Saturday, November 27, 2004


Some more data:

A Nov. 9 staff-written editorial in the Columbia Spectator, the mainstream student newspaper at New York's Columbia University, called for a greater range of views on campus. "In all other areas of campus life, students do not hesitate to call for diversity," the editorial said in pointing out the complete absence of conservatives from history, philosophy and humanities departments. "It should be self-evident that a faculty that speaks with unanimity on some of the most divisive issues of the day is not fulfilling its duty. Students across the ideological spectrum must demand that Columbia address this need."

Conservatives contend that assurances by liberals that the professional ethics of professors will keep them having their politics dominate the classroom and smothering alternative views just doesn't pass muster. A forthcoming study by Stanley Rothman of Smith College looked at a random sample of more than 1,600 undergraduate faculty members from 183 institutions of higher learning. He found that across all faculty departments, including business and engineering, academics were over five times as likely to be liberals as conservatives.

Mr. Rothman used statistical analysis to determine what factors explained how academics ended up working at elite universities. Marital status, sexual orientation and race didn't play a statistically significant role. Academic excellence, as measured by papers published and awards conferred, did. But the next best predictor was whether the professor was a liberal. To critics that argue his methodology is flawed, Mr. Rothman points out that he used the same research tools long used in courts by liberal faculty members to prove race and sex bias at universities. Liberals criticizing his methods may find themselves hoist by their own petard.

Furthermore, a new national study by Swedish sociologist Charlotta Stern and Santa Clara University economist Daniel Klein found that in a random national sample of 1,678 responses from university professors Democratic professors outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in economics. 28 to 1 in sociology and 30 to 1 in anthropology. Their findings will be published in Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars.

A separate study by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, run by conservative activist David Horowitz, looked at voter registration records of faculty members in six academic departments in 32 top schools. It found there were 10 Democrats for every Republican. Mr. Klein says a second study he co-authored looked at voter registration records for faculty at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. It found that among assistant and associate professors, there were 183 Democrats and only six Republicans. Since many of the Republicans were full professors close to retirement, Mr. Klein concluded that "in the coming decade the lopsidedness must become even more extreme. At Berkeley and Stanford, the Republican is an endangered species."

More here

Rhetoric hides the human face of illiteracy

An education system that should be regarded as criminal because of the needless harm it does:

"Let me introduce Roy, one of the human faces behind the reading wars. He is the same age as me. Like me, he has parents who were migrants to Australia, he went to a public school and was part of the whole word experiment that schools embraced more than 30 years ago, where teachers read books to the class, pointing to words and expecting children to follow and learn to read. Whereas I learned to read, Roy didn't. Once he fell behind in reading, he never caught up but was pushed along by a system that did not recognise or treat failure. He was never asked to repeat a year, yet by high school, he could do little more than write his name.

Roy told me stories that should shame any educator. His life reflects the heavy price of illiteracy. Classroom humiliation ended when Roy left school but the lies told to hide his illiteracy continued. When his first job required him to purchase materials from a hardware store, Roy would wrap his hand in bandages. "Can you help me write the cheque because I've hurt my hand," he would ask the shop assistant. When his boss wanted to promote him, Roy left. He couldn't take that responsibility because he couldn't read or write. He never worked for another person again because he feared somebody might discover he was illiterate. Roy is an intelligent man who became a cement renderer, not because he wanted to, but because he felt he had no other choice.

Roy is the face behind the studies that show that those who fall behind in the literacy stakes at school will often fall behind in the life stakes later on. Work prospects, relationships and self-confidence all take a battering. For Roy, the last straw came when his young son grew impatient at his father's faltering effort at reading: "I don't want Daddy to read to me anymore," his son told Roy's wife. Roy is angry about the lies, the deception and the manipulation he has used to hide his illiteracy. But just over two years ago he met Helen Grant, or Miss Grant to her former charges at Ascham, an eastern suburbs school in Sydney where she taught for more than 30 years. That same day he was also introduced to two simple ideas - words are made up of sounds and you need to learn the sounds to learn to read.

The milestones have mounted ever since that September meeting. A few months later Roy read his first novel. Then, unprompted, he wrote his first full page essay. It took two hours. In December he wrote his first Christmas card - to "Dear Helen", of course. The following year he gave a reading at his new son's christening.

Teachers will say much has changed. They will point to school curricula that mentions phonics and will say that a combination of methods is now used in the classroom to teach children to read. Yet this new hybrid rhetoric is mere camouflage to keep critics at bay. Soon to be published research by Ruth Fielding-Barnsley, from Queensland University of Technology, suggests that not enough has changed since the heyday of whole language when young trainee teachers like her were trained to teach reading without the alphabet being mentioned.

With co-author Nola Purdie, their study of 340 Queensland teachers found that while teachers now have a positive attitude to children learning the basic building blocks of language - like sounds and language rules - teachers' knowledge of those blocks is deficient. And interestingly there was a gap between what teachers think they know and what they do know. While most primary school teachers (92 per cent) can spot a short vowel sound in the word "slip," only 24 per cent can recognise the number of speech sounds in a given word. More than half could not tell you what a syllable is. If teachers have not been taught and cannot explain basic things such as sounds and syllables, then regardless of what a curriculum says, how can they teach their students?

Of course, phonics-based systems must recognise that not all words play by the rules. So these systems include ways to cope with the rare exceptions. Whole language says that because exceptions exist, phonics is invalid and children are better off guessing and memorising words. It is a theory premised on the abnormal, not the normal, and one that requires very little from teachers. At most, these teachers, untrained in the basic rules of language, end up dabbling in phonics, rather than giving children explicit, structured phonics instruction. And that's why nearly a third of Australian schoolchildren - another generation of Roys - reach high school with poor literacy standards.

