Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Old" Mathematics is back

A pity the arrogant Leftist "educators" had to experiment on kids with rubbish methods for so long

We Americans used to understand the concept of educational progression -- of instilling fundamental skills early and completely so that they became natural extensions of children's lives, thus equipping them for moving into higher realms of learning and reasoning. But somewhere and somehow, we lost our way and began embracing panaceas that promised educational gain without pain.

Educational concepts that had stood generations of Americans in good stead -- phonics-based reading, memorizing multiplication tables, basic rules of grammar -- were cast aside in the 1970s and 1980s in favor of "reforms" that reflected the moral relativism of the age and would, their advocates insisted, make learning more fun and less work.

A 1989 decree by the National Council of Mathematics Teachers typified the trend, casting aside such concepts as multiplication tables in favor of what came to be known as "fuzzy math" that favored estimates over exactitude and assumed that everyone would always use a calculator, rendering paper and pencil figuring obsolete. Innumeracy -- a chronic inability to understand and apply mathematics to work and daily life -- is rampant, and the abysmally poor performance of American children in international mathematics test comparisons is graphic proof that "fuzzy math" is an abject failure. For nearly two decades, "math wars" have raged in academic and political circles over what children should learn. California, as the most populous and diverse state, has been a major front.

Hostilities erupted in California during the mid-1990s when then-Gov. Pete Wilson and legislators prodded the state Board of Education to adopt new standards. Marion Joseph, a one-time top state education official, came out of retirement to take a seat on the state board and lead the charge for change. An advisory panel recommended standards that moved toward more mathematical fundamentals, but the state board put even more emphasis on basics and adopted them after a battle with Delaine Eastin, then the state schools superintendent.

Some states followed California's model and others continued a fuzzier version of math. But Joseph and the other back-to-basics advocates appear to be having the last laugh. With the nation moving toward national academic standards, but with huge differences in approaches among the states, the National Council of Mathematics Teachers has revisited the issue and in a new encyclical has figuratively abandoned the fuzzy approach and recommended grade-by-grade guidelines that move substantially back to fundamentals.

You have to wade through reams of jargon to find the changes. The guidelines don't use the term "multiplication tables," for example, but say that kids in elementary school should become proficient in "multiplication facts." Leaders of the math teachers' council are reluctant to say that there is a major change, instead describing the new guidelines as building on previous suggestions. But a side-by-side comparison indicates that what the council is proposing and what California adopted a decade ago are quite similar.



At what point is a person dead? And how does a perm work? You may need to talk your way out of questions like these to get into Britain's elite universities, a survey of applicants has revealed. They were some of the more curious questions recently pitched by interviewers at Oxford and Cambridge looking to find the very best among the thousands of students trying to get on courses at the prestige institutions. The survey of around 1200 students by Oxbridge Applications, which advises applicants, showed the interview process was living up to its reputation for being notoriously tough. The questions reported by students included:

Here is a piece of bark, please talk about it. (Biological Sciences, Oxford)

Are you cool? (Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Oxford)

At what point is a person "dead"? (Medicine, Cambridge)

Put a monetary value on this teapot. (Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Cambridge)

Other questions, though it was not clear who asked them, included: What percentage of the world's water is contained in a cow; of all 19th-century politicians, who was most like Tony Blair?

Jessica Elsom, of Oxbridge Applications, said the interview process was "notoriously eccentric" as the universities try to recruit the sharpest-witted among youngsters with flawless British school-leaving exam results. "With the increase in the numbers of students excelling at A-level, the Oxbridge interviews are one way of finding out who really cuts the mustard," she said.


Classics a rediscovered pillar of education in Australia

Two ancient languages are sparking an unexpected revival in the increasingly lost arts of punctuation and grammar in the nation's schools. A revival in the popularity of classical Greek and Latin and ancient history is teaching high school students something that many are failing to grasp in modern day English classrooms. "I have a greater grasp of grammar because I learn (classical languages)," said Year 12 student Samantha Taylor, one of about 200 students who will sit Latin for the HSC in NSW this year. "I understand verbs, clauses and nouns."

Ancient history, Latin, philosophy and classical Greek dominate the suiteof HSC subjects Ms Taylor is studying at the Sydney Church of England Co-educational Grammar School (Redlands). Ancient history is a popular pathway into classical languages and for the past two years enrolments in this subject - now the seventh-most popular for the HSC in NSW - have overtaken those in modern history in that state.

There is little doubt that the study of classics is no pushover: it is intellectually demanding and requires the reading of texts in Latin and ancient Greek. Experts argue that is why the skills it engenders in students - analysis, argument, presentation - are so useful in the workplace. And employers know it. But that is probably not why students are drawn to classics.

Lecturer Alastair Blanshard said the exoticism and colour of the ancient world appealed to students and offered an escape from the mundane. "It's a world where all the things that you would want to happen are happening," he said. "There's a lot of appeal about the politics. When you see current politics and you see the endless senatorial inquiries and the things drowning in red tape, it's quite nice to imagine a world where it's all sorted out by daggers on the senate floor." In a classical world, things were much clearer; leaders could conquer a world that was less constrained by Christian morality. There was more sense of adventure, more sense of play.

The Australian National University's classics convener, Elizabeth Minchin, said the increase in popularity of the classics was creating stronger demand for those subjects in universities. She said 16 universities now taught classics to some degree. Some such as Monash, had reintroduced it after closing courses in the wake of 1996 budget cuts. Sydney University is among those institutions experiencing rapid growth in the classics. Its undergraduate enrolments in ancient history and the classics now stand at 1417, a 22 per cent increase on 2004.


No place for politics in Australia's national narrative

If Julie Bishop wins a national curriculum, there's plenty that needs fixing, writes Kevin Donnelly

Compared with the rest of the world, Australia's curriculum is second rate. Not only are we in the second 11 when it comes to the results in international maths and science tests, as measured by the Trends in International Maths and Science Studies, but, as documented in Why Our Schools are Failing, our curriculum is dumbed down and politically correct.

The solution? One answer is to have a national curriculum based on the methodology being advocated in the US. After dumping the outcomes-based education model, the US approach to curriculum is firmly based on the academic disciplines, politically impartial, succinct and teacher friendly and benchmarked against international best practice.

While a national approach to curriculum has much to endorse it, judged by the attempt already under way, represented by the Australian Statements of Learning in maths, English and civics, there are dangers in imposing a national approach. Take the national Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship, endorsed by Australia's education ministers at their August ministerial meeting, as an example. First, the good news. The proposed civics and citizenship curriculum does ask students to develop "an understanding of, and commitment to, Australia's democratic system of government, law and civic life" and "the capacity to clarify and critically examine values and principles that underpin Australia's democracy". There is even an attempt to illustrate what such principles refer to when the documents suggest students learn about "the common good, separation of powers, government accountability" and "equality before the law, presumption of innocence". Unfortunately, such details prove the exception and the bad news outweighs the good.

Overall, the document fails to make explicit the values, principles, historical events and people central to Australia's development as one of the world's oldest continuous democracies. Under Historical Perspectives, Year 5 students are asked to "investigate the influence of significant individuals and events on the development of democracy in Australia", Year 7 students are asked to "explore the impact of people, events and movements of the past on Australian identities and democracy" and Year 9 students are asked to "reflect on the influence of past international events on governments in Australia".

In line with the present inability or unwillingness of those in charge of Australian curriculums to make explicit judgments about what all students have the right to learn, such statements give no direction as to what individuals and which events should be given priority. The danger is that many schools across Australia will ask students in history and social studies classes to do projects on Peter Brock or Steve Irwin on the assumption that learning should be immediately relevant and contemporary. While good teachers can make figures such as Arthur Phillip, Caroline Chisholm, Edmund Barton, Henry Bournes Higgins and Robert Menzies accessible and lively, many teachers will take the easier option.

Given the left-leaning nature of Australia's education establishment, it should not surprise anyone that the Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship present a politically correct approach to issues. Students are told to value the "heritage of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples" and, when arguing the need to teach narratives, the example refers to "Dreaming stories". Students are also asked to learn about the "uniqueness and diversity of Australia as a multicultural society", to "explore Australia's cultural diversity" and asked to "contribute to environmental sustainability in local to global contexts".

