Saturday, January 26, 2008

Polar Fiction: More MLA nonsense

Assuming the verifiable truth of global warming, some academics wish to circumvent the climate change debate and start teaching college students about importance of combatting this imminent disaster.

Just as some environmentalists have co-opted the polar bear as a symbol for the predicted ecological crisis, Britt Rusert, a doctoral candidate at Duke University, visualizes polar exploration literature as a new outlet for this discourse: "How, I wonder, might such a polar canon help us conceptualize and historicize ecological crises, specifically the master discourse of global warming and their contemporary moments?," she told a Modern Language Association (MLA) audience this December.

She believes that "polar fiction is a potentially exciting place" to "certify climate change." "What new types of inquiry could be activated...pedagogically to new environmental reality?," she said.

The panel's title, "Rethinking Polar Fictions in an Age of Inconvenient Truth," insinuates a desire to revise history to include "evidence" of global warming. Similarly, Rusert denied the anachronisms of her approach, telling the audience that "American literature shows, in many ways, climate change is nothing new." No historical revisionism is necessary to advance the climate change agenda.


More corruption of what is supposed to be education

The holiday season can be filled with surprises. Of course, when it comes to the public school system, those surprises aren't always wrapped with colorful ribbons. One morning a few weeks ago, I got a frantic call from my 14-year old daughter from school. "Mom, can you bring in some canned food?" she frantically inquired. "What for?" I asked. "It's for English class. We get 10 bonus points for bringing in canned food for the poor." "What???!!" "Please Mom. I can really use the extra credit!" "I can't believe this."

So what do I do? I hate this on so many levels, but all the other students will be doing it and getting the advantage of the bonus points for something that does absolutely nothing to develop the English skills I pray my daughter is somehow acquiring in this system. So I resentfully and begrudgingly dig out some canned food out of my pantry and run on over to the Junior High building like some kind of hoop-jumping sheeple.

Of course, I immediately shoot off an email to teacher and ask if it is true that the students have been offered extra credit in Honors English class for bringing in cans of food. She confirms unapologetically that it is true. But don't worry, she responds to an additional email of clarification and complaint, 10 bonus points doesn't really amount to much in the whole grade. Then why offer it at all? Because she can, because she gets away with it, and it allows her to manipulate her students into doing what she wants with her all-powerful grade-giving authority (my response, not hers.) Later I find out that my daughter's friend's math teacher offers extra credit to the math class, also for bringing in cans of food.

Why does this bother me so much? Is it really such a big deal? Before we write this off as a fairly innocuous and forgettable act of poor judgment by a few misguided school teachers, let's take a look at what our young minds have learned from this lesson.

First the teacher asks them to please bring in canned food for the poor. Her request goes ignored, and she is annoyed that the students can be so thoughtless of others this holiday season when they themselves have so much. So if they are not going to do the right thing on their own, she is going to offer them a bribe to do the "right" thing. After all, that is how morality is learned, right? Not through reason or from ones parents, but through bribes! She is going to offer to lift their grades in English in exchange for them doing something good for the community!

So the students learn that there are ways to game the system. Don't do something because it's right or good. If you hold out long enough, someone will offer you something in return, which completely changes the nature of your so-called "donation." Now you have made a purchase - some cans for some bonus points. What could be easier or more clearly in one's self interest? And you learn that you can get credit for something, namely English class, without actually performing anything at all in that area. You can get ahead in life not by getting good at something and acquiring skills that add value, but by doing something completely unrelated for someone in power.

You learn not to differentiate between charity and service, bribery and extortion, the quid pro quo. You learn that people in power can get you to do things that you don't really want to do through manipulation and misuse of that power.

You learn to lose respect for "educators", and by association, anyone trying to teach anything. If this is what education is, let's just get it over with as quickly as possible and with as little effort as necessary, and please, don't ask me to learn anything unless you can prove to me that there's really something in it for me in the end. Because we all know it's just a game, and it's really just wasting my time. And indeed it is.



British police have offered to train university staff to spot extremists operating on campus despite complaints from Muslim students that they could be unfairly targeted, a government document said Tuesday. Lecturers have been urged to scrutinize both students and invited speakers for signs they could be involved in radicalizing young people, according to new government guidelines.

Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, published advice to universities Tuesday on tackling extremism, requesting institutions share information on suspected radical speakers. "There is a real and serious threat, and we must all take responsibility for protecting ourselves," Rammell said. Al-Qaida influenced terrorism was the government's primary concern, he said, warning schools of the threat posed by far-right groups, animal-rights activists, anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic speakers.

Rammell said he believed some controversial speakers should be allowed to appear at universities, to allow moderate academics to debunk their claims through debate. "We prize academic freedom and freedom of speech as ends in themselves and as the most effective way of challenging the views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law," he said. But staff should compile details of speakers they fear may be exhorting students to violence - even in meetings held off campus - and share their concerns with counterparts, Rammell recommended.

British government security officials said Tuesday that radicalization is now much less likely to take place in mosques or formal settings, but instead in homes, gyms or at meetings on the fringes of campus. Jonathan Evans, head of the domestic spy agency MI5, warned in November that there is evidence extremists are grooming children and teenagers for attacks against Britain.

But some students and staff argue that Rammell's guidelines could lead to the victimization of Muslim students. "There is no evidence to suggest that Muslim students at university are particularly vulnerable to radicalization," said Faisal Hanjra of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the United Kingdom and Ireland. "Nor is there any evidence to suggest that university campuses are hotbeds of extremist activity." Sally Hunt, general secretary of academic labor organization University and College Union, said university staff should not be expected to police their students. "No student should ever think they are being spied on and no staff member should ever be pressurized into treating any group of students differently from another," she said.


Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Under Attack

Wisconsin state Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) is pushing a proposal to oust 7,000 students from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)--the nation's oldest and most successful school voucher program.

In a January 7 memorandum to legislative colleagues, Kessler said the purpose of his idea was to decrease enrollment in the voucher program by 40 percent. He says the MPCP has created a "funding inequity" in Milwaukee that could be alleviated by kicking students out of the program and returning the subsequent "savings" to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). According to an analysis by School Choice Wisconsin, Kessler is calling for:

1) All teachers in schools of choice to hold bachelor's degrees from accredited colleges or universities. A bill passed in 2005 to lift the cap on enrollment in the MPCP imposed independent accreditation requirements on all participating schools.

2) All voucher recipients to take the same tests as MPS students, with the results "given to MPS for publication." The 2005 measure requires all MPCP schools to "administer a recognized test of their choosing" to measure student proficiency and allows for independent research that will produce reliable comparisons between MPCP and MPS students using MPS tests.

3) Parents applying for vouchers to submit tax returns as proof of eligibility. This requirement is already met by the MPCP.

4) Voucher payments not to exceed tuition charged to non-voucher students. Under current law, the maximum voucher payment is $6,501 per child. Schools that spend less per pupil receive less money. MPS spends $11,000 per pupil.

5) Schools of choice to admit special-needs siblings of students already enrolled. Schools participating in the MPCP already are prohibited from discriminating against special-needs students. The only information private schools can use to determine voucher eligibility is household income and residency.

Africentric Public Schools

(Toronto, Ontario) Since black students have a poor achievement record and a high dropout rate, blamed on poverty and racial stereotypes in society, Toronto is planning to open its first Africentric school. The designated black-focused school won't be segregated, it's said. Anyone can attend.
Toronto should open its first black-focused public school in the fall of 2009, says a staff report aimed at improving academic achievement among students of colour.

But the board should also launch Africentric programs in three schools by this fall, as well as invest in a new centre for research and staff development at York University, urges the report made public yesterday.

"Opening one school does not address the problem across the system ... (where) a significant number of students of African descent are not doing well in our schools," said board superintendent Christopher Usih, one of the report's authors.

"We have a responsibility to address the needs across the system. We see the Africentric school request as part of a bigger (plan) ... to effectively close the gap."
The black-focused school will teach more Africentric social studies and trumpet the contributions of "Africans and African-Canadians" while teaching math using the "numerical patterns of royal 'kente' cloth from Ghana."

It's unclear how the Africentric subject matter is going to lessen the achievement gap unless the standards for learning reading, writing and arithmetic are revised. However, the goal is to make school "more welcoming" while recognizing that the "root causes of disenchantment" such as poverty and racial stereotyping need to be addressed.

Frankly, I'm unconvinced that making schools friendlier will have a dramatic effect on achievement if the same standards are maintained throughout the education system. And teaching kids material that is arguably of marginal use in society likely isn't the best way to prepare them for the future. Also, I strongly suspect that kids learning math by using an African royal kente cloth will exacerbate the problem of racial stereotyping in society, not lessen it.

In any event, making schools more welcoming and inflating egos doesn't necessarily translate into higher academic achievement.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Homeschooling" at college level

Online colleges are a logical extension of homeschooling. You work at home still and they offer a chance to get out from under the conventional educational system. But how good are they? How do you tell a good one from a diploma mill?

