Friday, August 07, 2015

Homeschooling In The City

Homeschooling caters for the individual -- a natural fit for conservatives

Angela Wade’s children hadn’t reached school age yet, so she had given little thought to where, or how, they’d be educated. But from the moment she set foot in her local public school—to vote on Election Day—she knew that she wouldn’t be sending her kids there. It wasn’t that the academics weren’t up to snuff or that the Astoria, Queens, elementary school suffered from a bad reputation. But what she saw in the hallways and on the cafeteria walls surprised this former New York City public school teacher with an education degree from NYU. “There were licensed characters painted on the wall. You know—Dora the Explorer and all these things,” she says. “I just feel like that’s not really the place for advertising.”

For Wade and her husband, and for city dwellers with concerns ranging from classroom environment to the Common Core, public school is out of the question. And for them, as for many urban middle-class families, paying hefty private school tuition is not a realistic option, either. “It wasn’t so much a decision of what we were going to do—it was what we weren’t going to do,” she says. In the end, the Wades opted to homeschool. “Homeschooling is in some ways the easiest option. We’re driving our children’s education. We’re giving up a lot to do it, but in the end we thought it would make us most satisfied.”

At first, the Wades knew no other homeschoolers, and, like many young parents in the city, they had no family nearby, so they prepared themselves to go it alone. Before too long, however, they found a growing network of urban homeschoolers. “In a city like this, you can find your tribe,” says Wade. “You can find your homeschoolers. And there are a lot of us.”

Not so long ago, homeschooling was considered a radical educational alternative—the province of a small number of devout Iowa evangelicals and countercultural Mendocino hippies. No more. Today, as many as 2 million—or 2.5 percent—of the nation’s 77 million school-age children are educated at home, and increasing numbers of them live in cities. More urban parents are turning their backs on the compulsory-education model and embracing the interactive, online educational future that policy entrepreneurs have predicted for years would revolutionize pedagogy and transform brick-and-mortar schooling. And their kids are not only keeping pace with their traditionally schooled peers; they are also, in many cases, doing better, getting into top-ranked colleges and graduating at higher rates. In cities across the country, homeschooling is becoming just one educational option among many.

As recently as the mid-1970s, as few as 10,000 children were homeschooled in the United States. The practice was illegal in 30 states, and those who opted for home education mostly clustered in rural areas. Many of the original homeschoolers took inspiration from the writings of John Holt, a former fifth-grade teacher, whose two books, 1964’s How Children Fail and 1967’s How Children Learn, were highly critical of traditional compulsory education. The system had similar contempt for homeschoolers, tending to treat the students as truants and the parents as criminals.

Homeschooling’s expansion began in 1978, when the Internal Revenue Service under President Jimmy Carter threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of Christian day schools that it accused of using religion-based admissions standards to circumvent federal anti-segregation laws. The move to shutter these schools politicized evangelical Christians across the South, Midwest, and West. The IRS ultimately caved on its threats, but the evangelicals took a message away from the battle: the federal government—as embodied by the newly established Department of Education—was out to get them.

“What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA,” Moral Majority founder Paul Weyrich told sociologist William Martin for his book With God on Our Side. “[It] was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools. . . . [S]uddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased.”

Rather than wait for the next federal attack on their values, many evangelicals instead chose to educate their children where they felt the long arm of the government could never reach—in the home. By 1983, with the rise of the Religious Right and the formation of the Home School Legal Defense Association, the number of homeschooled children in the United States had ballooned to between 60,000 and 125,000. Thanks largely to the state-by-state advocacy of HSLDA lawyers, legal barriers to homeschooling began falling in the 1980s. By 1993, the practice was legal in all 50 states, though some remain suspicious.

Since then, the homeschooling population has continued to grow dramatically, while also becoming more secular. In 2002, according to a DOE survey, 72 percent of homeschooling families cited “a desire to provide religious instruction” as one of their reasons for educating in the home. By 2012, 64 percent cited religion as a motive for homeschooling; only 16 percent called it most important.

“Most people assume we’re doing it for some sort of strange, creationist religious reason,” says Rachel Figueroa-Levin, a homeschooler who lives in Inwood, a middle-class neighborhood at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. “But we are stereotypical secular Jews.” Indeed, concern about “the environment of other schools” has supplanted religion as the Number One reason given for homeschooling, according to the DOE survey. Ninety-one percent of homeschooling parents cited school environment as at least a contributing factor.

Over the last few decades, the homeschooling population has also urbanized. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of the nation’s nearly 2 million homeschoolers, or roughly 560,000 students, live in cities. That’s almost as many as live in suburbs (34 percent) or rural areas (31 percent). Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are home to swelling communities of homeschoolers. And in the nation’s largest city—New York—the number of homeschooled students has risen 47 percent, to more than 3,700 children, over the last five years.

Like other homeschoolers these days, urbanites choose homeschooling for various reasons, though dissatisfaction with the quality and content of instruction at local public schools heads the list. “I got through public school, but it was never something I thought was an option for my children,” says Figueroa-Levin.

A native Staten Islander, she is a columnist for amNewYork, a free daily newspaper, and creator of the satirical Twitter account @ElBloombito, which gained 76,000 followers for its gentle skewering of former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s halting attempts at press-conference Spanish. She calls her local public school “awful,” but she’s not interested in moving to a more desirable school zone, as some New Yorkers with small children do. “We like where we live. We have a nice-size apartment. Sacrificing all that for a decent public school just doesn’t seem worth it,” she says.

But even after more than a decade of aggressive education-reform efforts, the “decent public school” remains a rarity in New York and in other American cities. With urban public schools inadequate or worse and quality private schools often financially out of reach, “homeschooling becomes an interesting study in school choice,” observes Brian Ray, founder of the National Home Education Research Institute (NEHRI) in Portland, Oregon. “You pay taxes, so the public school system in your city gets that money, then you can make the ‘choice of paying even more to send your kid to a private school, or to a Catholic school. More and more people are saying, ‘I’m going to homeschool.’ It’s not that weird anymore.”

Homeschooler Gwen Fredette lives in Philadelphia with her husband and four children. “Our school system has a lot of problems,” she says. That’s an understatement: Philadelphia public schools are in flat-out crisis. After a video of a 17-year-old student knocking a “conflict resolution specialist” unconscious at Southwest Philadelphia’s Bartram High went viral last year, a social studies teacher at the troubled school told thePhiladelphia Inquirer, “I had a better chance in Vietnam. . . . Here, you lock your door and pray no one comes in.”

Nor is violence the only concern in the city’s public schools. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 60 percent of West Philadelphia schools had serious problems with mold or water damage. Budget shortfalls have left schools without nurses and made a collapsing public-education system “a chronic and seemingly immutable fact of life,” according to Philadelphia Magazine. Academic outcomes are horrendous. Just 10 percent of graduates from the city school district go on to get college degrees. The National Assessment of Educational Progress ranks Philadelphia near the bottom of participating cities: less than 20 percent of the city’s fourth- and eighth-graders score proficient or better in math and reading.

Fredette took one look at her local zoned school and, like Angela Wade, ruled it out. But she and her husband didn’t want to abandon a life that they enjoyed. “There are so many great things about living in the city—you kind of agree to take the good with the bad,” she says. Fredette loves that her older children use public transportation to get around. They have made friends from different cultures and backgrounds, something she’s not sure would have happened in the suburbs.

On the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, the entertainment industry has long sustained a homeschooling culture for performers. “Thousands and thousands of homeschoolers” live in the area, says Anna Smith, who runs Urban Homeschoolers, an “a la carte educational service” for about 40 homeschooling families in the Atwater Village neighborhood of northeast L.A. (See “City of Villages,” Winter 2014.) “There’s a great support network because there are tons of parents,” Smith says. At Urban Homeschoolers, younger students take courses such as “Wonder of the Alphabet” and “World of Numbers.” High school–aged kids can select from titles including “Conversational Spanish” and “The Legacy of the Cold War.” In a nod to homeschooling’s countercultural roots, there’s even a course called “Skepticism 101,” which promises to let students do their own “myth-busting.”

One myth that needs busting is that homeschoolers dream of re-creating the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear. “Public schools were designed in a time when people were working in factories and offices and had the same job for 30 or 40 years. That’s not the way the world is anymore,” says Smith. “Nowadays you can get anything customized,” she says, including children’s educations, and modern communications technology and Internet-based curricula have enabled homeschoolers to do just that. Customization is not typically what traditional schools do well—certainly not in the sclerotic school districts of the nation’s biggest cities.

