Friday, December 06, 2013

Feds' Tentacles in the Common Core:  Student tracking and data collection

In Part 1 of my series on the Common Core State Standards being infused into 45 state public school systems, I revealed how the feds spent $350 million of taxpayer money, giving grants and waivers to muscle states and local school districts to accept the standards. And that was after 2009, when feds awarded, in the Department of Education's words, "governors approximately $48.6 billion ... in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms ... including: college- and career-ready standards (aka CCSS)."

In Part 2, I showed how the feds are injecting their progressive agenda into curricula taught to U.S. kids in elementary, middle and high schools via their educative minions posted in academic arenas and among CCSS curricula creators.

Last week, I began to give you the third piece of evidence of the feds' collaborations and entanglements within CCSS -- namely that they are creating and expanding a national database to store and access your kids' private information obtained through a technological project within CCSS, an informational mega-overreach and push within their 2009 $48.6 billion bribe to governors.

PolitiFact, a so-called fact-discerning website, accused Angela Bean, an executive board member of the Fayette County (Ga.) Republican Party, of exaggeration when she said informational wings within CCSS were, in The Newnan Times-Herald's words, "designed to collect up to 400 data points on each child, which can include personally identifiable data. ... The data will be collected by a company called inBloom, created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."

PolitiFact further accused Bean of confusing the facts and separation between the longitudinal data systems and CCSS. And it also cited CCSS organization officials, who affirmed that "there are no data collection requirements with Common Core." (Can you imagine "no data collection" requirements in the most overreaching national academic system and standards to date? If it sounds too good to be true, you can bet it is. Read on.)

But then PolitiFact explained that many Georgia schools are in fact using inBloom and cited Robert Swiggum, chief information officer of the Georgia Department of Education, who confessed that his state's system "collects data points in about 10 categories," including "a student's name, grade, gender, ethnicity, birth date, attendance, enrollment history, test scores, courses taken and grade received, and any subgroup (example: English language learner, retained, economically disadvantaged)."

And each of those categories has sublevels of students' personal information, too. PolitiFact itself elaborated, "Each of the categories has dozens of data points that can vary depending on how many tests each student takes, those test scores, the number of courses taken and the length of time a student has been in school."

So let me get this straight: Beginning in 2009, the Obama administration began a massive overreach, push and expansion of an informational and technological student tracking system that stores a wide range of academic and personal information of every student in the U.S. from preschool through college and into the workforce.

At the same time, the administration begins a massive overreach, push and expansion of a new national academic standard system, called Common Core State Standards, which will cover every core classroom subject from kindergarten through high school and be the basis of 85 percent of curricula and progress assessments.

Yet we're supposed to believe naively that the standards, curricula, assessments for teachers and students, and plethora of personal student data will not intersect, intertwine or be combined with or use the technological communication system through which all student data and progress in public schools are recorded and transmitted?

The longitudinal data systems and CCSS were developed and enlarged side by side during the same time and same presidential administration, but the CCSS testing and performance will not be recorded and monitored via the LDS?

Is it merely coincidental that the feds spent billions expanding both systems simultaneously over the past few years yet there is no congruency or intended purpose between the ginormous national construction of CCSS and the expanding LDS informational pipeline?

Hogwash! Who's kidding whom?

To not recognize how LDS will clearly serve the information gathered under CCSS is to overlook any connection between a hot dog and a hot dog bun. In fact, if you believe LDS and CCSS are solo and separate academic coincidences in an ever-expanding federal government that has been funding and promoting both, I have a London bridge to sell you in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.!

CCSS and LDS are partners in crime. It will be impossible for one to operate without the other, based upon the very reason they were created, which was to complement each other. They are destined to be married and become one, just as they have been living together in secret in the minds of bureaucrats and educrats. LDS will serve under CCSS, plain and simple, inasmuch as teachers and curricula will conform to LDS mandates, too.

And the primary problem remains that both CCSS and LDS are two of the greatest overreaches by the federal government -- in cahoots with state educrats -- and encroachments on student privacy and parental rights, all under the banner of the new "Common Core" education.

And if you think I'm just connecting conspiratorial dots, then let me remove all doubt by citing a document anyone can read on the website for the National Center for Education Statistics, which is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations and is located within the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

The NCES produced four books on building longitudinal data systems. The first one is titled "Traveling Through Time: The Forum Guide to Longitudinal Data Systems," which also gives a glimpse into their informational future.

In Chapter 5 of that book -- titled "LDS Benefits: Why Should We Build These Systems?" -- the NCES clearly explains for all to read: "Longitudinal data system (LDS) is not just a compliance system that will feed the state and federal governments more data. An LDS has the potential to make high quality, timely data available to all stakeholders to help them ... leverage significant educational change."

Any questions?

Welcome to the future of fed ed and having your family's personal information float across the Internet for "key stakeholders," from your house and the local schoolhouse to statehouses and the White House.

It's time to ship fed ed to some remote deserted island! And we can start by stopping Common Core.


PISA education tests: Why Shanghai pupils are so special

For the second time running, pupils in China’s financial capital have been world beaters in maths, science and reading. Here's why

Every day, Lucy Dong and her best friend Amy Zhu wake at 7am – 7.10am if they are lucky – munch through their breakfast of steamed buns and noodles, and head off to what may be the best schooling system in the world.

The 10-year-olds, who are natives of Shanghai, China’s sprawling financial capital, study in 35-minute bursts from around 8am to 4pm, with a small break for lunch – and a class meeting – sandwiched in the middle.

Outside school hours, the girls’ lives are a blur of extra-curricular activities: English class, flute class, drumming class, handwriting class, calligraphy class, Taekwondo training, modelling lessons and choir practice.

Over the coming years, as they chase their respective dreams of becoming an astronaut and a poetry reciter, Lucy and Amy’s lives are unlikely to be easy. But they will at least be part of an education system that appears to be paying great dividends.

This week, Shanghai was crowned – for the second time – the champion of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares the maths, reading and science skills of some 510,000 secondary school students around the world.

Shanghai’s students came top of the global class in maths with an average score of 613 (up from 600 in the last PISA tests of 2010). That was 119 points, or the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling, above the average, and placed Shanghai 25 places above Britain, which had 494 points.

Shanghai also came top in reading (570 points), just ahead of Hong Kong and Singapore, which joined it on the podium in all three PISA categories. Britain languished in 23rd place with 499 points.

Shanghai was also victorious in science (Britain came 21st) and excelled when it came to “top performers”. Twenty-five per cent of its students were placed in that bracket, the PISA results showed.

Some experts question the value of comparing cities and countries. Others point out that Shanghai’s relatively well-funded schools and well-paid teachers are not representative of the Chinese education system as a whole. Average pay for a Shanghai teacher is 4,400 yuan (£441) a month compared with 2,000 yuan in some cities in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

Even so, the latest results are likely to see more and more educators flock east in search of the mega-city’s magic formula.

Prof Kong Lingshuai of the College of Education at Shanghai Normal University has studied the city’s PISA successes. He says that the secret is a mix of “traditional elements and modern elements”. The former relate to the high expectations of “tiger” parents, and a belief instilled in Chinese children from a young age that effort is crucial to gaining a good education.

“Chinese parents pay great attention to their children’s education in the hope that their sons will one day become dragons and their daughters phoenixes,” says Prof Kong.

