Saturday, July 08, 2006

Union take over of LA schools almost complete -- no need for parents or School Board

A.J. Duffy's support of the mayor's plan to reorganize the management of Los Angeles' schools hardly qualifies as news. Duffy is president of the school district's teachers union, which would gain even more power under the plan. But Duffy did propose a novel argument Wednesday in Sacramento, testifying in support of the bill that would authorize the restructuring.

He downplayed criticism that the bill fragments power and blurs accountability. It is "precisely the genius of this legislation," he said, that it assigns "clear and responsible roles" to the superintendent, the mayor, the school board, teachers and parents. "We are building in the collaboration and shared accountability that will give schools what they need," he said.

United Teachers Los Angeles opposes merit pay for top-performing teachers. It makes the firing of bad teachers almost impossible. It's against allowing administrators to assign teachers to the schools where they are needed most. It's sharply critical of charter schools. The union doesn't like having a unified curriculum, and it thinks that teachers shouldn't have to put up with training from coaches.

In other words, the union is largely opposed to most reforms that demand more of teachers. (Individual teachers, many of whom applaud changing the schools to benefit students, are another matter.)

One of the biggest criticisms of the school board has been that the union wields too much power over its decisions because the union is by far the biggest donor to board candidates. Mayoral control of schools, in theory at least, dilutes that power because mayoral candidates draw from a larger pool of donors, and a mayor's decisions receive more public scrutiny.

So much for theory. As it turns out, a mayor eager to work out a legislative compromise - and who has a long history with the teachers union - can hand far more to the union than the school board has ever agreed to.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's agreement would allow schools a greater say in deciding their curriculum and whether to let coaches for teachers on campus. It would essentially give schools the same freedoms charter schools have but without the accountability. The bill also would severely limit the school board's power to carry out most of its current responsibilities, save one: negotiating the teachers' contract.

A weakened school board, as beholden to UTLA as ever, makes an ideal negotiating partner for a powerful union. A superintendent who isn't answerable to the board gives the union enough wiggle room to continually challenge district policy. A situation in which no one is dominant provides a perfect opportunity for the strongest player to emerge as the leader of the district. And UTLA is a strong, well-financed player. No wonder Duffy likes this deal so much.


Australian history portrayed by schools as shameful

Textbooks give school students a one-sided account of our national history and Aboriginal culture, argues Kevin Donnelly

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop is right. It's about time school students were taught traditional Australian history. For too long, teachers have downplayed - even, at times, denigrated - our nation's achievements. Pointing out past sins is one thing; making ourselves ashamed to be Australians is another thing altogether. Consider the way indigenous history and culture are taught in Australian schools.

Beginning with the Keating government's Studies of Society and Environment curriculum, students are told to celebrate Aboriginal culture uncritically and to recognise the worth of individuals such as Pat O'Shane and Eddie Mabo. European settlement is described as an invasion and there is little, if any, recognition that Aboriginal society may be dysfunctional. The Northern Territory Studies of Society and Environment document also presents Aboriginal culture in a blinkered way.

In the NT, students are told to "celebrate the survival of indigenous Australian cultural heritage" and to "learn from members of indigenous Australian communities as often as possible". Once again, no mention of the dark side of Aboriginal society, especially those elements that are misogynist and patriarchal.

One of the more extreme examples of a biased interpretation of indigenous issues is the Jacaranda SOSE Australian History textbook written for Victorian Year 10 classes. To be sure, some of the problems faced by Aboriginal communities, such as petrol sniffing, are acknowledged. But the dark side of indigenous culture represented by domestic violence is ignored. Of greater concern is the way problematic issues are presented as beyond dispute.

Take terra nullius. While some academics argue that the expression was not in use when the First Fleet landed, the Jacaranda text is in no doubt. In describing the High Court's 1992 Mabo judgment, the statement is made that the High Court decision "overturned the legal fiction that Australia had been terra nullius (land belonging to no one) when the British took possession of it in 1788".

The expression black armband provides another example of bias. Much of the Jacaranda textbook criticises the effect of European settlement. On two occasions it does briefly mention that historian Geoffrey Blainey and Prime Minister John Howard hold a different view. According to history teacher John Cantwell in the text, black-armband critics are motivated by the desire to "leave out certain parts of the human story because they are painful". In fact, Blainey, like Howard, acknowledges that history teaching during the 1970s and '80s was too congratulatory and what is needed is balance, not ignoring past sins.

The textbook's coverage of the 1997 report Bringing Them Home provides a further example of misleading students. Removing indigenous children from their parents is painted as genocide and the statement is made: "The motives for taking children were underpinned by racism." Never mind that many children benefited in later life from being removed from dysfunctional families.

It gets worse. The textbook writers argue that Australia's legal system fails "to cater for the cultural differences of Aboriginal Australians". (Is this code for arguing, as several judges do in interpreting tribal law, that Aboriginal elders should be treated leniently after raping underage girls?) The Jacaranda textbook condemns Australia's 1988 bicentenary celebrations. Most Australians, the argument goes, believe "the history being celebrated was only a small part of Australia's story and that the nation's history began thousands of years before 1788".

Mining companies and governments are not immune from criticism. "Mining companies and some state governments," the text reads, "have often shown little appreciation of indigenous land rights and even less concern for the protection of sacred sites." Never mind that mining giants liaise with Aboriginal communities and jointly determine the best practices to suit all parties involved in the process. Rio Tinto, for instance, employs anthropologists to work with indigenous communities to carry out cultural heritage studies before embarking on any developments and plans to double the number of indigenous workers employed at the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia.

A second Jacaranda textbook, Humanities Alive 2, also adopts a simplified view of teaching history. Australia's settlement, the logic goes, is the same as the Spanish invasion of South America. Students are asked about similarities between what happened to the Aztecs and to Australian Aborigines. The suggested response is: "In both cases the invaders were after territory (and its resources) and set out (consciously or otherwise) to subjugate and/or destroy the indigenous population, should it stand in their way."

Education should be disinterested and give students a balanced understanding, free from ideology or cant. When it comes to teaching indigenous history, that means examining the full story and acknowledging the good with the bad. Over to you, minister.



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, July 07, 2006

The famous rise -- and shameful fall -- of Jaime Escalante, America's master math teacher

Thanks to the popular 1988 movie Stand and Deliver, many Americans know of the success that Jaime Escalante and his students enjoyed at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. During the 1980s, that exceptional teacher at a poor public school built a calculus program rivaled by only a handful of exclusive academies. It is less well-known that Escalante left Garfield after problems with colleagues and administrators, and that his calculus program withered in his absence. That untold story highlights much that is wrong with public schooling in the United States and offers some valuable insights into the workings -- and failings -- of our education system.

