Friday, October 15, 2004


In this month's Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch poses the question: "Suppose I told you that I knew of an education reform guaranteed to raise the achievement levels of American students; that this reform would cost next to nothing and would require no political body's approval; and that it could be implemented overnight by anybody of a mind of undertake it. You would jump at it, right?" As it turns out, no. Educators, school administrators, and parents increasingly discourage the one education reform that has proven results at no cost (other than students' time): homework. This despite the evidence that, on average, American students do very little homework. Yes, we know the stories of the Ivy-bound elite who spend hours slaving over homework each night, but they are decidedly the exception. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, "two-thirds of seventeen year olds did less than an hour of homework on a typical night . . . [and] forty percent did no homework at all." What's more, American students spend barely six hours a day in school-much of which Rauch argues "is taken up by nonacademic matters." And, according to educational psychologist Harris Cooper, "relative to other instructional techniques and the costs involved in doing it, homework can produce a substantial, positive effect on adolescents' performance in schools." So why do we hear no chorus demanding more of our students-of both their time and effort? According to Rauch, one reason is that parents and teachers do not believe that students do little work either in school or at home, even when the kids freely admit it. According to a 2001 survey, 71 percent of high school and middle school students agreed with the proposition that most students in their school did "the bare minimum to get by." As Rauch puts it, "you will know that Americans are finally serious about education reform when they begin to talk not just about how the schools are failing our children, but also about how our children are failing their schools."

From The Gadfly


If the government had asked me to devise a programme to promote literacy by getting children to read, I suppose I might have come up with some practical ideas. They do ask all kinds of stuff. I might have worked out a system of incentives and prizes, perhaps accompanied by an advertising campaign which made it clear that not only was reading good for success in later life, it was also pretty cool and a heap of fun, too. Costing a few hundred million pounds, it would not have been among the more expensive public projects. The Millennium Dome cost far more.

One thing I would never have thought of was the idea of getting a single mother in Edinburgh to write stories about a private school reached by invisible steam trains, where mail was delivered by owls, and where the national curriculum was replaced by lessons in various sorts of magic. Yet the Harry Potter books got children reading. They queued up outside the bookshops on the eve of publication of each new story. They disappeared into bedrooms to read them through so they would be able to join in conversations at school. They went on to read other children's books. Reading became cool.

This cost a few million pounds, none of it public money. The author, J K Rowling, is today worth more than $1bn, but the phenomenon was in full flood by the time she had made the first few million pounds. To get children reading, the Harry Potter books provided a far more elegant solution than any amount of head-scratching and midnight oil might have produced. Reality often turns out stranger than anything we can dream up.

From the Adam Smith blog.


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, October 14, 2004


"I became sensitized to these issues by what was going on in my own daughter’s private school, where it seems a majority of the teachers have a left-wing agenda. The Center for the Study of Popular Culture made me aware of how 90% of college instructors also have left-wing political views and how that affects education in this country. Just before mock presidential elections at my daughter’s school, the pupils were given Time Magazine for Kids to read an article, Leader of the Pack: John Kerry. It discussed Kerry’s views on terrorism and education in a very slanted and positive way, while President Bush’s agenda and policies were all presented negatively. I passed this same article among seven or eight adults of different political viewpoints at my home, and all of them agreed the article was biased. The students were all told to read that one article and then vote. If you only give an eighth grader one point of view to read, with no balance, what are you going to get? My daughter said Kerry won, hands down.

During a parent-teacher evening at her school, my daughter’s history teacher, who seemed like a nice enough man, told all the parents “We’re going to show America, warts and all.� I asked him why he didn’t say he was going to show some of the great things America has done as well as some mistakes America may have made in the past. It was almost as if he had the perception that the parents would be glad he brought up the “warts� of America. I’m not saying that we should blindly be taught something in an uneducated manner, but when something is slanted this way...."



And it is certainly not a science

"A profession has a knowledge base that serves as a way for the field to improve its own practices. The knowledge base is a body of specialized knowledge that is generated both by researchers and practitioners in the field. People contribute to it, it grows over time, and new practitioners draw on it to define the standard practices in the field. That's what makes it a profession.

For example, what makes medicine a profession is that there's a knowledge base where improved techniques are shared among the members of the medical community. If somebody invents a new way to do surgery, they are able to put it into the knowledge base to inform other members of the profession. As a result of that process, practices within the profession are improved over time.