Yet many teachers question the need for the review, announced last week by Education Minister Brendan Nelson, into how we train teachers to teach children to read and into what is happening in the classroom. They say the money should be spent on employing more teachers. So let me introduce you to one final voice in this debate. The voice of a dedicated teacher who spoke with me at length one Friday afternoon about the remarkable success enjoyed by children through a phonics-based system. Children in her public school in Tasmania, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, now read well beyond their age level. She talked also about the emotion infusing the debate, the lack of logic or evidence behind the whole language ideology that teachers stubbornly adhere.

Early on Monday morning, the teacher rang to say she could not put her name to her comments. She had a career to consider - a career that could be jeopardised in a state education system where the anti-phonics boffins still dominate. That trepidation tells you that something is still dreadfully wrong in our schools and that should shame us all. A review of what's happening in the classroom and at the teachers' colleges is the easy part. The real test will be taking on the teachers who teach our teachers.

From Janet Albrechtsen


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Since his re-election, President Bush has spoken a number of times about domestic reforms designed to create an "Ownership Society." Among the best known of those proposed reforms are personal Social Security accounts and health savings accounts that would give individuals, rather than government, control over their financial futures and health care. Both of those initiatives are essential reforms, and an Ownership Society itself is desperately needed. But there is a third component that should be included in this agenda: education.

If an Ownership Society means anything, it should mean giving parents control over their children's education. When children are assigned by bureaucrats to a government school, as they are today, parents lose that control, and the government in effect robs parents of their rights and authority.

Unfortunately, President Bush's signature education legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, has had the effect of concentrating control over children's education in the worst of all places: Washington, D.C. Under that law, not only are most children still forced to go to government schools, but local and state governments -- the levels of government closest to parents -- have been stripped of control over everything from curricula to teacher qualifications, with that power now resting with the federal government. Federal officials now dictate that all public school children must take reading and math tests in third through eighth grade, as well as once in high school, and that children must be taught from a federally approved, "scientifically based," curriculum......

Another indication of Bush's move away from an educational Ownership Society is his nomination of Margaret Spellings to be the next U.S. secretary of education. Little is known about Ms. Spellings other than that she has been a Bush aide for many years and was in large part the architect of No Child Left Behind. That suggests strongly that she will work vigorously to carry out the president's plan to extend No Child Left Behind to high schools. Perhaps even more troubling are early media indications that she opposes, or at least lacks enthusiasm for, reforms designed to truly empower parents, such as school choice. As reported by the New York Post, Spellings is "no champion of school vouchers."

More here


"These days, it's not always easy to talk about the benefits of immigration. Especially since 9/11, many Americans worry about borders and security. These are legitimate concerns. But surely a nation as great as America has the wit and resources to distinguish between those who come here to destroy the American Dream--and the many millions more who come to live it.

The evidence of the contributions these immigrants make to our society is all around us--especially in the critical area of education. Adam Smith (another Scotsman) knew that without a decent system of education, a modern capitalist society was committing suicide. Well, our modern public school systems simply are not producing the talent the American economy needs to compete in the future. And it often seems that it is our immigrants who are holding the whole thing up.

In a study on high school students released this past summer, the National Foundation for American Policy found 60% of the top science students, and 65% of the top math students, are children of immigrants. The same study found that seven of the top award winners at the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search were immigrants or children of immigrants. This correlates with other findings that more than half of engineers--and 45% of math and computer scientists--with Ph.D.s now working in the U.S. are foreign born.

It's not just the statistics. You see it at our most elite college and university campuses, where Asian immigrants or their children are disproportionately represented. And a recent study of 28 prestigious American universities by researchers from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania found something startling: that 41% of the black students attending these schools described themselves as either immigrants or children of immigrants.

The point is that by almost any measure of educational excellence you choose, if you're in America you're going to find immigrants or their children at the top. I don't just mean engineers and scientists and technicians. In my book, anyone who comes here and gives an honest day's work for an honest day's pay is not only putting himself closer to the American Dream, he's helping the rest of us get there too."

Some home truths from Rupert Murdoch, no less


Truancy is a much neglected topic in the sociology of knowledge. It is mistakenly treated as irrational, even criminal. It is correctly linked with children's learning deficits. These usually arise, however, not from home, but from faulty curriculum and pedagogy.

People think truants hate school. They rarely do, though they often dislike particular subjects and certain sarcastic or rude teachers. My research in Britain and Bruce Cooper's in the US have revealed the huge scale of the phenomenon. In some secondary schools half the children truant regularly.

The American and British establishments blatantly gloss over the problem, along with all those educational difficulties originating in the school itself, echoing the way the old Communists concealed the truth about Communism. The American elite are even more defensive than their British counterparts. This is a disastrous mistake.

Truancy data constitute incomparably rich policy material. We already know that semi-literates truant because they cannot do the work, and that clever children do so because they find the work derisory. We know that a large minority hates games and PE. We know foreign languages are very badly done in both countries. We know that wrong methods of teaching reading have been practiced for 150 years in America, and in Britain for almost a century.

In both countries mathematics teaching is appalling. In both systems political correctness has raged through the curriculum, destroying the authority of the teachers. These indefensible school practices cause truancy and do, indeed, compound the effects of bad homes. Were it not for these poor practices, schools might combat unsatisfactory home life. Sad to say, huge vested interests stand in the way of the requisite reforms. And the related questions of compulsory education and home schooling have not even been brought into the truancy debate.

