Saturday, January 19, 2008

Leftists trying to destroy Britain's remaining good schools

They have given up on improving bad schools because they know from experience that it cannot be done. So they want to destroy the good schools by busing in the problem children that any sane parent would want to avoid. Fortunately, the government is not so far going along with that -- as it realizes how unpopular that would be

Middle-class parents obsessed with Ofsted reports and league tables are colonising the best primary schools, forcing poorer children into failing schools and ruining their chances in life, researchers claim. The Cambridge Primary Review – the biggest study of primary schools for decades – recommends that catchment areas should be scrapped because only wealthy parents can afford to buy houses next to the best primaries. Instead, oversubscribed schools would use a lottery system.

The research, by Stephen Machin and Sandra McNally, from the University of London, found that admissions procedures exacerbated inequalities. Their report said: “Some aspects of primary education are geared in favour of helping higher income groups. Current admissions policies favour parents who not only know how to use published information about school standards such as Ofsted inspections and performance tables but can also afford to choose exactly where to live. “Prohibiting schools from discriminating on the basis of residence would do much to level the playing field in terms of educational opportunities. It would reduce the large inequalities that appear later in terms of wages and intergenerational mobility.”

The report said that a person’s success in the labour market was influenced by his or her primary education. It said: “Differences in educational progress start very early, widen as children age and lead to substantial differences in later attainment levels.” Dr McNally told The Times that schools should be banned from choosing pupils according to where they live. “They could still give preferential treatment to siblings of pupils already at the school, but then there should be a lottery system,” she said. “That was adopted in the whole of Brighton & Hove as a fairer system. Quite how far children could be bussed to other schools would need to be worked out, but the local authority could organise some help with that. It’s a really vital area and an obvious way of making things fairer.” She admitted that scrapping catchment areas would upset a lot of people, “particularly those who had bought houses near schools”.

The report also criticised the market-based approach to education, backed by successive governments, which encourages competition between schools. “Choice and competition may exacerbate educational inequalities,” it said. “The inability to exercise choice can lead to educational segregation, with children from disadvantaged families having to make do with the schools that more advantaged parents do not want to send their children to. “Schools are not like businesses: they do not close down when they no longer make a profit.”

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There’s strong evidence that collaboration between schools raises standards, whereas excessive competition and market-based policies create polarisation, which makes the task of some schools particularly difficult.”

Another report for the review studied the history of primary education. It found that 100 years ago schools “played down intellectual aims and put more stress on practical activities, particularly those required by an industrious and unselfish workforce”.

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said: “Of course, all children should attend a good school and have the opportunity to secure the best jobs in later life, regardless of their background. That is precisely why we have introduced the new statutory School Admissions Code. Catchment areas must reflect the broader local community and must not exclude particular areas to penalise low income families. A ban would undermine the right of schools and councils to decide their own admissions policies – and there is no way parents will support this.”


More putting propaganda before real education in schools

'No Name-Calling' Campaign Coming to Nation's Schools

Thousands of American schools are expected to take part in the fifth annual "No Name-Calling Week," a homosexual advocacy group announced on Monday. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) said the campaign is aimed at children in grades 5-8, and the group offers additional lesson plans for earlier grades. "No Name-Calling Week, Jan. 21-25, is an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities," GLSEN said in a news release.

"No Name-Calling Week offers schools an opportunity to engage students about the importance of treating one another with respect," said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN's interim executive director. "Unfortunately, far too many students experience the negative impact of name-calling, bullying and harassment. Through proactive educational interventions like No Name-Calling Week, schools can make a difference in the safety of all of their students," Byard said.

GLSEN said No Name-Calling Week was inspired by the young adult novel "The Misfits," by James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends "trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent name-calling, bullying and harassment."

GLSEN said its No Name-Calling Week Coalition partners include Simon & Schuster Children's Publishers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Girl Scouts of the USA, the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association.

In the run-up to No Name-Calling Week, GLSEN sponsored a "Creative Expression Contest," asking students ages 5-15 to "illustrate what name-calling means to them through artistic expression such as poetry, artwork or music."

On its Web site, GLSEN says it "envisions a future in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression."

The GLSEN Web site offers a guide for students who want to start "gay-straight alliances" or similar clubs at their schools. And the group also organizes an annual "Day of Silence" in schools, when some students and faculty members remain mute to "protest the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth."

In previous years, conservative groups have criticized any attempt to publicize or advocate the homosexual lifestyle in the nation's schools.


Hopelessly bureaucratized government schools failing to educate India's poor

With the dew just rising from the fields, dozens of children streamed into the two-room school in this small, poor village, tucking used rice sacks under their arms to use as makeshift chairs. So many children streamed in that the newly appointed head teacher, Rashid Hassan, pored through attendance books for the first two hours of class and complained bitterly. He had no idea who belonged in which grade. There was no way he could teach. Another teacher arrived 90 minutes late. A third did not show up. The most senior teacher, the only one with a teaching degree, was believed to be on official government duty preparing voter registration cards. No one could quite recall when he had last taught.

"When they get older, they'll curse their teachers," said Arnab Ghosh, 26, a social worker trying to help the government improve its schools, as he stared at clusters of children sitting on the grass outside. "They'll say, 'We came every day and we learned nothing.' "

Sixty years after independence, with 40 percent of its population under 18, India is now confronting the perils of its failure to educate its citizens, notably the poor. More Indian children are in school than ever before, but the quality of public schools like this one has sunk to spectacularly low levels, as government schools have become reserves of children at the very bottom of India's social ladder. The children in this school come from the poorest of families - those who could not afford to send away their young to private schools elsewhere, as do most Indian families with any means.

India has long had a legacy of weak schooling for its young, even as it has promoted high-quality government-financed universities. But if in the past a largely poor and agrarian nation could afford to leave millions of its people illiterate, that is no longer the case. Not only has the roaring economy run into a shortage of skilled labor, but also the nation's many new roads, phones and television sets have fueled new ambitions for economic advancement among its people - and new expectations for schools to help them achieve it.

That they remain ill equipped to do so is clearly illustrated by an annual survey, conducted by Pratham, the organization for which Ghosh works. The latest survey, conducted across 16,000 villages in 2007 and released Wednesday, found that while many more children were sitting in class, vast numbers of them could not read, write or perform basic arithmetic, to say nothing of those who were not in school at all. Among children in fifth grade, 4 out of 10 could not read text at the second grade level, and 7 out of 10 could not subtract. The results reflected a slight improvement in reading from 2006 and a slight decline in arithmetic; together they underscored one of the most worrying gaps in India's prospects for continued growth.

Education experts debate the reasons for failure. Some point out that children of illiterate parents are less likely to get help at home; the Pratham survey shows that the child of a literate woman performs better at school. Others blame longstanding neglect, insufficient public financing and accountability, and a lack of motivation among some teachers to pay special attention to poor children from lower castes. "Education is a long-term investment," said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and the government's top policy czar. "We have neglected it, in my view quite criminally, for an enormously long period of time."

Arguments aside, India is today engaged in an epic experiment to uplift its schools. Along the way lie many hurdles, and Ghosh, on his visits to villages like this one, encounters them all. The aides who were hired to draw more village children into school complain that they have not received money to buy educational materials. Or the school has stopped serving lunch even though sacks of rice are piled in the classroom. Or parents agree to enroll their son in school, but know that they will soon send the child away to work. Or worst of all, from Ghosh's perspective, all these stick-thin, bright-eyed children trickle into school every morning and take back so little. "They're coming with some hope of getting something," Ghosh muttered. "It's our fault we can't give them anything."

Even here, the kind of place from which millions of uneducated men and women have traditionally migrated to cities for work, an appetite for education has begun to set in. An educated person would not only be more likely to fetch a good job, parents here reasoned, but also less likely to be cheated in a bad one. "I want my children to do something, to advance themselves," is how Muhammad Alam Ansari put it. "To do that they must study."

Education in the new India has become a crucial marker of inequality. Among the poorest 20 percent of the population, half are illiterate, and barely 2 percent graduate from high school, according to government data. By contrast, among the richest 20 percent of the population, nearly half are high school graduates and only 2 percent are illiterate.

