Friday, September 27, 2013

If Lies Don’t Work, Try Force to Shut People Up: Common core

For all those “conservatives” who support Common Core education reform, congratulations: Your side is acting like typical liberals.  You’re lying about Common Core and when that doesn’t work, you and your liberal allies are willing to use naked force.

Whatever else Common Core is about, it’s not an attempt to implement “standards.”

At least in one case, it’s a wholesale rewriting American history, the constitution and common sense. And in another recent case, it’s about the ability to belittle, harass, and arrest the parents who just won’t shut the hell up.

We told you so.

“Greenville County Schools is alerting its teachers who use a U.S. history textbook called ‘The Americans’ that a description of the Second Amendment it gives is inaccurate, a district spokesman said late Thursday,” reported Greenville Online.

“The high school text ‘states that citizens have the right to bear arms as members of a militia of citizen-soldiers,’ spokesman Oby Lyles said. ‘This is not accurate.’”

Yeah, no duh.

The story was first reported by the Blaze, and the district, to their credit, notified other members of the media.

Of course, the county school district quickly figured out that the text was incorrect.  Not so the United States Department of Education.

They’re convening a “review” of the text. Perhaps they need some time to issue paid leaves, hide mid-level officials who rewrote the constitution, and otherwise cover their tracks.

Education is now going to be the process of fact checking, reviewing, and then finding no one responsible for the revisions to American history.

I have not had a chance to see the textbook, but I’m guessing that any group that rewrote a little thing like the 2nd Amendment probably got a few more things wrong too.

And guess what? While the Grenville County School District has been stand-up about the concerns regarding the new Common Core text, some school districts haven’t been as forthright about answering questions.

Take Baltimore for example.

Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas Dance announced the he’d be holding a series of five meetings around the district to answers parents’ concerns about education, including Common Core.

So parents, understandably, thought that meant that Dance would actually ANSWER questions about their concerns.

Instead, parents submitted written questions, which were edited into softball questions so the superintendent could waste parents time with a dog and pony show. This annoyed at least one parent who showed up, on his time off from work, to express his concerns about Common Core standards not adequately preparing students for four-year colleges.

He spoke-up.

The result was that he got arrested and charged with second-degree assault on a police officer.

An assault that didn’t happen according to the video taken by a local parent.

In the video, 46-year-old Robert Small is seen trying to ask a question to Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, and Maryland Schools Superintendent Dr. Lillian Lowery. The video shows an off duty Baltimore County Police officer shoving Small and escorting him out of the room as he tries to shout a question.

Before taking Small out of the room, the officer instructs the man to lower his voice, but he did continue shouting. The officer said he intervened at the request of Dance's chief of staff Michelle Prumo who was in the room where the meeting was taking place.

The video does not appear to show Small hitting the officer, though in the arrest report, police allege Small did shove the officer during the exchange.

If what Small did is illegal, then anything that doesn't comply with grasping government is illegal.

At this rate, Common Core supporters won’t just lose an argument.   They’ll lose the middle.

Proponents of Common Core ought to think through the implications of needing to lie to parents and use force against them as an alternative to answering their simple, justifiable and common concerns.


Village Academic Curriculum: Failing Schools

“Philadelphia's schools,” notes The Wall Street Journal, “are a textbook case of chronic, systemic failure.” Why? Well, just 40% of Philadelphia's students tested proficient or better in reading. Paradoxically, 99.5% of teachers have a satisfactory rating. On top of that, the average teacher at a traditional school in Philadelphia earns $110,000 in salary and benefits. Last year, the district borrowed $300 million to cover a budget deficit and this year closed more than 20 schools and laid off 3,000 employees to cover another $300 million hole, all while union benefits remain lavish. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is working to get some concessions from the union, but, as usual, they're putting the kids, er, their bottom line first.

While Philadelphia's schools crumble, a New York teacher fired earlier this year for possessing a stash of heroin could get his job back after a judge found his firing to be “unduly harsh.”

And then there's the story of the Virginia seventh graders who were suspended and could be expelled for firing airsoft guns on private property. They allegedly violated their school's “zero tolerance” policy while waiting for the bus. We'd say it's time the U.S. education system displayed “zero tolerance” for mindless leftists.


Gov. Scott Rejects Common Core As An ‘Intrusion’ In Florida’s Academic Standards

Florida Governor Rick Scott issued an executive order Monday rejecting the Common Core educational initiative adopted in 2010 by the Florida State Board of Education (BOE) and endorsed by former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future as a “Federal government intrusion” into his state’s right to set its own academic standards.

“The Federal government has no constitutional authority to unilaterally set academic standards for Florida, nor any authority to unilaterally direct local school board decisions on curriculum and instruction,” Scott’s executive order stated.

“Floridians will not accept Federal government intrusion into the academic standards that are taught to our students in our classrooms and will not tolerate the Federal government using such standards to coerce policy decisions at the state or local level,” it continued.

Florida is one of 45 states that have joined the push to implement uniform federal standards in mathematics and English language arts across the country. However, Common Core has since come under political fire, in part due to the U.S. Department of Education’s data-mining plans.

Scott called on the Florida BOE to abandon any exams based on Common Core standards. He also urged the board to withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a group of states developing assessments based on Common Core standards, and called for a “competitive solicitation” for new academic assessments to be used in Florida’s public schools.

"Unfortunately, what ‘Common Core’ has come to mean in the minds of many in our state is less about a set of high academic standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics and more about an effort to institute federal control of the policy decisions of state and local governments,” Scott said in a letter to Gary Chartrand, chair of the Florida State BOE.

“What Floridians need to know is not whether our leaders are ‘for Common Core’ or ‘against Common Core,’” Scott wrote. “Instead, they need to know that we are going to provide our students the highest academic standards and reject the intrusion from the federal government that does not serve students, parents or our teachers well.”

In another letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Scott voiced his support for finding “other alternatives to select an assessment that best meets the needs of Florida students, parents and teachers, not the needs of the federal government or other states.

