Saturday, November 17, 2007

Teacher-training stupidity

Don't the educational theorists know ANYTHING about reality? They certainly don't realize that sometimes more is less. They quite reasonably want to get bright people into teaching so what do they do? They make it compulsory for aspiring teachers to undergo four years of brain-dead half-life in moronic teachers' colleges. Anybody with half a brain would NOT waste 4 years of their life that way. They would do a real degree instead. When a one year diploma was all it took to become a teacher, the applicants for teacher training were of a much higher quality. Connect the dots!

Even a one-year qualification is probably overkill in the case of someone with a good first degree or higher. I went into High School teaching with NO teacher qualifications whatever: Just a fresh Master's degree. And my students got excellent results in their exams! The story below is from Australia but I believe that the situation is similar in the USA -- with intellectual standards in American teacher-training colleges also in the basement

MEDIOCRE students are going on to become teachers because poor pay and low job status is scaring the best people away from the job. Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday admitted there was a problem in attracting the best people into teaching, as an education expert warned of dire consequences for students.

At an education conference at Melbourne University yesterday, Professor Bill Louden from the University of Western Australia said most teachers now come from the second lowest quartile in school performance results. Mr Louden said the number of high achievers going into teaching has halved over recent years. Universities must lift their intake standards for teacher training before students begin to suffer, he said.

In a debate with opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith, Ms Bishop said low tertiary entrance scores for education was deterring bright students, and said the Howard Government was committed to lifting the social standing of the profession. "Students say they are not going into teaching because of the inflexible salary arrangements and the status of the profession - they want to be in a profession where people are paid on excellence, not on years in the job,'' Ms Bishop said.

Mr Smith said a Labor Government would also focus on getting the best students into teaching. "We have to tell young Australians (teaching) is a noble profession and absolutely essential to our fundamental economic and social prosperity and one of the great challenges for our ageing teacher stock is to become attuned to the digital age.'' He said Labor had committed to a 50 per cent reduction in HECS fees upfront for those studying maths and science, with a 50 per cent remission at the back end where the student takes up a relative occupation such as maths teacher or scientist.

During the debate, Mr Smith said university fees were scaring some students away from tertiary education, while Ms Bishop attacked Labor's plan to abolish full fee places. Ms Bishop said Labor had failed to tell universities how they would be compensated by scrapping the places- worth $700 million nationally. Mr Smith said Labor would release its plans prior to the election. Mr Smith attacked the Coalition's plan for a national curriculum for just years 11 and 12.

Ms Bishop yesterday said the national curriculum for English, maths and science would be headed by hand-picked expert groups, as the Government did with Australian history earlier this year.

A Labor Government would implement a standardised curriculum from kindergarten to year 12, so all Australian students would be learning the same material, he said. A national curriculum board would take the best of currciculum from each state and re-work it into a super-study for all Australian students.


Bill to Expand Head Start Is Approved

Why is a program with no proven net benefits still sucking up taxpayer dollars after all these years? Ronald Reagan said that a government program is the nearest thing to everlasting life. I think this proves it

With two overwhelming votes, Congress approved a bill yesterday that would boost teacher qualifications in federally funded Head Start preschools, expand access to the program for children from low-income families and scrap a controversial system for testing 4-year-olds. The first reauthorization of Head Start since 1998 passed 95 to 0 in the Senate and 381 to 36 in the House and now goes to President Bush, who is expected to sign the measure. The 42-year-old program serves about 909,000 disadvantaged children, aiming to help prepare them for school academically, emotionally and socially.

The legislation sets a goal that by 2013 all Head Start teachers will have at least an associate's degree and half will have a bachelor's degree. It expands eligibility to families just above the federal poverty level, authorizes a funding increase and directs money to programs for younger children and migrant and Native American students. "For low-income children, having some type of early-childhood development is critically important to their success," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said. "The reforms that are included in this bill I think are critically important so that Head Start can really be all that many of us want it to be. There are some tremendous Head Start programs around the country . . . but there are also some programs that don't fulfill the promise that we're making to parents and their children."

The bill eliminates a testing program for 4-year-olds that is supported by the Bush administration. Critics said the National Reporting System, a set of mini-tests intended to measure verbal and math skills, didn't provide a valid assessment of progress for students so young. The bill omitted an administration-backed proposal to allow faith-based groups to consider religion in hiring for Head Start.

The federal push to expand early-childhood education is part of a national movement to make preschool available to more children, particularly those from low-income homes. Several governors, including Timothy M. Kaine (D) of Virginia, are seeking to add government-funded preschool slots for needy children. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) noted that the legislation authorizes $7.3 billion in funding for fiscal 2008, up from $6.9 billion, and dedicates more money for teacher training. "Head Start teachers and staff are the heart and future of the program," Kennedy said in a statement. "They help children learn to identify letters and arrange the pieces of a puzzle. They teach them to brush their teeth, wash their hands, make friends and follow rules."

Kathy Patterson, federal policy director for Pre-K Now, a D.C.-based advocacy group, applauded the bill. "We're going to serve more kids, and one of the things we're particularly excited about is the emphasis on quality," she said. "The challenge will be in the appropriations process to make sure there's adequate funding."


Friday, November 16, 2007

Good Marks for AP and IB: Experts Endorse College-Level Study Programs

This does however seem rather silly. Here in Australia, my son did an AP course in his final year of High School but he did it by taking an actual university course at an actual university. It is however good to hear from the report below that there are some quality choices available for U.S. High School students. But sad to hear that there is pressure to water down the History courses. Students must not learn the actual facts of history. Far too dangerous! If we are not careful they might even learn that Hitler was a socialist!

Debate rages among Washington area parents, students and teachers over which college-level track is superior: the large Advanced Placement program or the fast-growing International Baccalaureate. A report to be released today by a team of academic experts gives both high marks, with a slight nod to IB in two subjects. The experts assembled by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based think tank that advocates more school rigor, awarded a B-plus to the AP and IB English literature courses and a B-minus to history courses in both programs. But IB Biology received an A and AP Biology an A-minus. IB Math received a B-minus and AP Calculus AB a C-plus.

The Fordham Institute said those grades were good, compared with the mostly low marks it has given state standards for public schools. Its report concluded that AP and IB "demonstrate that independent entities can and do make programs and assessments that are rigorous, fair and intellectually richer than almost any state standard and exam for high school that we've seen."

The report -- "Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate: Do They Deserve Gold Star Status?" -- complained about indications from the College Board, which oversees the AP program, that it might revise some courses and tests. It said the College Board was pursuing changes to social studies courses that might encourage "more time talking about such themes as 'politics and citizenship' or 'continuity and change,' " which report authors worried would reduce time for learning facts about historical events.

About 14,000 U.S. high schools offer AP classes, and about 500 offer IB. The authors acknowledged the difficulty of comparisons. AP and IB are structured differently, although both give exams that enable students to earn college credit. AP has one-year courses, and many IB courses take two years to complete, so the Fordham report focused only on one-year IB courses.

Both programs lost points in math because they allowed more use of calculators than the authors considered appropriate. AP U.S. History was faulted for mentioning few specific historical events in its course plan. IB does not have a course devoted to U.S. history, but its world history course lost points for focusing too narrowly on the 19th and 20th centuries. The authors advised teachers to ignore the outlines for both courses and teach to what the report deemed rigorous AP and IB history exams.

Brad Richardson, regional director of IB North America, said he was pleased that the report praised IB, as it did AP, for preparing students well for college. Trevor Packer, a College Board vice president who oversees AP, declined to comment.


British citizenship education -- just more political indoctrination

`We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally.' This ambitious statement sounds like it should have come from a political party's manifesto, but it is actually to be found in the final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship Education, otherwise known as the `Crick Report'. The report gave birth to the new compulsory subject of citizenship being taught in schools in England since August 2002. The stated aim of introducing this new subject into the education system was to reverse the decline in young peoples' participation in public and political life in the UK. The Crick Report argued that research revealed `a historic political disconnection'. In effect, an entire generation has opted out of party politics. However, we should be wary about citizenship education for a number of reasons:

It is not the responsibility of teachers to solve what are political and social problems like apathy, low voter turnout, alienation and an absence of social cohesion. To expect teachers and schools to solve these problems is to redefine the role of teaching and education;

* citizenship education allows politicians to evade responsibility for their failure to inspire and engage young people with politics, and the failure to create a dynamic context in which political contestation exists

* citizenship education is anti-intellectual, prioritising values over academic enquiry. The emphasis on social engineering is to the detriment of the integrity of individual subjects

* citizenship education is insidious and authoritarian, because it lays down the values that young people are expected to hold without subjecting those values to public debate;

* citizenship education will not solve the problems it was set up to address. In fact, citizenship classes make things worse, as they reduce politics and the possibility of people fighting for meaningful change to a set of values and dispositions that can be acquired in the classroom through, in effect, a programme of behaviour modification.

The debate about the disconnection of young people from politics has absorbed a growing number of academics and policy makers around New Labour for some time. Reports published by think tanks like the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Demos have acknowledged that the British political system is facing a crisis of legitimacy. All the political parties have lost their social base and find it particularly difficult to connect with young people. Teaching unions, exam boards, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), political parties and pressure groups have all welcomed the compulsory nature of citizenship education as playing a positive role in combating youth apathy....

