Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps."

What is college really worth?  A lot of people are asking that question -- and it's the cover story of this month's Utne Reader magazine.

My older son is 30, and my younger is 17. I'm hoping my two sons escape from the consequences of graduating into this terrible economy, which is going to dampen the value of not only a college degree, but of all those graduate degrees parents are paying for (and students are borrowing on) for decades to come.

The companion piece to the Utne Reader cover story is called "The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps." It highlights the plight of adjunct professors who require food stamps to get by. Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, for example, is a 43-year-old white single mother who teaches two courses in humanities at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona.

She never expected to be on food stamps. Somehow she imagined her Ph.D. in medieval history was a guaranteed ticket to the middle class. Another college teacher in Florida is married with two kids. He's a graduate student in film studies at Florida State University.

Somehow he hasn't yet processed that a married father of two probably should not be getting an advanced degree in film studies. I'm not sure anybody should, actually.

Utne sees this as a plea for paying college teachers even more (raising tuition prices even higher). I see it as an indictment of colleges making money by enrolling students for whom there is no plausible career path with borrowed government money.

My sons are lucky. We were able to pay for college. By "we" I do not mean just my husband and me, but my husband and me and our parents.

My older son graduated with money in the bank, not debt. He spent years as a starving artist, but once he began to make money, his economic situation was quickly transformed into a situation of building capital, human and otherwise, not paying for his college degrees until he's 40.

I'm pretty sure that if I could not afford to pay for my children's college, I would advise them to live at home, go to community college for two years and then to two years of state school. Pay tuition as you go. Parents don't charge rent. Mom will throw in doing your laundry, no extra charge.

Save the Ivy League dream for graduate school, if you've made the grades to get into an Ivy grad school. (If not, don't go to grad school.)

Since both my husband and I are Yale graduates, it's kind of shocking to me that I think this.

But the truth is that as loans have become available and every teen is encouraged to borrow money and go to college, the costs of college have skyrocketed out of proportion to the reasonable return.

The average cost of room, board and tuition at a public university is seven times what it was when I went to Yale, according to Utne Reader.

Yes, a college degree is "worth it" in general terms.  It's just not worth going $50,000 into debt at the age of 22 to achieve.

There's got to be a better way.  The culture of debt being created for college grads will affect them for years to come.

Colleges have become complicit in teaching teenagers bad financial lessons that hurt their ability to make it. According to Utne Reader, at least 700 colleges have contracts with banks to market credit cards to students. About nine in 10 students use credit cards to help pay their education expenses. The average college student now has 4.6 credit cards.

I'm 51 years old and I have two.

We are going to see a lot more generational cris de couer, like the hilarious viral YouTube music video "The Ivy League Hustle (I Went to Princeton, B----!)," Overlaying its sexual complaint by elite women about the men they have to date, there is an amazing riff on the anomalous position of the overeducated artist, trying to persuade himself or herself that being economically marginal is a sign of moral superiority.

Borrowing more to pay for colleges that raise their tuition so they can enroll more film studies majors?  That is madness, and it has to stop.


Number of British graduates in menial jobs doubles in five years with 10,000 taking posts that do not require a degree

The number of graduates forced to take menial jobs as cleaners, labourers, shelf stackers and rubbish collectors has almost doubled in five years, figures show.

More than 10,000 university leavers took posts that do not require degrees after graduating in 2010/11.

The number in so-called ‘elementary occupations’ six months after graduating in 2006/7 was just 5,460, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Other examples in this category include caretakers, road sweepers, street vendors, odd-job workers, shoe cleaners, hotel porters and door-to-door sales people.

The figures also show 720 graduates became process, plant and machine operatives in factories in 2010/11, compared with 595 in 2006/7.

But many more fail to get even menial jobs, with 9 per cent (20,620) assumed to be unemployed six months after completing their degrees in 2010/11. This is around the same proportion as the year before, but the figure stood at 5 per cent in 2006/7.

The statistics will worry parents and students preparing to embark on degree courses this autumn, when tuition fees will rise to as high as £9,000 a year.

Universities have already experienced a 9 per cent drop in applications from UK students amid fears over spiralling levels of debt under the new fees regime.

The HESA figures also show that 20,675 graduates were employed in sales and customer service roles in 2010/11, including sales assistants, caretakers and call centre staff.

Around 47,350 graduates went into ‘associate professional and technical’ jobs, including laboratory technicians, nurses, paramedics, interpreters, police officers and the armed forces.

Overall, around 158,000 people were in some form of employment, either in the UK or abroad, six months after graduating last year, the figures show.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said yesterday: ‘The Government should be doing more to stimulate jobs and growth.

‘While the Prime Minister continues to attack people on benefits, he is doing little to help them get off benefits and on with their lives.’

Universities minister David Willetts insisted that although the job market was challenging, graduates continued to do better than those without a degree.

He said: ‘We must ensure graduates enter the labour market equipped to succeed.’

Meanwhile, a report from the independent market research company High Fliers has warned that graduates are competing for top jobs against a ‘backlog’ of earlier university leavers.

One in three applications for this year’s graduate vacancies are from students who left higher education last year or earlier, it says.


Obnoxious British bureaucracy penalizes good teacher

A dedicated teacher last night claimed her  35-year career was in ruins after she lost her job for handing out her mobile phone number to a schoolgirl who was upset about her sick grandfather.

Heather Wolfson, 56, said she had been using ‘a mother’s instinct’ when she  helped the pupil, adding that political correctness meant teachers were being punished for simply showing compassion and common sense.

The mother of two was suspended from her job last year at Ysgol y Grango, in Rhos, north Wales. The school said  Mrs Wolfson had acted inappropriately by giving the girl  her number when she broke down in tears after her grandfather’s diagnosis with cancer.

The food technology and textiles teacher was also reprimanded for giving her number to a 12-year-old boy and offering to take him home after dark when no-one arrived to collect him from school.

Neither of the children’s parents complained to the school. Instead, a member of staff alerted the headteacher that the girl and boy had the teacher’s phone number.

At a disciplinary hearing Mrs Wolfson, who had been on a fixed-term contract to cover maternity leave, was handed a written warning.  Her contract expired the following day and was not renewed.

The school gave her a basic dated reference, but the experience is proving a blot on an otherwise untainted career.

Mrs Wolfson, from Weston Rhyn, near Oswestry, said she has been struggling to get a job ever since.   ‘I’ve given my life to teaching but now I’ve been rendered unemployable,’ she said. ‘Schools have fallen prey to political correctness and our careers are walking on a tightrope.’

Referring to the incidents with the pupils which triggered her suspension, she said: ‘I was just looking out for them both, it was a mother’s instinct.’ Colin Adkins, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: ‘Heather’s case is an absolute tragedy.

‘There are no regulations to say teachers can’t text pupils, the communication should simply be appropriate, and it was entirely appropriate in  this case.

‘She was providing pastoral support. There was nothing sinister or untoward going on.’

Amanda Harrison, deputy head of Ysgol y Grango, said the matter had been resolved, adding: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment further.’  Wrexham Council also declined to comment.

Mrs Wolfson was suspended in January last year and her contract expired months later in July.

‘I would never have done anything to jeopardise my job,’ she said. ‘While I agree teachers and children need to be safeguarded, the impact often goes against your instinct which is to care for and protect the child.’


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Much College

    Walter E. Williams

In President Barack Obama's 2012 State of the Union address, he said that "higher education can't be a luxury. It is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford." Such talk makes for political points, but there's no evidence that a college education is an economic imperative. A good part of our higher education problem, explaining its spiraling cost, is that a large percentage of students currently attending college are ill-equipped and incapable of doing real college work. They shouldn't be there wasting their own resources and those of their families and taxpayers. Let's look at it.