The “modern elements” include Shanghai’s willingness to constantly adapt its curriculum and teaching practices; its focus on improving under-achieving schools by pairing them with those that excel; its openness to foreign ideas; and the introduction of performance-related pay.

An obsession with training has also been key, says Prof Kong. As of last year, new teachers have to undergo a standardised, one-year training course before starting in the classroom.

Once qualified, they are required to complete at least 240 hours’ training in their first five years. Teachers are also encouraged to attend each other’s classes to promote a culture of “idea sharing, exchanging and positive competition”.

Outsiders often dismiss China’s education system as a pressure-cooker-style frenzy of exams that places too much emphasis on rote-learning and does little to stimulate creativity.

But in Shanghai at least, that may be starting to change. Authorities are attempting to move away from testing that relies too heavily on memorising facts and figures, and some schools are also giving students more time to play, rather than just study.

Gao Xinhong, a Shanghai student who became a minor local celebrity after getting the highest marks in this year’s “gaokao” university entrance exams, says the schooling system is becoming more flexible. “The greatest part of Shanghai’s education system was that it gave me a broad perspective compared to other Chinese cities. Shanghai’s education is good because it does not treat grades as the only thing for a student,” she says.

Zhu Yi, the father of 10-year-old Amy Zhu, agrees. “It is much better than before. Schools in Shanghai now focus on the all-round development of students,” says Mr Yi, a 44-year-old sports instructor.

He points to an ancient Chinese dedication to learning when asked to explain the city’s PISA successes, but warns: “Education is cultural. It can’t simply be copied or borrowed.”

Prof Kong says cultural factors have been central to Shanghai’s PISA glories but suggests western students hoping to catch up with their Asian peers would do well to take on some extra homework.

“The number of hours Chinese students put into homework is several times higher than their western pals,” he says.

Wang Huichun – a 40-year-old nurse who is the mother of Lucy – says that even Shanghai’s over-achieving students need to work harder if they are to keep succeeding.

“[My daughter’s] school is more interested in the arts than it is academic performance,” Ms Wang complains, in true “tiger mother” fashion. “There is not enough homework. It worries me a little.”


Georgia School Confiscates Christmas Cards

For as long as anyone can remember, teachers at Brooklet Elementary School have posted Christmas cards in the hallways outside their classrooms – until Monday.

When boys and girls returned from Thanksgiving break, they discovered that their teachers’ Christmas cards had been removed – under orders from the Georgia school’s administration.

Robb Kicklighter’s wife is a third grade teacher at the school. He said many teachers are disgruntled by the school’s decision to confiscate the Christmas cards.

“They took down the cards so the kids can’t see them,” he told me. “Some of the cards had the word ‘Christmas’ and some had Nativity scenes.”

Kicklighter said the cards were put behind an office door so only teachers could access them.

“It’s really sad because the students looked forward to seeing those homemade Christmas cards every year,” he said. “It’s stirred a lot conversation. This has been a tradition and the kids are wondering what happened to the cards.”

The Christmas card censorship comes as the Bulloch County Board of Education cracks down on religious expression in their schools.

Teachers have been ordered to remove any religious icons or items from their classrooms – ranging from Bibles to Christian music.

Teachers have also been instructed to avoid student-led prayers at all costs. Should they be in a room where students are praying, teachers have been ordered to turn their backs on their students.

“It’s an attack on Christianity,” Kicklighter said. “It seems like every time we turn around, someone is offended.”

Hundreds of outraged residents have joined a Facebook page to protest the crackdown – and many are vowing to attend a school board meeting on Thursday to let school officials have a piece of their mind.

The Board of Education released a statement noting that there are “established legal requirements to which we must adhere.”


Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Textbook That Should Live in Infamy: The Common Core Assaults World War II

Saturday the 7th of December will mark the seventy-second anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The commemoration of that “date which will live in infamy” brings up memories of more than Pearl Harbor but of the entire American effort in World War II: of the phenomenal production of planes and tanks and munitions by American industry; of millions of young men enlisting (with thousands lying about their age to get into the service); of the men who led the war, then and now seeming larger than life—Churchill and F.D.R., Eisenhower and MacArthur, Monty and Patton; and of the battles themselves in which uncommon valor was a common virtue: Midway, D-Day, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima, to name only a few.

Most of us today do not know those events directly but have encountered them in history books. And when we think of World War II, the people who come to mind first are our grandparents: the men and women of the Greatest Generation who are our surest link to the past.

One of the most vital questions for us—grandchildren of the Greatest Generation—is how we will preserve their memory. Ours is the much easier but still important task of making sure that subsequent generations understand the heroism and sacrifice needed to keep America—and indeed the world—safe, prosperous, and free during the grave crisis that was the Second World War. Presumably these lessons not only honor our forebears, who passed on a free and great nation to us, but they also set the example of how we must meet the challenges and crises of our own time. A glance at one of the nation’s leading high-school literature textbooks—Prentice Hall’s The American Experience, which has been aligned to the Common Core—will tell us how we are doing on that front.

The opening page of the slim chapter devoted to World War II called “War Shock” features a photograph of a woman inspecting a large stockpile of thousand-pound bomb castings. The notes in the margins of the Teacher’s Edition set the tone:

In this section, nonfiction prose and a single stark poem etch into a reader’s mind the dehumanizing horror of world war. . . .

The editors of the textbook script the question teachers are supposed to ask students in light of the photograph as well as provide the answer:

Ask: What dominant impression do you take away from this photograph?

Possible response: Students may say that the piled rows of giant munitions give a strong impression of America’s power of mass production and the bombs’ potential for mass destruction.

Translation: Americans made lots of big bombs that killed lots of people.

The principal selection of the chapter is taken from John Hersey’s Hiroshima. It is a description of ordinary men and women in Hiroshima living out their lives the day the bomb was dropped. A couple of lines reveal the spirit of the document:

The Reverend Mr. Tanimoto got up at five o’clock that morning. He was alone in the parsonage, because for some time his wife had been commuting with their year-old baby to spend nights with a friend in Ushida, a suburb to the north.

Further prompts from the margins of the Teacher’s Edition indicate how the selection is to be read and taught:

World War II has been called a popular war in which the issues that spurred the conflict were clearly defined. . . .

Nevertheless, technological advances . . . [and the media] brought home the horrors of war in a new way. Although a serious antiwar movement in the United States did not become a reality until the 1960s, these works by Hersey and by Jarrell take their place in the ranks of early antiwar literature.

Have students think about and record in writing their personal feelings about war. Encourage students to list images of war that they recall vividly. [Conveniently, there is a photograph of the devastation in Hiroshima next to this prompt].

Tell students they will revisit their feelings about war after they have read these selections.

The entire section is littered with questions and prompts in this vein and plenty of photos that show the destruction of Hiroshima. In case the students would be inclined to take the American side in this conflict, the editors see to it that teachers will remind the students repeatedly that there are two sides in every war:

Think Aloud: Model the Skill

Say to students:

When I was reading the history textbook, I noticed that the writer included profiles of three war heroes, all of whom fought for the Allies. The writer did not include similar profiles for fighters on the other side. I realize that this choice reflects a political assumption: that readers want to read about only their side’s heroes.

. . . Mr. Tanimoto is on the side of “the enemy.” Explain that to vilify is to make malicious statements about someone. During wartime, it is common to vilify people on the other side, or “the enemy.”

