Saturday, October 27, 2007


Affirmative action causes less able blacks to pass through the educational system at all levels. So when they finally get to be teachers, it is reasonable to expect that they will be less able as teachers. And that is exactly what students report. They evaluate black faculty less favourably. PREJUDICE! Or so the authors below seem to think. They suggest that the evaluations of black faculty by students be "adjusted" upwards. Inconvenient truths must be suppressed! This is Soviet Russia, you know. Abstract follows:

Leveling the Playing Field: Should Student Evaluation Scores be Adjusted?

By Michael A. McPherson & R. Todd Jewell

Objectives. Colleges and universities routinely use evaluation scores to assess the quality of an instructor's teaching for purposes of promotion and tenure and for merit-raise allocations. This article attempts to identify the determinants of these scores, and to suggest ways that departments' numerical rankings of instructors might be adjusted.

Method. This article applies a feasible generalized least squares model to a panel of data from master's-level classes.

Results. We find that instructors can "buy" better evaluation scores by inflating students' grade expectations. Also, the teaching experience of instructors has an impact on evaluation scores, but this effect is largely seen as an increase after tenure is granted. In addition, we find evidence of a bias against nonwhite faculty.

Conclusion. Our results suggest that an adjustment to the usual departmental rankings may be in order.

Social Science Quarterly. Volume 88 Issue 3 Page 868-881, September 2007

Age differences in grade-school classes

Some reflections by Prof. Brignell below on the latest British panic. In any given class some kids will be younger than others. How awful!

Long ago in the dim dawn of pre-history, your bending author experienced the first day at grammar school. At the end of the day he was taken aside by the form master, who explained the special problems he would experience as the youngest boy in the class, born (like Number Watch) on July 13th. That advice came from the accumulated wisdom that can only accrue from a century of existence as an institute of learning. That school was wantonly destroyed for ideological reasons and, when the demolition ball crashed through the elegant gothic arches, not only the fabric was destroyed but also that priceless store of wisdom. Now instead of wisdom we have what Kingsley Amis called "pseudo-research into non-problems" as illustrated by this heading in The Telegraph:

Pupils born in summer more likely to struggle

How things have changed! Now schools no longer run themselves, but are subject to endless interference and targetry by Government ministers and underemployed bureaucrats. Pupils are repeatedly tested into a state of coma. Expensive research is commissioned to replace what was once common knowledge. Stupid interventions and "urgent action" are thought up at the drop of a hat. "Equity" and "efficiency" are the watchwords, while teachers and parents are deemed too stupid to be able to make the allowances that they once made without instruction from above.

Furthermore, changes are suggested that are self-evidently nonsense. However many children are "held back" there is always going to be one who is the youngest in the class, while those held back now become the eldest, so there is always a difference of one year between them. Even common sense is no longer common.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Good teachers make a big difference

But why would any capable person want to go into teaching these days? There are a lot more attractive things for an able person to do than stand up in front of an undisciplined rabble every day. As more money has been spent on education, discipline has eroded -- thus neutralizing any advantage the better funding might have given. Money cannot replace discipline

THE British government, says Sir Michael Barber, once an adviser to the former prime minister, Tony Blair, has changed pretty much every aspect of education policy in England and Wales, often more than once. "The funding of schools, the governance of schools, curriculum standards, assessment and testing, the role of local government, the role of national government, the range and nature of national agencies, schools admissions"-you name it, it's been changed and sometimes changed back. The only thing that hasn't changed has been the outcome. According to the National Foundation for Education Research, there had been (until recently) no measurable improvement in the standards of literacy and numeracy in primary schools for 50 years.

England and Wales are not alone. Australia has almost tripled education spending per student since 1970. No improvement. American spending has almost doubled since 1980 and class sizes are the lowest ever. Again, nothing. No matter what you do, it seems, standards refuse to budge (see chart). To misquote Woody Allen, those who can't do, teach; those who can't teach, run the schools.

Why bother, you might wonder. Nothing seems to matter. Yet something must. There are big variations in educational standards between countries. These have been measured and re-measured by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which has established, first, that the best performing countries do much better than the worst and, second, that the same countries head such league tables again and again: Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, South Korea.

Those findings raise what ought to be a fruitful question: what do the successful lot have in common? Yet the answer to that has proved surprisingly elusive. Not more money. Singapore spends less per student than most. Nor more study time. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries.

Now, an organisation from outside the teaching fold-McKinsey, a consultancy that advises companies and governments-has boldly gone where educationalists have mostly never gone: into policy recommendations based on the PISA findings. Schools, it says, need to do three things: get the best teachers; get the best out of teachers; and step in when pupils start to lag behind. That may not sound exactly "first-of-its-kind" (which is how Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's head of education research, describes McKinsey's approach): schools surely do all this already? Actually, they don't. If these ideas were really taken seriously, they would change education radically.