Robert Samuelson, in his Washington Post article "It's time to drop the college-for-all crusade" (5/27/2012), said that "the college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it. Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it's now doing more harm than good." Richard Vedder -- professor of economics at Ohio University, adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of The Center for College Affordability & Productivity, or CCAP -- in his article "Ditch ... the College-for-All Crusade," published on The Chronicle of Higher Education's blog, "Innovations" (6/7/2012), points out that the "U.S. Labor Department says the majority of new American jobs over the next decade do not need a college degree. We have a six-digit number of college-educated janitors in the U.S." Another CCAP essay by Vedder and his colleagues, titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flight attendants, taxi drivers and salesmen. Was college attendance a wise use of these students' time and the resources of their parents and taxpayers?

There's a recent study published by the Raleigh, N.C.-based Pope Center titled "Pell Grants: Where Does All the Money Go?" Authors Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston report that about 60 percent of undergraduate students in the country are Pell Grant recipients, and at some schools, upward of 80 percent are. Pell Grants are the biggest expenditure of the Department of Education, totaling nearly $42 billion in 2012.

The original focus of Pell Grants was to facilitate college access for low-income students. Since 1972, when the program began, the number of students from the lowest income quartile going to college has increased by more than 50 percent. However, Robinson and Cheston report that the percentage of low-income students who completed college by age 24 decreased from 21.9 percent in 1972 to 19.9 percent today.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (2011), report on their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at 24 institutions. Forty-five percent of these students demonstrated no significant improvement in a range of skills -- including critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing -- during their first two years of college.

Citing the research of AEI scholar Charles Murray's book "Real Education" (2008), Professor Vedder says: "The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down the intellectual content of what they do." Up to 45 percent of incoming freshmen require remedial courses in math, writing or reading. That's despite the fact that colleges have dumbed down courses so that the students they admit can pass them. Let's face it; as Murray argues, only a modest proportion of our population has the cognitive skills, work discipline, drive, maturity and integrity to master truly higher education.

Primary and secondary school education is in shambles. Colleges are increasingly in academic decline as they endeavor to make comfortable environments for the educationally incompetent. Colleges should refuse admission to students who are unprepared to do real college work. That would not only help reveal shoddy primary and secondary education but also reduce the number of young people making unwise career choices. Sadly, that won't happen. College administrators want warm bodies to bring in money.


Will “the Blade” Pop the Higher Education Bubble?

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced that he will become the president of Purdue University when he leaves office in January. While fans of the cost-cutting governor had hoped he would set his eyes on a different president, the announcement should be welcome news to students and taxpayers alike. One of the nation’s most successful, reform-minded executive can now play a role in reinventing higher education.

Few sectors of the economy are in greater need of reform and have such promising solutions lurking just around the corner.

The United States spends approximately $460 billion annually on postsecondary education, or about 3.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. The federal government spends tens of billions annually to support college students and their colleges and universities, while state and local governments kick in another $71 billion. Families and students shoulder the rest of the burden, with many taking our gigantic loans or liquidating their life savings to pay the steep costs of college, in hopes that a degree will unlock a brighter future.

Sadly, a growing body of evidence suggests that much of this investment is a waste. A 2011 report, based on survey data of college students around the country, found that 45 percent of all students show no significant gains in learning after two years in school. Even more discouraging, 33 percent effectively learned nothing after four years. Statistics like this are forcing many American families to question whether four years of tuition and costs, which now top $40,000 and $20,000 at private and public colleges respectively, are worth it.

And those who might think the perhaps the value of having the credential itself somehow justifies these costs, even absent actual learning, keep in mind that reports show that more than half of recent college grads are either unemployed or underemployed (that means in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree). Surely the parents of those twenty-somethings who have moved back in must be wondering why they invested so much money and effort in pursuit of a college diploma for junior, and have a long list of ways they wish they had used that money instead.

In his new book, law professor Glenn Reynolds, host of the Instapundit blog, argues that higher education is the new bubble. Like the housing bubble, the higher education bubble has been driven by subsidized loans and overly optimistic expectations about the future value of that investment. The housing bubble’s collapse left a shattered financial system and wiped out trillions from American families’ net worth. The higher education bubble’s explosion will leave millions of young Americans holding a degree that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on and a gigantic debt burden which will discourage entrepreneurism and family formation, both of which are critical to their—and our country’s—long-term financial health.

Our current college and university system, donned with decades worth of new high-tech labs, posh dorms, and cutting edge lecture halls, will also be rocked as new questions are raised about what, exactly, students—and taxpayers—are buying when they send these institutions so much money.

Enter Governor Daniels. Followers of education reform may know that his tenure in Indiana included the enactment of one of the nation’s largest school choice programs. But less appreciated has been Governor Daniels’s role in improving access to educational opportunities through Indiana’s partnership with the Western Governors University (WGU), a private, low-cost online university. More than 33,000 students across the country take classes online through WGU, where students are charged a flat-fee of $2,890 for a 6-month term.

By taking the helm at Purdue, Governor Daniels now has the opportunity to change higher education from within by implementing similar reforms to improve quality, drive-down cost, and expand access.

Just over the past year, schools like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard have begun offering free online courses that students anywhere can take, earning a grade and certificate of mastery, if they successfully complete the work. A MIT course on Circuits and Electronics attracted 120,000 students. Stanford’s free online class on Artificial Intelligence attracted 58,000 students.

Given Daniels’ track record in government, it would be surprising if he does not pursue similar cost-changing and quality-enhancing reforms at Purdue. Such reforms could make Purdue a leader in the new postsecondary education paradigm and serve as a model for other institutions.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the man who earned the nickname “the Blade” as OMB Director to help pop the higher education bubble?


Unconventional British school which lets children call teachers by first name forced to consider uniform code as parents reject relaxed rules

Its free and easy ethos was once seen as the way forward in secondary education.

But nearly 40 years after Stantonbury Campus opened, parents now seem to be less than enthused about its ‘liberal’ approach to teaching.

The comprehensive school, which has no uniform and lets pupils call teachers by their first names, is facing a boycott from families who would prefer to send their children to traditional schools.

And in an effort to win them back, governors have decided  to scrap the relaxed clothing policy and introduce a uniform from September.

The decision comes amid nationwide concern about the lack of discipline in today’s schools.

Once a successful school, Stantonbury was given a notice to improve from Ofsted last year amid concerns about underachievement and behaviour.

In a statement issued by governors, principal Chris Williams admitted parents were now sending their children elsewhere because of the lack of uniform.

He said: ‘Most primary and secondary children wear uniform for school and take pride in this – personal presentation is a part of education.

‘Heads of our partner primary schools tell us that parents are often concerned that the Campus does not have a uniform and that some choose to send their children to other secondary schools because of this.’

The school, in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was dubbed a pioneer of the educational revolution when it opened its doors in 1974 with ‘relaxed’ rules.

But governors admit this is no longer what parents want following 500 responses to a consultation about whether to introduce a dress code for children aged 11 to 14.  The uniform will consist of a white polo shirt and jumper, with new rules for older pupils banning short skirts and offensive logos.  Pupils will also be banned from wearing anything that might be regarded as ‘party’ clothes.

The school, which has around 2,000 pupils, is split into four Halls which function independently as mini schools.  In 2006 it was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted but was downgraded to ‘inadequate’ last year.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Federal Student Aid and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Richard Vedder

FEDERAL STUDENT financial assistance programs are costly, inefficient, byzantine, and fail to serve their desired objectives. In a word, they are dysfunctional, among the worst of many bad federal programs.

These programs are commonly rationalized on three grounds: on the grounds that assuring more young people a higher education has positive spillover effects for the country; on the grounds that higher education promotes equal economic opportunity (or, as the politicians say, that it is “a ticket to achieving the American Dream”); or on the grounds that too few students would go to college in the absence of federal loan programs, since private markets for loans to college students are defective.

