Saturday, April 05, 2008

California Likely to Reject Federal Options to Reform Failing Schools

Education in CA is an apparently incurable disaster for many. Discipline enforcement via corporal punishment would work but we can no longer do that so the kids have to put up with getting negligible education

With California facing a cash-strapped state budget, some choice advocates are calling for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to follow his tough reform talk by expanding parental options in education. In his January 2008 State of the State speech, Schwarzenegger touted his intention to be the first governor to use "powers given under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to turn challenged districts around." Currently, 98 California school districts have fallen short of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets enough to qualify for corrective action. Each of the 98 districts has failed to meet its basic academic progress goals for at least three years, some for as many as seven or eight years.

Schwarzenegger's plan has focused on providing state-approved technical assistance to help local school districts craft plans to meet NCLB accountability standards, expand education data access and capabilities, and offer new avenues to license teachers. Dr. Vicki Murray, senior education fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a think tank in Sacramento, praised the governor for his reform but said it doesn't go nearly far enough. "It's a good first step, but the real issue is that no parent should be expected to make their child a sacrificial lamb to the schools that fail to improve year after year," Murray said. "Choice should be real alternatives, [and] it should be universal and immediate."

Under NCLB, school districts have to offer students in failing schools free transportation to another school in the district. But many California districts have only a few schools from which to choose, and in some cases, they don't have any schools demonstrating academic success. As a result, Murray says, this sanction does not offer families much hope. "Sure, parents can pull their kids out of a school," Murray said. "But when so many schools are underperforming, what's a parent to do?"

Clint Bolick, director of the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation in Arizona, agrees about the shortcomings of NCLB. "The law itself is deficient in not providing for meaningful remedies," Bolick said. Bolick noted many districts are not even enforcing the weak provisions the federal law affords. In 2006, in his former position as director of the Alliance for School Choice, he helped launch legal action against California's Los Angeles Unified and Compton school districts for failing to comply with the federal law's choice provisions. The complaint is lodged in the state secretary of education's office, where it is awaiting action.

Bolick said the secretary "has the power to issue monetary sanctions" but has yet to follow through. He hopes the governor's pronouncements will turn things around. "It would be absolutely titanic to have Gov. Schwarzenegger on board with a strong enforcement of No Child Left Behind, even though the law does not provide perfect remedies," said Bolick.

The direction of California's reform discussion has shifted since reports emerged in December 2007 revealing the state faces an overall budget deficit of more than $14 billion. "A lot of people think reform [means devoting additional financial] resources, so that put a lot of rain on their parade for 2008," said Murray. But Fred Glass, spokesman for the California Federation for Teachers (CFT), believes the budget shortfall can be cured by restoring a rescinded vehicle license fee and instituting a severance tax comparable to those in other oil-producing states. He said Schwarzenegger's plan is meaningless if the deficit cannot be overcome. "You can dress up reality any way you want, but the reality remains that it's hard to make progress when you're starving the system," said Glass, citing a 2008 Education Week survey that ranked California 43rd in per-pupil funding.

CFT's slate of proposals to fix underachieving school districts includes reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers [known to be totally ineffective] and contributing additional funds to programs that provide mentorship opportunities between new and experienced educators. Murray says that type of approach has been tried repeatedly without favorable results. "Schools prefer the softer sanctions, like tweaking the curriculum and providing more teacher training," Murray said. "But, of course, that doesn't do anything. You just look like you're doing something, and you're not fundamentally changing what's being done."

Instead, Murray would like to see the governor make use of the serious sanctions available to him under NCLB. Types of corrective action chronically failing schools could face include undergoing complete staff overhauls, being taken over by a private management company, or converting to charter schools. Glass does not see a serious possibility of the governor following through with any of those actions, nor does he think it would help the state's 98 underperforming districts. "Those kinds of concerns don't address the root problems," Glass said.

But Murray sees a real opportunity for Schwarzenegger to set a bold new course. "He is taking a strong stand against an ossified, recalcitrant system," Murray said. "California could be the first state to really turn things around."


Coulter skewers liberals at Stony Brook

Conservative author Ann Coulter came to Stony Brook University Monday night with observations that sealed her reputation as a caustic commentator. Speaking before about 200 people at a lecture titled "Liberals are Wrong about Everything," she talked about topics ranging from the presidential campaign -- she criticized all three presidential candidates -- to Islamic terrorism to biting criticism of Al Gore, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

While disdainful of the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, whom she repeatedly referred to as B. Hussein Obama, she was not hopeful that Republicans could triumph in the election. "It looks like it's going to be a bad year, but in America there is always hope," Coulter told a mostly supportive audience of students, community and faculty members.

She said liberals "want to do nothing" to fight terrorism and listed a litany of what she considered liberal wrongs over the past four decades. "The fact of Islamo-facism is indisputable," Coulter said. "Liberals want to do nothing. ... Liberals believe in burning their draft cards, putting crucifixes in urine."

