Saturday, March 17, 2012

UNC Students Walk Out of Pro-Israel Talk — Led by Student Whose Father Is Tied to Muslim Brotherhood

David Horowitz has never been one for making Muslims feel comfortable. His anti-Sharia activism on college campuses, especially, has yielded interesting results, sometimes including open support for extermination of Jews, as with what happened at the University of California San Diego.

But now Horowitz might not even be getting the chance to speak. In fact, the pro-Israel activist’s Monday speech at the University of North Carolina (UNC) led to a mass walkout by students, which left almost no one in attendance to hear Horowitz’s talk. The Daily Tar Heel picks up the story:
In Monday’s lecture, Horowitz argued that Palestine is trying to destroy Israel and that Israel fights back only in self-defense.

Horowitz criticized groups like the Muslim Students Association, linking them to various terrorist groups. He also compared Muslims to Nazis.

“There are good Muslims and there are bad Muslims,” he said. “But there were good Germans too, and in the end they didn’t make a damn difference.”

The walkout has since spawned multiple disavowals and apologies on the part of other pro-Israel groups, including the campus chapter of Hillel.

But was Horowitz that far off? Information about one of the students involved in the walkout, who has since spoken publicly on behalf of those who did choose to walk out, suggests that there may have been more afoot than simple reaction to “bigotry.”

The Daily Tar Heel article quotes one Mariem Masmoudi, a co-founder of the University of North Carolina’s Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, as calling Horowitz’s words “completely insulting and destructive.”

This sounds innocent enough until you realize that Masmoudi is more than an innocent, offended college student. She is, in fact, an experienced student revolutionary who has blogged about her experiences fighting in the Tunisian “Jasmine” revolution at her aptly named blog, “Youth in Revolt.” She describes herself this way:
My name is Mariem Masmoudi, and this site is the electronic equivalent of my life for the 6 months between January and August, 2011.

I withdrew from my last semester at UNC-Chapel Hill before my planned-May 2011 graduation to do what I can in the pursuit of real and lasting democratic reforms. [...]

This is a blog about youth in an ACTUAL revolution.

As it turns out, not only is she a former youth revolutionary, but her own father runs an organization which arguably has deep ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Meet Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, former engineer turned co-founder of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). CSID’s bio describes him thusly:
Radwan has written and published several papers on the subject of democracy, diversity, human rights, and tolerance in Islam. In recent years, Radwan has visited, organized events, and spoken at major international conferences in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Sudan, Nigeria, the Philippines/Mindanao, Germany, South Africa, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

Sounds like Dr. Masmoudi might be one of those Muslim equivalents of the “good Germans,” right? Maybe, maybe not. Many of Dr. Masmoudi’s efforts have received glowing coverage from the Muslim Brotherhood, including a little gem titled “Islamist Govts Not the Enemy, Say Mideast Experts.” The leader of these experts? Radwan Masmoudi. His organization, CSID, also coordinated with the Muslim Brotherhood to host a Tunisian terrorist leader in June of last year.

In the interests of fairness, it should be noted that Masmoudi and his daughter may simply be too naive to know who their friends are. Some might say they have the wrong enemies, if the younger Masmoudi’s response to David Horowitz is any guide.


Warning over acute shortage of primary school places in England

The education system is at crisis point because of a lack of primary school places, a leading academic has warned. Prof John Howson, senior research fellow at Oxford University, said the shortage of places for five-year-olds was the “biggest problem” facing schools in England.

He warned that successive governments had failed to properly prepare for the surge in applications, which has been caused by rising birth rates and the effects of immigration.

The comments came as figures showed that more than 800,000 extra places would be needed in state-funded nursery and primary schools by the end of the decade.

According to official forecasts, the number of under-11s in the education system will rise from 4m to 4.82m by 2020 – taking the primary school population to its highest level since the early 70s.

It is feared rising numbers of children will be placed in mobile classrooms or taught in converted church halls to ease the pressure on places in some areas, particularly parts of London and the south-west.

Prof Howson, managing director of, an Oxford-based research company, said schools “have known this boom was coming for quite a long while and both the last government and this government have been very tardy in dealing with it”.

“I think it is probably the biggest problem that is facing schooling in Britain at present,” he said. “The last government was fixated on rebuilding every secondary school when it should have been diverting some of that many into building places in the primary sector.”

The Coalition has pledged to invest £4bn over the next four years to create additional primary school capacity.

But there are fears it will not be enough to ease the pressure on places in some areas. Sutton Council in south London recently appealed to the Government to increase the maximum class size for infants – from 30 to 32 – because of the demand for places.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Howson added: “Many parents are anxious that their child will not be able to go to the local school; that they may be separated from people who live next door to them.

“In some cases, there will be a lot more demountable classrooms taking up space in school playgrounds because we haven’t built enough new primary schools. And in some cases, that may mean that we have to take emergency measures like converting other buildings into primary schools.”


Sydney university perceived as being in the world's top 100

Since I have a large document issued to me by USyd, I am rather pleased by this. Rankings are all very arbitrary but perception is arguably the most important criterion -- JR

The University of Sydney is among four Australian universities ranked in the top 100 by reputation, in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2012.

Sydney was ranked 50, up from last year's position in the 51-60 slot, but behind the University of Melbourne and Australian National University, which were placed 43 and 44 respectively. The University of Queensland also moved up, to be listed in the 71-80 block.

Each of the four improved their positions from last year, the first time Times Higher Education published the peer-voted list.

The elite, "super group" of universities in the top 10 is dominated by American and British institutions with one Japanese university breaking into the top tier. Harvard tops the list and the University of Cambridge is third, with the University of Tokyo coming in to eighth position.

Melbourne and ANU are ranked more highly on the performance rankings at 39 and 40 respectively, while Sydney and UQ have a better reputation than performance, listed 60 and 76 on the list of top performers.

California Institute of Technology is the top performer on the traditional rankings, which has Oxford ahead of its long-time rival Cambridge.

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education Reputation Rankings, said Australia's position on the reputation list was good news for the country, showing that its global reputation was improving, while some of the most distinguished universities were falling in stature.

"This reputation-only index is very good news for Australia – all four of its representatives in the world top 100 have risen up the table, with three of the four now making the global top 50. This is clear evidence that Australia's universities are rising in stature internationally, while competitors in the US and UK are seeing their global brands suffer."