After a dozen pages of Hersey’s Hiroshima (the same number given to Benjamin Franklin in volume one of The American Experience), students encounter the anti-war, anti-heroic poem by Randall Jarell, “The Death of the Ball Turrett Gunner.” The last line in this short poem sums up the sentiment: “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.” The textbook editors zero in for the kill:

Take a position: Jarrell based his poem on observations of World War II, a war that has been called “the good war.” Is there such a thing as a “good war”? Explain.

Possible response: [In the Teacher’s Edition] Students may concede that some wars, such as World War II, are more justified than others, but may still feel that “good” is not an appropriate adjective for any war.

So, class, what are your “feelings” about war—and World War II in particular—now that you have read these two depressing selections in “early anti-war literature”?

There is more than a little sophistry taking place here: an alarming superficiality and political bias that pervades all the Common Core textbooks (as I have illustrated in my book The Story-Killers: A Common Sense Case Against the Common Core). There is no reading in this chapter ostensibly devoted to World War II that tells why America entered the war. There is no document on Pearl Harbor or the Rape of Nanking or the atrocities committed against the Jews or the bombing of Britain. The book contains no speech of Winston Churchill or F.D.R. even though the reading of high-caliber “informational texts” is the new priority set by the Common Core, and great rhetoric has always been the province of an English class.

There is not a single account of a battle or of American losses or of the liberation of Europe. The editors do not balance Jarrell’s poem with the much more famous war song “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” that ends with the line, “And we’ll all stay free!” The rest of this chapter consists in a poster of a junk rally to gather metals for the making of munitions, a New York Times editorial, and a political cartoon penned by Dr. Seuss (who supported the war).

There is not a single document or sentence in the chapter that would make a young reader consider the Axis Powers anything other than “enemies” in quotes. Essentially, all of World War II has been reduced to dropping the bomb and consequently, we are led to believe, America’s inhumanity. In short, the entire presentation of the Second World War is not an exercise in critical thinking; nor will it make students “college and career ready.” This is not teaching. It is programming, pure and simple.

“But we did drop the bomb, didn’t we?” Yes, we did. But if we are to make World War II, and Hiroshima in particular, a subject of discussion in an English literature class, then we should at least provide a few facts. The Japanese never showed any sign of surrender until after Nagasaki, the dropping of the second bomb. That meant that an invasion of Japan was the only alternative to the bomb. The Japanese were prepared to defend the mainland with 2.5 million troops and a civilian militia of millions more.

American deaths would likely have been in the hundreds of thousands, and Japanese casualties, both military and civilian, could have been more than a million. Furthermore, a small detail that is left out of virtually every high-school textbook is worth considering. American planes dropped three-quarters of a million leaflets urging the people of Hiroshima to evacuate the city. That pamphlet is a document you will never see in a Common Core textbook.

Since the Prentice Hall editors are not above appealing to teenage feelings to make their point, let us give them a taste of their own medicine.

Imagine you are a ten-year-old child living in 1945. You have only distant and passing memories of your father, who enlisted in the Marine Corps as soon as the war broke out. You write him every week, and your mother writes him every day, but his letters come in spurts due to interruptions in communication. Your mother shields you from most of what goes on, but you know he barely escaped with his life at a place called Guadalcanal. Because of his experience and his unit, he will be either in the first or second assault wave on the Japanese mainland. He has an eighty percent chance of being killed. Would you want President Truman to order the dropping of the bomb to keep your father from being killed, as well as saving thousands more American servicemen and even Japanese civilians and soldiers?

This is not fiction. This was a reality faced by hundreds of thousands of American families whose husbands and fathers were deployed in the Pacific theatre. Somehow we have forgotten that reality.

It is really a very simple question. Do we want the memory of our grandparents to be left in the hands of progressive ideologues and armchair utopians who have the advantage of living in a free and prosperous country (for now) due to no expenditure of blood, toil, tears, or sweat of their own? Do we want the children just now entering school and in the years to come—who may have never met their great-grandparents—to be made ashamed of that Greatest Generation, of America, and of our resolution to remain free?


Evidence Of Indoctrination In The Schools!

For many children in the United States, the most influential adults in their lives will not be their parents but rather public school teachers, those which have been entrusted with the task of educating the youth of the nation. It is in the classrooms of these schools that the minds of the children will be shaped, and the influence that is exerted in those crucial years of development will stay with these young people as they transition into adulthood and throughout their entire lives.

In an effort to ensure that today’s youth develop in a predictable and uniform fashion, the United States government is in the process of implementing new standards for public schools. These standards, which are known as the Common Core State Standards, have been adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four American territories. (1) In an effort to entice state governments to embrace these standards, the Obama Administration announced a grant program in 2009 which would allow states who have implemented Common Core standards to compete for government payouts. “The $4.35 billion Race to the Top program that we are unveiling today is a challenge to states and districts. We’re looking to drive reform, reward excellence, and dramatically improve our nation’s schools,” announced Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2009. (2)

As more schools continue to implement these new educational standards, numerous news reports have surfaced indicating that American children are now undergoing an onslaught of indoctrination in their classrooms. One such example is an assignment published by a company from New Jersey known as Pearson Education. In this so-called English assignment, students are instructed to make a series of sentences less wordy by replacing underlined words with a possessive noun phrase. The sentences which the students are instructed to restructure include the following: “The job of a president is not easy,” “He makes sure the laws of the country are fair,” “The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all,” and “The wants of an individual are less important than the well-being of the nation.” (3) This lesson sounds very much like a brainwashing session masquerading as an English assignment. It espouses absolute and unquestioning submission to the government and propagates the collectivist notion that our actions must be for the good of society even if it violates the rights of individual people.

In another assignment, students from the state of Arkansas who attend schools in the Bryant District were given a worksheet that presents a hypothetical situation in which the students have been called upon by the United States government to make modifications to the Bill of Rights. A portion of the assignment’s instructions reads as follows: “The government of the United States is currently revisiting the Bill of Rights. They have determined that it is outdated and may not remain in its current form any longer. Their aim is to ensure that our personal civil liberties and the pursuit of happiness remains guarded in the 21st century.” The assignment further instructs the student, “You have been charged with the task of revisiting and editing the Bill of Rights. More specifically you will need to prioritize, prune, and add amendments, and then turn your ideas into a revised Bill of Rights.” (4)

Meanwhile, a company known as Scholastic, which produces educational materials for public schools, has released a math worksheet intended for fifth grade students, which features a smiling young girl holding a handful of money and instructs the student to “distribute the wealth.” (5) This subtle lesson in socialist doctrine fits hand-in-hand with Barack Obama’s agenda to “redistribute the wealth.” His support for such a concept was expressed in a 2001 radio interview at which time he was still a senator for the state of Illinois. In this interview, Obama stated the following: “The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution…” (6)

Additionally, a school assignment given to 14 and 15-year-olds in the state of Illinois presents students with a hypothetical situation wherein they are instructed to choose who will live and who will die in a random group of people at a hospital who are in need of kidney dialysis. Instructions for the assignment state, “Unless they receive this procedure, they will die. The local hospital has enough machines to support only six people. That means four people are not going to live. You must decide from the information below which six will survive.” (7)

