Friday, October 18, 2013

Five British schools where not one pupil has English as their first language... and there are another 240 that are not far behind

Five primary schools in England don’t have a single pupil whose mother tongue is English.

There are also 240 schools where at least 90 per cent of children grew up learning another language.

Earlier this year, it was claimed that Gladstone Primary School in Peterborough was the only one without a single native English speaker, but four more have been found in figures obtained by Sky News.

Two schools, including Gladstone Primary, each had more than 400 pupils speaking a bewildering 20 languages.

Education experts yesterday said the influx of immigrant children often had a positive influence on British-born pupils because of their strong work ethic. But they warned teachers risked being swamped.

Professor Alan Smithers, an education expert at the University of Buckingham, said: ‘It is a growing phenomenon because of the large scale of immigration, which is putting a great deal of pressure on our school system.’

Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘Immigrant children bring a good work ethic to schools. The problem is they will have an impact on children who do speak English as a first  language because teachers’ time will be taken up helping them.

‘It can be up to a year before these children speak good English. But the other pupils don’t get that time back.’

The figures, from the Department for Education for the 2012-2013  academic year, showed Gladstone Primary had 441 pupils speaking languages including Punjabi, Urdu, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, Russian and several Russian dialects.

Teachers help pupils learn English by explaining everything they are doing so that children associate objects and actions with words.

Headteacher Christine Parker was not available for comment yesterday but has said: ‘More and more of the world is going bilingual. The culture at our school is not to see bilingualism as a difficulty.’

Peterborough City Council receives an extra £1.5million a year from the Department for Education to cover the cost of teaching children English.

Schools where 90 per cent of children speak English as a second language include nearby Beeches Primary where 23 languages were spoken by 592 pupils.

Sacred Heart School in Tipton, West Midlands, has 128 pupils, mostly with parents from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Headteacher Melanie Gee said: ‘Within a couple of weeks they are communicating in English.’

Ofsted inspections over the past six years showed one school had been rated ‘outstanding’ and two had maintained ‘good’ ratings in consecutive inspections.

Gladstone went from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’.Westwood School in Oldham slipped from ‘good’ to ‘satisfactory’ between 2009 and last year, but 83 per cent of pupils reached required levels in English Key Stage 2 tests and 87 per cent in maths.

The figures at Gladstone were 74 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.

A DfE spokesman said: ‘Many schools successfully teach pupils whose first language is not English.’


What to do About America's Low-Skill Workforce

Some bad news for America, not on the political front this time, but on what corporate executives call human resources.

It's from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's report on adult skills, based on 166,000 interviews in 24 economically advanced countries in 2011 and 2012.

The verdict on the United States: "weak in literacy, very poor in numeracy, but only slightly below average in problem-solving in technology-rich environments."

On literacy, just 12 percent of U.S. adults score at the top two levels, significantly lower than the 22 percent in largely monoethnic and culturally cohesive Japan and Finland. American average scores are below those in our Anglosphere cousins Australia, Canada and England and Northern Ireland.

One-sixth of Americans score at the bottom two levels, compared to 5 percent in Japan and Finland.

On numeracy the United States does even worse -- only 8 percent at the top levels and one-third in the lowest.

Americans do better at problem solving in tech-rich environments, which economist Tyler Cowen in his new book "Average Is Over" says will be of great economic value in the future.

One-third of Americans score at the top two levels, while one-third score at the bottom or lack such skills altogether.

That puts us just below the average of the countries tested. Finland, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada are well ahead.

The OECD report finds a wider range of skills in the U.S. than in other countries surveyed. Americans with only high school educations perform worse than their counterparts in all but one other nation.

And the report found that socioeconomic background is more strongly correlated with skills proficiency in this country.

In addition, there is the uncomfortable finding that disproportionate percentages of blacks and Hispanics have low skills.

Fully half of the Americans with the lowest level of literacy are Hispanic (presumably reflecting some immigrants' weak English) and another 20 percent are black.

This is probably true of other groups. In his 2012 book "Coming Apart," Charles Murray showed that the 30 percent of whites with the lowest education and income levels have low rates of family formation, little involvement in voluntary associations and high levels of substance abuse.

Most likely, those of any race or ethnic groups with divorced or single parents, or who are divorced or single parents themselves, tend to lag below national and international averages in literacy and numeracy.

Another disturbing finding of the OECD is that younger age cohorts in the U.S. do not seem to have skills as high as those in the cohort just below age 65.

All of this suggests that America's economic future may not be as bright as its past -- or that the current economic doldrums may turn out to be the new normal.

What to do? The OECD sensibly calls for better education and more adult skills training. In fact, many worthy attempts have been made and are being made to improve education around the country, and some have had positive results.

Even the Obama administration, despite its political debts to teacher unions, has pitched in to some extent.

In the meantime, the United States can do something about improving skill sets by changing its immigration laws to increase high-skill immigration.

Current immigration law has inadvertently resulted in a vast low-skill migration from Latin America and especially from Mexico. Unanticipated large numbers have used the family reunification provisions to come in legally, and large numbers have crossed the border illegally.

Congress can change that by cutting back on extended family reunification, improving border enforcement and requiring use of e-Verify or other status verification technology.

More important, Congress can vastly expand high-skill immigration. The Senate bill passed last spring goes some distance toward this, but not far enough.

The U.S. should take a lesson from its Anglosphere cousins Australia and Canada, which both have higher immigration proportionate to population and which both outscored the U.S. in literacy, numeracy and high-tech problem solving in the OECD survey.

Australia and Canada allocate large shares of their immigration flow by point systems, which give credit for educational achievement and marketable skills. They do not necessarily tie high-skill immigrants to a single petitioning employer, as H-1B visas do in the U.S.

Both countries are attracting high-skill immigrants, especially from China and India, and both have had better performing economies than the U.S. does.

Making a concerted effort to attract high-skill immigrants should be a no-brainer for America.


London Academy bans students from saying 'coz', 'ain't', 'like', 'innit' and 'bare' in crackdown on urban slang, claims MP

An academy in south London has banned popular slang words used by pupils in an effort to improve standards of English.  No longer will words and phrases such as 'you woz', 'bare' and 'innit' be tolerated in the corridors of Harris Academy in Upper Norwood, one of 27 Academies and Free Schools in and around London sponsored by the Harris Federation.

The school has put up signs with a list of 'banned words' including 'extra', 'innit' and 'like', as well as beginning sentences with 'basically' or ending them with 'yeah'.

Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy defended the move, only lamenting that 'sup blood' was not included.

He said: 'I think this is a very good idea. Speaking slang is fine in a social setting but a school should be a professional, educational environment and if part of that means banning slang then that’s fine by me.

'Too often I see young people going into job interviews or writing cover letters without being able to use correct English. Any attempts to change that should be encouraged.

'Not many employers would tolerate their staff using words like ‘innit’ when speaking to customers or clients, so the school is right to try to discourage the use of this language in classrooms.

'Given the huge levels of youth unemployment we are experiencing under the current government, it is more important than ever that schools do what they can to prepare students for working life, and teaching good communication skills is a vital part of that.

'I think it is fairly obvious to most people that anyone who goes into a job interview with a good grasp of the English language will have an automatic advantage over someone that doesn’t.

'The issue here isn’t about slang itself, but about the context it is used in. Language is an important part of any culture, and young people will always have their own slang.

'But young people need versatility; using slang is fine in some situations, but the ability to also speak good English is absolutely crucial in any workplace, and it is something that every school should be teaching its students.'

'Those saying this is an attack on culture are completely missing that point: no one is saying slang is bad, but simply that it shouldn’t be the only way that one is capable of communicating.'

But the move was criticised by some online observers. Science blogger and academic Alice Bell tweeted: 'Saddo limited approach to language, innit', while Becky Middleton said: 'Wow. Good luck enforcing that.'

But children's book illustrator Siân Schiaparelli tweeted: 'Sensible to teach kids to speak appropriately in formal contexts. Handy for job interviews, innit.

