Friday, July 20, 2012

Is More School Really the Answer for Everyone?

Former Obama OMB director Peter Orszag is worried that summer is making American children "dumber and fatter."  It takes him a while to concede that the children for whom this is primarily true are those of "low socioeconomic status."

But wait a minute: Back in April,Orszag also called for an end to the 3 pm school day -- for all children.

In other words, in Orszag's world, school should go longer every day AND take  place for more of the year.

This might be convenient for adults.  It would allow dual-earner families to have fewer concerns about childcare, for sure.  But is it really good for all children?  Sure, there might be those for whom being in school -- or some other government set-up -- is superior to being at home.

But I'm not sure that every child needs to be in a school environment more of the day, more of the year.  If we are going to nurture dynamism and creativity in the thinking of our children -- in other words, the kinds of skills that will help them (and America) thrive in an increasingly interconnected, tech-heavy world -- is warehousing everybody in government schools all day, all year really the answer?

Color me unconvinced.


Let new free schools be grammars (academically selective), says former British supermarket boss

One of Britain’s most successful businessmen is calling on the Government to  allow its new free schools to select on the basis of ability.  Retired Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy says he would be interested in setting up one of the schools, which are funded by taxpayers’ money but freed from state control, but only if it could be a grammar.

His remarks come after Education Secretary Michael Gove gave the green light to three free schools run by creationist groups, which do not accept the theory of evolution.

In an interview with The Spectator magazine, Sir Terry said that for children who, like him, grew up in homes with no books, grammars were crucial, adding that any free school he helped to run would have to be selective. 

‘If you look at these great schools, they were usually founded by somebody who had made a few bob a few hundred years ago,’ he said.  ‘I’d be saying, “Choose Liverpool and see if a good selective school could make a real difference to actually how those kids from the very poorest backgrounds do”.’

Only 164 grammar schools remain in England. Mr Gove has ruled out the establishment of new schools but is allowing existing grammars to set up satellites in neighbouring towns.

Experts say this could open the floodgates for councils to launch grammar schools.

Research published this week showed that regions which still have grammar schools are significantly more likely to send sixth-formers to elite universities than areas that went comprehensive.

The schools which creationists hope to open are Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland, the Exemplar-Newark Business Academy in Nottinghamshire and the Sevenoaks Christian school in Kent.


Some of the world's top universities are joining an online venture that will draw millions of students

I think the bright-eyed optimism below will end in not much  -- but you never know

'The potential upside is so big that it’s hard to imagine any large research university that wouldn’t want to be involved'' ... a screenshot from the Cousera website.

As part of a seismic shift in online learning that is reshaping higher education, Coursera, a year-old company founded by two Stanford University computer scientists, has announced that a dozen major research universities are joining the venture. In acouple of months, Coursera will offer 100 or more free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that are expected to draw millions of students and adult learners globally.

Even before the expansion, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, the founders of Coursera, said it had registered 680,000 students in 43 courses with its original partners, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, the partners will include the California Institute of Technology; Duke University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; Johns Hopkins University; Rice University; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the University of Washington; and the University of Virginia, where the debate over online education was cited in last's month's ousting — quickly overturned — of its president, Teresa A. Sullivan. Foreign partners include the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Toronto and EPF Lausanne, a technical university in Switzerland.

And some of them will offer credit.

"This is the tsunami," said Richard A. DeMillo, the director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. "It's all so new that everyone's feeling their way around, but the potential upside for this experiment is so big that it's hard for me to imagine any large research university that wouldn't want to be involved."

Because of technological advances — among them, the greatly improved quality of online delivery platforms, the ability to personalise material and the capacity to analyse huge numbers of student experiences to see which approach works best — MOOCs are likely to be a game-changer, opening higher education to hundreds of millions of people.

To date, most MOOCs have covered computer science, maths and engineering, but Coursera is expanding into areas like medicine, poetry and history.

MOOCs were largely unknown until a wave of publicity last year about Stanford University's free online artificial intelligence course attracted 160,000 students from 190 countries. Only a small percentage of the students completed the course, but even so, the numbers were staggering.

"The fact that so many people are so curious about these courses shows the yearning for education," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. "There are going to be lots of bumps in the road, but this is a very important experiment at a very substantial scale."

So far, MOOCs have offered no credit, just a "statement of accomplishment" and a grade. But the University of Washington said it planned to offer credit for its Coursera offerings, and other online ventures are also moving in that direction. David P. Szatmary, the university's vice provost, said that to earn credit, students would probably have to pay a fee, do extra assignments and work with an instructor.

Experts say it is too soon to predict how MOOCs will play out or which venture will emerge as the leader. Coursera, with about $US22 million in financing, including $US3.7 million in equity investment from Caltech and Penn, may have the edge. But no one is counting out edX, a joint venture of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or Udacity, the company founded by Sebastian Thrun of Stanford, who taught the artificial intelligence course last year.

Each company offers online materials broken into manageable chunks, with short video segments, interactive quizzes and other activities — as well as online forums where students answer one another's questions.

But even Thrun, a master of MOOCs, cautioned that for all their promise, the courses are still experimental.

"I think we are rushing this a little bit," he said. "I haven't seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning."

Worldwide access is Coursera's goal.

"EPF Lausanne, which offers courses in French, opens up access for students in half of Africa," Koller said.

Each university designs and produces its own courses and decides whether to offer credit.

Coursera does not pay the universities, and the universities do not pay Coursera, but both incur substantial costs. Contracts provide that if a revenue stream emerges, the company and the universities will share it.

Although MOOCs will have to be self-sustaining some day — whether by charging students for credentials or premium services or by charging corporate recruiters for access to the best students — Koller and university officials said that was not a pressing concern.

About two-thirds of Coursera's students are from overseas, and most courses attract tens of thousands of students, an irresistible draw for many professors.

"Every academic has a little soapbox, and most of the time we have five people listening to us," said Scott E. Page, a University of Michigan professor who taught Coursera's model thinking course and was thrilled when 40,000 students downloaded his videos. "By most calculations, I had about 200 years' worth of students in my class."

Professors say their in-class students benefit from the online materials. Some have rearranged their courses so that students do the online lesson first, then come to class for interactive projects and help with problem areas.

"The fact that students learn so much from the videos gives me more time to cover the topics I consider more difficult and to go deeper," said Dan Boneh, a Stanford professor who taught Coursera's cryptography course.

The Coursera contracts are not exclusive, so many of its partner universities are also negotiating with several online educational entities.

"I have talked to the provost at MIT and to Udacity and 2Tor," which provides online graduate programs for several universities, said Peter Lange, the provost of Duke University. "In a field changing this fast, we need flexibility, so it's very possible that we might have two or three different relationships."

One looming hurdle is overcoming online cheating.

"I would not want to give credit until somebody figures out how to solve the cheating problem and make sure that the right person, using the right materials, is taking the tests," said Antonio Rangel, a Caltech professor who will teach Principles of Economics for Scientists in the fall.

Udacity recently announced plans to have students pay $80 to take exams at testing centers operated around the world by Pearson, a global education company.

Grading presents some questions, too. Coursera's humanities courses use peer-to-peer grading, with students first having to show that they can match a professor's grading of an assignment and then grade the work of five classmates, in return for which their work is graded by five fellow students. But, Koller said, what would happen to a student who cannot match the professor's grading has not been determined.

It will be some time before it is clear how the new MOOCs affect enrollment at profit-making online institutions, and whether they will ultimately cannibalise enrollment at the very universities that produce them. Still, many professors dismiss that threat.