One of the most striking things about citizenship education is the speed with which it has moved from the theoretical musings of policy wonks to a compulsory subject, which is seen as a panacea for a range of our political and social ills. That is not to say that there has been no disagreement over what and how students should learn. Concerns have been expressed by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) about the quality of some teaching - in particular, the lack of intellectual rigour and content associated with the subject. But what is lacking is any real philosophical or political debate about the effectiveness and consequences of this new subject. Educationalists and policymakers alike need to address a number of fundamental questions about citizenship education.

Will it work? This is a question that supporters of citizenship education have been asked for some years. Their understandable response was to give it time. Five years down the line, it is now possible to make some preliminary observations since the subject was made statutory for Key Stage 3 (pupils from 11 to 14 years old) and Key Stage 4 (ages 14 to 16) in August 2002. There has been no rise in voter turnout amongst first-time eligible voters in the last General Election of 2005 or the 2007 local elections. Research from the British Youth Council shows that the figures for young people getting involved in any type of political or direct action campaign or pressure group activity remain static at around two per cent over the past few years. So far, citizenship education is failing to reconnect young people to our political system or promote any substantial type of improvement in participation rates....

Many educationalists and commentators now believe that a key role of teaching is to turn young people into active citizens who participate more in civil society, vote and volunteer in their local community. In a review of Key Stage 3 citizenship carried out in December 2006 amongst citizenship teachers, one of the main conclusions was that `skills and active citizenship were felt by the vast majority of our respondents to be more important than knowledge and understanding within the content of the curriculum'. Teachers have always had some role to play in the creation of citizens. A good, rounded, liberal education can contribute informally to the socialisation of our young people into broader society. However, until recently, this process was implicit and was more a by-product of a sound education. Above all, the integrity of individual subjects and their content were automatically respected and seen as the key to a proper education.

This is no longer the case. Citizenship, in particular via its cross-curricular themes, is damaging the integrity of every subject. The crude explicit requirement that citizenship concepts, values, dispositions, skills and aptitudes be spread across all subjects has resulted in a hollowing out and diluting of specific subject content. In short, citizenship education is having a directly damaging effect on subject knowledge. Academic subjects have become subordinate to the imperative of social engineering. The curriculum is increasingly seen principally as a vehicle for overt socialisation, even indoctrination, into the latest fashionable cause or value. No matter what the subject, teachers are now expected to make links in their schemes of work and lesson plans to topics as diverse as safe sex, relationships, healthy eating, diversity, homophobia, Islamophobia, voting, volunteering and sustainability, to list just a few.

Lessons in academic subjects like history, biology or geography that would once have been considered outstanding would now fail an Ofsted inspection if these citizenship themes were not included. These new requirements redefine dramatically the role of a teacher and purpose of teaching. This change needs to be challenged. Teachers should not be playing this kind of role in what is, essentially, a social engineering project. Instead, there should be a robust defence of the value of academic subjects for their own sake.

Citizenship education is an attempt to instil a new set of values in today's young generation. Proponents acknowledge that almost all the institutions that once represented the moral and social arbiters of our times - the Church, the family, trade unions, political parties and scientists - can no longer be relied on to inspire the necessary trust and respect to impart values to the nation's youth. In a recent article in the Guardian Education supplement, former education secretary Estelle Morris let slip that many parents can no longer be trusted with the task of teaching moral values, a comment I've heard increasingly (off the record) at citizenship conferences from leading citizenship advocates. Citizenship education is seen as offering future generations a moral compass now sadly lacking in society....

Amid this uncertainty over values and what our society should prioritise as important, the citizenship curriculum, and the school curriculum more broadly, has become a battleground (or gravy train) for a whole host of campaigns zealously trying to get their moral message into the classroom. Recent campaigns include more focus on fairtrade and Third World debt. Indeed, many schools teach global citizenship straight from teaching materials produced by the charity Oxfam. Public health officials demand more attention to healthy eating, obesity, safe sex - even the dangers of sunshine! Other groups demand more black history or gay history or examples of positive multiculturalism. Banks promote financial capability as a virtue. Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, has been sent to every secondary school in the country to urge greater responsibility towards our planet and environment. No doubt some of these campaigns may have worthy aims. The point, however, is that these are issues for public policy and debate, not for the classroom.

At first glance, the citizenship curriculum may look like it is promoting uncontroversial values like honesty, fairness, tolerance, etc. However, closer inspection reveals that alongside these goes a set of personal behaviours recast as moral values. For example, in citizenship literature, community is now a value, as is participation (voting), volunteering, sustainability and caring for the environment. This process of redefining certain political positions and opinions into values that are uncontested first emerged in the Crick Report but has intensified over the past two years.

In the classroom, via citizenship, many of the unresolved issues of public life are transformed into new concepts to be passed on to children as a fait accompli. Racism, environmentalism and other political ideas are converted into matters of moral and ethical behaviour. While concern for the environment may be desirable, should it be prescribed as a value? Where is the space for intellectual debate about such questions?

In the past, schools were asked to produce well-educated young people capable of making independent decisions about what to do with their lives. Now teachers are increasingly meant to produce people with a particular set of views repackaged as moral values. But the absence of any moral consensus in Britain today will not be solved through indoctrinating children into the latest fashionable values. The problem with trying to instil new values solely through the classroom is that they often lack any resonance or real connection with peoples' lives. Real values, strong values, emerge not out of schoolbooks but from strong communities and a real clash of ideas in society.

This values-led education is insidious and authoritarian. If left unchallenged, this trend could eventually destroy the spirit of intellectual enquiry within education, potentially undermining the individual student's freedom of conscience and his or her right to determine their own social and political value system. The danger is that students are now being told what to think. This may seem a wild exaggeration, but let's think about those young people who may reject the prescriptive values taught in citizenship lessons. Official guidelines quite clearly stipulate that students must demonstrate a concern and commitment for the values laid out in the curriculum in order to achieve a good assessment. So, what marks will be awarded to the young man who has concluded that there is no point in voting (rejecting the value of participation), the young woman who feels that `sustainable development' may be robbing the developing world of the most advanced technology, or the pupil who has decided to get involved in party politics - with the far-right British National Party?

More here

Thursday, November 15, 2007

UCLA's Politicized Middle East Studies Professors

By Cinnamon Stillwell -- See the original for links

Earlier this year, the Center for Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. It was founded in 1957 by Gustave E. Von Grunebaum, a scholar at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute and the first president of the Middle East Studies Association. Grunebaum sought to establish at UCLA a groundbreaking Middle East and Islamic Studies program featuring an array of experts in languages, culture, and history.

Unfortunately, the best-known UCLA professors specializing in the region today, far from embodying the classical approach to the discipline in which knowledge is the overriding goal, exemplify the highly politicized world of modern Middle East studies. Ignoring the vast majority of the region and myriad pressing issues, including terrorism, the need for religious reform, women's rights, resistance to modernity, and the prevalence of tyranny, this cadre of Middle East studies professors is fixated instead on post-colonialism, the Arab/Israeli conflict, U.S. foreign policy, and shielding themselves from outside criticism. As pointed out by journalist Rachel Neuwirth, what passes for education at UCLA's Center for Near Eastern studies is, all too often, "sustained academic indoctrination."

No professor better exemplifies this politicized approach than historian Gabriel Piterberg. A devoted disciple of Orientalism author Edward Said, Piterberg's course on the subject, "The Last Conscious Pariah: The Life and Work of Edward Said," features the sort of post-colonialist jargon of which his hero would have been proud. In the section titled, "Culture, Imperialism and Resistance," readings include post-colonialist Franz Fanon, Michel Foucault, the grandfather of today's brand of academic moral relativism, and Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist theoretician who devised a series of strategies to subvert Western democratic societies from within - a process some would argue is well underway in academia.

As did Said, Piterberg takes a relentlessly anti-American and anti-Israel stance, with which he buttresses his career of political activism. He appears regularly at anti-war protests and teach-ins organized by various leftist groups and the Islamist Muslim Student Association, and is a signatory to a 2002 petition urging the University of California to divest from Israel. On one occasion, he even canceled a class to attend a student-led anti-war protest.

In the Arab/Israeli conflict, Piterberg blames Israel exclusively, and romanticizes the Palestinian "resistance." He distorts the conflict's history by employing terms such as "ethnic cleansing" and "atrocities" to describe Israel's founding in 1948. Born in Argentina, Piterberg was raised in Israel and fought with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, he later charged that the campaign was not "necessary for national defense."

Following academic fashion, Piterberg opposes a two-state solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict, and favors instead the formation of a single bi-national state, despite a paucity of evidence that such a proposal is either tenable, humanitarian, or favored by a majority of Israeli citizens. He has made clear his hostility towards Israel's Jewish foundations, most notably at a speak-out held by the Muslim Student Association in 2000, when he stated, "You can't have a Palestinian state with its own rights, when you have 150,000 Jewish extremists sitting in the middle."

In April, Piterberg spoke at a UCLA conference titled, "Covering Lebanon: Media and the 2006 War," which came to the preposterous conclusion that Western media coverage of the conflict was biased in favor of Israel. He fit in perfectly with the roster of one-sided participants.

Piterburg is fond of portraying himself as a victim of discrimination for his political views. In 2003, he blamed Campus Watch for an inadvertent error made by UCLA's Center for Jewish Studies that omitted his history seminar, "Myths, Politics, and Scholarship in Israel," from a list of Israel-related courses. At the time Piterberg made this claim to the Daily Bruin, Campus Watch had yet to feature any material on Piterberg, a fact that was parodied by Middle East scholar Martin Kramer. Subscribing to the belief, common among Middle East studies professors, that criticism equals censorship, Piterberg stated, "There is an atmosphere since Sept. 11 (2001), there's an attempt to silence views that are not palatable to certain other views." No doubt Piterberg will chalk up this very article to the "attempt to silence" his views, even as he continues to enjoy a prominent platform from which to express them.

