Friday, February 14, 2014

University of Alabama Students 'Offended' By Pro-Life Display, School Promptly Removes It

When the University of Alabama group Bama Students for Life set up a pro-life display on campus, some of their classmates deemed it too ‘offensive’ for school grounds. Administrators removed it without the slightest hint of hesitation.

So, what exactly was so offensive?

The display, which featured several abortion-related facts, pictures of women who have died as a result of having an abortion, and two small pictures of aborted babies, was among numerous other student group displays. Claire Chretien, president of Bama Students for Life, captured a school official on video claiming that university policy allows her to remove displays that have “offensive or graphic material.”

The revealing video, via Campus Reform, captures Event Coordinator Donna Lake telling Chretien, “You guys were lucky to get it up there as long as you did.” When Chretien insists their group had reserved the display case for at least a few more days, the coordinator said if they receive complaints they have to remove it.

I did some research, and I have three words for the University of Alabama: The Vagina Monologues. Those not familiar with this feminist play only need to know it features young women bashing the opposite sex and talking about their lady parts. The school featured a production of the play last year. This permission form even warns there is some “strong content in a few of the monologues.”

Inevitably, the event organizers posted ads for the play. On my own campus, I was constantly offended by advertisements for this vulgar production starring female lady parts. I haven't even mentioned the SexFest posters. But, what am I saying. Of course pictures of victimized babies are more unacceptable.

Bama Students for Life are working with Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge their school’s intolerant decision. Here’s hoping justice wins out and Bama Students for Life are not denied the chance to courageously defend the lives of precious unborn children.


Totalitarians at UNC

Mike Adams

Dear Chancellor Miller (

I am in receipt of the results of your three day investigation into allegations of viewpoint discrimination by the student affairs division of the administration at UNC-Wilmington. The results of the investigation are unsatisfactory and now compel me to seek outside assistance to remedy problems that administrators are aware of but unfortunately appear to be denying.

The idea of a three day investigation into viewpoint discrimination is patently offensive. There were four student groups mentioned in my previous letter. The investigation identified two of the groups as having applied for official recognition before declaring that they were being treated fairly. The investigation also blamed one group for losing its provisional status by missing a scheduled meeting. Next, it concluded that the process of recognizing the other group was going smoothly. That characterization is in dispute.

Unfortunately, your investigator neglected to do something important. He neglected to speak to the student applicants directly. I have talked to them directly but your administration hasn't. You should schedule a meeting with these students and hear their concerns directly. Take your time and get all of the relevant information from both sides. Don't rely on the results of a three day internal investigation. Internal investigations have a tendency to result in acquittal. They tend to be fast, but not very furious.

The length of the investigation is not the only problem. Also problematic is the investigator. Mike Walker, the UNCW Dean of Students, was previously at the center of a well-known controversy concerning the general issue of fairness toward student groups. That controversy led to the passing of North Carolina's Student & Administrative Equity Act, also known as the SAE act. The act now prevents students and student groups from being expelled or suspended as a result of hearings that ban students from bringing in outside counsel.

Last year, things came to a head when the Dean's office punished Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) for insisting on having an attorney present while its officers were questioned about possible hazing and alcohol related violations. The Dean's office asserted that the hearing was administrative, not criminal, and that, therefore, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel did not apply.

The fraternity was cleared of the most serious allegations of hazing. But they were held responsible for the alcohol related violations. They were then suspended from campus for two and one half years.

Lawmakers and concerned citizens were shocked over the incident. The idea of questioning kids about potentially criminal conduct without permitting their attorneys to be present (and while facing university counsel) violated widely accepted values of fundamental fairness.

The letter written by Dean Walker to SAE, which informed them of their suspension, demonstrated a shocking display of administrative arrogance. In the letter, Walker actually accused the fraternity of "potentially intimidating behavior" and "disrespectful conduct toward university staff and a witness participating in the hearing process" without any explanation of what that behavior entailed. They were accused of exhibiting behavior that fell below expected standards of "decorum" for simply standing outside the hearing and waiting to hear whether they would be suspended from campus.

These fraternity members were standing outside the hearing for a very simple reason: they were not allowed to enter the hearing because university officials would not let them enter. Instead of transparency, the university opted for secrecy. And there is good reason for that. Please allow me to explain.

At the very moment Dean Walker suggests that SAE was trying to coerce witnesses with tactics of intimidation, the university was using coerced confessions in a hearing that would have adversely affected those alleged to be engaging in the "inappropriate behavior," which is otherwise known as "standing."

Unbelievably, prior to the SAE hearing, witnesses were actually called in by university officials and asked to sign confessions of illegal conduct (alcohol consumption). Students were told that if they did not sign the confessions the university would call their parents. At least one student signed a confession without even reading it.

Predictably, UNCW then used the confession in the SAE hearing. When the student said he didn't read the confession (suggesting that he was coerced) the university had to cover its tracks. Two days later, an administrator emailed the student and apologized for making him sit outside near the SAEs as he prepared to testify.

This was a clever maneuver. There was a discrepancy between what the student said in the hearing and what was said in the confession he signed outside the hearing. Instead of admitting that the administration caused the discrepancy by intimidating the student outside the hearing, they tried to turn the tables. This explains the origins of the accusation that the students were the ones altering testimony by engaging in intimidation in the form of standing near witnesses.

To recapitulate, this was a three step maneuver: 1. UNCW officials intimidate student witness. 2. When caught, UNCW officials accuse other students of intimidation. 3. Dean Walker writes an intimidating letter to create a paper trail to cover up the UNCW policy of intimidating students into signing coerced confessions.

It is obvious why the Dean does not want lawyers in student administrative proceedings. The tactics of dictator deans cannot survive the process of cross-examination.

Of course, not all hearings go so badly for fraternities. After SAE was acquitted of hazing and sentenced to 2&1/2 years suspension, Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) was actually convicted of hazing and sentenced to only one year of suspension. What could account for the discrepancy?

Is the fact that Dean Walker was a member of TKE in college wholly unrelated to the discrepancy? Just for safe measure, why not conduct a three-day investigation? And why not put Dean Walker in charge?

Chancellor Miller, I'll write back when I've finished my own investigation into the issue of viewpoint discrimination, which was the subject of my previous correspondence. In the meantime, I would recommend that you get busy firing some people over the in the Dean of Student's office.

The problem isn’t drunken students. The problem is administrators who are drunk on their own power.


State school headmaster forced to apologise after asking parents for £400-a-year 'voluntary' donation - and insisting it's still cheaper than private school

A high-flying state school head who wrote to parents asking them to make voluntary contributions of up to £30 a month has said sorry after being accused of pressurising struggling families.