Escalante's students surprised the nation in 1982, when 18 of them passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. The Educational Testing Service found the scores suspect and asked 14 of the passing students to take the test again. Twelve agreed to do so (the other two decided they didn't need the credit for college), and all 12 did well enough to have their scores reinstated. In the ensuing years, Escalante's calculus program grew phenomenally. In 1983 both enrollment in his class and the number of students passing the A.P. calculus test more than doubled, with 33 taking the exam and 30 passing it. In 1987, 73 passed the test, and another 12 passed a more advanced version ("BC") usually given after the second year of calculus.

By 1990, Escalante's math enrichment program involved over 400 students in classes ranging from beginning algebra to advanced calculus. Escalante and his fellow teachers referred to their program as "the dynasty," boasting that it would someday involve more than 1,000 students. That goal was never met. In 1991 Escalante decided to leave Garfield. All his fellow math enrichment teachers soon left as well. By 1996, the dynasty was not even a minor fiefdom. Only seven students passed the regular ("AB") test that year, with four passing the BC exam -- 11 students total, down from a high of 85.

In any field but education, the combination of such a dramatic rise and such a precipitous fall would have invited analysis. If a team begins losing after a coach is replaced, sports fans are outraged. The decline of Garfield's math program, however, went largely unnoticed.

Most of us, educators included, learned what we know of Escalante's experience from Stand and Deliver. For more than a decade it has been a staple in high school classes, college education classes, and faculty workshops. Unfortunately, too many students and teachers learned the wrong lesson from the movie. Escalante tells me the film was 90 percent truth and 10 percent drama -- but what a difference 10 percent can make. Stand and Deliver shows a group of poorly prepared, undisciplined young people who were initially struggling with fractions yet managed to move from basic math to calculus in just a year. The reality was far different. It took 10 years to bring Escalante's program to peak success. He didn't even teach his first calculus course until he had been at Garfield for several years. His basic math students from his early years were not the same students who later passed the A.P. calculus test.

Escalante says he was so discouraged by his students' poor preparation that after only two hours in class he called his former employer, the Burroughs Corporation, and asked for his old job back. He decided not to return to the computer factory after he found a dozen basic math students who were willing to take algebra and was able to make arrangements with the principal and counselors to accommodate them. Escalante's situation improved as time went by, but it was not until his fifth year at Garfield that he tried to teach calculus. Although he felt his students were not adequately prepared, he decided to teach the class anyway in the hope that the existence of an A.P. calculus course would create the leverage necessary to improve lower-level math classes.

His plan worked. He and a handpicked teacher, Ben Jimenez, taught the feeder courses. In 1979 he had only five calculus students, two of whom passed the A.P. test. (Escalante had to do some bureaucratic sleight of hand to be allowed to teach such a tiny class.) The second year, he had nine calculus students, seven of whom passed the test. A year later, 15 students took the class, and all but one passed. The year after that, 1982, was the year of the events depicted in Stand and Deliver.

The Stand and Deliver message, that the touch of a master could bring unmotivated students from arithmetic to calculus in a single year, was preached in schools throughout the nation. While the film did a great service to education by showing what students from disadvantaged backgrounds can achieve in demanding classes, the Hollywood fiction had at least one negative side effect. By showing students moving from fractions to calculus in a single year, it gave the false impression that students can neglect their studies for several years and then be redeemed by a few months of hard work.

This Hollywood message had a pernicious effect on teacher training. The lessons of Escalante's patience and hard work in building his program, especially his attention to the classes that fed into calculus, were largely ignored in the faculty workshops and college education classes that routinely showed Stand and Deliver to their students. To the pedagogues, how Escalante succeeded mattered less than the mere fact that he succeeded. They were happy to cheer Escalante the icon; they were less interested in learning from Escalante the teacher. They were like physicians getting excited about a colleague who can cure cancer without wanting to know how to replicate the cure.....

Unlike the students in the movie, the real Garfield students required years of solid preparation before they could take calculus. This created a problem for Escalante. Garfield was a three-year high school, and the junior high schools that fed it offered only basic math. Even if the entering sophomores took advanced math every year, there was not enough time in their schedules to take geometry, algebra II, math analysis, trigonometry, and calculus. So Escalante established a program at East Los Angeles College where students could take these classes in intensive seven-week summer sessions. Escalante and Gradillas were also instrumental in getting the feeder schools to offer algebra in the eighth and ninth grades.

Inside Garfield, Escalante worked to ratchet up standards in the classes that fed into calculus. He taught some of the feeder classes himself, assigning others to handpicked teachers with whom he coordinated and reviewed lesson plans. By the time he left, there were nine Garfield teachers working in his math enrichment program and several teachers from other East L.A. high schools working in the summer program at the college....

Of course, not all of Escalante's students earned fives (the highest score) on their A.P. calculus exams, and not all went on to receive scholarships from top universities. One argument that educrats make against programs like Escalante's is that they are elitist and benefit only a select few.

Conventional pedagogical wisdom holds that the poor, the disadvantaged, and the "culturally different" are a fragile lot, and that the academic rigor usually found only in elite suburban or private schools would frustrate them, crushing their self-esteem. The teachers and administrators that I interviewed did not find this to be true of Garfield students.

Wayne Bishop, a professor of mathematics and computer science at California State University at Los Angeles, notes that Escalante's top students generally did not attend Cal State. Those who scored fours and fives on the A.P. calculus tests were at schools like MIT, Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, USC, and UCLA. For the most part, Escalante grads who went to Cal State-L.A. were those who scored ones and twos, with an occasional three, or those who worked hard in algebra and geometry in the hope of getting into calculus class but fell short.

Bishop observes that these students usually required no remedial math, and that many of them became top students at the college. The moral is that it is better to lose in the Olympics than to win in Little League, even for those whose parents make less than $20,000 per year.

Escalante's open admission policy, a major reason for his success, also paved the way for his departure. Calculus grew so popular at Garfield that classes grew beyond the 35-student limit set by the union contract. Some had more than 50 students. Escalante would have preferred to keep the classes below the limit had he been able to do so without either denying calculus to willing students or using teachers who were not up to his high standards. Neither was possible, and the teachers union complained about Garfield's class sizes. Rather than compromise, Escalante moved on.

Other problems had been brewing as well. After Stand and Deliver was released, Escalante became an overnight celebrity. Teachers and other interested observers asked to sit in on his classes, and he received visits from political leaders and celebrities, including President George H.W. Bush and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This attention aroused feelings of jealousy. In his last few years at Garfield, Escalante even received threats and hate mail. In 1990 he lost the math department chairmanship, the position that had enabled him to direct the pipeline.

When Cal State's Wayne Bishop called Garfield to ask about the status of the school's post-Escalante A.P. calculus program, he was told, "We were doing fine before Mr. Escalante left, and we're doing fine after." Soon Garfield discovered how critical Escalante's presence had been. Within a few years, Garfield experienced a sevenfold drop in the number of A.P. calculus students passing their exams. (That said, A.P. participation at Garfield is still much, much higher than at most similar schools. In May of 2000, 722 Garfield students took Advanced Placement tests, and 44 percent passed.)