Piterberg's colleague Sondra Hale, UCLA professor of anthropology and co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, also spoke at the "Covering Lebanon" conference. Hale was one of the signatories to a 2002 open letter warning that Israel would use the Iraq war to perpetrate "ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinians. In addition, she was a scheduled participant in the canceled American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference on academic boycotts (focusing solely on Israel).

In January 2007, Hale helped organize a two-day workshop co-sponsored by UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies and the Center for the Study of Women titled, "Linking Middle East and Arab American Gender Studies." Antioch University liberal studies professor and Association of Middle East Women's Studies president Nada Elia participated. Last month, Elia was as a panelist at a UC Berkeley screening of the Palestinian terrorist-glorifying documentary, Leila Khaled: Hijacker. The event came under the dubious title, "Women, Resistance, and Political Participation." Apparently, equal opportunity for female terrorists is a pressing "feminist" issue these days. If these are the sorts of associations Sondra Hale and UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies are cultivating, a panelist celebrating Osama bin Laden isn't far off.

Next we come to Saree Makdisi, a UCLA professor of English with a focus, as described in his bio, on "British literature and imperial culture." But it's his interest in "the cultural politics of the contemporary Arab world" that has proven to be problematic. Makdisi reaches a broad, non-academic audience by publishing regularly in the Los Angeles Times, the London Review of Books, and the Nation.

Makdisi is Edward Said's nephew, and anti-Israel politics seem to run in the family. His biases on the Israeli/Arab conflict are clear in the title of his forthcoming book, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. Makdisi rarely lets truth stand in the way of effective propaganda: Middle East scholar Martin Kramer labeled Makdisi an "anti-Israel agitator," and noted his fantastical claim that Israel has "actualized all the logics, apparatuses, discourses, and practices associated with the worst, the ugliest, the most violent and draconian forms of European racism."

Writing at his blog earlier this year, Makdisi condemned the requirement that Palestinians simply recognize Israel's right to exist. As he put it, "[Israel's] demand that its 'right to exist' be recognized reflects its own anxiety, not about its existence but about its failure to successfully eliminate the Palestinians' presence inside their homeland - a failure for which verbal recognition would serve merely a palliative and therapeutic function." With "peacemakers" like Makdisi, who needs war?

Makdisi is equally preoccupied with critics of Middle East studies, a field long unused to the rigors of accountability. In a 2006 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times titled, "Neocons Lay Siege to the Ivory Towers," Makdisi accuses his imagined arch nemesis Martin Kramer, along with Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, of being members of "pressure groups" who are also "failed academics driven by crassly political motivations" - charges easily dismissed by a cursory glance at either man's C.V.

Makdisi was a signatory to a 2002 letter addressed to the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper at the University of Chicago, objecting to "irresponsible allegations of anti-Semitism and 'abuse of power' against faculty of the University" allegedly made by Campus Watch and other organizations against then-Chicago (now-Columbia) Arab studies professor Rashid Khalidi and various Middle East studies professors. The letter objected most strenuously to the rise in student complaints, calling them "a perversion of the classroom." Students having a say in their education would seem to constitute one of the foundations of higher education, not a perversion of the classroom. But not, it seems, for Makdisi and his cohorts.

In another example of Ivory Tower-driven paranoia, Makdisi declared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer earlier this month that "academic freedom [is] at risk on campus" by none other than "Israel's American supporters." In his op-ed, Makdisi decried the "outside interference" of scholars such Martin Kramer and organizations such as Stand With Us, the David Project, the Israel on Campus Coalition, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and, of course, Campus Watch, for somehow "severely disrupt[ing] academic processes." It seems that academic freedom is a one-way street for self-described "champions of freedom" such as Makdisi - and a dead-end one at that.

UCLA Near East history professor James Gelvin, another signatory to the 2002 University of California divestment petition directed at Israel, presents challenges of his own. His students have taken note, describing him, in one case, as "more of an advocate for the Palestinian cause" than a historian. In response to rising criticism, especially that perceived as emanating from Campus Watch, Gelvin told the Daily Bruin, "What really irks those guys is that I don't use my classroom for political purposes, and thus my lectures don't advance their political agenda." Would that Gelvin's claim were true, for it is certainly not the agenda of Campus Watch to further the politicization of the field of Middle East studies, but, rather, the opposite.

Gelvin implies that U.S. foreign policy was to blame for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and, in a larger sense, the rise of Islamism. Accordingly, in a course titled, "The History of the Near and Middle East," Gelvin assigns students the book, Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, which is co-edited by Georgetown Islamic studies professor John Esposito. Esposito is a celebrated recipient of Saudi financial largesse at Georgetown University and, perhaps not coincidentally, one of the prime apologists for Islamism in the field of Middle East studies. One reading assignment from the book is Sayyid Muhammad Husaid Fadlallah's, "We Must Think Before We Act; September 11 Was a Gift to the U.S. Administration," whose title alone suggests a decidedly subjective view of the matter. Similarly, Gelvin's subtitle under a discussion section on the war on terrorism for the same course is, "The Mess That We're In." To be fair, Gelvin's course readings include offerings from all sides of the political spectrum, not to mention the oft-ignored words of al-Qaeda leaders, but one wonders in what context it's being presented?

Gelvin's role as the organizer of a conference to be held at UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies this month titled, "Jihadi Islam Conference/Workshop," would seem to answer this question. While the conference's subject matter is laudable, especially in light of the dearth of attention paid to terrorism in the field of Middle East studies, its conclusions may prove debatable. According to Gelvin's description, the conference seeks to "propose alternative approaches" to the "underlying assumption of Islamic or Middle Eastern exceptionalism." Appearing on a panel alongside UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine, whose own forays into delusion are well-known (he once declared, "It is time for the United States to declare a truce with the Muslim world, and radical Islam in particular,") Gelvin will provide what he calls "A Historian's Reply to Terrorology." Applying the lessons of history to the present is praiseworthy, but doing so while ignoring the specific nature of today's threats is little more than willful blindness.

Between the politicized polemics, the blatant biases, and the na‹ve approach to foreign policy proffered by UCLA's Middle East studies professors, there is certainly room for improvement at the Center for Near Eastern studies. This is isn't to say that no professors are rising to the occasion, but those in the public eye are conveying a consistently biased impression that is fostering distrust in Middle East studies at UCLA. One might question whether the Center for Near Eastern studies' fiftieth anniversary is a cause for celebration, or an opportunity to reexamine its future course. One thing's for sure, Gustave Von Grunebaum must be turning in his grave.


Ersatz School Choice

"Vouchers go down in crushing defeat"

That headline thundered from Wednesday's Salt Lake City Tribune, as it announced that more than 60 percent of Utahans who voted on whether to uphold the statewide school-voucher program said no. It was a big setback for the voucher movement. The Utah legislature had approved the program by one vote. But the teachers' union, which opposes vouchers, gathered enough signatures to put the question to the voters. It poured a ton of money into its successful effort to have the people veto the law. This was the tenth time in over 30 years that voters have defeated school vouchers or education tax credits, says the National School Boards Association. It may not look like a win for the cause of educational freedom, but in the long run it might be. That depends on what we do about it.

I doubt if Utahans rejected vouchers for the right -- that is, libertarian -- reasons. More likely, they did so either because they bought the union's argument that vouchers would drain the government schools' coffers (unfortunately, they wouldn't have) or because they feared who might turn up at the private suburban schools. Regardless, the voters' acceptance of vouchers would have jeopardized the private, relatively independent schools in the state. So I see Tuesday's ballot results as a dodging of the bullet.

The law passed by the legislature would have required private schools to "[g]ive a formal national test every year" to each student. A "national test" means only one thing: a standardized test approved by the education establishment. This might sound innocuous, but it's insidious. Who controls the exam controls the curriculum. And who controls the curriculum controls the school. The law also would have compelled schools to publish the test results. Would schools have taken a chance on getting poor test results (even if their kids were learning anyway)? No. Schools wanting eligibility for vouchers would have had no choice but to teach to the test. Teaching to the test means teaching kids how to take tests. How would that create school choice?

Unsurprisingly, governments tend to attach conditions to the money they give away. It is no rebuttal to say it's really the parents' money. For most -- but not all -- parents, that would be true (some would be subsidized), but the point is politically irrelevant. It would be seen as government or public money. And that means most people would find plausible the argument that the ultimate recipients of such money must be accountable. "Accountable" would mean accountable to the government's school bureaucracy. Voucher advocates are aware of this. In Utah they accepted the testing requirement, although given that provision, one wonders how the game could have been worth the candle.

It's the Government

All of this gets to the crux of the voucher issue. We can demonstrate that an unhampered private sector is more effective and efficient than government in whatever it does because it is entrepreneurial, unlike a bureaucracy. But that doesn't get at the fundamental issue -- which is this: government should not be in charge of educating our children. Why not? Because it's the government -- the institution that rests on the morally flawed premise that it is all right for politicians to take other people's money without their consent, interfere with their peaceful transactions, and exploit the weak. Why on earth would we want schools built on that foundation?