In line with the cultural Left's belief that education must be used to create "mini-me" social activists, Year 3 students are told to "participate in positive civic and social action" and Year 5 students are told to "participate in appropriate actions as environmental stewards or participate in other civic action to effect positive change".

Unlike the US, with its proud record of teaching civic values and founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, Australia has a history of failing to teach the values and the narrative on which our democracy depends. With the exception of NSW, the way history and politics is taught reflects a dumbed-down and politically correct approach. Instead of celebrating what we have achieved as a nation, students are taught to feel guilty about the sins of the past and that Australian society is riven with inequality and social injustice.

Instead of students being taught the grand narrative associated with the rise of Western civilisation and Australia's foundation and growth as a nation, they are told that doing history is more important than learning history, and studying the local community and PC issues such as the environment, multiculturalism, gender, futures and world peace take priority.

On these pages in the past year or two there have been repeated examples of how subjects such as history, mathematics, science, geography and music have been subverted by the cultural Left and dumbed down by an adherence to outcomes-based education. Sadly, the recently endorsed Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship proves that little has changed and that the devil is always in the detail when it comes to developing a national approach.



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, October 13, 2006


One of their professors summarizes below why affirmative action is unwise and unjust

The new academic year has ushered in a barrage of affirmative-action initiatives at Southern Connecticut State University. One of these is achieving racial and ethnic diversity in the SCSU faculty. The rationale for this is that a diverse faculty is a more competent faculty, better able to teach Black, Hispanic, and female students who would otherwise be taught by white males. They assume that each minority groups has its own viewpoint and that minorities are victimized and being deliberately excluded from specialties dominated by white males. For that reason SCSU faculty must make racial and ethnic diversity a top hiring priority; they should ``borrow'' minorities from other departments for their search committees; and should also consider ``candidates of opportunity'' who are unqualified but possess ``other exceptional qualities.''

Additional requirements imposed by the university include the need to record the race and gender of every candidate we wish to interview. But hiring faculty in the name of ``diversity'' does not help faculty hiring committees bring better scholar-teachers to SCSU. Instead it institutionalizes discrimination against worthy candidates who happen to be white, male, heterosexual or politically conservative while lowering teaching and scholarship standards. Indeed it causes universities to break the laws of the land, including the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and all federal and Connecticut statutes that prohibit discrimination. An article in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that diversity preferences in faculty hiring are very difficult to defend; diversity policies could make Southern far more vulnerable to lawsuits than the supposed unfair hiring standards now in place.

Besides being illegal, such practices hurt minorities by reinforcing prejudice and misconstrue the needs of the most important university population - the students. They know the difference between a member of a preferred group who meets our "minimal qualifications" and the high-quality professors of all backgrounds that SCSU has successfully attracted in the past. These students also know that this affects the quality of the education they receive, the value of their degrees, and their future employment prospects. Hospitals do not hire ``minimally qualified'' doctors for the sake of diversity; don't our students deserve the best professors we can hire?

What motivates all the new rules? The new policy statements suggest a vision of social justice to make faculty resemble the inhabitants of the urban center of New Haven, as it assumes do our students. But the idea that in a just world faculty demographics would necessarily match those of the New Haven community is absurd. A sizable percentage of our students do not even come from the urban center, they are from small, provincial towns in the region. Southern Connecticut admirably helps New Haven address its many social pathologies but any attempt to reflect these realities would help no one. If SCSU were to follow a real policy of non-discrimination, faculty demographics would represent those of the applicants for faculty positions, not those of the community they are teaching in. These are dictated by individual preferences, not race-driven quotas.

Perhaps the worst thing about this obsession with ``diversity'' on college campuses is that its objective is really a political one. Most diversity proponents are pursuing a political agenda that seeks to homogenize not diversify perspectives. It is one designed to attract liberal Democrats who have almost identical political positions despite their racial and ethnic diversity. There is nothing in these policies that promotes one of the most important kinds of diversity in academia - intellectual diversity. The list of recruitment sources we were given does not include a single conservative organization. Discriminating on the basis of race and gender does not guarantee different perspectives. Rather, it is far more likely to produce a group of faculty having similar values, views of human nature, and perceptions of a just society. It is dangerous for any institution, but particularly for an educational institution, to seek a monopoly over the truth.

While academic departments at SCSU may only be encouraged to achieve diversity, institutional pressure to conform will discourage "infidels" on search committees from listing white males as finalists for positions even if they are by far the best candidates. Instead of selecting faculty on the basis of merit, faculty hiring committees in specialties dominated by white males will be looking not for the best-qualified candidates for members of ethnic minorities who are "minimally qualified.''

In the alternative, many departments will start to hire in specialties with a political agenda that have a higher proportion of minorities - feminist and ethnic studies, for example. In time, we will only be able to interview one or two of our best candidates and the rest will have to be minimally qualified or from highly politicized specialties in an effort to meet these unjust and discriminatory diversity goals.

This is not justice, it is injustice. And the result is universities where the students it purports to teach receive an inferior education. If Southern Connecticut would limit its focus to the pursuit of excellence, listed as its primary value, and had a little more faith in minorities and white males, everybody would be better off, especially our students. And diversity would likely be one of the results.


Ideologues hijack High School physics education

Comment by Dr Peter Ridd, a professor of physics at James Cook University

The moguls controlling the education syllabuses in the Queensland Studies Authority should be fearful of the plans of Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop to scrap the state boards of study and introduce a national curriculum. The message to them is simple - fix up the school syllabuses or face extinction.

The Queensland education system, and the QSA in particular, has been hijacked by ideologues applying theories dreamt up by the education faculties of our universities. They have become out of touch with the expectations of the parents. In addition, they have made little effort to address the concerns regarding their syllabuses of academics at universities in disciplines such as English, geography, maths, physics and engineering. In short, they have some of the world's silliest syllabus documents while at the same time claiming that Queensland is at the cutting edge of modern education practice.

Like most people who are concerned with education, but who have left the classroom, they have lost touch with reality. My favourite example of a typical Queensland syllabus is the new physics syllabus presently being introduced. A syllabus is the document that a teacher uses for guidance on what to teach and how to assess. Incredibly, the physics syllabus gives almost no guidance to the teacher of what content is to be taught. Nowhere, for example, does it say that the laws of electricity or gravity should be covered by the teacher.

The statements in the syllabus on copyright, equity and safety are each longer than the section on content. The reason is that according to modern education theory, content and facts are not necessary. In fact, in the world of education relativism, facts do not even exist; they are merely constructs that may vary according to your cultural background and general philosophy. Perhaps in some culture gravity goes upwards?

With the omission of any facts from the syllabus, one might have expected that it would be a short document, but you would be wrong. There is page after page of gory education jargon describing the overcomplicated assessment scheme that forbids the use of marks. Instead, it uses a highly questionable subjective system of "holistic judgments" to come up with a final grade.

Also, in the new syllabus, teachers are now at liberty to remove almost all mathematics from their physics courses. Mathematics is the primary language of physics and removing the maths effectively cripples the subject.

The miserable mess of the new physics syllabus is but one example of a multitude of crazy aspects about our education system imposed by the QSA. We have an English syllabus where the children learn more about gender equity and culture than about writing. We have a junior science syllabus that has removed almost all calculations, causing the subject to be pointlessly descriptive.

Students fail to realise how mathematics is a key aspect in most modern science, engineering and technology. Our mathematics syllabus document has not a single equation in it and introduces key techniques such as algebra far too late. Streaming of students in junior maths is officially frowned upon but most schools do it on the sly because the teachers at least do not have their heads in the clouds.

The junior SOSE (Studies of Science and Environment) syllabus has, in the words of Bishop, become a course that could have been written by Chairman Mao. It is a never-ending morass of trendy left-wing mantra on subjects such as multiculturalism, Aboriginal culture and history, diversity, minority groups and why Western civilisation is the cause of all the evil in the world. They learn little geography or history, and the environmental section suffers from the minor problem that they are not taught enough biology, chemistry, physics or geography to understand the environmental problems about which they learn.

