Saturday, November 06, 2004


There is an excellent post below copied from Prof. Plum. The sad part about it is that a man who is simply advocating proper scientific skepticism has to present himself as a bit of a nut

"At a gathering of ed school professors (I believe we were tucking into a bucket of pork rinds at the time)--I asked my whole language colleagues if I could see their research. Apparently this was rude. One of them expanded like a disgruntled adder and made frightening noises with her cheeks-the ones attached to her face. She said she had 20 years experience teaching whole language and was an expert. [ONE year experience 20 times.]

Then I did something really perverted--at a teleconference. All the ed schools in the state were watching big shots from the department of public instruction tell us that new teachers would no longer be evaluated by their principal but by a portfolio read by two consultants. I thought, "How come? Talk about expensive! Ho, boy. Another useless `innovation.'"

Well, this was a "conference," so I figured I'd do a bit of conferring. I had a cold and my voice came out like the little girl's in Exorcist. Pea soupy, if you catch my drift. I asked, "Do you have any data showing that portfolio assessment results in better judgments of teacher quality than the judgment of a principal and mentor who see a new teacher all year?"

The images on the screen began to cough and look at each other. [Actually, I believe they looked first, then coughed.] I heard whispering on the screen and all around me. The colleagues were restless. Then the screen images offered a detailed and informative answer. "Ahem ahem oh yes yes yes oh indeed yes, and so forth."

The wheels came off pretty quick after that, and we were told the show was over. Afterwards, four or five of my collards accosted me and said, "That was inappropriate" and "You were not respectful." I replied, "Nice hat," or something equally charming. That was my first lesson in the politics and intellectual dishonesty in education. Forced consensus. Shut up and go along. After stupification, the underlying power relations become invisible. Indeed, desirable. Ed perfessers come to like Big Brother. He takes care of them. Defends them from the wolves who are onto the game.

Over the next few years I read the websites and syllabi from hundreds of ed schools. I reviewed the literature in whole language, constructivism, "authentic assessments," learning styles, and multiple intelligences-and other "pedagogies" that struck my cynical nature as weird beyond belief. I even tried to figure out what "brain based learning" was-because, I reasoned, "What OTHER organ WOULD be involved? Before brain-based learning was there BUTTOCKS based learning? Sure they ARE similar. Two hemispheres. A nearby segment of spine. A division down the middle. An apparatus for speaking your mind. But usually you can tell which is which. Just look for a hat!"

Then my graduate assistant and I began working on our own. We suggested to all the elementary schools in the county that they could raise reading achievement for all kids if they used better curricula-in fact, Reading Mastery, starting in kindergarten, and Corrective Reading for kids at least one year behind, starting in grade three. Within two years, 20 out of 23 schools did just that, and got those results".


The Gadfly sums it up very succinctly:

This is the New York Times' idea of a balanced story on charter schooling? We'd hate to see the biased story . . . oh, wait, we already did (click here). For weeks, we've heard rumors that the Times might be considering a follow-up to correct some of the more blatant problems with its August hatchet job on charter schools, filed by the American Federation of Teachers. The basic premise of this story seems to be that charters schools weren't initially controversial, but now they are, as school failures have caused previously supportive teachers' unions and others to rethink their support. The counter argument-that charters are now "controversial" because they now are numerous enough, and successful enough, to threaten the system's interests-is never considered. Note that the author refers to states such as Delaware and Connecticut as places where charters "enjoy broad support" because those states have tough charter oversight schemes. It's never mentioned that both states also severely limit the number of charters that can operate and that charter students account for small portions of the total student population in those states (four and less than one percent, respectively). So the message from the system is, yes, let's have charters, so long as they don't represent real competition to us or threaten our chokehold on education. That's why we hope that charters remain controversial, threatening, competitive, and all the other things the New York Times regards with horror.

And an excellent letter from one of the Gadfly's readers:

"You lament that Idaho's charter schools are funded at only 60-70 percent of the per-pupil cost of the state's traditional public schools and suggest their funding be raised toward parity ("New Idaho charter rules a start"). You're right, but you miss the important example set by all charter schools when they operate successfully at a cost far less than their traditional public counterparts.