Coulter lectured last night in the university's Student Activities Center auditorium. No video, audio or photographs of her appearance were allowed during the lecture, which cost $5 for students and $10 for nonstudents. According to the Web site of the Young America's Foundation, which co-sponsored the event with the Stony Brook University College Republicans, Coulter commands $20,000-plus for her lectures on college campuses.

After she spoke, Coulter took questions from the audience. Coulter's searing commentary and the provocative language she uses to skewer liberals have often drawn fire. Former Democratic candidate John Edwards, when he was running for president last year, used inflammatory statements Coulter made about him to solicit campaign donations. Coulter had used an anti-gay slur to describe Edwards.

Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, later called in to Chris Matthews' show "Hardball" to ask Coulter to stop the personal attacks. An Associated Press account of the incident said the exchange "deteriorated," with Coulter shouting over Elizabeth Edwards and demanding that the Edwards campaign stop using her name to solicit donations.

After the speech, supporters praised Coulter for giving the other side of popular issues. Norma Jeanne Okula of Manorhaven said Coulter was "very impressive." Okula said she liked the fact that Coulter's appearance may be a sign of a growing conservative movement on campus.

Stony Brook's College Republican President Kevin McKeon introduced Coulter to the crowd. "I hope we're changing minds," McKeon told the audience as Coulter waited nearby ready to speak. "It's not particularly popular to be conservative on campus. We'd like to change that."

Not everyone supported what Coulter had to say. Kayvan Zarrabi, 21, of Northport, said Coulter "presents a shtick on stage. You can't take it seriously. She didn't support her statements."

Coulter has faced controversy on Long Island before. In 2006, during an appearance at the Book Revue in Huntington, fans cheered as she tore up a letter protesting her appearance by a town official after she had called 9/11 widows "witches" and "harpies." During the question and answer segment, Coulter proudly defended her reputation as an in-your-face commentator. "I think I am more vicious," Coulter said to loud applause.


Friday, April 04, 2008

'Crisis' graduation gap found between cities, suburbs

What a lot of fluff this article is! The gap is RACIAL, not a product of where you live. And the gap won't change until strategies to deal with black deficiencies are adopted. Blacks can be helped but not if you keep pretending that they are just the same as whites

The likelihood that a ninth-grader in one of the nation's biggest cities will clutch a diploma four years later amounts to a coin toss — not much better than a 50-50 chance, new research finds. Cross into the suburbs, and the odds improve dramatically.

The findings, which are being released today, look closely for the first time at the gap in high school graduation rates between public schools in the 50 biggest cities and the suburbs that surround them. Among the alarming disparities: In 12 cities, the gap exceeds 25 percentage points. Of those cities, nine are in the Northeast or Midwest.

The study was commissioned by America's Promise Alliance, a group of foundations, advocacy and non-profit organizations, and corporate and religious groups focusing on children's education, safety and health. It was founded by former general Colin Powell and is headed by his wife, Alma. The alliance plans a series of dropout-prevention summits in each state over the next two years.

Researcher Christopher Swanson, who analyzed 2004 graduation data from the Education Department, says the largest districts "contribute disproportionately to the nation's graduation crisis." Collectively, they educate 1.7 million high school students — about one in eight. Yet they account for nearly one in four students who don't graduate each year.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings calls the gap "unacceptable, especially now that 90% of our fastest-growing jobs require education or training beyond high school." She plans to take administrative steps that will require states to use the same formula to calculate graduation rates, "and that they make it public so that people nationwide can compare how students of every race, background, and income level are performing."

For the report, Swanson used urban/suburban categories from the Education Department's Common Core of Data. The value of the data is that it puts "some hard numbers behind our intuition" on the gap between urban and suburban graduation rates, Swanson says. "It's hard to act on intuition. It's easier to base policy on hard data."

Rick Dalton, president of College for Every Student, a Vermont group that helps low-income students prepare for college, says the urban/suburban gap "just speaks to the crisis in the U.S. It is about income. Family income drives it all."

Swanson, research director for Editorial Projects in Education, the Maryland non-profit that publishes Education Week, says, "If we can focus particular attention on these big-city districts, … I think it's possible to think that we'd see some movement on these national numbers." ["possible to think"!!]


Student Sues Wisconsin School After Getting a Zero for Religious Drawing

A Tomah High School student has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his art teacher censored his drawing because it featured a cross and a biblical reference. The lawsuit alleges other students were allowed to draw "demonic" images and asks a judge to declare a class policy prohibiting religion in art unconstitutional. "We hear so much today about tolerance," said David Cortman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group representing the student. "But where is the tolerance for religious beliefs? The whole purpose of art is to reflect your own personal experience. To tell a student his religious beliefs can legally be censored sends the wrong message." Tomah School District Business Manager Greg Gaarder said the district hadn't seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

According to the lawsuit, the student's art teacher asked his class in February to draw landscapes. The student, a senior identified in the lawsuit by the initials A.P., added a cross and the words "John 3:16 A sign of love" in his drawing. His teacher, Julie Millin, asked him to remove the reference to the Bible, saying students were making remarks about it. He refused, and she gave him a zero on the project. Millin showed the student a policy for the class that prohibited any violence, blood, sexual connotations or religious beliefs in artwork. The lawsuit claims Millin told the boy he had signed away his constitutional rights when he signed the policy at the beginning of the semester.