Without a professional knowledge base, one surgeon might develop several improved techniques but there would be no way to share that knowledge with other surgeons. Under those circumstances, you would have one very clever surgeon, but surgery wouldn't be a profession. I think it's a very analogous situation in teaching. For the most part, teaching in this country has not been based on a knowledge base. If a teacher develops a new method for teaching some subject, there's no mechanism for sharing that method with other practitioners and improving practices in the field as a whole."

More here


Mass education no longer educates. Only an elite are now really educated

Have we not made a society in which the educated very few must quietly regard the enstupidated many with disdain? I for one cannot listen to anchors on the news without thinking of arboreal primates swinging from tree to tree. Benightedness need not be the fate of so many. I studied long ago in a small Southern college for boys (Hampden-Sydney) with modest entrance standards. I believe the average SATs were something like 1100. The prevailing philosophy at H-S was, first, that the reasonably intelligent could be cultivated; second, that adults knew better than school boys what school boys should study; and third, that a liberal education produced a civilized citizenry. It was assumed, incidentally, that freshmen read fluently and knew algebra cold. There were no remedial courses. A college was a college, it was held, and not a repair shop for the proven academically hopeless who had no business on campus.....

And so the student left college having, with some variation, a grasp of history ancient and modern, languages including his own, literature, philosophy, the sciences, and the Old and New Testaments. (It was a Presbyterian college. The civilization being Christian, one can grasp neither the arts, music, nor literature without knowledge of the Bible.) We were civilized, to the extent that young males can be civilized. We knew where we were in place and time, and where we came from. We knew what we knew and what we did not know, and how to learn anything else that interested us. (Go to a library.) So much has changed. Then as now, many in the nation had neither the intellectual wherewithal nor the interest to acquire much of an education. Yet until at least the midpoint of the last century, it was thought that those who went to college, and therefore would end in positions of responsibility, should be schooled. Today we craft a society in which a very few are truly educated, though many have the trappings....

Perhaps five years ago I went to a middle school in Arlington County, just outside of Washington, D.C. Arlington is not the ghetto. On the wall I saw a student's project, intended no doubt to celebrate diversity. In large orange letters it spoke of Enrico Fermi's contributions to, so help me, "Nucler Physicts." In the schools of small town Alabama in 1957, where I was a student, such invertebracy would not have been tolerated in an exercise, much less put on the wall. We have come a long way.

The schools remain a cultural slum, a dark night of the mind. As my daughters passed through these dismal moors, I saw misspelled handouts from teachers, heard of a teacher being reprimanded for correcting a student's grammar, saw endless propaganda disguised as history. How does one recognize the onset of a dark age. What have we done? And what now? Once the chain is broken, once no one any longer remembers how to write a sentence, much less the uses of the subjunctive, once Coleridge is forgotten and Milton and indeed everything beyond the mall, how can we recover what has been lost? I don't think we can.

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


Wednesday, October 13, 2004


But will he do anything about it? He would have to fire half the teachers first, I suspect

Teaching theories of the 1960s and 1970s have been attacked as "plain crackers" by the chief inspector of schools in England, David Bell. The Ofsted chief said that in the past he had seen "too much of the totally soft-centred belief that children would learn if you left them to it".

Speaking in Chester-le-Street, Mr Bell said pupils needed a well-rounded curriculum, including basic skills. And he rejected the "incoherent" approach of over-liberal teaching. In a lecture at the Hermitage School, Mr Bell defended the importance of a "broad and rich" national curriculum, spelling out what pupils should be expected to learn.

In the past, he said that too many pupils had been short-changed by "eccentric" educational philosophies. "I saw too much that went wrong in the 1960s and 1970s," said Mr Bell. "I saw too many incoherent or non-existent curriculums, too many eccentric and unevaluated teaching methods, and too much of the totally soft centred belief that children would learn if you left them to it. "In particular, the notion that children learn to read by osmosis - and I suppose I exaggerate to make the point - was plain crackers."...

Mr Bell also highlighted the difficulties of introducing citizenship lessons in schools. Inspectors have criticised the quality of secondary schools' efforts to introduce citizenship lessons - which Mr Bell described as "stuttering and varied". But he pointed to the importance of the subject which could help to improve "social cohesion" and to address ethnic tensions.....

The Shadow Education Secretary, Tim Collins, said: "David Bell is 100% right. There is no clearer evidence of the great betrayal of several generations of British children. "Countries that have embraced school choice have far less of a gap between the best and worst performing schools and we need to emulate them. "He is also right to say that methods of teaching children to read, write and do their sums must be based on clear scientific evidence of what works rather than outdated trendy left-wing 1960s theories."