Just as important, at a time when only one in 10 college-age Indians actually go to college, higher education has become the most effective way to scale the golden ladder of the new economy. A recent study by two economists based in Delhi found that between 1993-94 and 2004-05, college graduates enjoyed pay raises of 11 percent every year, and illiterates saw their pay rise by roughly 8.5 percent, though from a miserably low base; here in Bihar State, for instance, a day laborer makes barely more than a dollar a day. "The link between getting your children prepared and being part of this big, changing India is certainly there in everyone's minds," said Rukmini Banerji, the research director of Pratham. "The question is: what's the best way to get there, how much to do, what to do? As a country, I think we are trying to figure this out." She added, "If we wait another 5 or 10 years, you are going to lose millions of children."

India has lately begun investing in education. Public spending on schools has steadily increased over the last few years, and the government now proposes to triple its financing commitment over the next five years. At present, education spending is about 4 percent of the gross domestic product. Every village with more than 1,000 residents has a primary school. There is money for free lunch every day.

Even a state like Bihar, which had an estimated population of 83 million in 2001 and where schools are in particularly bad shape, the scale of the effort is staggering. In the last year or so, 100,000 new teachers have been hired. Unemployed villagers are paid to recruit children who have never been to school. A village education committee has been created, in theory to keep the school and its principal accountable to the community. And buckets of money have been thrown at education, to buy swings and benches, to paint classrooms, even to put up fences around the campus to keep children from running away.

And yet, as Lahtora shows, good intentions can become terribly complicated on the ground. At the moment, the village was not lacking for money for its school. The state had committed $15,000 to construct a new school building, $900 for a new kitchen and another $400 for new school benches. But only some of the money had arrived, so no construction had started, and the school committee chairman said he was not sure how much local officials might demand in bribes. The chairman's friend from a neighboring village said $750 had been demanded of his village committee in exchange for building permits.

The chairman here also happens to be the head teacher's uncle, making the idea of accountability additionally complicated. One parent told Ghosh that their complaints fell on deaf ears: The teachers were connected to powerful people in the community. It is a common refrain in a country where teaching jobs are a powerful instrument of political patronage. The school's drinking-water tap had stopped working long ago, like 30 percent of schools nationwide, according to the Pratham survey. Despite the extra money, the toilet was broken, as was the case in nearly half of all schools nationwide. Thankfully, there was a heap of rice in one corner of the classroom, provisions for the savory rice porridge that acts as one of the main draws of government schools. Except that Hassan, the head teacher, said the rice was not officially reflected in his books, and therefore he had not served lunch for the last week. What about the money that comes from the state to buy eggs and other provisions for lunch, Ghosh asked? That too remained unspent, Hassan explained, because there was no rice to serve them with - at least not in his record books.

(Analysts of government antipoverty programs say rice can be a tempting side income for unscrupulous school officials; food meant for the poor in general, though not at this particular village school, is sometimes found diverted and sold on the private market, though one of the brighter findings of the Pratham survey was that free meals were served in over 90 percent of schools.)

Ghosh went from befuddled to exasperated. "You have rice. You have money. You prefer that kids don't eat?" he asked. Hassan shook his head. He said he could only cook what rice was in his records, or cook this rice if a senior government officer instructed him to do so. Ghosh went on to point out that one of the aides had shown up more than an hour late, and then with a crying baby in her arms. Two teachers were altogether absent. Even Hassan, Ghosh added, had pulled up a half-hour late. "You're the head of this school," Ghosh told him. "Only you can improve this school." Hassan fired back: "What are you talking about? For the last 25 years this school wasn't running at all."

Ghosh could not dispute that. There were times when the school doors did not open. One father, an agricultural laborer, said he had tried a few times to enroll his children but gave up after the former principal demanded money. Many parents in this largely Muslim village chose Islamic schools because they were seen to offer better discipline. Others saw no need to send their children to school at all.

Ghosh, too, went to government schools, in a small town in neighboring West Bengal state, which is only slightly better off than here. But if he dared skip class, he recalled, he would be thrashed by his father, a public school principal. The children of this village, he knew, would not be so lucky. "When I first started coming here," Ghosh recalled, parents "would ask me, 'What are you going to give me? Your porridge isn't enough. Because if I send my child to herd a buffalo, at least he'll make three rupees.' " Three rupees is less than 10 cents.

One morning Ghosh reached the mud-and-thatch compound of Mohammed Zakir, a migrant laborer who goes to work in Delhi each year. Zakir's son, Farooq, about 10 years old, was going to school for the first time this week. And as Zakir saw it, that was fine until Farooq turned 14, the legal age for employment, when he too would have to go work in Delhi. Keeping children in school through their teenage years, the father said flatly, was not a luxury the family could afford. Walking out of the Zakir family compound, Ghosh looked utterly worn out. "If I don't get this child in school," he said, "then his child in turn won't go to school."


Friday, January 18, 2008

Stupid California textbook says Islamic 'jihad' means doing good works

How come nobody told Osama bin Laden that? Or are we looking at an unacknowledged Islamic definition of "good" being slipped in? I suspect we are

An Islamic "jihad" is an effort by Muslims to convince "others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research," according to a textbook that is being used for junior high age students in California and other states. And even at its most violent, "jihad" simply is Muslims fighting "to protect themselves from those who would do them harm," says the "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond" book published by Teachers' Curriculum Institute.

But a parent whose child has been handed the text in a Sacramento district is accusing the publisher of a pro-Muslim bias to the point that Islamic theology has been incorporated into the public school teachings. "It makes an attempt to seem like an egalitarian world history book, but on closer inspection you find that seven (not all are titled so) of the chapters deal with Islam or Muslim subjects," wrote the parent, whose name was being withheld, in a letter to WND.

"The upsetting part is not only do they go into the history (which would be acceptable) but also the teaching of Islam," she said. "This book does not really go into Christianity or the teachings of Christ, nor does it address religious doctrine elsewhere to the degree it does Islam."

She said the book's one page referencing Jews "is only to convey that they were tortured by Crusaders to get them to convert to 'Christianity.' (It fails to mention that the biggest persecutors of Jews throughout history and still today are Arab Muslims). It gives four other one-liner references to the Jews being blamed for the plagues and problems in the land. It does not talk about the Jews as making a significant impact on the culture at large." "How can the writers of this text get away with this?" she asked.

Bert Bower, founder of TCI, said not only did his company have experts review the book, but the state of California also reviewed it, and has approved it for use in public schools. He said the company tries to move history out from between the covers of a textbook and into students' minds, and that is how the book was developed. "Keep in mind when looking at this particular book scholars from all over California (reviewed it)," he said. "We have our own scholars who created the program, California scholars look at the program and makes sure [it] is accurate."

One of those experts who contributed to the text, according to the American Textbook Council, which released a scathing indictment of the project, is Ayad Al-Qazzaz. "Al-Qazzaz is a Muslim apologist, a frequent speaker in Northern California school districts promoting Islam and Arab causes," the ATC review said. "Al-Qazzaz also co-wrote AWAIR's 'Arab World Notebook.' AWAIR stands for Arab World and Islamic Resources, an opaque, proselytizing 'non-profit organization' that conducts teacher workshops and sells supplementary materials to schools."

The textbook council, an independent national research group set up in 1989 to review history and social studies texts in public schools, quoted directly from the book to provide evidence of its bias.

The word jihad means "to strive." Jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that would be pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to become better people, reform society, or correct injustice.

Jihad has always been an important Islamic concept. One hadith, or account of Muhammad, tells about the prophet's return from a battle. He declared that he and his men had carried out the "lesser jihad," the external struggle against oppression. The "greater jihad," he said, was the fight against evil within oneself. Examples of the greater jihad include working hard for a goal, giving up a bad habit, getting an education, or obeying your parents when you may not want to.

Another hadith says that Muslims should fulfill jihad with the heart, tongue, and hand. Muslims use the heart in their struggle to resist evil. The tongue may convince others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research. Hands may perform good works and correct wrongs.

Sometimes, however, jihad becomes a physical struggle. The Quran tells Muslims to fight to protect themselves from those who would do them harm or to right a terrible wrong. Early Muslims considered their efforts to protect their territory and extend their rule over other regions to be a form of jihad. However, the Quran forbade Muslims to force others to convert to Islam. So, non-Muslims who came under Muslim rule were allowed to practice their faiths."

The council, in describing the text as a book written by "dictation from Islamic sources," said such passages "should put speculation to rest about what California's seventh-grade students may learn about Islam. At the very least, the passages are incomplete. More precisely, they are dishonest."