Andrew Davies said opportunities at Beechen Cliff School in Bath were similar to some private schools charging fees of up to £10,000 a year, but said the school's efforts to improve were hampered by a lack of government funds.

So he asked all parents to make voluntary contributions of £10, £20 or £30 a month, by standing order, which he said was not 'a great sum to contribute towards a child’s education'.

The head, who has been in the post since 2005, then had to apologise after parents said they already paid for the boys' school through taxes and criticised him for  'undermining the state school system'.

The school has been running a voluntary contribution scheme for 10 years and already receives around £20,000 a year as a result from some parents of the 830 boys at the school, but Mr Davies' letter was an attempt to encourage more to take part.  Mr Davies has since apologised for the ‘unhelpful’ wording of the letter, which he sent earlier this month.

In it, he wrote: 'Independent school fees are normally over £10,000 a year per pupil.  'At Beechen Cliff education is free but, if parents are willing to give a fraction of that money, we could achieve so much more.  'We are asking all families for a voluntary contribution of £30, £20 or £10 per month to the new top-up scheme.

'We believe that this isn’t a great sum to contribute towards a child’s education.  'Of course we appreciate that some parents do not have the resources to contribute.  Thankfully there are some generous parents who are already contributing significantly.

'If you are already supporting then we are of course most grateful, but please review your contribution.'

His suggestion was criticised by mother Jane Middleton, whose son attends Beechen Cliff, judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted.

Writing on a parents' online forum, she accused the school of 'attempting to blur the lines' between state and independent schools and of 'putting pressure on parents'.

In her post on Local Schools Network, Mrs Middleton added: 'It introduces the idea of parents contributing financially to state schools on a regular basis with the aim of it becoming the norm.

'This undermines our state school system.  It is putting financial and moral pressure on parents at a time when many are struggling.   'It ignores the fact that we already pay for state schooling through our taxes.  'His - and our - time would be better spent campaigning for increased state funding than supporting schemes that erode the principle of free education and lead to greater inequality.'

Mr Davies claimed that voluntary contribution schemes were widely used by schools in Bath, and said that pupils were not asked to pay for after-school clubs unless external coaches were involved.

'We have an incredible range of activities and we try to make sure that no one is disadvantaged by the lack of money,' he added.

Last month parents of children at Prince Henry's Grammar School in Otley complained after the school proposed that they would pay for each Key Stage 3 pupil to buy an iPad at a cost to parents of £360 over three years.

The school said the scheme would boost pupil attainment levels but parents questioned the merits of the scheme and the cost.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

British school BANS skirts in crackdown on 'immodest' clothes after girls keep their hemlines rising

A school in Norfolk has banned students from wearing skirts in an attempt to crack down on 'immodest' clothing styles, after giving up on the struggle to stop girls from shortening their skirts.

From September, both boys and girls at Diss High School will have to wear trousers. following a school ruling.

The decision has been described as 'ridiculous' and 'poorly thought out' by parents, residents and local council officials.

Diss High School, Norfolk. The school has taken the decision to ban female pupils from wearing skirts, they will only be allowed to wear trousers

In addition to banning all skirts, the governors also backed the school's decision to ban make-up for pupils in years 7-11; which consists of children aged 10 to 16.

The decision to ban skirts was floated by a group of governors, pupils and staff, who met last year as part of a focus group on school uniform.

Headteacher Jan Hunt said: 'Girls already wear trousers at Diss High School.  'The reason the school is making this compulsory is the tendency for some girls to wear really short skirts.  Hemlines have risen to a level that is both impractical as well as immodest.  'Inevitably, this decision is popular with some parents and not with others.'

Dr Hunt said: 'The same responses would be true for pupils.  'Financial support will be offered to parents to support this transition.'

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: 'In terms of uniform policy that is not something we administer, it is purely down to the school to make that decision.'

Councillor Florence Ellis, a former teacher, spoke out against the ban.  She said: ‘I think that setting rules and regulations is good for parents and students, adhering to them is preparation for life.  'We lost shirts and ties to polo shirts and sweatshirts thus lowering standards.

'They should be maintaining the rules that have been successful in the past, like monitoring skirt lengths, rather than an overall ban.

'By not conforming to rules and regulations in something like the length of a skirt can lead at a later date to disregard for rules/law and order and may encourage anti social behaviour.

‘What if there are parents or students who are against wearing trousers for religious reasons?  'What happens when it gets to summer and girls no longer want to wear trousers in the heat? Are they going to have to wear shorts?   ‘I wonder has the school really thought this through.’

Local parents and residents have also spoken out against the prospective ban.

Amber Ervine, 26, said: 'I don’t know if I agree with it. I see teenage girls walking round with tiny skirts but I don’t know if you can ban them from wearing them.'

Jane Brown said: 'I think they should be able to wear skirts so long as they are not really short.  'I would restrict the length of them so they looked respectable.'

Teresa Mayston, 56, said: 'It is ridiculous.  I think it is silly to ban them at school because it is free choice, isn’t it?  'As long as the skirt is of a certain length then I think they should be able to wear skirts.  'But unfortunately I think the rules are not being adhered to and some of the skirts are not skirts.'

The trend of short skirts has been popular for ages, with recent films like St Trinian's, and provocative advertising campaigns making the style even more popular in recent years.

The typical fabric used to make school skirts makes them very easy to adjust, with methods of adjustment ranging from simple sewing techniques to rolling up the skirts at the waist to make them shorter.


Rubio: The "Right" Education is Now a "Necessity for Nearly Everyone"

The U.S. higher education system must be reformed to better prepare students for jobs in a 21st century market economy. Unfortunately, the price of admission to many of the country’s traditional, four-year universities is too high; today U.S. students are collectively more than $1 trillion in debt. So the question is: how can we make higher education more affordable and more available to students today -- and future generations tomorrow -- eager to pursue a post-secondary education?

On Monday, in a speech entitled “Making Higher Education Affordable Again” at Miami Dade College, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) addressed some of these issues. He argued that because it’s harder and harder to make it -- and live in -- the American middle class, “the right education is no longer just an option; it has become a necessity for nearly everyone.”

“One of the central problems of our outdated higher education system is that it has become increasingly unaffordable for those who stand to benefit the most,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “Tuition rates have skyrocketed at a rate far exceeding the rise in inflation. Even when the Great Recession took hold 5 years ago and Americans had less to spend, the rise in tuition only continued to accelerate. Between 2006 and 2012, the cost of college increased by 16.5%.”

This is unacceptable and unsustainable. The goal, then, is making college more affordable for everyone by bringing down college costs while at the same time expanding opportunity. But before that can ever happen, Rubio argued, students must be given the relevant information they need to make wiser and better informed decisions about where they pursue their studies.

