Saturday, August 19, 2006


Fresh concerns were raised about the 'gold standard' of A-levels yesterday after it emerged that more than 10,000 straight-A students have been rejected by Oxbridge. The bright sixth-formers did not receive offers from Oxford and Cambridge despite the fact they are predicted to achieve at least three grade As tomorrow. They were turned down as a surfeit of teenagers are emerging with a clutch of top qualifications, making it increasingly difficult for universities to distinguish between them.

The figures will fuel concern that A-levels are becoming increasingly meaningless, with pass rates expected to nudge 100 per cent as they rise for the 24th consecutive year. Last year, pass rates increased to more than 96 per cent while the number of A grades also rose to more than 22 per cent, leaving many teenagers celebrating with at least five top A-levels. This compares to less than 12 per cent a decade ago. The government has pledged to toughen up A-levels by introducing harder questions to help stretch the brightest by 2008. A trial is being launched later this year. And a new supergrade of A* will be introduced as a result to provide better differentiation between top achieving students.

Dr Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge University, said: 'There will be students with very good A-level results that haven't got offers this year. 'It's now recognised that there needs to be more stretch and challenge to test the more able students better and the grading system needs to provide better differentiation. 'There are plans afoot to deal with this and it's not a question of beating on the door. It's more a case of waiting for the reforms which are being piloted to come through. 'Although it's frustrating, it's going to take a couple of years before these reforms are actually tried out, it's better than rushing the reforms without them being properly piloted.'

Referring to A-levels, he added: 'The reliability of assessment has improved but at the expense of making the exams more predictable. 'That has reduced the opportunity to test some of those sorts of more advanced skills that the universities are looking for and limits the opportunity for students with those skills to demonstrate them.'

More here


Three current articles below

States told to reinvigorate history teaching

Three state governments risk losing billions in schools funding after dismissing the finding of a summit of historians that recommended postmodern subjects be replaced with a traditional history course. The history summit communique foreshadowed a massive shift in the teaching of history, as well as a new level of commonwealth interference in state and territory education systems.

But the Queensland, South Australian and West Australian education ministers yesterday dismissed the need for a stand-alone subject. Apart from NSW and Victoria, the states and territories have replaced stand-alone history offerings with cross-disciplinary, outcomes-based subjects with titles such as Studies of Society and its Environment. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford said it would be "educational vandalism" for the federal Government to force on the states the separate study of history. "To talk about history as a stand-alone subject, as a list of events, is an educational absurdity," Mr Welford said. "It will do absolutely nothing to students' understanding or interpretation of their place in the world."

Speaking on behalf of the 23 participants in the event, held in Canberra yesterday, former NSW premier Bob Carr said: "History should be taught in our schools, in Year 9 and 10 especially, as a stand-alone discipline. "It shouldn't be absorbed in other subjects. It should be taught as history." Urging state and territory governments to join in "a nationwide revival in the teaching of Australian history", the summit communique said that "the study of Australian history should be sequentially planned through primary and secondary schooling and should be a distinct subject in years 9 and 10. This would be an essential and required core part of all students' learning experience to prepare them for the 21st century".

The summit, also attended by historian Geoffrey Blainey and the co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, Jackie Huggins, formed a five-member working group to develop a standard Australian history curriculum, including a chronology and set of "open-ended questions", which federal Education Minister Julie Bishop will urge the states and territories to adopt. If they do not co-operate, Ms Bishop has refused to rule out using the upcoming quadrennial funding agreement, worth about $13 billion in commonwealth money for state schools, to force their hands....

Launching the summit, the Prime Minister threw down the gauntlet to the states and territories, announcing he wanted them to reinstate history as "astand-alone subject in our school system". "We want to bring about a renaissance of interest in and understanding of Australian history," Mr Howard said.

Yesterday's summit was called following concerns raised by Mr Howard in January that the orderly teaching of Australian history had been "replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues". Rejecting the current approach, the summit said "development of history study needs to be firmly based on a clear chronological sequence of key events spanning indigenous presence to recent decades".

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Leftists grumble that the new history courses might be politically biased!

The have the hide to complain about replacing Leftist bias with facts

History is set to become compulsory in Australian high schools. The debate now is whose history is it? The one-day History Summit in Canberra ended yesterday with an agreement for the development of "a clear chronology of events" shaping Australia. The summit agreed history should be a stand-alone and "essential and required" discipline for Years 9 and 10. And otherwise reluctant students will be encouraged by the possibility of a $100,000 prize.

Prime Minister John Howard made the surprise announcement of a new history prize as he addressed the summit yesterday morning. The "Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History", judged by academics, will be for a for a "substantial written work or a documentary or film". The prize and the summit are part of a long-running bid by the ruling Coalition to reshape the history curriculum, which it believes has been dominated by the political Left.

Mr Howard denied he was advocating a regression to a more nostalgic historical narrative, which celebrates the achievements of colonialism and lessens the emphasis of Aboriginal dispossession. He told the summit, attended by academics Greg Melleuish and Tony Taylor - who will flesh out recommendations on curriculum improvements - that history students needed a solid foundation from which to work. "I do not believe . . . that you can have any sensible understanding and, therefore, any sensible debate about different opinions of Australian history unless you have some narrative and method in the comprehension and understanding of history," Mr Howard said. "How you can just teach issues and study moods and fashions in history, rather than comprehend and teach the narrative, has always escaped me."