Such passages fail to explain "the essentially religious nature of the subject," the council said. "It ignores any challenge to international security and western-style law. The treatment is lyrical and loaded, echoing the language recommended by Islamist consultants."

The Sacramento parent said she became suspicious because of the school's decision to send a copy of the book home with her son and he started describing how it would teach students to write in Arabic. A review left her even more worried. "I was disturbed probably the greatest portion of this book is about Islam. It goes into the doctrine of Islam in detail," she said. "There are 35 chapters. Out of those, I counted at least seven [that focus] on Islam." She said she looked at the publication's list of contributors, and found the name of Ayad Al-Qazzaz, whom she'd had herself for a class on Middle Eastern studies. "That was a big flag for me," she said.

WND previously has reported on the influence of Islamic "consultants" on public school texts in the United States, as well as how other schools have included the "Five Pillars of Islam" among their required courses.

The parent said she just wanted people to know of the agenda being taught. "After seeing Al-Qazzaz as one of the main contributors I began to put two and two together . about the extra book coming home only in this class and I questioned where this book's money source came from - I still do not know," she said. "I am very troubled that in the name of tolerance and educating American children about the Muslim empire in history they get away with giving beginning Islamic teaching which may cause many to perhaps one day become Muslims," she said. "My son tells me that the students will even be using calligraphy to copy parts of the Quran in Arabic as an enrichment activity."

The ATC's second excerpt from the book dealt with the definition of sharia law. "For example, the Quran tells women to 'not display their beauty.' For this reason, Muslim women usually wear different forms of modest dress. Most women cover their arms and legs. Many also wear scarves over the hair," the book said.

Bower said Christianity is addressed in chapters 3, 6, 31 and 32 of the book, including descriptions of the Crusades, while the company's website shows an entire unit called, "The Rise of Islam," including chapters on the Arabian peninsula, "The Prophet Muhammad," "The Teachings of Islam," "Contributions of Muslims to World Civilizations," and "From the Crusades to the Rise of New Muslim Empires."

The recommendations included that "students learn about the beliefs and practices of Islam" and "learn about the life of Muhammad and the rise and expansion of Muslim rule."

Bower said the textbook is the answer to the demands in today's society for a "multicultural" education, and he said whenever some historical subjects are taught, there's always controversy. He cited the internment of Japanese people in the United States during World War II as an example. His company's book, he said, "really gives students multiple perspectives." But he also said he wasn't aware of any agenda held by any contributors to the book, including Al-Qazzaz. "I'll have to look into that," he said. He said about one-third of California's districts use the book, and so do thousands of other districts across the country.

If a parent objects to the agenda in the book, he said, "it's up to them to make a decision, do they want to have the kids opt out of this part. It's their local decision to do so. But in this age isn't it important for us, for our students to know as much about as many different religions as possible?"

Others may agree that students need to know about the world in which they live, but the TCI book is not the right one to teach them. According to a report from William J. Bennetta at the Textbook League, officials in Scottsdale, Ariz., tested the book, and ultimately rejected it after parents rallied to complain. "Students who took a 7th-grade social students course . were subject to gross, prolonged indoctrination in Islam," he wrote. "Much of the indoctrination was delivered in a corrupt school book titled 'History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond,' produced by [TCI]," he said. "The writers of [the book], by relentlessly presenting Muslim religious tales and religious beliefs as matters of historical fact, have striven hard to induce students to embrace Islam."

He wrote that the indoctrination is "concentrated in chapters 8 and 9. This material consists overwhelmingly of Islamic religious propaganda. It includes blatant preaching as well as deceptive claims and extensive fraudulent narratives dealing with the beginnings of Islam, the life of Muhammad, and the inception of the Quran. These claims and narratives are disguised as accounts of history. They actually are restatements of Muslim fables and superstitions."

Bennetta also noted that the book exhibits contempt for Judaism and Christianity. "For example, In a passage in chapter 9, the TCI writers convey the lesson that a religious view held by Muslims is important, but views held by Jews and Christians are unworthy of consideration." Even the level of scholarly work is deficient, he continued. "They teach, in chapter 9, that if someone encounters some antiquated hearsay and jots it down, the hearsay becomes 'written evidence' of historical happenings."

In an Internet posting about the Scottsdale use of the text, Janie White, a parent in the district, reported the book included "fake history" along with "Islamic religious proselytizing and indoctrination techniques."

Officials with the Sacramento school district declined to respond to WND requests for comment about the book and its use. Al-Qazzaz, who teaches at Cal State-Sacramento, has explained in other Internet postings "greater jihad" is to become better Muslims and "lesser jihad" is to fight against Islam's enemies.


NJ college tries to enforce allegiance to a politically correct ethics code

Bergen Community College wants to require students and staff to pledge to "embrace and celebrate differing perspectives" and help the "less fortunate," but some faculty members and free speech advocates say the oath is unconstitutional and smacks of political correctness run amok.

A proposed "responsibility code" was drafted as a response to what school administrators say is a rise in "uncivil" behavior -- including the use of language that is demeaning to women and minorities -- on the Paramus campus.

But critics say the pledge is far too broad. Faculty leaders shown a draft of the code this week vowed Thursday to fight its adoption. "It's unenforceable. Forget the faculty signing this," said Peter Helff, president of the faculty union.

Professor George Cronk, a professor of philosophy and religion who also is an attorney, said the code is an attack on freedom of conscience. "It asks you to pledge things that no rational person would. You can't require people to respect one another. ... There are some views that don't deserve respect," he said, citing ideologies such as fascism.

A spokeswoman for a national group that champions free speech on campus said the pledge seems extreme. "A public school has no right to reach into students' minds and tell them what to think," said Samantha Harris, spokeswoman for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Similar policies have been struck down by the courts.

Harris said colleges can aspire to ideals but they can't stifle their students' freedom of expression and conscience "A public university can't mandate civility," she said. "It's a popular type of censorship on campus and one that often flies under the radar."

The so-called civility movement has gained momentum on campuses during the last decade and many, including most in New Jersey, have included statements on civility in student handbooks. Those statements generally express schools' inclusiveness and tolerance for other viewpoints. (Schools, including Bergen, have separate codes of conduct dealing with unlawful behavior, plagiarism and cheating.) Bergen would have been the first school in the state to require students to agree to such a specific code of civility.

Bergen's president, R. Jeremiah Ryan, said last month he hoped to implement the code during the upcoming semester and a spokeswoman for the college said earlier this week that the code would be mandatory. "The pledge would not be optional," Susan Baechtel, a college spokeswoman, said Wednesday. "If you don't agree, it is President Ryan's vision that you cannot attend the school." She said students who violated the code would be subject to judiciary hearings now reserved for offenses such as assault.

But after hearing from faculty, administrators on Thursday were backing off a bit. Ryan said the proposal was a starting point for discussion with faculty and students, and that the college, ultimately, may opt for an "aspirational" statement as opposed to a code.

Concepts such as tolerance and respect -- unlike legally defined behaviors such as harassment and defamation -- are too broad and legally undefined and have been struck down by the court, Harris said.

A federal magistrate in November barred the University of California from enforcing its civility standard, saying it was an unconstitutional restriction on speech because it had been used to investigate or discipline students, such as the College Republicans whose members stomped on two flags bearing the name of Allah during an anti-terrorism rally at San Francisco State last year.

Opponents of speech codes argue that some of the important movements of our time -- such as civil rights -- were considered uncivil by those in power. "Impassioned speech is not always polite or civil," said Harris.

Requiring students to make a pledge seems over the top considering that the courts have ruled that even the Pledge of Allegiance can't be legally required, Harris said. "It's crossing a line. A public university cannot mandate students' attitudes." But Baechtel, from Bergen, said the school was working to "balance First Amendment rights with a need to bring civility into an institution."

College administrators say they've seen an uptick in bad behavior on campus. "Students are acting out in really uncivil ways," Ryan said. "Classroom faculty say in the last two years it has really ratcheted up. The high schools tell us the same things." The word "uncivil" seems almost genteel when talking about the some of the behavior. At Bergen, faculty hear loud and obscene conversations in hallways and even classrooms, and there have been a few instances of racist graffiti. A student upset with her grade threatened to break a teacher's face.

The problems are not unique to the Paramus school. Officials at Rutgers University had to apologize for football fans who heckled the Navy team with obscenities, and William Paterson University began a campaign to dissuade students from using racial epithets.