“Students and their families need to be equipped with the information necessary to make well-informed decisions about which majors at which institutions are likely to yield the best return on investment,” he said. “This is why I, along with Sen. Ron Wyden, proposed the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which aims to give students reliable data on how much they can expect to make versus how much they can expect to owe.”

This is a good start. But even if students are given the data they need to make smarter decisions about their education options, how do we begin addressing students’ rising costs concerns? As it happens, Rubio argued giving prospective employers and companies the option to subsidize students’ tuition rates would be one possible way. He called these quid pro quo agreements “Student Investment Plans.”

“Let’s say you are a student who needs $10,000 to pay for your last year of school,” he explained. “Instead of taking this money out in the form of a loan, you could apply for a “Student Investment Plan” from an approved and certified private investment group. In short, these investors would pay your $10,000 tuition in return for a percentage of your income for a set period of time after graduation -- let’s say, for example, 4% a year for 10 years.”

“Unlike with loans,” he added, “you would be under no legal obligation to pay that entire $10,000. Your only obligation would be to pay that 4% of your income per year for 10 years, regardless of whether that ends up amounting to more or less than $10,000.”

Another way to make college more affordable and accessible, he argued, is pursuing accreditation reform. Currently, many innovative online programs could offer students a different and more flexible path to a four-year degree. However, since traditional schools often control the accreditation process, it’s harder for online schools to compete.

“Free online learning is already a reality, we just need the established system to catch up,” he said. “Here’s how it could work. After completing a free online course, a student could pay a relatively small fee to take a standardized test that, if passed, would allow them to count the class toward a degree or job certification.”

“To make this a reality,” he continued, “Congress could establish a new independent accrediting board to ensure the quality of these free courses and make the credits transferable into the traditional system.”

But even online courses can be expensive, too. And not everyone wants and/or needs a four-year degree to find gainful employment in their preferred fields. This is why Rubio proposed creating more apprenticeship programs for those who don’t want to spend their time or money acquiring degrees they won’t necessarily use.

“We should make career and vocational education more widespread and more accessible. For instance, here in Miami, the local school district has partnered with a car dealership to create an innovative approach to career education. The students in this program attend traditional high school classes each morning, then go to auto dealerships where they are trained to be certified technicians. When they finish high school, they graduate not just with a high school diploma but with a job-ready industry certification from an automobile manufacturer.”

He continued:

“Another example of this is apprenticeship programs, which provide valuable on-the-job training for employees,” he said. “So instead of having to pay for schooling, an employee can often get paid to learn and work toward a degree while on the job. We need policies that encourage industries to expand apprenticeship programs and work more closely with their local work-force training boards to make these viable options for gaining certification or degree credit.”

These are only some of the reforms Sen. Rubio proposed at Miami Dade College today. You can watch the entire speech here to learn more.


Homosexual mania in a Canadian university

The University of Ottawa’s student federation may have voted against it, but the Sochi 2014 Olympics are streaming on campus regardless.

Last semester, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) debated whether it should stream this year’s Olympics considering the tension surrounding Russia’s anti-gay legislation. At a Dec. 1 meeting, the Board of Administration ruled against it.

That doesn’t mean students can’t watch the Olympics on campus, though. Community Life Service (CLS) is showing the games in the Jock Turcot University Centre.

Myriam Hugron, a marketing and communications officer for CLS, said the decision was made recently, after the SFUO vote.

“It is for the university to be an inclusive community,” she said. “It was important for us to give students the opportunity to view the Olympics, and for us it’s a question of supporting Canadian athletes by broadcasting them.”

Hugron said CLS was unsure whether live streaming was even feasible due to technological restraints. The International Olympic Committee airs the Olympics, preventing live-streams from the Internet, according to Hugron.

Nicole Desnoyers, vp equity of the SFUO, said she is “disappointed with the U of O for not taking a similar stance” with the student federation.

“The SFUO decided not to engage in the Olympics this year because we stand in solidarity with the queer students on this campus,” she said.

Hugron said the SFUO and CLS maintain a “respectful relationship,” and that the decision to air the Olympics was made independently from the SFUO.

“They voted and came to this agreement, and from what I understand, it was not an easy nor a unanimous decision,” she said. “From our standpoint, it’s an inclusive campus. We celebrate all students, regardless of discrimination, and for us it was a question of supporting our Canadian athletes.”

The games were also aired at 1848, the student bar run by the SFUO. According to vp social Pat Marquis, the bartenders wanted to watch the games, unaware that the BOA had voted against airing them. He said it is being discussed between the SFUO executive and bar staff whether the games will be allowed to be shown there.

Additionally, community assistants at Stanton Residence planned an event to watch the opening ceremonies and have an ice cream social.

Kaitlynne-Rae Landry, president of the Residents’ Association of the University of Ottawa, said it was “fairly well-attended.”


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Berkeley prof forces students to tweet pro-Islam views

Students in Professor Hatem Bazian's class at the University of California at Berkeley are required to publicly denounce Islamophobia on Twitter while designing strategies to help Islamic groups improve their outreach efforts.

Bazian is a founder of "Students for Justice in Palestine" at Berkeley, where he teaches in the Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies departments. One of his classes, "Asian American Studies 132AC: Islamophobia," requires students to tweet about Islamophobia, according to Tarek Fatah, a columnist for the Toronto Sun.

Fatah wrote that he received an email from a student in Bazian's class who claimed: "I've been told by one of my professors I will be required, as part of my grade, to start a Twitter account and tweet weekly on Islamophobia. I can't help but feel this is unethical. This is his agenda not mine."

Bazian is a leading expert on the topic of Islamophobia. He has worked on projects aimed at countering Islamophobia, according to his personal website. He is also the co-founder of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim college in the United States.

The student claimed that Bazian was using his class as "unpaid labor" for his agenda:

There are 100 students in the class, all of us forced to create individual Twitter accounts. I'm not wholly clear on what our final project is yet (I find it very interesting that he excludes both the Twitter account requirement AND the final project from his official syllabus), but we have to meet with a group in San Francisco, and our class will be surveying people of color on the impact of some ads put out by [anti-Sharia blogger] Pamela Gellar.

Now I'm no Pamela Gellar fan, I think she's nuts, but I feel ... between the Twitter stuff and the final project he's basically using us as unpaid labor to work on his agenda.

Gellar is blogger and noted critic of Islam. She was responsible for creating a controversial advertising campaign that labelled radical Islam "savage."

The course description on Berkeley's website suggests the student's account is accurate.


Theresa May's grave fears over student visas: Huge fraud revealed in system that lets  200,000 into Britain

Theresa May has admitted she has ‘grave’ concerns about fraud in the student visa system, which allows 200,000 foreigners into Britain each year.