Education Minister Julie Bishop denied the government was trying to create an "official" version of Australian history. But Labor, the Greens and the Democrats fear the Government is about to re-fashion Australia's past into a reflection of its own world view. "The teaching of history is very important in our schools but the last thing we want is John Howard pushing his ideology down the throats of our children," Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said.

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Let's understand our Western institutional heritage

Excerpts from the speech of Prime Minister John Howard, at the history summit yesterday

We do want to bring about a renaissance of both interest in and understanding of Australian history, and that must involve a greater focus on the disciplined teaching and understanding of history in Australian schools. My assessment is that it varies enormously around the country. In some parts of Australia, the school curriculum has a welcome emphasis; in other parts I don't believe it does.

I want to make it very clear that we are not seeking some kind of official version of Australian history. We're not seeking some kind of nostalgic return to a particular version of Australian history, although I do not believe, and the Government does not believe, that you can have any sensible understanding, and therefore any sensible debate, about different opinions of Australian history unless you have some narrative and method in the comprehension and understanding of history. How we can just teach issues and study moods and fashions in history rather than comprehend and teach the narrative, have a narrative, has always escaped me.

I don't think you can have a proper teaching and comprehension of Australian history, of course, without having a proper understanding of indigenous history and the contribution of the indigenous experience to Australia's development and the Australian story. Equally, I don't believe that you can have a proper understanding of Australian history without some understanding of those movements and attitudes and values and traditions of other countries that had an influence on the formation of Australia. And obviously we need an understanding of those institutions we inherited from the British and the other European influences on Australia.

We need to understand the influence of religion in the formation of attitudes and development in Australia. We obviously have to see Australia as heavily influenced by the Western intellectual position, the Enlightenment and all that's associated with it.

I don't want to give The Australian newspaper a free plug, but I know Education Minister Julie Bishop in her speech last night (see Cut & Paste yesterday) quoted that (opinion page) article by Roy Eccleston about the experience of his daughter in having been taught in the American school system and been taught a little bit about some of the formative events in American history. And whilst I don't necessarily suggest we pick that up root and branch and transplant it, obviously we have our own way of doing it, but I thought it made a good point.



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, August 18, 2006


Australian history teaching has been labouring under decades of Leftist neglect and misrepresentation so the Federal government is pressing the State governments to restore some balance. Three articles below:

Feds threaten: Restore history study or lose funding

State governments will be under pressure to reinstate history as a compulsory separate subject in schools or risk losing nearly $13 billion in federal funding as a summit of experts meet in Canberra today. But in launching the history summit last night, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop told the 23 participants she was not in favour of "creating some form of an official" history. "We start, however, with a strong view that Australian history should be a compulsory stand-alone subject during some period of high school," she said.

The history summit, which was flagged by The Australian last month, has been convened by Ms Bishop in response to John Howard's call in January for a "root and branch renewal" of the teaching of Australian history. "Debate is healthy, but too often in the past decade the extremes in the history debate obscured the sensible centre and left others - not the least our children - to simply switch off," Ms Bishop said. "But let me assure everyone that we are not in the business ofproducing some form of official history."

The Government is worried that school students are losing any sense of Australian or world history as a result of the rise of cross-disciplinary subjects with titles such as Study of Society and its Environment. The Prime Minister and Ms Bishop want compulsory history subjects taught from kindergarten to Year 10, with Australian history the focus of Years 9 and 10.

Participants in the summit include former NSW premier Bob Carr, conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, historian Geoffrey Blainey and The Australian editor-at-large Paul Kelly. By inviting what she calls the "sensible centre" of the history debate, Ms Bishop hopes to avoid the summit becoming hostage to the "history wars".

But in an opinion article in a Melbourne newspaper on Tuesday, Melbourne University history professor Stuart McIntyre, who was invited to the summit but cannot attend, suggested it would endorse the view that "only one story can be told and that it should be drilled into all young Australians".

But Henderson dismissed that argument yesterday. "I think the presence of Geoffrey Bolton or Bob Carr or Inge Clendinnen indicates this is going to be a discussion which will focus on the importance of narrative history, but also looking at different traditions," he said. "Both the conservative tradition and the social democratic tradition have an interest in getting our history right and seeing it is not captured by ideologues."

The summit should give Ms Bishop the ammunition she needs to make stand-alone history a condition of the next four-year education funding agreement with the states - expected to be worth nearly $13 billion for state schools and $29 billion for private schools. Those at the meeting will also advise her on the additional resources that will be required, which could include online curriculum materials and brush-up courses for teachers. In a pointed reference to the school syllabus in Queensland, Ms Bishop said: "History is not peace studies. "History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability. History is history, and shouldn't be a political science course by another name."


History should be compulsory

Another report of Ms Bishop's remarks:

Australian history should be a compulsory, stand-alone subject at some stage during high schooling, Education Minister Julie Bishop said last night. Opening Australia's History summit, Ms Bishop said she hoped the meeting would help to define the body of historical knowledge that should be taught to all Australian students. "Yes, there will be controversy but I would hope we can find agreement on the main currents and big themes in our national story," she said. "I believe that students should be given a good grounding in key dates, facts and events of Australian history. "They should be organised within the framework of a narrative or story. "Big themes like the role of enlightenment values, such as scientific progress, religious freedom and secular government in shaping our colonial experience. "The development of parliamentary democracy, up to and including Federation, should be taught.

"So too should the impact on our national consciousness and social institutions of involvement in global conflicts - including the first and second World Wars. "I want to echo what the Prime Minister said in January about the importance of indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. "We need to think seriously and speak honestly about how we bring this inheritance to life and weave it into the national story."

