Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mathematics 'too hard for students and dons': British universities drop subject from science courses

Competition from the Far East is a standard boogeyman in education debates but in this case it is real. There is huge mathematical talent in China and Chinese mathematicians are already to be found in universities just about everywhere

It's not an entirely new problem either. My mathematical talents are slim to the point of invisibility but in the large Sociology Dept. where I worked during my academic career it usually fell to me to teach statistical analysis! Nobody else was willing or able to do it. Yet statistical analysis is an integral part of sociological research

Universities are dropping maths from degree courses because students – and their lecturers – cannot cope with it, a report warns today. Decades of substandard maths education in schools has led to a ‘crisis’ in England’s number skills, threatening the future of the economy, it says.

Universities are being forced to dumb down degree courses requiring the use of maths, including sciences, economics, psychology and social sciences. Students are unable to tackle complex problems and their lecturers struggle to teach them anyway, it is claimed.

The reputation of the country’s universities and graduates is now under threat, according to the report, ‘Solving the Maths Problem’, published by the education lobby group RSA.

After looking at maths education in other countries, the authors found that lessons and qualifications in English schools were ‘not fit for purpose’.

They say that classes fail to stretch the brightest while leaving weaker pupils ill-equipped to use maths for work and family budgeting, and warn of a growing knock-on effect on universities.

‘English universities are sidelining quantitative and mathematical content because students and staff lack the requisite confidence and ability,’ the report says, adding that English universities are ‘not keeping pace’ with international standards.

Some universities are no longer advertising the level of maths needed to study particular subjects for fear of putting off applicants, the report warns.

It adds: ‘Recent research suggests that universities are marginalising mathematical content in the delivery of degree courses because English students are not capable of studying it.’

The report by the RSA – formally called the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – suggests that all students should be required to study maths until the age of 18, with the introduction of sixth-form qualifications such as ‘Maths for Citizenship’. England is just one of a handful of developed nations that fail to educate pupils in maths until that age, it says.

Only 15 per cent of youngsters study the subject past 16, aside from GCSE candidates taking resits to boost their grades.

The report also backs the introduction of a ‘double award’ maths GCSE, with one section concentrating on maths for everyday life and the other covering formal maths such as algebra and geometry.

‘Mathematics knowledge and qualifications are increasingly important gateways to further and higher education, for crucial life-skills and in order to respond to economic change,’ it says. ‘But the way mathematics is taught and assessed in England has not always kept pace with these changes or with the needs of learners and has left one in four adults functionally innumerate.’


Difficult to fire bad teachers in California too

Only the utterance of a racial slur got rid of her

The La Canada Unified school board in California voted unanimously — 5-0 — to fire a high school math teacher accused of calling a student “Jew boy.” The same teacher was also said to have mocked a disabled student’s speech impediment in June of 2011.

Now, dismissal proceedings for Gabrielle Leko are slated to go into effect Feb. 27.

After initial complaints about the teacher were filed, a substitute was assigned to Leko’s classroom in the fall so that another adult was always present.

KTLA adds:

Then, in December, the board recommended the district reach a settlement with Leko that could lead to her leaving the district. The board also decided to give students the option to leave her class. Fifteen students in her pre-calculus class and two in her advanced-placement calculus class chose to leave. Board president Scott Tracy told the La Canada Valley Sun that a settlement could still happen before Feb. 27. “The board will continue to peruse all options, including a settlement that would result in the employee’s separation from the district at the end of the current academic year,” Tracy said.

On the website RateMyTeachers Leko garners an average overall score, but some of the low scored-reviews, issued by disillusioned students, shed light on just what has been going on in the shamed teacher’s classroom, as well as insight into her mindset. Some of the negative reviews are reprinted below, several dating as far back as 2004:

The thing that makes Mrs. Leko a bad teacher is the fact that she will not answer questions. If you ask her to do a problem on the board she’l refuse and respond with a torturingly vague answer “Think about it,“ or ”Its all in the vocabulary.” Sometimes she’ll just make you feel stupid and inadequate. I have always loved math up until now, but she has made me despise it. She does not teach either, simply tells us to look at examples and scribbles on the bored. Needs to learn how to explain things

Extremely unhelpful, and rude to an incredible point, insists on insulting and bringing to light in front of everyone the shortcomings of each person.

One of the worst teachers at LCHS. Very biased. Hates Armenians, Jews, girls,parents in general, etc.

Prejudiced and raciest teacher, should not be teaching. does not fallow any rules as a teacher puts students down, doesn’t help struggling students

By far the worst teacher I’ve experienced in however many years of math. She intimidates students, points out ALL of their flaws (ex. if she doesn’t like their name, she will make a point to embarrass the student in front of the class.)

She has a terrible reputation for incredibly valid reasons. Rude to her students, very unaccomadating to personal needs and/or learning styles (everything has to be done her way), and on top of all this, a terrible teacher strictly in the sense of her instruction. Worst teacher I have ever had to LCHS. I’m a straight-A student.

I don’t hate many people, and I hate Mrs. Leko. She is so spiteful and…well, mean. She’s just mean. It took me a while before my self-esteem healed.

It seems dismissal proceedings for Ms. Leko should have commenced years ago. Why she has been allowed to remain in her position for as long as she has remains a mystery.

(Editors note: There are some grammatical errors in the student’s reviews published above. To keep their comments true to their original form, they have not been edited for grammar or spelling).


Australia: Negligent education bureaucrats in NSW hit disabled children

AN investigation into the debacle that left hundreds of disabled students without school transport has blamed senior bureaucrats at the NSW Department of Education, but cleared Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.

Former director-general of education Ken Boston today handed his report into the bungle to Premier Barry O'Farrell, who said it demonstrated a "systemic breakdown" within the department.

On the first day of the school year, 740 disabled students were left without transport, after operators pulled out of some runs at the last minute because of complaints over a new payment system.

Mr Boston's report is scathing of the department's handling of the operators' complaints. He says the department repeatedly failed to tell Mr Piccoli that some students could be left without transport, even though it had known since October there was a risk that would happen.

"The prevailing culture seems to have been one of telling senior officers, and even the director-general and the minister, what it was thought they wanted to hear, not what they needed to know," the report says.

"I criticise the Deputy Director-General, Finance and Infrastructure and the Director of Finance Shared Services for failing to deliver this $80 million program of vital importance to the most vulnerable children in NSW, and their parents.

"They have damaged the reputation of the Department of Education and Communities in the opinion of the transport operators, the community and the NSW Government." Mr Boston recommended disciplinary action be taken against both senior education officials.

Mr O'Farrell, who received the report at 11am (AEDT), said he was angered by the report's findings. "What the report details is a systemic breakdown in the Department of Education and Communities in relation to this transport scheme for children with disabilities," he said in Sydney.

"As I read the report I got increasingly angry at what was clearly a lack of focus by the department on the needs of those children and their families. "I have asked the Director-General of Education and Communities to implement the recommendations and advise me what action will be taken against the two senior staff members about which Dr Boston made specific recommendations of disciplinary action."

The State Opposition has demanded the sacking of Mr Piccoli, saying he should have acted when he was told there were problems with the contract last year. However, Mr O'Farrell defended his minister, saying his department had failed to advise him about the potential debacle despite repeated requests for information.

"Mr Piccoli and his staff have at all times sought to handle this as is appropriate," he said.

Mr Piccoli said he was angry that he didn't get the sort of advice that he should have been getting from the department. "I asked all of the questions I should have asked," he said. "I should have been given better advice and more accurate advice so that this problem could have been averted. "The advice that was given to me was insufficient, wrong.

"The Boston report clearly says that the department have let me down and the Government down, but have most importantly let those parents down of those students who were affected on the first day of school."


Friday, February 10, 2012

Sex Smears and the Rule of Law at Yale

The university has tarnished a student's reputation, and its own

The case of former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt provides additional evidence, as if more were needed, that our leading colleges and universities have lost their way.

Controversy erupted on Jan. 26, when the New York Times tarnished the reputation of Yale's star football player. According to reporter Richard Pérez-Peña, Mr. Witt, a finalist for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, did not withdraw from the scholarship competition in November because, as he claimed at the time, he preferred to lead his team against Harvard in "The Game" instead of flying to Atlanta for his scheduled Rhodes interview. Rather, according to Mr. Pérez-Peña, the Rhodes committee, having "learned through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault," suspended his candidacy until such time as Yale provided a letter re-endorsing it.

