Saturday, April 14, 2012

Report: TN kids lack skills for kindergarten

National report finds too few in state prepared to meet greater expectations

Kindergarten used to be considered a place kids learned how to learn, with simple lessons on how to sit still and recognize shapes and colors.

Today, by age 5, they’re expected to count to 100, know whether shapes are two- or three-dimensional, and read most pronouns, according to state standards. In Tennessee, too many are showing up without those skills, causing alarm for early education officials as the state moves its curriculum forward in leaps.

A report released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research says state-funded pre-kindergarten does well at instilling those skills, but only 21 percent of Tennessee’s 4-year-olds are enrolled. In Florida and Oklahoma, the figure is more than 73 percent.

For Tennessee children who can get in, those classes are among the best in the nation, the curriculum hitting nine of 10 nationally accepted benchmarks. The problem is the number of children who don’t qualify — and don’t get the prerequisites in private programs or at home.

The institute estimates a third of children nationwide arrive at kindergarten unprepared, although the number can be tough to measure. It’s a figure U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called “staggering.”

“The goal for the country is to get that down to zero absolutely as fast as we can,” Duncan told The Tennessean last week.

Some state changes are under way, such as evaluating teachers in early grades, adding depth to the curriculum and making sure those who work with children ages birth to 5 have more rigorous standards based on that new curriculum. The Early Childhood Advisory Council is working on a more encompassing definition of kindergarten readiness and hopes that, as the state rebounds financially, lawmakers will pump more funds into pre-K programs.

Lindsay Ferrier, a blogger for, noticed when her daughter Gigi entered Harpeth Valley Elementary in Bellevue two years ago that some children were ahead of the pack.

She realized they had a common factor: They had gone through preschool and learned to write their name, knew the alphabet and could read a little.

So as her son Jack, 4, prepares to enter kindergarten at the same school this fall, she hasn’t home-schooled him as she did Gigi, but enrolled him in preschool part time. She and Jack do workbooks and skill-building activities at home, too. That way, he will be both socially and academically ready, she said.

“Sitting in a class for seven hours is a challenge when you are away from your loved ones … and then you throw in these new standards,” she said. “It’s tough if your child doesn’t have those basics down.”

No uniform testing

It’s difficult to measure kindergarten readiness because the state has no formal definition of what that is and because school districts use different ways to test 5-year-olds’ skills. The tests even vary from school to school within districts.

In Metro Nashville, the number of kindergarten students who are behind could be more than 35 percent, officials say. Depending on the school, students entering kindergarten are either simply screened for delays or given a fuller assessment to see whether they know shapes and patterns, are able to share toys or can recite the alphabet.

Metro’s leadership and learning department is interested in moving to a common kindergarten test.

“It has been several years since we were using the Brigance Screens (readiness test) districtwide,” said Paul Changas, Metro’s executive director of research, assessment and evaluation. “Our numbers were around 33 percent to 35 percent of students being flagged at risk in terms of kindergarten readiness at that time, and I would expect it to be a little higher now with the higher numbers of economically disadvantaged and non-English background we serve.”

Some Middle Tennessee parents elsewhere say they’ve already observed a change in the pace of kindergarten.

Stewarts Creek Elementary kindergarten parent Yasmine Mukahal of Smyrna said she didn’t realize that kindergarten had advanced so much until she enrolled her daughter, Zeina, this school year. Zeina is required to cut out words from her mother’s Us
Weekly and Redbook magazines to form sentences and distinguish whether a book is based on real events or the creative mind.

“You think kindergarten is coloring and fun, but no, this is hard-core work,” Yasmine Mukahal said. “She comes home with homework every night except on Fridays.”

New standards

Much of the push comes from the new Common Core Standards being adopted by 48 states. It will cost Tennessee at least $2.95 million in federal grant money to implement the curriculum, throwing out state content that is no longer vital for college readiness to focus more heavily on lessons that are.

Soon, Tennessee will be tested on the same standards as much of the nation — tests that require students to think critically and apply what they’ve learned to real-life situations.

Some schools already voluntarily adopted Common Core in their K-2 classrooms, and spring Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for students in grades 3-8 will include sample questions based on the new standards that let education leaders know how far behind students are.

The math curriculum starts being phased in next school year. All grades will use the curriculum for math and reading by 2013-14, with new standardized tests by 2014-15.

Under the new Common Core kindergarten standards, children are asked to count to 100 by ones and tens; identify the front cover and title page of a book; and use a combination of drawing, verbal cues and writing to narrate an event in sequence and give a reaction to what happened.

It would be easier to get all kids doing that with better access to pre-K programs.

Decreased funding

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, an advocacy group for better and more widely available pre-K programs, said 22 states, including Tennessee, increased enrollment in the past decade.

The institute’s report out today, The State of Pre-School 2011, looked at access, funding and quality of state pre-K programs as well as 10-year trends.

Although enrollment increased, state funds collectively decreased by almost $60 million in 2010-11, and per-child spending declined $145 from the previous year.

“Our key finding is that preschool expansion over the past decade garnered great attention, but something else happened that got less notice: Funding slipped,” Barnett said. “That means we’ve taken a giant step backward as a nation.”

Tennessee spends, on average, $4,620 per child per year compared with $4,151 on average nationally and served 21 percent of the 4-year-old population, up from 2 percent a decade ago when state-funded pre-K was piloted. The national average is 28 percent.

Bobbi Lussier, the state Department of Education’s assistant commissioner of special populations, says funding has stayed steady. Tennessee pays for pre-K for only its low-income 4-year-olds to close achievement gaps. A few states have pre-K for all 4-year-olds, while 11 states have no funded programs.

“I think the feeling is, once our state recovers economically, that we need to really look at expanding the programs to serve more children,” Lussier said.

Robertson, Polk and Bedford counties have 60-70 students each who qualify but can’t get in because there are no empty seats, she said.

Local school districts fund some of their own pre-K programs, and there are federally funded Head Start programs plus church-run and private schools offering pre-K curriculum. It’s up to parents to be sure the schools aren’t providing only day care but also the proper academic preparation.

An impact at home

Lussier and Linda DePriest, Metro’s assistant superintendent for instructional support, said parents can make a huge learning impact at home in their children’s early years, even if they can’t get them into a pre-K program.

Parents can ensure their children have rich experiences simply by taking a walk and counting things such as leaves on a tree or buds on a flower. Reading to children daily and then asking them questions about a story and characters and just talking to children also can be powerful.

“It’s exposing them to print and developing their listening skills, which tie in well when they go to school,” DePriest said. “It helps them listen and develop vocabulary.”


NJ Middle School Principal Who Banned Hugging Resigns

Last month, The Blaze reported about Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School Principal Tyler Blackmore’s decision that his school would become a “no hugging” zone. As you may recall, the reasoning behind the ban on student embraces was centered upon the allegation that there were some “incidents of unsuitable physical interactions.”

Now, it seems the principal is moving on — literally. On April 5, Blackmore filed his resignation from Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School, where he had worked since July 2010. In an interview with the Asbury Park Press, School Board President Charles Kenny said that the resignation was a personnel matter and the reasons behind it were confidential. The Press recaps last month’s events:

    "On March 22, Blackmore told students at the middle school that they were in a “no-hugging school.” District officials came to Blackmore’s support at the time, with Superintendent David M. Healy releasing a statement that night saying the announcement was intended to address incidents of “unsuitable physical interactions between students.”

    “There is no policy specific to hugging, and we have not, nor will we be, suspending students for hugging,” Healy said in the statement, adding that the Board of Education does have policies in place to address bullying, inappropriate relationships and inappropriate conduct.

At a Board of Education meeting on March 26, Kenny explained the principal’s controversial “no hugging policy” and maintained that it was “not at all intended to prohibit a passing embrace.”

“Some students had prolonged, overly physical contact that (Blackmore) considered inappropriate for the middle school,” Kenny said at the time.