Comparable private schools operate at between 60 and 65 percent of the cost of the traditional public schools. Similarly, schools abroad also operate at a cost of 65-70 percent of those in the U.S. The public schools' cost bloat exposed by this evidence is the ignored elephant in the corner of the education establishment.

When charter schools operate successfully at far less cost, they, too, expose this cost bloat. That is the real reason the establishment opposes their creation, limits their growth, and hobbles them with regulations. When charter schools become funded on parity with the traditional public schools, they will have become part of the public education problem, rather than a solution to it. Idaho's charter schools are doing very well, thank you, while operating at a cost far less than the public schools. Too bad others in the U.S. are not doing the same".


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, November 04, 2004


They much prefer aggressive foreign Muslims to law-abiding American conservatives

"A mob of Arab students at San Francisco State University attacked a group of College Republicans on the San Francisco State University campus at noon today during a "Turnout the Vote" event in front of the campus student union building.

Derek Wray, President of the SFSU College Republicans, told Front Page Magazine that an angry mob of Palestinian students attacked the club's table, as well as individual members of the Republican club who were handing out pro-Bush/Cheney campaign materials. According to Wray, campus police were nearby, but "just stood around watching and, instead of protecting the College Republican students from the mob that was pouring drinks on our table and materials, and even physically assaulting our members, only suggested that the campus Republicans leave rather than arrest those responsible for the violence."

Wray said the incident began when four Palestinian women from the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) on the S.F. State campus approached the CRs' table and began a verbal tirade. "You and the Jews want to kill all the Muslims!" one screamed at Wray. "You and Ariel Sharon want to kill innocent Palestinian babies." A larger crowd of male Arab students then joined in creating a threatening mob in front of the table.

"When one of the Republican students asked one of the women that if she hated America so much, why she didn't leave, she screamed at him `I have some pride. I would strap a bomb on myself and blow myself up as a suicide bomber rather than call myself an American,'"according to Wray. He said the woman also ranted that terrorists are "freedom fighters."

"One woman said she'd blow up the College Republicans on campus," Wray continued. "They began throwing food at us and even tried to tip over our table." The campus police did nothing. Instead of separating them from our table, they kept pulling me aside and asking if we were willing to leave."

One of the Arab women even began hitting one of the male college Republicans who deflected her blows with his arms. "She got right into his face screaming and trying to hit him. When he deflected one of her blows she then yelled to the male Arabs present that the Republican student was hitting a woman." This is a tactic used frequently in demonstrations lately, where pro-Palestinian demonstrators send women in to physically assault demonstrators from opposing groups then claim that women are being attacked when they are physically stopped by victims....

The GUPS have attacked Jewish students and groups before on the S.F.S.U. campus, but this is the first time they attacked a group of conservative students, most of whom are not Jewish, because of their political views. Over a year ago, Jewish students had to be physically escorted off campus by 25 San Francisco city police officers during a pro-Israel rally on campus because of threats of violence by Palestinian and Muslim students there. Tatiana Menaker, one of the Jewish students involved, was later expelled by the administration for five years for hurling an epithet during the attack on the Jewish students, a sentence dropped by the administration after Front Page Magazine reported on what occurred on her situation. In addition, Hatem Bazian, a history professor at UC Berkeley who recently called for an "Intifada" in America was a former member and officer of the GUPS.

More here


In an article published recently in Columbia University's Teachers College Record (which bills itself modestly as "The Voice of Scholarship in Education"), Drew University English professor Merrill Maguire Skaggs explained why she felt justified in making it a requirement in one of her classes that students register and vote. She wrote that while attending a meeting of the Society for Values in Higher Education earlier this year, she was dismayed to learn that only 37 percent of college students had voted in the 2000 presidential election. From that, Prof. Skaggs concluded that if students participated in elections in greater numbers, they had "the capacity to swing an election." But because relatively few students vote, candidates do not "bother to address student issues thoroughly."

Feeling the need to do something, Prof. Skaggs hit on the idea of requiring all of her English students to vote. Although she tosses in such bromides as "citizenship comes first" (quoting a martial arts instructor who required all of his students to register and vote), she makes no effort to conceal the fact that her motivation was personal: "For me, making what I myself could consider a meaningful gesture was the important thing--the personal satisfaction of finding something I could do."