All three of these arguments are dubious at best. The alleged positive spillover effects of sending more and more Americans to college are very difficult to measure. And as the late Milton Friedman suggested to me shortly before his death, they may be more than offset by negative spillover effects. Consider, for instance, the relationship between spending by state governments on higher education and their rate of economic growth. Controlling for other factors important in growth determination, the relationship between education spending and economic growth is negative or, at best, non-existent.

What about higher education being a vehicle for equal economic opportunity or income equality? Over the last four decades, a period in which the proportion of adults with four-year college degrees tripled, income equality has declined. (As a side note, I do not know the socially optimal level of economic inequality, and the tacit assumption that more such equality is always desirable is suspect; my point here is simply that, in reality, higher education today does not promote income equality.)

Finally, in regards to the argument that capital markets for student loans are defective, if financial institutions can lend to college students on credit cards and make car loans to college students in large numbers—which they do—there is no reason why they can’t also make student educational loans.

Despite the fact that the rationales for federal student financial assistance programs are very weak, these programs are growing rapidly. The Pell Grant program did much more than double in size between 2007 and 2010. Although it was designed to help poor people, it is now becoming a middle class entitlement. Student loans have been growing eight to ten percent a year for at least two decades, and, as is well publicized, now aggregate to one trillion dollars of debt outstanding—roughly $25,000 on average for the 40,000,000 holders of the debt. Astoundingly, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt.

Nor is it correct to assume that most of this debt is held by young people in their twenties and early thirties. The median age of those with loan obligations today is around 33, and approximately 40 percent of the debt is held by people 40 years of age or older. So when politicians talk about maintaining low interest loans to help kids in college, more often than not the help is going to middle-aged individuals long gone from the halls of academia.

With this as an introduction, let me outline eight problems with federal student grant and loan programs. The list is not exclusive.

(1) Student loan interest rates are not set by the forces of supply and demand, but by the political process. Normally, interest rates are a price used to allocate scarce resources; but when that price is manipulated by politicians, it leads to distortions in the use of resources. Since student loan interest rates are always set at below-market rates, too much money is borrowed for college. Currently those interest rates are extremely low, with a key rate of 3.4 percent—which, after adjusting for inflation, is approximately zero. Moreover, both the president and Governor Romney say they want to continue that low interest rate after July 1, when it is supposed to double. This aggravates an already bad situation, and provides a perfect example of the fundamental problem facing our nation today: politicians pushing programs whose benefits are visible and immediate (even if illusory, as suggested above), while their extraordinarily high costs are less visible and more distant in time.

(2) In the real world, interest rates vary with the prospects that the borrower will repay the loan. In the surreal world of student loans, the brilliant student completing an electrical engineering degree at M.I.T. pays the same interest rate as the student majoring in ethnic studies at a state university who has a GPA below 2.0. The former student will almost certainly graduate and get a job paying $50,000 a year or more, whereas the odds are high the latter student will fail to graduate and will be lucky to make $30,000 a year.

Related to this problem, colleges themselves have no “skin in the game.” They are responsible for allowing loan commitments to occur, but they face no penalties or negative consequences when defaults are extremely high, imposing costs on taxpayers.

(3) Perhaps most importantly, federal student grant and loan programs have contributed to the tuition price explosion. When third parties pay a large part of the bill, at least temporarily, the customer’s demand for the service rises and he is not as sensitive to price as he would be if he were paying himself. Colleges and universities take advantage of that and raise their prices to capture the funds that ostensibly are designed to help students. This is what happened previously in health care, and is what is currently happening in higher education.

(4) The federal government now has a monopoly in providing student loans. Until recently, at least it farmed out the servicing of loans to a variety of private financial service firms, adding an element of competition in terms of quality of service, if not price. But the Obama administration, with its strong hostility to private enterprise, moved to establish a complete monopoly. One would think the example of the U.S. Postal Service today, losing taxpayer money hand over fist and incapable of making even the most obviously needed reforms, would be enough proof against the prudence of such a move. And remember: because of highly irresponsible fiscal policies, the federal government borrows 30 or 40 percent of the money it currently spends, much of that from overseas. Thus we are incurring long-term obligations to foreigners to finance loans to largely middle class Americans to go to college. This is not an appropriate use of public funds at a time of dangerously high federal budget deficits.

(5) Those applying for student loans or Pell Grants are compelled to complete the FAFSA form, which is extremely complex, involves more than 100 questions, and is used by colleges to administer scholarships (or, more accurately, tuition discounts). Thus colleges are given all sorts of highly personal and private information on incomes, wealth, debts, child support, and so forth. A car dealer who demanded such information so that he could see how badly he could gouge you would either be out of business or in jail within days or weeks. But it is commonplace in higher education because of federal student financial assistance programs.

(6) As federal programs have increased the number of students who enroll in college, the number of new college graduates now far exceeds the number of new managerial, technical and professional jobs—positions that college graduates have traditionally taken. A survey by Northeastern University estimates that 54 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed. Thus we currently have 107,000 janitors and 16,000 parking lot attendants with bachelor’s degrees, not to mention bartenders, hair dressers, mail carriers, and so on. And many of those in these limited-income occupations are struggling to pay off student loan obligations.

Connected to this is the fact that more and more kids are going to college who lack the cognitive skills, the discipline, the academic preparation, or the ambition to succeed academically. They simply cannot or do not master well much of the rather complex materials that college students are expected to learn. As a result, many students either do not graduate or fail to graduate on time. I have estimated that only 40 percent or less of Pell Grant recipients get degrees within six years—an extremely high dropout or failure rate. No one has seriously questioned that statistic—a number, by the way, that the federal government does not publish, no doubt because it is embarrassingly low.

Also related is the fact that, in an attempt to minimize this problem, colleges have lowered standards, expecting students to read and write less while giving higher grades for lesser amounts of work. Surveys show that students spend on average less than 30 hours per week on academic work—less than they spend on recreation. As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa show in their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, critical thinking skills among college seniors on average are little more than among freshmen.

(7) As suggested to me a couple of days ago by a North Carolina judge, based on a case in his courtroom, with so many funds so readily available there is a temptation and opportunity for persons to acquire low interest student loans with the intention of dropping out of school quickly to use the proceeds for other purposes. (In the North Carolina student loan fraud case, it was to start up a t-shirt business.)

(8) Lazy or mediocre students can get greater subsidies than hard-working and industrious ones. Take Pell Grants. A student who works extra hard and graduates with top grades after three years will receive only half as much money as a student who flunks several courses and takes six years to finish or doesn’t obtain a degree at all. In other words, for recipients of federal aid there are disincentives to excel.

* * *
If the Law of Unintended Consequences ever applied, it is in federal student financial assistance. Programs created with the noblest of intentions have failed to serve either their customers or the nation well. In the 1950s and 1960s, before these programs were large, American higher education enjoyed a Golden Age. Enrollments were rising, lower-income student access was growing, and American leadership in higher education was becoming well established. In other words, the system flourished without these programs. Subsequently, massive growth in federal spending and involvement in higher education has proved counterproductive.

With the ratio of debt to GDP rising nationally, and the federal government continuing to spend more and more taxpayer money on higher education at an unsustainable long-term pace, a re-thinking of federal student financial aid policies is a good place to start in meeting America’s economic crisis.


Failed headteachers are being 'recruited as British school inspectors', BBC investigation finds

Former failing head teachers have been recruited to become Ofsted inspectors, it was claimed yesterday.

Governors and ex-school secretaries, who despite never having taught a class themselves are also making crucial judgements on schools, an investigation has revealed.

Teaching unions yesterday reacted with fury, warning that it was essential for inspectors to be ‘suitably qualified and experienced’.

An investigation by BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme revealed two former head teachers who were forced out because their schools were failing are currently working as Ofsted inspectors.

Baroness Perry of Southwark, who was chief inspector of schools during the 1980s, also told the programme she was reliably informed some inspectors, including former school secretaries and governors, have never taught a class in their lives.