'Everyone is acting as if it's like when Victorian kids were caned for speaking Welsh. Language could secure them a better future.'

Joannepsi added: 'Fantastic - I have conducted job interviews with applicants who pepper their speech with these words. They didn't get the job.'

Harris Academy was not available for comment tonight.
Mr Lammy said: 'I think it is fairly obvious to most people that anyone who goes into a job interview with a good grasp of the English language will have an automatic advantage over someone that doesn't'

Mr Lammy said: 'I think it is fairly obvious to most people that anyone who goes into a job interview with a good grasp of the English language will have an automatic advantage over someone that doesn't'

Last year an academy in Sheffield banned slang and 'text talk' over fears pupils' command of English would adversely affect them in job interviews.

Kathy August, deputy chief executive of the city's United Learning Trust which runs the city's Spring Academy, said: 'What we want to make sure of is that they are confident in using standard English. Slang doesn't really give the right impression of the person.

'Youngsters going to interviews for their first job need to make a good impression so that employers have confidence in them.  'It's not difficult to get youngster out of the habit of using slang.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

New York Times Wrong about Government Childcare Delivering

When it comes to government-run childcare and preschool, the delivery is worth all the labor pains—so says University of Massachusetts, Amherst, economics professor emerita Nancy Folbre in her recent New York Times article.

Folbre’s sentiment reflects that of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who insists America has an early childcare and education “crisis” that threatens our economy. The solution, according to Pelosi and Folbre, is to adopt President Obama’s universal government-run preschool and childcare plan for all three- and four-year-olds.

Yet there’s scant evidence that expanding government would improve the quality of care, student learning, or affordability—much less the economy.

Three out of five mothers with preschool age children are employed, the vast majority of full-time. Almost half of all young children with employed mothers are cared for by relatives—a consistent pattern for decades. But is this situation a “crisis,” as Pelosi suggests, or a choice?

Parents from all walks of life choose child care based on their desire for nurturing providers, safe environments, convenient locations, and educational activities. Not surprisingly, employed mothers actively choose family members to watch their young children—especially in light of research indicating that children who spend extended periods in day care are more likely to display aggression and other problem behaviors.

The Democrats’ plan also ignores the preschool preferences of employed mothers. Fully 68 percent of preschoolers with employed mothers are in programs already, and most (64 percent) are enrolled full time. There’s no evidence to suggest that the rest of employed mothers even want their children in school at such a young age.

Expanding government’s role is more likely to impose expensive administrative burdens, crowd out innovative, personalized non-government childcare providers, and replace a variety of preschool options with a one-size-fits-all system.

To get an idea of the quality of care preschoolers would likely receive at the hands of government look at Head Start. Launched in 1965 as a six-week summer catch-up program for disadvantaged students about to enter kindergarten, today nearly 1 million children are enrolled at an annual cost of nearly $8 billion.

According to the two latest official evaluations, any academic impacts faded out as early as the end of first grade, and others dissipated by the end of third grade.

If impacts of government-run preschool fade out within a few years, how is it supposed to boost the economy?

There are better ways to help parents afford child care and early education. For starters, parents should be allowed to deduct 100 percent of their childcare costs, rather than depend on federal subsidies. Instead of funneling more money into Head Start, which advocates say should be expanded to parents of all income levels not just those in poverty, funds should be deposited on a per-student basis into Early Education Savings Accounts (EESAs) modeled after Arizona’s successful K-12 ESA program. With those funds low-income parents could choose their preferred preschool option.

States should also consider enacting Early Education Tax Credit scholarship programs, which would allow individual and corporate taxpayers to claim a dollar-for-dollar credit against their taxes for donations to non-profit organizations that award scholarships for children to attend the preschool program of their parents’ choice.

Pelosi and other advocates of more government child care should also recall that millions of parents make sacrifices to keep a spouse at home because they believe that’s best for their children. Government programs that push institutional care devalue these parents’ choices.

Policymakers shouldn’t just be trying to ease the financial burden for families who choose institutional daycare and preschool: They should be lowering taxes across the board so all families can keep more of what they earn.

At a time when one in eight Americans is un- or underemployed and the national debt is mounting, spending trillions of dollars more to further expand government into early child care and education makes no sense. Women want the benefits of a diverse economy, and employed mothers want their children to have diverse early care and learning opportunities—not more wasteful, ineffective government programs.


Invite ALL the class to birthday parties: 'Inclusive' prep school's diktat to parents

A headmaster has told parents to invite the whole class when their child has a birthday party – to avoid upsetting those left out.  Mark Brearey says including only a smaller circle of friends is ‘divisive and unkind’ to other pupils.

A letter from the private mixed preparatory school to parents says its Christian ethic is about being inclusive.

But yesterday critics said his policy would only drive up the cost of children’s parties.

Mr Brearey, head of Kingswood Preparatory School in Bath, wrote a letter to parents in which he asked: ‘Please could you avoid bringing any party invitations into school that do not include all children in a particular class or year group. This goes completely against our policy of inclusion for every single child and is divisive and unkind.’

Parents criticised the decision, with several using Facebook to call it ‘ridiculous’. Michela Helen Mills said: ‘I think children should be allowed to hand out invites and the head teachers should bear in mind that not all parents can afford to invite the whole class – some classes have 20+ in each class.’

Joanne Oliver said: ‘Kids should invite their friends in numbers the parents have budgeted for. Why invite a kid who’s been harassing you at school all term?’

Jo Whittock added: ‘Most parents do a party on a budget so cannot afford to invite all in the class. Also if you have a theme party you are sometimes limited to a certain number. Kids have to learn that they can’t have everything.’

But several parents came to Mr Brearey’s defence.

Nicholas Roper said: ‘He’s not forcing parents to host 30+ kids, just don’t hand out the invites at school.

‘Teaching kids is hard enough without extra drama in the classroom.’ Yesterday Mr Brearey said he stood by his decision, which was designed to prevent children who are left out feeling upset.

‘We consider kindness to be one of the key values of our school,’ he said.

‘What we are saying is that actually handing over party invitations to some of the group in front of people is not the way we would like it to happen. 99.9 per cent of our parents are in total agreement with that.’

He said that if parents wanted to invite just a few of their child’s friends, they should do it privately, adding: ‘Do it by email, not in a public place where you find one or two or three people are left.

‘If children feel like they have been left out by one of the class it can have a serious impact and it is something that doesn’t need to happen. Why choose to exclude in a public context when you don’t need to?’

At the school yesterday, parents appeared to back the headmaster’s stance.  One, a mother of three who requested not to be named, said: ‘It is not nice to leave people out.  ‘I usually invite the whole class until they have really made close friends, but when they are older you just ring the other mums.’

A mother of eight-year-old twins said parents understood the rule. ‘We just tell the children about the party outside of school. It would be too many to invite the whole class.’

The school, which costs £19,818 a year for boarders and up to £10,602 year for day pupils, was opened by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, in 1748 for the sons of Methodist clergymen.

It has 306 pupils aged three to 11 and ‘seeks to be a caring community based upon Christian principles’.


British teenager suspended after teachers mistook her non-alcoholic shandy she bought to class for a bottle of lager

A teenager has been suspended from school after teachers mistook her non-alcoholic shandy for a bottle of lager.

Nikita Morrison, 13, was in a French lesson when she put the bottle of Ben Shaw’s Bitter Shandy on her desk while unpacking her school books.

But teachers immediately confiscated the 500ml drink and within minutes she was sent home after being excluded for three days.

She claims staff at Gloucester Academy considered the soft drink to be alcohol - despite the product’s website stating it is suitable for children.

The alcohol content of the drink is less than 0.5 per cent - not enough to legally qualify as an intoxicating liquor and it is sold in the soft drinks aisle in shops.

Ms Morrison, who has never been excluded before, said: ‘I couldn’t believe it.

‘You see kids at school drinking it all the time, even the Year 7s, there is nothing wrong with it.