So is this a good thing to do? Should professors across the country (not to mention martial arts instructors) adopt Skaggs's idea and make voting mandatory? Is this a laudable attempt to promote good citizenship - or an indefensible abuse of power for personal satisfaction?

I take the latter view.

The job of an English professor is to teach English. That's it. Adding non-academic requirements to a course is objectionable, no matter how important the professor may believe them to be. Suppose that another English professor who feels passionately that students need to get in better physical shape (for their own benefit, and also to reduce the strain that overweight, sickly people put on our semi-socialist health-care system) mandates that in order to pass the course, all students must be able to run a mile in less than eight minutes. Undoubtedly, this is a "meaningful gesture" in the critical war against obesity. True, getting in shape for the run would take a lot more time from the students than registering and voting, but it's a difference only in degree, not in kind.

Such a fitness requirement would be roundly condemned as none of the professor's business. I can see no reason to regard a voting requirement differently......

Skaggs says that "it's time for students to seize their power." Alas, the chief problem with the United States is rooted in groups "seizing their power" and using the political system to help them get what they want, inevitably at the expense of others. With her "you must vote because I say so" attitude, she has set a bad example and given a small boost to the authoritarianism she thinks she is combating.

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, November 03, 2004


How very strange -- NOT

Feminists are challenged to support school choice: "Feminist groups are out of touch with women on the issue of education, concludes a new study by Carrie L. Lukas for the Independent Women's Forum (IWF). Lukas points out that women, children, and communities benefit from school choice policies, yet feminist groups oppose vouchers and tax credits and offer only tepid support for public school choice programs. Lukas urges women's groups to return from their 'recess from reality' and support school choice."


Real reform of Leftist bastions coming in Australia

Education Minister Brendan Nelson will use the Howard Government's new Senate majority to push through sweeping changes to the academic workplace and centralise in Canberra power over universities. Unveiling his second-term agenda yesterday, Dr Nelson signalled he would pursue some of the most contentious parts of his higher education package watered down in the Senate last year.

The changes are likely to provoke widespread industrial unrest on campuses and lead to a stoush with the states. Dr Nelson wants to outlaw compulsory membership of student unions, by reintroducing a voluntary student unionism bill that has been defeated many times in the Senate. He will also extend the use of Australian Workplace Agreements in what academic unions will see as an attack on the sacred cow of tenure. And he wants to ban strike action that damages "innocent third parties".

Dr Nelson said he wanted universities to have greater freedom on the employment mix within their institutions, using full-time, part-time and casual staff. "We strongly want to drive this performance culture and financial rewards for performance culture," he said. "I also strongly believe that every academic, every employee of the university should be free to be represented by a union. "But equally if they wish to negotiate their own working arrangements ... they are surely capable of negotiating their own employment arrangements if they choose to."....

He told The Australian yesterday he would approach the states to discuss having all legislative acts governing universities - presently enacted by each state - transferred to the commonwealth, a move that would finish what former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam started when the federal government took over university funding and policy in the 1970s. Universities are established under state acts, which gives the states control over their borrowing, their commercial activities, part of their governing councils and financial accountability. "Too often ... the states see universities as quasi government departments," Dr Nelson said. "I think there are unnecessary restrictions on commercial activities." .....

Carolyn Allport, president of the peak National Tertiary Education Union, said that after the exhaustive negotiations to get the Government's initial higher education package through the Senate last year, Dr Nelson's opening gambit was not productive. "If the Government wants to come after us again I can assure you we are well up to it and we will hold our sites," Dr Allport said.

The National Union of Students has predicted the demise of student unions on campus under voluntary student unionism. NUS president Jodie Jansen said this would not only mean the loss of important services for students, but also threaten their representation on many boards and committees.

Dr Nelson said the most important thing for Australian higher education was to exceed international benchmarks and be competitive on quality. That required money, less regulation, and having flexible work practices.

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


Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Continuation of the century-old "whole word" strategy can a only be explained as putting ideology before children's welfare

I began referring to the sight word/whole language foolishness ("Foolishness?". Actually I consider it a criminal act against the children and the culture of this nation) as the "I Haven't Had That Word Yet" method. I encourage my students to either: work hard and become skilled at phonetically decoding the Code in which English is written (the only way to read at any level above a middle-third/early-fourth grade), or.OR. plan their honeymoon around my schedule so that I can accompany them and help them read the ".(I haven't had that word yet).[menu].menu!"