Lousy as the public schools often are, urban parochial schools don’t always measure up, either. Ottavia Egan grew up in Italy, the daughter of an American mother and an Italian father. Today, she lives on 72nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her husband, Patrick, and their four kids. The Egans’ middle school–aged daughter had attended a local parochial school, where the books assigned tended toward “junky” literature, paranormal horror stories, and vampire-themed fiction. “These were the only kinds of books my daughter would read willingly. I had to plead with her to give the classics a try,” she says.

Ottavia admits that the thought of detaching from the traditional school model terrified her. She worried that, as a homeschooler, she would have to do everything herself. But she soon sensed that she had made the right choice. “My daughter is the type of kid who needs to ask a lot of questions. On the first day, she had 12 questions for me in the first hour. She never would have had those questions answered at school.”


British students flocking back to 'tougher' science and maths

More pupils are choosing maths and sciences this year after a government drive to encourage them to study ‘tougher’ subjects.

Exams regulator Ofqual said more teenagers are taking biology, chemistry, physics and computer science at both A-level and GCSE, with a higher proportion also taking further maths.

The watchdog said so-called ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects appeared to be in decline, with entries for GCSE citizenship studies halving in just one year.

Fewer students are now taking general studies, with entries down by a third at AS-level and a quarter at A-level.

It comes amid a campaign by the Department for Education to encourage pupils to take traditional academic subjects, which it says will better equip them for success.

From September, all pupils starting secondary school will have to take GCSEs in the so-called EBacc subjects – made up of English, a foreign language, maths, science and history or geography. To get the EBacc, pupils have to achieve a grade of C or above for all five subjects.

It was first introduced as a non-compulsory performance measure in 2011, to stop teachers encouraging pupils to take easy qualifications.

These subjects are often known as ‘facilitating subjects’ because they are favoured at A-level by the elite universities of the Russell Group.

Yesterday, Ofqual’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: ‘The subjects that are proving to be more popular this year are the traditional subjects.

‘Also there will no doubt be a good number of students who are thinking of their futures and where they wish to go in terms of higher education and recognising what universities might be looking for as well.

‘The drop-off in GCSE citizenship studies has been ‘quite exceptional,’ she added.

Ofqual based its analysis on provisional figures, but it will not release official statistics until later in the year.

The increase in take-up of traditional subjects at GCSE is understood to be larger than the rise at A-level.

However, there was a slight decrease in take-up at GCSE of languages, which have been on the decline since they were made optional under the Labour government.


A risky Chinese connection for Australia?

A Brisbane lecturer says corruption is rife in Chinese education, with students asking for answers and using smartphones freely.

A deal to form closer vocational training ties with China could wind up undermining Australian education programs, according to a Brisbane business expert.

Last month the Australian Skills Quality Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with the China Education Association for International Exchange to improve quality assurance and collaborate on vocational education and training (VET).

It came after the signing of the free trade agreement between the two countries in June.

But Griffith Business School lecturer Rakesh Gupta said endemic corruption in the Chinese education system could tarnish the reputation of Australian training programs and result in poor-quality graduating students.

Dr Gupta spent much of the past 12 months guest lecturing at Chinese universities and technical colleges, and said the country struggled with "normalised" corruption in the education system.

"I came across one English language teacher who told me she was doing a substitute exam for a student in high school," he said.

"She explained that the high schools contact her, she goes there, does the exam for the student because they wouldn't pass otherwise, and they don't see any moral or ethical issues with the whole process."

Dr Gupta said other incidents included students asking for answers during exams, and using smartphones freely.

He said about 600 programs were being evaluated as potentially being transferred to China, but while Australian institutes would provide intellectual property and technical know-how, the curriculum would be taught by local recruits.

"Australia can set up education facilities there but at the end of the day it runs the risk of graduates not having the requisite competence and knowledge," Dr Gupta said.

"Policymakers are addressing the issue of corruption, but do not seem to have much support from the middle sections of the power structure in tackling it."

Dr Gupta said thorough risk assessments and regulated oversight were needed to ensure training programs.

"One institute not performing will mean there's an effect on the whole education sector from Australia," he said.

"We have a good reputation in China that we are risking."

More than 35,000 people enrolled with Australian VET providers in China in 2013.

More than 30 million Chinese students undertake formal VET, and the government wants to boost that to 38.3 million by 2020.


Thursday, August 06, 2015

Will 'Opportunity Scholarships' Be To Public Education What Uber Is To Taxis?

The North Carolina Supreme Court caused quite a stir last week when they ruled 4-3 in favor of 'Opportunity Scholarships' which will provide $4200 for qualified students to attend a private school of their choice.

The intense opposition from supporters of the status quo in public education made you wonder: "Are 'Opportunity Scholarships' the 'Uber' of our education system?"

Think about it. Public education has long been a monopoly protected by government fiat much like the practically-antiquated 'medallion' system for our nation's taxicab services. Mayor de Blasio of New York tried to ban Uber from New York until public pressure forced him to step aside in the pursuit of progress.

Uber, on the other hand, is a free-market solution that uses the latest in wireless technology to 'order' a car to come pick you up when you want to be picked up and take you to your destination. Uber is totally disrupting the old taxicab market from New York City to Los Angeles, California mainly because it offers 'choice' in transportation about town and to and from the airport.

Recently, we pointed out how even the very liberal-to-socialist governments of Vermont and Paris, France for decades have allowed government money to follow students through school choice options to attend private, and even religious Catholic schools in Paris, to help them get the best possible education they can regardless of any background, socio-economic situation, race, creed or color.

Such options place the critical decision of 'choice' in the hands of the student and his/her family. Just like Uber is now putting the choice decision in the hands of the consumer and not in the hands of the government-protected medallion taxicab companies.

Neither the public education system in Vermont or Paris have collapsed as far as we can tell. The concurrent expenditure of public money on private or religious schools has not 'killed public education' as proponents in both areas might have argued over the years.

Without understanding how North Carolina, and most states, fund public education, it is very hard to understand how the apparent depletion of 'public funds' for public education to support such private scholarships will not 'destroy' public education.

For one, the bulk of the funds for public education come from the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh funded by state taxes you pay every pay period. Contrary to common belief, North Carolina actually ranks in the top 10 of states which have a higher percentage of their state teacher salaries paid for by the state.

The rest of it comes from local county government, wherein lies the program for North Carolina. North Carolina is still a rural state in many ways. In counties that have been decimated by the export of textile jobs overseas; the demise of the furniture industry and the decline of tobacco in some areas, their property tax base is so low they can not fund great amounts for teacher's salaries and other expenses for their public school system.

Mecklenburg County, for example, contributes $4000 or so per student each year in county funds. Tyrrell County, on the other hand, contributes $200 or so per student each year in county funds. You do the math.

There are 600 public school students in Tyrrell County. Total.

There are over 135,000 students enrolled in Mecklenburg County Schools in Charlotte. Close to 30,000 other students are enrolled in private, religious or home schools in the CMS catchment area.

Big difference. There are high school grade classes in single 4-AA high schools in Charlotte that number more than the entire student population of Tyrrell County.

Enter into this debate the issue of Opportunity Scholarships.

As noted before, each qualified and accepted student gets $4200 in state funds to go to any private school nearby if: A) the student has been enrolled in public education and B) it can be shown that the student has received a less-then-stellar education to that point and is eager and able to do more challenging course work at another school.

Where does that Opportunity Scholarship money come from and where does the rest of it go?

North Carolina's overall budget is divided up into two pots of money. One is the public education budget and the other is the general fund part of the budget that is up for discussion each legislative session.

The $4200 Opportunity Scholarship money comes from the 'general fund' of the NC state budget every year. Not the public education fund.

On average, it costs about $9000 per student to educate them in the North Carolina public education system today. Taking the $4200 Opportunity Scholarship out of that average (again, recognizing the vast differences between counties such as Tyrrell and Mecklenburg) leaves close to $5000 in the existing public education system.

Since the inherent cost of teaching that student who receives the Opportunity Scholarship has been removed from the public school to which he/she formerly attended, that public school system has one less child to teach. It continues to receive the $5000 formerly associated with that student who has left the public system at least for the duration of the biennial budget cycle in most cases.*

$5000 per student that has left the system that the public education system in that county can do with whatever they please.