(Post lifted from the Adam Smith blog)


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Thursday, November 25, 2004


"First-hand evidence of the widespread dumbing down of academic standards has emerged in an exclusive Times Higher survey. Academics reported that they were teaching students who were not capable of benefiting from degree-level study and that they had been forced to pass students who did not deserve it - as university managers struggled to maintain student numbers and teaching budgets. The survey of almost 400 academics found that five out of six agreed that "the squeeze on the resources of higher education institutions is having a general adverse effect on academic standards". The survey also found that:

* 71 per cent agreed that their "institution had admitted students who are not capable of benefiting from higher level study"

* Almost half (48 per cent) reported that they had "felt obliged to pass a student whose performance did not really merit a pass"

* 42 per cent said that "decisions to fail students' work had been overruled at higher levels in the institution" - compared with 38 per cent who disagreed with the statement

* Almost one in five admitted to turning "a blind eye" to student plagiarism.

Responding to the survey, a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "It would be worrying if universities were admitting students who are not capable of completing their courses, or passing students who do not merit it. The Government is clear that admission to university must be on merit, based on a student's achievements and potential." Alan Smithers, an adviser to MPs on education policy, said: "These findings are powerful evidence of something that has been very difficult to prove."He said some universities were trapped in a "vicious circle" by a funding system that forced them to accept weaker students to fill places, but imposed financial penalties if any dropped out. "It is almost inevitable that standards will drop," he said.

Roger Kline, head of the universities department at lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "We have been saying for a long time that the Government (and institutions) are trying to get a quart out of a pint pot. There are simply too few lecturers employed in higher education."

Investigations by The Times Higher reveal how far some universities have been forced to make compromises. At Middlesex University, minutes from a computing department meeting last year highlight "complaints made at assessment boards about the literacy and numeracy levels of students". Documents also reveal that over two consecutive terms, Middlesex computing undergraduates were provided with the model answers before sitting the exams. The students produced such similar, word-perfect answers that there were concerns about mass plagiarism. Ken Goulding, Middlesex pro vice-chancellor, said that it was unacceptable that a tutor had provided answers in revision classes, but said the students' results were allowed to stand with the agreement of the external examiners as there had been no cheating.

The "dumbing down" internet survey of Times Higher readers with teaching and marking responsibilities undertaken over the past month also found that most academics agreed that their universities had become increasingly tolerant of student absenteeism. Almost half said that their department had cut important curriculum areas because they were too expensive to teach.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said that the survey represented only a small sample of academics. But she added: "UUK has for years pressed the Government to reform funding to reverse years of spending decline to prevent a quality crisis. This is why UUK fought so hard to secure the variable fees policy."


Best class rank, or best school?

Education-obsessed families (such as my own) have long pushed their children to strive for the best colleges possible. Better college, better prospects -- even if it was accepted that one might receive just as good an education at a less prestigious school.

But could this accepted wisdom be flawed? A while back, Forbes ran a couple of articles that analyzed career tracks after graduation for students accepted by Yale, comparing those who went to Yale with those who opted to go to cheaper and less highly ranked schools. According to the authors, there was little difference between the two groups, while there was a definite correlation between SAT scores and later real-world success. I'm sure the study had its flaws -- is it even possible to measure the totality of what one gets out of college? -- yet even with all its approximations and simplifications, it cannot be summarily dismissed.

And now another study suggests that, at least for law schools, class rank may be more important than school rank. So with the notable exception of the top ten or so law schools, you might be better off going to the best school where you can be at the top of the class rather than the best school you can get into. Brief summary here; interestingly, the results come out of work asking if affirmative action programs (and my family's conventional wisdom) may actually be counterproductive for most students (full article here; also posts here, here, here, and here). Unfortunately, affirmative action is such a hot-button topic that even the ancillary conclusions of the study may well end up swept under the carpet (it has already been noted how the LA Times' article on the study appeared under the misleading headline, Professor Assails Anti-Bias Program, rather than something like "Professor Finds Anti-Bias Program Counterproductive").

Post lifted from Cronaca


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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Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Update. I blogged on these fine folk previously -- on October 23rd. Quick summary of what has changed: Nothing.

In the world of Hamid Dabashi, supporters of Israel are "warmongers" and "Gestapo apparatchiks." The Jewish homeland is "nothing more than a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States." It's a capital of "thuggery" - a "ghastly state of racism and apartheid" - and it "must be dismantled." A voice from America's crackpot fringe? Actually, Dabashi is a tenured professor and department chairman at Columbia University. And his views have resonated and been echoed in other areas of the university.

Columbia is at risk of becoming a poison Ivy, some critics claim, and tensions are high. In classrooms, teach-ins, interviews and published works, dozens of academics are said to be promoting an I-hate-Israel agenda, embracing the ugliest of Arab propaganda, and teaching that Zionism is the root of all evil in the Mideast. In three weeks of interviews, numerous students told the Daily News they face harassment, threats and ridicule merely for defending the right of Israel to survive. And the university itself is holding investigations into the alleged intimidation.

Dabashi has achieved academic stardom: professor of Iranian studies; chairman of the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department; past head of a panel that administers Columbia's core curriculum. The 53-year-old, Iranian-born scholar has said CNN should be held accountable for "war crimes" for one-sided coverage of Sept. 11, 2001. He doubts the existence of Al Qaeda and questions the role of Osama Bin Laden in the attacks.... In September in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, he wrote, "What they call Israel is no mere military state. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their soul."