Since I believe the adage that "The first step towards solving a problem is to find some humor in it," I tease and the students soon respond to my "joke," my challenge, with laughter and a strengthened determination to learn the phonograms; to decode with automaticity in the shortest timeframe possible. They swear that they will never let me accompany them on their honeymoon. [Whew! I haven't had to attend even one thus far.]

Poor readers feel their limitations and live compromised lives. They are embarrassed at having to ask for words that they "haven't had yet," but still too many educators fall for the fallacy that if only students experience good literature and have fun in reading class, they will, by osmosis, just naturally learn to read. Too many educators believe that the brain is wired for learning to read as it is naturally wired for learning language. It is not. Louisa Cook Moats, in Speech to Print, explains:

Alphabets, systems that use symbols for individual speech sounds, were invented little more than 3,000 years ago. It is understandable, then, that learning to read is not as natural or biologically "wired in" as are speaking and listening and that reading must be taught directly to most children over several years through formal education. Our brains are not as fully evolved for the processing of written language as they are for the processing of spoken language, and, therefore, learning to read and write are much more challenging for most of us than learning to speak. (pg 3)

Another problem is that many instructors and professors involved with teacher training accept money from parents and taxpayers (who have the right to expect that teacher-training establishments actually train teachers to teach), then purposely fail to accomplish what they have been paid to do. Such instructors feel no responsibility to drop their pet prejudices and foolish schemes; to research reading with an open mind; to send young teachers out into the schools skilled in teaching children how to read - logically, systematically, explicitly.

Instead, teachers leave college with no idea about what needs to occur in order to produce a good reader, or how to teach those skills, strategies and processes. I know, for I left college having no idea, and taught for several years lacking the knowledge and skills that I needed. Had I not done my own research, paid for my own training with Spalding, learned from every child with whom I came into contact, I would still be a caring, hardworking, highly motivated, but very ineffective reading teacher....

It is completely unfortunate that the control of so many teacher-training programs lies in the hands of those with gimmicks and snake oil. Teaching reading is not so very difficult once one understands what needs to be done. My best friend (who is not a teacher) spent a few hours with me to learn the whys and wherefores, then read a couple books that I suggested. Following the fastest 'teacher training' program on record, she proceeded to skillfully teach her two homeschooled children to not only read, but to read far above grade level, and to love reading in the process....

School children are burdened with defects brought about by dangerous methods devised by fools who have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the fact that once .ONCE. Americans, as a whole, were not only literate, but were enthusiastic, skilled readers capable of reading, pondering, and arguing the points in newspaper articles such as The Federalist Papers.

It is completely unfortunate that the federal government has violated the U.S. Constitution by stealing local control from states and communities in order to establish the ineffective, illegal, and immoral public schooling system in which children are caught in a web of destruction as parents too often look on in anger but feel helpless, unable to act. Let us seriously work towards closing the State educational system. Let us then work to replace it with small, autonomous, local schools having no obligation, and no right, to: teach State curriculum; answer to State demands; mold and warp young minds by whim or State order; destroy a culture by Federal mandate.

More here


Encouraging school flexibility and encouraging effort are the keys

The education establishment would have us believe that poor children can't learn. The excuses are numerous. But across the nation dozens of principals of low-income schools have demonstrated that poverty is no excuse for academic failure. I recently studied more than a hundred high-performing, high-poverty schools to identify those practices that can make any school a center of academic excellence, regardless of its particular student composition. In general, I looked for schools where at least 75 percent of the students come from low-income families, but which score above the 66th percentile on national exams. Typically, schools of this profile score below the 35th percentile.

The schools themselves are a diverse lot. Three of them are charter schools. Three are private. One is religious. One is rural. Fifteen are public schools that draw a majority of their students from the same local attendance zones where other public schools are failing. These 21 schools are a foretaste of what choice and competition would bring to education in America. Their success demonstrates that by taking back the freedom that most schools have long-since relinquished to bureaucracies, teachers' unions, and a hopeless degree of regulation, some schools possess the intelligence, the inventiveness, and the willpower to achieve.....