They can pay teachers more. They can hire more administrative assistants. They can buy more trombones for the band and athletic equipment for their teams.

We only bring this up to point out that critics who are saying that Opportunity Scholarships 'are an affront to the North Carolina Constitution!' or 'the stupidest thing the Republicans have come up with yet' may not thought this through completely.

Less attendance in public schools means less stress on the communities to build new schools to meet growing demand, for example. Charter and private schools make do with renovated old schools, for example thereby reducing the need for expensive bond referendums to pay for shiny new schools with all-weather turf athletic fields.

We know of a great private school, Durham Nativity School, that has met for 13 years in a church during the weekdays when no one else is occupying the otherwise very fine Grace Baptist Church building. They have sent dozens of African-American and Hispanic youth to fine prep schools including Durham Academy, Woodberry Forest and the Christ School in Asheville most of whom go on to complete college and earn a degree.

The chances of many of these same students accomplishing the same thing in their previous public schools were slim to none.

Aren't the kids at Durham Nativity getting the same chance at 'freedom' and 'choice' and improving their lives just as Uber users are getting when they decide if they want to order a Uber ride or wait on the corner in the cold rain for 30 minutes watching dozens of Yellow Taxis go by before 1 finally picks you up?

It might be helpful to sit back first and think about the advantages this ruling is going to give students and parents of these motivated students to pursue a quality better education that fits their needs, just as Uber allows adults the chance to get a cab ride based on their needs.

Isn't that the end goal anyway? Better education for our children? Any way we can find it?

Such scholarships are never going to 100% replace or supplant public education in North Carolina or any other state in the Union. Not when there are over 1.5 million students now in 2613 public schools and 141 charter public schools in North Carolina versus just over 97,000 in 574 private schools and 110,000 home-schooled students across the state.

A form of school choice has been going on in Florida for years now and the public education system is still going strong. After all that time, less than 5% of all students in Florida are now participating in the school choice plan in the state. That is hardly 'killing' public education in Florida at least.

However, school choice options are an important first step at evolving and changing our big-box public education system back to where the education of the student is paramount to anything else in public schools.

If they don't work, and students such as those at Durham Nativity School don't go on to great things later in life, then let's try something else down the road.

Maybe we should start looking at 'educating the public' in a way that Thomas Jefferson may have had in mind when he wrote the following to William C. Jarvis in 1820:
"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
We do know for sure Mr. Jefferson would not approve of any restriction to the opportunities for anyone to pursue their education. Do you?
*Caveats: Every other year, the NC General Assembly allocates appropriations for public education based on 'ADM' or average daily membership of each public school in the state. If a public school system is in a declining area today with little to no growth, they will experience a flat or even a reduction in funding as it is today.

Many of the Opportunity Scholarships being offered at this time are in counties that are experiencing significant rates of growth in which case the students who leave the system are being replaced and then some by estimates of new enrollees at the beginning of each school year.

Sadly, rates of school dropouts are still too high in North Carolina which means that during the school year, on average 2.45% of all North Carolina high school students drop out of school, some forever, some for the year. That means by the end of any school year in NC, 37,500 fewer students are in classrooms than at the beginning of the school year. Funding for the schools do not drop even though the number of students they are teaching may have dropped during the school year.


Scots abysmal at mathematics?

A 50% pass mark?  No way. Scottish Higher maths exam pass mark cut to 34%

The status of the Higher as the “gold standard” of Scottish education has been undermined by the pass mark for the new maths exam being reduced to just 34 per cent, Labour has warned.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the quango that sets and grades the exams, confirmed it had reduced the pass mark for the new maths Higher to just 33.8 per cent after admitting the questions were too hard.

This compares with a pass mark of 43 per cent for the old version of the exam, which was sat by nearly half the pupils who took the subject because their schools were not ready to switch to the revamped qualification.

The pass marks were disclosed as pupils received their exam results and celebrated achieving a record number of passes at Higher and Advanced Higher level.

The number of Scottish youngsters who won a university place increased three per cent to 24,800 but, as in previous years, far more clearing places for those who did not get the grades they required were made available to fee-paying students from the rest of the UK.

However, SNP ministers faced more questions over why the overall pass rate for the new version of the Higher (79.1 per cent) was greater than that for the old one (76.7 per cent).

The total passes for Higher English increased by 17.7 per cent compared to last year despite research showing that literacy standards have fallen at all years measured in Scotland’s primary and secondary schools.

Numeracy standards have also declined and the maths Higher results bucked the trend, with the number of passes down four per cent following complaints from pupils that it was too hard.

The SQA admitted “the assessment proved to be more demanding than intended” and it had reduced the grade boundaries to compensate.

Angela Constance, the Education Minister, said there are “safeguards in place to ensure young people get the results they rightly deserve” and the SNP demanded Labour apologise for “scaremongering” that pupils who sat the new maths Higher would lose out.

But Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “The pupils who raised concerns about the difficulty of the new Higher maths exam have been vindicated.

“It’s true that pass marks are adjusted each year, but it’s extraordinary to see this drop to just 33.8 per cent. The Highers are the gold standard of Scottish education and this is a big concern.”

Liz Smith, Scottish Tory education spokesman, said: “People would understand if modest modifications had been made to pass rates to reflect realistic changes in exams. But this reduction is drastic, and shows just how badly the SQA got it wrong.”

But the SNP claimed the figures were “disastrous” for Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, who raised pupils’ complaints about the maths exam at First Minister’s Questions.

George Adam, a Nationalist MSP, said: “She set out to scaremonger and deliberately ignored the simple fact that the exam varies in difficulty between years.”

Standards of numeracy and literacy have declined in Scotland's schools despite record exam results

The revamped version of the Higher was introduced to dovetail more closely with the new Curriculum for Excellence and the National 4 and 5 qualifications, which replaced Standard Grades last year.

The curriculum emphasises teaching life skills rather than traditional disciplines such as learning by rote but its troubled introduction forced ministers to allow schools to delay the new Higher for a year if they were struggling to be ready.

The SQA disclosed that those pupils who sat the new maths Higher had to score 72 per cent to get an Upper A grade, 60 per cent to get an A, 47 per cent to get a B and 33.8 per cent for a C.

But their peers who sat the old version had to get 80 per cent for an Upper A, 68.4 per cent for an A, 55.4 per cent for a B and 43 per cent for a C.

The number of students passing the English increased markedly despite the pass mark for the old version remaining the same at 49 per cent and it increasing to 56 per cent for the new one.

Speaking during a visit to Craigmount School in Edinburgh, Ms Constance said: “Young people will not be disadvantaged by the Higher that they sat, whether it is the existing or the new one.”

But James Reid, a former principal assessor of maths for the SQA, told the Herald the difference between the pass rates for the old and new maths Higher as “substantial” and he would have expected a “much closer correlation.”

The Scottish Government said it was considering what changes would be needed for next year. A spokesman said: "The standard of every exam is scrutinised by experts and grade boundaries are set for every assessment every year. This ensures students still get the mark they deserve if the exam is easier or more difficult than intended."


Are English graduates facing double the debt of their US counterparts?

Graduates from university in England may be facing twice the average debt of US students, but the comparison is not as straightforward as it might seem

The high cost of university in America is well documented, with big numbers dominating our perception of studying across the pond. But has England now overtaken the US in terms of the average graduate's level of debt?

The stats would certainly seem to suggest so. According to the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), the average American graduate in the class of 2012 left higher education with $29,400 in debt , which is equivalent to just under £19,000. Out of those who graduated in 2013 from public and non-profit colleges - which make up the majority of institutions - 69 per cent had debt, with the average at $28,400 (£18,000).

By contrast the first English students graduating from the new fees system will have racked up average debts of £44,000, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

• Six in 10 students will have their debts written off

• Students will be paying off loans into their 50s, study warns

• Student loans: the real cost could be £40,000 more than official estimates

The comparison isn't quite as straightforward as the numbers might suggest. The debt figures don't account for factors such as graduate prospects, interest rates or differences between the loans systems themselves. Consequently, it wouldn’t be fair to say that English students are twice as badly off, although the contrast remains surprisingly stark when studied in more detail.

In America there are multiple types and levels of degree granting institutions and multiple funding sources, versus England's comparatively streamlined affair. In the US, each state and university runs their own system, with admissions and funding decisions often being made separately. In England, the national student finance system kicks in automatically once a university place is granted, making the process much more straightforward.

