Saturday, March 26, 2005


Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities. The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee. The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House. While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.”

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views. According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities. Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue. “Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened. Similar suits could be filed by students who don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added. “This is a horrible step,” he said. “Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay court costs — even if they win — from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation.”

The staff analysis also warned the bill may shift responsibility for determining whether a student’s freedom has been infringed from the faculty to the courts. But Baxley brushed off Gelber’s concerns. “Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear,” he said. “Being a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be given standing to sue.”

During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as “leftists” struggling against “mainstream society.” “The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty,” he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist. Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted.

Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, argued universities and the state Board of Governors already have policies in place to protect academic freedom. Moreover, a state law outlining how professors are supposed to teach would encroach on the board’s authority to manage state schools. “The big hand of state government is going into the universities telling them how to teach,” she said. “This bill is the antithesis of academic freedom.”

But Baxley compared the state’s universities to children, saying the legislature should not give them money without providing “guidance” to their behavior. “Professors are accountable for what they say or do,” he said. “They’re accountable to the rest of us in society … All of a sudden the faculty think they can do what they want and shut us out. Why is it so unheard of to say the professor shouldn’t be a dictator and control that room as their totalitarian niche?”

In an interview before the meeting, Baxley said “arrogant, elitist academics are swarming” to oppose the bill, and media reports misrepresented his intentions. “I expect to be out there on my own pretty far,” he said. “I don’t expect to be part of a team.”



Despite ever lower standards, minorities cannot pass

Only about half of California's African American and Latino ninth-grade boys graduate from high school within four years, a new study reveals. The report, "Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California," is being issued today at a conference in Los Angeles where civil rights advocates and education researchers will present findings on racial disparities in high school graduation. It's part of a national campaign that has led to legislative changes concerning high school graduation reporting in Illinois and Ohio.

Researchers at the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, which produced the report, are hoping for stronger results in California. They say the state's high overall dropout rate and even higher dropout rate for most nonwhite students amounts to an "educational and civil rights crisis" that will cost billions in lost wages, more prisoners and greater dependence on public health care. "If students don't make it through high school, they really don't have any kind of chance in our economy," said Gary Orfield, author of the report and director of the Civil Rights Project. "And if communities don't make it through high school, their future is very severely threatened."

Across the state in 2002, the report says, 57 percent of African American students and 60 percent of Latino students graduated on time, compared with 78 percent of white students and 84 percent of Asian students. Among all racial groups, the graduation rate for boys was several percentage points lower than for girls.

The Harvard report examines graduation rates by racial group, something the California Department of Education does not do. State figures show only that 87 percent of all students are graduating. The Harvard report disputes that figure - and the method the state uses to calculate it, saying that 71 percent of California students are making it through high school. Harvard's numbers are worse in urban school districts that serve large proportions of nonwhite students.

For instance, in San Juan Unified - where enrollment is largely white - Harvard shows a higher graduation rate than that reported by the state. But the report says that in the Sacramento City Unified School District, 53 percent of all students graduate in four years. When broken down by race, 41 percent of Latino students and 38 percent of African American students graduate on time. "It is a scary epidemic that's happening with our African American children," said Jacqueline Webb, whose son attends Florin High. "It really needs to be looked at deeply." .....

The California Department of Education calculates dropout rates based on individual schools' accounting of how many students leave their school, and where students say they're going. Harvard researchers criticize this method, saying the information rarely is verified. Students might say they are leaving one school to transfer to another, but there is no way to know if they enroll or leave the education system altogether. "There are many ways you can not be counted as a dropout and not graduate high school," Orfield said. For example, he said, students who go to jail are not counted as dropouts.

The Harvard report calculates the graduation rate by counting the number of students who move from one grade to the next and then on to graduation. Discrepancies exist between graduation rates calculated by the Civil Rights Project and education departments in all of the states they examined, Orfield said. North Carolina reported that 97 percent of its high school students graduate, but the Harvard study showed 64 percent. In Texas, the state reported a graduation rate of 81 percent, and Harvard researchers said it was 65 percent. The state-by-state reports are part of a larger effort to highlight the racial inequities in the American education system so that policy-makers can eliminate them, Orfield said.

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Friday, March 25, 2005


About a year ago, along with a million other parents in Los Angeles, I was anxiously waiting to hear whether my 13-year-old son got into private school. We had applied to two Catholic high schools, and the process had been sufficiently grueling as to make me want to skip college applications altogether. There were open houses to attend, letters of recommendation, transcripts and test scores to collect. We could also write a letter pleading our son's "special circumstances." In other words, if he didn't have a 4.0 and the musical gifts of Yo-Yo Ma or the footwork of David Beckham, what did he have to offer that might win him one of those sacred slots? We wrote the letter.

And then there was the religion issue. My son had to go through interviews, but equally nerve-racking, so did his father and I. Would we pass? Would they care that my husband is Jewish and that I'm Episcopalian? It was no small point, we thought. Applications to private schools in and around Los Angeles have soared, making the schools even more selective. Everyone we knew, it seemed, was applying where we were applying: boys on my son's soccer team who not only were bona fide Catholics but had Parents Who Knew People; most of his public school friends, including one whose siblings had already graduated from one of the schools, thus scoring legacy points.

