Thursday, September 12, 2013

America's ruling class is crooked

That's what this news would seem to imply

Nearly half of new students starting at Harvard this year have admitted to cheating in their studies before starting at university.

A tenth of the incoming class have cheated on an exam, while 42 per cent admit to doing homework dishonestly, according to the results of a survey by the university’s own newspaper The Harvard Crimson.

Athletic students were most likely to cheat, with 20 per cent confessing to chicanery in tests, compared to nine per cent of those who do not play a varsity sport. Men are twice as likely to have cheated.

Yet despite such a high number of students admitting to academic dishonesty, 84 per cent of the 1,300 freshmen questioned say that academic work is their main priority, above sports, extracurriculars, employment and social life. Not one respondent intends to put academic commitments at the bottom of their list.

These results follow the largest cheating scandal at Harvard in recent memory, in which over 120 students were investigated for swapping answers on an exam in 2012. Since that controversy, Harvard has maintained a strict anti-cheating policy, insisting that ‘all work submitted for credit is expected to be the student’s own work’.

In an email to NBC News, Harvard representative Jeff Neal explained that a committee of staff and students had been established to address the ‘national problem in American education’.

“While the vast majority of Harvard and other students do their work honestly,” he said, “beginning this year, Harvard College has implemented a new, more robust strategy of communicating with all students, particularly first-year students, about the importance - and the ways to achieve - academic integrity.”

Perhaps cheating will no longer be necessary, however, as 36 per cent of students anticipate studying for between 20 and 29 hours a week in college, while another 26 per cent expects to dedicate an eye-watering 30 to 39 hours of their time to academic work.


Report: Parents opting kids out of standardized tests

 While his eighth-grade classmates took state standardized tests this spring, Tucker Richardson woke up late and played basketball in his Delaware Township driveway.

Tucker's parents, Wendy and Will, are part of a small but growing number of parents nationwide who are ensuring their children do not participate in standardized testing. They are opposed to the practice for myriad reasons, including the stress they believe it brings on young students, discomfort with tests being used to gauge teacher performance, fear that corporate influence is overriding education and concern that test prep is narrowing curricula down to the minimum needed to pass an exam.

"I'm just opposed to the way high-stakes testing is being used to evaluate teachers, the way it's being used to define what's happening in classrooms," said Will Richardson, an educational consultant and former teacher. "These tests are not meant to evaluate teachers. They're meant to find out what kids know."

The opt-out movement, as it is called, is small but growing. It has been brewing for several years via word of mouth and social media, especially through Facebook. The "Long Island opt-out info" Facebook page has more than 9,200 members, many of them rallying at a Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., high school last month after a group of principals called this year's state tests — and their low scores — a "debacle."

In Washington, D.C., a group of parents and students protested outside the Department of Education. Students and teachers at a Seattle high school boycotted a standardized test, leading the district superintendent to declare that city high schools have the choice to deem it optional. In Oregon, students organized a campaign persuading their peers to opt out of tests, and a group of students in Providence, R.I., dressed like zombies and marched in front of the State House to protest a requirement that students must achieve a minimum score on a state test in order to graduate.

"I'm opposed to these tests because they narrow what education is supposed to be about and they lower kids' horizons," said Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at the Seattle school. "I think collaboration, imagination, critical thinking skills are all left off these tests and can't be assessed by circling in A, B, C or D."

For many parents and students, there have been few to no consequences to opting out of testing. Most parents are choosing to take their younger children out of testing, not older students for whom it is a graduation requirement. It's unclear if things will change when the Common Core Curriculum and the standardized tests that will accompany it are implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

Some states were granted waivers for No Child Left Behind, which requires districts to have at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized testing or be at risk of losing funding.

Kristen Jaudon, a spokeswoman for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the test Seattle deemed optional is not required by the state. Ninety-five percent of students in a given school must take standardized tests that are required by state law. She said parents who pull their children out of testing wouldn't be able to identify if a student was having problems in a particular subject and the move would deny educators the chance to see if the curriculum is working.

"We are bound by state law to test kids in our state. It's not optional," she said.

Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District in Centennial, Colo., said 95 percent of students in the district take standardized tests. If a child stays home on testing day, she said, it's difficult to know if the parent is opting the child out or if the child is home for personal reasons, such as being sick.

"We encourage parents to have their kids take the test, but there are no consequences of any kind," she said. "There's no formal process for opting out. They can keep their child home that day and write an excuse."