Our assessment systems are dominated by assignments. Exams have been eliminated in many subjects. This is great if you are a child from a comfortable middle-class background with well-educated parents. Parents can either help you with your assignments or hire you a tutor. It is not exactly cheating, but pity the children from lower socio-economic groups who do not get access to this extra help. Continuous assignments do not achieve the aim of improving writing because teachers don't have the time to help the poor writers on an individual basis. Because teachers can never be sure who has actually done an assignment they must not be overused and certainly not become the dominant assessment type.

For the past decade or two, the QSA, backed up by their mates in the university faculties of education, have been going on a rampage through our education system. Finally, in Bishop, we have a person who is willing to take them to task. A national curriculum has the minor advantage that it reduces duplication. The major advantage is that we can start again and purge the country of our present boards of study.


Study sounds mathematics teaching alarm

Mathematics is a subject in crisis, with high school maths teachers increasingly underqualified, unhappy and in short supply. A national study, to be released today, reveals one in five maths teachers did not study maths beyond first year at university and one in 12 did no tertiary maths at all. Half are teaching subjects other than maths at school and more than a third are aged over 50, raising the problem of an ageing workforce.

Commissioned by the influential Australian Council of Deans of Science, the report calls for national accreditation of maths and science teachers to ensure minimum qualifications across all states and territories. As Education Minister Julie Bishop fights for a national schools curriculum, the 38 science deans have stressed "the urgent need to prepare more people for mathematics teaching in schools". "Three in four schools currently experience difficulty recruiting suitably qualified teachers for mathematics classes, and the impending retirement of the baby boomers is set to exacerbate this situation," the study says. The call comes as some universities introduce remedial maths courses for first-year students to help them cope with their degrees.

Overall, 8 per cent of mathematics teachers had studied no maths at university at all. One in five had not studied the subject beyond first year, including 23 per cent of junior school teachers. Teachers younger than 30 were significantly less likely than older colleagues to hold a maths major or to have studied maths teaching methods. "This data, along with the changing face of modern mathematics, explains why 40 per cent of those teaching at the moment were dissatisfied with their mathematics preparation as mathematics teachers," the deans say in a foreword to the study. "Fewer than half of the teachers were confident that they would be teaching mathematics in five years' time."

The research highlights the fact almost every Australian student will do maths at some stage during their schooling. And many fields - such as engineering, agriculture, economics, medicine and business - require a sophisticated understanding of maths and statistics. But many school students are not receiving the high level of maths education required for these fields because just 64 per cent of schools now teach advanced maths, a situation brought about by fewer students wanting to take it up.

Titled "The Preparation of Mathematics Teachers in Australia", the study was conducted by Melbourne University's Centre for the Study of Higher Education and is based on a survey of 3500 teachers and heads of maths departments across 841 secondary schools. It stresses the need for state and territory governments to upgrade the skills of the current crop of maths teachers to keep pace with advances in knowledge. "There's a really urgent task for government if they are going to back a new (national) curriculum to put in place upskilling programs in content for teachers that are currently teaching," said the president of the deans council and dean of science at the Australian National University, Tim Brown. "Students need teachers who have sufficient confidence in their subject knowledge to admit when they don't know the answer and help the students to find out what it is, or what the problem is."

The report reveals considerable disparity between the states: NSW has fewer maths teachers per school while Queensland and Victoria have the most. Queensland finds it hardest to recruit maths teachers. While in Western Australia, curriculum changes were causing widespread "dissatisfaction and concern". It says there is no single way to measure teacher quality, in part because teacher registration is a state issue and graduates can enter the profession by many pathways.

The deputy principal of Catholic girls' school Loreto, in Melbourne's Toorak, and a mathematics teacher for more than 20 years, Elizabeth Burns believes the job must be made more lucrative to attract the next generation of qualified teachers. "Teaching is not a profession that is highly esteemed and there are far more lucrative areas that students who are good at mathematics can go into," she said. "They have to look at better career paths for teachers and higher returns. "It's also about recruiting from other industries. I know people are moving into teaching now from other areas like engineering. Recruitment doesn't only have to come from school leavers or university leavers."



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, October 12, 2006

School vouchers can be a solution to segregation, analysis finds

Private schools participating in voucher programs in the Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., districts are much less segregated than public schools, according to an eye-opening new analysis that also finds that segregation levels in private schools generally are not substantially different from those in public schools.

With one of the goals of the U.S. education system to increase integration in public schools, the report provides powerful ammunition against attacks by opponents of school choice who maintain that voucher programs are camouflaged attempts to promote segregation in education. "Private schools have more potential to desegregate students because they break down geographic barriers, drawing students together across neighborhood boundaries," according to the report's author, Dr. Greg Forster, director of research at the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation. "But this potential for desegregation in private schools is hindered because many students can't afford private school. School vouchers overcome the monetary barrier, enabling private schools to make desegregation a reality."

The Friedman Foundation, declared "the nation's leading voucher advocates" by the Wall Street Journal, was founded in 1996 on the belief that the best way to improve the quality of education is to give all parents the freedom to choose the schools that their children attend. This report follows two recent, original studies released by the Foundation, which found private schools participating in the Cleveland and Milwaukee voucher programs to be 18 and 13 points less segregated than their public school counterparts. Forster analysed the results of all available studies using valid empirical methods to compare segregation in public and private schools, both in general and in the context of school voucher programs.

The best way to measure segregation is by a "segregation index" comparing schools to the racial composition of the larger metropolitan area in which they are located, rather than looking at a particular unit such as a school district, Forster says. The "second-best way" employed by some studies is measuring racial homogeneity, such as measuring the percentage of schools that are more than 90 percent white or more than 90 percent minority. "The public's primary concern regarding school segregation is the continued existence of large numbers of schools that are very heavily white or very heavily non-white," Forster noted. "To test for the presence of these schools, measuring percent white versus percent minority is appropriate."

Forster reports that all seven valid empirical studies that have been conducted on voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington find that participating private schools are much less segregated than public schools. Three valid empirical studies have also compared public and private schools in general; they show that private schools are actually less segregated than public schools when examined at the classroom level, and that segregation levels in private schools are not substantially different from those in public schools when examined at the school level.

For example, two studies by Marquette University researchers looked at the Milwaukee voucher program. One compared public elementary schools to Catholic elementary schools participating in the voucher program, and found that 58 percent of public elementary students and 38 percent of Catholic elementary students attended schools that were racially homogeneous (more than 90 percent white or 90 percent minority.)

Another compared public schools to all private schools participating in the voucher program and found that 54 percent of public elementary students and 37 percent of public secondary students attended racially homogenous schools. Of the private schools participating in the voucher program, 50 percent of elementary students and 16 percent of secondary students were in racially homogeneous schools.

When Forster calculated the "segregation index" of Milwaukee, he found that voucher-participating private schools were 13 points less segregated than public schools - equal to the difference between a school being 60 percent and a school being 73 percent white in a city that was 50 percent white.

"Private schools have a much greater potential to desegregate students because they break down geographic barriers, drawing students together across neighborhood boundaries in a way the government school monopoly cannot match even when it tries to do so," Forster concludes. "The evidence shows that vouchers are in fact moving children from more segregated public schools into less segregated private schools."



A new science GCSE [junior High School course] that replaces traditional physics, chemistry and biology with discussions about topical issues such as GM crops and the MMR vaccine is attacked today by leading academics as "more suitable to the pub than the schoolroom". The reformed curriculum will not inspire more children to study science at a higher level, while also failing in its main goal of breeding a more scientifically literate public, senior researchers, educationists and ethicists said. The critics, who include Baroness Warnock, the philosopher who framed the embryo research laws, and Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London and a former chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, say that the new course teaches too little about basic concepts to be of much use either to the next generation of scientists, doctors and engineers, or to those who will drop science at 16.

The "Twenty-First Century Science" GCSE, introduced nationally last month, is being taken by pupils at a third of England's secondary schools. Experts say that its replacement of practical experiments and understanding of fundamental principles with debate about the "impact of science and technology on modern life" will leave students poorly prepared to pursue all sciences at A level and university. They argue that it will also encourage pupils to develop opinions before they understand the underlying research, potentially undermining the scientific literacy that the course seeks to build.

