Saturday, December 29, 2012

Really alternative schools rising

‘Nobody ever got shot or knocked up in an online school.” That’s the comment offered by a friend when my daughter — in search of more AP classes than her public school offered, and anxious to graduate early — decided to switch to an online high school. It has come back to me in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

It would, of course, be absurd to suggest that we abandon traditional public schools for online ones simply as a precaution against mass shootings. Mass shootings are extremely rare events, and only a fool would make a drastic policy shift with that in mind.

But the larger question of whether it makes sense to warehouse a bunch of kids together, sorted by age, remains. Is it time to rethink traditional public schools?

Many think so. As The New York Times recently noted, parents are pulling their kids out of many large urban districts in favor of private, on-line and charter schools. This is causing financial problems as the lower enrollments lead to teacher layoffs and general shrinkage.

Why are the parents pulling their kids? Because they think the public schools aren’t as good as the alternatives.

As the public schools’ performance stays basically flat despite vastly increased budgets, the alternatives are looking better.

Public schools are, at best, standing still. Alternatives to public schools are expanding by leaps and bounds.

A few decades ago, the alternatives to public schools weren’t so alternative. You could go to a private religious school (probably Catholic) where discipline would be stricter, and the academics more rigorous, or you could go to a nonreligious private school that tried to be more elite than the public schools. Either way, the students would still be sitting in rows, listening to the same lectures and reading the same textbooks, sorted by age and advancing by grade.

This Industrial Era approach (public schools were organized in the 19th century on a Prussian model, explicitly to produce obedient, orderly workers) had advantages. But it also had disadvantages. Like interchangeable parts in an industrial machine, students were treated alike, regardless of their individual characteristics and needs. Square peg, meet round hole.

Putting kids together and sorting by age also created that dysfunctional creature, the “teenager.” Once, teen-agers weren’t so much a demographic as adults-in-training. They worked, did farm chores, watched children and generally functioned in the real world. They got status and recognition for doing these things well, and they got shame and disapproval for doing them badly.

But once they were segregated by age in public schools, teens looked to their peers for status and recognition instead of to society at large. As Thomas Hine writes in The American Heritage, “Young people became teenagersbecause we had nothing better for them to do. We began seeing them not as productive but as gullible consumers.”

Again, we may have had no alternative in the 19th century. But now many alternatives are appearing:

* The approach followed by the Khan Academy, where students view lectures on video at home, then do “homework” in the classroom where teachers are available to help.

* Online schools, where kids learn at their own pace, and have time to work jobs or internships during the day — that’s what my daughter did, and she learned a lot from her time in the workplace.

* Homeschooling, which is increasingly popular and — as any National Spelling Bee fan knows — often quite successful.

* And a variety of other approaches being experimented with by what Anya Kamenetz, in her book “DIY U,” calls the “edupunks”: So-called “unschooling,” where students learn via life experience, or the substitution of performance-based credentials or portfolios for diplomas based largely on time spent in class.

* We’re also seeing the rise of dual enrollment, where high school overlaps with college.

Personally, I think that the more we get kids out in the real world, and the less we keep them segregated from reality, the more they’ll learn and the better they’ll do.

Regardless, change is coming in the K-12 world. It’s a knowledge industry, after all — and how many knowledge industries are the same in the 21st century as they were in the 19th?


Parent Group Leader to Obama: Response to Sandy Hook Tragedy Should be Less Testing

There have been all sorts of responses to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday.

American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten is pushing Big Labor to get behind gun control legislation. Others argue that it might be wise for every school to have several armed staff members.

At least those are both logical suggestions to address an obvious problem.

Now Parents Across America, a pro-union group, has checked into the discussion, urging President Obama to respond to the events by having less standardized testing.


Are these people suggesting that state standardized tests somehow drive unstable students to commit mass murder? Could we please see some evidence to support that bizarre theory?

Wendy Lecker, founder of Parents Across America-CT, wrote:

“This body of research demands that we rethink our national obsession to use tests as the goal in education. A low test score should be an alarm, not that a school or teacher is failing, but more likely that there are stressors in a child’s life that warrant intervention.”

That’s a good reason to have tests, right? So we can tell which kids require intervention? Apparently not.

Lecker went on to point out that she’s talked to school nurses who tell her “at test time, they see a spike in headaches, stomachaches and the need for anti-anxiety medication.”

We’re not sure what Lecker is trying to say here. Are the kids who are anxious about taking a test likely to get a gun and kill someone – therefore we shouldn’t have tests?

The unions and their supporters have always hated state standardized testing, particularly when it’s used to evaluate teacher performance, and would resort to any strategy to kill the practice.

If they can somehow twist the Connecticut tragedy to meet that goal, they’re clearly willing to do it, no matter how stupid they sound.

As Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”


Become a lawyer with no degree, British pupils told

School leavers will be encouraged to skip university and train for highly-paid jobs as lawyers, bankers and accountants in a new wave of “professional” apprenticeships, a minister discloses today.

Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, will call for more young people to go straight from A-levels into traditional City professions that have been “dominated” by graduates.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hancock says “university is not for everyone”. High quality apprenticeships should be as “prestigious” as a degree.

An increasing number of school leavers are choosing to work rather than spend three years at university, as students and parents avoid taking on debts of as much as £60,000 to cover fees and living costs.

The number of 18-year-olds heading to university fell by 57,000 this autumn. This trend is likely to continue as apprenticeships become a cheaper alternative to a degree.

In his article, Mr Hancock says everyone, not just graduates, should have the chance to get “valuable jobs” in law, financial services and advanced engineering.

He says that for too long there has been an “artificial and counterproductive division between practical and academic learning”.

“We are offering apprenticeships instead of university, as a route into the professions, including insurance, accounting and law,” he says.

“University is not for everyone. There is no reason why you can’t reach exactly the same qualifications, without the degree, starting on-the-job training in an apprenticeship from day one.”

Mr Hancock says there are on-the-job schemes already that give school leavers the equivalent of one year at university or “foundation” degree level.

People leaving school at 18 can start accountancy or legal executive training. Ministers now want to see apprenticeships at top firms that “truly match” studying for full or postgraduate degrees.

Mr Hancock says the Government is in talks with the BPP Law School over an apprenticeship that will lead to a qualification as a solicitor.

He says PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the “big four” professional services firms, is developing a master’s-level apprenticeship for a qualification in audit, accountancy or tax. The minister urges “more employers to step up to take advantage of the opportunity” of school leavers who want to start learning and earning rather than go to university.

His comments come after the Commons business committee urged ministers to create more high quality apprenticeships that lead to better careers.

Last month, an official review by Doug Richard, an entrepreneur, recommended that apprenticeships should be seen as equal to degrees.

The businessman, who appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme, said standards of apprenticeships should be raised to stop them being regarded as “second class” in relation to university.

Other experts warned that students should not forget about the value of university when choosing their future path.

Rob Wilson, an MP on the Fair Access to University Group, said he welcomed “high quality apprenticeships”. But he said: “Potential students should not forget the excellent value universities bring in terms of additional career earnings and the more rounded education.”

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said young people should not be encouraged to take decisions about their education based on cost.

Labour claims that the drive to recruit apprentices has “stalled”.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says too many apprenticeships are being given to adults, rather than school leavers.


Extraordinary defences of Ivy League racism

After the huge body of evidence marshalled by Ron Unz to show discriminatiuon against Asians at the Ivies, here is one of the "replies" published by the NYT in response:

"Some allege specifically that affirmative action harms Asian applicants, capping the Asian population at elite universities. In reality, there is no evidence that this is the case."

The lamebrain concerned appears to think, obviously correctly, that mere denial of the Unz evidence will suffice for the NYT.  She dismisses it with a wave of her hand without addressing it at all.  Any rubbish will do for the NYT as long as the conclusions suit the NYT, it seems.  This is below the quality of supermarket tabloids, which do at least pretend to look at evidence for their claims.

Another reply which at least admits the Unz evidence simply reiterates the nasty stereotype of Asians as bespectacled nerds with no opinions of their own. 

Given the huge preference now given by the Ivies to Jewish  applicants,  I suppose I could be equally racist in reverse and say that Asians are simply more polite than loud-mouthed NYC Jews.   It just shows what a slippery slope racism can be and is thoroughly obnoxious for all the reasons that Leftists never tire of telling us about.  Steve Sailer gives it a thorough fisking.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Free speech in higher education

When students or professors challenge campus orthodoxies, administrators find a way to silence them. But when speakers take positions that are comfortable to the campus Left, administrators turn on a dime, suddenly posing as First Amendment purists.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and a liberal, observes that “you are far more likely to get in trouble on campus for opposing, for example, affirmative action, gay marriage and abortion rights than you are for supporting them.”

