Saturday, March 03, 2012

Black Eighth Grader Defends Essay about slack white teachers

When 13-year-old Jada Williams was given a copy of Frederick Douglass’ book “The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass,” she was inspired. So inspired that she decided to write an essay that drew a parallel between the abhorrent illiteracy in city schools and slavery. And she took aim at her teachers.

But that, apparently, is where she went wrong. The teacher took exception to the essay — which was supposed to be for a contest but was never submitted — and even confronted her. And according to her mother, that started a chain of hostility by the school — located in Rochester, NY — which eventually forced the mother to remove Jada from the school.

“My advice to my peers, people of color, and my generation, start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you,” Jada wrote. “They tooled this profession, they brag about their credentials, they brag about their tenure, so if you have so much experience then find a more productive way to teach the so called ‘unteachable.’”

On Wednesday, Jada and her mother, Karla, joined Glenn Beck on GBTV to discuss those words and the incident. It was an emotional interview that covered Jada’s original intent, the school’s reaction, and even her thoughts on what she’s learned.

You may be wondering what young Jada meant by singling out “white teachers.” That’s exactly the question Beck was wondering, and one that sparked debate among his staff. Jada’s response?

She was simply using the language of Frederick Douglass’ book, published in the 1800s.

“I feel misunderstood, because most grownups are making it a racial issue, when it’s a learning issue,” a tearful Jada said later. “I also feel hurt, because I’m not in school right now. They’re taking from me the one thing that I do love, and I feel confused because I thought I lived in a country of freedom of speech.”

“I know this is absolutely not about racism, it’s about the education of our children, and that’s what needs to be the focus,” Jada’s mother added, later saying “if that’s all it’s about [color] then how far will we ever get?”

Beck agreed with Jada’s remarks on freedom of speech. “Jada, I’ve been talking about this this week, about freedom of speech, and they’re trying to get people to sit down and be afraid,” Beck said. “If there’s one thing you should get from Frederick Douglass is, her’s a man that refused to be a slave.”

“Don’t you let them bully you, and don’t you give up on the promise of America,” Beck concluded later. “It is always just over the horizon, but it requires each of us to reach for it.”

In the end, Jada’s essay did make it into the essay contest for the Frederick Douglass Foundation, and they recognized her essay with an award. As for the school, Rochester School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas acknowledged Wednesday to local media that Williams‘ teacher didn’t encourage the free-flow of ideas.

“Of course that’s not the best way to handle a situation like this,” he said. And while he didn’t address specific disciplinary action, he did say, “Suffice it to say I am addressing the situation.”


Can American universities help break down Britain's social barriers?

As the cost of going to university soars, British students may find Ivy League colleges a cheaper alternative.

There used to be, in the not-so-distant past, stereotypes of American and British university education that went something like this: American students, except for the really rich ones, had to borrow their way through higher education, flipping burgers into the wee small hours just to make ends meet. British students, by contrast, were lucky. Even wealthy ones had their tuition fees paid by the state, and most could expect help with living costs in the form of grants. They left university virtually debt-free, ready to enjoy the fruits of a career bought with a solid 2:1 in Economics and Something Else. That situation is being turned on its head.

Britain is now the place to acquire a socking great graduate debt, with tuition fees commonly £9,000 per year and loans taking the place of grants. A British student can borrow up to £50,000 from the taxpayer to finance his or her degree, ensuring a relative level of indebtedness not unlike that confronting the Greek finance minister. But win a place at Harvard or Yale, or one of the many wealthy higher education institutions in the United States, and you could walk away with no debt at all. So generous are the scholarships available at Ivy League universities that some even cover flights home.

Sir Peter Lampl wants to offer this opportunity to talented youngsters from British comprehensives, and has organised a summer school at Yale to help potential applicants master the US system. The founder of the Sutton Trust, which aims to extend educational opportunity to those from low-income households, the businessman believes American universities are part of the answer to a British higher-education funding regime that threatens to re-erect social barriers.

“We are not talking about the kid who will go to Liverpool John Moores or the University of East London, we are talking about those who can make it to Oxford, Cambridge or Bristol,” he says. “We are aiming at the very selective American universities, the Ivy League. I think people who come out of these universities are better prepared for a career. They have more breadth and depth and have studied a wider range of subjects. You get to look at another culture, and you also become part of a very powerful alumni network. A lot of parents are choosing to send their kids to an American university rather than a British one.”

Each year some 4,500 British students take up undergraduate places at American universities and colleges, 80 per cent of them from private schools. That is a drop in the ocean compared with the half-million applicants of all ages accepted each year by Britain’s 300 universities and colleges, but it is significant in terms of elite institutions, such as those of the Russell Group.

A quarter of sixth-formers at Wellington College in Berkshire are expected to opt for an American university this year, but for pupils from state schools the US entry system is a daunting prospect. The summer school at Yale is meant to help, providing advice on the SAT –the Standard Aptitude Test – which applicants must sit. Applicants must also provide a school record, personal statement and references.

Josh McTaggart, from Weston-super-Mare, studied at sixth-form college and was offered a place at University College London, but chose Harvard instead. He receives some £35,000 a year in help from the university, which this year will award £100 million in “needs-based” grants to 60 per cent of its students.

“It’s cheaper to study in the US than London,” says Josh, who hopes to graduate with debts of hundreds rather than thousands of pounds. “Studying at Harvard has opened up a world of opportunity, yet in doing so I haven’t been crippled by debt. I receive a financial aid scholarship that covers the entirety of my costs. This aid is needs-based and, since my household income is under £30,000, I am entitled to full cover.”

In opting for Harvard, Josh has bypassed a British system that threatens to become more polarised as costs escalate. Pupils whose parents earn less than £25,000 a year are eligible for maintenance grants to help meet living costs, but the prospect of a debt measured in the tens of thousands can only be a deterrent to poor families.

The middle classes are also beginning to suffer. There has been a 2.5 per cent fall in university applications by pupils from the wealthiest fifth of households, part of a five per cent decline overall.

“Loading up low and middle-income kids with debt is not a good idea,” says Sir Peter, who after grammar school and Oxford made millions in management consultancy and private equity. “I talk to American friends and they say, 'What are you doing loading up these kids with debt? We wouldn’t do that.’ The average level of graduate debt in America is far lower than people think – £16,000. So it’s lower than for our kids.”

At £40,000 a year for some courses, Harvard’s fees are vastly higher than British ones, but the university’s wealth allows it to indulge students it considers worthy of admission. Harvard’s endowment fund – investments bought with donations from alumni and other bodies – stands at more than £20 billion, greater by far than all the endowment funds controlled by British universities.

Those of Cambridge (£4 billion) and Oxford (£3 billion) are the only ones in the UK that bear comparison with the US sector. Edinburgh, in third place, comes in well below £200 million. Yale, second to Harvard in wealth, enjoys an endowment of some £12 billion, the fruit of long-term relationships with alumni and generous tax breaks for donors.

“If you go to Yale and you come from a family earning less than £40,000, you come out of there completely debt-free,” says Sir Peter. “If your family is earning over £150,000 a year, you pay full whack. In between, they means-test. For a lower-income kid it is very attractive.

“Kids who haven’t been lighting up the school board with A-levels can do very well on the American SAT. I spent half a day on the Harvard selections committee and saw how much they take background into account. The Ivy League universities don’t get many applications from British comprehensive kids and they would like more.

“A diverse student body is one of their objectives. You don’t have a class system over there like you do here. It’s much easier for a working-class kid to integrate into an American university because he’s not pigeonholed in the same way.”

Not that American higher education is free of social elitism. There has long been a taste, never expressed overtly, for “library builders”, applicants from super-wealthy families prepared to stump up the cost of an infrastructure project to ensure admission. Preference is also given to children of alumni.

“This is going to be a big success,” says Sir Peter of the summer school. “We’re doing what the Americans call soup to nuts, getting the kids in for orientation in London in June, then out to the States in July.”

He hopes it will be the beginning of something big. But the question is, why should it be necessary?


