Thursday, April 02, 2015

PA Students Needed Permission Slip to Eat One Oreo Cookie

Sixth-grade students in one public school in Narberth, Pennsylvania had to obtain a signed parental permission slip before being allowed to eat a single Oreo cookie.

In a March 23rd letter sent home with Welsh Valley Middle School students by teacher Darlene Porter, parents were warned that students would each be given one Double Stuf Oreo cookie in order to illustrate the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates.

“The students may eat the OREO after the investigation if this is okay with you,” the letter said. “The students do NOT have to eat the OREO if they do not wish to do so,” it continued.

The authorization read, in part, “My child has permission to eat the OREO after the science investigation on 3/27/2015. Without a signed permission slip, my child understands that he/she will not be able to sample the OREO.”

According to information provided by the school to the local Allentown Morning Call, one student in the sixth-grade class has an allergy plan requiring parental notification if there is food in the classroom. The student’s parents sent gluten-free Oreos for the project.

However, notifying the other parents – or requiring their written permission to eat cookies in school – is not required by school policy.

The letter went viral on Twitter after it was disseminated by an anonymous mother in the Lower Merion School District who identifies herself by the handle @mainlinewife. The account is now protected, which means that only approved followers may view it. contacted Welsh Valley Middle School for a comment, but was told that the school’s public relations person is currently on vacation.


Banning Haddad in Britain: universities are doing the Home Office’s bidding

A controversial Islamic preacher has been banned from speaking at the University of Kent, less than two months after the university was ranked among the worst in the country for freedom of speech. Last week, Haitham al-Haddad, criticised for his homophobic beliefs and defence of domestic violence, was due to speak as part of Kent Islamic Society’s ‘Discover Islam’ week. However, at the last minute, the university prevented him from doing so.

Banning speakers such as Haddad from campus is an insult to free speech. Free speech is not something that can only be extended to those who we, as a society, deem to be right – to place conditions on free speech is to undermine it entirely. The fact that the Islamic Society even considered inviting this man to speak raises some serious questions about the organisers. But banning people him outright only buries students’ heads in the sand, and stops them from taking on his arguments in the open.

Universities are supposed to be places of higher learning and thinking; places where views are explored and challenged. While the UK home secretary Theresa May recently abandoned her proposal to oblige universities to ban extremist speakers, the banning of Haddad – both at Kent, and, before that, at Westminster – shows that universities are already more than willing to do the Home Office’s patronising censorship on its behalf.

Students are intelligent enough to be able to engage with such people in open debate; it is time universities stopped treating us like children. The case of Haddad shows that students’ right to free speech is being eroded from within, and that universities are displaying an intolerance to rival that of the man himself.


UK: Battle against the union blob

It is not surprising that teaching unions are objecting to the proposed 2% pay rise for England’s top teachers. Unions have long protested against performance-based pay for teachers and now they pose another barrier to the School Teachers Review Body. In the STRB’s latest submission (pdf) to the government, highlighted is the need for a wages increase to encourage the desired competition in the teaching profession.

Arguments against pay incentives are that they encourage ‘teaching to the test’ and orchestrated cheating by teachers and schools. Performance gains are accepted to exist but said to be short-lived. While the long-term benefits, they say, are non-existent and there may even be damage done in the long-run.

But the latest research examining their impact on pupils demonstrates the opposite as being true. Pay for performance schemes are becoming increasingly implemented and contemplated in many developed and developing countries and have re-emerged at the top of the policy agenda in the U.S. They are not just a brilliant way of distinguishing the strivers from the shirkers in schooling systems. Such schemes are reaping good long-term labour market outcomes, too.

Research (pdf) published last month by Victor Lavy looks at a study conducted a decade and a half ago in Israel to determine if there are improvements to future education enrolment, earnings and probability of claiming unemployment benefits.

The study is the first of its kind to follow students from high-school to adulthood to examine the impact of a teachers’ pay for performance scheme on long-run life outcomes. It found:

    "A decade after the end of the intervention, treated students are 4.3 percentage points more likely to enrol in a university and to complete an additional 0.17 years of university schooling, a 60 percent increase relative to the control group mean. The road to higher university enrolment and completed years of schooling was paved by the overall improvement in high school matriculation outcomes due to the teachers’ intervention".

So merit-based pay actually improves students’ lifetime well-being, judging by school attainment, annual earnings and welfare-dependency, as well as recognising the hardworking, high-flying teachers and making it a more attractive profession.

If we could achieve a similar flexibility in what the best teachers can be paid in the UK, like proposed in the STRB’s report, it would mitigate the pressures being faced by schools experiencing increasingly competitive graduate labour markets, tightening budgets and demographics driving up pupil numbers.

A difficulty in recruiting NQTs and experienced classroom teachers in this country has been identified by head teacher unions. A key cause being that salary progression is faster for able graduates in other professions, with the opportunity to reach higher levels of earning as their careers progress, than for the teaching profession.

Ideologically-driven unions are the main enemy of change as they still make it difficult to get rid of timeserving teachers and are hostile to the ambitious reformers in schools and policy-making. It is time to start thinking about the market value of teachers’ talents and penetrate the dogmatic ‘blob’ that the old hat education establishment represents


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