Mr. Witt has denied the charge, and the Times story has been harshly criticized. The Times reported the existence of a confidential accusation of sexual assault despite not knowing the name of the accuser or the content of the complaint. It relied on a half-dozen anonymous sources, all of whom were violating institutional confidentiality policies. And it highlighted a couple of minor infractions by Mr. Witt earlier in his college years, slyly suggesting that he had a propensity for lawbreaking.

The complaint lodged against Mr. Witt was part of a new system for dealing with sexual-assault accusations at Yale. The school put the system in place at least partly in response to an investigation by the Department of Education stemming from allegations in early 2011 that Yale maintains a campus atmosphere hostile to women. Under the new system, the Times reported, Mr. Witt's accuser chose to file an informal complaint, which does not involve a full investigation or a finding of guilt or innocence.

But the Times and many others who have pounced on a murky tale about a star athlete seem oblivious to the larger story. That is the erosion of due process at Yale and throughout American higher education, and the alliance of government policy and academic dogma that fuels it.

On April 4, 2011, Assistant Secretary Russlyn Ali, who heads the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), sent a 19-page "Dear Colleague" letter to colleges and universities across the country. The letter ostensibly was meant to clarify the schools' obligations under Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at educational institutions receiving federal funding. Schools that fail to comply with OCR directives risk the loss of government dollars. For top research institutions that amounts to hundreds of millions per year.

Garbed in the rhetoric of equality, with dubious data about the incidence of sexual assault on campus and misstatements about the law concerning sexual-misconduct complaints, the OCR letter tells colleges and universities precisely what they must do to bring their campus grievance procedures in compliance with Department of Education requirements.

Such proceedings may involve allegations of rape, a crime for which a defendant in the criminal-justice system can be sentenced to a decade or more in prison. Despite the high stakes, the OCR insisted that universities may not use a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, characteristic of the criminal law, or even the intermediate standard of "clear and convincing evidence." They must instead adopt the lowest of standards, or in the OCR's words, "a preponderance of the evidence" (which translates as more likely than not to be guilty).

In addition, the OCR letter "strongly discourages" cross-examination of the accuser. The OCR recommends that schools offer an appeals process for the accused. But if they do so, it requires that the complainant too be allowed an appeal. This flies in the face of the notion, deeply rooted in liberal Western jurisprudence, that subjecting the accused to a second trial for the same offense violates fundamental fairness.

It is outrageous but not surprising that little protest has been heard from faculty around the country. Some have succumbed to the poorly documented contention that campuses are home to a plague of sexual assault. Some are spellbound by the extravagant claim championed more than two decades ago by University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon that America is a "male supremacist society" in which women are rarely capable of giving meaningful consent to sex.

Rather than call it an "informal process," it would be better to characterize the system to which Patrick Witt was subjected by Yale's "University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct" as undue process. Yale's promise of confidentiality to Mr. Witt turned out to be worthless. Yale also oversaw a grievance procedure concerning the serious accusation of sexual assault that nevertheless formally excluded a full investigation (which, according to Mr. Witt, he requested). So Yale left the charge against him hanging in the air in a university environment in which students, faculty and administrators casually equate accusations of wrongdoing with findings of guilt.

The Patrick Witt case, which is not atypical, reflects more than the decline of due process on campus. It also exhibits a failure of liberal education. At its best, university education has deteriorated into little more than random forays into the sciences, social sciences and humanities. But traditionally, and for good reason in a democracy, liberal education at its heart involved instruction in the principles of freedom.

If Yale and other institutions across the country were fulfilling their promise to educate students, then their faculties would teach that riding roughshod over due process shows ignorance of or contempt for the rule of law. Professors would be teaching that the presumption of innocence is rooted in a commitment to treating individuals as ends in themselves and not as a means to advancing some social goal or another, even if that goal is given the name of equality or justice. And students would be learning that our established and legitimate justice system does not presume guilt, because to do so is to fail to appreciate the limits of human knowledge and the propensity of those who wield power to abuse it.

The need to restore due process on campus—and in the directives of the federal government—is urgent.


More Orwellian Justice at Yale--This Time Against a Professor

Believe it or not, there is at least one person on the Yale campus who has received less due process than Patrick Witt, the former college quarterback and Rhodes scholarship applicant whose reputation has been effectively destroyed by Yale and the New York Times.

That information came last Tuesday in an e-mail from Yale president Richard Levin celebrating the "comprehensive, semi-annual report of complaints of sexual misconduct and related remedial actions" produced by Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler. As already noted, the Spangler Report explained the Orwellian procedures under which Patrick Witt was investigated or, rather, not investigated. Most of the report described the undergraduate students who, like Witt, had been subjected to the "informal complaint" procedure, in which limited or no investigation occurs and in which the accuser retains all but total control of the process.

One of the Spangler cases, however, involved a complaint by a female professor against a male colleague. Here is the report's description of the procedure that Yale employed: "A faculty member sought resolution of an informal complaint alleging that a male faculty member had sexually harassed her. The complainant requested confidentiality. The Chair of the UWC [University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct] met with the complainant and her department chair and they identified measures to support and protect the complainant and monitor the respondent."

According to Spangler, then, after a complaint was lodged against a Yale professor, a meeting to discuss the matter occurred between university administrators, the accusing professor, and both professors' department chair. But the accused professor was never informed of the existence of the complaint, much less given a chance to defend himself. As a result, somewhere on the Yale campus today, a department chair and members of the administration have set up "measures" to "monitor" an unknowing member of the Yale faculty. Big Brother comes to New Haven.

In his Wall Street Journal article, Peter Berkowitz commented on a central irony of cases like Witt's--that academics, who by tradition have strongly defended due process, too often have remained silent to the erosion of civil liberties on today's campuses. As Berkowitz observed, "It is outrageous but not surprising that little protest has been heard from faculty around the country. Some have succumbed to the poorly documented contention that campuses are home to a plague of sexual assault. Some are spellbound by the extravagant claim championed more than two decades ago by University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon that America is a 'male supremacist society' in which women are rarely capable of giving meaningful consent to sex."

There's little indication that Yale faculty members are troubled at what happened to Witt--who, after all, lacks a profile that would be appealing to most in today's race/class/gender-dominated professoriate. But as the Spangler Report makes clear, the university's unusual conception of due process can just as easily be targeted against the professors themselves. Indeed, President Levin has all but promised as much: "The new procedures and services we have put in place are necessary, but they are not sufficient."

Perhaps a recognition that they could be the next Patrick Witt will cause some Yale professors to start worrying about the erosion of due process rights on the New Haven campus.


Let little kids be kids

Britain requires that a demanding "curriculum" be taught to pre-schoolers but there are good reasons to condemn an obsession with early learning, depriving children of fun and formative skills

This is a tale of two sisters. The elder sister, who is now nine, went to nursery at six months (before she could even sit up unaided) and announced, thoughtfully, aged two years and two months: “I want to go to the Mosque and pray to Allah” – which came as a surprise to me, and an even bigger surprise to the parish priest.

As she was my first child, and hence the rather put-upon repository of all-my-hopes-and-dreams, I spent anguished, sleepless nights worrying about her progress and fretting over milestones. So I felt relieved and vindicated to see that, thanks to her early education, she has marvellous social skills, confidence and a lively, interested mind.

The other sister, who is three and a half, is pottering about the kitchen singing snatches of Les Misérables, blowing raspberries and demanding a biscuit as I type.

Flinty exponents of the “nappy curriculum” might observe that her penmanship isn’t quite up to the Lindisfarne Gospels yet, that she jumbles her colours (albeit deliberately, to tease me) and her childcare provision falls into the recklessly relaxed, “pillar-to-post” category.

As she was my second child, she has a much easier time of it as I am far too busy filling and emptying the washing machine to calibrate her fine motor skills on a daily basis.

So I am mightily relieved and vindicated to see that, thanks to her unstructured play, she possesses marvellous social skills, confidence and a lively, interested mind. Gosh. Who would have guessed? Well, for a start, the expert authors of an impassioned letter to The Daily Telegraph, urging a rethink on the “schoolification” of children’s early years.

