Friday, January 04, 2013

Boy, six, suspended from school after pointing his finger in gun gesture at classmate and saying 'pow'

A six-year-old boy has been suspended from school after pointing his finger like a gun and saying 'pow' at a classmate.  The student reportedly made the gesture at another student and was suspended for one day in December.

The matter is being discussed today at a conference at Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland after pupils returned from holiday.

The child made the gesture one week after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut where 20 students and six teaching staff died.

Roscoe R. Nix school's assistant principal Renee Garraway wrote to the boy's parents and told them that it was not the first time the boy had threatened another student.

Robin Ficker, the boy's attorney, told the Washington Examiner: 'What they're doing is looking at the worst possible interpretation of a young, naive six-year-old.  'This is a little child who can't form the intent to do anything like that.'

The lawyer said the child's parents were not aware of previous behavioral issues and were concerned that the incident would remain on his record indefinitely.

The ruling can be appealed within ten days. MailOnline was awaiting a response from the elementary school.

There have been heightened tensions at schools across the U.S. since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14.

Sandy Hook students attended a neighboring school in the town of Monroe today for an open house ahead of classes beginning tomorrow.


New research helps explain why girls do better in school

Put bluntly, they benefit from favoritism

Why do girls get better grades in elementary school than boys—even when they perform worse on standardized tests?

New research from the University of Georgia and Columbia University published in the current issue of Journal of Human Resources suggests that it's because of their classroom behavior, which may lead teachers to assign girls higher grades than their male counterparts.

"The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as 'approaches toward learning,'" said Christopher Cornwell, head of economics in the UGA Terry College of Business and one of the study's authors. "You can think of 'approaches to learning' as a rough measure of what a child's attitude toward school is: It includes six items that rate the child's attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization. I think that anybody who's a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that."

The study, co-authored by Cornwell and David Mustard at UGA and Jessica Van Parys at Columbia, analyzed data on more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It examined students' performance on standardized tests in three categories—reading, math and science—linking test scores to teachers' assessments of their students' progress, both academically and more broadly.

The data show, for the first time, that gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict. The authors attribute this misalignment to what they called non-cognitive skills, or "how well each child was engaged in the classroom, how often the child externalized or internalized problems, how often the child lost control and how well the child developed interpersonal skills."

They even report evidence of a grade bonus for boys with test scores and behavior like their girl counterparts.

This difference can have long-reaching effects, Cornwell said. "The trajectory at which kids move through school is often influenced by a teacher's assessment of their performance, their grades. This affects their ability to enter into advanced classes and other kinds of academic opportunities, even post-secondary opportunities," he said. "It's also typically the grades you earn in school that are weighted the most heavily in college admissions. So if grade disparities emerge this early on, it's not surprising that by the time these children are ready to go to college, girls will be better positioned."

Research about gender differences in the classroom and beyond has grabbed headlines recently. Titles like Hannah Rosin's "The End of Men and the Rise of Women" and Kay Hymowitz's "Manning Up" have spent months on best-seller lists and inspired countless discussions in the media. We seem to have gotten to a point in the popular consciousness where people are recognizing the story in these data: Men are falling behind relative to women. Economists have looked at this from a number of different angles, but it's in educational assessments that you make your mark for the labor market," Cornwell said. "Men's rate of college going has slowed in recent years whereas women's has not, but if you roll the story back far enough, to the 60s and 70s, women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It's at a point now where you've got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors' degrees awarded every year."

But despite changing college demographics, the new data may not be reflecting anything fundamentally new. "My argument is that this has always been true about boys and girls. Girls didn't all of a sudden become more engaged and boys didn't suddenly become more rambunctious," Cornwell said. "Their attitudes toward learning were always this way. But it didn't show up in educational attainment like it does today because of all the factors that previously discouraged women's participation in the labor force, such as a lack of access to reliable birth control."

What remains unclear, however, is how to combat this discrepancy. "The most common question we've gotten is whether or not the gender of the teacher matters in regards to grading students," Cornwell said. "But that's a question we can't answer because there's just not enough data available. As you can probably guess, the great majority of elementary school teachers are women."


The failing British primary school that asks pupils to stay till 6pm: Headmaster introduces longer hours in bid to transform results

One of the worst-performing primary schools in the country has introduced a 45-hour week for pupils in a bid to transform results.  Pupils at Great Yarmouth Primary Academy stay at school from 7.45am until 6pm - longer than the standard working week.

Under the radical timetable, they enjoy a free programme of after-school activities ranging from horse-riding to cookery, followed by supervised time in which to complete their homework and read.

In its former incarnation as Greenacre Primary, the Norfolk school was among the bottom 200 performers out of 15,000 primaries nationally and was condemned by inspectors as failing in 2010.

The new programme was introduced last September as the school became a semi-independent academy sponsored by millionaire businessman Theodore Agnew.

At first parents were horrified by the idea, with 100 signing a petition to block the changes.

But headmaster Bill Holledge says the extended school day is already leading to ‘real improvement’ in children’s results just a term after it was introduced.

School starts at 8.55am, although pupils are able to attend a free breakfast club from 7.45am.

The standard school day finishes at 3.30pm but those aged seven to 11 are able to stay on for a free programme of extra-curricular activities in sport, drama or music.

Classes include horse-riding, cookery, cello lessons, first aid, street dance and trips to Cambridge University to study rocket engineering.

At 5pm, youngsters in the final two years of the school - nine to 11-year-olds in years five and six - spend a further hour completing homework or practising reading under supervision from teaching assistants.

The extended timetable was introduced with the aim of giving pupils the same opportunities as youngsters from more advantaged backgrounds and those in private schools.