British school music lessons with no… music

Thousands of school music lessons involve barely a note of music, a damning report revealed today. Ofsted inspectors condemned poor standards of music education in English schools after discovering that classes are dominated by teachers talking and written exercises. Pupils are given few opportunities to play or listen to music or sing, they found.

‘Put simply, in too many cases there was not enough music in music lessons,’ the report said. ‘In many instances there was insufficient emphasis on active music-making or on the use of musical sound as the dominant language of learning. ‘Too much use was made of verbal communication and non-musical activities.’

Inspectors observed music lessons 184 primary, secondary and special schools. They found that standards had barely improved since the last inspection of music provision three years ago.

Nearly two thirds of schools were failing to provide a good standard of music education - and lessons in one in five were ‘inadequate’.

‘In too many of the lessons observed, teachers spent significant amounts of time talking pupils through lengthy learning objectives that were not related to the language of musical sound,’ the report said.

‘Survey evidence showed, very clearly, that pupils made the most musical progress when they were taught in music, rather than about music.’

Even in instrumental lessons, too much teaching was poor. Inspectors found examples where ensembles were allowed to carry on making a ‘dreadful sound’. In some cases, teachers had not shown children how to hold instruments correctly - and couldn’t even hold them properly themselves.

Boys were significantly less likely to take part in orchestras, choirs and ensembles than girls. Just 14 per cent of primary school boys were involved, against 32 per cent of girls.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, said: ‘Inspectors looking at music teaching in nearly 200 schools saw quality ranging from outstandingly good to extremely poor.

Too often, inspectors simply did not see enough music in music lessons. ‘Too much use was made of non-musical activities such as writing without any reference to musical sound.

‘Too much time was spent talking about tasks without teachers actually demonstrating what was required musically, or allowing the pupils to get on with their music making.’

In one lesson seen by inspectors, pupils simply copied down information about Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash rather than taking part in a musical activity.

The report said: ‘In one class seen by inspectors, pupils spent the first 20 minutes of a one-hour lesson - the only music lesson of the week for many students - completing “written tasks about the life and work of Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash, using printed ‘factsheets’ from which they had to extract and copy information”.’


Friday, March 02, 2012

Too Little, Too Late

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is seeking to repeal two Department of Education regulations that intrude on the authority of the states to set education policy.

The Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act (H.R. 2117) repeals certain Department of Education regulations that for purposes of determining whether a school is eligible to participate in programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA): (1) require institutions of higher education and postsecondary vocational institutions (except religious schools) to be legally authorized by the state in which they are situated, (2) delineate what such legal authorization requires of states and schools, and (3) define “credit hour.”

The bill also “prohibits the Secretary of Education from promulgating or enforcing any regulation or rule that defines ‘credit hour’ for any purpose under the HEA.”

According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.):

"At the end of the day, the unnecessary state authorization and credit hour regulations will reduce local control and create uncertainty in postsecondary education. Instead of over-regulating the nation’s higher education system, we should focus our efforts on simplifying federal involvement and streamlining regulatory burdens."

Although advocates for the Constitution, decentralization, and limited government are rightly cheering this brief bill, it is unfortunately too little, too late.

The current cabinet-level federal Department of Education began operation in 1980. It was cobbled together from elements of the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare; Defense; Justice; Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture; and some other federal agencies.

The department’s mission is to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Its current budget is about $68 billion.

Headquartered in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building in Washington, D.C., the Department of Education employs a total of about 3,600 bureaucrats in the nation’s capital at that and five other locations. There are also about another 1,400 staff members who work in ten regional offices. Thirteen of the D.C. education bureaucrats are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. There are also about 110 other political appointees.

Ronald Reagan proposed abolishing of the Department of Education while campaigning for president in 1980. The Republican Party platforms of 1980 and 1996 likewise called for the department’s elimination:

We understand and sympathize with the plight of America’s public school teachers, who so frequently find their time and attention diverted from their teaching responsibilities to the task of complying with federal reporting requirements. America has a great stake in maintaining standards of high quality in public education. The Republican Party recognizes that the achievement of those standards is possible only to the extent that teachers are allowed the time and freedom to teach. To that end, the Republican Party supports deregulation by the federal government of public education, and encourages the elimination of the federal Department of Education.

Our formula is as simple as it is sweeping: the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the work place. That is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning. We therefore call for prompt repeal of the Goals 2000 program and the School-To-Work Act of 1994, which put new federal controls, as well as unfunded mandates, on the States. We further urge that federal attempts to impose outcome- or performance-based education on local schools be ended.

But forget for a minute the Republican rhetoric and look instead at the Republican record.

During Reagan’s first six years as president, the Senate was controlled by the Republicans. The budget for the Department of Education increased from $14.7 billion in fiscal year 1981 (Jimmy Carter’s last budget) to $22.8 billion in fiscal year 1989 (Reagan’s last budget).

During George H.W. Bush’s term in office, Congress was in the complete control of the Democrats. By his last fiscal year (1993), the education budget had increased to $32.5 billion.

During Bill Clinton’s last six years in office, the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. Yet the education budget ballooned to $42.1 billion by fiscal year 2001 (Clinton’s last budget).

Under George W. Bush, the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate for more than four years. During his term in office the education budget increased all the way up to $100 billion in fiscal year 2006 before leveling off in the $60 billion range.

That means that Republicans participated in the expansion of the Department of Education with a Republican president and one house of Congress controlled by the Republicans, with a Republican president and both houses of Congress controlled by the Democrats, with a Democratic president and both houses of Congress controlled by the Republicans, and with a Republican president and both houses of Congress controlled by the Republicans.

Contrary to the image that the Republican Party likes to put forth, it is just as committed to socialized education as the Democrats are. Just as it is just as committed to Social Security and socialized medicine.

The Department of Education should be eliminated, but not because it is too expense, not because it has too many bureaucrats, not because it is too intrusive into state and local affairs, not because it has failed to improve education, not because it is too beholden to the teachers’ unions, and not because it promotes a liberal agenda. The Department of Education should be eliminated because the federal government has been given no authority whatsoever by the Constitution to have anything to do with education.

That means no Elementary and Secondary Education Act, no Higher Education Act, no Education for All Handicapped Children Act, no Improving America’s Schools Act, no No Child Left Behind Act, no Race to the Top fund, no National School Lunch Program, no Head Start, no federal student loans, no Pell Grants, no mandates, no vouchers, no initiatives, no directives, no requirements, no regulations, and, of course, no Department of Education.

All of the fifty states have provisions in their constitutions for the operation of K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Of course, libertarians argue against government intrusion into education at all levels — federal, state, and local — on a philosophical level. But on the federal level, that doesn’t even matter. Because there is nothing in the Constitution that grants the federal government the authority to be involved in any manner with education, the immediate elimination of the entire education department and its bureaucrats shouldn’t even be an issue for Democrats and Republicans to fight over.

For the Republicans to now seek to repeal some Department of Education regulations is too little and too late to mean anything.


The great social engineering flop: Billions spent, but poor miss out on British university boom

The billions of pounds spent on expanding universities over the past 20 years has failed to help the poorest children, a study shows. The failure of the comprehensive system was blamed for the stubbornly low proportion of undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to researchers.

The boom in places has mainly benefited the middle classes, leaving behind an ‘underclass’, and indirectly precipitating social problems such as the disorder on our streets last summer.

Peter Elias, a Warwick University employment expert who helped lead the research, called on the Government to take urgent steps to improve social mobility.

But he said attempts to engineer university admissions to favour poorer pupils were unworkable. The study, which covered 34,000 Britons, found that teenagers with white-collar parents have taken up university places twice as fast as peers with blue-collar parents.

This is despite a widely publicised drive to boost the proportion of working-class youngsters in further education.

Professor Elias said the dramatic expansion of higher education from the early 1990s had widened the gaps between social groups. ‘There was an opportunity to do something, and it’s clearly been missed. ‘Over the next three, four, five years we are going to need to make significant progress. If we don’t, the whole concept of the underclass is going to reappear.