Since support for Israel is now increasingly viewed as a conservative issue, just about anything goes when it comes to Israel-bashing.

It is refreshingly rare to find a commentator who will unflinchingly support freedom of expression whether politically correct or incorrect. Fifteen years ago, such a voice was found in the writing team of Charles Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglade. Their milestone volume, The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America's Campuses, opened eyes to surprisingly widespread censorship in US universities. The Shadow University was so successful that Kors and Silverglade were able to found FIRE, the civil liberties organization which Lukianoff now heads.

TODAY, THE campus situation is hardly better, except for the good work that FIRE now does. Lukianoff has just published a new book that carries the torch from where The Shadow University left off: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Life, New York: Encounter Books, 2012. Lukianoff is a deft writer with a light touch and good humor, which makes for an entertaining and enlightening read.

Lukianoff's stories of heavy-handed censorship are often cringe-worthy in light of the lip-service that American educators give to the free speech and academic freedom. In case after case, Lukianoff reveals administrators to be vindictive when protecting their prerogatives, enforcing political correctness or silencing their critics. Lukianoff demonstrates that campus censorship betrays civil liberties, undermines democratic values, disserves open debate and limits educational effectiveness.

Lukianoff’s one fault is that Unlearning Liberty never resolves the Hobson’s choice which university administrators too often have to make when confronting offensive speech. On the one hand, they can censor the speech, punishing students or faculty who cross their lines. On the other, they can look the other way, ignoring speech which maybe hurtful or disruptive.

Too often, administrators are inequitable, shuttling between these two positions based on happenstance, caprice, or political pressure. Lukianoff condemns the former option but seems to leave them with nothing but the latter.

There is a better way, although Lukianoff does not say so. In fact, the right response to offensive speech is seldom for administrators to do nothing. While punishing the perpetrator is rarely the right answer, administrators always have other options. The best course is often for administrators to speak out, in a firm but non-threatening way. A strong leader can condemn the offensive speech, articulate their institution’s values and educate the community about civility norms. To ignore this point is to reinforce the Hobson’s choice which leads to either censorship or abdication.

FOR EXAMPLE, Lukianoff tells the story of sociologist William Robinson of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Professor Robinson gained notoriety in January 2009 when he emailed his students approximately 40 photographs juxtaposing Israeli soldiers in Gaza with Nazi soldiers at a concentration camp. In his accompanying message, Robinson spelled out his view that Israel is perpetrating a “slow-motion process of genocide.”

Two of Robinson’s Jewish students were deeply hurt by Robinson’s missive, and the university briefly investigated their claims that Robinson had acted unprofessionally in sending it. In response, Robinson’s allies organized a worldwide campaign which condemned both the two students and the university for trying to censor Robinson.

True to form, Lukianoff sides with Robinson, arguing that the university should not punish him for a message which related, at least arguably, to the subject of his course. Lukianoff argues that “attitudes about Israel on campus would only worsen if students and faculty suddenly found themselves punished for criticizing Israel.”

This view is not unreasonable, although one could debate whether Robinson’s photographs involved more than just criticism. The problem is that Lukianoff stops short here, as he typically does in his stories.

He does not reflect on how a true leader might alleviate the students’ sincere trauma, not to mention Robinson’s dubious analysis, without limiting academic freedom.

A wise university president could condemn Robinson’s conduct without making a free speech martyr out of him. In such cases, university leaders must break out of the Hobson’s choice of censorship or abdication, and rights advocates like Lukianoff should show them how to do it.


2012: a tough year for free speech on campus 

Robert Shibley

There’s no place in the world where speech is freer than the United States of America. It’s a vital part of the attraction our land has always had for those around the world who find themselves marginalized, persecuted, or worse because of what they say or what they believe. Unfortunately, our college campuses are an exception to our exceptional freedom — and for those of us who care about freedom in academia, 2012 was another tough year.

First, some good news: the latest numbers, just released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work), show that when it comes to college and university policies that blatantly contradict the principles of free speech and the First Amendment, things are actually improving, if slowly. FIRE’s latest annual survey showed that over three-fifths of the more than 400 schools reviewed restrict student speech that, off campus, is clearly protected by the First Amendment.

Casual observers may be surprised to find that 62% of public schools continue to maintain speech codes that are flat-out unconstitutional. It’s disappointing to see that so many of our public institutions — your tax dollars at work! — pay no more attention to the First Amendment than Snoop Dogg does to marijuana laws, but this is actually an improvement from previous years. Five years ago, 79% of public colleges were blatant scofflaws.

Of course, that’s just going by the schools’ written policies. When it comes to free speech, perhaps our nation’s colleges are better in practice? Sorry, nope. In fact, if anything, their violations of free speech are far more ridiculous than one would assume from their policies. Let’s look at a few of the year’s lowlights:

In January, Syracuse University finally reversed the expulsion of education student Matt Werenczak. While working at an inner city school in Syracuse, Werenczak and another white student teacher heard a black community leader say that he thought that the city schools should hire more teachers from historically black colleges. When Werenczak grumbled about this on Facebook, he was summarily kicked out of school and was required to seek anger-management counseling, complete diversity training, and write a paper demonstrating growth “regarding cultural diversity” if he wished to have even a chance to return. FIRE exposed this scandal on January 18, and only hours later, Werenczak was readmitted.

The next month, it was the University of Cincinnati’s turn to be embarrassed when it faced a speech code lawsuit over its treatment of a group of students who wished to collect signatures in support of a right-to-work ballot initiative. Cincinnati’s “free speech area” regulations restricted all “demonstrations, pickets, and rallies” to a mere 0.1% of the campus and required advanced notice to the university of 10 working days for any such events. FIRE had first warned Cincinnati that its policy was unconstitutional in 2007, but the university managed to ignore or deny this until it finally lost the lawsuit over its speech code (along with tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and, of course, the ability to restrict its students’ speech) in August.


British selective schools fuel house price rise: Town renowned for its schools sees biggest increase anywhere in the UK during 2012

Finding a good government school for your kid can be a desperate business in Britain

A town renowned for its grammar schools enjoyed a bigger rise in house prices this year than anywhere else in the UK, research revealed today.  A ‘grammar school effect’ is said to be fuelling a buoyant property market in Southend-on-Sea, where average prices rocketed 14.8 per cent in 2012.

The Essex resort saw the steepest rise in selling prices of major UK towns and cities over the last 12 month, with homes now going for an average of £198,418, according to research by Halifax.

The town’s popularity is thought to have been boosted by its secondary schools, eight of which award some or all of their places according to ability in entrance tests.

Other UK towns which boast grammar schools and feature in the top 10 for house prices rises this year include Rochester, Dartford, Gillingham in Kent and nearby Bromley.

Robert McCartney, chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, said applications to sit the 11-plus schools were increasing in many areas, particularly among families who are no longer able to stretch to private school fees.

‘With the credit crunch, a number of middle-class families who could, with a bit of a push, have afforded an independent school are now looking for an equally good education at a much reduced cost’, he said.  ‘There is also no doubt that people are continuing to flee from poor comprehensive schools.’

Southend’s grammars were a ‘big attraction’ for families seeking high-performing schools within commuting distance to London, he said.

The town has four fully selective schools - two for boys and two for girls - and a further four which are partially selective, offering a proportion of their places on merit.

Mr McCartney added: ‘Some people are prepared to move from anywhere in the country to an area where their children can go to a grammar school. In three quarters of the UK there are no grammar schools.

‘Whether it is a grammar or a good comprehensive, all the evidence of the recent past is that people are buying houses in areas where they will be near good schools.’

Some 164 grammar schools remain in England, spread across 36 out of 150 local education authorities.

They are most plentiful in Kent, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Lincolnshire, Birmingham and parts of Surrey but large swathes of the country have none.

Mr McCartney said many areas which had held onto their grammars were places of relative wealth, where families were prepared to pay a hefty premium on property prices to be in the locality of top-performing schools.

Today’s table of house price gains and falls shows that three areas which are among the top five performers have grammars - Southend, Rochester and Dartford.

Most of the worst performing areas were located outside southern England.

The Northern Ireland town of Craigavon, in County Armagh, saw the biggest slump in prices, with a 18.4 per cent drop, while Wishaw, in North Lanarkshire, Scotland recorded a 12.5 per cent fall.