More than 17,000 academics from 137 countries were surveyed about "the best" institutions in their own field of expertise. The list is intended to complement the Times's traditional performance ranking, which it publishes in October.

"This is a subsidiary of the world rankings, it's based only on reputation alone," Mr Baty said. "It's a very quirky exercise - and it's purely based on academics' perception so it's a subjective opinion only."

Mr Baty said Simon Marginson, an academic at the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education, had been a helpful adviser on improving the way universities are represented.

"Funnily enough, the origins of this is Simon Marginson from the University of Melbourne - he often has been a great critic of rankings but he's been a very helpful adviser to us on how we make our rankings more rigorous and more transparent.

"With the main rankings which we publish in October we use 13 performance indicators: research impact, we look at income, we look at research productivity, we look across a real range of indicators, and he always used to argue that we separate the subjective part of the main rankings."


Friday, March 16, 2012

Student Loans: America's Next Debt Bomb

I understated things earlier when I wrote that the student loan bubble “may” explode in taxpayers’ faces, as law professor Glenn Reynolds pointed out. An explosion seems increasingly likely. The Washington Post recently concluded that student loans could be America’s next “debt bomb“: “Bankruptcy lawyers have a frightening message for America: They’re seeing the telltale signs of a student loan debt bubble,” notes the Post. “Bankruptcy lawyers have seen a substantial increase in the number of clients seeking relief from student loans in recent years.” Many of the “parents or guardians who co-signed the student loans face the prospect of losing their life savings, cars or homes to collection agencies.” In recent years, student loan debt has skyrocketed from $100 billion to $867 billion, “surpassing the $704 billion in outstanding credit card debt,” says UPI. There has been a massive “spike in” student loan debt owed to the Education Department over the “last three years.” Will these skyrocketing financial burdens lead to a clamor for massive bailouts at taxpayer expense?

This massive student loan debt is not buying much of an education for many students. At Minding the Campus, Mary Grabar discusses the slanted, error-filled writings used to teach English majors in America’s politically correct universities, where ignorance of history is apparently a selling point. Texts for English students celebrate Obama’s speeches, like his Cairo speech that contained historical errors, and treat them as if they were on par with the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. As Grabar notes, in the English texts that venerate Obama’s speeches, “Obama’s historical inaccuracies in” his Cairo “speech go unchallenged, like attributing the invention of printing to Muslims (it was the Chinese) or crediting Morocco with being the first to recognize the United States ( No–Russia, France, Spain and the Netherlands did it earlier).” As Grabar points out, “Obama’s claims in his Cairo speech are presented without any skepticism” by English textbook writers, despite the factual errors, and the fact that even the liberal Huffington Post noted the speech’s “lack of substance.”

As USA Today noted earlier, college students learn less and less with each passing year, according to recently-released research. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” Thirty-two percent never take “a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

Actions by the Obama administration have increased college costs and driven up tuition. The administration has discouraged vocational training needed for high-paid, skilled factory work, contributing to a severe shortage of skilled factory workers — thus making it harder for factories to expand their operations and hire workers, including the unskilled workers among whom unemployment remains highest.


The Big Hoax of equal treatment in the schools

Thomas Sowell

There have been many frauds of historic proportions -- for example, the financial pyramid scheme for which Charles Ponzi was sent to prison in the 1920s, and for which Franklin D. Roosevelt was praised in the 1930s, when he called it Social Security. In our own times, Bernie Madoff's hoax has made headlines.

But the biggest hoax of the past two generations is still going strong -- namely, the hoax that statistical differences in outcomes for different groups are due to the way other people treat those groups.

The latest example of this hoax is the joint crusade of the Department of Education and the Department of Justice against schools that discipline black males more often than other students. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this disparity in punishment violates the "promise" of "equity."

Just who made this promise remains unclear, and why equity should mean equal outcomes despite differences in behavior is even more unclear. This crusade by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is only the latest in a long line of fraudulent arguments based on statistics.

If black males get punished more often than Asian American females, does that mean that it is somebody else's fault? That it is impossible that black males are behaving differently from Asian American females? Nobody in his right mind believes that. But that is the unspoken premise, without which the punishment statistics prove nothing about "equity."

What is the purpose or effect of this whole exercise by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice? To help black students or to secure the black vote in an election year by seeming to be coming to the rescue of blacks from white oppression?

Among the many serious problems of ghetto schools is the legal difficulty of getting rid of disruptive hoodlums, a mere handful of whom can be enough to destroy the education of a far larger number of other black students -- and with it destroy their chances for a better life.

Judges have already imposed too many legalistic procedures on schools that are more appropriate for a courtroom. "Due process" rules that are essential for courts can readily become "undue process" in a school setting, when letting clowns and thugs run amok, while legalistic procedures to suspend or expel them drag on. It is a formula for educational and social disaster.

Now Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder want to play the race card in an election year, at the expense of the education of black students. Make no mistake about it, the black students who go to school to get an education are the main victims of the classroom disrupters whom Duncan and Holder are trying to protect.


The cost of ‘fair access' in Britain will be higher fees

Last time I posted here, I attacked Professor Les Ebdon’s plan to poison the well of British higher education by subjugating the admission criteria of our best universities to ‘progressive’ political priorities.

However, before and after that article I’ve found that ‘merciless meritocracy’ is insufficient to sway some of my progressively-minded student friends. Equalising university access chances between high-achievers and the rest is ‘fair’. So entrenched is their opposition to selective and private education, or even the ‘internal market’ of parent choice, that the argument that it is schools that have failed similarly go nowhere.

So we who support the continued excellence of our top-flight universities need a new argument. One less vested in meritocratic principle not shared by our opponents, and grounded in something that both sides understand. Something like money, for example.

The case is fairly simple. Since Tony Blair engorged it, higher education in this country has become very expensive for the government to provide. As a result, governments have had to introduce fees, which have not been popular with students. Yet the fees for enfranchised domestic students have been held down by the much higher fees charged to international students.

International students are one of the financial keystones of UK higher education, worth “billions” of pounds per annum. The Guardian figures from 2009 show that foreign students were facing fees of up to £20,000 a year.

International students are willing to pay such fees, for now, because the UK’s best universities rank amongst the best on earth. With access criteria designed to ensure global competitiveness and attract the best and brightest from around the world, universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College et al are maintaining their global position despite the slump in the UK’s relative performance in secondary education exams.