"There's talk about how online education's going to wipe out universities, but a lot of what we do on campus is help people transition from 18 to 22, and that is a complicated thing," said Page, the Michigan professor, adding that MOOCs would be most helpful to "people 22 to 102, international students and smart retired people."

Eventually, Koller said, students may be able to enroll in a set of MOOCs and emerge with something that would serve almost the same function as a traditional diploma.

"We're not planning to become a higher-education institution that offers degrees," she said, "but we are interested in what can be done with these informal types of certification."


Thursday, July 19, 2012

The accreditation arms race

 Over the last thirty years, the university has replaced the labor union as the most important institution, after the corporation, in American political and economic life. As union jobs have disappeared, participation in the labor force, the political system, and cultural affairs is increasingly regulated by professional guilds that require their members to spend the best years of life paying exorbitant tolls and kissing patrician rings. Whatever modest benefits accreditation offers in signaling attainment of skills, as a ranking mechanism it’s zero-sum: the result is to enrich the accreditors and to discredit those who lack equivalent credentials.

Jean Baudrillard once suggested an important correction to classical Marxism: exchange value is not, as Marx had it, a distortion of a commodity’s underlying use value; use value, instead, is a fiction created by exchange value. In the same way, systems of accreditation do not assess merit; merit is a fiction created by systems of accreditation. Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly — and very dimly — a system for imparting knowledge.

The original universities in the Western world organized themselves as guilds, either of students, as in Bologna, or of masters, as in Paris. From the first, their chief mission was to produce not learning but graduates, with teaching subordinated to the process of certification — much as artisans would impose long and wasteful periods of apprenticeship, under the guise of “training,” to keep their numbers scarce and their services expensive. For the contemporary bachelor or master or doctor of this or that, as for the Ming-era scholar–bureaucrat or the medieval European guildsman, income and social position are acquired through affiliation with a cartel. Those who want to join have to pay to play, and many never recover from the entry fee.

Of course, one man’s burden is another man’s opportunity. Student debt in the United States now exceeds $1 trillion. Like cigarette duties or state lotteries, debt-financed accreditation functions as a tax on the poor. But whereas sin taxes at least subsidize social spending, the “graduation tax” is doubly regressive, transferring funds from the young and poor to the old and affluent. The accreditors do well, and the creditors do even better. Student-loan asset-backed securities are far safer than their more famous cousins in the mortgage market: the government guarantees most of the liability, and, crucially, student loans cannot be erased by declaring bankruptcy. Although America’s college graduates are already late on paying nearly $300 billion in loans, they don’t have the option of walking away from these debts, even if their careers have been effectively transformed into underwater assets.

As the credentialism compulsion seeps down the socioeconomic ladder, universities jack up fees and taxi drivers hire $200-an-hour SAT tutors for their children. The collective impact may be ruinous, but for individuals the outlays seem justified. As a consequence, college tuitions are nowhere near their limit; as long as access to the workforce is controlled by the bachelor’s degree, students will pay more and more.

One sort of false consciousness may be involved when a low-income person votes Republican out of mistrust for the credentialed establishment; another occurs when the credentialed establishment denies its own existence. An article in the New Yorker last year demonstrated what might be called the class unconsciousness of the credentialed. There Jeffrey Toobin, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, profiled the villainous Clarence and Virginia Thomas. Clarence Thomas was born in an impoverished Gullah-speaking community on Georgia’s Atlantic coast, attended Holy Cross and Yale Law School, and eventually became the second African American to sit on the Supreme Court. Thomas’s hatred for the Ivy League is legendary; he felt mistreated at Yale and has claimed that he suffered in the job market because firms assumed he was the beneficiary of affirmative action. Thomas likes to rail against “élites,” a term Toobin smirkingly quarantines in quotation marks, as if the concept to which it referred were a chimera and not a plain reality.

It would be astonishing enough for the New Yorker to cast doubt in any context on the existence of an “élite” — even as it insists on the word’s accent aigu — but it is especially so in the context of the law, where a guild-like structure is more tightly organized around vaporous prestige than in any other field. The confirmation of Elena Kagan marks the first time in history that every single justice on the Supreme Court has attended Harvard or Yale. And Supreme Court justices (with the exception of Thomas) barely consider clerkship candidates who failed to go to a top-five law school. Until the 1980s, Harvard and Yale never accounted for more than half the justices, and until the 1950s, never more than one fifth.

When we ask ourselves whether populist hostility should be directed against the rich or against the professional elite, the answer must be, “Yes, please!” From 1980 to 2007, the financial sector grew from 4 percent of GDP to 8 percent, but it’s shrunk since and may shrink further. The medical sector, on the other hand, grew in the same period from 9 percent to 16 percent — and is expected to account for a full 29 percent of the economy by 2030. Goldman Sachs makes for an attractive monster, but the bigger vampire squid may be the American Medical Association, which has colluded in blocking universal coverage and driving up health costs since World War II.

If not earlier: the AMA owes its authority to America’s most notorious robber barons, who invented philanthropy as we know it by establishing foundations capable of long-term, organized interventions in the country’s political and cultural life. The first foundations poured money into medical schools — but only if those schools followed the example set by Johns Hopkins, which in 1893 had introduced what’s now the standard formula: students attend four years of college, then four years of medical school. Institutions that didn’t follow this model did not get donations, and they also got denounced in a 1910 report sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation. After the Carnegie survey published its “findings,” scores of medical schools — schools whose students could not afford the additional years of study now required, and nearly all of the schools that admitted blacks and women — closed.

Today, we take it for granted that practicing medicine or law requires years of costly credentialing in unrelated fields. In the law, the impact of all this “training” is clear: it supports a legal system that is overly complicated and outrageously expensive, both for high-flying corporate clients who routinely overpay and for small-time criminal defendants who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, can’t afford to secure representation at all (and must surrender their fate to local prosecutors, who often send them to prison). But just as a million-dollar medical training isn’t necessary to perform an abortion, routine legal matters could easily, and cheaply, be handled by noninitiates.

The standardization of these professional guilds benefited undergraduate institutions immensely, a fact that was not lost on university administrators. College presidents endorsed the Hopkins model and the AMA’s consolidation of medical authority for good reason: in the mid-19th century, bachelor’s degrees in the United States were viewed with skepticism by the private sector, and colleges had a hard time finding enough students. The corporate-sponsored consolidation of the medical establishment changed undergraduate education from a choice to a necessity. Where once there was indifference, now there was demand: “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” the child in the PSA says. “I want to go to college.”

No administration has embodied credentialism as thoroughly as the current one. Of Obama’s first thirty-five cabinet appointments, twenty-two had a degree from an Ivy League university, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Oxford, or Cambridge. No one would advocate staffing the country’s ministries with wealthy imbeciles, as was the custom under George W. Bush; but the President — a meritocrat himself — has succumbed to what might be called the “complexity complex,” which leads us to assume that public policy is so complicated that you need a stack of degrees to figure it out. But major political questions are rarely complex in that sense. They are much more likely to be complicated, in the Avril Lavigne sense, meaning that they involve reconciling disagreements among competing stakeholders — or, as the situation may demand, ratcheting them up.

Not all the demons identified by the Tea Party have been phantoms. We on our side are right to reject rule by the 1 percent — and so are they right to reject rule by a credentialed elite. Introductory economics courses paint “rent-seekers” as gruesome creatures who amass monopoly privileges; credential-seekers, who sterilize the intellect by pouring time and money into the accumulation of permits, belong in the same circle of hell.