The Home Secretary said despite Government efforts to crack down on visa abuse, applicants were ‘finding other ways around the system’.

Mrs May made her comments after she was confronted with evidence from a BBC Panorama investigation exposing rampant fraud in the student visa system.

The programme exposed widespread abuse, including language tests at ‘trusted’ colleges taken by fluent English speakers, and multiple choice tests in which answers were read out by the invigilators.

It also revealed a network of criminal immigration agents providing, for a fee, any document required to get around Home Office checks.

Consultants offered undercover reporters a guaranteed pass in an English language test for £500 and a bank statement showing they had enough money to support themselves for £250.

They were also offered an ‘all in’ package of everything needed for a visa for £2,800.  One lawyer told the programme the student visa system was now a criminal ‘free for all’.

Mrs May said the government had done a huge amount to tackle fraud, but admitted there was still abuse in the system. She told the programme: ‘The numbers of student visas have gone down and the amount of abuse has gone down.  ‘But it’s clear that people are finding other ways around the system.’

She added: ‘In the immigration world you can never say you’ve done everything, you always have to look because people will look for the new way round the system.

‘I have known there is abuse of the system but well done for uncovering the further abuse that is taking place.

‘What you have shown is that people effectively go in to a situation where [the entry requirements] are being faked for them and that is a matter of grave concern.’

‘We now have to look at the sort of documents people are providing and look at the kind of scams being undertaken behind that.’

Under the coalition, more than 700 colleges have been banned from bringing students in to the country from outside the EU.

New tests, including English language and means testing, have been introduced to try and stop bogus students coming to Britain to work.

The programme will prompt further calls for tighter controls on the student visa system.

But there is significant opposition to new controls from the education sector, which makes millions every year from the 200,000 foreign students entering the country.

Another 100,000 students already here have their visas extended.

Liberal Democrats, including Business Secretary Vince Cable, oppose new restrictions, saying they act as a block on genuine students.

Last year it emerged there may be up to 90,000 foreign students living in Britain illegally.

Audits by universities and colleges threw up tens of thousands of students accused of breaking the rules by failing to attend their courses or even register.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: ‘This investigation shows Theresa May is presiding over a failing immigration system which too often focuses on the wrong thing and where illegal immigration is a growing problem.

The danger of having such a weak system which is so easily and brazenly exploited is that it is unfair, undermines public confidence – and also makes it harder to maintain support for the graduate migration we need.’

The English tests seen in the report – said by Panorama to be run by company ETS – have since been suspended by the Home Office.

Mrs May said: ‘This type of abuse is not acceptable and we will continue to clamp down. We have taken action and suspended the two colleges identified in the programme.

‘Applications made by students in the UK using the English Testing Service or associated with the colleges or immigration advisers mentioned in the programme have been put on hold pending the outcome of those investigations.

‘All further English language tests done through ETS in the UK have been suspended.’


Your child is not a genius. Get over it

The desire for genius children is a powerful force in middle-class Britain and it's making everyone miserable, especially our offspring, says Alex Proud

Your child is not a genius.  I’m not being mindlessly provocative here, I’m being honest. Depending on the definition of genius you use, the frequency of the ultra-clever in the general population ranges from about one in 750 to one in 10,000. I don’t know 750 or even 75 kids. So, even allowing for you being cleverer than normal, your child is almost certainly not a genius. In fact, even if you take the wishy-washy, special-snowflake, Andy-Warhol-was-a-genius definition of genius, I would still bet heavily against your child being a genius. And what is more, you shouldn’t want your child to be a genius.

Which brings me to the real question: why do you want your child to be a genius? Ten minutes’ dinner party conversation is enough to demonstrate the desire for genius children is a powerful force in middle-class Britain and is responsible for more bien-pensant angst than all the ethically sourced products in the world put together. This unhealthy genius-lust drives people to say things like, “My nine year old is reading Flaubert” before adding, “in translation, unfortunately” thus turning their ghastly boast into an even more ghastly humblebrag.

However, even though the chattering-classes are to blame for all sorts of silliness, I can’t bring myself to blame them entirely here. For some reason, in this country, we start educating kids the moment they leave the maternity ward. By four or five, we’ve got reading levels and parents are fretting: what can our preschooler’s reading level tell us about his Oxbridge prospects? About a year back, like any good parent, I was freaking out over my son’s remedial reading level. Then, suddenly, he leapt two levels in a single bound. I relaxed. Only a genius would jump two levels in one day.

All joking aside, this is hugely stressful for parents. It’s pretty horrible for teachers too. They have to write doctorate-length reports on six year olds. I imagine this must involve quite a bit of creativity. I mean, how do you stretch, “Poppy is happy, runs around a lot and can read” out over seven pages? Of course, these ludicrously over-written reports just fuel parents’ anxieties. They scour the text with all the attentiveness of a terrorist reading a nuclear reactor user’s manual, desperately looking for evidence of genius, when 90% of the report is oatmeal filler.

Parents’ evenings are a kind of role-playing version of this. You sit down an hour late because the progression-obsessed parents ahead of you have overrun their slots and the poor teacher has to construct some meaningful and compelling narrative from “Your child is doing fine”. The content of most parents’ evenings could be conveyed in a text message; I often wish it was.

However, while the middle classes are not wholly responsible for our genius fixation, they must shoulder their share of the blame. Over the last couple of decades well-off Brits have got it into their heads that they can buy anything. Leaving aside this being a slightly distasteful, American notion (we should be better than this, and not so long ago we were) it just isn’t true when it comes to your offspring. You can’t buy your kids clever. What’s more, if they’re merely above average, by sending them to some hideous Holland Park hothouse, you’re probably buying them miserable.

This leads to tragi-comic moments. When a child’s struggles with reading and maths become such that the genius hat no longer fits, parents suddenly decide they must have special needs (which, of course, are likely just a speedbump on the road to genius). Again, this almost certainly won’t be true. Alice will read in her own time – and she’ll be much happier for it.

All this can be quite funny. It’s the stuff you joke about with your wife and your more chilled out friends after a few drinks. But there are real downsides too – and these are not so amusing.

In the state system this endless scorekeeping is a terrible waste of money. Money that would be far better spent where it’s actually needed – on failing schools and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is notable that the Finnish education system, which is widely held up to be one of the world’s best, is not obsessed with rankings. And guess what, it’s a system that works pretty well for everyone, even the gifted.

In the private sector, there’s a slightly different dynamic at work. Parents get caught up in a kind of advantage arms race. They send junior to the very best school they can afford – as that could be the crucial edge that means "ivory tower", not "redbrick". But they fail to see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is mummy and daddy having to work so hard to pay the fees that the kids are raised by nannies, meaning the school advantage is more than offset by the parental absence and stress at home. If, five years down the line, these long hours lead to a divorce, that’s going to mess Jake up a whole lot worse than not sending him to Eton.