The chairman of the House of Lords backbench education committee said: ‘I’d be very interested to know how Ofsted assures itself that all the people involved in inspections do in fact meet the best of those criteria.’

The BBC also spoke to head teachers who complained of Ofsted reports riddled with factual errors and inspections conducted by staff who did not seem to understand the curriculum they were supposed to be inspecting.

Stephen Ball, principal of the New Charter Academy in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, said he suspected ‘there are few people leading inspections in secondary schools that have ever led them (as heads)’. Since January, the number of schools judged as failing has risen by 50 per cent after a major change in Ofsted classifications.

One in seven secondaries – 14 per cent – have been branded ‘inadequate’ due to poor teaching and under-achievement. Some 9 per cent of  primaries have received the lowest rating.

Most Ofsted inspectors are now freelancers employed through private contractors, the BBC reported.

In the past ‘lay inspectors’, who had no classroom experience, only examined areas unrelated to teaching. But inspections have been streamlined to focus on four key issues: teaching, results, behaviour and leadership. Critics say this means ‘lay inspectors’ are being employed to judge areas in which they have no experience.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, promised to root out inspectors who had not taught or had failed as school leaders. He said: ‘When an inspector is in a classroom judging teaching I would expect them to know what good teaching looks like.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: ‘Placing teachers and schools in a position of having their future decided by inspectors who may have little or no knowledge of what works in the classroom is simply wrong.’

An Ofsted spokesman said yesterday: ‘We are putting our best people in the field and last month we announced a scheme to train outstanding head teachers to undertake a number of inspections every year.’


In Britain we treat children too softly to succeed. If they don't learn discipline at school, they'll never be worth hiring

Even now, he sends a chill down my spine: my old grammar school headmaster, Mr Cresswell, was a stern, black-gowned figure of such effortless authority that merely speaking to him was daunting.

Behind his back we lampooned him mercilessly — he was red-faced, portly and with a legendary temper — but the threat of being sent to see him for misbehaviour was the ultimate deterrent.

How different from today. This week we learned that more than half of secondary school teachers have never sent unruly pupils to see the head.

According to the Department of Education’s survey of 1,700 teachers, most schools prefer to use systems of rewards and praise rather than punish wrong-doers, and more than a quarter of teachers say they don’t shout.

Of course, none of us wants our children to be miserable in the classroom: we want them to succeed, and to emerge, if not exactly garlanded with prizes, then at least with a clutch of respectable exam results and a place at a decent university.

But if schools can’t instil basic discipline, what hope do our children have of ever persuading an employer that they’re worth hiring? In today’s tough times, having a degree is no guarantee of a job. Employers are looking for drive, resilience, and a ‘can-do’ attitude.

‘You may have a first from Oxford,’ Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters explains drily, ‘but if you haven’t developed as a person, you aren’t going to get the job.’

Behind this dearth of discipline, of course, is that pervasive and corrosive modern educational belief that all children are equal.

Punishment, in this twisted philosophy, has no place because it would imply that some children are less equal.

Yet this cult of self-esteem now has such a grip on child-rearing that an entire generation has been raised without ever learning what it means to fail — and more importantly, in the words of the old song, learning how to pick yourself up and start all over again.

The problem starts in the early years in primary school, when we praise a messy daub that’s been executed with no care and little effort as though it’s worthy of a place in the Royal Academy (or at the very least on the kitchen wall).

Be honest: when was the last time you heard the words: ‘I think you can do better than that — why don’t you have another go?’ Consequently, our children arrive at secondary school unable to cope with criticism.

They then go on to sit GCSEs and A-levels that are almost impossible to fail, given that coursework can account for up to 40 per cent of the final mark and can be given back to the pupil to be rewritten (by themselves or even by their well-intentioned but entirely misguided parents) until the desired standard is reached.

No one wants a return to a time when schools employed sadistic teachers who took pleasure in wreaking physical and mental havoc on terrified pupils. But, equally, we do our children no service at all unless we teach them that work is hard and failure a setback to be overcome with redoubled effort.

If a child doesn’t learn discipline at school, it’s horribly likely that he’ll never learn it — as Harriet Sergeant’s riveting recent Mail series on a Brixton hoodie gang made so devastatingly clear.

I know one thing: those teenaged boys she spoke to, facing a life with no hope and no future, and who could barely read by the age of 14, were betrayed by our education system.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Republicans Missing Chance on Education Reform

 Star Parker
One area that awareness of the need for freedom from government control has penetrated black attitudes is in education.

The chronic failure of public schools to notably improve dismal test scores and high dropout rates of black children has made it clear to many black citizens of good will that there has got to be a better way.

Polls show black support for school choice. For example, in a poll done last year in New Jersey by the Rutgers-Eagleton Center at Rutgers University, 54 percent of blacks expressed support for school vouchers compared to 36 percent of whites.

Growing grass roots support among blacks for education alternatives surely influenced the Obama administration’s agreement, this past week, to ongoing support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The administration opposes the program and would have been perfectly happy to see its funding spigot turned off.

This is a modest program, with federal funds available now for 1,615 scholarships for kids in DC’s public schools to attend private schools. Its existence and potential for growth was at stake, with House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joseph Lieberman carried the ball for it. The new agreement will allow it to continue, with a small provision for 85 new scholarships.

But this makes even more perplexing recent incidents where Republican state legislators have turned their backs on the education hopes of blacks.

Republicans in Pennsylvania can change the political landscape of their state by helping black aspirations for education freedom. But in a state that some analysts see as conceivably swinging into the Republican column, Republicans are blowing it.

The Pennsylvania state Senate passed a bill last year that would make vouchers available to kids in the worst 5% of public schools.

The public schools serving blacks kids in cities like Philadelphia are disasters. I know from my own survey of pastors in local churches there that hopes for this voucher initiative have been high.

Yet, by all indication it’s not going to happen.

The state House, controlled by Republicans, has been sitting on the bill. With no action before the end of the session on June 30 it will be dead.

There is talk of an alternative scholarship bill financed through tax credits. But the most optimistic estimate I have heard is that the scholarship would be worth less than half what the voucher would pay and therefore insufficient on its own to pay full tuition in a private church school.

Courageous leadership by Republicans could have captured black hearts and minds in Pennsylvania’s cities that might have paved a path to a new black relationship with Republicans.

But sadly, fear of union power rather than leadership and courage seems to be motivating these legislators.

In 2010, a similar disappointment occurred in Illinois.

In a genuine breakthrough, a black Democrat in the Illinois state Senate, Rev. James Meeks, who happens to also be the pastor of Chicago’s largest Baptist congregation, introduced a school voucher bill.

The bill passed the Illinois senate and then died in the state House, with only 25 of 48 Republicans supporting it. It fell 12 votes short of the 60 it needed to pass.

This is not an across the board indictment of Republicans. Two Republican governors – Mitch Daniels in Indiana and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana – have spearheaded passage of school voucher programs in their states.

In a new Gallup poll, only 29 percent, an all time low, express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in our public schools.

The Republican Party is supposed to be the party of freedom and limited government. No where are these principles more needed than in education, and no community needs it more than blacks.

At a time when our country and our poor communities are hurting so badly, any failure of leadership by those in the party of Lincoln is inexcusable.


Michelle Rhee gives Britain some advice

Britain’s system of holding schools to account for student learning has been of interest to many of us in the US education reform movement for years. So before my visit to the UK this week, I spent some time studying England’s national curriculum and examining the rich data that’s now available to parents. Without a doubt, we have much to learn from the UK when it comes to transparency, accountability and setting common standards.

But I also see opportunities to share lessons from America, particularly with regards to expanding educational options and creating a grassroots movement to transform schools so they work well for all children – not just for some.

Both our countries have enormous gaps between the academic achievement levels of disadvantaged students and their wealthier peers. And far too many students leave school without the skills or knowledge they need to succeed at university or in the workforce.

