Saturday, August 26, 2006

British government stumped by illiteracy and innumeracy

Labour's record on improving standards of literacy and numeracy came under attack last night after the publication of results for GCSE examinations and primary school tests. Pass rates at GCSE rose for the eighteenth successive year but achievement in English and mathematics at primary school level has stalled well below the Government’s targets. Almost half of 16-year-olds failed to achieve at least a C grade in GCSE maths and four out of ten were below this standard in English. Employers said that the education system was “failing to deliver”.

The proportion of GCSEs awarded grades A* to C rose by 1.2 percentage points to 62.4 per cent this year. But English increased by only 0.7 points to 61.6 per cent and maths by 0.9 to 54.3 per cent. At age 11, the proportion reaching level 4 in the national curriculum English test was unchanged at 79 per cent. It rose one percentage point in maths and science to 76 per cent and 87 per cent respectively.

The results left primary schools far off the Government’s target of 85 per cent for both English and maths by this year and still trailing its 2002 target of 80 per cent in English. The proportions achieving the expected standard at age 7 in reading, writing and maths also fell across the board this year. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, defended the Government’s record. “The attainment of young people at the end of their primary years has vastly improved on what it was in 1997 and is higher than ever before for those reaching the end of compulsory education,” he said.

But David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, said that the primary school results showed that the Government’s strategy had “run out of steam”. He added: “If you go back to 1997 and what Tony Blair said about the importance of education, it is clear that missing the targets on literacy and numeracy is a big thing. “Forty per cent of pupils are still leaving primary school without having mastered the basic skills in the three Rs. This is letting down the nation’s children, who then spend their lives playing catch-up.”

Richard Lambert, the CBI’s Director-General, said: “We must not lose sight of the severe problems which exist. Ministers must step up their efforts — they have made the right noises, but will be judged on delivery.”

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said that the pass rate in maths was lower than for all other major subjects. He said that standards in many schools would be exposed by changes to performance tables this year, which will rank them for the first time by the percentage of pupils passing five good GCSEs including English and maths.

Professor David Jesson, of York University, said that the primary school results showed that “the concept of continually improving performance for ever has to be questioned”. Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Education Secretary, said: “There are holes appearing all over the Government’s strategy for secondary education, illustrated by the drop in teens studying languages and the shocking number quitting school altogether after GCSEs. “Too many young pupils are leaving primary school without the basic skills they need to successfully tackle the secondary curriculum.”


Science education in Australia

Some works of literature have titles so powerful that it seems unnecessary to read the work itself. E.M. Forster's Two Cheers for Democracy is like that for me. Democracy may be a poor system of government, but it is the best we've got. It is always struggling and its results are not always inspiring. One of the deeper purposes of education in a democratic country must be to help merit the third cheer. A democracy has millions of decision-makers, some wise and well informed, many who think they are, and some who don't even try, but all vote. One of the outcomes of education is that children are indoctrinated in their social and political heritage.

Anyone who knows schools knows this indoctrination will happen by default; it is better if it is controlled. It should be intentional, purposeful, and should develop Forster's two cheers: critical minds and a variety of thinking. Sound education can also earn democracy my third cheer: for good decision-making, the sine qua non of a strong and ethical government.

This was a big week in Canberra for education and good decision-making. First, speaking as the Minister for Science, Julie Bishop, who is also Minister for Education, made the important statement that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes. Pointing out that ID does not belong in the science curriculum at all, she has taken a firm stand and given leadership that will strengthen our science teaching.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Australian Council for Educational Research held its 11th national research conference, this year focusing on science teaching and learning. On Thursday was the history summit, attended by the Education Minister, former "history premier" Bob Carr and an impressive list of historians and history teachers. The two conferences were tied together by themes: Science for Citizenship in one and History for Citizenship in the other. I see the two coming together in a wonderfully productive symbiotic relationship.

Science for Citizenship is a research focus of Jonathan Osborne, a professor at King's College, London, who gave the first keynote address. He sees the early specialisation of science teaching to cater for potential career scientists as deadening to the majority, who have needs as future citizens but will not study science after secondary school.

What plagues democracy is that pesky tradition of involving everyone in decision-making. As Osborne told the science conference: "Society is confronted with a dilemma that the majority of people lack the knowledge to make an informed choice."

Having strongly suggested that science is the greatest cultural achievement of Western society, he argues that science must attempt to communicate "not only what is worth knowing, but also how such knowledge relates to other events, why it is important, and how this particular view of the world came to be".

It does not take much science to understand the water cycle and that H2O is H2O, yet the good people of Toowoomba recently decided they could not drink purified used water. It is worth knowing what water is and the role it played for millennia before it came into our brief lives. This is just one example of how good science teaching can make people better voters and citizens.

It is important to understand science that explains the case as it is, not as we might prefer it to be. Gravity is inconvenient to a child falling out of a tree, just as global warming is to all of us today. Scientific research and political decision-making share the need for rational, evidence-based argument. The science classroom is one place where these higher-order thinking skills can - indeed, must - be effectively taught to young citizens of our democracy. To be effective, we must start with the young. Our primary schools, almost without exception, miss the boat completely.

Science might be in the primary curriculum, but what is taught is usually warm, fuzzy and concentrates more on what is cute than on developing disciplined thought. This is not surprising as almost no Australian primary teachers have studied science as part of their university degree and not many have been interested enough to have studied it in the last two years of secondary school. They are monumentally unprepared to teach facts (or understand what a fact is in science - think of phlogiston (more later) - and even less prepared to help young minds develop sound scientific thinking. A survey of how many primary teachers go to a homoeopath or care what their star sign is gives a quick indication of the parlous state of science teaching in our primary schools.

Yet young children observe the world very closely and ask questions. They poke and probe and experiment: scientific behaviour that is often mistaken for naughtiness. They love to count and take surveys. They are young scientists. As they see patterns emerging in the world around them, they discover where they fit. Science makes sense. We urgently need full-time specialist science teachers who are given time, rooms and resources to teach our children from kindergarten to Year 6. After such an introduction, science might be able to compete in high school with "fun" courses such as design and technology or drama, which are fun because they teach children how to explore aspects of life hands-on, just as science does.

Back to phlogiston. Joseph Priestley, one of the best late 18th-century scientists, discovered phlogiston and knew that it assisted combustion and respiration better than air. Dephlogisticated air, known to us as carbon dioxide, suffocates fire. The phlogiston theory was the best theory going until Lavoisier offered oxygen and started a battle with Priestley and a revolution in chemistry. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, whereby Lavoisier ended up on the guillotine, what story could offer more: excitement, science, revolution in chemistry and politics, and impact on our lives today?

The phlogiston story is one among many that demonstrate how science searches for evidence-based explanations and can change its mind when evidence is compelling. The competition for glory, the sharing of ideas, the influence of one person's work on another, the impact of events outside the science laboratory: all are common themes in the history of ideas that shaped our world.

Is the phlogiston story science or is it history? Of course it is both, but open to study through the prism of each discipline in a somewhat different mode. History and science are not so far from each other; both require a chronological framework, knowledge of facts and development of skills for their full power to be appreciated and the importance to our lives to be convincing. Recent television programs on the history of science, for example on Darwin's The Origin of Species, penicillin or the introduction of sewers in London, show vividly the human drama that accompanies great developments in science. Knowing such stories, the science behind them and its impact on our daily lives leads to citizens better prepared to use their judgment.

Osborne called for "the study of the history of ideas and the evidence on which they are founded" to be the core of the curriculum. In such a curriculum we develop critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making. We can earn the third cheer for democracy.



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 25, 2006


What the article below does not mention is that the role of alcohol in Scottish university life would be a shock to many Americans

At an age when most toddlers were singing along to Raffi, Zarya Rathe got hooked on Celtic music. She listened with her mom-a violinist-and played herself. So when the time came for college, Rathe applied to four schools in Scotland, ending up at the University of Edinburgh. "I wanted to do something different," she says. Except that when Rathe arrived in Gaelic 101, she was hardly alone. "It was all Americans."