Begin with hiring the best. There is no question that, as one South Korean official put it, "the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." Studies in Tennessee and Dallas have shown that, if you take pupils of average ability and give them to teachers deemed in the top fifth of the profession, they end up in the top 10% of student performers; if you give them to teachers from the bottom fifth, they end up at the bottom. The quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else.

Yet most school systems do not go all out to get the best. The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a non-profit organisation, says America typically recruits teachers from the bottom third of college graduates. Washington, DC recently hired as chancellor for its public schools an alumna of an organisation called Teach for America, which seeks out top graduates and hires them to teach for two years. Both her appointment and the organisation caused a storm.

A bias against the brightest happens partly because of lack of money (governments fear they cannot afford them), and partly because other aims get in the way. Almost every rich country has sought to reduce class size lately. Yet all other things being equal, smaller classes mean more teachers for the same pot of money, producing lower salaries and lower professional status. That may explain the paradox that, after primary school, there seems little or no relationship between class size and educational achievement.

McKinsey argues that the best performing education systems nevertheless manage to attract the best. In Finland all new teachers must have a master's degree. South Korea recruits primary-school teachers from the top 5% of graduates, Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30%.

They do this in a surprising way. You might think that schools should offer as much money as possible, seek to attract a large pool of applicants into teacher training and then pick the best. Not so, says McKinsey. If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries-Germany, Spain and Switzerland-would presumably be among the best. They aren't. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries.

Nor do they try to encourage a big pool of trainees and select the most successful. Almost the opposite. Singapore screens candidates with a fine mesh before teacher training and accepts only the number for which there are places. Once in, candidates are employed by the education ministry and more or less guaranteed a job. Finland also limits the supply of teacher-training places to demand. In both countries, teaching is a high-status profession (because it is fiercely competitive) and there are generous funds for each trainee teacher (because there are few of them).

South Korea shows how the two systems produce different results. Its primary-school teachers have to pass a four-year undergraduate degree from one of only a dozen universities. Getting in requires top grades; places are rationed to match vacancies. In contrast, secondary-school teachers can get a diploma from any one of 350 colleges, with laxer selection criteria. This has produced an enormous glut of newly qualified secondary-school teachers-11 for each job at last count. As a result, secondary-school teaching is the lower status job in South Korea; everyone wants to be a primary-school teacher. The lesson seems to be that teacher training needs to be hard to get into, not easy.

Having got good people, there is a temptation to shove them into classrooms and let them get on with it. For understandable reasons, teachers rarely get much training in their own classrooms (in contrast, doctors do a lot of training in hospital wards). But successful countries can still do much to overcome the difficulty.

Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others' classrooms and plan lessons together. In Finland, they get an afternoon off a week for this. In Boston, which has one of America's most improved public-school systems, schedules are arranged so that those who teach the same subject have free classes together for common planning. This helps spread good ideas around. As one educator remarked, "when a brilliant American teacher retires, almost all of the lesson plans and practices that she has developed also retire. When a Japanese teacher retires, she leaves a legacy."

Lastly, the most successful countries are distinctive not just in whom they employ so things go right but in what they do when things go wrong, as they always do. For the past few years, almost all countries have begun to focus more attention on testing, the commonest way to check if standards are falling. McKinsey's research is neutral on the usefulness of this, pointing out that while Boston tests every student every year, Finland has largely dispensed with national examinations. Similarly, schools in New Zealand and England and Wales are tested every three or four years and the results published, whereas top-of-the-class Finland has no formal review and keeps the results of informal audits confidential.

But there is a pattern in what countries do once pupils and schools start to fail. The top performers intervene early and often. Finland has more special-education teachers devoted to laggards than anyone else-as many as one teacher in seven in some schools. In any given year, a third of pupils get one-on-one remedial lessons. Singapore provides extra classes for the bottom 20% of students and teachers are expected to stay behind-often for hours-after school to help students.

None of this is rocket science. Yet it goes against some of the unspoken assumptions of education policy. Scratch a teacher or an administrator (or a parent), and you often hear that it is impossible to get the best teachers without paying big salaries; that teachers in, say, Singapore have high status because of Confucian values; or that Asian pupils are well behaved and attentive for cultural reasons. McKinsey's conclusions seem more optimistic: getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind.


The next generation might just be the biggest pile of idiots in U.S. history

The article below is by Mark Morford, who is Leftist and generally rather excitable, but I think he is not far wrong this time. The only thing that I think he overlooks is that society has always depended for its progress and for its management on a small and generally gifted elite and that elite undoubtedly still exists and is mostly being privately educated to a reasonable standard. So the general dumbing down may not be all that influential on anything other than the life-satisfaction of the less-gifted students who have been deprived of much culture and understanding of the world about them

I have this ongoing discussion with a longtime reader who also just so happens to be a longtime Oakland high school teacher, a wonderful guy who's seen generations of teens come and generations go and who has a delightful poetic sensibility and quirky outlook on his life and his family and his beloved teaching career. And he often writes to me in response to something I might've written about the youth of today, anything where I comment on the various nefarious factors shaping their minds and their perspectives and whether or not, say, EMFs and junk food and cell phones are melting their brains and what can be done and just how bad it might all be. His response: It is not bad at all. It's absolutely horrifying.