“The provision of these standards is a fundamental duty of our state government, while the operation, control and supervision of our schools remains, as the Florida Constitution directs, the purview of our local school boards,” Scott reminded Duncan. “Unfortunately today, PARCC has become a primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government in many of these state and local decisions.”

Scott also reaffirmed his decision to “end Florida’s fiscal agent relationship” with PARCC and “immediately codify through State Board of Education action that Florida will not adopt the Common Core State Standards appendices,” including “pieces of literature, informational text, poetry, etc…and designed high school math courses, which should all remain the decisions of local school boards.”


Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Quit Teach for America

Five weeks of training was not enough to prepare me for a room of 20 unruly elementary-schoolers

During my training, I taught a group of nine well-behaved third-graders who had failed the state reading test and hoped to make it to fourth grade. Working with three other corps members, which created a generous teacher-student ratio, I had ample time for one-on-one instruction.

That classroom training was completely unlike the situation I now faced in Atlanta: teaching math and science to two 20-person groups of rotating, difficult fifth-graders—fifth-graders so difficult that multiple substitute teachers would vow never to teach fifth grade at our school again.

I had few insights or resources to draw on when preteen boys decided recess would be the perfect opportunity to beat each other bloody, or when parents all but accused me of being racist during meetings. Or when a student told me that his habit of doing nothing during class stemmed from his (admittedly sound) logic that "I did the same thing last year and I passed." The Institute’s training curriculum was far too broad to help me navigate these situations. Because many corps members do not receive their specific teaching assignments until after training has ended, the same training is given to future kindergarten teachers in Atlanta, charter-school teachers in New Orleans, and high-school physics teachers in Memphis.

I was not alone in my trouble with student behavior. Gary Rubinstein, a 1991 TFA alum and an outspoken critic of the organization, believes the training sets teachers up for failure: TFA teachers “don’t know how to deal with discipline problems, because they’ve never dealt with a class with more than 10 kids—there’s no way to deal with so many potential problems when they’ve never been practiced.”

Jessica Smith, a corps member I recently called up, agrees. “I’ve struggled with behavior management,” she admits. (As with all the names of teachers I spoke to for this article, “Jessica” is a pseudonym.) Though training includes some instruction in student discipline, “I didn’t really have the training to know how to give consequences consistently,” Jessica said.

I asked if she reached out for support. “I think I talked to every person I knew to talk to, even our region’s executive director,” Jessica recalled. Although TFA ultimately did send in a behavior-management expert, “The person who finally came in to help me came at the end of February for a 20-minute session.” Is this a representative experience? It’s hard to say. “We provide training in behavior-management techniques,” a TFA spokesperson said when asked about Jessica, “but corps members are expected to adapt their training to their unique school culture. We also provide continuing support for corps members who have trouble fitting in.”

Jessica has decided not to return to TFA for a second year. She said she was so unsupported that she felt justified reneging on her two-year commitment. “Yes a commitment matters,” she wrote, “but staying isn’t necessarily helpful to your kids or anybody.” Jessica said that after she notified local TFA leadership of her decision, the reaction was severe. “They chewed out my character and made personal allegations,” she said. She was told, she recalls, that she would “personally have to deal with remorse and regret.”

On its website, TFA makes a bold claim that “By the end of Institute, corps members have developed a foundation of knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to be effective beginning teachers.” Training is supposed to include teaching “for an average of two hours each day … observed by experienced teachers,” “extensive lesson planning instruction,” and constant opportunities for feedback. Personally, I taught two 90-minute classes per week, a far cry from the 10 hours per week described in the publicity materials—and “experienced teachers” usually meant new TFA alumni with two years of classroom experience.

Compared with the experiences of other Teach for America teachers, though, my placement and training were actually fairly lucky. I know more than one Religious Studies major who arrived in Atlanta ready to teach elementary school, only to be told that she was being reassigned to teach high-school mathematics.

I am standing, arms crossed, back hunched, whispering with Ms. Jones, as we sort supplies our students will need for the Criterion Referenced Competency Test. In the last few free minutes before testing begins, Ms. Jones is sharing her candid, and often hilarious, views on first-year teaching. “It’s wrong!” she whispers passionately, her eyebrows shoot up far into her forehead. Ms. Jones is known as a no-nonsense veteran teacher, and I had found her quite intimidating before I realized she is incredibly kind. “It’s wrong to put teachers in the classroom with no experience, Ms. Blanchard. I went through a teaching program, and I taught in four different classrooms before I ever had these kids on my own.” Looking at Ms. Jones’ perfectly behaved, high-achieving third-graders and comparing them with my own unruly students, I can see her point. The intercom buzzes to announce a five-minute warning before testing will begin, and that reminds Ms. Jones of the labyrinthine set of test procedures to come. “Make sure they have their pencils, Ms. Blanchard, we can’t have any testing irregularities. You know we have to cover ourselves. Everyone’s watching this building, and I don’t know about you, but Ms. Jones is not fixing to be on Channel 2 tonight.”

By the end of the school year, I felt like I would scream if I ever heard the phrase cover yourself again. Within Atlanta Public Schools, this phrase embodies a general spirit of fear and intimidation, not to mention sad tolerance for the fact that teachers are seen as little more than passive cogs in the wheel of the city's education machine.

Valuable minutes of classroom instruction time were lost to filling out accident reports when kids occasionally fell out of their chairs or poked each other with pencils. If two students began arguing and one child angrily vowed to “get” the other, I was always advised by fellow teachers to write up the incident on Atlanta Public Schools letterhead immediately, thereby “covering” the district if the threat materialized and parents were feeling litigious. What our students needed the most in these situations, it seemed, were conflict-management skills and character education, but unfortunately these interventions do not sufficiently “cover” the adult interests of the district. When I was once asked to fill in for an unexpectedly absent colleague, one of her second-graders chose to confide in me about his abysmal home life. He explained, with wide and trusting eyes, that his mother’s boyfriend enjoyed getting drunk, abusing the family, and sometimes shooting at the kids with a BB gun for fun. I immediately reported the incident to an administrator, who reacted with what appeared to be annoyance that one more paper had to be filed at 3:00 p.m. on a Friday. This was an administrator who really does care about children and wants to improve their lives—but the all-important duty of covering the legal interests of the district can make crucial social work feel like just another rubber stamp.