On the morning of one interview, we sat in the school's beautifully refurbished Craftsman-style library along with half a dozen other parents. We smiled at each other, but no one talked. My son, who had been opposed to this school before he'd set one skateboard-shoed foot on its serene campus, now was on board. He loved its neat classrooms, its manicured grounds, its state-of-the-art track. Even seeing an occasional Roman-collared Jesuit and imposing religious statuary didn't put him off. As we waited, he sat quietly in his white dress shirt, dark slacks and tie, glancing around the book-lined room. "I really want to go here," he finally whispered.

I think part of what he was responding to was a seriousness lacking in his own dispirited school, with its trash-strewn campus, bulging classrooms and harried — and often lousy — teachers.

And yet I was full of conflict. What kind of socially responsible parent was I, bailing out of public education? My son was supposedly in one of the "good" schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Since third grade he'd also been in its highly touted and absurdly mercurial magnet program. If I was standing in line at Trader Joe's and the name of his school was mentioned, parents would appear and fall on me like suitors. We were so lucky, they'd swoon.

I didn't feel lucky. After nine years of constant fundraisers and fractious school politics, I was fed up. I know, I know — it's easy to get fed up with the LAUSD. The boondoggle school construction projects. The dirty bathrooms. The implacable resistance to change, including principals who claim to embrace parental involvement and then turn around and accuse parents of meddling.

But the real force compelling me out of public education was my son. The system I had always defended was failing him miserably. What "magnet" meant was plenty of homework but a dearth of teacher support. We were hardly alone — nearly half the students in his grade fled the magnet that June. I knew we'd made the right decision when, just days after mailing off his applications, a gang shooting erupted yards from the school swimming pool.

More here


And the failing one had a Bachelor's degree! Obviously a black degree

A Bronx teacher who repeatedly flunked his state certification exam paid a formerly homeless man with a developmental disorder $2 to take the test for him, authorities said yesterday. The illegal stand-in - who looks nothing like teacher Wayne Brightly -- not only passed the high-stakes test, he scored so much better than the teacher had previously that the state knew something was wrong, officials said. "I was pressured into it. He threatened me," the bogus test-taker Rubin Leitner told the Daily News yesterday after Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon revealed the scam. "I gave him my all," said Leitner, 58, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a disorder similar to autism. "He gave me what he thought I was worth."

Brightly, 38, a teacher at one of the city's worst schools, Middle School 142, allegedly concocted the plot to swap identities with Leitner last summer. If he failed the state exam again, Brightly risked losing his $59,000-a-year job. "I'm tired of taking this test and failing," Brightly told Leitner, according to Condon's probe. "I want you to help me."

Along with being much smarter than Brightly, Leitner is 20 years older. He also is white and overweight while Brightly is black and thin. Yet none of those glaring differences apparently worried Brightly. "He said no one would ever know," Leitner said outside the Brownsville, Brooklyn, building he has called home since briefly living on the streets.

The two men met years ago at Brooklyn College where Leitner earned bachelor's and master's degrees in history in the late 1970s, and Brightly got a bachelor's degree in 1992. After meeting in the alumni office, Leitner began tutoring the teacher as he struggled to pass the state exam, officials said.

Brightly has been charged with coercion, falsifying business records and other crimes. He has been taken out of his Baychester classroom pending the outcome of the case. About 19,000 teachers across the state take the certification exam each year and roughly 95% pass. Teachers are required to be certified - but the city has a temporary waiver from the state because the Education Department has not been able to find enough qualified instructors.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005


Nearly all of the Houston elementary schools being investigated for possible cheating on the state's standardized achievement test produced sharply weaker exam results this year. Passing rates at all but one of the 18 schools under scrutiny dropped at a greater rate than the overall Houston Independent School District passing rate on the third-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, reading exam. Overall, the passing rate for the 14,751 HISD students who took the reading test that's used to determine whether they move on to the fourth grade fell 5 percentage points to 82 percent. Passing rates at the 18 schools in question fell an average of 19 percentage points. In addition, average scale scores, which measure the number of correctly answered questions, increased 10 points for HISD's English-speaking students but fell an average of nearly 70 points at the 18 schools under suspect.

Last year, 13 of the schools suspected of cheating had average scale scores that ranked in the top half of all HISD schools on the English exam. This year, that fell to four. Houston school district spokesman Terry Abbott cautioned against reading too much into the poorer results by the 18 schools. In an e-mail, Abbott pointed out that some of the 170 elementary schools that have not been suspected of cheating also posted scores substantially lower than last year's. Also, the cheating investigations at most of the schools are focusing on score anomalies at other grade levels and subjects, he said.

The sharp decline in scores is not direct proof of cheating or wrongdoing, but adds to suspicions, said Thomas Haladyna, an Arizona State University professor specializing in standardized test research. "You wonder about the validity of scores when they jump around like that," he said. Factors such as teacher turnover rates and changing student populations could cause major score changes, but that doesn't explain why virtually every suspected school regressed more than the typical campus, Haladyna said.