WPU addresses the issue in its orientation and student code of conduct. Two years ago, the school also put together an online workshop for teachers on managing disruptive students in the classroom.

Karen Pennington, vice president for student development and campus life at Montclair State University, said civility codes can be tricky. "The difficulty is that civility codes or statements often are seen as pushing a point of view ... when people are trying to do just the opposite," she said. "The difficult thing is trying to decide how far you push in making people feel secure on campus without making another group feel oppressed." Montclair has a statement but "it's really not part of our code, it's a framework ... it calls for an atmosphere of understanding. But it's not a pledge we hold people to."

Judiciary proceedings against students accused of disruptive and destructive behavior at Bergen -- from verbal and physical assaults to graffiti -- spiked to 125 incidents in 2007. The number is still relatively small considering there are 15,000 students at Bergen, "but the trend line is up and we're concerned about that," Ryan said. "The instances have been a wake-up call and we have to make it a learning experience," Ryan said.

Charles Bordogna, who runs a diversity program on campus, said policies such as the proposed code are a start. "We want to be going beyond the word 'tolerance' to respecting individuals for who they are."

But Helff, who heads the faculty, said the code was a "knee-jerk reaction. "I've been there 38 years and I've never sworn to embrace anybody," said Helff. "Next I'll have to be nice to administrators?"


British educationist criticizes Google

Perish the thought that people might get information from popular rather than "authorized" sources!

Google is "white bread for the mind", and the internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information, a professor of media studies will claim this week. In her inaugural lecture at the University of Brighton, Tara Brabazon will urge teachers at all levels of the education system to equip students with the skills they need to interpret and sift through information gleaned from the internet. She believes that easy access to information has dulled students' sense of curiosity and is stifling debate. She claims that many undergraduates arrive at university unable to discriminate between anecdotal and unsubstantiated material posted on the internet.

"I call this type of education `the University of Google'. "Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments. "Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content," she said.

Professor Brabazon, who has been teaching in universities for 18 years, said that the heavy reliance on the internet in universities had the effect of "flattening expertise" because every piece of information was given the same credibility by users. Professor Brabazon's concerns echo the author Andrew Keen's criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: "To-day's media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile."

Professor Brabazon said: "I've taught all through the digitisation of education. It's fascinating to see how students have changed. We can no longer assume that students arrive at university, knowing what to read and knowing what standards are required of the material that they do read." "Students live in an age of information, but what they lack is correct information. They turn to Wikipedia unquestioningly for information. Why wouldn't they - it's there," she said.

Professor Brabazon does not blame schools for students' cut-and-paste attitude to study. Nor is she critical of students individually. With libraries in decline, diminishing stocks of books and fewer librarians, media platforms such as Google made perfect sense. The trick was to learn how to use them properly. "We need to teach our students the interpretative skills first before we teach them the technological skills. Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google," she said.

Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work. "I want students to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels - both are fine but I want students to have both - not one or the other, not a cheap solution," she said.

There have been concerns about students plagiarising from the internet and the growth of a new online "coursework industry", in which web-sites produce tailor-made essays, some selling for up to 1,000 pounds each.

Wikipedia, containing millions of articles contributed by users was founded in 2001. It has been criticised for being riddled with inaccuracies and nonsense. Even one of its own founders, Larry Sanger, described it as "broken beyond repair" before leaving the site last year. Google is the dominant search engine on the internet. It uses a formula designed to place the most relevant content at the top of its listings. But a multimillion-pound industry has grown up around manipulating Google rankings through a process called "search engine optimisation".


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stupid attack on home-schoolers by the NYT

Post below lifted from Taranto. See the original for links. Note further that even if the circumstances were as the NYT would have us believe, one would have to compare the death-rate among homeschooled children with the death-rate among government-schooled children. I don't think there is any doubt about how THAT would pan out!

Four girls in the District of Columbia were allegedly murdered last year, and a New York Times news story suggests the root cause is . . . home schooling? Here's how the report begins:
Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home.

The lack of supervision of the home-schooling process, some experts say, may have made it easier last year for Ms. Jacks to withdraw her children from school and the prying eyes of teachers, social workers and other professionals who otherwise might have detected signs of abuse and neglect of the girls. Instead, the children, ages 5 to 17, slipped through the cracks in multiple systems, including social services, education and law enforcement. Their decomposed bodies were discovered earlier this week by United States marshals serving eviction papers on the troubled family.

The absence of any home-schooling regulations in Washington is largely the result of advocacy and litigation by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The report goes on to concede that "for sure, the fact that Ms. Jacks's children last attended school in March in no way accounts for their deaths." The home-schooling link looks even more tenuous when you look at the Washington Post account of the case. On Sunday, the Post reports, Mayor Adrian Fenty fired six child-welfare workers, saying they "just didn't do their job." It turns out that the girls' absence from school was noted at the time:
The girls were killed sometime in late spring or summer, authorities believe. But they were alive when a school social worker, with growing alarm, tried to get child welfare workers to look in on the family. . . . "From what I could see, the home did not appear clean," the social worker, Kathy Lopes, said in a call to police April 30. "The children did not appear clean, and it seems that the mother is suffering from some mental illness and she is holding all of the children in the home hostage."

Lopes first visited the Jacks home April 27, after Brittany Jacks, 16, missed 33 days of school and no one answered a phone at the house. "The parent was home. She wouldn't open the door, but we saw young children inside the house," Lopes said to a hotline worker at the city's Child and Family Services Agency. "Her oldest daughter, who is our student, was at home. She wouldn't let us see her." The operator took the information and reminded Lopes, who was clearly distraught that she could not talk to Brittany, that Jacks did not have to let her inside the home. . . .

Although a social worker made at least two visits to Jacks's home, in the 4200 block of Sixth Street SE, no one answered the door to the rowhouse either time. Less than three weeks later, Child and Family Services staff members closed the case after receiving an unconfirmed report that the family had moved to Maryland.

The Post also has a timeline of Jacks's contacts with various city agencies--five of them in all. It does appear as if Lopes, the school social worker, was the only bureaucrat who took any real interest in the girls' well-being. But this was true even under the district's laissez-faire regime for home schooling, and it's hard to see how the sort of regulations the Times reporter implicitly advocates would have helped.

For the sake of argument, though, let's assume that stricter home-schooling regulations would have some beneficial impact in terms of protecting children from abuse. This would come at the cost of burdening thousands of legitimate home-schooling families, the overwhelming majority of which are not abusive, by intruding into their very homes.

Whether this trade-off would be worth it is a legitimate topic for debate. But it's worth noting that the Times usually has little patience for those who value safety over privacy, as, for example, in the case of wiretapping terrorists. Are home schoolers more of a menace than al Qaeda?

Britain trying to discourage academic education

Probably a good thing on the whole. A British academic education these days is mostly Leftist indoctrination

Teachers are to be banned from encouraging their pupils to study A levels rather than the Government's controversial new vocational diploma qualifications under legislation that is going through Parliament. A clause in the Education and Skills Bill, to be debated in Parliament today, says that schools will be forbidden from "unduly promoting any particular options" to teenagers seeking advice on courses.

The move has been criticised by academics, who say that the Government is desperate for the diplomas to succeed at all costs. Others fear that the new and "impartial" mortgage-style advice will not be in the best interests of pupils as teachers unconvinced of the worth of the diplomas will be unable to pass on their concerns to either them or their parents.

The qualifications are designed to end the divide between vocational and academic learning and will be offered at some schools from September and across England and Wales by 2013. Ministers are promoting diplomas as the "jewel in the crown" of the education system. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, recently said that they would become the "qualification of choice" and refused to confirm that A levels would survive beyond a review in 2013.

However, the diplomas programme has been met with concern and caution by many employers and universities, with some yet to declare that they will accept them. Teachers are equally uncertain how they will work in practice. Academics, union leaders and educational experts said last night that the clause in the Bill puts schools and teachers in an impossible position.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said that it undermined teachers, who were in the best position to give advice to pupils. He said: "It seems this is inhibiting teachers in their professional practice, [and it] could be connected with a drive to push diplomas at all costs. They will be valuable ladders from school to work - but not an attractive option for all pupils."

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "If there is a major educational reform, then the professional judgment of teachers has to be trusted. You can't put a set of restrictions in there about their judgment."