Taking a look at a typical student from each system helps to illustrate some of the differences. On the American side, Emily Byrne, 23, an international business major from Boise State University, has just graduated after 4.5 years of study with $27,000 (£17,000) in loans debt, including time spent studying abroad in Germany.

She received a government grant for under a year, and some small scholarships totaling no more than $2,000 annually, whilst her entire $150 a week earnings from part time work went towards living costs. Her parents then helped to minimise her loans debt by assisting with rent, textbooks and as much of her tuition fees as they could manage.

By comparison, Sophie Pratt, 21, a psychology student at the University of Bath, will be graduating in 2016 with around £44,000 in loans debt, after a 4 year course which incorporates a lower cost placement year. Her tuition fees are automatically covered by a student loan, but the basic maintenance loan leaves her with a shortfall for rent and living costs.

She makes up for that with a part time retail job (picking up extra shifts during holidays), the entire earnings from which go towards filling that deficit. Her parents then help her out by providing a weekly allowance for grocery costs, which ensures that she is able to keep her head above water.

The contexts these numbers and examples operate in are of course substantially different. In America there is a greater culture of saving for your child from an early age and families have had 18 years to prepare for the costs, although that is no guarantee of their ability to do so.

Comparatively the higher cost model has been introduced with a jolt in England, alongside a universal loan system, which will inherently encourage and facilitate greater debt.

Examining the issue of affordability in addition to the raw debt numbers provides further insight. In 2010 – prior to the fees hike – Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) ranked the US just below England and Wales in terms of higher education affordability.

English and US students both face high debt but encounter different challenges

However, based on their method of assessment the new fees will have reversed that situation, by substantially changing the ratio between total costs and median income for students in England.

The misconceptions surrounding the comparative debt levels have potentially arisen from a fixation on the fees at the most elite American universities. There were 4,599 degree granting institutions in the US in 2010-11 according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Pricey high profile universities such as Harvard and Stanford only make up a minority of these, but also tend to offer the most generous financial aid packages, meaning few are truly paying the advertised figure. There is also a distinction between studying in-state and out of state, with students who choose to study in their home state often paying much lower fees.

Money can still be a barrier to attending an institution in the US however, which is arguably not the case in England or the rest of the UK. Gerardo Rodriguez Orellana, 20, a student at the University of Utah, was denied the chance to attend his first choice, Rice University, due to a generous but insufficient scholarship. He described the experience as "frustrating, as no matter how much effort I put into attending my dream school, it would be denied".

Looking beyond the averages, the picture is still comparatively bleak for England. Whilst these figures will have changed, according to a 2010 factsheet by the Project on Student Debt, only 10 per cent of US students at the time graduated with $40,000 (£25,000) of debt or more, which is still considerably lower than the new English average.

Money can still be a barrier to attending an institution in the US however, which is arguably not the case in England or the rest of the UK.

One per cent of American students graduated with $100,000 (£63,000) or more in debt, which is the bracket that many English medical, veterinary, dentistry and some masters’ students now fall into. Although these figures may well have increased for the US, England is arguably now matching the American top end and surging past in the averages.

With the introduction of the £9,000 fees, universities are now supposed to use a proportion of the new income to fund access programmes, which often target low income households. The University of Leeds for instance, in their 2013-14 access guide, lay out their intention to commit 32.1 per cent of their additional fees income to access and retention measures, of which 89 per cent is earmarked for scholarships and bursaries.

However, it remains to be seen whether a more substantial culture of scholarships and financial preparation can or will emerge in England. If it does so, it could alleviate some of the pressure on the loans system, but will potentially ignite debates over elitism and send England further down the path to American style higher education.

Dr Jason Dittmer is a Reader in Human Geography at University College London, but is originally from the USA and undertook his postgraduate studies at Florida State University. He says that "while the UK is increasingly moving to the US model with regard to fees, I note that there is very limited uptake of the more altruistic side of the US model – scholarships, need-based grants and so on."

Additionally, he has concerns over university in both England and the US increasingly being sold as "a way of boosting future income" because it "ignores the benefits of an educated citizenry" and that kind of economic rationale linked to a loans system "opens the door to nearly limitless tuition hikes".

With many other countries in Europe operating systems with very low or no fees at all, England is becoming more and more distant from the rest of the continent. Perhaps a more honest view of how we compare globally is needed before we continue to head down this path.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

MP says to use anti-terror powers on Christian teachers who say gay marriage is ‘wrong’

New Extremism Disruption Orders should be applied on those who “teach” traditionalist Christian views about marriage in the classroom

New banning orders intended to clamp down on hate preachers and terrorist propagandists should be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong”, a Tory MP has argued.

Mark Spencer called for those who use their position in the classroom to a teach traditionalist views on marriage to be subject to “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs), tough new restrictions planned by David Cameron and Theresa May to curb radicalisation by jihadists.

In a letter to a constituent, Mr Spencer, the MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, insisted that Christian teachers were still “perfectly entitled” to express their views on same-sex marriage – but only “in some situations”.

Christian campaigners said Mr Spencer’s remarks confirmed what they had previously warned: that those who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman would now be “branded extremists”.

The National Secular Society, which supports same-sex marriage, said the proposed banning orders could be one of the biggest threats to freedom of expression ever seen in the UK.

David Cameron outlined the counter-extremism plans after the General Election

Ministers have signalled that the orders, expected to be a key plank of the Government planned new Counter-Extremism Bill, would be used not only curb the activities of radical Islamist clerics but those who promote other views deemed to go against “British values”.

Ministers have defined British values in the past as including broad notions like democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

Mr Spencer was writing in response to an email from a constituent who was concerned about claims by the campaign group the Christian Institute that EDOs could be used against those with traditional beliefs.  He wrote: “I believe that everybody in society has a right to free speech and to express their views without fear of persecution.

“The EDOs will not serve to limit but rather to guarantee it: it is those who seek to stop other people expressing their beliefs who will be targeted.  “Let me give you an example, one which lots of constituents have been writing about – talking about gay marriage in schools.”

He went on to insist that Christians with traditional views on marriage are “perfectly entitled to express their views” but suggests it could constitute “hate speech” in some contexts.

“The new legislation specifically targets hate speech, so teachers will still be free to express their understanding of the term ‘marriage’, and their moral opposition to its use in some situations without breaking the new laws.  “The EDOs, in this case, would apply to a situation where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong.”

Opponents say the new orders would be a threat to free speech

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of the Christian Institute said: “I am genuinely shocked that we have an MP supporting the idea of teachers being branded extremists for teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.  “This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been warning about.

“The Government says we’ve got nothing to worry about from their new extremism laws, but here is one of its own MPs writing to a constituent saying EDOs would stop teachers teaching mainstream Christian beliefs.”

He added: “Ten years ago the Conservatives opposed Tony Blair’s unpopular law against ‘inciting religious hatred’, saying it jeopardised free speech – yet here they are seeking to bring in an even worse law.   “EDOs will be a gross infringement of free speech and undermine the very British values they claim to protect.”

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society said: “If EDOs really could be used to prevent teachers from talking about same-sex marriage, unless they are inciting violence, they are an even greater threat to freedom of expression than I had feared.

“To suggest that EDOs guarantee freedom of expression [as Mark Spencer suggests] is not just inaccurate, it is the opposite of the truth; they are the largest threat to freedom of expression I have ever seen in Britain.

“The spreading of hatred is far too vague a concept to be the basis of legal sanctions, and would be worryingly open to misuse, particularly by ideological opponents.”


Why are fewer boys going to university?
A point not considered below is that boys are more aware that university education is not a very good deal these days.  The Ph.D.s flipping hamburgers phenomenon
A report published last week by the Independent Commission on Fees has uncovered a widening gender divide in university admissions. For whilst over a third of 18-year old girls enrol on a higher education course in Britain, only one quarter of boys follow suit.

So why are fewer male students applying for university courses?

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of UCAS, believes the "potential of young men is somehow being let down by the school system". This suggests that the methods and techniques used to prepare pupils for their GCSEs and A-levels are angled more towards female students, and that schools and sixth forms may not be preparing boys adequately enough for these academic hurdles.

But before we blame the institutions over the individuals, it is important to acknowledge that last year, the gender divide in A-level results was the smallest in almost two decades – showing that there is virtually no discernible academic difference between the sexes.