There is now an organization that gathers together a heap of information on each one and publishes an annual ranking of them all. See here for the latest rankings.

For each college, they gather data for eight different metrics: acceptance rate, financial aid, graduation rate, peer Web citations, retention rate, scholarly citations, student-faculty ratio, and years accredited. The overall ranking ranks each college by its average ranking for each metric for which data was available.

Controversy Over School-Targeted Advertising Forces McDonald's to Abandon Promotions for Honor Students in Florida

It's just the usual Mac-hatred

McDonald's has decided to stop sponsoring Happy Meals as rewards for children with good grades and attendance records in elementary schools in Seminole County, Fla. The "food prize" program, as it was called, for students of the Seminole County Public Schools in kindergarten through fifth grade was sponsored by the owners of the McDonald's restaurants in Seminole County. The decision to end the promotions for the program, appearing on children's report-card jackets, came from executives at McDonald's, the NY Times reports.

The sponsorship, between the restaurant owners and the Seminole County school board, drew national and international attention amid an outcry over childhood obesity and junk food diets because a fast-food chain was tying its products to academic performance. It also generated controversy because McDonald's had agreed to curb its advertising to children in schools, reports Times columnist Stuart Elliott.

The decision was made "because we believe the focus should be on the importance of a good education," William Whitman, senior director for communications and public affairs at McDonald's, said last week. "McDonald's, not the school district, will cover the cost to reprint the report-card jackets," he added, and "remove our trademarks," he told the Times. The reward program, called Made the Grade, will continue, Whitman said, because the local restaurant owners agreed in September that it would run through the current school year.

The sponsorship became known last month when a parent complained about it to an activist organization, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The parent, Susan Pagan, was upset about the promotion on her daughter's report-card jacket. The jacket showed Ronald McDonald, the company's mascot for children; its Golden Arches logo; and Happy Meal menu items like Chicken McNuggets.

"Check your grades," the jacket advised. "Reward yourself with a Happy Meal from McDonald's." Because of the attention the complaint drew, the school district said last month that it would review the appropriateness of the jackets in the spring when making plans for the 2008-9 year.

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said Thursday that she was pleased with the end of the report-card advertising. "In the absence of needed government regulation to protect schoolchildren from predatory companies like McDonald's," she told the Times, "the burden is on parents to be vigilant about exploitative marketing aimed at children."


A good comment on the above below:

Exploitive? Advertising a reward for hard work exploits children? How did thinking get so twisted? We should thank McDonalds for giving away some of its profits to help motivate kids to do better. Don't worry about children being exposed to advertising - advertising is the basis of our country's success as a consumer economy. Advertising is key to our great standard of living. So what if school children get some free McNuggets for getting good grades? Kids are going to see advertising their entire lives.

Schools now bad for boys

Boys and girls should be educated in separate classes because their brains are hard-wired to learn in different ways, a controversial book says. Too many schools are creating an environment that is "toxic" to boys, turning them off learning and leaving them quite unprepared for adult life, according to Leonard Sax, a family doctor and research psychologist from Washington DC.

For the past decade parents and teachers have become worried increasingly about boys, who are now routinely outperformed by girls at every level and who show growing levels of disaffection and lack of motivation.

In his book Boys Adrift, Dr Sax argues that this yawning gender gap is the result of innately differently learning styles of boys and girls, and that most classrooms play to the strengths of girls. "In the co-educational classroom so many of the choices we make are to the advantage of girls, but disadvantage boys," he said. "The fact that girls are doing well is not the problem. The problem is, why can't their brothers do as well?"

Dr Sax, founder of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education in the United States, believes the answer lies in subtle, but important differences in the brains of boys and girls. "Until ten years ago, people said that boys are spatial and girls are verbal. That's nonsense. There is not much difference in how girls and boys think, but there are differences in how they see and hear," he told The Times at the start of a lecture tour of boys' schools in Britain.

Boys, for example, do not hear as well as girls. So a female teacher with a soft voice may believe that a boy who is not paying attention is playing up, when actually he cannot hear her properly. Her reaction may be to discipline him. But Dr Sax says that she would get better results by speaking louder and moving purposefully around the classroom. Boys' eyes also respond better to movement and direction, while girls' eyes are more affected by colour and texture. Asked to draw, five-year-old girls produce flowers, pets and people. Boys will draw a car crash, but may be reproached by teachers for producing something that is "not nice".

Similarly, he says, although most girls can sit still from a young age, most boys need to be active to discover their own pace. "Asking a five-year-old to sit still and read and write is something that many girls can do, but many boys can't. I have visited more than 200 schools. This is what I hear the teachers saying, `Jason, why are you standing?', `Gerard, are you making a buzzing noise?', `Robert, can you stop tapping?', `Look at Emily, she's sitting still and is good'. "The message that boys are getting from the age of 5 is that doing what the teacher wants is unmasculine," Dr Sax says.

One result, Dr Sax believes, is the overdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder among boys who are considered inattentive by teachers. Parents and doctors are tempted to treat this with medication, when simply putting them in a boyfriendly classroom would be far more effective.

The failure of schools to understand why gender matters means that boys very often switch off from learning from an early age and never re-engage. Long after their sisters have gone to university, they are still trapped at home suffering from "failure to launch" into adult life. The solution, Dr Sax believes, lies in single-sex education provided by teachers trained to understand the differences in brain function between boys and girls. "Let boys tap the table. Let them jump up from their seat when asked to spell a word. It won't disturb the boy next to them. Girls are bothered by extraneous noise levels 10 to 40 times lower than the levels that bother men. Girls are aware of what is going on around them. Boys are oblivious," Dr Sax says.

When such these methods were used in single-sex classes in Florida, pass rates for primary school fourth-grade boys (Year Three in Britain) rose from 55 per cent to 85 per cent.


Government Schooling is Welfare

I wonder if I'll ever get to a point where I'm no longer burdened with trying to convince people that government - the State - is force. It is not voluntaryism. It is coercion. It is violence, pure and simple.

For example, if you want to send your kids to a government school, you are asking to have other people - non-parents - threatened with violence if they don't pay for what should be your responsibility. When you get a bill in the mail from the State, and you ignore it, chances are, men with guns will be knocking your door. If you try resisting their demands, they can use violent force - even lethal force, if necessary - to ensure your compliance.

And don't give me this, "I pay taxes too!" crap. All things equal, a parent pays less taxes, while consuming more government services.

Let's say me, a non-parent, and Sally Singlemom both make $40,000 year in income. When tax time comes around, not only does she get to file in a more favorable status - the "Head of Household" designation grants a larger standard deduction than does "Single" (about 7700 vs. about 5300) - but she also gets an extra exemption for her child (another 3300 per child), plus the child tax credit (up to $1000 per kid). And don't even get me started on the "Earned Income Tax Credit", which is just a wealth transfer mechanism.

The net result is not only that Sally's taxable income adjusted downward much more than mine, her tax obligation is credited by virtue of the fact that she has a kid. So she is paying less in taxes, while at the same time demanding more of the system we are both forced to pay into. That's a pretty sweet deal...for her.

So, for all you parents out there who send your children to government schools, show some respect for those individuals who are being forced to subsidize your lack of personal responsibility. Don't try to mask your willingness to steal from others by spouting off pious platitudes and false moral arguments about "the greater good", the importance of education, and "the poor". It's theft and you know it.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Faculty Dumped at Low-Performing School

(Cincinnati, Ohio) I would question why it took so long.
Cincinnati Public Schools will replace the entire staff at the chronically low-performing Taft Elementary School in Mount Auburn.

The action is the result of the school's inability to meet improvement goals mandated by the federal government and, before that, the district for nine consecutive years.

Students there score about 20 points below the district average on standardized tests, according to state data.

The school's principal, 11 teachers and an unknown number of staff are affected.

It's the first time CPS has taken such a radical step as a result of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which requires drastic overhaul measures for any school that consistently fails to meet goals.
Just think, for at least nine years, the school has been pushing inadequately educated students out the door. Furthermore, it appears that Taft Elementary would have continued to plug along indefinitely if it were not for the No Child Left Behind law.
On morality in literature

Comment from an Australian educationist

Is there a place for popular culture, represented by films, text messages, internet chat rooms and computer games, in the English classroom, alongside great literature? Mark Howie, the vice-president of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, believes there is. At the Senate inquiry into standards in education, Howie argued that "given the realities of the modern world (where) students are engaged with visual and electronic text every day", English teachers have to "fmd ways in the curriculum of bringing the two together".

I beg to differ: literature, especially the enduring classics associated with the Western tradition, must be given pre-eminent status, but that does not mean I do not understand the appeal of pop culture.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, every boy in my street in the working-class Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, including me, had a hoard of comic books ranging from the Phantom, Superman and Spider-Man to Batman and Wonder Woman. By the time I reached high school, my taste in entertainment had developed to include James Bond, Modesty Blaise and television series such as The Samurai and endless episodes of Bandstand. On Saturday afternoons I caught up with the heroic exploits of larger-than-life western heroes such as the Cisco Kid and John Wayne and classic films including Ben Hur, The 300 Spartans and Cleopatra.