‘The teachers told me I wasn’t allowed to bring it into school because it is lager. I told them it was pop but they just wouldn’t listen.’

Ben Shaw’s Bitter Shandy contains 12 per cent beer but is sold in the soft drink aisle in shops.  No ID is needed to buy it and it is officially classed as a soft drink by the UK Food Standards Agency.

Her mother Amanda, 38, said the incident on Wednesday was ‘absolutely ludicrous’.  ‘It is absurd, the staff were saying it was alcohol.

‘She has missed quite a few lessons now, it is ridiculous. She is special needs so she is dropping behind even more.

‘It find it absolutely ludicrous that she is missing out on education because of a bottle of pop.

‘Despite the fact we have explained, and proven, that it is not alcohol the school won’t listen at all.’

The stay-at-home mum-of-nine added: ‘There is nothing wrong with taking that drink into school at all.

‘I tried to explain that it was my mistake and I bought it from the supermarket but that was not good enough.’

Alan Armstrong, interim headteacher at Gloucester Academy, defended the exclusion.

He said: ‘This school and all schools never exclude a student lightly or for trivial reasons. Schools have a duty of care to ensure all students are kept safe.’

A Ben Shaw’s spokesman said: ‘Shandies with less than 0.5 per cent alcohol by volume are defined as soft drinks and as such have no restriction on their sale or consumption.

‘All products we manufacture under the shandy name are less than 0.5 per cent and this is stated on labelling.’


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The new vicious cycle of student loan debt

Generally, the idea of going to college is not to just get a job but to begin a career. School loans are assumed to be worth the investment because of all the businesses waiting to accept entry-level graduates into their companies with open arms offering salaries, health, eye, dental, and Christmas bonuses. Of course, these assumptions were built before the one-two punch of a heavy recession and Obamacare hit America.

As most recent college graduates can tell you: the job market is not so flowery. A recent study out of Rutgers found that from the graduating classes from 2006 to 2011, only 51% are employed full-time and a whopping 11% are unemployed, a number way above the current 3.8% unemployment rate for all college graduates over the age of 25.

Perhaps a bigger problem for new graduates than unemployment is underemployment. The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported recently that 44% of recent graduates have jobs they would have qualified for before going to college and accumulating student debt.

These figures mean, for students whom take loans, 44 out of 100 graduates will be stuck paying off an average balance of $24,301 without any equity (a graduate-level job and salary) to show for it. According to the Department of Education, within three years of leaving school 14.7% of these loans default and for every loan that defaults at least two more borrowers become delinquent.

If large percentages of student loans are defaulting, millions will face crippling credit rating penalties which result in the inability to finance homes, purchase vehicles, and engage in the marketplace. New borrowers need businesses willing and able to invest in college graduates.

The economy and job market’s recovery from the 2008 recession has trickled at an agonizingly slow pace–and it may get worse before it gets better.

The president recently gave a one-year exemption to businesses from Obamacare’s insurance mandate. But what about next year? In 2014, businesses will be required to participate in hugely expensive insurance programs that will prevent them from committing to as many full-time, entry-level employees.

Obamacare’s unintended consequences reach far and wide. Nobody is hit harder by these consequences than the classes of graduates who will enter a post-recession job market that will be worse than before they began school.

Healthcare premiums can’t pay student loan debt. Only paychecks can do that. Those who need Obamacare the least will pay the most for it. The cost may be more dramatic and far-reaching than the anyone in 2010 may have ever guessed.


British Labour's shock U-turn on Free Schools: Miliband's new education supremo reveals party WILL support the academies it once called 'yummy mummy schools'

You won’t hear Tristram Hunt, Labour’s new education spokesman, trotting out Labour’s jibe that David Cameron is a ‘posh boy who doesn’t know the cost of a pint of milk’.  Because the urbane and artfully tousled Hunt, 39, is every bit as posh as the Prime Minister.

Fees at his alma mater, University College School in Hampstead, North London, are nearly £18,000 a year. It is a member of the ‘Eton Group’ of elite private schools and to get in you have to pass a gruelling exam.

Hunt went to Trinity College, Cambridge, the same college as his father, Baron Hunt of Chesterton, a Labour peer and Companion of the Order of the Bath. It was thanks to his dad’s Royal connections that Hunt was able to marry wife Juliet at Westminster Abbey, where William and Kate walked down the aisle.

Add a commanding height of 6ft 3in, languid good looks that made him a TV success as the ‘Naked Historian’, and Peter Mandelson as a Labour ‘Godfather’, and it is not surprising he oozes charm and confidence.

Yet, sitting in his cramped Commons study, Hunt begins the interview, his first since being appointed Shadow Education Secretary in Ed Miliband’s reshuffle, with a public apology.

When Michael Gove launched his free schools revolution after the 2010 Election, allowing parents to set up new schools and breaking the stranglehold of teachers’ unions and town hall chiefs, Labour claimed it was a wicked plot to let middle-class parents set up elitist state schools where their pampered children studied Latin while council estate kids were condemned to ‘bog-standard comprehensives’.

Days after becoming the newly elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent, excitable new boy Hunt called free schools a ‘vanity project for yummy mummies’.

Now he wants to eat his words. ‘I regret those comments because I think any parents, be they yummy mummies or ..... ’ he searches for the male equivalent, ‘ ..... or faddy daddies, involved in the education of their children is great.’

Instead of mocking Gove, Hunt now wants to mirror him, by promising Labour’s own ‘parent power’ revolution in schools.

He wants to bury the idea that Labour is in the pockets of teachers’ unions and Lefty town hall chiefs after the party’s pollsters discovered Gove’s policy is a vote winner. Labour’s schools will be called ‘parent-led academies’ (PLAs) – not free schools. But it’s a case of spot the difference.

It is a highly significant moment. Miliband’s party conference speech, in which he vowed to freeze energy prices, was seen as a lurch to the Left, as was his decision last week to demote three Blairite members of his Shadow Cabinet.

Yet the appointment of Blairite young gun Hunt, and ending attacks on ‘yummy mummies’ who set up their own schools, suggests ‘Red Ed’ is willing to steal the Tories’ clothing if he thinks it will win him votes.

Like free schools, PLAs will be set up by local parents and teachers and will be able to set their own curriculum, decide teachers’ pay and have their own ‘ethos’.

However, unlike free schools, PLAs will only be allowed where there is a shortage of school places; town halls will still be able to step in – though only in a crisis – and there will be curbs on ‘untrained’ teachers.

Hunt says the checks will stop scandals such as the closure of  the Muslim Al-Madinah free school in Derby following claims of  discrimination against female staff and pupils.

But make no mistake, PLAs are meant to be seen as ‘Labour’s free schools’. ‘There are lots of parents out there who want to set up schools,’ says Hunt.

‘What I am saying is if you want to do that when we are in government we will be on your side. There has been this perception that we would not be, and I want people to be absolutely clear that we are. I am putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs.

‘We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all the schools – they will not be  in charge.’

Far from shutting down Gove’s ‘yummy mummy schools’ if Labour wins, Hunt wants more of them.

‘We will keep those free schools going. We aren’t in the business of taking them down. We have to clear up this question which has dogged Labour education policy since we entered opposition and since Michael Gove began his reforms, as to what we’d do. We just want to say, “You are setting up these schools, we are behind you.” ’

Hunt has praised the successful free school set up in East London by his friend, Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former No 10 aide.

Would he let Hyman set up a primary school feeder to his existing secondary free school? ‘Yes.’

Even if it is a free school? He interjects: ‘We would be calling them parent-led academies.’

Will PLAs offer everything free schools have got? ‘Yes, but in an area of need, absolutely,’ Hunt enthuses. ‘The innovation, creativity, community engagement you  see in the best free schools – great, let’s have more.’

To ram home the point, Hunt says he would happily send his three young children to a free school.

Gove will argue that by giving town halls even a small role, Labour’s PLAs are not truly free but still enslaved to the Left-wing educational establishment he despises.