My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or the fact that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are, absolutely and without reservation, short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.

Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don't spend enough time outdoors and don't get any real exercise and therefore can't, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new. No, my friend takes it all a full step - or rather, leap - further. It is not merely a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that. We are, as far as urban public education is concerned, essentially at rock bottom. We are now at a point where we are essentially churning out ignorant teens who are becoming ignorant adults and society as a whole will pay dearly, very soon, and if you think the hordes of easily terrified, mindless fundamentalist evangelical Christian lemmings have been bad for the soul of this country, just wait.

It's gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking - and nearly hopeless - dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad.

Now, you may think he's merely a curmudgeon, a tired old teacher who stopped caring long ago. Not true. Teaching is his life. He says he loves his students, loves education and learning and watching young minds awaken. Problem is, he is seeing much less of it. It's a bit like the melting of the polar ice caps. Sure, there's been alarmist data about it for years, but until you see it for yourself, the deep visceral dread doesn't really hit home.

He cites studies, reports, hard data, from the appalling effects of television on child brain development (i.e.; any TV exposure before 6 years old and your kid's basic cognitive wiring and spatial perceptions are pretty much scrambled for life), to the fact that, because of all the insidious mandatory testing teachers are now forced to incorporate into the curriculum, of the 182 school days in a year, there are 110 when such testing is going on somewhere at Oakland High. As one of his colleagues put it, "It's like weighing a calf twice a day, but never feeding it."

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens' decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words "agriculture," or even "democracy." Not a single student could do it.

It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he's taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph. Recently, after giving an assignment that required drawing lines, he realized that not a single student actually knew how to use a ruler.

It is, in short, nothing less than a tidal wave of dumb, with once-passionate, increasingly exasperated teachers like my friend nearly powerless to stop it. The worst part: It's not the kids' fault. They're merely the victims of a horribly failed educational system.

Then our discussion often turns to the meat of it, the bigger picture, the ugly and unavoidable truism about the lack of need among the government and the power elite in this nation to create a truly effective educational system, one that actually generates intelligent, thoughtful, articulate citizens. Hell, why should they? After all, the dumber the populace, the easier it is to rule and control and launch unwinnable wars and pass laws telling them that sex is bad and TV is good and God knows all, so just pipe down and eat your Taco Bell Double-Supremo Burrito and be glad we don't arrest you for posting dirty pictures on your cute little blog.

This is about when I try to offer counterevidence, a bit of optimism. For one thing, I've argued generational relativity in this space before, suggesting maybe kids are no scarier or dumber or more dangerous than they've ever been, and that maybe some of the problem is merely the same old awkward generation gap, with every current generation absolutely convinced the subsequent one is terrifically stupid and malicious and will be the end of society as a whole. Just the way it always seems.

I also point out how, despite all the evidence of total public-education meltdown, I keep being surprised, keep hearing from/about teens and youth movements and actions that impress the hell out of me. Damn kids made the Internet what it is today, fer chrissakes. Revolutionized media. Broke all the rules. Still are.

Hell, some of the best designers, writers, artists, poets, chefs, and so on that I meet are in their early to mid-20s. And the nation's top universities are still managing, despite a factory-churning mentality, to crank out young minds of astonishing ability and acumen. How did these kids do it? How did they escape the horrible public school system? How did they avoid the great dumbing down of America? Did they never see a TV show until they hit puberty? Were they all born and raised elsewhere, in India and Asia and Russia? Did they all go to Waldorf or Montessori and eat whole-grain breads and play with firecrackers and take long walks in wild nature? Are these kids flukes? Exceptions? Just lucky?

My friend would say, well, yes, that's precisely what most of them are. Lucky, wealthy, foreign-born, private-schooled ... and increasingly rare. Most affluent parents in America - and many more who aren't - now put their kids in private schools from day one, and the smart ones give their kids no TV and minimal junk food and no video games. (Of course, this in no way guarantees a smart, attuned kid, but compared to the odds of success in the public school system, it sure seems to help). This covers about, what, 3 percent of the populace?