Chorley, Carlisle and the Wirral, all in northern England, made up the rest of the bottom five.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Manufacturing Racism: Academic Hiring and the Diversity Mandate
So-called equity hiring is an inequitable and injurious practice

I started my first university job as a well-meaning progressivist and came out, depending on one’s perspective, either a confirmed conservative or a racist reactionary. Although many factors played a role in my conversion, an important one was my experience of affirmative action in hiring.

It wasn’t called affirmative action at the prairie university where I began my teaching career; it was called equity hiring, an odious misnomer. What it meant, I was told, was that if two equally qualified candidates applied for a position, the one whose hiring would enable the department to become more “diverse,” and therefore ostensibly more representative of our society, would be chosen. Every accredited university in Canada is required by federal law to implement an employment equity program, and the vast majority of my colleagues declared its goals and methods laudable. The four main historically disadvantaged groups targeted by the program are women, racial minorities, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal people.

The little bubble of unease I felt upon hearing the explanation of equity should probably have been warning enough that I was ill-suited to take my place in the liberal professoriate, but I fought it down and tried to argue myself into enthusiasm. Was I not in favor of diversity? Did I not want to see the old boys’ network decisively dismantled? The answer, as I felt it in my secret heart, was no. If diversity meant hiring people on the basis of their female gender or non-white skin, then I despised the idea, whatever larger social good it was thought to serve.

Even without experience of the hiring process, I understood that the assumption of “two equally qualified candidates” was a disingenuous fiction. Candidates are always different from one another and differently qualified, with various skills, aptitudes, and kinds of intellectual proficiency. To suggest that two or more could be found who were equal is seriously to underestimate the range of considerations that go into finding the best person for a job. Moreover, once the desire to fill a quota becomes part of the hiring process, it operates to curtail the open-minded weighing of qualities and achievements necessary for a fair and thorough search.

Even more importantly, the idea that diversity of ideas could be promoted by gender and race quotas is clearly a social engineer’s article of faith, one that intellectuals committed to the life of the mind ought to resist strenuously. I agreed with a colleague who summed up gender equity in a pithily subversive manner: “I’ve always been interested in what was between a job candidate’s ears,” he twinkled, “not what was between his or her legs.” But this fellow, who enjoyed outraging his left-leaning colleagues, had long been derided and ignored as a raving right-winger and hate-monger.

My worst fears were confirmed during the job search. Preference operated at every stage, from the initial advertisement to the final selection, ensuring that the ethical touchstone of the process — equality of qualifications — could never be adequately determined. Our job ads stated the university’s commitment to diversity, making it clear that white men were at a disadvantage. A typical Canadian university ad reads as follows: “We especially welcome applications from members of visible minority groups, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, persons of minority sexual orientations and gender identities, and others with the skills and knowledge to engage productively with diverse communities.” One can never know how many straight white men, recognizing the clear implications of the rhetoric, simply chose to forgo the bother of applying.

Next came the creation of a shortlist of three or four candidates for interview; some members of the department were keen to stack the list with members of the diversity groups. To this end, there was much sophistry about why a (white) male candidate’s book with a prestigious university press was really no better than — was actually perhaps a bit inferior to — a female candidate’s single article with an academic journal of no repute; or about why a (white) male candidate’s expertise in highly competitive Shakespeare studies was no better than — was actually far less original than — a female candidate’s untested, largely speculative work on an obscure seventeenth-century woman playwright. Thus were well-qualified white men kept out of the competition. Moments of levity occasionally occurred when we were forced into elaborate interpretative dances to determine if a male candidate might be black or Asian or gay, though usually the savvy candidate made that clear in his cover letter.

At the hiring stage, there was the same special pleading. Poor presentations by women candidates were praised as “provocatively unorthodox” or “strategically unconventional” while polished ones by men were criticized as “safe” or “unoriginal.” Women’s mistakes could be overlooked or seen as strengths (“I like that she was courageous enough to present on material that she is still working through”) while men’s mistakes were definitive (“I’m shocked that he could be finishing a PhD and still not know that [minor detail”]). One male candidate who had given the best demonstration class I’d ever seen was criticized by our leading feminist professor — presumably because she could find no other faults — for having never visited England to do archival work, a criticism the poverty-conscious lady would almost certainly never have made of a struggling single-mother candidate. That a man might have life circumstances preventing him from travel seemed not to have occurred to her.

During the four years I worked at this university, we hired five new faculty members, only one of them a man. An extraordinarily well qualified candidate, he was hired in a divisive contest that saw, at its end, the same good woman who so prized archival research in tearful colloquy with our department head over the department’s failure to pursue its equity mandate. To her, equity meant that, well into the foreseeable future, no white men should be hired at all.

When the department sought to hire an Aboriginal specialist in Aboriginal literature, our desire to make amends for Canada’s “genocidal history” led to even more zealous equity measures. Early on, we determined that the normal qualification of a PhD should be waived in favor of cultural qualifications, particularly knowledge of Aboriginal lore. The PhD was, after all, a white Western construct tainted by the history of colonialism. Once framed by an anti-colonial ethic, the search process became almost unworkably burdened by white guilt. Academic publications could not be required, we reasoned, because Aboriginal culture was traditionally oral, not print-based. Aboriginal people approached teaching, learning, and cultural authority from a point of view fundamentally different from that of white scholars. Protocols of respect for elders, gift-giving, talking circles, and non-exploitative communication — often involving long silences — set Aboriginal knowledge practices apart from Western ones.

The more we discussed Aboriginality, the more difficult it became to imagine asking an Aboriginal scholar to conform to any of our ordinary requirements. Who were we, after all, to judge the scholar’s depth of knowledge, to impose on her our Western assumptions about rationality, rigor, and originality? Did it not involve a kind of colonial violence of the sort her people had already suffered so egregiously? By the time we had talked ourselves into a state of intellectual paralysis, it should have been obvious that we had no business conducting the search under the terms we had created. But conduct it we did, in a muddle of cultural obeisance.

The problems of such hiring assumptions and practices are so manifold as to make it nearly inconceivable that they should have been implemented across North American universities without any significant protest — but implemented they have been, and most academics I know will admit no serious contradiction between the ideal of equality and the reality of discrimination against white male candidates. It should be self-evident — but is not — that any form of hiring is wrong that does not make merit its first and major criterion. Not only academic departments are harmed by practices that imperil quality; the candidates themselves, who must live with the question of their real qualifications forever undetermined, are placed in a humiliating position. Moreover, department morale is likely to suffer considerably when members see less qualified candidates favored due to non-intellectual factors, with resentments and rivalries an almost inevitable result.

What stands out most in my recollection of that time is the dishonesty of the proceedings. A member of the department who served on a campus-wide committee tasked with developing best practices to promote diversity mentioned one of their recommendations: after a minority candidate is hired, members of the department should take care to tell all their friends of her merit; the equity preference should not be mentioned. The omission hit at the nub of the matter. It was not that individuals were necessarily lying as they offered their various justifications and rationales; many of them believed in what they were doing, at least some of the time. But it was impossible to believe wholeheartedly and without hesitation through all of those strained, compromised, and occasionally ludicrous moments of hedging, half-truth, selective blindness, and forced praise.

No matter one’s commitment to righting past wrongs, one could not avoid recognizing that non-intellectual criteria were being used to hire candidates into positions ostensibly defined by intellectual achievement. In many small ways — in the checking of skepticism or the suppression of a challenging question, in the effort to be impressed by the unimpressive, to wholeheartedly approve the only moderately good — one did subtle violence to intellectual integrity, and one couldn’t help but know it. The ramifications of that knowing for one’s faith in the academic enterprise, and in one’s colleagues and oneself, cannot be underestimated and can never be undone.


Cuts to religion lessons 'will fuel bigoted attitudes', British MP warns

Children risk being increasingly swayed by the attitudes of “bigoted” parents because of the steady decline of religious education in schools, ministers have been told.

Pupils will fail to filter out fundamentalist Islamic views – or offensive opinions voiced by Christian families – following a drop in the number of decent RE lessons, it was claimed.

Stephen Lloyd, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, said high-quality tuition in a range of faiths, beliefs and cultures was essential for young children to make sense of the world.

But he warned that access to lessons was becoming increasingly marginalised because of a combination of Government reforms to the curriculum and cuts in teacher training places.

According to figures, a third of secondary schools already flout the law on compulsory RE by refusing to allow pupils to study the subject in the final two years of school.

It also emerged that rising numbers of schools were cutting specialist RE teachers and relying on untrained staff with a poor grasp of the subject to deliver lessons.

Last month, the Parliamentary group launched an investigation into the multiple problems facing religious education.