If Curnock Cook's assertion that schools are failing boys is wrong, what is responsible for the gender divide that seems to suddenly develop between the end of sixth form and the beginning of university?

University application statistics show a huge gender gap, with over 80,000 more girls completing UCAS applications than boys. But with applications submitted before final exams are taken, these figures suggest a lack of aspiration in boys, rather than an educational deficiency. Whilst they clearly and consistently achieve A-level results only slightly below the female average, a large number of the male student population are actively making the choice not to further their education.

The potential explanations are numerous. In the US, where a similar trend has occured in recent years, the debate often focuses on the motivation of men. It has been suggested that the male psyche does not possess a desire as strong as its female equivalent to achieve high levels of academic success and that this, coupled with rising tuition fees, may have caused disillusionment amongst boys approaching university age.

It's easy to appropriate the same logic for Britain, where a lack of educational aspiration among boys could be coupling with the financial deterrant of top-up fees. As evidence, look no further than the upturn in paid apprenticeships, which jumped by 63.5pc from 2010 to 2011.

Additionally, recent years have seen a steady growth of campaigns encouraging female students to pursue higher education. After it was discovered that only 13 per cent of STEM (scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical) courses were populated by women, a considerable push has been made to raise these numbers. However, no such corresponding campaigns have been launched to encourage either working class or disillusioned young men into university.

And this is despite Universities Minister David Willetts claiming, two years ago, that the government needed to target working class boys for university places in the same way that the institutions are obligated to fill quotas for ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups. It's feasible that the gender divide we now face is a direct result of girls having been targeted more actively for places than boys.

Another potential explanation for these numbers may be found in recent changes to how institutions award qualifications for 'gender-biased' subjects.

After A-levels, courses in which girls can be found to overwhelmingly outnumber boys (subjects with 90 per cent or more female applicants, such as the fields of beauty or textiles), are increasingly being spun out into three-year, degree-level undergraduate courses. For example, BAs in make-up and hair or knitting are now available. However, the equivalent stereotypical crafts for men (subjects with 90 per cent of more male applicants like bricklaying and plumbing), can still only be mastered through apprenticeships or college courses.

Clearly, not all traditionally-female vocational courses have been turned into degrees – many BTECs, NVQs and Diplomas in 'female' subjects are still being taught at colleges around Britain. But the statistic that female apprenticeship enrolments are dropping by an annual figure of approximately 50,000 does correlate with the rapidly establishing trend of beauty, social care and administration courses being transformed into degrees.

Dr Mark Walters, of the University of Sussex, believes that pushing more boys onto university courses, perhaps by turning traditional male hands-on skills such as bricklaying into university-based courses, is not the best way to close the education gender gap. "I am not sure it is necessarily the case that we need to encourage more boys to go to university – though, generally speaking, I believe a university education can be of benefit to most people regardless of gender."

"It is more the case that we need to move towards a society where both men and women are accepted in any profession," Walters continues, "There are barriers to entering certain professions – and at the moment this means that the university sector is seeing a larger intake of female students."

However, this observation is problematic. For whilst it does appear that universities currently have a much larger intake of female students, these figures only pertain to British nationals. When one includes students who come to study in Britain from overseas into the statistical mix, the gender gap shrinks significantly. So perhaps the issue is not 'Why are fewer boys going to university?', but rather 'Why are fewer British boys going to university?'

And this is a significantly easier question to answer. Not only is Britain still governed by outdated, ingrained traditions of gender stereotyping (seen in the bricklaying vs. beauty debate), but in a climate eager to dispel any suspicion of misogyny, these once male-dominated institutions are now overcompensating by offering girls opportunities that simply aren't available to the male student population. Earlier this year, for example, a student was ridiculed when he proposed the inauguration of a Male Human Rights Society, despite a female equivalent existing without prejudice.

Ultimately, although there are clear figures showing a gender divide in the UK university system, the root cause is unclear. Increased pushes for female STEM students may be the cause of the imbalance, but the changes of vocational courses into university-level degrees, institutions' possible inequitable treatment of male students, or the way the different genders rationalise spending money could just as likely be to blame.

What is clear is that despite acknowledging this gap, the government and the universities themselves appear untroubled or simply indifferent to the divide. But by leaving this demographic imbalance unchecked, it will only become more pronounced, and eventually result in a stubborn gap that Mary Curnock Cook believes "could, on current trends, eclipse the gap between rich and poor within a decade."


DC’s ‘scarlet letter’: a recipe for injustice

Lawmakers in Washington, DC have proposed the idea of having a ‘scarlet letter’ that would permanently mark the transcripts of students who are investigated by campus authorities for sexual misconduct. If they are introduced, these markers would ‘follow [the accused] to new schools [and] into the workforce’.

Considering the Kafkaesque nature of campus sexual-assault proceedings, which infamously lack even the most basic elements of due process, and the vague (not to mention unromantic) definitions of consent that are often used in them, one would think requiring men who are convicted in these tribunals to be branded for life was a recipe for injustice. But that’s not even the worst part.

This scarlet letter wouldn’t just apply to students who are convicted of sexual misconduct, but also to those who ‘try to withdraw from school while under investigation’. You heard right: if a student tries to escape his inquisition, his life will still be ruined. When I forwarded this story to a bleeding-heart-liberal relative of mine, the first thing she said was, ‘Aren’t we in America?’. Apparently, men on college campuses are exempt from exercising the rights all Americans enjoy.

These men’s lives and careers could be put at huge risk, all because of a hysteria around sexual assault on campus that is based on misleading statistics and scaremongering. As with all moral panics, this one is replete with ironies and unintended consequences.

In arguing for the scarlet letter, DC lawmakers argued that mere expulsion from college is an inadequate punishment for rape. No shit. How about, rather than increasing punishments for ‘Title IX’ convictions, and bringing in actual judges to rule on campus cases, we do away with these kangaroo courts altogether and leave it to the proper authorities. Scarlet letter? How about a jail cell?

The class divide

The crusade against campus sexual assault is led by upper-class young women who claim that they are at constant risk of being targeted. However, non-college women of the same age, who are often more disadvantaged, are at a far greater risk of being sexually assaulted. Apparently, giving trust-fund babies at Yale recourse for regretted sexual encounters is more important to ‘liberal’ activists than protecting society’s more vulnerable young women. Moreover, it should be noted that merely expelling rapists from college, instead of locking them up, only leaves them free to rape again – only this time, not on campus.

Throughout this crusade, activists have sought what Tom Wolfe called ‘the Great White Defendant’ – privileged frat-boys or athletes who, they claim, are the source of the trouble. However, like all arbitrary laws, campus tribunals disproportionately target the vulnerable. One student who is currently suing Amherst College in Massachusetts alleges that the college’s sexual-assault policy has only ever been used to punish male students of colour. A Harvard law professor has also argued that Title IX courts disproportionately impact ‘sexually stigmatised minorities’ – a harsh reminder that false accusations of rape against black men were not so long ago used to justify lynchings in the South. How quickly we forget.

The folly of witch-hunts

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has described the campus rape hysteria as today’s ‘moral panic, an extraordinary popular delusion, a madness of crowds’, which has led to calls for ‘increasingly draconian measures’ akin to ‘witch-hunts, blood libels, red scares… and satanic-ritual day-care prosecutions’.

As this moral panic wears on, and punishments become more draconian, lawmakers must recognise the truth: witch-hunts don’t get the actual witches.


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Kangaroo courts on campus: a legal travesty

Hearing sexual-assault claims in campus courts is a terrible idea

Last week, the Guardian published a report on sexual abuse on UK university campuses. It detailed a number of stories involving young women telling university staff members that they had been sexually assaulted, and the staff’s allegedly poor response. The staff were accused of ‘victim blaming’ and minimising the students’ complaints. The Guardian suggests that a standardised, country-wide set of guidelines be established for universities when dealing with allegations of sexual assault.

Such a standardised system has a precedent. In the US, alternative tribunals of the kind anticipated by the Guardian report already exist on campuses. American universities have a federal duty under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 to prevent sexual harassment and abuse. Today, it is becoming more common in the US to formulate what is known as a ‘Title IX complaint’ after the police have indicated that there is insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case. A website set up to offer advice on launching Title IX claims says this procedure can be a useful ‘alternative’ to pursuing a complaint where the normal requirements of due process cannot be fulfilled. Not surprisingly, these campus tribunals have not turned out well. There have been successful lawsuits against American universities for failing to treat fairly defendants accused of sexual assault. Many defendants have complained of having few due-process rights. Students have been expelled on the basis of weak evidence, only to be cleared later.

