Wednesday, January 03, 2018

UK: Toby Young's appointment to board of higher education watchdog sparks criticism

The former right-wing journalist and free schools advocate will sit on the board of the Office for Students (OfS), which will help lead the Government’s drive to apply market forces to higher education.

New laws are set come into force that will regulate universities in the same way as gas or water utilities.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said the OfS will look to ensure the “world class reputation” of the UK’s universities is maintained but the appointment of Mr Young has been met with criticism.

Mr Young has a history of outspoken remarks and in a column for The Spectator complained about “ghastly inclusivity” of wheelchair ramps in schools.

He also described working-class grammar school boys who secured places at Oxford as “universally unattractive” and “small, vaguely deformed undergraduates”.

Writing about class in a book called The Oxford Myth, Mr Young recounted how the arrival of “stains” – as working-class students were known – had changed the university. Mr Young said: “It was as if all the meritocratic fantasies of every 1960s educationalist had come true and all Harold Wilson’s children had been let in at the gate.”


Judge disallows law banning Mexican-American studies in Arizona public schools

An Arizona law banning Mexican-American studies from schools has been quashed.

A federal court says the law, which took aim at classes that state school officials said promoted "revolution against the American government," violates students' constitutional rights.
One program affected by the law was Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program Arizona, which state lawmakers said were "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."

Richard Martinez, the attorney who represents a group of Mexican-American students who attended Tucson schools, said the students sued shortly after the law was passed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

"This was their curriculum that was intended to be responsive to them...culturally, linguistically, educationally," Martinez said. "The program had a very strong effect on students' achievement... in fact, most of the students finished high school and matriculated to college, which was unprecedented at Tucson Unified School District."

Arizona education officials have not commented on the ruling but many have weighed in on the Mexican-American Studies programs in the past. Indeed, Tucson's program drew negative attention from officials at the stae's Department of Education. Tom Horne, the former superintendent of public instruction, said the program was "'extremely anti-American" because it promotes "essentially revolution against the American government."

Closing the gap

According to court documents, the program was established in 1998 and included courses like art, government, literature, and history focusing on "historic and contemporary Mexican-American contributions." It was meant to help Mexican-American students engage and relate to their studies and to "close the historic gap in academic achievement between Mexican-American and white students in Tucson."

The MAS program was a success, U.S. District Court Judge Wallace Tashima noted, writing that "one would expect that officials responsible for public education in Arizona would continue, not terminate, an academically successful program."

According to court documents, Horne never attended a class from the program to see what was being taught there and yet recommended the program be canceled. When the Tucson Unified School District didn't accept his recommendation, Horne "began lobbying for statewide legislation that would ban the program." His third draft of a bill prohibiting ethnic courses passed the House.

'This is America, speak English'

That was when John Huppenthal, a Senator who was chairman of the Senate Education Accountability and Reform Committee, became a proponent of the bill. It passed the Legislature in 2010 and both officials used the bill "to make political gains," Judge Tashima said, using the issue as "a political boon," that the men referenced in their political campaigns.

The court also found that Huppenthal posted discriminatory comments on a blog a few months after the bill passed. Huppenthal, who wrote under two pseudonyms, said things like, "I don't mind them selling Mexican food as long as the menus are mostly in English." He also wrote that embracing Mexico's values is "the rejection of success and embracement of failure," and opposed Spanish-language media saying, "This is America, speak English."

He also wrote a blog comment comparing the Mexican-American Studies classes to the "KKK in a different color," called the teachers skinheads and said they "use the exact same technique that Hitler used in his rise to power."

These blog comments, the judge said, were "the most important and direct evidence that racial animus infected the decision to enact" the bill.

Tashima ultimately concluded that the bill "was enacted and enforced with a discriminatory purpose" since "students have a First Amendment right to receive information and ideas" and said current Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and Horne and Huppenthal "acted contrary to the First and Fourteenth Amendments," "violated students' constitutional rights," and said the bill "was not enacted in a legitimate educational purpose."

The defendants have 30 days to appeal and "the clock is ticking," said Martinez.


Australia: New literacy teachers recruited as NSW government axes Reading Recovery

A team of 50 literacy and numeracy experts will be recruited to support NSW teachers as the government axes the controversial $50 million Reading Recovery program, which is used in more than 900 schools but was found to be ineffective.

Principals were told in November that the NSW Department of Education would no longer be supporting Reading Recovery, which targets year 1 students who are struggling with literacy. Students undergo a one-on-one intensive program for up to 20 weeks.

In NSW, Reading Recovery is in 60 per cent of schools and at least 14 per cent of year 1 students take part in it.

It is understood principals will still be able to run Reading Recovery from their own budgets but from 2019 the government will redirect the $50 million it spends annually on Reading Recovery to other "evidence based" literacy and numeracy programs.

The government says the new positions are part of the government's $340 million NSW Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, which includes investment in the early education years through to supporting students to reach minimum literacy and numeracy standards in the HSC.

For the first time, year 9 students this year needed to achieve three NAPLAN band 8s in reading, writing and numeracy to pre-qualify for their HSC. If they did not, they will need to sit an online literacy and numeracy test.

The education minister, Rob Stokes, said the 50 new positions would support teachers with face-to-face professional learning in "new approaches to monitoring and supporting" literacy and numeracy from kindergarten to year 10.

The new positions will focus on understanding and diagnosing students literacy and numeracy tests, effective reading in the early years including systemic phonics, writing across the curriculum and number skills and algebraic thinking.

"This investment means that every teacher will have access to evidence-based professional learning to ensure every student has the best opportunity to develop strong literacy and numeracy skills," Mr Stokes said.

"This focus on literacy and numeracy skills is more important than ever in light of evidence that young people today will face a very different future when they finish school."

Despite its widespread use, Reading Recovery – which is also in the US, Canada and Britain – has had its critics and in 2015, influential US literacy academic Louisa Moats told education bureaucrats in Victoria that it was "indefensible" to spend money on the program.

Dr Moats said if she had a child with a learning disability she would refuse to let them take part in a Reading Recovery lesson.  "The instruction is directing their attention away from what they should be paying attention to. It's just not OK, it's harmful."

The federal government is also focused on literacy and numeracy in the early years of primary school, with the education minister Simon Birmingham backing a proposed reading test that would be based on the phonics screening check used in the UK since 2012.

Education ministers discussed the phonics checker at December's Education Council meeting but it is understood no decision on the test's implementation was made.

Mr Stokes has said that he "sees no reason" why it could not be rolled out in NSW but some education academics in Australia and the UK oppose the screening check, which tests 40 words, including 20 pseudo words such as pib, vus, yup and desh and 20 real words.


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