New data presented to the group showed that the number of universities running training courses for would-be RE teachers has fallen by a sixth in just two years – from 40 to 33. The vast majority of remaining courses are under threat of closure because of a lack of fully-funded places, it was claimed.

Mr Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon, said the decline in the subject led to fresh concerns that extreme attitudes towards certain faiths and beliefs would spread.

“I think – certainly outside the faith schools – RE is a subject that’s beginning to diminish,” he said.

“I think that it is even more important today that our children learn about the range of different faiths, cultures and beliefs to give them the chance to gain a level of knowledge across the piste so they don’t just have to listen to what’s on the internet or what may be the fundamentally bigoted attitudes of their parents or peers towards other religions. It is becoming more and more important because of the globalised world.”

Critics have claimed that RE is in decline because it is has been excluded from the Government's English Baccalaureate – a school leaving certificate that rewards pupils who gain good grades in English, maths, science, languages and history or geography.

Mr Lloyd said that decent RE teaching gave pupils access to more objective facts surrounding different faiths to act as a counterbalance to attitudes picked up in the home.

He added: “I don’t think most children – if they are told that fundamentalist Islamic views are right or fundamentalist Christian views are right – are going to go on the internet and look at all the rational moderate details of all the different world religions as balance on their own.

“I think there’s far more chance for them to go online and find all the information that validates what they already believe.”

Data submitted by the Association of University Lecturers in Religion and Education to the all-party inquiry suggests that dedicated teacher training courses in the subject are in decline.

Universities such as Warwick, Hull, East Anglia and Oxford Brookes have closed training courses in the last two years, it said. Only 33 courses remain but 27 of these train fewer than 10 teachers this year – potentially making them unviable.

The committee is expected to publish its report on RE early in 2013.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Religious education remains a statutory part of the wider school curriculum for every single student up to 18.

“The English Baccalaureate will not prevent any school from offering religious education GCSEs. In fact, RE teaching hours at Key Stage 4 [14-to-16] have risen since the introduction of the EBacc. We have been clear that pupils should take the exams that are right for them and teachers and parents should help pupils make the right learning choice.”


Good looks 'work against' female academics

Comment from Australia

BEAUTY is beneficial in most workplaces but not universities, where students' regard for 'hot' lecturers can be outweighed by colleagues' disapproval.

Cassandra Atherton, literary studies lecturer at Melbourne’s Deakin University, said good looks played well with students but not fellow academics. And with careers more dependent on peer perceptions than student ratings, glamour could be a drawback.

“We’ve still got that stereotype of the professor as socially inept and not particularly attractive,” she said.  “If you don’t fit that stereotype, you’re not working hard enough on your academic career.”

Dr Atherton said good looks disadvantaged researchers when they fronted academic boards. “The research is considered to be somehow not as rigorously intelligent. Even if you’re looking at a fiercely interesting topic, the suggestion is that you spend more time in the beauty parlour than on the article.

“After reading about how good-looking people do so well in other industries, it was shocking to me that looks could be interpreted as a statement about intelligence.”

A US study has found that on a 5-point student evaluation scale, attractive professors receive ratings an average 0.8 points higher than their plain colleagues. But Dr Atherton said they were no more likely to receive promotions, because research was considered more important than teaching.

The study was based on the ‘Rate My Professors’ website, which allows US students to judge their lecturers “hotness” as well as their helpfulness, clarity and accessibility. Lecturers considered “hottest” are identified with an exploding hot chilli pepper icon.

Dr Atherton said US academics tolerated such observations despite considering them demeaning and irrelevant. “They feel it’s something that they have no control over, and it’s not going to stop.”

She said Australia could expect the same. Local websites such as the student-created ‘My Lecturer’ and its secondary school equivalent, ‘Rate My Teachers’, already allow anonymous assessments of teaching staff.

One of the “hottest” lecturers on the American website, Bonnie Blossman of the University of North Texas, started receiving negative reviews after joining a reality TV show.

Dr Atherton, who interviewed Dr Blossman while researching a book on high profile academics, said UNT was pleased with the profile gained from having its lecturer on ‘Big Rich Texas’, which profiles women at an exclusive country club.

But colleagues – particularly women – were critical, while viewers, journalists and fellow cast members routinely questioned the developmental physiologists’s credentials.

“Blossman’s expertise as a scientist is rarely put to use on the show, and her PhD is often called into question.”

Criticism of Dr Blossman had been fuelled by her colloquial language and her association with an “anti-intellectual” television genre, but her looks were the main factor.

Dr Atherton said Canadian psychology professor Judith Waters had identified a “beauty penalty” in academe, where it was important to look acceptable “but being gorgeous can be a problem”. Dr Blossman had highlighted the issue by being filmed having a nose job and botox treatment.

Dr Atherton said it would be impossible to study how many academics had cosmetic surgery, because they wouldn’t discuss the issue. “They’re entrenched in this idea that brains over beauty is what counts.

“They would fear being judged as less intellectual because they cared about that kind of thing – surely they could have been banging out another article rather than recovering from some procedure.”


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Shift to merit scholarships stirs debate

IN most parts of the US, states offer financial aid to incoming college students based on need. But Georgia has led a movement for two decades that turned that idea on its head - by offering scholarships entirely on merit.

Now that movement may be picking up steam, with sweeping effects on students. Last year, with the scholarship program facing financial distress, Georgia lawmakers decided to increase the academic requirements for scholarships. Administrators say the change will help keep the program solvent. But it also wound up funnelling a greater portion of the remaining aid to higher-income students.

Proponents of merit, or some combination of merit and need, say focusing on achievement helps reduce a so-called "brain drain" of talented residents leaving home states, and rewards those who study hard and apply themselves.

"Our society is built on meritocracy," said Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, an independent, Washington-based research institute. "What is true in real life in the job market should be true in education."

Though the trend rarely gets much attention and is obscured by increases in federal grants to poor students, 27 states have created some sort of merit-aid program since Georgia launched its own in 1993. Of those, 13 states based over half of their grant money on merit in 2010-2011, the latest year available. In Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota and Georgia, more than 85 per cent of grants were merit-based.

Now, with funding for the scholarships falling behind steady hikes in college tuition and in the number of kids receiving them, lawmakers in Tennessee, South Carolina, New Mexico and other states are weighing some tough calls on how to distribute their grants. For its part, Georgia rejected proposals by some lawmakers for an income cap and decided instead to require better grades and, for the first time, strong SAT or ACT test scores for full-tuition scholarships.

The move was applauded by lawmakers who said middle-income families with high-achieving kids deserve or need help paying tuition, which has more than doubled nationally over the past 10 years at four-year public colleges. But need-based backers say disadvantaged kids need aid to help break the cycle of poverty, by attending college and ultimately finding better employment. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the percentage of scholarship money to kids from affluent areas did pick up, in some cases sharply.

The debate taps into several hot-button topics. Many of the merit programs, for example, receive their funds from state lotteries, which are disproportionately funded by lower-income players. Critics also say the plans—which are largely, though not entirely, in southern states—can disproportionately hurt minorities.

"The money is being slowly taken away from the students who need it most," says Shannon McGhee, the associate director of financial planning at Mercer University, in Macon, Georgia. She says African-American and Hispanic students are most likely to benefit from need-based plans because "they have not necessarily had the same educational opportunities as their white peers".

Financially stressed students, of course, can get help from federal, need-based aid sources, but they too are being squeezed by rising college costs and demand. The federal Pell Grant program, which provided $36 billion in aid in the past fiscal year to low-income students, has expanded significantly in recent years, but the maximum grants covered on average only 64 per cent of tuition and fees at a public four-year-college this year, the lowest since the College Board began keeping track in 1981.

In all, US states provided about $11 billion in postsecondary student financial aid in the 2010-2011 academic year. States such as California, New York and Michigan allocate virtually 100 per cent of their scholarships to students where need is the primary component. But nationally, merit-based state funding—which was rare a few decades ago—now makes up 29 per cent of the scholarship dollars, highest on record, according to the nonpartisan National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs.

Leading the merit case has been Georgia, whose HOPE program—which stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally—started in 1993 after the state amended its constitution to create a lottery and directed the revenue toward education. To be eligible, students had to graduate with a 3.0 average. In a speech announcing the plan, the then-governor Zell Miller said HOPE was designed to help middle-income families and "bright students who would otherwise find it difficult to go to college."

The program briefly considered family income when it began, but when the lottery did better than expected, that was quickly abolished—a politically popular move then, and now, in the state. "It's based upon your hard work and that is what we need to be encouraging," said Georgia state Senator Cecil Staton, a Republican and chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.