This leaves would-be school reformers with a set of uncomfortable questions. Why couldn't Escalante run his classes in peace? Why were administrators allowed to get in his way? Why was the union imposing its "help" on someone who hadn't requested it? Could Escalante's program have been saved if, as Gradillas now muses, Garfield had become a charter school? What is wrong with a system that values working well with others more highly than effectiveness?...

Before passing another law or setting another policy, our reformers should take a close look at what Jaime Escalante did -- and at what was done to him.

More here

Australia's classrooms need to make a date with the facts

School students should be taught traditional Australian history, insists federal Education Minister Julie Bishop

The time has come for a renaissance in the teaching of Australian history in our schools. By the time students finish their secondary schooling, they must have a thorough understanding of their nation's past. It makes young people more informed citizens and better able to appreciate where our nation has come from and how we have arrived at our place as a modern liberal democracy.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister John Howard said he believed that the time had come for "root and branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in our schools, both in terms of the numbers learning and the way it is taught". The Prime Minister said "too often, Australian history is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues". This highlights the two glaring problems with regard to the teaching of Australian history: the quantitative problem and the qualitative problem. Not enough students are learning Australian history; and there is too much political bias and not enough pivotal facts and dates being taught.

Every schoolchild should know, for example, when and why the then Lieutenant James Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia. Every child should know why the British transported convicts to Australia and who Australia's first prime minister was. They should also know how and why Federation came about, and why we were involved in the two world wars.

Indigenous Australian history is also an important part of the Australian narrative and must form part of a basic understanding of Australian history. So is the history of our parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, and the Enlightenment, which were all aspects of our nation's past, bequeathed to us as part of our European inheritance.

The principal quantitative problem with the teaching of Australian history in most states is that it has fallen victim to a crowded curriculum that has squashed the discipline together with other social and environmental studies, and which has seen students learning less history and more themes and political science masked as history. This is a trend that must be reversed.

In 2000, the federal Government commissioned a report into the state of Australian history teaching in our schools that identified the gradual disappearance of history as a discipline in classrooms across Australia. To illustrate the point, as one columnist pointed out in The Australian in 2000: "In a recent national test, students were asked to name a political leader of this country who was famous in the period 1880-1901. Most were unable to name one. Among the names they did suggest were Arthur Phillip, (Robert) Menzies and Ronald Reagan".

In NSW, former premier Bob Carr deserves to be commended for taking steps during his premiership to ensure that the tide was turned in his state's classrooms and more Australian history was taught; but more needs to be done on a national scale. I welcome the support of the president of the History Teachers Association of Australia for the quantitative aspect of my concerns. Although the association may not fully agree with my criticism of what is being taught as part of Australian history, we agree on the need for more Australian history in classrooms.

In terms of the qualitative problem, it is my observation that there has been a tendency to downplay the overwhelmingly positive aspects of the Australian achievement. We need to find a balance that constitutes an understanding of our nation's past and is made up of the essential facts, dates and events that every student should know when they finish their secondary schooling. This must include an embrace not only of our European inheritance and our Aboriginal history but also post-war immigration from every corner of the globe and the other aspects of our nation's history that have made ours one of the most open and tolerant societies on earth.

Also, it is important for students to develop a body of knowledge that is rich in dates, facts and events, and from which students can then draw their own opinions about historical events. Without learning these primary ingredients of history, students are less able to form valuable conclusions. My concern is that in the social and environmental subjects that are supposed to teach history, students are missing knowledge about key historical events and their influence on our nation's development. Students should be encouraged to develop opinions about the different parts of Australia's history, but those opinions should be buttressed with an evidence base.

I intend to explore ways for the federal Government to encourage the state education authorities and all schools to make the teaching of Australian history a critical part of their jurisdictions' syllabuses. I want the states to embrace this agenda, and not succumb to pressure from various interest groups that see the rebirth of Australian history teaching as a threat to political correctness.



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, July 06, 2006


Senior classes in the Sacramento region shrank 11.6 percent during the school year that ended in June

More than 2,800 Sacramento region 12th-graders who started the 2005-06 year with their class disappeared from public schools by June. Every year some seniors move, some graduate early and others are held back to 11th grade. But the vast majority of students who leave during their senior year are essentially dropping out, according to area educators.

Most seniors who leave school do so because they're so far behind in credits they won't be able to graduate with their class, school officials said, explaining the 11.6 percent drop in 12th-grade enrollment in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties. The numbers emerged from public records act requests from The Bee.

Senior class attrition is one slice of the dropout problem facing high schools throughout California and the nation. The attrition rate is much larger when the count considers how much a class shrinks through four years of high school. From the fall of their freshman year to the end of what should have been their senior year, 28,509 students in the class of 2006 disappeared from the public schools of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties, according to state and district enrollment data. That works out to a 51 percent drop in class size in the Grant Joint Union High School District, a 39 percent drop in the Sacramento City Unified School District and a 23 percent drop in the San Juan Unified School District over the four-year period. Overall in the four-county region, the class of 2006 decreased by 24 percent over the last four years. "We do have students who you just lose. You don't know why they leave," said Linda Martin, an associate superintendent in the San Juan district. "I really wish we could have an exit interview with every student to understand why they're leaving."

Local educators said the new exit exam graduation requirement this year didn't make much difference in the number of dropouts -- seniors left school at the same rate this year as they have in the past, they said. "I don't think it's anything different than 25 years ago," said Bob Mange, who just retired from a 35-year career in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District. "Kids do move and some drop out; I'm not debating that issue."

California has not completed a data system that follows students throughout their education. So when students leave school, officials can't accurately track whether they enroll in another school, take a high school equivalency exam or discontinue their education. The lack of reliable data has led researchers and state officials to different conclusions about how many students finish school. A Harvard University study last year reported a 71 percent graduation rate in California -- far lower than the 87 percent graduation rate reported by the state. The study's figures were even dimmer for Latino and African American students, who graduate at a rate of 60 and 57 percent, respectively, according to the study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project.

A study released earlier this month by Education Week says that the graduation rate nationwide is 70 percent, meaning 1.2 million students who started high school as part of the class of 2006 did not toss graduation caps with their peers this spring. Nationwide, most students who drop out do so in the ninth grade, according to the Education Week report. In California, however, most dropouts leave during 11th grade, said Christopher Swanson, author of the Education Week report. By the time students start their senior year, most of their peers who were likely to drop out already did. Still, attrition doesn't stop during 12th grade. Some schools in the Sacramento region -- including Luther Burbank and Sheldon high schools -- lost more than 100 seniors during the 2005-06 year, according to data The Bee collected from area school districts.