The questions of cheating arose after an investigation by The Dallas Morning News last year found strong evidence that educators were helping students cheat at nearly 400 schools statewide, including Houston. Last month, two Houston fifth-grade math teachers were fired and the school principal was demoted after determining the teachers gave answers to students and the principal should have known about the cheating. The teachers have denied any wrongdoing.



The less pupils use computers at school and at home, the better they do in international tests of literacy and maths, the largest study of its kind says today. The findings raise questions over the Government's decision, announced by Gordon Brown in the Budget last week, to spend another £1.5 billion on school computers, in addition to the £2.5 billion it has already spent. Mr Brown said: "The teaching and educational revolution is no longer blackboards and chalk, it is computers and electronic whiteboards."

However, the study, published by the Royal Economic Society, said: "Despite numerous claims by politicians and software vendors to the contrary, the evidence so far suggests that computer use in schools does not seem to contribute substantially to students' learning of basic skills such as maths or reading." Indeed, the more pupils used computers, the worse they performed, said Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Wossmann of Munich University. Their report also noted that being able to use a computer at work - one of the justifications for devoting so much teaching time to ICT (information and communications technology) - had no greater impact on employability or wage levels than being able to use a telephone or a pencil.

The researchers analysed the achievements and home backgrounds of 100,000 15-year-olds in 31 countries taking part in the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) study in 2000 for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Pisa, to the British and many other governments' satisfaction, claimed that the more pupils used computers the better they did. It even suggested those with more than one computer at home were a year ahead of those who had none. The study found this conclusion "highly misleading" because computer availability at home is linked to other family-background characteristics, in the same way computer availability at school is strongly linked to availability of other resources. Once those influences were eliminated, the relationship between use of computers and performance in maths and literacy tests was reduced to zero, showing how "careless interpretations can lead to patently false conclusions".

The more access pupils had to computers at home, the lower they scored in tests, partly because they diverted attention from homework. Pupils tended to do worse in schools generously equipped with computers, apparently because computerised instruction replaced more effective forms of teaching.

The Government says computers are the key to "personalised learning" and computers should be "embedded" in the teaching of every subject. Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has said: "We must move the thinking about ICT from being an add-on to being an integral part of the way we teach and learn."



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, March 23, 2005

Top marks for U.K. sect schools that shun the modern world

Funny that! Education is one thing the modern world seems to be very bad at

A secretive religious sect that bans children from using computers or reading fiction has won praise from Ofsted for the quality of education provided by its schools. The Exclusive Brethren, which also believes that members should not go to university because it is too "worldly", runs 43 private schools educating 1,400 children.

The group, an offshoot of the Evangelical Protestant Plymouth Brethren, cuts itself off from the outside world, which it regards as evil. Members are not allowed to have friends from outside the Brethren. They work only in Brethren-owned businesses, and their meeting halls have no windows. They must follow a rigid code of behaviour set down by their leader, known as the "Elect Vessel". Television, radio, mobile telephones, newspapers and going to places of entertainment are all banned. Computers and the internet are regarded as tools of the Devil.

All private schools are now required to register either with Ofsted or the Independent Schools Council to show that they satisfy minimum criteria for education, although they are not required to follow the national curriculum. Ofsted has already accredited six of the Brethren's schools through the Focus Learning Trust, an educational group established by the church. A spokesman for the trust said it hoped to have all of them registered by the summer. He said that the schools observed the same rules as the Brethren on the use of computers and modern technology. "We don't have such things in our homes, we don't have them in our businesses and we would not have them in our schools," he said. "Children were educated extremely well, some would say better, before such things were dreamt up. There is a general perception in the educational world that the teacher who needs to employ such gimmicks to get their message across is clearly not the most committed teacher."

David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, praised the Exclusive Brethren in his annual report last month, in which he also criticised Islamic schools for teaching a narrow curriculum that posed a potential threat to Britain's sense of national identity.

The sect, which adheres to a strict interpretation of biblical teaching, has most of its schools in the South of England. They were set up to keep children "away from damaging influences" in the state system.

Mr Bell said in his report that teaching in the Focus Learning schools visited so far by inspectors was generally good. He went on: "Focus Learning provides good support to its schools and has developed a number of common policy documents that are of very good quality . . . The quality of teaching, most of which is done by experienced practitioners, is generally good."

Most of the schools, which cater for pupils aged 11 to 17, had operated previously as tuition centres for children who were otherwise taught at home. They rely on fees from parents or donations from the Exclusive Brethren. Pupils are entered for GCSE and vocational qualifications.

The Exclusive Brethren was founded in the mid 19th century. It believes the world is the domain of the Devil, and members spend most of their time in "safe places" such as meeting rooms and their own homes.

Ofsted's praise of education standards at its schools has drawn criticism. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "Denying children access to knowledge that would help them to cope in the modern world is tantamount to abuse. "It will leave them ill-equipped to cope if they later decide that life inside the Brethren is not for them. It is alarming that Ofsted, in its keenness to accommodate religion, appears to have suspended its critical faculties." Doug Harris, director of the Reachout Trust charity, which provides support for former members of religious sects, said: "The basis of Exclusive Brethren belief is separation from the rest of the world. It can be distressing for them if they try to leave."