I’d been at TFA training, about to head into this system, when the official report on the cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools was released. My immediate reaction was shock that so many teachers could be complicit in something so outrageously dishonest. Midway through the school year, though, I came to understand exactly how it had happened. APS has some of the best teachers in the country, but surviving in the district means covering yourself, and during standardized testing this means ensuring objective success. In a top-down, ruthless bureaucracy like APS, teachers are front-line foot soldiers, not educators encouraged to pursue their calling.

Atlanta Public Schools teachers spend countless hours teaching to exhaustion, spending their own money on classroom supplies, and buying basic necessities for their poorest students, only to be reminded constantly that their job performance will be judged according to test answers bubbled in by wobbly little fingers barely able to hold a pencil upright. Teaching children is inherently much more intimate, messy, and personal than any office job could ever be. It's about guiding, pushing, and spending most of your waking hours with other people's children, whether they need a Band-Aid, a bear hug, or a fresh set of markers that their parents can't afford. Many teachers in schools like mine would agree that often the most-struggling students improve in ways that will not be reflected on the state test. They might learn to say please and thank you, or they might master a set of academic skills that still will not be enough to pass on-level, or they might gain a healthy dose of self-respect. After a year in this environment, I realized I could understand how, when the annual testing frenzy rolled around, a lot of teachers chose to put their heads down, tune out, and cover themselves.

Teach for America cited the Atlanta scandal as a sad example of what is wrong with education's status quo, one of the many reasons America's schools need even more reform and innovation. But what occurred to me, as I worked my way, ill-prepared, through Atlanta Public Schools, was that the two systems are not as far apart as either might like to suggest. TFA is at least as enamored of numerical "data points" of success as APS is. TFA strongly encourages its teachers to base their classes' "big goals" around standardized-test scores. Past and present corps members are asked to stand to thunderous applause if their students have achieved some objectively impressive measure of achievement, and everyone knows that the best way to work for and rise through TFA ranks is to have a great elevator pitch about how your students' scores improved by X percent.

Whether or not the numerical data is broadly accurate, I can attest to the pressure within TFA to produce proof of student gains without much oversight or guidance.

By the end of my time at TFA and Atlanta Public Schools, I came to feel that both organizations had a disconnect between their public ideals and their actual effectiveness. APS invests in beautiful new buildings and glossy public-relations messaging, only to pressure its teachers into pedagogical conformity that often prevents them from reaching the district’s most remedial students. Likewise, TFA promotes a public image of eager high achievers dedicated to one mission, reaching “Big Goals” that pull students out of the achievement gap, where non-TFA teachers have let them fall. But in my experience, many if not most corps members are confused about their purpose, uncertain of their skills, and struggling to learn the basics.


Education Dep't Strategy Is to Educate Adult Non-Citizens

The U.S. Education Department, anticipating an influx of foreigners in the years ahead under immigration reform, says it plans to create an "adult learning infrastructure" to meet demand for "high-quality English language" skills and other basics.

On page 10 of its draft strategic plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018, the Education Department says it will work to "transform" the adult education system -- "and create an adult learning infrastructure that better meets the demand for high-quality English language, literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills. This infrastructure must accommodate the increased demand for skills from industry and business, as well as for services that may result from comprehensive immigration reform."

The word "immigration" appears only on page 10 of the 42-page report, which mainly focuses on improving the administration's "cradle-to-career education strategy."

In the paragraph dealing with adult education, the department says it is concerned about the number of adults who lack "foundational" literacy and numerical skills:

"Because of this, too many adults cannot enter or complete a post-secondary education or training program," the report says. "Data on educational attainment and skills show that there are at least 30 million Americans without basic literacy skills in need of educational credentials for work. The social and economic consequences are severe for these adults and their families, as well as for their communities, where large numbers of low-skilled adults can limit economic development. The current adult education system is not equipped to handle this challenge, serving less than 3 percent of the need."

The draft strategic plan, released last week, does not say how the Education Department will "transform" the adult learning infrastructure, but it does say that post-secondary institutions "must increase their capacity to serve the growing number of Americans who require education and/or training beyond high school to compete in the workplace, particularly the tens of millions of Americans who have basic literacy and workforce training needs."

A 2012 report --"Improving Adult Literacy Instruction" -- says major employers, existing training and education organizations, faith-based groups, and other community groups should be enlisted to help in the effort.

The Education Department's Division of Adult Education and Literacy provides funds to states for adult education and literacy programs. The amount each state receives is based on a formula established by Congress.

In Fiscal Year 2013, the division allocated $553,990,840 to the states for adult education programs and English literacy/civics education for immigrants. The states, in turn, distribute the taxpayer money to local entities to provide adult education and literacy services.


British schools told to run parenting classes and measure happiness

Schools are being told to organise parenting classes for the pupils’ parents to ensure teenagers have a stable home life under official health guidelines published today.

They are also being advised that they should “systematically measure” children’s happiness levels to stop them going off the rails.

And, as well as carrying out health and safety risk assessments for school trips and other activities they should also assess how extra curricular activities affect children’s “emotional well-being”.

The instructions are contained in a raft of new public health advice for councils issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the body which decides which drugs the NHS should prescribe.

Nice has been issuing wide-ranging guidance to local authorities since they took over new responsibilities for maintaining public health earlier this year.

The latest batch of guidance ranges from practical advice to local authorities on minimising the spread of tuberculosis among homeless people to a section making a financial case for funding antismoking campaigns.

But it also includes a 14-page briefing for councils on improving the “social and emotional well-being” of children and young people with instructions for midwives, health visitors and schools.

The paper advises anyone working with children to be on the lookout for evidence they are living in squalor, that their parents have mental health problems or that they are abusing drugs or alcohol.

It argues that stepping in early can prevent children repeating the problems of their parents and says that “happy and confident” children are less likely to go on to have mental health or behavioural problems in later life.

