Thursday, November 01, 2012

Prominent Union Apologist Sniffs Out Absurd School Reform ‘Re-segregation’ Motives

Her book "The Language Police" (2003) was a good critique of political correctness in school textbooks but she seems to be good at criticism only, with little to offer by way of genuine alternative ideas for the problems of America's schools.  Her latest wisdom could not be more tired:  “Our problem is poverty, not our schools.”   She is unusual in drifting Leftward in her later years.  One wonders if the  Lesbian relationship of her latter years has anything to do with that

Defending the educational status quo has become a lucrative business for Diane Ravitch. For one speech alone, she received an $8,869 honorarium from the Michigan Education Association, according to union financial documents.

String a few of those together each year and she’s well on her way to Randi Weingarten territory among the elite so-called “one percent.”

So as states continue to pass and implement sweeping educational reforms rooted in choice and competition, Ravitch has been traveling around the country defending teachers unions and government schools and collecting her loot.

But it appears she’s becoming a bit unhinged in the process.

Ravitch, who is 74, is now accusing those who want to create more school choice programs – which put parents and students in the driver’s seat – of really being motivated by a desire to re-segregate America.

That’s right. According to Ravitch and her allies, anyone who things American students deserve a few more educational options are really closet racists.

She writes this insulting nonsense in a blog titled, “The Real Goal of Reformers: Re-segregation?”

“Anthony Cody has a stunning article this week about what is happening in Louisiana. The expansion of vouchers and charters will facilitate the re-segregation of the schools, he predicts.

“The freight train of reform (aka privatization) is running full blast in that unfortunate state. Arne Duncan will be there any day now to congratulate Governor Jindal on the progress made in ‘reforming’ the schools.

“And lots of thanks to the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and Teach for America for turning the clock back to 1950 and calling it ‘reform.’”

Ravitch either has a growing case of desperation or advanced senility, and neither one is good, except for groups like the MEA that pay big money to get her to say whatever they want to hear.


Teachers 'to blame' for lack of ambition among pupils -- says British Liberal politician

There's some truth in that but liberal restrictions on school discipline are a prior factor

Teachers are encouraging many children to believe that top exam grades, places at elite universities and professional careers are all beyond them, an education minister has said.

David Laws attacked the “depressingly low expectations” that he said are holding back children in many parts of the country and preventing them from getting ahead in life.

Even in relatively affluent parts of the country, schools and careers advisers are failing to encourage children to “reach for the stars,” instead pushing them to settle for middling exam results and careers with “medium-ranked” local employers, he said.

Mr Laws’s remarks to The Daily Telegraph are his first comments on education policy since his return to the Government in last month’s reshuffle.

“Teachers, colleges, careers advisers have a role and a responsibility to aim for the stars and to encourage people to believe they can reach the top in education and employment,” Mr Laws said.  “That’s not happening as much as it should do at the moment.”

Mr Laws, a Liberal Democrat and close ally of Nick Clegg, has ministerial posts at the Department for Education and the Cabinet Office and holds the right to attend Cabinet meetings.

The Lib Dems are pushing measures to increase social mobility, making it easier for people to get ahead regardless of their background.

Alan Milburn, the Coalition’s social mobility adviser, last week criticised policies such as the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance that was paid to pupils from low-income homes.

Mr Laws, a Cambridge University graduate, said that social mobility was not simply a question of wealth, arguing that even children from comfortable backgrounds are being held back by low expectations and a lack of ambition.

The minister, a former City banker who represents Yeovil in Somerset, said many children are effectively being taught that high-flying careers are not possible for them.

“Even in my own constituency, Yeovil, which would not be regarded as one of the deprivation blackspots of the country, most young people would regard going into investment banking as almost leaving the country, because it’s a different world,” he said.

“They will often be encouraged to think it is beyond them.”

In many parts of the country outside London, the minister suggested, children without family connections believe that careers such as banking, law and journalism are closed.

Instead of aiming high, “there are too many young people who think that the two or three big employers in their local town are the limit of their aspiration”.

Low career expectations can lead children to get lower exam grades than they could achieve, he suggested. “If your expectation in a school is that you only need a modest set of qualifications because that’s all you need to work for the local employer, which you think is the best job you could do, that’s a huge cap not just on social mobility, it is a cap on achievement in examinations,” he said.

“If you think it is really important to get three A*s to get into Cambridge and the City, you will be much more motivated than if you think you just need three Cs to go into the local medium-ranked employer.”

As well as telling teachers and schools to raise children’s expectations, Mr Laws said that employers from “more privileged” industries should also do more to encourage applications from people of all backgrounds.