It is tempting to try to use government as a shortcut to freedom. Look how readily libertarians embrace medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide, both of which, in the name of expanding choice, would further subordinate the individual to the Therapeutic State. So it would be with vouchers. (These days, government schools are undisguised agencies of the Therapeutic State.) Exactly how does luring nongovernment schools onto the plantation advance the separation of school and state? There are no shortcuts to liberty.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Radicalizing mathematics

Those who worship at the altar of Political Correctness and believe American public schools are doing just a dandy job of educating youth might want to consider the following: China graduated almost 200,000 engineers, 44 percent of the undergraduate degrees, in 1999, according to the National Science Foundation, and has plans to eventually graduate a million engineers each year.

In contrast, U.S. engineering schools churned out just 73,000 engineers in 2004, according to Ronald Barr, Past President of the American Society for Engineering Education, totaling less than 5 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded. "Our graduate schools are filled with foreign nationals who last year earned 58 percent of the engineering Ph.D.s awarded in the United States. This country relies heavily on these grads to fill our technological needs, but more and more U.S.-trained engineers are returning home after graduation," Barr wrote back in 2005.

Barr makes the case that students must excel at math and science to succeed in the engineering field. So you would think there would be a renewed focus on that third R - Rithmetic. But in some New York City schools, math class has become a vehicle for leftist teachers to indoctrinate students to socialism. If the kids learn a little math along the way, it's likely an accident.

Click on and be amazed. Right away you'll notice the organization's mission: "RadicalMath is a resource for educators interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice into math curriculum and classes."

These folks recently held a conference attracting 400 math teachers and education professors entitled "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice." The official program's first page started with a passage from Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Marxist educator and icon of the teaching-for-social-justice movement: "There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to [. . .] bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world."

Ellen Davidson from Simmons College led the first session of the conference entitled: "How Unfair Is It? Analyzing World Resource Distribution in Mathematically Rigorous Ways." The workshop promised to design lessons to "help children build stronger conceptual mathematics skills while simultaneously helping them understand social injustice."

Sarah Ludwig led a workshop on Teaching Mathematics Through an Economics Justice Lens and a group of Chicago public high school students took attendees through a social justice mathematics project involving racial profiling. But I really wish I could have been there for: "Beyond Barbie: Moving from Scale to Social Justice," facilitated by Portland State's Swapna Mukhopadhyay. The workshop description reads: "In this hands-on session" - whatever that means - "we will focus on how mathematizing Barbie doll in terms of proportional reasoning opens up to a deep interrogation of some vexing social and cultural issues of our global world. Besides unpacking the relationship between self image, self worth and body image that result in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, we will also look at the labor issues - particularly in terms sweatshops conditions - in toy manufacturing." Got that? And you thought calculus was hard.

It turns out that RadicalMath got its start with a grant from the New York City Department of Education. The conference's principal organizer, Jonathan Osler, is a math teacher at El Puente Academy, a small "social-justice" high school in Brooklyn. Back in 2005, he and two math teachers from other schools applied for the DOE's Zone Teacher Inquiry Grants Program. According to City Journal's Sol Stern, some of the social-justice issues that math classes explore are: check-cashing locations ripping off poor people, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt ripping off poor people, and foreclosure agencies ripping off poor people.

When informed about the "Creating Balance" conference, the school's chancellor Joel Klein told Stern, "This is a private conference, at which a range of views will be expressed. It seems that many of these views are hardly `radical.'"

Hardly radical? It used to be that kids would actually learn some math in high school before going off to college to be turned into Commies. It probably doesn't matter whether these kids can add, subtract and multiply. After all, social justice demands that society provide for them from cradle to grave. But, has anyone warned the Chinese?


No provision for a genuinely gifted child

The parents of a seven-year-old science prodigy have begun a world-wide search for a university place for their child, with the warning that "a great mind could be lost" if he is not offered the chance to pursue his studies at degree level. Ainan Celeste Cawley, the son of a British father and a Singaporean mother, passed his O-level chemistry in Singapore at the age of 6 and is studying for an A level in the same subject.

The case of the child genius, whose parents claim that he could walk at six months and construct complex sentences by his first birthday, has provoked both curiosity and concern. Experts believe [with no evidence] that the lack of a normal childhood can do irreparable long-term psychological damage.

Yesterday Ainan's father, Valentine, said that it had been apparent from birth that his son, who likes drawing and watching Mr Bean videos when not studying, was very unusual. "As a toddler, he would seek out science books in the library, showing a preference for dense texts with complicated illustrations of scientific matters. These he would absorb quietly and comment on later. "By the time he was 3 or 4, he was interested in hyper-dimensional shapes and would draw their shadows in two dimensions as a form of intellectual play," he said.

Mr Cawley, a writer, said that his son showed an interest in chemistry when he was 6 and picked up a chemistry O-level paper at his aunt's house. "He was 6® and he got all the questions right. It turned out that he had taught himself chemistry on the internet," he said.

He denied that child prodigies were doomed to failure at university and said that it would be unfair to allow his son's mind to "stagnate". "Imagine you are the strongest man in the world and someone says to you, try lifting something small like a banana. It's like asking him to deny his true nature. Well, it's the same with a child prodigy," he said.

The parents are looking for a sponsor for their child's university education and say that one of them would accompany him during his studies. Syahadah Cawley, his mother, who is an artist, denied that they had put any pressure on him. "He is home-tutored most of the time, but he goes to school for PC classes and Malay lessons and has friends there," she said.

Mr Cawley added: "He is a very cool dude. You have never seen anyone more relaxed and laidback in your life." The couple said that it was too early to tell if their other sons, Fintan, 4, and Tiarnan, 1, were equally gifted.

Professor Tim White, of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said he had no doubt that the child was a chemistry prodigy. "He has an excellent grasp of the subject - he is well able to write and balance equations, draw molecular formulas, understands the chemical properties, knows about radioactivity and so on. Clearly, a normal school would be incredibly frustrating for Ainan," he said. He added that his own university had decided not to offer a place to Ainan because the laboratory benches were too high, with shelves out of reach and chemical dispensers too big for the child to hold.

"There were considerable logistical barriers - chemistry is an experimental science, and unlike gifted child musicians and mathematicians, quite special requirements would be needed," he said. Professor White had mixed feelings about sending a seven-year-old to university. "He is a boy, but it would certainly be a great shame if he become frustrated and lost his enthusiasm for science by being constrained in an environment that did not stretch his abilities and imagination," he said.

Priya Naidu, a lecturer at the School of Chemical and Life Sciences at the Singapore Polytechnic, said that the child was a "cute little boy with the attention span of a seven-year-old", but the academic ability of a 17 to 18-year-old chemistry student. "He has the capability to learn very quickly and is reading up on university texts and scientific journals." But Joan Freeman, Visiting Professor in the Psychology of Education at Middlesex University, said that she thought Ainan's parents were making a terrible mistake. "To send a child to university at 7 is like you are not regarding him as a human being, but as a performing monkey," she said.

Ainan himself was not available for interview. His mother said: "He is rather shy with new people. Most of the truly gifted are introverts - studies show this."


British A-level successor derided as second-rate

Diplomas are the poor relation of A levels and will not transform the school system, education experts will say in a report today that will be seen as a devastating attack on one of the Government’s pet projects. The 14-19 diplomas, which will be introduced next year, are designed to end the divide between practical and academic learning.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, hopes that they will become the “jewel in the crown” of the education system, making the A level redundant. But according to a report by education experts, the diplomas are “the latest in a long line of broad vocational qualifications occupying the ground between academic qualifications and apprenticeship” and would “suffer in the shadow of A levels”.

The Nuffield Review, led by Professor Richard Pring, from the University of Oxford department of education, said that the introduction of the diplomas had been rushed.

When the Government released details of the new diplomas last month there were three academic subjects (science, humanities and languages) but the original 14 were more vocational, raising questions about whether they could compete with A levels. The subjects included hair and beauty, travel and tourism and society, health and development.

Of the first diplomas, the report said: “Such middle-track qualifications have in the past been regarded as an alternative for the less academically able and the review predicts that teachers will view diplomas in the same way — with A levels and GCSEs remaining the more prestigious qualifications. “It is unfortunate that the three new diploma lines will be developed later than their vocational counterparts, as this means the diploma brand will have to forge its identity as a broad vocational qualification.” The Government had to decide now, the report said, whether GCSEs and A levels would run alongside diplomas or be included in their framework.

Ministers scrapped next year’s scheduled review of A levels, announcing instead that all qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds would be reviewed in 2013. But the report’s authors said that the reform of A levels could not wait until then. Dr Ken Spours, from the University of London’s Institute of Education, said: “The diplomas will not transform the 14-19 system. As long as A levels remain unreformed, diplomas will end up being regarded as a poor relation.”

Diplomas are designed to appeal to employers by giving pupils a grounding in core subjects and practical skills. Several universities said that they would accept the engineering diploma as entry to their degree courses.

The report’s authors, who have been evaluating high school education since 2003, questioned the purpose and role of the diplomas. They also criticised the “lack of genuine involvement of qualifications experts, practitioners and awarding bodies” in the diploma’s development. But Professor Pring said that they did offer some benefits. “There is, no doubt, enthusiasm from many schools and colleges for the opportunity that diplomas may provide for a more flexible approach to the curriculum.”


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Best school in town and still they want to close it

The envious British Left again: Stoke-on-Trent is failing its pupils badly, so how on earth does it think it will raise standards by shutting its successful grammar school?