Americans have been affluent enough for long enough that it’s difficult to remember there was once a time when solidarity trumped the compulsion to rank. The inclusive vision that once drove the labor movement has given way to a guild mentality, at times also among unions, that is smug and parochial. To narrow the widening chasm between insiders and outsiders, we must push on both ends. Dignity must be restored to labor, and power and ecumenicism to labor unions. On the other side the reverse must happen: dignity must be drained from the credential. Otherwise, the accreditation arms race will become more fearsome. Yesterday’s medals will become tomorrow’s baubles, and the prizes that remain precious will be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Quadrupling the supply of gold stickers is one way to devalue the credential; getting rid of the sticker system altogether is another. In our pay-to-play society, many of those toward the bottom of the educational pyramid are getting fleeced; others, though, are getting a leg up. Because it’s callous and unreasonable to ask the disadvantaged to decline opportunities to advance, subverting credentialism must start at the top. What would happen to the price of a bachelor’s degree if the 42,000 high school valedictorians graduating this spring banded together and refused to go to college? And is it too much to ask the Democratic Party to refrain from running any candidate for national office who holds a degree from an Ivy League school?

Then there are our own credentials. Che Guevara once declared that the duty of intellectuals was to commit suicide as a class; a more modest suggestion along the same lines is for the credentialed to join the uncredentialed in shredding the diplomas that paper over the undemocratic infrastructure of American life. A master’s degree, we might find, burns brighter than a draft card.


British teachers spending 60% less time on sport despite pledge to use the Olympics to encourage more children to take part

School sport is in decline despite a pledge to use the Olympics to encourage more children to take part, figures have shown.  Teachers are spending 60 per cent less time organising competitions and after-school clubs since the Coalition cut funding for school sports.

The figures are sensitive for the Government since a key pledge that helped win the Olympics for London was a promise to 'inspire young people around the world to choose sport'.

Figures uncovered by Labour under the Freedom of Information Act suggest a decline in the amount of sport being organised in all English regions following the overhaul.

They show a 60 per cent decrease in days worked per week by PE teachers on release compared with sports co-ordinators working under the old scheme in 2009/10.

Clive Efford, shadow minister for sport, said: 'It is incredible that David Cameron can complain that too many of our top sports people come from private schools when he is damaging the structure of sport in our state education system.'

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'We're spending £65million over the academic years 2011/12 and 2012/13 to release a secondary PE teacher in every school for one day a week so that opportunities in competitive sport are increased.'

Education Secretary Michael Gove drew a storm of criticism from athletes and head teachers two years ago after threatening to axe a national network of School Sports Partnerships.

He was forced into a partial U-turn and agreed to fund a new scheme which allows PE teachers to be released from their schools for one day a week to help co-ordinate local sports provision.  But the budget for the scheme was smaller than funding for sports partnerships as the Coalition implemented austerity measures.

In the West Midlands and North East, the figures were 74 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.

Speaking in Singapore in 2005, Lord Coe said: 'London's vision is to reach young people around the world.  'To connect them with the inspirational power of the Games. So they are inspired to choose sport.'

However the new figures suggest a decline in the amounted of sports being organised by schools, including local tournaments after-school clubs.

The withdrawal of funding for school sports partnerships led to a decline in their numbers of 37 per cent, the data showed. More than a quarter of local authorities no longer have any.

Some areas have managed to keep the networks going but responses from local authorities suggested a decline in sporting participation, with Wokingham reporting that 'a drop-off is evident without whole partnership meetings and limited staffing capacity'.

Harrow, meanwhile, noted 'a drop in children's participation in sport and school's participation in coordinated extra-curricular activity'.

The Coalition has instead focused efforts on creating a new school games aimed at reviving competitive sport.  The tournament has reached more than half of schools.

There has also been lottery funding and investment in encouraging older teenagers and young adults to participate in sport amid evidence youngsters lose interest after leaving school.

But Tessa Jowell, shadow Olympics minister, said: 'When we won the Games, we made a promise to the people of this country and the international community to inspire a generation of young people through sport.

'The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a once in a lifetime event that will get young people excited about sport.  'It is important that schools are able to maintain this momentum and help young people develop sport and exercise as a habit that will keep them healthy and fit for the rest of their lives.'


A Big Picture View of Problems in Australia's Maths Curriculum

Re: Ferrari J.,New maths course inadequate, The Australian, 18/7/12

Dear Professor  Wildberger

I should like to suggest for your consideration that the problems that you have identified in the proposed new national curriculum for Year 11 and 12 maths are likely to have a systemic cause which implies a need for a different curriculum development process. While this will not be immediately obvious, the cause of the problem is likely to be the biases that limit the effectiveness of ‘rational’ centralised decision making.

Your reported criticism was that "The draft national curriculum replaces core material such as algebra, geometry, and applications of calculus with a lot of advanced statistics and, for the higher strand, tertiary-level topics”. As an engineer who has done a lot of work related to the social sciences, it seems to me that the proposed national curriculum is biased towards to needs of (say) social science and medical research in which statistics play a major role, at the expense of the algebra / geometry / calculus needs of the applied sciences and engineering.

It can be noted that the national history curriculum contains a similar dysfunctional bias (see Proposed National History Curriculum: Information without Understanding?, 2010). And, as with the proposed national maths curriculum, this bias reflects a lack of concern for practical issues.
    Explanation: The national history curriculum sought to impart understanding of diverse societies, without ensuring coverage of the societies and ideas that had contributed directly to Australia’s institutions and character. Culture has practical consequences which are significant in causing history – so it is important to ensure that students gain a solid understanding of those that have led to practical success (and why this is so). The national history curriculum does not seem to do this. Though this will not be immediately obvious, the importance of ensuring understanding of what has led to success and failure in history can be seen by considering current unresolved concerns about Australia’s response to asylum seekers (see The Biggest Issue Missing from the Asylum Seeker Debate).

In both these cases the problem is arguably that reform proposals have been developed (and in one case already implemented) on the basis of a particular point of view, and this has not taken account of other considerations that are outside the expertise and experience of the persons involved. In relation to this, it is further noted that:
    There are limits to human rationality that are recognised in management, public administration and economic literature. For example, the inability of central planners to acquire the information required to make appropriate decisions is economists’ primary justification for a market economy;

    The application of reforms to governments and universities which involved an autocratic implementation of particular ideologies has led to severe problems (eg see Toward Good Government in Queensland , 1995 and A Case for Restoring Universities, 2010). In the Queensland Government case (which was replicated in various ways Australia wide - see Decay of Australian Public Administration, 2002) attempts to ‘reform’ government across-the-board on the basis of particular (but narrow) understandings of what was required led to the elimination of much of the knowledge and skills which was vital for practical success in government operations - but which the ‘reformers’ did not appreciate. Crisis prone government administration across Australia over the past couple of decades is the consequence. A general account of the problems facing government in Australia is in Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building (2003+). This emphasises the need for institutional reforms for which one important focus involves enabling complex issues that are beyond simple ‘rational’ prescriptions by potential reformers to be better managed.

A better approach to developing curriculum (as with the other concerns above) would involve a shift away from centralised attempts to make ‘decisions’ towards centralised efforts to identify the issues requiring change while encouraging proposed responses to emerge from existing practitioners. This would ensure that new curriculum would build on existing strengths while taking into account new requirements, rather than being biased towards the central decision maker’s perception of the new requirements while potentially eliminating existing strengths that are not centrally understood.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chicago Teachers Union thumbs nose at proposed 20% raise

The Chicago Teachers Union made headlines a few months ago when it was revealed that the union was demanding a 30 percent raise in its new contract proposal.