After the showing of a student-made documentary about faculty bias and bullying that targets Jewish students, six or seven swastikas were found carved in a Butler Library bathroom last month. Then after a screening of the film, "Columbia Unbecoming," produced by the David Project, a pro-Israel group in Boston, one student denounced another as a "Zionist fascist scum," witnesses said.

On Oct. 27, Columbia announced it would probe alleged intimidation and improve procedures for students to file grievances. "Is the climate hostile to free expression?" asked Alan Brinkley, the university provost. "I don't believe it is, but we're investigating to find out."

But one student on College Walk described the campus as a "republic of fear." Another branded the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department the "department of dishonesty."

"Professorial power is being abused," said Ariel Beery, a senior who is student president in the School of General Studies, but stresses he's speaking only for himself. "Students are being bullied because of their identities, ideologies, religions and national origins," Beery said. Added Noah Liben, another senior, "Debate is being stifled. Students are being silenced in their own classrooms." ...

Said Brinkley: If a professor taught the "Earth was flat or there was no Holocaust," Columbia might intervene in the classroom. "But we don't tell faculty they can't express strong, or even offensive opinions."

Yet even some faculty members say they fear social ostracism and career consequences if they're viewed as too pro-Israel, and that many have been cowed or shamed into silence. One apparently unafraid is Dan Miron, a professor of Hebrew literature and holder of a prestigious endowed chair. He said scores of Jewish students - about one a week - have trooped into his office to complain about bias in the classroom. "Students tell me they've been browbeaten, humiliated and treated disrespectfully for daring to challenge the idea that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish nation," he said. "They say they've been told Israeli soldiers routinely rape Palestinian women and commit other atrocities, and that Zionism is racism and the root of all evil." ....

As usual in American universities, everything can be tolerated except conservatives, Christians and Jews.


But teacher organizations and Leftist State governments don't seem to care

You would think that teaching every young person to read and write (and spell) would be top priority in primary schools. It isn't. But it should be. The vast majority of parents with school-age children will be enthusiastic supporters of federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson's plan for a national inquiry to find out why. Hopefully, the inquiry will have the full co-operation of state governments because its findings should give state education ministers the ammunition they need to take some tough decisions and put literacy at the top of the agenda. Parents are entitled to know why such an inquiry is necessary in 2004.

In 1997, the Howard Government obtained the agreement of state education ministers on a national literacy plan, with the goal of teaching every young person the literacy and numeracy skills they'd need by the time they left primary school. The plan was intended to put an end to years of rhetoric about how hard everyone was trying and for the first time to focus on the real outcomes - how many students were really learning these crucial skills in the years that mattered and what techniques were working.

For the first time, national benchmarks were established that would tell parents whether their child could read, write and spell (at Year 3), and whether their skills were adequate to enable them to do their school work in later years. Every child was to be tested against these benchmarks at grades 3, 5 and 7. Numeracy benchmarks were also established.

Ministers at the time said their goal was that every child starting school in 1998 would be literate and numerate within four years. This recognised that children who were not literate after the first three years would find it increasingly difficult thereafter. The plan was followed by a burst of activity, evidence of where the problems were and of improving results. The tests, for example, revealed there were some remote Aboriginal schools where no child was literate in English and led to the identification of teaching techniques that actually worked. Yet state governments have failed to maintain the momentum.

Was the goal of 1998 achieved? Or even approximately achieved? Who knows? The latest results the states have released against national standards are for 2001. The results of the 2002 tests have not yet been made public. Nor have the results for the 2003 tests or the 2004 tests (most recently held in August). It was only when the federal Government promised to pay for extra tuition for students below the benchmark that some state governments finally decided last year to reveal the results for their children to parents - five years after the benchmarks were set. These inexcusable delays in reporting the true picture to parents and the wider community reflect the fact some state bureaucrats and teacher unions have lost the plot.

Those who claim to be concerned with social justice should be forcing the pace on literacy because literacy is the most important social justice policy in education. It is remarkable how often self-styled defenders of social justice have seemed uninterested in finding out whether disadvantaged children can read and write, and opposed testing. Instead, they will tell you that most students are succeeding (which is not the point), or that more money or smaller classes are essential (that is, put the focus back on to inputs rather than outcomes), or that pointing out the problems is to attack teachers (not true) - anything but finding out what is really happening, rigorously assessing initiatives, telling parents the truth and tailoring solutions to the students who are missing out.

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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More bureaucratic supervision advocated

"The Texas Education Agency is not properly monitoring school districts, especially charter schools, to ensure they're doing a good job of educating students and managing public money, according to a legislative panel. A highly critical report issued Friday by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission also said that some of nearly 70,000 children in independent charter schools "may be at risk of receiving an inadequate education" because of the weak oversight. The sunset panel, which includes 10 legislators and two citizen appointees, also found problems in textbook purchases and TEA distribution of $3 billion a year in state and federal grants to school districts.

On charter schools, the commission said the education agency is not effectively measuring student success, leaving parents and school officials "ill-informed" as to the quality of instruction at each of the 275 charter campuses in Texas. Referring to the notable financial failures of a handful of charter schools, the commission said the education agency "has very little ability to hold charter schools accountable for expending state funds." Texas spent nearly $340 million on charter schools last year.

The panel said the criticisms are not meant to be an "indictment" of all charter schools. "Many charter schools have good business practices and very successful students," the report said. "However, TEA needs the proper authority and direction to determine which schools are effective, and focus their assistance - and if necessary their enforcement action - on those schools that place children at educational risk."