Hunt counters by claiming that by running free schools from Whitehall, Gove is acting ‘like ‘Napoleon’.

‘When things go wrong at a free school it has to go straight to the Minister down the road like a  Napoleon telling these kids what to do,’ he scoffs.

Gove, the state-educated, adopted son of an Aberdonian fishmonger, loves to taunt ‘privately educated’ Hunt in private. ‘I get under Michael’s skin,’ he says.


White boys 'the problem' for Britain's schools, says Government aide

A senior Government education adviser has warned that for boys at least, “being white” had become “the problem” in schools.

Britain cannot expect to flourish economically unless there is a concerted effort to halt academic failure by white boys as they are the “dominant racial group”, a senior Government education adviser has warned.

Dr Tim Leunig, an economic historian and aide to the schools minister David Laws, said that for boys at least “being white” had become “the problem” in schools.

He argued that from an economic point of view it matters “more” to target underachievement among white pupils than others.

And he added that the education system could be described as “institutionally sexist” by failing to ensure boys and girls are making similar levels of progress.

His comments, reported by the TES, come after official figures show that white boys from deprived backgrounds are now the worst performing ethnic group in reading tests for six years olds.

Just under half of poor white British boys – defined as those receiving free school meals – passed the test, being outscored by similar pupils from Black, Asian and Chinese backgrounds.

Dr Leunig, a London School of Economics academic working as a Government policy adviser, said in a talk to members of the Association of School and College Leaders: “We as a society have to ask ourselves: ‘Why is it that white kids are doing so much worse?’

“We have to tackle that as a society.  “For the future of Britain it obviously matters more to tackle white underperformance just because there are more white people.  “You cannot have your dominant racial group doing badly in school and expect to flourish as a country in the next generation and beyond.  “That just won’t hold so we need to tackle that one really explicitly.”

He added: “If your school happens to have a lot of Chinese students you are likely to do well on progress measures.  “That is the reality – the same is true for almost all ethnic groups other than white.”

In a reference to the favourite catchphrase of Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic character Ali G, he said: “If Ali G wants a new comic character in schools he has to say ‘Is it because I is white?’ because that is the reality.  “It is being white that is the problem in schools at the moment.”

Calling for schools to be measured on steps they take to help boys close the gap academically with girls, he said: “You could perfectly well describe the school system at the moment as institutionally sexist.

“The difference in progress rates between girls and boys is really very large indeed.”

Figures published by the Department for Education earlier this month show that almost 180,000 pupils failed to reach the expected level in a new reading test this summer.  They showed that even after 12 months of compulsory education boys are already lagging behind girls.

Dr Leunig’s remarks emerged as it emerged that the Department for Education has been examining whether genes are more important than teaching standards in determining pupils’ academic success.

Ministers have been briefed by Prof Robert Plomin, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, on research concluding that inherited intelligence could account for almost 60 per cent of teenagers’ scores in GCSEs with factors such as school performance much less important.

Prof Plomin’s work was cited in a paper written by the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s special adviser Dominic Cummings which was leaked at the weekend.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Public Schools Demand More than Common Core

The best U.S. public schools—including those with high numbers of poor and minority kids—require more of students than state standards and Common Core, and school leaders attribute their success partly to these high expectations.

The Common Core lists what its creators think kids should know in K-12 math and English. Forty-five states agreed to it under pressure from the Obama administration in 2010. The Core calls itself “rigorous” and “internationally benchmarked,” but investigation into actually rigorous and internationally competitive standards within the United States casts doubt on these claims.

High-achieving public schools tend to take two approaches to producing outstanding results, said Florian Hild, principal of Ridgeview Classical Charter School in Fort Collins, Colorado. Ridgeview is on the U.S. News and World Report’s gold list of top schools in the country, and ranks second-best high school in the state.

“You can be top by playing the testing game better than all of the other public schools,” he said. “What other schools do is look at that as a side effect of a serious education. So if our students, our ninth graders can read Thucydides and Homer and Virgil, whatever the state test asks them to do, they can do.”

A look at what some of America’s best public schools teach children indicates that Common Core is more of an afterthought than a guide to high-quality instruction.

Best Schools in the World

BASIS charter schools are a network that began in Arizona, where their first two schools consistently rate in the top ten on several national rankings. Children attending BASIS encounter math books two or three grades above theirs—fifth graders take seventh grade pre-algebra, and so forth.

“I would describe our curriculum as competitive with the best schools in the world,” said Mary Riner, a Washington DC mother who lobbied to bring BASIS to her city. She is now its director of external relations. “We really are looking to close the global achievement gap.”

The Global Report Card from the George W. Bush Institute is one of many markers demonstrating that even the top U.S. school districts are mediocre compared to international peers.

“We call a school high-performing if 80 percent of kids can read at grade level,” Riner said, with disdain. “Our kids are years behind kids in Canada and Finland and Shanghai.”

To graduate from BASIS, students must take a minimum of six Advanced Placement exams, four in core subjects. Every student takes AP Calculus. The average student takes 10 AP exams, and 90 percent pass. Its Arizona schools operate on $6,500 per-pupil funding.

‘Crap Thrown Into School’

Riner sought BASIS for her children because she became annoyed with “the crap thrown into school to make it fun.” Her fifth-grade daughter’s Latin homework, for example, was coloring Latin words.

“It excites students to know more than their parents, and to have this knowledge and be able to think about it… That is rewarding. And that is fun. And that is what we’re trying to achieve, not this therapy kind of fake, shallow, immediate gratification,” she said, passionately.

To achieve a challenging academic environment, BASIS hires teachers who are experts in their field, most with content-based master’s degrees. Most teachers have majored in education, not a content subject. BASIS teachers work together to create a multi-grade syllabus, then have freedom to teach the material they’ve decided using their own style.

“We don’t even look at state standards,” Riner said. “That’s the last thing we do. State standards are there because we have to be in compliance. We finish the Common Core by the 9th grade… Literally what we are using are world standards.”

Poor Children, Rich Standards

BASIS schools have been criticized for offering a curriculum many children can’t keep up with. A third of their DC students are eligible for federal free and reduced-price lunch, a proxy for poverty. Other charter school brands specifically target hard-to-educate children from broken homes, and they hold students to higher standards than typical public schools, too.

Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools are renowned for doing what many say is impossible. More than 86 percent of KIPP students live in poverty, and 95 percent are African American or Latino. More than 93 percent of KIPP middle school students have graduated high school, and more than 83 percent of KIPP alumni have gone to college, according to KIPP.

“The state sets the academic objectives for the children, and [KIPP schools] extend those objectives because our job is not just to take them to college but to get them through college so they are successful and happy,” says Alma Salman, principal of KIPP’s Houston elementary.

To prepare for being a KIPP principal, Salman visited top public and private schools around the country. She saw what they expected of children, and although those expectations are higher than state standards, she wanted her students to have the best.

“The state says by the end of the school year the kindergarteners should be reading on level four, for example. We want our children to be reading at level six,” she said. “We read a lot more books to them and expose them to a lot more literature and phonics.” Similarly, Texas expects kindergarteners to be able to count from 1 to 20. KIPP Houston teaches kindergarteners to count to 100. Common Core asks the same, but it does not introduce kindergarteners to ordinal numbers (first, second, etc.), time and calendars, or graphs. KIPP Houston does.  

Like BASIS, KIPP teachers meet together across grade levels each year to plan lessons and make sure each subject and grade fits well with the next.

College Prep for Needy Kids

Also in Houston, 11 YES Prep charter schools also aim to lift disadvantaged children. Two of their high schools rank in the top 100 nationally, and in the top 20 in the state, according to US News & World Report. Its students are 97 percent Latino and African American, and 79 percent low-income. All its students graduate and attend college.

Teachers write YES Prep’s curriculum and thrice-yearly internal exams, said Jason Bernal, YES Prep’s president. In hiring teachers, YES Prep considers grades, experience, and administers a behavior assessment to see if the teacher will fit the school culture.