Sadly, there is no single policy or decision that will bring about the change our schools need on its own. I can, however, point to an approach to policy-making that is holding our children back. It is the tendency in schools to pursue policies that put adult interests ahead of student needs. Textbook manufacturers, testing companies and teaching unions all have tremendous resources to ensure their views are heard and priorities are met. It’s an advantage kids simply don’t have.

Among the policies that directly affect student outcomes are how we evaluate and compensate teachers. Studies prove that teacher quality is the most important factor in school that impacts student learning. Yet many of our policies simply don’t reflect the significance of the profession.

When I became the chancellor of Washington DC’s schools in 2007, a mere 8 per cent of eighth-grade students were doing maths at their proper grade level, yet 95 per cent of teachers got satisfactory evaluations. As our kids were failing, we were saying, “Well done, good job” to the adults educating them.

We managed to reform the system, though not without a fight, so teachers would be evaluated in a fair but rigorous way, based on classroom observations, student progress and other measures. We have to know who is succeeding, who needs help and who, unfortunately, is not up to the job of teaching. Removing ineffective teachers from the classroom is far too difficult in both of our systems, and we have to tackle this urgently.

Another issue we addressed involves how we pay teachers. In the US and the UK, teachers are paid in lockstep, earning increases for factors not necessarily linked to student learning, such as time served. In Washington, we were able to implement a system where excellence was rewarded.

Expanding the educational options should also be part of any reform. In the US, we have experienced an increase in public charter schools which, like free schools or academies here, operate with more flexibility and tend to serve as models of innovation. I urge policy-makers to let such models flourish.

Finally, we can’t even think about delivering a great education to children if we don’t consider how we manage our schools financially. Crucially, school leaders must be given more flexibility to manage their resources in ways they believe will work in exchange for demonstrating results.

I know change is hard, but wholesale change is what we need. Fifty years ago, America’s civil rights leaders challenged our country to create a more fair and just society. Today, their hard-fought victories are evident, even in the White House. But that story is not yet finished. Good and bad schools still exist and a child’s skin colour, post code and family income are often still predictive of their academic success.

I’m not saying progress isn’t being made. It definitely is. Witness the desire on the part of so many Americans to challenge the status quo. President Obama has pushed for policies that most other leaders in the Democratic Party have shied away from for fear of the teachers’ unions. And perhaps even more importantly, at the grassroots level, parents, students, community leaders and teachers are tackling the most difficult problems. In California, campaigners have sparked a national effort to empower parents with real tools and authority to turn around chronically failing schools. And in Cleveland, Ohio, parents, faith leaders and local officials recently banded together to insist that city schools be freed from rigid state laws that were impeding improvement.

These signs demonstrate that families and communities are tired of a system that has failed them and want to see real reforms enacted that put students first.


Why unruly British pupils no longer feel the wrath of the head: Half are never sent to their office when they misbehave

Half of secondary school teachers never send unruly pupils to the head’s office despite concerns over discipline problems in the country’s classrooms, a Government commissioned survey shows.

They do not force youngsters to get a reprimand from a senior member of staff and apologise for their misbehaviour - a sanction that used to strike fear into most pupils.

Seventeen per cent of primary school teachers admit they do not bother using this form of discipline.

Across both sectors, one in three teachers (32 per cent) never send students to the head’s office while sixty-four per cent only ‘sometimes’ do this.

Critics say the National Foundation for Education Research study, commissioned by the Department for Education, suggests a ‘lax’ approach to discipline is being taken by too many teachers.

They warn that some politically correct staff will not discipline youngsters because they do not want to prevent them from expressing themselves. Others are afraid of standing up to troublemakers due to repercussions.

The failure to take a hard line on discipline comes despite pressure from the Government to crackdown on badly behaved pupils.

Ofsted figures show that 21.6 per cent of maintained schools inspected between January and March this year were rated just ‘satisfactory’ or ‘inadequate’ over behaviour and safety of pupils.

The NFER surveyed over 1,600 teachers and discovered that 36 per cent never shout at pupils who misbehave - 42 per cent in primary schools and 28 per cent in secondary schools.

Sixty per cent never use detention - 94 per cent in primary schools and 13 per cent in secondary schools.

Some teachers also appear to be ignoring a new ‘checklist’ that was issued by the Government’s behaviour tsar, Charlie Taylor, last October to help crackdown on indiscipline.

In a key move, it told staff to display all school rules - and a list of sanctions - clearly in each classroom to help establish proper boundaries.

However, the survey which was undertaken in February shows that 25 per cent of teachers in primary and secondary schools only use this strategy ‘sometimes’ and nine per cent ‘never’ do this.

Other recommendations are being flouted across both sectors. Fourteen per cent ‘sometimes’ have a system in place to ‘follow through with all sanctions’ while one per cent ‘never’ does this.

Thirty six per cent ‘sometimes’ have a plan for children who are likely to misbehave and three per cent ‘never’ come up with one.

Eighteen per cent in total ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’ use a reward system and around nine per cent are equally non-committed to praising the behaviour they want to see more of.

Thirty-four per cent ‘sometimes’ give feedback to parents about their child’s behaviour - whether good or bad - while one per cent ‘never’ do this.

Overall, 19 per cent said behaviour was ‘acceptable’ in their schools, five per cent said it was ‘poor’ and one per cent admitted it was ‘very poor’. Seventy six per cent said behaviour was ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

But three out of five (60 per cent) of staff surveyed believed that ‘negative pupil behaviour is driving teachers out of the profession’.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that some teachers remain afraid of ‘pupil power’.  He said: ‘Clearly, teachers are being lax in demanding good behaviour.

‘Many of them were taught in training colleges that they need to look at children on their own terms and see poor behaviour as just children expressing themselves.

‘Teachers have also been nervous of demanding good behaviour and imposing sanctions because they run the risk of complaints from the pupil and his or her parents.

‘They could find themselves up before the head teacher or the local authority. Even if the complaints are later dismissed, it could blight their careers.

‘As much as they have been assured by the Government that they’re right to employ sanctions, nevertheless they fear that’s not the case when it comes to day to day life in their schools.’

Mr Taylor, the Government’s expert adviser on behaviour, said: ‘Without good behaviour teachers can’t teach and pupils can’t learn.

‘We need to ensure trainee teachers are equipped with the right training in behaviour management.’

Schools Minister Nick Gibb added: ‘The Government is committed to maintaining our relentless focus on raising standard of behaviour in schools until every school is a safe and happy place in which pupils can excel academically.’


Monday, June 25, 2012

With Traditional Schooling Increasingly Obsolete, How To Learn Without Being Taught

I am rather sympathetic to  Jerry Bowyer on this.  I taught myself for the last two years of High School and did quite well in the final exams  -- enough to get me into university for free,  where I had a lot of fun

It’s odd how many people take my skepticism about college and try to twist it into an opposition to learning. But like the quote often attributed to Mark Twain, “I never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Here’s a radical idea worth contemplating: that school is not the best way to learn. Let me count the ways:

School fragments knowledge in the name of specialization. The problem that I run into most when advising businesses and investors is the problem of fragmentation. Economics is separate from finance; finance is separate from management; management is separate from sociology; sociology is separate from psychology. And the whole mess of the social sciences is separate from the whole mess of the humanities.

I’ve written till my face is blue and my fingertips are purple about the ways in which modern portfolio theory severs finance from economics, and the ways that Keynesian economics severs economics from productivity, but it never seems to stick. Why? Because we’re all overschooled and undereducated. Economists have to go through a long and arduous path to academic certification during which every last vestige of common sense is eradicated from their minds through a process of alternating cookies and electric shocks as they recapitulate and/or repudiate the Keynesian formulae.