And every district in the region -- except the tiny districts of Esparto in Yolo County and Center in Sacramento County -- lost seniors this year. That was true even in high-growth areas like Folsom, Elk Grove and Natomas, where new home construction brings hundreds of new families into the schools each year.....

Sacramento county chief Gordon said many students who leave because they're behind in credits have not put in the effort necessary to succeed. California's high academic standards have led to tough courses that require students to work harder, he said. "It's there because we want the kids to be successful, not because we want to kick them to the curb and make them dropouts," Gordon said. He added that many who leave school without graduating go on to take the General Educational Development test or the California High School Proficiency Exam.

But for researchers and advocates, those students still reflect a failure of the education system. "If a student is leaving high school without a credential and going to get a GED, they would be a dropout," said Swanson, the Education Week researcher. "We have to be careful when we talk about GEDs," he said. "They're not as beneficial as regular credentials."


Make history study compulsory: PM

Australian history should be compulsory in the nation's schools, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The Federal Government is pushing the states and territories to reinstate the study as a stand-alone subject, and may force the issue in the next round of schools funding. Mr Howard said he was not expecting opposition from the states and said Australian history should be compulsory for at least part of the curriculum. "I would like to see it compulsory at certain stages," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. "The detail of that can be worked out by the different education departments. "I'm not trying to write a course, I'm just wanting to establish the priority. "And I cannot understand how anybody in a government could object to Australian history being for some period of time a compulsory, stand alone subject."

The study should include European and Aboriginal history, Mr Howard said. "It's got to include some understanding of British and European history, an understanding of the enlightenment, an understanding of the influence of Christianity, of Western civilisation, all of those things that shaped Australian society have got to be included," he said. "But very particularly, we've got to have a proper narrative of what happened to this country both before 1788 ... and onwards. "Now that includes, obviously, some reference to indigenous history."

Mr Howard said it was essential to move away from studying history "as part of an examination of issues, an examination of cultural drifts". "I want history to be Australian history in all of the manifestations I've described," he said. "I want it to be a stand alone subject, it deserves that treatment. "I want Australians in future to understand the scale of the Australian achievement." The Government has commissioned two studies to assess the status of Australian history in schools and is planning a summit involving historians, teachers, commentators and community representatives.

The Australian newspaper reported today that if the states refused to reinstate Australian history as a subject, the Federal Government would consider making it a condition in its next $40 billion, four-year school funding agreement.



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, July 05, 2006


State tests of student achievement are so prone to change, and seemingly so inconsistent with federal tests and with each other, that it's tough for the public to tell whether the controversial No Child Left Behind Act has made good on its promises. Such is the finding of a new study by researchers at the University of California and Stanford University. The study, "Is the No Child Left Behind Act Working?" doesn't purport to answer the question in its title. But it does suggest that states and the federal government apparently obtain radically different results with different tests, leaving the public without a clear way to judge the effect of the 5-year-old federal law.

"We're left with this murky reality of not knowing whether No Child Left Behind is adding anything," said said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at UC Berkeley and co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, the consortium that issued the study. "The architects of NCLB promised more transparency … but this is a pretty bewildering rendition of transparency."

The law, which requires every state to test students annually in math and reading and make them all proficient by 2014, is up for reauthorization next year in Congress. Some researchers say the study highlights how hard it will be for the public to sift through the law's pros and cons. "You definitely have multiple accountability systems going, and I think it is confusing to people," said Ron Dietel, a spokesman for the National Center for Research, Standards and Student Testing at UCLA.

The yearlong study examined several years of test scores in 12 states, including California, and compared them to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the "Nation's Report Card" -- during the same years. The study turned up three major barriers to understanding the law's effects. For one, every state defines "proficiency" differently. For instance, Illinois reported in 2005 that nearly 80 percent of its fourth-graders were proficient in math, while California, with more rigorous standards, reported only about 50 percent.

Meanwhile, about the same proportion of fourth-graders in both states -- roughly 30 percent -- were proficient on the national assessment, which was the same in each state. Worse, in some states, there seemed to be virtually no link between reading performance on state tests and on federal tests. Ten of the 12 states reported annual increases in the percent of fourth-graders scoring proficient in reading between 2002 and 2005, while national results actually dropped in four of those states. In two more that reported improvement -- California and Nebraska -- the national results were flat.

The researchers also found that states rejigger their testing systems so frequently that there's no way to judge how students have improved over time. California saw two major shifts in recent years: one in 1999, when it started matching its tests to educational standards, and another in 2001, when it employed a new company to write test questions. "If parents were to only look at the state story about achievement trends, they would be bewildered as to how their kids were learning over the past 10 years," Fuller said.

Officials at the state Department of Education took issue with some of the study's findings, saying it examined an inadequate portion of the student population and underestimates recent progress. If the entire student population had been considered, rather than just those deemed proficient, the researchers would have found a tight relationship in California between state and national tests, officials said.

Fuller, however, said he focused on the top range of students because that's the range for which states are accountable under federal law. Rick Miller, an education department spokesman, said the state tests, aligned to local standards, offer a more sensitive measure of whether kids are learning than the national test does. However, Miller said he was glad the study pointed out that some states, wary of federal sanctions for inadequate progress toward their goals, have set far less ambitious targets than California has. "That's the perverse nature of NCLB -- it actually incentivizes states to lower their standards," he said.

There's little consensus among researchers about how the law has affected education, and some observers say it'll take longer than five years to create strong tests in each state that will yield consistent results. "It's a little premature to judge the global impact on our standards system," said Jim Lanich, president of California Business for Education Excellence and a longtime supporter of the law.

The study recommends several ways to make testing results more uniform. First, all states should be required to define proficiency the same way and perhaps align their targets with those of the national test. Policy-makers should consider designing more rigorous state tests, so teachers will focus more on the critical thinking skills required to do well on the national test. And finally, the federal government should consider helping states find ways to track achievement even when they switch or alter their tests



Parental choice in schooling for their children ‘will encourage racial segregation’, says the Commission for Racial Equality. The CRE points out that in some areas of Yorkshire 99 per cent of pupils are white, while in other areas 95 per cent of pupils are non-white. These revelations from the CRE follow its chairman Trevor Phillips’ comments in September 2005, when he argued that Britain’s cities were ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. Certainly, as Kenan Malik’s Channel 4 documentary Disunited Kingdom graphically illustrated in 2003, there are many racially segregated secondary schools in places such as Bradford and Oldham. But is it fair of the CRE to pin the blame on parental choice in schools? And is the solution to this problem yet more lectures on the importance of recognising ‘diversity’?