It was also intended to help working parents by allowing them to collect their children at 6pm instead of 3.30pm.

The experiment initially proved controversial with parents who were concerned it would rob children of family time and leave them exhausted.

A petition opposing the scheme attracted more than 100 signatures and 13 pupils were withdrawn from the school before it became an academy, with some parents openly blaming the shift to a longer school day.

But Mr Holledge said pupils had embraced the scheme.  ‘It’s been really positive. The vast majority of the pupils are staying and benefiting from the activities,’ he said.

‘The study time part has been tremendously successful and we’re seeing real improvement in the pupils’ attainment.  ‘It’s very settled and calm like it’s been in place forever.

‘To start with it felt like a scary adventure, but now it’s what we do and parents have been very supportive.  ‘I would say the confidence change has been almost more marked than the academic.

‘The drama and dance has been very productive and given them confidence. They’re more conversational and sociable now.’

The extended timetable is being championed by Mr Agnew, an insurance industry executive, who has personally funded the enrichment programme to the tune of £50,000 this year, rising to £100,000 next.

Explaining the rationale for the scheme, the Tory party donor lamented a widespread ‘apartheid’ between the educational haves and have-nots.  ‘Our vision is to show that no matter how deprived a child’s background, given a good, broad and structured education there is no reason why they cannot emerge from their primary schooling as every bit as capable and alive to the opportunities that life will present to them as those from more privileged backgrounds,’ he said.  ‘I am determined to end the apartheid in education that is so commonplace in this country.’

Greenacre Primary had been under-performing for several years with a succession of head teachers quickly moving on.

The school, where significant numbers of pupils qualify for free meals due to low household income, was finally taken off the failing list in November 2011 under the leadership of Mr Holledge. It became a sponsored academy nearly a year later with a brief to rapidly improve pupil results.

The school is among growing numbers moving to an extended day after Education Secretary Michael Gove backed the idea last year, to the fury of teaching unions.  ‘We are all in favour of longer school days, and potentially shorter summer holidays,’ he said.

At Great Yarmouth Primary Academy, there is no compulsion on teachers to take part. Study time at the end of day is staffed by classroom assistants, who are paid extra.

Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust which runs the academy, said the scheme was helping children to ‘grow in confidence’ and ‘stand taller’.

Initial monitoring of pupils’ results suggested it was already reaping benefits, she said.  'In the independent sector it costs £22,000-a-year to get this kind of quality education,’ she added.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fiscal Cliff Deal Spares Higher Education Research Funding, Tuition Tax Credit

The deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" spared the American Opportunity Tax Credit and extended the measure for five years, EdWeek reports. Born of the 2009 stimulus bill, the American Opportunity Tax Credit allows middle- and low-income families a tax deduction of up to $2,500 a year in education expenses for four years. It can trim the overall cost of a college degree by $10,000.

The fiscal cliff agreement also makes permanent the Bush-era tax cuts for couples earning under $450,000 and individuals earning under $400,000.

"Under this law, more than 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses will not see their income taxes go up. Millions of families will continue to receive tax credits to help raise their kids and send them to college," President Obama said Tuesday night after the House voted on the fiscal cliff deal.

Without the bill's passage, an 8.2 percent across-the-board cut to domestic discretionary programs and a 7.6 percent cut for mandatory spending programs would have immediately affected several funding streams critical to universities, including sources of scholarship programs and research grants. Affected programs included the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense aid to veterans to attend college. Those sequestration cuts are now delayed for two months. (Pell Grants were not affected because they were not subject to sequestration.)

Even with the delay in sequestration, education funding still faces cuts in 2013. The federal government's continuing budget resolution comes due at the end of March, and Republicans in Congress are demanding budget cuts in exchange for any raise in the debt ceiling. Federal research money would be the most likely casualty of future budget cuts, along with changes in who is eligible for financial aid programs.

But the president warned against any further spending reductions Tuesday night after the fiscal cliff bill passed, saying, "We can't simply cut our way to prosperity," and referring specifically to higher education.

"We can't keep cutting things like basic research and new technology and still expect to succeed in a 21st century economy," Obama said. "So we're going to have to continue to move forward in deficit reduction, but we have to do it in a balanced way, making sure that we are growing even as we get a handle on our spending."


I’ll buy el cheapo food and clothes rather than take my son out of his British private school

A real mother reports from grim Britain, where a huge overload of bureaucracy makes the living standard  lower every year

An email bearing the dreaded subject line ‘School Fee Bill’ pinged into my inbox. My heart sank as I wondered how my husband Christy and I were going to pay it. Would this be the month we finally couldn’t?

Our financial problems have been brewing for years. With twin daughters now in their 30s and 16-year-old Joe approaching his GCSEs, Christy and I have been paying school fees for more than 20 years.

Average fees in our area of South-West London range from £12,000 to £19,500 a year — which is an awful lot of money to find in the midst of a global economic downturn.

Of course, many families are struggling, yet economists say we are cutting back on the basics rather than forgoing our luxuries. I know we are — for what could be more luxurious than paying for private education when there are good state schools out there?

Many people will think the hundreds of thousands of pounds we’ve spent on our children’s education wasteful — but it is the one thing on which we refuse to compromise. And in order to continue giving Joe the education I think he deserves, I’m willing to sacrifice all the other trappings of my middle-class lifestyle.

I’ve ditched expensive (delicious!) Waitrose food and started buying my groceries at Aldi. I’ve swapped designer frocks from Harvey Nichols for cheap High Street brands, and have even turned my beautiful flower garden into a home-grown vegetable patch — all so we can pay those school fees.