There are many reasons why St Joseph's College, a Catholic grammar in Stoke-on-Trent, is a thriving school. Its academic performance at GCSE and A-level puts it in the top 200 in the country. Its pastoral care is sensitive and exhaustive. Its extra-curricular activities are the best the state system has to offer. And its head teacher, Roisin Maguire, is, says Ofsted, an "outstanding leader".

But it's the smell of fresh bread, wafting from a DT laboratory, that gets me. It's the interrupted year 9 French class who wait, in turn, to give different reasons why each and every one of them "loves coming to school". It's the first XV rugby team sheet stuck to the noticeboard in the school reception. And it's the sixth-former, Katie Bailey, who has no fear in asking to plunder my contacts book so that she can "get into journalism".

Astonishingly, this happy, confident establishment - one of 164 grammar schools remaining in the country - is threatened with closure. Under plans drawn up by Serco, the private company enlisted by Stoke-on-Trent council to tackle the authority's educational needs, it is possible that St Joseph's could close in 2010 to be replaced by a nonselective Catholic school on the same site, with a different set of governors and staff. It would be the first grammar school to shut for nearly 20 years.

Stoke-on-Trent, a Labour council, turned to Serco because it was in freefall, having been named the third worst local authority for education in the country. Serco, in turn, has responded by drafting four proposals to restructure the authority's secondary schools. The "favoured" proposal at present is to shut all the secondary schools in the area and reopen 12 new secondary schools - a mixture of trust schools and academies - and four new special schools in the district, with a 200m pound boost in funding.

The restructuring is, says Ged Rowney, director of children and young people's services, a "great opportunity" and one that it is "essential we grasp". This is all well and good. Stoke-on-Trent does need to do something about its secondary schools. But why meddle with its best? The council says that for the process to be "fair" it needs to consider all schools in its restructuring process, not just the failing ones. Part of the problem for Stoke is that its schools are 23% under capacity - which means, for efficiency's sake, some will have to shut. But again, why St Joseph's? "It's something I find very hard to fathom," says Maguire. "Yes, we're selective, but that's not why we're good. There are selective schools in this country who are not doing so well. It's about what you do with the kids once you get them. This school isn't a good school because it's Catholic or it's selective. It's a good school because we know every child and we love them and care for them and we challenge them."

Maguire explains that unlike most grammar schools, St Joseph's does not simply take the brightest pupils. Indeed, Ofsted does not even class St Joseph's as "a grammar". It does have an entrance test, but it is one that 75% of applicants pass. After that, entrance is determined by "faith criteria", whereby the child's parents are asked to fill out a form, co-authored by their relevant "religious leader", on how righteous their 11-year-old is. About 80 students in every year are Catholic and the remaining 30-40 are from a variety of other faiths. In the sixth form, St Joseph's takes another 50-70 pupils from nearby city state schools. "There are many very bright children who do not get into St Joseph's," says Maguire. "We've built strong links in the community - my best English teacher now works two days a week in other city schools. And children from those schools come here for revision classes, too. "Stoke has so many problems. It is right at the top of the league tables for teenage pregnancies and Neets [young people not in education, employment or training], and right at the bottom for education. We are one of the things that Stoke can be really proud of. Why would you want us to go to the wall?"

St Joseph's is not quite at the wall yet. Rowney insists that although the closure of all the schools and the reopening of new secondaries is the "favoured" option, there are three others that would keep St Joseph's open. But if the favoured option does come to pass when the final decision is made in February, you can be sure there will be little noise from Westminster.

Labour's Department for Children says it will keep out of local authority decisions. But it has made it clear that it wishes to make it easier for parents to shut grammar schools. Apart from restructuring plans, such as the one Stoke-on-Trent is proposing, the only way to shut a selective school now is by parental ballot. The ballot requires 10 parents to trigger a petition and then 20% of parents in the affected area to sign it. Since this law was passed in 1998, only one ballot has come to fruition - and it failed to close the selective school.

Labour wishes to make the system simpler by shortening the ballot process and, possibly, by allowing petitioning parents access to the contact details of other parents in the area. "It is absolutely right," said Jim Knight, the schools minister, last month, "that we keep the parental ballot arrangements under review. We are firmly committed to giving local parents the right to abolish selection at existing grammar schools."

The modernising Conservative front bench might now know where it stands on this issue, but the party as a whole continues to twist its knickers on grammar schools. When David Willetts, then shadow education spokesman, said the 11-plus exam "entrenches advantage" he set off a backlash among backbenchers, who consider the maintenance of grammar schools a touchstone Conservative issue. They had, perhaps, forgotten that Margaret Thatcher and John Major failed to use their 18 years to revive the 11-plus.

David Cameron considers the row over grammar schools to be the "shallow end" of the education debate - and has said he admires Labour's academies programme. He has, however, indicated that he will shut no grammar schools. So don't expect a raging debate at next week's prime minister's questions about St Joseph's College.

"The Tories just can't get involved," says Sam Freedman, of the Policy Exchange think tank. "It doesn't work for them politically. I can't see them intervening. As for Labour, that's tricky. There may be some backbenchers who are ideologically opposed to a private company restructuring a local authority's schools and who may feel strongly enough that they wish to fight to save this one school. But then again, it's a grammar school. They're between a rock and a hard place."

The parents and pupils of St Joseph's are already making a noise. The website of the local Sentinel newspaper, which broke the story last Monday, has been bombarded with comments from parents and old pupils. Facebook and MySpace sites have been set up to organise support. A petition on the Downing Street website already has hundreds of names. Why not add your own?


Leftists cannot stand the competition of other ideas

It shows that they know how little foundation in reality their views have. Centers for African American Studies or Women's Studies (etc.) are fine but not a center for the study of Capitalism and Limited Government

Organizers of the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund hoped to turn their new program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign into a Hoover Institution of the Midwest, a model for getting more free market ideals and ideological diversity into major research universities.

But when a faculty committee was able to get all the details of the agreement that created the new center, it found provisions that were "fundamentally inconsistent" with university values that are designed to ensure a diversity of views. Specifically, the panel found that portions of the agreement would have restricted funds to research designed to reflect certain points of view, and that donors were given control over matters traditionally left to academics.

The faculty panel - which was appointed by the chancellor - said it was "deeply troublesome" that the agreement to accept the center was made without faculty consultation and that many details were kept secret until recently. The panel called for Chancellor Richard Herman to renegotiate the deal for the academy and on Tuesday, a spokeswoman confirmed that he had pledged to do so. Faculty leaders praised Herman for backing away from a deal that has angered many professors - even while it was cheered by many conservatives.

The agreement to create the center was signed in July 2006 between the university and a group of wealthy alumni but for almost a year there was very little public information about the arrangement, although rumors started to spread about it. In the summer of 2007, the academy became more public, planning a debut conference and announcing its plans to support research, conferences and events promoting capitalism. Funds were placed in the university foundation, not an academic department, and faculty members started to complain that it sounded like a research center was being created with donor control and an ideological agenda. Those complaints led the Faculty Senate to urge Herman to appoint a committee to study the issue. He did - and the professors on the panel (nominated by the Senate) were from a range of disciplines and political perspectives.

The panel's report said that some of the work envisioned in the new center was "outcome neutral," such as the idea of supporting work on "the philosophical, moral and economic underpinnings of capitalism." But other kinds of research agendas, the panel found, "unmistakably signal an ideological predisposition or presupposition." For example, the governing documents the university agreed to said that the center's research would focus on "the relationship between economic growth and reduced government size" and how "free market capitalism can become more effective in providing opportunities and prosperity for individual nations." Another topic cited for research support: "why communism, socialism, government bureaucracy have failed to bring prosperity, and how capitalism brings material wealth to a broad spectrum of society."

There is nothing wrong with any Illinois professor holding those views or doing work that supports those views, the panel said, but there is something wrong with a research center supporting only such work and thereby refusing to support research that might, for example, find that Nordic countries with high tax rates have brought considerable wealth to their societies.

Further, the panel found that documents creating the academy had it housed indefinitely in the university foundation, governed by a self-perpetuating advisory board, and that the board would be making funding decisions, assuming the chancellor's approval. The faculty panel found that it was "highly problematic" to house such an organization in the foundation, the university's fund-raising arm.

Two key principles were at stake, the panel found: institutional neutrality and university autonomy. On the former, the panel said that "a university ... and especially a public university exists for the common good, not for the propagation of the views of its donors."

The faculty panel repeatedly stressed that its objections were on issues of principle, not politics and that it would have had the same reaction to a center with a different ideology - even if the would-be donor could point to greater diversity that might result from the gift. The panel report imagined a situation where the American Socialist Party, citing the lack of socialists on campus, proposed a center that would support research "examining how public ownership of the means of production and higher income equality achieved by a redistributional tax system will bring economic and moral well being to a broad spectrum of society." Such a donation would be rejected, the panel said, just as the one that was accepted should have been rejected as a "breach of the principle of neutrality."

On the issue of autonomy, the report noted that donors are entitled and welcome to work with fund raisers and academics on shaping gifts that reflect donor interests. But for donors to play a role in handing out grants or approving recipients for research is inappropriate, the panel said. Decisions about who receives funds for academic work - whether research or teaching - "lie at the core of the university's functions" and need to be made by professors, the panel said.

While the panel was emphatic that the relationship with the capitalism center needed to be renegotiated, it said that the faculty would be open to an arrangement with these donors that met university standards, and the report stressed that it was not trying to discourage the involvement of the donors.