Ms Bishop said Australians also needed to ask themselves why so few children knew the nation's rich and unique national story. "Whatever the reasons, the situation is not good enough," she said. Ms Bishop added that "by the time they reach leaving age, most students in Australian schools will have experienced a fragmented, repetitive and incomplete picture of their national story". Many teachers at primary and secondary school level were left floundering in a "local patchwork curriculum where Australian history is often regarded as an optional extra".

The Canberra summit is being attended by some of Australia's leading historians including Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Professor Geoffrey Bolton, chancellor of Murdoch University; Ms Jackie Huggins, deputy director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland; and former NSW Premier Bob Carr


The past is prologue: Australian history should not be taught as tragedy or farce

An editorial from "The Australian" newspaper below

Addressing the dinner opening today's Australian History Summit last night, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said: "History is not peace studies. History is not social justice awareness week. Or consciousness-raising about ecological sustainability. History is history."

She is exactly right. Yet for too long Australian history, when it is taught at all, has been used as an excuse to indoctrinate students in politically correct fads rather than give them a solid grounding in the factual and narrative history of their nation. In many states, Australian history is taught as part of something called Studies of Society and the Environment. In the ACT, "gender equity" is a key "curriculum component" informing what the territory's educators call the study of "time, continuity and change". Most other jurisdictions are no better, replacing history with outcomes-based education gobbledegook.

The end result is students turned off by history who graduate without any concrete sense of how Australia became the nation it is today. The only exception is NSW, where, thanks to former premier Bob Carr, history is taught as a discrete subject in secondary schools by teachers who have actually studied the stuff. In bringing together a raft of historians and thinkers in Sydney today to discuss the teaching of history, the Howard Government is sending a clear message: our history matters, has been ignored for too long and deserves to be taught as a stand-alone subject to every Australian child.

From the moment it was announced, the summit has been targeted by left-wing historians fretting that the push for the teaching of narrative history - names, dates and context - is a plot to indoctrinate unsuspecting children with Liberal Party orthodoxy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And in attacking the summit, these critics reveal much about themselves. Guy Rundle laughably wrote on the Crikey website that the summit's participants were strongly biased toward the conservative Right. But Mr Rundle is so far to the Left that when he looks to his right he sees 95 per cent of the population polishing their jackboots. He even derided Mr Carr, as well as this newspaper's Paul Kelly, as "right activist(s)", something that was surely news to them.

Meanwhile, the University of Melbourne's Stuart Macintyre complained that the history controversy stemmed from a "pernicious campaign" waged by The Australian against postmodernism and moral relativism. To that we plead guilty: the teaching of Australian history is indisputably taught from postmodern perspectives. Mr Macintyre, a former communist and intellectual father to a generation of postmodernists, bears partial responsibility for this. It was, after all, Mr Macintyre who once famously applauded the overthrow of "the tyranny of the fact".

Parents and their children deserve better than curriculums guided by historians whose motto is to never let the truth get in the way of a political agenda. There is no golden age of Australian history teaching to harken back to. Fifty years ago, Australian history was taught very much through a British prism, and children in suburban Sydney or Melbourne were taught more about the Stuart kings than the prime ministers of their own nation. And the experience of Australia's original inhabitants, both good and bad, was written out of the history books completely.

But the movement to correct these errors and injustices that began in the 1980s was fundamentally flawed. In replacing the British perspective with an essentially postmodern one, Australian history as it is now taught is simply a story of victims and oppressors. Thus James Cook's landing is no longer the finish line of a historic voyage but rather the beginning of a long and shameful narrative of invasion and dispossession. And Anglo-Saxon Australians, while treated as the ignoble conquerors of a 40,000-year-old civilisation at home, are overseas portrayed as little more than cogs victimised by the greater evil of the British imperial war machine. A relentless and negative focus on the "stolen generations" ignores the fact that many Aborigines received education and training as a result of their removal, which itself was part of the standard practice of Christian churchmen of the time. And indigenous culture is sentimentalised to the point where its more brutal or negative aspects cannot be taught. These are all flawed efforts to impose today's values on yesterday's events. Australia and the world finds itself in a uniquely dangerous moment in history; one that the students of today will inherit. They will be far better equipped if they understand the present cannot change the past, but that knowledge of history can help build a better future.



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, August 17, 2006

UK: Physics in downward spiral

The study of physics in schools and universities is spiralling into decline as many teenagers believe it is too difficult, academics warn in a damning report today. Just days away from the publication of A-level results in England and Wales next Thursday, the analysis by researchers from the University of Buckingham shows that the number of A-level exam entries in the subject has halved since 1982.

One in four universities which had significant numbers studying physics have stopped teaching the subject since 1994, they say. Even in the 26 top universities with the highest ratings for research, the trend has been downwards.

The authors, Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of the university's centre for education, warned the situation could get worse as fewer physics graduates were training to teach the subject in schools. Professor Smithers said: "Physics is in the grip of a long-term downward spiral. Not enough young people ... take physics degrees, which means the pool from which to recruit teachers is not large enough. Many young people do not get sufficient opportunity to discover if they are good at physics and they are naturally disinclined to take what they believe is a difficult subject at A-level."