Charter schools are expected to be one of more volatile issues of the legislative session next year as supporters - including the Governor's Business Council - seek to expand the charter school program in Texas. Currently, the state has limited the number of charter school operators to no more than 215. Critics opposing the expansion have cited financial problems at several schools and low student test scores at a majority of the charter schools in the state. The sunset commission recommended that the Legislature create a financial accountability rating system for charter schools and direct the TEA to beef up oversight of charter schools, particularly those that don't receive performance ratings from the state.

More here


Sean Gabb explains why:

Even before Mike Tomlinson reported on examination reform, everyone agreed, and competed at agreeing, that British state education was a mess. Schools all over the country are turning out generations of innumerate, semi-literate proles. They have become places notable for bullying, truancy in its various shades, drugs, unwise sex, the occasional murder, and a pervasive contempt for achievement. Yes, there are those whose job it is to disagree with this proposition. Naturally enough, there are the teachers and educational bureaucrats; and there are the relevant Ministers, who every summer put their names on news releases lauding the latest set of examination results. But everyone knows they are talking nonsense. If examination results were an indicator of excellence, we should be living in a nation of Shakespeares and Newtons. In fact, grade inflation and a continuous debasement of the whole examinations system have made the results largely worthless. We can no more make people educated by giving them pretty certificates than we can make them rich by giving them bags of forged banknotes. State education is a mess.

The standard response is to whine or boast about levels of funding. But this is a manifestly threadbare response. In 2002, the authorities spent o49.354 billion of our money on schooling and further education. Given a total of 10.094 million children and young people in the maintained sector, we have spending per head of around o4,900. Many independent schools charge less than that - and get better results. Indeed, there are schools in black Africa that do better. These are places without school books, without roofs over the classrooms, where the teachers are dying of aids, and where bandits every so often turn up and conscript the more promising children to fight in what are pretentiously called civil wars - and they still turn out children with a better English prose style than the average inmate of an English comprehensive.

There is no one explanation for why things are so bad. But this does not mean the problem is intractably complex. Though there are others, there are three main explanations.

In the first place, there is the emphasis on vocational learning that we owe to the vulgar economic liberalism of the Thatcher and Major Governments. The belief here is that the main or even sole purpose of education is to promote economic development. Accordingly, any subject from which no tangible return could be imagined was either removed from the curriculum or fragmented or simplified into nothingness. History and Classics were the most obvious victims - and, in lesser degree, Music. Much of the time thereby freed was filled with the almost obsessive teaching of Information Technology.

Now, there is a case for teaching children how to type: left to themselves, most people develop typing habits that reduce their general efficiency. There may also be a case for teaching the basics of the Microsoft Office suite. But these are things to be learnt over a few weeks. All else specified in the Information Technology syllabus is useless or would be picked up anyway by the children themselves. No one has yet developed a course in Mobile Telephone Studies. This has not visibly left any of my students at a disadvantage. In my experience, much of the time given to Information Technology is used to play games or look up trivia on the Internet. The time would be better given to teaching German or a musical instrument.

In the second place, there is the fact that the main purpose of state education has always been to legitimise the wealth and status of the ruling class. We can see this was so in the past. Without all the drilling in the playground, and all the team sports, and all the hours given to nationalist propaganda, would those ten million young men have marched even semi-willingly to die in the killing grounds of the Great War? Nothing fundamental has changed since then. All that has changed is the personnel of the ruling class and the nature of its legitimation ideology.

Because it is suited to our present assumptions, we cannot see this ideology so clearly as we now see those it replaced. It is there, even so. It is that axis of anti-liberal, anti-western, anti-science, anti-Enlightenment and pro-collectivist values and coercive social engineering that we call political correctness. With the decline of traditional socialism, this has gained a growing and hegemonic role in most developed societies. As an ideology, it manifestly promotes the power and privileges of our new ruling class - this being a coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, lawyers, media people and associated business interests who derive wealth and status from an enlarged and activist state. The ideology is used to stigmatise and demonise any dissenting opinion, and to censor and silence it; and information is socially constructed in order to balkanise society into alleged "victim groups" who provide tribalistic bases for the exercise of political power and the extraction of economic profit by the ruling class. As ever, education is the chief mechanism by which this legitimation ideology is transmitted from one generation to the next.

As illustration, take the way in which GCSE English Literature is taught. Some years ago, while short of cash, I acted as an assistant examiner. Two of the most commonly examined books - both American - were To Kill a Mocking Bird and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Doubtless, these are worthy enough texts in their own right. But they are nothing much compared with the great classics of English literature produced in these islands. Judging by the several thousand pages of answers I must have read, however, they had been preferred because they allowed English lessons to be made into sermons of racial hatred that passed unrebuked only because the objects of hatred were white.

In the third place, there is the centralised, authoritarian control that both of the above require for complete enforcement. We have the National Curriculum and we have endless testing to see that arbitrary and often incomprehensible targets are being reached.

The combined result is a demoralised teaching profession, bored and apathetic children, and a collapse of standards as these were once universally defined. The system was not very good before the 1980s. Since then, it has rotted away to the point where just about everyone with money either avoids it altogether, choosing the independent sector, or rigs it by moving into middle class catchment areas.