“Negative parenting and poor quality family or school relationships place children at risk of poor mental health,” it explains.

Then, offering advice to secondary schools, it continued: “Schools should systematically measure and assess young people’s social and emotional well-being.

“They should use the outcomes to plan activities and evaluate their impact.”

It adds: “Schools should reinforce young people’s learning from the curriculum, by helping parents and carers develop their parenting skills.

“This may involve providing information or offering small, group-based programmes run by appropriately trained health or education practitioners.”

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said it was “ludicrous” to ask teachers to measure happiness or teach parents as well as pupils.

“I have to wonder how we have survived from the Stone Age without all of this guidance from Nice,” he said.

“The nanny state is growing and needs have its powers reduced, schools have got more than enough to do to teach their children.

“If you teach people to read and write and play sport and music, that’s what makes them happy – what makes people unhappy is being deskilled, too many schools are focusing on social care.

“Teachers are fed up to the back teeth with all of this – it is non-stop. All the time they are being asked to solve all the problems of society rather than focusing on solving the thing they good at solving: ignorance.”

A spokeswoman for the Depatrment for Education said: "The decision on whether to run these classes, or any activities for families, is a matter for schools and councils.”


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How the best school may HARM your child: Youngsters could do better at worse school with less competition

Parents who have agonised over getting their children into the best school may have been wasting their time and effort.  Surrounding a child with brighter peers could actually damage his or her education, researchers warn.

They said constantly being outshone in the classroom by brainboxes could shatter their confidence so much that they end up doing worse academically.

So weaker students – both boys and girls – might be better off at a less competitive school as they have the psychological advantage of being a ‘bigger fish in a smaller pond’.

Being a competent pupil in such a setting can help ‘motivate’ children and lead to ‘confidence, resilience and perseverance’, according to the findings.

Bright children, however, tend to thrive as they move through their school careers because they are already filled with self-confidence.

This positive side of the phenomenon affects both sexes although it is far more pronounced in boys, according to the paper from the London School of Economics.

The gain was said to be similar to a child who is the best in their street at football and ‘becomes more confident and spends more time playing and so further improves’.

Dr Felix Weinhardt, a post-doctoral research fellow in economics, said: ‘Our findings go against the common assumption that having better peers is always the best for children. Previously we thought there were no negative effects.  ‘But just making it into a better school and being at the bottom end of the ranks can have a negative effect.’

The research looked at almost 2.3million English pupils taking National Curriculum tests in maths, English and science.

Assessments for those aged 11 (Key Stage 2) were used as a benchmark of ability while those for  14-year-olds (Key Stage 3) were used to rate how well they did at secondary school.

The project also used a survey on confidence taken by 15,000 pupils.

The data revealed those near the top of their class in primary school continued to improve while those who struggled often did worse.

The upward trend was stronger for boys but the same for both genders in pupils from deprived backgrounds. The ratings for both boys and girls in the bottom quarter of performance at primary dropped at secondary level.

Dr Weinhardt said parents could follow up the conclusions by flagging up a struggling pupil’s strong areas eg that they were ahead of others in the area or were doing well according to national ratings


Obama’s College Affordability Scheme Gets an ‘F’

President Obama unveiled his latest college affordability plan in time for the start of the new school year. Yet his proposal for a government-issued “College Scorecard” shows he needs more homework about why college is so expensive.

Under the president’s plan, starting in 2015, colleges would be rated according to their “value,” measured by tuition prices, the proportion of low-income students enrolled, graduation rates, debt loads carried by graduates, the advanced degrees they attain, and graduates’ earnings. By 2018, federal aid would be dispersed to institutions based on their ratings.

The president has suggested that giving people more information is a surefire way to drive college costs down. But bad incentives, not bad information, are to blame.

Colleges have raised tuition prices and let costs run amok for decades — all the while directing more of their own institutional aid to students from wealthier families. Still the federal aid just kept coming.

Nearly a decade ago, less than one quarter of the institutional aid colleges awarded went to undergraduates from families earning $100,000 or more. Today, it’s jumped to 38 percent.

If colleges had instead used financial aid to improve affordability, a college degree would cost about $3,500 less, according to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Instead, colleges seem to be pouring more money into administrative bloat. In fact, administrative staff grew at twice the pace of instructional staff over the past 15 years, according to research by the University of Arkansas’ Jay P. Greene.

This situation will likely worsen if new mandates are enacted under Obama’s college rating system, since additional federal financial aid compliance officers will be required to track students long after they’ve graduated.

Americans should learn from our experience with No Child Left Behind, which added nearly 8 million additional administrative hours at a cost of more than $235 million annually to K-12 education. Colleges will face similar additional red tape under Obama’s College Scorecard scheme.

Obama’s rating system will also open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences because his measures of college “value” are based on economically faulty assumptions that are also highly susceptible to politicization.

Just wait until Washington politicians and their special interest friends start dictating what makes a college education valuable. Programs offering low-earning liberal arts and social work degrees could face the chopping block, along with higher earning but less esteemed programs among Washington elites such as manufacturing and trades.

There are better ways to tackle college affordability. First, this is largely a problem of the federal government’s own making. For decades, federal aid has flowed to institutions, which in turn raised prices with immunity — making college less, not more, affordable.

The solution is to phase out federal aid, return the associated overhead and administrative funds to taxpayers, allow students and their families set aside tax-free funds to pay for college, and encourage private sector work-study contracts so students can earn degrees without the debt or job uncertainty current graduates face.

Now that’s a plan that would earn high marks for innovation and effectiveness, but Americans should also consider a more fundamental re-evaluation of the college conversation.

Obama insists that a college degree is “an economic imperative.” In reality, just one out of four jobs in the fastest growing fields over the next decade will require a college degree or higher.

All students should have an equal opportunity to pursue the education they believe will best prepare them to succeed personally and professionally. That freedom is what fuels our economy, not the “four-year college for all” agenda, which too often leaves students in debt for a meaningless degree.