Then, candidates give a sample lesson in front of the principal and school leader they would work with. New teachers participate in a two-week intensive training, and all receive personal coaching and group professional development every week. YES Prep looks for “perfection, leadership, [and] rebound time,” Bernal said. The school also pays for performance rather than awarding tenure for longevity.

“It took 15 years to develop the curriculum and tests the schools use now. The schools’ curriculum development team started with AP exams and worked backwards to define what students will learn in each grade,” said Jennifer Hines, a YES PREP senior vice president: “We built 100 percent of our curriculum.” Each summer, they revisit curriculum.

 “We’re using AP as a proxy for what kids should know, and it’s admittedly a blunt instrument but we’ve found it to be at least consistent and fairly good,” she said.

State education standards “are somewhat helpful” but not extremely specific in outlining what should be different in each grade, especially in language arts, she said, “also when we’re talking about skills, not content, in science and social studies.. So if we are teaching a rigorous set of expectations and ensuring students are mastering them, we do not need to teach explicitly to the state assessments. And we will ensure we cover state standards, but that’s a small proportion of what we’re doing.”

In short, she said, education standards “are a starting point for us.”

Liberal Arts and Core Knowledge

State and national education benchmarks are more of an afterthought for schools that attempt to immerse children in time-tested education styles, such as the classical liberal arts. Colorado’s Ridgeview largely follows the Core Knowledge sequence in grades K-8. Core Knowledge outlines what a coalition of researchers have decided is essential content for preK-8, initiated by retired University of Virginia professor and literacy expert E.D. Hirsch. For high school, Ridgeview teachers write and revise their own curriculum.

Like the other school leaders School Reform News interviewed, Hild said his most important task was finding and improving excellent teachers who know and love their subject.

“We have a curriculum which we will teach, but we want to hire adults who are self-respecting intellectuals, and you can’t tell a self-respecting individual that the Colorado state standards will determine how we teach the American revolution,” Hild said. “That has to be determined by the individual teacher. They will cover the same material, but they have to own it.”

While large portions of state standards and Common Core focus on content-empty skills, Core Knowledge builds its curriculum recommendations based on Hirsch’s and other research showing that knowledge builds on knowledge, and so do academic skills. It is extremely specific.

Core Knowledge, for example, recommends children begin learning about money in kindergarten, while Common Core introduces money in grade 2. Core Knowledge would introduce fractions in grade 1, while Common Core does so in grade 3. Core Knowledge also expects children to be proficient in multiplication and division by third and fourth grade, while Common Core expects this by fifth and sixth.

While Hirsch and his foundation have endorsed Common Core, they also have said it does not sufficiently outline a good curriculum. For this reason, a number of Core Knowledge schools, like Ridgeview, have rejected Common Core. Hirsch agrees Common Core does not outline the essential content children need for a good education. Instead, the introduction to Common Core encourages “a content-rich curriculum,” which he hopes will have more schools reaching beyond Common Core into Core Knowledge. 

“Education has to do with human beings trying to grow as moral and intellectual beings, and if you regiment it you denigrate the ideals of education,” Hild said. “We don’t worry about the state tests and the Colorado state standards or the Common Core standards. We worry about the integrity of our curriculum and the implementation of a serious classical education.”


Modesto Junior College in California now will have to defend its idea of “free speech zones” in court

One of several college students banned from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day last month has filed a lawsuit.

A student rights organization backing Robert Van Tuinen says Modesto Junior College in California now will have to defend its idea of “free speech zones” in court.

WND reported in late September on a series of confrontations between school officials and students wishing to hand out copies of the Constitution.

Now represented by the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine and backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, Van Tuinen has filed a lawsuit.

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said the school administrators, who were caught on camera intervening, “were so unfamiliar with the basic principles of free speech that they prevented him from passing out the Constitution to his fellow students on Constitution Day.”

“Even in the face of national shock and outrage, the college has failed to reform its absurd ‘free speech zone.’ Now it will have to defend that policy in federal court,” he said.

Van Tuinen was in a grassy area by the student center Sept. 17, the anniversary of the Constitution’s signing, when authorities halted his effort.

A campus police officer informed him that he could not pass out any materials without first registering with the student development office, according to FIRE. Van Tuinen unsuccessfully attempted to convince the officer that his right to free speech was being violated, and he went into the student center at the officer’s request.

According to FIRE, Van Tuinen spoke with MJC administrator Christine Serrano, who told him that he could only pass out literature inside a “free speech zone.” The zone, he was told, was “in front of the student center, in that little cement area.”

Eventually, college President Jill Stearns said “students may distribute printed material on campus in areas generally available to students and the community as long as they do not disrupt the orderly operation of the college.”

The case raises multiple counts of violation of free speech rights under the First Amendment, both as the rules were applied to him and as written, FIRE said. It also charges the district with violating the right to free speech guaranteed in the California Constitution and with failing adequately to train its employees to respect students’ rights.

“Constitutional law can get pretty complicated at times. This is not one of those times,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “As FIRE has said from the beginning, every person at Modesto Junior College responsible for enforcing this policy should have known better.”

According to a report from Young Americans for Liberty, a group with more than 380 chapters and 125,000 students promoting liberty, at least two other colleges did the same thing.

At the College of Central Florida in Ocala, and officer told students they would have to go through his office to get permission “any time you want to approach our students.”

“We can’t hand out Constitutions?” an incredulous student asked.

“That’s right.”  Citing the need for “proper protocol,” the officer said students could submit a request, and school officials would “check our calendar, make sure it doesn’t conflict with what we’re doing, then we’ll approve it or deny it.”

Likewise, at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin officials made certain students understood.

“Would you like me to go and get security to explain it in more detail?” one official demanded of the students.

The students were ushered off of what the school considered its sidewalk to another “public” sidewalk.

“You need to request the time and place that you want to have that activity,” the school official said. “You can’t just show up.”

Alyssa Farah, director of communications for YAL, asserted the colleges “are in clear violation of the First Amendment.”  “Simply put, the mere concept of a ‘free speech zone’ is an affront to liberty and should have no place on college campuses,” she said.


Pupils banned from traditional playground games like tag and British Bulldog 'because they are too dangerous'

"Tag" can also be called "tig" or "tiggy".  There are innumerable alternative names for versions of "British Bulldog"

Schoolchildren have been banned from playing traditional games tag and British Bulldog because teachers claim they are too dangerous.

Parents of children at Egerton Community Primary near Bolton, Greater Manchester, were told in a newsletter that children can no longer play the playground games.

In the letter, the school says: 'What we have observed is a situation where children were being hurt because they were not moving about the playground safely and because they were playing games that, in a smaller space, were causing them to have accidents.

'It is not acceptable for us to accept that children will get hurt while playing and it is our job to ensure that the playground and playtimes are organised well to ensure safety.'

Pupils may use the playing fields when the weather is good, but the majority of the year have break times in the playground.

A group of parents have now launched an online petition calling for the decision to be reversed.  Kirstin Jackson, 40, from Egerton, who launched the campaign, said: 'I started the petition because I want my kids to be able to run around.  'It's a real shame that children can't be children. There are times when you've just got to let them be kids.'

The petition, which already has more than 50 signatures, states that participating in games such as tag far outweighs the occasional accident.

Mrs Jackson, a teaching assistant at another school whose two sons attend Egerton Community Primary, added: 'Accidents happen, it's normal, it gives children the opportunity to measure their own risks, and it's a learning curve for them.'

Another mother with two children at the school, who asked to remain anonymous, added: 'I just think children need to be children, we can't wrap them up in cotton wool.

'I do understand it is for the safety of the children and that the school wants to prevent accidents but there are so many benefits children get from playing games like tig. Accidents do happen but it's all part of growing up.'

But bosses at Egerton Community Primary have defended the decision, and stressed alternative play zones had been created for games like football and basketball.