There is no indication that the hugging controversy was at the center of his decision to leave the school.


British teaching unions show their true colours

This week’s outrageous claims have revealed just how reactionary and self-serving the unions are.

It was when the union spokesman justified long school holidays on the grounds that teaching is the “most stressful profession in the country” that the presenter Evan Davis’s eyebrows hit the roof. I was sitting in the Today studio, having been invited on to defend the pioneering head teachers who have shortened their summer holiday to combat their pupils’ loss of learning between July and September. Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, started by arguing that there was no academic evidence for the idea, which was rubbish but at least sounded reasonable. But he lost all sympathy when he argued that teachers needed long holidays for “essential relaxation”.

Evan Davis has an economist’s suspicion of humbug. He asked, in exasperation: “Are you ever, at the NUT, really welcoming of any kind of experimentation, change, something ambitious and different, thinking outside the box when it comes to teaching?” I simply added that the unions are wrong to describe the notion of shorter summer holidays as a government conspiracy against teachers. In fact, teachers themselves have come up with this new thinking. Ministers have latterly (and rightly) given them support. It is the NUT that wants to impose its thinking on schools, in this case by a blanket veto on change.

In truth the teaching unions have done us a great service at their recent conferences by revealing just how reactionary and self-serving their agenda is. We don’t need to dwell on the fact that the NUT conference is heavily attended by the Socialist Workers Party, which speaks for a tiny handful of voters on the extreme Left who want to change the government via a workers’ revolution rather than a democratic election. We can pass over the fact that NUT delegates once forced David Blunkett, then Labour education secretary, to take refuge in a room for 30 minutes after he committed the heinous crime (in their eyes) of condemning teachers’ strikes and promising to sack bad teachers and shut failing schools. These things scarcely matter, when compared to their actual demands in regard to education and their own privileges.

Two unions have now called strike action over the Government’s freeze of teachers’ pay and the requirement for teachers to pay higher contributions towards their pensions. Both of these changes are entirely reasonable. On one estimate, a private sector worker needs to build up a pension pot of £300,000 in order to obtain the average teachers’ pension. It used to be said that public sector workers’ higher retirement benefits were a compensation for lower pay, but nowadays public sector pay has more than caught up with the private sector, as Lord Hutton’s review found. A teacher on the average salary will now have to pay a mere £10 a month more towards their pension. Most private sector workers will be amazed that teachers will strike over such a slight change to what are very generous terms and conditions.

They will also be surprised by the NUT’s vehement opposition to the basic idea that schools should measure the performance of their teachers and expect improvement. For the union this is (again) a cause of “stress” which “leaves teachers feeling overwhelmed by the constant pressure”, as one of this year’s conference motions put it. Inspectors sometimes dropped in on classrooms “unannounced”, complained a motion, when clearly this is the best way that inspections can capture the true performance of the teacher. This is not all. As Damian Hinds MP pointed out yesterday, the teaching unions argue against the testing of children, at all ages, just as much as they do against the testing of teachers.

In fact, staff at the best schools – both state and private – understand that teaching is a skill that can be learnt and developed. Schools such as David Young Community Academy in Leeds have even drawn up their own training framework, grounded in a practical understanding of what works in teaching day-to-day and based on a passionate commitment to improvement. This vision of good education seems to be the polar opposite of that of the NUT.

The question for the Government is how to respond to the unions’ demands. So far it has sought compromise. For example, most schools still operate under national terms and conditions (and the regional pay-setting proposed by the Chancellor is not a fantastic improvement) and a national curriculum, which the Department of Education is refreshing this year. These ideas are entirely consistent with the NUT’s worldview – nationalised, top-down, one-size-fits-all. That should give ministers pause for thought. There is still time in this parliament to do something radical. One idea would be to go beyond regional pay, and implement local pay-setting in every school, as if every school were an academy. It would not be supported by the unions – but that should hardly be ministers’ first concern.

The NUT’s formal motion in favour of long summer holidays ended as follows: there is a “misconception that more teaching automatically leads to more learning”. It has come to something when a teaching union questions the value of teaching itself. The unions’ ideas on education are dangerous, damaging and unrepresentative of the good practice in many state schools. When they sit down with the unions in future, ministers can afford to be a little tougher in their negotiations.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Staggering law school debts will lead to exploding debt disaster for graduates and taxpayers

Federal financial aid policies have encouraged law students to borrow increasing amounts to attend law school, despite the glut of lawyers (oddly, government policies encourage more people to go to law school, driving up law school tuition, even as the Obama administration seeks to cut back on vocational education aimed at training the skilled blue-collar workers who are in desperately short supply in much of the country). The result, says law professor Brian Tamanaha, is a “Quickly Exploding Law Graduate Debt Disaster” in which most recent graduates of many law schools will never be able to pay off their staggering student loan debt. At the liberal Balkinization blog, Tamanaha notes that the average student has over $100,000 in debt just from law school at many schools:

    This year 17 law schools are above $135,000. Last year the highest average debt among graduates was $145,621 (Cal. Western); this year the highest average debt is $165,178 (John Marshall). Below are the 20 schools with the highest average law school debt among graduates (these figures do not include undergraduate debt).

    John Marshall Chicago $165,178
    California Western $153,145
    Thomas Jefferson $153,006
    American $151,318
    New York Law School $146,230
    Phoenix $145,357
    Southwestern $142,606
    Catholic (DC) $142,222
    Northwestern $139,101
    Pace University $139,007
    Whittier $138,961
    Atlanta’s John Marshall $138,819
    Pacific (McGeorge) $138,267
    St. Thomas (FL) $137,721
    Univ. San Francisco $137,234
    Vermont Law School $136,089
    Golden Gate $135,645
    Florida Coastal $134,355
    Stetson $133,082
    Syracuse $132,993

    What’s remarkable is that the majority of graduates from these law schools–with the exception of Northwestern–do not obtain jobs with salaries sufficient to make the monthly loan payments due on the average debt. At some of these schools 90% or more of graduates with debt do not earn enough to make the loan payments on this level of debt (not all indebted students will carry the average debt). . .

    Thousands of 2011 law graduates across the country will not earn enough to manage the debt they incurred to obtain their law degree. . .

    This financial insanity will not stop until significant changes are made to the federal student loan program.

As one commenter noted earlier, federal financial aid and student loans have driven up law school tuition and student loan debt: “education loans . . . often have implicit government guarantees,” even those not explicitly backed by the government. As a result, “like the GSE’s, the supply of credit for education loans has continued to expand. So in a way colleges and universities, public and private have been in a bubble akin to the housing bubble. The benefits to the institutions are irresistible and so there is no way they will try to reign in costs and thus tuition. Not as long as students are willing and able to borrow.”

When the bubble pops, taxpayers will be on the hook for countless billions of dollars (many graduates already are not repaying their student loans). “Why is college so expensive? A new study points to a disconcerting culprit: financial aid,” notes Paul Kix on page K1 of the March 25 Boston Globe. I and professors and education experts commented earlier on that study at Minding the Campus. Other studies also have concluded that increased federal financial aid, such as student loans, drives up college tuition, and you can find links to some of them here.

As the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal notes, “Law students . . . are treated generously as future professionals and able to borrow, with virtually no cap, significantly more money than undergrads. . . For several decades, most higher education loans were made by private lenders with the federal government providing guarantees against loss—and, in some cases, interest rate subsidies.” As I explained earlier, cutting law school subsidies would help the economy. Links to additional commentary about the high cost of law school can be found here.

When law school graduates are unable to pay off their student loans, lenders will come after their elderly parents who co-signed for the loans.  As the Washington Post notes, “Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans . . . Many have co-signed for loans with their children or grandchildren to help them afford ballooning tuition.”