Such an enormous raise – regardless of the supposed justification – would be unthinkable in a district with a $665 million budget deficit and a 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

The school board countered with an offer of a two percent raise, which would still be a burden on the district’s overstretched budget.

As a result, both the CTU and Chicago Public Schools requested an “independent” fact finder to look at both sides’ proposals and suggest some sort of compromise.

This morning, the fact finder is expected to release his report, which calls for a 15-20 percent raise for CTU members in the first year of the contract, according to the Chicago Tribune.

And the union is expected to reject that recommendation.

Thumbing its nose at a massive raise – which incidentally has no relationship to job performance – will likely not be received well in a community that is enduring some of the worst unemployment rates in the country.

The Tribune reports:

“The Chicago Teachers Union had gone into negotiations asking for a wage increase of nearly 30 percent over two years. Sources said the union realizes that the price of a major pay hike in terms of lost jobs and working conditions would be too high.

“Union officials now face the task of explaining to members why it would reject a salary increase that is less than they asked for but significantly higher than the 2 percent first-year raise CPS initially offered.”

Sources tell that the union will be assembling its leaders Wednesday to formally accept or reject the fact finders report. At that meeting, it will also likely set a date to strike.

Why won’t the union schedule a vote of members to see how they feel about a 15-20 percent raise. My guess is that they would jump on it, but union leaders are not asking their opinion. They seem determined to go out on strike, probably just as school is set to begin in September.

Just for the record, the students of Chicago were never mentioned in the Tribune report about the labor talks. This is further proof that in union schools, they are frequently treated as afterthoughts while the adults fight over money.

And I thought schools existed for children. Silly me


Towns that still have grammar schools top the table when it comes to getting pupils to Oxbridge

Regions that still have grammar schools are significantly more likely to send sixth-formers to elite universities than areas that went comprehensive.

Official figures published yesterday for the first time reveal stark differences across England in teenagers' chances of attending Oxford, Cambridge and other universities in the prestigious Russell Group.

More than one in seven sixth-forms at state schools and colleges - 330 - failed to send a single teenager to a leading university in 2009/10. More than 40 of these had at least 100 A-level students.

Nearly two-thirds of sixth-forms failed to get any pupils into Oxford or Cambridge.

But areas with grammar schools dominated a list of the local authorities sending most pupils to leading universities - despite accounting for less than a quarter of councils nationally.

Reading, which has two grammar schools, sent seven per cent of all sixth-formers to Oxbridge and 28 per cent to a Russell Group university.

Sutton, which has several grammars, sent three per cent of A-level students to Oxbridge and 23 per cent to another leading university.

Other selective or partially selective authorities which sent large proportions of pupils to elite universities include Buckinghamshire, Trafford, Barnet, Wirral, Torbay, Bournemouth, Kingston-upon-Thames and Liverpool.

Nine of the top 11 areas for sending pupils to Oxbridge have grammars, and eight out of 12 for sending pupils to any Russell Group university.

Some grammars in these areas draw pupils from a wide area but experts last night said the figures still raised questions over the provision for bright children in many comprehensives.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the dominance of selective authorities was 'striking'.

'It's plain as a pikestaff that in many of those areas where they bring bright kids together at 11, they are getting higher qualifications and going to top universities.

'There are advantages in getting really bright people together in the same schools.

'They can spark off each other and there will be a concentration of good teachers. These teachers clearly know the route into Oxbridge and the other Russell Group universities.'

Professor Smithers recently published a report warning that the country was neglecting its brightest pupils due to failures by successive governments to cater properly for gifted children following the scrapping of most grammars beginning in the mid-60s.

'If you want to increase social mobility you need to be able to identify the bright children and ensure a good education for them,' he said.

'Under our present approach, those bright kids run the risk of getting isolated in a school which is essentially about other things, so they don't realise their potential.'

Education Secretary Michael Gove has allowed existing grammars to set up satellites in neighbouring towns but has ruled out new schools, instead concentrating his efforts on making exams more rigorous and improving the calibre of teachers.

Data published yesterday - which excludes private schools - gives parents a breakdown of the paths taken by pupils after they have left state schools and colleges, including whether they went to university, further education colleges or apprenticeships.

Ministers hope the information, available on the Department for Education website, will make it easier for parents choose a secondary school.

The figures showed that four schools and colleges in England did not send any pupils to university in 2009/10, although they all had small numbers of candidates.

These were Tividale Community Arts College, John Madejski Academy, Avon Valley College and Handsworth Wood Girls' Visual and Performing Arts Specialist College.

A total of 330 schools and colleges out of 2,164 which entered pupils for A-levels or equivalent qualifications, did not send any students to a Russell Group university.

In addition, 1,395, 64.5 per cent, did not send any youngsters to Oxford or Cambridge.

Between them, these two universities, considered to be the best in the country, have around 6,700 places for undergraduates each year.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: 'There is still a postcode lottery in the UK when it comes to education. Unfortunately where you live still makes a difference on how you get on in life.

'We cannot afford to have areas in the country where it is unheard of for people to go to Oxford and Cambridge.'

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: 'The most important factor in whether pupils are able to apply successfully to leading universities is whether or not they achieve the right grades.

'Entry to all our universities is very competitive for many courses and places are limited so these figures should be seen in that context.'

The figures also showed how authorities with relatively high levels of poverty, such as Tower Hamlets and Brent in London, confounded expectations and still sent large numbers of pupils to university.

Schools minister Lord Hill said: 'It is interesting to see how well some local authorities in more deprived areas, and some schools and colleges in those authorities, do in terms of students going to our best universities, compared to those in other parts of the country.'


British boy smashed with golf club not teacher’s fault, judge rules

A schoolboy who was awarded damages after being hit in the face by a golf club during a PE lesson has been stripped of his £21,000 payout after judges ruled that it was “impossible” for teachers to keep a constant eye on all pupils.

Samuel Hammersley Gonsalves, an outstanding cross-country runner, was 11 when his teeth were smashed and jawbone broken in an accident during a golf lesson at the sports academy he attended, Laurence Jackson Secondary School, on Teesside.

Samuel, now 16, of Guisborough, North Yorks, sued the local authority, Redcar and Cleveland council, through his father, Thomas Gonsalves, claiming his PE teacher, Mike Fowle, had failed to supervise the 22 boys adequately during the lesson.

He was awarded £21,000 damages at Middlesbrough County Court in November last year, after Judge Peter Cuthbertson ruled that the teacher had been negligent in failing to keep every pupil in the “crocodile” of boys in his line of sight.

However, the finding was overturned yesterday after Lord Justice Pill, sitting in the Appeal Court in London, said teachers “cannot be expected to see every action of every pupil” in their care, or face negligence claims.

Christopher Williams, for the family, said Samuel was hit accidentally in the face by another pupil with a club as the class made their way out to the school field for their golf lesson. Mr Fowle was at the back of the line of 22 boys and, on Judge Cuthbertson’s finding, had not seen the incident happen. Mr Williams argued that Judge Cuthbertson was right to find the teacher negligent and said the original ruling should stand.