Headteacher Sam Mitchell said: 'Following a number of injuries to pupils, the school reviewed safety in the playground and has asked pupils not to play tag and British bulldog.

'Instead, to improve safety and enjoyment for all children, the school has introduced play areas identified for a range of activities co-ordinated by a play leader.

'Children have been asked to respect each other's play and safety and have told us that they are enjoying their new playtimes.'


Monday, October 14, 2013

'Genetics outweighs teaching': British government adviser says it is IQ, not education, which determines child's future

A brave truth-teller

Michael Gove's advisor has slammed England's schools, teachers and universities, arguing that children's 'genetics' decide how well a child does.

Influential adviser Dominic Cummings claims in a withering thesis that educationists instead need to focus on how genetics affect children, and adapt education to suit a child's IQ.

In a scathing attack, the adviser criticises most of the education available to children in England today - from pre-learning facilities, to GCSEs, to university study to how education is researched.

The political aide says the Department for Education should be cut down, with hundreds instead of thousands acting as accountants and inspectors, the Guardian reported.

He also demands that private and state education should be indistinguishable, and the department should work to reduce the differences.

Mr Cummings maintains that individual child performance is mainly based on genetics and a child's IQ rather than the quality of teaching.  He argues that not only IQ but self-control and a conscientious character will shape a child's future.

He says a scientific way needs to be developed to produce a more ambitious education and training system.

The Cummings manifesto claims that 'the education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre', and that the quality of maths education is especially poor.

He also says that 'real talent' is rare among the nation's teacher. 'In England, few are well trained in the basics of extended writing or mathematical and scientific modelling and problem-solving,' he wrote.

In the 250-page document, he claims that education standards have stagnated for the last 30 years and the actual research on education needs to be vastly improved.

It is not just teachers who are heavily criticised - Mr Cummings says university undergraduates should spend more time studying, and that the current demands are not taxing enough.

He also says that it is reasonable to believe that GCSE exams have become easier, which is why students have been earning top grades.

The Sure Start programme, aimed at providing early learning for pre-school children, is slammed by Cummings, who says there is little evidence for its practical impact.

The education adviser also claims that studies show children with little self-control are more likely to be poor, have serious health problems and be criminals.

Under Labour Sure Start Children's Centres were established to provide early learning and full daycare for children under five.

Sure Start Children's Centres are open to all parents and children and many of the services are free.  But the advisor argues that there is little evidence to prove that they make a strong difference to a child's educational development.

The adviser is leaving his role to reportedly become involved in free schools.

He told The Independent he was uncertain of what exactly his next position would be, but was interested in pursuing other educational developments 'outside politics', the newspaper reported.


British colleges hit by grade inflation row as EVERYONE gets a top degree on dozens of university courses

Top degrees have been awarded to every single student on dozens of British degree courses, a Mail on Sunday investigation into ‘rampant’ grade inflation has found.

On more than 50 courses at universities across the country, in subjects ranging from engineering to English, 100 per cent of students were awarded a First or a 2:1.

At some institutions, the proportion of students achieving at least a 2:1 - a key requirement for many employers - has leapt over the past five years.

Critics said universities were pushing up grades as a ‘marketing ploy’ to attract students paying up to £9,000 a year, and warned that degrees no longer reflect the true abilities of graduates.

However, universities said the rises reflected improvements in A-level grades.

Among the 40 universities that responded to freedom of information requests, 32 had degree courses where between 90 and 100 per cent of students were awarded a First or a 2:1. On some courses, more than half of the  students were awarded Firsts.

All 31 students on the music technology and popular music degree course at Huddersfield University were awarded a First or a 2:1 this year - compared with 33 per cent five years ago.

Similarly, all 25 students on the building services engineering course at Liverpool John Moores University were awarded a First or a 2:1 this year, compared with 61 per cent five years ago.

And everyone studying English language and linguistics at the University of the West of England achieved a First or a 2:1, up from 71 per cent five years ago.

As in previous years, elite institutions - including Oxford, Cambridge and University College London - had the highest number of courses recording between 90 and 100 per cent Firsts or 2:1s.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency warned that where student numbers on courses are very low, a few individual results could skew the outcome. But the agency’s own data showed a record two-thirds of all students got either a First or a 2:1 in 2012.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that grade inflation had become ‘rampant’ because there were no national standards for degrees, and it enabled institutions to boost their rankings in league tables.

Fellow Buckingham academic Professor Geoffrey Alderman said: ‘It is the “all must have prizes” approach.’

Birmingham University Professor John Thornes said grade inflation was a ‘marketing ploy’.

But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: ‘There may be a range of factors behind these results. The number of students on many of the courses is small. The degrees in question also represent a fraction of the courses often available at individual universities.

‘The proportion of Firsts and 2:1s has increased marginally in recent years, reflecting increases in entry qualifications. A-level performance has improved, as have learning methods. However, the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument.’


More American schools opening Advanced Placement courses to all students

Some students may not be adequately prepared for the rigorous classes and high achievers may be shut out. But supporters see equal access as an educational right.  The bottom line is the gradual destruction of the classes concerned  -- through pressures to "dumb down"

Alex Wong, a junior at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, is working hard for admission to an elite college. His resume boasts nearly straight A's in rigorous classes, a summer program experience at Stanford University, an Eagle Scout project, club soccer, school choir.

But his steady progress hit an unexpected roadblock this year. Aiming to open access to college-level Advanced Placement courses, the school switched to a computer-based lottery to distribute spaces. Alex initially got shut out of all three courses he requested.

The new system caused an uproar among families whose children failed to get into AP courses, which many consider critical to develop advanced skills, boost grade-point averages and allow students to earn college credit, saving tuition dollars. They plied administrators with complaints, circulated a petition and launched a Facebook group to swap classes.

Long considered an elite track for the most talented and ambitious students, AP classes are now seen as beneficial for any students willing to push themselves — and schools are increasingly viewing access to them as a basic educational right. But that has come with challenges and controversy.

Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles has nearly doubled participation in AP classes over the last five years — publicizing their pros and cons through an annual, two-week informational campaign for students and parents. Those who enroll are not necessarily top students — but the school reports benefits for them nonetheless.

Miracle Vitangcol, a Downtown Magnets junior with average grades and test scores, is failing her AP U.S. history class; she said she is overwhelmed by the rapid pace and volume of material she needs to memorize. But she said she intends to stick it out because the class is teaching her to manage her time, take good notes and develop perseverance.

"I'm struggling to adjust," she said. "But I keep telling myself, 'It's OK. You can do it. Just push yourself.' "

Some critics worry that the open-access movement is pushing too many unprepared students into AP classes, as indicated by higher exam failure rates over the last decade and a persistent achievement gap among races. They also fear that open enrollment policies are prompting teachers to weaken courses and inflate grades.

"While expanding access is generally a good thing, we need to make sure we're not watering down the experience for the high achievers," said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based educational policy organization.

But the College Board, which runs the AP program and is encouraging open access, said the effort has generally been successful. Even though national participation has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million students last year, exam failure rates have increased only slightly, officials said. Passing scores have outpaced failing results by nearly 20% over the last decade.

At the same time, access to AP courses remains uneven. Low-income students are twice as likely as others to attend schools without a full array of AP courses, according to a June study by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools. Such disparities prompted a 2011 California law that encourages schools to offer AP courses in at least five subjects.

Downtown Magnets, whose students are overwhelmingly low-income, offers 15 different AP courses. And the school's 61% exam pass rate far outpaces L.A. Unified's average of 40%.

Teachers are one reason behind the school's success, said Lynda McGee, the school's college counselor and AP coordinator. In Daniel Jocz's AP U.S. history class, for instance, about 90% of students pass the exam compared with the national rate of about 54%.

During a recent visit, Jocz enlivened an otherwise dry lesson on Henry Clay's "American System" national economic plan with music clips from Bruce Springsteen and Queen, seemingly odd juxtapositions with TV characters Gumby and Pokey and amusing factoids about the Erie Canal. He flagged content likely to appear on the AP exam, such as the Tariff of 1816, and directed students to work in groups on an AP-type essay question about the contributions of Thomas Jefferson.