They even regard Ward Churchill as an authority!

A university education in the humanities was once supposed to be a civilising experience. But just how antiquated are the traditional advocates of this ideal - such as Charles Badham, professor of classics at the University of Sydney from 1867 to 1884 - can be seen from two new developments at Badham's old institution.

The first is the university's invitation to Antonio Negri to speak at a conference from May 4 to 6 on Physiognomy of Origins: Multiplicities, Bodies and Radical Politics, hosted by the University of Sydney's Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and funded by its school of languages and culture. And who's Negri? Well, he was one of the organisers of the Red Brigades, the terrorist group responsible for several political assassinations in Italy, the most notorious of which was the 1979 kidnapping and murder of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro. At the time, Negri was professor of political science at the University of Padua. He was arrested and charged with 17 murders, including that of Moro, as well as armed insurrection against the state. The Italian public was shocked that an academic could be involved in such events but most astonished by one bizarre detail. Forty-five days after the kidnapping, someone sounding like Negri telephoned Moro's wife, taunting her about her husband's impending death. Nine days later his body, shot in the head, was found dumped in a city lane.

In 2000, he became an academic celebrity in the US as co-author with Duke University literary theorist Michael Hardt of the book Empire, a Marxist-postmodernist thesis arguing that, despite the fall of the Soviet Union, a worldwide communist revolution is still on the political agenda. Part of the book's appeal on campus lay in the radical glamour of Negri's terrorist past and the cover note biography recording him as an inmate of Rebibbia prison, Rome.

The second development is a new book out of the same university's history department that celebrates, in part, the work of Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado. The book describes Churchill as a "Native American activist and scholar". Last month, Churchill briefly became the most famous, and most reviled, academic in the US. Shortly after September11, 2001, he wrote an essay saying those who died in New York's World Trade Centre deserved their fate. They were "a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" who were at the time "busy braying incessantly into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions". Churchill added: "If there was a better, more effective or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it."

Churchill's "little Eichmanns" comment became public and he was excoriated not only for his offence to all of those who died but also for his implicit anti-Semitism. The governor of Colorado called for Churchill's dismissal but only succeeded in forcing his resignation as head of the university's ethnic studies department. He remains a tenured professor. During the media furore, other aspects of Churchill's background quickly became public. He was accused of academic misconduct, both in misrepresenting himself as a Native American to gain his university post and in his writings about American history.

Meanwhile in Australia, Churchill is being presented as a scholarly authority on the Aborigines. In the newly released anthology Genocide and Settler Society, editor Dirk Moses of the University of Sydney's history department quotes Churchill's 1997 book A Little Matter of Genocide as one of his main sources on the Tasmanian Aborigines. Churchill compares the fate of the Tasmanians with that of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

Moses contrasts this thesis with what he calls the "naive paean to British expansion" of Hannah Arendt, who denied the Nazi comparison and commended the British for bringing civilisation to the indigenous people of the US and Australia. Arendt was one of the most formidable intellectuals of the 20th century who wrote a widely admired book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Hitler's project to exterminate the European Jews. To Moses, however, she is no match for Churchill. Another essayist in the same book, Henry Reynolds, also cites Churchill as one of the academic authorities who argue that what happened in Tasmania amounted to genocide. A third contributor, Paul Bartrop, quotes Churchill as a reliable source on the massacre of Native Americans in Colorado.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005


First, and most obvious, universities operate, for all functional purposes, outside the market. They trumpet their "competitive" positions, but in fact most of them are immune to any real market influences. For example, they don't respond to price, because there is absolutely no price competition among universities. Oh, you see some differential among "tiers" of providers---much the way you'd see a difference in price between a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and one in Cincinnati---but among the major state schools and the large non-Ivy privates, virtually all of the so-called "competition" comes in the form of "student support" that they provide. This "support," of course, is no different than what happens in jewellery stores in malls, where the prices are jacked up double or triple, then prices "slashed" back to where they would normally be. Universities overprice themselves by 30%, then essentially rebate to a majority of students some form of "support" that is already built into the pricing structure.

Second, a corollary of the pricing system is that it has reshaped the way students and parents see costs at the university and the way legislatures fund schools. When you talk to anyone in university advancement, or development, or enrolment, and you argue for cutting tuitions, they all say the same thing: "Students expect support. It's part of our marketing and advertising." Again, that might be well and good in a normal functioning market, because there would always be a high-quality, low-cost alternative that would attract large numbers of top students. But a two-fold "snob" factor is at work:

1) students judge their worth on how much (largely bogus) support they get from a school, and

2) universities measure their success largely by how many top students they attract, regardless of what they have to give away to get them. My own midwestern university just revels in the fact that it is recruiting actively in Florida and Puerto Rico---when kids right here in Dayton might otherwise be able to afford to attend school here if the prices were lower. I think it is fruitless to be concerned about what is taught on university campuses unless or until we can somehow make schools once again sensitive to costs that are substantially borne by the majority of the consumers.