The funny thing was, none of this found its way into the classroom. At Broady High, English with Mr Clayton and Mr Mackie involved Australian and English poetry, Dickens, Lawson and Shakespeare, and learning how to parse and precis and to write properly structured essays. Thankfully, I also found my way into a reading group organised by the local Anglican minister, who introduced us to books such as Erich Fromm's The Fear of Freedom and The Art of Loving, Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression as well as Plato.

Rather than the tyranny of relevance, where education relates to the world of the student, my teachers saw their role as challenging us by providing an alternative to the often materialistic and superficial cultures in which we lived. The reality is that for many of us, growing up in a housing commission [welfare] estate surrounded by a wasteland of brick and cement, often with violent, alcoholic parents, the transformative and healing power of literature provided a gateway into an imaginative world without which life may have been intolerable. Literature not only provided an escape from the often empty and repetitive day-to-day routine, it also introduced us to an unknown world of ideas, ethical dilemmas and human emotions in an insightful and compelling way.

That literature, at its best, is far superior to popular culture represented by Neighbours, Big Brother, text messages or the ego-driven, self-centred drivel found on MySpace and Facebook should be self-evident. While the texts that constitute the literary canon are re-evaluated over time, the truth is that enduring works such as Euripides' Medea, Shakespeare's King Lear and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard deal with emotions and predicaments in a profoundly sensitive way, unlike Neighbours or Jean-Claude Van Damme's action movies.

As Bruno Bettelheim and Joseph Campbell point out in discussing the importance of myths, fables and legends, literature deals with the types of heroes and archetypes that are essential for emotional and psychological wellbeing and maturity. Literature is also special in the way language is employed. American academic Louise Rosenblatt points to the unique quality of literature when she differentiates between what she terms an efferent and an aesthetic response.

The skills required to read an Ikea manual are totally different to those needed to read T. S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The first is concerned with reading in its most literal guise: to understand information as quickly and easily as possible. But reading that requires what Coleridge termed a "willing suspension of disbelief" allows a reader to enter a world that has the power to shock and to awe, and which can speak to one's inner self.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch explains to his daughter the importance of understanding and sympathising with those around us by using the metaphor of standing in somebody's shoes. Literature, unlike texts in a more general sense, is unique in its ability to engender the ability to empathise with others. While the humanising quality of literature cannot be guaranteed, the reality is that in entering into the life of characters, feeling their joy and suffering, and following their exploits and travails, one is made to lose one's sense of self and to value the worth of others.

Literature is essentially moral in focus, unlike utilitarian texts produced for commercial or entertainment reasons. It is wrong to suggest literature provides simplistic answers to complex ethical dilemmas, but fables such as The Iliad, children's stories including C. S. Lewis's Narnia books and more recent works by Patrick White and David Malouf address issues related to right and wrong and what constitutes a good life.

Contemporary approaches to English are driven by a mantra of change. Arguments in favour of dealing with new technologies, including the internet and computer games, are couched in terms of looking to the future and accommodating the demands of the information-driven 21st century. What this ignores is Eliot's point that continuity is as important as change. As such, the knowledge, understanding and wisdom represented by our literary heritage is essential in giving students an understanding of the present and the ability to deal with the future.

Eliot argues that the need is: "To maintain the continuity of our culture - and neither continuity, nor respect for the past, implies standing still. More than ever, we look to education today to preserve us from the error of pure contemporaneity. We look to institutions of education to maintain a knowledge and understanding of the past."

The article above by KEVIN DONNELLY appeared in the "The Australian" on January 19, 2008

Australia: Dumbed down teaching degrees in firing line

Even a Leftist government is perturbed! But you almost have to be a dummy to want to take up teaching in today's chaotic government schools

A SLIDE in the entry standards for students training to be teachers in Queensland universities has prompted a threat from the Bligh Government to refuse to recognise an education degree as an automatic qualification into the state's school system. Education Minister Rod Welford accused some universities of "desperation" by continuing to lower the academic bar school-leavers have to clear to be accepted in to a teaching degree course.

He said that, if the slide continued, education authorities might need to introduce extra testing and screening measures for graduates wanting to become teachers so professional standards were maintained. "I'm growing increasingly concerned at the desperation by some universities to fill their quotas by allowing what appear to be underperforming students attempting to become teachers," Mr Welford said.

He was responding to an analysis of education degrees on offer in Queensland this year, which showed that several universities were accepting some students with an OP score as low as 19 [where a top score is 1] into their teacher-training courses. The analysis of course information held by the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre showed that it is commonplace for universities - particularly regional institutions - to offer education degree courses to school-leavers with an OP of 17 or lower.

Mr Welford said these institutions were doing a disservice to teaching as a career choice. "My fear is that by going lower and lower in the OP scale the universities are damaging the professional standing of teaching," he said. "If it's too easy to get into, people don't see it as the highly significant and noble profession that it is."

While minimum entry levels have fallen at some universities, teaching continues to attract high achievers. Mr Welford said many students with ordinary OP scores did end up being outstanding teachers, and not everyone with an exceptional academic record at school necessarily made a good teacher. But, he said, the approach of some universities to their teaching courses was "more about bums on seats than it is about quality teaching". He said it was important to ensure universities produced education graduates who were "capable and successful students". "Otherwise we will reach the point where education systems and departments will simply not be able to recognise a degree alone as a qualification for entry as a school teacher."

But university administrators defended the lowering of cut-offs for teaching degrees, insisting academic attainment was not the only indicator of to who would make a good teacher. University of Southern Queensland Dean of Education Nita Temmerman said it was important the state's teachers were made up of the best and brightest but that an OP score was "only one indicator of achievement". USQ has an OP cut-off of 19 for most of its education-degree courses, but Professor Temmerman said that once in a degree course, students with ordinary OP scores regularly did better than their more academically gifted counterparts. "Kids with an OP of 16 have outperformed academically kids that have come in with an OP2," she said.

Professor Toni Downes of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, said academic rank was an important factor for trainee teachers but not to the exclusion of other qualities in students. "What parents want most is for teachers to be passionate and committed about their childrens' education," she said. "I never graduate somebody who I would not be proud to have teach my children."


Congress Is Getting Closer to Higher Education Reauthorization

The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee has voted unanimously to approve legislation to reauthorize federal higher education programs for the next five years. The bill includes dozens of new federal programs and new financial reporting requirements for colleges and universities. The U.S. Senate approved a similar higher education reauthorization package in summer 2007. The College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137), which the House panel approved in November, will create new programs, increase authorization levels for certain aid programs, and implement new federal regulations to require colleges and universities to report financial information and tuition prices.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), the ranking Republican on the committee, pointed to the new financial disclosure requirements as a key reason he and other Republicans supported the legislation. "The federal government invests billions in higher education each year to ensure that all Americans are able to pursue a college education and the benefits that come with it. In exchange for that support, these institutions should be held to account for their cost increases," McKeon explained. "If we provide a federal investment without accountability, students and taxpayers will be on the losing end of the equation," McKeon said. "Sunshine is not the only solution, but it is a critical first step."

Dr. Richard Vedder, a distinguished economics professor at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the legislation does not go nearly far enough in making college more affordable and could cause additional problems. "The best thing I can say about the House bill on higher education is that it is not as bad as I thought it might be, and that there seems to be a bipartisan concern about soaring costs for attending college," Vedder said. "The bill makes some modest but positive moves in the direction of promoting greater transparency in college operations." Vedder called the regulations designed to contain college cost increases "well-intended and even mildly innovative," but he warned they could create new problems, such as increased student fees, other non-tuition cost hikes, and possibly increased government control of higher education institutions.

McKeon likewise expressed concern about components of the legislation that will expand federal involvement in higher education. "The new programs created in this bill are symptomatic of the larger tendency by Congress to fund any and every program with an inviting name--never mind whether the federal government has any business intervening in these areas in the first place," McKeon said. "Both parties need to take a step back and realize that when we create new federal programs, we may be worsening the very problems we're trying to solve."

But McKeon says the reforms initiated by the new legislation are worth the expansion of federal involvement. "While I am deeply troubled by the number of new programs created by this bill," McKeon said, "I am mindful that it contains a number of positive reforms that will benefit students, parents, and taxpayers, and, taken as a whole, I believe its positives outweigh the negatives."

Vedder argues more fundamental reforms are needed to address the problem of ever-increasing college tuition costs and falling college productivity. "We need to start weaning students and institutions from massive government support that invites inefficiency, rent-seeking, and a loss of intellectual independence," Vedder said. "A good place to start would be to end institutional subsidies and concentrate support on vouchers to students--but only those with very significant financial need."


Turning teachers into spies and snitches

UK schools minister Jim Knight wants teachers to monitor their pupils' every antic and the behaviour of their parents. We should give his proposals a big red cross.