Nicholas C. Burbules, chair of the Senate at Illinois and professor of educational policy studies, said he thought the faculty panel issued "a very strong report" with an emphasis "on the most important things - they stuck with issues of academic principle and policy." Some Illinois professors have criticized the politics of the donors, and Burbules said it was important that no attention was paid to that issue in the report.

He said that faculty thinking on the capitalism academy has evolved. At first, as people heard just little bits of information, there was a "what the heck is going on here" feeling. Then as more information came out, many professors felt "anxiety" and there was considerable criticism of the chancellor for making the agreement. But Burbules said that he thought that the chancellor acted correctly in agreeing to renegotiate the deal, and that professors appreciated his quick response to the report. "We're open to working in a collaborative way with the donors," Burbules said, as long as any arrangement shows "unambiguous" respect for academic principles.

James E. Vermette, a businessman and investor who was one of the founders of the center, said that he had "no problem" with renegotiating the agreement with the university, and that he thought that all that would be needed would be "some wording or clarification." He said he has not read the report.

Vermette said that he and other founders wanted research to be "objective and neutral," and that he didn't have any problem if some of the research supported didn't adhere to his views on capitalism. But he also said it was "absolutely wrong" to say that the original agreement sought to favor some views over others and that the founders' "basic principles" can't change. "We understand what the university is all about," he said. "I'm confident that rational people will be able to work their way through this - as long as our basic principles don't change."

Anne D. Neal, a member of the advisory board for the capitalism program and president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, was more critical of the faculty report. She said that "it goes without saying that the principle of neutrality is central to academic research. Donors cannot condition their gifts on preordained conclusions, and any language that suggests otherwise should be modified."

But she said that she did not believe all departments and programs at Illinois were held to the same standard, saying that she found "ideological terms" in the African American Studies and Research Program at Illinois, and noting that the women's studies program presumes that people should "integrate feminist theory into their professional work and everyday lives."

Neal added: "While the committee report raises serious and legitimate questions, I am left with the nagging feeling that the committee's concern about `ideological predispositions' goes only one way - and that its problems with the Academy on Capitalism, underscored by its repeated, snide footnotes on the benefits of Sweden's state-run economy - expose its own ideological predispositions rather than a genuine, consistent concern about a free marketplace of ideas."


Death by Political Correctness: Who killed Antioch College?

Leftism destroys anything it gets to control -- even a once distinguished college

It is 9:30 on a sunny Monday morning in October, a time, day, and month when most college campuses bustle with activity: students hurrying to class or relaxing between classes on library steps or tree-covered lawns. Here, on the 200-acre campus of Antioch College, a 155-year-old liberal-arts institution best known nowadays for a campus culture that long ago drifted from the progressively liberal to the alarmingly radical (people still talk about the anti-date-rape policy that required a separate verbal consent for each step of an amorous encounter, famously parodied on Saturday Night Live in 1993), the phrase "bustling with activity" is not what comes to mind. What comes to mind is the neutron bomb.

There are plenty of trees on Antioch's historic campus in Yellow Springs, a town of 4,600 about 20 miles east of Dayton in rural southwestern Ohio--soaring oaks, walnuts, maples, and firs, many likely more than a century old. And there are plenty of buildings--dozens of residence halls and classroom facilities, along with a library that has seen better days and a turreted Victorian-era main building designed by James Renwick Jr., architect of the Smithsonian Institution's landmark castle in Washington, D.C., and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. As for Antioch students, however, there are none to be seen this morning, except for an occasional shadowy figure moving silently among distant trees like one of Ohio's long-vanished Miami Indians on a solitary hunt. A visitor to the campus might infer that ultra-radicalism doesn't sell, at least when the price is the nearly $40,000 per year it costs to attend Antioch College.

On June 9, 2007, the trustees of Antioch University, an adult-education offshoot of Antioch College that now dominates the college administratively, financially, and in terms of overall student population, announced that Antioch College would suspend operations on July 1, 2008, with a possibility of reopening in much-altered form in 2012, and that its entire faculty, including tenured professors, would be laid off.

The reasons for the shutdown given by the trustees and by Tulisse Murdock, Antioch University's chancellor since 2005, were many: years and years of incurable deficits, this year totaling $2.6 million on an annual college budget of $18 million; an extraordinarily low endowment of just $36 million (neighboring Ohio liberal arts colleges Oberlin and Kenyon boast endowments of $700 million and $167 million respectively); and a chronically low student enrollment that topped 600 only once during the preceding 25 years (compare that with Oberlin's enrollment of nearly 2,900) and has declined precipitously since 2003.

During the 2006-07 academic year, for example, only 330 full-time students were enrolled in Antioch's bachelor-of-arts and bachelor-of-science programs--once so highly regarded that Antioch could boast that it had more graduates who went on to obtain Ph.D.'s than any other college in the country. This fall, after news of the pending shutdown decimated the incoming freshman class, there are just 220 Antioch College undergraduates left. That represents a decline of almost 90 percent from the 2,000 or so young people who attended Antioch during its peak enrollment years of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Antioch's students, its faculty--whose numbers have also drastically shrunk (just 37 today, down from 140 during the early 1970s)--and many residents of Yellow Springs, a pleasant college town of handsome old houses and businesses that advertise their liberal-leaning, Antioch-friendly "green" and "fair trade" consciousness, are fighting to save the college, citing its long and illustrious history. Antioch's first president, in 1853, was the famous education reformer Horace Mann, and until things went bad, Antioch regularly turned out graduates who went on to become stellar public figures, writers, and scholars: Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, the District of Columbia's Democratic congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, most recently in the news, Mario R. Capecchi, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for his work on embryonic stem cells in mice. (This was Antioch College's second Nobel; Jose Ramos-Horta, president of East Timor, who had received a master's degree in 1984 in a peace-studies program now incorporated into Antioch University, won the Peace Prize in 1996.)

A group of Antioch College's chronically lethargic alumni says it has rushed to raise $18 million in donations and pledges in a last-ditch plan to save the college, and at an emergency meeting of the university's trustees in Yellow Springs on October 25 presented a $100 million business plan (based on an aggressive five-year fundraising drive) designed to cure their alma mater's deficit, keep its doors open, and revive its attractiveness to high-school seniors. The trustees had been expected to issue a decision on October 27 whether to accept or reject the alumni plan, but they declined to do so, leaving Antioch College in an even more precarious state, given that autumn is the time when colleges and universities do their most aggressive recruiting and prospective high-school graduates start filling out their college application forms. Discussions among trustees and alumni were continuing on November 2, as this article went to press....

An archaeologist called upon to estimate just when the plague swept through--that is, when the college reached its peak of flourishing and then abruptly stopped--might come up with, say, the year 1965, judging from the vintage mid-century look of the brick-and-plate-glass "newer" buildings. Indeed, the college did then enjoy a sustained and impressive growth spurt and a frenzy of construction. The school, which had never enrolled more than 1,000 students in its history, nearly doubled in size from 1954 to 1964, and it continued to grow after that, reaching its all-time peak undergraduate population of 2,470 in 1972.

Even during the 1950s, Antioch had a reputation as a "beatnik college." It had phased out varsity sports starting in the 1920s (it had once fielded football and baseball teams) and historically eschewed fraternities and sororities. It had no dress code, unlike most colleges in those days, and students tended to be arty overachievers with avant-garde political views. Antioch's pioneering work-study program, called "co-operative education" (shortened to "co-op" and part of the curriculum to this day), and the college's practice of giving students a voice in its governance drew earnest, highly individualistic young people who liked the idea of obtaining real-world job experience, often in science labs or on archaeological digs but also in private businesses, when still in school, while also being able to take time off to enlist in political causes. During the heyday of the civil rights movement, for example, Antioch was famous for its students who traveled to southern states to help register black voters. A graduate student, Alan E. Guskin, later to become president of Antioch College and chancellor of Antioch University, formed a student organization in 1960 that inspired John F. Kennedy to set up the Peace Corps. The favorite campus entertainment on Friday nights was that echt-1950s bohemian pastime: folk-dancing.

Nonetheless, Antioch also had a reputation for academic rigor and was nearly as competitive in admissions as Harvard. It accepted only one out of four applicants (the average combined SAT scores of those who got in was 1350 in 1960), and students had to pass a stiff comprehensive examination at the end of their first year. Today that test is long gone; Antioch does not require its applicants even to submit their SAT scores, which are said to hover around 1075, and it admits a majority of those who apply. It was during the glory years of the 1950s and early 1960s that Antioch produced its most famous and distinguished graduates.

Although political views at Antioch might have tilted leftward even back then, the students of the 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s prided themselves on their willingness to hear out their more conservative classmates in lively all-night dorm discussions on politics and philosophy, inspired by professors who encouraged them to test all their assumptions against the evidence. "We were completely respectful of every point of view," recalled Rick Daily, a Denver lawyer who graduated from Antioch in 1968 and is treasurer of the alumni committee that is struggling to save the college from closure. "We even had a Goldwater Republican in our graduating class," Daily said in a telephone interview.

That was Antioch then. Antioch now might be fairly represented by a September 21 article in the student newspaper, the Record, consisting of a gloating account of the invasion by 40 gay and lesbian Antioch students (a full fifth of the current student body) of an evangelical Christian book-signing event at a Barnes & Noble store located in a mall in nearby Beavercreek, Ohio. Record reporter Marysia Walcerz described the hours-long "Gay Takeover," whose participants wore rainbow-tinted bandannas, ostentatiously held hands and kissed, and did their best to shock both authors and customers in this socially conservative sector of Ohio, as a "success .??.??. for direct action executed in style."