Achievement is the key to discipline. In a "command-and-control" approach, discipline is limited by the number of guards hired. But when discipline and order come from within, everybody is part of the solution. Nothing inspires confidence like success and the school's own success helps create order and discipline among its students. Parents must make the home a center of learning. Achievement is a choice that parents make, too. In high-poverty schools, lack of parental involvement is often the easiest excuse for poor performance. So principals of high-performing schools have parents sign contracts that they will support their children's efforts to learn. Effective parents read to their children, check their homework, and ask after their assignments.

Effort creates ability. Education is hard work, and great principals demand that their students and their teachers work hard. Longs days, extended years, after-school programs, weekend programs, and summer school are all features of outstanding schools. And in high-performing schools, no student is advanced without a clear demonstration of mastery. Students must fulfill very specific course requirements in order to advance either in class or on to the next grade level. No exemptions. No excuses.

Conclusion. It bears repeating that many of these high-performing, high-poverty schools are public schools. The great tragedy is that all of them achieved their success in spite of the structure of our education system, and not because of it. No educational system can be deemed healthy if it thwarts the efforts of committed reformers, as ours so frequently does. The men and women who buck the system of public education are the kinds of leaders and educational entrepreneurs that America needs more of if we are to improve education--especially for low-income children. Conservatives tend to focus on the benefits of school choice between schools. But few consider the benefits of choice and competition within the schools themselves. When principals and teachers are encouraged to perform at their best, any school can improve. Only by encouraging and rewarding achievement--rather than mediocrity--within the four walls of every schoolhouse will our classrooms provide the kind of opportunity that all children in a free society deserve.

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, November 01, 2004


I think that's what they call it:

A part-time college instructor has apologized for kicking a student wearing a Republican sweatshirt in an off-campus incident. Fort Lewis College student Mark O'Donnell said he was showing people his College Republicans sweatshirt, which said "Work for us now ... or work for us later," when Maria Spero kicked him. After kicking him, Spero said "she should have kicked me harder and higher," said O'Donnell. In a police report, O'Donnell said Spero kicked him in the right calf.

Durango Police Sgt. Mitch Higgins said Saturday that O'Donnell wanted to press charges against Spero and a misdemeanor summons would be issued. "To physically take that out on someone because you disagree with them, that is completely wrong," said O'Donnell.

David Eppich, assistant to the president of the college, said the college has formally apologized for the incident. He said an investigation indicated Spero, a visiting instructor of modern languages, did not know O'Donnell was a student and she has apologized. "I acted entirely inappropriately by kicking you, giving vent to a thoughtless knee-jerk political reaction that should never have happened. I apologize for my untoward comments. Before the incident, I did not know you and that you are a Fort Lewis student. I am entirely sorry. I am ashamed of my behavior, and I hope you will accept my apology," Spero said in a letter to O'Donnell dated Oct. 29.

O'Donnell said the apology wasn't enough, and he planned to file a complaint with the college. "I just think that students are held accountable for how they act and what they do in town. They can have actions brought against them. It is imperative that professors should be held accountable for their actions in town and on campus," he said.


NEA Gave Over A Million To Kerry, Faces IRS Audit

(Post lifted from Captain's Quarters)

The National Education Association has been busy this election cycle, the Washington Times reports. The teachers union has spent over a million dollars in direct support for John Kerry and $2.78 million supporting Democrats overall, prompting the IRS to investigate its tax-exempt status:

The National Education Association (NEA) pumped more than $1 million into 67 mailings for the Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket and against President Bush in the past four months, Federal Election Commission reports show.

Twenty-one NEA mailings in behalf of the Kerry campaign, produced by an Arlington firm whose clients include the Democratic Party, went out to hundreds of thousands of public school employees across the country this month at a cost of $468,333. The union paid for all the mailings from its general operating budget, not its political action committee, the reports show.

Now that presents two problems. First, using the same production firm as the DNC indicates possible collusion (termed "illegal coordination" by McCain-Feingold) in advocacy efforts. Second and more to the point for the IRS, spending the money out of the NEA's general budget instead of its political-action committee violates campaign-finance regulating the influence of corporations and unions, I believe. Conservative teachers have called for reform of the union's political activities as well:

In a July interview, NEA President Reg Weaver said about one-third of the union's 2.7 million dues-paying members are Democrats, one-third are Republicans and one-third are independents.