In the 1980s, the ruling Conservative Party made parental choice a key plank of its educational policies. This meant, in theory at least, that parents were given options to send their children to the school of their choice, rather than being restricted to local boundaries. It’s always been the case that middle-class parents have been able to bend the education system to their benefit, whether it’s through private tuition or having the right social networks to find the ‘right’ type of school. With the creation of Grant Maintained and Specialist Schools, the Conservatives simply made it easier for some middle-class parents to opt out of ‘bog-standard comprehensives’. And according to the CRE, it is this process that has steadily led to schools becoming racially segregated.

In actual fact, Britain’s inner cities and outer suburbs have long been divided between ethnic minorities and the white-middle classes. During the 1950s and 60s, immigrants were brought into London to fill the vacuum left by whites who had already moved to the suburbs. This was compounded in the 1980s by local councils that allocated social housing along racial lines.

It’s no surprise, then, that the pupil composition of secondary schools mirrored those divisions. Today, what has entrenched this divide even further is the elite’s emphasis on multiculturalism for society and, in particular, for education. At a time when our private beliefs and customs are considered to be the basis of our public lives, is it any wonder that parents are opting out of universal state schools and going for particularistic ones instead? Above all, it is the elevation of fixed identities that influences parental decisions about education. Indeed, parents are often told that the best route to educational success for their children is to have teaching methods that are ‘relevant’ to their kids’ ethnic background. Wasn’t it Phillips himself who argued, not so long ago, that black boys would do better at school if they were taught by black teachers only?

It is little wonder, then, that parents from different ethnic backgrounds may seek out schools where their child is with others from the same ‘ethnic background’. As explored in Malik’s Disunited Kingdom, some parents didn’t want their children learning ‘someone else’s’ culture. Also, at a time when we are bombarded with scare stories about the rise of bullying in schools, it is not so surprising that anxious parents would not want their child to be the only ‘minority’ in class, lest they become a target for real or imagined bullies.

All of this has coincided with a greater emphasis than ever before on how important children’s education is to their future success. When politicians and commentators constantly raise questions about the standards of education in schools, as well as over-emphasising the importance of exam success, some parents can be left in a panic about which is the right school for their child. This is one reason why faith schools are increasingly seen by some parents as the best option, with many ‘converting’ to a religion in order for their child to be eligible for a place. For all their faults, at least comprehensive schools allowed kids to get on with others from all sorts of backgrounds. It is the divisiveness of today’s multicultural thinking, not parental choice, that implicitly suggests that the old mixed comprehensive arrangement is either impossible or undesirable.

At first glance, it seems the CRE wants to combat the excesses of multiculturalism. In fact, it doesn’t so much want greater integration as it does more diversity within schools themselves. For multiculturalists, it is hard to promote ideas of difference if children are boxed off into particular faith schools. This is why local education authorities in Yorkshire have been ‘bussing in’ teenagers from racially segregated schools – not so much to demonstrate commonality and common interests, but so that the children can learn about each other’s ‘cultural identities’. Ideally, the CRE would like a mixed bag of ethnic identities in all schools precisely to demonstrate how ‘different’ we all are rather than as a means of recognising that children share common experiences and have common aspirations.

In nursery schools, for example, even toddlers are made to be ‘aware’ of how different they are from other children; they are encouraged to bring in examples of their family’s ‘ethnic cuisine’, for example, to show the rest of the class how exotic and distinct such food is. At a time in their lives when children just see other children, rather than black, white or brown children, multiculturalists are rushing in to underline the apparent divisions between them. The CRE wants the education system to institutionalise ethnic and cultural divisions within schools rather between segregated schools. That hardly represents a victory for re-establishing universal values in society at large.

Indeed, it is precisely the lack of universal thinking today which means that school students are seen in a tick-box, statistical way. The CRE may pay lip service to common national values, but its attempts to ‘overcome segregation’ are based on percentages of different ethnic groups rather than on establishing real common beliefs about the kind of society we all want to live in. If we could establish that, and in the process create a proper colour-blind society, it wouldn’t matter who went to what schools where.

It is outrageous for the CRE to question the validity of personal choice in education. What it really means is that people can’t be trusted to make ‘the right decision’ – and not just in education but in other areas too. According to one report: ‘The CRE’s view is that choice in other public services risks greater racial segregation. [The CRE has] evidence that choice in council housing may be further ghettoising communities and that even in health services, patient choice may result in ethnic segregation.’ For the CRE, ‘The language of choice is about individual needs, about self-interest. The language of integration is about society’s needs, about the collective interest.’ This is less about promoting racial integration or dubious notions of collective interest, than it is an attack on individual autonomy so that diversity and difference can be enforced from above.

There is no doubt that multicultural thinking has helped to entrench already existing ethnic divisions within society. At a time when educational learning is centred on the tyranny of relevance, the logical conclusion is for parents to send their children to schools with similar ‘like-minded’ kids and teachers. Yet far from overcoming such artificial divisions, and establishing a truly universal form of education, the CRE wants the UK’s schools to be laboratories of micro-diversity. Once again, by appearing to criticise the excesses of multiculturalism, and in the process blaming parental choice for segregated schools, the CRE has strengthened the dogma of diversity.



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, July 04, 2006

Have we forgotten civic education?

Two centuries after Jefferson, social studies are lacking at public schools

In the early afternoon of July 4, 1776, church bells rang out in Philadelphia celebrating the official adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. Of course, the work of establishing the republic was not finished on that July day. Indeed, the nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" - to use Abraham Lincoln's words - will always be a work in progress.

The founders knew this too. By the summer of 1818, their generation was passing away. The survivors fretted about the future of their legacy and whether the republic would endure. They believed that each new generation must be enlightened by the principles of liberty and prepared to fight for the rights that had been won. For all of the founders - and especially for the author of the Declaration of Independence - education was the key. As early as 1779, Thomas Jefferson had written a bill in Virginia proposing a system of public education and arguing that history should be studied by all citizens. In 1817, he again proposed a system of free public education for the state and the establishment of a public university....

So how is Jefferson's vision for a sound history and civic education doing today? In California, we have a comprehensive, history-driven social studies framework and standards for all grade levels. Every high school student must take three years of social studies, including a U.S. government course, to graduate. On the surface, things look good.

But in truth, social studies is no longer a priority in schools and has not been for some time. Most recently, because of the national No Child Left Behind mandates and the school accountability system, language arts, math and science are emphasized. Resources for history/social science in terms of professional development, materials and even instructional time are scarce. This is particularly true at low-scoring elementary schools serving underrepresented student populations, where instructional time for social studies has been greatly diminished. A cruel irony, really: those least empowered and most in need of the knowledge and skills of effective citizenship and advocacy are the least likely to be exposed to them.

Recent studies demonstrate that our nation and state are paying a price for this neglect. The California Survey of Civic Education conducted last year demonstrated that despite taking a course in U.S. government in the 12th grade, graduating seniors' knowledge of the structures and functions of government and of current political issues is very weak. Students averaged only a little over 60% correct on a test of their civics content knowledge, a low "D" on typical grading scales.