So choose a slightly worse school and be much better parents. Kids love being around you. Talk to them, read books with them and play games with them; teach them to talk to adults. These things are just as important as test scores – and what’s more they’re the basis of happiness. It’s not hard. Or rather it’s not hard to understand, but it is hard to put in the effort day-after-day. I am lucky enough to have the option of taking a 20% pay hit to spend more time at home. It’s been about a year now, but I’m working up to the point where, if someone asks me if my daughter is on reading level 86 or speaks fluent Mandarin, I’ll reply, “No. But she’s happy.”

Perhaps a final question we should ask ourselves is: who wants their child to be a genius anyway? In her 2010 book Gifted Lives, Professor Joan Freeman discovered that, of the 210 child prodigies she studied, only six went on to be hugely successful adults. More anecdotally, it only takes a few years in the workforce to realise that the smarts that get you four A*s are of limited applicability unless you really do want to be a rocket scientist.

Rather, intelligence is a kind of “sufficient” quantity - and someone with an IQ of 140 won’t necessarily be better at their job than someone with an IQ of 120. They probably won’t be better conversationalists and they almost certainly won’t be happier. It pains me to say this but all that whiffle about EQ and soft skills is true. Persuasiveness, empathy, resilience and charm – these have far more day to day use than having read and understood A Brief History of Time, aged 14.

In fact, I’ve always thought that there should be a class at the top universities, perhaps a week before graduation. Here you’d be taught that soon, you will be managed by someone thicker than you. And not only that, but they’ll be better at their job than you are – and a decent person.

So, as I say, your child is not a genius – and you should be thankful for this.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

School Choice Week Must Be a Call to Action

Every child should have the opportunity to achieve his or her American Dream. Sadly, right now, not every child has a fair shot. Far too many young students are stuck in failing schools. They don’t receive the quality of education they deserve; they lack the resources to learn and thrive.

In twenty-first century America, this is unacceptable and unfair.

As champions of school choice and opportunity, I believe Republican leaders can play a major role in fixing this problem. Last November I travelled to New Orleans to hear first-hand from students and parents who have benefited from Governor Jindal’s Louisiana Scholarship Program. This program has allowed kids to escape failing schools and enroll at better schools that offer them a quality education.

In 2013 alone, 8,000 children – 90 percent minority, all low-income – were given scholarships. These students mostly came from schools rated “D” or “F” for their poor performance. This program was a great step with measurable results, but unfortunately, not all American children are being given the same opportunity.

President Obama’s White House has not supported parents who want to have options when it comes to their children’s education. In fact, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Louisiana’s program. It appears this administration is more interested in winning political points with teacher unions, who oppose school choice, than in guaranteeing children equal opportunity in education.

That’s why this past week has been so important. School Choice Week gives a platform to students, parents, influencers and everyday Americans to speak up in favor of better education. It provides us all an opportunity to combat the destructive rhetoric and actions coming from the administration.

But while School Choice Week is an important tool to bring school choice to the attention of all Americans, it’s not enough. There’s work to be done. Our nation’s education system is broken, and on behalf of our children, we must fight urgently for reform. They’re falling behind their international peers.

So to all those who stood up for educational choice this week, I want to say thank you. But our fight isn’t over yet.


Teaching Program Requires Classroom Effectiveness

A new kind of teacher training program requires candidates to prove they are effective in the classroom before they can earn their master’s degree. Match Education operates charter schools and a graduate program that trains teachers for high-poverty schools. The latter graduated its first class of 21 students in December 2013.

“What’s unique about Match’s program is that our teachers have to do more than just pass their classes to earn their degree,” said Scott McCue, COO of Match’s two-year teacher residency. Candidates who enroll in the residency can also pursue their master’s. Approximately 150 public school teachers have completed the residency.

To receive their master’s degree as well, residents must prove they are effective as a first-year teacher through several tests: classroom observations, student test scores, student survey results, and principal evaluations.

In their first year of the residency, prospective teachers tutor, student-teach, and receive coaching in Boston, along with taking classes. In the second year, residents teach full-time in schools across the country.

One of the new master’s graduates is Veronica Gentile, who says Match’s hands-on approach and high standards helped prepare her to teach math at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, where she is now a second-year teacher.


NYC School Cuts Gifted Program because few blacks can handle it

Another case of political correctness gone awry: a school in Brooklyn has decided to scrap its gifted and talented program after accusations that the program was not "diverse" enough.

Citing a lack of diversity, PS 139 Principal Mary McDonald informed parents in a letter that the Students of Academic Rigor and two other in-house programs would no longer accept applications for incoming kindergartners.

“Our Kindergarten classes will be heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our student body and the community we live in,” McDonald told parents in a letter posted on the photo-sharing site flickr and obtained by Ditmas Park Corner.

The school is roughly two-thirds African American or Hispanic. Asian and white students account for almost 30 percent of the student body. Exact ethnic breakdowns of the Students of Academic Rigor program were not given, although the program was described by some as being "overwhelmingly Caucasian."

This move infuriates me. It would be insane for a school to cut its special education program for developmentally disabled students due to a "lack of diversity" among those who need the services. Students on both ends of the special education spectrum — either gifted or developmentally delayed — need the specialized classes to reach their highest potential as a student. It would be insane to suggest someone with an IQ of 70 (the benchmark for mental retardation) should be grouped in the same classroom with students with an IQ of 100 and treated like everyone else, and it should be considered equally insane to suggest that students who have an IQ of greater than 130 (gifted) need to be in the same classroom as average students to fill some sort of "diversity" quota. That is not fair to both the above-average students and the average students. Studies have shown that grouping gifted children with their non-gifted peers has a negative effect on both parties.

This is a bad move by PS 139. I hope the principal reconsiders her decision, and I hope the parents of children enrolled in the gifted education program are able to successfully advocate for their kids.


Monday, February 10, 2014

California Students File Constitutional Challenge to Weak Teacher Firing Practices

Three cheers for a group of nine California students who are fed up with tenure rules that protect not only incompetent teachers, but also sexual predators.

Reuters reports California students challenge teacher employment rules in lawsuit.

    A group of nine California students will challenge employment rules they complain force public schools in the most populous U.S. state to retain low performing teachers, as opening arguments kick off on Monday in a lawsuit over education policy.

    The lawsuit seeks to overturn five California statutes that set guidelines for permanent employment, firing and layoff practices for K-12 public school teachers, saying the rules violate the constitutional rights of students by denying them effective teachers.