However, if we start channelling less capable students into these institutions in the name of ‘fairness’, what do we think will happen?

For a start, the universities will have to expend ever more time and resources bringing their entry-level students up to the standards required for rigorous undergraduate study. It is also probable that the standards of attainment by graduates will fall as people who weren’t ready pass through the system.

Sure, in domestic terms the government can undoubtedly nobble these results: we will doubtless start seeing ‘value added’ degrees to maintain the illusion of attainment if the likes of Ebdon have their way. But in international terms, our comparative results will slump.

Much more directly than secondary education results, this will matter. If our universities are not internationally competitive, they won’t attract the same quality or volume of international students. The cost in global connexions and revenue could be astronomical.

Once the universities lose this lucrative source of funding, the only ways to make up the shortfall will be higher fees for students or higher taxes on the general population. Poorer students will find themselves taking on more debt for degrees whose value is decaying.

All in the name of ‘fair access’.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Higher-Education Bubble Has Popped

A college degree once looked to be the path to prosperity. In an article for TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy writes, "Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe."

But the jobs that made higher education pay off during the inflationary boom, kicked into high gear by Nixon waving goodbye to the last shreds of a gold standard, came primarily from government and finance.

In 1990, 6.4 million people worked for federal, state, and local governments. By 2010, that number had grown almost 6 times — to 38.3 million — with many of these jobs being white-collar.

In 1990, the financial sector was less than 7.5 percent of the S&P 500. By 2006, this sector had grown to 22.3 percent of the S&P, and that year the financial sector constituted 45 percent of the index's earnings.

In fact, all this amazing wealth is fragile, a castle built on sands of illusion. It cannot last. There is no means to substitute banknotes and deposits for nonexistent capital goods.

Times have changed.

Last week, HSBC Holding Plc announced plans to eliminate 30,000 jobs worldwide by the end of 2013. The job cuts will affect "support staff where we believe we have created an unnecessary bureaucracy in this firm over a number of years," HSBC chief executive officer Stuart Gulliver said.

Goldman Sachs plans to cut 1,000 positions. Bank of America is laying off 1,500 employees and closing 600 retail branches.

At the same time that banks are trimming their fat, according to a Labor Department report released earlier this month, from May 2010 to May 2011 local governments shed 267,000 jobs and state governments 24,000. Local government employment in May, at 14.165 million jobs, was the lowest since July 2006.

An increase in the amount of real savings, which induces a fall in the interest rate and a lengthening of the production schedule, increases an economy's productive capacity, creating genuine growth brought about by the investment in higher-order goods such as factories and other production assets.

Conversely, easy, cheap credit fools entrepreneurs into believing that society's collective time preference has fallen, enticing them into investing in higher-order goods, such as land, factories, and the like — when in fact the collective time preference hasn't changed, and the demand for higher-order goods is merely a mirage. The result is booms and busts rather than genuine growth.

College degrees are similar to what the Austrians call higher-order goods. It's thought that a student will gain knowledge and seasoning in college that will make him or her more productive and a candidate for a high-paying career. The investment of time and money in knowledge pays through higher productivity and is translated into higher income. Higher education is the higher-order means to a successful career.

PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, questioning the value of higher education, tells TechCrunch:

"A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed. Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It's like telling the world there's no Santa Claus."

The excesses of both college and homeownership were always excused by a core national belief that, no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated.

The New York Times' David Leonhardt even claims:

"Construction workers, police officers, plumbers, retail salespeople and secretaries, among others, make significantly more with a degree than without one. Why? Education helps people do higher-skilled work, get jobs with better-paying companies or open their own businesses."

Using data from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, Leonhardt asserts that dishwashers with college degrees make $34,000 a year while those without make $19,000.

No employer in their right mind would pay nearly double for a dishwasher with a college degree. However, there are plenty of fresh college graduates cobbling together multiple low-level jobs just to make ends meet.

"More college graduates are working in second jobs that don't require college degrees," writes Hannah Seligson in the New York Times, "part of a phenomenon called 'mal-employment.' In short, many baby-sitters, sales clerks, telemarketers and bartenders are overqualified for their jobs."

Nearly 2 million college graduates were mal-employed last year, up 17 percent from 2007. Nearly half of all college graduates are working at a job not requiring a degree.

In the United States, 80,000 bartenders as well as 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees. Nearly a quarter of all retail salespersons have a college degree. In all, 17 million Americans with college degrees are working at jobs that do not require a bachelor's degree.

"Young college graduates working multiple jobs is a natural consequence of a bad labor market and having, on average, $20,000 worth of student loans to pay off," said Carl E. Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.

"The median starting salary for those who graduated from four-year degree programs in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who graduated in 2006 to 2008, before the recession," Seligson writes, adding, "Try living on $27,000 a year — before taxes — in a city like New York, Washington or Chicago."

Like all booms, higher education has been fueled by credit. In June of last year, total student-loan debt exceeded total credit-card debt outstanding for the first time, totaling more than $900 billion.

All of this credit has pushed the average cost of tuition up 440 percent in the last 25 years, more than four times the rate of inflation. But while the factors of production on campus have been bid up, just as they are in any other asset boom, the return on investment is a bust. In 1992, there were 5.1 million mal-employed college graduates. By 2008, the number was 17 million.

Not only are the returns poor, but the quality of the product is poor (as in the case of new-construction quality in the housing boom). According to the authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, 45 percent of students make no gains in their critical reasoning and thinking skills, as well as writing ability, after two years in college. More than one out of three college seniors were no better at writing and thinking than they were when they first arrived at their campuses.

Many projects contemplated and started during the real-estate boom are never completed, as prices are bid up, and owners run out of capital. Such is the case for many attending college, as over 45 percent of those who enroll as freshmen ultimately give up, realizing they lack the disciplinary and mental capital, and do not graduate.

Similar to the government push for increased homeownership, government is foursquare behind having more young people attend universities. One of President Obama's top goals is to increase the number of Americans attending college.

But why? "Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted," reported the Times recently. "That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007."

And because they can't find jobs, 85 percent of college grads move back in with their parents after they graduate. According to a poll by Twentysomething Inc., a marketing and research firm based in Philadelphia, that rate has steadily risen from 67 percent in 2006.