FEC reports show that only four Republican congressional candidates received money from the NEA's political action committee from April through July - Sens. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Reps. C.W. Bill Young of Florida and Jim Kolbe of Arizona. ...

"We need to look toward spending political action committee funds more equitably between the political parties," said Diane Lenning, an English teacher from California and past chairman of the NEA Republican Educators Caucus. "The NEA's teachers speak of fairness, diversity and free speech. Therefore, we need to look toward equal representation of funds spent among candidates across the country from local to national levels," Mrs. Lenning said.

The NEA's almost-complete Democratic support comes as no surprise, and its motivations are easily understood. The efforts at educational reform have unnerved union leaders due to the administration's determination to hold schools responsible for their performance -- a philosophy that threatens to undermine the ridiculous "tenure" model that makes removal of ineffective teachers an almost impossible task.

But what they truly fear is an effort to implement a school-voucher plan that would for the first time create a competitive market for educating the children of working families instead of just the richest families in America. Competition would either force public schools to reform themselves and their evaluation processes or face obsolescence. Good teachers, of course, could find work in a boom of private-school openings that vouchers would create or negotiate better conditions for themselves at the public schools that would want to hang onto them. The effect of the NEA's opposition to change is to protect the least competent among them, a fact not lost on several teachers I know personally.

The NEA has gone all out to prevent any meaningful reform of our public education system, and they have done so by overwhelmingly supporting John Kerry and other Democrats. That should tell you all you need to know about which party can be trusted to bring change and improvement to the education of our children.


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



The strange idea that kids learn to read by some sort of osmosis

Do children learn to read by being read to, or do they need specific instruction to understand the relationship between the letters and words they see in print and the spoken words they hear? In Australia, the dominant view is that children learn to read by being read to, and by being encouraged to focus on the meaning of print rather than the mechanics of reading (what is often somewhat derogatorily referred to as low-level decoding skills). This view forms the basis of current approaches to the teaching of reading in our schools, with the emphasis on shared and guided reading, and an incidental rather than a systematic approach to the teaching of phonics. It is also the driving force behind the Australian Labor Party's policy of improving literacy levels by providing free books to parents to encourage them to read to their children from infancy.

Of course, it is a good thing for parents to read to their children: some 96 per cent do anyway. It is entertaining, stimulating and enjoyable. And it develops children's vocabulary and oral language skills, as well as their conceptual understanding and capacity to recall and connect ideas. It also encourages a positive attitude to books and reading, and may lead to a life long passion. But it does not, in itself, teach children to read. For this, something more is required.

To achieve independent reading, children need to understand the connection between the marks on the page and the sounds they hear. For some this comes very easily, without any apparent teaching, but for others it does not, and so when they get to school and are expected to learn to read independently, they struggle. And if the school does not provide them with the building blocks they need to develop reading skills, they get frustrated, bored and angry. They will get further behind in their reading, and gradually start to lose interest and turn to other seemingly more stimulating and rewarding activities.

The research evidence is strongly opposed to the view that children learn to read naturally by being exposed to reading and print. There is now a consensus among reading researchers that the skills underlying the facility to read are the ability to break up words into sounds (phonemic awareness), and the ability to connect these sounds to letters or clusters of letters by a process of blending and segmentation (phonics). Without specific teaching, many children fail to develop these skills.

There has been a series of reports in the United States documenting the research evidence relating to effective strategies for the teaching of reading. In California, a whole language approach to reading instruction was adopted in the 1980s; however, this approach was dropped when their state reading scores showed a massive decline when compared to other states. They have now introduced a completely new curriculum with a strong emphasis on initial and intensive teaching of phonics.

More here


The Tomlinson Report, published on 18 October 2004, hopes to introduce 'core learning', which should 'comprise: functional mathematics; functional literacy and communication; functional ICT' (2). This reduces the objective of education to teaching the most menial skills that a job could require. There is also the fact that most young people are perfectly capable at ICT already, often far better than their teachers. To sit through an IT lesson on what you already know, then have a teacher 'encourage appreciation of language in use, so that learners can be effective communicators in a range of contexts', doesn't strike me as exciting learning. Teachers may as well be training pupils how to order pizza over the phone.