Portland State University Offering ‘Revolutionary Marxism’ Course — And Wait Until You See the Syllabus‏

Portland State University is offering a number of controversial courses this semester, the likes of which include “Revolutionary Marxism: Theory and Practice,“ and ”Art Within Activism”

The “Revolutionary Marxism” course is introduced in what appears to be the syllabus:

    "The onset of the Arab Spring, revolts in European capitals against austerity, and the emergence of Occupy Wall Street here in the US have made the need for understanding revolutionary political theories [more] urgent than ever.

    This course is designed to introduce students to the basic concepts of Marxist thought with an emphasis on the practical applications of Marxist Theory in local political struggle.  We will focus on four major areas throughout the semester, including the Fundamentals of Marxist Theory, Marxism and Oppression, Revolutionary Practice, and The Future of Socialism.  In exploring these four areas of focus, the course will compare and contrast revolutionary Marxism to Stalinism, reformist socialism, leading academic interpretations of Marxism, as well as other radical leftist ideologies."

The course’s instructors, Grant Booth and Wael Elasady, are both admitted socialists.  They define the course’s goals as:

    1.  Students will learn the fundamentals of Marxist theory

    2.  Students will apply a Marxist analysis to current events

    3.  Students will apply Marxist theory to local political and community organizing

Moreover, students will seemingly be required to forge a “community connection” with a local community/political organization from a specified list.  Some of the “approved” organizations include: Occupy PSU, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, Occupy Portland, Portland Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions Coalition (BDS), Jobs with Justice, and the May Day Coalition.

Similarly, the “Art Within Activism” course is described:

    "Rediscover your radical imagination! This course will focus on creating art within Portland-based activist initiatives, such as marches, actions, and causes different grassroots community groups are working on, like the Occupy and Decolonize movements. We will experiment with applying diverse mediums—graphic design, social practice, printmaking, and sculpture—to actions seeking to resolve diverse problems—hegemony, biodiversity loss, immigrant detention, animal exploitation, debt, insufficient healthcare, etc."

The controversial courses are part of the Chiron Studies program, where qualified students can “propose and instruct official, for credit classes” with the university.

The Blaze attempted to contact numerous officials in charge of approving the courses, in addition to Wael Elasady (who teaches the “Revolutionary Marxism” course), in order to confirm the course details, but we did not hear back.

That leaves a lot of unanswered questions, such as: Why is the taxpayer helping pay for these courses at a public university?  With socialist professors and mandated participation with leftist groups, is the other side being presented at all?

Moreover, would Portland State University allow a “Limited Government: Theory and Practice“ course where students were forced to make a ”connection” with Tea Partiers and the NRA?

UPDATE: Wael Elasady, one of the professors of “Revolutionary Marxism: Theory and Practice,“ returned our call and wanted to clarify that students are free to ”apply a Marxist perspective” to any local community/political organization; the list of organizations on the syllabus are simply pre-approved.


London Metropolitan University mulls alcohol ban for 'conservative Muslim students'

A London University may become the first in the country to ban alcohol from part of its campus to attract more Muslim students, its Vice Chancellor has said.

London Metropolitan University is considering banning the sale of alcohol from some parts of the campus because a "high percentage" of students consider drinking "immoral," Prof Malcolm Gillies said.

One-fifth of the University's students are Muslim, and of those the majority are women. It is an issue of "cultural sensitivity" to provide drink-free areas, Prof Gillies told a conference, adding he was "not a great fan of alchol on campus".

Do you think London Met should ban alcohol at sites around campus?
No - It is wrong to pander to an extreme viewNo - It would discriminate against those who do drink alcoholYes - It is right to make Muslim students feel comfortableYes - Students drink far too much and this might encourage them to drink less

"It's a negative experience - in fact an immoral experience - for a high percentage of our students," he said.

He went on: "Many of our students do come from backgrounds where they actually look on [drinking] as a negative. And given that around our campuses you have at least half a dozen pubs within 200m, I can't see there is such a pressing reason to be cross-subsidising a student activity which is essentially the selling of alcohol."

"Because there's no majority ethnic group, I think it [selling alcohol] is playing to particular parts of our society much more [than to others]".

Professor Gillies said the University was "much more cautious" about the portrayal of sex on campus than universities had been 30 or 40 years ago, the Times Higher Education reported.

Many of its female Muslim students "can only really go to university within four miles of home and have to be delivered and picked up by a close male relative", he said.

"Now we've got a younger generation that are often exceedingly conservative, and we need to be much more cautious about [sex] too.

"Their student experience is going to be different from someone gorging out in the Chocoholics Society or someone who is there to have a...libidinous time."

London Metropolitan University was founded in 2002. It has 30,000 students from 190 countries.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

The higher education money pit

By economic historian Martin Hutchinson

The common assumption among policymakers is that, in order to maintain its higher living standards against emerging markets competition, the United States must invest more in higher education. To achieve this, the government has instituted a massive student loan guarantee program, with over $1 trillion outstanding and an average of $25,000 in debt for every graduating student with debt. Yet millions of students continue to graduate with degrees that have no obvious real-world benefits. There’s a disconnect here, and it is beginning to appear that the current U.S. obsession with higher education is misguided.

The traditional idea of higher education was to train the literate for the Church, whether Catholic, Episcopalian or other Protestant. However a hundred years ago, for the elite on both sides of the Atlantic, a very different approach had been devised. This was best illustrated in Evelyn Waugh’s immortal “Brideshead Revisited” in which the protagonist Lord Sebastian Flyte wanders round Oxford with a teddy bear, drinking champagne, eating quail’s eggs and occasionally throwing up onto other students’ carpets. Americans will scoff at this depiction, but really the Harvard of Theodore Roosevelt was not very different, except in that it involved the occasional life-threatening game of football.

Flyte’s Oxford was not intended to train him for real life, it was intended as a highly enjoyable 3- or 4- year holiday before real life intruded. For the middle classes whose fathers were not Marquesses – a majority at Oxford even in Flyte’s time; there are only 34 Marquesses – the system applied a gloss of social polish and connections that was useful in later life, but did not impart more than a modicum of knowledge. Certainly the education provided was not expected to involve a huge amount of work, or to be useful in a subsequent career.

This changed after 1945 in the United States and from around 1960 in Britain, as a higher percentage of the population experienced a college education (in the U.S. often financed by the post-World War II “G.I. Bill” and in Britain essentially free, with only a modest means-tested contribution, under the 1944 Education Act.) The increased access of the masses to college education produced a greater competitiveness at the top colleges, so that when I went to Cambridge in 1968-71 access was more competitive and more work was expected from students than had been the case thirty years earlier.

Even then however access to top colleges was less competitive than it is today. While I was expected to have a reasonable mastery of Latin in the entrance examination there were no probing “essays” in the application, and my interview at Trinity College consisted of a most enjoyable discussion about the career of the cricketer Jack Hobbs. (I aced it by remembering that he amassed 197 first-class centuries not 198, with the two scored on the unofficial India tour of 1925-26 not counting. Presumably as I was to study Mathematics such statistical precision was thought valuable!)

Currently, not only are almost all students expected to get a college degree, but those of superior abilities are expected to carry on for a Masters’ degree, a PhD, or two Masters’ degrees, with the second being in business, law or journalism, according to the student’s future activity. The excessive credentialism of the U.S. system was exemplified at a medical conference I attended recently, where the attendees were surprised how many Chinese doctors were prepared to engage in primary medicine, but then explained patronizingly that many Chinese doctors had only an undergraduate degree. It occurred to me at that point that U.S. medical costs could be sharply reduced and quality improved if primary physicians, the principal point of contact with most patients, could be qualified in four years instead of ten.

Similarly from the 1890s, the American Bar Association began to press states to require that lawyers have attended not only an undergraduate program but a three-year law school in order to pass the state bar exam; currently all states but California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington require this. As with doctors, the cost of legal services could be drastically reduced by eliminating this requirement of no less than seven years of college study to enter what is in most cases a fairly intellectually undemanding profession.