Reports have also surfaced indicating that some public schools have introduced their students to the religion of Islam. Such was the case when a recent field trip for a group of students in the state of Tennessee involved visiting an Islamic mosque where the students were given punch, cookies, and copies of the so-called Islamic holy book known as the Koran. (8) Some parents expressed outrage over this development. “Our kids are being indoctrinated and this is being shoved in their face,” declared one of the student’s father. (9) Another incident, which occurred in the state of Texas early in 2013, also sparked outrage. According to a report released in February 2013, a geography teacher brought burqas, the traditional garb for Muslim women, to her classroom and invited her female students to wear the clothing. (10) This particular incident was especially odd since Islam is a religion, not a geographical location, and this was supposed to be a geography class. One of the female student’s father expressed his consternation over this exercise. “She went from learning about Mexico to learning about Russia to learning about Islam. Islam is not a country. Islam is not a continent,” the man said. (11)

Although some of these examples may not have been a direct result of the implementation of Common Core State Standards, one would reasonably surmise that many of them were, and that the lessons being taught in schools today have taken a drastic turn since 2009 when the standards were introduced. In fact, one of the stated goals of the curriculum’s developers is to prepare the youth of today to embrace globalist ideologies. A portion from the official website of the Common Core State Standards Initiative states the following: “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant in the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.” (12)

It has become abundantly clear that public schools in this modern age have become halls of indoctrination. If you have children and they attend public schools, it would be advisable to take an active interest in their education and keep a close watch on what they are being taught.


PISA report finds Australian teenagers education worse than 10 years ago

AUSTRALIAN teenagers' reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate.

The dumbing down of a generation of Australian teenagers is exposed in the latest global report card on 15-year-olds' academic performance.

Migrant children trumped Australian-born kids while girls dragged down the national performance in maths, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, released in Paris last night, reveals.

Australia's maths performance dropped the equivalent of half a year of schooling between 2003 and 2012.

And rowdy classrooms and bullying are more common in Australia than overseas, the report says.

China tops the latest league table of 65 countries in maths, science and literacy.

The average 15-year-old student from Shanghai is nearly two years ahead in science, and a year and a half ahead in maths, than a typical Australian teen.

Four out of 10 Australian students flunked the national baseline level for mathematical literacy - compared to just over one in 10 in Shanghai and two in 10 in Singapore.

At least one in three Aussie students fell below the national baseline level for reading and science.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) called on governments to "act now to stop the slide".

The ACER director of educational monitoring and research, Sue Thomson - who wrote the Australian chapter of the PISA report - said Australia now has fewer top-performing students, and more at the bottom.

She said the reading results showed Australian students were illiterate in a practical sense.  "It's not saying they're totally illiterate or innumerate," she said.  "But they don't necessarily have the skills they need to participate fully in adult life."

A year after former prime minister Julia Gillard set the goal for Australia to rank among the top five nations for reading, maths and science by 2025, the latest PISA report shows Australia has fallen further down the ladder.

As the debate over school funding continues, the results also reflect how increased spending on education has failed to arrest the slide of other countries, including the United Kingdom, which despite an increase of billions of dollars in funding is producing high school graduates who trail almost every other developed country.

Australia still performs above average for developed countries within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - but its ranking has dived over the decade.

Poland has now leapfrogged Australia in maths, helping push Australia from 11th place 2003 to 19th in 2012.

Australian teens came fourth in PISA's world literacy rankings in 2003, trailing only Finland, Korea and Canada.  But they now rank an equal 13th with New Zealand.

The ranking for science fell from 6th place in 2006, to 16th place in 2012.

Australian girls' performance in maths has fallen to the OECD average - dragging down Australia's result.  But boys are a year behind girls in literacy levels at the age of 15.

PISA exposes an educational underclass in Australia - with a two and a half year gap between the performance of students from poor or indigenous families and those from well-off households.

Dr Thomson said taxpayer funds should be targeted to disadvantaged students.  "Just putting more money in won't work, but targeting money will work," she said.

Dr Thompson said Asian education systems, such as Singapore, gave more remedial attention to children lagging at primary school so they did not fall behind.

The PISA report shows that migrant students performed best in the Australian test.

Even in English literacy, 14 per cent of foreign-born students were top performers, compared to 10 per cent of Australian-born students.

Indigenous students or those living in remote areas were twice as likely to do worst in the PISA tests.

Students from wealthy families were five times more likely than the poorest students to excel.

But results also varied widely within schools, between classes.

"A larger-than-average within-school variance means that, for Australian students, it matters more which class they are allocated to than which school they attend," the report says.  "(However) the choice of school still has a significant impact on outcomes."

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne - who this week pledged to give the States and Territories an extra $2.8bn in funding for schools over the next four years - said Australia's results had declined despite a 44 per cent increase in education spending over the past decade.

"These results are the worst for Australia since testing began and shows that we are falling behind our regional neighbours," he said.  "For all the billions (Labor) spent on laptops and school halls there is still no evidence of a lift in outcomes for students."

Australian students also reported a higher frequency of noise and disorder, and teachers having to wait for students to quieten down, than the OECD average.

More than 40 per cent of Australian students reported that "family demands" interfered with their school work.

One in five students felt they did not belong, were not happy or were not satisfied at school.

Australian Greens spokeswoman for schools, Senator Penny Wright attacked the Abbott government for handing the States "no strings attached" schools funding.

"It is deplorable that in the 21st century, Indigenous students are two and a half years behind non-indigenous students, and that kids in remote areas are as much as 18 months behind children in the city," she said.

The Australian Education Union blasted the results as a "wake-up call" for the Abbott government to increase funding to schools in poor areas, and set higher entry standards for teachers.

Nearly 15,000 Australian students aged 15, from 775 schools, were selected at random to take the PISA test last year.  More than 51,000 students in 65 developed countries took the test.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

New Study: Not Such a Large Head Start

For decades the federal government has claimed that our youngest children, particularly those brought up poor, would be best served by getting an early jump on the formal educational process. This notion led to the Head Start program, which serves children in the year or two before the normal commencement of kindergarten.

Yet for years, studies have proved that the Head Start program and other similar efforts are a colossal waste of money because the early advantage given to these children is erased in the first few years of standard K-12 schooling. This argument has been borne out in another large, 3,000-child study, based on successful and unsuccessful applicants from 2009 to Tennessee's Voluntary Pre-K program. Now that the children have been tracked and the the study's results evaluated for performance through first grade, the authors found that, in most areas, the children who did not attend the Pre-K program were academically ahead of those who attended.

The study's authors “found that the effects of [the program] … observed at the end of the pre-k year had greatly diminished by the end of the kindergarten year and the differences between participants and nonparticipants were no longer statistically significant." Why is this important?

Consider that the Obama administration wants to make "high-quality preschool available to every single child in America,” and imagine the cost. You can also imagine the need for thousands of additional (unionized, of course) “educators” as well as the millions of children immersed in government-sponsored indoctrination at a very precocious age.

With this administration we've learned results don't matter, but employing power and control does.


PISA: Poor academic standards – and an even poorer test

Britain’s schools may be in a bad way, but the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings are hardly the best judge

The news that the UK had done badly in the new OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) league tables was leaked over the weekend, and greeted with a blast of triumphalism by the Opposition. They swiftly blamed the fact that our teenagers lag behind their counterparts in the Far East on Michael Gove’s reforms: “All his frenetic, attention-seeking changes have not delivered the step change in standards we need,” wrote shadow education minister Tristram Hunt in a Sunday newspaper. So much for celebrating success.