Rathe is one of a growing number of U.S. students heading to kilt country for college. The main attraction: a quartet of medieval universities-Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St. Andrews-known as the Scottish Ivies. Since 2000-01, American participation in study-abroad programs has increased by 20 percent; England and Canada still attract students looking to attend a foreign school. But U.S. enrollment in Scottish colleges is up 80 percent in the past decade; at Edinburgh, it's tripled since 2003, and more than a tenth of St. Andrews' students are American.

Part of the appeal is esthetic. For Americans taken with the looks of an Ivy League campus, Scotland's ancient universities can hold an ever-richer store of history. Aberdeen was founded in 1495, 141 years before Harvard; St. Andrews has stood on the cliffs of Fife for nearly six centuries. Stephanie Gorton got into Columbia-her dream school-but that dream faded after a weekend visit to Edinburgh, the youngest of the lot. Compared with better-known British schools like Cambridge or Oxford, the Scottish colleges offer a curriculum that strikes a nice balance between the foreign and the familiar. An English undergrad education lasts only three years, and students must specialize in a single subject from day one. Scottish schools, while offering far fewer electives than their U.S. counterparts, still boast a four-year program that allows undergrads to study several subjects before settling on a major.

The Scottish Ivies are selective-but not nearly as competitive as the American elites. The typical student admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton scores about 750 on each section (Math, Verbal and Writing) of the SAT; Edinburgh requires 600. Top Ivies accept about 10 percent of applicants, but St. Andrews takes 20 percent of the 500 Americans who apply annually. One drawback: cost. Due to subsidies, Scottish natives pay only $4,000 in tuition, but foreigners pay $15,000. With room, board and travel, Americans can expect to fork over about $25,000 a year-and there's no financial aid available to ease the burden. Yet some find the cultural immersion priceless. Rathe, now a junior, recalls an evening on the Black Isle when she dined on haggis and watched neighbors recite Scottish poetry. "You got shivers down your spine." It's a far cry from toga parties at Delta House-but for a certain kind of student, that's precisely the point.



Leading universities are warning teenagers that they will not gain admission if they study "soft" A levels in the sixth form. The universities are insisting that pupils take traditional subjects if they want to be considered for degree courses. Those applying with A levels in subjects such as media studies or health and social care would rule themselves out. Up to one in six students took A levels this summer in at least one of 20 subjects listed by Cambridge as "less effective preparation" for entry. In what will come as a surprise to some schools and students, the list includes business studies, information and communication studies, and design and technology.

The move to spell out "unacceptable" A levels emerged after the pass rate rose for the 24th successive year to a record 96.6 per cent. The rise in the proportion of A grades awarded was the second largest in 40 years. In a backlash against the growing popularity of subjects such as sports studies, and tourism and dance, institutions such as Cambridge, the LSE and Manchester are telling applicants to concentrate on the more academic A levels. Admissions tutors insist that a lower grade in an academic subject, such as history or mathematics, will be of more use than a high grade in an apparently easier alternative. However, they believe that thousands of working-class pupils are losing out when they choose their A-level courses, because schools are failing to give them the best guidance. The proportion of state school pupils and those from low-income families attending university dropped to its lowest level for three years in 2004-05.

Tomorrow more than 700,000 teenagers will receive their GCSE results. Cambridge has posted a notice on its website telling youngsters: "Your choice of AS and A-level subjects can have a significant impact on the course options available to you at university. "To be a realistic applicant, a student will normally need to be offering two traditional academic subjects. For example, mathematics, history and business studies would be an acceptable combination," Cambridge's online prospectus states. "However, history, business studies and media studies would not."

Geoff Parks, the admissions tutor for Cambridge, said that a significant number of students were given no advice on what options might be closed to them if they chose a poor combination of A levels. Last week it emerged that just 42 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds in England were attending university in 2004-05, the second successive drop in two years. Few, including the Government, now expect to meet the target of half that age group attending university by 2010.

Generous bursaries for the worst-off and outreach programmes appear to be making little headway in encouraging students from poorer backgrounds to apply. Universities are baffled and the Government has ordered an audit. Tessa Stone, director of the Sutton Trust education charity, which provides summer schools to encourage more underprivileged children to apply to university, believes that poor A-level guidance could be one reason. Dr Stone says that Cambridge's direct approach may appear hard, but it is fairer to candidates in the long run because they are less likely to drop out if they have studied the right subjects.

While many universities do not explicitly exclude subjects, Dr Stone says, in reality they do. At Bristol, few A levels are explicitly discouraged, but for a BA in English, the prospectus states that GCSEs and A levels "in classical or foreign languages" are an advantage. In the same way, law A level is "acceptable but does not give any advantage". Malcolm Grant, Provost of University College London and chairman of the Russell group of research universities, said that students must not be put off learning, however. "I do think universities must be more explicit than implicit in guidance, but they must also widen participation. There are also so many things that switch kids off and being advised to do subjects that don't match their aspirations could be a disaster."



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 24, 2006


And a testimony to the desirability of accelerated education

Terry Tao was just two when he stunned a family gathering at home in Adelaide by giving a maths and spelling lesson to friends' children who were up to five years his senior. Using blocks, and knowledge he had gleaned from television, Tao showed the children how to add up and to make words.

Tao's father, Billy, an Adelaide pediatrician, remembers his son's party-stopper. "The children were playing and the adults were talking ... suddenly, we found the children had gone very quiet," Billy Tao says. "We found that Terry was teaching them numbers and the alphabet. The other kids were a lot older. He was showing them how to add and so on. I said 'how do you know all these numbers and alphabet?' and he said 'From watching Sesame Street'."

It was an early indication that the boy would become a world-beating genius with a 221 IQ: he had two university degrees by the age of 17, was made a professor of mathematics at 24 and, last night, the 31-year-old Tao was presented with the world's highest prize in mathematics, the Fields Medal, regarded as the discipline's Nobel prize. He is Australia's first winner.

The International Mathematical Union, which bestows the award, cites Tao as "a supreme problem-solver whose spectacular work has had an impact across several mathematical areas". "He combines sheer technical power, an other-worldly ingenuity for hitting upon new ideas and a startlingly natural point of view that leaves other mathematicians wondering, 'Why didn't anyone see that before?'."

Tao himself is modest about the honour: "I don't really know how it will affect my career. I haven't had an award like this before. I'm trying to focus on continuing my research and other work, such as advising graduate students."

An early mentor and academic supervisor, the director of the International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics, Garth Gaudry, says Tao is a phenomenon. While most leading research mathematicians work on two or three projects at a time with collaborators, Tao juggles 10 to 15, Gaudry says. When Gaudry took on the 12-year-old Tao at Billy Tao's behest, the youngster had already exhausted several private tutors. Then a maths professor at Flinders University, Adelaide, Gaudry taught Tao on Wednesday afternoons. He remembers "a tiny little boy, a delightful kid" with staggering "insight and brilliance", who was "completely off the scale". "By age 14 he was doing very advanced mathematics, the sort of thing in US first-year graduate study, and I gave him the hardest stuff," Gaudry says. "He was just so creative. I'd give him some really esoteric problems and he would just invent things and he was absolutely spot on. The creativity was like flashes of lightning in front of my eyes. I've never had a student like this." Gaudry says they both loved the sessions. "He was just such a happy person who enjoyed every moment of what he was doing. It was a great relationship from the beginning and that has continued to this day," he says. Gaudry was in Madrid last night to witness Tao's investiture into the maths hall of fame.

With backgrounds in pediatrics and maths teaching, Tao's parents, Hong Kong Chinese who came to Australia in 1972, were well-placed to plan their first born's schooling. After a premature start at primary school, Tao went back to Bellevue Heights Primary School in the Adelaide hills at age four. His parents and principal Keith Lomax designed a staggered schooling for him. At age six, Tao was studying some classes in grades two and three, and maths at grade six and seven level. His father says: "Some education people think that accelerated education is the way to go with all gifted children. But my concept is you have to design courses according to people. Don't accelerate beyond what is good for the child."