The rising tide of credentialism may however have peaked, for two reasons: the excessive cost of college education and its diminishing quality. First, there is considerable evidence that finance availability is pushing up college costs. As college funding has become more readily available, it has reduced the financial pressure on colleges, since few of their students are today paying their way from part-time jobs and parent cash flow. Huge endowments in the Ivy League, which allow those elite colleges to provide full scholarships for students, focus the competition between colleges ever more closely on league table “prestige” rather than costs.

Within the colleges themselves the ranks of college administrators have exploded (as is also the case in the medical profession, equally insulated from market forces). So have their earnings – according to the New York Times, in the decade between the 1999-2000 and 2009-10 college years, the average college president’s pay at the 50 wealthiest universities increased by 75%, to $876,792, while their average professorial pay increased by only 14%, to $179,970. (Average college tuition costs increased by 65% and consumer prices by 31% during that decade.)  That’s precisely the opposite of what you’d want to happen, if you were concerned about college productivity and cost.

For the very brightest students, or those from really good schools, the appeal of the Ivy League may remain overwhelming. The knowledge that only four years’ moderate attention to politically correct drivel will get you a piece of paper that more or less guarantees you a six-figure salary thereafter is for most rational kids a very good reason to attend an Ivy League college and major in one of the softer arts or social sciences subjects.

For those of a mathematical, scientific or technological bent, however, the Ivy League is much less attractive; you will have to work much harder, and when you graduate you will be subjected to competition from innumerable Third World students on H1B visas, making the average salary for even Ivy League science graduates far below those available in law or medicine. What’s more most undergraduate courses in science are now so far from the technological cutting edge that the student will have to waste several more years in a Masters program before arriving at a point where he is actually useful to potential employers.

For these science-oriented students, or for others of high intelligence with an independent bent, the Internet has opened a new opportunity. Many college courses are now available online, either for free or for a small fraction of the $5,000 they would cost as part of private college major. For example, I recently came across the 24 video lectures comprising the Yale course on Game Theory, a relatively new area of economics that I wish I understood properly.

For students with initiative this brings the possibility of obtaining a college education through Internet courses, perhaps at a higher level than that of second-tier colleges and certainly at a far lower cost. This would enable them to avoid the rigidity of many college degree programs, which include requirements for all kinds of irrelevant basic level courses taught by teaching assistants in classes of 300. Students who don’t like to waste their time will thus welcome the opportunity to obtain an education consisting only of courses that are directly useful, plus some sidelines that are intellectually fascinating or culturally enriching.

As has been well advertized, the Internet billionaire Peter Thiel has been encouraging this trend, providing $100,000 fellowships to students who drop out of college and start a small business. That doesn’t necessarily provide the students concerned with an education, and it raises the question of what they will do for a living if their start-ups don’t work, as inevitably many won’t if recession intervenes. However the website, run by Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens, provides resources to those wishing to educate themselves, without necessarily becoming tech entrepreneurs. Of course many such educations will be incomplete, leaving the students concerned culturally deprived, but a conventional degree in computer science or sociology isn’t what our parents would have called a proper education, either!

Students who self-educate will find it difficult to get jobs in large companies or the federal government, which will remain wedded to possession of the right pieces of paper. For many students with low self-confidence, this may be a decisive factor; even if they cannot get into Yale, the degree from a second-tier college will give them much greater job security than if they had self-educated. However students with high levels of ability and self-confidence will take their chances; there are enough small companies and entrepreneurial opportunities around that securing a steady desk job with GE or the federal government may not seem all that attractive.

The current credentialism model faces another problem: the credentials go out of date. With longer lifespans and inadequate social security systems, this is an increasingly serious defect. For liberal arts majors, the need to re-train may not be extreme. However for majors in any technical subject, including many of the social sciences and business, educations obtained 30 or even 40 years ago may have become utterly useless. Moreover even large companies have considerably shorter lifespans than in past generations and their demise generates involuntary workforce churn. Thus many will find themselves needing to retrain at the age of 45 or 50 in order to enter a different field, or simply in order to make themselves competitive again in their own field. 4-year degrees or even 2-year Masters programs will be impossibly expensive for such people, who generally will have families and mortgages to support. Again, the availability of self-education over the Internet will offer them new possibilities, far more convenient than overpriced executive education programs.

From the above, the market share of conventional four year colleges is likely to go into sharp decline in the years ahead.  Provided policymakers have the sense to stop subsidizing student loans with state guarantees and special provisions to survive bankruptcy, the banks will become much less willing to encourage the young and feckless to over-extend themselves in this way. Students will once again exert pressure on colleges to reduce their fees, and will choose cheaper state schools and programs that allow them to work their way through college.


New "Free" schools proving popular in Britain

They are government funded but under control by community groups rather than local authorities

Twenty-two of the 24 Free Schools which opened last September responded to a Department for Education (DfE) survey, with 19 reporting being over-subscribed for the coming school year starting this September.

On average, primary Free Schools attracted more than twice as many applications for the number of places available.

The secondary, or all-through, Free Schools, on average received well over three times as many applications for the places available.

Free Schools are being set up by teachers, parents and charities where there is parental demand and, in the main, in areas of deprivation.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said the figures underlined the popularity of Free Schools with parents.  "These figures show how keen parents are to send their children to Free Schools," he said.

"They provide the answer to the naysayers who said that Free Schools weren't wanted or needed - or that no one would be bothered to set them up.  "They are also providing a spur to other local schools to do the best they can."

Tania Sidney-Roberts, principal of Free School Norwich, said: "The Free School Norwich is three-and-a-half times over-subscribed again for this September and we are currently operating waiting lists of at least 18 children in all year groups across the school.  "This demonstrates just how desperately needed the service our school provides is.

"A recent parent feedback survey carried out by the school also indicates that 100% of our parents are very happy with the service and that their children love coming to the school and are making excellent progress.

"I am obviously delighted to have confirmed in this way what we always knew was the case - that the freedom given to Free Schools to be innovative and to meet the needs and preferences of parents was long overdue and it works."

Dr Brinder Singh Mahon, chairman of the Nishkam School Trust, in Birmingham, added: "We have been very disappointed to turn away over 50 families who could not be accommodated in the school."


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Big education reforms are possible

On April 4th, after months of hard work, FreedomWorks activists celebrated as the Louisiana State Senate finally passed HB976 and HB974, two bills that mark a historic overhaul of the state’s education system.

The HB976 legislation creates a market-based school choice system, creating vouchers for children to escape failing schools and allowing an easier pathway to creation of charter schools with a “parent trigger” program.  The HB974 legislation completely overhauls the teacher tenure system in Louisiana, rewarding only effective educators and provides financial incentives for those performing above expectation.  HB974 also eliminates “automatic” teacher tenure for new teachers entering the school service.    

These reforms eliminate two untouchable sacred cows of union power—voucher control and tenure. 

What the victory in Louisiana shows is that real education reform is supported by an overwhelming number of people who are no longer willing to accept the status quo.  Louisiana has set historic precedent this week, demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to get complete overhaul of a system, something deemed impossible up until now. 

School choice advocates have been advancing small reforms incrementally over time, taking small bites at the apple, rather than one big chunk.  With the passage of HB974 and HB976 and the likely passage of the four other pieces of proposed legislation, Governor Jindal has made history doing what many considered impossible.

Looking ahead to other states and other school choice battles, reform advocates should be inspired to reach for larger, more aggressive reforms. Once considered unbeatable, education union bosses are slowly being broken down.  Each time a new school choice bill becomes law, the union’s stranglehold on the system is loosed just a little.  Other governors should take notice, especially those with bills being fought by legislators who are lost in the fog of special interests. 