Politicians seeking to gain the advantage like this is unhelpful. While it’s never good news for Britain to fare badly in international comparisons, those politicians setting such great store by, and attempting to settle scores using, the PISA results should realise that a minimum of five years is needed for any educational reform to work, and 10 years is nearer the reality. Since the Coalition has only been in power for three and a half, it seems a tiny bit premature to blame Mr Gove for the current league position.

What PISA has delivered is, in fact, a snapshot of those teenagers educated under Labour: after more than a decade of reform and an increase of £30 billion in funding, one in five 15-year-olds in Britain has failed to attain even the minimum standard expected for their age group in maths and literacy.

But before we get too carried away, we should address another serious problem: PISA’s credibility as an accurate assessment of how we teach our children. In my opinion, these tables are based on unsound methodology, from their statistical base to the way they are administered. And I am not alone in having doubts. During my recent year-long research project into how the world educates its most able children, several representatives from one of the high-scoring countries in the league confessed that they taught to the test in order to achieve a good score. If an, admittedly fairly random, sample of teachers is to be believed, many countries do so.

The PISA test is a two-hour examination taken by more than 500,000 teenagers in 66 different countries. There is a standard list of questions sent out, but the students aren’t required to answer them all and so the “Rasch” model is used to standardise the extremely varied material. The method and analysis have been seriously challenged by leading academics. The exam paper has to be translated into numerous different languages, and serious reservations have been expressed regarding the quality of the translation and embedded cultural bias therein.

Another of the test’s weaknesses is that it only measures the achievement of pupils who are actually attending school; it excludes the growing number of those who are taught at home and tells us very little indeed about educational achievement in those countries where significant numbers of children do not attend school. An attempt has been made to allow for the different cultural, social and economic backgrounds of those sitting the test, and the principal or head of a participating school is required to submit their own report in support of their pupils, but, again, a number of commentators have raised questions about the accuracy and legitimacy of any such judgments.

PISA’s defenders may howl in protest at any criticism, but the truth is that they are brief tests that can be taken in circumstances that would not meet the standards of our British examination boards. They are not adapted to allow for local curricula, and there are reports of children in the UK asking why the test had questions in it that they had not studied. Some countries will make little or no fuss over PISA, while for other countries the tests are a major event.

The main reason why these league tables achieve such prominence is that they are terrifically media-friendly. Uniquely, they purport to give an accurate picture of the standards of education achieved across a whole country, and across the whole planet. In the world of education, where there are too many statistics, too many of which appear to be contradictory, they are leapt upon as a far more accurate guide than they actually are.

Michael Gove, meanwhile, who has pointed out that these results are a verdict on the last government, has been taken to task for paying them too much heed. He’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. Those shouting so stridently that he is making too much of them would shout just as loudly that he was ignoring evidence of failure if he failed to acknowledge the results.

The fact is, we don’t need PISA to tell us that we have real problems in some of our schools as well as in the attitudes of some of our children, and I see no sign that Mr Gove has done anything other than use the results as part of his diagnosis of what is wrong with the patient. Yes, UK education has problems. No, PISA is not the be-all and end-all. And what precisely are the Opposition, who are so good at telling us what they will not do, proposing to do to make things better?


Australian Primary school bans leather footballs

A SCHOOL has banned children from using leather footballs and soccer balls after concerns were raised about possible head injuries.

Only 'soft' balls are allowed in the playground under new rules introduced at Albert Park Primary School.

Experts have backed the move but warn parents and teachers not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

The school introduced the new ball rules in a bid to lessen the impact of stray balls which hit students in the head.

Assistant principal Sue Pattison said the school's almost 450 students shared an oval little bigger than a basketball court, increasing the chances of an accident.

About 480 students are expected to attend the school next year.

"We still want kids to be able to run and play - it's an important part of having a break - but to do it in as safe an environment as we can manage," Ms Pattison said. "It's really just about prevention of major injuries."

The soft balls, introduced last term, are constructed of foam or have a foam layer under the skin.

Students who bring their own equipment must comply with the requirements.  Regular basketballs and tennis balls are allowed.

"We didn't actually have a major increase in incidents but it is a proactive decision because it's a busy yard," Ms Pattison said.

Under Education Department rules the parents of any child who suffers a head injury must be notified.  Albert Park contacts parents even if children are hit with a softer ball.

Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health neurosurgeon Prof Gavin Davis said softer balls were likely to reduce minor head injuries like lacerations and fractures but may not necessarily reduce concussion.

Concussion was more commonly caused when children fell over and hit their head or if it collided with another child's body part.

"It's an admirable intention to reduce head injuries with a softer ball," Prof Davis said.  "In general the principle is sound - in application it's not always the case."

"Education about recognising and acting on concussion was vital, he said.

Kidsafe Victoria executive officer Melanie Courtney said use of soft balls was an "innovative" way to ensure safety in a cramped playground.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh said it was important each adapted to their settings to ensure student safety.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

‘Genderqueer’ rising: Colleges welcome kids who identify as neither male nor female

The weekly meetings of Mouthing Off!, a group for students at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, always start the same way. Members take turns going around the room saying their names and the personal pronouns they want others to use when referring to them — she, he or something else.

It’s an exercise that might seem superfluous given that Mills, a small and leafy liberal arts school historically referred to as the Vassar of the West, only admits women as undergraduates. Yet increasingly, the “shes” and “hers” that dominate the introductions are keeping third-person company with “they,” ”ze” and other neutral alternatives meant to convey a more generous notion of gender.

‘If you don’t identify as a woman, how did you get in?’” said sophomore Skylar Crownover, 19, who is president of Mouthing Off! and prefers to be mentioned as a singular they, but also answers to he. “I just tell them the application asks you to mark your sex and I did. It didn’t ask me for my gender.”

On high school and college campuses and in certain political and social media circles, the growing visibility of a small, but semantically committed cadre of young people who, like Crownover, self-identify as “genderqueer” — neither male nor female but an androgynous hybrid or rejection of both — is challenging anew the limits of Western comprehension and the English language.

Though still in search of mainstream acceptance, students and staff members who describe themselves in terms such as agender, bigender, third gender or gender-fluid are requesting — and sometimes finding — linguistic recognition.

Inviting students to state their preferred gender pronouns, known as PGPs for short, and encouraging classmates to use unfamiliar ones such as “ze,”’sie,” ”e,” ”ou” and “ve” has become an accepted back-to-school practice for professors, dorm advisers, club sponsors, workshop leaders and health care providers at several schools.

The phenomenon gained notice in the San Francisco Bay area in early November after an 18-year-old student at a private high school in Berkeley suffered severe burns when a 16-year-old boy set fire to the student’s skirt while the two were riding a public bus. The parents of the injured student, Sascha Fleischman, said their son is biologically male but identifies as agender and favors they as a pronoun.

At the University of Vermont, students who elect to change their names and/or pronouns on class rosters now can choose from she, he and ze, as well as the option of being referred to by only their names. Hampshire College in Massachusetts advertises its inclusiveness by listing the gender pronouns of its tour guides on the school’s web site. And intake forms at the University of California, Berkeley’s student health center include spaces for male, female or other.

At Mills, the changes have included tweaking some long-standing traditions. New students are now called “first-years” instead of “freshwomen.” The student government also has edited the college’s historic chant — “Strong women! Proud women! All women! Mills women!” to “Strong, Proud, All, Mills!”

