Saturday, June 17, 2006

A university is forced to treat white professors equally

Talk about back wages due: A federal judge in Phoenix this month said that Northern Arizona University owes $1.4 million to a group of professors who have been pursuing justice through the courts since 1995. The 40 teachers, all white men, argued that they were discriminated against when the public university gave raises to minority and female faculty members in the early 1990s but not to white males. Not only that--the plaintiffs said in a Title VII civil-rights suit--the salary bumps resulted in some favored faculty members earning more than white men in comparable positions.

The lawsuit and its outcome are yet another striking illustration of the perils of affirmative action, with its often contorted logic of redress and blame and its tendency to commit exactly the sort of discrimination that it was designed to prevent.

The university may persuade U.S. District Court judge Robert Broomfield to lower the bill for what is effectively back pay to the professors. But the school is also facing a claim for the plaintiffs' legal expenses. Their attorney, Jess Lorona, tells us that, with more than a decade of litigating on both sides totted up, the cost to Arizona taxpayers could soar to $2.5 million.

What happened here? The professors' victory, it should be said, is not a sweeping defeat of affirmative action, and the plaintiffs didn't ask for one. The university maintains that when it raised pay for certain faculty it was simply following a federal mandate to eliminate race or gender wage disparities. What got the school in trouble was not "catch up" payments per se but the way it made them. Even so, "the reverberations are going to be tremendous," attorney Lorona predicts. He explains that this decision "sets out case law about what needs to be done when you're trying to cure pay inequity."

Lesson One: You should probably prove that discrimination exists rather than just infer it from dodgy statistics. In 1993, the university's then-president, Eugene M. Hughes, assumed there had been discrimination, based partly on a study he'd commissioned. The study used salaries at other schools to help determine a theoretical median wage that should prevail at Northern Arizona. A lot of white males there fell below the median, but the significant finding for President Hughes was the one that showed minorities and women under a "predicted" par.

As Judge Broomfield noted in 2004, the initial study ignored factors such as whether people held doctorates. At any rate, the study's own figures indicated that white faculty were earning only about $87 a year more than minorities, and men were making about $751 more than women. Mr. Hughes's solution: raises of up to $3,000 for minorities and $2,400 for women. White men got nada.

So here's Lesson Two and the winning issue in this case: If you want to pay "catch up" wages to some employees, don't overcompensate to the point where they draw ahead for no reason other than their race or gender. As Andrew Kleinfeld, a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in his 2002 opinion lambasting Mr. Hughes: "The scheme here was straightforward: Minorities are gold, women are silver, white men are bronze. . . . [E]veryone in America knows that the Constitution prohibits the government from treating some people better than others because they are of a preferred sex or ethnicity." Well, at least they now know in Arizona.


The tutoring industry has exploded, thanks to parents who can't let kids "fall behind."

Back in the 1980s, when Japanese financiers gobbled up U.S. companies like so many Pacmen, Americans became unnerved. Japanese society seemed scarily focused: The discipline in schools was so brutal that a tardy child might be crushed to death by the doors slamming shut precisely on time. We heard about juku, cram schools where Japanese children went each afternoon after regular classes for three hours more of academic drilling; Saturdays, too.

Americans joked about how we'd all be carrying yen in our wallets someday, but we could comfort ourselves--and people did--by saying that at least our children were individuals. American childhood was to be enjoyed, not grimly marched through with joyless eyes fixed on getting into the Ivy League.

Ah, but will you look at us now? We're building a juku system of our own. Millions of American children no longer have the time to kick a ball around after school because they're already late for an appointment with the math tutor or a "study skills" lesson or cognitive skills training or Spanish immersion or "reading comprehension support" or academic enrichment of one sort of another.

Tutoring as a concept is, of course, nothing new. Where would the 19th-century novel be without pretty young governesses presiding over schoolrooms in country estates? Outside of literature, tutors have long been a fixture of both ends of the bell curve. Struggling children got help to keep afloat at grade level; super-bright children might see tutors to challenge them further. What's happening now is different. Tutoring has become near ubiquitous among the panicky classes: middle- and upper-middle-income families where there are ample brains and money.

Today it's not uncommon for six-year-olds to receive private lessons in how to overcome "executive function issues," for if they can't handle the paperwork in first grade, heaven help them in the cutthroat bureaucracy of third. Middle-schoolers see tutors to boost their math and reading skills, and thus help them get into the right high school; high-schoolers sign up for private SAT prep. The parents of high-schoolers and college students hire specialists for as much as $500 a hour to tweak calculus skills or edit essays. Some families hire tutors in Bangalore because they're available on email at midnight and cost a fraction of what it would take to bring a teacher to the house.

"In 1989 I would mumble, 'I'm a tutor,' and hang my head a little, because it seemed a marginal job," says David Kahn, who runs a tutoring company in Manhattan. "People used to think it meant I was poor, and now they think it means I'm rich."

There is no real mystery about why tutoring has become such a growth industry. It can be traced in part to the proliferation of standardized tests. At Kaplan, the biggest corporate tutor, the number of students in its test prep and after-school programs has more than doubled since 1998. According to the research firm Eduventures, schools spent $879 million on corporate tutoring and test prep in the 2004/2005 academic year--25.2% more than the year before. Uncle Sam is giving tutoring a boost too. Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government pays for the tutoring of any kid in a failing school. (This market in tutoring for low-income students barely existed six years ago.) In all, Americans spend more than $4 billion a year on tutoring.