Daniel Edwards, for the council, told the court that the decision placed “an unrealistic burden” on schools and teachers. “One teacher cannot possibly keep 22 pupils in direct sight at all times,” he said. “He could walk in a crab-like style up and down the line constantly turning his head from side to side, but some pupils would still be out of sight at some times. It simply cannot be done.”

Lord Justice Pill, sitting with Lord Justice Rimer and Lady Justice Black, upheld the council’s appeal.

He said: “However observant the teacher is, and however careful the lookout he is keeping, he cannot be expected to see every action of 22 boys walking in a crocodile fashion.” He added: “One feels sympathy for a boy who received the unpleasant injury without any fault on his part. However the appellants cannot be held responsible for what happened.”

Mr Gonsalves said after the ruling that the family would have to spend £30,000 on dental reconstruction work for his son. He added: “He hasn’t competed in any sports since the accident, to this day.”


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How Political Correctness Is Islamifying British Education

In Cheshire, two students at the Alsager High School were punished by their teacher for refusing to pray to Allah as part of their religious education class.

In Scotland, 30 non-Muslim children from the Parkview Primary School recently were required to visit the Bait ur Rehman Ahmadiyya mosque in the Yorkhill district of Glasgow (videos here and here). At the mosque, the children were instructed to recite the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith which states: "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger." Muslims are also demanding that Islamic preachers be sent to every school in Scotland to teach children about Islam, ostensibly in an effort to end negative attitudes about Muslims.

British schools are increasingly dropping the Jewish Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, according to a report entitled, Teaching Emotive and Controversial History, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills.

British teachers are also reluctant to discuss the medieval Crusades, in which Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem: lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques.

In an effort to counter "Islamophobia" in British schools, teachers now are required to teach "key Muslim contributions such as Algebra and the number zero" in math and science courses, even though the concept of zero originated in India.

In the East London district of Tower Hamlets, four Muslims were recently jailed for attacking a local white teacher who gave religious studies lessons to Muslim girls; and 85 out of 90 schools have implemented "no pork" policies.

The culinary restrictions join a long list of politically correct changes that gradually are bringing hundreds of British primary and secondary education into conformity with Islamic Sharia law.

The London Borough of Haringey, a heavily Muslim district in North London, is the latest school district to switch to a menu that is fully halal (religiously permissible for Muslims).

The Haringey Town Council recently issued "best practice" advice to all schools in its area to "ban all pork products in order to cater for the needs of staff and pupils who are not permitted contact with these for religious reasons."

Local politicians have criticized the new policy as pandering to Muslims, and local farmers, who have pointed out that all schools in Britain already offer vegetarian options, have accused school administrators of depriving non-Muslim children of a choice.

Following an outcry from non-Muslim parents, the town council removed the guidance from its website, although the new policy remains in place.

At the Cypress Junior School, in Croydon, south London, school administrators announced in the school newsletter dated June 1, 2012 that the school has opted for a pork-free menu "as a result of pupil and parental feedback."

The announcement states: "Whilst beef, chicken, turkey and fish will all feature, as well as the daily vegetarian and jacket potato or pasta option, the sausages served will now be chicken rather than pork."

In Luton, an industrial city some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of London where more than 15% of the population is now Muslim, 23 out of 57 schools have banned pork.

In the City of Bradford, a borough of West Yorkshire in Northern England where there are now twice as many practicing Muslims that there are practicing Anglicans, 24 out of 160 schools have eliminated pork from their menus. In Newham (East London), 25 out of 75 schools have banned pork.

The Borough of Harrow in northwest London was among the first in Britain to encourage halal menus. In 2010, Harrow Council announced plans to ban pork in the borough's 52 state primary schools, following a switch by ten secondary schools to offer halal-only menus.

According to the UK-based National Pig Association, which represents commercial pork producers, "It is disappointing that schools cannot be sufficiently organized to give children a choice of meat. Sausages and roast pork are staples of a British diet and children enjoy eating them. If products can be labeled with warnings that they contain nuts and vegetarian dishes can be made and kept separate from meat dishes, [we] don't see why the same can't apply to pork."

Lunch menus are not the only area in which "cultural sensitivity" is escalating in British schools.

In West Yorkshire, the Park Road Junior Infant and Nursery School in Batley has banned stories featuring pigs, including "The Three Little Pigs," in case they offend Muslim children.

In Nottingham, the Greenwood Primary School cancelled a Christmas nativity play; it interfered with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. In Scarborough, the Yorkshire Coast College removed the words Christmas and Easter from their calendar not to offend Muslims.

Also in Cheshire, a 14-year-old Roman Catholic girl who attends Ellesmere Port Catholic High School was branded a truant by teachers for refusing to dress like a Muslim and visit a mosque.

In Stoke-on-Trent, schools have been ordered to rearrange exams, cancel swimming lessons and stop sex education during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In Norwich, the Knowland Grove Community First School has axed the traditional Christmas play to "look at some of the other great cultural festivals of the world."

Meanwhile, the politically correct ban on pigs in Britain also extends to toys for children. A toy farm set called HappyLand Goosefeather Farm recently removed pigs in order to avoid offending Muslims.

The pig removal came to public attention after a British mother bought the toy as a present for her daughter's first birthday. Although the set contained a model of a cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog, there was no pig, despite there being a sty and a button which generated an "oink" sound.

After the mother complained, the Early Learning Centre (ELC), which manufactures the toy, responded: "Previously the pig was part of the Goosefeather Farm. However due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm."

After a public outcry, however, ELC later reversed its decision: "We recognize that pigs are familiar farm animals, especially for our UK customers. We have taken the decision to reinstate the pig and to no longer sell the set in international markets where it might create an issue."


A few more male teachers in British primary schools

For four years, from age seven to 11, the most important man in my life, after my father, was Eric Sutton.  I certainly saw more of him than my dad, who was often away on business. Mr Sutton — never Eric, heaven forfend — was there five, sometimes six, days a week.

He was the headmaster of my primary school, an important influence in my formative years. Mr Sutton had the air of a Regimental Sergeant Major and ran the school with military efficiency — not surprising, really, given that he’d served as an NCO in the Army Education Corps during World War II.

He had a piercing parade-ground bark, which could halt small boys in their tracks up to 100 yards away. That said, his bark was worse than his bite.

Mr Sutton was a disciplinarian with a fearsome cane on the wall of his study. I can’t remember him ever wielding it in anger. Maybe I’ve simply forgotten. But the prospect was deterrent enough.

If he did have to administer corporal punishment, it would have been in the spirit of the old adage: This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you, boy.

I don’t recall him wearing a mortar board, but he didn’t need any props to convey his natural authority. In my young mind, he was the living embodiment of the headmaster played by Jimmy Edwards in the TV series Whack-O!

Whenever he caught anyone fighting in the playground, he would haul the combatants into the gym, make them wear boxing gloves and then slug it out in the ring, in full accordance with the Queensbury Rules. Goodness knows what modern elf’n’safety would make of primary schoolboys being forced to punch each other’s lights out under the supervision of a teacher. These days, my old headmaster would probably have found himself up in court on child cruelty charges.

Mr Sutton was a great believer in the virtues of sport. Our Dickensian school building didn’t have a playing field, so he’d march us crocodile-style to the local ‘rec’, rain or shine. In winter, we played football, in summer cricket.

After school and on Saturdays, he’d take teams to compete in tournaments. And he expected us to win. Eric Sutton would never settle for second best.

All this team sport was in addition to several sessions of vigorous PE every week and trips to the local open-air swimming pool.

He may have lain great importance on our physical development, but he gave equal — if not more — weight to nurturing our intellectual capacity.

