Friday, December 31, 2004

In defence of charter schools

Below are some excerpts from a big defence of charter schools on A Constrained Vision

"Amy Stuart Wells, professor at Teachers College of Columbia University and long-time critic of school choice, tries to dismiss those pesky charter schools once and for all. She blames those evil free-market conservatives and their "well-funded think tanks" for this loser of a reform movement.... Even ignoring her gratuitous swipes at think tanks, conservatives, and free markets, there are a lot of problems with Wells's analysis. Three major points.

One, if charter schools are so terrible, why are they expanding so rapidly? Like Wells says, the Center for Education Reform reports almost 700,000 students in 2,993 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia; this year alone, 405 new charter schools opened. Either all those families have been brainwashed by the evil conservatives or they're stupid enough to send their kids to schools that are bad for them or they have found something about charter schools that they like better than public schools. Since we generally don't assume that people are brainwashed or stupid, this point is difficult for charter school opponents to address and Wells hasn't done it adequately.

Two, Wells misrepresents the recent research on charter schools. Contrary to Wells's quick dismissal of disagreement, the methods used in these studies are hotly contested--see, for example, Joanne Jacobs's summary, Eduwonk's round-up of reaction to the latest NAEP study and William G. Howell and Martin R. West's thorough trashing of the AFT study (just a taste: "[O]n a methodological level, the AFT analyses are sufficiently pedestrian to be laughable.")--but even if we all agreed that the methods were fine, Wells gets the punchline wrong! From the Department of Education's NAEP study:

[T]he mathematics performance of White, Black, and Hispanic fourth-graders in charter schools was not measurably different from the performance of fourth-graders with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in other public schools.

In reading, there was no measurable difference in performance between charter school students in the fourth grade and their public school counterparts as a whole. This was true even though, on average, charter schools have higher proportions of students from groups that typically perform lower on NAEP than other public schools have. In reading, as in mathematics, the performance of fourth-grade students with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in charter schools and other public schools was not measurably different.

Because charter school demographics are very different from those of public schools, it is not a fair comparison to look just at overall test scores, as Wells seems to do when she declares unequivocally that "charter schools performed more poorly than public schools on the same tests." When you look at similar types of students, charter schools and public schools perform about the same. Wells and other charter school opponents would probably point out that this is not the magic improvement that advocates promised, but why does that matter? Charter schools are cheaper than regular public schools, parents are happier with charter schools, and bad charter schools can go out of business, unlike regular public schools--if the charter schools aren't doing any harm, why not allow them to exist just for those advantages? Charter school opponents have the burden of proof to show that charter schools are actually harming students, and again, Wells has not met that burden.

Three, evaluating charter school performance is exceptionally difficult. From issues like the one above--what is the proper comparison group?--to nitty-gritty econometric debates, there is very little agreement about what are the proper methods. Given the demographic differences, it does seem wrong to compare overall charter school performance to overall public school performance, as Wells does, and it does seem wrong to look only at one year of data, as the studies she relies on do. And there are many more difficult issues that Wells does not seem to consider. Here's a sampling:

- Charter schools have very different purposes. Some promote studying the arts, some promote studying cultural heritage; some focus on at-risk students, some focus on academically gifted students. Is it right to lump all of these schools into one big study? One study that attempts to address this issue, the Manhattan Institute's "Apples to Apples: An Evaluation of Charter Schools Serving General Student Populations," puts it well: "[C]omparing targeted charter schools to regular public schools is like comparing apples and zebras." When the authors compare "apples to apples," they find that charter schools outperform similar public schools.

- Charter schools with different purposes have different goals. Charter school opponents are some of the same people who vehemently criticize standardized testing for being one-dimensional, yet they now rely on those supposedly one-dimensional tests to malign charter schools. What about evaluating charter schools on other dimensions, such as graduation rates, student discipline problems, parent satisfaction, teacher turnover? Furthermore, should a charter school whose mission is to help students succeed in the arts, for example, be judged on its test scores? Or should charter schools whose students are special education students or high-school dropouts or kids in the juvenile justice system be judged on their test scores?

- Charter school students are different from public school students, if for no other reason than that they chose to leave the public schools. What is that difference and how do we control for it? Without some reliable way to adjust for that difference, we are again comparing apples to zebras.

Evaluating charter schools is difficult, but the schools are clearly popular. They must be doing something right and we owe it to all students to find out what that is. We should study the issue dispassionately and not resort to political cheap shots. We should use the most careful analysis that we can and not rely on simplistic analysis just because it is easy."

Judicial obstructionism again: "In a ruling the dissent characterized as driving 'a semi-truck' through a 'small window' in the U.S. Constitution, the full 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida on November 12 struck down the state's five-year-old Opportunity Scholarship program, ruling it violated a provision in Florida's Constitution barring public funds being used to aid any religious institution. ... Although they will be able to continue in their choice schools while the ruling is appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, the breadth of the appeals court decision places a cloud not only over the future of the Opportunity Scholarship program, but also over similarly funded post-secondary scholarship programs ..."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Thursday, December 30, 2004


Plugging a few holes in a leaky boat

As a student at New York University, Ruth Zemel dreamed of finding a job that would enable her to change the world. Three years later, she stands in front of a class of high school students in one of Washington's most underprivileged neighborhoods, teaching them mathematics. "I have homeless students, students who have been abused, students who need to take time off to translate for their parents, students who work 40 hours a week on top of school to help support their families," Zemel said.

Zemel is one of 3,000 teachers recruited under the Teach for America program working in some of the nation's poorest and toughest urban and rural schools this year. The private non-profit program seeks to mobilize talented and idealistic young people for two-year teaching stints, but over 60 percent choose to stay in education after their commitment is done. "We've found it is possible to go into a school and create a learning culture in the classroom and it is within a teacher's power to foster success," said Wendy Kopp, who came up for the idea of Teach for America when she herself was an undergraduate at Princeton University in 1989. The program has proved highly popular; only 14 percent of the 13,500 applicants last year were accepted. The program is expanding to 3,800 teachers next fall.

At Bell Multicultural Senior High School where Zemel is teaching, almost two-thirds of the students are Hispanic and another 25 percent are black. Assistant principals Darry Strickland and Dahlia Aguilar both started as Teach for America corps members and continued in education. "Part of my passion now comes from when I saw what was happening to black and brown kids, kids who are poor and those for whom English is a second language," said Strickland. "I fell in love with youth -- with my ghetto kids."

Racial disparities have long been one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. education system. By the fourth grade, students in low-income areas are already three years behind their peers in reading and mathematics. A new book by Harvard University education and social policy professor Gary Orfield finds that only half of minority students in the United States graduate from high school, a figure that is often disguised in official statistics. Among males, the figure is even lower. Orfield said many urban high schools had become "dropout factories" with devastating effects on both students and their communities.

Zemel said among her students truancy was a constant problem. "I do everything in my power to get them here. I always try to convey to my students how important it is for them to be here every day," she said. She raised money from a private donor to pay 10 students $8 an hour to tutor fellow students after school hours and has organized a college trip for nine outstanding students to tour campuses in New York. "We do activities showing how much more money people make if they have gone to college. These kids have the same talent as more privileged ones, but their skills are lower than they should be," Zemel said.

Despite their youth and lack of experience, Teach for America members produce higher test scores among their students than other teachers in the same schools, according to an independent study released last June. As for Zemel, she is staying at Bell for a third year. "It's a surprise to me. I didn't intend to stay in education but now I'm here, I can't see how I can leave," she said.


Must try harder: Confederation of British Industry reports on school standards

THE CBI demanded a renewed government effort yesterday to improve the teaching of English and mathematics after it calculated that two million students have left school with poor skills since Labour came to power. It said that schools should be set a tough new target requiring them to get at least 70 per cent of teenagers to pass GCSEs in English and maths at grade C or better by 2007.