The new syllabus is designed to make science more relevant to teenagers by engaging them with issues of public concern, such as nuclear power or bird flu, rather than teaching traditional physics, chemistry and biology. Pupils also have the option to take a second GCSE that teaches the basics required if they wish to pursue one of these subjects in the sixth form. It is one of two new GCSEs that are replacing the double science award, which used to be taken by most state school pupils. Another alternative is a multiple-choice-based option that has also been severely criticsed for failing to stretch students. Fears have been raised that many hundreds of schools will be attracted to the new exams, after it emerged that from next year their success at GCSE level in the national league tables would also be measured on the percentage of pupils achieving two or more passes in science.

Sir Richard said that it was impossible to have meaningful and informed debate about science and society without first understanding how science works, which is best learnt by practical experiment and mastering fundamental principles. "A science curriculum based on encouraging pupils to debate science in the news is taking a back-to-front approach," he said. "Science should inform the news agenda, not the other way around. "Before we can engage the public in an informed debate we need the scientists to do the science. And before the future citizen can contribute to the decision-making process, they need to have a good grounding in the fundamentals of science and technology, rather than the soundbite science that state school curriculums are increasingly moving towards."

Lady Warnock said: "The present policy has two incompatible aims: to give all pupils some understanding of the subject matter of the sciences, and to so fire the imagination of a substantial minority of them that they want to pursue their interest into the sixth form and beyond. "The new syllabus encourages a postmodern view that science is just one of many ways of finding out about the world, and that its claims are as open to challenge as those of any interested pressure group," she said. The agenda is set by the press, creating debates that are "more suitable for the pub than the school room".

Their criticisms are voiced in What is Science Education For?, published today by the Institute of Ideas, an independent think-tank. In its lead essay, David Perks, head of physics at Graveney School in Wandsworth, southwest London, said that a better way of improving science education would be to return to teaching physics, chemistry and biology as separate disciplines.

Maths and physics A levels will no longer be mandatory for students wishing to study physics at the University of East Anglia, London South Bank University, University of Leicester and University of Surrey. The new "integrated sciences" degree follows the University of Reading's decision to close its physics department last week.


Australia: Curriculum choice would force reform

A middle way between continued State government negligence and a Federal takeover of education

If a high quality, teachable curriculum were drafted by Australia's best minds and most outstanding teachers, it would no doubt be highly attractive to most Australian parents. Julie Bishop is leading a crucial national debate about curriculum standards. Her determination to improve curriculum is to be applauded, and hopefully the federal Government will oversee the development of new high quality curriculum available for adoption around Australia.

The Australian Government is probably the only government that can bring together the necessary elements to achieve this. Its greatest challenge, however, will be to have such a curriculum actually taught in schools run by the states. The temptation, which brought former education minister John Dawkins unstuck in the early 1990s, is to negotiate the curriculum with the same people used by the states. This would sink the enterprise from the start. There will be no high quality national curriculum if it has to be negotiated with the states and territories, and there will be no purpose in developing such a curriculum unless schools are allowed to offer it.

The answer is to end each state's insistence on a monopolistic position in its schools for its own curriculum. The concept of one curriculum imposed on every school is outdated. Bishop is right to say a national interest in curriculum is not a matter of replacing the states' monopoly with a national monopoly. This will prove to be the key policy point. In developing its curriculum the Australian Government may well need to use its power to require the states and territories to permit schools to choose any accredited curriculum, including one developed by the national government. In doing so, Canberra will gain the freedom to develop the curriculum it wants, using its own preferred people and processes, the best it can find, and avoiding reliance on the states being willing to have the national curriculum replace their own.

By requiring the states to abolish the privileged position of their own curriculums - developed by people the community has never heard of - the federal Government will be free to develop the curriculum it believes will gain the respect of most parents (and teachers) and have that curriculum adopted by schools. Giving schools the choice will also sidestep the risk that a future national government will simply replace one national curriculum with another, perhaps with one that shares the flaws evident in present state offerings. If schools have the right to choose the curriculum they will offer, the choices of parents will determine the issue, not the decisions of one political level or one bureaucracy.

More important still, allowing schools to choose their curriculum will end the capacity of any fad or ideology to gain control of the mechanisms for developing curriculum, thereby imposing itself on every school and student. The prospect of having a monopoly over the school curriculum is surely one of the great motivating forces that attracts the faddists and the ideologues.

Ending the monopoly of state curriculums will establish accountability by schools to parents for the curriculum they teach, an accountability parents would welcome, and one very much in harmony with the federal Government's philosophy of choice in education. Schools will no longer be able to blame a curriculum imposed on them for student and parent dissatisfaction.

Enabling schools to choose a national curriculum if they wish also goes a considerable way to solving the problem, identified by the Prime Minister, of families moving interstate and finding a substantial lack of continuity in what their children are being taught. If schools in each state are free to choose the national curriculum, parents moving interstate will be able to choose a national curriculum school whose curriculum will be the same as that of many schools in other states. Ending the monopolistic position of state curriculums is not quite as radical as may appear. The principle of parent choice of curriculum has already been accepted.

Instead of the state curriculum, schools can now use the International Baccalaureate, and that curriculum has not been negotiated with the unions or the states. It is an internationally accepted curriculum with high academic standards that some students prefer to do because its assessment is recognised internationally. It is not a big jump to allow schools to choose a national curriculum as well. The states would resist giving parents the option of a high quality national curriculum at their peril, and the Australian Government would doubtless welcome a political battle on the point.

The case of the IB is instructive, because it shows it is possible for schools to offer more than one curriculum. It also shows that schools can use curriculum to attract parents and establish a reputation for quality. Choice of curriculum by schools does not mean that we have to accept lack of comparability across the country. The issue here is not curriculum, but standards and assessment. The other element in the package of reform in this area needs to be national standards and national assessment. We already have national literacy and numeracy standards. National assessments can provide key mechanisms of accountability, and can be designed to cope with curriculum diversity. There are good international examples that make the point.

For decades, Australian students wanting to study in the US have sat something called the Graduate Record Examination that has tested their general abilities and their learning in areas such as maths and science and the humanities. The tests have had enough credibility to be significant in admission to the best universities in the world. These are assessments. They are not curriculums, and they assume that students have not studied the same curriculum. They are designed to find out what students have learned against common standards from the enormous variety of curriculums they have actually studied.

We could have national assessments of that kind in Australia, and the same assessment could be administered in every state and territory. Curriculum choice is therefore entirely compatible with assessment systems that enable parents and the community to determine what and how well students have learned, and to compare the performances of schools and school systems.

There are real possibilities for the production of new high quality curriculums outside the historic institutional battles between school systems, teacher unions and universities, drawing on the best minds in each subject area, and the best evidence-based teaching experience. In principle this can be done by private think tanks and organisations as well as (or better than) by government authorities. It is most likely to happen if the principle of choice is further extended in relation to curriculum.



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, October 11, 2006

Politics As Usual for Los Angeles Teachers Union

From anti-Israel rallies to incoherence on school reform, the union places politics above helping students

United teachers Los Angeles is misnamed. Last week's events show that the teachers union is hardly united - and that its focus too often strays far from education and Los Angeles. By being overly political and acting against reform, the union has let down both its members and the district's students.

The teachers finally rose up against their union leadership last week, voting by a convincing margin to oppose the legislation that gives Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a measure of influence over the schools. Union leaders at first opposed mayoral control of the schools; then, without consulting their members or even their governing body, they worked out a deal to get behind a half-baked bill that fragments responsibility rather than centralizing it and blurs accountability rather than clarifying it. The leaders defended themselves by saying Villaraigosa wouldn't wait for them to consult its policymaking body.

The union suffered another embarrassment when it backed off from plans to co-host an anti-Israel rally at its headquarters. The reason for its hasty retreat is obvious - outcry from both the public and within its own ranks. Less clear is what the union was thinking in the first place, getting involved in a sensitive international issue and hosting a rally certain to offend many teachers, students and parents.