The nods to novel pronouns and nonconformity are an outgrowth of campaigns for gender-neutral bathrooms and housing that were aimed at making campuses more welcoming for transgender students moving from one side of the gender spectrum to the other. But as fewer young people choose to undergo sex reassignment surgery, such students are slowly being outnumbered by peers who refuse to be limited, said Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Certainly we see students who are transitioning, particularly female to male, but the vast majority of students who identify under the trans umbrella identify in some way outside the binary, and that’s really causing a shift on college campuses,” said Beemyn, who studies gender identity in higher education and recently traded ze for they. “Having role models and examples allows people to say ‘Yes, what I am feeling is legitimate.’”

As neologisms like “ze” have moved beyond conversation and into students’ academic papers, some professors have expressed annoyance and uncertainty about how to respond, said Lucy Ferriss, writer-in-residence at Trinity College in Connecticut and a frequent contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s language blog, Lingua Franca. .

“There is an initial discomfort. I think it’s probably hypocritical to pretend there isn’t, to say, ‘Ok, that’s what they want to do’ and leave it at that,” Ferriss said. “The people I know who teach will say ‘This is weird and it’s cumbersome and it’s not going to last because it’s not organic.’”

At the same time, Ferris thinks it’s a mistake for scholars and grammarians to dismiss the trend without considering whether English and society might be served by less-rigid ideas about gender.

“Mail carrier did not evolve organically and it’s a lot easier to say mailman. Decades ago there were poets who refused to be called poetesses,” she said. “Most language has evolved organically, but there have been times — and when it comes to issues of gender there probably have to be times — when there are people willing to push the envelope.”


British children still lagging behind countries like Estonia and Poland in maths, science and literacy despite billions being spent on improving schools in past 4 years

Test results in British schools have not improved in four years despite billions of pounds being spent on improving education.

Since 2000, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation has been assessing the knowledge and skills of the world's 15-year-olds.

More than 510,000 pupils in 65 economies have taken part its latest test which covered maths,
reading and science.

However, a report to be released on Tuesday is expected to reveal that the UK has 'simply stagnated' since its last study was carried out in 2009 when Britain performed poorly lagging behind nations like China, South Korea and Singapore as well as poorer countries including Poland and Estonia.

About £30billion has been spent on improving education since the Labour government was in power and under the coalition's reforms.

Four years ago, the UK fell from 17th to 25th for reading, from 24th to 28th for maths and from 14th to 16th for science.

Shockingly, a fifth of pupils failed to gain the minimum standard expected for their age group in literacy and maths.

However, Shanghai was a fifth better and scored 600 points compared to the UK's 500 in maths.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, says it is too early to see the difference made from the coalition reforms because the children tested in the latest study were educated for nine years under the Labour government.

Mr Gove believes the results from opening more academies and free schools as well as introducing a new exam system and curriculum is only starting to take effect.

A source told The Sunday Times: 'It is disappointing. We did badly last time and statistically we have done no better this time.'

Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King's College London, said British parents need to be more aware of the importance of education like families living in Seoul or Shanghai.

More than 12,600 pupils in 477 secondary schools took part in the two-hour test which covered reading, maths and science - maths being the main focus of the exam.

One of the main concerns is the UK's poor performance in maths.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, wrote in a Sunday newspaper today that Britain needed to learn from China's example where good exam results and good teaching are expected always from all.


Australia: Federal Education Minister calls for return of phonics

SCHOOLS have failed to help a generation of students who struggle to read, prompting an Abbott Government pledge to bring back phonics in "a big way".

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has outlined the principles of his new needs-based funding model for the nation's schools that he will unveil next year, focusing on teacher quality, traditional literacy learning methods including phonics (which involves sounding out the letters in words), principal power and parental engagement.

But he has also admitted he couldn't promise that no school would lose a dollar, arguing that the states ultimately decided individual school grants.

Mr Pyne sparked national controversy after he revealed he was going "back to the drawing board" on Labor's Gonski reforms because a majority of states had not signed legally binding agreements.

Accused of junking an election promise that he was on a "unity ticket" over the funding model for public and private schools, a defiant Mr Pyne said he was ready to "take on the education establishment".

A father of four, Mr Pyne said he had a deep understanding of learning difficulties after members of his own family had struggled to read.

"While it might have been pursued with all the goodwill in the world, there's no doubt that literacy standards for Australian students have declined measurably," he said.

"We are very determined and I am personally very determined to drive an agenda in literacy that focuses on phonics. It's far too important to turn a blind eye to what is failing our students in Australia and I am not prepared to do it."

Phonics is regarded by advocates as superior to more recent "whole language" learning, which is based on teachers providing a "literacy rich environment" combining speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Mr Pyne said getting results was not simply about funding but better teachers, school autonomy and parental engagement.

He said claims by state ministers that public schools would bear the brunt of any cuts were wrong.

"Why on earth would I be an enemy of public schools? They educate two-thirds of our students," he said.

"We send the money to the states and they apply the formula. So for them to say that somehow we may have to make a commitment that no school will be worse off -- it's quite impossible for us to follow through with that commitment. Because we don't actually apply the model in the final instance," he said.


Monday, December 02, 2013

The Education Earthquake In The Rocky Mountain State

Hugh Hewitt

Voters in Colorado overwhelmingly rejected a proposed school finance reform measure on Tuesday, one which would have raised nearly a billion dollars for Colorado public schools. Described by local media as "a major overhaul of education financing that would have provided nearly $1 billion in additional revenue for Colorado schools," the measure was rejected by a nearly 2-1 margin, with almost 66% of voters saying no.

That isn't just a defeat. It is a repudiation, and an ominous one. Set aside the specifics of the measure for a moment and reflect on the message sent by a 2-1 defeat for a measure touted as pro-public education, no matter its merits.

That kind of a whooping --especially when the losing side had the full support of a popular governor, huge out-of-state hitters (and donors) like Mayor Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Education Secretary Arne Duncan and many business elites-- is a huge signal that perhaps a rupture has occurred, a rupture of the long American tradition of support for public schools across party lines and across all demographic categories. What happened Tuesday night in Colorado was obscured by other high profile elections in New Jersey, Virginia,and New York City, but the national news media should quickly get around to asking what is happening with schools that have made controversies surrounding them into such hot button issue in so many ways and in such a short period of time?

How, exactly, could a measure which such big name and deep-pocketed support lose so badly, so overwhelmingly?

My conclusion: There is no consensus position on "Common Core," but boy is there enormous energy and a lot of growing anger. "Common Core" could turn out to be a terrific thing, a floor on which to build lasting education reform under the guidance of local school boards and free of federal control, or it could become a politicized exercise in top-down ideologically-driven dictates that first drives parents crazy and then drives them and their children out of the public schools. Much depends on the local school boards and how they act over the next two years.

The "Common Core" debate is just one of many swirling around public education right now. Another is the question of financing and technology --do the schools have enough money and technology or do they need more and if so, where should it come from and who should pay for it? What sort of technology does the average classroom need? The Los Angeles Unified School District just experienced a very bumpy roll-out of iPads-for-all, and skeptics of technology-as-the-soliution are growing in number just as districts across the country get set to try technology driven innovation.

And of course in the background loom the always present issues of school violence, from bullying to the worst sort of horror that we see recur across the country with an almost clockwork regularity.