Jocz sees both pros and cons of open access. "The good thing is giving people the chance to challenge themselves ... but some kids are not ready, and are we setting them up for failure?" he said.

At Jordan High School in Watts, Evan Dvorak confronted that question head-on last year when he allowed any student to take his AP physics class. But he found that those who had not acquired the necessary calculus skills could not handle the work; all 20 students failed the exam.  "As a teacher, you want to think you can reach every student and perform miracles to get them where they need to be," he said. "But it proved to be too much for everyone."

This year, Dvorak made sure that students knew how difficult the course was; only six have enrolled and are doing much better, he said.

Overall, L.A. Unified has increased AP participation to 17.7% of high school students this year from 12.5% in 2009, when it adopted a districtwide open-enrollment policy. The exam pass rate has stayed about the same, at 40%, although it varies from 62.4% for whites to 25.7% for African Americans.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Racial Trade-offs hit black education

Walter E. Williams

Trade-offs apply to our economic lives, as well as our political lives. That means getting more of one thing requires giving up something else. Let's look at some examples.

Black congressmen and black public officials in general, including Barack Obama, always side with teachers unions in their opposition to educational vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools and other measures that would allow black parents to take their children out of failing public schools. Most black politicians and many black professionals take the position of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is on record as saying, "We shouldn't abandon the public schools."

Taking such a political stance is understandable because black congressmen and other black elected officials are part of a coalition. As such, they are expected to vote for things that other coalition members want in order that those coalition members vote for things that black politicians want. There's no question that these black public officials are getting something in return for their support of teachers unions and others who benefit from the educational status quo. The question not addressed by black people is whether what black politicians are getting for their support of a failed educational system is worth the sacrifice of whole generations of black youngsters, educationally handicapping them and making many virtually useless in the high-tech world of the 21st century.

Though many black politicians mouth that we should fix, not abandon, public schools, they themselves have abandoned public schools. They see their children as too precious to be sacrificed in the name of public education. While living in Chicago, Barack Obama sent his daughters to the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. When he moved to Washington, President Obama enrolled his daughters in the prestigious Sidwell Friends School. According to a report by The Heritage Foundation, "exactly 52 percent of Congressional Black Caucus members and 38 percent of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members sent at least one child to private school." Overall, only 6 percent of black students attend private school.

It's not just black politicians who fight tooth and nail against parental school choice and have their children in private schools. When President Obama's White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel resigned and became mayor of Chicago, he did not enroll his children in the Windy City's public schools. He enrolled his son and two daughters in the University of Chicago Lab Schools. And members of Congress, regardless of race, are three to four times likelier than the public to send their children to private schools.

According to a 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study, more than 1 in 5 public school teachers sent their children to private schools. In some cities, the figure is much higher. In Philadelphia, 44 percent of the teachers put their children in private schools; in Cincinnati, it's 41 percent, and Chicago (39 percent) and Rochester, N.Y. (38 percent), also have high figures. In the San Francisco-Oakland area, 34 percent of public school teachers enroll their children in private schools, and in New York City, it's 33 percent.

Only 11 percent of all parents enroll their children in private schools. The fact that so many public school teachers enroll their own children in private schools ought to raise questions. After all, what would you think, after having accepted a dinner invitation, if you discovered that the owner, chef, waiters and busboys at the restaurant to which you were being taken don't eat there? That would suggest they have some inside information from which you might benefit.

I don't think anything that black politicians get from the NEA, the AFT, the NAACP (many members are teachers), the National Urban League or others who have a vested financial interest in a failed educational system is worth committing whole generations of black youngsters to educational mediocrity. The prospects for a change are not good, particularly in light of the new fact that the NAACP is being wooed to join the AFL-CIO.


I like this

But you may have to have programming experience to "get" it

Nothing wrong with 'unqualified' teachers, as Tristram Hunt should know. He's been one himself

My Twitter feed this morning is full of Left-wing critics of Michael Gove's education reforms crowing about the fact that the head teacher of a free school in Pimlico has resigned.

The reason they see this as such a great victory is because the head in question, Annaliese Briggs, doesn't have a PGCE – the union-approved piece of paper that, in their eyes, makes someone a "qualified" teacher. Here's proof, if proof were needed, that "unqualified" teachers aren't up to the job.

It's all nonsense, of course. Head teachers with PGCEs have been known to resign as well – it's a stressful job. It's particularly stressful if you're being targeted by critics of a government policy, as this poor woman was.

Earlier this year, the leader of the Labour group on Westminster Council called for an "investigation" into the circumstances surrounding her appointment. "I can't believe how anybody could be so arrogant to believe that they can do that job when they've never taught in a school," he told the BBC. "I find it quite staggering."

This isn't a good week for Labour to be defending the educational status quo. According to an OECD survey published on Tuesday, young adults in England rank 22nd out of 24 nations for literacy and 21st for numeracy, behind Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic. Thanks to Labour's relentless dumbing down, England is the only country in the survey where results are going backwards, with 16-24-year-olds performing worse than the older cohort.

The response of Labour's new Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, to this devastating news was to claim literacy and numeracy had actually improved under the last government. What did he base this claim on? Why, the fact that GCSE results had got better, of course.

"Labour drove up standards in maths and English across our schools, evident in the huge improvements we saw in GCSE results between 1997 and 2010," he said.

Nothing to do with the fact that Labour made sure GCSEs got easier, year-on-year, over the course of its 13-year administration? (See here for chapter and verse on this.) Even Stephen Twigg, Hunt's predecessor, acknowledged that grade inflation was a problem. Must try harder, Tristram.

Curiously, Labour's new Shadow Education Secretary has remained silent on the Annaliese Briggs story, leaving it to his deputy Kevin Brennan to comment. "Parents will be worried that David Cameron is presiding over a dumbing down of standards in schools by allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms," Brennan told the Guardian.

Perhaps the reason Hunt has maintained a dignified silence is because he has taught in various state schools himself, in spite of not having a PGCE. As the Daily Mail pointed out earlier this year, Hunt boasted in a Guardian interview that he regularly drops in to the schools in his constituency to deliver history lessons. "I teach in schools in Stoke when they allow me, to make sure I know what's going on," be said. "I do a class at the FE college about Cape Town as a city of empire. And I do an industrial revolution class at the sixth form. And I taught a class on the Spanish Armada to a primary school."

Nothing wrong with Hunt doing some teaching, of course. I'm sure he's very good at it – just as I'm sure David Miliband was when he taught a class at Haverstock Comprehensive. It's just a tad hypocritical for Kevin Brennan to condemn David Cameron for "allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms" when those "unqualified teachers" include Labour's Shadow Education Secretary and the brother of the Labour leader.

If Labour really would ban anyone from teaching who doesn't have the union-approved certificate – including members of its own front bench – then that's one more reason not to vote for them. It should be up to school governors and head teachers to decide who's best qualified to teach in their schools, not politicians or, worse, trade unionists determined to maintain a closed shop.

As this week's shocking OECD figures reveal, we need to do everything in our power to raise standards in England's classrooms, not fight to preserve the status quo.


The British headmaster who beat me black and blue with a bamboo cane - and why I'd like to THANK him for it

When I say that M. L. Forster loomed over me, it wasn’t too difficult. At 11 years old, I was the smallest boy in the school. Also the skinniest. And at that moment, by far the most frightened.

M. L. Forster, headmaster and frightener-in-chief, was over 6ft tall, more than 16st, a huge and powerful figure, a bear in a black gown.

He was also, at that moment, flexing between his hands a bamboo cane which was the principal cause of my anxiety. He pointed the cane at the armchair.

I decided to take an optimistic view of the situation. I sat in it. A mistake.‘What is your name?’ His voice rumbled around the bottom of the baritone register.

‘Dunne, sir,’ I squeaked.