‘We only need to look at what happened last summer to see what problems lie in wait if we have an unequal distribution across society.’

Professor Elias said reforms aimed at giving parents a wider choice of secondary schools including specialist schools, academies and free schools should help to boost social mobility.

‘Some comprehensives are extremely good – and parents who pay for private education are wasting their money – but clearly some were failing,’ he said.

He said the lowering of university entry requirements for disadvantaged students was a ‘nightmare scenario’. Just as some parents have been caught faking addresses to beat school catchment areas, there would be fake backgrounds in university admissions, he said. ‘If you try to translate these things into quota systems, straightaway people will try to get around the quota,’ he said. ‘You can have fake backgrounds – “my dad was a brickie and my mum a cleaner”. It’s unworkable administratively and politically undesirable.’

The rise in tuition fees and abolition of grants for poor college students could prove a ‘huge obstacle’ to boosting social mobility, he added.

The study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research based at Essex University analysed two groups of adults – one aged 22 to 34 and the other 37 to 49. The older group would have been able to attend university prior to the expansion that began in 1992.

Of these 25.7 per cent had a degree – a figure that rose to 34.3 per cent among the younger group. When the researchers examined the backgrounds of the graduates, they found stark differences.

The rise among teenagers with managerial and professional parents was ten percentage points. Among intermediate occupations, including clerical jobs, nursing and directors of small businesses, it was 11 points. But among families with routine or manual jobs the rise was only five points.


Benign neglect is good for kids

In Japan, kindergarten kids walk home from school without adults

PICTURE this. It is 2005, I arrive for the first time in Tokyo. I am making my way across the busy city when I encounter a small group of kindergarten children walking home from school. They are oblivious to my presence as they busy themselves crossing streets, picking up autumn leaves and chatting. There is not a supervising adult in sight, no older siblings. As a parent I feel a sense of foreboding - I worry about their safety.

I recount my experience to a Japanese colleague and exclaim, "There were no adults watching out for them." He is taken aback. "What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!"

On average, 80 per cent of primary-age Japanese children walk to school. In Australia the figure in most communities is as low as 40 per cent. Why? What happens in Japan that makes it so different?

At a community seminar recently I asked the audience to imagine themselves aged eight in a special place and to describe it. Most recounted being outside in their neighbourhood, with other children, out of earshot of parents: "My friends and I would go to this vacant lot and build our own cubbies" (Richard, 36); "We used to get all the neighbourhood kids together and go out on the street and play cricket" (Andrew, 39).

Author Tim Gill would call this parenting style "benign neglect" and for many of us, growing up in baby-boom suburbia, this was our experience. It made us independent, confident, physically active, socially competent and good risk assessors.

I asked the audience if they would give these same freedoms now to their own children. They all said no.

The big issue for parents around children's independence in the streets is "stranger danger" and child abductions. Statistics show almost all abductions are by family members, and the numbers have been going down for a decade. When I tell my audience the odds of a child being murdered by a stranger in Australia are one in 4 million, they answer like Andrew: "I know the chances are slim but I just couldn't forgive myself."

So is there a middle ground between "benign neglect" and "eternal vigilance"? There is in Japan and in Scandinavian countries, where children's independent mobility is high. While parental fear of strangers is still high in these countries, rather than driving children to school or other venues, parents and the community have initiated activities to increase their safety.

In inner Tokyo, a neighbourhood has parent safety brigades that patrol the streets around schools, shopkeepers are signed up as members of the neighbourhood watch program and the local council has provided a mamoruchi, a GPS-connected device that hangs around a child's neck and connects them instantly to a help call centre. These strategies are reliant on one critical cultural factor: a commitment to the belief that children being able to walk the streets alone is a critical ingredient in a civil, safe and healthy society.

If we want to start claiming back the streets and local parks for children then it's our role as community members to let parents know we are willing to support them and play our part.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Separate school & state, even at the local level

Why won’t conservatives ever go to the root of the statist problems that face our nation? A good example involves education, an area that most conservatives will admit has long been mired in crisis. Yet, all that conservatives end up doing is dancing around the problem, as they do in so many other areas where statism produces crises.

I generally avoid listening to talk radio because I find it so boring. Leftist talk radio does nothing but extol the virtues of the socialism and the welfare state, despite the manifest economic harm they have done to society, especially the poor. Moreover, with Obama’s embrace of President Bush’s infringements on civil liberties and imperialist foreign policy, most liberal talk-show hosts have gone silent in these areas out of some sense of misguided political loyalty.

But conservative talk shows are just as boring, not so much because their mantras and analyses are wrong but because they are never able to take their principles to their logical conclusion. The hosts will exclaim how “pro-free enterprise” they are and they’ll show how the free market is superior to socialism. But then comes their solution, and that’s where they’ll put you to sleep. Their solution inevitable is, “The system needs reform” or “We have to get Republicans into office so that they can run government like a business.”

I was listening to a conservative talk radio show the other day. The topic was whether public schools should be providing free breakfast and lunch for poorer children. The host was arguing the standard conservative mantras. “It is not the business of the state to be feeding children! That is the responsibility of parents!”

There were two guests on the show, a conservative and a liberal. The conservative agreed with the host. The liberal argued that helping the poor was a societal responsibility and suggested that without the free meals, the children of poor families would be suffering serious malnutrition.

Not one single time did the conservatives challenge the liberal on the basic point of coercion — that it’s morally wrong to force people to care for others. Just because there might be a moral, religious, or ethical duty to help the poor doesn’t mean that it’s okay to force people to do so. Whether to help the poor or not should left entirely to the realm of freedom of choice.

But what was most frustrating was that the conservatives could not see the real issue, which was the proverbial elephant in the room. They could see that it isn’t the role of government to be feeding people but they had a total blind spot on what is just as big an issue, if not bigger: Why should it be the business of government to be educating people, including children?

Boiled down to its essence, the conservatives and liberals on that talk show were debating how public (i.e., government) schools should be run. Should there be free meals in public schools or not?

Why not instead to the root of the problem: Should there be public schools? In other words, why get bogged down over how to run statist enterprises? Why not challenge the existence of statist enterprises themselves?

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, with no public schools the issue of whether there should be free meals provided in public schools disintegrates.

One of the favorite campaign positions in Republican presidential campaigns is to call for the abolition of the federal Department of Education (even though once they’re in office they decide against it). Republicans correctly claim that the federal government has no legitimate or constitutional authority to be involving itself in education. They want to return authority over education completely to the states or localities.

But notice that that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter — the mandatory, state-provided, or state-monitored educational system known as public schooling. The real solution is simply to free the education market from all government control, including at the local level.

That would mean the repeal of all compulsory-attendance laws and the abolition of all school taxes. The school districts would divest themselves of ownership of the school buildings and dissolve the school districts themselves. People would be free to have their children educated in the manner they deemed best. Entrepreneurs would be free to offer whatever educational vehicles they desired to consumers.

Public schooling, even at the local level, is really nothing more than a socialist enterprise, which conservatives claim to oppose. It is a system that is based on central planning, coercive attendance, and mandatory funding. Its methodology is based on memorization and rote learning. The regimentation that is inherent to the system produces mindsets of deference to authority, mindsets that end up accepting the premises of the established order and that end up just trying to reform or fix it.

Most everyone acknowledges that the free market provides the best of everything. Compared to socialist enterprises, the free market provides superior products and services at lower cost. It would do the same in the field of education.

Most parents want only the best for their children. That’s in fact why many parents, including President Obama and his wife Michelle, refuse to send their children into the public-school system. Why not let children have the very best education possible? That can only happen in a free-market educational environment, one in which we separate school and state just as our ancestors separated church and state.


Don't bother getting a good degree: Now Britain's PC brigade says bosses shouldn't just hire best students as it 'discriminates against average graduates'

Companies hiring graduates with top degrees could be discriminating against students with average grades, according to a Government-commissioned review. Jobs that require applicants to have a minimum qualification of a 2:1 degree may prevent firms meeting diversity targets, the report said.