The survey also revealed that today's graduates are not inclined toward participatory citizenship. Less than half of high school seniors surveyed believed that "being actively involved in state and local issues is my responsibility."

Given these findings, it should be no surprise that young people's trust in government is appallingly low. Only 33% of high school seniors said they trusted "the people in government to do what is right for the country," and only 28% agreed with the statement: "I think that people in government care about what people like me and my family need."

It is difficult to fault young people for these views and attitudes, and, in truth, a survey administered to adults might well bear similar results. Given the daily fare of political scandal, partisan nastiness and negative campaigning, why would young people be inclined to trust in government or become politically engaged?

Studies such as the California Survey have brought to light the need for a renewal of civic education in our nation's schools. These days, there are groups - such as the Alliance for Representative Democracy and the Civic Mission of Schools - working in every state to improve civic education and preserve the social studies.

As you enjoy your Fourth of July activities, take a moment to reflect on Jefferson's summer long ago in Rockfish Gap. Then do what you can do make the founders' hopes a reality.

More here


Press release from The U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce (

The U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), today heard testimony from golf legend Jack Nicklaus and others on character-building instruction and integrating character education into school curriculum. Character education typically includes direct instruction and other efforts that promote values such as responsibility, respect, trust, hard work, and civic engagement. Nicklaus, honorary co-chairman of the character education initiative, The First Tee, joined educators in discussing the challenges and successes of character education programs.

"The First Tee uses the game of golf to teach youngsters skills that enable them to incorporate positive values into their behaviors," Nicklaus explained. "The First Tee is based upon nine core values: honesty, responsibility, respect, judgment, courtesy, perseverance, integrity, confidence, and sportsmanship; and our Life Skills curriculum ensures that every youngster who comes to The First Tee is taught more than the game of golf."

Nicklaus continued, "At a time when we need to do everything we can to promote positive values in our children, particularly thinking beyond themselves and caring for others, The First Tee has adopted that mission and is doing it effectively." The First Tee and similar programs - coupled with the work schools are doing to promote character education - are designed to expand the possibilities for personal growth in U.S. students.

"It's clear that public, private, and non-profit organizations are working each day to build character education in our nation's youth, and I'm pleased our Committee was able to provide them a platform to highlight their efforts," noted McKeon. "Far too many children throughout the United States face difficult circumstances - from poverty and violence to drugs and alcohol. And character education plays a valuable role in helping them overcome these obstacles."

Sharon Aldredge, principal of Woodley Hills Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, discussed the success of incorporating character education into the curriculum of her school. "The one factor that changed was the implementation of a character education initiative that involved every member of the school community," Aldredge said. "The students, office staff, custodians, parents, teachers, cafeteria employees, and administrators developed a shared vision and became responsible for modeling and integrating character education into every aspect of the school environment."

Underscoring the positive results of the character education efforts, Aldredge continued, "In 2001, Woodley Hills was named a `National School of Character' by the Character Education Partnership organization. Our scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests are now at 80th and 90th percentile. Discipline problems are almost nonexistent in the school, with only three to five suspensions a year. Our children are happy to come to school, and they understand why we are teaching character education."

McKeon noted Congress' increased support for character education initiatives as well. This year alone, character education programs under the No Child Left Behind Act have been funded at nearly $25 million. "Through the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress has stepped forward in promoting character education," concluded McKeon. "The law establishes competitive grants for states and local school districts for character education programs that can be integrated into classroom instruction. And scores of schools also are developing character education curriculum independent of this federal program. Many schools, like Woodley Hills, who have implemented these types of initiatives have reported rising test scores and improved student behavior."


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, July 03, 2006

The hidden benefits of a private education

Even an obviously left-leaning writer can see it

When you enter a private school, both you and your parents are required to sign paperwork indicating that you have read the college or university handbook, understand it, and will abide by it. These documents are contracts; they are the rules that govern your relationships and rights at your private institution. The law of contracts forms the oldest branch of the law relating to transactions. In one form or another, it has existed from the beginning of organized and primitive societies. Just as the safety of persons and/or property depends upon the rule of criminal law, the security and stability of the business world is dependent upon the law of contracts. The law of contracts is one of the main structural supports with the right to acquire and dispose of property. A contract in the modern sense has been defined as “an agreement containing a promise enforceable in law.”

One important distinction between a private institution and a public institution is that there is much more room for change at a private institution. Let’s face the facts: It’s easier to change the policies at a private university than to change the policies of the federal government. For example, private schools have more leeway to set their own rules on free expression than public schools do because private schools are covered by something called contract law. Contract law is said to be a part of “private law” because it does not involve or bind the state or persons that are not parties to the contract.

Private schools, partly due to their expense, handle education under unique circumstances. Privately schooled pre-adults feel pressure to perform, in part because of high tuition; there is a lot of money riding on these students. Whether paid by loans, parents or scholarships, the tuition provider acts as an overseeing force, continually checking on progress. These private schools sometimes integrate religion, have low student/teacher ratios and at times practice extreme educational standards that cannot be duplicated in the public sector.

Those who can afford the specialized services offered by private schools should be entitled to them. Paying roughly $11,000 each year more than public four-year universities may provide benefits such as solitude due to location, extreme rigor, and the stigma of having attended a private institution. The only money that private institutions gain from the government is minor grants and financial aid.

In a Supreme Court case called Tinker v. Des Moines, Justice Abe Fortas ruled that, “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution.” In spite of the Supreme Court’s ringing endorsement of students’ rights in the landmark Tinker decision, constitutional violations are far too common in public schools across the country.

Articles about controversial subjects written for student newspapers are censored. Lockers and backpacks are searched without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Minority students are disproportionately shunted in lower track programs. Majoritarian religious practices are officially sanctioned by teachers and school administrators. Female students are excluded from certain extracurricular activities; gay students are intimidated into silence.

Both private and public institutions are far from being educational panaceas. From grade inflation to policy enforcement, both private and public schools have their work cut out for them in the future.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1993-94 school year, private schools in the United States accounted for 24.4 percent of the total number of schools in the United States. These schools enrolled 10.7 percent of the students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12. The same report reveals that nearly one-third of private schools required some kind of community service before graduation, as compared with only three percent of government schools that have a like requirement.

Clearly, there exists an additional objective of private school leaders more than of government school leaders to focus on issues that go beyond academic achievement (and) which serve to strengthen the community and uphold society’s moral values. The government schools continue to consider such goals inappropriate, but the private schools can deal effectively with the students’ academic and moral development.

The biggest and best benefit of a private school is simply that it is not a public school. Students are often shut down by the system that is supposed to be helping them succeed as individuals. Government-run education doesn’t work because it stifles creativity and individual initiative in a multitude of areas. The hidden benefits of a private education are many: more creativity, less propaganda, more learning, less obedience, more responsibility. Hopefully Americans will come to a similar conclusion; then and only then can the complete separation of school and state be brought to a reality.