College administrators say that while merit aid is helping the middle class, low-income students who miss the academic cut are either dropping out, slowing progress or taking on more debt. That was particularly noticeable this fall, they say, after lawmakers decided to save the financially strapped program by requiring full-tuition scholars to have a 3.7 average and a combined math and reading SAT score of at least 1,200, or a composite ACT score of 26. Those who graduated as a valedictorian or salutatorian can also qualify.

The full scholarships were renamed "Zell Miller" scholars. Traditional HOPE recipients, with GPAs between 3.0 and 3.7, or without the required test scores, are still eligible for aid, but smaller amounts adjusted annually based on lottery revenue.

The change made a difference to colleges catering to low-income populations. At Georgia State University, where four in 10 pupils come from families earning less than $30,000 a year, administrators were forced to drop dozens of students this fall for not paying tuition when their scholarship funds were cut. Many were able to come back, thanks to an appeal to donors, a school official said.

The Journal analysis of the change's impact looked at the home ZIP Codes of HOPE scholars for the past four years and the Miller scholars for the program's two years. Students from ZIP Codes with median incomes greater than $50,000 were nearly twice as likely to win HOPE scholarships as those from ZIP Codes with median incomes less than $50,000. But students from the better-off ZIP Codes were nearly three times as likely to win Zell Miller scholarships. The likelihood of winning a Zell Miller scholarship increased nearly uniformly with the income of the student's home ZIP Code.

One-fourth of Georgia's 27,626 Miller scholars to date live in just 15 of the state's roughly 700 ZIP Codes, all of which have median household incomes at least one-third higher than the state median of $49,347. Students in seven ZIP Codes—all in metropolitan Atlanta—with median incomes above $100,000 account for 10 per cent of Miller scholars, but just 3 per cent of Georgia's 15-to-19-year-olds, the Journal found.

State Senator Emanuel Jones, who is head of the Black Caucus, said lawmakers "discounted poor kids and kids of colour and it upsets me to no end".

Precise figures on the racial impact of merit funding in Georgia aren't available, since the state doesn't track that. Black enrolment at Georgia's public colleges fell 3.2 per cent  this fall, more than the overall 1.2 per cent enrolment decline. But experts say in any one year, several factors, from the economy to the job market, may explain that.

Outside of Georgia, at least one state—Tennessee—does report the racial makeup of merit-based scholars. It found that only 10 per cent of recipients were black, half the percentage of state residents ages 18 to 24 who are black. Some 84 per cent were white, compared with 72 per cent of college age whites in the state.

Some merit-backers have argued that these programs can reduce the so-called brain drain local economies suffer when too many talented graduates leave their home state. But a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that looked at 15 states with such plans found those eligible for the aid were only one to three percentage points more likely than peers who weren't eligible to remain in the state after college graduation.

The merit aid is "lowering the cost of college for students, but not changing what they would have done," said Damon Jones, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study.

Still, officials at some colleges in Georgia say they have seen a noticeable uptick in the student-body skills since merit programs started. Across Georgia's 35 public colleges and universities, HOPE recipients are much more likely to graduate than other students, according to state statistics. At the University of Georgia, the average GPA for entering freshmen was 3.26 last year, up from 2.7 in 1993, with a sizable increase in SAT scores as well.

"You can't directly connect HOPE but there is a lot of evidence that there is some sort of connection," said university spokesman Tom Jackson, a spokesman for the university, where the acceptance rate was 55 per cent this year, compared to 68 per cent when Georgia introduced HOPE.

The merit debate stirs other issues, including its source of funding. In April, the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute said counties with low and moderate average incomes spent the most on the state's lottery games but received proportionally fewer HOPE scholarships. Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University professor who has written a book on state lotteries, calls that a "stunning" example of redistribution.

"I am not moved by that particular argument," says Senator Staton, a Senate leader on education issues, referring to the points raised in the Georgia Budget and Policy report. "The government frankly does a lot of other things for them, if you're referring to low-income people."

Ultimately, the future shape of state scholarships will be decided in one state legislative house after another, as more programs face financial stress. In New Mexico, a state report in September said the merit-based lottery scholarship program will be broke by 2014. Similarly, Florida's own merit-based program, "Bright Futures," is being squeezed, says incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican. He has floated the idea of considering need, but concedes the idea might be "heresy" to his party and other merit backers.

In South Carolina, lawmakers have said it may be necessary to raise eligibility requirements or cap award amounts. State Senator John Courson, a Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee and leans toward capping award amounts, said the idea of adding means testing isn't on the table and wouldn't go over well in South Carolina. He points out the lottery was sold to voters on the merit-based notion.

"It goes to the basic thought that everyone should not necessarily go to college," he said, of the support for merit aid. "And that if you do it on a merit-based structure, then your best and brightest will stay in the state."

Neal McCluskey, education analyst for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, argues that neither form of aid is ultimately beneficial, saying both types drive colleges to raise tuition to capture the financial assistance. But states that do provide aid should most likely use a mix of merit and need-based criteria, he said.

The downside to merit aid only, he said, is that "often the people who can get it, those who have the high test scores, don't need it." But giving students need-based aid, without regard to whether they have a demonstrated aptitude for college-level work, amounts to "setting them up for failure," he said. "It ends up wasting their time and money as well as taxpayers' money."


My Plan for Eliminating School Shootings

Mike Adams

As a candidate for president of the United States, it is incumbent on me to make a statement regarding the Sandy Hook massacre and to explain how my policies would help prevent other such massacres should I become president. As I discuss this sensitive topic, it is also incumbent on me to sound more rational and articulate than the incumbent. That will not be difficult.

As president, I plan to attack the issue in two ways. First, I will use the bully pulpit to influence voters and state lawmakers. Second, I will take direct action to influence the federal judiciary.

Plan A is to try to persuade states to replace teacher certification with CCW permit certification. We all know that the teacher certification process is a racket. It just means taking more classes from "education" professors who lack substantive knowledge in any specific area of expertise. So instead of having a college degree and teacher certification, I believe that states should make teachers have a college degree and a concealed weapons permit. This will pay off in three distinct ways if states also change their laws to allow those with permits to carry on campus.

1. Reduced violence. First and foremost, concealed weapons permits decrease violence. The rationale is simple if we consider that crime only happens when a motivated offender encounters a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian. Everyone knows that the gunless are suitable targets for violent crime. This is particularly the case when there is no one around to guard them.

So my plan will turn these teachers into capable guardians. I really think everyone will benefit when teachers stop taking "social justice in the classroom" and other silly education classes in order to be certified to teach our kids. Simply put, there can be no social justice when children are being slaughtered in the schoolhouse.

2. More male teachers (and fewer metrosexual students). Some have suggested that most female teachers would not feel comfortable around guns. So they might be deterred from teaching if they have to go through weapons certification, which requires firing a weapon. This is not a problem as far as I am concerned.

For far too long, men have been grossly underrepresented in the teaching profession. This has had a profound impact on young men. From kindergarten to high school graduation, they are too often in the position of trying to please a female authority figure. This lack of balance affects their relationships with both women and men. A constant concern with pleasing women eventually turns a man into a woman. That is why we have so many young adult metrosexual males talking about their feelings.

Simply put, having gun toting male role models in the classroom will be good. Having your student taught by Ted Nugent just might keep him from becoming Ted Baxter.

3. Fewer liberals in the teaching profession. For years, conservatives have been looking for a cure to the problem of liberal indoctrination in our schools. You are reading the solution right now. Clearly, most liberals would rather be unemployed than to have to touch a weapon. The weapon is a reminder of the fallen of nature of man. Liberals know that if man is not good, then liberalism is wrong.

Liberals who care enough about liberalism to teach it for a living would rather be dead than wrong. Some might say I'm dead wrong about this one. Actually, I am alive and I am right. And you know it. That's why I'm going to be your next president.

Plan B: Speaking of the presidency, I will be tasked with choosing judges when I become president. When I do, there will be a Roe v. Wade litmus test. This will indirectly affect violence toward children in two distinct but interrelated ways.

1. Creating a culture of life in the long term. Liberal politicians like to pretend that they care about dead children - especially after a school shooting occurs. The very day some lunatic kills twenty children in a school shooting, liberals are right there on television lobbying for stricter gun control measures. The very next day they are lobbying to preserve abortion rights - even though the procedure kills 3000 innocent children daily. We seldom give much thought to the hypocrisy - even though the unborn child dismembered with a scalpel is every bit as human as the kindergartner shot with a gun.