The politicians promise reform. But all reforms so far discussed can only make things worse. Labour promises more money and a restructuring of management - not only rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but also replacing the canvas with silk. The Conservatives promise "choice" - though always supervised by the same philistine and politically correct bureaucracy that messed up the present system. The more adventurous Conservatives even talk about a voucher scheme. This has its merits. But conservatives of all people ought to know that any scheme of improvement takes its whole tone from the circumstances in which it is introduced. Any voucher scheme introduced now would give our ruling class a perfect excuse to spread the corruption deep into the independent sector. It would do this by setting criteria for the reception of vouchers, and would enforce these criteria through the usual agencies of inspection and control.

The only answer is to get the state entirely out of education. The education budget should not be expanded, or its administration reformed. It should simply be abolished. That o49 billion - now, I believe, o63 billion - should be handed back to the people in tax cuts; and these should be directed at the poorest taxpayers. The schools should be sold off or given away, and the bureaucrats be made redundant. The people should then be left to arrange by themselves for the education of their children.

The argument that parents would not or could not do this falls flat on any inspection of the third world, where parents make often heavy sacrifices and choose often highly effective schemes of education. There is also the experience of our own past. A generation ago, E.G. West showed how growing numbers of working class people in the 19th century paid for and supervised the education of their children. The beginning of state education in 1870 should be seen as ruling class coup against an independent sector that looked set to marginalise its legitimation ideology.

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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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Tuesday, November 23, 2004


"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.

It is clear after studying the data and results that the policies of the past have failed to meet the educational needs of our country's children. If we continue to spend more money on the existing educational system in an attempt to buy our way to better student achievement, we will condemn another generation of students to mediocrity.

Let's not keep making the same mistakes that have brought our schools to their present condition. We need to challenge the status quo and pursue serious fundamental reform to improve our educational system. Only then can real progress be made in student performance. Our children deserve nothing less.

The ALEC study expresses the opinion that educational results are improved by better teachers. I suspect that the personal experience of most of us verifies that... many of us have stories about one or two teachers who had a very positive effect on our school experience.

Teachers become better with experience, and they have better results if they're allowed to teach using the methods they've learned work best. Students learn when good teachers make learning fun. My input from some excellent, award-winning teachers over the years has been that schools have become more rigid, more bureaucratic, and that imposed state and federal programs have taken a lot of classroom control from teachers. Campaigns to reduce class size have resulted in having to hire more teachers... younger, less-experienced, lower-paid teachers. That's not a criticism of younger teachers, but experience, once laboriously gained, should not be sacrificed, especially to elitist programs generated by "experts" in quasi-political state and federal educational offices."

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The Education Secretary will tell head teachers today that they must all accept a fair share of expelled pupils rather than allow disruptive youngsters to be concentrated in "sink schools" shunned by parents. Schools that are popular and oversubscribed will no longer be able to excuse themselves by claiming that they lack spare places. Grammar schools will have to accept difficult pupils, even if they do not meet the academic standards required for entry.

Mr Clarke told The Times that he wants to end the practice of shunting the most unruly pupils into the least popular schools, condemning them to a spiral of decline as teachers struggle against the odds to maintain order. The move is likely to upset many parents, who will fear the impact on their children's education if well-ordered schools are required to admit problem pupils.

However, Mr Clarke believes that schools will find it easier to manage "hard-to-educate" children in their local areas if they co-operate with each other. "There is a lot of controversy among groups of schools about whether certain schools end up taking more than their fair share of hard-to-educate kids," Mr Clarke said. "Sometimes particular schools end up taking more than their fair share." The Education Secretary will tell a conference in London today of 500 new heads that the key challenge facing schools is to maintain order by dealing firmly with persistently disruptive pupils.

He will announce that groups of schools will be expected to agree local protocols by September next year for sharing out expelled pupils. The agreements will be thrashed out at forums of heads, governors and officials from the local education authority. The Government will also change its code of practice on admissions to include an expectation that schools must share the burden of coping with expelled children. Mr Clarke said it would be "an essential feature" of the protocols that no school would be required to admit an unreasonable percentage of expelled pupils. He indicated that three or four pupils a year would be considered a reasonable number. He accepted that expulsion was an "essential tool in a head teacher's armoury" against the worst offenders. But schools must take responsibility for ensuring such children were educated appropriately. "All schools - including popular schools - should share a collective responsibility for ensuring that vulnerable, hard-to- place children, or children in public care that have been permanently excluded, are admitted to a suitable school as quickly as possible."

He wanted schools to reach voluntary agreements, but indicated he was willing to compel them to accept unruly pupils if the reform were not adopted swiftly enough. "We have set ourselves internal targets. If we felt this was not working we could consider taking further powers but we want to get this up and running as quickly as we can," Mr Clarke said. Groups of schools will be offered an incentive to reach agreement. Mr Clarke said they would be handed direct control of money currently allocated to the local education authority (LEA) for managing expelled pupils, so that they could tailor provision to greatest effect.



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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Sunday, November 21, 2004


"Like most eight-year-olds, Abraham Larner is in third grade. His path to get there, though, has been quite a challenge. At the end of first grade at his local public school in Murray, Utah, Abraham struggled with basic reading and math concepts, and his parents, Steve and Brenda, wanted him to repeat the grade. His teacher counseled that holding him back would damage his self-esteem, causing more educational problems than promoting him without knowing the material. Against their better judgment, Abraham's parents heeded the teacher's advice, and their son went on to second grade......

In the meantime, Abraham continued to struggle at school. For half of each day, he worked in resource classes with a teacher who simply gave him worksheets, then left him alone. When he arrived home each day, he was sad; other students pushed him and called him names. Although his parents helped him with homework, at the end of second grade Abraham was still struggling with basic math and reading. Steve and Brenda again asked the school to let him repeat a grade. The school's response stunned them; Abraham couldn't repeat the grade because there were too many other students coming into that class.