The first 14 diplomas covered subjects such as hair and beauty, travel and tourism. But the latest wave, announced in October, includes languages, humanities and science - apparently to appeal to middle-class parents and traditional universities. Some subjects, such as engineering, appear destined to succeed, with at least seven universities saying that they will accept it as an entry qualification for relevant degree courses.

Diplomas will come in three levels. The Government has said that top marks in the advanced diploma will be worth more than three A levels. However, a survey suggested that fewer than four in ten university admissions officers saw them as a "good alternative" to A levels. In November, the Nuffield review said the introduction of diplomas had been rushed and that middle-class families would continue to favour traditional courses. A report published yesterday by the Policy Exchange think-tank said they were being launched with an ambitious, complex and expensive design, and an uncertain future.

Julia Neal, the president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "What we don't know is exactly how universities are going to approach diplomas. Technically, they will have the same currency as A levels, but only time will tell." Ann Hodgson, of the University of London Institute of Education, served on the Tomlinson committee, whose report led to the latest reform. "I think teachers will be put in a difficult position," she said. "It's very important that they give full information about the diplomas, and what they are likely to lead to."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the Government wanted pupils to have advice on the range of available options: "It is not about promoting one option over another, since it is up to individual pupils to decide the best route for themselves, in discussion with their parents and teachers."


Australian teachers back merit-based pay

Overwhelming support has emerged among the nation's teachers for merit-based pay, with a majority believing wages should be pegged to competence and qualifications. A national survey of 13,000 teachers, almost a third of the profession, found that two in three believe schools have difficulty retaining staff. Of that group, 70 per cent believe paying more to the most competent and those with extra qualifications would help stem the exodus.

While teacher unions have argued strenuously against the idea of linking pay to students' results, the survey reveals one in four supports higher pay for teachers whose students achieve specified goals. The study, commissioned by the federal Education Department, comes before the national conference of the Australian Education Union in Sydney today, which is expected to criticise the Rudd Government's education revolution for focusing too narrowly on technology.

The union's incoming federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, in his opening address today is expected to call for literacy and numeracy to be the foundation of the Government's education policy. Mr Gavrielatos will call on the Government to invest $2.9 billion to develop a comprehensive literacy and numeracy strategy that covers students from early childhood throughout the school years.

The $2.9 billion identified by Mr Gavrielatos was nominated in a report last year commissioned by the federal, state and territory education ministers as the annual amount in additional funds required for government schools to meet national standards. Mr Gavrielatos will outline key factors that must underpin a national literacy and numeracy strategy, including a "curriculum guarantee" that every student will have access to a rich, rigorous and rewarding curriculum.

Other factors are smaller classes to allow more individual attention to student needs; competitive salaries to attract and retain teachers; a large investment in indigenous education; and expanded early childhood services, with an increase in the number of hours of preschool from the 15 hours a week for every four-year-old promised by the Government to 20 hours a week.

Mr Gavrielatos's speech echoes the findings of a survey conducted for the AEU which found that more than four in five people believe an education revolution can happen only if the federal Government invests substantially more in public education. The survey of 600 people across the nation, conducted last week by Essential Media Communications, a research and communication company that handles public relations for the AEU, also found that education was an important factor in winning votes from the Howard government at the election. About 60 per cent of people who switched their vote from the Coalition to Labor said the Howard government's neglect of public education was an important factor in determining their vote. About 70 per cent said investing more to recruit and retain the best teachers, and increasing national literacy and numeracy standards, was very important for improving education, while 63 per cent nominated investing more in public schools to lower class sizes and deliver more individual attention to students.

Mr Gavrielatos, the national president-elect of the AEU, starts his term at the end of the month, replacing Pat Byrne, who has been on leave since November. Mr Gavrielatos is a former languages teacher, is fluent in Indonesian and was previously the deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation and deputy national president of the AEU.

The federal survey, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and the Australian College of Educators, identifies chronic teaching shortages across the nation, and in a broader range of specialist areas than previously reported. Despite a glut of primary school teachers graduating from universities, about one in 10 primary school principals had at least one unfilled vacancy throughout 2006, equating to about 1300 jobs. In high schools, the biggest shortage is among maths teachers, with 10 per cent of schools unable to fill a job at the beginning of 2006, rising to 13 per cent by the end of the year. Almost one in five schools readvertised the same job throughout that year. About 11 per cent of high schools couldn't find a science teacher, 6 per cent couldn't find an English teacher and 5 per cent struggled to get a languages teacher. To cope with shortages, the most common action by principals is to have a teacher from outside the speciality teach the class but many schools tend to drop the subject.

The survey underlines the lack of a competitive pay structure for the teaching profession, with three-quarters of principals reporting the majority of teachers are paid according to an incremental pay scale with progression largely based on years of service. The most common strategies nominated to retain teachers are smaller class sizes, fewer student management issues, a more positive public image of teachers and more support staff.

In a statement released yesterday, Education Minister Julia Gillard said the report highlighted the urgent need to implement the Rudd Government's education revolution and ensure every high school student could participate effectively in a digital world. She said the findings highlighted that teachers and principals saw computer technology as a vital learning tool, and the need for more professional learning for teachers, especially in the use of computers in school learning. Two-thirds of teachers nominated making more effective use of computers in student learning as the area of greatest need for professional learning.

Mr Gavrielatos said Ms Gillard's statements had overemphasised some aspects of the report to skim over other matters of "deeper significance and deeper concern". These included measures nominated to attract and retain teachers, such as more support staff, smaller class sizes, higher pay and fewer changes imposed on schools.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Britain: Rise in school leaving age to 18 'ill-conceived'

PLANS by the government to force young people to stay in education or training until they are 18 have been attacked by one of the country's leading educationists as "ill-conceived" and likely to have an "overwhelmingly negative effect". According to a pamphlet by Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King's College London, the policy promoted by Ed Balls, the children's secretary, will infringe civil liberties and wreck the market for youth employment while providing qualifications that have "little or no market value".

"It is one of the most ill-thought-out pieces of education legislation I have ever seen," said Wolf. "I find it very hard to find any redeeming features." Her pamphlet, published today by the Policy Exchange think tank, comes as the government prepares for a second reading in the Commons tomorrow of the bill to introduce the new "participation age".

It has also emerged that a report commissioned by the government and released without publicity has found little evidence from overseas that forcing people to stay in school or training until 18 has any benefit. "Unfortunately, it was not possible to find any direct evidence of the impact of introducing a system of compulsory education or training to the age of 18," says the review, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. From 2015 all teenagers will have to stay at school or in training until they are 18. Those in jobs will have to take time off to train.

Other criticism has been raised because the bill does not exempt pregnant or disabled teenagers, those in the armed forces or those training to become professional athletes. "Gap" years taken by many youngsters could also be severely hit.

Balls said yesterday: "This is about extending opportunity to all young people and making sure we can succeed in the global economy." It is understood the Tories, who had previously called the policy a "gimmick", plan to abstain in the Commons. They hope to introduce amendments to remove provisions such as taking teenagers through the courts if they fail to attend training. Michael Gove, the shadow children's secretary, said: "The government's own report has outlined a series of problems with keeping children in education against their will . . . We will work with the government to improve this legislation."

But Balls said: "If the Tories sit on their hands and abstain, they will prove the Conservative party still believes in educational opportunity only for some and not for all."


British independent schools reject charity rules

Britain's leading public schools have rejected as unworkable regulations that would force them to open their doors to pupils from poor families. The Charity Commission will publish guidance this week on what the nation's 2,500 private schools must do to satisfy new laws requiring that they prove their "public benefit" in order to retain their charitable status, worth 100 million pounds in tax breaks each year. In submissions to the commission, seen by The Times, some of Britain's best-known independent schools said that draft proposals issued last year insisting that poor students "must be able to benefit" from private schools would place an unfair burden on fee-paying parents and could threaten the existence of many schools.

Jonathan Shephard, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, saidit had managed to force "substantial changes" in the guidance. Eton College accused the commission of employing "flawed reasoning" in arguing that the relief on public funds that independent schools provide by educating children for whom the State would otherwise have to pay provided proportionately less benefit to poor families, who pay less tax. Andrew Wynn, the bursar of Eton, wrote: "We would not seek to argue that relief of public funds is enough on its own, but we would argue that such relief is a significant matter - many of our parents are very conscious of paying twice - and is not something that should become underrated on the basis of flawed reasoning."