Digby Jones, the CBI's Director-General, said that schools were letting down 130,000 pupils a year by failing to reach this standard. Only 46 per cent of school-leavers have gained at least a grade C in both subjects on average since 1997. The employers' organisation said that this meant that two million students had left school with inadequate levels of literacy and numeracy since Tony Blair took office. Many of them faced a future of unemployment or low-paid work because they could not read, write or add up properly. Mr Jones called on Ruth Kelly, the new Education Secretary, to set the target in a government White Paper expected early next year in response to the Tomlinson report.

Mike Tomlinson, the former Chief Inspector of Schools in England, has proposed replacing GCSEs and A levels with a diploma for students aged 14 to 19.

The CBI opposes the reform, which is predicted to take a decade to implement, because it argues that schools will be distracted from the more pressing task of raising standards of literacy and numeracy. "Business is yet to be convinced that reforming the exam system is the best way to improve basic skills. It wants assurances that reform will change what young people achieve, not just what qualifications are called," Mr Jones said. "The school system must produce people ready for the world of work in the context of a fiercely competitive globalised 21st-century economy. That means the right attitude, an appetite for hard work and at least being able to read, write and count. Our goal is higher standards, not new structures."

The CBI plans to publish its own "basic skills action plan" in the new year, setting out ways to achieve the target.

This will include a call for ministers to extend the literacy and numeracy strategy from the early years of secondary school to cover pupils aged 14 to 16. The CBI said that the strategy should tell teachers what to teach and how best to go about it. "High skill levels are the greatest protection that any of us can have from the challenges of globalisation. That's why it's so worrying that so many youngsters are being condemned to a low-skilled poorly paid future," Mr Jones said. "My fear is that many who cannot read, write or add up properly will find themselves unemployable and the problem is only going to worsen. "This is a scandal but it is not a new scandal. It's not a problem that has been created by this Government. Indeed, ministers have done a lot to chip away at the problem since 1997. But let's be honest, no political party has cracked this one." He said that the CBI intends to make basic skills a key theme of its lobbying with all parties in the run-up to the general election, expected in May. "Business is not interested in the blame game or excuses. What we want is action with cross-party support. Let's get together as a nation, put the illiterate and innumerate at the top of the agenda, and produce tangible results."

The move comes after a CBI survey showed that 47 per cent of companies were unhappy about the level of school leavers' basic skills. A spokesman at the Department for Education and Skills said: "The Tomlinson report proposed that all young people acquire basic skills in literacy, numeracy and ICT as part of a new diploma qualification for 14-19 year olds. The Government will respond in the new year."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Thousands more British students are applying to American universities as generous scholarships and top-quality facilities compete with British institutions. With the introduction of university top-up fees in 2006, the US Education Advisory Service (USEAS) says that inquiries from British students have risen sevenfold.

America has more world-class universities than any other country, with 17 in the top 20, according to the annual table compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong university. Britain has the next highest, with Oxford and Cambridge in the top 20. "We can't ignore the introduction of fees to British institutions because, regardless of how much they are, we hear students saying that if they are going to pay, they might as well look at all the options," Anthony Nemecek, director of the USEAS, said. "We've seen a significant rise in interest and we anticipate an astronomical growth next year. Normally we have around 1,800 students attending our open day, this year it was 3,500." Overall more than 350,000 have registered on the USEAS website or called for advice. Next autumn the Fulbright commission is holding fairs in Edinburgh and London to attract British school-leavers.

Although a year at an Ivy League university costs on average more than $40,000 (20,650 pounds), compared with 6,500 pounds in Britain at the moment, Mr Nemecek said that a US degree is great value for students from poorer families. "Everyone has to fill out financial aid forms and, using a formula, universities determine what they consider a family can contribute," he said. "If that is just 200 pounds, that will often be all they pay."

In the past year 8,439 British students attended America's 4,000 universities and colleges. Overseas applications dropped by 28 per cent overall last year, but those from Britain rose by 1.5 per cent. The reasons are simple, according to tutors and students. Three quarters of American universities are private, so the market is competitive and each is under pressure to offer the best facilities and tuition. Also, students have to choose which subjects they "major" in only at the end of the second year.

Chris Conway, a university adviser at Shrewsbury school, said that there is also a perception that standards are falling in Britain. "There is a lot of concern among parents about discrimination, even if we don't see it . . . and a distinct unease about the standards at British universities," he said. Above all, several top institutions offer means-tested scholarships to students who have achieved the academic entry requirements.

Oxford University will pay 6 million pounds annually in bursaries from 2006, but Harvard will distribute $80 million in "direct need-based scholarships" this year alone. Around half of Harvard's students receive some sort of financial aid, which on average amounts to $28,000. The standard cost of attending Harvard based on tuition fees, books and living expenses is estimated to be $42,450. Families earning less than $40,000 pay nothing towards college costs. That compares with Oxford, where students whose parents earn up to 22,499 pounds a year receive 3,000 pounds in their first year and 2,600 pounds in subsequent years.


There is an excellent cartoon here that sums up the curriculum at many American universities.


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Nine years ago, Karen Feltch lined up overnight and slept on the sidewalk to get her 3-year-old daughter, Katie, into Friends Christian School in Yorba Linda. Katie is now in the seventh grade and hopes to attend a brand new Friends Christian High School, initially projected to open in 2006. Unfortunately, delays caused by the government's unrelenting regulatory process, especially the required environmental study and myriad of permits, mean the new high school may not be finished on time - or finished at all.

The trouble building this high school is just one example illustrating the findings in a new Reason Foundation study: State and local government restrictions are discouraging the construction of new private schools and driving up tuition prices at existing schools.

With more and more parents seeking alternatives to failing public schools, many private schools are filled to capacity, offering long waiting lists and increasingly high tuition prices - the result of high demand and low supply. But entrepreneurs interested in launching new private schools are guaranteed to be engulfed in red tape and bureaucracy. For example, Michael Leahy, founder of the Alsion Montessori Middle/High School in Fremont, estimated that the natural cost of building his school was $400,000, but the total cost came to about $1.2 million because of numerous regulations, like the one requiring that he install a red tile roof.

Ray Youmans, president of Innovative Component Groups Inc. in Sacramento, explained that he hoped to build a 10,000-square-foot roof on a school property, simply a structure without walls, to protect the area from the rain and sun. The government required his company to install a $40,000 sprinkler system even though the structure was made entirely of steel and had no chance of catching fire.

The construction of Friends Christian Church High School should have been straightforward. In 2003, the city of Yorba Linda agreed to lease about 32 acres of public land to the Friends Christian School system for the construction of a 1,200-student high school campus. The lease, projected to generate $80 million for Yorba Linda over 50 years, also allows the city to utilize the private school's facilities for community use. When the lease was signed, the church was expected to make a $400,000 payment by June 2004. However, regulatory roadblocks have pushed the payment back to June 2005. And as a result, the City Council says it will reassess the value of the property and may consider alternative proposals for the land (though council members say they still support the school).

What's the holdup? The initial environmental impact study alone examined more than 80 specific impacts, such as whether the high school would have an adverse impact on the scenic vista, have an adverse impact on federal wetlands, result in an increase in the ambient noise level, or result in inadequate parking capacity. Once those questions are answered to the government's satisfaction, the final report still must be signed off by the California Department of Fish and Game, the local Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Fostering a competitive education market, where private schools can flourish and expand the options for the many children who desperatelyneed them, requires legislators to act. Vouchers have long been debated in California. But even if the state ever awarded vouchers, there wouldn't be anywhere near enough private schools to handle the demand.

At the local level, zoning, parking and building codes, and environmental requirements must be reassessed for merit and streamlined. A performance-based system would replace land-use restrictions with specific performance standards requiring schools to meet guidelines for things such as drainage controls, density, floor area and so on. An approach designed to deal with real and measurable impact would require fewer regulations and less paperwork, resulting in a faster and simpler approval process.

Right now, state and local regulations ensure that many entrepreneurs shy away from even attempting to build or open new schools. The process also guarantees that all school construction, even public school construction (think of Los Angeles' Belmont Learning Center's nearly $300 million price tag), is more expensive and takes longer than necessary.

Parents like Linda Feltch are willing to sleep on sidewalks to get their children into a limited number of private schools. If Feltch's daughter, Katie, doesn't get to attend the new Friends Christian High School because regulators made it impossible for the church to finish the school, it will be one more example of a miserable educational system failing students and parents.