A loophole ("or otherwise") deliberately built into the law to protect the privately-tutored children of the gentry has now become widely used

A quietly spoken grandmother in her mid-sixties, Iris Harrison lives with her husband, Geoff, in the isolated Worcestershire farmhouse where she brought up her four children. A handmade trunk full of legal papers and a constantly ringing phone provide the clues to her more radical past.

Three of the Harrisons' children had such profound dyslexia, they were told they would never learn to read or write. In 1970, when their eldest daughter, Wanda, then five, began to hide rather than go to school, Iris decided to keep her at home. To escape the authorities, the family fled to a remote Scottish island, to a hut with no running water. The nearest shop was a boat ride away. Iris recalls Wanda learning to read from old copies of Exchange & Mart. "In the end we decided we couldn't keep running. We came back, hoping we'd be forgotten."

They weren't. They were threatened with legal action and told that the children, including six-month-old Newall, would be taken into care. "The children were so afraid, I barely left them," Iris recalls. "The LEA [local education authority] were like the Gestapo. I remember once having to go out to get petrol and telling my eldest son, Grant, that if the authorities arrived, he should load his air rifle and aim at their feet." The Harrisons instructed a lawyer and bought a flock of geese to keep the LEA inspectors away, while they and a handful of supporters fought their way through the courts for the right to educate their children autonomously at home.

Autonomous learning is child- rather than teacher-led. Parents become facilitators, providing resources and assistance, allowing children to follow their own interests. "We played games, we researched every question they asked," says Iris. "We didn't have a TV. It was a talking, living education." Iris's diary around this time reads: "AJ's violin lesson went on all day today. Newall worked on his model farm, working out the grazing required per animal. He then calculated the cereal crop requirement, hay for fodder and allowed an amount for sale. He and Grant have been researching ancient weapons using the World of Knowledge. They made a replica of a Roman weapon and set up a battle in miniature."

Iris felt "the deepest certainty" that they were doing the right thing. Her husband had spent his school days truanting in museums, remembering everything he saw. "I trained purely to take exams and immediately forgot everything," says Iris. "It was obvious that he was the one who was truly educated."

Today their children, now in their thirties, still love learning, and continue to study - though not, says Iris, to take exams. AJ trained in alternative medicine, Wanda has worked teaching new skills to young people, and Grant runs a workshop making ironwork with Newall, who also renovates classic cars.

The 1944 Education Act states that the parent of every school-age child should ensure he receives full-time education suitable to his age and ability, "either by regular attendance at school or otherwise". It is the word "otherwise" that provided the Harrisons' legal loophole and opened up home education as an option for all.

In 1977, so few families were educating their children at home that nobody bothered to count them. By 1978, Education Otherwise (EO), the support group Iris Harrison co-founded, had 400 member families. The figure is now 4,183, and EO's helpline receives 700 calls a month.

The Department for Education and Skills estimates that up to 150,000 children in Britain may be home-educated. The exact figure is impossible to calculate since, if their children have never been registered at a school, parents have no legal duty to inform the authorities. But we do know that profile of the modern home educator has changed. Many parents who opted out of mainstream education in the 1970s were exploring an alternative lifestyle. Nowadays, large class sizes, bullying, failing to get a child into a school of their choice and the relentless pressure of exams have led many parents who wouldn't consider themselves remotely radical to remove their children from the system.

When Rowan Hillier, 13, didn't get into her first or second choice of secondary school near Tunbridge Wells, her parents ignored the third, "the kind of school where the kids beat the teachers up". Rowan has been learning at home for nearly two years. "I was certain I could do better," says her mother, Jane Brenan. One hour's tutoring a week in maths, science and French has kept Rowan on top of the national curriculum.

"At first I found being together all day oppressive," says Jane. But Rowan quickly saw the advantages: "Once I'd done my work, I could play my guitar all afternoon."

She kept in touch with her old schoolfriends and fell in with a local group of "home eds". Her only problem was distinguishing their tribe. "In school you go, `Okay: pikey, goth, chav and emo.' With home eds you can't tell."

A place has become available at a local school for September and Rowan has decided to take it. "The past two years have been a good experience," says Jane. "I'm all for structured learning, but my experience with my eldest daughter, now 21, made me realise that children have very little choice over how and what they learn. Holly did very well, but she worked out that by the time she'd finished her A-levels, she'd taken 160 exams."

An apparent prickliness among home educators makes collecting information difficult. When Mike Fortune-Wood of the Centre for Personalised Education Trust began researching home-based education in 2002, only 263 families replied to a widely distributed questionnaire.

While home educators meet socially and to share skills, more formal networks seem to be hampered by differences between home educators themselves. A minority use national-curriculum textbooks and invent their own timetables; others are free to choose what and when to learn. This may involve long hours watching MTV as if in a coma. In HE parlance, this is called detoxifying from school.

Leslie Safran-Barson runs the Otherwise Club in London, a community centre for home educators. She recalls her son Louis, who this year gained a first in philosophy from King's College, London, lying on the floor staring at the ceiling for hours, and spending whole days superglued to his PlayStation. Clearly, home educators need to have nerves of steel. Safran-Barson, who rejected school for imposing "too much structure, too soon" believes that laziness is a reaction to not being listened to, and that eventually even the most disaffected child will get off the sofa and discover a passion for something, because children are hard-wired to learn.

When Louis declared an interest in science, she found a medical student who spent a few hours a week talking human biology. History was studied by getting a group of local children together and researching different periods, finishing with a play they wrote and performed themselves.

Christopher Ford's mother, Helen, admits to panicking when he could barely write at 11: "He went to school for one term, hated the narrowness, left and we didn't look back." Chris took his first GCSE when he was 13, started a biology degree at Sheffield University at 17 and took his finals this year. He is predicted to get a 2:1 or a first and is applying to do a PhD at Edinburgh.

Ruth Charles, 21, is taking a degree in community and youth work at Durham University. She and her sister Ann, 19, have never been to school. "My parents just didn't think any of the schools locally were good enough," says Ruth. "Mum thought, `I've already taught them to walk and talk. Why can't I teach them the rest?'"

In the Forest Row area of East Sussex, 30 families have opted out of formal education. Every Monday, parents and children get together to socialise. The noise is appalling. Girls charge in and out, someone is playing an electric guitar and two boys thwack billiard balls round a table. The girls swiftly dispense with the old chestnut that home-educated children have no friends. Isabella, 12, tells me she hated school. "I never felt clever enough. It made me feel small and undermined. Here we're all good at something."