Tao started classes at Blackwood High School at Eden Hills in Adelaide at age seven but he remained in some classes at Bellevue Heights. By eight he had finished primary school and, while he was studying such subjects as geography, biology and chemistry at Year 7 and 8 level, Tao was already devouring Year 11 and 12 maths and physics. "His subjects were never strictly according to the timetable of the curriculum. It was always very loose," Billy Tao says. "This allows him to develop academically according to his intellectual ability but kept him normal socially."

Tao was always in good company. Parents Billy and Grace produced three nodes of extreme intelligence. Brother Trevor, 29, is an autistic music savant and chess champion with degrees in music who last year earned a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of Adelaide. He works for the Defence Science Technology Organisation. Youngest brother Nigel, 27, has degrees in computer science and economics and works for the internet search company Google in Sydney.

Tao's next step into higher education was also a mixed one. He was enrolled at Flinders at the age of nine while still studying at Blackwood High. By 16 he had completed a bachelor of science degree and the following year he wrapped up a masters of science degree with honours. A PhD in maths at Princeton University in the US followed at 21 and, at 24, Tao was made professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Apart from stints at the University of NSW in 1999 and 2000 and the Australian National University in Canberra from 2001 to 2003, Tao has lived full-time in the US since starting his PhD. It was Gaudry who encouraged Tao to leave Australia.

"It worked out well for me as I was exposed to different types of mathematics that I didn't encounter in Australia," says Tao. "I think I am going to stay over here (in the US) more or less permanently, though I do plan to visit Australia about once a year." He lives in LA where he is married to Laura, an American of Korean background, and they have a son, three-year-old William, whom Billy says is "very smart, reading by himself".

Tao's work, like that of many mathematicians, is esoteric, understood and appreciated by very few, although its applications power the hi-tech modern world. He works in a theoretical field called harmonic analysis - an advanced form of calculus that uses equations from physics - as well as non-linear partial differential equations, algebraic geometry, number theory and combinatorics. He has also made mathematical descriptions of wave motions of light in fibre-optic cables. His latest breakthrough, in a collaboration with Ben Green of Cambridge University, is to show that it is possible to compile any sequence of evenly spaced prime numbers. This is called number theory and it has challenged, confounded and entertained mathematicians for centuries. Euclid in 300BC was the first to prove that there are infinitely many prime numbers. Number theory is at the heart of the encryption codes that organisations such as banks use to protect electronic information from hackers.

But Tao and Green's work is so new and so advanced that even they don't know what its uses might be. "Ben and I are investigating these tools further and it looks like they are going to have many applications though of course it's hard to say at this point," Tao explains. The under-appreciation of maths is not lost on Gaudry. "People don't appreciate that there is an enormous amount of maths research going on," he says. "The problem for maths is that some of the most famous and wonderful advances in our subject are hidden inside the technology that we enjoy." Compact discs, mobile phones, MP3 players and special effects in movies are all products driven by maths research.

But under-appreciation of maths is not limited to the uninitiated. Maths is struggling in our universities. A recent survey by the Australian Mathematical Science Institute of job ads in The Australian's Higher Education Supplement found that in an 18-month period, 70 mathematicians had quit academic posts but only 18 ads had called for replacements. "It's a disaster (but) the effects are not immediate," says ANU professor of mathematics Neil Trudinger. "In time they'll be translated into disadvantages in the whole scientific, technological effort in keeping up with the rest of the world."

Earlier this year, the maths department at the University of New England in northern NSW was cut from seven positions to four. "There's an expectation that four faculty members can deliver an entire academic program ... at a place that calls itself a university; it's pathetic," Trudinger says. AMSI director Philip Broadbridge says Tao was fortunate to have studied when he did. "The time when Tao was taught and mentored you could go to virtually any university in Australia and think you could receive an education of that quality," he says. "These days, I'm not so sure."


Australian States' stand against history teaching weakens

The states' opposition to teaching history as a stand-alone subject faltered yesterday with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie pledging to introduce a compulsory Australian history subject if re-elected. The West Australian and Tasmanian governments also indicated they would look at how history was taught in schools, with the Carpenter Government not opposed to teaching Australian history as a separate, compulsory subject in years 9 and 10. But West Australian Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich dismissed the importance of students knowing historical dates, saying they could use the internet.

The history summit last Thursday, attended by 23 distinguished historians and commentators, urged the states to replace the subject Studies of Society and its Environment, under which history is now taught, with a traditional teaching of history, including making Australian history compulsory in years 9 and 10. Only NSW and, from this year, Victoria teach history as a stand-alone subject, with the remaining states teaching it under SOSE ["studies of society and environment"] with geography, environment, political and other social studies.

Mr Beattie's support for a separate Australian history subject overruled his Education Minister, Rod Welford, who is strongly opposed to the idea. On the campaign trail yesterday, Mr Beattie said he believed Australian history should be taught more thoroughly in schools, with particular emphasis on Aboriginal history before white settlement. "If re-elected, I want to ensure that there is a stand-alone compulsory unit on Australian history," he said. "When I went to school, I was taught lots about British history, German, Russian, but so little about Australian history, which I picked up by reading after I left school and when I went to uni."

After the summit, Mr Welford said it would be "educational vandalism" for the federal Government to force the separate study of history on the states. "To talk about history as a stand-alone subject, as a list of events, is an educational absurdity," he said. But a spokeswoman for Mr Welford yesterday said Mr Beattie's support for the subject was under the umbrella of SOSE. The spokeswoman said not all teachers taught Australian history under SOSE and Mr Beattie wanted to ensure it was a compulsory unit not separate to SOSE.

Ms Ravlich dismissed the knowledge of key historical dates as unimportant and was reported yesterday as saying it was akin to not knowing "the internal workings of a computer". She said the advent of the internet and search engines, such as Google, meant students had those dates at their fingertips. But Ms Ravlich went on to say that in terms of making Australian history a compulsory subject in years 9 and 10, "I don't have a problem with that necessarily". Tasmanian Education Minister David Bartlett did not rule out reinstating history as a separate subject but said it had been taught as part of SOSE for 25 years. "I'm happy to look at how we go about teaching in all our curriculum areas. We always want to continue to improve our curriculum framework and therefore what's taught," he said.



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 23, 2006

"Bright Flight" in NC: Poverty, flight hit urban schools

Middle-class families have long shunned Shamrock Gardens Elementary, wary of the school's low test scores and high poverty. Now, a growing number of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools face the same struggle. From University City in the north to Quail Hollow in the south, parents are abandoning more and more schools with poverty rates they consider unacceptable. The trend is not everywhere: Most of the county's schools are not seeing flight. But in the past three years, about 1 in 5 schools has seen at least a 10 percentage-point increase in poverty rates.

Enrollment of gifted students has plummeted in several high schools. At the same time as this so-called "bright flight," these schools have seen a surge in low-income students, who tend to be lower performers. Most of the departing families wind up in the district's suburban schools. A smaller but growing number are leaving CMS or avoiding it entirely. "I didn't want to take a chance on my kids," said Carol Van Buren of Charlotte, who chose a private kindergarten for her daughter, partly because the CMS gifted program she considered was too far away and its poverty rate too high.

Experts say no public school system has successfully lured back middle-class parents once they started to flee. The rising student poverty rates that follow can depress property values and dampen efforts to attract families and businesses. "I just don't see how a school district remains healthy if it is not important to the middle class," said John Chesser of UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute. "How do you ever pass a bond? How do you keep support?" New Superintendent Peter Gorman agreed, calling the shift in enrollment "a big concern." Changes he's considering to keep middle-class families include shifting power from the central office, building schools to relieve congestion and raising student performance districtwide. "All I want to be is an option that people consider viable," Gorman said. "It's basic -- improve the quality of our schools. I can't give you the magic bullet."