As for the rest, well, the dystopian evidence seems overwhelming indeed, to the point where it might be no stretch at all to say the biggest threat facing America is perhaps not global warming, not perpetual warmongering, not garbage food or low-level radiation or way too much Lindsay Lohan, but a populace far too ignorant to know how to properly manage any of it, much less change it all for the better. What, too fatalistic? Don't worry. Soon enough, no one will know what the word even means


Thursday, October 25, 2007

S. Carolina: Another insane school

Freaked by butter-knife possession but happy to make murderous gunmen feel safe by declaring the school a "gun-free zone"

A Berkeley County student is kicked out of school for bringing a butter knife to campus. "I know I made a really stupid decision but I don't think I should be expelled for it," Amber Dauge said. Amber says that stupid decision was taking a butter knife to school. She ran out of the house to meet the bus while making a sandwich, when she realized she had the knife. She put it in her bookbag, then she put it in her locker at Goose Creek High school. She forgot it was there until a few weeks later when the knife fell out of her overstuffed locker.

"A kid behind me yelled out a comment that I was going to stab someone with the knife and everyone started laughing and the teacher saw it," Amber told us. The teacher told the principal. Amber was suspended and recommended for expulsion. She attended an expulsion hearing last Thursday and it was made official.

"We got the paperwork for the expulsion in the mail on Friday. They had sent the paperwork out before they had even done the hearing saying she was expelled," Amber's mother, Kristi Heinz said. The Berkeley County school district has a zero tolerance policy. But is it too harsh? "I don't think zero tolerance is the right thing. I really don't. Every situation has its own circumstances," said Steven Heinz, Amber's father.

Amber realizes she could have made a better choice, like leaving the knife on the porch at home or actually giving it to a teacher. "I knew I was gonna get in trouble but I didn't think I was was gonna get expelled," Amber said. Amber can appeal the school board's decision. Her parents will write a letter to the superintendent and will attend the next school board meeting on Tuesday.


Maryland: Colleges report dismal results

Wishy-washy approach to High School standards bears the inevitable fruit: Kids who are rarely ready for further study

Baltimore school board meetings have been ending on a somber note lately, as schools chief Andres Alonso is capping the evenings with presentations of student data that thus far have been dismal. Last night was no exception, as the new chief executive officer turned to the subject of city students' college enrollment and graduation rates.

According to the data presented at the meeting, only 14 percent of students who graduated from Baltimore's public high schools in 2001 had earned a college degree five years later. And among students who graduated from high school in the spring of 2006, just 44 percent enrolled in a two- or four-year college that fall, compared with a national college enrollment rate of 66 percent.

Alonso was quick to acknowledge the information's shortcomings: The data were gathered by the National Student Clearinghouse, which collects student enrollment and graduation information from the majority of the nation's colleges and universities. But Morgan State University did not provide statistics to the clearinghouse, nor did Allegany College or Sojourner-Douglass College. Still, even if those schools had been included, Alonso said the data show that the city is clearly not doing its job to prepare students for college. "If there are still people out there who argue that the children should be graduated, this is what happens," said Alonso in an interview before the meeting. He added that college graduation rates for students from other urban school systems are comparably low.

The report adds fuel to the debate on the state's High School Assessments, which would require students starting in the Class of 2009 to pass exams in English, Algebra 1, biology and government to graduate. Faced with the prospect of denying diplomas to thousands of students, many in Baltimore, state officials are weighing whether to back down. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has proposed allowing students who fail the tests to instead complete a senior project.

But Grasmick, too, said in an interview that the city's college enrollment and graduation rate data show why schools must still prepare their students for the tests. "If we don't create a meaningful and accountable foundation for these students, we're never going to be able to build on that to make students work-ready and college-ready," she said. Grasmick pointed to the city's low pass rate on the Algebra 1 test: Only 35.6 percent of students in the Class of 2009 have passed so far. To do well on the SAT college entrance exam, she said, students must have mastery not only of Algebra 1, but also Algebra 2.

Like Grasmick, Alonso has backed the senior project option, but he says he also wants to make sure that students are earning a diploma that means something. He supports keeping students in school for as long as they want up to age 21 to get a diploma with value. At the same time, he must find a way to curb the high school dropout rate. In the Class of 2009, about 6,300 students started out as ninth-graders two years ago. Today, the class has about 4,500 students, meaning 1,800 have dropped out or moved.

Since taking the helm of the city school system in July, Alonso has been fixated on measuring the baseline from which he is starting. He says it is important for him, and the public, to understand the magnitude of the task at hand to reform education in Baltimore. Skeptics question whether he might be trying to paint an overly negative picture now so he can take credit for improvements later.

The statistics presented last night called into question even the value of diplomas from the city's prestigious citywide magnet schools: Polytechnic Institute, City College, Western High, Dunbar High and School for the Arts. Only 33 percent of students from those schools' Class of 2001 who enrolled in college that fall had earned a bachelor's or associate's degree five years later, the data show. At the city's career and technology high schools - Carver, Mergenthaler and Edmondson - 6 percent of students in the Class of 2001 had a degree within five years. At the city's neighborhood high schools, the figure was just 4 percent.....