The propelling force behind this revenue stream is, of course, modern parents: a whole generation of anxious, competitive, aspirational parents who agonize about whether their children are doing well enough, or missing out on anything, or, God forbid, falling behind in some crucial way.

At the park the other day, I met a woman who had taken the afternoon off to "do sports" with her son. This consisted of her bouncing a ball toward him and waiting for him to bounce it back. She fretted openly that she had been too slow in having the boy taught to play basketball. She worried that it might already be too late for him to win a place on a particular high-status private-school team. "Some of those other kids are pretty good," she said uneasily of the competition, which, like her son, is about four years old. It's the perception of relative disadvantage that makes such situations poignant. If every other four-year-old in that woman's milieu is taking basketball lessons, of course her son will fall "behind."

It is a truth universally acknowledged among teachers and tutors that modern parents want their children to do exceptionally well. They demand A's, not B's. They expect stratospheric SAT scores. Anecdote suggests, however, that they seldom want to spend any time in pursuit of these goals themselves. "I told one family they were wasting their money. The parents told me to keep doing it anyway," says Chuck Hoag, a private-school math teacher who tutors after hours in suburban Maryland. According to Mr. Hoag, the tutee in question could have done well with just 15 minutes a night of his parents' attention. He says gloomily: "So many parents seem [to be] saying, 'I'm living up to my responsibility by giving my child a tutor.'"

But parents are not simply shirking their own responsibility, they are encouraging kids not to take any. "There is a tutor culture \[of\] parents who don't let their children fail once in a while. They're scared it'll look bad on their record," says Caleb Rossiter, a professor at American University, who has noticed this trend even on the college level. This semester, he gave a failing grade to a lackadaisical student. The girl's mother, a lawyer, immediately phoned: "She said, 'We want to challenge this grade. My daughter can't afford to flunk.'" When Mr. Rossiter declined to change the girl's grade, the family asked about finding a tutor. "I said, 'I am her tutor,'" he laughs. "I have office hours. You're paying $40,000 a year, and yet your daughter has never once come to see me."

Mr. Rossiter's experience hints at a darker trend of which mass tutoring is only a symptom: the spread of a high-grade, get-ahead academic ethos that is decoupled from an actual, mind-broadening education. On NPR recently, a reporter asked 87-year-old Hazel Haley, who just retired after 67 years of teaching English in a Florida high school, how today's teenagers differed from the ones she taught generations ago. She gave this dispiriting response: "Today's young people [think], 'I'll learn it for the test, I'll do well on the test, and then I will flush it.' "

Mr. Kahn, the Manhattan tutor, notices the same thing. He sees a distressing number of children who are "completely burnt out and won't accomplish anything in college because they were driven through high school the way an associate is driven through a law firm." "For many kids," Mr. Kahn says, "getting into college is such an ordeal that once they're there, they just kick back." Shades of juku again: In Japan, cram schools focus on getting into university, not necessarily getting much out of it. It's a shame that we're importing that frame of mind.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Friday, June 16, 2006

Culture, Discipline, and the No Child Left Behind Act

I agree fully with Mr Kosar's comments below but it should be noted that the delay of gratification research literature has characteristic problems. Mr Kosar tactfully does not mention an even bigger problem than differences in culture -- differences in ability

David Brooks of the New York Times has been on a bit of an education kick of late. In his May 7 column, "Marshmallows and Public Policy," he wrote of the famous Mishel experiment. “Around 1970, Walter Mischel launched a classic experiment. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn't ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows. …. The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores.”

Two and one-half weeks later (May 25 th ), Brooks penned, "Of Love and Money," wherein he wrote, “The people who do well not only possess skills that can be measured on tests, they have self-discipline (which is twice as important as I.Q. in predicting academic achievement, according to a study by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman).” For this study, Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman, “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents,” Psychological Science , vol. 16, issue 12, Dec. 2005, pp. 939-944.)

Interestingly, both Brooks' columns and this study sound a bit like the hypothesis proffered over three decades ago by Edward C. Banfield. In his book, The Unheavenly City: The Nature and Future of Our Urban Crisis (1970), Banfield warned school reformers that their proposals to improve student learning were bound to run into a brute fact— large numbers of children in the United States were the product of “lower-class culture.” To be clear, by “lower class” Banfield did not mean “poor.” Rather, Banfield argued, “a person who is poor, unschooled, and of low status may be upper class; indeed, he is upper class if he is psychologically capable of providing for the distant future.” While “upper class culture” imbues a long view of life and goal orientation, lower-class culture has a live-in-the-moment ethos. Thus, youths reared in lower class culture tend to find school difficult because their parents failed to help them develop the mindset that enables them to sit still and learn.

When Banfield's book came out, he was roasted by the Left, who denounced him as a hard-hearted bigot who did not care about the poor. Too bad. Whatever one might say about The Unheavenly City as a whole, it is clear that in the chapter on education and schooling, Banfield was on to something. Both common sense, and now science, tell us that children need to come to school prepared to learn.

Before policymakers set about to rework the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), they should keep the issue of culture in mind. Here's why. NCLB, ostensibly, aims to raise student achievement by improving the operations of schools and state education systems. In exchange for federal dollars, states must establish standards and test students. All this is good and fine— but, NCLB also requires schools to get 100% of children proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 and delivers punishments to schools where children fail to meet achievement targets (“adequate yearly progress”).