‘I see, Dunne, you are some form of humorist. Be so good as to bend over the chair.’ The next thing I heard was the whistle of bamboo as cane met trousers. Six times. ‘Only six because this is your first day,’ he said. Lucky me.

It was my first day at the grammar school. It was ten minutes to nine. I had still not reached my classroom.

It’s a shame M. L. Forster is no longer with us, because I would like to meet him again, if only to thank him and shake his hand.

It’s also a shame he’s not around because he would have enjoyed Educating Yorkshire, the Channel 4 documentary series which revolves around the efforts of no-nonsense head teacher Jonny Mitchell to give a decent education to the pupils at his comprehensive school in Dewsbury.

Jonny faces a challenge. Dewsbury has 20 per cent unemployment, a huge Asian population and considerable racial tension. He estimates that just ten per cent of his pupils’ parents are white-collar workers, while the rest are blue-collar or unemployed.

Many of his students are  disruptive — yet Jonny is determined to make them model citizens even if it is the last thing they wanted.

It is both horrifying and heart-warming viewing as he instils discipline, ambition and pride into his often unwilling charges.

This is what Forster was doing to Yorkshire children — including me — 60 years ago. He ‘did’ horrifying as and when required, and occasionally even offered a little heart-warming. As for no-nonsense, Forster invented no- nonsense education.

Of course it was slightly different in the Fifties. That was the last time in this country when young people were required to behave themselves, to do what they were told, to comb their hair, tidy their rooms, do their homework, and never be cheeky.  And if they failed, they had the pleasure of explaining it to .... . people like M. L. Forster.

As headmaster of Ermysted’s Grammar School in the small market town of Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales, he set the standards and the moral tone.  For 20 years, he took grubby little Yorkshire lads and turned them into young men who were well- educated and even semi-civilised, whether they liked it or not. By the thousand.

He achieved this with a combination of charm, wit, high intelligence, blazing charisma and a personality that would stop a tank.  Plus, of course, his cane. He ruled not so much with a rod of iron as with a rod of whistling bamboo.

To this day, you will find countless elderly people who swear their lives were vastly enhanced by his early influence. Me among them.

When I got to Ermysted’s, he was already a legend, with the nickname Bru. Some said it was short for Brutal, but it wasn’t. It was a condensed version of Brumas, a polar bear cub which had become a star attraction at London zoo.  Giving him the name of a creature that was famously pretty and cuddly was a rare example of schoolboy irony.

Marselis Forster — known as Mark — was the son of a Northern Irish merchant navy skipper and a Dutch woman. He had a double first in modern languages from Queen’s, Belfast, and still in his 20s, had been head of modern languages at Epsom College in Surrey. His move to Skipton made him the youngest head of a seriously academic school in the country.

On that first day, after we had sung Lord Behold Us With Thy Blessing, I helped to collect the tubular steel chairs. In my excitement, I scraped one on the floorboards. Hence the whacking — which was what we all called it.

He brought the standards of the public schools with him. The only way we knew this was not because we knew about Eton (we thought it was the past tense of the verb To Eat) but because we’d read about schools like this in our comics.  Wizard, Hotspur and Adventure all had school stories about swots, cads and whackings.

Bru ran a tight ship. No running, no shouting, no fighting, no cheek. We had to wear our uniforms at all times. To be caught without your cap in the town was practically a hanging offence.

Bru called everyone, masters as well as boys, by their surnames. Everyone called him Sir.

If a master ordered you out of the classroom, there was always the terrible possibility that Bru would chance to walk past.

Then it might mean a trip to his study. We trained our ears to pick up his footsteps. To this day, the squeak of crepe on tiles breaks me out in a sweat.

He held us in a fearful fascination. One afternoon, in a few unsupervised minutes between lessons, our 1A class became over-excited. Treble voices squeaked. The door flew open. The doorway darkened. ‘Follow me,’ he growled.

Abject, shaking, and squeaking no more, we followed him to his study where he whacked us, all 30 of us, in alphabetical order.

By the time he got to the boy called Wood, he had developed his usual scary-funny banter. ‘I expect you think I’m getting tired, Wood, old man. We shall see about that.’ And he made Wood cry just to show he wasn’t.

He always did that with the last boy. One day, Wood said he was fed up with it and was going to change his name. “No! Don’t!” yelled Wilson, who was next in line.

Today, this all sounds terrible. But you have to remember that at home we were accustomed to a smart smack over the ear.  We were used to it. In a strange sort of way, we were proud to have such a fearsome figure as our headmaster.

If the whackings were a bit of a challenge, then his tongue-lashings were far worse. They could raise bigger blisters than his cane.

When four of us were summoned before him for — I think — suspected smoking, he observed in friendly tones that we were all  A-stream boys.

Then, with the smile that told you a howitzer was on its way, he added: ‘As our intellectual aristocracy, you will know that the cream is not the only thing which rises to the top.’  He paused. ‘So does the scum.’

However, boys have a natural gift for wickedness that is hard to  contain. Somehow, for all the constraints, now and again we contrived to break loose. Whenever we saw a weakness, we struck.

Our new music teacher, Mr Stack, had shown signs that he wanted to be liked. He might as well have given us a loaded gun.

When he next tried to test our voices, as he sat at the piano, one by one we sang in silly voices. Too high, too low, guttural grunts,  trilling sopranos. We thought it  was wonderful.

Poor old Stack cracked. He began hurling copies of Hymns Ancient And Modern at us, shouting: ‘You rotten little b******s, I hate you all!’ It was marvellous.

We never saw him again. Triumphantly, we waited for his replacement, hand-picked by the headmaster. Mr Sievewright tried to test our voices. We made silly noises.

Quietly he stood up and began handing out sheets of graph paper, lightly marked with hundreds of tiny squares.

‘What do we do with these, sir?’

‘Cut them into squares, and don’t cross any of the lines.’

‘But .... that will take hours, sir?’

‘I should imagine it will. Now, let’s hear the altos .....’

We knew when we were beaten. He was there for years.

So why would I want to thank Bru?

Because he was an outstanding teacher and a brilliant headmaster. He presented us with a controlled and orderly environment in which the expectation was that we would work, learn and thrive.

We did just that. What’s more, we learned to enjoy it.

Even the whackings were unimportant. The pain faded after a couple of hours: the message — ‘behave yourself’ — lasted  a lifetime.

By then we understood that Forster employed his cane and his somewhat savage tongue simply to control 360 boys permanently on the brink of mutiny. In the end, we found ourselves boasting about  his severity.

With boys regularly treading the path to Oxford and Cambridge, with exam results that put the school around the top of all the league tables, after 20 years of Bru, Ermysted’s was one of the very best.

By the time I left I realised that we had experienced a golden time. We all did. We were lucky to have caught the prime of M. L. Forster.

But whenever we met in later years, it was never his remarkable achievements we talked about — it was always the whistling bamboo.

The difference between the Fifties and today was that then the grown-ups were in charge of the growing up.

There were other differences. When I was a teenager, I didn’t know — had never heard of — anyone who had been robbed, burgled, raped or mugged.

The local paper, the Craven Herald, featured no photographs of battered pensioners, eyes blackened and faces swollen, who’d been beaten up by youngsters in search of fun.

Nor were there any stories of youngsters wrecking parents’ houses with Facebook parties, or girls lying in Majorcan gutters with their skirts over their heads.

In the end, Bru got Parkinson’s disease and finished off his days in a home. He died in 1988.

Ask any of his pupils what they think of him now and they all find the same words. Respected. Admired. And just a little feared.

Feared. Bru would have liked that.

On my the last report before my final exams, Bru wrote: ‘Dunne has, as usual, missed the bus.’

It was the ‘as usual’ that did it. I was scared. I got those damned books out and slogged away at them. I passed all my exams. For once I had caught the bus.

Bru made me catch it, just as he did all those other boys. If Jonny Mitchell in the TV series continues to do half as well, he should be very proud