Australia:  New measures restore principals' right to crack down on unruly students

In the State of Queensland

PRINCIPALS say tough new school discipline measures will help restore a respect for authority in students.

A Parliamentary committee yesterday held hearings into legislation introduced by Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek which will allow principals to crack down on unruly students.

Changes include longer periods of suspension and detention as well as the ability for a principal to compel a student to perform community service or suspend them if they are facing charges.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association spokesman Jeff Major told the committee he hoped the changes would restore respect for authority.

"Respect for authority and for the principalship over time has diminished," he said.

"We believe that the Bill and some of the work that's done in promoting this Bill will help to reinstate the principal's position in the community and their authority.

"Over time we hope that will lead to better discipline and better behaviour in our schools."

Mr Major said principals did not set out with a desire to issue suspensions or exclusions.

"Unfortunately this has become part of our role in dealing with some of the pointy end behaviours that occur in our schools so we can set high expectations and set good tones in our schools so that all students can benefit from good learning," he said.

"Principals do strive to have very positive cultures in their school to ensure students are engaged."

Several submitters raised concerns with some of the more controversial aspects of the changes including Queensland Law Society children's law committee deputy chair Damien Bartholomew.

He told the committee the society had concerns with the decision to allow principals to suspend students who have been charged with an offence before they have found guilty.

"This appears to be inconsistent with the presumption of innocence," Mr Bartholomew said.

"These changes would also empower the principal to make a decision based on behaviour that occurs beyond the school grounds and may be entirely unrelated to conduct affecting the school."

Mr Bartholomew said the society was concerned those students affected would become further isolated as a result.

"One of the primary concerns of the society in making a representation in relation to this Bill is that we know that young people who are disengaged from school are far more likely to be engaging in the youth justice system," he said.

Mr Major said people who had not had the benefit of schooling were more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

He said the decision to suspend a student who is facing charges would also undermine bail conditions which usually include that a juvenile continue to attend school.

The parliamentary Education and Innovation Committee also heard from other groups including the University of Queensland school of Education, the Queensland Teachers' Union, the Brisbane Youth Education and Training Centre Parents and Citizens Association and teacher Jack Dacey during almost three hours of hearings yesterday.

It is due to report back to State Parliament on the Education (Strengthening Discipline in State Schools) Amendment Bill 2013 by October 9.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

GOP Leaders Demand Answers on Administration’s Attempt to Shut Down Louisiana Private School Choice Program

House Republican leaders today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concerns about the Obama administration’s effort to shut down a successful private school choice program in Louisiana that is providing hope to students and families.

Signed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), the letter states:

The department’s allegation that the Louisiana Program could impede the desegregation process is extremely troubling and paradoxical in nature. If DOJ is successful in shutting down this invaluable school choice initiative, not only will students across Louisiana be forced to remain in failing schools, but it could have a reverberating effect and cause other states to feel pressured to shut down similar initiatives that provide countless children the opportunity to receive a better education…Instead of undermining choice and opportunity in education, the administration should support state and local efforts to provide more education options… We strongly urge you to consider the effects of this poorly conceived motion on the very children you profess to be protecting.

The letter from Republican leaders requested detailed information about the department’s ill-conceived decision, including an explanation of how its attempt to revoke scholarships and eliminate education choices will help low-income and minority children access better education opportunities. Additionally, the leaders asked for all written correspondence between the department and the administration – as well as correspondence between the department and outside interest groups – regarding the Louisiana Program.

BACKGROUND: On August 22, the Department of Justice filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to prevent the state of Louisiana from offering private school choice opportunities to children in school districts with existing desegregation orders.  Specifically, the motion targets the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program, which awards private school scholarships to children of all races who meet strict income limits and are either entering Kindergarten or enrolled in a school that has received a C, D, or F ranking on the state accountability system. Of the 5,000 scholarships distributed by the Louisiana Program last year, 91 percent went to minority students.


Inspectors to be sent into British Muslim school that orders staff to wear the hijab amid concerns about its quality of teaching

Inspectors are to be sent ‘within days’ to a Muslim free school where girls are segregated from boys and non-Muslim female staff forced to wear hijabs.

Michael Gove has ordered Ofsted to immediately investigate Al-Madinah School amid reports lessons are being replaced by prayers.

The Derby school, which opened last year, was due to have its first inspection later this term but the quality of teaching and leadership will now be scrutinised as a matter of urgency.

Possible outcomes include it being given the lowest possible rating of ‘inadequate’ and placed in special measures.

The Secretary of State acted as critics warned similar practices could spread to other free schools, which are state funded but operate outside local authority control.

The revelations have been embarrassing for Mr Gove, who introduced the schools in 2010 to raise the standard of education.

Insiders at Al-Madinah School say it has become increasingly religious since opening. Teachers claim this has led to children’s education suffering.

Girls allegedly have to sit at the back of the class and give up their place at the front of queues to boys.

Stringed instruments, singing, reading fairy tales and even using the word ‘pig’ are banned, according to staff, who say they are also obliged to wear headscarves.

Former headteacher Andrew Cutts-McKay resigned last month, two months after his deputy, Suzanne Southerland.

Sources claimed they had been ‘bullied’ out of their jobs over concerns about hardline policies. The school denies the claims.

Pressure groups and education experts said failure to take action would promote segregation – and encourage other Islamic free schools to follow Al-Madinah’s extreme model.

They also warned that the way female pupils were being treated could end up damaging their sense of self-worth.

Margaret Morrissey, from pressure group Parents Outloud, said: ‘This is going to make life extremely difficult for female pupils.

‘All the time they are being told they are second-class citizens. It is promoting a segregated society.

‘Children have to understand how to live in our society. If they’re not getting that at school then they’re not getting it anywhere.’

Chris McGovern, from the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is a very difficult situation. We live in a multicultural society and a consequence of that is you have multicultural practices. But the buck stops with Michael Gove.’

And Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, said: ‘I can’t understand why there has been the argument that deregulation [of free schools] is a good idea.

‘Some regulation is important because otherwise you get extremism in schools.’  He added: ‘We are creating an education system that is separating sections of society.