By 2010, all secondary schools in England will enable parents to obtain daily class reports on their child's every move at school. Each pupil's attendance, behaviour and academic performance will be put online by 2012, allowing parents to check their progress daily. Apparently, the idea could end parents' evenings, with teachers instead providing daily updates on `real-time' reporting systems. The schools minister, Jim Knight, insists that the daily reports `should not add to staff workloads' (1). One thing is for sure - pupils, teachers and especially parents are all set to lose out by such creeping surveillance.

Although a necessary and useful feature of the school diary, annual school reports on all the pupils you teach are inevitably time-consuming. So how daily school reports on a child's `achievement, progress, attendance, behaviour and special needs' would not add to a teacher's workload is never properly explained. More worryingly, daily reports could also be used as a further disciplinary threat against teachers in the same way that a failure to keep existing school records already is. The existence of such a scheme will also contribute to classroom disruption, as pupils will be more preoccupied by the content of a daily report than the content of a textbook.

A daily report will also erode further any space that a pupil needs away from the prying eyes of mum and dad. It is only in exceptional circumstances that parents need to be informed by the school about poor behaviour or lack-of-progress issues. A recording of every slightly cheeky comment, minor disruption or wind-up with other pupils will be counterproductive because it will inevitably undermine the development of a good working relationship with teachers. It will also undermine a teacher's authority even further in the classroom, as they will be perceived as babysitters merely keeping an eye on kids for their parents, rather than getting on with the job of teaching knowledge and understanding. And far from creating a climate that develops mature behaviour in children, it is likely to have the opposite effect.

It is a fact of life that adolescents can be obnoxious and mean to teachers and each other. Teenagers only grow out of playground spite when they begin to have an awareness of how their actions impinge on others. That awareness can only develop via the push-and-pull of the classroom and the schoolyard. It cannot be magically switched on via a stern email home. Indeed, school pupils develop a `conscience' when they're aware they have transgressed the `acceptable' boundaries that have developed between teachers and among their peers. If every minor action automatically results in a parental ticking off, pupils will never develop the skill to judge how they behave in situations outside the home. The result is to infantalise teenagers even further and, even more alarmingly, the measures will put parents on almost the same level, too.

Tucked away in the blather about `improving parents' access to detailed information about their children', Jim Knight let slip that `schools could also monitor how often parents checked their child's progress'. The idea of schools monitoring parents monitoring teachers' reports monitoring their children's behaviour seems like something dreamt up by the Stasi in Stalinist East Germany. The obvious and creepily threatening implication here is that parents must be snooped on by schools in order to check that they're acting as `responsible' parents. As it happens, the vast majority of parents have an in-built radar regarding whether their children are progressing well or not at school and care deeply about their welfare. When they are concerned, they will simply phone up or visit the school to enquire accordingly. How dare the government imply otherwise and that it is somehow up to local education authorities to coerce parents into showing `concern' about their child's education?

Already a number of measures are in place that reveal deep contempt for parents. Increasingly, parents have to sign homework sheets to show that they've checked their children's work. And in September 2007, Ed Balls gave headteachers the power to obtain parenting orders forcing them to keep their expelled children indoors and off the streets. A failure to do so could lead to prosecution, a œ1,000 fine and a criminal record (2). Although the online reports are only in their initial stages, it is inevitable that they will come equipped with some draconian log-in code in the future. Is it too fanciful to suggest that a child could be suspended or expelled if parents `fail' to check out the daily `progress' reports? Or that fixed penalty notices could be served up by local judges if parents don't comply with the measures?

As an indicator of where the wind is blowing on social control, it was very significant this week that while the police's pay rise was shunned, secondary school teachers received theirs - with a bit more than expected on top. Clearly, if teachers are expected to be both social workers to children and state snoopers on parents, the government has to make sure it's in their best interests to do so.

Leaving aside the huge waste of teachers' time and efforts involved in this ridiculous and pernicious measure, it will also socialise future generations to see routine surveillance as normal, while tightly binding parents to the state in ways that might prove impossible to log-off from.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why is Public Education Failing?

Children are coming out of school dumb because they aren't taught academics. They have, instead, become experiments in behavior modification

It's a fact. Most of today's school children can barely read or write. They can't perform math problems without a calculator. They barely know who the Founding Fathers were and know even less of their achievements. Most can't tell you the name of the President of the United States. It's pure and simple; today's children aren't coming out of school with an academic education.

Colleges know it. They have to set up remedial courses for incoming freshmen just to prepare them for classes. Parents know it. Their children grow dumber everyday. The politicians say they know it. They hold hearings to grill education "experts," and they hold high-powered education "summits" to debate and discuss the "problem." And they keep coming up with more federal programs and dictate more standards and spend more taxpayer dollars to fix the problem. But the problem continues to explode. Why?

Frankly, any parent can find the answer simply by looking through their child's textbooks or taking a close look at the classroom structures that their children are forced to endure. That's just what I'm going to do for you and when I'm through, see if you still wonder why there is an education crisis. And ask yourselves why all the politicians, with huge staffs to do their bidding, can't seem to find the problem.

Restructuring the Classroom

It comes under many names; block scheduling, group learning, cooperative learning. It's all part of a radical change in the way children are handled in the classroom. Children are paired with others for group grades. Individual achievement is de-emphasized. Under block scheduling a number of subjects are tied together in one long class. For example, math, science, health and physical education have been combined in one school. Children are supposed to learn these skills by working on class projects, such as launching an imaginary rocket to the Moon.

Presumably when faced with various problems in building their rocket, students will seek out the necessary information. They'll need math to calculate the projectory, science to find where the Moon is and health to know what to feed the astronauts. Obviously health is for astronaut training. Children are not instructed on how to do the math calculations or how to find the information they need. They are to find it for themselves. And children who can't keep up are to be helped along by other children in their group. It's called "kids helping kids." That's why teachers are now called "facilitators."

"Cooperative learning" is nothing more than a classroom-management technique that provides a convenient hiding place for bad teachers and under-achieving students. The student who doesn't care to learn, or has failed to grasp a concept, allows the rest of the group to do the work and yet gets the same grade.

What students coming out of such classes cannot do is perform math problems, recite multiplication tables, conjugate a verb or structure a sentence. Random facts picked up in the rush to complete a project do not supply the proper base or structure to understand a subject.


Perhaps the most bizarre of all of the school restructuring programs is mathematics. Math is an exact science, loaded with absolutes. There can be no way to question that certain numbers add up to specific totals. Geometric statements and reasons must lead to absolute conclusions. Instead, today we get "fuzzy" Math. Of course they don't call it that.

As ED Watch explains, "Fuzzy" math's names are Everyday Math, Connected Math, Integrated Math, Math Expressions, Constructive Math, NCTM Math, Standards-based Math, Chicago Math, and Investigations, to name a few. Fuzzy Math means students won't master math: addition, subtraction, multiplications and division. Instead, Fuzzy Math teaches students to "appreciate" math, but they can't solve the problems. Instead, they are to come up with their own ideas about how to compute. Here's how nuts it can get. A parent wrote the following letter to explain the everyday horrors of "Everyday Math."
Everyday Math was being used in our school district. My son brought home a multiplication worksheet on estimating. He had 'estimated' that 9x9=81, and the teacher marked it wrong. I met with her and defended my child's answer. The teacher opened her book and read to me that the purpose of the exercise was not to get the right answer, but was to teach the kids to estimate. The correct answer was 100: kids were to round each 9 up to a 10. (The teacher did not seem to know that 81 was the product, as her answer book did not state the same.)

Children are not taught to memorize multiplication tables. Those who promote this concept believe that memorization is bad. Instead, children, they say, should be taught to "discover" multiplication. Students, they say, learn to multiply over several years by "thinking about math."

Social, political, multicultural and especially environmental issues are rampant in the new math programs and textbooks. One such math text is blatant. Dispersed throughout the eighth grade textbooks are short, half-page blocks of text under the heading "SAVE PLANET EARTH." One of the sections describes the benefits of recycling aluminum cans and tells students, "how you can help."

In many of these textbooks there is literally no math. Instead there are lessons asking children to list "threats to animals," including destruction of habitat, poisons and hunting. The book contains short lessons in multiculturalism under the recurring heading "Cultural Kaleidoscope." These things are simply political propaganda and are there for one purpose - behavior modification. It's not Math. Parents are now paying outside tutors to teach their children real Math - after they have been forced to sit in classrooms for eight hours a day being force-fed someone's political agenda.

English, Reading and Literature

Conjugate a verb? Diagram a sentence? Learn to spell? This is language class. We have more relevant things to learn. In a seventh grade language arts class in Prince William County, Virginia, children are given a test entitled, "What makes you good friendship material." Children are to circle "yes," "no" or "maybe" to questions like, "Am I someone who is trusting of others; likes to have close personal friends; is able to influence others; enjoys sharing with others; can keep a secret? If you answered yes to most of these then you are really good friendship material. If not, you need to work on yourself."