It was fortunate that my husband and I were in agreement. Had we held opposite cultural views on private schooling, or been divorced, I don’t know how we would have managed.

And while many people would suggest we just send Joe to the local comprehensive, children only get one shot at education — and I didn’t want to throw away my son’s.

We did look at the state alternatives, but they just didn’t seem up to it. They had a tangible ‘poverty of expectation’, to use a fashionable phrase, which was reflected in their mediocre exam results and the way the boys slouched around in scruffy uniforms. It just didn’t seem right to send our son there — no matter how much our circumstances may have changed since he enrolled.

Until five years ago, I had no reason to believe that we would find it hard to provide our son with the same opportunities his older sisters had had. Both successful authors, our joint income in 2008 topped £100,000.

But then the recession started to bite, and nowhere harder than in books and newspapers. Finding work was not a problem: we both love writing, are quite good at it, and were fortunate enough to get commissions and publishing contracts for new book ideas.

But publishers’ advances were suddenly nowhere near as generous as they once had been. In the past year, a book Christy and I worked on together remained in the bestseller lists for six weeks, and now looks like being made into a TV drama. But — like Britain itself — although our long-term prospects for financial recovery were good, the balance in our joint bank account remained alarmingly low. We were earning less than a third of what we once had.

My savings dwindled rapidly — just as a tax bill arrived for my highest rolling year, precisely as my earnings dropped to a record low. Suddenly, for the first time since we were young newlyweds, we were living from hand to mouth.

Big changes were called for. As the world plunged into financial crisis, I got out the calculator and worked out that, to my horror, our basic annual outgoings topped £22,000 — most of which went to cover the large mortgage on our terraced house. And that sum was not including food and clothes, let alone school fees.

But while we were willing to cut back in many areas of our life, Joe’s education was sacrosanct.

Although our twin daughters had attended state schools up until the age of 11, we’d never regretted the money spent on sending them to a private secondary school.

We paid for Joe to go to a private nursery because I was working and the hours suited us better.

After that, it seemed natural that he should go on to the linked primary school along with all his friends, and then secondary.

Not only is he doing very well academically there, more importantly, he is very happy and we would hate to disrupt him in such an important year.

His school is, and always has been, extremely supportive — not only in giving Joe the best education possible, but also looking out for his emotional stability as well.

I felt this was what mattered most, and was willing to sell the house, if we had to, sooner than jeopardise his future. First to go was my clothes habit. From now on, it would be H&M and Primark, instead of Harvey Nicks.

The good quality clothes I already owned — Joseph pencil skirts and Maxmara suits — proved a sound investment and could be shortened, lengthened or paired with High Street accessories at very little extra cost. Meanwhile, my husband swears by TK Maxx.

Then there were cosmetics. I managed to save £20 a month just by swapping expensive ‘miracle’ serum for basic aqueous cream from the local chemist — and my face didn’t appear to suffer.

Perfume, too, could hardly be counted as a ‘necessity’, so when my Prada favourite ran out, it wasn’t replenished (though I did allow myself the occasional bid for a ‘tester’ on eBay).

My daily Americano at Starbucks and Pret a Manger had to go. Our home coffee machine makes a cup for 7p, and a homemade cheese and pickle sandwich probably costs about the same.

I upped my game by switching gas and electricity providers, as well as car and home insurance, saving several hundred pounds.

I then ‘found’ a further £200 by changing to a ‘no frills’ current account after realising we never used any of the now ludicrous-seeming ‘executive’ perks of running a more expensive one.

Then came the family holiday. Before 2008, we went to Brazil and Sicily: now we started looking around for kind relatives and friends we could visit in the UK.

A three-night mini-break in Munich, which I stuck on the credit card to worry about later, was as luxurious as it got.

Birthday dinners were similarly downsized. Fashionable London restaurants gave way to family trips to Pizza Express using as many discount vouchers as possible.

Although we urgently needed to have some building work done on our house (decaying window frames needed attention), all home improvements had to be put on hold. Winter draughts are being papered over with parcel tape.

The weekly food bill needed major surgery. I love Waitrose, but knew we had to forgo it — apart from popping in for the odd bag of posh pasta for rare treats. My husband started growing his own cavallo nero cabbages (previously £2 a go) from a £5 tray of seedlings we bought from the garden centre.

The garden was cleared for action with a mini greenhouse and raised beds. We weren’t under any romantic illusions about any Good Life-style self sufficiency: we simply wanted to save money.

We’d previously popped into our local Lidl only out of curiosity: now, it was out of necessity. We were by no means the only middle-class couple in there, pouncing on French cheeses or bars of Colombian (81 per cent pure cocoa) chocolate, shouting: ‘Here, look at this darling — it’s only 99p!’

Once, hearing my name called out down one of the aisles, I turned to see a friend from my Pilates class, married to a hedge-fund manager, pushing a giant trolley. Why waste money when you could buy food at bargain prices, she reasoned.

It turned out that economising was no hardship. It made me think, and count and plan our meals in advance. It made me a proper home-maker. Actually, it made me feel quite smug about it.

But what was more worrying was the way I found myself reacting to some unexpected misfortune, like the washing machine breaking down. Even a parking ticket felt like a train crash. If you can easily put things right by reaching into your wallet, it is no big deal. But when you are watching every penny, minor mishaps feel like a major catastrophe.

There were occasions when I simply found myself without money at all — a terrifying feeling when it has never happened to you before, or at least not since you were young and broke yet felt it did not matter.

Money is not just about being able to buy the necessities, it is also about basic emotional security.