Perversely, while the market tries to clear away malinvestments in finance and real estate, plus the jobs that supported them, colleges continue to turn out more business majors than any other discipline. In 2007 and 2008 there were more than 335,000 business degrees granted — 100,000 more than a decade before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

At the same time as law schools have a building boom underway, many new law grads can't find work or are working temporary jobs at $15 an hour.

David Segal reports for The New York Times:

"As other industries close offices and downsize plants, the manufacturing base behind the doctor of jurisprudence keeps growing. Fordham Law School in New York recently broke ground on a $250 million, 22-story building. The University of Baltimore School of Law and the University of Michigan Law School are both working on buildings that cost more than $100 million. Marquette University Law School in Wisconsin has just finished its own $85 million project. A bunch of other schools have built multimillion dollar additions."

And while law grads can't find work, law schools are enrolling more students than ever before at tuition rates of $40,000+ a year. Segal explains that law-school tuition has increased at 4 times the rate of undergraduate education, which itself has increased 4 times the CPI. "From 1989 to 2009, when college tuition rose by 71 percent, law school tuition shot up 317 percent."

Students and their parents are investing in the higher-order good of a college degree, in the mistaken belief that plenty of jobs await college graduates at the end of four or six or seven years. However, time preferences haven't changed. The demand for consumer goods remains, and that's where the jobs are. The boom in demand for bankers, barristers, and bureaucrats is over.


Most British children still in mixed-ability classes, despite endless promises from ministers

Most classes in secondary schools are still mixed-ability, despite repeated Conservative and Labour promises to increase the use of streaming. Ofsted figures show that state school pupils are taught in streams or sets for just 45 per cent of their lessons. The split was the same 15 years ago.

Tony Blair’s decision to drop Labour’s historic support for mixed-ability teaching in 1997 was seen as an acknowledgement that the practice had failed a generation. Labour education ministers repeated the commitment, claiming that sorting pupils by ability helped ‘raise standards’.

While in opposition, the Conservatives also demanded changes. David Cameron called for a ‘grammar stream’ in every subject in all comprehensives, saying he was ‘passionate about the importance of setting by ability within schools, so that we stretch the brightest kids and help those in danger of being left behind’.

Despite this claim, his party has said little on the issue since entering into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Responding to a Commons written question, Tory schools minister Nick Gibb said last week: ‘The Department [for Education] has not provided specific guidance to schools on setting. However, case studies showing the effective use of setting in schools are available on the Department’s website.’

Figures show that just 36 per cent of year seven lessons – for 11- to 12-year-olds – observed by Ofsted inspectors in 2010/11 were organised into ability groups. The rate rose to 48 per cent among 15- to 16-year-olds, and averaged 45 per cent across all age groups. In 1997/98, the average was also 45 per cent. Year seven pupils had 31 per cent of their classes split by ability, while in year eleven the rate was 46 per cent.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘Teachers should have high expectations for all pupils regardless of ability, with brighter pupils stretched and weaker students given the support they need.

‘It is for schools to judge how and when to group and set pupils by ability – they are best placed to know exactly what their students need.

‘Parents would expect teachers to keep control of their lessons regardless of if it is mixed-ability or not – that’s why we have given them tough, new powers to restore their authority.’


New Australian Distance Education curriculum makes kids cry, mothers claim

REMOTE families are looking to move closer to town or leave Distance Education as a new curriculum plays "absolute havoc" with their lives.

Parents say children have been left in tears and are losing their self-confidence because of Distance Education curriculum material that contains factual errors, technical language even parents cannot understand and incomprehensible jumps in its content.

Education Queensland is being accused of playing "absolute havoc" with remote families' lives over its Distance Education version of Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C) - computer-based documents written to support the roll-out of the Australian Curriculum.

Cairns School of Distance Education Queensland Teachers' Union representative Mark Hollands said he was embarrassed by factual errors in the documents, the material assumed children had learnt concepts they hadn't, and it was too technical for parents.

Brisbane School of Distance Education agreed dozens of mistakes were made in their original package but said these were few overall and more explanations would be sent to parents soon.

Executive principal Neil McDonald said the package had a "95 per cent-plus rate of functionality on our first run".

Isolated Children's Parents' Association Queensland president Andrew Pegler said he acknowledged the hard work of curriculum writers to fix C2C problems but more resources were needed.

Far north Queensland mother-of-four Fiona Mitchell said children were in tears over the material, which they couldn't understand.

QTU president Kevin Bates said there were often problems in the beginning of any new curriculum roll-out.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Peter Thiel, university-hater, heads to campus

Peter Thiel, the superstar Silicon Valley investor, has famously dismissed university as a waste of time and money, and even offered students cash to drop out. But his views apparently do not apply to himself - or to Stanford University.

Thiel, 44, will teach at the elite university this spring, sharing pearls of entrepreneurial wisdom in a class called "Computer Science 183: Startup." The course is already oversubscribed, with Thiel's return to his alma mater sparking both enthusiasm and skepticism on a campus increasingly obsessed with start-up success.

"It's puzzling to us what he has to say," said Nruthya Madappa, a senior in electrical engineering who saw rumors of Thiel's class explode on her Facebook news feed on a recent evening and rushed to sign up "several minutes" after course enrollment went live.

"He's famously known to make people furious with his views and the way he questions things," she said. "But he's challenging us to look at our education here in a different way."

Thiel, who co-founded online payment processor PayPal and later reaped billions with bets on gilded names like Facebook, LinkedIn and Zynga, is known for his maverick ways, even emerging recently as the main financial backer for libertarian presidential contender Ron Paul. Thiel has argued that the brightest young minds should strike out on their own and start companies rather than take on crushing debt to pursue a college degree.

Never mind that Thiel himself holds both a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a law degree from Stanford; he has backed up his talk with his checkbook. Last year, Thiel started a fellowship that offered $100,000 to 20 budding entrepreneurs between the ages of 14 and 20 who would drop out to focus on their ventures.

But Thiel last year also submitted a formal course proposal to Stanford after approaching Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford computer science professor, to discuss the possibility of teaching. (Thrun has since left the university to work on an online education project.)

"If I do my job right, this is the last class you'll ever have to take," Thiel said through a spokesman.