One book being used in classes is called The Book of Questions. Designed around situation ethics, the authors openly admit that "this book is designed to challenge attitudes, values and beliefs." Again behavior modification - not academics - is the root of this exercise. Here are a couple of sample questions from the book of Questions:

(1) On an airplane you are talking pleasantly to a stranger of average appearance. Unexpectedly, the person offers you $10,000 for one night of sex. Knowing that there is no danger and that payment is certain, would you accept the offer?

(2) A cave-in occurs while you and a stranger are in a concrete room deep in a mineshaft. Before the phone goes dead, you learn that the entire mine is sealed off and the air hole being drilled will not reach you for 30 hours. If you both take sleeping pills from the medicine chest, the oxygen will last for only 20 hours. Both of you can't survive; alone one of you might. After you both realize this, the stranger takes several sleeping pills and says it's in God's hands and falls asleep. You have a pistol; what do you do?

And so it goes, in Geography where, instead of looking for Colorado on a map, children are instructed to make a "Me" map to psychologically profile the children. In Civics, instead of learning how the government runs and of the great checks and balances that the Founding Fathers installed to protect our liberties, children are taught how to be "global citizens" under the UN's Declaration on Human Rights." In Health classes children are taught about Mother Earth - Gaia - with lessons on the Sierra Club as heroes.

Children are coming out of school dumb because they aren't taught academics. They have, instead, become experiments in behavior modification to prepare them to be citizens of a global village. The fault lies with the U.S. Congress, which now dictates curriculum and perpetuates the Department of Education, from which all of these evils flow.


Britain too now has ghetto schools

Airport-style metal detectors could soon be fitted in hundreds of secondary schools in an effort to deter pupils from carrying knives. Details of the initiative emerged as Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, admitted she would feel unsafe walking alone in London at night. Police are investigating a series of stabbings this month and Gordon Brown has expressed his alarm about "out of control" gangs of teenagers on the streets. More than three-quarters of knife crime is committed by 12- to 20-year-olds. The metal detector plan will be a key element in a new government action plan on violent crime next month.

Although the initiative carries disturbing echoes of some US cities, where high-school pupils are routinely scanned for weapons, head teachers said it could help to tackle violence in high-crime areas.

Ms Smith said schools could "build on" schemes by the British Transport Police to install metal detectors in busy railway stations. "I think it is a good idea if we look at the ways in which, in some schools, it might be appropriate to use search arches," she told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show. "I want young people to know it doesn't make them safer to carry a knife - it actually makes them more likely to be a victim." It is understood the use of metal detectors will be encouraged in schools in cities worst affected by knife crime, such as London, Birmingham and Liverpool.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "There are schools serving areas where knife crime is high in the community and it is right these schools take measures to protect pupils." Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said: "It is sad school scanners are necessary to stop a small minority of young people from carrying knives. But the number of high-profile stabbings at or outside schools in hot-spot areas for gangs means this is a sensible precaution."

Ms Smith also confirmed the Government was looking at whether alcohol was being sold too cheaply by supermarkets following the murder of Gary Newlove, the Warrington man killed by a group of drunken teenagers. "I think we need to look at whether or not both pricing and promotion is having an impact," she said.

Asked if she would feel safe walking in a deprived area such as Hackney at midnight, Ms Smith said: "Well, no, but I don't think I'd ever have done. You know, I would never have done that at any point of my life." She was also asked whether she would feel at risk in a more affluent district such as Chelsea. She replied: "Well, I wouldn't walk around at midnight and I'm fortunate that I don't have to do that."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is an astonishing admission. It is shameful you can walk the streets of New York, Tokyo, Paris and Berlin safely at night, but not the streets of London."

Next month's violent crime action plan is expected to set out moves to increase the numbers of searches by police of suspected troublemakers and make more use of CCTV to catch them on tape.

Metal detectors are still relatively rare and hugely controversial in US schools, but they have been used, particularly in rougher inner-city neighbourhoods, for at least 20 years with some success. Reliable statistics are hard to gather, but studies down the years suggest that about 10 per cent of US schools use metal detectors - either the door-frame style commonly found in courts and other sensitive public buildings, or hand-held ones that school officials are able to use at their own discretion. The proportion is much higher in urban areas - particularly Chicago, which installed detectors in every middle and high school a few years ago.

Some detectors were installed in response to the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and other widely publicised killings. But for the most part schools decide the issue on their own criteria. A 1992 study in Oklahoma suggested metal detectors had helped cut the number of weapons being brought into schools by more than half, and helped cut violent crimes by about 35 per cent.


German Homeschooling Family Flees to England After Mayor Attempts to Seize Children

A German family has fled to safe haven in the United Kingdom after the mayor of their town attempted to have their children seized and put into state custody for the crime of homeschooling according to WorldNetDaily (WND). WND reports that officials with Netzwerk-Bildungsfreiheit, a German homeschooling advocacy group, said that Klaus and Kathrin Landahl and their five children, "are in safety in England. They reached Dover on Saturday midnight."

The Landahl family was preparing to leave the country and had deregistered themselves as German citizens, when the Mayor of Altensteig filed a lawsuit with the local family court demanding it intervene and take custody away from the Landahls. A spokesman for the advocacy group told WND, "As the mayor knows that the family wants to leave Germany and that they have deregistered, his attempt is that the family court takes custody away in a so-called . (preliminary warrant) which means that custody can be taken away without a hearing [for] the parents."

He added also that in the Landahl case, not only were the authorities seeking to usurp the parents' right to decide their children's education, but also their right "to determine the place of abode," an action more in line with Soviet-era East Germany. The Landahls were in the process of moving into a rented apartment abroad when the court served them with a legal notice of the lawsuit.

Joel Thornton, President of the International Human Rights Group, which advocate for homeschoolers in Germany, told that the report from Netzwerk-Bildungsfreiheit is troubling since, "German government officials are willing to violate their own procedures to take the custody of children from the parents for nothing more than homeschooling. Were there criminal activity going on that was being avoided it would be understandable, however the system would probably not be so quick to act."

It is outrageous that children would be separated from their parents over this issue. The German courts need to move to protect the well being of their families from such severe government action," Thornton said. "Every parent in the world, not just homeschool parents, should be outraged that their rights are trampled by the Mayor of this town", he said. "Parents should express their outrage to the Mayor by email and let him know that this is not acceptable behavior in civilized countries."

The local court has not issued a final ruling in the case, but ever since Germany's Supreme Court ruled in favour of the state against homeschooling last fall, most families have found safety to exist in flight. WND reports that this week a Bavarian man identifying himself as "Mathew" sent this message: "This morning we received a call from the German ministry of education. Tomorrow (Wednesday) morning they will send the police to our home and take Josia (6), Lou Ann (10) and Aileen (13) by force, to the public school."

According to "Matthew," the government was emboldened by the high court's decision, and since then it has increased substantially its persecution of homeschooling families. "If we do not comply the government will ultimately revoke our rights as parents and take custody of our children," he said.

Another family said they were escaping Germany after their lawyer concluded that "only jail and loss of custody are left" as penalties from the government. "We are leaving Germany for now, and our children and my husband Tilman have already given up their permanent residence in Germany," said a note from Dagmar Neubronner. "I will maintain my permanent residence in Bremen because I am the bearer of our small publishing house." "It is hard to leave everything behind, especially our tomcat (a neighbor will take care of him), our relatives and friends and choirs and music ensembles and sports teams, our house and garden - our town and our country."


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Starry-eyed Canadian childcare experiment goes badly awry

There is no substitute for a loving home. Comment below from Australian educationist, Steve Biddulph

A large Canadian policy experiment provides a lesson that might save us much grief in Australia. In 2000 the province of Quebec, populous and progressive, took the bold step of providing universal day care right down to newborn babies, at a cost to parents of $5 a day. It was a well-intentioned attempt to come to terms with a large increase in the number of families where both parents were working, which had almost doubled in 30 years.

Three economists, Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber and Kevin Milligan, seized the chance to evaluate what happened in real time. They had the rest of Canada as a control group, and a large study in place tracking children across the country to provide detailed data on their development. What they found was astonishingly clear cut in a field usually littered with carefully worded reservations and ideologically filtered reporting. The scheme was a disaster.

Evaluated in economic terms, it did not pay for itself; the tax gains from increased workforce participation (the workforce grew by 7.7 per cent) did not make up for the cost of the exercise. Also the system crowded out informal and family forms of care, so that many people simply switched the kind of care they used to take advantage of the massive subsidies.

But the human cost was the most significant. There were marked declines in child wellbeing; on measures of hyperactivity, inattention, aggressiveness, motor skills, social skills and child illness, children were significantly worse off than their peers who remained at home.

The family suffered, too: parent-child relationships deteriorated on all measured dimensions. There was a significant increase in depression rates among mothers and a deterioration in couple relationships among affected parents. None of these changes was minor. The hyperactivity increases were in a range of 17 to 44 per cent; the skills decline was between 8 and 21 per cent; childhood illnesses rose by 400 per cent. The study is littered with adjectives researchers are usually careful to avoid: strong, marked, negative, robust, striking. Yet it did echo, though more strongly, similar findings in the United States, Britain and Europe.

