Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Bled Dry by Striking Teachers’ Unions

The smartest parents in Chicago right now are those whose kids attend charter schools, private schools, or parochial schools. Those institutions don’t employ Chicago’s unionized public-school teachers, who went out on strike this morning for the first time in 25 years.

The coverage of the strike has obscured some basic facts. The money has continued to pour into Chicago’s failing public schools in recent years. Chicago teachers have the highest average salary of any city at $76,000 a year before benefits. The average family in the city only earns $47,000 a year. Yet the teachers rejected a 16 percent salary increase over four years at a time when most families are not getting any raises or are looking for work.

The city is being bled dry by the exorbitant benefits packages negotiated by previous elected officials. Teachers pay only 3 percent of their health-care costs and out of every new dollar set aside for public education in Illinois in the last five years, a full 71 cents has gone to teacher retirement costs.

But beyond the dollars, the fact is that Chicago schools need a fundamental shakeup — which of course the union is resisting. It is calling for changes in the teacher-evaluation system it just negotiated by making student performance less important.

Small wonder. Just 15 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and only 56 percent of students who enter their freshman year of high school wind up graduating.

The showdown in Chicago will be a test of just how much clout the public-employee unions wield at a time when the budget pressures they’ve created threaten to break the budgets of America’s major cities.


British teachers could be fired for refusing to endorse homosexual marriage

Teachers who refuse to endorse gay marriage in the classroom could face the sack under controversial Government reforms, a legal expert has warned.

Schools will be within their statutory rights to dismiss staff that wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings, it is claimed.

Aidan O’Neill, a senior QC and expert on religious freedom and human rights, also warned that parents who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will have no right to withdraw their child from lessons.

In a report, he said that any decision to redefine marriage would have far-reaching consequences for schools, hospitals, foster carers and public buildings.

The most serious impact is likely to be felt in the church where vicars and priests conducting religious marriage ceremonies could be taken to court for refusing to carry out a gay wedding, he said.

The conclusions – in legal advice commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage – comes amid continuing fall-out over Government plans to tear up the centuries-old law on marriage.

Ministers launched a consultation on proposals to legalise homosexual weddings earlier this year. David Cameron has said he is committed to pushing through the change by 2015.

The plan is being backed by the Liberal Democrats and many senior Conservatives, although it has prompted a backlash among some backbenchers and Christian groups.

Last month, the Roman Catholic Church had a letter read in all 500 Catholic parishes in Scotland urging churchgoers to oppose attempts to “redefine” marriage north of the border.

Sharon James, a Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman, said the proposed law change would have a serious effect on schools, representing an “unprecedented assault on the rights of parents”.

“This is a dangerous path to go down and one that should be resisted,” she said.

“The redefinition of marriage would ride roughshod over a person’s right to support marriage as the exclusive union between one man and one woman, whether that person be a teacher, a parent, a foster carer or a marriage registrar. The only winners from a change in marriage law will be lawyers.”

Mr O’Neill – based at Matrix Chambers – has analysed the effect that any change in the legal basis of marriage would have on a series of public institutions.

He outlined a fictional scenario in which a Christian teacher is asked to use a book called King & King, a story of a prince who marries a man, and produce a play based on the tale.

The QC suggested that any refusal to comply would be “grounds for her dismissal from employment” because of a legal ruling that religious belief cannot be used by employees “to demand changes in their conditions of their employment”.

Mr O’Neill also warned that parents who object to gay marriage being taught would have no right to withdraw their child from lessons for religious conscience reasons.

“If gay marriage is introduced, the school would be in its own legal right to refuse the wishes of the child’s parents, arguing it is under a legal obligation of its own to promote equality - whatever the cost,” he said.

In the report, he also claimed that Government promises to protect churches and other faiths who object to gay marriage would be meaningless.

Mr O’Neill insisted that vicars or priests would be powerless to stop same-sex couples demanding the same weddings as hetrosexuals under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Churches would be in a stronger legal position if they were to stop conducting weddings altogether – bring to an end more than a thousand years of tradition, he suggested.

“Churches might indeed better protect themselves against the possibility of any such litigation by deciding not to provide marriage services at all, since there could be no complaint then of discrimination in their provision of services as between same sex and opposite sex couples,” he said.


Australia: Media bias on schools policy stifles debate

NOW that Julia Gillard has endorsed the Gonski report in principle, and state and federal governments are deciding what the new model will look like post 2013, Australia's cultural-Left institutions such as the ABC, the Fairfax press and a number of universities are mounting a one-sided campaign against non-government schools by giving critics a free run.

The failure to offer a balanced and objective view of the funding debate is best illustrated by the ABC's 7.30 program telecast on August 20. The program centred on disadvantaged government schools.

Non-government school opponent Richard Teese, of the University of Melbourne, argued: "The biggest single predictor of differences in achievement is the social background of children."

This reinforces the argument that money must be redirected from non-government schools to government schools, but it is incorrect.

Teese's argument that there is no advantage in parents paying fees to send their children to non-government schools, as such schools fail to outperform government school students after adjusting for socioeconomic background, is also not supported by the research.

Another academic who is vocal in his opposition to non-government schools, David Zyngier from Monash University, has also been given airtime on the national broadcaster.

In ABC radio's The World Today on September 7, Zyngier was one of two pro-government-school voices versus a token independent school representative.

Zyngier argues that the main reason why Australia is outperformed by a number of Asian countries is because of "parents paying enormous amounts of their money for private tuition after school". He also repeats the mantra that demography is destiny and that children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are doomed to failure.

In fact, Asian countries outperform Australia because they have a more academic curriculum and more effective classroom pedagogy, their students face high-risk tests and the culture respects and values learning.

It's no accident that, compared with many Western countries, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan have significantly higher proportions of students defined as resilient - that is, classified as disadvantaged but able to achieve high performance.

A recent seminar at La Trobe University organised by Robert Manne, titled Education in Australia: The Struggle for Greater Equality, involved Carmen Lawrence, Teese and Dennis Altman. All were critical of funding to Catholic and independent schools. (Manne says a spokesman from the independent school sector had been invited to the seminar, making it three to one, but was unable to attend.)

Since the Gonski review was established more than two years ago the Fairfax press's editorial stance has been to attack non-government schools and to give priority to critics such as Jane Caro, Teese, Lawrence, Kenneth Davidson, and Trevor Cobbold.

Two pieces in last weekend's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age best illustrate this bias.

In the piece titled "No fair go at school: Gonski", those interviewed include Lawrence, Zyngier and Chris Bonnor, and the argument that socioeconomic background determines success or failure is repeated.

Research by Gary Marks of the Australian Council for Educational Research analysing the impact of socioeconomic background on performance across 30 countries was ignored; it concludes that "both between and within schools, differences in student performance are not largely accounted for by socioeconomic background".

Also ignored is research commissioned by the OECD, published in a report titled "Let's Read Them a Story!", which concludes that, regardless of socioeconomic background, parents who read to their preschool children bolster their chances of educational success.

The report says, "PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results show that even among families with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, reading books to young children is still strongly related to better performance when those children reach the age of 15."

The second piece, published in The Age and titled "The invisible backpack, and why it makes the education gap hard to close", also repeats the cultural-Left view of education and includes comment by Zyngier and Teese.

Luckily, we have a free media and independent universities but on issues like school funding cultural-Left group-think is evident and, as a result, debate and public discussion suffer.


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