‘For the last 40 or 50 years people were brought together by being educated side by side. Now Mr Gove is allowing space for confusion and bigotry.’

A message posted on the school’s website by interim principal Stuart Wilson said: ‘There are a number of rumours circulating that are worrying parents. The school is not going to shut down.’

But a Department for Education spokesman said: ‘These allegations are very worrying. The DfE will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to prevent religious intolerance or any breaking of the rules for free schools.’


Australia: Ban kids from starting school until they turn five to ensure they don't fall behind, experts say

This is ridiculous:  A "one size fits all" approach.  In fact some kids may be ready at 4 and others not ready until 6.  All kids are not equal.  Mental age (IQ) is what matters and IQ is not equally distributed

CHILDREN should be banned from starting formal education before they turn five, with experts warning students who begin too young are falling behind and calling for a standard national school age.

Amid a new international push towards later school entry, early childhood teaching experts and peak bodies warned many Australian children were too little to learn in classrooms.

"There is considerable international research showing that children who start school when they are older tend to do better," said Associate Professor Kay Margetts, from Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education.

"But there is no evidence that suggests that starting school before the age of five is of any benefit to children."

States and territories control what age children must be before starting school and that age varies widely across Australia. In some states there can be a gap of 17 months, or a third of a kindergartener's life, between the youngest and oldest in a class.

In NSW children can start as young as four years and six months, but they must be in school by the age of six, while in Tasmania they need to have turned five before they enter their first year of primary, which is known across the country by various names including prep, kindergarten and reception. Prof Margetts said children should not be able to start school before turning five.

"It is well documented even with only a 12 month gap, those older children were doing better than the younger children," Prof Margetts said.

More than 120 leading educators in Britain this month launched a new "too much, too soon" campaign calling for formal schooling to be delayed until children turn six or seven because most four year olds are not ready to study in a structured environment.

The Australian Primary Principals Association said there should be a national uniform age for the foundation year of school.

"We believe all states should have some consistency in the starting age of students, and also the naming of that starting year, given that it's known by so many names like reception and kindy," said APPA deputy president Steve Portlock.

"It would certainly help for families who travel between states, but it would also mean that when test like NAPLAN are sat then students who were older and possibly more ready wouldn't have an advantage over younger students."

The Australian Parent's Council also argues for a standardised age and title for the foundation year, but executive director Ian Dalton said an enforced cut-off for those under five would not be appropriate.

"There is no doubt one of the main mistakes parents will make is to start their children at school too young, but that age varies from child to child," Mr Dalton said.

"You are probably better off to start them a little bit older because it can be difficult for a child when all through their schooling they are younger than their peers. But I don't know that there is any hard and fast rule that will suit all children - I think that parents are in the best position to know when to start their at school."

Prof Margetts said what age to start was one of the most vexing issues for parents of younger children, and a uniform age would make the decision easier.

"What we typically find is that the children starting younger in Australia are the children of parents who don't necessarily have a choice about it," she said.

"It's often people with financial difficulties because it's much cheaper to send a child to school than to keep them in preschool or early childhood services. It's also often children from immigrant families who don't realise the flexibility of the rules.

"We know that younger children in the class are at risk of falling behind and if they come from families who are having financial difficulties, then those children are doubly disadvantaged."

Some states have previously implemented a staggered start to the school year for later birthdays, but this practice is currently being wound-back in South Australia amid concern children with less formal schooling were being disadvantaged in standardised testing.

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the Federal Government supported a move to a standard age for starting school but it was up to the states and territories to administer it.

Mr Pyne would not comment on whether children should be banned from starting formal schooling before they turn five.

"The Federal Coalition supports national uniformity of school starting ages where possible," he said through his spokesperson.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Common Core: Another Elite vs. Grassroots Fault Line

The major fault line in politics today is not Republican vs. Democrat. It is big government elite vs. the constitutional conservative grassroots, and few issues define that fault line better than the fight over “Common Core” education standards.

The elite promoters of Common Core, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, dismiss the critics of Common Core as “comfortable with mediocrity.”

The parents, taxpayers and conservative educators who oppose Common Core ask if Common Core is so great why was there no public input before the standards were adopted and they are opposed to an approach to education that only looks at children “in terms of tracking, alignment, workforce and human capitol,” as activist Alyson Williams put it.

These local education activists, parents and taxpayers are also opposed to making their local schools part of the Obama surveillance state by contracting out to private companies a vast data mining operation on their children in the name of education.

Local Republican Party organizations and Tea Party groups have now begun to enter the fray and what was a lonely quest by a few concerned parents and conservative educators has begun to gather steam as a great grassroots movement to take back local control of schools from the federal government and their corporate cronies who not only wrote the Common Core standards, but stand to make billions of dollars from their adoption.

In Florida opposition to Common Core means opposition to former Governor Jeb Bush and his powerful allies still in government, but local Republican leaders are one-by-one choosing to oppose Common Core.

According to The Miami Herald, the Republican Party of Sarasota County launched an anti-Common Core petition last month, and individual party leaders, including Leon County GOP Chairman Bradley Maxwell, have added their names to a sharply written letter urging state leaders to dump the national benchmarks.

Now the Miami-Dade Republican Party has just passed a resolution opposing Common Core as an unconstitutional “inappropriate overreach” by the federal government.  Even though that means opposing former Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Jeb Bush.

Activist Pam Evans, who helped propose the resolution (download the resolution here courtesy of The Miami Herald), appealed to Republicans to vote their conscience and buck their party leaders if need be.

“Is party more important than the education of the children of the state of Florida?” she asked. “Is loyalty to its lead promoters – Jeb Bush and the rest of the Republican leadership -- so cemented that we will be whipped into one mindset and put party over principal?”

Emphasizing reading and math are fine, but we don’t think that creating an army of drones for big business is what American education should be all about.

We agree with Common Core opponents, such as Alyson Williams of Utah and Pam Evans of Florida in their opposition to the State Common Core Standards.

“Obamacore” is a socialist approach to education, and it is outrageous that the federal government would demand that in order for states to qualify for federal grants they have to comply with standards created without public input by an unelected third party.