The Quebec policy did so many things right. It mandated many improvements, increasing from one-third to two-thirds the proportion of carers with tertiary qualifications. It supplanted private profit-making centres or took them over, a measure known to increase care quality. It also included and trained in-home carers, or family day carers, as we call them. Yet still the outcomes were dire.

In Australia, Labor has promised a mix of possible measures. It will build 260 non-profit community-run centres, tilting us towards the European model. Yet it will continue the large subsidies that are paid directly to private providers. (Canadian MPs are so horrified by the corporate chain profit model of child care that dominates in Australia that there is legislation proceeding to ban public money being given to such companies.)

The evidence points to only one possible solution: paid parental leave. When Sweden introduced this 15 years ago, babies and under-twos almost disappeared from its day-care system. This was despite it being acknowledged as the best system in the world, costing 2 per cent of gross domestic product (Labor's new measures will bring our expenditure up to 0.4 per cent).

In Britain, the policy of the former prime minister, Tony Blair, of building vast numbers of centres has proved an expensive mistake: a younger generation of parents is choosing to stay home and one-fifth of British nursery places stand empty. Under pressure from parents and child development experts, Britain has now introduced paid parental leave.

There is a way through the minefield. More community centres are needed. Corporate handouts, as the child-care subsidy has sadly often proved to be, could be better spent to help all parents have a real choice. In the end, paid parental leave is the most equitable way and the best value for money. It is certainly the best for babies. Love, after all, can't be bought.


Education sex imbalance

It may show that men have been quicker to realize the low value of college education these days. The writer below just assumes that such education will continue to be as valuable as it once was

Suppose you could memorize only a single demographic number and you set about choosing the one with the most far-reaching implications for change in America. You could do worse than 1.5. Of course, there are plenty of possibilities: the birth rate, the teen-pregnancy or illegitimacy rate, the percentage of the population that is white or foreign-born, the percentage of elderly. But unpack 1.5 and you have the makings of a social inversion: a turning upside down of the male-dominated order that Americans have taken for granted since -- well, since forever.

The number 1.5 is, in this case, a ratio. According to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 half again as many women as men will earn bachelor's degrees. In the early 1990s, six women graduated from college for every five men who did so; today, the ratio is about 4-to-3. A decade from now, it will be 3-to-2 -- and rising, on current trends. What does this mean? And what's going on? Neither question is easy to answer. But start with the second.

A college degree used to be a rarity: a mark of privileged or professional status. As recently as 1950, fewer than half of Americans even finished high school, let alone went on to college. Surprisingly, in the early decades of the last century, college attendees were as likely to be female as male. As the economists Claudia Goldin, Lawrence F. Katz, and Ilyana Kuziemko note in a fascinating 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, things changed dramatically beginning in the 1930s. Men poured into universities, first to escape Depression-era unemployment, later with the help of the G.I. Bill, then to escape Vietnam. Above all, men were responding rationally to a labor market that paid a rising premium for advanced education. By 1957, three men took home a college diploma for every two women who did.

That imbalance defined the world in which all but the youngest of today's adults grew up. The education gap bolstered the presumption that men would dominate the professions and other elite careers; that men would boss women, instead of the other way around; that men, with their college-turbocharged earning power, would be the primary breadwinners; that, educationally speaking, men could expect to marry down.

Chapter 3 of the 20th-century story is as welcome as it is well known. Feminism, family planning (in the form of birth control, especially the Pill), and a meritocratic labor market opened not just jobs but careers to women, who streamed into the workforce and formed two-earner families. Expecting to work -- and also, as divorce rates soared, worrying about having to support themselves -- women also streamed to college. By about 1980, the gender gap in college enrollment had vanished. Young women had reached educational parity, with the promise of social parity not far behind.

The puzzle is what happened next. In the 1990s, the pattern changed again, but the surprise involved men. The wage premium for a college degree continued to rise smartly. Women responded just as economic theory predicts that rational actors would: Their college attendance rates kept climbing because the more they learned, the more they earned. Men, however, ignored what the market was telling them: Their college attendance and completion rates barely rose. Why? "That's the big mystery," says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

Whatever the reason, the result was a new educational gender gap, this time favoring women. There is little sign that it will close: Projections by the National Center for Education Statistics show a 22 percent increase in female college enrollment between 2005 and 2016, compared with only a 10 percent increase for men.

In 2006, according to the Census Bureau, about 27 million American men held a college degree; so did about 27 million American women. This is a tipping point, however, not an equilibrium, because male college graduates tend to be old, and female graduates tend to be young. Among people age 65 and older, men are much more likely than women to be college-educated. Middle-aged men and women are at parity. Among young adults ages 25 to 34 years old, the college gap favors women almost as lopsidedly as it favors men among their grandparents' generation.

In other words, today's young people already live in a world where, among their peers, women are better educated than men. As the grandparents die off, every year the country's college-educated population will become more feminized. In a couple of decades, America's educational elite will be as disproportionately female as it once was male.

Perhaps men will wake up, smell the coffee, and rush off to college in greater numbers. Or perhaps the labor market will undergo a sea change and the premium on education will stop rising and start falling. As of now, however, both of those reversals appear far-fetched. Men might -- certainly should, and hopefully will -- raise their college attendance rates, but the likely effect would be to narrow the gap with women, not close it, much less flip it.

Meanwhile, millions of semiskilled workers in developing countries are entering an increasingly globalized labor market, which all but guarantees a rise in the relative premium commanded by a college diploma.

So what we are talking about, in all likelihood, is an America where women are better educated than men and where education matters more than ever. Put those facts together, and you get some implications worth pondering.

In 1978, when I was a freshman in college, I met a woman who told me she was in law. "Oh," I said, "you're a secretary?" Her gentle but mortifying reply: "No, I'm a lawyer." Few of today's young people can even imagine making that kind of faux pas. According to census data, a higher share of women than men already work in management and professional jobs (37 percent versus 31 percent, in 2005).

Look for that gap to widen. A generation from now, the female lawyer with her male assistant will be the cliche. Look for women to outnumber men in many elite professions, and potentially in the political system that the professions feed. (The election of a female president is a question of when, not whether.)

Women's superior education will increase their earning power relative to men's, and on average they will be marrying down, educationally speaking. A third of today's college-bound 12-year-old girls can expect to "settle" for a mate without a university diploma. But women will not stop wanting to be hands-on moms.

For families, this will pose a dilemma. Women will have a comparative advantage at both parenting and breadwinning. Many women will want to take time off for child-rearing, but the cost of keeping a college-educated mom at home while a high-school-educated dad works will be high, often prohibitive.

Look, then, for rising pressure on government to provide new parental subsidies and child care programs, and on employers to provide more flextime and home-office options -- among various efforts to help women do it all. Look, too, for a cascading series of psychological and emotional adjustments as American society tilts, for the first time, toward matriarchy. What happens to male self-esteem when men are No. 2 (and not necessarily trying harder)? When more men work for women than the other way around?

Some of these adjustments will have international dimensions. Goldin, Katz, and Kuziemko note, "Almost all countries in the OECD" -- the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of advanced industrial countries -- "now have more women than men in college and have had a growing gender gap among undergraduates that favors women." Yet much of the developing world, especially the Muslim world, remains predominantly patriarchal.

Many tradition-minded cultures in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia already regard the Western economic and social model as emasculating. Radical Islam, in particular, abhors feminism. As the United States and Europe continue to feminize, will the anti-modern backlash, already deeply problematic in the Muslim world, intensify? As sex roles and expectations diverge, might hostility and misunderstanding mount between the West and the rest?

No, men are not about to disappear into underclass status. They will not become mothers anytime soon, and they will not stop secreting testosterone. Men's ambition will ensure ample male representation at the very top of the social order, where CEOs, senators, Nobelists, and software wunderkinds dwell. Women will not rule men. But they will lead. Think about this: Not only do girls study harder and get better grades than boys; high school girls now take more math and science than do high school boys. If there is a "weaker sex," it isn't female.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Virtual schools threatened by court ruling

An attack on homeschooling by teachers succeeds

Seventh-grader Marcy Thompson cried when she heard that a court had ordered the state to stop funding the virtual school she has attended for the last five years. The ruling, the first of its kind in the U.S., placed the Wisconsin Virtual Academy at the center of a national policy debate after critics raised a key question: Do virtual schools amount to little more than home schooling at taxpayer expense? School districts across the country are closely watching the case, which could force the academy to close and help determine the future of online education.

"It's a great education option for lots and lots and lots of people, and they need to save it," said Marcy, who is among more than 90,000 students from kindergarten through high school enrolled in virtual schools nationwide.

Virtual schools operate in 18 states, according to the North American Council for Online Learning, a trade association based in Virginia. Supporters say the schools are a godsend for parents who prefer that their children learn from home. But opponents, including the nation's largest teachers' union, insist the cyber charter schools drain money from traditional schools.

Marcy, 12, was home schooled through second grade, then began attending virtual classes in third grade.



