school one. One could argue that public schools began as a mere subset of grammar schools.

The second is that the motto is in Latin. Latin was the mainstay of grammar schools — it is Latin grammar from which they take their name, which shows that their commitment to learning lay at their root. The third is that the school has a motto at all. Comprehensives tend to eschew mottoes, especially Latin ones, as being pompous, elitist, out-of-date. It was of the essence of grammar schools, as this programme eloquently showed, that they tried to inculcate high ideals. Mottoes do this succinctly.

Finally, the words of the motto express a particular spirit. The concept of wisdom depends on some high, ancient and demanding exterior standard. It is not about self-fulfilment (though it may bring self-fulfilment in its train), but about something beyond self. To tell people to “dare” to be wise is to imply that the search for wisdom requires courage and involves difficulty.

It does, and it did so particularly for all those children, a quarter of the pupils in the first half of the 20th century - including the future prime ministers Edward Heath and Margaret Roberts (Thatcher) — whose parents could not afford to send them to grammar schools without state or county scholarships. For them to “dare to be wise” was also to dare to rise beyond the social sphere in which they had grown up. In most cases, this was done not in despite of their parents’ wishes, but in accordance with them. Across the generations there was a culture, to use a Victorian word, of improvement.

Although this programme (the first of two) pointed out the shortcomings of grammar schools, the thrust of its message, conveyed through the mouths of men and women, now old, who attended them before 1950, was overwhelmingly positive. Even when they described hardships and stresses — exams on which so much depended, homework done in the bathroom because it was the only warm place in the house away from the noise of the gramophone — they did so with a dignity and articulacy which showed that they had been well educated.

One of the most attractive was a very old man called Geoffrey Stone, who won his place at Manchester Grammar in 1929. He put on his old mortar-board to show what it had been like to be a prefect. He had been kept on at the school by bursaries after his father had lost his job. At the end of his war service, he was offered a job in the Foreign Office. This was a rare achievement for a man of his background at that time. Mr Stone considered the situation, however, and decided, selflessly, that this would not be the best use of his talents. He became a teacher, and eventually, the headmaster of a grammar school in Derbyshire. Mr Stone “dared to be wise”, even when it might have been against his own interests.

Yes, some of the curriculum was boring. Much of the life was austere and the discipline petty. Some of the teaching theories were rigid. (It was amusing, in this respect, to note that the title sequence, in which a modern girl in grammar-school uniform writes at an old-fashioned desk, was inauthentic. She was writing left-handed and upside down, habits which, in those days, would almost certainly have been harshly knocked out of her.)

But every former pupil – whether famous and successful, like Sir David Attenborough and Lady (Joan) Bakewell, or entirely unknown; whether happy at school or not — was, visibly, the better for it. A man called Jim Humphries had to leave his grammar school at 14 to get a job which would pay the family rent. On his last day, he hurried out of his last lesson at 12.35, and was working at the factory in Stoke by 2pm. As he looked back, he showed no bitterness, just pleasure at having had the chance to learn.

In fact, what all shared was a respect for what it means to learn things. Joan Bakewell picked up the longing to go to Cambridge simply by getting hold of a picture book about it and seeing the beauty of a place devoted to learning (she got in). One of the worst features of a bad education is that, by purporting to centre on the child, it narrows his or her horizon. It fails to explain how much more interesting the world can be if only you find out more about it. People who say that Shakespeare or Latin or theoretical physics are “irrelevant” to “deprived” children are the people who perpetuate that deprivation. Most of the ex-pupils on this programme gave thanks for teachers who never took that view, but captured their imagination — no, not captured it, liberated it.

Part Two (which runs on Thursday) will show what happened in the 1960s when, as the programme itself put it, grammar schools were phased out by “the very people who had benefited from them most”. I am not sure this is quite fair. Those most scornful of grammar schools tended to be those, like Labour’s Anthony Crosland, with expensive public-school educations. But whoever was guilty, the crime was enormous. Only now can we see the full extent of the damage.


The new academies are a revolutionary force in British education

There has not been such a radical restructuring since the spread of comprehensive schools 50 years ago

A revolution in British schools is happening under our noses. As Michael Gove announced last week, there are now 1,529 academies, compared with only 200 when the Coalition came to power. Not since the spread of comprehensive schools, 50 years ago, has there been such a radical restructuring.

The academy programme was the brainchild of Tony Blair and his minister, Andrew Adonis. Academies seek to emulate the independence of private schools: they are self-governing and independent of local government, which is one reason why local authorities, unions, and the Left in general have not welcomed their rapid growth. But unlike independent schools, they charge no fees, and receive funding direct from central government. The Government aims for all remaining secondary schools to become academies, and many primary schools too.

Sponsorship by outside bodies is a feature of academies, whether by private individuals such as Sir David Garrard, or organisations, such as Ark. Ten years ago, independent schools were given the option to sponsor academies, either as sole sponsors, as with Dulwich College, Canford School in Dorset and Wellington College, or as a joint sponsor, as with Marlborough and Benenden. For several years, when I was head of Brighton College, I had an unsuccessful fight with the local authority to let the school start an academy there. After I moved to Wellington I was overjoyed that the governors were so supportive of the idea, and an opportunity became available to us in Wiltshire. Hence the birth of Wellington Academy.

Not all academies have been successful; the academy movement has its critics, and not only on the Left. When David Cameron entered the fray last autumn and asked all independent schools to sponsor academies, his comments were greeted with howls of protest from a surprising number of independent school heads.

Last week, David Laws, the former Cabinet minister, joined the critics, and said it was not the job of private schools to deliver state education. Quite right, said one independent school head, who said her parents “thank her for standing up for their rights”.

This sort of reaction saddens me. Sponsoring academies is exactly what independent schools should be doing. Yes, many schools are suffering in the current economic climate, as are parents, many of whom struggle to find the fees, and are already paying through their taxes for others to attend state schools.

But sponsoring an academy gives the independent school, its teachers and pupils, far more than it takes away. It allows the children to share part of their lives with others from very different backgrounds, and teachers to learn about what is happening in the state sector, which in vital respects is now ahead of the independent sector. It does not cost the independent school a penny. Not a single parent at Wellington College has objected to Wellington Academy, and many have praised the opportunities it has given their children.

Independent schools were often founded with a religious or moral purpose. That purpose now dictates, I believe, that we should bring state schools into our own orbits. The independent sector is a great British success story. We need to share what we have if we are to become a more harmonious and united nation.

What we need from independent school heads and governors is courage and moral leadership. We need exactly the same from our political leaders, who for many years have failed sufficiently to articulate a moral agenda, or to provide by personal example the authority that the country needs. Our independent sector, as well as our political leadership, needs bigger hearts and imaginations if we are to break down the barriers that have so bedevilled Britain in the past.


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