Academics and authors ranging from Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield, writer Philip Pullman and childcare guru Penelope Leach have warned that controversial educational reforms are robbing young children of the opportunity and, more alarmingly still, the ability to play.

The compulsory nappy curriculum that all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are supposed to follow places too much emphasis on formal learning and the three Rs, they claim, and they are going so far as to set up a new group, Early Childhood Action, to push for an alternative, less stifling curriculum.

“Every early-years teacher in the state and the independent sector has told me how much they wish the Government wouldn’t treat childhood as a race,” says Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and a signatory to the letter.

“Schools have become sausage factories as it is, and putting little children into the grinder earlier and earlier doesn’t make it any better.”

It’s a disturbing image, but there’s a groundswell of opinion that the Government needs to be shocked into taking action. Although the Coalition is reducing the number of curricular targets, it hasn’t dispensed with them all.

“The first years of a child’s life are crucial in their development and the Audit Commission said just last week that the introduction of the 'nappy curriculum’ hasn’t made any difference to children’s academic attainment by the age of seven.”

Quite so. My elder daughter, Lily, passed through nursery before the Labour government’s Early Years Foundation Stage became mandatory, in 2008. I’m very glad she missed it; as far as I could tell, there was quite enough structure in place already, without requirements to achieve multiple academic targets (69 to be precise) by the age of five.

Without wishing to sound like an old hippy, isn’t childhood supposed to be about fun? I mean, if you can’t smear paint in your hair and babble a load of old nonsense when you’re two years old, when can you?

I’m no educational consultant, but even I see no advantage to insisting children learn to read before they’re five. On the contrary, it’s downright harmful to force-feed them phonics when they ought to be balancing on walls, throwing balls and making weapons out of Stickle Bricks.

Some, of course, take to books early, like eager little ducklings to water, but you can always tell the ones who have been hot-housed by pushy parents as they tend (like forced rhubarb) to be pale and anaemic and not nearly as rosy and characterful as those reared, as nature intended, in the fresh air.

I share Palmer’s exasperation and frustration that the unhappy nappy curriculum appears to have been of no empirical benefit whatsoever. One in 10 boys leaves primary school with a reading age of that of a seven-year-old, or worse. Figures released last December revealed that four in 10 pupils seen as high fliers at the age of seven are struggling to reach their potential by the time they sit their end-of-school tests aged 11 – which amounts to 50,000 bright children effectively being failed by the education system.

Oh, and we continue to slip down the league of every international education table. I find it particularly vexing to note that all work and no play makes Jack plunge from 17th to 25th in reading ability. How is that supposed to tally with toddler targets? In the Scandinavian countries, formal education doesn’t begin until seven, and they still outstrip us.

Ironically, alongside the disproportionate importance placed on early academic targets, today’s battery-reared children are losing their independence.

Early-years educationalists report that the youngest pupils are unable to put their coats on, change for PE or go to the lavatory without assistance (62 per cent of teachers say they have seen a rise in toileting “accidents”). The blame for this has been placed firmly at the feet of “busy” parents who haven’t taught the most basic life skill of all to their offspring. How can any mother be that preoccupied, I wonder. And whatever happened to the social stigma of tweenagers in nappies?

Possibly more salient is that changes in legislation mean that headteachers can no longer stipulate children must be toilet-trained before starting school, so there’s less incentive to concentrate the minds of Britain’s more laissez-faire parents.

I wonder if Education Secretary Michael Gove ever bumps into England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, in the corridors of Whitehall? Obviously, not recently, or she might have given him an earful about her guidance, published last July, that under-fives should exercise for at least three hours a day.

According to NHS figures, nearly a quarter of children aged four and five are overweight or obese. By 2050, that number could rise to 63 per cent. Our national preoccupation – and the middle classes are more guilty of this than most – with exam results and grades has led to the skewed situation whereby achievements (at least, the only achievements that matter) are all in the mind.

“Emotional and behavioural difficulties are on the rise, communication skills are suffering and children aren’t being physically challenged and interacting with each other, because nurseries are expected to sit them down and crack on with formal work,” says Palmer.

“As long as you talk to your children, sing songs, read books and let them run about outside, then you are laying the foundations for learning later in life.”

Sometimes it’s as if the education system is being run by paranoid first-time parents, excruciatingly fixated on measuring performance and obtaining early results (by any means necessary) rather than on bringing up healthy, happy, enthusiastic youngsters. I used to be a Newbie too, so I know whereof I speak. But now I have two children, and, accordingly, a sense of perspective. And let’s just say that the most magical moments of my early childhood weren’t spent at a desk.

Which is why I think it’s high time politicians took their shoes and socks off, wiggled their toes in the sandpit and asked: “What on earth are we playing at?”


Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Fight to Reform Education

Would any concerned parent willingly send their children to an average public school in this country if there was an option available?

The word “concerned” in the question should be a tipoff that the answer is no. Still, states, localities and the federal government continue to dump billions of our hard-earned tax dollars into a system that is rotten to its core.

Don’t think things are that bad? A student in Washington state named Austin took a video camera into his school’s cafeteria and asked students basic questions about U.S. history. The answers, although funny, are pathetic.

Progressives say it’s because teachers are forced to “teach to the test” – meaning standardized tests designed to measure knowledge of important topics such as English, science and math. Lee White, executive director of the National History Coalition, told the Huffington Post, "They've narrowed the curriculum to teach to the test. History has been de-emphasized. You can't expect kids to have great scores in history when they're not being taught history." That would hold some water, of course, if those students who failed at history were excelling at other topics. But they’re not.

President Obama has attempted to address the problem of our failing education system in each of his three State of the Union addresses, but his solution, as always, is only to spend more money. But if money was the problem, we’d be leading the world in education. We are not.

Progressives will tell you we’re spending a lower percentage of our GDP on education than other countries, which is true. But when it comes to per-pupil spending – the measure that matters most – we’re near the top.

Our education spending has skyrocketed. Our test scores have not.

A new study by Harvard researchers (yes, Harvard) found class size, the oft-cited straw man used by progressives to urge the hiring of more union teachers, essentially doesn’t matter. But real facts, real evidence rarely plays a role when it comes to progressives pushing their agenda, so this won’t matter either.

If meaningful reform is to come, and that’s a big “if,” it’s going to come from the state level.

One person actually trying to bring change to public education is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The Wall Street Journal says Gov. Jindal “wants to create America’s largest school voucher program, broadest parental choice system and toughest teacher accountability regime – all in one legislative session.”

School choice and a voucher program that allows students and parents to choose any school that best suits their needs have been proven winners in the fight to improve education quality. They’ve also been the top target of teachers’ unions because families often choose private schools where the teaching staff is not unionized.

Gov. Jindal believes that every child deserves an equal opportunity in education, but that the current system doesn't allow for it. Emboldened by what has happened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Jindal is now pushing for statewide education reform.

Educational choice is one of the few good things to come out of the storm, which laid waste to dozens of the nation’s worst public schools. Instead of rebuilding the old, failing system, the state transformed most of the schools in Orleans Parish into autonomous charter schools.

Student achievement has improved dramatically, and in a poll last summer by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, two-thirds of parents in the city said they prefer the new system over the old one, and 98 percent said choice should be part of any future reforms in the state. The biggest challenge has been how to squeeze more students into the most successful of the charters.

Gov. Jindal’s plan would allow students in failing schools statewide to take the roughly $8,500 the state spends on their education to any accredited school they wish. The threatened loss of money would apply market forces to bad schools that routinely fail without consequence. Needless to say, unions representing teachers don’t like the idea.

Teachers’ unions also aren’t crazy about the governor’s idea to reform tenure, the mechanism that makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. His plan would grant it to teachers rated “highly effective,” but deny it to those who don’t make the grade – no matter how long they’ve taught.

Also along those lines, Jindal’s plan also would end the practice of “last in, first out” – the laying off of young teachers simply because they haven’t been on the job as long as others. This would allow schools to keep effective teachers and rid itself of bad ones – which research indicates does make a significant difference in students’ educational achievement. These reforms make sense to anyone without a vested interest in the status quo, meaning union bosses and progressives.