More here


The nation's most prestigious academic institution, Sydney University, has been shaken by more than 300 students being investigated for cheating in their studies. The problem of "academic dishonesty" was most acute in the veterinary faculty where 73 students were suspected of cheating in one subject - more than 10 per cent of faculty enrolment. A The Daily Telegraph investigation into plagiarism in universities shows cut-and-pasting from the internet has become so widespread that spy software such as Turnitin is now used routinely to catch cheats. Sydney University faculty reports on student dishonesty, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, show the sandstone institution is struggling with a rash of cheating in some areas.

In the veterinary science faculty, the 73 students faced an inquiry over copying or fabricating assignments in the animal husbandry subject VETS 4331. The number under suspicion represents a large chunk of the entire faculty enrolment of 628. The subject required students to submit reports based on field visits to properties detailing their experiences managing animals. "All markers expressed concern about apparent plagiarism in some reports and nominated 73 reports as contained identical or very similar material," an internal inquiry concluded. Following an investigation many students were given the benefit of the doubt and 23 students faced interviews with an external review panel to explain anomalies. Many had to resubmit work although only one was ultimately failed by the faculty, reputedly the nation's best in its field.

Sydney University's faculty of health sciences, which offers courses in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and radiotherapy, was another problem area, registering 80 cases of cheating. Of these, 29 were failed as a result while 31 were given written warnings and 17 were counselled. The faculty of agriculture, food and natural resources reported 39 investigations. There were another 29 in economics and business.

But Sydney is not alone in battling the problem. The University of Western Sydney investigated 39 cases last year. Plagiarism problems at the University of Newcastle involving full-fee paying students at a partner Malaysian institution developed into a full-blown scandal in 2003 and a ICAC inquiry.

The ease of plagiarism from the internet has prompted universities to go to extraordinary lengths to catch the cheats. Licences to use anti-plagiarism system Turnitin have now been purchased by 25 Australian universities to catch students who cut-and-paste from the internet. In NSW, these universities include Macquarie and University of Technology and Newcastle.


What once was: "I don't know whether or not I should admit this, but here goes: I'm a product of the public school system. Of course, public schools not so very many years ago were quite different than the public schools we see today. I can read and write proper English (I can even speak it when I've a mind to do so) because failing in those endeavors meant, well, failing. I can balance my checkbook and make change for a twenty because math teachers didn't allow calculators in classes until we were advanced enough for algebra. And I can find Iraq on a map because my geography teacher wouldn't let any of us move in the direction of the 8th grade until we learned in 7th grade how to read a typical map. Unfortunately, things have changed since I was a student."


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

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Monday, March 21, 2005


California's lowered-expectation Democrats have embarked on a pleasantly foul strategy to cope with the state's horrific national ranking of 48 out of 50 states in K-12 academic performance - cancel entirely the already-tabled high school exit exam required to receive a diploma. The exam has become a public relations nightmare for the ruling leftists who dominate both bodies of the legislature in Sacramento.

Ironically, Democrats can't seem to escape the responsibilities and consequences of some of the good decisions made by other Democrats. The high school exit exam, the brainchild of one-time Democrat state senator, now Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O' Connell, and the mantelpiece of former "education governor" Gray Davis, was enacted into law in 1999, and scheduled for first use with the state's graduating class of 2004. However, in July 2003, the California State Board of Education issued a memo titled "State Board of Education Delays Consequences of California High School Exit Exam. Decision postpones exit exam as graduation requirement to class of 2006." The critical portion of the memo reads as follows:

The action means students in the classes of 2004 and 2005 are no longer required to pass the exit exam as a condition of earning a high school diploma. Instead, the class of 2006 will be the first class that must pass the exit exam as a requirement of graduation. The State Board delayed the exit exam in the wake of a recent independent external evaluation that found the test has been a "major factor" in boosting standards-based instruction and learning but that many students, for different reasons, may not have benefited from courses of initial and remedial instruction to master the required standards.

Translated - the state was worried that an estimated 30-40 percent of 2004 examinees would have failed the test, resulting in thousands of lawsuits filed by angry parents.

This type of exam is nothing new. High school exit exams are now required in 19 states. So, a pioneering "Queen Bee of Self Esteem" has arrived to save the day. Her name is Karen Bass, a newly elected assemblywoman from Los Angeles. According to Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau ("Activist takes office, comes out swinging," March 14, 2005):

"Bass, the state's only African American female legislator, is a former nurse and physician's assistant with brown belts in tae kwon do and hapkido martial arts.

"The freshman Los Angeles Democrat is likely to need both skills; toughness and compassion, in tackling one of California's most controversial education issues: the high school exit exam.

"Shortly after unpacking her bags at the Capitol, Bass launched a bid to eliminate the requirement that no diploma be given to high school students who fail the exam, beginning next year.

"If you begin taking the test in the 10th grade and you're not passing it, what's your incentive to finish high school?" Bass asked. "The last thing in the world we want to do is increase the dropout rate."

How inspiring! Just what every ambitious kid needs.a mentor in calling it quits. Here is the key language of her proposal (AB 1531):

Existing law requires, commencing with the 2003-04 school year and each school year thereafter, each pupil completing grade 12 to successfully pass the exit examination as a condition of graduation from high school. Existing law requires the board, in consultation with the Superintendent, to study the appropriateness of other criteria by which high school pupils who are regarded as highly proficient but unable to pass the exit examination may demonstrate their competency and receive a high school diploma.