These days, ‘passion’ is a much abused cliche. Every inept reality TV contestant professes their ‘passion’ for everything from fairy cakes to break-dancing. But Mr Sutton really was passionate about education in general and literacy in particular.

It was his ambition to get as many of his pupils as possible into grammar school, which he saw as the gateway to a better future. He succeeded spectacularly, his school regularly topping the table of  11-plus passes.

Some younger readers may think this sounds like a posh prep school for the privileged children of the well-off. Nothing could be further from the truth.   West Town Juniors and Mixed Infants, Williamson Avenue, Peterborough, was what we would now call a ‘bog standard’ state school.

But there was nothing ‘bog standard’ about the ethos instilled by Eric Sutton, who could have held his own in any exclusive fee-paying establishment.  He was a dapper man who always wore a sports jacket, complete with leather patches on the elbows, and cavalry twill trousers. He wouldn’t have been seen dead without a shirt and tie — unlike some of the slovenly scruffs on parade at the teachers’ union conferences every Easter.

Which brings me to the reason I’m taking a trip down Memory Lane today — the news that there has been a significant increase in the number of men training as primary school teachers.

For the past 40-odd years, the feminisation of state education has been a disaster. There are more than 4,250 schools in Britain where not a single male teacher can be found in the staff room. The Eric Suttons of this world are as extinct as the stegosaurus.

Coupled with the trendy, ‘child-centred’ teaching methods indoctrinated by Marxist training colleges, this has been responsible for a collapse in discipline and an alarming increase in illiteracy.

Generations of boys have been utterly betrayed by the system set up to educate them — many written off as suffering from a bewildering array of fashionable ‘hyperactivity disorders’ and pumped full of mind-bending drugs simply because young female teachers have no idea how to control or inspire them.

Mr Sutton didn’t need Ritalin to bring an unruly child to order, just a well-aimed blackboard eraser.

With no competitive sport to channel their physical excesses — a consequence of the pernicious ‘all-must-have-prizes’ culture identified by Melanie Phillips — and zero intellectual stimulation, young men are leaving school unsuited to the adult world.

The rise in single motherhood and absentee fathers, coupled with a monopoly of female primary school teachers, means that countless thousands of boys reach puberty without having encountered a male role model, apart from the local ‘gangstas’.

Our sick society, which considers any man who wants to work with children to be a potential paedophile, has helped to turn primary schools into testosterone-free zones.  A male teacher who volunteered to take young boys and girls swimming would be lucky to escape without a knock on the door from the nonce squad or a petrol bomb being lobbed through his front window.

Those hardy male souls who have taken the plunge report hostility and ‘intimidation’ from all-female staff rooms — which tends to suggest they are probably not cut out for dealing with a class full of seven-year-old savages, either.

All this combined with relatively low wages has conspired against encouraging any young family man to become a primary school teacher.

The good news is that recent changes which allow teachers to earn a salary while they train in school have begun to attract more men into the profession. And the Government has launched a campaign to persuade male graduates to take up a career in primary education.

The numbers applying have risen by 51 per cent, albeit from a low base.  Eric Sutton would have approved.



Like U.S. Charter Schools, Britain's Academies Aim High

1776 is a number with great resonance for Americans, but not one you expect to be featured on a British government website.

But there it is, on the home page of the United Kingdom's Department of Education: "As of 1 April 2012, there are 1776 academies open in England."

Academies, as you might expect, mean something different in Britain than in the United States. They are, approximately, what we would call charter schools. And there are 1,776 of them largely because of the energy and determination of British Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Britain, like America, has gotten pretty dismal results for years from its (in their terminology) state schools. (British public schools are expensive boarding schools; they include Eton, which produced David Cameron and 12 other prime ministers, and Fettes, its Scottish equivalent, which graduated former Prime Minister Tony Blair.)

This is a problem that has been recognized by all three British political parties. Blair's New Labor tried to instill more accountability with extensive testing, much like George W. Bush's bipartisan No Child Left Behind law.

But many tests got dumbed down, and the results have been disappointing. Education in both nations has been dominated by what Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett called "the Blob," the combined forces of university education schools and teachers unions, which have a bias against rigorous learning and testing.

The Blob wants students to have lots of self-esteem and deems it oppressive to demand that they learn to read or do multiplication tables.

As a result, British and American students think highly of themselves but do much worse in reading and math than their counterparts in countries like Singapore and South Korea.

Gove argues that this is "a huge crime." "Traditional subjects taught in a rigorous fashion," he says, "help poor children graduate to the middle class." In contrast, "inequality is generated by poor schools."

Gove is an example of upward mobility through good education. His parents, who didn't graduate from high school, scrimped and saved from his father's income as a fish merchant to send him to an all-boys, fee-paying school in Aberdeen, Scotland.

One of his teachers suggested he apply to Oxford. He got in and became president of the Oxford Union, the well-known debating society. That led to jobs in journalism and then to Conservative Party politics. He was elected to Parliament in 2005, and in his first term became shadow secretary of education.

When the 2010 general election resulted in Conservatives falling short of a majority, Cameron was prepared with a list of policies with which the party was in agreement with the Liberal Democrats.

Like some U.S. Democrats, the Lib Dems had become disillusioned with state schools' performance and the teacher unions' objections to accountability. Education became one of the issues on which the Lib Dems decided the two parties could work together, and they continue to do so despite Cameron's failure last week to produce the Conservative votes needed to pass the Lib Dems' proposal to change the House of Lords.

Gove has insisted that state school pupils read 19th century literature -- Byron, Keats, Dickens, Jane Austen -- and study a foreign language. He has pushed more instruction in history and geography, and higher standards in math and science.

His greatest innovation is the academies -- an idea he picked up in Sweden, of all places. Individual schools, local school authorities, businesses, universities, charities and religious organizations can petition to start academies. But they have to meet certain standards to be approved.

Like many American charter schools, the academies can set their own pay and devise their own curriculum and schedules; they receive the same per-pupil funding as state schools. The idea is to liberate education from domination by the Blob, and the results so far seem encouraging.

Gove's policies cannot be entirely replicated in the United States. Britain's central government has full authority over schools in England (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own systems), while in the U.S. education is largely controlled by state governments and local school boards often dominated by teachers unions.

But we might do well to keep an eye on Britain's 1,776 academies, which now number 1,957, as a subsidiary page on the website informs us. We English-speaking peoples have been lagging behind on education.

We can do better, and as Gove says, those most in need are the poor and disadvantaged.


Monday, July 16, 2012

America has too many teachers

President Obama said last month that America can educate its way to prosperity if Congress sends money to states to prevent public school layoffs and "rehire even more teachers." Mitt Romney was having none of it, invoking "the message of Wisconsin" and arguing that the solution to our economic woes is to cut the size of government and shift resources to the private sector. Mr. Romney later stated that he wasn't calling for a reduction in the teacher force—but perhaps there would be some wisdom in doing just that.

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers' aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs.

Or would they? Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has shown that better-educated students contribute substantially to economic growth. If U.S. students could catch up to the mathematics performance of their Canadian counterparts, he has found, it would add roughly $70 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next 80 years. So if the additional three million public-school employees we've hired have helped students learn, the nation may be better off economically.

To find out if that's true, we can look at the "long-term trends" of 17-year-olds on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress. These tests, first administered four decades ago, show stagnation in reading and math and a decline in science. Scores for black and Hispanic students have improved somewhat, but the scores of white students (still the majority) are flat overall, and large demographic gaps persist. Graduation rates have also stagnated or fallen. So a doubling in staff size and more than a doubling in cost have done little to improve academic outcomes.