"History is supposed to deliver more than a fanciful tale. The average person who picks up a history book on any topic expects to find within its pages some modicum of truth. That is what sets history apart from fiction. It is a reasoned reconstruction of past events based upon a dispassionate reading of evidence. As a result, people expect to be able use history to make real time, real world decisions.

Unfortunately, some historians have rejected this approach. For them, the spread of the Postmodern Movement transformed historical inquiry. Every form of Postmodernism is based, at some level, on relativism, the idea that there is no knowable, objective truth. In terms of historical study, this means that there is no evidence that can be called true, nor can historians separate themselves from their work and think objectively.

The result is that these newer historians have stopped trying to do good history, and have moved on to promote personal agendas through their work. Since they believe that no evidence is true, it doesn't matter how they use it. For instance, Bellesiles referenced sources destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Are they bothered by the fact that they approach their subjects with preconceived notions that they refuse to test? Certainly not. According to them, objectivity is impossible to attain. So, many newer histories dealing with race or gender, for instance, begin with the unchallenged premise that in any given situation, discrimination has already occurred, no matter what the evidence might say.

The trouble comes to a head when these authors deal with the public. Postmodern historians bank on the well-deserved reputation their more sensible colleagues built and maintain. Though postmodernists themselves know that their work is anything but tested and objective, they allow the public to assume it is. The result? Readers devour a book that in reality is nothing more than creative opinion, and then treat it as the gospel truth of history.

It is only a matter of time before Postmodern history collapses under the weight of its own absurdity. Until that happens, how should we approach history tainted with falsehood? Some basic philosophical commonsense will serve admirably:

1. Ask questions about the author(s). Who are they? Have they written other books? How do they approach the topic? Are there any ideas they are presuming that we should know about? For instance, books by vocal political advocates should be taken with stock in a salt mine.

2. Ask questions about the content. How do they support their arguments? Be certain to use known facts to critically examine their claims. Do their conclusions actually follow from their evidence? Is the book internally coherent? An amazing number of sloppy historians never bother to think through their own positions. Book reviews can be very helpful. maintains a good selection of conservative reviews.

3. Read the footnotes carefully. Are they quoting from firsthand accounts or another historian's book? Do they seem to lean heavily on one particular source? If a book does not provide easy access to sources, it may have something to hide.

4. Read the Preface, Introduction, and Conclusion carefully. Authors are much more open in these sections, and let the readers see a little of their minds (in some cases, a lot). Paying particular attention here will often alert you to danger, as well as reinforcing the point of the entire work.

Of course, the short answer is to read and think carefully about all important truth claims. This habit is more useful now than ever before; when some scholars refuse to think, it is up to the reader to do it for them.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Monday, December 27, 2004


Furious students and faculty members at the Borough of Manhattan Community College are demanding that the school abandon plans for a certificate program on security management. They view it as an endorsement of the Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security. Like hundreds of other community colleges across the nation since the September 11 attacks, the two-year CUNY school in Lower Manhattan is hoping to take advantage of the surging demand for security training. The school's faculty proposed a program in May that would teach students about threats to homeland security and how to counter them. At a school where the student government headquarters is decorated with a poster of a tortured Abu Ghraib prisoner and another that calls President Bush a "madman," some students and faculty members have reacted to the proposed program with intense suspicion. While those who proposed the program argue that it will offer BMCC students sought-after skills to help them find jobs in the security industry, critics say the program is an oppressive outgrowth of the Department of Homeland Security.

At a meeting Wednesday of the faculty council, tempers flared, according to those who were present, as faculty members shouted questions at the designer of the proposed program, Elinor Garely, a professor in the business management department. The student government is handing out a "fact sheet" on the program with the header: "Stop BMCC 'Homeland' Repression Program Now!" "Faculty members point out that if BMCC becomes known as 'Homeland Security U,' this will intimidate and drive away many present and potential students, especially immigrants," the leaflet states. The president of the student government at BMCC, Jason Negron, said the proposal is "a very scary issue that students are very, very against." He said if the program were to be instituted, students would be exposed to "a lot of right-wing views" and about "a lot of things that other countries have done to America without giving the other side of the story." He said it was the "progressive" faculty members who voiced opposition to the proposal at Wednesday's meeting.

One of the courses proposed for the new certificate program, "Terrorism and Counterterrorism," provides an overview of guerilla warfare, hostage situations, and profiles of terrorists and their organizations. Another course, "Homeland Security," would invite a representative from the New York State Office of Homeland Defense to speak to students and would cover such topics as "The new strategy to secure cyberspace, ""Analysis and discussion of safety and security concerns in high-rise buildings after 9/11," and "How to protect the organization from outside investigators." The proposed curriculum also includes courses on "Travel, Tourism, and Hospital Security," "Crime Prevention through Environmental Design," "Legal and Ethical Issues in Security Management," and "Employment Trends in Security Management." The proposal anticipates first-year enrollment at 35 to 40 students.

It could take months before the college approves the certificate program. After the CUNY central administration reviews it, the proposal would be returned to the faculty for final approval. The senior vice president for academic affairs at BMCC, Sadie Bragg, said the administration at the college has listened to the concerns of those who are objecting to the proposal. "Their concerns will be voiced," she said.

It appears the program has the support of the administration. BMCC's president, Antonio Perez, asked the department of business management to devise a security program, Ms. Garely said. Mr. Perez is a member of a task force that the American Association of Community Colleges recently established to help develop programs related to homeland security at community colleges across the country. Mr. Perez did not return calls from The New York Sun yesterday for comment.

Ms. Garely said the objective of the program is not to promote the Department of Homeland Security but to train students in skills that are in high demand in the workplace. "The need for safety-and-security education is part of every industry," she said. "Whether you look at cruise ships, shopping malls, corporate headquarters, every bank, they all have security," she said. Ms. Garely said the program is geared toward students who want entry-level security positions and to security employees who are seeking promotion. She said the 30-credit program could be transferred to fouryear degree programs offered at such schools as the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also part of the CUNY system.

According to her proposal, about half of the students at BMCC are employed, with an average income less than $15,000. Ms. Garely said she was taken aback by the angry reaction to the proposal from faculty members, whom she encouraged to read the proposal. "I think that the discussion and viewpoints are what an academic process is about," she said. "That's why we have colleges, so people can speak out."



"Ladies and gentlemen, if you love your children, do not leave them in public schools, unless you have absolutely no choice. If that is the case, make sure you instill in them a love of learning for its own sake. Spend time with them, reading, instead of watching the television or letting them spend all their time playing video games.

The public school system is not doing its job. Rather, it is doing it too well. Our public schools are not teaching our children, but that is not the purpose of the schools. Surprised I would say that? Don't be. Our schools have as their primary purpose indoctrinating our children in socialist obedience. Take a look sometime at some of the textbooks that are used in our schools. Many of them do not include a complete text of the Bill of Rights. Also, look at the lesson plans of the teachers. Is Patrick Henry's famous speech to the Virginia Legislature covered? If not, why not? Are our children taught that the War of Northern Aggression was all about slavery, or are they taught that there were myriad causes of that war, with slavery only a very minor issue, until near the end? Are they taught that the 'great emancipator' used a small army of slaves to remodel and refurbish the White House?

Are our children taught logic and history and philosophy? Are they taught how to analyze problems effectively, wtihout preconceptions? Are our children taught the immense number of connections between history, religion, sociology, geography, and science? Are our children taught why our Founders rebelled against England? Are they taught how tyrants come to power, so they can recognize the signs and take action against such, when or if it occurs? Are they taught why free enterprise is the most efficient economic system, with the greatest benefit for the greatest number, over the long run? Are our children taught how to read? How to obtain information that is freely available, in almost any public library, or on the internet? How to evaluate the data they recieve, so they can assign a value to it, integrate it into their world view?