Waking up with a feeling of fear every morning about how you are going to pay the bills is exhausting, and eats away at your self-confidence.

I longed for that anxiety to end — but not enough for me to compromise my son’s education.

And while we went through some very difficult times indeed during 2012, gradually, as we kept working hard and trying to cut all the corners we could, our finances started to improve. We didn’t suddenly have thousands of pounds going spare, but at least we were ‘managing’.

And it was worth it — all the sacrifices and the going short of things I’d thought I couldn’t live without — just to see how well our son was growing up. It’s amazing how little you can get by on when you really have to.

This Christmas has been austere but entirely appropriate. My husband and I exchanged gifts costing no more than £40 (he bought me a jumper from H&M, while I bought him a model of a Mini). We set a strict budget of £100 for the children — and stuck to it.

Every treat has been relished, every scaled-back gift deeply appreciated.

Of course, I may look back on this in a few years’ time and wonder why I put my family through all that just to send my son to private school. But somehow I don’t think so. Few things justify struggling so hard for — but my son’s future is one of them.


Muslim parents sue British primary school over ban on hijab

A school is being sued by Muslim parents after banning pupils from wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf in lessons, it has emerged.

St Cyprian's Greek Orthodox primary in south London faces being hauled before the High Court amid claims that its uniform policy breaches children’s religious freedom.

The couple insisted it would be a sin for their nine-year-old daughter’s head to be uncovered while in the presence of male teachers.

The move represents the latest in a series of legal challenges against school uniform rules on religious and racial grounds.

In a landmark case six years ago, a Muslim schoolgirl – Shabina Begum – successfully challenged a decision by a Luton secondary school to refuse to allow her to wear a traditional gown, although the judgement was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Last year, a north London school was also found to have broken antidiscrimination legislation when it turned away a pupil for wearing cornrow braids in his hair.

Current Government guidance on uniforms says that schools should “act reasonably” in accommodating various beliefs relating to clothes, hair and religious artefacts.

But it says heads should have the ultimate power to restrict the “freedom of pupils to manifest their religion” if it is justified on health and safety grounds or to protect other children.

In the latest case, parents are believed to have enrolled their daughter at the Greek Orthodox primary in Thornton Heath two years ago after pulling her out of a private school.

The couple – who have not been named – appealed to governors when the girl was prevented from wearing the traditional Muslim hijab in class.

But they withdrew the child and launched a legal challenge with the High Court when the school refused to reverse the ban.

Kate Magliocco, the head, said the girl’s parents believed that "she has reached puberty and it would be a sin for her not to be covered because the school has male teachers".

"The decision not to allow her to wear a headscarf was taken by the governing body,” she added.

"The school has a very particular uniform policy, which is shared with parents and, as head, I must follow the plan. The pupil in question came to us from a private school.

"Her parents actively chose us and, before she arrived, we held a meeting which included details of the uniform plan."

The uniform policy on the school’s website requires girls to wear a dark blue coat, an optional blazer, a skirt, white blouse and a navy blue pullover – but fails to mention a ban on headscarves.

Mrs Magliocco said the girl had observed all of the school's Greek Orthodox practices, adding: "At the heart of this is a girl who has been unable to return to school… If it does go to court then it cannot be a positive thing.”

The child's brother remains a pupil at the school and it is believed the family have submitted a fresh application to have the issue heard at the High Court after their first attempt was rejected late last year.

The matter is due to be considered in February.


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

U.S. Schools becoming Fascist institutions?

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, a bottomless fountain of foolishness, has proposed a measure that would permit governors to deploy National Guard troops to provide "security" at government-run schools.

"Is it not part of the national defense to make sure that your children are safe?" Boxer asked during a Capitol Hill press conference in the misguided belief that this content-free trope somehow constituted compelling wisdom.

She blithely stated that her proposal wouldn’t be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act (which was supposed to prevent the domestic use of the military for the purpose of law enforcement) because it would allow governors to re-purpose troops who are already being used for drug interdiction operations. That is to say, the militarization of schools wouldn’t constitute a new Posse Comitatus violation, but rather expand on an existing one.

Boxer’s proposal to militarize the schools could have been taken directly from "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012," a terrifyingly prescient essay published twenty years ago in Parameters, the journal of the U.S. Army War College by military historian Charles J. Dunlap. This glimpse of a dystopian future takes the form of a long letter written by an officer awaiting execution as a traitor to the junta that has seized control over the United States in the wake of military disasters abroad and socio-economic turmoil at home.

"It wasn't any single cause that led us to this point," writes the condemned patriot to a friend. "It was instead a combination of several different developments, the beginnings of which were evident in 1992." Rather than de-mobilizing at the end of the Cold War, the ruling establishment expanded the military’s mission overseas and made it an even more pervasive presence at home.

Military personnel became "an adjunct to all police forces in the country," the officer recalls; social and economic problems were redefined as "national security" issues and brought under the military's area of responsibility. This is how uniformed military personnel became ubiquitous: People became accustomed to the sight of "uniformed military personnel patrolling their neighborhood.... Even the youngest citizens were co-opted.... [We have] an entire generation of young people who have grown up comfortable with the sight of military personnel patrolling their streets and teaching in their classrooms."

There is a sense in which Boxer’s proposal is redundant, since armed "warriors" are already deployed in countless schools nation-wide: They are called "resource officers," but they are taught to perceive themselves as front-line troops on a combat footing.

"You've got to be a one-man fighting force," self-styled counter-terrorism "expert" John Giduck exhorted police officers at the 2007 National Conference of School Resource Officers in Orlando, Florida. "You've got to have enough guns, and ammunition and body armor to stay alive.... You should be walking around in schools every day in complete tactical equipment, with semi-automatic weapons.... You can no longer afford to think of yourselves as peace officers.... You must think of yourself [sic] as soldiers in a war because we're going to ask you to act like soldiers." (Emphasis added.)