The loss of white, middle-class Mecklenburg families has accelerated since 2002. That's when court-ordered busing gave way to an assignment plan based on neighborhood schools.There's no way to track the income levels of families who leave. But the number of white school-age kids in Mecklenburg has increased by about 4,600 since 2002, according to census estimates. CMS's white enrollment, meanwhile, has dropped by more than 900. Whites now make up less than 38 percent of the enrollment, down from more than 43 percent in 2002. More than 55 percent of the students are black or Latino, up from 50 percent. One number hasn't changed -- CMS still serves more than 80 percent of the county's children. But statistics show an increasing percentage from low-income families.

Some changes are fueled by birth rates: Black and Latino mothers are having more babies. But it's clear the pursuit of more desirable schools is also transforming CMS. Consider:

* In 2001-02, the last year of court-ordered busing, 1 in 7 schools had student-poverty rates of at least 75 percent. Today, that's true at nearly 1 in 3.

* Seven of the district's 17 high schools last year had white enrollments of less than 25 percent, up from three in 2002.

* Independence, Vance and Harding highs have lost almost half of their gifted students -- nearly 500 combined. Their numbers of low-income students, meanwhile, have risen. That's boosted the schools' poverty rates to almost 50 percent, up from a third.

Even parents who speak proudly of integrating CMS a generation ago are refusing to send their children into high-poverty classrooms. Scott Franklin, for one, sends his daughter to highly integrated Lansdowne Elementary instead of Shamrock Gardens, his neighborhood school. Why? Because Shamrock, with a 93 percent poverty rate and more than 80 percent of its students black or Latino, lacks racial and economic diversity, he said.

Several families interviewed by the Observer said they left CMS not because of race or class, but based on what they see or hear about school performance. Lawana McAllister, who is black, said she pulled her daughter out of a middle school that had a poverty rate higher than 60 percent. She said the girl told her too many stories of fights, trash-can fires and students disrespecting teachers. McAllister enrolled her daughter in a charter. She has since sent her back to CMS for high school. But she said she wouldn't have kept her there if conditions had been similar to before. "It's just parents wanting the best for their children," she said....

More here


Recently, the Belfast newspaper the Irish News, not renowned for its education coverage, devoted three pages to the decline of traditional science in schools. The piece echoed fears already voiced on this side of the Irish Sea that two of the examination boards offering the new GCSE courses starting next month will use multiple-choice tests to account for between 75 and 60 per cent of the marks awarded. There is little support for this move. According to Jonathan Osborne, professor of science education at King's College London: `They are doing this to save money because computers can mark the papers.'

Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP, became an unlikely protagonist in the debate over school science when he wrote an article in the Observer mourning the decline of the `crunchier subjects such as the sciences, maths and languages'. This was followed by a rapid stream of cogent replies posted on the Observer website. I counted 76 pages of postings from a wide range of people. It seems that Johnson's claim that `some testing academic subjects are being ghettoised in the independent sector and grammar schools' touched a nerve.

On the face of it, the problem facing science education is simple: how do we get more young people interested in studying science at school and university? The trouble is, the answers being offered are poles apart - and there is too little emphasis on valuing specialist science subjects as a distinct body of knowledge worth teaching to a new generation.

In Science and Innovation Framework 2004-2014: Next Steps, published in March 2006, the New Labour government put the case for more specialist science teachers and a turn away from integrated science teaching to the teaching of separate science subjects. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), on the other hand, has just introduced a new framework for teaching integrated science at GCSE level, which takes us even further away from teaching the sciences as distinct disciplines: physics, chemistry and biology. It would seem the government has a difference of opinion with its own educational authority on how to go about solving this problem.

It was something of a relief, then, to read the latest report by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of Buckingham University. This is their second of three reports tracking the decline of physics as a school subject. They have carried out this survey to show that it is `important that policies should be grounded in the numerical picture'. Their report highlights the decline of both student uptake of physics at school (A-level entries down 35 per cent since 1990) and university (17 major physics departments closed between 1994 and 2004). It also flags up the problem of supplying enough specialist teachers to sustain physics as a school subject - only 1 in 8 science teacher trainees have a physics degree.

Their account of the decline of physics has come at a time when the government seems to have recognised the need to promote the hard sciences. The government has laid down ambitious targets for the recruitment of specialist subject teachers and encouragement of more students to study A-levels in physics, chemistry and mathematics. This is tied to efforts to promote the subjects at university. Part of the government's agenda is to promise every pupil the entitlement to study three separate sciences at GCSE if they achieve level 6 at Key Stage 3 from 2008. This represents a substantial extension of current provision; currently only eight per cent of students sit the separate science examinations, and even fewer within the state sector. GCSE physics teaching is now very much the preserve of the grammar schools and the independent sector. It is unclear how the government intends to increase separate science provision.

Bizarrely, at the same time as the government is prioritising separate science teaching in schools, the QCA is doing the opposite, introducing a new science programme of study at GCSE which dictates that all science GCSE courses from September 2006 must include an emphasis on `scientific literacy' for at least the equivalent of one GCSE or 50 per cent of a typical double-science GCSE course.

This shift towards citizen science goes much further than the current double-science integrated course in distancing itself from traditional physics, chemistry and biology teaching. Teaching `scientific literacy' looks at science in the news, especially in relation to controversies about the use of science and technology. This approach places a big emphasis on debate and discussion about the ethics of using science. Rather than teaching through laboratory experiments, the new science is more like media studies, with an emphasis on textual analysis and the identification of bias in the accounting of stories about science. The aim is to create a `critically aware' consumer rather than a future scientist.

The two approaches to science education could not be more dissimilar. Both claim to be able to promote a wider take-up of school science and to counter the decline in the study of the physical sciences at university. But it's difficult to see how we can go in both directions at once.

Smithers and Robinson, in looking at the historic decline of physics, may have given us enough ammunition to make up our own minds about which approach makes most sense - more separate science teaching or a new integrated science approach. As they explain, the decline in physics massively accelerated in the period after the introduction of the present combined science GCSEs or double-science course. Between 1990 and 1996 the decline in A-level physics entries was on average 2.5 times the current decline. This occurred mainly in the state sector outside the grammar and independent schools. Physics as a separate subject was even more popular under the old O-level system. At its peak there were nearly four times the number doing O-level physics than the current number doing GCSE physics. The introduction of double-science GCSE was meant to encourage the take up of physics, especially among girls. However, physics is still predominantly a male discipline with only 22.4 per cent of the total taking A-level physics being female.

So, the introduction of integrated science did nothing to halt the decline in physics as a school subject; it in fact accelerated that decline. This does not bode well for the introduction of the new science GCSE courses that are being promoted as a way of encouraging the take-up of science post-16.

The truth is that well-qualified and enthusiastic subject teachers make a massive difference to the chances of students doing well at school. As Smithers and Robinson argued in their first report: `Teachers' expertise in the second most powerful predictor of pupil achievement in GCSE and A-level physics.'

Concentrating on introducing a `scientific literacy' course can only be a distraction from what we really need - which is to encourage subject specialist teachers into the profession and value them for what they can teach young people. At my school, we have taken the decision to enter all our pupils for separate science GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology. We hope that by valuing the subjects we teach as distinct and coherent bodies of knowledge, we can give subject specialist teachers the chance to really enthuse the pupils in the subject they studied. If we want to encourage young people to take up the sciences, surely this is a risk worth taking?



Any guy who becomes a teacher these days is taking a big risk from false accusations etc. Prof. Rod Morgan, the British government's senior advisor on youth crime, is chairman of the Youth Justice Board

The decline in the number of male primary school teachers is aggravating the problem posed by the growing proportion of children who have no father figure to influence them at home, Rod Morgan told The Times.

The percentage of male teachers in primary schools in England and Wales fell from 25 per cent in 1970 to 15.7 per cent in 2004.

Mr Morgan said: "I think this is tricky territory and I have not come to any conclusion, but if an increasing proportion of young children are growing up in a single- parent household where there is an absence of a father figure, and if they are going to schools where there is a sing-ular absence of male figures, that does strike me as being a rather ill-balanced framework. "One of the things that magistrates complain to me about is that if children and young people come before the youth court it is rare to see a father present."