Do the teachers really teach, or are they just passing along regurgitated crap, going along with the system? How many of them make learning fun, so that the children temporarily in their care want to learn? How many school administrators are petty tyrants, abusing their authority and office? For example, refusing to allow a teacher to give children a copy of the Declaration of Independence, because it mentions god? Or perhaps suspending a high spirited young girl for the stated reason that she does cartwheels? (the real reason was that the school administrator involved in this one said the girl was 'defying authority') Defying authority? Isn't that one of the reasons this country was founded? Washington defied improperly used authority. Jefferson defied improperly used authority. Martin Luther defied improperly used authority. Martin Luther King defied improperly used authority. Jim Bowie, David Crockett, and a host of others, they all became heroes for defying improperly used authority.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here



Some excerpts from a book introduction:

"In the chapters that follow, I will depict the fall of one particular school and the way in which the inherent structure of our public schools made its decline possible. The school in question is the one at which I have worked for the majority of my career. It is called the Eastlands Center (EC) and lies in a suburb that is just slightly north of the city of Chicago. The Eastlands Center is an alternative education facility that meets the needs of about 250 students who were referred to us by one of five general education high schools1 that directly fund our operations. Around 200 of these students are eligible for special education services and the rest are regular education students who were expelled or transferred to our facility due to disciplinary violations. All of our students have one thing in common, which is that they cannot reintegrate to their home schools without meeting general behavioral conditions and requirements. I first began working at Eastlands in August of 1998 and resigned my position in July of 2004.

My school was jokingly referred to as "Gangsta Island" by its employees, but we were no mere island. The individuals who staffed the building were the product of the same education schools that have produced teachers all over the land. Their training differed little from the training of the staff at your local primary and secondary schools. Our staff was exposed to the same contemporary fads and trends that that are now all the rage in facilities across the nation. They never received a segregated "alternative education." Indeed, most of the characters I discuss never even specialized in special education. They are general educators who found themselves as special educators through the transfer or hiring process. Finding teachers with all the right credentials is no small trick, and administrators often have to hire under-qualified personnel just to ensure that there are bodies in the classroom. It used to be that these general educators were allowed to take a few classes and receive "a letter" from the state which allowed them to teach disabled students. Nowadays, they are required to do much more in order for the school to be classified as possessing properly certified personnel.

Since 2000, our own district discovered that a lethal combination of rampant spending and declining tax revenues has placed it firmly in the fiscal red to the tune of ten million dollars per annum. Its solution, although it took them awhile, was to begin cutting programs and staff. We were targeted along with the general education buildings. Every time, the proposed budgetary reductions started out as being very severe, yet, every time, the cuts eventually were reduced to a miniscule amount. This was due to the fact that the high schools quickly found that they couldn't live without us. Last year one teacher was laid off but come November, he suddenly reappeared in his classroom with a fresh group of students before him. Our regular education program is a frequent target for eradication, as it doesn't bring in reimbursement dollars from the state. In February of 2004 it was considered doomed, but by May of 2004, it was restored. In this era of zero tolerance, school principals and deans simply cannot survive without the services offered by an alternative school. How often have I heard, "What would they do with these kids without us?" It is a crucial question, as the home schools have little stomach for arsonists, thieves, batterers, and drug pushers congregating in their hallways. I firmly support the proposition that schools like ours are here to stay. Alternative schools are growing and they'll be in the news more and more in the decades to come.

Another challenge to Gangsta Island's universality is the character of Principal Chin. I readily admit that it is extremely rare to have someone with a full-blown personality disorder working as a principal in the public schools. She is comical, cruel, and unusual, but undeniably she is an aberration. I wish I could state that she is a figment of my imagination, but any of ten employees she ran out of our building this year would avidly testify that she is not. In my nine year career, I have worked under seven other principals, and they in no way were ever, even for a brief period, ever as dysfunctional as Mrs. Chin. Yet, while she stands in notable contrast with most of her administrative peers in the United States, the way in which she was protected by the bureaucrats above her is indicative of much that is wrong in contemporary education, because in countless situations around the country, the educational elite polices itself, which often means that there is no policing at all.

Several sources have thoroughly documented the deficiencies present in today's teachers and also in the teacher unions that represent them, but few address the psychology of the mediocre nobility that oversees the empire. This book showcases a tandem of administrators whose sole goal is to protect their jobs regardless of the harm they inflicted upon students or staff. While such a blatant refusal to act in the interests of others is undoubtedly abnormal, the fact is that, due to the lack of overseeing legal authorities, there is practically no one for whom insiders can appeal when administrators chose to deny that a Chernobyl has transpired on their watch. In the case of school, we were not directly subject to the purview of a school board, as our building was monitored by a gaggle of superintendents who had their own school boards with which to contend. It was highly unlikely that any of the parents on their boards had students at the Eastlands Center, so there would be no reason why any members would take even a casual interest in the specifics of what went on at our location. Yet, even in the case of school boards that represent non-alternative schools, it is sometimes difficult for them to know exactly what is going on behind closed doors. They rely on information that is relayed to them via the administrators who are seated before them during school board meetings, and if they wish to cover up something, it is not very hard for them to do so.

In this story, what is unswervingly transferable to the rest of the educational world is the unaccountability of our managers and leaders. As admittedly absurd as the character of Principal Chin is, what should most appall the average reader is that no one above her seeks to censure or reprimand her for any of the outrageous acts she commits. Her superiors made excuses for her at every opportunity and minimized the severity of the vendettas she directed towards staff. Nearly any person off the street could easily point out that running a couple of motor vehicles in an enclosed gymnasium in the presence of 250 children is a feat of criminal negligence (at the very least) and that Chin's choosing to bring an assault rifle to school as a present for another administrator was "a lawsuit waiting to happen." Yet, our magnates could not be bothered to supervise an individual whose history would enrich many a trial lawyer. In their minds, I suppose the fact that the district has its own legal protections and insurance in place dissuaded them from having to take a personal interest in the unbalanced behaviors of their prot‚g‚. Precious few individuals who I've met have ever worried about being sued personally.

In the chapter "Denial as Religion," we witness the supremos above Chin possessing a plethora of facts and testimony at their fingertips regarding her failures, but they consciously choose to disregard it in its entirety. Why would such highly educated adults purposely evade the truth? I would suggest three reasons. First, if you deny that a problem exists then, by definition, there is absolutely no need to address it because there is nothing for you to address. A second factor is plain and simple human greed. Our directors made over 100 grand every year and were as fat and happy as they could possibly be, so the last thing they would do is risk throwing it all away by uncovering the snake that they had accidentally deposited in the garden they were supposed to be tending. Mr. Ichada is the perfect embodiment of this kind of corrupt mentality. Many individuals are simply pleased to have their own office, but Jorge Ichada inhabited his own building, and it luckily placed him far away from us on the other side of the compound. It was a submarine without a periscope, and that was the way he liked it. A third and final justification for inaction regarding Chin was that she was one of them. She was an administrator, and as such had to be defended. It was not out of love for Louis XVI that the monarchies of Europe waged war against revolutionary France. It was due to their realization that when one dynasty falls, every royal domain is imperiled. Our aristocracy told everyone and anyone who'd listen to them that they were caring, "progressive educators," but, in the final analysis, they had no interest whatsoever in changing a thing. When it became more and more obvious to even disinterested observers that our principal had a bad case of sanity tremens, the ruling cabal sought to defend her against all foes because, if they didn't by that point, then people would wonder what kind of supervision they were performing for the first two years of her reign. Their habitual avoidance and denial of problems is yet another reason why this tale should resonate across educational circles.

Gangsta Island surveys the fall of an alternative school, and the events and characters within it are factually based and not fictitious props that enable the author to prove his point. The fact is that I have few intractable theorems to share regarding public education. My suggestions and solutions are often quite specific, and even when they are not, my tone is never strident. This topic is not like some of the broad-based political topics I mention above. It is apparent that we must work towards bettering the public schools. In my mind there are no simple, magical solutions-i.e., voting for my candidate will not solve the problems of public education. I know of no single partisan answer to the drama that will soon be laid out before you. This tale is true, and while there are lessons to be learned, those lessons do not include always voting for the Republican Party (although I would appreciate it if you did).