Many sought-after positions - particularly in the corporate sector - require a certain standard of academic achievement and even attendance at a certain set of universities. But the review for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said the system was 'flawed'.

Professor Tim Wilson, who carried out the review, said: 'A filter that limits recruitment to a particular set of universities, a "2-1 standard" and a defined UCAS entry threshold to the corporate sector are not uncommon requirements. 'In the context of reducing the applications to manageable proportions this is understandable, but it has flaws.'

He said companies who filter on academic achievement need to carry out regular reviews of their screening processes, based on the types of graduates they have hired.

'An algorithm that includes a profiling filter may reduce the selection task to manageable proportions and hence an acceptable cost, but it also has the potential to exclude graduates with skills profiles that are appropriate to company needs.

'Graduate recruiters using filtering mechanisms should undertake a systematic and frequent review of screening algorithms in the light of the qualities of the graduates that the company has recruited and the diversity objectives of the company.'

He added that the recruitment cycle is normally undertaken before graduation, so the degree classification is projected, not actual. This may minimise the cost risk, he added, but not necessarily manage the risk of diversity imbalance.

The review said that many employers were concerned about not attracting the right mix of graduates and that companies were often not doing enough to communicate with prospective candidates.

Sir Tim made 54 recommendations, including a number on how to encourage more so-called 'sandwich' degrees which involve some form of work, and ways of increasing internships.

He said that where internships are unpaid, universities should use funds they receive from the office for Fair Access, which encourages students from poorer backgrounds to go to university, to support eligible youngsters rather than condone a policy that could 'inhibit social mobility'.

He suggested universities should only charge students on a work placement year £1,000 rather than the permitted maximum of £4,500, and interest charges on student loans should be suspended.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the world's best universities were building deeper links with business, adding that the Government will now 'carefully consider' the report's recommendations.

The conclusions are likely to increase fears the professions are dumbing down in order to widen access and concerns this could damage Britain's already unstable economy.


One reason why 39% of Australian teenagers are sent to private high schools

Both episodes below occured at government schools

A BULLIED teenager who suffered horrific injuries when he attempted suicide has died more than two years after his tormenters drove him to despair.

Dakoda-Lee Stainer, 14, suffered brain damage when deprived of oxygen for more than 20 minutes after he tried to take his own life in 2009 following severe bullying.

Left in a wheelchair, unable to speak or walk, and taking food and liquids through a tube to his stomach, the teen died on Valentine's Day this year.

After Dakoda-Lee's tragic story was revealed in The Daily Telegraph last year, close family friends launched a campaign against bullying of the kind that drove the north coast teenager to try to end his life.

Sharon Grady of Yarravel, near Kempsey, yesterday said no one deserved the treatment Dakoda-Lee had suffered, but bullying was still happening. "We have now lost this precious, loving and caring young man who was talented in so many areas," Ms Grady said.

On the day he tried to end his life, the teen, who attended Melville High School at Kempsey, had been accosted by a gang of youths on the school bus after months of relentless attacks by bullies.

About a year earlier another 14-year-old, Alex Wildman, took his own life at Lismore after violent run-ins with fellow students, forcing education authorities to investigate how effectively schools were combating bullying.

Alex's stepfather, Bill Kelly, is suing the Department of Education and Communities for damages, claiming it breached its duty of care to the student.

A major offensive against cyber bullying has been launched in schools.

It involves graphic videos showing the dangers of online bullying designed to frighten students out of using the internet as a weapon to attack other children.

The graphic films, using male and female teenage actors to depict savage bullying scenarios, are so realistic they have shocked children into changing their online behaviour, parents and educators said.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dean Faces Bad News for Banning Good News

Dear Dean (Name Withheld):

I am writing today with some very bad news for you. It would appear that, by the end of the year, you may be removed from your position as Dean of Students at (University Name Withheld). But, first, let me share the Good News – that is, if you will promise not to prosecute me for it.

I used to be an atheist. When people tried to share the Gospel with me, I would hurl profanity at them. I would even use a word that begins with “f” and ends with “u-c-k.” (I’m not talking about “fire-truck,” by the way). The Gospel offended me, so I told people to take a hike whenever they tried to share it with me. Now that I have converted, I no longer suffer from that kind of extreme emotional insecurity. And that is Good News. Now it’s time for the bad news.

Recently, a student at your university tried to share the Gospel with another student at your university. That makes sense. You do work at a Christian University. But then three things happened that made little sense. I will present them in chronological order – and in order from the least to most ridiculous event:

1. The student who was hearing the Gospel told the one sharing the Gospel that it was “offensive.” Of course, the Gospel has always been offensive. They would not have nailed Jesus to a cross if it were not. Then, the student demanded that the sharer of the Good News end the conversation. Fair enough. Maybe he was just having a bad day.

2. The next day, the still-offended student filed a speech code complaint over the Gospel sharing incident. The conduct he was engaged in, by the way, is considered sin by the Bible and “diversity” by the student handbook. At many “Christian” universities, the pages of the student handbook that deal with diversity carry more weight than the pages of the Bible that deal with sin. So the real sin is often using the word sin. And that is tantamount to banning the Gospel, which is the only means of dealing with sin – in part, because it confronts sin directly. So you have a choice between the speech code and the Gospel – unless, of course, you were born with the speech code gene.

3. Finally, and most ridiculously, you actually took the complaint seriously and forced the student to stop sharing the Gospel unless someone specifically asked to hear it. The incident was isolated. There was no accusation of harassment. The offending student had no intention of speaking to the offended student again. But you had to permanently ban him from initiating conversations about salvation at a so-call Christian university. The more universities speak of tolerance, the more they reek of intolerance. The paradox is that you’ve demonstrated that principle with your indifference to principle.

But this is the last time you are ever going to silence a student who wishes to share the Gospel. By my count – I have been talking with and mentoring the “offending” student daily - you had approximately five meetings in which you threatened disciplinary action. At each one of these meetings you spoke. Each time you spoke, you offended the Gospel-sharing student. And, worse, now that other Christians are hearing of the incident, they are also offended and intimidated into silence. Put simply, they are now afraid to share the Gospel at your “Christian” university. One could say you are bullying them with the speech code. And you can’t defend yourself by saying this was an “isolated” incident. You prosecuted the Gospel-sharer based on an isolated incident. Remember?

So I have done what I must do. I have begun by organizing a series of five counter-claims against you – one for each time you spoke to the Gospel-sharing student. These five claims will come from five different students whose speech has been chilled by your conduct. They will all be delivered at once in the form of hate speech charges. In other words, you have used the speech code as a sword against others and now the sword is about to be taken from you. And it will be pointed directly toward your heart. Unless you relinquish it voluntarily you will die by it.

Let me be very specific – even at risk of repeating myself: If you don’t get rid of the campus speech code within the next ten weeks we are coming after your job. That is only bad news if you do not repent of your sinfully censorious ways and allow students to share the Good News. As always, your fate depends upon your courage and willingness to do the right thing. It is my fervent prayer that you will learn from the example of your student-accusers. They are showing what it means to be bold in the face of emotional weakness masquerading as intellectual diversity.

You’ll be hearing from us soon,

Mike S. Adams


Nasty British teachers refuse to help five-year-old girl rub eczema cream into her back over "child protection fears"

What they say makes no sense. They just don't want to help the little girl

A school has refused to rub eczema cream on to a five-year-old's back because staff say they're not allowed to touch her over child protection fears.

Leah Johnston, a pupil at at Woolston Infant School, near Southamton, Hampshire, has such a severe form of the condition that she has to apply the medication to her entire body four times a day. If it goes untreated, specialists say the schoolgirl's sores can become badly infected, meaning she has to apply the cream during the school day at least once.

Naturally, she can't cover her own back but the school's head teacher, Julie Swanston, says staff can only supervise her because their child protection policy makes it ‘inappropriate' for them to help apply the cream.