Anna Durdant-Hollamby, 16, and her sister, Sophie, 13, have been learning at home for seven years. "All my friends who have been taking GCSEs at school have been ill and stressed," says Anna. "They're smoking, they're drinking, one has glandular fever. There's academic pressure, there's peer pressure. They're a complete mess." Last year, Anna gained a B for her GCSE in English. But it's not an experience she wants to repeat, she says, because the course was so narrow. She is now studying journalism online. "So many people take exams out of fear, because they feel their life will be a failure if they don't take them," she says.

Nothing would induce Anna back to school, but Sophie gets "bored and self-critical" and asks: "Is my life rubbish?" "Potentially we could be making a ghastly mistake," admits her mother, Winnie. "But we're trying to teach them responsibility for their own happiness."

Joanne McNaughton home-educates her five children as well as running a smallholding in Crowborough, East Sussex; she describes her family as "the nearest thing to the Waltons". She admits it's tough, both emotionally and financially, but has no regrets: "Whether you're living in a council flat or on a 200-acre farm of organic wheat, you can make it work for your children and yourself and that's the power of it. I'm pro-choice. One system doesn't fit all." Her eldest, Barnes, 12, started at the local village school at five. "The teaching was fragmented into 15-minute or half-hour slots for reading, writing and number work, and I couldn't see how children could learn like that.

A child doesn't want to learn about numbers because it's 2pm on Thursday, when he might still be thinking about an earthworm he saw at lunchtime. The curriculum doesn't allow time for his interests to be explored. Dedicated teachers' jobs have been made impossible."

Haig McNaughton, 7, is fascinated by Egyptology; his brother, Forbes, 9, by poultry. Barnes is doing a project on Admiral Nelson; Hamilton, 11, on the trees in Ashdown Forest. They don't have a computer but they go to the library and source information there. All the Forest Row parents are passionate about the importance of family life. "Education isn't just about absorbing facts," says Joanne. "My children are learning to be happy people. Nothing gets to crisis point now, because we've all got time to talk and to express our feelings."

Paula Rothermel, who lectures at Durham University's School of Education, spent five years studying 419 home-educated families and found that they significantly outperformed their school-going peers throughout primary school, both in terms of academic potential and social skills. She found 64% of home-educated five-year-olds scored over 75% on their Pips (performance indicators in primary schools) baseline assessments, as opposed to 5.1% of primary-school children nationally.

Surprisingly, Rothermel found that few parents were home-educating in order to hothouse their children towards glittering GCSE results. Only 14% of families followed the national curriculum; 58% didn't use it at all. Older children tended to bypass GCSEs, moving straight on to A-levels at 16.

More here


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

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, July 02, 2006

U.K.: School swimming lessons dropped -- apparently for cost reasons

Those pesky school pools cost too much to run. Who cares if a few kids die?

Swimming has been dropped from the list of sports that pupils are expected to practise in PE lessons at secondary school. New guidelines published by the Government’s curriculum watchdog omit swimming in favour of “fitness and health activities” for pupils. Officials at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) said that they wanted schools to have more freedom to offer activities that suited the interests of individual pupils; but safety campaigners said that the downgrading of swimming lessons would have potentially fatal consequences.

Children who had met the requirement at primary school to be able to swim 25 metres would have misplaced confidence in their abilities unless they continued to practise at secondary level. Seventy children drown each year and five had been killed in the past month alone.

The QCA published the draft “programmes of study” as part of proposed reforms to the national curriculum for pupils aged 11 to 14, known as Key Stage 3. They will be put out for consultation next February for introduction in schools in September 2008. The new guidance makes no mention of swimming, but tells schools that the PE curriculum should enable “all pupils to enjoy and succeed in physical activity.” It sets out a list of desirable skills for pupils to learn and recommends that schools develop “at least three” through participation in games, gymnastics, dance, athletics, outdoor adventure activities or “fitness and health activities”.

A QCA spokesman said that swimming would fit into the last category if schools chose to offer it, but he acknowledged that it would no longer be listed specifically in the secondary curriculum. “The context of this is that we are designing a curriculum that creates more space for individualised learning,” the spokesman said. “This is about looking at the principles that we need to think about in providing these subjects while schools decide how what is taught fits in with other aspects of what they do. “One of the key things to motivate kids to get involved in physical activity is to find things that they enjoy doing and getting better at. We want schools to look at facilities and build a curriculum that is much more localised and personalised.“

The move appears to contradict a 5.5 million pound government initiative announced last month to ensure that all pupils left primary school able to swim. The national curriculum requires that pupils can swim 25 metres by age 11, but one in five currently fails to meet this target. Jim Knight, the School Standards Minister, launched the two-week programme of intensive “top-up” lessons for children who had not met the standard. He said then: “Every child should learn to swim. It is an essential skill and is a fun way to exercise. We want to give as many pupils as possible confidence in the water.”

Officials at the Department for Education and Skills are known to be concerned about the QCA’s decision and are likely to press for an explicit commitment to swimming to be restored in the curriculum; but the move to downgrade it won support from the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents most secondary heads. John Dunford, its general secretary, said: “Heads would much prefer a Key Stage 3 curriculum that is much more flexible. “While it is widely accepted that children should learn to swim for their own safety, I don’t think that necessarily means that it should be part of the curriculum every year in schools. It should be left to the head teacher to decide.”

The English Schools Swimming Association estimated last year that the number of school pools had fallen from 5,000 in 1972 to just 2,000 now. A growing number of local authority baths have either shut or face the threat of closure, leaving schools in many areas unable to find a pool within reasonable distance. Peter Cornall, head of water and leisure safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said that on average about 70 children drown in inland waters, especially in the summer and during the May and August bank holidays. He said that the requirement for pupils to leave primary school able to swim 25 metres was inadequate to ensure their safety in water.


Creation gets a mention in British university

No such thing as bad publicity?

Creationism is finding its way into university lecture halls, raising concerns with some academics that the biblical story of creation will be given equal weight to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Compulsory lectures in intelligent design and creationism are going to be included in second-year courses for zoology and genetics undergraduates at Leeds University, The Times Higher Education Supplement (June 23) reveals.

But there’s a twist: lecturers will present the controversial theories as being incompatible with scientific evidence. “It is essential they (students) understand the historical context and the flaws in the arguments these groups put forward,” says Michael McPherson, of Leeds University.

Despite the clear anti- creationist stance of these lecturers, the move has set warning bells ringing across the UK science community. “It would be undesirable for universities to spend a lot of precious resources teaching students that creationism and intelligent design are not based on scientific evidence,” says David Read, the vice- president of the Royal Society.

Yet other academics are keen to see evolutionary theory challenged in university lecture halls. “The scientific establishment prevents dissenting views,” says Professor Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. “I have a lot of respect for those who have true scientific credentials and are upfront about their views.”

Students, though, seem open to creationism. One study, carried out by Professor Roger Downie, of the University of Glasgow, found that one science student in ten did not believe in evolution. “This gives a very poor prognosis for their understanding of what science is and their ability to be scientists,” Prof Downie says.



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"

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