Is she serious? "High school pupils who are regarded as highly proficient but unable to pass the exit examination?" What is a high school senior "highly proficient" at if they can't pass a test that educators rate as equivalent to 10th-grade standards? Maybe this language is only an invitation to lawyers to start feeding at the public trough...

It would seem that Ms. Bass should be more focused on content, aptitude and qualifying students for advancement, and less on doctrinaire liberalism, mediocrity, and self esteem. What is more expensive to the child and the state as a whole? An uneducated dropout, or a valuable contributing individual who works hard in school, sees the value of academic success, and prepares themselves for a lifelong competitive world? The dropout rate is already a huge problem. Ms. Bass's "solution" will only make it worse.....

Parents who continue to vote Democrat over progressive policies like these should realize that they are being victimized by deceitful politicians who purport to help their families......

Not a single parent should be satisfied if their undereducated child ends up with backbreaking menial work washing dishes and cleaning houses because nothing more was expected of them, when they could have become doctors, scientists, accountants, and engineers. The "activists" in control have decided that educational excellence takes a back seat to the raw pursuit of political power on the back of innocent kids.

More here


It isn't often that a group of college professors is soundly and thoroughly embarrassed by a collection of mere students in an intellectual arena. But that's exactly what happened at the end of February, when the University of Alabama's Student Senate passed a sharp resolution directly opposing a heavy-handed, short-sighted and illiberal "hate speech" resolution that their Faculty Senate had already passed. The Faculty Senate's original resolution called for the creation of a series of new regulations which threatened to drastically curtail First Amendment rights at their public university. With their remarkably independent and sophisticated response, UA's students have schooled their teachers with a much-needed lesson in the fundamentals of a free and open society.

The Faculty Senate's original "hate speech" resolution came down after an incident that smacks of tired familiarity to any casual observer of campus political correctness. UA hired a comedian who came and made some offensive remarks to a gay student. Like clockwork, with factory-produced fervor and indignation, the college administration put out a statement condemning this "shameful incident" of "bigotry and malicious aggression" which was a "personal attack" on a student. Everyone sat around rubbing their temples, bemoaning oppression and intolerance for a few days, until some towering, renaissance-minded enthusiasts were struck with the brilliant and novel idea to finally put an end to hate speech, once and for all. It just can't help but make your heart warm....

Now, it's not clear whether they stopped to ponder the fact that Christians and conservatives happen to be individuals with group affiliations and personal characteristics that have historically made for some pretty good satire. Nor has it been reported whether or not whatever was left of the faculty's liberal souls shriveled up and died immediately upon seeing themselves approve the words "control behavior" and "standards of civility" in the same sentence, advocating censorship of words and ideas.

But imagine the professors' shock and inner turmoil when they received an open letter from a civil liberties watchdog group, with Stanford and Harvard law credentials, accusing them of trampling on the First Amendment. The letter, from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, stated: "The United States Supreme Court has consistently held that empowering public officials to ban speech based on its content will naturally result in the silencing of dissenting viewpoints." The letter also demonstrated that the spirit of the "vague and dangerously overbroad restriction" proposed by the Faculty Senate clearly served to undermine the values of free inquiry and open discussion that are at the heart of any healthy university.

Picking up on FIRE's message, the members of UA's Student Senate laid out their obvious case. First, they argued, "The right to free speech is an inalienable human and civil right that is protected by the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Alabama." They continued, "Free speech is absolutely vital to the mission of any university, where new and often controversial ideas must be discussed openly and rationally in order to make advances in knowledge." And as they also pointed out, "Speech codes have been used by other colleges and universities to silence dissenting speech, not merely so-called 'hate speech,' and to persecute those with unpopular opinions." Finally, they used a Thomas Jefferson quote to demand that UA should explicitly protect, not reject, the individual rights of free expression that the First Amendment guarantees.

More here

Rules and regulations are paralyzing US schools: "A new study from the bipartisan legal reform coalition Common Good found U.S. schools are greatly over-regulated, in many cases to the point of paralysis. The study details thousands upon thousands of laws and regulations that apply to public schools in New York City. The study was released on November 29 as an interactive Web interface. ... The study, titled 'Over Ruled: The Burden of Law on America's Public Schools,' found more than 60 separate sources of laws and regulations governing the operation of a typical public high school in New York City, imposing thousands of specific obligations on school officials."


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

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


Sunday, March 20, 2005


An obscure professor at a minor university spends class time telling students that America is the world's biggest oppressor and greatest terrorist state. He urges them to "work for communism." The same professor, presenting himself as an expert on communism, scours internet academic forums in defense of Josef Stalin, calls the fall of the Soviet Union a moral outrage, implies that Israel is a fascist state and encourages his students to utilize an anti U.S., anti-capitalist and pro-communist website he publishes as a study resource.

Grover C. Furr is this little-known professor, and if you think that American college students should be educated and not indoctrinated then you should know what he's been up to.