Rugby School, whose annual fees for boarders are 24,915 pounds, accused the commission of deliberately creating difficulties for independent schools. Gary Lydiatt, its bursar, wrote: "As drafted, the guidance suggests that without addressing the provision of services to individuals on low incomes, the public benefit test would not be met. While this is not an issue for Rugby, it could cause significant problems for other schools. "It is essential to accept that most independent schools have to charge for the services that they provide. Unless independent schools are able to do this, it is inevitable that many will close and the benefits that they provide will be lost."

Harrow School accused the commission of misinterpreting charity law. Nick Shryane, its bursar, wrote: "The phrase `must be able to benefit' should be replaced with `must not be excluded from benefiting'. "Those schools which are able to do so will be able to give direct access through bursaries to the children of families who cannot afford fees. But not all schools are well funded or able to offer bursaries."

Dame Suzi Leather, the commission's chairwoman, said in August that she would be prepared to take legal action against schools that refused to widen access. "It's going to be a difficult and contested territory," she said.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fact-free French economics education

In France and Germany, students are being forced to undergo a dangerous indoctrination. Taught that economic principles such as capitalism, free markets, and entrepreneurship are savage, unhealthy, and immoral, these children are raised on a diet of prejudice and bias. Rooting it out may determine whether Europe's economies prosper or continue to be left behind.

Thus begins Stefan Theil's article in Foreign Policy (merci . RV). Makes you wonder, isn't it about time those oafish, clueless Americans start listening to the brilliant ideas of those more-lucid-than-thou products of the Europe's avant-garde educational system?
"Economic growth imposes a hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer," asserts the three-volume Histoire du XXe siScle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to Sciences Po and other prestigious French universities. The past 20 years have "doubled wealth, doubled unemployment, poverty, and exclusion, whose ill effects constitute the background for a profound social malaise," the text continues. Because the 21st century begins with "an awareness of the limits to growth and the risks posed to humanity [by economic growth]," any future prosperity "depends on the regulation of capitalism on a planetary scale." Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as "brutal," "savage," "neoliberal," and "American." This agitprop was published in 2005, not in 1972.

.French students . do not learn economics so much as a very specific, highly biased discourse about economics. When they graduate, they may not know much about supply and demand, or about the workings of a corporation. Instead, they will likely know inside-out the evils of "la McDonaldisation du monde" and the benefits of a "Tobin tax" on the movement of global capital. This kind of anticapitalist, antiglobalization discourse isn't just the product of a few aging 1968ers writing for Le Monde Diplomatique; it is required learning in today's French schools.

.Equally popular in Germany today are student workbooks on globalization. One such workbook includes sections headed "The Revival of Manchester Capitalism," "The Brazilianization of Europe," and "The Return of the Dark Ages." India and China are successful, the book explains, because they have large, state-owned sectors and practice protectionism, while the societies with the freest markets lie in impoverished sub-Saharan Africa. Like many French and German books, this text suggests students learn more by contacting the antiglobalization group Attac, best known for organizing messy protests at the annual G-8 summits.

One might expect Europeans to view the world through a slightly left-of-center, social-democratic lens. The surprise is the intensity and depth of the anti-market bias being taught in Europe's schools. Students learn that private companies destroy jobs while government policy creates them. Employers exploit while the state protects. Free markets offer chaos while government regulation brings order. Globalization is destructive, if not catastrophic. Business is a zero-sum game, the source of a litany of modern social problems.

.A likely alternative scenario may be that the changes wrought by globalization will awaken deeply held resentment against capitalism and, in many countries from Europe to Latin America, provide a fertile ground for populists and demagogues, a trend that is already manifesting itself in the sudden rise of many leftist movements today.


Pupils do better with public testing: OECD

The reality Leftists hate. It offends their irrational belief that all men (and kids) are equal

PUBLICLY ranking students' performance and requiring them to sit external examinations boosts their results, according to the biggest international survey of academic ability. Teachers' unions have been strident critics of the public reporting of student results, in particular comparing the performance of different schools. The unions have also argued against the introduction of national literacy and numeracy tests.

But the results of the Program for International Student Assessment, conducted every three years among 15-year-olds by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, show a consistently higher performance in schools that keep track of student performance on a public level. The report says external exams assessing students against a set standard, as occurs around Australia except in Queensland and the ACT, puts students about one school year ahead on the PISA scale. "The impetus provided by external monitoring of standards, rather than relying principally on schools and individual teachers to uphold them, can make a real difference to results," itsays. "PISA itself has encouraged countries not to take internally assessed education standards for granted and is now indicating a strong effect ... by subjecting schools to external assessment with publicly visible results."

Students at schools that publicly posted their students' results scored 14.7 points higher in the PISA science tests. When demographic and social factors were taken into account, the rise was still a significant 6.6 points. By contrast, informing parents of their child's performance relative to other students or national benchmarks increased scores by 4.7 and 4.2 points, which was not statistically significant. Reporting results relative to other schools had a negative effect, lowering scores five points, which was also not statistically significant. Students set external exams scored about 36 points higher, which, adjusted for demographic and social effects, was 17 points higher and not statistically significant.

The report defines external exams as subject-based exams assessing performance relative to an external standard such as Year 12 exams or the national literacy and numeracy tests that start in all states and territories in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 in May.

Acting federal president of the Australian Education Union Angelo Gavrielatos said extreme caution should be taken in extrapolating general lessons from the OECD report. Mr Gavrielatos said the report failed to take into account differences in school systems such as curriculum, assessment and reporting policies. "We certainly believe that student results are the property of individual students, their parents and teachers," he said. "Parents have every right to know how their child is performing but no right to know about their neighbour's child. That's in no one's interest. "Countries like the UK and the US that have high-stakes testing and public reporting of student results in the form of league tables ranking schools are not high-performing countries in the PISA tests."

The analysis contained in the 2006 PISA results, released last month, covered 55 countries, including Australia, matching school characteristics with student scores in the science tests, which was the main area examined in 2006, as well as shorter tests on reading and maths. It found that while students in academically selective schools scored substantially higher, streaming students in classes according to their ability within a school lowered their scores by about 10 points, or 4.5 points when adjusted for social effects. "(This suggests) such a policy might potentially hinder learning of certain students more than it enhances learning of others," the report says.

Commenting on the results, PISA director Andreas Schleicher said the effect of selective schools and grouping students according to their ability was not necessarily incompatible. "If you are in a selective school, you do better on average," he was reported as saying. "But if you stratify the entire system, you would not see a positive impact."


Students Lose When Diversity Is Main Focus

A good education requires balance. Students should learn to appreciate a variety of cultures, sure, but they also need to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Judging from the courses that the nation's leading education colleges offer, however, balance isn't a goal. The schools place far more emphasis on the political and social ends of education than on the fundamentals.

To determine just how unbalanced teacher preparation is at ed schools, we counted the number of course titles and descriptions that contained the words "multiculturalism," "diversity," "inclusion" and variants thereof, and then compared those with the number that used variants of the word "math." We then computed a "multiculturalism-to-math ratio" - a rough indicator of the relative importance of social goals to academic skills in ed schools. A ratio of greater than 1 indicates a greater emphasis on multiculturalism; a ratio of less than 1 means that math courses predominate.

Our survey covered the nation's top 50 education programs as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, as well as programs at flagship state universities that weren't among the top 50 - a total of 71 education schools. The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82% more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: Almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical. At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word "multiculturalism" or "diversity," while only three contain the word "math," giving it a ratio of almost 16.

Some programs do show different priorities. At the University of Missouri, 43 courses bear titles or descriptions that include multiculturalism or diversity, but 74 focus on math, giving it a lean multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 0.58. Penn State's ratio is 0.39. (By contrast, the ratio at Penn State's Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania, is over 3.) Still, of the 71 programs we studied, only 24 have a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of less than 1; only five pay twice as much attention to math as to social goals.

Several obstacles impede change. On the supply side, ed-school professors are a self-perpetuating clique, and their commitment to multiculturalism and diversity produces a near-uniformity of approach. Professors control entry into their ranks by determining who will receive the doctoral credential, deciding which doctoral graduates get hired, and then selecting which faculty will receive tenure. And tenured academics are essentially accountable to no one.

On the demand side, prospective teachers haven't cried out for more math courses because such courses tend to be harder than those involving multiculturalism. And the teachers know that their future employers - public school districts - don't find an accent on multiculturalism troubling. Because public schools are assured of ever-increasing funding, regardless of how they do in math, they can indulge their enthusiasm for multiculturalism, and prospective teachers can, too.