But the report found that while the number of A-level entries had fallen to 28,119 last year from 55,728 in 1982, pupils have been scoring better grades. The number of A-grades awarded increased by 27.2% from 6,323 in 1990 to 8,042 in 2005. The report also claims that attempts to encourage more girls to take up the subject had stalled. "The introduction of combined science GCSE has meant that many more pupils are taking some physics up to the age of 16," Dr Robinson said. "It might have been expected that this would have led to substantial increases in A-level entries and a narrowing of the gender gap. In fact, neither has occurred."


A good idea: Sue the school if your kid can't read

A mother has won a confidential payout from a top private school for failing to teach her son how to read properly. In a case that raises questions about the extent to which schools are liable for what they teach, the Melbourne mother reached a settlement with Brighton Grammar School yesterday after alleging the school breached the Trade Practices Act. Yvonne Meyer, who cannot discuss the confidential deal, took action against the school because she believed it had failed to deliver on its promise to address her son Jake's reading problems.

Ms Meyer claimed Jake, now aged 13 and in a private secondary school, made it all the way to Year 5 without being able to read properly. Until then, he had been guessing and memorising words. Jake struggled with reading and writing from Preparatory grade when he was enrolled at the government-run Albert Park Primary School. By Year 1, he was a year behind his classmates. He did two terms of Reading Recovery, and despite passing reading tests, little changed.

Ms Meyer, who works in the film and television industry, went to specialists who diagnosed Jake with a significant range of learning difficulties. What none of the experts picked up was that Jake could not read and that he was memorising. At the start of Year 4, Ms Meyer moved Jake to Brighton Grammar, where he stayed for three years.

In her civil action, it is understood Ms Meyer claimed she received assurances from Brighton Grammar that it had the resources to identify her son's problems, and could fix them. But it was not until the end of Year 5 that Ms Meyer worked out that he was memorising words rather than reading them and a solution was found: traditional phonics. Ms Meyer hired a tutor, who dealt with his problems in six weeks.

In December 2004, then federal education minister Brendan Nelson asked Ms Meyer to be one of 10 members of the Government's national inquiry into literacy teaching. Ms Meyer subsequently took civil action in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, alleging Brighton Grammar had breached the act because it failed to deliver the service it promised. It is believed she sought to recoup some of the fees paid, which were up to $15,000 a year. Brighton Grammar headmaster Michael Urwin said: "As far as the school is concerned, the matter is now over."



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, August 16, 2006


Milton Friedman, one of America's most respected and reviled educational reform advocates, attended public schools himself. You'd think the fact that he went on to win the Nobel Prize in economics would mellow him on the subject. It hasn't. "The schooling system was in much better shape 50 years ago than it is now," says Friedman, his voice as confident as reinforced concrete.

A big fan of freedom, Friedman objects to public schools on principle, arguing - as he says most classic liberals once did - that government involvement by nature decreases individual liberty. But it's the decline of schooling at the practical level, especially for the poor, that seems to exasperate him.

Friedman puts much of the blame on centralization. "When I went to elementary school, a long, long time ago in the 1920s, there were about 150,000 school districts in the United States," he says. "Today there are fewer than 15,000, and the population is more than twice as large." Centralization was caused by urbanization and in turn caused bureaucratization. For that, and much more, he blames teachers unions.

Throughout our talk, Friedman uses the phrase "your friends in the teachers union." This amuses me because, while I do have many friends who belong to teachers unions, my conversations with A.J. Duffy, the cocky president of United Teachers Los Angeles, usually end with him screaming. Months ago, when I told Duffy I was going to visit Friedman, he smirked. "I don't think public education can work on the profit paradigm," he said. "It's ludicrous."

Friedman takes the opposite view. At heart, he remains a pure capitalist. He would like to see government get out of schooling entirely. As a pragmatist, he figures that if the government must spend money on education, it should give it to parents to spend, on private schools if they wish. This approach is usually called a voucher system, and armies of think-tank scholars have cranked out tons of studies supporting all sides of the issue since Friedman injected it into the debate in his 1955 article "The Role of Government in Education."

None of that has clouded Friedman's clarity. "The fundamental thing that's wrong with our present setup of elementary and secondary schooling is that it's a case in which the government is subsidizing a product," he says. "If you subsidize the producers, as we do in schooling, they have every incentive to have a status quo, and a non-progressive system, because they are a monopoly." Friedman finds it unfair that a mother who sends her child to private school should also have to pay to educate children whose parents send them to public school - an injustice made more egregious in his view by the fact that the private school mom probably has more money and so has already paid more in taxes.

But he is just as ticked off by what he sees as the great unfairness to poor kids. "It's very clear that the people who suffer most in our present system are people in the slums - blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the underclass." When I ask him about the "achievement gap" separating low-scoring black and Latino students from better-scoring whites and Asians, he blames my "friends in the union." "They are running a system that maximizes the gap in performance. . . Tell me, where is the gap between the poor and rich wider than it is in schooling? A more sensible education system, one that is based on the market, would stave off the division of this country into haves and have-nots; it would make for a more egalitarian society because you'd have more equal opportunities for education."

But how would overburdened minimum-wage workers be expected to find the time to research a slew of school options, I ask - hearing the patronizing tone of my question as it crosses my lips. "Who's in a better position?" Friedman asks. As a fairly well-informed parent, I can't bring myself to say "the experts," so I move on to money.