Earlier I mentioned the "prevailing sentiment" in education, and what I was referring to there is the reality that most of the educators I have known tend to associate themselves with the Democratic Party and would regard themselves as being "liberals." At one time I was no different from they. It was not until 2000 that I finally formally joined the side I was representing in spirit. Before then, I had voted for Democratic candidates in every election since I was first eligible to vote in 1988. I did so because my mother and father were Democrats and because, at an early age, it was explained to me that Democrats wanted to help the poor while Republicans only wanted to help the rich. This was something I learned from my father, who probably first heard it from his hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That such a grotesque, fallacious view could remain entrenched in my mind for so many years is absolutely related to my never taking the time to listen to what the opposition was saying. Had I ever done so, I would have probably joined the GOP many years earlier.

I have found that numerous people in education are cognizant of their own political views but are ignorantly blissful as to what others believe. Without knowing what is thought on the other side of the hill, it is all too easy to paint others as extremists or caricatures. I recall being in a Counselors' meeting in December of 2000 and hearing a social worker exclaim, "I sure hope Al Gore wins because if he doesn't, the schools are in big trouble." I asked her why she thought so and she said that George Bush was going to de-fund education. Ironically, between the time he took office and February of 2004, President Bush has increased federal education outlays to the tune of $533 billion. Indeed, Bush seems to allocate vast amounts of money to any federal program that winks or begs in his direction, but many of my peers are unaware of his big government tendencies because they don't read about the specifics.

Unfortunately, sometimes the political ideas of teachers find their way into the classroom. My friend Ari loves to tell the story about the time, while walking down the hallway where he works (Southern High School), that he overheard a teacher inform his class that "Democrats are for the little guy, whereas Republicans support the rich." It was the exact same advice that my father gave to me nearly 30 years ago, but, unlike my father, the teacher had an obligation to keep his biases to himself. Ari, of course, was tactful enough to not interrupt the teacher's class to rebut him, but did try to engage him in a dialogue at a later date.

More here:


"About the same time TIMSS and PISA came out, two reports about charter schools were released. The more prominent of the two was a National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) study, which showed fourth grade charter students performing slightly lower in math and reading assessments than their traditional public school peers -- not bad considering that charters attract students who've struggled in traditional public schools. None of the results, though, were terribly encouraging. Not even one third of students, either in charter or regular public schools, were proficient in math or reading.

In the second report, Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby showed that elementary charter school kids were 5.2 percent more likely to be proficient in reading, and 3.2 percent more likely to be proficient in math, than children in the nearest public schools with similar racial compositions. Of course, the normal public schools had set a low bar for charters to clear. Despite the importance of these results, numbers can only tell us so much. In his remarks at the NAEP unveiling, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok acknowledged this, and highlighted an unquantifiable characteristic of charters that sets them apart: a "sense of ownership," a dedication to a school and its mission that charter parents and students have because they've chosen the school.

Unfortunately, a "sense" of ownership is about as close to real ownership as charter schools are likely to get, because in almost every other respect, they are renters, not owners, and their landlord is out for blood. Charter schools can't even exist without the permission of their government landlords: state governments must pass laws permitting them, and once state governments have spoken, other entities must grant the charters. In many states, those other entities are public school districts, which are often charter schools' primary competition - and chief antagonists. In the 2002-03 school year, according to the Center for Education Reform (CER), almost 43 percent of charters were issued by local school boards, and another 28 percent by state boards. So charters often start with their necks already between Dracula's fangs, and they have the teeth marks to prove it: CER reports that on average, charters receive smaller per-pupil allotments than traditional public schools, and, unlike traditional public schools, often must pay for facilities with those funds. Moreover, hostile politicians are constantly threatening to force new standards on charters, to shrink them, or to shut them down completely.

Even under the current, dismal circumstances, many charter schools provide at least some refuge from failed traditional public schools. But that's as far as charters will be allowed to go. As long as the Dracula landlords retain control, and treat competition like so many cloves of garlic, choice will be hobbled, restricted to cash-strapped charter schools or even worse public schools. For truly powerful choice to occur, the dark forces must be circumvented. Parents must be able to select their child's school - charter, private, or traditional public - and schools must be free to operate without the permission of antagonistic landlords. In other words, parents must have real ownership.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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Saturday, December 25, 2004


To all those who come by here on this great day

And may all those who recognize Jesus as Lord always walk in his wisdom


"Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney described education reform the other day as "the great civil rights issue of this century." That is shorthand for the appalling racial gap in learning, whereby the average black high school graduate reads and writes at the level of the average white 8th-grader. The problem has been vividly chronicled by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom in their recent book "No Excuses," and there is little question that black academic unerachievement is a key impediment to racial equality. As long as blacks learn less than whites do, they will continue to accomplish less than whites do, and to earn less, and in many eyes to be regarded as less.

Still, I would disagree with Romney. The great civil rights cause of the 21st century is the same as it was in the 20th: the struggle for a colorblind society. Part of what sustains the wretched learning gap is the glaring double standard of affirmative action. So long as blacks aren't held to the same criteria as whites in the competition for jobs or admission to college -- so long as racial preferences mask the harm caused by the learning gap -- the demand for reform will never boil over. The truest key to black equality is what it has always been: an insistence on seeing each other first and foremost not as members of racial classes, but as individual human beings".

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A U.N. curriculum in local schools?

If you have a serious discussion with almost any public school teacher, principal, superintendent or trustee, you are likely to hear about the importance of local control and of protecting school curricula from outsiders who want to promote their particular set of values. Yet a new curriculum gaining steam nationwide, known as the International Baccalaureate program, confirms what critics of public schools have long suspected: a) educators embrace local control only when it suits them; b) they are more than willing to promote particular values, provided they are politically correct values.

IB is an international K-12 curriculum designed to promote world peace, multicultural understanding, environmental sensitivity, human rights and democracy. It sounds like inoffensive pabulum, but such lofty goals conceal troubling agendas. Instead of local control, the curriculum actually is devised by bureaucrats in Geneva, Switzerland, and Cardiff, Wales. Instead of guarding against outside agendas, school officials are inviting into their K-12 school systems a curriculum that, by its own admission, is not about academics but about changing worldviews and molding the minds of impressionable pupils.

There is much debate about IB, but a few things are unquestionably true. IB was originally funded and sponsored in part by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which was once so corrupt and anti-American in its advocacy that the United States withdrew its membership in 1984. Reportedly, UNESCO has improved itself, which has prompted renewed support by the Bush administration, but UNESCO's fundamental philosophy has never changed. IB programs are not academic. The goal is to promote the equality of all cultures, "sustainable" development and pretty much everything else you would expect from a UNESCO-related program. Check it out yourself at ......

The Earth Charter ( is radical stuff. It ignores the idea of property rights, promotes the notoriously corrupt United Nations as the key instrument of world peace, denounces the "dominant patterns of production and consumption," and promotes universal health care and the "equitable distribution of wealth." The IB curriculum and the Earth Charter are separate, but the charter gives you a good idea of the values that lie at the heart of the IB program. A lot of the IB curriculum is of the "be nice to your neighbor" variety. But a lot of the rest of it is propaganda.

The November issue of IB World magazine, for instance, includes a typical story of a primary school IB program. The students visited an animal sanctuary and took part in a debate organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature, in which they debated whether it is OK to keep animals in captivity. That's a politically charged agenda for grade schoolers, especially since they probably are not offered another side to the animal-rights story. Maybe this isn't that much worse than what kids are taught in U.S. public schools today - a point one Reagan administration official made in the Times article. But I'm astonished by the in-your-face social objectives of IB. Most troubling to me - and this is a fundamental IB doctrine - is the idea of the equality of all cultures.

I appreciate and respect most cultures. But all societies are not equal. America is better than Swaziland, where the life expectancy hovers around 40, or North Korea, which is run by a totalitarian cabal, or Iran, with its fundamentalist Islamic political and legal system. Those nations that value individual freedom are far better and more successful than those that enforce sharia or coddle dictators. Why should kids be taught anything else but that unvarnished truth?....