Mehran Sahami, the department's associate chair for education, said the curriculum committee debated whether Thiel would use the class as a conduit to recruit students to his companies. Other faculty voiced concerns that they were "not sure of his motivations given his history with respect to universities," Sahami said.

"We went into this with eyes wide open," said Sahami, a former research scientist at Google. "But on balance, this would be something our students would benefit from."

Still others, like Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford's Rock Center of Corporate Governance, were not so sure.

"It's hypocritical, but I'm not surprised," Wadhwa said. "The same people who go around bashing education are the most educated. What's he going to do? Tell students, ‘When you graduate from my class, drop out right after that?'"

Jim O'Neill, the head of the Thiel Foundation, which administers the entrepreneurship fellowship, said that the investor has been concerned for several years about the skyrocketing cost of tuition and the burdens of student debt for many graduates.

"He's only said that college is good value for some people, it's just not necessarily a good value for everyone," O'Neill said. "He's not calling for the abolition of college."

Thiel chose to deliver his message in the classroom because he "wants to reach out to people in many different spaces," O'Neill said, adding that Thiel chose Stanford, his alma mater, because the university's startup culture made it a "natural fit."


British School exams subjected to equality checks to stamp out bias

Examiners are closely vetting primary school test papers to ensure they do not discriminate against children on the grounds of race or gender, it has emerged.

They have resorted to counting the number of black and white children pictured in exams to reduce “potential bias” in this year's tests, it was revealed.

Test developers analysed papers – sat by up to 600,000 children in England – to ensure they do not prejudice ethnic minorities, the disabled and boys as opposed to girls by using images that promote one group over another.

But Ofqual, the qualifications watchdog, says examiners should go even further to minimise bias for "protected" groups. This could result in exam bosses monitoring the performance of gay and bisexual pupils in English, maths and science tests.

Critics have attacked the recommendations and claim that Ofqual should concentrate on monitoring exam standards instead of promoting equality. Nick Seaton, secretary of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “It's political correctness gone mad.

“Of course, there shouldn't be any huge bias for any group but going into this sort of detail, such as counting the number of black children in diagrams, is a waste of someone's time and taxpayers' money.”

Pupils aged 11 currently take Sats tests in the final year of primary education in England. Test developers contracted by Standards and Testing Agency – an executive agency within the Department for Education – have already prepared for this year’s exams.

A report into the preparations – by Ofqual – said examiners had attempted “to identify items/questions which may be potentially biased against particular groups, such as boys in comparison to girls (and vice versa)”.

It also said they had analysed “the number of images of black and minority ethnic children appearing in the test paper versus the number of images of white children, the representation of children with a range of physical disabilities and the choice of personal names used in the questions”.

But is said examiners should go further by carrying out a “detailed analysis of the performance of children who fall within protected characteristics [of the Equalities Act 2010]”. This includes children of different sexual orientation, age, race, religion and those with disabilities.

An Ofqual spokeswoman confirmed that was recommending that the Standards and Testing Agency undertakes the additional analysis after the tests have been sat by all students.

She said that “previous studies have looked at the performance of different groups of pupils in tests under development, but not the actual performance of students when the tests are administered nationally”.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that while equality was important, it was “absurd to pursue it to this extreme”.

“This pursuit of 'fairness' is getting in the way of the essential purpose of the tests, which is to look at the extent to which the young person can use words and numbers fluently,” he said. “Essentially, there's a balance to be struck between excellence and equality but it looks to me that political correctness has tipped us too far in the direction of equality.”


Australia: Bureaucracy of the NSW Department of Education will be stripped back under the state's biggest education revolution

NSW Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli at Griffith North Public School. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: The Sunday Telegraph

THE unwieldy bureaucracy of the Department of Education will be stripped back under the state's biggest education revolution in 50 years.

The move will potentially save millions of taxpayer dollars, which could be pumped back into schools but Premier Barry O'Farrell and Education Minister Adrian Piccoli have promised there will be no cuts to teaching staff or overall front-line school funding.

The sweeping changes announced yesterday will arm principals with unprecedented powers to hire and fire staff, control 70 per cent of school budgets and see teachers paid on performance - not years of service.

Mr Piccoli said the reforms were designed to de-centralise control and cut red tape by shifting decision-making from head office to school level.

"We're putting our principals and teachers back in the driving seat - allowing them to exercise their professional judgment and making them accountable for their decisions," he said.

The reforms will also fundamentally shatter the age-old allocation formula where school funding was based on student numbers.

This has long been criticised because a small change in students - of which a principal's salary is also pegged - can have a big effect on an individual school's budget and number of teachers.

Instead schools will control a budget that separates staffing and non-staffing funding and reflects not only its student population but a school's "complexity".

The Secondary Principals Council has welcomed the move to slash more than 200 policies governing administration, reporting and centrally run programs in favour of greater autonomy.

A spokeswoman said schools had a good track record for managing their accounts, whereas within the department "you do wonder where the money goes?"

It comes as the Opposition, Teachers Federation and the Greens warned the reforms were a "smokescreen" for the government to slash school funding and leave principals to shoulder the blame.

Opposition education spokeswoman Carmel Tebbutt said the decision to "break the nexus" of funding based on pupil numbers offered nothing to hold the government to account. Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said the real motive was to slash up to $700 million from the education budget and leave principals holding the can when schools deteriorated.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

School Threatens to Remove Student From Honors Society Over Church Work‏

A Virginia high school is threatening to remove a student from the National Honor Society because she completed her community service work at a local church.

The 17-year-old senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology filed a federal lawsuit claiming that she is a victim of religious discrimination.

“In essence, she was targeted and discriminated against solely because of the religious nature of her community service work,” said Matt Sharp, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. Sharp is represented the unidentified student in her lawsuit.

“There’s no honor in penalizing an honors student’s community service to children just because it happens to be faith-based,” Sharp said. “Positive community service and leadership like this should be encouraged by schools, not subjected to unconstitutional discrimination.”

The trouble started last fall when the student submitted her required hours for membership in the National Honor Society. Students are required to perform at least 12 hours of service to maintain membership. Sharp said his client had more than 46 hours of service – working with children in her church’s “Kids Quest” Sunday school program.

However, the faculty adviser told the student that her hours would not count because her work was done in a church and was in violation of district policy.

According to the ADF, the Fairfax County School Board’s Faith-Based Service Policy states that in order to be considered for credit, faith-based activities “must have a secular purpose…and may not include preparation or participation in the performance of religious services.”