Washington , we have a problem. The idealism of “No Child Left Behind” is on a collision course with reality. NCLB aims only at the institutional side of the schooling formula; it does not, though, attempt to elevate “lower class” culture or turn all parents into good nurturers. Nor, quite frankly, is it clear how NCLB or any policy could. Schools, especially those serving large numbers of children whose parents don't well prepare them for learning, cannot possibly see to it that 100% of children reach proficiency. To insist that they do is to imagine that a government institution can obliterate the effects of culture and parental child-rearing.

Hence, the goal of 100% proficiency must be lowered. How low should it be set? That is a question worthy of serious discussion. Some politicians and advocates might balk at any such discussion, grousing that setting a lower goal is tantamount to capitulation to what President Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” But, as Professor Banfield intoned, “[F]acts are facts, however unpleasant, and they have to be faced unblinkingly to improve matters…”



The kids can't all have gone to Orange County. Note that no explanation for the drop in enrollments is attempted -- the dog that did not bark?

Enrollment in city schools will continue to drop by thousands of students next year, Los Angeles education officials said Tuesday, and the decline is expected to cost the Los Angeles Unified School District tens of millions of dollars in state funding.

The enrollment projections came to light when Supt. Roy Romer submitted a $7.5-billion budget for the coming school year to the Board of Education. According to Romer's proposed budget, about 20,000 fewer students will attend classes next year at the roughly 690 traditional campuses that dot the sprawling district, dropping enrollment to about 678,000. The loss would mark the fourth consecutive year the district has lost students. Last fall, district officials were caught off guard by a decline of 20,258 students for the current school year, which far exceeded their projections.

The number of students attending scores of independently run charter schools in the district, meanwhile, is expected to rise by about 5,000, bringing the district's overall head count to about 712,000 children.

Because nearly all the funding a school district receives from state coffers is based on enrollment, the declining totals in traditional Los Angeles schools will cost the district an estimated $114 million. At the same time, the district will save about $40 million in costs because there will be fewer students to serve. Despite the anticipated money loss, Romer presented a balanced budget, made possible largely because the state's improving economy has increased overall funding to schools. In coming weeks, the seven-member school board will debate the allotments put forth by Romer before voting on the final budget in August.

At the center of Romer's budget is a series of initiatives aimed at improving academics and safety in middle and high schools. The largest of the programs is a $36-million infusion that would improve science labs, modernize libraries and make other improvements at 17 of the district's lowest-performing high schools. Romer has also called for money to be set aside to provide incentives to attract special education teachers and increase training for teachers. But with the district in the early stages of contract negotiations with the teachers union, Romer said he had not built into the budget any raises for teachers.

The decline in enrollment has also had an effect on the district's ambitious construction and repair projects, which aim to end severe overcrowding that has plagued schools for decades. For the final phase of the building project, district officials had envisioned the need to build 21 elementary schools to reach the goal of removing all students from cumbersome, year-round schedules. Now, however, with projected enrollment showing a continued decline for the next six to eight years, Romer said only 15 new elementary campuses are needed. He emphasized that no schools under construction or in the formal planning stages have been canceled because of the lower student figures.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Thursday, June 15, 2006

U.K. schools 'too feminine for boys'

Boys are being failed by schools because lessons have become too "feminised" in recent years, an academic is expected to warn. Dr Tony Sewell will call for more nurturing of traditional "male" traits, such as competitiveness and leadership. Schools focus too much on "feminine" qualities such as organisation and attentiveness, he will tell an NASUWT union conference in London. The government said it was working "to better engage" male pupils.

Dr Sewell, a former lecturer at Leeds University, will call for some coursework to be replaced with final exams and for more emphasis on outdoor adventure in the curriculum. He will also demand extra efforts to recruit more male teachers and introduce more "excitement" to lessons. Dr Sewell told the BBC News website: "On the one hand, boys have to adapt to the world they are living in, which is not all about muscle and machismo. "On the other hand it's clear many of their needs are not being met. "We are often frightened by the traditional idea of the male, where we think it's wrong to be overtly competitive, and boys often lack an outlet for their emotions. "Young women have lots of support, with magazines and programmes devoted to them, and boys often do not."

Dr Sewell is calling for science lessons to include more practical experiments to interest male pupils. He said:" The girls seem more able to adapt to more theory-only learning, while boys want more action. They want to blow things up and see science in action. "I'm not suggesting that there aren't many lazy boys out there, but there needs to be more done to attract males to learning." Some boys are turning to gang violence as an outlet for their frustrated masculinity, he said.

Male pupils' exam results lag behind those of girls. In 2004, 63.3% of female GCSE entries resulted in an A* to C grade, compared with 54.9% of male entries. A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "We are delivering a curriculum and school experience to better engage boys in education. "Massive investment in personalised learning, as well as reforms to 14-19 education, will deliver catch up classes, challenge for gifted and talented pupils, and a new curriculum to keep both boys and girls engaged and excelling in learning."


Spelling Gutting: The near death of NCLB

A few weeks ago when an Associated Press story revealed that more than half the states had created gaping loopholes in No Child Left Behind's strict school-rating system-with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education-the press and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were quick to decry the situation and call for an immediate fix. Not so Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who expressed only the mildest dismay, and promised no concrete remedy. That's because Spellings-who first helped design and then enforce the law during four years at the White House domestic-policy shop-has been methodically gutting No Child Left Behind since about the time she became secretary. As a result, the massive law, once thought of as downright Draconian, has lost much of its power-an outcome about whose necessity and long-term effects experts differ.