    Among the rules targeted by the lawsuit is one that requires school administrators to either grant or deny tenure status to teachers after the first 18 months of their employment, which they complain causes administrators to hastily give permanent employment to potentially problematic teachers.

    "The system is dysfunctional and arbitrary due to these outdated laws that handcuff school administrators from operating in a fashion that protects children and their right to quality education," attorney Theodore Boutrous of the education advocacy group Students Matter said in a media call.

    The plaintiffs are also challenging three laws they say make it difficult to fire low-performing tenured teachers by requiring years of documentation, dozens of procedural steps and hundreds of thousands in public funds before a dismissal.

    Lastly, the plaintiffs want to abolish the so-called "last-in first-out" statute, which requires administrators to lay off teachers based on reverse seniority.

    The group says that the layoff policy disproportionately affects minority and low-income students, who are more likely to have entry-level teachers and poor quality senior teachers assigned to their district.

    "When the layoffs come, the more junior teachers are laid off first, which ends up leaving a higher proportion what we call the ‘grossly ineffective' teachers," Boutrous said. "It's really a vicious cycle."

Testimony Started Monday

The lawsuit was filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter, which contends education laws are a violation of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee because they do not ensure all students have access to an adequate education.

The LA Times reports Testimony begins in trial over California teachers' job protections.

    Arguments begin Monday in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of laws that govern California’s teacher tenure rules, seniority policies and the dismissal process -- an overhaul of which could upend controversial job security for instructors.

    The lawsuit, filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter, contends these education laws are a violation of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee because they do not ensure all students have access to an adequate education.

    Vergara vs. California, filed on behalf of nine students and their families in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks to revamp a dismissal process the plaintiffs say is too costly and time consuming, lengthen the time period for instructors to gain tenure and dismantle the "last hired, first fired" policies that fail to consider teacher effectiveness.

    The lawsuit aims to protect the rights of students, teachers and school districts against a "gross disparity" in educational opportunity, lawyers for the plaintiffs said.

    Many students — overwhelmingly those who are minority and low-income — are destined to suffer from ineffective and unequal instruction because administrators are unable to remove ineffective teachers from schools, attorneys said.

    Students Matter was founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch, a research scientist who went on to co-found Infinera, a manufacturer of optical telecommunications systems based in Sunnyvale, Calif. The group is partly funded by organizations known for battling teachers unions. The foundation of Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, which has backed numerous education initiatives, also supports it.

Gross Lie of the Day

In the gross lie of the day category, "The California Department of Education contends districts have the opportunity and discretion to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms and decide whether to grant tenure."

In contrast, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, is a supporter of the effort to repeal the statutes. He declined to comment because he is a witness in the case.

Lay it on them John!

Unions are the Child Molester's Best Friend

I am quite sure Deasy can testify how hard it is to get rid of incompetent teachers, even child molesters.

If you think I am making this up, sadly, I am not.  I highly recommend reading the LA Times report: Failure Gets a Pass L.A. Unified Pays Teachers Not to Teach.

You can find similar articles about New York, in fact, anywhere unions rule.


Making the case for school choice in Illinois

Last week was National School Choice Week.  Negative vibes and views about school choice whether achieved through vouchers, charter schools, Educational Savings Accounts, or by other means are quite common. Three years ago a study by Greg Forster, PhD used available empirical studies to show that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools in A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.

It’s easy to understand how participants would benefit by giving them more options, but schools likewise benefit as vouchers introduce healthy incentives for public schools to improve.  Forster’s 2011 report indicates how 11 out of the 12 gold-standard studies on school choice found that choice improves student outcomes; the other study found neither a negative nor positive impact (Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence, April 2013).

Chicago’s celebration of School Choice Week was commemorated at a joint venture held by The Heartland Institute and the Illinois Policy Institute.  Members of the panel were Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president; Tom Morrison, Illinois State Representative (R-54); and Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy, Illinois Policy Institute.  All were credited as having expertise in education policy.

The discussion centered on how to improve our schools and give children a chance at a better future.  There was ample time provided for attendees to direct questions to the three panelists.  Free school choice educational materials was on hand to help spread the reform message, as was the book “What American Can Learn from School Choice in Other Countries,” which presents a wealth of information and insights into how parents in many other countries have more freedom of choice in education than Americans do and without the financial penalty.

In his opening statement moderator Burno Behrend spoke of the need to transform instead of reform, questioning why school districts and administrators even have to exist.  The panelists were given a series of questions by Behrend for general response.  At other times a specific question was directed to only one of the panelists for his consideration.

The following article is worthy of consideration prior to the responses of the three panelists when quizzed by Burno Behrend about the use of technology to advance education.

Frederick Hess and Bror Saxberg in their joint article published in the SPRING 2014/ VOL. 14. NO 2 of Education Next, “Schooling Rebooted: Turning educators into learning engineers”, advances the understanding of technology as a tool rather than some kind of secret sauce. . . The most important thing is the vision of what you’re going to do.  Once you’ve got vision, there are various kinds of support that are needed in terms of curriculum and infrastructure.  Trying to backfill technology into existing systems can be difficult.

All three panelists spoke favorably about the use of technology in education.  Ted Dabrowski is convinced that technology will break down the status quo in education, allowing for more innovation.  Tom Morrison spoke of the use of tablets enabling students to work at their own pace with a teacher available to check that students are doing their assignment, while Joe Bast believes that a technology revolution is already taking place outside of the school in virtual learning.

Selected statements made by Ted Dabrowski, Tom Morrison, and Joe Bast on a variety of subjects:

Ted Dabrowski -

    Children who are forced to remain in failing schools must be turned into heroes and not the victims they are perceived to be by those resisting vouchers or school choice.

    Four of 100 kids in Illinois’ worst schools won’t be college ready, meaning 96% aren’t going to make it.

    Make the case for vouchers by 1) doing a better job of promoting the money case, 2) having an action plan when the anti-choice side fights back with massive amounts of money, and 3) thinking more of being in a constant campaign mode as is the practice of unions.

    The pro school choice side is lousy at building coalitions.  We miss opportunities by not partnering with parents who have children in the worst schools or who do want a choice.  There are those even in suburban schools who would prefer to send their children to a private school. [Moderator Behrend raised the issue of how to overcome the stigma of poor kids attending mostly white suburban schools.]

Tom Morrison -                                                        

    Taxpayers are no longer willing to keep paying higher tax rates even if guaranteed a better educational outcome, in a realization that throwing more money at education is not the answer.

    The term “voucher” has gotten to be a bad word and doesn’t sell well with so-called soccer moms.  Might be better to call them “opportunity scholarships” instead, where the money follows the child.