Jonathan Kozol, author of "Savage Inequalities" and other books of education journalism, has noted that the parents who whine that "throwing money at education" doesn't solve the problem are usually those spending $15,000 or $30,000 a year to send their kids to private schools. I ask Friedman about the obvious implications of that. "In the last 10 years, the amount spent per child on schooling has more than doubled after allowing for inflation. There's been absolutely no improvement as far as I can see in the quality of education. . . . The system you have is like a sponge. It will absorb the extra money. Because the incentives are wrong. "Would you really rather have your automobile produced by a government agency? Do you really prefer the post office to FedEx? Why do people have this irrational attachment to a socialist system?"

Friedman says that Americans have benefited enormously from free market competition in virtually every other part of their lives. He thinks it's a matter of time before consumers demand the same right to choose how their children's minds will be nourished as they do in deciding what food to feed them. Charter schools allow a measure of choice, he says, in part because they are largely unencumbered by unreasonable union requirements, but he already sees organized labor stalking teachers at those schools. "Vouchers," he says, "should have been a Democratic proposal. I don't think the unions can continue to succeed in making it an act of faith that if you're a Democrat you're against vouchers. That's resting on a pile of straw. "It's not going to last. It's impossible, really, literally impossible for me to conceive that you can keep on sticking to this failing system, this terrible system that does so much injustice."


Former Leftist leader slams fake history

Some historians have been guilty of "political correctness" in romanticising nomadic Aboriginal life before the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, according to former NSW premier, Bob Carr. Speaking last night on ABC radio's Sunday Profile program, Mr Carr said that some historians had "eliminated unattractive features of nomadic life of our accounts of pre-1788 Australia" out of a desire to avoid offending Aborigines.

Mr Carr's comments come just days before a national summit on history teaching in schools, revisiting the decade-long culture and history war over how Australia views its past. He will take part in the summit, along with others such as leading conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey, who coined the phrase "black armband" view of history - for the views that lament Australia's past rather than recognising its achievements.

In an article in the Education supplement of The Age today, Professor Blainey says that Australia is one of the success stories of modern history. "You would not gain that impression if you read some books used in schools and universities," he writes. Professor Blainey said too many university courses taught "handkerchief-size" topics based on lecturers' own research, rather than broader areas that might be helpful to future history teachers.

Thursday's summit comes in the wake of Howard Government criticism of the way history is taught in schools. In this year's Australia Day address, Prime Minister John Howard called for "root and branch renewal" of the way history is taught. Last month, Education Minister Julie Bishop called for a renaissance in the area, arguing there was too much political bias and too few pivotal dates and facts were taught.

Mr Carr, who made studying Australian history compulsory for secondary school pupils during his time as premier, also said last night that history was not just a matter of dates and facts. "History should . have controversy and confusion and argument and bloodshed," he said. "Haven't you got to know that Australia once had a White Australia policy? And that it was changed?"

Professor Blainey told The Age that historians were more conscious of how they viewed the past than a decade ago. "(Historian) Keith Windschuttle's writing has shown that the people who were most interested in the areas he was writing had too much agreement amongst themselves, therefore tended to run a line, which . was stronger than the evidence supported," Professor Blainey said. Mr Windschuttle has claimed that the frontier massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines were exaggerated.

But Monash University historian Bain Attwood said it was unhelpful to frame the history summit around "black armband history" or the history wars. "This (summit) is an attempt to put the history wars aside," he said. "Anybody who does not put those history wars aside, including Geoffrey Blainey, is not contributing to the process."



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, August 15, 2006

Quality of students is 'pretty dire' warn British companies

The "dire" quality of many school-leavers threatens to undermine Britain's future success in manufacturing and science, leading business figures have warned. The CBI said thousands of teenagers were turning their backs on studying science because of inadequate teaching and a belief that they can get better A-level grades in easier subjects.

Bosses warned that science and technology firms could abandon British graduates in future and look abroad to economic rivals such as India and China for new staff. Flanked by the UK heads of electronics giant Siemens and pharmaceuticals firm Sanofi- Aventis, CBI director-general Richard Lambert told reporters the Government must act immediately to avert a crisis. "The UK risks being knocked off its perch as a world-leader in science, engineering and technology," he said. "We cannot afford for this to happen."

The call came just days before 250,000 teenagers receive their A-level results. Last week academics warned that physics in particular is in long-term decline in schools and universities as many students pick "easier" courses. Alan Wood, chief executive of Siemens UK, said "embarrassingly large numbers of people" leave secondary school unable even to read and write properly.

Siemens struggles to find well-trained school leavers to work in manufacturing and take up apprenticeships, he said. "We find the quality of people coming out of the secondary education system is pretty dire on the whole," he said. "Naturally the ones who achieve greater success tend to go on to tertiary education and the quality of those coming out of school to an industry like ours leaves an enormous amount to be desired." There is a "very real threat" that firms will look overseas to India and China for new skilled recruits in future unless action is taken, he said. "If we just give up then as a society we are going to degenerate to become a developing country for the second 50 years of this century."

Nigel Brooksby, managing director of Sanofi-Aventis UK, called for reform of the school science curriculum. He said, "We employ just over 3,000 people in the UK. It is not the quantity of graduates, it is the quality. We are having to retrain graduates in laboratory skills. "If we are to continue to be a powerhouse of discovery for innovative new medicines, then we need to address not just graduates but getting science taught differently at school."

The CBI called on ministers to do more to recruit more specialist science teachers to inspire children to study the subjects. The new combined "double science" GCSE, which many pupils now opt for, does not provide the grounding they need to take sciences at A-level, the group said.