Leah's mother, Kerry Webb, has described the decision as ‘crazy' and wants the school to show some common sense. The 24-year-old, from Woolston, said: 'Leah is really good at remembering to rub the cream in. She is able to do it herself over her arms and legs and chest but she physically cannot reach her back. 'She is just five years old. All I am asking for is a bit of common sense for them to just help with her back.

'I can't understand them saying they can't touch her, it's crazy. What happens if a child falls over or needs some other sort of treatment. Would they not touch them too?

'Leah also suffers from asthma and needs to use inhalers at school every day - a process that is overseen by staff.

'It has been suggested that a simple solution would be to have a second member of staff supervising as one applies the cream. 'This is a policy used at other schools when child protection is an issue.'

The National Eczema Society has also called for the school to take a ‘sensible approach' to Leah's situation. Chief executive Margaret Cox said: 'Unfortunately we do hear of such cases where schools have a ‘non-touch' policy. 'This is a serious problem for eczema sufferers who really do need this medication applied. I would call for a sensible approach here so that in such cases the rules could be relaxed to allow for the medication to be given.'

Head bitch teacher Julie Swanston said: 'There have never in the past been any issues or concerns from any parents, pupils or teachers in how we help to administer medication to children.

'In this particular case we have supervised the child putting on her medication and have been in regular communication with the child's parents and doctor.

'In normal circumstances when administering things like creams we would either ask the parents to administer them or, like in this instance, we would help the child to administer it themselves under our supervision, as long as we get prior agreement from the child's parents. 'I'm very sorry to hear there is some concern, and we will continue to ask the parents to come in and talk to us to see how we can address those concerns.'


Wicked web of British university funding

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive

The tangled web that has become university funding in the UK is already throwing up early evidence of what a fraud the whole thing will prove to be.

In last week’s Times Higher Education, an article purports that students would be foolish to repay their loans early, even after the government’s scrapping of early-repayment penalties. It quotes Tim Leunig of CentreForum and a lecturer at the London School of Economics as saying graduates should think twice about paying off their debts early because most will never repay the full amount within 30 years, after which time arrears are written off.

He’s quoted as saying “Every penny of their early repayment is a gift to the government.” A gift to the government!!! That heavenly body showering us all with free goodies? What he really means is that failing to repay is a good kick in the ass to every hardworking taxpayer now stumping up the cash.

Putting yet another boot into the taxpayer is Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students who’s quoted as saying “Ministers must come clean on student finance that those on low and middle income are not duped into chipping away at their outstanding debt.” Duped!!! Doesn’t he mean reneging on a promise?

So the government whips up a scheme for which it has no plans to fully collect unpaid debt, a teacher of our young advises against doing so and a student leader fans the flame of irresponsibility.

How morally bankrupt our body politic has become.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Occupy Activists‘ ’Mic Check’ Prompts Physical Altercation at Pro-Israel College Event

The efforts of pro-Palestinian “Occupy” protesters to stifle the free speech of pro-Israel speakers nationwide continued at the University of New Mexico on Thursday night when a small group tried to shout down a speech by author Nonie Darwish. This time, their pre-planned disruption led to a physical altercation.

Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel and director of Former Muslims United, was speaking at an event titled, “Why the Arab Spring is Failing” organized by the University of New Mexico Israel Alliance and the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Activists from “(un)Occupy Albuquerque” – a group allied with the Occupy Wall Street movement – started a “people’s mic” seen frequently during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

As seen on a video posted to YouTube, the pro-Palestinian activists yelled: “Mic check! Nonie Darwish speaks for Israeli apartheid! And genocide at the hands of the IDF!”

Shortly after the “mic check” begins, the audience is heard shouting at those disrupting the speech, and chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Then, a scuffle begins. Though the camera angle is tight – which complicates providing an objective description — it appears an older audience member tried to grab the paper (presumably the script of anti-Israel slogans) out of one of the Occupy protester’s hands, which lead to pushing and shoving.

This as other audience members further away shouted profanities, urging them to “Get out!”

It’s unclear from the tape if an older male audience member lunged at the protesters or tripped on a chair and fell forward on then. Watch the two videos here posted by the protesters:

The activists and their supporters claimed three of them were “were assaulted on UNM campus for simply trying to make their voices heard and it is a shock that a non-violent action was met with such aggression.”

If you were wondering what “(un)Occupy” is, it’s part of the “Occupy” movement, but protests the movement’s use of the word “occupy,” because, according to its website: "The word “occupy” in general is offensive to most Native Americans and indigenous people and people of color in general – again in general. Occupations have displaced us for generations by Europeans."

After the protesters left and she was able to resume her speech, Darwish told the audience, “They could have waited to prove me wrong but they can’t unfortunately and I feel sad for them because our children are being poisoned mentally.”

Nonie Darwish tells The Blaze what she saw happen:

A few people from the audience went to escort them out of the hall, but they refused to leave in defiance. As I was watching from the stage where I had an elevated view, I saw an older gentlemen was trying to escort a female student as she refused to move and was reading her chants from a paper, as he tried to take the paper I saw her elbow move towards the older man and he pushed her away and no one fell or was hurt.

The occupiers did everything to intimidate my sponsors to dis-invite me, then protested outside the hall and when that did not work, they screamed and yelled to silence me in the middle of my lecture. Pro-Israel and critics of Islam and Sharia practically no longer exist on US college campuses who only allow anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American activities throughout the school year…

If the ‘occupiers’ were truly serious about challenging my opinion, they could have waited for the Q and A after my presentation and proved me wrong. Welcome to the West Bank and Gaza culture on our University campuses.

In the description accompanying a YouTube video, one of those who came to hear Darwish speak wrote:

The Nonie Darwish talk had a big turnout and most of the attendees were glad they were there, in spite of SJP and the Occupy people getting together to disrupt the talk and prevent the speaker from speaking in the name of free speech and tolerance. Several people in the audience went to chase them out of the lecture hall, in defense of their own free speech rights. The protesters took choice videos, lied about many things and plastered it all around so it would become news. Strange that these protesters were willing to serve as an object lesson and proof of what Nonie Darwish was telling the audience: Criticism of Islam is not tolerated, and following Sharia, others have no rights or freedoms.


British teachers deserting a chaotic system

Soaring numbers of teachers are taking early retirement amid threats to their pensions, figures revealed yesterday. Almost 9,000 teachers left before the statutory retirement age last year – the highest figure since 1997.

Teachers’ leaders blamed the demands of dealing with unruly pupils as well as pressure from targets and Ofsted inspections. They also cited pay freezes and changes requiring teachers to pay more into pension funds.

The figures – from the Department for Education – also show more than 230,000 qualified teachers aged under 60 are no longer working in schools. A further 80,700 trained as teachers but never entered the classroom. Vast numbers of teachers are ‘out of service’ even though school rolls will rise after a surge in births.

The teachers’ pension age is 65 but those joining prior to 2007 can get their pension at 60.

Some 8,880 state school teachers took early retirement in 2010/11 – 1,570 more than the year before. There were only 2,370 early retirements in 1998/99. Most retiring teachers were aged 55 to 59 but a small number were in their early fifties. The average pension for those retiring early was £15,000 a year – excluding lump sums.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘Excessive workload, a restrictive curriculum and the intense worry and fear regarding Ofsted inspections would certainly lead to many teachers wanting to take early retirement.'

She added: 'The teaching profession comes under almost daily attack and criticism from Government and Ofsted.

‘In too many schools, planning and assessment requirements have become formulaic burdens which have become the bane of teachers’ lives – add to that pay freezes and threats to pensions.’

Teaching unions are battling the Government over pensions, which are becoming less generous due to the squeeze on public finances. The clash has already led to strikes.

Chris McGovern, a former head teacher and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘It is a tough job and it’s not surprising teachers are being ground down by teaching disaffected children and relying on a curriculum that is not relevant.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘It’s no surprise that teachers who joined the profession in the 1970s might choose to draw their pensions early – as is their right.’ He said reforms, including giving teachers more freedom to do their jobs, should help attract and retain staff.