The introduction of such tribunals in Britain would make the issues identified in the Guardian report worse. Reading some of the stories in the report, it is clear that some complainants are unflinchingly sure in their interpretation of what happened to them, but others seem far less sure about where the line is between normal, youthful activity and sexual violence. One young woman says a close friend kept trying to kiss her, after they had kissed consensually, and then ‘refused to leave all night’, despite her asking him to ‘several times’. She reported this incident to her teacher as sexual abuse. Another described how she woke up in a stranger’s bed after a drunken night out. She knew she went into his bedroom consensually, but then said – with respect to what followed – ‘I know, academically, that I was raped’.

When these women approached university staff members, they were ‘victim blamed’, they claim, because staff asked them whether the encounter may have involved less coercion than was being suggested. Reading the report, I was struck that the Guardian would publish these allegations and treat them as proven, confirmed and unquestionable statements about sexual abuse without any degree of journalistic distance. Perhaps the paper should have contacted the accused before reaching its conclusions about the truth of the allegations?

Arguing that these allegations should be treated with some distance and objectivity is not to say that the students are lying about what happened. But the truth of their allegations is inherently difficult to interpret. In a society in which we are constantly encouraged to re-evaluate experiences in our intimate lives against the standards of the law, these young people naturally feel an inclination to reinterpret past events within the framework of abuse.

The idea that someone could be ‘academically’ raped captures something distinct about contemporary attitudes to sexual violence. Today, being a victim of sexual violence sometimes has little to do with being subjected to actual violence. Often it has more to do with being involved in sexual activity without having gone through what are considered the ‘normal’ stages of interaction.

The truth is that many people who went to university will have experienced what the Guardian is now presenting to us as ‘sexual assault’. Over-pressurising mates; drunken sojourns with strangers; awkward, miscalculated fumblings – these were once the staple of a student’s sex life. Not any more. The idea that rape is something that happens when certain steps are not followed, or because of certain criteria not being fulfilled, means that the improvised, imperfect and often quite strange moments which populate young people’s love lives are being recast through the prism of sexual violence. This is the rise of the academic rape: rape which happens not because of something someone did, but because of what they did not do.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about this tendency is that it is legally correct. The idea that rape is committed when someone falls foul of a particular set of prescribed procedures is reflected in recent legal changes around rape, which place a greater burden on a defendant to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether his partner consented to sex. The Crown Prosecution Service’s own action plan on rape encourages the police and CPS lawyers to ‘focus on the steps taken by the defendant’ when deciding whether to arrest and charge. In other words, look for what a defendant did not do to ascertain whether his belief in the complainant’s consent was reasonable.

Now, with the suggestion that more campus complaints of sexual abuse should be resolved through informal tribunals, in the style of American universities’ Title IX suits, we may start to see these cases being played out in forums which allow for fewer defendant’s rights and which have been reported as riding roughshod over due process. Not only are more and more young people being encouraged to understand their sex lives through the language of sexual abuse, but now, when things do go wrong, they are being encouraged to rely on the kangaroo courts of the college campus to bring them some resolution.

When serious allegations, like some of those detailed in the Guardian, are made, we owe it to everyone involved to remain objective and impartial. Treating these allegations as proven incidents of sexual abuse does nothing to recognise the severity of what is being alleged. In fact, by reproducing the allegations verbatim and treating them as confirmed incidents, the reporters arguably do a greater disservice to the students alleging abuse than did the members of staff who questioned them.

The staff sought to allow the students to consider whether there was another interpretation for what had happened to them, rather than simply labelling it ‘sexual violence’. This isn’t ‘victim blaming’ – it’s merely presenting intimate life for what it often is: messy, accidental, awkward. The idea that the approach taken by these members of staff justifies the imposition of US-style informal tribunals denies the possibility that these complaints may well be dealt with through adult support and peer companionship, or, when serious, through the criminal-court system, rather than through a kangaroo court on campus.


Campus Rape Study That Eroded Due Process Questioned

The study that fed the frenzied witch-hunt for rapists on college campuses has been shown to not actually measure campus rape.

Psychologist David Lisak, who has made a career studying sexual assault, published a study in 2002 titled, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists” — a study that combined the work of several of his doctorate students and concluded the majority of rape on college campus is done by a few serial rapists who are never caught.

The Department of Education latched onto the idea, and the idea of due process for male students accused of rape flew out the window. When Rolling Stone tried to illustrate the Red Scare in the Ivory Tower, they walked away with a story in tatters, as it was mostly a fabrication.

Now, it’s the study that started it all that’s under scrutiny. Reason Magazine’s Linda M. LeFauve writes there is serious reason to question the 2002 study, as Lisak can’t properly explain his methodology. For example, one study Lisak uses did not specify if the respondents to the survey were college students or if rape happened on campus.

Another time, Lisak claimed to have interviewed several subjects for the study — even though the study described the respondents as anonymous. Furthermore, this is not just an investigation by the rightmedia. The leftist rag Slate questioned the study in December. Funny how Rule of Law was swiftly eroded because some faulty science demanded it.


There is also an independent study HERE that points to serial rapists as a small minority

How egalitarianism became a microaggression

Refusing to believe in race is now treated as a form of racism

Racism ain’t what it used to be. Time was, if you were racist, you bloody well knew it. It was a conscious thing; a toxic belief in your own superiority over people who happen to have a different skin colour to you. No more. In an age when schoolchildren’s playground banter can be chalked up as a ‘racist incident’, and TV presenters are pilloried for mumbling un-PC nursery rhymes, racism has become recast as a kind of bad etiquette, where merely saying the wrong thing, even unintentionally, is enough to mark you out as a moral leper.

Now, to the ever-growing list of what’s racist we can add refusing to believe in the completely constructed and repulsive category of race in the first place. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), staff are being told that statements such as ‘I don’t believe in race’, ‘there is only one race, the human race’ and ‘America is a melting pot’ are no longer acceptable. In official UCLA guidelines uncovered by College Fix, all of these statements are branded ‘microaggressions’ – offhand comments or social slights which, the UCLA literature says, ‘communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages’ to marginalised groups. That’s right: at this university, if you don’t believe in race, you’re probably a racist.

And it’s not just UCLA. The desire for a ‘colourblind’ society, the sort of society that Martin Luther King hoped his children would one day inherit, is now seen by anti-racist campaigners on both sides of the pond as a cover for unconscious ignorance. ‘By professing not to see race, you’re just ignoring racism, not solving it’, wrote Zach Stafford recently in the Guardian. Another handwringing article, at Everyday Feminism, argues that ‘colourblindness invalidates people’s identities’. Meanwhile, it’s become common for censorious student campaigners to suggest that those who refuse to accept that we’re all, in the end, different, are ‘secretly racist’. Today, even MLK would be seen as ‘part of the problem’. Who knows? He might even be No Platformed.

The rise of microaggressions offers an insight into how this hideous contortion of anti-racism has taken place. Colleges across the US, including Oberlin, Carleton, and Willamette, maintain hefty lists of forbidden phrases, while Ithaca College has even instituted an anonymous reporting system. It’s starting to catch on in the UK, too, with whiteboard campaigns - where black and Asian students display the microaggressions that white students have uttered to them - springing up at various students’ unions.

More often than not, what amounts to a microaggression is little more than clumsy curiosity – from asking where someone is ‘from from’ to asking to touch their hair. It’s not cool, but it can hardly be called racist. And the idea that a few grating comments amount to a form of structural oppression only belittles minority students’ ability to navigate the public sphere.

On the surface, this might all seem like panto student politics – an attempt to replay the political battles of old rather than get to grips with the new challenges that face us. But there’s something deeper going on here. Today’s anti-racist crusaders are the children of multiculturalism, brought up on the idea that we are all defined by our culture, our background and our experience, and that we must be sensitive at all times to just how different we are.