We did not get this calloused overnight. And our hearts will not be softened overnight. It will take years of decisions by judges who understand that no innocent child deserves to die - not even if his dad was a rapist. My judicial appointments will all be sworn to uphold life. There will be no diversity or tolerance on this issue during my administration.

2. The Roe litmus test immediately filters out anti second amendment judges. Have you ever noticed that people who think professional wrestling is real are the same people who think the moon landing was fake? Similarly, judges who believe the word "abortion" is written in the constitution are the same ones who cannot see the word "arms" written in the constitution. By filtering out pro abortion judges, we will also filter out pro gun control judges.

Forgive me if my response to the recent school shootings is terse or if my approach to reducing them seems simple. In some ways, the issue is very simple. But turning the tide on the problem of school shootings will require patience and resolve. With most politicians, that’s where things get complicated. But I plan to keep shooting straight with you, no matter how unpopular my policies may be.

In a nutshell, I believe that effective gun control means shooting with both hands on your weapon. It doesn't mean tying the hands of capable guardians and turning innocent children into suitable targets for motivated offenders.


Britain's General studies exams 'should be axed', MP warns

 The number of teenagers taking A-levels in general studies has more than halved in a decade amid fresh claims that the qualification has “had its day”.

 Figures show that the number of entries for the course – first introduced in the late 50s – plummeted to just 35,500 this year.

 It marked a record low for the qualification which had been the most popular A-level subject in Britain just 12 years ago.

 General studies is counted in official league tables and can still be used to dictate entry to some university courses.

 But critics claim that it lacks rigour, with some pupils sitting exams after receiving no formal tuition or with little more than regular general knowledge quizzes as practice.

 Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood and member of the Commons Education Select Committee, called for general studies to be scrapped altogether.

 “General studies is a qualification which has had its day," he said. "It should no longer be used to prop up performance in schools, especially when we live in a world where universities and employers are demanding rigorous qualifications that both have meaning and require standards of excellence.

 "If we are to ensure that pupils’ valuable time isn’t wasted, we must ensure that they are focusing on the subjects that deliver a clear pathway to higher education and the workplace. General studies has no place in this new world, where the type of qualifications you take matters more than ever.”

 General studies was introduced in 1959 amid fears that A-levels lacked breadth.

 The course was intended to give pupils a grounding in a range of disciplines such as the arts, humanities and social and physical sciences to supplement their three specialist A-level subjects.

 Current course specifications cover a range of issues such as world religions, different approaches to the media, British politics and the monarchy, the nature of scientific investigation, space and matter and the changing role of the family.

 But figures reveal the subject has been marked by a serious decline in recent years.

 Data from exam boards shows that 89,805 pupils took A-level exams in general studies in 2000 – making it more popular than English and maths.

 But numbers more than halved to 40,984 in 2011 and dropped by a further 13 per cent this year to 35,558.

 Separate data published after a Parliamentary question by Mr Skidmore suggests it is still being used to "prop up" league tables.

 It emerged that 33,154 students gained straight As in all subjects last year but the numbers dropped to 32,114 after general studies entries were stripped out.

 Despite concerns over the subject, some top Russell Group universities still use it as part of their admissions process.

 Sheffield University said general studies was considered for entry to some undergraduate courses “where taken alongside considered general two A-levels”, while Liverpool said it was “equivalent to other A-level subjects, however some departments will not accept it”.

 Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “General studies was a solution to a perceived problem that we didn’t have a great deal of breadth in the A-level system.

 “But it quickly became seen simply as a way for bright students to gain an extra A-level with very little effort and an opportunity for less able kids to collect a soft qualification.”

 Research published by Prof Smithers in the 90s found some schools entered pupils for general studies exams with no formal tuition, while some played board games such as Trivial Pursuit in preparation.

 A spokeswoman for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, Britain's biggest exam board, said entries were declining because of competition from other subjects and qualifications, adding: "General studies teaches and assesses critical thinking, argument, debate and research – all the skills that universities ask for.

 "We believe that the vast majority of universities include it in offers and many, including the Russell Group, use it as a differentiator between applicants with otherwise similar grade profiles."


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Public School Teacher Mocks Female Student’s Romney T-Shirt, Accuses Her of Supporting the KKK

It’s not always fun and easy being a young Republican, let alone an enthusiastic Mitt Romney supporter. Whoa:
The parents of the Charles Carroll High School student ridiculed and ordered by her teacher to remove a t-shirt supporting Mitt Romney sued the teacher and school district on Friday, claiming the act violated the girl's civil rights.

Filed in federal court in Philadelphia, the suit says the district ignored Samantha Pawlucy's right to free speech, let other students threaten and harass her and subjected her "to emotional distress, simply because she exercised her First Amendment rights."

Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the district, said it would not comment on the lawsuit.

Pawlucy, a 16-year-old sophomore from Port Richmond, drew national headlines from the furor that erupted when she wore a pink "Romney-Ryan" shirt during a dress-down day at school in September.

According to the lawsuit, Pawlucy had worn the shirt all day when she walked into geometry teacher Lynette Gaymon's classroom.

The teacher allegedly told the teen that Charles Carroll was a "Democratic" school and that her shirt was akin to one spouting a logo for the Ku Klux Klan. She ordered Pawlucy to remove the shirt, then enlisted an aide who tried to draw an X through the candidates' name on the shirt.

Pawlucy's parents complained to school officials and the story went viral.

Gaymon later publicly apologized to the girl. But Pawlucy claims she endured ongoing harassment and threats and was unable to return to the school.

What kind of “educator” acts this way? Sure, teachers can certainly disagree with the political opinions of their students. But to publicly embarrass -- and ridicule -- a young girl for supporting a major party candidate for president is beyond comprehension. As I understand it, this geometry teacher doesn’t even attempt to engage her student in any type of meaningful discussion or dialogue. Instead, she reflexively resorts to fear tactics and intimidation. And while it’s difficult to imagine filing a full-blown lawsuit against my teacher if I found myself in a similar situation, I can fully understand why the student’s family believed this was necessary. The audaciousness of this “grown-up’s” behavior is simply astonishing.

Meanwhile, it’s comforting to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent these days: ridiculing young minds and bullying teenagers. Then again, I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised.


British schools to be banned from taking pupils' fingerprints without parents' consent

Schools are to be banned from collecting pupils' biometric data without the consent of parents, it was announced yesterday.

Hundreds of secondary schools in England use fingerprints or face recognition systems for the issuing of library books or to allow pupils to enter certain buildings.

Last night Michael Gove's Department for Education said that from next September, schools will be forced to obtain parental permission before taking fingerprints.

The ban will also cover the use of data for face recognition as well as iris and retina scanning.

According to the DfE, approximately 30 per cent of secondary schools and 5 per cent of primary schools use fingerprinting or face-scanning systems for a number of reasons, including recording attendance, allowing pupils to check out library books, pay for lunch or accessing buildings.

Youngsters place their thumbs on a scanner and money is deducted from their lunch account, or they are registered as borrowing a book.

Schools minister David Laws said: 'Many parents do not want schools and colleges collecting personal information from their children without permission.

'These tough new rules will mean that, for the first time, parents will have the power to stop schools from using their child's biometric data - like fingerprinting or facial recognition - unless they agree first.'

The new provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will apply to all England's schools, sixth form colleges and further education institutions where education is provided to children.

Schools will have to make sure any data collected from pupils is treated with the appropriate care, and make alternative arrangements for children who refuse to have their data taken.

Three years ago, children at a comprehensive school in north west London were 'frogmarched' to have their fingerprints taken without their parents being consulted.

The collection of biometric data was part of a new cashless system to pay for lunches at Capital City Academy in the borough of Brent.

One mother said: 'My son was frogmarched by one of the teachers to be fingerprinted even though he did not want to.

'I was just furious. There has been no consultation with the parents. They just went ahead and did it.'

The school was forced to apologise and wipe all the data. It then collected fingerprints again, but this time only from pupils whose parents consented.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has spoken out against the collection of biometric data without consent.

The union passed a motion against it in 2010.

Hank Roberts, an ATL executive member, said at the time that civil liberties were being eroded, adding: 'It's completely and fundamentally wrong.'

Azra Haque, a teacher in Brent, added: 'Today's children are in general much more closely monitored than previous generations. We need a strong and explicit law in this regard.'

Last night Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, welcomed the government's announcement.

'This is very positive news for parents concerned about the explosion in the desire of schools to track and log pupils in increasingly intrusive ways,' he said.

'The important point is that a huge number of schools will have already installed this technology before this change and they must not be allowed to ride roughshod over parental concerns.'