A July 20 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Ralph Keyes, author of the bestselling Is There Life After High School? and a 1967 graduate of Antioch who moved with his family back to Yellow Springs some 20 years ago, described similar adventures by Antioch students in the intimidation of people who do not share their views. Keyes took pains to reassure the Chronicle's readers that he himself had been proudly "left-wing" as an Antioch student, but he also detailed a once-tolerant campus culture that had deteriorated since his student days into "insults, name-calling, and profanity." As Keyes described it (and others connected to the campus corroborate his observations), Antioch students regularly engaged, both inside and outside their classrooms, in the practice of "calling out" (public humiliation followed by social ostracism) their classmates for even the most trivial violations of an unwritten campus code of ideological propriety.

One of the called-out was a Polish exchange student who had made the mistake of using the now-taboo word "Eskimos" instead of "Inuit" in reference to Alaskan aboriginals. Another called-out student had worn Nike sneakers, verboten among the radically sensitive because they are supposedly products of Indonesian sweatshop labor (the Nike-wearer was so demoralized by his treatment that he transferred). Keyes lamented what he called the "crack-house decor" of Antioch's student union, whose second floor features a 30-foot wall of student-painted graffiti with themes and language running the gamut from revolutionary to obscene. The Antioch school "uniform" for many students seems to consist of as many tattoos and piercings as the human dermis can hold (a tattoo parlor in downtown Yellow Springs looks designed to accommodate this student fashion statement)....

The adults who could have and should have intervened to put a lid on the excesses of a culture created by 18- to 22-year-olds with little experience of the outside world in fact let that culture run untrammeled and amok, all in the name of Antioch's vaunted ideal of "community." The very existence of Antioch University, the chain of adult-education satellite campuses that morphed into Antioch College's parent institution during the 1990s and now threatens, Cronus-like, to devour its child, contains a bitter irony: The satellite campuses came into being 40 years ago because Antioch wanted to get in on a bit of late-1960s radical chic known as "bringing education to the streets."

Hard as it may be to believe, Antioch began its existence as a Christian college. Its founders belonged to a Second Great Awakening movement that called itself the "Christian Connexion" and eschewed the creeds of mainline churches in favor of what it viewed as a strictly Bible-based faith. Antioch College got its name from the city in ancient Syria that was an early center of New Testament Christianity. Antioch was one of the first coeducational colleges in the United States, among both students and faculty, and from the beginning it admitted black students. The standard curriculum, required of all students, would come as a shock to most of today's undergraduates: Latin, Greek, foreign languages, and a stiff array of science courses. Antioch was actively involved in the abolitionist movement, and when the Civil War broke out, the college shut down temporarily so that students and professors could fight on the Union side....

Armed with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Antioch began in 1965 to recruit impoverished "high-risk students" from "high-risk schools"--which usually translated into black graduates of inner-city high schools who, unlike the middle-class, high-achieving blacks who had sat side by side with whites (albeit in very small numbers) in Antioch classrooms for nearly a century, were not prepared for college work. They were also not prepared for life in sleepy, artsy-craftsy Yellow Springs, or for coexistence with bookish, highly competitive classmates preparing for careers as physicists, lawyers, and doctors. Many of the Rockefeller students were older than the traditional college age, and some had children (Antioch obligingly provided them with free daycare). "There was a lot of tension," said Antioch's archivist, Scott Sanders, in a telephone interview, "and these were inner-city kids, so there was a certain amount of lawlessness. They brought skills to Antioch that they'd learned on the streets: fighting, drawing guns. There were specific instances of violence that were very alien to the other students."

While all this was going on, as alumnus Michael Goldfarb, a writer and former public radio correspondent who matriculated at Antioch in 1968, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, "Antioch created coeducational residence halls, with no adult supervision. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll became the rule, as you might imagine, and there was enormous peer pressure to be involved in all of them." Goldfarb described having a gun drawn on him in a drunken rage by "a couple of ex-cons whom one of my classmates, in the interest of breaking down class barriers, had invited to live with her." ...

The financial crisis of 1979 triggered a further drop in enrollment at Antioch College (as well as further departures of professors), but the Birenbaum-instigated budget cuts seemed to stabilize the Yellow Springs campus. Its student population remained at a more or less steady, if not especially healthy, 500 or so for more than two decades. The widely-publicized date-rape policy that catapulted Antioch onto Saturday Night Live and into nationwide ridicule in 1993 was a kind of object lesson in what can happen when demographic implosion (reducing the student body to its most radical core) unites with a laissez-faire administration philosophy that consists of giving even the most extreme factions everything they want.

The extremists in this case consisted of a group of student feminists who called themselves "Womyn of Antioch" (a title that might have sent up a red flag to administrators elsewhere) and claimed to be reacting to two incidents of date rape on the Yellow Springs campus in 1991, which they said the administration had ignored. No Antioch students were ever charged with those offenses either formally or informally, much less found by a college tribunal to have committed them, much less prosecuted for any crime by outside authorities. Antioch's archivist Sanders said that the alleged rapes might have been more a matter of "perception" than reality. Nonetheless, when the Womyn "stormed" (the word comes from Antioch's website) an Antioch community meeting and insisted on pushing through the policy they had drafted regardless of parliamentary niceties, the administrators and faculty who were supposed to be on at least an equal footing with the students at those meetings, if not their superiors on the basis of maturity and experience, said, oh, okay...

The change in academic emphasis, coupled with the date-rape policy, whose main effect was to alter Antioch College's male-female student ratio from 50-50 to 40-60, coupled with a growing public perception of the college as a haven for crazies, made it difficult for the college to increase its enrollment. Figuring that the financially strapped school needed a critical mass of 800 students in order to generate the minimum revenue necessary to maintain academic quality, the administration adopted the mantra "800 by 2000." When that goal was not met (enrollment in 2000 was 515), the mantra changed to "800 by 2002" (enrollment in 2002 was 577)....

Much more here

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free speech under attack at the CUNY Soviet

Post below lifted from Democracy Project. See the original for links

The faculty union of the City University of New York known as the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) has a penchant for aiding and abetting terrorists and supporting political causes with the member's dues. Now determined to forever silence all criticism, one of the prominent union big wigs has just filed a $2 million lawsuit to shut down the one remaining gadfly, Dr. Sharad Karkhanis Professor Emeritus from Kingsborough Community College who has been tirelessly exposing the malfeasance of the PSC and the incompetence of its leaders in his influential internet newsletter The Patriot Returns.

The subject of much of TPR's biting satire is aimed at the union's excessive promotion of a one-sided political agenda instead of winning better contracts for the members. TPR has carefully documented the PSC leadership's pursuit of revolution instead of their jobs, elaborating on their campaigns to devote more time and resources to future global crusades. This includes such activities as mobilizing the membership to protest the Republican Party at the Republican National Convention in New York.

Additionally, the PSC has passed a resolution sympathizing with Hugo Chavez, sponsored a conference called Educators to Stop the War, calling for teachers to develop an anti-war curriculum. The PSC leadership has organized and funded New York City Labor Against the War and Labor for Palestine, donated $5000 to support the legal defense of Lori Berenson, in prison for helping Peruvian Marxist terrorists, and donated thousands to the defense of Sami Al-Arian convicted of conspiracy to aid terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. According to TPR, the PSC even hosts an "International Committee" replete with a foreign policy spokesperson, who has issued public statements against economic and military aid to Israel and a statement condemning the war in Afghanistan, "joining in solidarity with the victims of U.S. military power," namely the Taliban. The New York Sun, reported that while the leaders of the PSC have been running amok in politics, their union failed to deliver a new contract and in the past five years the member's health and welfare fund reserves fell by 97% "with only a trickle of money remaining for faculty members' prescription drug, dental, and medical insurance plans."

One of the union leaders, Professor Susan O'Malley, a member of the PSC executive committee, former chair of the University Faculty Senate and professor of English has been a regular target of Dr. Karkhanis's irreverent discourse. Past issues of TPR have exposed O'Malley's pleas to find a teaching position for convicted terrorist conspirator, Mohammad Yousry. TPR documented her protests against the firing of imprisoned Weather Underground terrorist Susan Rosenberg and her attempts to find Rosenberg a job at CUNY. Also past issues attacked O'Malley's support for anti-religious Professor Timothy Shortell's bid for chairmanship of the Sociology Department of Brooklyn College. He is noted for his claims that all religious people are "moral retards" and "an ugly, violent lot," and statements, "Christians claim that theirs is faith based on love, but they'll just as soon kill you."

The legal claim focuses on several allegedly defamatory statements made in the March 12, 2007 issue of The Patriot Returns entitled: MOHAMMED ON HER MIND! Karkhanis wrote that O'Malley "is obsessed with finding jobs for terrorists and, in particular, for Mohammed Yousry" and "She does not worry about the "ordinary" adjunct ~ but she is worried about convicted terrorists!" and that "...she is recruiting naive, innocent members of the KCC faculty into her Queda-Camp, to infiltrate college and departmental Personnel and Budget Committees in her mission - to recruit terrorists in CUNY." O'Malley's lawyer claims that these and others are "false, damaging, and defamatory statements regarding Professor O'Malley" and that "(t)hey are intended to inflict harm through their falsehood. The statements were made to injure Professor O'Malley's reputation and to lower the opinion of her in the CUNY community."