Michael Walker Jones, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said of the school choice plan, “If I'm a parent in poverty I have no clue because I'm trying to struggle and live day to day.” Jindal and choice advocates could not have written a more tone-deaf line for their opponents if they’d tried.

Progressives think everyone but them is simply too dumb and/or distracted to negotiate school choice. You “have no clue,” but they, helpfully, know what is best for you and your children – as evidenced by the state of public education in America today. It’s the philosophy behind every progressive policy idea – from education to “financial reform” to ObamaCare. It is rare and refreshing to hear one of them actually say it.

Jones, in working to stop needed reforms, gave reformers their greatest arrow in a quiver full of arrows tipped with facts, studies and statistics. As Jindal continues his push to improve education in his state, there will be more “gaffes” of this sort. Progressives aren’t used to being openly challenged on such a large scale. Gov. Jindal is. For the sake of Louisiana’s students, let’s hope he wins.


Student Loan Debt Woes Fuel Bankruptcy

A new survey found that 81% of bankruptcy attorneys say that potential clients with student-loan debt have increased either "significantly" or "somewhat" in the last three to four years.

"This could be the next debt bomb," said William Brewer., president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, the group that conducted the survey.

Among the other findings: Nearly two out of five bankruptcy attorneys have seen student-loan client cases increase 25% to 50%. Twenty-three percent of bankruptcy attorneys have seen these cases jump 50% to 100%.

The sharp recession and historically sluggish economic and jobs recovery have taken their toll.

But the numbers are another sign that major troubles may lie ahead for higher education. Critics contend that we are in the middle of a "higher education bubble," meaning that increasingly the value of a college degree does not match the rising cost.

As more and more parents and students come to realize that, eventually the bubble will pop and many institutions of higher learning will suffer serious financial strain.

The cost of a college degree has grown at three times the rate of inflation since the late 1970s, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of this has been fueled by government subsidies of tuition, which shield parents and students from the true price of tuition. The subsidies create greater demand for college degrees, which in turn cause tuition prices to rise.

Student-loan debt, now totalling $1 trillion, has surpassed credit-card debt. About 80% of that is federal student-loan debt, while only 20% is private debt.

According to the Education Department, student-loan defaults climbed to 8.8% in 2011, up from 7% in 2010. Enough default would eventually mean that student loan money could be sharply curtailed, harming the bottom line of colleges and universities.

Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center and the Chronicle of Higher Education yielded some unsettling results. In a survey of the general public, 48% of those who were not in college cited cost as the reason. Seventy-five percent disagreed with the statement that in general college costs were affordable for most people. In terms of providing value for students and their parents, 42% felt that colleges and universities were doing a fair job and 15% felt they were doing a poor job.

Another survey of college presidents found that 38% felt that higher education was heading in the wrong direction.

It also appears that parents are no longer saving for their kids' college tuition. 529 college-savings plans, in which the interest and distributions are tax free, showed a $354 million outflow in the third quarter of 2011. That means that while money is being withdrawn to cover college costs, little new money is going in to the accounts.

Finally, law schools may be the canaries in the coal mine. As of January, law school applications had fallen 15% to ABA-approved schools vs. a year earlier.


Literacy in English schools at 'Dickensian-era levels' warns minister as classics are ignored

Dickensian levels of illiteracy still plague parts of England despite decades of increases in state spending on education, a minister declared yesterday.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said ‘shadows of Charles Dickens’s world’ persisted in the country’s poorest areas despite major social advances. Expectations of children moving through the school system were too ‘modest’, with teachers settling too often for a ‘good enough’ standard, he claimed.

The result was under-achievement by thousands of youngsters, with one in six still struggling to read fluently by the age of 11.

In a speech on the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth, Mr Gibb warned that, just as in Victorian times, literacy problems were ‘heavily orientated towards the poorest in our communities’. ‘We need – if you’ll forgive the Dickens pun – much greater expectations of children in reading,’ he added.

He also said pupils at primary school should be encouraged to read ‘complex’ books by authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl, while secondary pupils should read at least one Dickens novel during their teens.

Classic works of literature were being ignored, he warned, with tens of thousands of pupils gaining GCSEs in English literature without studying any books written before the 20th century.

More than 90 per cent of answers on novels in English literature papers were on the same three works – Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird. Out of more than 300,000 who took the country’s most popular paper last year, just 1,236 read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, 285 read Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd and 187 read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

‘Unfortunately, even when young people do wish to read, the exam system does not encourage them,’ Mr Gibb said. Despite a wide curriculum, ‘the English Literature GCSE only actually requires students to study four or five texts, including one novel’. He also claimed children in England were ‘falling out of love’ with reading.

A study of 65 developed nations ranked the UK at 47th for the number of children who read for pure enjoyment, he said. Some 40 per cent of pupils did not read for pleasure, against just 10 per cent in Kazakhstan and Albania.

Mr Gibb said the current target set for 11-year-olds at the end of primary school – that they reach level four in reading – was too ‘modest’. Youngsters should aspire to the elite level five, he said.

A survey of 500 employers by the Confederation of British Industry last year found that 42 per cent were dissatisfied with school-leavers’ basic skills, while army recruiting officers have warned that hundreds of would-be soldiers have been turned away for failing basic literacy and numeracy tests.

Mr Gibb’s speech came as he launched a national reading competition designed to encourage seven to 12-year-olds – especially boys – to read more fiction.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Sex Abuse at California Elementary School

(Los Angeles, California) Last week, two male teachers at Miramonte Elementary School made the news for alleged lewd behavior toward children.

Martin Bernard Springer, 49, faces charges for alleged fondling of seven-year-old students. Mark Berndt, 61, allegedly took pictures as he spoon-fed semen to blind-folded students.

Reportedly, a "vigorous and fair investigation" is in process.

Meanwhile, due to the nature and extent of the lewd conduct charges, Los Angeles Schools Superintendent John Deasy has announced that the entire staff of the 1,500-student school will be replaced.

Officials indicated that a drastic response is necessary to lift the cloud of suspicion on the school. Heh.

Swedish Officials Threaten to Fine Jewish Parents $2,400 Per Week for Homeschooling Kids

Sweden has always had a Fascist streak. See here. They had no qualms about trading with Hitler even during the war. A lot of Nazi tanks were built from Swedish iron

Chabad is a very strict Jewish movement so they will fight hard for tolerance of their teachings. And considering the number of Muslims now in Sweden, sending strict Jewish kids to a Swedish school could be very dangerous for them

But despite their claims of tolerance, the Swedish bureaucracy is very Leftist so is in fact very intolerant. Their social workers took a kid off an Indian family recently because they fed the kid with their hands. But that is what a billion Indians do. The Indian custom is to eat with your hands. They say they would not enjoy their food as much if they could not feel it!

Leftist racism is alive and well in Sweden

In Sweden [as in Germany both under Hitler and today], homeschooling is severely frowned upon. In fact, unless there’s a viable reason, it is virtually impossible for parents to educate their children at home. Now, Chabad-Lubavitch (Jewish) emissaries to Sweden have been threatened by city officials with thousands of dollars in fines for homeschooling their kids, according to the Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva 7. Instead, the local government in the city of Gothenburg is reportedly attempting to force the family to utilize the public school system.

School authorities came to the home of Rabbi Alexander Namdar and his wife Leah on Jan. 26 to serve the family with a notice, reports say. Four of the couple’s children are currently studying online at an international school. If the family does not comply and immediately begin to send them to government-run educational facilities, they will be fined the U.S. equivalent of $2,400 per week.

Homeschooling is virtually banned in the country, where it takes an “extraordinary” situation (illness, among others) to allow for the government to permit it. Religious reasons are not considered valid cause for homeschooling.

These regulations are bizarre to Americans, who have the freedom to educate their children at home, should they choose. In the case of the Namdar family, the case is especially odd, considering that the quality of the children’s education (a factor of consideration that likely contributes to the ban), as Arutz Sheva 7 notes, is stellar:

"The children’s education is not lacking by any means — and they are not the first in the family to have been educated at home. Six of the family’s 11 children also learned at home in their early years, and now live and study abroad at Jewish high schools, teaching seminaries and rabbinic colleges. All are pursuing careers in education." has more about the children’s studies:

"At their individual computers from 8:00 each morning to 1:15, five days a week, the children must master a full schedule of Judaic studies including proficiency in Hebrew. The afternoon is dedicated to English, Swedish, mathematics, geography, science, music, art, and gymnastics. All the children speak English, Swedish, and Yiddish fluently. They can read Hebrew by age 4 or 5, like other Orthodox Jewish children.