However, there's only so much dismantling of a law that you can do before folks start to take notice. Since the AP raised the alarm a few weeks ago, the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have both started asking questions about the secretary's performance. And Spellings has started tightening down a little.

This wasn't always the plan for NCLB. For much of George W. Bush's first term, the law-the president's sole major domestic achievement-was insulated from nearly all tinkering. And Spellings was its behind-the-scenes enforcer. At Spellings's insistence, former Secretary Rod Paige valiantly (and sometimes reluctantly) held the line against complaints about the law's requirements and unintended consequences-much to the dismay of many educators, some parents, and a small but growing number of elected state officials. Over and over, Paige and others were sent out to tell unhappy educators that there would be no exemptions or waivers. Do we really have to include nearly all disabled and bilingual kids in the testing and reporting system, asked states? Yes. What if it costs a lot to transport kids to better-performing schools, asked districts? Pay for it. You're not really serious about this annual 100 percent proficiency thing, are you, asked nearly everyone? Super serious.

However, since about the time Spellings moved from the White House to the Department of Education in early 2005, much the opposite has been true: over and over, Spellings has backed down, eased off, and otherwise undercut the law in ways that would previously have been unimaginable. Last summer, when the law was on the verge of shifting tens of millions of federal education dollars from urban school districts to outside tutoring companies, Spellings created a "pilot" program that allowed several big-city districts to keep on doing their own tutoring-and to keep the money.

Halfway through the school year, Spellings announced that the department would let some states come up with their own ways of measuring their progress towards eliminating the achievement gap instead of the much-loathed "annual yearly progress" specifications that had been enacted. And just last week, Spellings-who has received adoring press coverage up to this point-announced that only eleven states faced possible sanctions for failing to ensure that poor children are being taught by fully qualified teachers. The states had already been given four full years to comply with this requirement, and Spellings had already promised them an extra year. Insiders predict that few states if any are likely to get fined.

Of course, Spellings didn't do all this on her own. The law itself is full of loopholes. Each year, state and local education officials have gotten better at finding and exploiting them. Congressional Democrats washed their hands of the law seemingly within minutes of having voted overwhelmingly to pass it, while former House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner all but excised his central role in its passage when running for majority leader. And, while some speculate that Spellings is unwilling or unable to play bad cop in public like she had in private, it's almost certain the White House supported her moves to roll things back.

Opinions differ on whether Spellings's reversals were really necessary. Some insiders thought that the law's initial implementation was creating a rebellion that could lead to the wholesale repeal of the law or-even worse-could discredit the 15-year effort to promote standards and accountability in education. Others thought that the worst had passed, and that a handful of states refusing federal education funding to get out of the law's requirements wasn't too high a price to pay for creating what would be, in effect, a first-ever national system of education accountability. It would not have been pretty, that's for sure.

But as time has passed, it's gotten harder to keep No Child Left Behind and Spellings's maneuvers under wraps. The end point may have come during the last month or so, during which the New York Times editorial page, long ambivalent about the law's impact on schools and teachers, expressed its concerns that Spellings was letting this go too far (School Reform in Danger). The Wall Street Journal also weighed in at about the same time, declaring that "Ms. Spellings's generosity with these exemptions is leaving schools to their own worst devices. And it is hurting the system's most vulnerable children."

And so, things finally may be heading back to center. Boehner's replacement, Howard "Buck" McKeon, announced the start of committee hearings on NCLB. Spellings announced that just two states (North Carolina and Tennessee) would be allowed to experiment with developing their own school-ratings systems-an approach that many worried would undo the law entirely if applied nationally. What we'll never really know is whether No Child Left Behind would have been better off left alone.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


On some days, as few as three of 25 registered students show up for Bonnie Campbell's art class at Buffalo's Lafayette High School. And in Rhonda Mathiebe's health class, attendance dips as low as eight of 32 students. Teachers place much of the blame on a new grading system that allows many students to pass their courses even if they don't show up for the second half of the school year. Many students have learned that, if they earn an 80 average through the first half of the school year, they can skip the rest of year and still pass. The lowest grade the district gives is 50, so that grade averaged with the 80 results in a passing grade of 65.

Teachers said the new policy - which involves the elimination of district-generated final exams - has caused low attendance rates at Buffalo public high schools to get even worse. "It [absenteeism] is just rampant," said Campbell, a teacher for 30 years. "The students know they don't have to be here [to pass], and there's no way of keeping them in the building."

The problem is hardly confined to Lafayette. For the attendance period that ended March 31, 12 of 13 city high schools had lower attendance rates than they did during the corresponding period last school year. In many cases, the drop was severe. Riverside's rate fell from 78.5 to 67 percent; Seneca's from 82.2 to 74.5 percent; East's from 81.1 to 77.3 percent; and Lafayette's from 83.8 to 78.6 percent. School officials say attendance rates of less than 90 percent are unacceptable.

The grading system in effect since December is a significant factor, Lafayette Principal Jacquelyn Baldwin said. "There are students who are smart enough to find the out," she said. "The kids looking for the out took it." District officials plan to meet with teachers to hear and address their concerns, said Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for Superintendent James A. Williams. "There are a lot of variables that can contribute to attendance numbers," she said. The grading quirk dates to December, when Williams announced that district-generated final exams were being eliminated. "They are not scientifically based and, in my view, are not aligned with state standards," he said of the exams.