Frustrated with their neighborhood school, and growing more and more concerned that Abraham wasn't getting the education he needed, Steve and Brenda reapplied for a CFU scholarship..... Even with the CFU scholarships, Steve and Brenda still had to find $1,350 per month to pay the other half of their children's tuition. Brenda again offered to exchange work at Mount Vernon Academy for her children's tuition. This time a position was available, and she took it. She now works as a janitor at the school, cleaning 10 bathrooms every day.

Abraham is succeeding at his new school. In classes with just six other students, his math and reading skills are improving rapidly. He enjoys science, is learning French, and will soon begin learning to play an instrument.

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Britain's education minister says that single-sex classes improve learning. So he advises that classrooms should therefore be as mixed as possible. You follow it. I can't

"The great education revolution has thrown up targets, permanent exams and a computer in every classroom. Now the new miracle ingredient to create a learning curve steeper than K2 has been revealed: the seating arrangements of a well-run dinner party. Every hostess knows that to get the best results one alternates boy, girl, boy, girl around the table - and then lets the boys withdraw to compete among themselves while the girls sort out the world. Which is just the arrangement presented for the future by the Minister for seating arrangements, sorry, for School Standards, yesterday.

David Miliband called on head teachers of mixed schools to "learn the lessons of single-sex education" as part of a drive to close the gender gap in achievement at GCSE and A-level examinations. He suggested that schools introduce strict "boy-girl" seating in some classes to boost performance. Mr Miliband highlighted "startling" early findings from a four-year study by academics at Cambridge University into differences in achievement by boys and girls. "They looked at a co-educational comprehensive school, where single-sex teaching was used in subjects where gender is sometimes seen as influencing underperformance, such as languages for boys and maths for girls," he told a conference at Alton Towers in Staffordshire. "The number of boys who got five good GCSEs went up from 68 per cent in 1997 to 81 per cent in 2004," he said. "The number of girls went up from 68 per cent in 1997 to 82 per cent in 2004. Both boys and girls did better, and the gender gap usually common at GCSE was negligible." He added: "When interviewed, some of the reasons that pupils gave for the improvement were that they felt more confident to participate in the lessons. There were fewer distractions and they didn't feel the need to show off."

The minister's remarks to the annual meeting of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA) underlined the Government's increasing concern about the relative academic failure of boys. Girls outperform boys virtually across the board at school and there is a gap of ten percentage points in their favour in the proportions gaining at least five good GCSEs. Girls now obtain more A grades at A level than boys and accounted for 54 per cent of this year's entrants to university. Mr Miliband told the GSA, which represents 200 fee-paying girls' schools, that girls had been the primary beneficiaries of a revolution in educational achievement over the past 30 years.

His arguments in favour of single-sex teaching in certain classes amounted to a signal that the Government believes that schools should now seek to restore the balance by focusing on boys' needs. Mr Miliband described debate about the merits of single-sex or co-educational schools as "sterile", saying that nobody seriously proposed abolishing either form. "Instead of debate on structure, we should learn the lessons of single-sex education and apply them in the co-education sector. These lessons are about recognising the differences between pupils, as well as the similarities," he said. "First, we need to recognise that in mixed-sex schools girls and boys can prosper being taught separately for part of the time."

Critics of mixed-sex schooling have usually argued that it is detrimental to girls' achievement and that girls do better in single-sex environments. But Mr Miliband's speech suggested that it would be effective in confronting the "lad culture" among boys that views learning as uncool. The minister also suggested that schools consider introducing strict "boy-girl" seating plans in mixed classes to encourage the sexes to help each other without being distracted by their friends. An Essex school had adopted this seating arrangement and boosted boys' performance."



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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Prince Charles's penchant for memo-writing caught up with him today when his uncompromising opinions about the state of education in Britain found their way onto the front pages. "What is wrong with everyone nowadays?" wrote the 56-year-old heir to the British throne to a member of his staff in March 2003 after a secretary asked about prospects for job promotion. "Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?" the Prince of Wales continued. "This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centred system which admits no failure.

"People think they can all be pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability. "This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history." The memo concludes: "What on earth am I to tell Elaine? She is so PC (politically correct), it frightens me rigid." "Elaine" is Elaine Day, who served as a secretary for the prince's household, helping to organise his activities and helping to write speeches, from March 1999 until last April

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For an understanding of why our teaching of literacy is under attack, turn to history, says Kevin Donnelly

The genesis of today's debate about literacy standards can be traced back to the late 1960s and early '70s - a time not only of Woodstock, moratoriums and flower power. Radical educators such as the Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire and the English sociologist M. F. D. Young argued that the then education system preserved the power of society's status quo. Approaches to learning that stressed examinations, traditional subjects such as history, literature and science, and the authority of the teacher were criticised as obsolete and instrumental in oppressing so-called disadvantaged groups. This idea built on the works of US educational theorist John Dewey, who died in 1952. Dewey was more interested in learning by doing than rote learning and instruction.

At the same time, across the English-speaking world, more traditional approaches to teaching English were attacked as ineffective and the preserve of the elite. Freire argued that literacy could no longer be restricted to the ability to read and write. Children had to be empowered as individuals by being taught to be socially critical and to deconstruct language and texts in terms of power relationships. American writers such as Donald Graves and English educators such as James Britton argued that teachers should free students to be creative and that self-expression was more important than learning correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

This whole-language approach was based on the assumption that learning to read was as natural as learning to speak and that all teachers needed to do was to immerse children in a rich language environment and success would follow. Subject associations such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English became staunch advocates of the new orthodoxy. Overseas gurus, including Graves and Britton, as well as Freire, were invited to Australia and their texts became compulsory reading in teacher training courses. Radical teacher unions such as the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association and the NSW Teachers Federation argued that it was wrong to test students or to assume that standard English was superior to a student's own language use.