Financial people go through this too, not mainly in a purely academic environment, but with the series of professional exams stuffed with material which originated in an academic environment. A friend of mine who has accumulated about as many letters after his name as any normal business card would fit, told me that when he studied for his CFA he felt like he was being forced to eat garbage.  What did he mean? He meant the academic secretion known as modern portfolio theory and its universe of non-causal randomness.

It doesn’t have to be like that. I know that it doesn’t have to be like that, because it didn’t use to be like that. Read the great classical and Austrian economists, and you’ll see that they slide easily over the artificial borders of what are usually segregated into economics, finance, sociology, religion, philosophy, political science and psychology. Doing that kind of stuff gets you killed when it comes to publishing in academic journals, but who cares about academic journals? Do you want pack membership with the prerequisite butt-sniffing? Or do you prefer to shape the world?

It’s the same among the financiers: Read Bagehot and you get finance and economics and political science and history and literature and theology. You get real life. John Burr Williams is like that too. He’s the last of the integrated financial theorists, I think. After him, it’s the rise and dominance of Keynes in the economics departments and the rise and dominance of Modern Portfolio Theory in the department of finance. The integrated thinkers were set on the ice float. The new order emerges, periodically festooned with fool’s gold from Oslo just to make sure that everyone knows that it is marching from triumph to triumph.

And out of this factory comes a lobotomized economic and financial ruling class.  Theanthropoi, godmen, who walk the earth having been apotheosized in the best schools, with power over trillions of dollars and hundreds of millions of people,  but who don’t have a clue about matters slightly outside their area of specialization.

During the financial crisis of 2008, in at least a dozen conference call consultations with Ed Lazear, Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, I repeatedly tried to help him and his staff understand the enormous negative effect of the mark-to-market accounting regulations. But Lazear was an economist: He didn’t understand accounting. He didn’t need to in order to get a PhD in economics from a prestigious school. He didn’t need to in order to become the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. But unfortunately, he needed to in order to deal with the problem before him.

The administration ignored the accounting issue: pushed a huge bailout plan. The plan failed economically and politically, and it wasn’t until the following spring on May 20th that Congress pressed to have the rule suspended. Interestingly enough, that was the turning point in the market. Does that mean mark-to-market accounting was the only issue? Of course not, but it was a major issue, and one to which academic specialists were blind. Steve Forbes, who is largely an economic autodidact saw it. Official Washington did not.

School is out of order. Here’s the way many people, especially natural leaders, learn best: they run into a problem. If they are motivated to solve the problem, they look for solutions. An unsolved problem is distressing to people, so they tend to remember the experience (amygdala and memory and all that). The process of searching for a solution is usually costly and painful so they remember that too. At the end of this experience, they have an emotionally bonded memory of the problem, a sense of elation at having found the solution, an answer to their question, and in addition to having learned the answer to their initial question, have also learned a little more about how to learn. What I’ve just described is real life. It’s how one  gets wisdom.

Yes, there are a few foundational skills which one must have before this starts, most notably strong reading skills, but there is a no reason to delay this struggle for real-world learning until age 23 at the youngest. The old model (or at least the ‘modern’  model of the 20th Century) which front-loads spoon-feeding into the first 16 years of ‘schooling’, lies by implying that what comes after that 16 years is even remotely like what comes after.

What we do around here (in Bowyerville) is to inject reality a lot sooner. We work on solving problems, real problems, together in the early teens. Need to learn something? Look it up. A data problem to solve? Learn some software. Where should you learn it? Look for a free on-line tutorial. If there’s nothing free, we’ll go sign up for one, or buy a book on Amazon, preferably something we can download cheap on Kindle. One of the biggest differences between school and real world is the importance of software. Want to be productive? Learn the tools. Practice them. Master them. Learn the tricks and tips. Spreadsheets, scheduling, word processing, presentation, data analysis, specialty programs: learn them all.

If you have a problem to solve which involves math which is beyond your current level of knowledge, let’s go over to Khan’s Academy and see if he has a video on that topic. If he doesn’t, somebody else will. Not sure you’ve got the concept mastered? Review it, and review it again, and work some of the exercises.

Traditional school is obsolete. It is a dead man walking. The knowledge which is available for free, or nearly free on the web is so large and abundant that for all practical purposes it might as well be infinite. For thousands of years knowledge was scarce, expensive and hoarded in a few geographically specified locations.  In our lifetime, knowledge has gone from overly scarce to overly abundant. It has gone from expensive to nearly free. My friend Rich Karlgaard‘s cheap revolution is about to destroy the reigning higher education model. The new skill set is finding needles in haystacks using Boolean algebra; the old skill set was eating haystacks. The old emotional state was compliant credulity with students in the role of baby birds gulping predigested chunks of knowledge. The new emotional state must be critical thinking, filtering, and discernment. No longer “What do I have to learn to get a diploma?”, but now “How do I know what you are saying is true?” And “Can I get this same thing someplace else for free?”


What kind of teacher did this? Two schoolgirls badly sunburned at field day because they were BANNED from putting on sunscreen

Teachers allowed two young sisters to get so badly sunburned that they needed hospital treatment because of a little-known law that bans students from applying sunscreen at school.

Fair-skinned Violet Michener, 11, and her nine-year-old sister Zoe were left seared from head to toe after spending an afternoon in the sun during an outdoor field day in Tacoma Washington.

Their mother, Jesse Michener, who didn't put cream on the girls in the morning because of a rain forecast, was horrified to learn that teachers refused to allow the children to apply any cream.

Public schools in all states except California are not allowed to apply or carry the product to school because - despite being freely available in supermarkets - it is deemed a prescription medication.  Yet the girls say they were forced to watch one teacher put on her own sunscreen and then explain to the burning students that it was 'just for her' when they begged her for some.

'While I can sort of wrap my brain around this in theory, the practice of a blanket policy which clearly allows for students to be put in harm’s way is deeply flawed,' Mrs Michener wrote in a blog post.

Making matters worse, the mother claims that one of her daughters has a form of Albinism - a skin condition that leads to easy burning - that her school was aware of.  'Violet is starting to blister on her face. Both children have headaches, chills and pain,' Mrs Michener wrote last Wednesday after taking the children to Tacoma General hospital.  'Two are home today as a direct result of how terrible they feel. My children indicated that several adults commented on their burns at school, including staff and other parents.'

For liability reasons, most states consider sunscreen as an over-the-counter medication requiring a prescription.

'Because so many additives in lotions and sunscreens cause an allergic reaction in some children, we have to really monitor that,' said Dan Voelpel, a Tacoma school district spokesman speaking to ABC.

Since raising awareness in her area of the SPF policy, Mrs Michener began to see some success late last week.  Receiving a call from the director of Elementary Education in Tacoma Public Schools last Thursday according to her blog, the director informed her of a new law passed allowing districts to decide for themselves what's allowed and what's not.

'He stated that how the law will actually shake-out for districts is still to be seen (the devil is always in the details), but that he hoped a policy revision could be achieved by October,' the mother wrote.

Asked by the Huffington Post on Friday the condition of the two girls, the mother replied:  "They will heal this week, but long term effects are yet to be seen.’


The Battle of Britain? Wasn't that at sea? Half of secondary school pupils do not know battle took place in the air

It was a turning point in the war, when only the bravery of The Few who took to the skies to defend their country stood between Britain and the might of Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe.

But less than half of today’s secondary school pupils know the Battle of Britain was fought in the air, a poll has revealed.

Only 62 per cent could correctly identify a photograph of Sir Winston Churchill, it found – but 92 per cent recognised a picture of Churchill the insurance dog.

'Oh yes'? More like 'Oh no': Over 90 per cent recognised the dog from the Churchill Insurance advertisements yet only a measly 62 per cent of the students polled could identify Sir Winston Churchill

More could identify Jedward, Wayne Rooney and Katie Price than their country’s wartime leader.