Accrediting organizations also help perpetuate the emphasis on multiculturalism. In several states, law mandates that ed schools receive accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. NCATE, in turn, requires education programs to meet six standards, one entirely devoted to diversity, but none entirely devoted to ensuring proper math pedagogy. Education schools that attempt to break from the cartel's multiculturalism focus risk denial of accreditation.

Ensuring quality math instruction is no minor matter. The Program for International Student Assessment's latest results paint a bleak picture: U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of 30 industrial countries in math literacy, tying Spain and surpassing only Greece, Italy, Portugal, Mexico, and Turkey, while trailing Iceland, Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic and all of our major economic competitors in Europe and Asia.

The issue isn't whether we should be teaching cultural awareness in education colleges or in public schools; it's about priorities. Besides, our students probably have great appreciation already for students from other cultures - who're cleaning their clocks in math skills, and will do so economically, too, if we don't wise up.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Pupils to get lessons in good manners in one prestigious British school

The article below is from the Daily Telegraph so they retain the old British usage of calling private schools public schools! "Independent" school is the preferred modern British usage but readers of the "Tele" understand

A leading public school has launched a campaign to revive etiquette and manners by training its pupils in the art of polite dining and helping the elderly. Brighton College will educate all its new starters over the year with lessons in a variety of practical skills

As well as learning how to iron a shirt, sew on a button, boil an egg and write formal letters, 140 pupils aged 13 and 14 will be taught how to waltz at weddings, use cutlery and glasses and tie a bow tie. The year-long compulsory course, which consists of one 45-minute class each week, also covers erecting a tent, monitoring heart rates, making a pizza, using a cash machine and taking digital photographs. Pupils will learn to help the elderly and the etiquette of giving up seats on buses and trains. The headmaster, Richard Cairns, said the skills would make them more attractive to potential employers.

Last month, a survey by the Institute of Directors found that a quarter of company directors think graduates display "impoliteness and poor table manners". Mr Cairns said that after seeing the survey, the teachers made a list of 30 useful skills. He said the course was not a crusade to stamp out bad manners among the young. "Young people these days are polite," he said. "What has happened is that some haven't been told about what other people expect of them."


Hope for educational sanity in Australia

In his first parliamentary speech as leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd tagged education as a key policy issue. In the months leading to the November federal election, the ALP released a series of persuasive policy papers that presented a coherent and convincing narrative about what needed to be done to strengthen Australia's education system. Much to the chagrin of those on the cultural Left who would prefer the ALP federal Government to advocate a new-age and feel-good approach to education - illustrated by Australia's dumbed-down, outcomes-based education model of curriculum - the incoming Government's education revolution involves computers, increased testing and accountability, rigorous standards and a back-to-basics approach.

Unlike previous Labor governments, which attempted to stem the flow of students from government to independent and Catholic schools by restricting non-government school funding, the Rudd Government has also accepted parents' right to choose where their children go to school and has guaranteed the funding formula introduced by the Howard government, at least until 2012.

Looking ahead across the next 12 months, will Rudd and Education Minister Julia Gillard be able to deliver? Given that the Council of Australian Governments and the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs - both federal-state-territory organisations - are now fully ALP-controlled and given the apparent goodwill on all sides, there is every reason to feel optimistic.

This is especially so given events at the state level during the past year or two. Tasmania has modified its OBE-inspired Essential Learnings approach to curriculum, the West Australian Education Minister has done an about-face and now argues that OBE fails to deliver, and Queensland has adopted a basics approach to English as a subject. OBE has disappeared from the educational lexicon, to be replaced by concepts such as content and performance standards and personalised learning.

Late last year, state and territory governments released Federalist Paper 2, which argues for the central importance of academic subjects, that the public has every right to know about school and teacher performance, and that the success of an education system should be measured not simply by how much is spent but by how well students learn.

On the level of rhetoric and, in some instances, in practice, it appears the tide has turned and that Gillard's description of herself as an educational traditionalist is not out of place. After debates throughout 2007 about falling standards, the impact of political correctness and postmodern gobbledygook on the curriculum, especially literature and history, and the best way to attract and reward teachers, it appears that 2008 signals a period where criticisms will be addressed and the system strengthened.

Optimism about 2008 should also be tempered by the fact that an education system, especially one suffering from provider capture, is similar to an oil tanker: it takes a long time to change direction and set a new course.

Rudd, in the ALP's election policy paper Establishing a National Curriculum to Improve our Children's Educational Outcomes, stresses the importance of an academic and rigorous approach to curriculum. Parents and teachers expecting dramatic changes this year in what is taught will be disappointed. Labor's national curriculum is not set for delivery until 2010 and the party has promised to give control of the project to bodies responsible for the parlous situation that exists.

When in opposition, Rudd and education spokesman Stephen Smith argued that teachers and schools should be held accountable for performance and that increased investment in education should be linked to improved outcomes for students.

While a national approach to rewarding teacher performance has yet to be agreed on, it appears any model put forward in 2008 will be of little value. Not only is there no intention to link rewards for teacher performance to students' results, as measured by improved learning outcomes, but the model being suggested is overly bureaucratic and onerous in terms of compliance and only available to a minority of teachers, thus doing nothing to alleviate the issue of teacher shortage.

There is also the additional concern that holding schools accountable for performance, while imposing a state-mandated, often dumbed-down curriculum and denying them the right to hire and fire staff, is unfair.

Fulfilling the election promise to give all senior school students access to computers and the internet, while superficially popular and in line with the mantra of becoming the knowledge nation and competing in an information technology-rich world, does nothing to address the most important issue: how best to attract Year 12 students to teaching as a career and how best to support and reward them when in schools.

The baby boomers, who make up the majority of the teaching profession, are rapidly heading for retirement and researchers agree that about 30 per cent of beginning teachers leave the profession after four to five years. Mathematics and science teachers are especially difficult to recruit and keep in the profession, and in some areas, especially Western Australia, many classes will begin this year without qualified teachers.

While some, such as the Australian Education Union, argue that the supposed bad press about teachers is to blame for the shortage, there are other factors that must be taken into account. In Victoria, for example, the ALP Government places many teachers on short-term contracts, denying them job certainty and any guarantee of continuity in their chosen profession. The quality of the curriculum and the rate and constant nature of educational reform is also significant in terms of teacher anxiety and burnout.

WA's adoption of OBE, whereby teachers are forced to implement a decidedly cumbersome, unfriendly and burdensome curriculum, as argued on the Perth-based People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes website (, has led to teacher frustration and angst.

In Tasmania, the recently retired president of the teachers union, Jean Walker, argued that the state's adoption of Essential Learnings presented the greatest challenge the union had faced in protecting teachers' working conditions. In 2008, whatever curriculum initiatives are planned, care should be taken that teachers are not, once again, overwhelmed and that they are given a substantial role in what is being designed.

Generally, teachers are not well paid and it is ironic that across Australia, especially in Victoria and Western Australia, ALP-controlled governments are refusing to meet teachers' demands for better pay and conditions. Given the research suggesting that, along with the quality of the curriculum, teachers are the most important determinant in how well students learn, it stands to reason that they should be better rewarded.

Luring the right Year 12 students to teaching as a career is also vitally important. Many of the boomers now in the system are only there because of government-sponsored studentships that paid for their time at university and college. While moves to reduce the Higher Education Contribution Scheme payment by students undertaking teacher training in maths and science is a start, maybe it is time to re-introduce studentships.

A submission by the Australian Secondary Principals' Association argues that teacher training must better prepare teachers for the reality of the classroom and, based on a survey of beginning teachers, concludes that teacher training is"at best satisfactory" as a preparation for teaching and in "several areas it is clear that they (beginning teachers) felt that they were significantly under-prepared".

Much is on the agenda for 2008. The danger is that the attempted solutions are based on past practice, one where committees and bureaucracies work in isolation from schools, and governments impose initiatives based on short-term political expediency or whatever is the most recent education minister's plan.

The alternative? Give schools greater autonomy and freedom to best reflect the needs and aspirations of their local communities, as with charter schools in the US. Give more parents the ability to choose where their children go to school by introducing educational vouchers, a system in which the money follows the child to either government or non-government schools and there is a greater reliance on market forces to improve quality. Now, that would be an education revolution.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

German schools gliding over the holocaust

German schools are failing in educating students about the Holocaust, a new study by a political education center has found, as German youth, who one historian said use the word "Jew" as a common curse in daily discourse, are increasingly distant from the suffering of the victims of Nazism.