"Resource Officers" are not present for the protection of children; their mission is to intimidate them, and – with increasing frequency – make criminals out of them. A detailed story published by The Guardian of London points out that in 2010, police deployed in public schools issued roughly 300,000 "class C misdemeanor" citations to school children, most of them for trivial disruptive behavior, such as "inappropriate" dress and excessive use of perfume. Those infractions can result in fines, community service, or even time behind bars – and an arrest record that can ruin the student’s future educational and employment prospects. This is a splendid illustration of the "school-to-prison pipeline" in operation.

Although horrific mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School are vanishingly rare, "lock-down" drills in which SWAT teams conduct training exercises involving hostage or terrorism scenarios are increasingly commonplace. Many of those "hostage rescue" drills are better described as hostage-taking exercises, since they are used as pretexts for warrantless searches of lockers and student property.

Vista Grande High School in Casa Grande, Arizona, held a lock-down drug sweep on October 31. As had happened before in other schools across the country, the students were confined to their classrooms, then led in small groups to another room where they were forced to line up against a wall and be searched with the help of drug-sniffing dogs.

This exercise introduced a new element: Among the four law enforcement agencies involved in the search was a group of prison guards employed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest for-profit prison contractor.

Notes Caroline Isaacs of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee: "To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the `schools-to-prison pipeline’ I’ve ever seen." Clearly, the similarities between government-run schools and prisons are not limited to architecture. Posting National Guard troops around government indoctrination centers, as Boxer proposes, would destroy any residual pretense that there is a material distinction between "schools" and "prisons" in what is becoming an undisguised garrison state.

Like most contemporary liberals, Boxer is a passionate militarist who swaddles her enthusiasm for lethal force in rhetoric about compassion and equality. She can call for armed troops to patrol "gun-free" school zones without perceiving any contradiction, because she simply assumes that the rest of us exist only to serve the interests of the political class and its enforcement arm. It is their privilege to compel, and our duty to submit to whatever they choose to inflict upon us. This is what Boxer and her comrades have in mind when they invoke "national security."


British school that spent £500,000 giving its pupils iPads admits that HALF are now broken

The old story:  What is "free" is not respected

A school which gave out iPads to every pupil in hope of improving their education has admitted that just a year later half the costly devices have been broken.

Honywood Community Science School dished out iPad2 tablets to its 1,200 pupils a year ago, at vast cost to the taxpayer.

Despite warnings that children would not be able to look after the fragile computer tablet, the school in Coggeshall, Essex, allowed children to take the device outside the classroom, playground and street and home at evenings and weekends.

It was hoped that the iPads would be a useful learning tool, as well as keep the school up to pace with international competitors embracing the technology in the classroom.

But after just one year, more than four in ten of the iPads had been sent off for repair, after being knocked, dropped or scratched. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal 489 had to be replaced after being found to be beyond repair.  About a fifth of those sent for repair – 112 – had to be sent back more than once.

Pupils said in some of the younger classes, around half the class had broken their tablet at least once, and some as many as three times.  Despite the threat of confiscation after three tablets, ultimately none were taken away from pupils.

The school argues that since introducing the devices, it has seen improvements in pupil discipline, attendance, and exam results.

Apple, the manufacturer of iPads, is said to be aggressively targeting the school market and at the time headteachers were accused of ‘falling for a gimmick’.

Honywood, which gained academy status last year, giving it greater control over its budget, gave out the tablets last September, at an estimated cost of £500,000, or  £400 per iPad.  Parents were asked only to pay £50 towards insuring  the device.

At the time headteacher Simon Mason said the investment represented 2.3 per cent of the school’s budget, and did not want to publicise the scheme for fear of putting the safety of pupils at risk.

On the latest figures, he said: ‘The breakage rate resulted from using a recommended case which was insufficiently robust. Since replacing cases this year, breakage has fallen to 1.2 per cent.’

He added: ‘Exam results at the end of our first year of using tablets were the highest in the school’s 48-year history.   ‘Attendance has risen and we’ve seen our lowest rate  of fixed-term exclusions for ten years.’

Peter Inson, a former school headmaster and a commentator on education, said the breakages were hardly surprising.  He said: ‘In my view you cannot expect children of 11 and 12 to be responsible for a delicate gadget.

‘They are still running around using jumpers for goal- posts and being generally rambunctious.’

Handing out equipment without expecting the parents to contribute financially only increases the likelihood of something being lost or damaged, he added.

Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Buying technology for schools has to be about educational results, not just trying to appear cutting edge for the sake of it.

‘Not many parents would trust their 11-year-old to look after such an expensive piece of kit so it is wrong for the school to do so just because taxpayers are picking up the bill.’


South Australia private school fees take a hike

But still booming

PARENTS will pay an extra $355 to send their child to a private school next year as fees rise by an average 5.5 per cent.

Across the state, fees at independent schools will rise by between 3 and 10.5 per cent, while more schools are charging over $20,000 - or more than $500 a week - for Year 12.

Schools say the fee increases are a result of the rising cost of providing education, driven by changes to federal and state education policies and programs, utilities and teacher salaries.

Association of Independent Schools of SA chief executive Garry Le Duff said the fee increases were consistent with past years and rising costs common to all schools.

He said a survey of member schools showed the significant cost drivers were teacher salaries and training, increasing water and electricity charges, the introduction of a new curriculum, compliance requirements and the replacement of outdated technology.