It is in this atmosphere that identity politics and the toxic cult of victimhood have been able to turn old egalitarian ideals on their head. If we accept the idea that our identity shapes who we are, and that social slights amount to a cage-like oppression, than we can never truly understand one another. The mantra of anti-racism today is that of ‘racial consciousness’ – the idea that white people, in particular, should aspire to a state of constant recognition of and deference to the professed victimhood of others. The new fashion for segregated anti-racist marches, in which so-called ‘white allies’ are asked either to stay at home or hang to the back, shows what ‘racial consciousness’ really means – separate but equal.

Saying you want to live in a colourblind society is not a reflection of complacency, or an attempt to claim that you are physically incapable of noticing someone’s skin colour. It’s an expression of the desire to live in a society where race, that political construct, has finally withered away. And this is what really sticks in these campaigners’ craw. In an age beholden to the cult of identity, where you’re ‘from from’ matters more than ever.


Monday, August 03, 2015

UK: Why a belief in education is all but extinct among the working classes

As the winner of 'Child Genius' is unveiled, ambitious parents who push their little brainboxes can rest easy that they are not part of the problem

So now we know who won Child Genius on Channel 4. The smart money was always on the eventual winner, Thomas from Leeds. Thomas can play piano, bassoon, cello and trombone, sometimes while flicking through an economics textbook at the same time. As Deborah, Thomas’s adoring mother, says, her son needs a lot of stimulation. If Thomas’s brain is the size of a planet, you can be sure the 12-year-old will tell you that planet’s precise orbit and atmosphere.

The drawbacks of Thomas’s gifts can be viewed in full on the resigned faces of his step-siblings. Thomas inherited his brilliance from his physicist father, who died when he was 22 months old, but the fact that you don’t want to slap this freakishly brilliant boy, well, that’s entirely down to Deborah, his primary schoolteacher mum. Bathed in the warmth of mum’s love and support, the spiky edges of genius have been smoothed into the contours of a really nice kid.

Some 22 miles away from Thomas’s home, a boy died this week. Conley Thompson was last seen on Sunday night, around 8pm, after playing with friends at a park two miles from his house in Barnsley. His body was later discovered on a building site. Conley was seven years old.

I thought about the two boys while reading a new report that found that less able, better-off kids are 35 per cent more likely to become high earners than bright poor kids. Middle-class children benefit from a so-called “glass floor” which protects them from slipping down the social pecking order. Tim Nice-But-Dim’s mummy and daddy make sure he has an education that gives him “polish”, and social connections that lead to job opportunites denied to gifted children from modest backgrounds.

Ironically, the report by the LSE also said that “parental attendance at a private or grammar school” had a significant impact on a child’s destiny over and above the influence of academic attainment. Would those be the same grammar schools that offered bright poor kids a chance to acquire serious learning and “polish”, but which were closed down because they were deemed unfair and divisive? Thus leaving bright poor kids with no chance in hell of acquiring the social premium paid for by the parents of Tim Nice-But-Dim.

Having kicked away the one sure ladder out of poverty, reformers now have the cheek to complain that middle-class parents won’t let their below-average offspring fall down the rungs to make way for cleverer, less privileged peers. As if. You have to work with the grain of human nature, not against it.

Besides, background is not always destiny. The majority of contestants in Child Genius are not the hothoused scions of hereditary privilege; they are offspring of poor immigrants. David’s parents moved here from China to give their moon-faced boy the best possible chance; Julian’s came from Romania; budding scientist Neha’s from India. Jasamrit’s father, Santokh, encourages him to believe he is good enough for Eton. Adorable 12-year-old Giovanni is driven on to greatness by Italian Matteo, his live-wire electrician dad. All show a passionate belief in education and a hunger for success, which is practically extinct in our indigenous working class.

Sure, we may flinch as the child geniuses are put through their unnatural paces. But super-nurturing, ambitious parents who want the very best for their kid, be they genius or dunce, aren't the problem, are they?


Exam results do matter - stop telling pupils they don't

 Many thousands of A-level and GCSE students spend the long summer holidays worrying if their hard work - or lack of it - will bring them the success that they hope for when the results are posted online.

And we all tell our students what will be, will be!

But "Qué será, será" isn't good enough advice and surely can't reflect the value placed upon academic success in the highly competitive modern work place.

It's interesting to note that the schools which are actively promoting stress relieving and mindfulness programmes, now tell students that exams are not the only - or indeed most important - aspect of education.  Of course they aren't. But results really do matter.

And for very selective schools, where upwards of 90 per cent of grades at A-level and GCSE are passed at grade A*, to now apparently downplay the value of the academic achievements of students who have done extremely well in less selective schools, could be seen to be patronising.

Good schools in every sector of the educational market have always believed in educating the ‘whole person’: sport, music, drama, taking responsibility for others - learning for life.

That's what many schools have always proclaimed as their core values, and so often promoted successfully.

Changes to the exam system have seen a move away from modules

Of course, stress relieving programmes can provide a useful antidote to an excessive focus on examination success. But it is the ethos of schools, the core values, which must create an environment in which both individual students and the common well-being of the school community are nurtured.

In the simplest terms, every person must do their best: the best for their school, the best for themselves. Usually, but not always in that order.

Good schools nurture the individual to get the best examination results relative to their own ability - but without undue stress in the process. They also open up academic and career pathways for their students by relating what happens in the classroom to the wider world.

"So this results season, upon us all too soon, let's celebrate the successes, commiserate near misses and work out what the next step is for our nation's best asset: our students, our future."
Jonathan Forster

Moreton Hall's bio-medical and STEM summer holiday course offers opportunities for students from every type of school in the UK to study with medics and university academics in university departments; to find out what it means to be a GP, a research chemist or a maxillofacial reconstruction surgeon.

Try telling the students from St Martins Comprehensive School in Shropshire that their results this summer don't matter, that they shouldn't worry so much about doing well.

Those students are tasting academic success and now that they have access to a wider range of resources through their school's partnership with Moreton Hall, the opportunities that too often are the preserve of private schools are on their door-step.

As Sue Lovecy, the head teacher of St Martins, said: "The opportunity for our students to see an exceptional independent school environment is truly inspirational and raises the aspirations of all our students who share in the school's teaching facilities each week."

Ultimately, raising aspiration for all students should be the objective of all educational providers.

So this results season, upon us all too soon, let's celebrate the successes, commiserate near misses and work out what the next step is for our nation's best asset: our students. Our future.


Australia. Jealousy of a Private school: accused of buying access to public space

That the school has good access to a sportsground that they have paid to upgrade seems "unfair" to some

The former chief of Soccer Australia David Hill has accused the trust running one of Sydney's oldest and biggest parklands of allowing a wealthy private school to buy exclusive access to public space.

In a scathing letter to the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, responsible for the historic parklands Queens Park, Centennial Park and Moore Park, Mr Hill asked why the private boys' school Waverley College has "outrageous" special access to public fields.

Waverley College funds and maintains three sports fields in Queens Park under a "non-exclusive licensing agreement". These fields have been refurbished to have a better surface and drainage, allowing them to "withstand heavy rain and use", according to the trust.

The high-quality grounds ensure the college rarely has to cancel its Saturday school sport even when rain closes all other grounds in the parklands, according to other clubs that use the parklands.

Mr Hill, who is also a former managing director of the ABC, said it was outrageous that a school could buy access to public space. He said parents were furious that their children had to miss games while Waverley was able to play on and he called for the agreement with the trust to be made public.

"Like me, many parents and other members of the public are outraged that our children are barred by Centennial Park from using the parklands when by virtue of a privileged agreement with Centennial Park Trust, children attending private schools are still allowed to play," Mr Hill wrote.

"It is unacceptable and unfair to have separate rules for park use. All users should be treated equally and offered the same conditions of access."

A spokeswoman for the trust said it did not "allow for exclusive access to any playing fields" and 13 different groups, excluding Waverley College, had hired the three high-quality fields since 2006.

Marc Flior​, president of Easts Football Club which also uses Queens Park fields, said the club had a very good relationship with Centennial Parklands but parents were often left wondering why their children's soccer games had been cancelled when Waverley's were not.

Mr Flior said games had been washed out five times in a 17-week season this year, making it increasingly difficult to reschedule matches for the large club, which he says been growing "exponentially" from 580 players last year to 950 this year.

"When Centennial Parklands closes the fields, they should be closed, we accept that, but it was the state government who granted this lease and they should be explaining why private schools get privileged access to public parklands," Mr Flior said.

A spokeswoman for Waverley College said the school uses the fields on "an agreed scheduled basis with the parklands each year", mostly for junior sport days, sports training, and Saturday fixtures.