The National Honor Society addressed the issue in a memorandum dated April 2010 and titled, “Can activities done for a religious group be counted as service hours for members completing NHS or NJHS chapter service requirements?”

In short, the NHS said the answer is “yes and no.” According to the memorandum, teaching Sunday school at church “may be readily fall under the aspect of leadership experiences also required of members. Assuming the responsibility for preparing and presenting lessons and supervising a group of students for an hour would generally be seen as evidence of demonstrated responsibility and leadership skills for an individual student.”

However, the NHS defers final permission to the individual school district, noting “One can argue both sides of this question.”

A spokesperson for the school system said they were not aware of the lawsuit and would be unable to comment.

Sharp said the school system’s behavior has been outrageous. “It’s the school policy that prohibits any credit for community service done at church,” he said. “She sees a need and is passionate to help these children. But because it’s done through her church she was told her hours would not be recognized, but if she had gone to the local Boys and Girls Club and done the exact time of work she would have been given credit.”

Unless his client makes up the 12 hours of community service along with four additional hours, her name will be submitted for removal from the NHS.

“This really is an outrageous example of targeting religious community service and religious beliefs for discrimination,” Sharp said.


Australia: Wage bonus for top teachers planned under NSW education shake-up

THE greatest revolution to hit NSW education in 50 years will mean teachers are paid for their performance.

In a massive power shift from bureaucrats to principals and teachers, not only will high-achieving teachers be paid more, principals will be able to hand-pick staff and control school budgets from Kindergarten to Year 12.

The sweeping set of O'Farrell government reforms will be announced today, Sunday. Implementation will begin in April and be complete by 2015.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said principals would receive salary incentives to work in remote and disadvantaged parts of the state and would take charge of 70 per cent of school budgets, up from the present 10 per cent.

The moves are likely to spark revolt from education unions because the government is dumping the old formula of setting teachers' pay by years of experience.

Instead, pay will be linked to professional standards - so a brilliant 23-year-old teacher could earn more than a 40-year-old colleague. The reforms cover Kindergarten to Year 12.

Director-General of Education Michele Bruniges said the reform was the biggest in at least 50 years and would result in NSW schools moving from being the nation's most "centralised and bureaucratic" to the most "progressive and innovative".

From next month, principals will have unprecedented control of school budgets, and staff will be paid more to teach in remote and disadvantaged areas, under the reforms, which Education Minister Adrian Piccoli will have fully implemented by 2015.

The reforms are separate to the federal government's proposed changes to the funding models following a report by businessman David Gonski.

The reforms cover all schools and all students from Kindergarten to Year 12 and will mean the Education Department will allocate school funding on a wide range of factors - including the school's location and students' special needs - rather than the present formula where funding is determined simply according to the school's number of students.

Principals will control 70 per cent of their funding budget rather that the 10 per cent they are responsible for now.

They also will be able to source school supplies locally rather than from head office.

School funding will be simplified from 600 separate streams to just two - one for staff and one for equipment. Principals will have the flexibility to take funding from the equipment budget and use it to hire additional teachers if they are required, but they will not be permitted to use funds meant for staffing to purchase other items.

The reforms will start to kick in following the Easter Holidays, for Term Two of the school year, and be gradually phased in for all schools over the next three to five years.

A pilot study of 47 schools is already underway and that will be expanded to 229 schools next year.

Director General of Education Michele Bruniges said the reform was the biggest in at least 50 years and would result in NSW schools moving from being the nation's most "centralised and bureaucratic" to the most "progressive and innovative".

Work on the reforms began in April 2011 following Mr Piccoli's appointment as education minister.

They follow consultations with 1800 principals, as well as the close examination of successful models in countries such as Finland.

Ms Bruniges said the reforms were designed to put teachers and principals front and centre in the education of the state's children.

"The reforms give principals the licence to innovate and their passion for teaching will drive that," she said.

"The situation where the principal of a school must take all direct responsibility, but have no control, is not a good place to be when you are in charge of the teaching and learning of other people's children."

Mr Piccoli said he had formed firm ideas on the best way to drive the state's education needs forward after meeting with more than 200 principals.

"I'm convinced on the feedback from principals and the advice from the Director General that this is in the best interests of students in public schools in NSW," he said.

The state's 2242 principals will have to adhere to new leadership capabilities and standards for principals, and teacher salaries will be based on meeting professional standards that are already in place.

Ms Bruniges said the government expected some resistance from the Teachers Federation, but said the position was non-negotiable from the government's point of view.

"The alignment to salary is a really big item, it's a big change," she said. "Just because you've spent time in the job doesn't mean you deserve a pay rise. You have to achieve certain standards."


Australia: Some kids just need to be flogged

It worked for many years but is no longer allowed

THE victims aren't the only people affected by bullying. Katrina worries for her son, but also for his victims.

"Seth has been involved in a number of different situations, which are disturbing," she said. "Only a few weeks ago, a situation at school escalated where my son strangled a disabled girl, leaving hand marks on her neck and slapped a Year 1 child."

Katrina said she doesn't know what to do about her son's behaviour, which is ruining the lives of her family. "I have tried everything, counsellors, psychiatrist, pediatrician, and no one has the answer," she said.

"Seth is 10 years old and has been to four schools. He is now in a special school, best equipped to deal with his behavioural problems and we are having the same issues."

Seth said his actions come from frustration. "Kids pick on me, they poke me and hit me and that's when I respond," he said. "The other week, a boy was hitting me in the back of my head and kicking my chair. I hit him back and I got in trouble. I don't mean to do it, I just get so frustrated and do things."

Katrina said she feels her efforts to help her son have been a failure. "I feel like many of the professionals I have sought guidance from have simply liked my money," she said. "One doctor said straight to my face, 'Your son's problems are too difficult to be solved'."

Katrina has tried to get Seth involved in sports at the advice of a counsellor but his behaviour has seen him excluded from these facilities as well.

"I have four other children, who all miss out because of one child," Katrina said. "I am lucky to have a husband I can lean on. I feel sorry for anyone who is out there trying to do what I am on their own."


Monday, March 12, 2012

The Beautiful, Perky Buffalo Teachers, Courtesy of Taxpayers

Every so often, a story comes along that is so outrageous, all one can do to soothe the rage is to laugh. And shed a tear. That’s the case in Buffalo, New York.