More here.


It seems to happen everywhere in government schools

"Tristram Jones-Parry is taking early retirement from his current role as Headmaster of Westminster School, one of the top schools in the country, where he is regarded highly. He was formerly Headmaster of Emanuel School, another excellent London private school. He has also taught at Dulwich College. He would now like to help out the state sector by moving there to teach maths (which he has been teaching for decades). One might think that the opportunity to get someone of Mr Jones-Parry's stature into the state sector would be jumped at. After all, there is a shortage of maths teachers. Unfortunately, he has been told that he is not properly qualified to work at a state school. I am sure that it is something that the Department for Education and Skills will be embarassed about, but why do we let the DfES set such rules in the first place? If the best private schools can employ someone without an official teacher qualification, why can't the state sector?"

From the Adam Smith blog.


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, October 12, 2004

Homeschool or die: "I've never quite been able to wrap my mind around the notion that parents should not be notified that their children are being taught how to perform oral sex or are seeking to kill off the next generation. But the San Diego Unified School District has lowered the concept of in loco parentis insciens to new depths. I mean, you'd think that even the worst and most indifferent parent in the nation might like to know if his child is being targeted by suicide bombers, if only to take out an insurance policy."

Massachusetts: SJC set to weigh school funding: "The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments tomorrow about whether the state is shortchanging children in its poorest school systems in a lawsuit that could have sweeping implications for the way Massachusetts finances public education. If the state's highest court agrees with a Suffolk Superior Court judge that Massachusetts is failing to give enough money to poor districts, the ruling could force the state to overhaul the way it funds schools and require that hundreds of millions of dollars more be spent on education. The lawsuit, which is being argued 11 years after the SJC declared that Massachusetts had violated its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education to all public schoolchildren, could also influence similar cases pending in 23 other states, legal specialists say."


Roger Sandall looks at one course in it:

"For instance, what use will it be? Will it be the kind of anthropology which helps students deal with the world in which they must somehow make a living? Or will it be the kind which merely spreads confusion, adding to the large number of resentful unemployables already walking Australian streets? In the two American film episodes which introduce the series, the following principles are emphatically announced:

"We study anthropology because we want to affirm and celebrate life, and understand it in all its richness, its complexity, its incredible diversity. Each human pattern for survival, each blueprint is in its own terms equally valid, worthwhile, and creative. Anthropology asks that we give up our ethnocentrism, the tendency to judge what others do solely by our own values and standards. If anthropology has one cardinal tenet, it is the equal validity of all cultures; that is, cultural relativism."

Moralistic effusion of this sort is hard to get a grip on. But there are advantages in having the dogmas of the Church of Cultural Relativism spelled out so clearly. Diversity is a Good Thing in itself. Ergo, a thousand false beliefs (about witchcraft for example) are actually better than one true belief about it. All cultural "blueprints for survival" are equally creative and worthwhile. Ergo, comparing and contrasting the "creative and worthwhile" moral premises of Nazi totalitarian culture with English parliamentary culture is not allowed.

All cultures are equally "valid". Well, if that's true we can all relax, for it obviously follows that western culture is okay too, and we don't have to feel apologetic about Darwin and Einstein or making a trip to the moon.

But that's not how it works at all. All cultures are equally valid-but some are more valid than others. And as if to demonstrate his own gift for self-contradiction, the narrator has no sooner given his sermon on "equal validity" than we see a film sequence showing the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, accompanied by wails of complaint about "ethnocentrism". It seems that when Aztecs massacre their neighbours in imperial wars, it is just the spontaneous creativity of a boisterous soldiery validly doing its own thing. But when Spaniards massacre Aztecs, it's an awful sin.

Is this helpful? What is the practical consequence of naively translating the all-forgiving religious notion of equality before God into the moral language of anthropological relativism? Its most likely result is to paralyze thought, to neutralize moral judgment, and to maximise intellectual confusion

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, October 11, 2004



It's an annual ritual. With a sense of dread tinged with resignation, college students, or their parents, wait to discover how much this year's tuition will rise. Unlike their experience with new computers, they entertain no expectation that rates for their education will decrease. The upward spiral in prices appears inexorable. Yet is that the way it must be?

For a student in college between 1997 and 2001, average total costs will be nearly $46,000 at government institutions, reports Investor's Business Daily (December 8, 1998). For those in private schools, the news is even bleaker. Students face expenses approaching $97,000. Twenty years from now, graduates may well be staggered by costs of $157,000 and $327,000, respectively.