Governors like Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.   These governors sit idly by as their legislators work on reform bills. In South Carolina, HB4894 recently passed the House for the first time in the state’s history, and a long fight is expected in the Senate.

Reflecting on the victory in Louisiana, these two governors should follow Governor Jindal’s display of committed leadership and be bold.  Governors: Push your legislators to act, do not allow failure.  If you fail to lead, your constituents will take notice and replace you with someone else who will.

As for us, we must not rest on this one victory. We must continue pushing forward, keeping the momentum from Louisiana and building off of it. There are many lessons to be learned from our grassroots efforts this time around, what worked, what didn’t. This movement is spreading, and cannot be stopped.  The match has been struck, the spark is now a fire, and it’s us who must not let it go out…


Pupils are recruited to spy on us during our lessons and schools are being 'run like totalitarian regimes', say British teachers

"Teachers  must not be assessed" is the holy gospel of teachers everywhere

Pupils are being ‘actively recruited’ by schools to spy on their teachers in the classroom, a union has warned.  They are being used as ‘management tools’ to carry out covert – and even open – surveillance of members of staff, it was claimed.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, condemned the practice as a ‘form of abuse’ of children.  She told the union’s annual conference in Birmingham on Saturday that ‘debilitating’ monitoring ‘erodes teachers’ self-esteem and gnaws away at their professional confidence’.

She said: ‘Children and teachers are diminished and abused by the use of pupils as management tools to carry out surveillance on their teachers.

‘Schools are being run like totalitarian regimes where children are being actively recruited to spy and report on adults.’

Afterwards, Mrs Keates said she had been horrified to discover that secondary schools in some areas have been taking pupils out of lessons to put them through a form of ‘formalised Ofsted training’.

Pupils are trained in the methods used by real inspectors to assess whether teachers are good at their job. Ofsted is not involved in the practice, which has also been adopted by some academy chains.

The NASUWT union said that heads now have ‘breathtaking autonomy’ and are undermining teachers by forcing them to mark work on school premises until as late as 7pm.

General secretary Chris Keates said: ‘Roman Emperors were more accountable than head teachers in our schools.’

Mrs Keates revealed that some pupils are given forms to rate teachers as part of Student Voice – a movement which involves giving pupils a greater say in the running of their schools.  These forms tell students to list the ‘strengths’ of members of staff.

Other schools use questionnaires, which ask pupils to consider whether they are ‘treated fairly and equally’ by teachers.  They can tick boxes including ‘always’, ‘usually’, ‘occasionally’, ‘never’ and ‘not sure’ and complete ‘one star and a wish’.  This involves awarding a teacher ‘one star for something they are doing well’ and ‘one wish for something you would like them to do even better’.

Mrs Keates added: ‘We’ve had practices ranging from children sitting at the back of classrooms, watching teachers with check lists, to unacceptable covert practices where children have been identified before a lesson starts by management.

‘They’ve been given a form to fill in, with no consultation with the teacher at all that the practice is going on, and in fact it’s only being discovered when the teacher asks the child why they’re not concentrating on the work in hand.’


'Make them pay': Pupils who make false claims against their teachers should be dealt with by police, says British union

Pupils who make malicious allegations against teachers should face criminal charges, a union said today.  The NASUWT said false claims remain 'an enduring problem', blighting the lives and careers of accused teachers, and called for urgent action to make sure that those responsible face punishment.

The union published figures showing that 103 of its members faced criminal allegations last year.

Of these, only four resulted in court action, 39 cases are yet to be concluded and the rest (60 in total) were not taken forward.

NASUWT, or the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, passed a resolution at its annual conference in Birmingham which said it believes 'the most effective way to protect teachers from malicious allegations is to make such an allegation a criminal offence'.  It called on the union's executive to 'take action to bring about the necessary legislative change'.

Phil Dunn, a physics teacher from Walsall, told delegates: 'Malicious allegations eat away at the very fabric of our professional standards.  'The NASUWT has successfully highlighted the blight on the accused teachers' lives and their families, with often lengthy suspensions. Many teachers are simply unwilling to return to teaching following such allegations.

'Strong clear legislation would make the consequences of such allegations plain and clear to pupils and families.  'I will not defend any teacher who has betrayed the basic tenets of our profession. Child protection remains one of the basic foundations of our profession.  'But, colleagues, malicious allegations threaten to undermine that very basis.'

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: 'These figures demonstrate that the issue of false, malicious and unsubstantiated allegations against teachers continues to be an enduring problem.

'Teachers' fear of having allegations made against them is very real, yet four out of five did not feel that current protections for teachers are adequate.

'The coalition Government has made bold promises of handing power back to teachers, but the new powers to search and restrain pupils, which teachers did not want, will leave them even more vulnerable to allegations and litigation.

'The fear of having an allegation made against them is compounded by the fact that, even if they are exonerated, their career will be permanently blighted by the fact that the allegation will remain on record.  'Urgent action is needed to bring in statutory provisions to cover the recording and reporting of allegations on a teacher's file.'

According to research commissioned by the Department for Education, nearly half of allegations made against teachers are malicious, unsubstantiated or unfounded.

The survey, which examined the number and nature of allegations of abuse referred to 116 English councils between April 1 2009 and March 31 2010 found that of 12,086 allegations referred, 2,827 (23%) were against school teachers while a further 1,709 allegations of abuse were made against non-teaching staff in schools.

A DfE spokesman said: 'Schools should have absolutely no tolerance of malicious allegations against teachers. We've made crystal clear that heads can suspend or expel pupils who make false claims - and should report them to the police if they believe a criminal offence has been committed.

'All investigations must be quick and thorough, with unfounded allegations stripped out of individual teachers' personnel records.

'We've legislated so teachers have a legal right to anonymity before they are charged with an offence, to prevent their names being dragged through the mud.'


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

 Iowa Republicans blast law school over refusal to hire conservative professor as faculty

Iowa Republicans are taking aim at the state's top law school for denying a faculty position to a conservative law professor, who an assistant dean once said embraces politics the rest of the faculty "despises."  

Teresa Wagner, who works as an associate director of writing at the University of Iowa College of Law, is suing former dean Carolyn Jones for employment discrimination, claiming she was not hired for a professor position because Jones and other law faculty disapproved of her conservative views and activism.

To hold a law faculty position at the publicly funded university is viewed as a "sacred cow," Wagner said in an interview, and "Republicans need not apply."

The case, which goes to trial this October, has become a chief concern for Republicans in Johnson County, who on Monday passed a resolution calling on the Iowa House of Representatives' oversight committee to investigate hiring practices involved in Wagner's case and others like it.

"We think the hiring policies need to be such where there are certainly non-discriminatory practices which relate to political philosophy, as well as to race and gender and other issues," said Bob Anderson, chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party. He claims students are deprived of "diversity of political thought" when conservative thinkers, like Wagner, are rejected based on their politics.

"We have a very active, conservative Republican community within the University of Iowa, which has not been met with an appropriate sense of respect for their ideas," he told "We see generally the climate as unfavorable." 

Wagner, who graduated with honors from the law school in 1993, has taught at the George Mason University School of Law. She has also worked for the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion, and the conservative Family Research Council.

In 2006, Wagner applied for a full-time instructor position with the law school and was denied. She was also rejected for an adjunct or full-time position in four subsequent attempts, according to her attorney, Stephen T. Fieweger.

"For the first time in years, there are more registered Republicans in the state of Iowa than there are Democrats, which is obviously not reflected at the University of Iowa," Fieweger told

Fieweger said Wagner's candidacy was dismissed because of her conservative views, and he cited a 2007 email from Associate Dean Jonathan C. Carlson to Jones in which Carlson wrote: "Frankly, one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in any role, in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it)."

Associate Dean Eric Andersen was not immediately available for comment when contacted Thursday. Tom Moore, a spokesman for the university, told the Iowa City Press Citizen last week that the school is "committed to equal opportunity, diversity and to following fair hiring practices."