The point is the ground began moving on education issues years ago, accelerated in recent months and in Colorado on Tuesday reached a new level of polarization, and not in the traditional sense of a stand-off of teacher-union-versus-school-board over pay and benefits, and not in the way of a time honored local debate over this-or-that new 5.9 mill levy for this or that district, or whether this school needs torn down or this new school needs building. Debates over the specifics of school management have long been a feature of American local politics, but rarely --maybe never-- have schools taken center stage as issues driving entire state or even national campaigns.

The future of public education is becoming deeply politicized, and that is a very bad thing, as polarization over public education will do very little good and much harm to millions of students who just need good or great teachers in good or great classrooms getting them ready for a rapidly changing world.

Though I am the product of 12 years of Catholic schooling, both my parents, my wife and all of my children spent every day of their education lives K-12 in public schools, and to great and good effect. The public schools of America are its glory, and their governance a true expression of local control and local values. What happened in Colorado should send a shudder down the spines of everyone who cares about schools --not because the measure lost, but because public schools themselves --as a category-- became a lightning rod, a political cause, and the verdict on them ultimately a huge rebuke to the political elites of Colorado, a rebuke that could be misinterpreted as lack of support for public education on the center-right.

What in fact seems to be happening is a great awakening about the centrality of education in America, and the need to embrace effective, locally-controlled reform. I have been on the board of a public charter school system in Arizona for the past many years --Great Hearts Academies of Arizona-- which now operates 16 amazing schools with more on the way and a waiting list of thousands of students eager to enroll. These are public schools, and all across the country reform is flourishing within the public school system through amazing organizations like KIPP and many others. (Here is the long interview I did with Jay Mathews on his book about KIPP from early 2009, a quick overview to real reform and its promise in many urban settings.)

Great things could happen in the next few years in education --amazing things, rapidly spreading, effective reform and new, energized partnerships between parents, students, teachers, administrators and communities, but that cannot happen if every school district becomes another front in the national battle between left-and-right. The message from Colorado ought to be: Keep education politics local. As they have always been. As they ought to remain.


Curb on middle class students as top British universities join scheme to help pupils from poorer families

Middle class students face losing out on places at top universities as growing numbers of them adopt a scheme which prioritises disadvantaged pupils for places.

Top universities are signing up to a scheme that means disadvantaged teenagers don’t need to obtain the same grades as their better-off rivals to get a place.

Twelve universities including Birmingham, Warwick, King’s College and Bristol are already involved in the Realising Opportunities programme which involved them giving ‘alternative offers’ to disadvantaged students.

And it has now been revealed that three more universities have entered the scheme - Goldsmiths, University of London; Sheffield and Sussex.

The Universities say the scheme promotes ‘fairer access’ and will increase the number of pupils from working-class families and poorly performing state schools going to university.

But critics say it is unfair to discriminate against hard-working pupils from middle class backgrounds, and say the scheme does nothing to solve the root cause of educational disadvantage.

Dr Martin Stephen, former chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and ex high master of prestigious St Paul’s School, London, said asking universities to address inequality in this way was letting schools ‘off the hook’ and was like ‘applying a bandage to lung cancer.’

Dr Stephen, who is now director of education for GEMS Education UK, said: ‘This isn’t an answer to a problem, it an evasion of a problem.

‘I think it’s because our school system has failed to do the right thing by our children and we want an easy fix.

‘Our schools are not helping disadvantaged children to achieve respectable grades and these things don’t do anything about that problem. In fact, if anything, they take the pressure off.

‘It’s like saying that if enough people can’t afford to buy a Rolls Royce, you lower the price.

‘That’s not the point really, is it? It’s acting on the point of supply, not the point of production. We have a supply line that’s not working.’

The move comes amid mounting pressure from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) on England’s most selective universities to set ‘challenging’ targets to recruit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A-Level students who attend a school with below average exam results or high numbers of poor pupils are eligible to join Realising Opportunities.

They must meet at least two criteria including live in a ‘low participation’ neighbourhood; be eligible for discretionary payments, free school meals or come from a home where neither parent has attended university.

The pupils must have also achieved at least eight A* to C grades at GCSE including English and maths, with a minimum of five at A*/A or B.

Students who successfully complete the programme - which includes E-mentoring, online study skills courses and entering an Extended Project Qualification - ‘benefit from alternative offers or additional consideration’ from partner universities, according to the group’s website.

It says: ‘Many partner universities will give an alternative offer worth up to two A level grades or equivalent.’

For example, where a middle class student might be told they need three A grades to get into a university, a student deemed as ‘disadvantaged’ would only need three B grades.

At Birmingham University, ‘dual offers’ are made to Realising Opportunities students who have met subject-specific entry requirements.

This is equivalent to 40 Ucas tariff points and equates to an entry reduction of up to two A-levels grades, such as BBB instead of AAB.

Bristol also offers up to two A-level grades lower than the standard offer following completion of the programme.

King’s College London, which usually makes offers as high as A*AA in certain subjects, is prepared to go as low as BBB for some RO students.

More than 1,200 teenagers from ‘educationally and socially disadvantaged backgrounds’ have been supported through the national programme so far.

Universities Minister David Willetts said: ‘The expansion of Realising Opportunities is good news, and will help even more young people from less advantaged backgrounds benefit from the transformational experience of higher education.’

Professor Les Ebdon, head of OFFA, has previously backed the use of differential offers for students from struggling state comprehensives - allowing them to win places with lower grade A-levels than those from high-flying schools.

Universities wishing to charge up to £9,000 a year must draw up an ‘access agreement’ - signed off by Professor Ebdon- setting out how they will attract and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

OFFA has the ultimate power to fine universities £500,000 or ban them from charging tuition fees of more than £6,000 if they fail to widen access to under-represented groups.

Earlier this week, Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, claimed that UK universities should be more explicit in attempts to ‘socially engineer’ admissions in favour of poor students.


Australian education systems need hard lesson

Piers Akerman

THE feral critics of federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne made one simple but seriously-flawed assumption when they attempted to savage him over the former Labor government’s terminally damaged Gonski education reform.

In the collective view of the leftists at the ABC and Fairfax Media, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments possessed some degree of competency.  That’s a bad place from which to make any assessment of the programs they left in place - like Gonski.

Respected businessman David Gonski must rue the day he agreed to look into the education funding shambles for former prime minister Julia Gillard.

In the end, it became nothing more than an ideologically-driven scheme to bribe state and territory leaders.

To think it would ever break with Labor tradition and achieve success was always too much to ask for.

But a few Pollyannas remain ever willing to sacrifice thoughtfulness for wishy-washy idealism, despite the evidence of such lethal failures as Labor’s pink batts scheme, its tragically fatal border protection scheme, its extravagantly wasteful and inefficient national broadband rollout, its laughable carbon tax and ineffective mining tax. Media figures tripped over themselves in their rush to embrace Gonski as the latest educational panacea.

But what was it ever going to achieve beyond increased funding - Labor’s ever-ready toss-more-money-at-the-problem universal but always ineffectual solution?

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell should have been aware of the risks posed in getting into bed with Labor, as should his Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. They should have given more thought to the substance of Gonski rather than let themselves be dazzled by the cash Gillard was offering to entice them and other states to sign up. In education, principles as well as principals count.