There – for years – teachers in the government education system have enjoyed free plastic surgery procedures, courtesy of taxpayers. Teachers don’t pay a dime and the entire cost is borne by the school district. So a school district that recently announced it is operating with a $42 million deficit paid $5.9 million last year for teachers to get boob jobs, tummy tucks and facelifts.

I’m sure the union just wants its members looking their best for the kids. How thoughtful. But the Buffalo school district has a graduation rate below 50 percent. What a shame there are fewer students to see the gussied-up teaching staff. It makes the $5.9 million the school district spent on plastic surgery last year an even bigger jaw-dropper. Could those dollars have been put into programs designed to keep more kids in school?

There are two reasons this continues to happen: school leaders are too weak to do anything about outrageous expenses written into teachers union collective bargaining agreements. They apparently refuse to take a moral stand and at least give the appearance of trying to end the financial drain. They just continue paying the bill.

They should display some backbone, force a confrontation with the union over this outrageous expense, and force a judge to order the school district to pay for the surgeries. That will help the public better understand how unions siphon millions of crucial dollars from school budgets.

The second reason is known as an evergreen clause, which is a provision in many teachers union contracts which states the terms of an expired contract remain in effect until a new contract is approved. Buffalo’s contract has been expired for 6 years. But fearing concessions – like no more free skin peels – the union drags its feet and won’t agree on a new deal. The deck is stacked against the taxpayers and politicians aren’t doing anything about it.

Remember this example the next time you hear President Obama or other politicians say we need to “invest” more in education. Remember this when your local school board is pleading with you to increase your taxes to avoid layoffs or pay for necessary technology upgrades. This is the sort of outrageous crap your taxes are funding.

On the other hand, as we hear about sagging teacher morale, perhaps schools can give some thought to perking up teachers’ spirit by paying for a little plastic surgery. Since Buffalo Public Schools and many like it are a public works project for adults anyway, why not make the population a little more youthful? Randi Weingarten, what say you?


Brightest British students tempted by £3k university scholarships

The universities concerned, however, appear to be mostly jumped-up technical colleges so very bright students would be ill advised to go there. Bright students should be going to Britain's very good top 20 universities (the "Russell Group") in order to realize their potential

Universities are attempting to “bribe” bright students into applying by offering cash incentives of up to £3,000 a year, it has emerged.

Scholarships worth a maximum of £9,000 for a traditional three-year degree are being made available to candidates who gain the best A-level results this summer, it was revealed.

The awards, which are not means-tested, underline the lengths to which universities are being forced to go in an attempt to recruit and retain top students when tuition fees soar in September.

It follows the introduction of new Government rules that allow universities to take unlimited numbers of sixth-formers gaining at least two As and a B at A-level.

An analysis of prospectuses, shows universities such as Bradford, East Anglia, Liverpool Hope, Northumbria, Worcester, Salford and Surrey all offer bursaries for students who gain AAB grades. Most awards are for around £1,000 a year and some are handed out in the form of tuition fee discounts.

One of the most generous scholarships is being offered by Bedfordshire – the university run by Prof Les Ebdon, the incoming head of the Office for Fair Access – which allows some students to claim as much as £3,000 a year.

It is only open to those who gain AAB grades at A-level and remain on course for at least a 2:1 throughout their degree.

City University in London is also offering an extensive performance-related scholarship programme. Students applying for many engineering degrees can gain £1,000 for AAB grades, £2,000 for three As and £3,000 for an A* and two As.

Experts said universities were keen to increase the number of students with the best A-level results to improve their academic record and boost their position in official league tables, which often give institutions points based on recruits’ average entry grades.

But Deborah Stretfield, a London-based careers adviser, insisted many sixth-formers were “cynical about the advertising toys and targeted bribery” used by some universities.

“The status and ranking of the university is more important to students and parents,” she said. “Some students also point out that they would feel 'overqualified' if they went to a university that was lower in the league table.”

From this September, the cap on tuition fees in England will almost triple to £9,000 a year.

To coincide with the fee rise, ministers are allowing all universities to recruit an unlimited number of AAB students, almost of whom go on to higher education anyway.

It is feared that the move will hit middle and low-ranking universities the hardest as bright students migrate towards courses at leading research institutions.

Speaking last year, Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said many universities were “vulnerable to losing some of their AAB+ students to more selective, more prestigious, institutions”.

"This is likely to give rise to an arms race of 'merit-based' scholarships,” he said. “If one university offers them others will be obliged to do so."

A City University spokesman said: "In setting the level of these scholarships we have been determined to offer the best possible financial package to prospective students and have also taken into account strategically important and vulnerable subject areas and hence the size of the scholarships vary."


Australia: School's in for more four-year-olds, but experts argue that's too young

It should depend on the kid's mental age, not his chronological age

WHEN Eleni Savva had to decide if she would enrol her son in school as a four-year-old, she worried he might struggle. Alexander started prep at Keilor Primary School this year and is smaller than many of his classmates.

But Ms Savva felt Alexander was ready to start school, based on the advice of his kindergarten teachers. By late last year she could see he had developed the independence and social skills that would help him get by in the classroom. "Alexander is a very confident, assertive boy," she said. "He feels confident enough to stand up for himself."

Alexander turns five this month and belongs to a mini-boom of children who have reached school age, according to The Saturday Age Lateral Economics index of wellbeing. It means more parents are facing tough decisions about whether their children are ready to start school. Keilor Primary School enrolled 81 children in prep this year, compared with 65 last year.

Alexander started school a year after his sister Katerina who is seven. Ms Savva and her husband Nick decided their daughter should do a third year of kindergarten so she could better prepare "socially and emotionally" for school.

"From what I could see in her development, she needed at least another eight months of pre-school before she was ready for school." Keilor Primary School principal Sue Seneviratne said kindergarten teachers were best placed to judge when a child was ready to start school. "If the kindergarten is saying they're ready, rarely do they get that wrong," she said. Children should be independent and resilient when they begin prep.

Monash University senior education lecturer David Zyngier said Australian children are too young when they start school. He said seven was a better starting age. "Children are just not ready for regimented schooling. They should be playing and socialising," he said.

Children in countries such as Finland start school at seven and achieve better results, he said. "But they have free, available and professionally staffed childcare."