For more than twenty years, Furr has been an English professor at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey where he drenches his classes in Marxism and advocates the destruction of America's existing government and social structures.

Professor Furr employs a simple ploy in ramming Marxism, glowing accounts of communism and anti-U.S. propaganda down his student's throats-- he packs his courses' required reading lists with books and papers reflecting Marxist viewpoints. The majority of these books are written by authors who are or were themselves Marxists, or Communists. Most of the remaining books on his course reading lists relate to violent revolution, or glowing accounts of lower classes overthrowing ruling classes.

A "General Humanities" course Furr teaches provides a good example of his method of cloaking political indoctrination as legitimate teaching. On his Montclair-provided website, Furr describes his General Humanities course as being "an introduction to Western European culture and society from the Ancient World through the Middle Ages." But it is actually a vehicle which he uses to spread his fringe leftist ideas and beliefs. A sampling of the course's reading list provides overwhelming evidence to support this contention. Required reading for students taking Professor Furr's General Humanities course includes the following authors:

James Axtell, whose "The White Indians of Colonial America" (required course reading) implies that Native American culture was better than European culture in colonial America; Ronald Takaki, a prominent multicultural advocate whose works take a hard anti-Anglo slant; Alan D. Winspear, whose "Who was Socrates?" is a Marxist analysis of the great thinker; Moses I. Finley, a Marxist and member of communist Karl Polanyi's leftist think-tank at Rutgers University; Rodney Hilton, a British Marxist, G.E.M. de Ste Croix, whose "The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World" is often praised for its contributions to Marxist theory and I.F. Stone, a fellow traveler if not Soviet agent and life-long hater of Israel, a communist apologist who once commended the Soviet Union for "steadily expanding democracy in every sphere."

After completing Furr's skewed course on Western European culture, students are assured of viewing the West with disdain while gaining no true understanding of greater Western culture.

More here


Some excerpts from an article by Fred Siegel

Back in the fall of 2003, when Dr. Dean was still riding high in the Presidential primary, I'd listened in on a conversation among undergraduate Deaniacs outside my office at Cooper Union in the East Village. "This just doesn't feel like America any more," one of them said to a friend, who replied, "Fuck Bush," and pointed to a button on his jacket bearing the same slogan.

It's an old professor's habit, but I had to engage them. "What does that mean?" I asked the fellow with the button. "Bush is bullshit," he replied, "the most evil man in the world." When I said that wasn't an argument and pressed him, he acknowledged that "Saddam isn't a good guy," but "who are we"-he pointed both to me and his like-minded friend-to "judge Saddam Hussein?"

"Why not?" I asked. He replied with an answer right out of the postmodern playbook. Americans can't judge another culture, he insisted, because there is no common morality. But if that's the case, I asked, why then was George Bush "undoubtedly the most evil man in the world?" He seemed puzzled by the idea that his version of an emotional truth might seem incoherent to others.

Recently, the professoriat has been embarrassed by a series of dustups exposing the irrationalist underside of academic life. After Hamilton College invited a former Brinks holdup terrorist to take a faculty position, it compounded its problems by asking "Indian" poseur Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado to speak, only to back off when he was found to have delivered a rant about how the people killed in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns." Columbia's alumni, if not its administration, has been discomfited by the ravings of Joseph Massad, a professor so extreme in his support of Palestinian terrorism as to have labeled Yasir Arafat a collaborator with Israel. Harvard president Larry Summers has been forced to don the sackcloth and ashes after he commented reasonably that the differences between men and women might-and his stress, the transcript shows, was on might-be one part of the reason why there are fewer females in the sciences....

But then again, academia has been getting it wrong over and over again. Criminologists, as a group, were convinced that crime couldn't be cut; sociologists were sure that welfare reform couldn't work because it didn't go to the root causes of poverty; and Sovietologists were certain that the USSR of the 1980's had matured into a successful, even pluralistic society. As for radical Islam, the consensus view of the Middle Eastern Studies Association was that the danger to America came from a "terror industry" which conjured imagined threats in order to justify American aggression.

But even as academia's batting average has declined, its claim to superior knowledge has expanded. The old ideal of disinterested scholarship, or at least the importance of attempting to be objective, has been displaced. In 2003, the University of California's Academic Assembly did away with the distinction between "interested" and "disinterested" scholarship by a 45-3 vote. As Berkeley law professor Robert Post explained, "The old statement of principles was so outlandishly disconnected to what university teaching is now that it made no sense to think about it that way."

The reality, as Professor Post recognized, is that many professors now literally profess. Far from teaching the mechanics of knowledge, they are in fact preachers of sorts, spreading a gospel akin to that of Howard Dean. And if they are part of grievance-studies departments, like Ward Churchill or Joseph Massad, there never was any expectation of objectivity: They were knowingly hired as activists and are now puzzled as to why this has become a problem for some of their students and the larger public. After all, what they preach is built into the very orientation students are given when they arrive on campus. New students at many schools are quite literally given a new faith in which the world is divided into victims and victimizers, with little room for common ideals of citizenship or rationality, and no basis for debates that approximate the give-and-take of politics.