Their extra-curricular activities include community work with regular visits to the elderly, helping out with the Sunday Hebrew school classes for other Jewish children taught by their parents, and other educational activities. The online school also ensures the children benefit from a healthy social experience."

“We’re two parents fighting city hall for the right to give our children a Jewish education,” Leah said. Her husband echoed this sentiment. “This is a stain on the reputation of a country that takes pride in equality as a fundamental value,” Rabbi Namdar added.

The family’s lawyer, Richard Backenroth, is fighting back and appealing both the demand that they attend public school and the associated fine. According to Backenroth, this case will be extremely important to determining the nation’s commitment to religious freedom.

Aside from the fact that the family believes it should have the right to send its children where it so chooses, there is concern that anti-Semitism could be on the rise in Sweden. Even if this isn’t the case, the Namdar children are the only Orthodox kids in the city. To send them to a public school, Backenroth warns, could mean exposing them to a great deal of bullying and harassment.

The family is prepared, though, to face what they say could become ”the last battle against Communism,” as they fight to educate their children in the way they so choose.


Atheists Trying to Get ‘Bible Man’ Banned From Alabama Public School Assemblies

Some atheists in America seem to be doing their best to make themselves obnoxious. That could be counterproductive if they really want to persuade people to their way of thinking. I doubt that they do, however. I think that they are Leftists who just want to feel important

Atheists are clashing with public school officials in Scottsboro, Alabama, where there’s a heated debate going on over “Bible Man” and his monthly assemblies with public school children.

See, Bible Man isn’t a superhero (okay, maybe he is); he’s a story-teller. As you can imagine, it’s these stories — tales that come from the Christian Bible — that have non-believers up-in-arms.

About 35-years-ago, Bible Man began his ministry in the Alabama county. Now, decades later, it is his son, Horace Turner Jr., who is continuing the mission. Each month, he meets with elementary school children during the school day and leads them in assemblies that include Biblical stories.

Recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, claiming to represent a parent in the district, sent a five-page letter of complaint to officials. In it, the atheist group called for the Bible Man program to be removed from schools.

As a result of the complaint, on Jan. 30, a multitude of community members came together at a Jackson County school board meeting to support the continued presence of Bible Man in the school district. WAAY-TV has more about the event:

"It was a packed house. More than one hundred people showed up to make their voices heard. “We wanted our county to have an option for our children He’s been part of our county so long and our children appreciate and love it and we just feel that our children value it,” said concerned citizen Beverly Gilmer. While the board met, the people sang, prayed, and shared life testimonies.

To atheists’ dismay, after meeting with their lawyer, board members announced that they wouldn’t be banning Bible Man as requested. Those at the public event applauded the decision.

“We know it’s going to be a fight,” said superintendent Kenneth Harding. “But our constituents are pretty adamant about what they want for their children. Hopefully we can meet the law and keep the man, too.”

The FFRF, though, won’t be dissuaded. The group is planning to follow-up on its complaint. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization’s co-president, says that the decision not to ban Bible Man is “totally unacceptable.”

“We cannot put the power of religious interpretation in the hands of the Bible Man, the Quran Man or anyone else,” she continued. “We cannot offer indoctrinal classes in public schools. It’s disingenuous to say this does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.”

But Alabama state Sen. Shadrack McGill (R) has a different view. If parents don’t like Bible Man, he says they should consider homeschooling their children.

“We were established to be a godly nation, a Christian nation,” McGill said. “We need God in government. We need God in the public school. The more we trend away from God, the more we suffer – morally and spiritually.”

To respond to the atheists’ criticism, the district is looking into a set policy that would allow Bible Man to stay in schools, while still complying with Constitutional values. For the time being, Turner will not be taking his program into the North Sand Mountain School, where the complaint originated from a student’s parent.

There is currently no confirmation as to whether the program will continue in other district schools while this new policy is being set.


Australian parents camp out for enrolment in good school

Shades of Britain! Ascot is of course a high socioeconomic area. It's mainly the smarter and better behaved kids that make the school better

PARENTS are sleeping on the footpath outside a popular state school in order to gain an enrolment spot for their children. Dedicated mums and one dad camped on the footpath in tents and chairs outside Brisbane's Ascot State School on Sunday night, in an effort to secure their child a coveted place.

While students who reside within the school's catchment area are guaranteed enrolment, others must vie for the remaining spots.

Education Queensland's Chris Rider said applications for students not living within the catchment zone were accepted annually from 9am on the first Monday in February.

Parents started arriving from 4pm on Sunday for yesterday's sign-up day. One woman whose child graduated from Year 7 last year, was lining up to secure a place for her second child. "We only want the best for our kids," mother-of-two Kerry Douglas said.

New Farm resident Georgie Robson said she had left her children with her husband while she camped at the school. "One of the girls did a drive by. We'd planned to get here about 10 but someone rang us and said 'get your skates on there are already four people here'," she said. "We dropped everything and left our husbands with our kids. I've got four kids under four and just went 'sorry got to go'."

The women said the publication by The Courier-Mail of the school's audit results, which showed the high calibre of Ascot State School, had reinforced the desire to enrol their children there. Ascot State School received top marks in the audit data for the highest performing school. Ascot, along with Eagle Junction and Wilston, are Queensland's most sought after state primary schools.

The mothers said they had been planning the camp-out for a year.

Holly Westaway said she had calculated property choices in order to improve her children's chances of getting into the school. "We moved from the Gold Coast and rented in the area just so we could get our children into the school," Mrs Westaway said. "Then we bought a street away."

Mr Rider said schools, such as Ascot State School, had developed enrolment management plans in consultation with the P and C, parents and the school community. "When developing an enrolment management plan, schools allow for in-catchment growth during the school year and ensure an even spread of students across all year levels," he said.

The audits, set up as part of the State Government's school improvement agenda, were carried out at all 1257 state schools and education centres in 2010, with 460 schools reaudited in 2011.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Deep dishonor in America's Leftist academe

The Humanities faculty at Durham's Duke University have demonstrated bigoted anti-white attitudes that are perfectly mainstream among such faculty at American universities. An amazing total of 88 of them signed the now notorious condemnation of the innocent Duke lacrosse players before the players had even appeared in court, let alone been convicted. Their hatred of American society immediately blasted away the centuries of wisdom which said "innocent until proven guilty". And the wisdom of that maxim was shown when the players were found NOT guilty.

So what is still going on at Duke can reasonably be extrapolated to at least the Humanities departments of America's universities and colleges. And that is not pretty.

One of the Lacrosse players who was NOT accused by the pathetic Crystal Gail Mangum was nonetheless caught up in the blast and suspended by the university at roughly the same time as the other players. He is now suing. As you can read here, Ryan McFadyen is arguably the person who behaved with greatest honor in the whole affair. He certainly behaved with greater honor than prosecutor Nifong or Durham police -- who tried to suborn him into giving false evidence. There is another glimpse of his character here.

And when McFadyen refused to be intimidated into giving false evidence, Nifong and the police must have realized that he had put them into a dangerous position. Fabricating evidence is a crime with severe penalties. So they immediately went all-out to blacken his name. And that blackening still shows up today in that he has become something of a hate figure to many.

So he is now suing over that defamation and the illegal and improper behaviour of all concerned in the matter.

The trial has however produced some document disclosures that reveal the full depth of the moral depravity of senior Duke U officials. The documents contain bombshell emails from Duke President Brodhead and others suggesting that Duke's primary concern was to protect its PR, even if that meant sacrificing innocent students.

In documents submitted February 3 by Plaintiffs' lawyers, President Brodhead is quoted in an email sent very early in the case to other Duke staff:

“Friends: a difficult question is, how can we support our lacrosse players at a devastatingly hard time without seeming to lend aid and comfort to their version of the story? We can’t do anything to side with them, or even, if they are exonerated, to imply that they behaved with honor. The central admin can't, nor can Athletics.”

And Joe Alleva, then of the Duke Athletic Dept., also testified during his deposition on January 20, 2012, that he made positive and truthful statements about Plaintiffs and their teammates’ character at the University’s press conference on March 28, 2006.