In the past four decades, the total yearly spending on higher education increased from $7 billion to $170 billion a year. Financial aid at both the state and federal levels reached $60 billion in 1998, with guaranteed student loans comprising nearly 60 percent of that aid, a six percent increase from 1997. Many people would contend that such a bump in financial aid is justified given the price hikes in tuition and other costs. Not only would they adamantly resist any attempt to lower that aid, they actively lobby for more.

Unfortunately, the first or most obvious answer to a problem is not necessarily the correct one. The reality is that government subsidies not only lead to ever greater educational costs, but also threaten the very existence of private institutions of higher learning....

State and federal grants, guaranteed student loans, and direct subsidies to public colleges and universities lower the apparent price of obtaining a college education. This leads to a higher demand. College administrators then feel justified in increasing tuition and fees, realizing that many if not most students are subsidized in one form or another. The cycle is born: raise tuition; give out more aid; raise tuition again.

A side effect of this policy is that it attracts more poorly qualified and less motivated students who value higher education less than others who are willing to pay the full price. Colleges have to devote more resources to remedial programs, and students in these programs have a greater dropout rate.

Another problem is that since public administrators do not have to show a profit to stay in business, they are less concerned with the satisfaction of their customers. (Remember the last time you had to wait in an interminable line at the post office or department of motor vehicles?) Administrators also have incentives to increase their budgets needlessly. After all, increased "costs" translate (through a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy) into increased subsidies.

According to the Heritage Foundation, in the 30 years since its inception in 1965, the federally guaranteed student loan program subsidized 74 million students to the tune of $180 billion. By artificially lowering interest rates and insuring banks against defaults, this program has actually raised the total cost of a college education in the long term for all students-whether they receive guaranteed loans or not.

While the short-term direct costs of subsidized loans are less than for loans obtained in a free market, the long-term result is to reinforce a cost spiral that outpaces the general price rise (as outlined above). With less attention paid to restraining spending-by administrators and students-waste and unnecessary expenses tend to increase more than they would in a market-based environment.

When combined with direct subsidies to government-owned colleges and universities, the loan program makes such institutions more attractive to students than they might otherwise be. Private colleges find it difficult to compete against public institutions whose price is lowered by taxpayers' money.

At the beginning of this century, 80 percent of students enrolled in private schools. Now that same percentage of students enters government-owned colleges. In the past 30 years, over 300 private institutions closed....."


From Dave Huber:

"I just received my quarterly edition of the National Association of Scholars journal Academic Questions. In it, there's a listing of a course offered at Northeastern University titled "Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice."

Wha-a-a-a-a ...?

Here's the course description:

This introductory course explores principles of social justice in education as a lens in rethinking school mathematics. The course will provide participants with a) an opportunity to expand their knowledge and awareness of issues of social justice in the context of mathematics education; b) an opportunity to develop a pedagogical model for teaching for social change; c) a process to critically examine the content of school mathematics curriculum and instructional practices from the perspective of social justice; d) an opportunity to contemplate on the role of the teacher as an agent of change and “transformative intellectual

....... "


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


Sunday, October 10, 2004

No way out: "Since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, less than 2 percent of parents nationwide have transferred their children to other public schools. Teachers unions, school administrators, and journalists have argued that the low transfer rates prove parents do not want more choices and that they prefer their local schools. But while parents have more information than ever about the quality of their children's schools, in most cases they still have no way out of a failing institution."


I have just put up here an article written 30 years ago that is still as up-to-date as ever. It makes the case for formal statewide examinations that test knowledge in basic subjects at the end of High School. It points out how other forms of assessment -- sometimes deliberately -- erode educational standards. The equalitarian Leftist ideology that makes teachers opposed to any real objective assessment of student knowledge has in fact been around for a very long time and the article notes that even back in 1955 universities were complaining that they had to spend at least the first year teaching stuff that should have been learnt in High School. But that is almost paradise compared with today, when universities have to teach stuff in the first year that should have been learnt in GRADE school! Even Harvard now has to give 20% of its intake of "Freshers" remedial Math and English classes. Proper public examinations in at least the High School years would certainly help reverse that.


Fire the deadwood, pay more for excellence and cut the barriers to entry

America is engaged in an unconventional conflict that stretches to every corner of the globe. It is being fought on unfamiliar terrain. It demands we rapidly repair old vulnerabilities and develop new skills and strengths. Our nation, which has prevailed in conflict after conflict over several centuries, now faces a stark and sudden choice: adapt or perish.