One possible solution would be to give all state pupils the right to study physics, chemistry or biology as separate subjects at GCSE - as is the case in many independent schools - rather than the combined science courses, the CBI said.

Demand for newly-qualified chemists, physicists, engineers and lab technicians has been rising consistently. Over the next eight years the UK will need to have found 2.4 million new staff with these skills, the CBI said.

Schools minister Jim Knight insisted the Government was addressing the issue. "Increasing the number of scientists is a priority for this Government," he said. "We are already making significant progress on delivering the actions being called for by the CBI. "Since 1997 there has been a 57% increase in the number of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates, outstripping increases in graduates in other subjects. "Chemistry and physics graduate numbers alone have increased by 24% and 20% respectively. "Science remains a popular subject at A-level, and there has been a 30% increase in the numbers training to teach science since 1997."


History teaching in Australia under scrutiny

Every once in a while, Tony Taylor likes to go back to the coalface. So Taylor, an associate professor in education at Monash University and Australia's leading authority on history teaching, abandoned the ivory tower for two afternoons a week in 2001 and taught a Year 10 modern world history class at a rural Victorian high school. And to find out what his students knew in the first place, he gave them a simple written quiz, including this question: "What do you know about Lenin? How come he was famous? How do you know this?" And here's one of the answers Taylor got back: "Singer in the Beatles. Made good music. Listen to their music."

Taylor is quick to point out that the study of history is not, or ever should be, about memorising facts: facts about Lenin, or Lennon or anybody else. It is about learning "historical thinking", gaining "historical literacy" and "using that understanding to develop an informed moral, political and social view of the world we inhabit". But he concedes that such literacy can barely get off the ground unless students are given "narrative context"; that is, unless they are taught the great periods and events of the past and the great characters who inhabited them, in chronological sequence.

Along with 21 other luminaries, including former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr and economic historian Geoffrey Blainey, Taylor will play a leading role in Thursday's history summit in Canberra. The summit has been organised by federal Minister for Education, Science and Training Julie Bishop as part of the Government's campaign to pressure the state education systems into reinstating history as a compulsory subject in Australian schools.

Federal-state politics aside, the summit grows out of a sense, shared by many teachers on the ground, that the narrative context of history generally, and Australian history particularly, has been lost in our schools and that the subject, to quote John Howard in his Australia Day speech this year, "is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues." "Too often," Howard told the National Press Club in Canberra, "history has fallen victim in an ever more crowded curriculum to subjects deemed more relevant to today. "And too often, history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated."

Bishop wants compulsory, stand-alone history subjects from kindergarten to Year 10, with Australian history the focus in the final two years. If the states hear the message, well and good. If not, it will be amplified through the megaphone of the next quadrennial education funding agreement, which will deliver them about $40 billion of commonwealth money. Just as it has with report cards and flagpoles in school grounds, the Howard Government is prepared to micro-manage the way state education systems do history.

To strengthen Bishop's arm, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the confusion of Taylor's 15-year-old student regarding the identity of the leader of the Russian revolution, is widely repeated as far as our own history is concerned. Mike Goodwin, an inspiring and national award-winning history teacher at Mackay North State High School in Queensland, says that while most students come into senior years with some knowledge of the First Fleet and Australia's European origins, their grasp of 20th-century Australian history is skimpy at best.

Far from understanding the complex ways the Australian experience has been shaped by two world wars, for example, many students in high school cannot distinguish between those wars at all. "Apart from what they've learned from Anzac Day, the facts of our role in all conflicts are patchy and inconsistent," Goodwin says. "They don't have a big understanding of the social impact the wars had." It is with a view to conveying that impact, in the most vivid terms possible, that Goodwin has organised three overseas tours with his history students. They visit sites such as the Thai-Burma Railway, where nearly 3000 Australian prisoners of war died in 1942-43; Gallipoli, where 8000 Australians laid down their lives in World War I; and the main battlegrounds of the Western Front, where a further 40,000 fell. Students seek out graves with a Mackay connection and deliver eulogies to the fallen Diggers. It has given Goodwin a rare chance to witness the transforming power of historical consciousness.

"They just grow as people," he says of his students. "Not only does it enhance their understanding of the sacrifices of past generations, but as individuals they become more whole. They start to understand just what is important in life. "If the mobile phone doesn't work, it's not the greatest problem in the world, not if you've just lost your 18-year-old brother to war."

In one of the two papers prepared for the history summit, a survey of how Australian history is being presented now, Taylor provides plenty of evidence of why most schoolchildren, less fortunate than Goodwin's, are historically challenged on facts and understanding. Quite simply, history is not being widely taught, except in a vaguely postmodern sense. Until the two final years of high school and, with the partial exceptions of NSW and Victoria, it has been allowed to dissolve into a pomo porridge that throws together elements of history, geography and social studies into amorphous subjects with titles such as Time, Continuity and Change or Study of Society and the Environment.

So obscure are the outcomes-based descriptions of these subjects, says Taylor in his paper, "It is frequently very difficult to discern in several of the curriculum documents where exactly the teaching of Australian history may be found." What does the South Australian curriculum stipulate about history in senior high school? "Students critically analyse continuities and discontinuities over time," it propounds, "and reflect upon the power relationships which shape and are shaped by these."... What Taylor and history teachers on the ground repeatedly stress is that within such vague parameters it becomes all too easy for teachers without any interest or training in history to avoid the subject altogether.