Maria Ferguson of the Center on Education Policy said she thinks the practice of parents pulling their kids out of standardized tests is symbolic.

"I think it shows that people are very scared and very confused by tests," she said. "I think it's representative that testing has a branding problem."

Julie Borst of Allendale, N.J., didn't want her rising ninth-grader to take state standardized tests last year because she has special needs and isn't learning at her grade level. Borst is also concerned about the corporate influence of testing on education.

Borst said the school and superintendent asked the New Jersey Department of Education for guidance. Rather than staying home, Borst's daughter had to go into the principal's office each morning of the test and refuse to take it. Borst then drove her home.

"It was kind of convoluted and kind of a dance you do, and the result is the school district, they don't get dinged," Borst said.

Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, said about 98 percent of New Jersey students take standardized tests.  "Keeping a child home from testing does no favor to the child or the school," he said.

Morna McDermott, a Baltimore college professor who is a board member of United Opt Out, likens the battle against standardized testing to a fight for corporate reform.

"Ultimately this is an act of civil disobedience," McDermott said. "If this is going to change, it has to fundamentally be grassroots."

Darcie Cimarusti of Highland Park, N.J., didn't like that her twin daughters would have to agonize over a standardized test as first-graders so she worked out an agreement with the principal to move them into a kindergarten class during testing time.

"My goal is that my daughters never take a standardized test," Cimarusti said. "I see less and less value in it educationally and it being used more and more to beat teachers over the head."

Peggy Robertson, a teacher in Centennial, Colo., who is also an Opt Out board member, said she only expects the movement to grow.   "You can feel the momentum," she said. "I think we're headed for a full-on revolt next year."


Birmingham (UK) college bans Muslim veils

A college has been accused of discrimination after it banned Muslim students from wearing religious veils.

Birmingham Metropolitan College ordered all students, staff and visitors to remove any face coverings so individuals are "easily identifiable at all times".

The move led to claims that Muslim students were being discriminated against after women were told they could not wear the niqab, a veil that leaves only a slot for the eyes.

The disclosure comes as proposals to ban face coverings in public places are being debated in Parliament.

A private members bill proposed by Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, would make it an offence for someone to wear “a garment or other object” intended primarily to obscure their face, in public.

Jack Straw, the Labour former foreign secretary, is among MPs who have drawn criticism by asking women visiting their constituency surgeries to consider removing their veils.

The college’s policy was disclosed to one prospective Muslim student at the start of the new term last week.

The 17-year-old girl, who did not want to be named, said: "It's disgusting. It is a personal choice and I find it absolutely shocking that this has been brought in at a college in Birmingham city centre when the city is so multicultural and so many of the students are Muslim.

"It upsets me that we are being discriminated against.  "I don't think my niqab prevents me from studying or communicating with anyone - I've never had any problems in the city before."

The teenager said she had decided to look for another college place in the city.

Hoodies, hats and caps have also been banned at the college, which was formed in 2009 after the merger of Matthew Boulton and Sutton Colfield colleges.

Dame Christine Braddock, the college’s principal, said the policy had been in place for some time and had been developed to keep students safe.

She said: "We have a very robust equality, diversity and inclusion policy at Birmingham Metropolitan College but we are committed to ensuring that students are provided with a safe and welcoming learning environment whilst studying with us.

"To ensure that safeguarding is a priority, we have developed our policy alongside student views to ensure we keep them safe.

"This needs individuals to be easily identifiable at all times when they are on college premises and this includes the removal of hoodies, hats, caps and veils so that faces are visible.

"All prospective and progressing students, as well as staff, have been advised of the policy, which will mean everyone allowed on the premises can understand and know each other in a safe environment."

But another student at the college, Imaani Ali, 17, who studies applied sciences, said her "freedom has been breached" by the rule.  "Me and another friend who wears the veil were only told we wouldn't be allowed inside the college after we had enrolled.”

She added: "They haven't provided us with another alternative. We said we would happily show the men at security our faces so they could check them against our IDs, but they won't let us.”

However, other students at the college - which has several campuses across the West Midlands - said the ban made them feel safer.  Chante Young, 17, a business student, said: "You don't know who is underneath it.  "You can't see any of their face - only their eyes."

Last month a judge has halted a court case after a Muslim woman refused to lift her face veil and prove her identity.


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