This appeal to tribalism was nearly summed in a popular T-shirt of the mid-1990's. It read in large print: "If you're not black, you wouldn't understand."

The effect of victims-studies departments, in which intellectual standards are ignored-the personalization of the political by way of feminism, and the epistemological nihilism of postmodernism-has cut much of academia off from its lifeblood of free and open debate. Like the Deaniacs, who wrote off the success of the Iraqi elections, they never need to refine their arguments in light of new evidence, since criticism can be written off as "Republican," or "racist," or "sexist," or "Islamophobic," or just plain "bullshit."

It has gotten so bad that philosophers at a prestigious university have asked to be detached from the humanities department because the English and history departments are so mired in subjectivity that faculty members in the same department can barely speak with each other, let alone across disciplines.

Postmodernism is the Indian rope trick of academia; it's an intellectual illusion that collapses before even slightly skeptical scrutiny. The postmodern game consists of an insistence that objective judgments are impossible, since all knowledge is riddled with prejudice, power considerations, ethnocentric assumptions and so on. The trick is that these prejudices infect only those who differ from the (almost always left-wing) positions of the professors. Its triumph on campus after campus-where the tenure system ensures that only like-minded scholars are accepted and deters those with different ideas from even considering the academy as a career choice-means that the postmodern academy speaks largely to itself and its offspring. In the absence of truth, there's little reason to try and persuade people. Instead, performance replaces plausibility and persuasion as the coin of academic success, giving rise to percussive performers like Ward Churchill and Joseph Massad.

If the Democratic Party comes to be dominated by angry ill-informed activists who believe that George Bush is more evil than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, it will have a bleak future. It's time for Democrats, if only out of their own self-interest, to start paying attention to the tragic decline of our college and universities. If they don't, the party's future will be in the hands of the acadeaniacs.


The news had spread quickly: The south Sacramento Catholic parish will close St. Peter's School to merge it this fall with All Hallows School in Tahoe Park. All Hallows will have a new name. The decision was formally announced in a letter to parents sent Tuesday. Parish and school officials did not return phone calls or declined to comment to The Bee. "It really could be a very exciting time. And perhaps a lot of new energy will surround that," said Lynette Magnino, Catholic Diocese of Sacramento spokeswoman. "We're just very pleased that they've come to a point where they've addressed their needs."

Separately, St. Lawrence Parish has announced it will consolidate the classes at its North Highlands school in the fall. Eight grades will be combined into four classes with four teachers, said the Rev. Joe Ternullo. St. Lawrence, St. Peter's and All Hollows face declining enrollment, making them more financially dependent on subsidies and loans from the parish and diocese. With the potential cost to the diocese of settling clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, parish officials wrote All Hallows and St. Peter's parents that the diocese can no longer provide subsidies for schools and may cut back on scholarships.

Outside St. Peter's brick school building Tuesday, on a residential street near Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road, students scanned the grass for four-leaf clovers. Parents in the parking lot were reacting to the impending changes with dismay. Many said they wouldn't send their children to All Hallows, based in an area they consider unsafe. They worried about higher tuition costs at other schools and said their children shouldn't have to suffer for the abuse lawsuits.

Some parents at All Hallows and St. Peter's said they felt their schools - less than three miles apart - were targeted for restructuring because they are in low-income neighborhoods. "They were the poorest of schools. They're not as economically advantageous," Hagemann said. "They're just treating us as second class," said Steve Ramirez, picking up his fifth-grade son from All Hallows. "The majority of the people that go here are Mexican American, and look who goes to the other schools, like El Dorado Hills."

Holy Trinity Parish opened a $4 million school in El Dorado Hills in 2003 - the same year Immaculate Conception School in Oak Park was closed.

School closures in inner-city neighborhoods and openings in more wealthy suburbs are part of a national trend over the last five years, said Michael Guerra, president of the National Catholic Educational Association. It is a "crisis" that pits changing demographics and finances against the mission of the church to serve the poor, Guerra said.

In Sacramento, an endowment provides scholarships to urban schools like All Hallows and St. Peter's but it provides money for fewer than 10 students to attend each school every year. "It is absolutely still a value of the church to serve those that are in need, and there will be new ways of doing that," Magnino said. "But it just may not look the way it used to."

The market for schools is clearly in the suburbs, said Dean Hoge, professor of sociology at Catholic University of America. "The future of Catholic schools is generally a big issue of social justice versus playing to the market," he said. "The question is, we as a Catholic Church, is that really our business? Why should we be in the private school business? Why shouldn't we have an option for the poor?"


Princes steal from paupers: "Thousands of dollars in federal funds intended to assist poor District of Columbia schoolchildren appear to have been spent instead by school administrators on retreats and unapproved travel. DC auditors are looking into the public school system's use of these federal funds. 'You had at least principals and some other managers participating,' Deborah K. Nichols of the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor says. 'No cost was spared.' Nichols disclosed the inquiry at an oversight hearing by the DC Council's Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation. DC public schools received more than $10 million in 2004 for after-school programs, according to city documents. Under the proposed fiscal 2006 budget, the programs would receive more than $13 million, which includes federal money and private donations."


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