But then, building student achievement often comes in a distant second to politics as UTLA priorities. Last week, union President A.J. Duffy told The Times that even though scripted teaching methods raise scores, "test scores are a phony gauge of whether public education is successful or not." He's entitled to his opinion, but like them or not, tests are one of the measures by which the district tracks the progress of its students. And their progress is the job of every teacher. The union leadership's resistance to the reforms that improve scores is an obstacle to the improvement of L.A. schools.

Fortunately, there are many teachers who disagree with Duffy, who put student achievement first, who believe in trying new things that might help. These are the teachers who think more about the classroom than the union. Unfortunately, they don't tend to vote in union elections. Slightly more than a quarter of the union's members voted in the election that made Duffy president. Maybe if those teachers were more active in UTLA, the L.A. schools would have the kind of union they deserve.



There have always been a few bright sparks who made it to university before their eighteenth birthdays. I knew some 17-year-olds when I was at college: they had been so far ahead of their class that their teachers let them skip a year. They didn't get any special treatment at university. Though not legally adults, they were entering an adult institution and were treated pretty much the same as everybody else.

Now with all the paranoia about child protection, universities have changed their view of 17-year-olds. Seventeen-year olds are officially children, and so a whole morass of bureaucracy is developing to protect them from the potentially abusive adults on campus. One admissions tutor at University College London (UCL) says he must now check the criminal records of any staff involved with students under the age of 18. Given that tutors are already over-burdened by bureaucracy, it's likely that they just won't bother: `The practice will be that they won't admit 17-year-olds. They will read this advice and turn down those applicants.' The tutor - who was 17 himself when he started university - argues that this `denies students the opportunity of an education when they are ready for it'.

Those under-age students who do make it through the door will find themselves subject to a distinct system of protection, with a whole special layer of restrictions and protective measures. The University of Glamorgan sends students a letter informing them of their special status. `The university is also required to offer you special protection against sexual harassment, and this responsibility we take very seriously', it says. Even though over-16s can give consent for medical treatment, the university `follows good practice and seeks to involve those people with parental responsibility', asking students to get their parents to fill out a form about medical treatment.

The University of Kent reads both 17-year-olds and their tutors their rights and responsibilities on matriculation day. University advice states: `The Head of Student Guidance and Welfare will contact all U18 students at the start of term to ensure that they are aware of the university regulations and any restrictions placed upon them as a result of their age. `One member of academic staff should be put forward to act as personal tutor for all students who are under 18 and this information provided to the Director of Student Guidance and Welfare Services. That person must undertake a Criminal Records Bureau [CRB] check.... That person should be reminded of the special duty of care owed to underage students and in particular of the offence of abuse of trust under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000.'

As for accepting students younger than 17, Oxford is turning around its traditional habit of accepting child prodigies. At the start of term last year, university authorities said they just couldn't cope with the need to monitor and vet everybody with whom the child came into contact. Ruth Collier, a spokesperson for admissions, said: `Suddenly we can't offer one-to-one tutorials, while the people who do administration in our colleges have to spend a great deal of time making absolutely sure they are not inadvertently placing a child in a potentially dangerous situation with anyone who hasn't had a criminal records check.'

Interviews and university open days have become a minefield. The University of Essex requires that student mentors and helpers undergo a CRB check. It also insists on the presence of two `designated child protection officers' for school visits where students are not accompanied by a teacher or parent, and these officers' `names and contact details must be communicated to the young people involved in the activity, their parents, and staff members'.

Behind all of this lies a changing definition of adulthood and childhood. When adult meant `mature', the existence of 17-year-olds on campus wasn't such a big deal. They couldn't vote or drink legally, but it was only a question of a few months. Since becoming adult was a about becoming gradually more mature, the grey area of 16 to 18 could be fudged. Now, `adult' and `child' have come to mean potential abuser and potential abuse victim. This sets them apart as two completely separate groups, with completely different interests. Children are not in the process of being assimilated into the adult world, but instead need to be protected and defended from it. When this is the view, there is a legalistic obsession with age. A person flips, on their eighteenth birthday, from being abused to abuser, from being protected to regulated. So a person aged 17 years and 11 months would need their tutor to be CRB-checked; if the following month they were to help out at a university open day, they themselves would need to be CRB-checked.

UCL recently changed its regulations from covering students under 17, to covering students `under 17 years and 3 months' - presumably those who would not turn 18 in the course of the year. Somebody's months and years are counted precisely, to decide which side of the abuser-abused line they fall down on. Challenging this ridiculous treatment of 17-year-old university students would be one way to take on this poisonous view of adult-child relationships that is widespread today


Australia: Teachers' union sets up Communist Cuba as an example

They can't help wearing their hearts on their sleeves

A South Australian teachers' union journal has praised the achievements of Cuba's education system, saying class sizes are small, schools are free and teachers well-trained. The Australian Education Union has defended the publication, just days after federal Education Minister Julie Bishop claimed school curriculums had been distorted by "Chairman Mao" type ideologies of state bureaucrats.

Former union organiser and journal editor Dan Murphy said the communist island under the regime of Fidel Castro had a 100per cent literacy rate, higher than Australia's. "For a poor, underdeveloped country, they've achieved quite well and nobody can deny that," said Mr Murphy. "It (the article) doesn't shirk away from other issues like requiring teachers to reinforce communist values. But it's not a piece of propaganda out of Miami; it covers other facts you don't strictly get." AEU state president Andrew Gohl yesterday endorsed the South Australian teachers union article, saying: "The fact that (Cuban) education is free, compulsory and funded significantly by the Government is something all governments should aspire to".

The chief source of information for Mr Murphy's August feature was Havana-based Gilda Chacon, a trade union official from the Cuban Federation of Workers. She visited Adelaide in July and was partly sponsored by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, for which Mr Murphy previously worked. "I think it's a balanced investigation into the available evidence on Cuba," he said.

The AEU also published a letter to the editor from student teacher and Communist Party of Australia member Craig Greer in its latest issue. Mr Greer wrote that the federal Government "still can't find enough money to mirror a fraction of what the Cuban Government has achieved". "If Cuba is a dictatorship, then I'm ready to be dictated to."

The debate follows claims last year by senior NSW education adviser Wayne Sawyer that the education profession was to blame for the re-election of the Howard Government. Students had voted for John Howard because English teachers had failed to teach them critical thought, he argued.

After calling last week for a national curriculum, Ms Bishop said yesterday that parents wanted ideology to be taken out of the classroom. "We need to focus on a commonsense curriculum with high, nationally consistent standards that reflect the values of the community," she said.

The US State Department, in a report on Cuba last year, said all elementary and secondary school students received "obligatory ideological indoctrination".

Cuban-born journalist and author Luis Garcia said Cuba's education system was "heavily politicised" and not an example Australia should follow. "The purpose of education (in Cuba) is not just to teach how to read and write and understand complex issues but essentially it has become a defender of the Castro regime," Garcia said.


Australian university makes students re-study High School mathematics

James Cook University has forced more than half its first-year science and engineering students to sit a high-school-level maths course. The Queensland university revealed yesterday it had become so frustrated by falling standards among high school graduates, and confused by a lack of parity between states, that it joined Wollongong University and the Australian Defence Force Academy in conducting a maths exam of its own design on first-year science and engineering students.

James Cook head of maths, physics and information technology Wayne Read said less than half the Queensland students passed. He said the university this year allowed 190 students to proceed with advanced mathematics but forced 250 to complete a "lookalike" high school Maths B course run by the university. Of the 250 compelled to do the "lookalike" course, an estimated 20 per cent had already done Maths B at high school. "There has certainly been a decline in the (mathematical) abilities of students when they enter university," said Professor Read, who has been an academic since 1987. "That decline started in the early 1990s."

The revelation came as a senior defence force lecturer backed federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's call for a national curriculum, and teachers in Western Australia bemoaned a continuing decline in the mathematical abilities of high school entrants. The debate about falling maths standards and inconsistencies between states comes as a federal parliamentary committee prepares to release its findings on the nation's education and training standards.

The West Australian Curriculum Council yesterday denied that the state's maths curriculum had slipped behind other states, despite a comparison published in The Weekend Australian showing the mathematical abilities required of students in Western Australia were well below national standards. "The WA maths curriculum is consistent with curricula set in other states across Australia. It has not slipped behind any other states," a spokeswoman for the Curriculum Council said.