Under the new policy, students will pass courses if they receive a final average of 65 on their course work or a grade of at least 65 on a corresponding Regents exam. A student's final grade is determined by averaging report card grades for the school year's four marking periods. So a student who gets 80 in both the first and second marking period is assured of a year-end average of at least 65, since the minimum allowable report card grade is 50. (Two 80s and two 50s average out to 65.) When district-generated final exams were given, they often counted for as much as 25 percent of a student's grade. As a result, they played a pivotal role in the marking system and gave reluctant students a compelling reason to continue attending classes.

Teachers still can give final exams, but can only use the results to help determine grades for the fourth marking period. Long before then, students may have already secured passing grades. "They figure it out," Mathiebe said. "They know. Some of them actually come up and say: "You won't see me again until graduation.' " The wave of absenteeism is evident even in Regents classes, where students are still required to pass an exam to get credit.

Flora Osmani, a Lafayette teacher, considers it "a good day" when 15 of 25 enrolled students show up for her Regents biology class. "This attitude that exists in other classes has been transferred to my class," she said. "Kids are not coming to school."

Cat-and-mouse games with grading and attendance policies at Buffalo schools are nothing new. Until this year, students were disqualified from final exams if they were absent more than 28 times. As a result, teachers and administrators said, some students took 26 or 27 days off, then started coming to school regularly. The Board of Education is now considering a proposed attendance policy that would base 10 percent of a student's grade on classroom attendance during each 10-week marking period. Board members tabled that proposal for further discussion after learning that the policy did not distinguish between a student who skips school and one who is home with the flu.


Australian Leftists embrace elite universities

Labor is abandoning the centrepiece of its university funding policy under a radical rethink that will return the party to a system of rewarding high-achieving institutions. In a shift to the Centre that Opposition Deputy Leader Jenny Macklin said should have occurred years ago, Labor will dismantle the 1980s' "one-size-fits-all" funding model that treated all universities, including converted colleges of advanced education, as equal. Labor will abandon the system it introduced through the Dawkins reforms of funding all universities on the same basis per student and instead allow institutions to focus on specialised areas and let other areas lapse.

While Ms Macklin declined to provide details of the new policy, it raises the possibility that law and neurosurgery might become the specialist domain of sandstone universities, while regional universities might be encouraged to focus on agriculture or teaching. Ms Macklin, who holds the Opposition education portfolio, said Labor would fund student places differentially between universities to "allow them to do what they do best". "We want to fund (each university) according to mission, and have differentiated missions," Ms Macklin said. "It is time to end the one-size-fits-all approach. We must embrace diversity."

The move, alongside Labor's recent dumping of its rich-schools hit list, represents a shift to the Centre for education policy under Kim Beazley. Labor is ditching the shibboleth of the Dawkins reforms of 1987, named for Hawke government education minister John Dawkins. His "unified national system" turned CAEs into universities overnight. All public universities - there are now 37 in the country - have been funded at the same level per student place ever since. Governments have stuck with the model for fear that weaker universities might collapse if they are forced to compete for public funding. Ms Macklin yesterday would not guarantee there would be no failures under Labor's proposal.

Her colleague, federal Labor MP Craig Emerson, went further, saying universities should be allowed to fail and be taken over by more successful competitors. But Ms Macklin said no university would be worse off because Labor would put "serious additional public investment" into the system. She said change was needed to ensure Australian universities, where funding per student has been in long-term decline, keep pace with international competitors.

The move was welcomed by individual universities. Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Chubb said the proposal was "necessary". He said the idea that "we should all do the same thing, achieve the same standards and therefore get funded at the same rate per student by discipline" was "a relic of the distant past". "If we are going to get better at what we do, and build on the stage that is suitable for the different institutions, then you have to get differential funding per student."

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis called Labor's shift an "important development" alongside this week's approval by Education Minister Julie Bishop for his university to reshape itself as an US-style graduate school. It showed that both sides of politics now believe "it is time to move on", he said. He said the rapid growth of private higher education providers in recent years could only mean that public universities "are not offering the sort of courses many students are looking for", and the funding system prevented them from doing so.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

UK: Plea for schools to improve pupils' handwriting

Children who are not taught to write properly at primary level will struggle at secondary school and university and are also likely to find their poor handwriting as much a handicap in the jobs market as poor reading and numeracy, according to a report out today. The study and survey from the Institute of Education found that few primary schools have consistent policies and practices to ensure children learn to write legibly, fluently and quickly. Even in this age of computer technology and an emphasis on keyboard skills, handwriting remains an essential skill for everyone, it says.

Researchers surveyed 39 large and small urban and rural primary schools in south-east England where pupils come from a wide range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. While most of the schools had a designated person responsible for handwriting and a written policy, a quarter had one without the other. Over half of the teachers surveyed felt they had not received sufficient training, while only one-third had been shown how to teach handwriting in their teacher training course.

Most schools taught handwriting as a separate subject, but less than half set aside time, the survey found. Only a fifth of schools with handwriting policies taught children ways of increasing their speed, which could affect their performance in exams. Only 45% communicated with parents about their methods of teaching handwriting or particular children's progress.

Some countries have a national style or model for teaching handwriting. But in England schools are free to select a style, with the only government recommendation being that it should "be easy to join later". More than half of teachers thought it would help to have a national style.