We believe that equipping students with the knowledge necessary to become engaged citizens should be the top goal of our education system. Local school authorities setting standards and responding to voter demands for student competence in subjects such as citizenship and American history, as well as reading and math, are the best ways to accomplish that goal.


A thorough education in mediocrity

Success can pertain to personal satisfaction, an intangible, or outside validation (whether via spoken word, wealth, or popularity). Personal satisfaction may spring from accomplishing a task at a pre-set standard, thus prompting outside validation and so qualifying it as a success.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo can drive success, when tasks are accomplished only through the motivation to change a current reality. Even if the only goal is attaining wealth, the drive stems from dissatisfaction with one’s current fiscal situation. Yet turning dissatisfaction with the status quo into real world action requires a clear worldview and engagement with one’s surroundings.

Education serves to prime youth for such engagement—or at least, it should. The public education system often disillusions students, indirectly encouraging them to tune out a world that is presented as uninteresting, static, or irrelevant to them. Why engage cookie cutter curricula when you’re likely to gain more from skipping school to read Pynchon/eat fruit/smoke cigarettes/stare blankly at a computer screen/do virtually anything besides run on the hamster wheel that is public education?

I attended a private elementary school and a public high school, with two years of self-directed homeschooling in between. The private school (though oppressively small and even more oppressively religious) provided me with a stellar humanities background, due mainly to passionate teachers and a fluid curriculum. A wave of intellectual excitement and a love of reading—the most important gift of a good education—carried me through middle school, when I had to stay independently motivated to complete the self-directed curriculum.

Entering public high school in ninth grade, I immediately sensed a stale intellectual atmosphere. The teachers, despite earning significantly more than my elementary school teachers, grumbled about being overworked and underpaid. For remedial classes, the focus was discipline. For advanced classes, presentations ridden with typos and dry reading material were standard. This from the top ranked public high school in Minnesota!

How does a student not get weighed down from the exhaustive drivel? America’s current system of public education deafens the exciting roar of a world that applauds intellectual pursuits and innovation and counteracts a drive to succeed. So what is to be done?

Unfortunately, a complete overhaul of the nation’s public education system would sacrifice a generation of students caught in the lag period. But much can still be done.

In too many school districts, teacher evaluation and classroom accountability are essentially moot, because the evaluation process gives unskilled or apathetic teachers dozens of opportunities to redeem themselves. In the long process before an incompetent teacher finally gets fired, students continue to suffer from poor classroom leadership. Until a total overhaul of the education system becomes a reality, parents and elected officials would do well to work together to tighten this evaluation process to become truly stringent, not simply a drawn-out job protection charade.


The Labour Party MPs who hate free schools... unless they're in their own constituencies

Labour frontbenchers were branded hypocrites last night after denouncing the Government’s free schools while backing them in their own constituencies.

At least 21 Labour MPs are supporting free schools in their local areas – including four members of the Shadow Cabinet and another six Labour frontbenchers.

Teaching unions have opposed free schools, which are set up by teachers and parents, because they are not subject to many local authority controls. And Labour MPs have largely fallen into line behind the union position.

Earlier this month at the TUC, Ed Miliband attacked Education Secretary Michael Gove’s free school ‘experiment’, saying: ‘We have been absolutely clear that we are not going to have new free schools under a Labour government.’

And education spokesman Stephen Twigg, who will address the Labour conference tomorrow, has confirmed he would prevent any more being set up if his party wins the 2015 election.

Referring to free schools in June, he dismissed them with the remark: ‘We don’t like them.’ But Mr Twigg sang a different tune when he hailed the Everton Free School in his own Liverpool constituency as ‘inspiring’.

Similarly, Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham attended the ‘founders’ ceremony’ for the Atherton Community free school in his Leigh constituency near Manchester – despite calling such schools ‘freaky’.

The party’s justice spokesman Sadiq Khan has also enthusiastically supported a free school in Tooting, south London.

And Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman proudly advertised the ‘new facilities’ of such a school in her London constituency on her website.

Ed Miliband’s opposition to free schools did not stop his personal aide Karen Buck, the MP for Westminster North, praising the ARK Atwood Free School in her seat as ‘welcome’.  She said it will make ‘an important contribution to the continuing improvement of standards’.

As well as this, Sharon Hodgson, one of the party’s education spokesmen, said she was ‘pleased that parents and children are now able to take up places at Grindon Hall’ – a free school in her Washington and Sunderland West constituency.

Labour’s most influential backbencher Margaret Hodge, who runs the Commons Public Accounts Committee – the Westminster spending watchdog – has previously attacked free schools as ‘vanity projects’.  But Mrs Hodge led a campaign for a free school in Barking, east London, demanding £25million of funding to give the children in her constituency ‘the best possible education’.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, joined Mr Gove at the opening of the Krishna Avanti free school in Leicester.  And frontbencher Stephen Timms has welcomed not one but two new free schools in East Ham – the Oasis Academy Silvertown and the London Academy of Excellence.

A source close to Mr Gove, who championed the free schools programme, said: ‘This sort of shameless hypocrisy is exactly why people hate politicians.

'Miliband and Twigg should drop their official opposition to free schools and tell their union paymasters that raising school standards is now their priority.’


Sunday, September 22, 2013

WI: Teachers decertify their union

Latest blow to labor under Walker law

Teachers from one of Wisconsin’s largest unions have jumped ship -- voting overwhelmingly to abandon the group in the latest in a string of setbacks for the struggling labor movement following Gov. Scott Walker’s union overhaul two years ago.

The decision this week to disband by members of the Kenosha Education Association came after the organization was stripped of its certification and told it had lost its power to bargain for base wages with the district. The group was decertified after missing a key deadline in the annual reapplication process.

When the group might actually disband was not clear and calls to the organization were not returned.

The development is in keeping with an overall downward spiral for Wisconsin’s public worker unions. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported earlier this year that tens of thousands of teachers and other government workers have left their unions since the Walker-backed law took effect.