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Schoolyards are just full of 'Charlie Browns'

The problem described below is an old one and the Leftist response is to eradicate as far as possible all distinctions between the achievements of different children. This is however to found a policy on a lie. That comes easily to Leftists but a healthier response is clearly needed. I thought therefore that I might mention that I am rather clumsy physically and was therefore spectacularly bad at all school sporting activities in my youth. As a consequence I was rather socially isolated (though not unhappy) at school. But "nerds" often do well in later life (look at Bill Gates) and I have certainly done so. The clear strategy for genuinely kind people therefore is not to ignore differences in ability but to stress to all that sometimes in the long run "the last shall be first" (Mark 10:31). Just the thought that the jock might one day be asking the nerd for a job should have considerable effect

Charlie Brown, the sad and loveable loser, is a real character in many school playgrounds, psychologists say. In the American comic strip Peanuts, sensitive Charlie is never able to kick a football, fly a kite or win at baseball. He is of often ridiculed by his classmates, made the butt of jokes and called "blockhead". Now a Canadian study has found that Charlie Brown's problems are true to life. Children appear to place a great deal of value on athletic ability, and those with a reputation for lacking such skills often experience sadness, isolation and social rejection.

Dr Janice Causgrove Dunn, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said: "For both boys and girls, we found that popular children reported less loneliness and received higher athletic ability ratings from their peers than rejected children. "Conversely, the kids who reported higher levels of loneliness tended to receive lower athletic ability ratings and lower social acceptance ratings from their peers."

The findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Sport Behaviour. Previous research has shown that loneliness in childhood and adolescence is often associated with psychosocial and emotional problems. Prolonged loneliness has the potential to undermine seriously an individual's psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.


Hypocrite or realist?

Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has taken full control over his city's long suffering public schools. But he sends his own twin girls to a private school. Does that make him a hypocrite? A bad mayor? Or, perhaps, just a good father?

Fenty is not alone. Many big city mayors educate their kids privately. A far greater percentage of public school teachers -- especially in urban areas -- send their own kids to private schools than does the general public. And a 2003 survey of members of Congress found that 41 percent of U.S. representatives and 46 percent of U.S. senators now send or have sent at least one of their children to a private school.

Granted, there is hypocrisy at work. Many of these folks stump for public schooling, opposing systems of private school choice. And yet, they choose to opt out of the system they allegedly shore up . . . from competition. The kind they themselves rely upon.

Years ago, during a campaign, Fenty pledged to send his kids to public schools. So, if voters want to hold that against him, they have every right to do so. My point is only that had Fenty -- or any politician or educator -- made the opposite decision, wouldn't that be even worse? Mayor Fenty's choice boils down to this: Should he put the public schools ahead of his own children? Or should he put his children ahead of the public schools? Which would you put first?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brits fleeing disastrous government schools

If they are lucky enough to be able to afford to do so. The cost is a considerable burden for many families but keeping their children safe and in an environment where they can learn is a huge priority. Would YOU want your kid to go to a school where some of the black kids are armed with machine pistols?

The middle-class exodus from state schools in London is speeding up, with nearly half of children in some parts of the capital now privately educated. An analysis of government figures suggested a widening of the social class divide in education since the turn of the century. Some of the highest levels of child poverty, as measured by the proportion of children eligible for free school meals (FSM), were found in areas with the greatest proportion of children in independent schools. The figures followed concern from Christine Gilbert, the Chief Inspector of Schools, who said that the school system was dividing children along social and economic lines.

The finding was most striking in [largely black] inner-London boroughs. In Kensington and Chelsea, 45.3 per cent of children are educated in independent schools, yet the borough has the sixth-highest rate in the country for FSM [poor] children, at 37.7 per cent. [What a coincidence!] The national average for FSM is 12 per cent.

In Hammersmith & Fulham, which has the third-highest rate of FSM children in the country at 42.2 per cent, a quarter of children are independently educated. In Westminster, 26.4 per cent go to independent schools, and yet the borough has the eighth-highest rate in the country for FSM children, at 35.8 per cent. Greg Hands, the Conservative MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, obtained the figures from the House of Commons, amid concern about the flight of middle-class families from state schools in his borough. In 2000 22.6 per cent of children in the borough were educated independently. Now the figure is 25.6 per cent. Other inner-London boroughs have seen similar shifts. In Wandsworth, the proportion in independent schools has risen from 15.1 to 18.7 per cent.

These figures come against a nation-wide long-term demographic decline in the number of young people and steady increases in independent school fees to an average of about 11,000 pounds a year.

Mr Hands said: "In Hammersmith & Fulham, we have one of the fastest-rising rates of private school attendance in the country and one of the highest rates of surplus places in [state] secondary schools. "Part of that can be explained by changing demographics in that we now have more parents who can afford to go private. But there is more to it than that. Middle-class parents concerned about standards are opting out of the state system and it's my objective to get them to opt back in. Our local state schools are making themselves better, but the missing element in their bid for improvement is the professional classes."