In Addition to Depriving Him of His 1st Amendment Rights this "University" Betrays its Once Catholic Heritage.

Founded in 1898, DePaul University holds itself out as America's largest Catholic University. Named for St. Vincent de Paul, who established the Congregation of the Mission (known as the Vincentians), the motto of the university is "Viam sapientiae monstrabo tibi". It's from Proverbs meaning, "I will show you the way of wisdom.".

Sometimes, I wonder if DePaul maintains its "Catholic" identity simply to retain tax exempt status. The classrooms and offices of the university have been almost completely denuded of crucifixes and religious artwork of any kind. After my time at DePaul, all that remains is inoffensive and nondescript representations of the saint making him appear unidentifiable.

Few of my old classmates express any loyalty to DePaul as our alma mater. Most who were graduate students described it as the most "secularized" of all of the Catholic schools they attended. For that reason, their affection and gift dollars generally go elsewhere. One local jurist, now serving in the criminal court, told me DePaul did not rate highly with him. Others told me its relationship to them is simply "cash and carry." You pay your tuition, pass your classes, take your degree and get out at the earliest possible moment.

It is difficult to imagine the reaction of the hardworking Catholic immigrants, who sacrificed from their meager earnings to help build DePaul from the ground up, if they could see it now. It hosted a recent "Out There" diversity conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, "queer" and transgender communities, severely criticized by Cardinal Francis George. Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, the president of DePaul, defended the controversial decision to hold the conference along with the decision to permit the play "The Vagina Monologues" to be staged on campus. And that's not all. Including these items: Consider two of the other intriguing off campus conferences recommended to DePaul students which were advertised as opportunities for diversity education on the DePaul University web site:

1) "Queering the Church" Conference

"Queering the Church" conference asks this question, `Can the Church Be Queered, and if it can, how?' The conference's format is panel Discussion between pastoral and practical theologians, systematic theologians, and critical theorists The synopsis describes it this way. "What happens to the church when it is queered, where queering as a verb can denote a rethinking of sexual identities as well as a challenging of normative understandings of ecclesiology and liturgy? Can a queering of theology do more than critique and deconstruct traditional church structures, practices, performances, and self-understandings by pointing the way forward to the renewal of the church by suggesting new, more liberating and truthful structures, practices, performances, and self-understandings?"

2) "Let's Talk About Sex."

An organization of the school known as "SisterSong" proclaims itself as "proud to present our 2007 National Conference entitled `Let's Talk about Sex.' It continues: " To be held in Chicago and hosted by African American Women Evolving. Why?: Since the right to have sex is a topic rarely discussed when addressing reproductive health and rights issues, The organization "SisterSong" believes that sexual prohibitions are not only promoted by moral conservatives in this country, but also by reproductive rights advocates who fail to promote a sex-positive culture. We believe that sex for procreation or sexual pleasure is a human right, and we are striving to create a pro-sex space for the pro-choice movement. This four-day conference will include workshops and plenaries on topics such as birth control, senior sexuality, STDs, microbicides, gynecological health and wellness, erotica, militarism, and more, all through a reproductive justice lens. There will also be a special track of workshops designed by and for young women and teens."

There has been a necessary abridgment of the above to meet the requirements of a family website.

3. The Injustice to Tom Klocek.

During 2004, Thomas E. Klocek, an adjunct professor at the School of New Learning, engaged in a lively discussion with students distributing literature outside of a cafeteria. The students were members of two groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and United Muslims Moving Ahead. The literature repeated various anti-Semitic claims that Israel ought to cede its territory to the Palestinians under the theory of the so called right of return. When Klocek disagreed with the students, one compared the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis. Subsequently, several of the students complained about Klocek to DePaul officials and launched a smear campaign describing him as a bigoted individual on account of his support for Israel.

In the upside down logic of Dean Susanne Gumbleton, Klocek, who was not in a classroom when the incident occurred, was disciplined for disagreeing with the students distributing the inflammatory literature. He was suspended with pay for the duration of the semester on September 24, 2004 by Gumbleton and advised that he would have to submit an apology to the students and he would have to consent to having his lectures monitored in order to continue teaching at DePaul in the future. Klocek objected to this treatment as a violation of his academic freedom and unsuccessfully sought to obtain a formal hearing on the allegations conducted by DePaul. When Gumbleton granted an interview to the student newspaper which justified the decision and omitted to include any meaningful references to Klocek's side of the story.

Klocek filed suit in the circuit court seeking redress for wrongful termination and defamation. The wrongful termination count was dismissed, the defamation suit continues. Klocek's mistreatment at the hands of university administrators has made the case extremely noteworthy in academia.. Free speech advocacy groups have championed his cause and DePaul finds itself defending anti-Semitic student extremists while persecuting a highly regarded Catholic faculty member who defended the traditions of the West and Israel.

DePaul has maintained a posture of official silence on this issue but in correspondence, Holtschneider backs Gumbleton and criticizes Klocek for suing the university. DePaul has repeatedly attempted to have the case dismissed, but thus far judges have refused to strike the defamation count of Klocek's complaint. I can understand the official silence of the university. It needs to continue the local news blackout. Reason: the more he Klocek case is known, the worse DePaul looks. In her own way, Dean Gumbleton treats this injustice not unlike the Islamic world where diversity and multiculturalism are not discouraged. How long the local news blackout will continue is unknown. But some day a spotlight will be shone on the anti-intellectualism of DePaul in this case. When that occurs, the lawsuit will be ended and a freshly reinvigorated university administration will reinstate Tom Klocek.


Australian kids get distorted and inadequate history lessons

By Christopher Bantick

As we begin to think about celebrating Australia Day, the armbands will be dusted off. There will be the black armbands of shame over European colonisation, and the white armbands triumphantly boasting the nation's achievements won from a hostile land. The symbols of armbands illustrate how increasingly divisive Australian history has become, whether this is the protracted battle of the "history wars", where interpretations of indigenous ownership and colonial occupation have been raging, or the "culture wars" between previous prime minister John Howard's view of the past and Labor's.

Now with Labor in power, a new front has opened over how history is to be taught. While Labor has agreed with the Howard view of the need for a national curriculum, the critical question is: What will it contain? Australian history has become so contentious and politicised that it no longer is a subject of content and commonly agreed facts. Instead, it has morphed into an ideological minefield. Those who lose out are the kids.

Am I overstating the case? Consider this. In New South Wales schools, children as young as eight have been taught, from a government-approved textbook and distributed to NSW schools, the Sorry Song. The song. written by Kerry Fletcher in 1998 for Sorry Day festivities, contains the following words: "If we can't say sorry, to the people from this land, sing, sing loud, break through the silence, sing sorry across this land. We cry, we cry, their children were stolen, now no one knows why."

This is one example where a broad and well-rounded representation of the past has been sacrificed for an ideological position or, more bluntly, the indoctrination of eight-year-olds.

An uncomfortable reality is that there are many children in Queensland classrooms who know little history. They would fail the citizenship test on knowledge about Australia's past and society. Why? They have no factual basis. The assumption is otherwise. As then-immigration minister Kevin Andrews said in May last year: "It is the sort of thing you would expect someone who goes through school in Australia would know by the end of secondary school, and probably in some instances by the end of primary school." Wrong!

But it has not taken federal Labor long to take the high ground over history in the classroom. Where Howard wanted all Year 9 and 10 students to undertake a compulsory and factually-driven Australian history course measured out in a series of milestones, federal Labor has other plans, as Education Minister Julia Gillard indicated through a spokeswoman last week. "Australian history is a critical part of the curriculum and should be included in all years of schooling, not just for a few years in secondary school. The government will work co-operatively with the States and territories through Labor's national curriculum board to implemenmt a rigorous content-based national history curriculum for all Australian students from kindergarten to Year 12."

There is a little word missing here: facts. Moreover, there is no mention of another: chronology. The Labor take on the past sounds like the states will write their own content under broad national guidelines. It is conceivable that students will be receiving- at the whim of teachers and schools - content that although fitting a broad sense of a national curriculum has little national coherence.

Moreover research has consistently shown that children learn most successfully when they can see sequential links and associations. The British Inspectorate of Schools charged with monitoring standards, Ofsted, had this to say last year about students studying topics in isolation. "Children do not understand the chronology of what they have studied and cannot make links between important historical events."

The omission of a factual emphasis and stated chronology in the Labor plan, and let's keep in mind facts are different to content, is at odds with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's preferred position. In July last year, the then-leader of the opposition said: "Our young kids just need to be introduced to the facts in our history and facts in our society and then later on as they move through high school they can start rnaking up their own minds about what is right and wrong."

This view would seem at variance with his deputy Gillard's ideas and, curiously, squares with the Howard attempt to ground children in factual knowledge about the past. The moot point is: What will Labor's national history curriculum include? Children should be taught about their past free from ideological positions and political spin - a point Gregory Melleuish, Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Wollongong, noted in August: "In recent times there has been a move to consider history in political rather than professional terms. Many professional historians are more interested in serving political causes than historical ones."