Wagner's case was initially dismissed in a lower court that ruled the dean could hire whomever she wishes. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, reinstated it in December. A trial is set for Oct. 15.

Fieweger said the law school and academic institutions in general have been so "entrenched" in discriminating against conservative-minded faculty over the years that "they don't recognize they're doing it."

At the time Wagner filed her complaint, Fieweger said, the number of registered Republicans on the law faculty stood at one.

Fieweger said the school argues Wagner was rejected because she "stunningly flunked the interview" in refusing to teach analysis -- a claim he said "just doesn't make sense and the jury is going to see that."


‘America Is Better Than Glenn Beck’: College Textbook Includes Anti-Beck Writings

“Today’s Tea Party adherents are George Wallace legacies.”

“[Glenn] Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure.”

If those sentences sound to you like they’re straight out of the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times, you’d be right. But they can also be found in a college textbook assigned to students at a community college in Texas.

America Is Better Than Glenn Beck: Anti Beck Writings in College Textbook“Read, Reason, Write: An Argument Text and Reader” is a critical reading and analysis book assigned to freshmen at Lone Star College-University Park in Houston. Its 10th edition features a collection of readings excoriating Beck and the Tea Party, while providing only the barest counter point of view.

The two sentences above came from op-ed pieces in the Post and Times that were reprinted in the book’s 23rd chapter: “America: Embracing the Future — or Divided by Conflict?” The line about the Tea Party is from Post columnist Colbert I. King’s March 2010 piece, “In the faces of Tea Party shouters, images of hate and history”, while the line about Beck comes from the Times‘ Bob Herbert’s “America Is Better Than This,” published in August 2010.

King compares the Tea Party to the protesters who stood to block the Little Rock Nine in 1957 and those who cheered ex-Klansman David Duke at a rally in 1991. He describes Tea Party members picketing on Capitol Hill during the health care debate and says they’re the legacy of George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who famously declared: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”:
    They see the world through the eyes of the anti-civil rights alumni. “Washington, D.C.” now, as then, is regarded as the Great Satan. This is the place that created the civil rights laws that were shoved down their throats. This is the birthplace of their much-feared “Big Government” and the playground of the “elite national news media.”

In “America Is Better Than This” — published on the eve of Beck’s Restoring Honor event in Washington, D.C. — Herbert says there is “no road too low for [Beck] to slither upon.”
    He is an integral part of the vicious effort by the Tea Party and other elements of the right wing to portray Mr. Obama as somehow alien, a strange figure who is separate and apart from — outside of — ordinary American life.

The book, first brought to The Blaze’s attention by a professor at the college, does feature an article by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Brooks’ 2010 piece, “America’s new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control,” is the only reading in the chapter that can be said to offer any real counterpoint, and it’s limited to one paragraph:
    “And while some have tried to dismiss the ‘Tea Party’ demonstrations and the town hall protests of last summer as the work of extremists, ignorant backwoodsmen or agents of the health care industry, these movements reveal much about the culture war that is underway.”

Vicki Cassidy, a spokeswoman for the Lone Star College System, told The Blaze two faculty members at University Park use the book, but said the chapter in question is not assigned and the readings — part of a supplementary section — are not part of the syllabus. Other chapters in the supplementary section deal with the environment (Chapter 17: “How Do We Cope With Climate Change”) and marriage (Chapter 19: “Marriage and Gender Issues: The Debates Continue”)

Cassidy said the book was first adopted in 2006 before it contained the readings in question. Textbooks are selected by a faculty committee that does not typically re-examine subsequent editions of previously adopted material.

She confirmed the book’s current edition was not re-examined before it was assigned to students. The committee may opt to revisit its material this summer, she said.

Of the two faculty members who teach out of the book, Cassidy did not immediately know how many classes it has been assigned to. She also did not immediately know whether the book is assigned at other colleges within the Lone Star College system.


'This is the worst time to stop teaching religion': Archbishop of Canterbury warns of dangers of axeing RE lessons in British schools

The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday warned about the dangers of ‘downgrading’ religious education in secondary schools.

In his Easter Sermon, Dr Rowan Williams said it was the ‘worst possible moment’ to undermine the teaching of religion to teenagers.  He told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral that apparent hostility towards faith among the young had been exaggerated and that many took the issue of religion seriously.

Dr Williams, who will resign as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the year, said pupils appreciated the role it plays in shaping human existence and are keen to learn about it.

He said: ‘There is plenty to  suggest that younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don’t have the  hostility to faith that one might expect, but at least share some sense that there is something here to take seriously – when they have a chance to learn about it.  'It is about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and professional excellence of religious education in secondary schools, but that’s another sermon.’

Under current guidelines all five to 16-year-olds must study RE at school and all 14 to 16-year-olds must take at least half a GCSE in religious studies.

But research published last year showed that one in four comprehensive and academy schools do not teach religious studies at GCSE and nearly a third of grammars are now also shirking the obligation.

The study came after RE was left out of the subjects counting towards the English Baccalaureate. This is given to teenagers who score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject, which is limited to history and geography.

Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘Most parents will think the Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely right. Let’s hope education ministers take note and restore religious education to its proper status in schools after it has been allowed to decline for the last 20 years.

‘Even if people are not religious themselves, it is very important  to get a good grounding in religious education because so much of  our culture and society is based  on religion.’


Monday, April 09, 2012

You wouldn’t like a restaurant run like schools are

California's public schools continue to lay off teachers, in a process that is as convoluted and illogical as one would expect in a bureaucratic system in which the needs of the students falls fairly low on the list of priorities. That's my takeaway from a new report by the state's Legislative Analyst's Office detailing the teacher layoff process as districts struggle with declining revenue in the face of shrinking budgets.

The big issue, however, isn't the arcane process for shedding teachers, but what the process says about the inefficient way that most Americans have decided to educate their kids. As the LAO reports, decisions about who stays and who goes are based on which teachers have showed up to work for the most years – i.e., seniority – rather than which ones are most effective and energetic. The hearing and appeals process, by which every laid-off teacher gets an automatic hearing, adds enormous costs to a system that always claims to lack enough resources.

The LAO report only looked at one small, technical aspect of the public-school behemoth, and it was meant to offer a little advice for tweaking the layoff process. It wasn't meant to provide a thorough analysis of school systems. But in some ways, that's what is so frightening about the report. Americans don't think twice about the way schools are designed. Few things are more important than educating children, yet we accept this current system the way Soviet citizens accepted long bread lines. No doubt, auditors in that system issued reports discussing ways to shorten the lines.

Don't include me in the chorus of those who claim that the schools are somehow "underfunded," even as K-14 education consumes more than 40 percent of California's general-fund budget – not to mention all the local bond measures and federal funding. School-district budget "cuts" usually refer to a reduced rate of spending growth, not actual cuts.

One of the nation's worst-performing systems, Los Angeles Unified School District, yearly spends more than $29,000 per student, when all funding sources are included, according to a Cato Institute report. Its graduation rate of 40 percent is appalling.

LAUSD is particularly bad, but it isn't run that differently than your average suburban district.

Consider the LAO's chart of a declining teacher workforce over the past few years against this report in the Los Angeles Daily News from 2008: "[A] Daily News review of salaries and staffing shows LAUSD's bureaucracy ballooned by nearly 20 percent from 2001 to 2007. Over the same period, 500 teaching positions were cut and enrollment dropped by 6 percent. The district has approximately 4,000 administrators, managers and other nonschool-based employees – not including clerks and office workers – whose average annual salary is about $95,000."

Now consider this tidbit in June from the Sacramento Bee: "The number of educators receiving $100,000-plus annual pensions jumped 650 percent from 2005-11, going from 700 to 5,400, according to a Bee review of data from the California State Teachers' Retirement System."

Here's a Los Angeles Times headline from October: "California teachers lack the resources and time to teach science."