Sam Friedman, head of the education unit at the Policy Exchange think-tank, said the social divide in education was particularly acute in London [which is now 50% black]. The phenomenon could be attributed in part to its population, which is extremely socially mixed. "In more rural areas, populations tend to segregate naturally. In London, there are pockets of advantage and disadvantage right next to each other and one way they segregate themselves is through school choice."



On Monday night, Columbia University's pro-Israel student group played host to the latest installment in a lecture series aimed, at least partially, at rebutting Nadia Abu El-Haj, whose work has been critical of the traditional narratives of Israeli archeology. Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology at Barnard since 2002, first gained notice with her 2001 book "Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society," in which she argued that Israeli archaeologists use their research to validate a national origin myth. The book was praised in some quarters - it won the top award from the Middle East Studies Association - but was slammed by others as poor scholarship motivated by ideology. Columbia is currently deliberating whether Abu El-Haj should be given tenure, and the university has received petitions from her opponents and supporters.

"If you get real live archaeologists on campus who know the material, they're naturally going to contradict her," said Alan Segal, a professor in Barnard's religion department who delivered the first lecture in the series. The bottom line, Segal said, is that Abu El-Haj "hates Israelis." Abu El-Haj could not be reached for comment.

On the academic level, the debate about Abu El-Haj has drawn out a conflict between those scholars who believe archaeology has the potential for objectivity, and others - particularly younger scholars in disciplines such as anthropology - who see archaeological practice as inextricably tied to ideology.

On Monday night, the featured speaker was William Dever, a retired professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Arizona who is a critic of Abu El-Haj. Although he never referred explicitly to Abu El-Haj in his lecture, Dever challenged notions advanced by some academics about archaeology's inherent biases. "Archaeology has never been edited," he said. "When we dig these things up, they are pristine."

Judith Jacobson, a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, made the opening remarks at Dever's lecture. She said that the lecture series, titled "Underground: What Archaeology Tells Us about Ancient Israel," was conceived partly to remind the community that good Israel archaeology exists in abundance. Asked if she thought the series served a political purpose, Jacobson answered carefully. "Only to inform the community," she said. "It's all we can do."


Monday, October 22, 2007

One school fits all

Do you have the right to take my earnings by force and spend them on football gear, school buses or teaching Greek to your kid? Maybe I needed tires for the car, removal of an infected tooth or food. Can you decide that for me? What gives you the right? Are people unique? Can one system fit them all? Would you like to have a simplified life where government agents design THE car that we all get to drive, and THE clothes that we all get to wear, and THE store where we buy the selection of foods government planners put there. I assure you it would be a drab world bereft of choices, absent innovation and backward in the extreme.

Why, when it comes to something as important as education, do we abandon choice, control, innovation, variety and the individual prioritization that comes from paying as you go for what you want?

I wouldn't care if the school system down the road was the best or the worst possible. As long as I didn't have to use it. As long as I didn't have to pay for it. There would be plenty of choices, just as there are for electronics, food, clothing and trombones. What if the government made two models of trombone, tenor and bass. What more could you ask for? Got both bases covered. Quality - Bah! Tone - Bah! This model is all you NEED. You want better sound, learn to play better.

So we have a kid who should be working on a ranch, learning animal husbandry, veterinary science, living and working in the outdoors. But our ONE SYSTEM puts him in a classroom doped up on Ritalin so he won't disrupt the teacher who is boring him to distraction. Another is writing symphonies in her head while a small fraction of her brain multi-tasks to keep up with the snail's-pace the rest of the room is on. She should be at music academy, but our single-model school system isn't set up that way.

One of my daughters escaped in the 10th grade with an academic scholarship to a challenging private school to the wealthy. She was atrophying in public school, while getting A's. The buildings were old and cheap, but the teachers earned university-level pay and had the freedom to make their subjects come alive.

Another daughter was being age-channeled along, testing at the 4.5-grade-level as she entered the 8th grade. A had many hours in helping her with her work, talking with teachers, resource specialists, psychologists. She spent 8th grade in a Waldorf school. She studied and homeworked until midnight-to-3:00am. She worked her butt off for that teacher and the class - to exit 8th grade AT GRADE LEVEL.

My middle girl left in her high-school Jr year. They weren't reaching her or teaching her. She got her GED. Graduated from North American Firefighter's academy. Worked there a bit. Started putting herself through a University Nursing program, getting A's in the weeder courses where 40 enter and a dozen survive.

So the one-size-fits-all school system only failed to serve 3 out of 3 for me. Do you wonder why I resent paying for it? I resent far more the educational opportunities that IT DISPLACES. There is next to nothing that should be taught at an age-specific level. I have just as much right to learn calculus on my dollar as my next-door neighbor's kid does. more, in fact. . and I would love to be teaching trombone to a dozen kids between 8 and 80 years old. This town would have a great trombone choir. But no, here you learn trombone in government school when you are 12 and play it for 1/2 hour a day until you are 17. Then put it away forever.