"Thoughtful and considered increases in fees ensure continuous improvement in education to meet parents' expectations and attract and retain the best available teaching talent," he said.

Mr Le Duff said the survey also showed the majority of independent schools expected to increase or maintain their enrolments next year and in the long-term. Many schools, he said, were at their enrolment capacity.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that over the 12 months to the September quarter 2012, inflation in the education sector rose 6.1 per cent. The main contributor to the rise was secondary education, up 7.7 per cent.

A spokeswoman for St Peter's College said the school was focused on reducing costs where possible - but the cost of education was continuing to rise faster than general inflation due to changes in federal and state education policies.

Catholic Education SA director Paul Sharkey said fee increases at Catholic schools had been kept to a minimum but would be similar to those at independent schools.

"People are conscious of the need to be quite careful to keep any increases to the absolute minimum at the moment," he said. "I haven't heard of any others freezing fees like Rostrevor."


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Holocaust curriculum not blocked in U.N. refugee agency schools  -- because there never was such a curriculum

Just Brownie points for the Palis:

Contrary to what you reported in “Palestinians vow to prevent Holocaust education in UNRWA-run schools” (March 2), there is not and has never been a plan for a Holocaust curriculum in any UNRWA school.

When this story first surfaced, almost a year ago, our agency explored every level of the PA’s Ministry of Education, since local UNRWA schools follow the curriculum and use the textbooks of the host entity, as they do in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

We also examined all levels of the UNRWA education department. Michael Kingsley-Nyinah, director of the executive office of UNRWA, replied to our query: “I am writing to clarify that there is no ‘Holocaust curriculum’ as such in UNRWA schools and there are no plans to introduce one.”

There is, however, one aspect of the Palestinian educational system in UNRWA schools that does relate to the Holocaust. In every Palestinian school library, students have easy access to the doctoral thesis written by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 26 years ago titled “The Other Side: The Secret Relations between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement.”

What UNRWA spokespeople have gained by spreading the false notion that they are planning to initiate Holocaust education in their schools is new support and credibility with Jewish groups across the globe.


Union Boss: What’s the Rush on Increasing Teacher Quality?

When American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda “Randi” Weingarten proposed a “bar exam” of sorts for teacher prospects, it was hailed as a step forward in improving teacher quality, reported.

But some of Weingarten’s underlings don’t know what all the fuss is about. She either didn’t run the idea past her deputies, or they didn’t approve and she trotted it out anyway.

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion said if teachers would be subjected to such a test, they better get a pay raise.

"What we're doing is testing, testing, testing, testing. At some point we need to run schools with quality administrators, Central Office and let teachers teach in classrooms and stop making them crazy. It's over-evaluation. It's paralysis by analysis," Mellion was quoted as saying by The Hour.

He also said the process of testing an evaluation should be “slowed down.”

Weingarten’s proposal seems reasonable on its face. The concept certainly has merit. But it could only likely be administered by the federal Department of Education, furthering a national power grab over what should be a state and local responsibility.

A 2009 McKinsey and Company study quoted former AFT President Sandra Feldman as saying, “You have in the schools right now, among the teachers who are going to be retiring, very smart people. We’re not getting in now the same kinds of people. It’s disastrous. We’ve been saying for years now that we’re attracting from the bottom third” of their graduating class.

But there’s little urgency from some union bosses like Mellion, a leader of a school district that received a “4 out of 10” rating from also reported only 68 percent of third-graders and 73 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the Norwalk School District has a 13.52 student-to-teacher ratio, well below the national average. Apparently class sizes aren’t the problem. Norwalk spends over $19,000 per student as well, so money isn’t an issue, either.

But to Mellion, teacher quality is definitely not the culprit. Then what is?

Teacher quality is indeed a major issue that must be addressed. But that process will be painfully slow as long as there are union leaders who fight accountability every step of the way.


British government faces war with equality activists as they  axe Labour's PC curriculum that dropped greatest figures from history lessons

Some of the greatest figures in Britain’s past are to be restored to their rightful place in history, thanks to an overhaul of the school curriculum.

The likes of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill had been dropped from history lessons under the last Labour Government in a move critics said was driven by ‘political correctness’.

But under a new ‘back-to-basics’ shake-up, pupils will again have  to study these traditional historic  figures – and not social reformers such as Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole and former black slave Olaudah Equiano, who were introduced into the 2007 curriculum.

The revisions, spearheaded by Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove, are certain to anger equality activists who believe history lessons are too skewed towards white British men.
They're history...

But they have been welcomed by traditionalists such as Conservative MP Philip Davies, who said: ‘The curriculum has to specify figures like Nelson and Wellington.

‘Far too often we are apologising for things in our past, but actually we have so much in our history to be proud of. It is essential that children learn why they should be proud of their country.’

And former Government history adviser Anthony Freeman said teachers needed guidelines to teach about the key figures who shaped our past, saying: ‘Many teachers are more concerned to promote politically correct social themes than to present a narrative.’

Leaked drafts of the new history curriculum, to be published in the New Year, show that schools will be required to cover the Norman Conquest, Henry II and his conflict with the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, and King John and his power struggles with the Barons that resulted in the Magna Carta.

Episodes such as the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses, the growth of the British Empire and the trial and execution of Charles I will also be included, as will the Acts of Union – which will become the subject of scrutiny as Scotland holds a referendum on independence in 2014.

But out go figures including social reformers Robert Owen and  Elizabeth Fry, aviator Amy Johnson, nurse Florence Nightingale, and Equiano and his fellow anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.