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 22, 2006


Novice caterers may not need to know the value of pi, but business leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that growing numbers of raw recruits are incapable of dividing a real pie into eight equal slices. Caterers who cannot work out portion sizes are just one side of a growing problem for the economy. Foremen who cannot calculate the right amount of building materials for a task and supervisors who have to get their spouses to write their reports provide other dire examples of the shortage of basic literacy and numeracy skills among many school and university leavers.

A report from the Confederation of British Industry says the problem is so bad that one in three employers is having to send staff for remedial training to learn the English and maths they did not learn at school. As pupils prepare to receive their GCSE results this week, Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, said that too many are let down by an education system that is failing to teach essential life skills. "We must raise our game on basic skills. Britain simply can't match the low labour costs of China and India. We have to compete on quality, and that means improving our skills base, starting with the basics. "Employers' views on numeracy and literacy are clear - people must read and write fluently and be able to carry out basic mental arithmetic," he said.

The CBI report, Working on the Three Rs, which was sponsored by the Department for Education, found that poor literacy was a problem in all sectors, while poor numeracy was of particular concern in the manufacturing and construction sector. One catering company manager complained of a "total lack of knowledge of times tables" among staff, which meant many were unable to carry out simple calculations.

A personnel manager for a construction firm said that many applicants were unable to construct a sentence and that grammar, handwriting and spelling were often "awful". A manager at a building company noted that many foremen "don't have the skills to work out the areas of squares and rectangles, let alone other shape".

One personnel development manager cited the case of an employee who became very adept at hiding his lack of literacy by getting his wife to write his reports for him. The problems are not confined to school-leavers, but extend to higher levels of the education system, the CBI said.



All schools would be allowed to offer single science subjects at GCSE under a Conservative government to halt the falling number of physical science graduates, David Willetts has told The Times. As more than 700,000 teenagers await their GCSE results this week, the Shadow Education Secretary said that a system that refused all pupils the same rights of study was indefensible.

Only pupils at independent schools may currently take a single science. At leading state schools pupils can take all three subjects separately; but most take the combined science course.

The Tories' call to put state schools on the same footing as fee-paying schools comes as the Government pledges to "toughen up" the exams in English and maths, so that all young people have mastered the three Rs by the time they leave school. Last year nearly 60 per cent of all state-educated pupils failed to earn a grade C or better in either subject at GCSE, in spite of a record improvement in exam results.

As part of a rethink of GCSEs and A levels, Mr Willetts said that the rules governing the national curriculum must now be changed. All children must be allowed to study any combination of individual science subjects. "There are very distinctive scientific disciplines here and part of the excitement of studying science at school is that you shouldn't just have a general introduction," he said. "So I feel very strongly that the three real sciences should be available to all schoolchildren. It's absolutely indefensible to have such restrictive legislation, which specifically bans state schools from offering certain courses."

Concerns have been raised since the combined science award was made compulsory at GCSE in 1988. The change was intended to improve scientific literacy among school-leavers. But since then a study by Buckingham University has found that the number of A-level entries in physics had fallen by a third - most often "in those schools that do not offer GCSE physics".

The Government has stated that from 2008 all pupils who achieve level 6 at age 14 should be entitled to study the three sciences with the co-operation of schools and colleges which would be encouraged to share resources. It will also introduce two new GCSE exams to replace existing awards, one of which will be mainly multiple choice.

But Alan Smithers, who carried out the Buckingham study, said that young people would not start taking up engineering, physics and chemistry again unless more specialist teachers were employed. "We often find that many of those with a physics background don't continue teaching because they find that they're teaching biology," he said. "So if more are allowed to specialise, we will attract more specialists in."

Mr Willetts said the Tories had no intention of abolishing the GCSE, which was still "very valuable" in establishing the level of teenagers' achievement in English, maths and science at school-leaving age.

From Thursday league tables will include a measure by which schools are judged on the number of pupils achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Last year all the Government's flagship academies were in the bottom 200 on this measure.

The results come as employers are again decrying the poor standards of literacy and numeracy among school-leavers. Today a report by the CBI shows that one in three employers is having to give its employees remedial education in the three Rs.

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that new courses to be piloted this autumn would also lead to exams changing to address the "functional" skills demanded by employers. "In the future, employers will have a guarantee of the quality of the school-leavers they are taking on," he said. [In the future?? He might more accurately have said "In the past"]

"A good pass will mean that young people are equipped with the basics. That means being able to write and speak fluently, carry out mental arithmetic, give presentations and tally up a till at the end of the day."

In February, however, London University's Institute of Education found that under the new maths GCSE course all the candidates, not just the brightest, would be likely to get higher grades. The new structure will make it possible for every student to achieve a grade C in theory, and an A without tackling the toughest questions.


Australian Leftist calls for merit pay for teachers

At midnight last night, Australia lost another of our youngest and brightest teachers to the British education system. Luke Hall, 23, a maths and science teacher from country Victoria, hopped on a jet for a new life working in London. His departure and that of thousands of other teachers each year has led to calls by Labor backbencher Craig Emerson for a model that would allow all state school principals to pay teachers more money for good performance instead of seniority.

According to previously unpublished data obtained by Dr Emerson, Australia is experiencing an exodus of teachers, with 8400 teachers leaving our shores in 2004-05, twice the number who left a decade earlier. Even after taking account of foreign teachers coming to the country, Australia has lost more than 18,000 teachers in the past decade, whereas before then there had been a small net gain.

Dr Emerson says that to stem the trend, Australia must introduce performance pay in all state schools. Under his model, which will anger unions, principals would get more money to attract and retain the best teachers. "The principal could offer extra money to a teacher or teachers that the principal wants to retain, or offer extra money to teachers that the principal wants to attain from other schools," he said. "The principal knows who the best teachers are because other schools are after them."

Under Dr Emerson's plan, the state education departments would enter into an arrangement with principals to give them "greater discretion to pay the best teachers more". Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has already proposed granting cash bonuses to teachers who produce outstanding results. But Dr Emerson opposes her model, arguing it is too bureaucratic. [Good to hear from a Leftist]

Emerson's book Vital Signs, Vibrant Society, launched in April, contains a suggestion that extra money be given to needy schools to attract teachers at higher wages, but he did not go as far as to suggest that all school principals be given more.

After six months working at Bright P-12 College, 310km northeast of Melbourne, Mr Hall will join a growing number of teachers leaving for better pay and different experiences. Mr Hall said he felt teachers were undervalued in Australia. "When I got the contracts I thought 'Jeez, that's all right'. It's much better than what I get here," he said. [He might get a shock when he finds what unruly pupils he gets sent to work with in Britain -- "inner-city" students] I think it would get more frustrating (the pay) as I go into it longer. I think that's why a lot of people tend to drop out of it after a few years."

Dr Emerson said at a time of acute skill shortages, Australia could not afford the ever-worsening exodus of teachers. Most teachers start on a salary of about $43,000 to $45,000, with NSW teachers receiving slightly more, averaging $48,000 to $50,000. The incremental rises stop after eight or nine years, reaching a top salary of about $68,000.



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 21, 2006

Arab Nationalism Run Rampant at Middlebury

At Middlebury College's Arabic Summer School, where I recently taught Arabic, students were exposed to more than intensive language instruction. Inside the classroom and across campus, administrators and language teachers adhered to a restrictive Arab-nationalist view of what is generically referred to as the "Arab world." In practice, this meant that the Middle East was presented as a mono-cultural, exclusively Arab region. The time-honored presence and deep-rooted histories of tens of millions of Kurds, Assyrians, Copts, Jews, Maronites, and Armenians--all of whom are indigenous Middle Easterners who object to an imputed "supra-Arab" identity--were dismissed in favor of a reductionist, ahistorical Arabist narrative. Those who didn't share this closed view of the Middle East were made to feel like dhimmi--the non-Muslim citizens of some Muslim-ruled lands whose rights are restricted because of their religious beliefs.