In case I didn't make it clear: I do not want to design THE ONE school system, teaching or learning environment for this community. I don't want anybody else to do that either.


Australia's education wars

Education unions and left-wing education academics cling to proven failures in education theory, despite years of evidence demonstrating the errors of their thinking. They reject, for instance, the research-based evidence showing that "whole language" dominated reading programs do not work for a large proportion of children.

The power of sensible thinking by political leaders in holding off barbarian ideologues can be seen in the influence of the former NSW premier Bob Carr, who saved NSW from the worst educational excesses suffered elsewhere, particularly in Western Australia, where a decade-long experiment in outcomes-based education has just been abandoned.

But while governments control the purse strings they have little effect on deep-rooted cultural prejudices in organisations such as the ABC and teacher unions. In the battles for hearts and minds, they are outclassed by ideological guerillas, who can only be vanquished from within. At last, however, there are encouraging signs from teachers that the civil war may have begun.

Take the English Teachers Association, which claims to speak for all English teachers. Its most honoured operative is former president Wayne Sawyer, an associate professor at the University of Western Sydney, who has helped develop the NSW English curriculum and is editor of the journal English in Australia. It was his editorial that blamed the Howard Government's 2004 re-election on the failure of English teachers to properly educate their charges in critical theory.

And in the last edition of the International Journal of Progressive Education, Sawyer tackled the discredited "whole language" theory of teaching reading in an article entitled Whole language and moral panic in Australia. He claimed "moral panic" was behind a "media campaign . to demonise whole-language methods" of teaching reading, despite the fact the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (which I served on) spent a year examining the worldwide evidence about the best way to teach children reading and came down on the side of systematic, direct instruction in phonics.

If you ever wondered how the teaching of reading could be politicised, the journal is instructive, having devoted its entire June edition to whole language, including "the multilayered dimensions of social justice activism involved in whole language teaching". The articles read like a long confession from the stubborn practitioners of a movement which has condemned so many underprivileged children to illiteracy, while professing to care about injustice.

In an article about teaching sixth graders in Grover Cleveland Middle School, New Jersey, the authors "search for ways to disrupt the pre-service [trainee] teachers' traditional notions of teaching, learning, and curriculum . We strive to help our pre-service teachers understand that their roles as teachers include a political dimension . "Too often," they complain, the teachers "fall back into the direct instruction model with which they feel comfortable."

Naughty teachers, trying to teach rather than indoctrinate their students. But Sawyer and his acolytes at the association have so provoked those they purport to represent they have sparked a grassroots protest movement of teachers across the country. In Western Australia, one group of teachers became so fed up at having to implement outcomes-based education, a favourite of the English Teachers Association, that they managed to have it overturned this year. Their lobby group PLATO, People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes, persuaded the West Australian Government to reinstate the traditional syllabus, concentrating on literacy and numeracy.

Now a group of secondary English teachers from Catholic, government and independent schools in Western Australia have formed the English Teachers Forum, the ETFWA, in direct opposition to the English Teachers Association, because they are "concerned about the misrepresentation of English teachers and their views regarding the implementation and the efficacy of the English Course of Study". In a letter to the association, the breakaway group wrote: "The ETAWA must realise that the collective voice of the majority of English teachers simply cannot be ignored any longer. It is not just a matter of numbers. It is also a matter of fairness." The English Teachers Forum has also managed to have Western Australia's year 11 and 12 curriculum reviewed by a "jury" of impartial classroom teachers, with the result the West Australian Government agreed to rewrite the courses by 2010.

In NSW, there is similar grassroots unhappiness with the English Teachers Association, judging by a letter I have received from an anonymous secondary English teacher of 30 years. "The problem in NSW English teaching is not the syllabus. It is the way the syllabus has been interpreted by the English Teachers Association of NSW and its transformation from a wonderfully principled, supportive professional association to a site of left-wing political activism and ideological posturing .. "My dismay comes from a jettisoning of our literary heritage for an obsession with critical literacy and an approach to English based on overt critical theory. "I look through my past issues of [the association's journal mETAphor] and ask myself what has happened to the aim of fostering a love of literature in our children? What has happened to the great works of literature?"

That journal is full of articles about postmodernism and such literary gems as: "Power Struggles in the Big Brother House" and "Earnestly Queer: Responding to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Earnest Through the Critical Lens of Queer Theory" by Mark Howie, the president of the English Teachers Association. It is no good for Australian students that a body promoting extremist ideology should have come to represent their English teachers. But it seems their teachers have finally had enough. Hoorah for them.


Sunday, October 21, 2007


By Jeff Jacoby

"Freedom of education, being an essential of civil and religious liberty . . . must not be interfered with under any pretext whatever," the party's national platform declared. "We are opposed to state interference with parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children as an infringement of the fundamental . . . doctrine that the largest individual liberty consistent with the rights of others insures the highest type of American citizenship and the best government."