Traditional school nativity plays make a comeback in Britain

 Primary school nativity plays are making a comeback with parents demanding a return to the traditional Christmas story, new figures suggest.

 For years, primary school Christmas plays have been as likely to revolve around a snowman, an elf or a reindeer than the baby Jesus, as teachers opt to avoid the Christian story in favour of secular ones.

 But new figures suggest the traditional nativity play is making a comeback, with parents demanding a return to performances based on the biblical tale.

 An increase in the number staged this month which focus on the Christian nativity has been reported by companies which provide schools with scripts for plays.

 The comeback follows years of concern that teachers were ditching the story of the birth of Jesus in favour of secular productions for fear of upsetting pupils of other faiths.

 Musicline, which sells both nativity and non-nativity Christmas plays to schools, said that this year the nativities accounted for 58 per cent of sales, up from 50 per cent last year.

 Peter Chester, from the firm, said: “Ten years ago it used to be all straight nativity. But over the years that changed. In some local authority areas, like Bradford, only about 10 per cent of orders would be for titles which included the Christian element.

 “This year though, we are really going strong on nativities. I get the feeling that people are increasingly fed up with political correctness and parents are saying we want something traditional.”

 The rise in nativity plays is being led by modern interpretations of the traditional story, with titles such as Hey Ewe – which is told from a sheep’s perspective – and Away in a Manger, the story of Maurice the proud mule who has to share his manger with a stream of visitors.

 Both titles have been written by Out of the Ark, the country’s largest provider of festive scripts for schools, with 35 titles – almost all of them nativities.

 In a sign of the return of traditional tales, the firm has seen overall sales rise by 12 per cent this year.

 Matt Crossey, from the company, said: “Parents want to see their kids dressed up and taking part in a nativity – it is a rite of passage.

 “We keep hearing about the 'death of the nativity’ but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The volumes are staggering. I don’t know of anyone that isn’t at least doing a nativity with reception or year 1.”

 The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Church of England’s board of education, said: “It’s heartening to see a rise in demand for traditional Christian nativity material. After all, if Jesus wasn’t there we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas.

 “At the same time, in recent years we’ve seen more and more families enjoying traditional crib services. The way we choose to tell the Christmas story reflects what we think Christmas is all about.”

 Cathy Bell, head teacher at Esher Church School, in Surrey, where pupils performed A Wriggly Nativity – which tells the traditional story and features angels, kings, shepherds, donkeys, stars and sheep among its cast – said: “We have an increasingly mixed intake but it doesn’t really matter – it is important that every child knows and understands the story behind Christmas.”


Monday, December 24, 2012

The rewards of being a successful brown-nose (He's a great fundraiser)

After all that crawling and glad-handing, I suppose he needs something to prop up his pathetic ego.  He's got the ethical sensitivity of a flea, however

Bloomberg News concludes its six-part series on public employee pay with an article featuring the president of Ohio State University, Gordon Gee:

"The Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee lives in a 9,630-square-foot Tudor Revival mansion that was renovated for him, featuring a great hall, pool, elevator and tennis court.

Gee made $1.9 million last year as the highest-paid public university president in the U.S. He also logged $1.7 million in expenses in fiscal 2011, including airfare for trips in private jets, country club dues and fundraising parties at his residence.

"He's overpaid," said CJ Jones, 19, a junior public affairs major at Ohio State, whose tuition has risen 9.7 percent during her 2 1/2 years at the university, based in Columbus, the state capital. "You should want that job for a sense of Buckeye pride. Why do you have to suck so many resources from our budget? I know kids graduating from OSU with $90,000 in debt, and it's a public university."...

Gee also enjoys perks not received by other public officials. He lives rent-free in a fully staffed house. He rides private jets, including a $7,191 flight covering the 107 miles (172 kilometers) from Columbus, Ohio, to Cincinnati, according to expense reports obtained by Bloomberg. He billed the university for everything from $2,427 for a cabin upgrade during a 2008 alumni cruise in the Baltics to vitamins. School officials said Gee's expenses are paid by endowments or other non-public discretionary funds, not by tuition or tax dollars. [The Bloomberg article could have noted here, but didn't, that the endowment benefits from being tax-exempt.]

The Bloomberg article doesn't get into it, but there's a pattern here. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2006: "Vanderbilt paid more than $6 million, never approved by the full board, to renovate and enlarge Braeburn, the Greek-revival university-owned mansion where Mr. Gee and his wife, Constance, live. The university pays for the Gees' frequent parties and personal chef there. The annual tab exceeds $700,000."

The Bloomberg article also fails to credit a Dayton Daily News investigation by Laura Bischoff published in September that turned up many of the details reported by Bloomberg. That article reported: "At Brown University, where he served as president from 1998 to 2000, he was criticized after the university spent $3 million renovating a home for Gee, including $400,000 that paid for a conservatory that was built in Great Britain and shipped to Providence."

At this point, the guy has done lavish presidential home renovations at three universities — Brown, Vanderbilt, and Ohio State.

[Update: See the comments below, pointing out it's actually four — "A 4,500-square-foot stucco mansion sprung up east of the Williams Village twin towers in Boulder in 1987, the first official president's residence at the University of Colorado in decades. The home, which cost $700,000 to build, was intended as a way for CU regents to recruit Gordon Gee as president by giving him and subsequent leaders a stately place for fund-raising events."]

I'd be in favor of a law — call it Gee's Law — that says if a college or university spends more than $1 million, indexed to inflation, renovating or building a residence for its president, the college or university gets an immediate 25% cut to its federal research and Pell Grant funding. If individual donors or tuition-paying parents want to fund this sort of thing, fine, but money is fungible, and there's just no reason to borrow money from China or future generations or raise taxes to pay for this sort of thing.


Montana Parents: Christmas Songs Performed at School Concert are a ‘Form of Bullying’

Parents in the Missoula County, Montana school district have taken bullying accusations to a whole new level. They’re claiming Christmas songs that refer to “our Lord” are “unfair, unconstitutional and [are] a form of bullying,” according to the Billings Gazette.

The parents say there are all sorts of faiths represented in the community and children singing the songs at a recent school concert “were uncomfortable.”

The school district responded by saying, “During the holidays we, as a school district, are very cognizant regarding our district policy pertaining to the holidays and the importance of separation of church and state,” Superintendent Alex Apostle said. “But at the same time, we as a school system, want our children to enjoy the holiday season. In the process, we are obviously respectful of the beliefs and cultures of all children and their families.”

Responding to an anonymous letter submitted by parents, Apostle said the concert was no different than last year.

The letter stated, “We have no problem with it being called a Christmas concert, it’s just the fact the material should be secular. Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. These are things that offend no one, but when the children are singing about their lord and savior, Jesus Christ ... public school is not the place,” according to the paper.

Like it or not, the Christmas holiday was based upon the birth of Jesus Christ and most Americans celebrate the holiday for that reason. It’s an ingrained part of our culture that the vast majority of citizens observe and support.

It’s certainly true that the rights of minorities must be respected. But do the traditions and customs of the vast majority have to be trampled on to accomplish that goal?

The separation of church and state says that government shall not designate an official state religion. There was no attempt by the Missoula County school board to designate an official state religion.

Case closed. Merry Christmas.


British Maths graduates get £20,000 lure to be teachers

 About 150 grants are to be offered to graduates with first–class or 2:1 degrees as part of a government drive to improve standards.

 The incentive is being offered by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society and the Royal Statistical Society. Applicants will be required to show a strong mathematical background, an excellent understanding of mathematics and statistics at school level, and a commitment to education and teaching. The institutions will offer the graduates support in training and assist their careers.

 The scholarships are part of the Coalition's teacher training strategy, following similar schemes for physics, chemistry and computer science teachers.

 Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said: "High–quality mathematics education is at the heart of improving our society and our economy. By working together, these institutions will help deliver a scholarship scheme to make sure we have excellent mathematics teachers in this country with deep subject knowledge.

 "It will help raise the status of the teaching profession and also make a huge difference in the lives of children."

 Following earlier reforms designed to improve teacher training, the Department for Education said 62 per cent of those entering training to teach maths had 2:1 degrees or better, compared with 51 per cent in 2010–11.

 Charlie Taylor, the chief executive of the Teaching Agency, the body that oversees training, said: "We want the brightest and best graduates with a strong mathematics background to join the profession. These scholarships will help us to do this." Nigel Steele, the honorary secretary for education at the IMA, said: "Mathematics, through its applications, already contributes massively to the economy. Research also shows that those who do well at mathematics at school are likely to earn more than their peers.