In maps, textbooks, lectures, and other teaching materials used in the instruction of Arabic, Israel didn't exist, and the overarching watan 'Arabi (Arab fatherland) was substituted for the otherwise diverse and multi-faceted "Middle East." Curious and misleading geographical appellations, such as the "Arabian Gulf" in lieu of the time-honored "Persian Gulf," abounded. Syria's borders with its neighbors were marked "provisional," and Lebanon was referred to as a qutr (or "province") of an imagined Arab supra-state.

Nor was the Arabic school's narrow definition of Middle Eastern culture restricted to the classroom. Alcohol was prohibited during school events and student parties, and although a school official claimed the ban reflected Middlebury's campus policy, beer and wine flowed freely during cookouts and gatherings organized by the German, French, and Spanish schools. Banning alcohol is a matter of Islamic practice and personal interpretation--not accepted behavior throughout the Middle East--and reflected the Arabic school's conflation of Arabic with Islamic.

Similarly, the Arabic school's dining services conformed to the halal dietary restrictions of Islam, an act implying that all Arabic speakers are Muslims, and that all Muslims are observant; yet less that 20 percent of the Arabic school community was Muslim. No such accommodations were made for Jewish students who kept kosher, even though they outnumbered the Muslims.

Arab nationalism was also evident in the school's official posture toward America's national holidays. The Arabic school was alone among Middlebury programs to ignore Fourth of July festivities. Worse, visiting faculty from the Middle East cold-shouldered older students sporting the closely cropped hair, courteous manners, and discipline suggesting membership in the U.S. armed forces. Most students and faculty avoided contact altogether with those dubbed hukuma (government) or jaysh (army).

Such attitudes and practices aren't confined to Middlebury. A former student of mine who recently took a summer Arabic course at Georgetown University relates that one of her professors, an otherwise excellent language instructor, refused to allow the word "Israel" to be uttered in class. And his bigotry wasn't confined to the Jewish state: during a class discussion on nationalism, my former student argued that "many Lebanese did not think of themselves as Arabs." The instructor's response: "while they might say that, it's just politics, because all Lebanese people know on the inside that they are indeed Arabs."

Arabism flies in the face of historical fact. Ethnic minorities in Lebanon, as throughout the Middle East, have suffered at the hands of Arabs since the Arab-Islamic invasions in the early Muslim period. Of the efforts of Arab regimes and their ideological supporters in the West to de-legitimize regional identities other than Arab, Walid Phares, a well-known professor of Middle East studies, has written: "[The] denial of identity of millions of indigenous non-Arab nations can be equated to an organized ethnic cleansing on a politico-cultural level." This tradition of culturally suppressing minorities is the wellspring of the linguistic imperialism regnant at Middlebury's Arabic Summer School.

Yet healthier models for language instruction are easy to find. In the Anglophone world, Americans, Irish, Scots, New Zealanders, Australians, Nigerians, Kenyans, and others are native English-speakers, but not English. Can anyone imagine an English language class in which students are assumed to be Anglican cricket fans who sing "Rule Britannia," post maps showing Her Majesty's empire at its pre-war height, and prefer shepherd's pie and mushy peas? Yet according to the hyper-nationalists who run Middlebury's Arabic language programs, all speakers of Arabic are Arabs--case closed.

A leading Arabic language program shouldn't imbue language instruction with political philosophy. It should instead concentrate on teaching a difficult language well--on promoting linguistic ability, not ideological conformity. Academics should never intellectualize their politics and then peddle them to students under the guise of scholarship. Those who do may force a temporary dhimmitude on their student subjects, but in the end they only marginalize their field and themselves.

This marginalization has never been clearer than it is today, when Middle East studies scholars are depressingly consistent in their condemnation of American policy in the region, including its support for the democracies in Israel and Turkey. The same Arabist orthodoxy that seeks to indoctrinate summer language students in Vermont is at work every day in classrooms across the country, where professors whose vision is limited by ideological blinders ill serve their students and the nation. Set against this backdrop, Middlebury's Arabic Summer School is a window into an academic field in crisis.


Tom Monaghan goes from pizza delivery to educational deliverance

"To get as many people into heaven as possible." That is Tom Monaghan's (arguably immodest) goal. I sat down last week with Mr. Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, to find out how he planned to accomplish it. Since selling his delivery empire in 1998 for an estimated $1 billion, he has given over his life to philanthropy. A trim man with a soft voice, he explains his "philosophy of giving."

"So how do you get people into heaven?" Mr. Monaghan asks, rhetorically. "Help the Catholic Church. And what's the best way of doing that? Higher education." This kind of talk makes a lot of people--even a lot of Catholics--uncomfortable. Whether it's the notion that one person can steer another's ultimate fate, or that temporal education should be used explicitly for such a purpose, Mr. Monaghan's philosophy--and his giving--have brought him a lot of attention.

The pizza magnate grew up in an orphanage in Jackson, Mich., and he credits the nuns of the St. Joseph Home for Boys with inspiring his devotion to Catholicism. He even went to seminary briefly before joining the Marine Corps. In 1959, he returned to Michigan, attending the University of Michigan. He never graduated, but during his time there, he and his brother bought a small pizza store called DomiNick's in Ypsilanti. (He eventually gave his brother a VW Beetle in return for his share of the company.)

Over the years, Mr. Monaghan has indulged in his share of vanity projects--such as purchasing the Detroit Tigers. But he also consistently gave to the church. Well, not directly. Rather than simply supporting existing institutions, he has made a habit of starting his own. He began with two Catholic elementary schools in the Ann Arbor area in the late '90s, and thinks these schools are very effective at getting people to heaven. "You give kids the faith and they'll keep it for life." But "the problem is you can only build so many grade schools and you're out of money." On the other hand, he continues, "if I can train a principal I can impact a whole school. I can do that at a university. I can train thousands of school administrators, thousands of catechism teachers, provide thousands of vocations to the priesthood and religious life."

Thus was born the idea for the Ave Maria University. But there are 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S., so why yet another? Even kids from strong Catholic families, Mr. Monaghan argues, tend to lose their faith when they go to college, and Catholic schools may be worse, here, than secular ones. He cites data from a UCLA survey showing that after attending a Catholic college for four years, Catholic students tended to be more approving of abortion, gay marriage and premarital sex and spent less time praying than when they entered.

Mr. Monaghan began his university project with a liberal arts college in Ypsilanti in 1998. There has been a steep learning curve. But he says he's been "reading the Chronicle of Higher Education cover to cover." "Once I realized I was going to be in the pizza business, I learned everything I could learn about the pizza business. I'm a hound for knowledge about the area I'm in."

The idea of the university was "to have a combination of the highest academic standards and the highest spiritual standards in one school." It would, he hoped, "prepare someone not only for this world but the next world." This is the kind of language more generally associated with Protestant fundamentalists. But Mr. Monaghan is not the first person to start a new Catholic school with this idea in mind. In the past 25 years, a number of more traditional colleges, including Christendom in Virginia and Magdalen in New Hampshire, were founded for similar reasons. And unlike many of the older Catholic schools (e.g., Notre Dame) these are run by laypeople, not by religious orders.

Mr. Monaghan thinks the more nettlesome liberal trends in Catholic theology and behavior have started to turn around, and he credits the revelations about sexual abuse by priests with this development: "It cleaned up the seminaries and some of the hierarchy. I thought the press did a great service to the Catholic Church--even though that wasn't their intention."

The next phase of Mr. Monaghan's pedagogical crusade began in 2000, when the Ave Maria School of Law opened its doors in Ann Arbor. Big-time conservative Catholics signed up. Clarence Thomas gave a lecture. Robert Bork co-taught a class. Princeton professor Robert George joined the board; so did Henry Hyde and Cardinal O'Connor. Everyone involved, particularly the students and faculty, was vetted with care. They had to buy into the mission: "a legal education in fidelity to the Catholic Faith as expressed through Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church." Mr. Monaghan estimates that he has put $69 million into the law school and he has seen some outstanding results. The first class had the highest bar passage rate in the state, and the school earned full ABA accreditation in the shortest possible time.