But pressure group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes said the abilities of first-year high school students in Western Australia had declined. PLATO spokesman Greg Williams said many Year 8 students did not have a grasp of basics such as fractions, multiplication and percentages.

Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Steve Barry, who teaches high school graduates from across the nation at the academy's School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, called for a national curriculum. "It is my opinion that the absence of a uniform Australian mathematics curriculum at high school is detrimental to students from some states, particularly those who then travel interstate to enter university," 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


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How to fire an incompetent teacher

Joel Klein led the Justice Department's attack on Microsoft for its alleged efforts to monopolize the software market. But Microsoft is a hotbed of competition compared to the organization Klein runs now. Klein is chancellor of New York City's public school system, a monopoly so heavily regulated that sometimes it's unable to fire even dangerous teachers. The series of steps a principal must take to dismiss an instructor is Byzantine. "It's almost impossible," Klein complains.

The rules were well-intended. The union was worried that principals would play favorites, hiring friends and family members while firing good teachers. If public education were subject to the competition of the free market, those bureaucratic rules would be unnecessary, because parents would hold a bad principal accountable by sending their kids to a different school the next year. But government schools never go out of business, and parents' ability to change schools is sharply curtailed. So the education monopoly adopts paralyzing rules instead.

The regulations are so onerous that principals rarely even try to fire a teacher. Most just put the bad ones in pretend-work jobs, or sucker another school into taking them. (They call that the "dance of the lemons.") The city payrolls include hundreds of teachers who have been deemed incompetent, violent, or guilty of sexual misconduct. Since the schools are afraid to let them teach, they put them in so-called "rubber rooms" instead. There they read magazines, play cards, and chat, at a cost to New York taxpayers of $20 million a year.

Once, Klein reports, the school system discovered that a teacher was sending sexual e-mails to a 16-year-old student. "This was the most unbelievable case to me," he says, "because the e-mail was there, he admitted to it. It was so thoroughly offensive." Even with the teacher's confession, it took six years of expensive litigation before the school could fire him. He didn't teach during those six years, but he still got paid-more than $350,000 total. What did it take to finally get rid of him? What does it take to get rid of any teacher whose offenses are so egregious that administrators are willing to tackle the red tape?

More here


History teaching at A level [Senior High School] is so fragmented that pupils are left with no understanding of the order in which important events occurred and little idea of what went before or after them, one of Britain's leading academics said yesterday. David Starkey, the television historian and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said that A levels were too often taught as if they were miniature degrees, with so much analysis crammed in that the periods they covered had to be cut short into "tiny gobbets of chewed-up material".

He said: "There is no point in doing merely a fragment in time with no sense of what might have led up to events and what consequences flowed from them. At the moment, pupils study a bit of American history and a bit of Hitler. That's almost useless." Dr Starkey said that it was absurd that the main history syllabus covering Hitler stopped in 1939. "There is no Second World War and no Holocaust. This approach does a lot of damage. It glamorises Hitler. You have to ask yourself, what is the point of studying it at all?"

He was equally critical of how syllabuses tackled Henry VIII and the Reformation, his own specialist period. "With Henry VIII, the syllabus covers 1502 to 1529. It stops when things get interesting. The other part of the syllabus covers 1529 to 1547 - the interesting bit. This is an absurd fragmentation. It leaves no space to take a step back and discuss what came before or after. "History, if properly taught, should give people a sense of time and a map of time. You should be able to place yourself in time," he said.

Dr Starkey said that teaching also placed far too much emphasis on the science of gathering evidence for historical events, an approach known as the discovery method. "Teachers use the discovery method to teach when the Norman Conquest was. We know when it was. What's the point in having a teacher if not to tell the students what the facts are?" He added that the study of original documents and the search for evidence should not come until university level. Dr Starkey also despaired of the way his own works and those of other historians were used in schools, with teachers focusing increasingly on historiography - the study of the way history is written - rather than history itself. "A-level students would not be able to tell you what happened at the beginning of the Civil War, but they would be able to tell you what (the historian) Conrad Russell thought about the Civil War," he said.

Dr Starkey was speaking before the premiere this week of the film version of Alan Bennett's successful play The History Boys. It depicts the clash between two teachers, one who values learning for its own sake and one who sees teaching as a series of artificially selected exam techniques. It is a debate that Dr Starkey believes is worth having, not least because he fears that the current system of exams, targets and league tables is destroying Britain's education system.

He fears that highly prescriptive curriculums, combined with a fear in schools of failing in the league tables had produced "nothing but elaborately polished mediocrity" among students, who were coached to pass exams, but not to understand their subjects. He believes that among teachers it has bred an "encompassing cynicism" and destroyed their autonomy, self-confidence and sense of risk


Australia: "Conservatives" seize the education reform initiative

The 19,834th demonstration that Conservatives do NOT oppose change

The Howard Government seeks to transform the politics of education with its campaign to reform school curriculums and achieve more uniform national standards. The initiative by Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday unveils a bold new agenda replete with risk and opportunity. It invests the Coalition with the initiative in education policy, and is anchored in the deep professional and parental alarm about the values and quality of school curriculums.

Bishop's speech reveals much about the nature of the Government in its fourth term. This initiative involves a willing resort to use central government powers against the states. It constitutes a new cultural assault on the ideological Left and the teacher unions. And it will divide Labor between the choice of popular "back to basics" reforms and its powerful supporters in the educational and teacher union lobbies, who will insist on a showdown with the Howard Government. While the Labor states will protest and threaten resistance, they recognise the need to make some concessions on curriculums. This process is under way.

The critical line in Bishop's speech was her claim that the politics of education was moving from staff and student ratios to a "new frontier" of teacher quality and curriculums. This is a shift from a Labor to a Liberal agenda. A shift in the ideas that dominate education policy in Australia. And it is an ominous warning to Labor that in a policy area long deemed to be Labor's political domain, the Government intends to set the future agenda. The new ideas outlined by Bishop are raising school standards, a greater national curriculum consistency and a new system of accountability for what happens in schools. She invoked the recent declaration in this newspaper by Professor Ken Wiltshire that the states had failed to maintain the quality of school education.

The problem for state governments is their subjugation to education theory that undermines traditional disciplines and politicises curriculums. The states cannot win this argument at the bar of public opinion. Asking 15-year-olds to write about Shakespeare from a Marxist perspective or deconstructing Big Brother won't fly with the public. The litany of examples is exhaustive.

The states may fight Bishop's pledge to "take school curriculum out of the hands of ideologues" by campaigning on state rights. Given his cautious instincts, John Howard will not want a confrontation with the states. But Howard has prepared the ground for this cultural battle. Pivotal to Bishop's reform agenda is her ability to persuade the teachers. Hence her commitment to performance-based pay and compulsory professional development. Her strategy will be to entice individual teachers but penalise the union. It will be a difficult task.


Leftist Australian State government jolted into education reform

The Queensland Government is considering plans to overhaul Years 11 and 12 amid growing debate over national education standards. State Education Minister Rod Welford yesterday welcomed plans by the Queensland Studies Authority to review the senior syllabus. The proposals include introduction of a technical English subject and extension level subjects for advanced students. The QSA also suggests a review of assessment levels in term 3 of Year 12, when students are expected to complete a core skills test, major assignment work and subject tests.

"I think it's a pretty good report and offers us a way forward but there's a lot more work to be done," Mr Welford said. The comments came as Premier Peter Beattie yesterday weighed into the education debate by responding to a Sunday Mail report that a Year 9 student at Windaroo Valley State High School, south of Brisbane, was failed when she refused to write about life in a gay community. Mr Beattie said he did not believe the assignment was appropriate for a 13-year-old.

He said the assignment was not part of the curriculum but one of several topics suggested by the independent Queensland Studies Authority and he called for it to be withdrawn. "I would hope that obviously we educate young Queenslanders to live in a global world, we have to be realistic about what happens in the world," he said. "(But) I don't think it's appropriate for a 13-year-old to be doing an assignment like this and I think the authority should withdraw it."

Mr Beattie also defended the curriculum taught in Queensland schools and said he would not support a national system that could "lower the standards". Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop last week said all Australian students should study a national curriculum, claiming state systems were being run by left-wing ideologues.