The key defect in what is now known as Gonski is that Labor gutted the plan of genuine forward-thinking reform and ensured that it was about nothing more than cash handouts which Labor would place on the national credit card.

There is nothing wrong with that, if it’s affordable. The big error lies in believing money is the sole answer to educational problems.

In the past decade the education budget has increased by 40 per cent but results have declined in real terms across every subject. Australian taxpayers pay $42 billion a year for shocking results.

The Abbott government has been faced with the choice of continuing to fund bad policy and fail our children or trying to help them gain from their schooling. Given that the federal government doesn’t own any schools or employ any teachers, the choice seems simple.

Give the states and territories some guidance on curricula, replace the hideously ideological literacy program, for instance, with the universally accepted and proven phonics method of teaching reading, improve the quality of teachers by getting more involved in teacher training within universities, permitting school principals to assume greater responsibility and enjoy greater autonomy and, crucially, actively promote the engagement of parents or grandparents in the education of their children and grandchildren.

What happens in the classroom has far greater influence over a child’s education than the amount of money being handed out.

It is clear Pyne is relentlessly focused on teacher quality and training and understands that university students who don’t understand basic principles of English, let alone science or maths, are being trained as teachers.

They are the victims of failed educational fads and yet are expected to be able to teach future students.

The most hysterical criticism of the Abbott government’s plans for education has come from the teachers’ unions, because they can see their control being diminished as principals are given greater responsibility.

Hypocritically, the leftists who have always campaigned for more state schools are opposed to the creation of more state schools if they are to be given greater independence.

Independent state schools introduced in Western Australia are now so successful they are luring pupils from non-government schools, which upsets teachers’ unions and the left enormously.

The schools are owned by the state but run by principals, with involvement from parents. Parents say the education their children receive at such schools is transformational.

Pyne firmly believes he was elected to make a real contribution, not merely occupy a seat in parliament. He knew he was always going to be attacked by the educational establishment for identifying its core weakness.

Labor never tried to make the necessary changes because it didn’t want to create conflict with its trade union support base.

While the Abbott government has not cut the education funding agreed to during the forward estimates period, it is going to insist on value for money.

That’s a principle which principled principals will happily agree to.


Sunday, December 01, 2013

Student Paper Editor Claims Mustaches are Racist

The health and education editor of the student newspaper at one of Canada’s most prestigious universities has advised the world that Movember — the month-long pledge by men to grow hair above the upper lip to support men’s health awareness —  is “sexist, racist, transphobic, and misinformed.”

Let’s begin with transphobic. Which means it discriminates against women who have themselves mutilated so they can pretend to be men.

Haddad’s complaints about Movember are many. To begin with, he says, the concept discriminates against transgender people by linking masculinity “to secondary male characteristics, including having a prostate” and the ability to grow facial hair.

“To be completely clear, you don’t have to be a man to have a prostate, and you don’t have to have a prostate to be a man,” Haddad proclaims."

While women can’t grow a prostate (or be man), they can grow facial hair. And with the kinds of hormones being injected into the bodies of women who claim to be transgender men, they certainly do grow facial hair.

So Haddad is not only crazy. He’s also wrong.

"The English and cultural studies major argues that Movember “implies an archaic view of gender that implies that only a male/female gender binary exists, and that you aren’t really a man if you don’t necessarily identify with that binary.”

Close encounters of the third kind? Is there a third non-binary sex we’re missing? Like Mowen? And can’t you be a third gender and still grow facial hair?

He asks: “How are people who do not identify with that binary and have a prostate supposed to partake in this cause?”

I don’t even…

Haddad claims Movember is also racist because black males are “twice as likely to develop” prostate cancer than white males yet most people celebrating Movember are white.

So mustaches are racist because black men are more likely to get prostate cancer.

"Finally, Haddad aggressively claims that “campaigns like Movember help perpetuate” micro-aggressions–which he defines as “interactions between people of different races, genders, sexualities, and cultures that represent small acts of non-physical violence.”

I think this entire essay counts as a micro-aggression.

“Do some basic research, educate yourself on the issue, and think twice before growing a moustache this, or any other, November,” Haddad implores.

Because they’re racist. Just ask Billy Dee Williams [below]


Headmistress of British  girls' school tells pupils to hero-worship local mayoress NOT 'toxic' WAGS and pop stars like Miley Cyrus

The headmistress of an all-girls private school has told her students to shun celebrities like Miley Cyrus - and idolise a former mayor instead.

Charlotte Avery has been head of £30,000-a-year St Mary's School in Cambridge since 2007 and champions equality for women.

She fears her pupils at the Roman Catholic school are being starved of appropriate role models with pop stars like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus, as well as models and WAGs, getting too much 'toxic' media attention.

She warns that stars are heavily airbrushed and advises girls to look closer to home, at aunts and grandmothers, for inspiration on how to carry themselves.

Her latest tip is for the girls to see former Cambridge mayor Sheila Stuart as a role model instead of the controversial Wrecking Ball singer.

Mrs Avery said: 'I do think we want a variety of role models out there, not simply models or pop stars or footballers' wives.

'We actually want women who have an identity of their own, say for example sportswomen.

'They are advocating a lifestyle which is one of dedication and hard work and that actually failure along the way is part of the route to success.

'I think we need to look at female role models in public life so last year we invited in Sheila Stuart, who had been mayor of Cambridge twice.

'I think we need to be looking at women locally, so celebrate your mother or your sister within families.

'Who are the role models we aspire to? A grandmother, an aunt.
Mrs Avery warns the girls at the £30,000-a-year Catholic school are bombarded with distorted images

'It's important to get local role models, models within a town or city.

'At the moment there is a gross under representation of the majority of types of people and a gross over representation of a very false image and I think for a society that is very toxic.'

It follows a wave of criticism from prominent figures such as actress Emma Thompson lamenting Cyrus' high profile status in the media.

However, many accept that little can be done to change that.

Thompson said: ‘She made the choice of going hyper-sexual for a reason, and we’re all responsible for that, because that’s what we buy, and that’s what we click on. Those quick clicks are dangerous.’

But Mrs Avery refuses to accept the status quo.

She told Cambridge News: 'I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Miley Cyrus and Rihanna per se, it’s just we don’t get anything else at all. There’s no dilution of that.'


Obamacare: University Event Distributes Applications and Condoms

To college students at the University of Central Arkansas, Obamacare just became a little bit more alluring. While the nation's economy might not be so hot, that doesn't mean the federal government has forgotten the power of incentives.

Take a look at what this reportedly federally granted group is using to promote application sign-ups:

 The Obamacare event took place at the University of Central Arkansas last weekend. It was hosted by a group called the Living Affected Corporation, which apparently has received a grant from the federal government to educate the public about Obamacare.
The event organizer spilled out a bag of condoms -- as a couple whoops and hollers could be heard from the small crowd.

Then she says, "Ok, if anyone wants a paper application," but she interrupts herself to pickup condoms that had fallen on the floor. "I have those as well."

"So when you're leaving, you can stop by my table and I'll give you whatever -- condoms -- that box has a bunch in it. Anyway ... Our corporation, LA Corp ... And I'm waiting on my dental dams and female condom order that still hasn't come in. If you ever need condoms, let me know because we have thousands -- boxes of magnums, we get magnums a lot. So here is the prize table."

The condom give-away was a training event with young Democrats, I'm told.

What to say, hmmm...Thanks Obamacare?