The report, Handwriting Policy and Practice in English Primary Schools, concludes: "This study echoes others in revealing an unhealthy variation between schools in the extent to which teaching policy has been explicitly formulated and applied to practice. If the national curriculum is to be commended for recognising the importance of handwriting, the absence of any detailed prescription is a matter for regret." A researcher, Rhona Stainthorp, said: "For many years, handwriting has been the Cinderella skill of literacy. The ability to handwrite legibly is not an optional extra; it is essential for everyone, even in this age of computer technology."


A victory over the Leftist destroyers of education

The West Australian Government abandoned its new gradeless schools curriculum yesterday, bowing to pressure from teachers and parents and promising to maintain real course content in place of ideological bent. In an embarrassing about-face, Premier Alan Carpenter announced the changes to the state's new-age "outcomes-based" education system after a morning crisis meeting with education leaders in his office. Mr Carpenter, flanked by his controversial Education Minister, Ljiljanna Ravlich, announced after the meeting that the new system would now maintain percentage marking of students.

His Government will give up its plan for an evaluation system based exclusively on eight "levels", in favour of the NSW system, which combines similar streaming of students but with traditional marking based on a percentage. It will introduce compulsory content in each of the 17 new courses to be introduced next year for Years 11 and 12, reviewing each one over the next few weeks. Teachers will be able to prepare examinations in the traditional fashion, rather than being forced to use those prepared by curriculum developers that require students to provide "values oriented" answers on ideological interpretations of their subjects.

Ms Ravlich told journalists that "about 85 to 90 per cent of content will be exactly the same" as current courses, and conceded that the outcomes-based plan was too ideologically driven. "Perhaps the direction we were moving in was a bit purist," Ms Ravlich said. She and Mr Carpenter insisted outcomes-based education would still be introduced next year, but conceded there would be adjustments. "We have listened to the teachers. We are responding to their concerns. We are simplifying the process of change and making it clearer to all concerned," the Premier said.

The Australian has exposed many of the deficiencies in the outcomes-based courses and the West Australian curriculum, including a move to allow Year 12 English students to analyse the squiggly lines used to draw Mr Messy in the Mr Men children's book series. The secretary of the Western Australian Independent Education Union, Theresa Howe, said the newspaper played an important role in forcing the Government to correct the problems. "It has had an impact," she said. "It has informed a wider audience. The Australian has a high degree of credibility."

The changes announced yesterday amount to a significant reversal. The current courses will be used as a template and only changed according to what teachers, educationalists and unions will accept. Education Department director-general Paul Albert told The Australian that the new curriculum would be introduced in a "transitional" fashion.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia, Audrey Jackson, said she felt more confident after yesterday's meeting with the Premier and Ms Ravlich that courses would maintain a solid base. Ms Jackson, a chemistry teacher, said: "The emphasis will swing back towards the traditional form of chemistry, a mix of calculations, a display of knowledge of chemical processes."

Yesterday's backflip followed the intervention of Mr Carpenter to deal with a crisis that threatened to unhinge his Government, after Ms Ravlich failed to address the problem for months and refused to engage with teachers, unions, the media or the public. A weekend poll found 79 per cent of West Australians wanted the new curriculum delayed, and most respondents, by more than two to one, felt it risked "dumbing down" standards.

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said Mr Carpenter should have acted months ago to take the matter out of the hands of Ms Ravlich, who he said was "not up to the job". Ms Ravlich is the parliamentary leader of the increasingly influential Centre Left faction backed by construction union warlord Kevin Reynolds. Her boyfriend is the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Eric Ripper. The president of the State School Teachers Union, Mike Keely, said the Government was finally listening. But he said the union directive not to teach the new courses unless teachers were comfortable with them would remain at least until the union's state council meets this weekend.


Comment by Kevin Donnelly:

Premier Alan Carpenter, whose other job is standing up for his Education Minister, should be thanked for backing down on the new West Australian senior school certificate. Providing teachers with a clear map on what is taught, as opposed to vague outcomes, ridding courses of political correctness in favour of essential academic content, and allowing teachers to mark out of 100 instead of grading on eight levels, represents positive change. But any praise should be muted. The Government has only acted out of self-interest -- after being in denial about the groundswell of public opposition to the certificate.

Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich as recently as two weeks ago said there was no place for compromise. Ravlich argued that the certificate was world's best practice. She said the Government would not back down on the basis that, to quote Hansard, "the responsibility of government is to put its policy position on the line and, basically, make sure that the policy is implemented".

Concerns about the Government's about-face are compounded by the fact schools that have been forced to implement the new courses this year - for example, English at Year 11 and Aviation at Year 12 - are now being told the curriculum approach is flawed. The Government has refused to budge from its position that the certificate be implemented next year, triggering doubts over whether there is enough time to review all courses and ensure that teachers are ready to teach the certificate at the start of next year.

Critics of outcomes-based education may have won the battle, but not the war. Teachers in primary and lower secondary schools are still being forced to implement an outcomes-based approach. If outcomes-based education has failed at Years 11 and 12, why is it being forced on younger students?


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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Monday, June 12, 2006

Resolving the boy crisis in schools

A recent Chicago Board of Education report showed that girls enjoy a 63-37% advantage over boys in gaining admittance to Chicago's eight selective-enrollment college prep high schools. In response, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and top administrators at Jones, Whitney Young and Brooks prep schools are advocating that schools consider "gender weighting." Yet to balance the scales by employing admissions preferences is misguided. What's needed instead is a rethinking of the way we educate, beginning at the earliest levels.