    In crafting a bill for Educational Savings Accounts, a family would receive the money and could choose how to spend it.  Shopping around is possible as there is no need to spend the money all at one place.  Any bill would need to stipulate non-means testing and a further requirement for qualification at 1-1/2 times the poverty level. Without these factors the legislation would be difficult to sell to legislators.

    Raised the question of whether it’s fair to force kids in Chicago to attend faulty schools?

Joe Bast -

    People in the front lines are the last ones to realize how much progress has taken place in school choice:  1.6 million children are attending charter schools. 250,000 are attending private school through vouchers.

    The other side has lots of money.  We are outspent 100 to 1.  We must win the political argument and the rest will fall into place.

    In answer to Ted Dabrowski who suggested that every child might be given the opportunity of school choice, Bast cited the lack of money and of political support for Ted’s universal proposal.

    Teacher burn out does happen.  Burned out teachers who remain in the teaching profession, lured to stay by generous pension, do just as well as do younger and more enthusiastic teachers.  How so?  The really talented teacher leave the teaching profession to work in other fields, leaving in its wake the burned out teachers.

    Believes the next governor will sign on to vouchers or choice legislation.  Illinois is way out of line with other states.

Question and Answer Highlights -

    Jeff Berkowitz of Chicago Now spoke about the importance of keeping the message simple.  As related by Berkowitz, there are 15,000 students in the Chicago Public Schools.  Unless we get 30 senators to vote for voucher legislation it won’t happen.  At the end of the day it will be a pitchfork political battle with the fierce educational lobby.  Whether school vouchers or pension reform, it’s all about money which is the driving force.  When you can’t get the money, what do you do?  Said Berkowitz:  If the right message (public policy) is presented to get the people to move, the money will be found.  Legislators must then be convinced to vote the right way.  A better job of messaging is needed.

    Education doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution because the Founders didn’t want the government to manipulate schools.

    Common Core with its standards for each grade level might sound good to many.  This presents the opportunity to show how ineffective Common Core actually is with government centralization.  Common Core was referred to as “Obamacore.”

    Schools are to serve the children; children are their customers.

    The best schools in Chicago are charter schools.  Even when located in areas with the same demographics, children fare better than in a traditional school setting.

    There is 60% support for school vouchers.  The pubic gets it.  It’s all about politics!

    All total there are 6.3 million individuals in public school education.  Half of the system (3.2 million) is made up of pricy and often unnecessary administrators.

Moderator Behend’s closing thoughts:

The envelope must be pushed. Common Core was depicted as the “last gasp of centralized, top-down education.”  And why doesn’t centralization work?  Because one size fits all just doesn’t work.


Regulators vs Higher Ed Innovation

College tuition has increased 1,120 percent since 1978. American students have now racked up over $1.2 trillion in debt trying to pay for these higher tuition prices. Despite all this spending and debt, 53 percent of recent college grads are either jobless or underemployed, and twice as many college grads are working in minimum wage jobs today then five years ago.

Meanwhile, the federal government is making $40 billion a year off of its student loan business. If ever there was a sector of the economy that needed less government interference it is the higher education sector today.

But California regulators just can't help themselves.

Last week the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education sent letters to more than half a dozen "coding academies" threatening to shut them down unless they started complying with state higher education regulations. Inside Higher Ed reports:

The startups -- which include places like App Academy, Dev Bootcamp, General Assembly, Hack Reactor, Hackbright Academy, and Zipfian Academy -- offer intensive, full-time, short-term training programs in computer languages and other programming skills designed to lead directly to jobs. The fees are often steep -- typically between $8,000 and $12,000 for a six- to 10-week course -- and are paid directly by the students, since the classes and programs (which do not award degrees) do not qualify for federal or state financial aid.

And these startup firms appear to be delivering results. Venture Beat reports that, "at Hack Reactor, where tuition costs over $17,000, 99 percent of students are offered a job at companies like Adobe and Google."

But none of that matters to the bureaucrats at BPPE who are demanding that the coding academies "must run any change in curriculum by the agency" and that all instructors must have three years of teaching experience.

Problem is, computer science is a fast paced industry and many coding academies change their curriculum every three weeks. Which is a problem since BPPE approval for curriculum changes often takes six months. Coding camp instructors also usually lack the three mandated years of formal teaching experience despite an average of 7-10 years experience in the industry.

"What that looks like and what makes sense for our schools is not necessarily going to fit in the current regulations,” Hack Reactor cofounder Anthony Phillips told Venture Beat.

Unless government gets out of the way, our higher education system will continue to fail both students and employers.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Surprise: Charter Schools Lose Out on Funding in NYC

After the celebrations and pomp ended, one of the first things recently inaugurated New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did was begin slashing funding from the city’s public charter schools. As the editors of National Review Online put it, this was a calculated and cynical maneuver by the mayor to repay the special interest groups who elected him:

 After Barack Obama gave a thousand campaign speeches on Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and the economy, one of his first actions upon taking office as president was to begin gutting a tiny school-choice scholarship program in Washington, D.C. And now newly inaugurated New York mayor Bill de Blasio has, as one of his first agenda items, begun the gutting of the city’s charter schools, which are public schools that operate with some limited measure of independence from the usual education bureaucracies. Like President Obama, Mayor de Blasio is here engaged in plain, naked payback, rewarding the teachers’ unions that funded and manned his campaign by taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from projects they despise. If a private city contractor had bankrolled the mayor’s campaign and been repaid by having him hobble its competition, we’d call it simple corruption. And it is simple corruption, legal though it may be.

This quid pro quo agreement may seem corrupt, but it sounds more like business as usual to me. Indeed, the teachers unions who helped elect him knew full well that once in office he would use his leverage and political clout to advance their interests. This is how it works. And yet the NRO editorial flags a Brookings Institute study which reports “two recent rigorous evaluations” show that charter schools in New York City are outperforming traditional public schools in mathematics and have higher graduation rates. And what's more, charters schools are very popular in New York City, as evidenced by the number of families who want to send their children to one:

 Judging by the application rates, New York City parents love charter schools. The evidence suggests they do a meaningfully if not radically better job than their traditional counterparts. They are seeking only the same resources to which they would be entitled if they were not charter schools, meaning they place no special burden on taxpayers. The only faction opposed to them is the teachers’ unions, which seek to legally eliminate all competition and all alternatives.

Charter schools are a tiny crack in the Berlin Wall of the government-school monopoly, far short of the liberalized approach to education we would prefer. But they are a significant improvement that comes at very little cost, and Mayor de Blasio’s attack on them elevates the interests of his political cronies over those of the city’s children. It is low and it is shameful, and the Panel for Education Policy, which has the opportunity to stop this abuse in March, should see to it that the mayor’s proposal does not stand.