There's much to value in other cultures, much to be gained by understanding how other peoples view the world. I would never argue that the American perspective is always the right perspective, or that students ought to be indoctrinated with pro-American jingoism, or that problems in America should be sugar-coated or ignored. But students should not be taught that America is prosperous because of some geographic accident. The nation has succeeded because of the decisions of our founders, who created a Constitution that protects individual rights, private property, free markets, the rule of law and limited government.

Those are the true international values, likely to succeed in any nation where they are implemented. They are the values most likely to lead to the worldwide peace, harmony and prosperity that IB says it wants to advance. Why look to international bureaucrats for the right lessons, when they can be found so much closer to home?

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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Throughout Indian country, tribal officials are turning to charter schools as their best opportunity to reach a generation of Indian students who've dropped out or drifted through traditional public schools. Charter schools receive public money, but are free from many of the rules and restrictions that apply to other public schools. The idea is to encourage experimentation in education. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, which tracks charter schools, counts at least 30 Indian charter schools in the country. Arizona has the most, with 12, followed by California with six. Indian charters have also opened in Minnesota and Michigan. Some have achieved results in a short time. The San Diego-area Barona Indian Charter School, for example, posted big gains in student performance on standardized test scores in the 2003-2004 school year, besting the state average.

But a tribal charter school was recently shut down after authorities had trouble with federal special education requirements and an audit, said Onnie Shekerjian, who sits on the Arizona State Board for charter schools.

Still, more Indian charter schools are in the planning stages, including a school in Alaska. Besides the standard curriculum it would offer "hunting, harvesting, building canoes, berry-picking - all different activities to reinforce native culture," said Sharon McConnell Gillis, executive director for the Doyon Foundation, one of the groups working on the proposal.

In Oregon, the idea for Nixyaawii Charter School had floated among the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation for more than a decade before the tribe decided this year to seek charter status. Principal Annie Tester was brought on board in July and hired her three teachers in August, only a month before the start of school, housed in a community center. Forty-eight students showed up for the first day of class. In the first few months at Nixyaawii (pronounced Nick-yah-we), a group of teenagers has emerged as a linchpin, helping to hold together a school on which the hopes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation rest. "We have to learn how to govern ourselves," said the group's de facto leader, 20-year-old Jess Stone. "You guys are leading by example. You have to lead yourself before you lead others."

Some come from high poverty families and have relatives who have battled with alcoholism and drugs, Tester said. Others have been tuning school out since junior high, one reason officials are hoping to eventually add seventh and eighth grades. The school emphasizes Indian culture. Students learn traditional beadwork and basketry in art classes, discuss native fables in English and, instead of Spanish or German, are getting instruction in the almost-lost Indian languages spoken by their ancestors.

Teachers are trying to emphasize learning through group projects, rather than the more traditional method of a teacher lecturing while students take notes. But teachers say there are too many times when students doze off in class, leave to get a drink of water and don't come back, or turn in an assignment weeks late. "We are doing a lot of unlearning before we learn," said Tre Luna, who teaches social studies at Nixyaawii, his first full-time job. Even some students say classroom behavior needs more work.

But Eddie Simpson, an 18-year-old born on the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, reservation said he's determined to get his remaining high school credits and graduate. He wants to train to be an EMT and sees Nixwaayii as his last, best chance. "If I don't do this, what's there for me?" Simpson asked. Tester and others said Nixyaawii's first year is a work-in-progress. After this year, she said, staff will know where their students stand and where they need to improve. At the start and end of each day, students and teachers gather in a circle for announcements and to talk about the day ahead or the day gone by. There's a perceptible weariness among students and teachers at the end of the day. "Even with the chaos today, it was a good day," teacher Luna told the students. "To those of you who had patience and stuck it out, thank you."

More here

Let The Market Work!

All colleges have classes where the demand for the course is greater than the available supply. Sometimes the constraint is material (no rooms big enough), other times it is related to the instructor (who doesn't want to grade more than 30 exams, or who knows from experience that a seminar of 12 people is the optimum size for a particular topic). The mechanisms that schools use to deal with these shortages vary in effectiveness and fairness, but always end up making people unhappy.

Professor Bainbridge half-jestingly suggests in these cases - open the process up to bidding, and let the high bidders into the class.

I think this is a fine idea. When I worked as a peon in the Records office at UCCS (which also handled registration), wait lists and staggered registration dates/times were a constant source of complaints and unhappiness. "But I have to get into this class!" was heard more frequently in our office than just about any other complaint. Of course, there's justification there - some people who didn't make it in really do need the class to graduate, while others are just taking it on a lark.

My suggestion was always the same: trash the wait lists and trash the staggered registration dates. Issue every student $1000 in registration scrip and let them bid for their class placement. (Give seniors $1500 instead of $1000 so that they have an edge over people who have more flexibility.) And then - this is key - sell additional scrip. Use the scrip revenue to fund scholarships, or long-deferred physical plant maintenance, or whatever problem area you currently have. If every student at UCCS bought $100 worth of scrip every semester to jockey for position, we'd pull in a million five per year.

Is such a system fair? If you really absolutely positively have to get into a class, then obviously it's worth more to you. Under the system of computer-assigned dates and random numbers, the fact that your desire or need for something is huge has no bearing on whether or not you get into the class. Under a market system, it does. The people who really didn't need the class will bid low, and not purchase extra scrip; the people who really do need it will bid high. We know that markets work; we should let them work in academia, too.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Thursday, December 23, 2004


When first-year students at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, receive their grades, they may see As or Bs, even if their academic performance doesn't merit it. Under Success Equals Effort (SEE), a controversial new grading policy, freshman grades at the historically black university are calculated on a 60-40 formula: effort counts for 60%, academic performance for only 40%. In their second year, the formula is 40-60. Only in their third junior year will students be judged strictly on academic performance.

The SEE programme, which is being scrutinised by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges, was introduced a year ago by Benedict's president, David Swinton, who went to Harvard himself, but insists that incoming students lack the study habits and other skills necessary to succeed. It has caused an uproar among faculty members, and alumni too have wondered whether the quality of their own degrees will be questioned.

The fuss about the SEE policy has crystallised worries about black education in general (blacks score lower in normal exams than whites and Asians) and about "historically black" universities in particular. Benedict College is one of 105 such institutions that educate some 300,000 students. Many of them were founded in the South in the late 19th century to serve black students banned from attending segregated state universities. Martin Luther King, Spike Lee and Toni Morrison all attended black colleges. They may account for only 2% of America's student population, but they award a quarter of all bachelor's degrees given to blacks.

Black universities are still around 90% black.... Black colleges often take on students who might not otherwise go to university. Such students are often not just poorer, but need more time to achieve a degree. At North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, only a quarter of the students who entered in 1992-99 had graduated after four years. When such students leave, they tend to be more in debt.....

More here

US education gets low grade on ALEC report card: "'Overall, the facts presented by this year's Report Card on American Education give us no cause for celebration. In fact, they confirm the same trend presented in past years' reports: increased spending without corresponding improvement in student performance. Over ten years have passed since the Goals 2000 agenda was proposed, and America has failed to reach these goals, despite increasing per-pupil expenditures by more than 50 percent over the past twenty years.' That is the sobering conclusion of the American Legislative Exchange Council's 11th edition of the Report Card on American Education: A State by State Analysis: 1981-2003, released in September 2004."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Selectivity provides good grades but the grades are achieved despite don't-care adminstration

One of NSW's oldest boarding schools, Hurlstone Agricultural High School, maintains "traditions of bullying and preferencing" where senior students claim privileges over younger ones, a Department of Education review has found. The presumed right of older boarders to the first use of facilities meant that younger students were "preferenced" out of using the laundry and "could not ensure basic hygiene". Supervising teachers had also turned a blind eye to boarders using alcohol and possessing pornographic material. In extreme cases parents had removed their children after receiving an inadequate school response to complaints of physical and psychological harm.