Parents can forget about teaching, kids call the shots

This is true. Twin studies show that IQ is overwhelmingly genetic, with NO influence from the family environment

PARENTS fretting about brain-training their babies have been told to relax - children are like "dandelions" that will flourish almost regardless of what you do.

Brain experts say mums and dads worry unnecessarily about their children's development, because the impact of parenting is limited.

New book Welcome To Your Child's Brain, written by neuroscientists, concludes most children can reach their potential with "good enough" parenting because they are born hard-wired for learning.

"Many modern parents believe that children's personality and adult behaviour are shaped mainly by parenting, but research paints a very different picture," according to the book, due for release in May.

"For many brain functions, from temperament to language to intelligence, the vast majority of children are dandelions ... they flourish in any reasonable circumstances."

But while force-feeding babies and toddlers with learning is not the answer, spending quality time with them is important, say authors Sandra Assmodt and Professor Sam Wang.

"Parents are well suited to teach them, just by interacting with their children in everyday life," they said.

Clinical psychologist Dr Simon Crisp said parents should take cues from their children "because they will learn at a pace that suits them".

"The important thing is to develop a culture at home that values learning," he said. "Make learning fun and enjoyable. Happy and relaxed parents will bring up a happy and relaxed child."


Monday, February 27, 2012

SCOTUS to take new look at affirmative action

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to consider whether the University of Texas at Austin has the right to consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Those bringing the case hope the Supreme Court will restrict or even eliminate the right of colleges to consider race in admissions - a prerogative last affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2003 in a case involving the University of Michigan's law school.

In a sign that is likely to worry supporters of affirmative action (and to cheer critics of the practice), Justice Elena Kagan announced that she took no part in consideration of the appeal seeking a Supreme Court review — a likely sign that she will not take any part in the actual review. Kagan did not announce why, but conservative legal bloggers have been calling on her to recuse herself because of her work as U.S. solicitor general filing a brief in support of the University of Texas. If she continues to recuse herself, a justice thought to be supportive of affirmative action will not be voting.

The case before the Supreme Court now is over whether the University of Texas is exceeding the right granted by the 2003 decision. The plaintiffs argue that because Texas uses a statewide "10%" plan - in which students in the top 10% of their high school classes are automatically admitted to the public college of their choice - the state's flagship university can achieve a diverse student body without race-based policies. (Many Texas high schools have enrollments that are overwhelmingly made up of members of particular racial or ethnic groups, so the plan provides a steady stream of black and Latino students to UT Austin.)

The university and other defenders of affirmative action argue that just because a university can achieve some diversity without the consideration of race and admissions does not mean that it may not also consider race and ethnicity to achieve a higher level of diversity.

The 2003 ruling affirming the right of colleges to consider race in admissions, like most decisions upholding affirmative action plans, suggests that the consideration of race should take place only when other approaches would not work.

In theory, the Supreme Court could rule only on the question of whether universities with admissions plans like that of Texas (a relatively small number) are permitted to also consider race in admissions. But a reopening of the question of the use of race in admissions decisions could involve broader questions about whether any consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions is appropriate. Any such broader consideration makes many college officials very nervous. The Michigan decision was narrowly decided — 5 to 4. The author of the 2003 decision - Justice Sandra Day O'Connor - has since left the court. And the court's decisions since 2003 have shown skepticism about the consideration of race in education and public policy.

The lawsuit over the Texas policies was rejected by a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

But the consideration of the case by the appeals panel demonstrates how divided courts are on these issues. The decision by the court was 3 to 0, but one judge filed a concurring opinion stating that the appeals panel had to rule as it did, given the 2003 Supreme Court case on Michigan, but that the Supreme Court ruling had been incorrect. Then in June, the full appeals court considered whether to take up the case, and rejected that idea by a vote of 9 to 7.

Several groups that have been critical of the consideration of race in admissions decisions have filed briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Texas case. The major higher education associations have not yet weighed in on the case at the Supreme Court. But a coalition of groups, led by the American Council on Education, filed a brief with the Fifth Circuit backing the University of Texas position.


It’s secondary education that needs to get real, Mr. Ebdon

If one phrase were needed to sum up all that is wrong with the choice of Les Ebdon as ‘Fair Access’ Czar of British universities, it must be this: “I don’t think universities can just say: ‘Oh well it is because they are doing the wrong GCSEs’… Universities have to deal with the world as it is rather than the world as we would want.”

What he means is that universities should not be allowed to maintain high standards and insist on schools meeting them. Instead, universities should supplicate themselves to whatever mania is sweeping the teacher training colleges at the time.
Ironically, Ebdon’s policies mark the latest in the public education sector’s long march away from anything resembling ‘the real world’.

As I wrote in June, this sort of thinking is the result of the ‘progressive’ education establishment’s attempt to combine its love for fashionable theories with the terrible results when those theories are field tested.

Instead of adopting more effective teaching methods, to which much of the teaching profession has developed a certain ideological antipathy, state educators realised that they had another option: move the goalposts that marked success.

This started with the concept of ‘value added’ results. In essence, where schools had to deal with ‘disadvantaged’ groups such as ethnic minorities, immigrants or the poor, educators demanded that grades and league table positions reflect how well they thought they had done, given the poor materials to hand. Instead of seeing these children as challenges, they sought excuses.

But all these illusory achievements count for little when universal standards are applied, as in university applications. Because no matter how hard state educators insist that one child’s Cs are equivalent to another’s As because the first child is black or poor, in the ‘real world’ so beloved of Professor Ebdon a C is still a C and an A is still an A. Grade inflation notwithstanding, of course.

Once again, instead of renouncing failing methods ‘progressive’ educators are instead trying to lower the bar. It is our world class universities that must adapt ‘to the real world’, not our many unsatisfactory secondary schools.

Yet even if you crowbar these children into universities, they still aren’t properly equipped for the experience. Some universities already have to dedicate time in first year to equipping students with the sort of basic skills they should have developed during their A Levels.

These students will be accruing tens of thousands of pounds of debt to acquire second- or third-rate qualifications, all the while denying a place to a more capable student and weakening the strength and international competitiveness of British higher education.

Yet how far can this fantasy be sustained? What happens when these students hit the employment market and find that the illusory value-added grades they’ve been given by lazy educators aren’t actually worth the same as qualifications acquired through impartial assessment and intellectual rigour?

Will the next generation of Ebdons insist on ‘value-added’ degrees, and that employers must deal with the world ‘as it really is, not as they would wish it to be’? Will employers be forbidden from ‘discriminating’ against such qualifications?
It sounds totally outlandish. But following the logic of Ebdon’s appointment, it no longer sounds impossible.


Disruptive children in British schools are to be moved to “sin bin” schools

Not quite the "Borstals" of yore but a step in the right directions

Disruptive children are to be educated in “sin bin” schools that will concentrate on basic skills with longer teaching days

A government review after last summer’s riots is to recommend wide-ranging powers for institutions teaching those expelled from mainstream schools.

Ministers will this week announce that the schools, to be known as pupil referral units, will be able to become academies with the power to set their own timetables, curriculum and staff wages. They are designed to tackle what ministers have branded the “educational underclass”.

Head teachers have already been given powers to make it easier to expel unruly children. It is hoped that the disruptive pupils can be moved more quickly to the special units.

The proposals form the central recommendations of a review of school discipline and truancy conducted by Charlie Taylor, a headmaster and the Government’s behaviour adviser.

The review is understood to back higher fines for the parents of truants. Ministers are believed to be in favour of docking benefits if the fines are not paid. However, the publication of the review may be delayed as the Liberal Democrats are understood to be opposed to more draconian sanctions.

Mr Taylor said: “We have a flawed system that fails to provide for some of the most vulnerable children in the country. “If we fail to give them a first-class education then, as the events of this summer showed, we will pay a heavy price. “Mainstream academies flourish and improve faster than the national average. Heads of the best pupil referral units tell me that they want the same freedoms.”