However, pupils will still have to learn about social changes such as the abolition of slavery and the suffragettes. In addition, references to cultural, ethnic and religious diversity have been cut, although they will still be taught about immigration.

The changes have been drawn up amid great secrecy by Government advisers, including television historian Simon Schama. Mr Gove said a year ago that too many children were leaving school ignorant about Britain’s past because syllabuses had been stripped of core content.

He pointed to a survey which found a sixth of 18- to 24-year-olds believed Cromwell, rather than Nelson, led the British fleet at Trafalgar.

Mr Gove said: ‘I am genuinely worried that – despite the best efforts of brilliant history teachers, gifted academics and the television and publishing executives who’ve helped to popularise history – our curriculum and examinations system mean that children thirsting to know more about our past leave school woefully undernourished.’

Mr Gove has also criticised the existing curriculum for focusing on certain periods such as the Tudors and the world wars while missing out large chunks of the past.

The national curriculum sets out the minimum that should be taught in schools, but it does not prevent teachers adding any material they wish to flesh out lessons – including events and individuals that have been cut out of the new version. However, they will have to ensure they first cover all the areas specified in the new curriculum.

The national curriculum is compulsory only in maintained state schools; academies and free schools can create their own versions.

The Department for Education said: ‘We do not comment on leaks.’


Monday, December 31, 2012

Why don't more girls study physics in Britain?

"The Guardian" has a bit of a whine below but is of course careful not to mention the elephant in the room:  The repeatedly demonstrated differences in patterns of ability between males and females. If you can't argue with the facts, at least you can ignore them, apparently.  Being so intellectually impoverished that you can't even broach the subject is rather sad, however

For the past two decades, female students have accounted for only one-fifth of those taking the subject at A-level. It is the fourth most popular subject for boys, yet slips to 19th in the rankings for girls. According to a recent study by the Institute of Physics, using information provided by the National Pupil Database, 49% of state co-educational schools in England did not send any girls to study physics at A-level in 2011. By contrast, girls were almost two and a half times more likely to take the subject at A-level if they were at a single-sex school – a finding that suggests there might be an ingrained cultural perception in co-educational establishments that physics is somehow "not for girls".

The numbers continue to slip at university. Around 17% of girls apply to do physics at undergraduate level, followed by a more substantial decline in the numbers moving into permanent academic jobs – only 7.9% of these undergraduates stay on to become senior lecturers and 4% professors. Why is this happening? Is there some endemic sexism within the world of physics? Or do women simply not find it appealing?

Athene Donald, a professor of experimental physics and gender equality champion at the University of Cambridge, says there is a risk that the subject is not seen as "cool" by girls of school age. "It might be that the problem is embedded in the ethos of the school and that teachers are tending to interact more with boys who are more outgoing," Donald says. "There are all sorts of subtle messages that 'Girls don't do physics'."

A number of pupils I talk to at Lampton agree. They say that biology is perceived as more girl-friendly, because it is the gateway to medicine and involves more human interaction. By contrast, physics is seen to be an academically challenging subject, with students carrying out dull, repetitive experiments on a lab bench and struggling with equations. The anecdotal evidence is borne out by the statistics – whereas girls account for 20% of all students who opt for physics at A-level, they account for 55% of pupils who opt for biology.

"I suppose the way we portray physicists and engineers is as if it is not normal for girls to do these things," says Donald. "They are often seen as quite nerdy men in programmes like The Big Bang Theory. They are posed as inarticulate and that's not the kind of thing a girl is going to aspire to when she is 12, 13, 14."

Or, as Sir Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, put it: "The English teacher who looks askance at the girl who takes an interest in physics … can play a part in forming girls' perception of the subject."

Lampton is bucking the national trend, with a quarter of girls studying physics at A-level. Jessica Hamer, a science teacher at the school, attributes this to a concerted effort on their part to counteract any negative stereotypes about what physicists might do, or be like, in the real world: "We realised there was a dearth of girls, so we tried to get more speakers and role models to come into the school and talk to the pupils."

The impact has been noticeable, and the girls I meet are extremely bright and enthusiastic about their chosen subject. "It's very encouraging to know there are women out there who have actually succeeded," says Sadaf Rezay, 16, who is taking physics A-level. "But there aren't that many on TV or in the media," counters Alice Williams. "Physics is not all just theory. A lot of people think it's theory, theory, theory, and that puts them off. You need to see how it's applied practically as well. It's involved in everything we do: you pick up a book – that's mechanics. You throw a ball – that's mechanics … Nuclear fusion could be used potentially as alternative energy."

The three of them chat on, at one point insisting that they're looking forward to a school trip to the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Geneva. When their conversation about particle physics becomes too baffling for me (single science GCSE, 1994), Alice breaks off to explain. "Particle physics is looking into what makes up protons and electrons," she explains, kindly.

Did these forthright, clever girls feel peer pressure not to study physics, I wonder? Rezay nods. "I think in year 10 and 11, girls are put off because of peer pressure and none of their friends are doing it."

"It's not cool to be clever at the moment, especially as a girl," adds Williams. "Boys don't mind being thought of as geeks, but girls do. I do English lit as well, and I'm the only one in the class who also takes physics. Everyone in the class was kind of like, 'You do physics?'" She curls her lip in disgust. "But we're good because we've got a whole group of friends [doing physics as well]."

The importance of a supportive network of friends taking the same subject is key. But it is also, as Alice points out, a question of seeing more positive role models on television and in schools. Although there are prominent male presenters in popular science – Brian Cox, David Attenborough – there are hardly any female counterparts. And when female scientists do make it on to the pages of newspapers, or into television studios, the way they are presented can be extremely patronising. A 2010 paper by academics at the University of Cardiff examined 51 interviews with scientists, eight of whom were women, pulled from a sample of 12 UK national papers in 2006. Half of the profiles of the women referred to their clothing, physique or hairstyle, compared with 21% of the profiles of men. The male scientists interviewed were often used to signal gravitas, while women were more likely to be said to make science "accessible" or "sexy".