When he inherited the education levers in NSW, Carr decided he was not prepared to accept the situation and its long-term threat to public culture. Since 1999, all NSW students from years 7 to 10 have been taught history as a distinct academic subject. In years 9 and 10 there are 100 mandated hours of Australian history, assessed by public examination. "I saw history as a superior intellectual discipline," Carr tells Inquirer. "It assesses how human beings have actually behaved in different circumstances, with a rigorous look at the oral and documentary record. "In an information age, the skills produced by studying history are more, not less, relevant. An employer will want a recruit who can go out and find the evidence and then, faced with a mass of it, think his or her way through it. "All of us have got to make decisions based on reports. How well are they written? Can you rely on the footnotes? The whole debate about Keith Windschuttle's criticisms of Aboriginal massacres draws our attention to this challenge of weighing evidence and being honest with readers. Look at the footnotes: do they justify the argument?" ...

To avoid setting off a spot fire in the so-called history wars, Bishop has been careful to convene what she calls the "sensible centre" and has left out hardened warriors such as Windschuttle, author of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, and his chief antagonist, Tasmanian historian Henry Reynolds. But Carr remains cautious. "We've got to be careful about specifying content," he says. "It might be useful to recognise some of the choices, some of the spread. I go there a little cautious, however, about embracing an agenda from one school of history writing. I'm not prepared to see the egalitarian strand in Australian history junked in a bit of neo-con spring cleaning." But whatever specific historical narratives people think should be taught, they all seem to agree there should be more of it...

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

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, August 14, 2006


An appeals court ruled Friday that a trial judge exceeded his authority -- and missed the point -- in ordering that diplomas be awarded to disadvantaged high school seniors who couldn't pass the California exit exam in time to graduate with the class of 2006. The state Court of Appeal upheld the exit exam as a diploma requirement. It agreed with the trial judge, however, that the students' right to prepare for the must-pass test probably had been violated by schools that continue to provide a deficient education despite a decade of reform efforts by civil rights groups, the governor and the Legislature

The justices urged the state, the students' lawyers and the trial judge, Robert Freedman of Alameda County, to cooperate on finding a way to help next year's seniors qualify for their diplomas. "A high school diploma is not an education, any more than a birth certificate is a baby," Presiding Justice Ignazio Ruvolo wrote in holding that Freedman correctly perceived the problem but not the solution. Awarding the diplomas would have perpetuated "a bitter hoax," signaling that students who lack basic academic skills are equipped to compete successfully in life, the decision said.

The immediate legal effect will be minimal. The ruling reversed Freedman's May order to award the diplomas to students who met all requirements except passing the exit exam -- 47,000 at the time. The order was stayed by the state Supreme Court before any diplomas were handed out. But the appellate ruling set up a Supreme Court appeal on behalf of the 40,000 members of the class of 2006 who still haven't passed. Arturo Gonzalez, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said those students "are unlikely to benefit from any remedial measure that might be implemented at this late date." He said he'll continue pressing for diplomas and will ask the Supreme Court within 10 days to review Friday's ruling.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell -- who called the Court of Appeal decision a validation of the state's efforts to raise educational standards and opportunities -- said he was willing to talk to the plaintiffs about resolving the issues, as the court urged. He said he was "overall pleased" with progress made in getting help to students who need it. In the coming academic year, that will include budgeted funds to provide $500 to schools for every senior who hasn't yet passed the exam and some juniors. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state budget includes "more than $75 million for additional support services and instructional study materials."

Since the state Supreme Court's stay order, local school officials have crafted a host of tutoring and counseling programs targeting students in need of help. At Hiram Johnson High School, where 28 members of the class of 2006 failed the May exam, about 20 are expected to return for a fifth year of high school and probably will retake the test in October, said Assistant Principal Michael Crosby. "The programs will be available to them," he said. "All they have to do is apply themselves."



Leading state schools have joined a growing defection by the independent sector away from the official exam system amid worries over the declining quality of A-levels. The schools have decided to enter pupils for the International Baccalaureate (IB), a Swiss-run qualification seen by many as more broadly based and challenging than British exams. More than 100 British schools will offer the baccalaureate in the next academic year, almost three times more than in 2000. Its growing popularity comes as results to be published this week are expected to show a rise in the A-level pass rate for the 24th year in succession.

Examiners expect the results, which will be released to schools on Thursday, to show a pass rate of more than 96%. The results will fuel criticism that the system fails to stretch or identify the brightest pupils. Universities have complained there are so many students with A grades they can no longer judge ability from exam results.

Leading state schools already offering the baccalaureate include Kingshurst city technology college in Birmingham, which has scrapped A-levels. Most of the 50 state schools that offer the qualification do so alongside A-levels. Six state schools that will offer the IB for the first time from September include Thomas Hardye school in Dorchester, Dorset, which has exam results above the national average, and Norton Knatchbull boys’ grammar school in Ashford, Kent.

Two independent schools — Sevenoaks, in Kent, and King’s College, Wimbledon, London — have abandoned A-levels for the baccalaureate. Independent schools offering the option of the baccalaureate include Fettes College in Edinburgh, Tony Blair’s old school, and North London Collegiate, one of the academically most successful schools.

Pupils who opt for the IB are required to study the humanities and sciences. They typically study six subjects, including English and maths, a language, a science, a social science, such as history or geography, and a creative subject such as drama or art. Pupils also have to write a 4,000-word essay, study the theory of knowledge and undertake community work.