Many healthy, energetic, intelligent boys are branded as behavior problems as soon as they begin school, and are punished and put on Ritalin or other drugs so they will sit still. Little thought is given to two obvious questions: how could a six or seven year-old be "bad"? And how could so many boys need drugs to function in school? Because schools and classrooms do not fit their educational needs, many boys disengage from school long before they ever reach the prep school level.

Many modern educational practices are counterproductive for boys. Success in school is tightly correlated with the ability to sit still, be quiet and complete paperwork and assignments which are sometimes of questionable value. A "get tough" mentality-under which teachers give excessive homework lest they appear uncommitted or weak-has become a substitute for educators actually having a sound reason for assigning all the work they assign.

Many young boys are bodily kinesthetic learners who respond to hands-on lessons. The educational establishment finds this inconvenient, and thus largely ignores it.

The trend against competition and the promotion of cooperative learning strategies run counter to boys' natural competitiveness and individual initiative. Lessons in which there are no right or wrong answers, and from which solid conclusions cannot be drawn, tend to frustrate boys, who often view them as pointless.

Efforts to make schools gentler and to promote women's writing, while understandable, have pushed aside the action and adventure literature which boys have treasured for generations. In their place are subtle, reflective works which often hold little interest for boys.

The dearth of male teachers--particularly at the elementary level, where female teachers outnumber male teachers six to one--is a problem for boys. The average teacher is a well-meaning and dedicated woman who always did well in school and can't quite understand why the boys won't sit still, be quiet and do their work like the girls do. Instead, boys need strong, charismatic teachers who mix firm discipline with an understanding and good-natured acceptance of boyish energy. And though it's rarely mentioned, most teachers are weighed down by paperwork and secretarial labor, which limits the time they can spend planning creative, hands-on, boy-friendly lessons.

Recess and physical education time allotted during the day are insufficient for boys' needs, and the trend has been to reduce this time rather than to increase it. Pervasive fear of lawsuits has turned educators into guards vigilant to prevent any manifestation of natural boyishness outside the classroom from becoming the school district's latest legal settlement payout.

The deterioration of vocational education also hurts boys. US Department of Education data show that these programs suffered a sharp decline from 1982 to 1992 and never recovered. Vocational classes once started low and middle achieving boys on the path to careers as skilled tradesmen. They have now often been replaced by an asinine yet pervasive mantra that defines as successful only those who go to college and become doctors or lawyers. This mantra often disrespects boys' blue collar fathers, who also happen to be their primary role models. In fact, to suggest that a boy pursue a career working with his hands leaves a teacher open to charges of harming students by encouraging low expectations.

The boy crisis in our schools is more than an educational crisis-it is also a significant public health issue. Nearly nine million prescriptions of Ritalin are written for American children each year, most of them for boys between the ages of six and 12. According to a federal expert advisory panel, 10% of 10 year-old American boys are on Ritalin or similar drugs. In February the panel, which reviewed several dozen reports of deaths, heart problems, and toxic reactions associated with these drugs, recommended they carry a prominent 'black box' warning, the strongest warning for prescription drugs.

The gender weighting currently being pondered by Chicago's educational establishment wouldn't begin to solve these problems. Nor would it address the wide gender disparities that exist among low and middle achieving students. Boys don't need admissions preferences-they need a system which meets their educational needs.


Big Brother ads and squiggles on the syllabus in Western Australia

Counting and analysing advertisements during Big Brother is one of the suggested assignments for Year 11 and 12 English students in Western Australia. Resource materials provided by the state Curriculum Council, which suggest projects for teachers to use in the classroom, also include tasks on the squiggly lines used to draw Mr Messy in the MrMen children's books. Other activities have students analysing junk mail and swimming pool rules and pretending they are celebrities for interviews by classmates.

The teaching guide suggests students count the number of ads screened during a one-hour prime-time television show, such as CSI or Big Brother, and note the products and their intended market. Students report on "the values, attitudes and beliefs underlying the television show" and the target audiences identified for the ads. "Consider what common messages are being sent to the social groups by the show itself and the advertisements screened with it," students are told.

The state's English course, which is being taught this year, has been widely criticised for replacing long literary texts with short texts such as movie posters. The sample exam was attacked for failing to require students to answer a single question about a literary text and instructing markers not to penalise students for poor spelling, grammar or punctuation.

West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter finally stepped in this week to try to restore public confidence in the state's new Certificate of Education. He is meeting teachers associations to address their concerns. But yesterday the English resource materials were still on the Curriculum Council's website. The teaching resources suggests student examine different movie posters, and then design a poster for a movie of their own life. Or they could design, promote and launch a product based on a mythological character.

Another suggested task recommends that students read a selection of children's books, such as the Mr Men books, recommended for children aged three to six, and identify the features used to appeal to their audience -- such as "characters that are distinct and recognisable, bright colours, shapes and lines, eg squiggles for Mr Messy, clothes and props such as hats, simplified facial expressions". Students should study the use of sentences, punctuation and spelling, and then write and illustrate their own children's book. And another task has students exploring "the phenomenon of unsolicited junk mail that uses visuals and writing, eg letterbox advertising, brochures and electronic spamming".

While most people clearing their letterbox don't bother reading junk mail, the curriculum council suggests students view a selection of junk mail, select one type to examine more closely and list the dangers and possible benefits of junk mail.