But in an apparent softening of the Commonwealth's position, Ms Bishop said yesterday she wanted to work with the states to develop a national curriculum. "I'm not talking about a Commonwealth takeover," she said. Nevertheless, Ms Bishop said the states had to "get their act together". "We are on the money on this issue," she said. "Parents are sick of left-wing ideology curriculum." Ms Bishop also questioned the benefit of union representatives sitting on state curriculum councils.

Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the key was to work with the states, not threaten them. "Labor wants to see nationally consistent high standards of education in all our schools right around Australia," she said. "What Labor doesn't want is (Prime Minister) John Howard and his Education Minister playing politics with our children's education, threatening the states."



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, October 09, 2006

When All Else Fails, Claim Racism

It is no secret that the campus environment has been reformed into an institution for political inculcation. At some point, many professors exchanged a solid liberal arts and classical education for the petty advancement of political objectives. That's why it is no surprise that recent studies found that student both have a lacking understanding of civics and history as well as businesses finding most graduates wholly unsuited for professional work. This can be seen in how many undergraduates attempt to engage the issues of the day, particularly those of left-wing persuasion. As an example, a fellow Daily Illini columnist wrote a recent column on the Federal Election Integrity Act which required photo identification for prospective voters.

No one can intelligently debate the need to positively identify voters before allowing them to cast ballots. It's just common sense. So what does this columnist, and many like-minded commentators do, claim racism. Racism used to be an invidious crime against people of color, now it is little more than a club to shut down intelligent discussion and beat opposing points of view into oblivion. The bill would require identification for free for voters, however, that doesn't matter or get mentioned. In order to gain employment, one has to have valid ID. According to recent unemployment statistics, about 96% of the US population has valid ID. That doesn't matter. This columnist, like many undergrads, is trained to claim racism despite any and all facts to the contrary.

The problem with this line of education is that it makes effective participation in the legislative process impossible. If the general public cannot come to the table with effective ideas or effective ways to debate and discuss those ideas, they are incapable of participating in the process at all. In this way, our universities have failed our democratic republic.

The other problem with claiming racism with frivolous abandon is that it drowns out legitimate claims of racism. Most of the public isn't stupid and realizes that requiring identification isn't a matter of race; it's a matter of common sense. Trying to claim racism where it does not exist diminishes the efficacy of any legitimate charge of racism. It harms people of color in a fundamental way and plays directly into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.

The dangers of a politically charged yet intellectually deficient education are a clear problem to our ability to remain a free nation. A people who cannot have at least some measure of reasonable discussion about the issues of the day will eventually find themselves at the mercy of the "elites" who tell them what to think.



State Senator Tom McClintock met recently with to discuss this year's legislative session, his campaign for Lt. Governor and California's future. Sitting down to converse with McClintock, one quickly finds out that he's not the extremist that John Garamendi and the far-left would have you believe. McClintock is about straight talk and common sense. During our hour-long interview with him, McClintock described the role of the Lt. Governor and how he would use the office to raise the public's awareness on important policy issues. He would bring increased accountability to the office, and continue to fight wasteful government spending.

One responsibility of the Lt. Governor is to serve as an ex officio member of the University of California Regents and as a trustee at the California State University system. According to McClintock this is one area that needs more accountability and more sunshine. "For many years, I have warned about the rapid growth in the cost of those two University systems - far, far in excess of inflation or enrollment growth. And the recent revelations of millions of dollars of perks and bonuses paid to already highly paid university officials - nearly a billion dollars a year at the University of California according to the San Francisco Chronicle - is painting a very clear picture of corrupt management and incompetent oversight," he said. "The leadership of our universities themselves must avoid becoming the focal point of wasteful spending," the senator said.

McClintock said he was "concerned that recent published accounts of outrageous abuses don't tell the full story." "The State Auditor should not be the only watchdog in California," McClintock said. "That is a responsibility of the Regents and Trustees." We agree. McClintock suggested that a Web site offering students, parents and university workers the ability to send an anonymous email might be the mechanism that could bring greater scrutiny to the UC and CSU systems. "Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that sunlight is the best of disinfectants," McClintock said. "The purpose of a Web site with anonymous email is to make it a little easier for sunlight to shine into the use of public resources at the University of California and the California State University."

McClintock was making plans to unveil his own Web site or ask the Bureau of State Audits to enhance its' Web site. has offered to make this a joint project with the senator. "I'm very grateful to to act as a reception point for these stories and to host a continuing report of these abuses on its Web site." "If students, parents and rank and file employees and faculty had a mechanism to anonymously and efficiently tell their stories, I believe we would get a comprehensive picture of what's going on behind the veil of secrecy in which the university operates. Such information would then provide some guidance for both the Legislature and the press to investigate and confirm or deny these stories," McClintock said.

The university systems have whistleblower policies and procedures in place that address rank and file employees, but there is not a clear mechanism for people to report wasteful spending by the presidents, chancellors and even the regents and trustees, except through the state's auditor. And, earlier this year, newspapers reported that whistleblowers were not receiving protection for revealing fraudulent activities or wasteful spending. McClintock said it might help if it were done anonymously.

The Los Angeles Times reported on July 21, 2006 that the UC Board of Regents approved the creation and hiring of three high-ranking jobs to supervise finances in an effort to tighten controls over executive benefits and restore public confidence. Two of the new jobs will be executive vice president positions, one for business operations and one as chief financial officer. The third will be a vice president who will act as chief compliance and audit officer, reporting directly to the regents. Salaries for the new positions were not set. "Hiring more high paid people to sit and watch inside the hen house is not the answer. That's the responsibility of the Regents and Trustees. And, people need a mechanism to report cases of abuse. Whistleblowers can file complaints by calling the Bureau of State Audits or reporting it to people inside the university systems. But what about those actually charged with guarding the hen house?"

During his 25-year public career, McClintock has been a voice of reason and frankness that is often ignored or forgotten in Sacramento. He is quite vocal about reducing the tax burden on hardworking Californians, reducing the regulations that destroy the state's economy, or reining in the bureaucracies that waste taxpayer money. The fact McClintock is now calling for increased scrutiny of higher education systems like UC and CSU isn't all that surprising. What is surprising, is that so few of his colleagues have joined him.


Students left behind: Politics-obsessed unions must not control curricula

An editorial from "The Australian"

Speaking at a conference of the History Teachers' Association of Australia in Fremantle yesterday, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop asked a vital question. "How is it", she wondered, "that we have gone from teaching Latin in Year 12 to teaching remedial English in first-year university?"

It is a vital question, and one that more and more parents, fed up with their children's inability to write a grammatically coherent sentence with correct spelling or perform basic mathematics, want answered. The reasons behind the decline in educational quality are manifold. A shift in emphasis away from traditional knowledge and skills-based learning towards the jargon-based and accountability-free ethic of outcomes-based education is largely responsible. Traditionally, federal governments of all complexions have sought to keep school retention rates up as a way to lower unemployment, dumbing down curriculums in the process. The results have not been pretty. Ms Bishop pointed to "English courses without books, history courses without dates and music courses without instruments", echoing a campaign mounted by The Australian to expose the depredations of outcomes-based education and politically correct curriculums in our schools.

The solution, according to Ms Bishop, is to take control of primary and high school curriculums away, not from the states - whose Labor governments have long since abdicated any real responsibility for what is taught in classrooms - but from the teachers' unions and other associated bodies. These groups appear to see their primary goal not as one of educating young people but of creating generations of left-wing social activists in their own image. Recall the lament of NSW English Teachers Association president Wayne Sawyer, who complained last year that teachers were not doing enough to prevent their students from growing up to vote Liberal. A national curriculum would be a big step, and would act as a circuit-breaker against such attitudes.

Ms Bishop's comments must also be seen in the context of Labor backbencher Craig Emerson's call for school to remain compulsory until Year 12 to prevent young people from being lured into a booming economy before their time. While well-intentioned, keeping all young people in school until they are almost 19 is impractical and unfair - both to those who wish to leave early and those who wish to stay. The Australian economy is straining under the demands of the Chinese-led resources boom. In an era when the economy is hurting for lack of workers, far better to follow a European approach where students are able to pursue technical degrees in their teenage years. In Germany, it is a matter of pride to have graduated from a technical college; that same ethic needs to be promoted here.