Mr. Alleva testified that he was “crucified” immediately afterwards for making those statements by President Brodhead himself and in front of the Crisis Management Team, all of whom knew how “off-message” Mr. Alleva’s truthful, positive statements about plaintiffs were.

Alleva was the one who later told Duke lacrosse coach Pressler that "it's not about the truth" any longer; that the case was about the interest groups and the integrity (reputation) of the university. (Hence the title of coach Pressler's book, "It's not about the truth").

Or as Robert K. Steel (then chairman of Duke's Board of Trustees) said in explaining why Duke would not be defending its falsely-accused students: "Sometimes people have to suffer for the good of the organization". More details here

You would think that all the exposure of their moral depravity might have created some caution among Duke faculty about race-related matters. It does not appear to have done so. Just a few days ago I ran a large excerpt (scroll down) from an article which summarized the Arcidiacono affair. I will simply refer readers to there for a treatment of that little explosion of rage and hate. See HERE for the full article. Having their warped view of America threatened is intolerable to Duke's Leftist Mafia.

No Leftist will admit it of course but I cannot see why Duke should be regarded as atypical. I don't think there is anything especially poisonous in the air at North Carolina. I think we have seen coming to the surface at Duke what is smouldering away beneath the surface at most of America's universities and colleges. They are true heirs of Stalin and the ghastly Soviet Union. They are a nest of vipers.

More poisonous Leftism in academe: If you are accused of racism you must not defend yourself

To do so is "Retaliation" and that is an offense itself, apparently. It's a private university mentioned below so no first Amendment protection. A defamation action could succeed, though.

by lawyer HANS BADER

Keeping quiet can seal your fate if you are a professor facing a campus kangaroo court after being wrongly accused of racial or sexual “harassment” based on your classroom speech. Civil-liberties advocates, like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, rely heavily on adverse publicity to save wrongly accused professors from being disciplined and fired by campus disciplinary bodies. They put to good use Justice Brandeis’s insight that publicity deters wrongdoing and helps cure social evils. As Brandeis once noted, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

But as the plight of Lawrence Connell at Widener University School of Law illustrates, if an accused professor speaks up, resulting in possible adverse publicity for his accusers, he increasingly risks being punished for “retaliation” against them, even when harassment charge is baseless. Connell was convicted of “retaliation” because he and his lawyer denounced meritless racial harassment charges against him over his classroom teaching. Retaliation charges have become a growing threat to academic freedom, fueled by court rulings that provide murky and conflicting guidance as to what speech can constitute illegal “retaliation.”

Professor Connell was charged with racial harassment and removed from Widener’s campus because he discussed hypothetical crimes in his criminal law class, including the imaginary killing of the law school dean, Linda Ammons, who happens to be black. (He was also accused of harassment because he “expressed his philosophical concerns about the fairness and utility of hate crime” laws.)

But Connell did not select the dean for use in these hypotheticals because of her race, nor was there any evidence that he had a racist motive for doing so. (Comments are not “racial harassment” unless they target a victim based on her race, and are severe and pervasive, according to Caver v. City of Trenton, a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Widener.) Far from being a racist, Connell had spent 15 years successfully working to save the life of a black man who had been sentenced to die after he was convicted of murder by an all-white jury.

Leading law professors filed affidavits in support of Connell pointing out that discussing hypothetical crimes against law deans was standard practice for law professors who teach criminal law. George Washington University’s Orin Kerr noted that ”one of the common ways that law professors keep students mildly entertained in class is by posing hypotheticals involving their professors and the Dean. . . . students just love it. If you teach first-year criminal law,” “that means you spend a lot of time imagining your colleagues meeting horrible fates.” In Bauer v. Sampson, a court ruled that depicting a college official’s imaginary death was protected by the First Amendment.

After Professor Connell was exonerated by a committee of law professors, the charges against him were resubmitted, in Kafkaesque fashion, to a disciplinary panel including Dean Ammons herself, another Widener administrator, and a professor hand-picked by Ammons.

While even this new panel was forced to concede the obvious — that Connell had not committed racial harassment – it found him guilty of two acts of “retaliation”: the first was an e-mail protesting his innocence after he was suspended and banned from campus, and the second was his lawyer’s public statement that he was preparing to sue over the unfounded allegations. The e-mail called the accusations against him “preposterous” and said that they were made by “two unnamed students from my Criminal Law class of spring 2010″ who “falsely” quoted and took “out of context” his classroom “remarks.” The panel deemed the email to be illegal retaliation, even though the e-mail did not even name the accusers, because the e-mail supposedly had the “foreseeable effect of identifying the complainants.” (The e-mail led to students speculating about who the complainants were, and a complainant suspected that others “believed that she was one of the complaining students.”) Connell was then suspended for a year without pay. As a condition of reinstatement, he must undergo psychiatric treatment, and be deemed sufficiently “cured” before he is allowed to return to his classroom.

Much more here (See the original for links)

5,000 underperforming head teachers are blighting England's primary schools, warns inspector

More than 5,000 head teachers are failing to do their jobs properly, the chief inspector of schools declared today.

Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that poor leadership was blighting about a quarter of England’s 21,000 primary and secondary schools.

Weak heads were failing to get a grip on substandard teaching and simply ‘trotting out excuses’ such as poverty and deprivation for low exam grades, he said.

The explosive claim - certain to aggravate many heads and teachers - came as Sir Michael prepares to unveil a tough new inspection regime later this week. Schools will be given no notice of inspections and ‘coasting’ schools face intense monitoring.

The ‘satisfactory’ grading used by Ofsted for years will be scrapped because it ‘falsely denotes acceptable provision’. Instead these schools will be judged to ‘require improvement’.

Figures from Ofsted reveal that 23 per cent of heads missed out on a ‘good’ rating at their last inspection. A further one per cent were found to be failing.

At the same time, heads have benefited from pay rises with around 700 now on six-figure salaries.

‘Everything flows from leadership - that just has to be said,’ said Sir Michael, himself a former head, latterly at Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, London.

‘We are not going to improve the quality of teaching unless there is a) strong leadership and b) really strong performance management of staff.’

He added: ‘If we are going to improve standards in this country, we have got to create leadership that does not offer excuses for poor performance. ‘That is too often the case, I am absolutely clear about that.

‘A whole range of issues are trotted out - it is ethnicity or it is poverty or it is background or it is years of poor performance in a particular city or region. ‘We have heard them all before. We won’t move forward if we don’t have a no-excuses culture. ‘We haven’t got it at the moment, we must develop it.’

Sir Michael said parents were too willing to believe a school was good simply because their child liked it.

‘A lot of parents will say, “Well my child is happy here”. We need to say, “Well yes, they may be happy and relationships might be good but actually they should be achieving a lot more,” he said, in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Other reforms championed by Sir Michael - due to be set out in a consultation document on Thursday - include stripping inspection reports of jargon and ‘Ofsted-speak’. Instead comments will be ‘blunt and straightforward’.

Ofsted has already launched a Parent View website which allows parents to rate their children’s schools.

Sir Michael also plans to target 3,000 so-called ‘coasting’ schools - including 300,000 in affluent areas - that have been graded satisfactory in two consecutive inspections.

On their third inspection, they face being put in special measures unless their rating improves to ‘good’.

He also floated the idea of checking how many A*, A and B grades pupils at these schools are achieving instead of merely focusing on C-grades.

Sir Michael added that heads played a crucial role in fostering good teaching. Poor leadership was responsible for the ‘national disaster’ of thousands of teachers leaving the profession soon after qualifying, he warned. These new teachers were left floundering without the support they needed, especially when it came to enforcing good behaviour in class.

Sir Michael warned last week that thousands of teachers have been awarded £5,000-a-year performance-related pay rises that cannot be justified. Some heads and governors of ‘indiscriminately’ promoting teachers to a higher pay scale, he said.

In fact, up to 40 per cent of teaching was not good enough - a figure that was ‘very high’, he claimed.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Betting Smart on Higher Education

The state of Georgia recently revised its HOPE scholarship program. As originally set up, the program, funded by lottery proceeds, would provide full tuition to a Georgia state school to any resident student that maintained a B grade point average through high school. There were few caveats, one being that the scholarship would be lost if the student could not maintain at least a B average in college. The arrangement sounds more generous than it is. In-state tuition for Georgia colleges is a bargain when you consider the reputation that schools like UGA and Georgia Tech represent. The tuition is far less than the year’s room and board, which is not covered by the scholarship. Still, for many students it can and does make the difference.