Now which political party said that? The Libertarians? The Barry Goldwater Republicans of 1964? Some minor party on the right-wing fringe? Actually, that ringing endorsement of parental supremacy in education was adopted by the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1892, which just goes to show what was possible before the Democratic Party was taken hostage by the teachers unions. (The same platform also warned that "the tendency to centralize all power at the federal capital has become a menace," blasted barriers to free trade as "robbery of the great majority of the American people for the benefit of the few," and pledged "relentless opposition to the Republican policy of profligate expenditure.")

Today, on education as on so much else, the Democrats sing from a different hymnal. When the party's presidential candidates debated at Dartmouth College recently, they were asked about a controversial incident in Lexington, Mass., where a second-grade teacher, to the dismay of several parents, had read her young students a story celebrating same-sex marriage. Were the candidates "comfortable" with that? "Yes, absolutely," former senator John Edwards promptly replied. "I want my children . . . to be exposed to all the information . . . even in second grade . . . because I don't want to impose my view. Nobody made me God. I don't get to decide on behalf of my family or my children. . . . I don't get to impose on them what it is that I believe is right." None of the other candidates disagreed, even though most of them say they oppose same-sex marriage.

Thus in a little over 100 years, the Democratic Party -- and, for that matter, much of the Republican Party -- has been transformed from a champion of "parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children" to a party whose leaders believe that parents "don't get to impose" their views and values on what their kids are taught in school. Do American parents see anything wrong with that? Apparently not: The overwhelming majority of them dutifully enroll their children in government-operated schools, where the only views and values permitted are the ones prescribed by the state.

But controversies like the one in Lexington are reminders that Big Brother's ideas about what and how children should be taught are not always those of mom and dad.

Americans differ on same-sex marriage and evolution, on the importance of sports and the value of phonics, on the right to bear arms and the reverence due the Confederate flag. Some parents are committed secularists; others are devout believers. Some place great emphasis on math and science; others stress history and foreign languages. Americans hold disparate opinions on everything from the truth of the Bible to the meaning of the First Amendment, from the usefulness of rote memorization to the significance of music and art. With parents so often in boisterous disagreement, why should children be locked into a one-size-fits-all, government-knows-best model of education?

Nobody would want the government to run 90 percent of the nation's entertainment industry. Nobody thinks that 90 percent of all housing should be owned by the state. Nobody believes that health care would be improved if the government operated 90 percent of all hospitals, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices. Yet the government's control of 90 percent of the nation's schools leaves most Americans strangely unconcerned.

But we should be concerned. Not just because the quality of government schooling is frequently so poor or its costs so high. Not just because public schools are constantly roiled by political storms. Not just because schools backed by the power of the state are not accountable to parents and can ride roughshod over their concerns. And not just because the public-school monopoly, like virtually all monopolies, resists change, innovation, and excellence.

All of that is true, but a more fundamental truth is this: In a society founded on political and economic liberty, government schools should have no place. Free men and women do not entrust to the state the molding of their children's minds and character. As we wouldn't trust the state to feed our kids, or to clothe them, or to get them to bed on time, neither should we trust the state to teach them. What Americans in an earlier era knew in their bones, many in the 21st century need to relearn: Education is too important to be left to the government.

Hope for the innumerate from Australia

A teaching program that helps students "trust their heads" to recall basic mathematical facts has turned students failing maths into some of the best performers. The QuickSmart program, developed at the University of New England at Armidale in northern NSW, targets students failing national numeracy benchmarks who enter high school struggling with basic arithmetic and who often still count on their fingers.

John Pegg, who developed the program with Lorraine Graham, said QuickSmart was a last chance for students who needed to be proficient in basic maths before the end of primary school to develop the skills and proficiency required in high school. "These students use inefficient and error-prone approaches to learning and recalling information," he said. Professor Pegg, director of the National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia, said students likened the improvement to "trusting their heads", meaning the answer to a sum like 7x5 came immediately.

The program received funding last week worth $200,000 from the federal Government and is being used with 800 students in 60 schools in NSW and the Northern Territory, including remote indigenous communities, where the rise in test scores is more than double the improvement in the average student.

At Orara High School in Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast, about 70 students in Year 7, with about one in three having failed to meet minimal national numeracy benchmarks, were then taught using QuickSmart. Learning support teacher Lyn Alder said the school had a large proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds and about 11 per cent were indigenous. When they sat the NSW numeracy test earlier this year, the improvement in their results had almost doubled compared with the rest of the state, while the indigenous students' marks more than doubled compared with other indigenous students.

Ms Alder said about 40 per cent of the students jumped two levels in the four-level assessment system, from low to proficient or elementary to high. "It's given students the confidence to put up their hands and answer questions in class," she said. "They may not always be correct but they're prepared to have a go, and when you're dealing with students in a low socio-economic school, that's not always the norm."