A senior government source said the new generation of schools would focus on teaching basic skills such as reading and writing. Teenagers may also be taught vocational skills. The source said: “They will be freed from the constraints of local authorities to teach their own curriculum and pay staff appropriately.”

Children who are excluded from schools already attract far higher levels of government funding. However, the results from pupil referral units are typically appalling. Figures published last year showed that in 2009-10, only 1.4 per cent of pupils in the institutions achieved five good GCSEs, compared with a national average of more than 53 per cent.

It is hoped that many pupils will be able to return to mainstream schools after short, but intensive periods. The system is the latest reform introduced by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to improve school discipline.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Math Matters

Walter E. Williams

If one manages to graduate from high school without the rudiments of algebra, geometry and trigonometry, there are certain relatively high-paying careers probably off-limits for life -- such as careers in architecture, chemistry, computer programming, engineering, medicine and certain technical fields. For example, one might meet all of the physical requirements to be a fighter pilot, but he's grounded if he doesn't have enough math to understand physics, aerodynamics and navigation. Mathematical ability helps provide the disciplined structure that helps people to think, speak and write more clearly. In general, mathematics is an excellent foundation and prerequisite for study in all areas of science and engineering. So where do U.S. youngsters stand in math?

Drs. Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson, senior fellows at the Hoover Institution, looked at the performance of our youngsters compared with their counterparts in other nations, in their Newsweek article, "Why Can't American Students Compete?" (Aug. 28, 2011), reprinted under the title "Math Matters" in the Hoover Digest (2012). In the latest international tests administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 32 percent of U.S. students ranked proficient in math -- coming in between Portugal and Italy but far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. U.S. students couldn't hold a finger to the 75 percent of Shanghai students who tested proficient.

What about our brightest? It turns out that only 7 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced level in math. Forty-five percent of the students in Shanghai are advanced in math, compared with 20 percent in South Korea and Switzerland and 15 percent of students in Japan, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada.

Hanushek and Peterson find one bright spot among our young people. That's Asian-American students, 52 percent of whom perform at the proficient level or higher. Among white students, only 42 percent perform math at a proficient level. The math performance of black and Hispanic students is a disaster, with only 11 and 15 percent, respectively, performing math at the proficient level or higher.

The National Center for Education Statistics revealed some of the results of American innumeracy. Among advanced degrees in engineering awarded at U.S. universities during the 2007-08 academic year, 28 percent went to whites; 2 percent went to blacks; 2 percent went to Hispanics; and 61 percent went to foreigners. Of the advanced degrees in mathematics, 40 percent went to whites; 2 percent went to blacks; 5 percent went to Hispanics; and 50 percent went to foreigners. For advanced degrees in education, 65 percent went to whites; 17 percent went to blacks; 5 percent went to Hispanics; and 8 percent went to foreigners. The pattern is apparent. The more rigorous a subject area the higher the percentage of foreigners -- and the lower the percentage of Americans -- earning advanced degrees. In subject areas such as education, which have little or no rigor, Americans are likelier -- and foreigners are less likely -- to earn advanced degrees.

In a New York Times article -- "Do We Need Foreign Technology Workers?" (April 8, 2009) -- Dr. Vivek Wadhwa of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University said "that 47 percent of all U.S. science and engineering workers with doctorates are immigrants as were 67 percent of the additions to the U.S. science and engineering work force between 1995 to 2006. And roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students and 40 percent of master's students are foreign nationals."

American mathematic proficiency levels leave a lot to be desired if we're to maintain competitiveness. For blacks and Hispanics, it's a tragedy with little prospect for change, but the solution is not rocket science. During my tenure as a member of Temple University's faculty in the 1970s, I tutored black students in math. When they complained that math was too difficult, I told them that if they spent as much time practicing math as they did practicing jump shots, they'd be just as good at math as they were at basketball. The same message of hard work and discipline applies to all students, but someone must demand it.


The man who wants to dumb down Britain

The new access tsar runs one of the county's WORST universities - offering courses in breast-feeding, counselling, beauty spa management and carnival arts

Professor Les Ebdon likes to begin his PowerPoint presentations by quoting the Roman philosopher Cicero: ‘Wisdom often exists under a shabby coat.’

With his penchant for shapeless suits and loud ties (betraying a dress sense that’s stuck firmly in the world of 1970s academia), such a mantra is perfect for the vice chancellor of the recently created University of Bedfordshire. But his point is a serious one, for Professor Ebdon is evangelical about the need to get more poor students into higher education.

Few would challenge the concept of ‘opportunity for all’, but Ebdon’s ideas on achieving this are radical in the extreme.

He is vehemently against the ‘Oxbridge Obsession’, never mind the acknowledged excellence of other top-level universities.

Most controversially, he is in favour of social engineering, threatening ‘nuclear’ retribution against universities that don’t increase their intake of students from less well-off backgrounds.

He has also spoken of his disapproval of the grand ‘baronial halls’ of leading universities, saying they could deter applicants from a disadvantaged background.

But why bother about the views of a man who presides over the University of Bedfordshire — ranked joint 102nd out of 119 in the Good University Guide? The answer is that he is about to become Head of the Office for Fair Access, the body designed to help more poor students into higher education.

It’s a profoundly contentious appointment. Professor Ebdon has been steam-rollered through by the Lib Dems, against bitter Conservative opposition. Indeed, Vince Cable, the coalition Business Secretary, ignored both the ‘concerns’ of David Cameron and a parliamentary Business Select Committee questioning his suitability for the post.

It was under Tony Blair that Labour first introduced its so-called ‘flagship’ education policy of aiming to send half of all school-leavers to university — leading to widespread fears about the lowering of university standards and devalued degrees.

Now critics of Ebdon, who is on record defending what detractors term ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees, are deeply worried that he will simply continue to dumb down our higher education institutions.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is said privately to have described the Ebdon appointment as a ‘disaster’. Gove has called the trend for universities to skew admissions rules in favour of candidates from under-performing comprehensives as ‘bizarre’, as they give poor schools an excuse not to improve.

Other Tories fear Ebdon will lead a ‘race to the bottom’ of educational standards, forcing universities to slash their entry requirements in pursuit of crude social engineering quotas — or risk having their student fees capped by the new tsar.

A leading critic of university fees, Ebdon’s salary at the University of Bedfordshire is around £246,000. In his new government job, which polices tuition fees and admissions targets, he will be paid £45,000 for just two days a week.

But he will have huge powers over elite universities — able to slash their tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year if they fail to meet targets to take on more students from poor families. He says, rather melodramatically, that he will be an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’.

But apart from social engineering – what, precisely, does Professor Ebdon, 65, believe in? He is fervently pro ‘modern’ universities — many are ex-polytechnics — railing against the traditional system which has seen Britain’s top universities become world leaders and magnets for research funding.

The Cambridge-Oxford-London ‘Golden Triangle’ group of universities is in his firing line. Why should these establishments receive more money for research than lesser institutions, he asks? Isn’t that elitism? Just because they are better, should they get more money?

He highlights the great potential of newer institutions’ research facilities by mentioning the Fitflop footwear range which was developed at London Southbank University.

As the former chairman of the Million+ think-tank, which represents newer universities including Kingston University London and the University of Wolverhampton, he speaks of such colleges as ‘modern universities’ — as opposed to ‘traditional institutions’, which, in politically correct circles, are considered inaccessible and elitist.

Asked about his own university’s lowly position in the national rankings, his answer was revealing. ‘It’s a snobs’ table,’ he said. ‘Institutions like Cambridge and Oxford are always at the front, while newer places bring up the rear.’

At the University of Bedfordshire (formerly the less illustrious-sounding Luton College of Higher Education), he stresses the importance of ‘widening participation’, ‘social mobility’ and ‘fair access’.

Yet he ignores the latest research that shows the under-representation of working-class pupils in leading universities is due to the poor quality of teaching in many state schools, rather than entry hurdles.