Is this an issue of money or spending priorities?

Instead of focusing on the little things, Californians ought to be thinking big thoughts about education. We can start by asking: Is the public education system one that best serves the students? The answer, even for people whose kids attend decent schools is, "Obviously not."

There's an endless call for reform. Some ideas are useful. For instance, tuition vouchers – which let people take a portion of their school tax dollars and spend them at the school of their choice – or charter schools, which are government-controlled schools freed from some of the government-imposed red tape, offer some hope because they provide some level of competition.

I'm not calling for specific reforms here but arguing, instead, for readers to conduct a thought experiment.

If we were tasked with providing an important service, how would we provide it? If, say, we were asked to create the best-possible chain of restaurants to serve hungry customers, would we buy a huge building, hire scores of extremely well-paid administrators and then impose a tax on local residents to fund the chain? Would we let a board of directors, elected from the community, choose the décor, the menu and the locations?

Would we empower a union to make hiring decisions and allow it to grant tenure to waiters and kitchen help, so that we could not fire them even if they were lazy and incompetent? Would we pay the most money to people who worked there the longest rather than to those who were the best workers?

When customers complained that we served too much meat and not enough pizza, would we shrug and ask them to elect board members who preferred pepperoni to cheeseburgers?

Would we pass laws mandating that people who live in neighborhoods near our restaurants eat only there – allowing them to eat elsewhere only if they spend additional money or move to the neighborhood where the restaurant more closely meets their taste? Would we ignore the pleas of people who live near filthy restaurants that serve lousy food just because we live near one that at least keeps a clean kitchen and offers adequate meal choices?

Other observers have made similar analogies, and school officials always claim that schooling somehow is different. But it isn't.

Instead of tinkering around the edges and endlessly fighting for reforms that offer little hope of transforming the system, we need to redesign it from the ground up. Perhaps we should, in the words of the late reformer Marshall Fritz, "separate school and state" and allow the market to provide schools just as we allow it to provide food and other vital services.


Baa Baa Little Sheep: How British private school abandoned nursery rhyme's lyrics for Easter show sparking political correctness accusations

Quite what the little boy who lives down the lane would make of it is open to conjecture.

But parents at one school made their feelings plain when they heard their children reciting ‘Baa Baa Little Sheep’.

They accused the £2,700-a-term Park Hill primary school of changing the words from ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ for the sake of political correctness.

The school, in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, insists this was not the reason, and that the change was merely a way of teaching children to read by adding different words. Adults who attended its Easter concert, however, were unconvinced.

Andrea Craig, a councillor whose son sang in the show, tweeted: ‘At my son’s Easter concert I saw a song called Baa Baa Little Sheep which I assumed was new. Not so – not allowed black. Really?’

She said most parents in the audience were concerned about the change of wording.

‘It’s good they want children to think about what different words mean. But this is one nursery rhyme I personally don’t think should be used because it could be so easily misconstrued as political correctness gone mad. They have got to be a bit smarter about it.’

The school uses the phonic learning system  to teach children aged three to seven word meanings through well-known songs and rhymes. Its marketing manager Holly Christie said Baa Baa Black Sheep had been changed ‘because it fitted in with the theme of what we were doing. It was about baby sheep.

‘We have always had adjustments to Baa Baa Black Sheep just because the children like to sing different variations of that. It’s a way of teaching phonics so that children understand these words that they are using and then reading.’

This is far from the first time the rhyme has been amended. In 2006, children at two nurseries in Oxfordshire were taught ‘Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep’ to promote ‘equal opportunities’. Some children in London have been taught ‘Baa Baa Green Sheep’.

And in 1999, Birmingham City Council said the rhyme should not be taught at all because it was racially negative.


Australia: Parents feel the pinch as childcare squeezed by new federal laws

But it's "for their own good", of course.   One size fits all, don't you know?

This will just lead to more  informal childcare  -- e.g. where some lady looks after a few neighbourhood kids in her own home -- with none of the safeguards of the formal sector

That happened in Britain so they passed draconian laws about informal childcare -- but they had to back down because it criminalized friends looking after another friend's kids

PARENTS face a tougher fight for childcare places - and a bigger bill when they find a centre - as tough new federal laws squeeze 8400 places from the system.  The cost of child care will rise by up to $13 a day per child as rules requiring an increased staff-to-child ratio are enforced.

Federal Government figures show a quarter of Queensland children are in childcare, with more than 155,000 children from 120,000 families in long day care at childcare centres.

Childcare Queensland says centres across Queensland will close as increased staff ratios, soaring power bills and fears of a massive 30 per cent wage claim force an already stressed sector close to the brink.

Childcare Queensland says the new regulations alone, the first phase of which started in January, will cost the state 8400 places.

President Peter Price said the average price of long day care in Queensland was between $60 and $80 a day, but that would go up under the new laws that require more staff to children and university degrees for some positions. [How absurd!  Will you have to have a degree to become a mother soon?]

While changes to ratios that were causing massive spikes in fees down south would not affect Queensland for another two years, he said centres were already having to put on extra staff to cover paperwork and training.

Mr Price said the industry had no problem with raising standards but said the contradiction with existing minimum room sizes and the required floor space per child means fewer places will be available in existing centres.

Industry research tips childcare costs will rise by $13 a child per day, which will create an exodus of families from already struggling centres in areas like the Sunshine and Gold coasts, as well as in Brisbane's eastern suburbs.

Mr Price said a survey of centres shows those around Caboolture, Wide Bay and Cairns are already at risk of falling through the 70 per cent occupancy level, which is break-even, and could dip in to the red under any other stress.

He said some centres on the Sunshine Coast were already half empty and parents would soon start feeling the pinch as more tried to organise their childcare after the school holidays. "It's happening now but there's still a lot more to come," Mr Price said of the cost increases.  "For the average parent looking for a place, there are going to be less places  available."

But C&K chief executive officer Barrie Elvish, whose community group operates centres across the state, said he did not expect any massive price rise.  He said C&K centres had raised prices by $4 or $5 a day at the beginning of the year to cover rising bills but the ratio changes would not affect them.

Federal Child Care Minister Kate Ellis said children deserved the best start in life.  "All of the research shows us that the first five years of a child's life are critical to shaping future outcomes and will play a major role in their long-term health, education and development," she said.

"With record numbers of families using childcare in Queensland and across the country, it is essential that we ensure that children in care are getting the quality early educational opportunities that they need.

"That is why the rest of the world is acting and it is why the Commonwealth and every state and territory  government, of all political persuasions, have agreed that the National Quality Framework is the best way forward for Australian families.

"These reforms are being introduced gradually, over a number of years so that the sector has time to adjust.  "The only changes that have come into effect in 2012 are a ratio requirement of one staff member for every four children aged under two  as is already the case in Queensland  and a harmonisation of national regulations....

Tewantin Early Learning Centre owner John Keast said private operators were under pressure from rising utilities and red tape.

He said he would like to be able to provide healthy fruit as a snack to his kids, but he can't without complicated and expensive licensing.  "We can't supply fruit to our children, but if they bring it in, we can cut it up and serve it to them," he said. "It's ridiculous."

He said his two Sunshine Coast centres turned a profit but there were plenty of others that were badly stretched and at risk of folding.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

  How California's Colleges Indoctrinate Students

A new report on the UC system documents the plague of politicized classrooms. The problem is national in scope


The politicization of higher education by activist professors and compliant university administrators deprives students of the opportunity to acquire knowledge and refine their minds. It also erodes the nation's civic cohesion and its ability to preserve the institutions that undergird democracy in America.

So argues "A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California," a new report by the California Association of Scholars, a division of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). The report is addressed to the Regents of the University of California, which has ultimate responsibility for governing the UC system, but the pathologies it diagnoses prevail throughout the country.