I'm not referring to the war against terrorism but to a war of skills -- one that America is at a risk of losing to India, China, and other emerging economies. And we're not at risk of losing it on factory floors or lab benches. It's happening every day, all across the country, in our public schools. Unless we transform those schools -- by upgrading our corps of classroom teachers for the next generation -- and do it now, it will soon be too late.

As this global challenge emerges, far too much of the debate has focused on "job outsourcing" -- defined most often as American companies moving jobs to lower cost labor markets in order to improve efficiency. Yet too often this misses the crucial point: American companies don't simply go offshore for inexpensive labor. They are increasingly going abroad to find skills that aren't available, or plentiful, in their own backyard. And at the very same time, foreign companies are not taking market share from U.S. companies simply because they have less expensive workers. Those workers increasingly have equal or better skills........

The trends are also ominous in trade statistics: In recent years, the U.S. global share of high-tech exports has declined while the share from Asian countries other than Japan have climbed to nearly 30%. The trend lines crossed -- maybe once and for all -- around 1994.....

We are fooling ourselves if we believe that tweaking tax rates, training, or trade agreements will turn this tide. The global information economy is here. It is brutal and unforgiving. And here is the hard truth: the layoffs we have experienced to date will pale in comparison to future losses if we fail to awaken to the scope of the crisis and the need for bold solutions that address the problem at its roots.

The only way to ensure we remain a world economic power is by elevating our public schools -- particularly the teachers who lead them -- to the top tier of American society. We have treated teaching as a second-rate profession for decades -- with sub-par compensation, antiquated training, and arcane systems of accountability. It's designed for the industrial age, not the age of information and innovation.....

So we believe it's finally time to pay teachers much more. But at the very same time, we have to pay them more intelligently -- once and for all breaking the inane, outdated salary schedules that fail to offer more money to teachers with math and science skills, and fail to recognize and reward excellence.

We believe it's time to make teaching an attractive, accessible profession for the most talented and motivated Americans, no matter what their formal training, by breaking down the bureaucratic barriers to entry that can keep Ph.D.s, even Nobel Prize winners, out of public school classrooms. And we believe it's time to give principals, who are charged with leading schools to excellence, the authority they need to hire and fire their staff. Without that power, accountability is a cruel joke.

More here


Lots of Israelis speak Arabic. Why not import some?

Three years after terrorists struck the United States, enrollment in Arab-language courses across the nation is booming and colleges are working to meet growing student interest in Middle Eastern studies and government demand for Arabic speakers. Arabic is now the fastest-growing foreign language on the nation's college campuses and one of the most requested classes for students looking for careers in military intelligence, translating and homeland security jobs. "I have students who want to go into the FBI, CIA and NSA (National Security Agency)," said Paul Sprachman, vice director for undergraduate studies at Rutgers University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. "People see it as a future and they are intensely interested."

Statistics gathered by the Modern Language Association, a national professional organization for language and literature teachers, showed enrollment in Arabic classes had nearly doubled to 10,596 students between 1998 and 2002, its latest survey year. At Rutgers, enrollment in Arabic and Persian language courses is up nearly 50 percent. The program enrolled 230 students this semester, making the school's Arabic program one of the largest on the East Coast. Rutgers turned away about 20 students this semester because it cannot add Arabic classes fast enough, Sprachman said. At Princeton University, enrollment in the Arabic program has quadrupled since the terrorist attacks. The program now enrolls about 83 students, though only a dozen take advanced-level classes.

The current shortage of fluent Arabic speakers is hurting American intelligence. Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Justice released a report outlining a severe backlog of terrorism-related recordings and documents that have not been translated, at least in part because the FBI does not have enough qualified linguists. More than 120,000 hours of intercepted phone calls, conversations and other intelligence recordings remained untranslated as of April, according to the report. The FBI has made an effort to add linguists since 9/11, but the current staff of 1,200 still can't cover the work. FBI Director Robert Mueller said improvements need to be made to the translation program. "We are giving this effort the highest priority," he said in a statement.

President Bush's administration put out an urgent call for more Arabic speakers after 9/11 and the Army began advertising for Arabic-speaking recruits. Corporations and news organizations also began searching for people who could communicate in the Middle East. However, there was far more demand than fluent speakers. Part of the problem is that Arabic, Farsi and other Middle Eastern languages are among the hardest to learn. Arabic is a Category IV language, equivalent in difficulty for English-speaking students to learn as Chinese and Japanese. Foreign language experts say it takes twice as long to master Arabic as French or Italian, classified as Category I languages.

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