As part of the GOP’s re-branding effort, Republicans must champion school choice. After all, more choice and more opportunity for all is what the Republican Party stands for.


GUN BULLIES: Florida college retreats on campus gun policy, expulsion threat after justified school shooting

We told you several days ago about the story of Landrick Hamilton, the East Florida State College (EFSC) student who was attacked in a campus parking lot by a pair of thugs armed with a sawed-off pool cue. Hamilton was able to retrieve a pistol from his car and shot one of his attackers.

While Hamilton broke no laws, the school threatened to expel him for having a gun in his car campus against school policy. They made this threat even though another state college had recently had their similar ban on guns in cars on campus defeated in court.

Gun rights group Florida Carry filed suit against EFSC Monday night, and just coincidentally on Tuesday morning, the college dropped their ban and all disciplinary threats against Hamilton:

On Monday night, the gun rights group Florida Carry announced a lawsuit against the college, claiming its ban on firearms in your personal car on school grounds is unconstitutional.

The same organization sued the University of North Florida about the same issue in December and won. The First District Court of Appeals ruled 12–3 that colleges and universities cannot regulate guns kept safely in their vehicles while on campus.

Florida law currently prevents anyone from possessing or exhibiting guns on school campuses, including university and college campuses.

That same law, however, says the automatic ban doesn’t apply to guns kept in cars. School districts had the option to adopt policies to prohibit guns in cars parked on campus. UNF attorneys tried to argue that the university falls under this exception, but that position was rejected by a majority of the court.

Eastern Florida State officials said Tuesday morning they are revising their gun ban policy to comply with the recent court ruling.

School officials said the student involved in the shooting was back to full-time status, and revisions to the gun ban policy should be complete and in place by the end of the week.

It’s interesting how the threat of a costly and near-certain defeat in court can change the tune of some gun control advocates.

Let’s keep the pressure up, folks.


Local state school where most children don't speak English as their first language is now better than William and Harry's private prep, claims Michael Gove

A London state school where most children are brought up with English as a foreign language offers a better education than the private school attended by Princes William and Harry just around the corner, Michael Gove claimed today.

The Education Secretary vowed to ‘break down the Berlin wall’ between state and private schools to drive up standards.

And he claimed the Thomas Jones primary school in West London is now better than the £17,460-a-year Wertherby Prep-School which taught the heirs to the throne.

In speech to the London Academy of Excellence today, Mr Gove said the evidence shows ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ that English state education is starting to show a ‘sustained and significant improvement’.

He said state schools could become the best in the world by tapping into the expertise of the independent sector.

But he went further in claiming that Wetherby school in particular may already have been overtaken by nearby state schools teaching much poorer pupils.

William and Harry both attended the prep school in Notting Hill in the 1980s before taking up places at Eton.

Other former Wetherby pupils include Downton Abbey creator Lord Fellowes, composer Lord Lloyd Webber and actor Hugh Grant.

Mr Gove insisted that the expensive and exclusive education on offer there was now matched by state schools ‘every bit as good as excellent private schools’.

He added: ‘There are state primary schools every bit as ambitious, as supportive, as exciting, as the smartest of private prep schools.

‘Like, for example, Thomas Jones primary in West London – a school with a majority of children eligible for free school meals during the last six years, a majority coming from homes where English is not their first language – which is just as good, if not better, than the pre-eminent London prep - Wetherby school - just a mile or so away.

‘Under the changes we're making, it’s becoming easier for state schools to match the offer from private schools.  ‘Instead of reinforcing the Berlin Wall between state and private, as the current Labour leadership appear to want, we should break it down.’

Mr Gove was speaking at the London Academy of Excellence, a new free school in Newham, East London, which has managed to secure places in Oxford and Cambridge for six of its pupils – the same number achieved last year by Millfield, an independent school that charges annual fees of up to £32,385.

The Education Secretary also wants state schools to make pupils sit the ‘robust’ Common Entrance exam used by leading private schools and subject them to old-fashioned classroom discipline.

He suggests that all 13-year-olds should study for the 100-year-old test to indicate how well they are ‘performing against some of the top schools around the world’.

Mr Gove argues that it is wrong that between national curriculum tests at age 11 and GCSEs at 16, children have no formal, externally assessed examinations.

He also urged head teachers to go further by adopting traditional methods of discipline.  New guidance being sent to schools today sets out suggested punishments for misbehaving students, including being sent for a run around a playing field, picking up litter or writing out hundreds of lines.

It also suggests that detentions can be issued at lunchtime, after school or weekends, with no notice for parents.

He argued that the state education system is ‘starting to show a sustained and significant improvement’.  But he warned schools must go further – setting out his proposal for 13-year-olds to sit the Common Entrance exam.

‘Privately educated children often benefit from rigorous testing of ability – and, crucially, knowledge – at regular points throughout their school career,’ Mr Gove said.

‘But since the last Labour government abolished tests for 14-year-olds, we have had no rigorous externally set and marked measures of progress for students in the first five years of secondary school.  ‘It is often during this period that performance dips and students suffer.

‘I am open to arguments about how we can improve performance – and assessment – in this critical period.  'But there is already one widely available, robust and effective test of knowledge for just this age group: the Common Entrance test papers.

‘They are designed for 13-year-olds – they are used by private schools to ensure students are on track for later success – they are already available on the web, and are a fantastic resource.

‘So I want state schools to try out Common Entrance exams – giving them a chance to check how well they and their pupils are performing against some of the top schools around the world.’

There is, however, no suggestion that taking the Common Entrance test will provide a path into private schools.

On discipline, Mr Gove said every head in the state sector must have the ability to ensure children behave as ‘impeccably as in the most successful state and private schools’.  He added: ‘That means giving heads the power to ensure there is exemplary behaviour – and giving teachers the power to keep control in the classroom and the playground.

'Because without excellent behaviour, no child can learn – and a tiny minority of disruptive children can absorb almost all of teachers’ time and attention, in effect holding the education of the rest hostage. ‘So we have given teachers more freedoms to keep control in the classroom, and to discipline pupils for misbehaviour.

‘We trust the professionalism of our teachers. So we’ve given them the tools to keep control of their classrooms, and allow every student to learn in peace.’

The Department for Education said while current guidelines make clear the legal backing for setting school punishments, they fail to outline potential sanctions, leaving many heads and teachers unclear of what action they can take.

Mr Gove also suggested he wanted to see more state schools offer extra-curricular activities to extend the school day to fit in with the lives of working parents.

He said he did not support shorter holidays but said free schools and academies could vary term dates to allow parents to avoid the expense of holidaying during rigidly fixed half terms and other holidays.