The courses on offer at his institution do not include traditional degree courses such as maths, physics, chemistry, history or modern languages.

Instead, there is a less-than-scholastic two-year course in carnival arts — teaching undergraduates how to design costumes and allowing them ‘to take part in Europe’s largest one-day carnival: the Luton International Carnival’.

Then there is the degree in advertising, and in beauty spa management. Work experience ‘is gained from working in the college’s own salon’. Students will also become ‘expert in hairstyles, wig dressing and making, fashion styling and make-up.’

A fashion and surface pattern design course promises to ‘develop and constantly build upon your creative and problem solving skills’.

Next up is the event management course, during which students will go on ‘sporting field trips to venues like Luton Town Football Club, Twickenham, Wimbledon, Eastlands Stadium, Manchester and the Woburn Golf Club’.

Not surprisingly, there is also a football studies course in which students are given a ‘broad overview of football within a business, coaching and educational environment’. The course is ‘underpinned by academic theory related to football, sport and leisure, and will involve students in the application of concepts in industry-related scenarios and realistic simulations.’ It doesn’t stop there. Students on the sports therapy course will ‘gain qualifications and professional practice in body massage and sports massage’.

In addition, there are courses in beauty therapy and breast-feeding counselling, on which students will ‘work with parents in a person-centred manner that respects individuals’ beliefs and needs’ and will ‘be made aware of the significance of issues of diversity in your practice’.

There are also courses in animal management, advertising design and computer game design and a post-graduate course in sport tourism management (which teaches ‘academic theory in tourism, leisure and events’). Dumbed down indeed!

The University of Bedfordshire also awarded the late TV presenter Sir Jimmy Savile an Honorary Doctor of Arts in 2009. Well-loved he may have been, but he is hardly an exemplar of academic excellence.

In the last year for which statistics are given, almost 13 per cent of Ebdon’s students dropped out of their studies. The national drop-out average was just below 8 per cent, although the university says its drop-out rate is close to the benchmark set by the Government.

In 2004, the then Luton University famously proposed relaxing the consequences for students failing second-year exams, leading one newspaper to ask: ‘Is this the worst university in Britain?’

In 2009, Ebdon backed plans to give students from poor families a head start by offering them places at university on lower exam grades.

He launched a scathing attack on medical schools, mostly found in the top universities, as ‘full of very earnest young people from middle-class backgrounds’ who, he said, might be unwilling to practise in working-class areas.

On being appointed to his new position as access tsar, Ebdon said: ‘I feel privileged to be appointed to this post at such a key time. I am passionate about access to higher education and strongly believe that no one should be put off from going to university because of their family background or income.’

His political ideas on the future of education in Britain are firmly grounded in his own background. He said in March last year: ‘I myself came from a background where nobody had previously been to university, and I remember every time I had a setback, the common response from people in my peer group back home to me was: “University is not for the likes of us.” ’

He said last September: ‘To date, ministers have been too focused on the progression of relatively small numbers of students to a relatively small number of universities.

‘These are very limited aspirations and will do little to ensure the progress of people from groups traditionally under-represented in higher education — those from poorer backgrounds, those who are the first-in-family to go to university, black and ethnic minority students and mature and part-time students.’

The Russell Group, which represents Britain’s top 20 universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, wants to see a return to fewer, higher quality students. Instead, Ebdon is lobbying for the removal of a cap on student numbers.

He acknowledges this will be costly, but says: ‘The easiest thing in the world would be for my board of governors to say to me, “Stop doing all this widening participation work. Go and get some of these easier students to teach with three As at A-level, and save us all a bit of money.”

‘I think it is important, if the Government’s belief is behind their rhetoric, that they recognise these increased costs and that it is important for government money to be there to support them.’

Quite how this can be sustained at a time of austerity and public spending cuts is another matter. Indeed, in their report, the MPs on the Business Select Committee accused Professor Ebdon of woolly-thinking.

Ebdon faced intense questioning from members of the committee about his suitability for the access role. He responded by chastising highly selective universities with ‘patchy’ records on access, saying that he would be prepared to use the ‘nuclear option’ of stopping institutions from charging higher fees if they did not measure up.

The MPs later voiced their concerns, saying: ‘We struggled to get a clear picture of Professor Ebdon’s strategy for the future.’ They concluded: ‘We recommend that the Department conducts a new recruitment exercise.’

Just why Vince Cable has chosen to ride rough-shod over their views, and why the Prime Minister has allowed him to do so, is deeply worrying. But the tragedy is that the effects of the appointment of this unashamed social engineer risk damaging academic standards in Britain for several generations.


More red tape, more autonomy, less choice in Australian education?

Kevin Donnelly

If we project the Gonski school funding recommendations into the future, it is possible to make some hypothetical predictions.

It is possible they would improve state schools by making them more autonomous and giving parents more input into their running, but they would also further bureaucratise school funding and reduce the range of choices for mothers and fathers.

The contradiction in the Gonski report is this: it argues giving schools increased flexibility and freedom will improve results and raise standards, but at the same time recommends increased bureaucracy and red tape and an accountability regime that will restrict innovation and diversity.

A defining characteristic of the Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard education revolution is its top-down approach. While the Commonwealth government neither manages schools nor employs staff, its national curriculum, testing, teacher registration and certification, and partnership agreements - all linked to funding - have centralised control of education and led to more micromanagement.

Schools would suffer additional compliance costs and red tape under the Gonski recommendation for additional government-sponsored agencies such as the National School Resources Body and School Planning Authorities in the various states.

Then there is the impact inside the classroom. Linking funding to measures such as National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results would exacerbate the negative influence of standardised testing.

The curriculum will narrow, teachers will feel pressure to be bean counters and schools will be forced to contrive ways to ensure that test results improve. As in the US, especially New York, where there is a history of standardised tests and public accountability, there will also be pressure on governments and education authorities in Australia to water down tests and artificially lift results to convince a sceptical public that standards are being raised.

Over the past 20 years or so, school choice in Australia has become a reality. Many parents have voted with their feet, choosing non-government schools. While enrolments in Catholic and independent schools have grown by approximately 20 per cent, government school enrolments have flatlined at a little more than 1 per cent.

Across Australia, some 34 per cent of students attend non-government schools; more than 50 per cent in some capital cities. Critics argue non-government schools have been so successful because of the Howard government's supposedly inequitable socio-economic status (SES) funding model. They also argue the success of Catholic and independent schools residualises government schools and exacerbates disadvantage as they are left with high concentrations of at-risk and poorly performing students.

But there are two problems with Gonski's team accepting these arguments, which will only make the situation in state schools worse. Firstly, parents are choosing non-government schools because of their values, not just their resources. Secondly, labelling state schools as underperformers will lead to fewer enrolments. Parents are naturally averse to sending their children to a school characterised as serving at-risk students, especially when non-government schools are seen to achieve better results.

The report does nod in the direction of increased school autonomy and allowing schools to better respond to the needs and aspirations of their communities. So parents in future could expect co-operative state governments to free schools from a one-size-fits-all model of educational delivery and ensure that schools, both government and non-government, are more able to manage their own affairs.

Gonski argues for more community engagement with schools, for example, and a greater role for parents, businesses and philanthropic groups. This will add to the pressure on governments to give schools control over budgets, hiring and firing staff and their culture and curriculum focus. So parents could have more input into how the local state school runs.

Then again, the Gonski report could also have an unintended consequence. By recommending that government and non-government students with a disability receive equal funding and that such funding should be portable, it could produce a sort of pilot study for a voucher system for all students. Governments would then be forced to acknowledge that parents have a right to choose where their children go to school and to ensure money follows the child and parents are not financially penalised for their choice.

Of course, given the Gillard government's decision to put the report on the backburner, postponing any decisions until after another round of consultations and submissions, its future is uncertain at best.

Given that the opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has argued for the existing SES model and expressed doubts about the report, any future Coalition government is likely to shelve it or accept its proposals very selectively.

SOURCE. A lot of interesting commentary here on Finland, genetics and such things