Mr Milburn last week produced figures showing that the 20 per cent of teenagers from privileged backgrounds are seven times more likely to get into top universities than the poorest 40 per cent.

Some campaigners want universities to change their entry policies to admit poor children with lower grades than their better-off counterparts. That is rejected by many Conservative MPs, who say that ministers should focus more on improving the performance of the state schools attended by poorer children.

Mr Laws suggested that some teachers in state schools are still discouraging pupils from targeting places at Oxbridge and other top-ranked universities.

“I still find, talking to youngsters across the country, the same depressing low expectations I found when I went to university in the 1980s,” he added.

“The students you met, who were often the first students from their school who had been to Oxbridge, said they were often encouraged by teachers and others to think that Oxford or Cambridge were not the places for them and they should think of somewhere more modest.”

Mr Laws last week returned to his former employer, JP Morgan, which is donating £1.1 million to Achieve Together, a charity that helps state schools attract and retain highly qualified teachers.


Stupid Leftist government in Australia wants to pressure more High School students to study Asian languages

There is a reason why so many high school students drop out of Asian languages - they're just too hard.  And anyone who knew anything about the matter would have told PM Gillard that  -- if she had asked

Language learners of Australia, let's be honest: we are not going to become a nation of Mandarin speakers overnight as Prime Minister Gillard would like us to be.

As for her Asian white paper and its lofty goals for language studies and Australian high-schoolers, I wonder if we are thinking this through enough?

We're making a mistake if we think we can coerce high school children into learning Asian languages because, frankly, they are difficult for children with an untrained Anglo ear.

As Michael Maniska, the principal of Sydney's International Grammar School, told Lateline on Monday night, when you start learning a European language you can expect to have to invest 600 to 700 hours before you attain the basic level of proficiency. To attain that same level of proficiency in Mandarin or Japanese you have to invest 2100 to 2200 hours, according to the US Foreign Service Institute.

This is where the latest white paper on a cultural and economic interchange with Asia falls flat.

Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language in their teens or later, no matter how enthusiastic they are, knows how hard it is to learn it "cold". That is, without exposure as a preschooler.

For anyone over the age of 12, the intonations, grammar, sentence structures and colloquialisms of another language seem like an Everest to master. That's why you see older people maintaining accents even if they've emigrated in their teens.

This learning hurdle is as true for high school students as it is for business people who are told by their bosses to buy a few language tapes (or search the internet) to learn some of the lingo for that overseas posting.

In the past, for English speakers, it's been relatively easy to learn a foreign language. European languages such as French (the dominant diplomatic pidgin), Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German, shared the same Roman alphabet and many words. Those wanting to learn Greek or Russian had greater hardships, as the alphabets were different, though there were a few strands of familiarity that still crept through, both in alphabets and in word usage.

But Chinese and Japanese both use different alphabets and very subtle juxtaposition of symbols to create nuances in their written languages. This subtlety also extends to the tonal nature of their pronunciation and vocabulary, where it's much easier to make mistakes than in the European languages. That is why high school students drop out of Asian languages - if offered - at a high rate. They're just too hard. It is rare that an 18-year-old without an Asian background will sit the HSC in an Asian language.

I'm bilingual - German and English - and they're the only languages that remain imprinted on my mind.

In young adulthood I learnt three other languages. Two, French and Spanish, proved easy for pronunciation but difficult for grammar. Both dropped away without any use.

There were two real killers learning as a teenager: grammar and pronunciation. For grammar, you had to get your head around German sentences like: "Ich bin zu den Laeden gestern gegangen." (I have to the shops yesterday went.) For the Romance languages, you have elaborate subjunctives.

Although translation devices will never replace a competent, on-the-ground teacher who acts as a translator and mentor, there are both good and bad ones at the touch of a mouse or an app. You just have to choose the right one.

So is it realistic to make Asian language learning a priority for our schools? The sentiment's fine; it's just very impractical. Besides, we have a great pool of people in Australia who already speak so many Asian languages due to our diversity. Just hop on a western Sydney train line and you'll hear them speaking their native tongue.

Business people who travel from Shanghai to Singapore, or from Tokyo to Taipei will tell you time and again that unless you're on the pointy end of trade, people in Asia won't want you to practise your dodgy local language skills on them: they want to practise their YouTube versions of English on you.

You're there to talk business or science or education, so stick to what you're good at, unless you have the magic ear.

A vision for an exchange between Australia and Asia is laudable. Where curiosity and a greater cross-cultural understanding thrives, the economy will automatically follow. Pushing it with stumbling Mandarin-speakers is just an artificial construct.

Spending billions on languages and scrambling to find the teachers isn't the answer for Australia. Spending billions on better, egalitarian education, and fostering research beyond digging holes in the ground, is.


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