"Outside of these times, Centennial Parklands manages the bookings of these fields, which are used by other organised sport groups and the public for recreational use," she said.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Mark Speakman, who is responsible for the parklands, said: "The contract with Waverley was signed under the previous Labor government and does not expire until 2022."


Sunday, August 02, 2015

A little-known career

Sean P. Murphy

I used to spend my days reviewing essays, referring students to the writing center, offering advice to students about their academic paths, writing lesson plans and assessing the effectiveness of these lesson plans after their implementation in the classroom. I was an English professor. I taught five classes per semester, with maximum enrollments of about 140 students.

Now I spend my days reviewing psychiatric notes, referring patients to higher levels of care when the services of an adult outpatient psychiatric clinic cannot ease their suffering or when life and safety are at risk, offering advice to patients about health and wellness, writing treatment plans and prescribing medications, and assessing the effect of those treatment plans and medications on the lives entrusted to my care. I am a psychiatric mental health nurse-practitioner. My caseload hovers somewhere around 300 patients.

I admire my health care colleagues’ bravery in rushing into the breach to enter patients’ narratives on what may be the worst day of their lives, and I find myself thinking, “So-and-so is a good nurse or physician because she’s a good teacher.” I wonder if good teachers are good nurses, but they don’t know it?

In any case, a leave of absence from my first career as tenured professor of English and humanities at a comprehensive community college has enabled me to practice my second career as a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse-practitioner. “First” and “second” suggest linearity and separation, neither of which matches my lived experience of crossing over from careers in English to nursing, teacher to prescriber (see my earlier essay, “Dr. Nurse”).

I was never a proponent of academic silos, but moving from humanities to sciences did not strike my fancy -- until it did. As an academic, I pushed for cross-institutional collaboration by creating the Graduate Student Internship Program (GSIP), in which English M.A. and Ph.D. candidates teach at a two-year college before earning their degrees and entering the job market, but I would have been surprised to learn I would advocate cross-institutional collaboration between English departments and health care facilities, as I now do.

Neither did I anticipate returning to school midcareer, to the University of Illinois-Chicago’s accelerated registered nurse program and then to its master of science in nursing (MSN) program. For those of you unfamiliar with nurse practitioners (N.P.s), we are registered nurses (R.N.s) who complete additional advanced practice training and graduate degrees. Once degreed and licensed, we are health care providers who assess, order and interpret labs and diagnose and treat patients (including prescribing medications), all within the holistic framework of nursing practice (different from the allopathic perspective of M.D.s and the osteopathic perspective of D.O.s), which sees disease prevention and health promotion as essential to health care. N.P.s provide primary care to children and adults and provide specialty care in areas including women’s health, midwifery, acute care (emergency, critical care, hospitalist), gerontology and psychiatric mental health.

Taking cues from medicine before I knew anything about medicine, I wrote about English graduate students’ lack of exposure to the different sectors of higher education as detrimental to their preparation to work in higher education:

Teaching fellowships and assistantships serve graduate students well, on balance. But a physician would not dream of practicing medicine after having spent time in one medical school and one portion of the medical system. Much can be said for rotations, and doctoral candidates might do well to follow the medical school model by teaching at a range of institutions during their course of study.

How many types of institutions had I gained exposure to, and a little bit of practice teaching in, on the way to a professorship? My master of arts at a comprehensive state university included a graduate assistantship with time tutoring in the writing center and assisting a professor with one composition course. For my doctorate, taken at a research-intensive state university, I taught two courses per semester and, if available, one course each summer, all at the main campus, for five years. Two institutions in seven years.

By comparison, at the University of Illinois-Chicago, while completing the 16-month accelerated program for the R.N., my medical-surgical rotations included a telemetry (cardiac) unit at a major university hospital in Chicago and a gastroenterology unit at a community hospital outside of the city. The postpartum and labor and delivery rotation saw me at a different university hospital in the city, inpatient psychiatry at a community hospital just outside of the city proper, and pediatrics back in the city at a university hospital. Community health involved experiences at the Chicago Department of Public Health, a maximum-security prison infirmary in Indiana, a nonprofit nurse-run primary care van serving the homeless on rolling night shifts, inpatient and home hospice services, and an HIV/AIDS nonprofit organization. As a psychiatric nurse in training, my capstone or final rotation was on a 10-bed inpatient geriatric psychiatry unit in a small urban hospital. The nurse-practitioner rotations for my M.S.N. brought me to an urban pediatric outpatient clinic near Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, the consultation-liaison psychiatric service of an urban safety net hospital near Englewood on the South Side, an FQHC nurse-run adult outpatient clinic affiliated with UIC’s College of Nursing, and a safety net hospital’s adult outpatient clinic. Fifteen institutions in four years.

Given my restless nature, I’m surprised I stayed planted in graduate school on the way to the English life. And although I am restless now, I must leave the work of partnerships to those with more time who may read this article and think, “Yes, the great talent present in English departments in the form of graduate students should be leveraged on behalf of a greater good.” Are nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, dentists and physicians being trained on your campus? Perhaps English 101 can wait in favor of courses led by graduate students to help health care providers communicate more effectively. After all, one rarely hears high marks awarded to health care when it comes to communication with patients. How about the rhetoric of disease, illness, care, cure, healing, hope? Can English students help increase adherence rates among patients, many -- most? -- of whom will not “follow the doctor’s orders”? Would future humanists benefit from understanding narrative theoretically and from practically entering patients’ very human narratives on hospice units, mobile health care units, oncology units?

To be sure, my English colleagues took pleasure in the discipline, but the great teachers enjoyed people. Health care workers of all stripes like science, but they must like people even more to communicate, connect, empathize and help. Even if medical treatment stops, care continues. I see English graduate students and professors as essential to the communication that takes place after treatment stops, when care continues but the narrative’s closure shifts from cure to palliation. When it counts most, we need help making meaning of disparate strands of life, and those most talented with words and meaning can surely assist.


By Popular Demand: Worthwhile Revisions to AP History Exam

Finally, some good news for a change. The College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers AP exams to high school students, has announced yet another revision to its history framework. But this time it’s for the better. Previously, the College Board painted American history in far too negative a light, emphasizing our nation’s sins while ignoring or minimizing its uniqueness and greatness. Some Founders, such as Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson and Constitution writer James Madison, were mentioned; that’s it — mentioned. But they were taught as examples of Western class, gender and racial evil.

And while teachers could choose to teach the Constitution as it’s written, they would disadvantage their students by doing so because the real Constitution wasn’t on the test. After numerous scholars objected in an open letter, however, the College Board worked to make revisions.

Neglected Founders are back, and there’s even a new section on the concept of “American exceptionalism.” A College Board official insisted they meant no harm, and that American exceptionalism was previously omitted because they assumed they didn’t need to spell it out.

We don’t buy it, and the changes don’t go nearly far enough, but perhaps the episode proves that strong, principled voices on the Right can make a difference.


Colorado school district settles church-state case with Jewish teacher

A Colorado district settled a church-state lawsuit with a Jewish teacher who claimed that one of its schools “operates largely to promote the evangelical Christian ideals” of a particular church.

The settlement, reached Tuesday, stipulates that the Florence district stop allowing numerous religious activities cited in the lawsuit.

Robert Basevitz, a history teacher at Florence High, sued the Fremont RE-2 district in May, contending that school officials violated the separation of church and state by allowing the Cowboy Church at Crossroads to hold numerous activities at the school during school hours and school officials to participate in and promote the activities while acting in their official capacities.

According to the lawsuit, two large signs promoting the church hang on school property; school officials participate in daily morning prayer services at the school’s flagpole, often preventing others from entering the school until it is over; and church leaders regularly use the school’s public address system to promote its activities to students.

Basevits is, “to his knowledge,” the only Jewish teacher in the district, the lawsuit said, noting also that he is kosher observant and a veteran of the first Gulf War.

The teacher’s attorney, Paul Maxon, said in a news release that “neither party admitted liability or wrongdoing but entered the agreement as a compromise settlement,” the Denver Post reported.

Under the settlement, the Post reported, the district will make the following changes: a district-wide ban on prayers at any school-sponsored event; no longer allow the Cowboy Church at Crossroads to use the district facilities for worship services; and student-led religious groups must be student-led, with district employees attending only as observers to make sure rules are being followed.