Known as Act 10, the set of reforms includes a provision that says unions won’t be recognized by the state unless 51 percent of all potential members support them in annual elections.

These elections have contributed to their decline.  According to Reuters, elections in 2011 and 2012 -- in which 207 school districts, 39 municipal and six state units participated -- resulted in 32 unions and their affiliates, or about 13 percent, being decertified.

However, those decertifications are on hold until the legal cases involving Act 10 are resolved in court.

Union contracts in three Wisconsin districts -- Janesville, Milwaukee and Kenosha -- were up for renewal over the summer and were required by law to file for their annual recertification by the end of August. Janesville and Milwaukee made the deadline. Kenosha did not, according to Peter Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Christina Brey, a spokeswoman from the Wisconsin Education Association Council, downplayed the re-certification in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

In Wisconsin, unions that aren’t certified are still allowed to operate but aren’t allowed to bargain for limited base-wage increases with the district. However, trying to get re-certified after falling behind a cycle or two will cost the union money. And that money will likely come from dues raised from members. Still, Brey seems to be taking the judgment in stride.

"It seems like the majority of our affiliates in the state aren't seeking re-certification, so I don't think the KEA is an outlier or unique in this," Brey told the paper, adding that certification gives the union scant power over a limited number of issues they'd like a voice in.

But Matt Patterson, labor analyst with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, claimed the vote was a sign that workers were turning their backs on the unions.

“The news today proves what unions have long feared -- that when workers are actually given a free and fair choice, they will often choose opt out of union membership altogether,” he said.

“The public at large — and an increasing number of union members — have become wise to the fact labor unions stifle innovation and burden governments and businesses with unsustainable costs and regulations."

So what’s this mean for the Kenosha union? For now, not a lot.

The state is still knee-deep in legal challenges to Act 10 and until all of those are decided, the rulings of the lower courts serve more as a moral blow than anything else. However, as these losses pile up, some say it’s only a matter of time before the unions lose their footing in Wisconsin.

Earlier this week, in an unrelated case, federal judge William Conley ruled that Walker’s public union restrictions are constitutional. It was the second major victory for Walker’s Act 10.

Conley’s ruling was based on a case brought by two public-worker unions from the city of Madison and Dane County. The suit, filed in 2011, claims Walker’s law steps on their constitutional right to freely assemble and express their views. They also argue that Act 10 violates their equal protection rights.

Conley ruled the recently enacted laws don’t silence employees or their unions in collective bargaining.

Act 10 was viewed by unions in Wisconsin as well as in major cities across the country as an assault on organized labor. The reforms led to massive protests in Wisconsin’s largely liberal capital city of Madison.

Walker, after taking office, also moved to dilute the power of public unions to collectively bargain, and to require public employees to make pension contributions and pay at least 12 percent of their health insurance premiums.


Ohio State University Just Acquired An Armored Assault Vehicle

Ohio State University’s public safety force has a brand new toy today – an armored fighting vehicle!  The Daily Caller reports campus public safety officers acquired the transport as free military surplus.

Campus media reps did not tell reporters the exact make or model of the vehicle, however, the image reporters took does bear an unmistakable resemblance to an MRAP.  MRAPs are Mine Resistant Ambush Protected troop transports.

They’re used by the Army and the Marine Corps to give troops cover and concealment during insertion missions and combat patrols.

They can also survive a direct hit from an Improvised Explosive Device or land mines!

Gary Lewis, a senior media rep with Ohio State says this vehicle will be a welcome addition to the university’s public safety fleet because it could be used to give officers a life-saving edge during hostage situations or a campus shooting crisis.

By the way, even though the campus public safety team now has this MRAP in its inventory, zero Ohio State or local police forces have MRAPs or any military-grade equivalent, reports The Daily Caller.


Non-Muslim teachers ‘forced to wear veil’ at British faith school

Female teachers at a state funded Muslim school have been ordered to cover their heads with Islamic scarves during school hours even if they are not Muslim, it has been claimed.

Staff at Al-Madinah School, in Derbyshire, say that they have been told to sign new contracts agreeing to wear hijabs and make girls sit at the back of classes.

The Muslim faith school, which caters for 200 students aged four to 16, also forbids the teachers from bringing in non-Halal food or wearing unacceptable jewellery, it is claimed.

Non-Asian staff have been seen removing the headwear immediately when leaving the building, but refused to reveal the extent of the school's demands.

Nick Raine, regional NUT officer, said: "We are very worried about the school and the education of the 200 children there.

"It's one thing to have a dress code which we can challenge and quite another to build it into a contract. "The school is publicly accountable so there needs to be greater transparency."

The school, which has different sites for its primary and secondary school, was set up in September 2012.

The then head teacher Andrew Cutts-Mckay, who left after less than a year in post, said it was being established so that “the timetable will be flexible with time for Islamic teaching but pupils will be able to opt out of this and there will be a chance to learn about other faiths”.

He said they would “honour all faiths” and that he envisaged a school where 50 per cent of pupils were Islamic and the other half were not.

Sue Arguile, branch secretary of Derby National Union of Teachers, said: "There are worries over practices concerning the discrimination between male and female pupils in the school, with the girls being told to sit at the back of the class regardless of whether they can see the board properly.

"This school was first launched as based on Muslim principles and not as a Muslim school.

"If the school is not sticking to the original reasons behind why it was set up, then it does call into question whether public money is being used properly and for its intended purpose."

The free school will eventually have up to 1,100 pupils, it is planned. Free schools operate in much the same way as private schools, academies outside local authority control but qualifying for government funding.

Councillor Martin Rawson, cabinet member for children and young people, who is opposed to free schools, said: "I hope that the outcome of that will be available in the near future. We are awaiting the findings before commenting further."

The school has yet to receive an inspection by Ofsted, which could reasonably be expected to happen this academic year as it is a new school. It could be brought forward in view of representations from the teaching unions and city council.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "As schools are only notified the afternoon before inspections begin, we would not be able to let anyone know when the school is being inspected."

Despite numerous attempts to contact the school, they have refused to comment on the claims.