It is the second scathing assessment of the boarding house since May. The latest report suggests cutting the year 7 intake by one-third over the next six years to allow for "cultural change". The review of the government selective school in Glenfield, ordered in August by the department's director-general, Andrew Cappie-Wood, found Hurlstone's 947 students had excellent academic results despite teachers paying little attention to the wealth of student performance data available. "There appeared to be little use of data to improve programs or identify areas for improved teaching," the review said. Some subject faculties had a "particular resistance" to using value-added data, the standard measure of how schools improve students' results over their years of study. The review recommended a shake-up of the school's discipline, welfare and assessment policies and said teachers who wanted to leave should be given priority transfers.

Mr Cappie-Wood said the review was "signalling a change" needed in the school. Teachers who "don't feel comfortable with those changes" might take up the rare priority transfer option. "It clearly is stating that if Hurlstone is to maintain that proud tradition, then things are going to have to be done," Mr Cappie-Wood said yesterday. "But what comes through in talking to the kids is they feel the school is serving them well and they really like the school." He said the issues in the boarding house, which now accommodates 287 students, were "clearly a concern".

Parents complained to the review team of a lack of specialised teaching for gifted students and that too many students were taking the easier HSC subjects. Nevertheless, the academic results were "sound and above state average" for the School Certificate, HSC and other external tests. Hurlstone also compared well against a random sample of other selective school students. Mr Cappie-Wood said the lesson for all schools from the review was to make better use of student results data. These should also be shared with parents to build confidence and pride. "The diagnostic tools that are available are extremely good and getting better every year," he said.

The review found that a vicious student website discovered in July was not initially reported as a "critical incident", as required under departmental policy, because staff felt it was "the technological version of graffiti painted on walls". The website - the third set up by Hurlstone students in the past two years - named teachers as pedophiles, thieves and drunks, recommending that two be "executed" and another set alight



This is the best explanation that I have yet heard for the criminal way literacy is mostly taught -- or not taught -- these days

My old guitar teacher has a saying: "You can educate yourself into boredom."... What he means is that you can study the classical guitar repertoire so thoroughly and for so many years that you simply become bored with it.... The same phenomenon may explain why so many education professors (and hence public school teachers) gravitate towards trendy educational methods that deny children a good foundation in reading. Not necessarily because of ill-will, stupidity, or ignorance. Boredom is the thing to look for.

As Professor Plum (a pseudonym for an education professor at a major university) writes on his blog, there is no mystery about how to teach children to read. What works is making sure that children are rigorously and systematically instructed in the basics: letter identification, sounding out phonemes (i.e., phonics), learning how to piece phonemes together into words, and then reading words that are progressively harder:

"[F]aced with quantitative data (1) from four different instruments; (2) measuring achievement (in math, reading, and spelling), self-esteem, and perceived control over one's own learning; (3) with tens of thousands of students; (4) in well over a hundred schools across the country; (5) comparing outcomes yielded by nine kinds of curricula, systematic and explicit instruction did the best for kids in the short-run and long-run. In stark contrast, the so-called child-centered, constructivist, wholistic, teacher-as-facilitator curricula actually worsened the percentile ranking of disadvantaged children in relation to the larger population. "The data meant nothing to the education establishment -- except as a threat."

Instead of settling on what demonstrably works, some education professors have pushed "whole language" instruction, in which children are taught to memorize the forms of whole words, rely on contextual cues, etc. But when they lack the ability to sound out individual letters and sounds, children inevitably run into difficulty whenever they face a word that they have not memorized wholesale. After all, it is hard to read entire words unless you are able to read their components: What six-year-old could distinguish between "phonograph" and "photograph" without sounding out each word's second syllable?

And yet, despite the obvious superiority of rigorous training -- whether in phonics or anything else -- successful methods are not always acknowledged. For example, consider the experience of a kindergarten-through-2d-grade school in Wisconsin: "Lapham [Elementary] bucked the Madison district's reliance on the Balanced Literacy reading program in favor of a grounding in explicit phonics for nearly all first-grade students. The results have been impressive. They have also been ignored." The results are indeed impressive: "In 1998, just 9% of Marquette black third-graders were considered 'advanced' readers, as measured on the third-grade state reading comprehension test; by 2003, 38% were 'advanced.'"

But why would such results be "ignored"? Why would the education establishment be reluctant to rely on something that works? In a word: Boredom. Professional educators have educated themselves into boredom with traditional methods. The tried-and-true methods of teaching children start to feel trite and routine, while newer methods seem more exciting, creative, and trendy -- even if ineffective. Plus, if you're an education professor who must "publish or perish," the most promising prospect is to come up with something new. (There is very little reward in academia for publishing yet another version of the same old thing that was found to work 40 years ago.)

But the purpose of education is not to satisfy education professors' desires for grand, tenure-worthy theories. Nor is the purpose to give teachers a chance to experiment with their own creativity. It would be far closer to the mark to say that education -- at least learning to read -- is about (1) finding a method that works, and then (2) repeating it ad nauseam for every group of children who come through the classroom. Similarly, any obstetrician does her best to deliver babies in a routine and normal fashion; she would never deliver a baby head first just because it was a creative thing to do.

It's a sad state of affairs when educators have become bored with the very methods that are effective. At least when classical composers become bored with beauty and write a piece whose raison d'etre is trendiness, the worst that can happen is that people refuse to listen to it. But when educators reject an effective method because they think it is too mundane or boring, their choice of new and unproven methods can ruin people's lives. As Martin Haberman of the University of Wisconsin notes, "Miseducation is, in effect, a sentence of death carried out daily over a lifetime. It is the most powerful example I know of cruel and unusual punishment and it is exacted on children innocent of any crime."

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Post lifted from Mahalanobis

High-stakes testing, like school choice, has become an increasingly prominent feature of the educational landscape. Every state in the country, except Iowa, currently administers state-wide assessment tests to students in elementary and secondary school. Federal legislation requires states to test students annually in third through eighth grade and to judge the performance of schools based on student achievement scores.

The debate over high-stakes testing traditionally has pitted proponents arguing that such tests increase incentives for learning and hold schools accountable for their students' performance against opponents who argue that the emphasis on testing will lead teachers to substitute away from teaching other skills or topics not directly tested on the exam. Along with Brian Jacob, I have written two papers that explore a very different concern regarding high-stakes testing -- cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. As incentives for high test scores increase, unscrupulous teachers may be more likely to engage in a range of illicit activities, such as changing student responses on answer sheets, or filling in the blanks when a student fails to complete a section. Our work in this area represents the first systematic attempt to identify empirically the overall prevalence of teacher cheating and to analyze the factors that predict cheating.

To address these questions, we once again turn to data from the Chicago Public Schools, for which we have the question-by-question answers given by every student in grades 3-7 taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) over an eight year period. In the first paper,(4) we develop and test an algorithm for detecting cheating. Our approach uses two types of cheating indicators: unexpected test score fluctuations and unusual patterns of answers for students within a classroom. Teacher cheating increases the likelihood that students in a classroom will experience large, unexpected increases in test scores one year, followed by very small test score gains (or even declines) the following year. Teacher cheating, especially if done in an unsophisticated manner, is also likely to leave tell-tale signs in the form of blocks of identical answers, unusual patterns of correlations across student answers within the classroom, or unusual response patterns within a student's exam (for example, a student who answers a number of very difficult questions correctly while missing many simple questions).

Empirically, we find evidence of cheating in approximately 4 to 5 percent of the classes in our sample. For two reasons, this estimate is likely to be a lower bound on the true incidence of cheating. First, we focus only on the most egregious type of cheating, where teachers systematically alter student test forms. There are other more subtle ways in which teachers can cheat, such as providing extra time to students, that our algorithm is unlikely to detect. Second, even when test forms are altered, our approach is only partially successful in detecting illicit behavior. We then demonstrate that the prevalence of cheating responds to relatively minor changes in teacher incentives. The importance of standardized tests in the ChiPS increased substantially with a change in leadership in 1996. Schools that scored low on reading tests were placed on probation and faced the threat of reconstitution. Following the introduction of this policy, the prevalence of cheating rose sharply in classrooms with large numbers of low-achieving students. In contrast, schools with average or higher-achieving students, which were at low risk for probation, showed no increase in cheating.