Only a third of 11 to 18-year-olds know the Second World War began in 1939, according to a poll by former Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, while only one in five knows what happened on D-Day.

The survey of 1,000 children at secondary schools across Britain was commissioned to mark the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London later this week.

Its results will heighten concern about the quality of history teaching in our schools.

It found that only 34 per cent of pupils – including 45 per cent of those aged 17 and 18 – knew the Second World War began in 1939. Only 39 per cent knew it ended in 1945, again including only 45 per cent of 17 and 18-year-olds.

Forty-three per cent knew the Battle of Britain was fought in the air, 29 per cent believed it was fought on land, and 8 per cent at sea. Twenty per cent admitted they did not know.

Just 34 per cent correctly said the Battle of Britain took place in the 1940s, and only 11 per cent of these – about one in 27 of the whole sample – knew it happened in 1940.

Only a fifth of children had any idea of what happened on D-Day, with the most frequent answer being the day the war ended.

More people could identify Jedward [singers] and Katie Price [silicone enhanced woman] than Sir Winston Churchill

Eighty-six per cent correctly said there had been two world wars – but one in 20 thought there had been three.

Nearly a third were unable to give any unprompted explanation of why Britain fought in the Second World War.  And while 89 per cent identified Germany as an adversary during the conflict, only 15 per cent could name Japan unprompted.

When the children were offered four different explanations for what Bomber Command is or was, only 36 per cent correctly said it had been part of the RAF.

Lord Ashcroft, who donated £1million towards the Bomber Command Memorial, said: ‘I don’t mean to criticise the children.   'We must all take responsibility for ensuring  that what we know is passed to the next generation.  ‘These findings show we can never be complacent about our duty to remember.’


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Compulsory education humiliation

Compulsory education today involves public school students being forced to attend classes so that they may be routinely humiliated, bullied and violated as part of their state dictated learning process.

My last post detailed the aftermath of a so-called “catastrophe award” presented by the teacher in front of the class to a little third-grader for not finishing her homework; a ninth-grader slapped in the face repeatedly by her teacher in front of her classmates because she forgot to bring her homework; and an eight-year-old boy stripped naked and washed by two female school officials because they thought he needed a bath.

Clearly, far too many public school officials in America nowadays have it in their statist minds that the children and young adults under their domination have no constitutional rights, in fact, no rights at all. They think that they can get away with treating human beings like so many domesticated animals in cages.
Today the news is about ten-year-old Justin Cox, a third grader at Union Elementary School in Clinton North Carolina who was strip-searched by a female assistant principal after another student accused him wrongly of theft.

A little girl classmate dropped a $20 bill. Justin picked it up off the floor and returned it to her. Evidently she lost it again and this time accused the boy of stealing it.

Female assistant principal, Teresa Holmes, in total disregard of the student’s rights, specifically his Sixth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant based upon probable cause, took it upon herself to order a strip search.
Justin was ordered to strip to his T-shirt and boxer shorts in front of her. Then "she came up to him and rubbed her fingers around inside of his underwear," reports his mother. "If that isn't excessively intrusive, I don't know what is."

The strip search yielded no money, no evidence – nothing. So the assailant hugged the boy and apologized to him. Later someone found the $20 bill underneath a lunchroom table.

His mother said that, with or without an apology, her son was violated.  But a Sampson County Schools spokeswoman, while admitting that mother should have been informed prior to any search, insisted that the assistant principal had done nothing wrong because a male janitor was present. "The assistant principal was within her legal authority, her legal right, to do the search," Warren said. "She may have been overzealous in her actions."

Legal authority! What legal authority?

Since when does an assistant principal at an elementary school have the authority to suspend the mandate of the United States Constitution Bill of Rights?

Since when does a female elementary school assistant principal have the authority to order a male student to strip in front of her so she can feel around beneath his underpants?

Can school administrators strip students now as long as a janitor is present?

The arrogance of these school house tyrants boggles my mind.
And some of them even want their hapless little captives to pledge allegiance to them regularly just like they are coerced into pledging allegiance to the United States government and its statist flag.

For the past decade, every Monday of the school year at Asher Holmes Elementary School in Morganville, N.J., has started with students reciting a pledge written by a fourth-grade teacher honoring the Marlboro Township School District and its teachers, who “help [students] learn” all they need to “know for the future.”

"I pledge allegiance to Asher Holmes and the Marlboro Township School District and to the teachers who help us learn all that we need to know for the future," the pledge states. "We promise to respect ourselves and others, to try our best and always be proud of our schools."

This unbelievable violation of rights would still be going on today had a parent who found out about it from her kid not complained.

So the school board voted to nix the pledge and opted instead to rewrite it as a school song instead. "Over the summer, a school spirit song will be created to replace the pledge, and will be put into effect for the 2012-13 school year," said the Marlboro Board of Education in a news release.

Compulsory education by humiliation: It never ends.


Race to open Britain's first new grammar (selective) school in 50 years

A race has opened up to establish England's first new grammar school in 50 years.

Two local authorities are competing to be the first to use a "back door" route to get around a legal ban on the creation of entirely new selective schools.

Croydon, in south London, which currently has no selective schools, is planning to open a 600-pupil grammar on a site it has identified.

The move follows a vote in Kent to open a similar-sized grammar school in Sevenoaks.

In each case, the school would open as an "annex" of an existing grammar elsewhere – a tactic sanctioned by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.

Experts said the plans were likely to open the floodgates for other councils to set up grammars where there currently are none.

Mr Gove's proposal to scrap GCSEs and return to traditional O-levels, revealed last week, is also likely to fuel demand for the academic rigour grammar schools provide.

It comes as a number of comprehensive schools attempt to attract parents by introducing their own "grammar streams" for their brightest pupils, chosen through 11-plus-style ability tests.

Conservative-led Croydon council has committed nearly £15 million for a new 120-pupil secondary school in South Norwood, to be run as an annex of an existing school. Grammar schools in neighbouring authorities have been invited to take it on.

Bids will also be considered from non-selective schools, but Tim Pollard, Croydon's cabinet member for education, said he supported the reintroduction of pupil selection.

"We need more academically high-performing schools in the borough," he said. "If that means we have a partner whose admissions criteria includes selection tests to identify pupils with the highest level of aptitude, this would simply add a new dimension to the range of options available in the borough.

"Many parents move mountains to get their children into a selective school in neighbouring boroughs. Having a selective school would provide the extra choice locally which parents want."

Mr Pollard said at least one selective school was already looking at the proposal. Grammars in the neighbouring boroughs of Sutton and Bromley are popular with parents in Croydon.

Tory-controlled Kent county council gave its backing in March to a satellite campus for around 600 pupils in the town of Sevenoaks.

Children in the town currently travel about nine miles to attend the nearest grammars in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

Discussions with potential "host" grammar schools were ongoing, said a Kent County Council spokesman. No site for the school has been agreed.

Only 164 grammar schools remain in England following the expansion of comprehensive education in the 60s and 70s.  It was revealed last year that as many as half of pupils who pass the 11-plus entrance exam fail to get a place in grammar school because of the sheer competition for places.

Since a change of law under Labour in the late 1990s, the construction of entirely new grammar schools has been banned.  But Coalition reforms now allow existing schools – including grammars – to expand where there is demand, even if this means opening an annex many miles away.

The Kent and Croydon proposals have been condemned by opponents of selective education who claim they will undermine local comprehensive schools and harm children who fail to win places. Supporters of selection expect a legal challenge to be mounted.

Some comprehensives are responding by creating "grammar streams" for high-ability pupils.  Knoll Academy, in Sevenoaks, has incorporated a "grammar stream" for the top 25 per cent ability range of students, with priority given to those who passed Kent's 11+ exam.

The academy also announced that it would offer the three separate sciences at GCSE rather than just the double science syllabus.

Stockwell Park High, in south London, has also brought in a "grammar school pathway" for the top set of pupils. Teenagers sit a test in English, maths and science to determine whether they are eligible.