The report proposes that 'core learning would account for approximately 30 per cent of the minimum required credits at all diploma levels'. Although this figure does include an extended project, the marks awarded for demonstrating 'functional communication' show an increasing willingness to reward pupils for even the most basic achievements. Second guessing criticism from the likes of me, the report says it aims at 'enabling young people to build confidence by gaining credit for small steps of achievement, which is recognised on a transcript'.

As well as their core subjects, 'all 14-19 year olds should be entitled to access wider activities such as work experience, service within the community and involvement in sports, the arts or outdoor activities. Participation and (where appropriate) achievement in these should be recorded on the diploma transcript'. Of course children should be able to be play sports or help within the community, but these activities shouldn't be part of our 'core and main learning', or recognised on a national academic diploma.

Schools should be places for education - developing our knowledge and our ability to analyse problems. Being good at sports is a personal matter for kids and should stay that way. School leavers already note down their extracurricular achievements in their National Record of Achievement. Mine consisted mainly of swimming certificates and recognition for the daffodils I had grown in primary school. I did not send it off with my university application.

A key focus of the Tomlinson Report is 'reducing assessment burden'. Having had at least two sets of exams every year for the past three years, I would see this as a positive move. The point of an exam is surely to differentiate between the ability level of pupils in the fairest way possible, to provide other institutions - whether businesses or universities - with an idea of their relative talent in a subject. There is no need to set a national examination for somebody at a stage in their life when nobody beyond their school and family (and perhaps government target-setters) are interested in the result.

However, the Tomlinson Report suggests reducing the number of written exams, only to increase official teacher assessments. The overall assessment burden will just move sideways from examiners to teachers. It proposes continuous assessment to reduce the reliance upon the supposedly unfair method of 'assessing learners on how well they perform in two hours of exams' (3). But while a student's performance in written exams can fluctuate, it is still the fairest way of comparing a whole age group across the country. Relying upon the 'professional judgement' of teachers and lecturers will create situations in which favouritism and subjective interpretations of criteria could determine pupils' marks.

For pupils who are not pushed far enough by A-levels, the report tries to introduce the concept of 'stretch at the top end', apparently allowing universities to distinguish between top-level candidates through the introduction of A+ and A++ grades (4). But grading papers will then come down to nit picking between candidates at the higher end of the scale, which misses the wider problem of a syllabus that is designed to be easy enough for almost everyone to pass the exam.

The report's promotion of flexibility is another weakness. Attempts to allow pupils to study at their own pace and work at the 'foundation' and 'intermediate' levels simultaneously, shows a lack of ambition to spur pupils on to the highest possible level of achievement . Graduation will not be encouraged at a certain age, but instead when the pupil is ready, degrading the exam as a source of comparison between age groups. It will also serve to patronise those people for whom it is 'beneficial' to remain on a lower level while the rest of their peers move up.

Then there is the attempt to integrate vocational skill into diplomas. Vocational skills are extremely important, which is exactly why we should not be muddling them up with academic subjects. The current system already does that in design technology subjects, which denigrate both their academic and vocational components. In one electronics GCSE paper I sat, I was asked how I would test the durability of a remote control - a question that was supposed to examine my knowledge of industrial practice. I was given full marks for saying that someone should press the remote control's buttons until it broke, and write down the number of presses this took. In a GSCE specimen test paper for food technology, candidates were asked to design a 'salad in a tub', and then state the target audience for their product. The answer booklet tells us that the candidate should have written one of the following targets: 'picnic, barbecue, packed lunches or summer buffet.' (5)

Instead of encouraging such farcical crossovers, it would be better for all pupils to be given the best academic education possible while they are at school. People could then undertake distinct vocational training. The report laments the lack of suitable facilities and 'teacher expertise' in vocational learning, but of course many teachers don't have 'industry experience'. You need to look to industry - not schools - for that. A 'GCSE in construction and the built environment' won't interest people who were going to drop out of education, because it will teach them less than would a job as a builder.

The Tomlinson Report is a product of its times: lacking in academic excellence and excessive in its attempt not to hurt anyone's feelings. School will only motivate and interest young people if it helps them do what they're there for - learning.

From "Spiked"


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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