Properly educating children is one of the most important things a nation can do to ensure its continued survival and success. The crisis in education is thus an existential one for Australia, and one that requires national solutions. The excesses of teachers' unions must be curbed, by the federal government if need be, to allow rank-and-file teachers to do their jobs properly.



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, October 08, 2006

Britain bows to reality

Crackdown on High School cheating

Sweeping cuts to GCSE coursework were announced yesterday in response to widespread fears that it has allowed students to copy from the internet or to get their teachers and parents to complete projects for them. Coursework completed by pupils at home will be scrapped in English literature, foreign languages, history, geography, classical subjects, religious studies, social sciences, business studies and economics for courses starting in 2009. Instead, the examinations watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), said that there would be more external exams and controlled assessments carried out in the classroom under strict supervision and marked by teachers. Coursework will continue in art, music, design and technology, PE and home economics. No final decision about English language and information technology has yet been made.

The details followed an announcement last week by Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, that coursework would be cut from GCSE maths from next September. The announcement was accompanied by new research findings showing that the majority of teachers were not overwhelmingly worried about the use of the internet for coursework. Four in five (82 per cent) of the 100 subject heads surveyed for the QCA disagreed that their students made too much use of the internet for their GCSE coursework. English and music teachers were most likely to view coursework positively; religious studies teachers were the most sceptical about its value.

A far bigger problem with coursework, as far as the teachers were concerned, centred on the burden or marking coursework and the extra work it generated for students who have to meet project deadlines for a large number of different subjects all at the same time. While most teachers agreed they would like to retain an element of coursework, there was disagreement over how much and how it should be assessed.

In response, the QCA recommended that new ways be found to make written examinations more "challenging and fresh" and to improve the assessment of coursework. The recommendations follow a review of coursework ordered by Ruth Kelly, the former Education Secretary - instigated because a two-year review by the examinations watchdog had found evidence of widespread cheating. Revelations about pupils copying or buying coursework from the internet or getting someone else to do the work for them cast doubt on continually rising grades and raised questions about the credibility of vocational qualifications.

Mr Johnson accepted yesterday that more needed to be done to assure parents that coursework assessed pupils' work in a fair and robust way. "The changes will toughen up the way in which coursework is assessed so that the hard work of the vast majority of students is not undermined by questions of validity," he said. However, he added that coursework still had a place in the modern classroom. Done properly it helped young people to develop research and presentation skills and demonstrate a practical knowledge of a subject. "It is important that coursework retains its place within teaching and learning but we must ensure it remains a reliable and effectiveform of assessment," he said.

Ken Boston, the chief executive of the QCA, insisted that the current system of GCSE exams and coursework was robust. "QCA has provided both teachers and parents with further information on the help that they can provide and how best to authenticate a candidate's coursework." GCSEs replaced GCE O level and CSE exams in 1988. The element of coursework was introduced with GCSEs to test "skills not easily tested in timed, written examinations" and because the three-hour times written examination was seen as narrow and off-putting to many candidates


The Education Grind: Why is high school the new college?

When school officials in the ritzy suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y., announced last week a proposal to drop Advanced Placement courses from the high-school curriculum, parents throughout the land breathed a sigh of relief. At last, they must have thought, the rat race is coming to an end.

"Rat race," of course, is a phrase that used to describe the daily grind of corporate lawyers and investment bankers. It is now shorthand for the pressure-filled lives of their children--and the children of all professionals, from Beacon Hill to Beverly Hills. Parents, teachers and students have been observing this frenzy of activity for some time and have now joined their voices in a chorus of complaint: students take too many classes; they participate in too many extra-curricular activities; they suffer nervous breakdowns from the stress and back problems from the overloaded schoolbags.

The experts are worried too. The past few months have brought us books like "Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child" "The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids" and "The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids."

With such tomes piled high on their nightstands, it's no surprise that Scarsdale's grown-ups are wondering whether to let AP courses go. These courses were once intended to earn high-school students college credit by offering "advanced" (e.g., college-level) instruction in everything from calculus to German literature. Now they are mostly used as a learning credential: An AP course on a resume means that a student actually knows something in a particular subject area.

The "rat race" complaint is that AP courses put a strain on students--too many facts to memorize, too much reading. And teachers complain, too. They say that AP courses force them to "teach to the test." In this case, though, the test is a pretty good one. Conceived in the early 1950s by educators from three prep schools (Andover, Exeter, Lawrenceville) and three universities (Harvard, Princeton, Yale), the AP curricula demands that students acquire real knowledge. Unlike the SAT's, which measure mental aptitude, the AP tests ask students hard questions about content. Even the essay questions on the history exam require students to place quotations and documents in their correct context and to identify events, dates, historical figures and ideas.

This is exactly the sort of knowledge that is often said to be in short supply among college graduates these days, and not without reason. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, conducting a survey of college students over the course of the past year, has just issued a report on college learning. One major conclusion: Four years in college classrooms don't seem to make much of a difference. When students were asked a series of questions--like what is the source of the sentence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,"--seniors scored an average of 53.2 and freshmen earned a 51.7. But it's worse than that. The report concludes that "at many schools"--in U.S. history, foreign affairs and the economy--"seniors know less than freshmen."

Why? Because college increasingly offers a crazed social experience at the expense of rigorous study. But high school does better: It is often the last time that students are forced to learn something. Parents make their kids show up at school. More than a few teachers convey basic skills and knowledge. After-school life centers on burnishing a college application, not binge drinking. AP courses, where they exist, exploit these structured years for maximum learning.

Critics will say that "rat race" kids no longer play soccer for the joy of the game or master the violin for the beauty of the music or study history for the love of learning. Maybe. But who cares? At least something worthwhile is going on. These kids have four years of college ahead of them during which they may take as few classes as they like in subjects that require no difficult exams. They can spend their time outside the classroom drinking and "dating." They can opt out of the rat race, and they do. And there is no penalty. College-admissions officers go over high-school lives with a fine-tooth comb--Why didn't she play a sport junior year? Why didn't he continue in Spanish? But most employers don't scrutinize a college courseload or a college GPA. The degree is all that matters. So before the good people of Scarsdale move to end the rat race, they should reflect on its value. High school is the new college. Once those college-admissions letters arrive, their kids will stop learning and start living on easy street.


Australia's most Leftist education system produces kids who cannot do basic math

Incoming national mathematics standards expect 10-year-olds to be able to add and subtract numbers in their thousands and deal with fractions in their hundredths. But in Western Australia, the curriculum demands much less, requiring students only to recognise simple fractions such as halves and quarters. A comparison of the West Australian maths course with the national standards reveals a huge variation in the knowledge expected of students, reinforcing the call yesterday by federal Education Minister Julie Bishop for a national curriculum.

The mathematical abilities required of students in Western Australia is well below national standards, with the state slipping even further behind in the past two years. Under the outcomes-based education system in Western Australia, students are graded at eight levels of achievement, which span all years of school. Two years ago, students were expected to have reached level four by the end of Year 5, which in maths would mean being able to rewrite 0.35 as 35/100 and knowing that 3/4 is less than 7/8. But revised targets mean today's Year 5 students are expected to reach between levels two and three. Students at level two can divide into equal thirds, recognise and write 1/3, 1/5 and 1/7 but cannot consistently write 2/3.

The national standards expected are still more demanding, requiring the 10-year-olds to add one-quarter to one-half and describe 2.12 as two and twelve hundredths. Ms Bishop said the differing expectations clearly demonstrated the inconsistency and falling standards that had prompted her call for a national curriculum. "It's even more reason for us to focus on raising standards and making curriculum accountable," she said.

Ms Bishop said the states and territories had come a long way towards a national curriculum with an agreement in August on National Statements of Learning that set out the core and essential elements in five subjects. The statements of learning for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 were approved by all state and territory education ministers and must be incorporated into their individual curriculums by 2008 as a condition of federal funding. In addition, a common national literacy and numeracy test will be introduced from 2008, replacing the individual tests the states and territories now set



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