In a certified letter, O'Malley's lawyer instructed Karkhanis "to retract the above defamatory statements immediately and to refrain from making any other defamatory statements." However, Karkhanis is standing by every statement he has made saying that he would rather serve time in jail than retract his statements. He considers the lawsuit "an attempt to infringe on his freedom of speech" and views O'Malley as a public figure that he has a right to satirize and criticize.

TPR is an influential dissenting voice inside the CUNY community and functions as a check against the abuses of power of an omnipotent union that seeks to censor all criticism of the leadership. O'Malley who is on the "Editorial Collective" of the magazine Radical Teacher has earned the title from TPR, "The Queen of Released Time" for seeking union positions and political activities in order to be released from teaching assignments. The timing of this lawsuit is apparently calculated to benefit O'Malley and the union leaders by shutting down The Patriot Returns in anticipation of the coming campus chapter PSC elections and the 2008 university-wide union elections. A campus free of dissention from the pages of TPR would pave the way to PSC incumbent election victories.

Although this is a case of silencing political opposition, putting politics aside, all in all this is a not a partisan issue of left vs. right. It is not a money issue either, for what could a prominent union leader gain by suing a retired scholar with two cents to his name. As a free speech issue that rises above the plight of one poor professor in CUNY, who has paid his union dues for forty years and now frets over how to obtain the necessary legal funds to go to battle for his rights, it is an issue that threatens all concerned citizens and purveyors of opinions who write, blog and dissent in the free market of ideas in America. It is an issue that should concern both conservatives and liberals alike. The academic elites are clamping down on overly opinionated Americans, attempting to humble and scare voices of all political stripes into silence.

But the bottom line is that Karkhanis has simply offended Susan O'Malley. In today's climate of reverse McCarthyism, anyone who is insensitive to a person's feelings is labeled a fascist, racist, homophobe or Islamophobe. The elites have put the albatross of political correctness around our necks censoring offensive views, remarks, jokes and in this case Karkhanis's political satire in TPR. O'Malley, a victim of nothing more than allegedly repugnant opinions, chose to terminate free speech with a lawsuit, rather than responding in kind and continuing the debate. But this is nothing new. For over a decade O'Malley and the union leadership have been ordering TPR to stop publication, and have successfully shut down all other forums for holding the union leaders accountable for their actions. But Karkhanis refuses to be silenced.

The United Federation Of Teachers (UFT), New York City's largest teacher's union was founded in the 1960's in a less litigious climate than today. In those days, the union, frequently the target of dissention and vicious attacks against its leaders, contracts, and policy, settled their disputes on the delegate assembly floor, often with rancorous debate, name-calling and accusations, without resorting to censorship or lawsuits. The critics of Albert Shanker, president of the UFT, branded him with far worse epithets than being lambasted as a recruiter for terrorists. Shanker was vilified as a racist, militant extremist and depicted as becoming so power hungry that he was feared to be intent on destroying the planet if he got hold of a nuclear device which was the scenario presented in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper (1973). However, Shanker never took Woody Allen to court for public defamation and injuring his reputation with his irreverent humor.

Name-calling may offend, but it never harms one's life or limb, or sets fire to one's home or property. Criticism may hurt someone's feelings, but cannot injure one's reputation. O'Malley has caused more damage to her reputation by suing a distinguished retired professor for criticism, than the criticism itself has wrought.

Just as Albert Shanker, or any prominent figure in the spotlight, O'Malley is a union leader who is in the public arena. She is fair game for criticism of her actions and has to take the hits. In a democracy one is generally held directly accountable to those she serves. She has made some unwise and foolish decisions, like attempting to find teaching jobs for convicted terrorists. If she can't take the heat and be accountable to dues paying members for her actions, she should go home and take up knitting, an enjoyable craft that will garner no antagonism or public criticism. No longer would she be the target of Dr. Karkhanis mocking satire on the pages of The Patriot Returns. If Professor Susan O'Malley would rather remain in the public arena, she should stand up and take it, lick her wounds and stop bellyaching. Instead of behaving like a sniveling child, she should offer a rebuttal to TPR's accusations. However, when all's said and done, she should be very, very ashamed of herself and retract this frivolous lawsuit at once, which even she herself has deemed, "very, very silly."

Telling students what to think comes naturally to some

In a dilution of academic responsibility, US professors are defending indoctrination, argues David Horowitz

In its latest response to complaints about the politicisation of higher education in the US, the American Association of University Professors has embraced a novel view: "It is not indoctrination for professors to expect students to comprehend ideas and apply knowledge that is accepted as true within a relevant discipline."

Under this precept, put forth in the association's recent report, Freedom in the Classroom, teachers are no longer held to standards of scholarly or scientific or intellectually responsible discourse, but to whatever is "accepted as true within a relevant discipline". With this formulation, the AAUP jettisons the traditional understanding of what constitutes a liberal education and ratifies a transformation of the university that is already well advanced.

Since the 1960s, many newly minted academic disciplines have appeared that are the result not of scholarship or scientific developments but of political pressures brought to bear by ideological sects. The discipline of women's studies, the most important of these new fields, freely acknowledges its origins in a political movement and defines its educational mission in political terms.

The preamble to the constitution of the National Women's Studies Association proclaims: "Women's studies ... is equipping women not only to enter society as whole, as productive human beings, but to transform the world to one that will be free of all oppression." This is the statement of a political cause not a program of scholarly inquiry.

The AAUP has issued its defence of indoctrination fully cognisant of the fact that these new academic disciplines view their mission as using the classroom to instil an ideology in their students. These programs include, in addition to women's studies, African-American studies, peace studies, cultural studies, Chicano studies, gay-lesbian studies, post-colonial studies, whiteness studies, communications studies, community studies and recently politicised disciplines such as cultural anthropology and sociology. At the University of California Santa Cruz, the women's studies department has renamed itself the department of feminist studies to signify that it is a political training facility. It has done so without a word of complaint or caution from university administrators or the association.

Under the association's new doctrine, these sectarian creeds are shielded from scrutiny by the scientific method. In the new dispensation, political control of a discipline is an adequate basis for closing off critical debate. The idea that political power can establish truth is a conception so contrary to the intellectual foundations of the modern research university that the AAUP committee could not state it so baldly. Hence the disingenuous compromise of "truth within a relevant discipline".

At the time its report was finalised, a new edition of the AAUP's official journal, Academe, featured two articles defending the feminist indoctrination of university students. The first was "Impassioned teaching" by AAUP chapter president Pamela Caughie, head of the women's studies department at Loyola University. Caughie wrote: "I feel I am doing my job well when students become practitioners of feminist analysis and committed to feminist politics." This is the attitude of a missionary seeking to ground her students in feminist dogma, not a professor seeking to educate them about women. In the second article, Julie Kilmer of Olivet College describes the need to publicly expose and intimidate students who resist such indoctrination and suggests how to do this. The publication of two such articles can hardly be regarded as coincidental. It reveals the slope on which the AAUP now finds itself.

Some defenders of the AAUP's position say indoctrination is not really indoctrination if the student can object to a professor's classroom advocacy without fear of reprisal. But how would students know that there was no penalty for refusing to embrace a professor's political assumptions? How would they deal with Kilmer's threats to expose them and break down their resistance, or with the pressure implicit in Caughie's "impassioned teaching"?


Degraded British High School qualifications

The reputation of A levels has been dealt a blow after the head of an exam board expressed doubts about their value. Simon Lebus, group chief executive of the Cambridge Assessment board, part of Cambridge University, said that examiners, regulators and politicians had all been wrong in failing to address declining public confidence in "A-level currency". Mr Lebus said that it was "hard not to be troubled" by research showing a decline in standards in A-level maths and science. "There is no doubt that confidence in the value of the A-level currency has suffered over recent years," he said.

In a lecture to the exams regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), he said: "We all, the QCA, the awarding bodies, politicians and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, in its various guises, have been remiss in not being readier to debate the impact of changes in A level, perhaps not least because operating within a culture where there has been an expectation of consistently improving levels of attainment, we may not have felt a need to do so." The A-level pass rate has risen for 25 successive years, reaching 96.9 per cent this year, with nearly one in ten candidates achieving three A grades.

The Government and examination boards have emphasised that improvements to A-level standards are the result of better teaching and learning, even though opinion polls have shown that nearly half the public believe that A levels have become easier. Defenders of A levels also point out that the examination has in effect changed from a university entrance examination to a school-leaving certificate for 18-year-olds.

But Mr Lebus said that the education establishment should no longer simply "take refuge" in the technical arguments. He cited research from Dr Robert Coe, of Durham University, showing that A-level results for pupils of the same ability improved by two grades between 1988 and 2006. He also referred to Sir Peter Williams, appointed in July to review the teaching of maths in primary schools, who has said that the A-level "gold standard" had been declining for a "long period of time".

Mr Lebus was speaking as the Government embarks on a consultation over plans to hand full independence to the part of the QCA responsible for regulating exams and monitoring standards. In September Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, suggested that this would reassure parents, pupils, universities and employers that exam standards were being maintained. To counter complaints about A-level grade inflation the Government is to introduce an A* grade for the 2010 exams, which will be awarded to students who achieve 90 per cent and above.

Mr Lebus said that it would be possible to monitor standards through a national script archive that would store a representative sample of answers given by A-level students every year.