A more recent variant of the progressive approach of the new status quo can be found in the work of the Australian Council of Deans of Education. Those responsible for managing teacher training, in New Learning: A Charter for Australian Education, argue that teaching correct spelling, grammar and punctuation is obsolete (because spell-checking programs remove the need for correct spelling). The deans also argue that there are no right or wrong answers and that what the report describes as good learners, in the jargon much loved by educrats, "will not come to any situation with preordained, known answers. Rather, they will come equipped with problem-solving skills, multiple strategies for tackling a task, and a flexible solutions-orientation to knowledge."

The result? In Australia, England and the US, many argued that standards fell and that the new approaches had failed. Many parents also voted with their feet in favour of non-government schools as these, compared with government schools, were seen as more academic.

Today it's claimed there is a literacy crisis in our schools. Those defending the new educational status quo argue that all is well and Australian students are performing at the top of the table, based on measures such as the OECD's program for international student assessment test and the results of recent national literacy benchmarking tests. Unfortunately, not all agree. Earlier this year 26 literacy researchers wrote to Education Minister Brendan Nelson arguing that Australia's whole language approach to teaching was flawed and, as a result, thousands of students left school illiterate. There is also the concern that, if the PISA test had, as well as testing reading, also corrected faulty spelling, grammar and punctuation, most Australian students would have failed and, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research, about one-third of Year 9 students lack adequate literacy skills.

In Australia, a 1996 national survey of reading. initiated by the Howard Government against the wishes of teachers unions and the AATE, discovered that 27 per cent of Year 3 and 29 per cent of Year 5 students failed to reach the minimum standard. It should be noted that concerns about literacy are not restricted to the school sector. A study in 2000, Changes in Academic Work, found that almost half of the academics interviewed agreed that standards had fallen over time.

In California, after the introduction of whole language in the late '80s, student performance, as measured by national tests, also plummeted. Such was the angst that, in 1996, the Board of Education ruled in favour of phonics and against whole language. In Britain as well, such was the concern about falling standards, especially among boys, that the Blair Government at the beginning of 1998 stipulated that schools had to adopt a structured and systematic phonics approach to literacy learning.

In opposition to whole language, a phonics approach argues that learning to read is decidedly unnatural and students have to be taught phonemic awareness - that is, spoken words and syllables are made up of elementary speech sounds. Instead of looking at a word such as dog and guessing how it might be read, students should be taught to sound out the individual letters. d-o-g. Students also need to memorise the alphabet and be taught the relationship between letters and sounds and clusters of letters. Contrary to whole language, the argument is also put that teaching students to skip words or to guess their meaning leads to illiteracy.

Again and again, research suggests that children must be taught how to read in a structured way. In the US, a study titled What We Know About How Children Learn, carried out by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in the words of Bonita Grossen, concluded: "This lack of phonemic awareness seems to be a major obstacle to reading acquisition. Children who are not phonemically aware are not able to segment words and syllables into phonemes. Consequently, they do not develop the ability to decode single words accurately and fluently."

The US study, involving more than 100 researchers over 30 years, also concluded that many of the tenets of whole language - that learning to read is natural and that children will learn to read when they are ready - are misplaced and counterproductive. The US study is supported by comments made in an Australian paper titled 100 Children Turn 10. Recent research is described as concluding that: "The level of phonemic awareness ability in preschool [is] a powerful predictor of reading and spelling performance in school."

Such is the overwhelming case for teaching phonics that even wholelanguage advocates argue that their approach was never meant to exclude the more structured and systematic approach to literacy learning. Is this true? First, how extensive is whole language? Based on the 1992 House of Representatives report, The Literacy Challenge, the answer is that whole language is widespread. The report, after hearing teachers and experts across Australia, concluded: "The current approach to literacy learning in Australian schools focuses on the whole language or natural learning approach. It has gained Australia-wide support and virtually all curriculum guidelines on primary school literacy are based on this approach."

As to whether whole language, in fact, includes phonics, the answer is less clear. At the level of Australian education departments, the House of Representatives 2002 report Boys Getting it Right concluded that the answer is no: "The research supporting the more explicit teaching of phonics, especially in remedial literacy instruction, does not appear to be receiving sufficient attention by most education departments." It is also certainly the case that an examination of English syllabuses and frameworks prepared across Australia during the '80s and '90s reveals a failure to treat phonics in a comprehensive and systematic way.

At the level of teacher training it is also true that phonics is underrated and many teachers enter classrooms, through no fault of their own, without a proper grounding in the subject. As noted by Ruth Fielding-Barnsley in her research looking at 340 Queensland-based teachers and how successful teacher preparation is, most teachers showed "poor knowledge of metalinguistics in the process of learning to read".

In 2002 US President George W. Bush introduced a $USl billion program titled "Reading First" in an attempt to address literacy problems. An essential part of the program is that, to be funded, literacy programs must be based on sound research and be proven to be successful. One can only hope, as a result of the proposed inquiry planned by Nelson, that Australian authorities will adopt the same requirements.

This article originally appeared in "The Australian" newspaper of November 13, 2004. The author, Kevin Donnelly, is director of Melbourne-based company Education Strategies and author of Why Our Schools are Failing (which was commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre)


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