Our second paper on this topic(5) reports on the results of an unusual policy implementation of our cheating detection tools. We were invited by ChiPS to design and implement auditing and retesting procedures implementing our methods. Using that cheating detection algorithm, we selected roughly 120 classrooms to be retested on the Spring 2002 ITBS. The classrooms retested include not only cases suspected of cheating, but also classrooms that had achieved large gains but were not suspected of cheating, as well as a randomly selected control group. As a consequence, the implementation also allowed a prospective test of the validity of the tools we developed in our first paper on the subject.

The results of the retesting provided strong support for the effectiveness of the cheating detection algorithm. Classrooms suspected of cheating experienced large declines in test scores (on average about one grade equivalent, although in some cases the fall in mean classroom test scores was over three grade equivalents) when retested under controlled conditions. In contrast, classrooms not suspected of cheating a priori maintained virtually all of their gains on the retest. As a consequence of these audits and subsequent investigations, disciplinary action was brought against a substantial number of teachers, test administrators, and principals.


Note that nobody could point out where the usefulness in the criticized courses might lie

Charles Clarke, the education secretary, has continued his assault on the great subjects of academe by revealing that he regards medieval history as "ornamental" and a waste of public money. Not long after expressing the view that he didn't think much of classics and regarded the idea of education for its own sake as "a bit dodgy", Mr Clarke, who read maths and economics at King's College, Cambridge, went one further. "I don't mind there being some medievalists around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to pay for them," he said on a visit to University College, Worcester. He only wanted the state to pay for subjects of "clear usefulness", according to today's Times Higher Educational Supplement.

Michael Biddiss, professor of medieval history at Reading University and a former president of the Historical Association, said: "Perhaps Mr Clarke and his spinners at the DfES are hoping to inspire the band of political yahoos who, in making New Labour ever more illiberal, must feel increasingly tempted to parrot Khrushchev's lament that 'historians are dangerous people - capable of upsetting everything'." Gillian Evans, a Cambridge University medievalist, said: "With a philistine thug like that in charge ... we need to protect the jobs of all the historians of thought and all the wordsmiths we can."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "The secretary of state was basically getting at the fact that universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change."

Jane McAdoo, president of the Association of University Teachers, said: "I cannot believe that a secretary of state for education can ... have such a terribly narrow view of what education is."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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Monday, December 20, 2004


Excerpt from here:

If public schools and compulsory attendance laws did not lead to increases in attendance, then why advocate either one? Or maybe a better way of phrasing the question is to ask how a system of public and compulsory education would benefit the educators and politicians who advocated such a system.

One benefit of compulsion to teachers was hinted at above-to increase their salaries. An increase in demand leads to an increase in price, ceteris paribus. So an increase in the demand for education, whether natural or coerced, raises the price of an education. These new students have to be educated by someone. And since the education system is being funded by tax dollars rather than by the demanders themselves, it becomes much easier to increase salaries (regardless of competence).

So by making the school system public rather than private, teachers and administrators also insulate themselves from the wishes of students and parents-the ultimate consumers of education. This insulation from market forces solidifies the power of the elite group of educationists for years to come. The suppliers, not the demanders, choose the curricula, the textbooks, decide the certification process for teachers, etc. They run the whole show, and only have bureaucrats to please rather than consumers. Not only are bureaucrats easier to please since they don't spend their own money, but if the politician/bureaucrat needs information to placate angry demanders, to whom do they turn? The educationists, in the positions of power, have all of the "relevant" information.

And what of the bureaucrat-what does he get out of this system? Public education, with the added feature of compulsion, reduces the cost to politicians of making wealth transfers. The cost of making transfers is diminished by reducing the opposition to transfers. If politicians can reduce the cost of transferring wealth by reducing the opposition to them, then they can continue to authorize transfers to interested parties for a price.

Public education reduces opposition to wealth transfers by teaching students that redistribution, public works, and democracy are the American way. War and crisis increases the size of government. Public education tells us we need government all the time. Public education introduces the mantras of democracy to the young. Democracy keeps the two major parties in power, keeps their spoils flowing in, and tells us that intervention is okay because the majority voted for it.

The conclusion is that public schools and compulsory attendance laws benefit educators, administrators, and politicians more than citizens or their children. But one could draw deeper conclusions. Through the Mises Institute and other free market organizations, one can find books on the evils of all kinds of intervention and democracy, and how once instituted these evils begin to destroy us as individuals, then our families, and even society itself.

Public education is the glue that holds all of these ideas together. It is how these ideas are spread to society at large. Thus, one might argue that public education is the greatest evil of all, and that it must be struck down in one mighty blow before we begin to find ourselves as persons, families, and a people again.


Teachers shriek

The government's targets for extra university places must not be met by increasing the numbers on "mickey mouse" courses, the higher education minister, Margaret Hodge, warned yesterday. Mrs Hodge tried to reassure traditionalists, but angered the National Union of Students, by condemning unnamed courses which she said had little intellectual content and were not related to employment needs. She promised that most of the expansion in higher education would come from an increase in new vocational-based foundation degrees, two-year courses below the level of traditional bachelor's degrees, now being studied by 15,000 students. She said she could see some universities teaching only vocational subjects.

Speaking at a seminar organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research in London, Mrs Hodge hailed early successes with foundation degrees, being phased in through extended pilots. She added: "Simply stacking up numbers on mickey mouse courses is not an acceptable way forward." She refused to "name and shame" courses, and in the past Mrs Hodge has defended media studies, which most critics usually cite, as getting graduates into employment. She told reporters later that a mickey mouse course was one "where the content is perhaps not as rigorous as one would expect and the degree itself may not have huge relevance to the labour market".

But in her speech Mrs Hodge linked the phrase to unpopular courses which she predicted would eventually be forced to close. She believed widespread publication of student surveys as part of the government's new quality assurance regime for universities would encourage students to vote with their feet. "Once we publish far more open data about the nature of courses and how they help you lead to a job and we are asking students to contribute towards the cost of their teaching, I think students themselves will ensure that what is offered by universities not just meets their aspirations but also meets labour market needs," she said.

At the seminar, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said no one would call engineering a mickey mouse subject, yet it was suffering from a shortfall in student numbers. Mrs Hodge said that was not what she had in mind. Mandy Telford, president of the NUS, said: "NUS is dismayed by Margaret Hodge's comments, especially at a time when higher education needs all the support it can get. "It is appalling that the minister for higher education, who should be championing our cause in the run-up to the white paper, can make such a disparaging remark. NUS challenges her to define what a 'mickey mouse' course is."

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Sunday, December 19, 2004


Another lesson on how to destroy discipline

A New Jersey nun has been fired for allegedly threatening to discipline a mouthy sixth-grader by knocking out his teeth. Sister Catherine Iaouzze, an assistant principal at St. Cecilia's School in Iselin, caught the 11-year-old boy walking down the wrong staircase on Nov. 11. She allegedly told him he would "have no teeth left in his mouth if he had an attitude with her again," according to a harassment complaint filed by the boy's father.

The 69-year-old Iacouzze was fired Dec. 7 by the Diocese of Metuchen after an internal investigation. "The Diocese of Metuchen's first priority is the safety of our children, and we regret that one of our teachers spoke to one of our children in a threatening manner," diocese spokeswoman Joanne Ward said.

Iacouzze had worked at the school for about five years and served as an algebra teacher, guidance counselor and school disciplinarian. She could not be reached for comment yesterday. Her attorney, James Mackevich, said Iacouzze was misunderstood. "There was never any indication she was going to hit him. It was more sarcasm. She caught a problem child breaking rules. In that she used politically incorrect language, so be it. She did not make any physical threat to the child in any way shape or form," he told the Home News Tribune of East Brunswick.


Florida: Teachers who fail : "More than half a million Florida students sat in classrooms last year in front of teachers who failed the state's basic skills tests for teachers. Many of those students got teachers who struggled to solve high school math problems or whose English skills were so poor, they flunked reading tests designed to measure the very same skills students must master before they can graduate. These aren't isolated instances of a few teachers whose test-taking skills don't match their expertise and training. A Herald-Tribune investigation has found that fully a third of teachers, teachers' aides and substitutes failed their certification tests at least once."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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