The temptation of the IB will be increased by new figures suggesting further deterioration in the reputation of A-levels. There were steep falls in the numbers studying difficult subjects such as maths and physics between 2000 and 2005, but in media studies and religious studies, candidates grew by more than 80%. In an attempt to counter criticism of “dumbed down” exams, Jim Knight, the schools minister, said last week the government intended to trial harder questions in A-level papers and would experiment with a long essay or extended project. Ministers are also considering introducing a new A* grade that would be given to the top 7% of candidates.

From next year universities will be able to specify the grade they require for all six units that make up each A-level, rather than the one overall grade they currently demand for each. The traditional two-year “gold standard” A-level was scrapped in 2000 when David Blunkett was education secretary. Replacement A-levels have been split into two halves — AS-level and A2. Each subject in turn is split into six units, with pupils allowed an unlimited number of retakes

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, August 13, 2006

"3Rs" still weak in Britain

Ruth Kelly promised a relentless effort to improve standards of literacy and numeracy when she became Education Secretary almost a year ago. The national curriculum test results at age 11 show that plenty remains to be done, though pass rates edged up again this year. The proportion of pupils achieving level 4, the expected standard, rose by 1 per cent to 79 per cent in English and 75 per cent in maths, while science was unchanged at 86 per cent. However, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has acknowledged that only 56 per cent of those who started secondary school in the autumn had reached level 4 in each of the reading, writing and maths tests.

Doubts were raised last month about the degree of improvement in standards. Sir Cyril Taylor, an adviser to Kelly and chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, says secondary heads are sceptical about the true reading ability of some children who arrive with level 4 in English. A report from academics at Durham University last week found that schools routinely drilled 11-year-olds to pass the tests. It questioned whether such "teaching to the test" had led to sustainable improvements in pupils' understanding of English and maths. "Without question, national tests dominated classroom teaching of both subjects in these schools for a large part of year six," the report said.

Schools are under pressure to do well in league tables of results, so it is not surprising that teachers devote so much attention to the tests. Parents use the results as a guide to the reputation of schools, reasoning that those with high standards in the "three Rs" are likely to teach other subjects well.

But concerns are growing that the focus in many schools is becoming too narrow, as teachers concentrate on literacy and numeracy to the exclusion of subjects such as art, music and geography. David Bell, the head of Ofsted, complained in his annual report last month that many schools "are not sufficiently inventive in developing links between subjects" although they had the freedom to tailor the curriculum to pupils' needs.

Kelly wants schools to offer a "personalised" curriculum, tailored to the abilities and interests of individual pupils. She has told parents that they can expect their children to receive small-group or even one to one tuition for part of the week, although teachers have expressed scepticism that the funding will be available to support this initiative.

Government efforts so far to persuade schools to be more creative with the curriculum appear to have foundered despite evidence that primaries with the best results adopt such an approach. Ministers are setting fewer targets, perhaps sensitive to complaints from teachers about a "target-drive culture" or simply embarrassed at missing so many. Schools finally hit the 2002 maths target this year, although they are shy of the 80 per cent for English.

Jacqui Smith, School Standards Minister, insists that the targets for 2006 of 85 per cent in both subjects still stand. But they look unattainable without a suspiciously large rise in results next summer. This supplement shows the results for 2005 in English, maths and science tests for 11-year-olds at nearly 14,000 primaries in England, compiled by the DfES. Schools in Wales no longer have to take the tests. Schools are ranked by the aggregate of the percentage of pupils that achieved level 4 in each of the three tests. The national average aggregate score this year is 240.

A record 229 schools got the perfect score of 300 by getting 100 per cent of their pupils to the expected standard. About 1,200 schools with ten or fewer pupils eligible for the tests have been excluded from the main tables, as have 760 special schools. Private prep schools are not listed because they are not required to take national curriculum tests. The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames remains the local authority with the best overall primary results (see page 4), a position it has maintained since 1998. Hackney, North London, whose schools are managed by a not-for-profit trust, came bottom of the national league for the third successive year.


The perils of solecism

How vulnerable you are if you don't understand how English spelling works. Last week, the venerable Justice Peter McClellan of the NSW Supreme Court was caught by the poor spelling of another. He was quoted in another daily newspaper: "The most troubling aspect of memory - be it a child's memory or an adult's - may be its venerability to suggestion."

I am sure he said no such thing. Venerability is another word for venerable, "commanding respect in virtue of years and high personal qualities" (Oxford English Dictionary). Our language has enjoyed this word unchanged since 1480. It comes from the Latin venerare, to reverence, worship. In light of extensive research and experience, the word hardly applies to memory.

Much more likely, McClellan said vulnerable, from the Latin, vulnus, or wound. Today, as in 1605, the word means "open to attack or injury", including physical or non-physical wounds (OED). Vulnerability makes sense when talking about memory. Vulnerable is a word that has survived since 1605, unscathed until recently when English speakers have found it too demanding to pronounce correctly. Instead of vul-ner-a-ble, with the accent on the first syllable, it has become vun-er-a-ble. I cringe every time I hear this solecism (from the Greek, speaking incorrectly). Swallowing the L before an N or M and then pronouncing a doubled N or M is a common shift, as in salmon, which has become accepted as correct English.

McClellan may well have pronounced the word correctly but was heard incorrectly. A typo coming up as a spelling error may have provoked the wrong correction. If the reporter, or the editor, or the spellcheck had thought about or included the roots of words, all the information was there to make the meaningful choice. Attention to spelling really does matter, and using the building blocks of our language to say what we mean and mean what we say is not only fascinating but empowering.



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