In a sign of the times, however, Georgia has recently revised the plan. A two-tiered system is now in effect, with B average students and SAT composites 1200 and above keeping the full ride, and other B students receiving less. As time goes on, less will become progressively less. The lottery funds that once gave full coverage to the costs have now been outpaced by demand. In the four years following the introduction of HOPE, the number of qualifying students went up dramatically. There are on-going debates as to whether or not the GPA requirement led to widespread grade inflation, teachers being perhaps a bit too generous with borderline students in the hope (no pun intended) of giving them a chance at a better life. The incentive was certainly there.

The challenge of increasing scholarship costs is not unique to Georgia. Inevitably, all states will face difficult choices in how to allot their higher education dollars. By providing scholarships for the bulk of students who stood a chance of graduating, Georgia bypassed thorny debates as to who would benefit. With demand now outstripping supply, and expected to worsen, the issues can no longer avoided.

As the changes in Georgia’s HOPE scholarship became law, the rumblings began. The refrain was a familiar one: There will be fewer women and minorities in Georgia colleges. As currently written, that’s likely to be true. A host of factors is involved, but in general women and minorities do perform more poorly on the SAT in Georgia than white males. One objection is that while women tend to perform more poorly on the SAT, they make better grades in college. I have not researched that claim, but I somehow doubt it reflects the results in hard science and technical degrees that have much higher percentages of male enrollment. However, allowing that the statement could reasonably be true, what should be the course of action taken by the states? What is their responsibility with regards to the taxpayers and the public at large?

Over the last half century, the mission of colleges has changed radically, at least as expressed by many academics and politicians. Rather than a place of learning and improvement for the best and brightest, college has become an ideological counterweight, a means of balancing the social scales with regards to past wrongs both real and imagined. Far from taking stock of the already overburdened and underperforming sectors of higher education, many are demanding college for all. It is a cry without reason and with no chance of success. Between the worsening economy and the present rate of education cost increase, the system cannot sustain what it has.

The supply of education, like every other good and service, is limited. The question is how do we responsibly use what we can afford? With increasing frequency in the past decades, opportunity in higher education has been largely tied to increasing “diversity,” generally using race as a proxy. While many of us questioned the wisdom of adopting the policy in the first place, it is more important than ever to discuss and determine what our priorities will be in the future. For those who have argued in the past that there is no need to choose, the data tells a different story. To maintain a “diverse” number of African-Americans at elite universities, preferences amounting to a 300 point SAT advantage are given. While any attempt at correlating race and graduation rates is steadfastly resisted by academic institutions, the links between SAT performance and scholastic success are clear. The students that enter with lower scores tend to perform worse and graduate less. Though the number of students with B averages in Georgia skyrocketed after the HOPE scholarship was adopted, the SAT scores remained flat. In the most recently available data, less than fifty percent of HOPE scholars graduated college in six years. Seventy-five percent lost their eligibility at some point in college. The wasted funds in Georgia are huge. If you consider what is probably going on in the rest of the country, it’s mind boggling.

 In cases where unqualified students are admitted to STEM programs by affirmative action, the long terms costs are even greater. The U.S. is already producing far less than the number of Engineers, Scientists, and other technical degrees that are essential to support a robust economy. Every engineer that drops in the first or second year is one less graduate that we desperately need not only to support new technologies, but to maintain what we have already achieved. From a fiscal standpoint, it’s also an irreplaceable loss to future revenue in taxes and job creation. Contrary to popular belief, doctors, lawyers, and engineers pay large sums in taxes. Convenience store clerks tend to either pay little or act as a net drain. The implications for the future are obvious.

I’ve been known to enjoy a bit of recreational gambling from time to time. I observe two simple rules. I never bet more than I can afford to lose, and I only gamble with my own money. As it stands today, our higher education system is gambling not just with our money, but with the money of the next several generations. Worse, they are playing a lot of long shots. I think it’s past time that we pay a lot less attention to the color and gender of people going in to college and a lot more to who has the best chance to make it out. Anything else is a sucker bet.
High School Student Needed Rabbi’s Note to Wear Yarmulke in School

Would a Muslim need a note in order to wear Muslim garb? But it looks like it was a pretty odd yarmulke. Still, confirming the matter with the parents should have sufficed

A Maryland high school student and his parents are seeking an apology after the teen’s principal said he needed a note from his rabbi in order to wear his yarmulke in school, the Washington Post reported.

Caleb Tanenbaum said he was told last month to remove his head covering in the school’s cafeteria, but declined to do so on religious grounds.

Yarmulkes are traditionally worn by Jewish men when they pray, though some opt to wear them all day. Most are small, though Caleb’s was “a large, black hat that had been knitted by his mother and which covered his dreadlocks,” the newspaper described.

Caleb, a junior, said he told school officials to call his parents to confirm he was wearing the covering for religious purposes, which they did. Still, the principal asked for a letter from the family’s rabbi to confirm it.

Northwood High School Principal Henry Johnson Jr. told the Post the school doesn‘t usually question students’ religious wear, but with “all these different religions and cultures, we have to validate sometimes.”

“This wasn’t what we traditionally see as a yarmulke or a kippah,” Johnson said. “It looked like the head covering we see some Rastafarians wear.”

The family procured the note from their rabbi, but Caleb’s father is still upset. Steven Tanenbaum said he thought the principal overstepped, and that once he and his wife confirmed what their son said, “that should have been enough.”

“Instead of saying that’s fine, the principal wanted a letter from a rabbi,” Tanenbaum told the Wheaton Patch. “Our word was not good enough? We’re his parents!”

Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum, who wrote the note, told the news site he’s never seen a student have to justify their religious wear before. He wrote in the letter, “I ask you, in the spirit of religious acceptance, to allow him to wear his Kippah in the school.”

Caleb, who was born in Jerusalem, said he’s been trying lately to re-embrace his Judaism. According to the Post, religious head coverings for Jews and Muslims are common at the school, which does not have any guidelines prohibiting students from wearing hats.

“He wanted me to prove my religion,” Caleb said.


Britain's professor of crap

David Cameron and Michael Gove were yesterday said to be against the idea of Lib Dem-backed Professor Les Ebdon becoming university access supremo. Looking at some of the Mickey Mouse courses offered by his college, it is not hard to see why.

Chum Ebdon is vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire (formerly Luton College of Higher Education). Some of its degrees are less than scholastic in flavour.

Take its two-year course in carnival arts, offering undergraduates the chance to ‘learn how to design and make carnival costumes and decorations’. Is this higher education or an extension of Blue Peter? By carnival, the university means Notting Hill rather than the Carnevale di Venezia.

If steel drumming and feather-bikini stitching (and, presumably, riot control) are not to your taste, Prof Ebdon offers degrees in beauty spa management. Work experience ‘is gained from working in the college’s own salon’. It brings new resonance to the term ‘foundation’ course.

There is a course in ‘breastfeeding counselling’, a degree in football studies and a post-grad course in sport tourism management. That one promises ‘academic theory in tourism, leisure and events’. Ah, events, dear boy, events. But they probably mean it in the egg-and-spoon-race sense.

The University of Ebdon also offers a course in travel agency. It encourages people already working in the travel business to come along for a couple of years to ‘fine-tune those personal qualities that will make you an excellent candidate for travel management positions’. Is it really the duty of public money to get travel agents promoted?

Prof Ebdon, a leading critic of university fees, thinks so. Those of you whose taxes help fund the University of Bedfordshire and his salary (some £246,000 at last count) may disagree. His proposed berth at the Office for Fair Access pays £45,000 for just two days a week.

How can Lib Dems even think of allowing such a goon to dictate principles to our best universities?


Numeracy Campaign: British teenagers among worst for dropping maths

British schoolchildren are less likely to study maths to a high standard than in most other developed countries because of failings in the way the subject is delivered, a leading academic has warned.

Prof Stephen Sparks said that few pupils took maths beyond the age of 16 after being “put off” by test-driven lessons in primary and secondary school.