The analysis begins from a nonpolitical fact: Numerous studies of both the UC system and of higher education nationwide demonstrate that students who graduate from college are increasingly ignorant of history and literature. They are unfamiliar with the principles of American constitutional government. And they are bereft of the skills necessary to comprehend serious books and effectively marshal evidence and argument in written work.

This decline in the quality of education coincides with a profound transformation of the college curriculum. None of the nine general campuses in the UC system requires students to study the history and institutions of the United States. None requires students to study Western civilization, and on seven of the nine UC campuses, including Berkeley, a survey course in Western civilization is not even offered. In several English departments one can graduate without taking a course in Shakespeare. In many political science departments majors need not take a course in American politics.

Moreover, the evidence suggests that the hollowing of the curriculum stems from too many professors' preference for promoting a partisan political agenda.

National studies by Stanley Rothman in 1999, and by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons in 2007, have shown that universities' leftward tilt has become severe. And a 2005 study by Daniel Klein and Andrew Western in Academic Questions (a NAS publication) shows this is certainly true in California. For example, Democrats outnumbered Republicans four to one on University of California, Berkeley, professional school faculties; in the social sciences the ratio was approximately 21 to one.

The same 2005 study revealed that the Berkeley sociology department faculty was home to 17 Democrats and no Republicans. The political science department included 28 Democrats and two Republicans. The English department had 29 Democrats and one Republican; and the history department had 31 Democrats and one Republican.

While political affiliation alone need not carry classroom implications, the overwhelmingly left-leaning faculty openly declare the inculcation of progressive political ideas their pedagogical priority. As "A Crisis of Competence" notes, "a recent study by UCLA's prestigious Higher Education Research Institute found that more faculty now believe that they should teach their students to be agents of social change than believe that it is important to teach them the classics of Western civilization."

Some university programs tout their political presuppositions and objectives openly. The mission statements of the Women's Studies program at UCLA prejudges the issues by declaring that it proceeds from "the perspectives of those whose participation has been traditionally distorted, omitted, neglected, or denied." And the Critical Race Studies program at the UCLA School of law announces that its aim is to "transform racial justice advocacy."

Even the august American Association of University Professors—which in 1915 and 1940 published classic statements explaining that the aim of academic freedom was not to indoctrinate but to equip students to think for themselves—has sided with the politicized professoriate.

In 1915, the AAUP affirmed that in teaching controversial subjects a professor should "set forth justly without suppression or innuendo the divergent opinions of other investigators; he should cause his students to become familiar with the best published expressions of the great historic types of doctrine upon the questions at issue."

However, in recent statements on academic freedom in 2007 and 2011, the AAUP has undermined its almost century-old strictures against proselytizing. Its new position is that restricting professors to the use of relevant materials and obliging them to provide a reasonably comprehensive treatment of the subject represent unworkable requirements because relevance and comprehensiveness can themselves be controversial.

On the boundaries, they can be—like anything else. However, it is wrong to dismiss professors' duty to avoid introducing into classroom discussion opinions extraneous to the subject and to provide a well-rounded treatment of the matter under consideration. That opens the classroom to whatever professors wish to talk about. And in all too many cases what they wish to talk about in the classroom is the need to transform America in a progressive direction. Last year the leadership of AAUP officially endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Excluding from the curriculum those ideas that depart from the progressive agenda implicitly teaches students that conservative ideas are contemptible and unworthy of discussion. This exclusion, the California report points out, also harms progressives for the reason John Stuart Mill elaborated in his famous 1859 essay, "On Liberty": "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that."

The removal of partisan advocacy from the classroom would have long-term political benefits. Liberal education equips students with intellectual skills valued by the marketplace. It prepares citizens to discharge civic responsibilities in an informed and deliberate manner. It fosters a common culture by revealing that much serious disagreement between progressives and conservatives revolves around differing interpretations of how to fulfill America's promise of individual freedom and equality.

It is certainly true that not all progressive professors intrude their politics into the classroom, but a culture of politicization has developed on campus in which department chairs and deans treat its occurrence as routine. "UC administrators," the California report sadly concludes, "far from performing their role as the university's quality control mechanism, now routinely function as the enablers, protectors, and even apologists for the politicized university and its degraded scholarly and educational standards."

In California, this is more than a failure of their duty as educators. It is also a violation of the law. Article IX, Section 9, of the California state constitution provides that "The university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom."

It is incumbent upon the UC Board of Regents, not to mention the governing bodies of other institutions of higher education across the country, to begin the long and arduous work of depoliticizing our universities and renewing liberal education.


British School taken over by street gangs: Staff warn over safety threats after pupil arrests

The headteacher of a secondary school has admitted that his staff fear for their safety following a series of student arrests last month.

Pupils at Copland Community School in Wembley, North London are troubling the 100-strong staff after youngsters were reported to the police for actual bodily harm, harassment and possession of a weapon.

That has led to urgent appeals from the teachers, who have written to the  Board of Governors complaining over a 'hard-core (group) in each year who are forming what amount to in-school gangs'.

The letter reads: 'We as staff have long-standing concerns regarding pupil behaviour the safety of pupils and staff is being compromised.  'A significant proportion of the student body (40 per cent) share these concerns and do not feel safe at school.  'Serious incidents occur daily and examples of violence, aggression, defiance, bullying and non-compliance are far too common.

Plunked echoed those sentiments adding: 'There are problems with ganfs and things like this all over the place; it is not something that is specific to this school.

'There have been a lot of improvements at the school, we are a fairly new team.  'We are all working together to improve the school. The school does face significant challenges, but it will be a journey of improvement.'

On March 3 a 15-year-old boy appeared at Brent Youth Court on April 2 charged with possession of an article with a blade on the premises of Copland School.  He admitted the charge at an earlier hearing and was given a youth rehabilitation order.

Ten days later on March 13 a report was made to police of ABH (actual bodily harm), and the following day a report of harassment was lodged.  Finally on March 22 a case of disorderly conduct was reported and a 17-year-old boy was charged with disorderly conduct in connection with the incident.


Australia:  Children of the rich do better at school, study of NAPLAN test results finds

And so it always  will be.  But some galoot  says low funding for schools is behind it.  In fact of course, being smart tends to help you get rich and IQ is mainly genetically transmitted.  And IQ is the single best predictor of school achievement. Some of the worst schools in America have the highest funding -- but it doesn't help.  If your theory is wrong you won't get the results you expect. 

CHILDREN from higher socioeconomic areas are performing better at school than those in poorer areas, according to an analysis of school figures.

A study of the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) test results by The Weekend Australian has revealed the country's top 100 primary and secondary schools have a roll-call of students from well-to-do suburbs.

Director of the Centre for Research on Education Systems at Melbourne University, Richard Teese, says the analysis highlights a geographical concentration of advantage.

"It's not an even playing field in which talent can blossom from whatever location - it's people excelling through social advantage," he told The Weekend Australian.  He said schools in poorer postcodes were under-resourced and found it difficult to attract experienced and specialised teachers.

"We are now at a point where there are no new commonwealth funds available to correct the funding imbalance that has operated for decades..." he said.  "Our potential is not being harvested.  "Public schools educate two-thirds of our kids; they are our nurseries and we are starving them."

The study also found selective schools ranked highest among the country's secondary and primary schools, with government selective schools in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia out-performing many other high schools.

The study highlighted that while independent schools performed highest outside of selective schools, students from the best performing non-selective government schools were also from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

It also found a correlation between students' performances and their family's level of education.  "The large reserves of talent in less well educated families are being denied the support needed to be turned into the large band of high achievers representing all backgrounds that Australia should have," Professor Teese said.

The Weekend Australian performed the analysis by comparing NAPLAN results, based on national testing of Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students, with the Index of Community Socio-Education Advantage, which measures income and education level's of student's families.

It comes after education ministers from across the country met in Sydney on Thursday to discuss major reforms  to the national schooling system.