Alice Bell, a science journalist and research fellow at the University of Sussex, sees this as part of the problem: "We should celebrate it when we see a female scientist on TV. We should say, 'Yes, she was wonderful', and not necessarily just look at their bottom."


State school quotas for British universities face axe following protests

Controversial admissions rules intended to force leading universities to take more students from state schools are to be reviewed after protests.

Under rules introduced last year, universities wanting to charge higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year are expected to recruit more low-income students, with their attendance at state school being one of the major criteria.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, suggested that tutors should be willing to offer places to students from state schools on the basis of lower

A-level grades than they would require from privately educated candidates. The reforms provoked protests from elite universities and leading independent schools. Head teachers accused the Government of pursuing a “Communist-style” agenda of social engineering, while about half of Britain’s leading universities boycotted the state school target this year.

Critics said it was not possible to make a “crude” judgment that the poorest pupils always attended state schools while the richest were privately educated.

With the economic downturn forcing an increasing number of middle-class parents to turn to top state schools, especially grammar schools, for their child’s education, filling university places from such schools would render the targets pointless, they say.

Ministers indicated that the targets could be scrapped in light of the furore. “It’s a fair criticism and we probably need to look at it,” said a senior government source.

The source insisted that it was right for universities to take account of a candidate’s background using “contextual data”. This could include whether they lived in a deprived area, or attended a poorly-performing school.

However, the idea of considering whether a candidate was state or privately educated should be reviewed, the source said.

The Government’s watchdog on university admissions, the Office for Fair Access to higher education, has already toned down the Coalition’s original language. In guidance issued this year, it said targets should be based on school type “or performance”.

Many universities and private schools have no objection to making allowances for students from weak schools who achieved good grades.

Their key complaint has been over the Government’s decision to make distinctions between the independent and state education systems.

Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative member of the Commons skills select committee, said the state school target was “too crude”. “It is much more complicated than that. It would be right to review the target,” he said.

Chris Ramsey, co-chairman of the universities committee of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said he would welcome a review.

“These targets assume that everybody who goes to an independent school is of one social type and everybody who goes to a state school is of a different social type,” he said.

An Oxford University spokesman said it was “misleading” to treat all state school pupils as disadvantaged. “Our goal is to increase access for under-represented groups. We are not convinced that using school type is the best means to that end,” he said.


Federal Court Takes RFID Case Under Advisement, Will Rule Later This Week on Preliminary Injunction for Texas Student Expelled Over RFID Tracking Badge

After hearing arguments in the case of a public high school student penalized over her objections to being forced to wear an RFID tracking badge to school, Judge Orlando Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio will take under advisement The Rutherford Institute’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing school officials from expelling Andrea Hernandez until the case is decided. A temporary restraining order (TRO) against the school will remain in effect until the judge issues his decision later this week.

Hernandez, a sophomore in a science and engineering magnet school housed in John Jay High School, has refused to wear a school-mandated RFID tracking badge based on her sincere religious objections. The badges, part of the school’s “Student Locator Project,” include tiny Radio Frequency Identification (“RFID”) chips that produce a radio signal, enabling school officials to track students’ location on school property. School officials’ initial attempt to kick Andrea out of the magnet school was thwarted when the Bexar County District Court granted a 14-day TRO, which was then extended by the federal court, enabling Andrea to remain in school. In coming to Andrea’s defense, Rutherford attorneys have alleged that the school’s attempts to penalize, discriminate and retaliate against Andrea violate her rights under Texas’ Religious Freedom Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“While we all want to ensure that our schools are safe, especially in the wake of this terrible shooting in Connecticut, these RFID tracking badges will do little to ensure student safety and, in fact, could potentially be manipulated in such a way as to make students even more vulnerable to attack by predators,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “No matter how many ways school officials attempt to justify this program, the key here, as NISD officials have themselves acknowledged, is the fact that this program is about one thing only—making money for the schools at the expense of students’ constitutional rights and potentially their safety.”

The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, has launched a program, the “Student Locator Project,” aimed ostensibly at increasing public funding for the district by increasing student attendance rates. As part of the pilot program, roughly 4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School are being required to wear “SmartID” card badges embedded with an RFID tracking chip which will make it possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts on campus at all times. School officials hope that by expanding the program to the district’s 112 schools, they can secure up to $1.7 million in funding from the state government.

Fifteen-year-old Andrea Hernandez has been penalized, discriminated against, and retaliated against by school officials for objecting to being forced to participate in the RFID program. For Hernandez, a Christian, the badges pose a significant religious freedom concern in addition to the obvious privacy issues. Andrea’s religious objection derives from biblical teachings that equate accepting a personalized code—as a sign of submission to government authority and as a means of obtaining certain privileges from a secular ruling authority—with a form of idolatry or submission to a false god.

Hernandez was informed that “there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card.” For example, students who refuse to take part in the ID program won’t be able to access essential services like the cafeteria and library, nor will they be able to purchase tickets to extracurricular activities. According to Hernandez, teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs to use the bathroom. School officials offered to quietly remove the tracking chip from Andrea’s card if the sophomore would agree to wear the new badge without the embedded RFID chip so as to give the appearance of participation in the Student Locator Project. Andrea refused the offer, believing that to wear the “mark” of the program would still compromise her religious beliefs.