He said classes often focused on the dry “procedures” behind sums to make sure children pass exams instead of passing on a well-rounded understanding of the subject.

Only one in eight teenagers studies maths in the sixth-form, leaving Britain trailing behind many other developed nations. Between 50 and 100 per cent of teenagers in other countries, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Fin-

land, Japan and Korea, study maths to a decent level, the figures show. Prof Sparks, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), which represents academics and teachers, said the number of pupils failing to take A-level maths “puts us at a real anomaly internationally and likely affects our economic competitiveness”.

The comments came as The Daily Telegraph started a campaign, Make Britain Count, to highlight the scale of the mathematical crisis and provide parents with tools to boost their children’s numeracy.

The Nuffield Foundation compared the number of pupils studying advanced maths in 24 industrialised countries. Around 13 per cent of students took

A-levels in the subject in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, numbers reached around a quarter. In almost every other nation, more than half of pupils took advanced maths courses, while in eight countries, including South Korea, Russia, Sweden and Taiwan, maths was compulsory until the age of 18.

Prof Sparks called for the majority of pupils to study maths up to the age of 18, and said that some teenagers should take tailored courses “between a GCSE and A-level”. “The reason some people are being put off maths is related to that issue of teaching to the test,” he said. “Schools are given a big incentive to make sure pupils pass tests, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they get the well-rounded understanding that a good education requires.”


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Colleges assured tuition cap will fail

President Obama’s plan to withhold some financial aid from universities that “jack up” tuition rates each year is being panned across the higher education spectrum, and House Republicans appear poised to kill it before it ever gets off the ground.

The proposal, first mentioned in last week’s State of the Union address, would set a cap on tuition growth each year, and institutions that exceed that threshold would be denied federal dollars for work-study programs and additional money for loans and grants aimed at the neediest students.

Colleges that stay within the administration’s tuition parameters, which have yet to be firmly established, could get bigger payouts from the federal government.

University presidents, worried that their tuition rates will soon be set by the White House, were reassured Tuesday that the plan is likely going nowhere this year.

“Anything he proposes needs to be approved by the Congress. I don’t see that taking place,” Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told college leaders gathered in Washington for the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Mr. Obama “threatened to reduce federal aid to colleges and universities unless they reduced or kept their tuitions in tow. That’s not the job of the president of the United States,” Mr. Rogers said. “What you charge for tuition is your business. That’s going to vary for a variety of reasons. I respect and the federal government ought to respect your sovereignty in that area. It’s your decision.”

Mr. Rogers‘ remarks were met with raucous applause from the crowd, comprised of the heads of private institutions including small religious schools and larger, better-known colleges such as Wake Forest, Rice and New York University.

Many university officials outlined their own plans to lower costs, developed and implemented long before Mr. Obama’s speech. William Peace University, a small North Carolina liberal arts school, plans to drop tuition by 7.5 percent in the fall, saving the average student about $2,000 per year. Hardin-Simmons University, a private Baptist school in Texas, guarantees students that their tuition rates won’t increase for their entire college careers.

“We want to play ball. We want to cooperate,” said Philip W. Eaton, president of Seattle Pacific University. “But at the same time, [the administration’s proposal] is a crosswind that we just don’t need right now.”

Mr. Eaton suggested that Mr. Obama is seeking to paint major colleges and universities as greedy and set himself up as a savior by forcing them to keep tuition rates low.

“It’s an exceedingly populist message. Politically, it plays very well,” he said. “It’s quite clear to me that he doesn’t understand our business.”

David Trickett, president and CEO of Colorado’s Iliff School of Theology, said the plan looks like a piece of the administration’s “agenda” to acquire greater control over American higher education.

Other college presidents called it an attempt to institute “price controls” and voiced concerns that, if the proposal is adopted, Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan may seek even greater authority over the sector.

Faced with a growing backlash, the White House is now casting its plan as a discussion starter, not a list of demands.

Zakiya Smith, senior adviser for education with the White House Domestic Policy Council, told the NAICU conference that the administration is open to adjustments.


Outrage as yob pupils 'allowed back into lessons on appeal' in Britain

Pupils expelled from school for dealing drugs, attacking other children and carrying weapons are being allowed back into lessons against teachers’ wishes, it emerged today.

Figures show more than 500 children permanently barred from school lodged an appeal against the decision last year.

In around one-in-four cases, independent appeals panels found in favour of the pupil. Some 400 expelled pupils have been reinstated over the last five years.

According to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one child in Lewisham, south London, was allowed back into class despite being permanently excluded for setting off fireworks in a crowd of students.

In Bournemouth, a child who was expelled after admitting smoking a cannabis joint on the school field was allowed back into lessons even though the head teacher said the reinstatement would send out a "very damaging message".

The Government has now taken action to ban appeals panels from reinstating pupils who have been permanently expelled as part of a fresh crackdown on indiscipline.

Ministers insist the move will give head teachers the final say over bad behaviour and shift the balance of power in schools away from unruly pupils.

Nick Seaton, a spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said: "It undermines the authority of the teachers and the school if pupils who have been expelled are allowed back in.

"Youngsters should know exactly where they stand, and if they are told there are certain zero-tolerance policies for some misdemeanors, then there should be no exceptions. Schools should have the final say."

Data obtained after an FOI request to local authorities in England showed how children routinely appealed against expulsions last year.

Cases included:

* A child in Blackburn who was allowed back into school despite fears staff were at risk following repeated verbal outbursts, with the appeals panel ruling that teachers needed to make more allowances for the pupil;

* A pupil who was expelled for being openly defiant and rude to teachers in Hampshire before being allowed back because he had only been suspended once before;

* A school in Lambeth that was told it was too harsh on one pupil after expelling him for attacking another child;

* A pupil who was expelled from a Barking and Dagenham school for carrying a craft knife – only to be allowed back when the school admitted it was at fault for not securing the knives in the design and technology classroom;

* A Nottinghamshire school that reinstated a child expelled for carrying drugs after the panel agreed there was no evidence the pupil had been trying to supply it to others.

Under the Government’s new Education Bill, appeals panels have been retained and they can order a school to reconsider an expulsion case. But panels cannot order schools to take pupils back.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, said: "We agree that no child should be allowed to continually disrupt a class, causing misery to other pupils and teachers.

“That's why the Education Bill will stop appeals panels sending excluded children back to the school from which they were excluded.

"Independent review panels will ensure there is a quick, fair and independent process for reviewing exclusions, and will place more emphasis on professional judgement and the impact of poor behaviour in the classroom".


Australia: Shortage of State school places in Victoria

Rapid population growth fuelled by out of control immigration must bear much of the blame

Exclusive figures from the Education Department reveal for the first time the increasing struggle many parents face to get their children into popular government schools.

The records show 224 primary and secondary schools now have enrolment restrictions. They are either capping the number of students or using map boundaries. Some use both.

Families missing the cut are forced to move closer to their first choice - boosting real estate prices around the most popular schools - or settle for other options.

Both the State Government and Opposition say there are enough schools to cater for demand overall.

But some parent groups, principals and community advocates argue there are not enough schools where families need them most, and that "unpopular" public schools need more resources.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said while increasing numbers of parents were opting for public education, they could not be blamed for picking some schools over others. "It's laughable that governments advocate parental choice when they're not comparing apples with apples," she said.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal was surprised by the number of schools with restrictions, but said state and federal funding of public education was too low. "We must provide the support needed to all government schools that enables them to attract and retain teachers, as well as instil confidence in their local community," he said.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said the Government was closely monitoring the changing needs of communities.

There were many reasons schools got to the point of needing caps and boundaries, including reputation, areas of specialisation and population growth.

"Some parents choose a school on a drive-by, so if there's a brand-new building out the front, that's often an attraction," Mr Dixon said. "It's so important for parents not just to listen to their neighbours, but to go into the school ... and make an informed decision."

Pitsa Binnion, principal of McKinnon Secondary College, a successful zoned school in Melbourne's east, believes boundaries create some misconceptions.

"We have to de-mystify the boundary issue," she said. "Many parents ... need to understand that wonderful things are happening in government schools (across the board)."

Opposition teaching profession spokesman Steve Herbert said the Government had undermined schools' ability to provide for their communities by "slashing capital works funding".