But Mr. Monaghan's real dream was to build a whole university on Domino's Farms, the 270 acres of land he owns in Ann Arbor. In 2002, though, the town decided it would not change zoning laws to allow this. From his vocal support of pro-life causes to his proposal to build a 250-foot crucifix right off a major highway in town, Mr. Monaghan has not always been well-received by the Cambridge of the Midwest. So he moved on. In the fall of 2002, he struck a deal to build his 5,000-student university on 900 acres of land in Immokalee, Fla., just east of Naples. With an additional $50 million investment from Mr. Monaghan, there would also be built an entire conurbation--called Ave Maria Town.

Set to open in the fall of 2007, Ave Maria Town will be unincorporated and governed by county officials. There are 8,000 homes scheduled to be built, and Mr. Monaghan already has one (though he laments that his wife refuses to live there full time). The town's Web site describes the community as one where "students and faculty of a new, major university will mix with young families and retirees in a real hometown, where they can live, work and play in a beautiful and safe neighborhood." Just how safe remains to be seen. Mr. Monaghan announced in 2004 that "you won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town."

The ACLU threatened a lawsuit, and Mr. Monaghan backed down. He tells me he consulted his lawyers and realized "that some of the things I'm talking about we may not be able to prevent. We never ever intended to break the law." (But Mr. Monaghan seems to tailor his message to his audience. In June, he told a Catholic gathering in Denver that "our plan is that no adult material will appear on the town's cable system and the pharmacy will not sell contraceptives.")

Ave Maria University, which will move to its permanent home in the town next year, now has about 400 students. About a third of the 150 men are contemplating priesthood. Ultimately Mr. Monaghan would like the school to produce 10% of the country's clergy--a very committed 10%, too. "I was in seminary," he tells me. "I knew what seminarians were like; they were there because of their mother . . . because of the prestige." But Mr. Monaghan admonishes, "That's the wrong reason to become a priest. They ought to be willing to make sacrifices. Just like I'm making sacrifices doing what I'm doing."

Some law school faculty have fought the move away from Ann Arbor, saying that the school is not just a plaything that Mr. Monaghan can move at will. He says he is often accused of being "too much driven by numbers, that I'm a hard-nosed, insensitive, results-oriented person." But he adds that the people who know him tell him, "You're not that way." The Ave Maria Foundation is responsible for the bulk of the school's revenue and Mr. Monaghan is head of the foundation. "I'm in favor of the law school moving to Florida, and I think it would be a good thing for the university to have a law school on its campus." He adds, as if to counter the charge of capriciousness: "If I vote for the law school to move to Florida, it's because I believe the law school is better off in Florida."

The law school faculty, students and alumni disagree. Most of them are unhappy with the process by which the board has undertaken the decision, such as commissioning a second feasibility study when the first one suggested moving was a bad idea. But mostly the students, faculty and alums just don't want the school to go South. They like Ann Arbor, and being surrounded by people of all stripes. One professor, Stephen Safranek, echoed the sentiments of faculty members: "We have a very robust notion of Catholicism and we're out to show its value not only for Catholics, but society in general. Having the law school in Ann Arbor captures what we're all about."

Mr. Monaghan decries the "campaign by faculty members to make Ave Maria Town out to be some kind of theocracy." He also says he is "tapped out" financially, and will soon stop giving money to the law school. The only way it would have access to his fortune would be to go to Florida, where it would be entitled to a portion of the profits that the university gets from the sale of the land. The school's board assured me (as well as the ABA accreditors) that the school could still survive without Mr. Monaghan's contributions ($2 million a year). When I ask him about this, he shrugs, and notes skeptically, "If they feel that they can raise the money elsewhere, I'll take them for their word."

The battles between Mr. Monaghan and the Ave Maria faculties have become vitriolic. Some have even tried to unionize. When I ask if he sees a contradiction in trying to block such a move, even though unionization is supported by the Catholic Church, he says, "I think that [the church] hierarchy doesn't know as much about those things as they do about their theology."

A number of professors have resigned; some have launched lawsuits; the contract of a prominent emeritus professor from Notre Dame was not renewed. Faculty reported the college's administration to the Department of Education for fraud involving financial aid in 2002. (The school denied any wrongdoing, but paid back about $300,000; the investigation hasn't been concluded.) And now one of those professors has been told that he must recant his testimony to department officials if he wants his contract renewed. (A university official acknowledged this was true, which may leave the school open to criminal conspiracy charges.)

Mr. Monaghan takes all this in stride. In Ann Arbor, he played racquetball with some academics and determined they liked to "complain about the most meaningless things." And board members of his schools have rushed to agree with him, suggesting, as theologian Michael Novak did recently, that "if it weren't Monaghan, it would be dissatisfaction with whomever."

Given how carefully the faculty for Ave Maria were chosen, and how fully they had to agree with the Monaghan vision, this seems unfair. Henry Kissinger said that the battles in academia are so bitter because the stakes are so low. But at religious universities, the stakes are higher. After all, your mission is getting people to heaven.

Still, Mr. Monaghan does not see much difference between this venture and his previous ones: Higher education is "90% like business." To deal with the 10% that is unique to higher education, he has enlisted the help of administrators and board members. "I've always believed in hiring people smarter than I am. I should be the dumbest one in the room." He's not.



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 20, 2006


One in ten A-level students achieved at least three grade As this summer, increasing pressure for reform of the examination. The record haul of almost 200,000 A grades prompted complaints from leading universities that they were increasingly unable to distinguish the brightest candidates.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats both called for an overhaul of A levels and there were growing demands for the introduction of an A* grade similar to that at GCSE. Nearly a quarter of the 800,000 A-level grades awarded yesterday were grade As, with the proportion of top grades rising by 1.3 percentage points to 24.1 per cent, one of the largest increases in 40 years.

The bunching effect among top grades was most pronounced for girls, who inched further head of boys. One in four girls (25.3 per cent) achieved at least one grade A, compared with 22.7 per cent of boys. Girls now outperform boys at grade A in every main A-level subject, apart from modern languages.

In subjects such as modern languages and further maths, between a third and half of all candidates got an A grade. Politicians and teachers' unions praised the pupils' results and hard work. But, with so many students gaining three or more A grades, Professor Malcolm Grant, Provost of University College London and chairman of the Russell Group of 19 leading universities, said that the most popular universities were increasingly relying on interviews and tests to find the most promising students. "It means that we can now regard A levels only as a starting point in measuring aptitude and achievement. We are then relying on other measures, such as interviews and aptitude tests for law and medicine," he said.

Andrew Halls, headmaster of Magdalen College School in Oxford, where one pupil, Julian Lopez-Portillo, achieved eight grade As, said: "It is statistically easy to get an A. You can't deny that and universities find it hard to discriminate between top pupils. It probably should not be possible to get eight As."

The Department for Education has ruled out any big changes to A levels until 2008, but said it was exploring the possibility of introducing an A* grade, together with more difficult exam questions, for pupils starting A levels that year. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, has set himself against a return to grade quotas or norm referencing, in which a fixed proportion are awarded each grade. "We need an education system that is about merit, not quotas," he said.

The University of Cambridge backed the introduction of an A* grade that would be reserved for a fixed proportion. Geoff Parks, Cambridge's admissions tutor, said that he would welcome any steps that would help to differentiate between students with three grade As. "If the A* grade was norm-referenced for the top 7 per cent or a higher overall performance, that would also potentially help," he said.

David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary, agreed that grade quotas would be helpful. "You could give A* grades to the top 10 per cent of students and you could allow universities to know the numerical grade that each student got. That would allow differentiation to occur using existing information," he said. Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, called for reform and said that A levels did not stretch the brightest pupils. The National Union of Students called for an open debate. Ellie Russell, its vice-president, said: "Times have changed and the A-level system is in need of review." However, John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, urged the Government not to devalue A grades with an A*. "[This will] increase stress and anorexia among bright 17 and 18-year-olds," he said.