Nor can the explosive growth in public-school hiring be attributed to federal spending on special education. According to the latest Census Bureau data, special ed teachers make up barely 5% of the K-12 work force.

The implication of these facts is clear: America's public schools have warehoused three million people in jobs that do little to improve student achievement—people who would be working productively in the private sector if that extra $210 billion were not taxed out of the economy each year.

We have already tried President Obama's education solution over a time period and on a scale that he could not hope to replicate today. And it has proven an expensive and tragic failure.

To avoid Greece's fate we must create new, productive private-sector jobs to replace our unproductive government ones. Even as a tiny, mostly nonprofit niche, American private education is substantially more efficient than its public sector, producing higher graduation rates and similar or better student achievement at roughly a third lower cost than public schools (even after controlling for differences in student and family characteristics).

By making it easier for families to access independent schools, we can do what the president's policies cannot: drive prosperity through educational improvement. More than 20 private-school choice programs already exist around the nation. Last month, New Hampshire legislators voted to override their governor's veto and enact tax credits for businesses that donate to K-12 scholarship organizations. Mr. Romney has supported such state programs. President Obama opposes them.

While America may have too many teachers, the greater problem is that our state schools have squandered their talents on a mass scale. The good news is that a solution is taking root in many states.


The Future of Online Education: Three Competing Perspectives

Bryan Caplan

Amazon put Borders out of business.  Is online education going to do to the same to brick-and-mortar colleges?*  Reflecting on earlier conversations with Arnold, I've realized that there are three competing perspectives with three competing predictions.

Perspective #1: Human capital model. 

Analysis: The point of college is to teach marketable skills.  Online education will soon be able to teach marketable skills as effectively as brick-and-mortar schools at a tiny fraction of the cost. 

Prediction: Online education will soon have roughly the same wage premium as brick-and-mortar colleges, and rapidly drive these high-cost dinosaurs into bankruptcy. 

Perspective #2: Status good model. 

Analysis: Online education will soon be a great way to teach marketable skills.  But colleges are primarily places where young elites (and their tuition-paying parents!) bond.  In Arnold's words:

[G]oing to a top college today is like belonging to the right church in 1850 or the right country club in 1950. When you are supplying a status good, ostentatiously wasting money on buildings can increase demand.

Prediction: Brick-and-mortar colleges are here to stay.  However, online education will easily compete for the segment of students who only want to acquire marketable skills.  Students who opt for online education will earn a wage premium comparable to that of brick-and-mortar grads.

Perspective #3: Signaling model.

Analysis: Brick-and-mortar colleges are primarily places where students signal a combination of intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity.  Online education suffers from a severe adverse selection problem, because the students most eager to avoid traditional education tend to be deficient in one or more of these traits - especially conformity to the established social norm that young people should go to a traditional college.

Prediction: Brick-and-mortar colleges are here to stay.  Online education may be a niche good, but the labor market will usually penalize its graduates with a low wage premium.

I hasten to add that these are three polar cases; I'm happy to admit that each is partly true.  The real question is the weight each perspective deserves.  My rough guess is 20% for human capital, 10% for status good (though more at elite colleges), and 70% signaling.  I encourage critics to provide alternate breakdowns.

My implied prediction: brick-and-mortar colleges will probably experience a slight decline in coming years, and the wage premium for online grads will probably slightly rise.  In the absence of big changes in government policy, however, higher education isn't going to change much.  Old-fashioned colleges will stay in business, and the labor market will continue to heavily favor their graduates.

* When I talk about "online education," I don't just mean students at existing brick-and-mortar colleges taking some classes from their dorm rooms.  I mean students enrolling in virtual colleges instead of physical colleges.


100 more free schools approved as British educational revolution continues

The state’s monopoly on education is being smashed as groups of teachers, parents and businesses line up to open dozens of ‘free schools’.

David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove yesterday announced that 102 new schools – freed from local authority control but funded by the taxpayer – have been approved.

The Prime Minister said they would open ‘in September 2013 and beyond’, while 50 already in the pipeline will open this September.

The latest approvals bring to almost 200 the total number of primary and secondary free schools, which ministers hope will be as transformative as grammar schools were in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr Cameron said the Government’s reforms were using ‘competition to drive up standards across the system’.

More than half of the approved applications are from teachers, existing schools or educational organisations who want to run new state schools themselves.

They include a secondary school to be run by a group of teachers from the Cuckoo Hall Academy chain, based in a deprived area of North London, and a primary school in Manchester led by the group responsible for the Big Issue in the north of England.

Other specialist free schools will include one in South London for vulnerable pupils, including teenage mothers and children expelled from mainstream schools; a sixth-form college in East Manchester supported by Manchester City Football Club; a ‘faith-sensitive’ co-ed in Oldham; and secondaries backed by universities in Birmingham and Plymouth.

However, organisers behind another proposed free school in Oldham – the Phoenix School, which was to be staffed by Armed Forces veterans and backed by General Lord Guthrie, former chief of the defence staff – were angered that their application was turned down.

Mr Cameron said free schools ‘symbolise everything that is good about the revolution that we are bringing to Britain’s schools: choice for parents, power in the hands of Teacher, discipline, rigour, high-quality education in areas that are crying out for more good local schools’.

He added: ‘The free schools revolution was built on a simple idea. Open up our schools to new providers, and use the competition that results to drive up standards across the system.

‘Get behind parents, charities and committed teachers who are trying to make things better, and give them the freedoms they need to transform our education system.

'That is what we have been doing, and the message from the first two years is clear and unambiguous. Free schools work and parents and teachers want more of them. So more is what they are going to get.’

Free schools can be established by groups including parents, teachers, faith groups, businesses, universities and charities. They are given the power to decide how they spend their budgets and set their own curriculum, teaching hours and term-times.

The reforms have pitched the Coalition into a battle with the teaching unions, who suggest they can adversely affect neighbouring comprehensives when they open in areas with no shortage of spaces.

The Department for Education insisted that 88 per cent of the primaries approved yesterday are in areas with a shortfall of places.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crooked teachers' representative

A chorus of Washington, D.C. Democrats are calling on Mayor Vincent Gray to resign amid allegations his campaign engaged in “underhanded deeds” to win his race against incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010.  The Washington Times reports :
“Three D.C. Council members called on embattled Mayor Vincent C. Gray to resign Wednesday, just hours after he defended his integrity in his first public comments since federal prosecutors outlined a politically damaging ‘shadow’ effort by members of his 2010 campaign.

“David A. Catania, Mary M. Cheh and Muriel Bowser became the first city leaders to argue that Mr. Gray is no longer entitled to the highest office in the District because of underhanded deeds committed during his bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

“’I’ve been trying to decide, ‘What possible explanation is there that would exonerate him from this?’ said Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, who deemed the decision ‘absolutely’ more heart-wrenching than calling on Harry Thomas Jr. to resign from the council for stealing public funds. ‘I had come to admire [Mr. Gray] greatly. This is a hard one. I’m going to go home and cry.’”

Gray seemed to implicate himself at a press conference yesterday when he said, “This is not the campaign we intended to run.” Gray is accused of having received “at least $653,800 in unreported cash to pay for supplies and consultants.”

Lest we forget, Gray was the American Federation of Teachers’ “million-dollar man.”