Crown Woods College, in Eltham, moved into a new building last year and split pupils into three schools or houses. Higher-ability children, selected by a combination of test results and primary school assessments, are in Delamere house.

The other two houses, Ashwood and Sherwood, are mixed ability. Children from each "school" wear different-coloured ties and have separate lessons, teachers and lunch breaks.  For the first time this year, the school is oversubscribed with 900 applications for 270 places.

Michael Murphy, the head teacher, said his school was competing for its intake with other popular schools including grammars.

He said: "The aim is that every child of every ability makes excellent progress. And we do that by offering a tailored curriculum to each child, whether it be academic, or vocational or a mix of the two."

Nick Seaton, secretary of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "Parents everywhere will welcome these developments.  "Most existing grammars schools are vastly oversubscribed and parents should have the choice of a grammar school place if their child is eligible."


Will the great morass of British education defeat attempts to upgrade it?

The Education Secretary’s latest plans, including the return of O-levels, confirm the scale of his ambition for our schools. But the task he has set himself defeated his predecessors

In the lobby of the Department for Education there is a long line of photographs of former secretaries of state, 30 of them in total since the war. Very few made any difference at all. Michael Gove must wonder whether he will make a bigger impression.

He has certainly been hyperactive, and has become the darling of the Conservative party as a result. His leaked plan to bring back the O-level, and ditch GCSEs, is the latest in a long line of announcements that have earned the Education Secretary full marks from Tory activists.

But what does saying there will be a “new O-Level” actually mean in practice? And will Mr Gove’s school reforms really raise standards?

In all the countries with the best schools, teaching is a much higher-status profession than in Britain. With this in mind, Mr Gove has set more demanding standards for entry into the teaching profession: they must now have at least a 2:2 degree and the bar could be raised further in future. He has encouraged the growth of Teach First, which encourages high-fliers to try their hand at teaching. And he has reformed teacher training, so that more training is on the job, rather than based on academic theory or fashionable dogma.

To make their jobs easier and less stressful, teachers have been given new powers over discipline, and rules that undermined their authority in the classroom have been pruned back.

What about the quality of management? How do we make sure that the best teachers get rewarded and keep teaching, while those who are not up to the job are either turned around or moved on? A problem with state-run services is that in the absence of market forces, managers don’t have the same incentives to weed out underperformers.

Labour had been turning around some of the worst schools by making them into so-called “academies”. This meant that the failing management would be replaced, a rich sponsor would provide some extra money, and the new academy would have greater freedom to fire bad teachers and set its own curriculum.

There is good evidence that this programme worked, and standards in the academies rose faster than in their predecessor schools. But, although it started in 2002, the academy programme had only reached about 200 schools by the end of Labour’s time in government, less than one per cent of all schools in England.

Mr Gove has continued this programme, but also hugely expanded it in a number of different ways. He has allowed good schools to turn themselves voluntarily into academies, which means they get greater freedoms over hiring, firing and the curriculum. Primary schools can now also be turned into academies. As well as trying to turn around the very worst schools, he wants to change the much larger number of “coasting” schools – the schools that are not terrible, but not good enough either. He is raising the “floor standard” – the level of performance below which schools can be handed over to new management.

The long-term goal of the academy programme is to emulate the competitive forces of the private sector within state education. Schools that are badly run will be taken over by new and better managers. The process is just beginning, but already academy schools are forming into chains.

In the past we often saw brilliant head teachers turn around individual schools. But they could not take over other schools. Now groups with a proven track record of turning around poor schools are able to replicate their successful methods on a bigger scale. Already, more than one in 10 secondary schools is part of a chain. Federations such as ARK and Harris are raising standards in large numbers of schools.

Where does the proposal for a new O-level fit into all this? It fits with Mr Gove’s determination to raise standards, and stop politicians kidding the public about how well schools are doing. Last summer, 23 per cent more youngsters had good GCSE pass rates than in 1995-96. In part, this reflects real progress but it also reflects the fact that exams have been made easier.

For years there has been a race to the bottom between different competing exam boards. To attract schools to sit their exams, boards have lowered standards. A recent Daily Telegraph investigation uncovered the full extent of the problem, with secretly shot footage of chief examiners advising teachers on future test questions and the exact wording that pupils should use to obtain higher marks.

Research by Durham University found that between 1996 and 2007, the average grade achieved by GCSE maths candidates of the same “general ability” rose by a whole grade. As part of the O-level proposal, Mr Gove is suggesting having a single exam board in England, as they already do in Scotland, which will remove one of the main causes of grade inflation.

Although Mr Gove has yet to explain his proposals for the new version, the O-levels of old were more “norm referenced” than GCSEs. In simple terms this meant that a certain proportion of pupils each year would get As, a certain proportion Bs, and so on. But GCSEs are not really anchored in this way, which has allowed politicians to say that grades are going up, even as international comparisons suggest we may be falling behind other countries.

Mr Gove is also concerned that targets set by politicians can have perverse effects. That’s why as part of the O-level proposal he plans to end the Government’s obsessive focus on the number of children getting five GCSE grades at C or better.

This measure, which formed the basis for league tables under the last government, has distorted teachers’ priorities, because getting a child from D to C helps in the league tables, but bumping up a pupil from a B to an A doesn’t.

As one teaching manual – “Boost your borderline students” – helpfully explains: “Students who achieve a GCSE grade C or above in mathematics help to boost the school’s statistics for the Department… and so show the school in a better light for Ofsted and for league tables… D/C borderline students are now an important focus for all teachers.”

The effect of this focus in recent years is clearly visible in GCSE results for English and maths. Comparing 2010 with 2002, 5 per cent more students got a C in maths, and 5 per cent fewer got a D or an E. But the numbers getting A* to B were unchanged. In other words, instead of increasing standards across the board, schools have been forced to play the league table system. In practice this means that bright children and the less able are being neglected because of government targets.

Yesterday there was a furore because of newspaper reports that the O-levels proposal could also mean a return to a two-tier system, whereby most children would study for O-levels but less academic children would study for a more basic Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE).

This looks unlikely to happen, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg was quick to rule out the idea, putting him on a collision course with Mr Gove. Yet while a simple return to the old CSE would be a mistake, something is needed in its place and the proposal raised a hugely important issue: how to cater for less academic children?

Governments of Left and Right have been right to try to get more children to go down the academic route and increase the numbers going to university. In the 21st century, there is more demand than ever for higher skills; globalisation and technological change are relentlessly pushing down the wages of the unskilled, and pushing up the premium that graduates earn.

But there will always be some pupils who are not suited to the academic route. By the age of 14, lots of my classmates were wondering why on earth they were struggling to learn quadratic equations, which they knew they would never use again in their lives. As a result they were bored, felt second rate, and were disengaged from school. We waste the talents of millions of children in this way.

Despite the success of small projects such as Young Apprenticeships, where 14 year-olds spend three days a week at school and two days in work, politicians have shown little interest in the subject. Perhaps that’s because the political class is full of people like me, with dangerously similar backgrounds (PPE, Oxford) who think that academia is the only way to go.

In Finland, which is often held up as a model by the Left, more than 40 per cent of pupils go to vocational schools from age 15. Last year, former Labour education secretary Estelle Morris suggested that children in Britain could choose to go down a vocational or academic route at age 14. This is an attractive idea in principle, but we would need to guard against the vocational track becoming a second-class, second-rate option.

Mr Gove is thinking big, and ruffling a lot of feathers along the way. His O-level proposals are another example of his radicalism, but their messy leaking also shows that the schools revolution is still a work in progress. He wants to tell us the truth about our schools, not kid us about how well we are doing.

His energy is impressive, and he is attacking the problems of educational failure from every angle. But when he contemplates the grainy colour photos of all those failed former education secretaries, he must realise that he has a mountain to climb.