 "The scholarship scheme designed by the IMA, on behalf of its collaborating bodies, will attract highly–qualified graduates who might not otherwise have considered teaching as a career.

 "These scholars will help strengthen the mathematics teaching force in its capacity to inspire those who will determine the future."


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Should a school be named after an habitual criminal and multiple murderer? 

If he's Hispanic and it's California, the answer is Yes.  It tends to show how deficient of real heroes Hispanics are,  And not a great way to promote social integration

According to a Fox News report on Tuesday, the Alisal Union School District in Salinas, California approved its naming of a new school after Tiburcio Vasquez who has been historically reported to having been hanged for killing at least two people in the 1800s – possibly more. While the news of the naming of the school by a murderer is found to be a horrendous move by many, it is being defended others, including the Alisal Union School District School Board and the Superintendent of the District, John Ramirez.

According to Superintendent John Ramirez:  "Tiburcio Vasquez, along with others, was an individual who was a revolutionary. He was not okay with the oppression."

Yet, historians reveal a very violent past for Vasquez by claiming that he was a very young criminal, beginning his crime wave at the age of 14. Historical records also indicate that he may have well been the murderer of as many as six people before being hanged for having killed two. One of the persons he murdered was historically reported to be a law enforcement officer.

Persons on the committee responsible for naming the new elementary school say that Vasquez was misunderstood, claiming that Vasquez was a good man and is a very good role model for the young people of their community in East Salinas.

One member of the committee, Francisco Estrada said:  "Mr. Vasquez… was not a murderer. He was framed by the system at that time. The history was written by mainstream whites. It wasn’t written by Californians or people of Mexican descent."

History books state that Tiburcio Vasquez was born April 10, 1835 in Monterey, California and died on March 19, 1875. He was an active California "bandido" from 1854 to 1874 after having fell under the influence of Anastacio Garcia who was one of California's most dangerous bandits.

In one historical report, it claims that Vasquez was present when Garcia murdered Monterey Constable William Hardmount, and he became an outlaw due to his fear of being accused of the murder.

Of Vasquez' crimes that he admitted, he said his crimes were the result of discrimination and claimed his crimes were his defending of Mexican-American rights. Yet, his crimes involved burglaries and organizing four deadly prison breaks which left 20 convicted criminals dead. History claims that Tiburcio Vasquez attempted to put his criminal past behind him at one point in his life, but he was not successful in doing so and returned to crime.

While history claims Vasquez was a crime-ridden murderer, some are obviously maintaining that he was a hero. And now, he will have a school named after him in Salinas, California - a community that has a 75% Mexican population.

The debate continues this week as the school board in Salinas unanimously approved the name of the new school.


British parents defend five-year-old 'angel' who kicked teacher in face

Defending his behaviour is probably the worst thing they could do

Parents defend five-year-old "angel" who has been permanently expelled for kicking his teacher in the face, claiming the school has "thrown him on the scrap heap"

Logan Steed was expelled from school after stealing fruit, throwing school equipment and hitting, biting and punching pupils and staff.   On one occasion he forced the evacuation of an entire classroom at Powers Hall Infant School in Witham, Essex, for the safety of other children.

But the final straw came when Logan was sitting on a chair and kicked his teacher in the face as she bent over.

His parents, who are separated, say he is an "angel" at home and claim the school has "thrown him on the scrap heap" rather than give him the special attention he needs.

His Father, Cameron, 27, said: "They said they had to exclude him to ensure the safety of the staff and other pupils.  "But I don't understand how a five-year-old can pose so much of a threat.  "The school deserves some credit because they have worked with us, but they should not have given up on Logan. Not so soon. He is only five.

"They must have been able to help us find an alternative. Once you expel such a young child it is with them for their whole life.   "It feels like the school has not stuck to their end of the deal.   "At home Logan is a happy, polite kid. He helps me with the cleaning. He is a happy little lad.

"Logan used to come home and tell us about what he had enjoyed at school that day - now he has been thrown on the scrap heap."

Logan's unruly behaviour became apparent on his first day at primary school in September 2011 when he was aged just four.   During his first year he was suspended four times after being accused of violence and throwing fruit around the classroom.

The boy, who splits his week between his parents' homes, was placed on a report system with daily monitoring emails exchanged between the head and home.

Logan's parents took him to psychologists on the advice of teachers.  He was tested for a number of conditions including Asperger's Syndrome, but the results were all negative.

He was also sent to doctors when teachers feared his preoccupation with fruit was related to hunger.   But medics found no problem with his health or diet.

A headteacher's report dated November 20 states: "Logan's recent behaviour has involved him kicking, biting, pinching and punching adults and children and throwing school equipment or threatening to throw school equipment at staff and children.  "School records show that on the first day in our school (06/09/11) he hit, kicked and pushed other children and threw things around the room."

The letter also explains that Logan had a good relationship with his reception teacher, but she could no longer be in charge of him when she fell pregnant for her own safety.

The school took several steps to avoid expulsion, including one-to-one support from the head teacher, sticker charts, allowing him to do his activities in any order.   But Logan was permanently expelled after kicking a female teacher - who has still not been identified to the parents.

Logan's mother, Laura, 22, said: "Before Logan started school we did no know he had this side to him. It is like we are talking about two completely different boys.  "At home he does exactly what he is told and we have never seen him do any of the things that school say he did.  "He is a really clever boy and now that is being wasted. We would do anything for him."

Logan is now receiving just one hour of tuition a day at a specialist school.  But his parents believe he should be at a mainstream school, learning to socialise properly with other children his age.

They have the right to appeal the decision to expel Logan but plan not to because they are worried about the reception he would now receive at the school.

Headteacher Claire Edwards yesterday said her staff and pupils "deserve to work and learn in a safe place."  She said: "The decision to permanently exclude a child is never taken lightly and one I take with great sadness.

"This school takes a firm stance on the safety of pupils and staff and assaults on either cannot and will not be tolerated.
"The school has been supportive of this child's needs and we have tried to work with the parents of this pupil to accommodate his behaviour.   "However, I have a duty of care to all the pupils and my staff, and they deserve to work and learn in a safe place."

A spokeswoman for Essex County Council said: "Essex County Council cannot discuss individual cases, but there is a specific team who work with schools and parents to resolve concerns and seek the best possible support and provision for every child and young person."


What DOES it take to get jailed? Father who abused and punched a headmistress only has to pay £100

A thug who launched a violent assault on a headmistress when she told off his son for racial abuse walked free from court yesterday.  Paul Stratford punched and swore at Zita McCormick after she told him his eight-year-old son Brendan would be excluded for a day.

Flanked by colleagues, the teacher told the 31-year-old to calm down. Instead he made for her, punching her and pushing her backward.

Despite the gravity of the offence, magistrates decided to impose only a community sentence, telling Stratford to pay his victim £100. In another astonishing case yesterday, a Romanian thief who ran a £3million cashpoint scam with 9,000 victims also escaped jail.  Leonid Rotaru was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Last night, an education expert said law and order seemed to have ‘gone out of the window’. Another said Stratford, who already had a conviction for violence, should have been jailed to deter others from attacking teachers.

The incident took place in June after Brendan was accused of a racial outburst against a Somali boy at Seven Fields Primary in Swindon.

He also swore at pupils and staff, in what Mrs McCormick said was his third act of bad behaviour that week at the 222-pupil school.

After calling the boy’s mother to ask for him to be picked up at 9.30am, his father arrived and launched his attack in the foyer.

A court heard he demanded of Mrs McCormick: ‘Why have you called my son a f****** thug?’

After being asked to calm down, he repeated: ‘You called my son a f****** thug’ and ordered the teacher not to wave her finger at his boy. He then launched the attack that was ended only by the intervention of the caretaker.

Mrs McCormick said before the sentencing: ‘It was very frightening but you work on adrenalin.  ‘I could not let this man get into the school.’

She revealed she has even asked parents to take anger management classes: ‘They can’t control the anger they have. The school is where they vent anger at public servants who are there to protect and educate their children.’

Stratford, who was found guilty of common assault, was given a nine-month community order by Swindon magistrates. Chairman of the bench David Sinclair told him to pay £400 in costs and £100 in compensation to his victim.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said Stratford’s behaviour was totally unacceptable.

‘Sometimes heads need to make tough decisions and they need to have society’s full support to make such decisions for the sake of all their pupils,’ he added. ‘These types of attacks against public servants doing their jobs should be punished very severely.’

Chris McGovern, a former headmaster who chairs the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This assault happened in a school and that should make the offence more serious. If schools aren’t safe then there is no hope.