Another task covers celebrity interviews, requiring students to analyse the main features of several interviews found on the internet. Students then imagine themselves famous in 10 years' time, write a paragraph summarising their rise to fame, and then interview each other as pretend celebrities. The council even suggests students undertake market research, in this case discovering how familiar the general public is with a chosen mythological character. An assignment on mass media has students investigate "how the media manipulate news stories in order to make them more interesting, increase their ratings, or serve their own interests". Another aspect asks: "To what lengths are print media editors willing to go in order to sell news and, consequently, make money?" West Australian students can choose to sit a separate media production and analysis course.



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Sunday, June 11, 2006


In the latest and arguably most powerful symbol yet of how dramatically modern Irish society is changing, the Christian Brothers are withdrawing from direct involvement in a network of primary and secondary schools that once formed the backbone of the country. Arrangements to hand over 29 primary and 109 secondary schools to a charity staffed entirely by lay people are being finalised. When pupils return in September the transformation will be complete.

The news has prompted memories - many bitter, but some more generous - from alumni. Nearly all of them focussed on the violence that accompanied their muscular brand of Catholic discipline. In 1998 the Brothers took out half-page newspaper advertisements to apologise for sexual and other abuse inflicted in their institutions. A year later Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, issued a fuller apology on behalf of the government to the victims. "Too many of our children were denied love, care and security," he said. "Abuse ruined their childhoods and has been an ever-present part of their adult lives . . . we must do all we can now to overcome the lasting effects of their ordeals."

A redress board to offer financial compensation to the victims was set up and a commission to investigate the claims established; it is still hearing evidence. One victims' group has 1,500 members in Britain alone. But it is the dramatic decline in religious vocations that has forced the Brothers to take this decision to abandon their prime education role. Brother John Heneghan, a spokesman, said that while they would continue to be owned by them "the Brothers won't have direct responsibility for the schools any more . . . the orientation is towards it being it a lay-operated entity".

As a Pontifical organisation, Brother Heneghan said, they would be asking the Vatican to approve the new structure and with Ireland fast become a secular society, the Pope's consent is a foregone conclusion.

Pat Kenny, Ireland's foremost radio and television broadcaster, said that he had received a superb education from the Brothers but their corporal punishment was excessive. "You could get three on each hand simply for being the last to move from A to B and someone had to be last. "It was, in the odd case, gratuitous cruelty. I've always felt the formation of the Christian Brothers was deeply flawed. We were subjected to recruitment drives in the classroom at the age of 12. We all knew in our bones that this was wrong."

John Banville, the author and winner of the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sea, attended a Christian Brothers primary school in Wexford. He said: "Speaking for myself I had an absolutely fine education. I didn't have any abuse at all, I did appreciate that they were providing free education to a country that was extremely poor at the time in the 1950s and 60s. So it is with a certain regret that I see them disappearing from the scene."

But Malachy O'Doherty, author of I was a teenage Catholic, recalled schooling with the Brothers in Belfast as an unhappy, dark time. "They brought to West Belfast a sense of a very conservative, miserable, male, rural world. "The boys' talk was constantly of, `What mood will HE be in today?' so it was understood by us that they were moody, unhappy people bringing the grief of their own stunted lives into our world."

Gay Byrne, retired host of television's The Late Late Show, said: "One went to school most days firmly convinced that you were going to get physically beaten at some stage during the day for some reason or another. "But people of my class and background wouldn't have received an education of any kind were it not for the Christian Brothers at that time."

But Brother Heneghan said that he believed history would judge their work more kindly. "Unfortunately the tendency has been to pick on the negative but I think that when history looks at the overall story of the building of the Irish nation and the emergence of the leaders of this country of ours it will be very positive."



Surprise! Would any teacher with options want to stand up every day in front of an undisciplinable rabble? Another case of unintended consequences: Protecting children from effective discipline destroys the education of the poor

One in five teachers of core subjects like math, science and English in poor public middle and high schools across the state lack sufficient training in the field they teach, according to a study released yesterday. By contrast, just 3 percent of teachers of those subjects in wealthy schools are not qualified. The disparity in New York reflects what Education Trust, the nonprofit that conducted the study, claims is a nationwide trend in which poor and minority students are shortchanged when it comes to quality teachers.

The study also mirrors the findings of a Post analysis of city schools last year that found the most experienced teachers gravitate toward schools with affluent student bodies. "We take the kids who enter school with less and give them teachers who have less - less education and less skills," said Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, which used data provided by states for the study.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, states must show that 100 percent of their teachers are "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach by June 30 - a deadline federal education officials have already said will not be met by any state. To earn the "highly qualified" label, teachers in New York must be certified to teach and have completed a college major or coursework or state exam in their subject areas.

Michael Rebell, director for the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University's Teachers College, said the situation was even more dire than the study suggested because the "highly qualified" designation was misleading. "It basically means they meet state certification requirements. They're minimally qualified," Rebell said. "I'm all for getting certified teachers, but it is by no means going to get us the dramatic breakthrough that the [law] would expect us to get."

The state next month will present its plan to shore up the number of qualified teachers to the federal government, which includes encouraging districts to start their own incentive programs for luring quality educators. According to the state, one in 10 public-school teachers in the city is not qualified in his core subject. Sixteen percent of science teachers in the city, 9 percent of math teachers and 12 percent of English teachers have not met all the state standards. A whopping 32 percent of art teachers are not qualified.

The city recently launched two major initiatives to attract quality teachers - offering housing subsidies and creating a "master teacher" position in which experienced educators can earn an extra $10,000 to mentor younger teachers in tough schools. Last year, the city claimed to have fired more than 1,200 teachers who were not on track to become "highly qualified."



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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