The AFT was bent on getting rid of its arch-nemesis, former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who was appointed by Fenty. Rhee shook up the system, firing underperforming tenured teachers and administrators, pushing for performance pay and other relatively bold reform initiatives.

For the union, Rhee was a significant problem and to get rid of her, they had to fire her boss. To accomplish that, the AFT spent "roughly $1 million" to hammer Fenty.

According to Politico, the effort’s intent was clear:

“And while the teachers union has been careful not to claim the scalps of Fenty and his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, the election may serve as a political shot across the bows of other urban officials considering similar policies.”

So the union, desperate to get rid of Rhee, jumped in bed with someone accused of “underhanded deeds” by federal prosecutors. The teachers union sure knows how to pick upstanding individuals !


Colbert's Campus Coddlers

On July 9, Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi composed a puff piece to honor Stephen Colbert, "fake news" commentator and satirical fake conservative. It turns out Colbert is becoming an "obsession in academia," with a new collegiate submersion in "Truthinessology."

Let us agree that he can be very funny. Let's also agree that his satire being taken seriously by academia says something about the state of academia.

It also says something about those in the press who agree. Farhi winked in his story that this obsession is a problem, but then unfurled a long list of academic tributes. Parents are now paying tens of thousands of dollars each year for their children to skateboard around boring old Aristotle and Locke and instead immerse themselves in the study of smirking liberal TV wise-crackers.

Colbert, we are told, is a television icon already, like CBS legend Edward R. Murrow. This would be more upsetting if Murrow weren't in reality one partisan hack in a long line of truth-mangling CBS News partisan hacks.

Professor Geoffrey Baym proclaimed, "I'm sure there are still a lot more books out there on CBS News and Edward R. Murrow, but you could argue that the emergence of satire news at this level is an important phenomenon that I don't think we still completely understand." Baym wrote a book titled "From Cronkite to Colbert: The Evolution of Broadcast News."

Maybe we don't understand because it's nonsensical. I get it that liberals believe in evolution, but do they really think journalism is growing more profound by transforming from long-form documentaries on migrant workers to Colbert's self-promotional, punchline-packed congressional testimony on migrant workers?

Apparently, they do.

This is Baym's dustcover Colbert-smooching: "'From Cronkite to Colbert' makes the case that rather than fake news, those shows should be understood as a new kind of journalism, one that has the potential to save the news and reinvigorate the conversation of democracy in today's society."

Translation: We had to destroy the news in order to save it.

Baym noted that there are "still a lot more books" on Murrow and CBS, but Amazon will quickly assemble for its consumers a wagonload of fake-news flattery oozing out of supposedly sober academe:

-- "The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impacts of Fake News" (with Jon Stewart and Colbert on the cover);

-- "And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert" (Colbert on the cover);

-- "The Daily Show and Rhetoric: Arguments, Issues, and Strategies" (Stewart on the cover)

-- "Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era" (Colbert on the cover);

-- "Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement" (Stewart and Barack Obama on the cover).

This is a partial list (one mostly different from a Post list of treatises). Farhi reported, "The college crowd says Colbert is worthy of study because his single-character political satire is unique in the annals of television. His character, an egomaniacal right-wing gasbag, connects him to a long Western satirical tradition going all the way back to the Roman poet Horace and the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles."

Obviously, these educators wouldn't insult the ancient Romans and Greeks to make comparisons to a conservative topical comedian like Dennis Miller. Professor Don Waisanen analyzed Miller after his turn to the right and lamented that he was "disoriented" and his humor was destined to "neuter socio-political action."

Professors, being professorial, add gravitas to the unbearable lightness of their comedic heroes by applying jargon, explaining that Colbert and Stewart ably employ "parodic polyglossia," "satirical specificity" and "contextual clash" to evoke both laughter and social change.

Farhi even found one super-fan: Penn State Professor Sophia McClennen. McClennen compares Colbert to Ben Franklin and Mark Twain as one of the greatest satirists in our nation's entire 236-year history and argues that "our democracy is in a tough spot now, when corporations are exercising increasing power over government, and that Colbert captures this moment as they did."

I bet even Colbert laughed at that.

As much as liberals claim to treasure irony, McClennen didn't grasp that Colbert is "exercising increasing power over government" through a large media corporation called Viacom. This corporation's greedy devotion to the bottom line led them to spit on those obsessed academics who watch Colbert and Stewart via satellite on DirecTV. Viacom not only cut off 20 million subscribers to DirecTV after a failed attempt to wring an estimated $1 billion in additional carriage fees, but they removed online streaming of full episodes on the Comedy Central website.

After all, applying "parodic polyglossia" to promote progressive politics is only worthwhile if a corporation is maximizing their profits. That is certainly a "contextual clash" the academics were not expecting.


More British students forced to sit university admissions tests

Rising numbers of students are being forced to sit admissions tests to get into university amid fears that A-levels fail to mark out the brightest schoolchildren, it has emerged.

At least 75 universities are setting exams to gain admission to a series of traditional academic disciplines such as law, medicine and mathematics, figures show.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, insisted that the number of institutions running their own exams had soared by 50 per cent in just three years.

Last night, it emerged that Oxford is forcing almost nine-in-10 candidates to take some form of aptitude test as part of the admissions process next year. In 2009, just a third were required to sit an entrance exam.

The disclosure will fuel fears that universities are struggling to identify the most able applicants from a huge rise in the number of school leavers with straight As at A-level.

Last summer, 27 per cent of entries were graded A* or A – almost three times the number in the mid-80s – and the overall pass-rate increased for the 29th year in a row.

In a speech, Mr Gibb warned that “strong evidence has been emerging of grade inflation across subjects” in recent years.

He quoted figures showing that 75 universities – roughly half of those in Britain – were running some form of admissions test this year, up from 50 in 2009.  “In an effort to distinguish between candidates, more and more universities are resorting to using their own tests,” he said.

The Government is now toughening up A-levels by proposing to scrap bite-sized modules and giving universities new powers to write syllabuses and exam questions to raise standards in the traditional exam.  Mr Gibb said the move would “help restore confidence in standards”.

Currently, dozens of leading universities use common admissions tests to dictate entry to subjects such as law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and maths.

Figures from the organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA), which advises universities on admissions policies, shows that 27 use the UK Clinical Aptitude Test for Medicine and Dentistry.

A further nine use the National Admissions Test for Law and six employ the Sixth Term Examination Paper in Mathematics.

But research shows that many universities also set their own their own exams for a range of other subjects such as accounting, classics, engineering, English, history, languages, teacher training and nursing.

Mike Nicholson, head of admissions at Oxford, said that 85 per cent of applicants to the university will take some form of aptitude test as part of the 2013 applications process. This covered around seven-in-10 subjects, he suggested.  Three years ago, between 60 and 65 per cent of candidates sat an entrance exam.

He said the exams acted as a “sifting process” to assess candidates who are later shortlisted for a formal interview, adding: “The tests are part of the additional information tutors will have that allows them to make calls on the candidates who seem to have the greatest strength, the greatest potential for future success.”

Mr Nicholson said a rise in the number of tests had “predominantly been driven by the significant increase in applications that we’ve seen in the last five years”, adding: “It’s not so much A-level. It’s more the diversity of our applicant pool now, so about 70 per cent of our candidates take A-level, 30 per cent don’t, and it’s the 30 per cent that don’t that’s been an increasing figure.

“So part of the value of the tests for our tutors is that it benchmarks the candidates against each other within a discipline.”