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Three current articles below:

PM takes a strong position on history teaching

John Howard has issued a personal declaration to the states that he wants reform of the teaching of Australian history in all schools and feels "very strongly" about it. Speaking a day after the national history summit in Canberra, the Prime Minister played his trump card to increase the pressure on the states - the supportive stance of former NSW premier Bob Carr.

But the states have signalled they will fight the pressure from Canberra and leading historians. South Australian Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said yesterday she had absolute confidence in the way history was taught in the state. Queensland, criticised at the summit for having "no prescribed curriculum" for history in its Studies of Society and its Environment course, also remained defiant. Dr Lomax-Smith said she was impressed by the knowledge students demonstrated in the area. "We teach history. It may not be called history, it may be called Studies of Society and the Environment, but I can tell you it's certainly history," she said. "It's irrelevant what you call it, whether you call it society and environment or history and geography or history."

But a paper presented to the summit by Monash University associate professor Tony Taylor reveals the "learning outcome" specified for South Australian SOSE in the senior years of high school is: "Students critically analyse continuities and discontinuities over time, and reflect upon the power relationship which shape and are shaped by these."

Mr Howard criticised the fact that there was "no structured narrative" to the teaching of schools in most Australian schools. "I think we have taught history as some kind of fragmented stew of moods and events, rather than some kind of proper narrative," he said.

Historians who attended Thursday's meeting said yesterday the summit, combined with pressure from parents, would leave the states with little room to manoeuvre if they tried to resist a return to traditional Australian history subjects in years 9 and 10. "I think the teaching of Study of Society and its Environment is on death row," Mr Carr told The Weekend Australian.

University of Wollongong academic Greg Melleuish also criticised the summit last night, saying a day was not enough, there were too many delegates and the results delivered "the lowest common denominator of Australian history". "In a way they (the delegates) threw up their hands in horror because it was becoming too hard," he told ABC's Lateline.

The summit set up a five-person working party, chaired by LaTrobe University professor John Hirst, that will develop a set of "open-ended questions", along with a chronology, that federal Education Minister Julie Bishop will present to the states as a model curriculum. "I think a lot of fears will be allayed when they see ... the approach we're suggesting, which won't take quite the form that they fear," he said.


Our history in disrepair

The Howard Government's decision to re-establish history as a core academic discipline in all schools opens a new contest about education and rights in the battle of ideas in Australian politics. This decision is a direct response to the postmodernist and progressivist grip on the humanities in schools and universities. One consequence has been the degrading of history and the study of Australian history. The aim of federal Education Minister Julie Bishop, as she told this week's history summit in Canberra, is to "see a renaissance of Australian history in our schools".

Why is this aspiration so contentious? Why does it provoke outcry from several states and attacks from the academic community? The answer is because it seeks to overturn the prevailing educational ideology heavily identified with the Labor Party. The tactical dilemma facing Labor, state and federal, is whether to fight this reform, which is likely to have intellectual merit and public support on its side. Labor's dilemma is acute because the history debate highlights in miniature Labor's educational dilemma: that it is locked into backing producer interests (the education professionals) too often at the cost of the consumers (children and parents).

It is significant, therefore, that Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin described this week's history summit as "an important opportunity to do something lasting and positive for the teaching of Australian history". The summit had nothing to do with the laughable notion of imposing a John Howard British Empire view of Australia on our children. Nobody at the summit would tolerate such an idea, certainly none of the professional historians. It was never entertained and it was never discussed. Any claim about a return to a content-only single historical narrative is nonsense.

The communique produced by the summit enshrined the proposal that Australian history "should be sequentially planned through primary and secondary schooling and should be a distinct subject in years 9 and 10" as an "essential and required core part of all students' learning experience". The summit said that Australia's history was unique in many ways. A knowledge for students of their own nation was vital when many of our public debates invoke this history. For the record, the communique repudiated any idea of "a single official history" and affirmed that "history encompasses multiple perspectives".

The summit wanted a co-operative approach. It urged the commonwealth to work with the states and territories to achieve these changes. It was explicit about the need to carry teachers behind the project, saying that the changes had to be teachable, that they had to be doable, with a feasible time allocation within the curriculum, and they had to be sustainable. This involved "quality curriculum resources, professional learning for teachers and national profile events such as Australian History Week in schools".

One of the important conclusions was that history should be based on a "clear chronological sequence" so the big Australian stories of democracy, identity and economic progress were seen in their narrative sweep.

Summit participant and former NSW Labor premier Bob Carr, who saved Australian history as a mandatory discipline in his state, went to the core issue. "History should be taught as a stand-alone discipline," Carr said. "It shouldn't be absorbed in other subjects." Bishop put this more bluntly: "We should seriously question, for example, the experiment of mushing up history in studies of society and environment. There is a growing body of evidence that this experiment is failing our children."

That evidence came in a summit paper prepared by Monash University associate professor of education Tony Taylor. After a study of each curriculum, he concluded: "There is no guarantee that the vast majority of students in Australian schools will have progressed through a systematic study of Australian history by the end of Year 10. Indeed, the opposite is almost certainly the case. 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."

This is a polite way of stating the failure. It is documented by Taylor in his analysis of each state and territory system. Herein lies the significance of this week's summit: it is bringing transparency to the system. Just as tariffs could not survive once their true cost was tabled on the bar of public opinion, so the present educational ideology cannot survive once its true nature is exposed in sunlight. This will be a long struggle....

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The new reactionaries: Education ministries are the last bastion of the history haters

The tide of postmodern education is receding in Australia. At this past week's history summit, a diverse group of thinkers and historians including Geoffrey Blainey, Bob Carr and Reconciliation Australia's Jackie Huggins issued a communique agreeing that history teaching needs to be reformed, that the subject should be taught as a separate and stand-alone course and that students learn best from a narrative, chronological approach to the past. If this sounds like common sense, it is. Yet it continues to elude most of the country's state education departments, which have spent years dismantling old history curriculums (which were far from perfect) to construct in their place a new postmodern establishment where history is sublimated within broad fields such as "Studies of Societies and the Environment", or SOSE. Just as in English courses where Shakespeare is forced through Marxist paradigms of race, sex and class, in such watered-down history courses students quickly learn to parrot approved ideas. Thus in opposing the narrative teaching of history as a stand-alone subject, education ministry bureaucrats have become an elite gang of establishment reactionaries, barricading the door against parents and historians revolted at what children are taught today.

While the state education ministers of Queensland, South Australia and West Australia all vociferously opposed what they believe is commonwealth interference in their respective patches, it was Queensland's Rod Welford who best summed up the arrogance of this group. Complaining of the summit's "educational vandalism", the Sunshine State's education minister said: "To talk about history as a stand-alone subject, as a list of events, is an educational absurdity." But if anyone is guilty of educational vandalism, it is Queensland's curriculum developers. Students in Years 4-10 spend just 60 hours a year on SOSE. There, history must compete with a laundry list of other "studies" that fall under the SOSE umbrella ranging from politics, sociology and anthropology to environmental sustainability, gender and peace. Similar outrages are committed in virtually every other state and territory by bureaucrats keen to protect their fiefdoms.

Speaking at the summit, John Howard was quick to point out that the reform is not about creating an "official" history. Nor should it be. But what could be wrong with teaching, as Gregory Melleuish lays out in today's Inquirer section of The Weekend Australian, a narrative of the country tracing our development from penal colony to free society to a federation and democracy? This is not about denying negative aspects of our past, as suggested by the witless wags of yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald. As this newspaper has repeatedly argued, knowledge of history is important for individual students and for the nation as a whole. Insisting that it be taught as a stand-alone subject is not an imposition, it is common sense. Those in the education industry who disagree should consider just whom they are in business to serve.

Above is an editorial from "The Australian"


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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