Ms Savva said starting children in school when they are older would help them become better students in later years. "Our system in Australia doesn't really allow for that, but I think it's a great idea," she said.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Higher Education Bubble May Explode in Taxpayers’ Faces

by Hans Bader

“61 percent of folks with a student loan are not paying,” notes Andrew Gillen, Ph.D., of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Many of the non-payers are still in school, but many others have long since graduated, but are failing to make payments on their student loans. “To give you sense of how unhealthy this is, consider that after the worst housing price crash in our history, 28% of mortgages were underwater.” In short, it looks like there is a huge higher education bubble about to explode in taxpayers’ faces.

Gillen notes that there is a whopping “$870 billion outstanding balance” on student loans. Only “$85 billion” is technically classified as “past due.” But that’s because there is a “massive contingent (47%) in deferment (mostly current students) or forbearance (mostly unemployed or under-employed?).” That’s in addition to at least 27 percent who “should be repaying but aren’t,” since they aren’t in deferment or forbearance.

No one really knows exactly how many people with student loans have effectively defaulted, even though the number appears to be skyrocketing, because the government’s data is such a mess that it seems designed to obfuscate rather than illuminate the problem. Until recently, government data lumped together completely-unrelated loans into

a bucket of random obligations called “Miscellaneous”, which included things like utility bills, child support, and alimony. And it turns out that if you went burrowing in that miscellaneous debt, there was actually a pile of weirdly-categorized student loans in there. [AG: And these mis-categorized student loans were not included.] Meanwhile, the official cohort default rates from the Department of Education were even more useless. Until recently, only the two-year rate was reported. Moreover, those in forbearance or deferment were counted as repaying their loans, and it took 270-360 days of not making payments to be classified as in default. When combined with the grace period, this means that to a first approximation, the “cohort default rate” was not a default rate in any meaningful sense of the term, but rather a measure of how many students never made any payment at all.

Although for-profit colleges have been demonized by the Obama Administration (which has forced some of them to jack up tuition through tightening of the 90-10 rule, and subjected career colleges — but not traditional colleges — to “gainful employment” rules), education expert Richard Vedder says that “the for-profits care more for their students” and care more than other colleges about whether their students get jobs and are able to repay their student loans. The Obama administration has also done other things that increase college costs and drive up tuition, and has harmed American industry and students who choose not to go to college by discouraging vocational training needed for well-paying, skilled factory work, contributing to a severe shortage of certain types of skilled factory workers.

Even as Obama pushes for students to pursue white-collar rather than blue-collar jobs, 12.8 million people are unemployed, some of them people with economically-useless college degrees in majors that teach few useful skills. Government subsidies have encouraged colleges to raise tuition, and to dumb down their courses to attract marginal students who once would not have attended college. Meanwhile, college students learn less and less with each passing year. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” Thirty-two percent never take “a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”


British headteacher 'humiliated' pupils by putting mug shots of those who failed their exams in rogues' gallery on canteen wall

A bit crude. Penalizing children who are not very bright is unlikely to have any positive outcome

A head teacher has been forced to back down after pinning up a photo gallery that named and shamed pupils who failed to meet GCSE targets.

Thirty pupils with low results in mock exams had their names and pictures posted on the wall of the school canteen as motivation to work harder – but parents and pupils reacted angrily and it was taken down after just two days.

Chris Harris, head of Larkmead School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, admitted the gallery had been ‘misconceived’ but insisted the intention was not to ‘name and shame’.

He said: ‘It was done out of a desire to support and help them, not to humiliate. The intention was good but it was clearly having the opposite impact. ‘I genuinely regret any untoward feelings we have created.’

The pupils were featured in the rogues’ gallery if their grades were borderline for meeting the Government’s GCSE performance target – five A* to C grades including English and maths.

Mr Harris said a similar wall chart, with every pupil grouped according to their attendance and without photographs, had led to increased attendance. Teachers will explain the decision to put the chart up to pupils at an assembly tomorrow.

One mother, 38, who did not want to be named, said her 15-year-old daughter had been left humiliated at her inclusion on the gallery of underachievers. ‘This could be seen as bullying people to get higher grades,’ she said. ‘The school should be ashamed. They shouldn’t let the children become statistics.’

Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for schools and improvement, said: 'I am sure they did it in good faith and I am sorry it has backfired. 'It was probably meant as a wake-up call and somebody has taken it the wrong way.'

David Lever, chairman of governors at Larkmead, said: 'The school has an excellent reputation and it is very keen to do the best for all the students and support them. 'Chris is an excellent headteacher and I have total confidence in him.'

Gwain Little, secretary of Oxfordshire National Union of Teachers, said: 'It is important when there are children underachieving that we look at supportive ways of tackling it.'

He said there was too much pressure on schools to perform and move up the league tables, adding: 'It is unsurprising it sometimes filters down into the school itself.'

Mike Curtis, Oxfordshire branch secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the motive would have been to encourage the pupils. But he added: 'In most schools we try to celebrate the successes and not highlight the failures.'


Australian universities are dumb, say foreign students

Asians tend to have high standards in mathematics so Australian levels of competence in that would undoubtedly be disappointing

SOME Australian university courses are like being "back in grade 2", the head of an international students group says. Council of International Students Australia president Arfa Noor told an education conference the country would not attract the best and brightest from overseas until universities lifted their game.

"I don't mean to be harsh or anything but universities need to make sure that they are good enough to attract a very intelligent student," the Pakistani business student told more than 100 academics at the Universities Australia conference.

"You do hear sometimes from students who come from very good institutes back home, who work a lot, and they come into university and they say it feels like they're back in grade 2 because the things that they are being taught at a master level ... I covered at a postgraduate level."

The Melbourne Institute of Technology student said her organisation had complaints some tutors could barely speak English, class sizes were too big, and lecturers simply stood and read from slides.

"If you're from a country, especially from the Asian region, where education is very competitive ... you would have a certain level of expectations, and a lot of students are disappointed by the quality of education," she said.

But Ms Noor said students came to Australia for the experience, not just a degree, and she had loved her three years here.

However, she said universities and governments should fix accommodation and public transport issues so struggling students did not have to cram 10 to a house to save money.

About 550,000 international students study in Australia each semester and last year contributed $13.9 billion to the economy.