Moreover, evidence shows that children don't want the politics. The History Teachers Association of NSW, in a submission to a Senate inquiry into school standards in July, noted students do not like politics in the classroom, or indigenous history. HTA executive officer Louise Zarmati said: 'This is a somewhat delicate subject but they don't like the indigenous part of Australian history. The feedback I get is that they are not prepared to wear the guilt. I think it sparks a lot of racism."

The fact is that Australian children are effectively being disenfranchised from knowing about their past while governments bicker about the politics of history. It is a sad indictment on the education system that many grandparents know more about Australian hisdtory than their children and certainly their grandchildren. That is something to worry about.

The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on January 20, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Foolish academic elitism

There is more than an echo of that arch patrician, Lady Ludlow, in the scathing criticism being directed against the internet and its unlimited diet of free information. She it was, in the BBC's delectable serialisation of Mrs Gaskell's Cranford, who dismissed the notion that the lower classes should be given access to education. Teaching them to read, she said, would simply distract them from saying their prayers and serving the landed gentry.

Today it is the University of Google that stands accused of purveying the new socialism by offering equality of information to everyone. Modern students, say the critics, are being handed unlimited supplies of dubious facts from online sources such as Wikipedia, without the means of distinguishing between the good and the bad. Because they no longer have to sift through books and carry out their own research, the students' sense of curiosity has been blunted. The internet provides "white bread for the mind" and it is breeding a generation of dullards.

Let them read books, commands the impressively named Professor Tara Brabazon, of the University of Brighton where she is Professor of Media Studies. She says that she has banned her own students from using Wikipedia or Google as research sources, and insists they read printed texts only. In a lecture, she argues that only thus will we produce the critical thinkers that the nation needs.

I fear the professor is blaming the messenger rather than the message. It is not the uneven quality of facts found on the internet that is to blame for uninquiring minds, it is the way they have been taught to think - and the way their written work is marked.

I doubt if there is any difference between the undergraduates of my generation, who crammed for exams by creaming off selected quotes from recommended texts and then learning them by rote, and those of today who download convenient passages from Wikipedia. The difference lies in the use they make of the material. If they are encouraged to believe that predigested information is an end in itself, and if they are then given high marks for the result, they will simply conclude that that is the outcome that society requires of them.

If, on the other hand, they learn that they have a gateway to knowledge unprecedented in the history of man, and that this opens up access to sources of information that they might never have glimpsed as they struggled with poorly equipped libraries unhelpful staff and unimaginative lecturers, then they will realise that, far from blunting curiosity, it sharpens it.

Academics like Professor Brabazon reveal a Ludlow-like snobbery towards Wikipedia that is becoming ever harder to justify as the site itself improves. A year ago, the Encyclopaedia Britannica was outraged when the magazine Nature carried out a comparison between it and Wikipedia, and concluded that the service offered by the two were more or less on a par (Britannica had 2.9 minor errors per article, Wikipedia had 3.9).

The difference today is likely to be even less, because Wikipedia can correct itself so swiftly. That it is open to outside contributors of uncertain quality is part of its nature. But precisely because of this, there are thousands of eagle eyes ready to pounce on errors of fact or interpretation. Vandal editing - the deliberate distortion of facts by people known in the trade as "sockpuppets" - is now routinely detected, and particularly vulnerable pages are protected from interference.

Of course, there is always the risk of inaccurate information. But is any dictionary, encyclopaedia or historical work immune from it? Should I trust Macaulay's error-littered, Whig-biased History of England simply because it is bound in leather and will take a trip to the library to find? Is the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to be relied on because it has 60 volumes and a worldwide reputation, or should I listen to the detractors who have found errors in its entries for Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale and George V? And is the Britannica quite as magisterial as its title suggests?

I did a quick test on my own, looking up Nancy Mitford (I'm a fan) and judging the results on time and accuracy. Wikipedia gave me four pages of almost 100 per cent accurate information (I rang her niece, Emma Tennant, who spotted one small error), together with 33 links to related characters and a 16-line bibliography suggesting further reading. I got the whole lot in ten seconds.

The Britannica required a 20-minute trip to my nearest library. It gave me 350 words and a bibliography with one entry (Harold Acton's memoir). The online version offered the chance of signing up to a 30-day free trial, but still required my credit card details, replete with reassurances about taking my privacy "very seriously" - always a worrying sign. The DNB provided by far the best and fullest entry (but so it should). However, a month's subscription costs 29.35 pounds, and a year will set you back 195 pounds plus VAT. [sales tax]

What Professor Brabazon and cohorts of internet critics appear to be advocating is that those who require reliable information - the academic term is "peer-reviewed" - should be made either to work for it, or to pay for it. Curiosity, it seems, can only be stimulated by trawling library shelves or by shelling out substantial amounts of money.

The rest of us must fall back on the poor man's legacy, the internet, where we will encounter trivia, inaccuracy and lazy opinions lazily received. It's a useful caricature, of course, for those whose business it is to maintain a two-tiered society. But it suggests that not much has changed since the Church railed against men like Wycliffe and Tyndale who had the temerity to translate the Bible from Latin into English and thus allow it to be read by the great unwashed.


British mathematics education dumbed down

An advanced form of the maths A-level should be introduced to attract the prodigies who are not stretched by the current qualifications, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said yesterday. Some 60% of teachers they questioned for their latest report on A-level maths said the qualifications had got easier since reforms in 2004. Teachers said pupils were increasingly re-taking units to improve their marks and that there was a wide perception that some options were easier than others. The report says: "Most teachers also felt that the two optional units do not provide sufficient 'stretch' for the most able students."

It concludes that the options for the QCA were to accept that only a small clever core of students should do maths, or that the A-level should be separated from the further maths A-level which should stretch the most able. A spokesman said they would be investigating how to improve the further A-level. The current A-level was introduced in 2004 in response to a crisis in recruitment after earlier reforms in 2000 prompted a decline. Since 2004 the number of candidates has increased by around 14%.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the QCA, said that maths A-level was among the most challenging to design because of the range of ability among pupils. "There is a far greater range of achievement in mathematics (and the related discipline of physics) among young people than any in other subject in the curriculum, except perhaps music. While there are some 14 year olds still struggling with basic arithmetic, there are some young people who are pushing at the frontiers of advanced mathematics, and destined for brilliant careers. And in the broad span between the two, there is an extraordinary range of differentiated performance. Mathematics is a nationally important priority."

The schools minister Jim Knight said the new A-levels being piloted would better reflect academic excellent through the new A* grade. "Let's be clear. A-level maths is not easy. It is a rigorous and challenging qualification. "Changes made to the curriculum in 2004 made it more accessible - for example by allowing combinations such as statistics and mechanics, while retaining core mathematical content and protecting intellectual rigour. "These changes also overcame problems with the transition from GCSE without reducing the level of difficulty, and were made after extensive consultation with the mathematics community.

"Right now, plans are in place to stretch the brightest candidates even further. The new A-level, which is being piloted, will stretch the most able candidates with more open ended, less structured questions and the A* grade will ensure that exceptional attainment is recognised and students are better prepared than ever before to study maths at university."


Australia: Anger at kindergarten sex lessons

The usual Leftist attempt to debauch children in the name of "education"

A PARENT has complained her five-year-old daughter was taught sex education at a school in Hobart and revealed she was assaulted by two boys in her class just after the visit from Family Planning. The claims have prompted calls for the course only to be taught with parental consent. The parent, who did not want to be named, said her kindergarten child had come home and "said the word vagina". "I was shocked," she said. "They were taught what a penis and a vagina was, which I don't think they should in kinder. "I told the principal if I had known anything like that was going to happen, I would have kept my kids at home all week."

The parent said her child told her about the alleged assault when she put her to bed that night. "That's when she told me that two boys in her class had put their hands down her pants, and she said she bashed them," the mother said. "She said it happened in the dolly corner. "There were three adults in the room and 16 kids and no one saw it. She said she did tell the teacher, but the teacher seems to think she did not tell."

Pembroke Labor MLC Allison Ritchie said the allegation would be investigated. "I have had an undertaking from the Education Minister's office that this incident will be fully investigated," she said. Ms Ritchie said she had also heard complaints from people delivering the course, who had turned up to a school in the North-West only to find parental consent had not been sought. She said the children were part of a protective behaviours course.

The complaint parent said her six-year-old and nine-year-old children had all been put through the course. "I never knew it was happening until they all came home and said," she said. "I don't think they should do it at that age, maybe Grade 6 or Grade 7, not kinder and prep. "But the principal said the Government said it was compulsory for kids to learn about their bodies at that age. "They told me that it was Family Planning, they came in to talk to the kids about their bodies, who could touch them and who could not."

Ms Ritchie said all schools should ensure that parents had the opportunity to give their consent and view the content of such courses. "Parents should absolutely be able to opt out," she said. "It is not compulsory for every child. "You might say I am happy for my Grade 7 child to participate, but not my kinder child." Ms Ritchie said most schools were doing the right thing and gaining consent.