According to a study commissioned by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a political education center known by its German acronym BPB, history courses no longer manage to teach Germany's younger generation of the horrors of the Nazis.

In the report, which appeared in the German educational magazine Focus-Shula, teachers are quoted as saying that they are having trouble impressing upon school children the horrors of the Holocaust, and have stated that their tools for teaching about the Shoah are not effective. "The entire time we stood before the crematoriums of Auschwitz, the students took more interest in the types of pipes used to pump in the lethal Zyklon B gas, and not the fate of the Nazis victims," a teacher was quoted as saying. In their words, this generation's students are less sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust than any before.

The research also examines the role that immigrants have played in the changing attitudes towards the Shoah. Experts are quoted in the study as saying that there is a marked rise in the number of Muslims in Germany, many of whom see the teaching of the Holocaust as a veiled endorsement of the policies of the state of Israel. "Out of fear of the students' reactions, many of the teachers avoid teaching this chapter of history in order to not be viewed by some students as supporters of Israel."

"The word 'Jew' has turned into one of the most common curse words among students in both east and west Germany," said Gottfried Cosler, a Frankfurt-based Holocaust scholar.

Robert Sigel, a historian who contributed to the study, is of the opinion that students are taking a great interest in the Holocaust, but that the methods in which the subject is taught today are in need of improvement. "Often time the teachers, especially the more devoted ones, get carried away, and demand way too much of themselves," Sigel told Focus magazine. "They want to teach the facts and at the same time get across a moral message, call for education and tolerance, deal with the extreme right and prevent anti-Semitism. They put all this material into the subject, and it's too much."

Susan Orban, a historian at Yad Vashem, says that the Holocaust should be taught using methods that have proved successful in the past. "Today's kids live in different times than that of Anne Frank," Orban said. In order to bridge the generational gap, she submits a different approach, "for example, asking them to imagine that they have to abruptly leave their homes and start a new life elsewhere." Such a method, according to Orban, would speak more directly to the children's hearts and minds than descriptions of the horrors of the concentration camp.

Sigel expressed similar sentiments, adding that the children of immigrants have shown particular interest to the victims of Nazism given that many of them suffered from racial persecution, religious intolerance, and even genocide in their native lands.


British government-school teachers keep pupils in the dark about Oxbridge

Although he is a high achiever, nobody had suggested Oxford to my son for his postgraduate work until I brought it up. He will now apply

Half of state school teachers would never or only rarely encourage their brightest pupils to apply to Oxbridge, according to research published today. It uncovered widespread ignorance among teachers about Oxford and Cambridge, indicating that the brightest pupils could miss the opportunity to apply to leading universities.

The MORI survey of 500 teachers was commissioned by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity committed to increasing university intake from deprived backgrounds. It found that nine in ten teachers underestimated the number of Oxbridge students from state schools. Sixty per cent thought that fewer than 30 per cent of Oxford and Cambridge students were from state schools. The correct figure is 54 per cent.

More than half thought that it was more expensive to study at Oxbridge, although both charge the same tuition fees as most other English universities, and offer generous bursaries. And while 54 per cent said that they always or usually encouraged gifted children to apply to Cambridge or Oxford, 25 per cent said that they would rarely do so, and 20 per cent would never suggest this to pupils.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The misconceptions among secondary school teachers about Oxbridge are alarming and clearly have an impact on the number of bright state school students applying to these two great universities, despite the considerable efforts that both are making to reach out to them. "It is clear that much more needs to be done to dispel the myths about Oxbridge, and other leading universities, and to ensure that young people's higher education decisions are based on fact, not fiction."

He said that teachers' perceptions were inaccurate but unsurprising, adding: "These misconceptions are as strong as ever. We have teachers thinking that pupils from below-average backgrounds won't get in to Oxbridge, and if they do they won't fit in. Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of truth to that, with the social mix largely from the upper incomes. We're trying to tackle that and so are Oxbridge."

Research published by the Sutton Trust three months ago found that pupils from 3 per cent of schools were taking a third of places at Oxford and Cambridge. Six per cent - or 200 schools - accounted for half of admissions; the trust is encouraging them to work with neighbouring state schools to help aspiring Oxbridge applicants.

A spokesman for University of Cambridge said: "The findings accord with our own anecdotal experiences about schools' misconceptions regarding admissions, and the university recognises that more needs to be done to dispel them." Geoff Parks, the director of admissions, said: "Teachers are key influencers and advisers of young people and it is vital that the advice they give is based on up-to-date and accurate information." The university is also increasing its provision of bursaries to counter the myth that it is more expensive to go to Cambridge.

Yesterday government figures showed that tuition fees of 3,000 pounds per year deterred students from applying to university when they were first introduced.In England and Northern Ireland, where the higher fees were introduced in 2006, enrolments to full-time undergraduate courses fell, the Higher Education Statistics Agency said. In Scotland and Wales, where no top-up fees were charged, the number of students continued to increase.


Extra years at school pay dividends?

I have not read the original study behind the article below but I have inserted some comments about initial doubts that come to mind

Forcing students to remain at school increases their income over their lifetime, with new Australian research showing every extra year of education adds 10 per cent to their salary. A study by Australian National University economists Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan found that the increased income was almost three times the wages students lost by staying at school. "States that raised the school leaving age in the 1960s substantially increased the lifetime earnings of individuals," it says. "Recently announced increases in the school leaving age ... are likely to have a beneficial effect on individuals growing up in those states." The school leaving age in most states is 16 but many states recently introduced requirements for students to remain in education, training or a job until 17.

The findings contradict a report by the Centre for Independent Studies last month, which rejects the idea that providing more education and training will improve the job prospects and wages of high school dropouts. In the paper, CIS social research director Peter Saunders argues the best way to help the bottom 25 per cent of school leavers is to increase the number of unskilled jobs, not to give them better skills. "The solution to the skills shortage lies in policies like delayed retirement and increased female participation in the workforce," Mr Saunders said. "The solution to unskilled joblessness lies in generating more unskilled employment."

Dr Leigh, a research fellow at the ANU Research School of Social Sciences, said yesterday the issue of increasing the proportion of students completing school or an equivalent qualification was a matter of long-term social policy. "The Government ought to think of the skills shortage in terms of the life chances of somebody who gets 10 years of schooling in a modern economy," he said. "Having a good base of general skills is going to be the most valuable thing we can give kids these days. "I'd love to pay less for a plumber but we should be more worried about what a high school dropout is going to earn 20 years from now, not whether we have cheap plumbers or someone to drive a truck at the mines."

The study, to be published in the international journal Economics of Education Review, is the first to estimate the economic benefit of staying at school, comparing the effect of raising the school-leaving age and the age at which students started school. Dr Leigh and Dr Ryan used income data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey of about 12,000 people, including those aged 25 to 64 years who had completed school in Australia. For every extra year of school, the gross income was 13 per cent higher. [This is of course a naive research method. Comparing the earnings of people who stay on at school versus dropouts is completely uninformative. The dropouts would mostly be the dummies who would have done badly anyway. The naivety of this method is why the next two methods were used]

The study then examined the length of education determined by when people started school. Most states have a single entry date with students having to turn a certain age, often five years, by a cut-off date. As a result, some children born within a month of each other start school a year apart. If both leave school aged 16, the first student will have an extra year of schooling. With this measure the researchers estimated income increases of 8 per cent a year for the extra year. [There's something a bit fishy here. Did they look only at kids who left school promptly at age 16? I doubt it, as that would have been an unrepresentative subset. But if they looked at all kids in the cohorts concerned there is another problem: Doing just one extra year would leave the kid with an incomplete qualification. So many will have gone on to do two extra years. This creates another selectivity bias. The improved results may be because of the brighter subset of the sample who did not drop out and who never intended to drop out]

The study then examined the effect of governments raising the minimum age at which students can leave school. Students forced to attend an extra year earned about 12 per cent more a year. Comparing the three methods, the study estimates the benefit of extra education is 10 per cent a year in increased income, even after taking into account the lost earnings from starting work later. [Similar comments to the comments on the second study above plus the very dubious exactitude of comparisons between different State education systems]