The boy tore the policy up in front of Millin, who kicked him out of class. Later that day, assistant principal Cale Jackson told the boy his religious expression infringed on other students' rights. Jackson told the boy, his stepfather and his pastor at a meeting a week later that religious expression could be legally censored in class assignments. Millin stated at the meeting the cross in the drawing also infringed on other students' rights. The boy received two detentions for tearing up the policy. Jackson referred questions about the lawsuit to Gaarder.

Sometime after that meeting, the boy's metals teacher rejected his idea to build a chain-mail cross, telling him it was religious and could offend someone, the lawsuit claims. The boy decided in March to shelve plans to make a pin with the words "pray" and "praise" on it because he was afraid he'd get a zero for a grade.

The lawsuit also alleges school officials allow other religious items and artwork to be displayed on campus. A Buddha and Hindu figurines are on display in a social studies classroom, the lawsuit claims, adding the teacher passionately teaches Hindu principles to students. In addition, a replica of Michaelangelo's "The Creation of Man" is displayed at the school's entrance, a picture of a six-limbed Hindu deity is in the school's hallway and a drawing of a robed sorcerer hangs on a hallway bulletin board. Drawings of Medusa, the Grim Reaper with a scythe and a being with a horned head and protruding tongue hang in the art room and demonic masks are displayed in the metals room, the lawsuit alleges.

A.P. suffered unequal treatment because of his religion even though student expression is protected by the First Amendment, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Friday. "Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate," the lawsuit said. "No compelling state interest exists to justify the censorship of A.P.'s religious expression."


An authoritarian government school in Sydney, Australia

A Sydney high school has been accused of intimidating students into having their fingerprints scanned for a new attendance monitoring system, and branding parents who object as "idiots". Parents of students at Ku-ring-gai High School in Sydney's north say their children have been bullied into taking part in a trial of the scheme introduced this week. According to a principal's note sent home with students last Friday, parents were permitted to opt out by sending an "exemption" letter to the school.

Parents told The Australian yesterday their children were told their fingers would be scanned anyway, and data later deleted, only if there were still objections. Alison Page said her daughter in Year 10 and other students who carried exemption letters were told "their parents were idiots for not agreeing". She said they were asked again if they would have the scans. "They were told to go home and tell their parents they were worrying about nothing," she added. Ms Page said her other daughter in Year 12 was among students required to provide finger scans without notice after an English exam on Tuesday. Her daughter had an exemption letter but had not been allowed to take it into the room. "They were not allowed to leave the room until it was done," she said. "They were told it could be deleted later if they didn't want it done."

Parent Chris Gurman said his daughter Alex was also told she could not leave the exam room until her fingerprint was taken. "My daughter was the only one who refused," Mr Gurman said. "She's read 1984. When she refused to co-operate, a teacher let her out of the room." Alex Gurman, 17, said they were told: "'If any of your stupid parents have any worries about this we will talk about it later.' I felt like crying, I felt like I was being forced to do something I didn't want to do, it was very confronting."

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties raised concerns about people being pressured into fingerprint scans, and said they posed dangers to privacy. Council secretary Cameron Murphy said: "This is exactly why the process is unacceptable, because in most cases where this biometric information is collected it is very rarely by consent."

The principal of the creative arts high school, Glenda Aulsebrook, said she was unaware of allegations that students had been forced to accept scans, saying no one was obliged to participate. Ms Aulsebrook denied fingerprints were kept on record, saying only numbers were kept on a database. She said she first became aware of the procedure at a principals' conference where she was shown how it operated.

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca said a small number of schools had introduced fingerprint scanning with the support of parents, adding it was not a government nor department initiative. "In each case the department has ensured there are strict privacy safeguards and parental consent," Mr Della Bosca said.

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said he was worried parents who wanted to opt out might have been forced to participate. The process had also never been formally announced by Mr Della Bosca nor the Iemma Government, he said. An Education Department spokeswoman said inquiries would be made about the scheme.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Arrant British nonsense

Why do you need to go to university before you are qualified to look after little kids? A kind heart is infinitely more important -- as a British mother observes

The education of young children is being compromised because so few nursery staff are educated beyond secondary school level, a report suggests. Only 7 per cent of nursery heads, nursery nurses and assistants have post-secondary school qualifications, the report found. The vast majority finished their training having passed GNVQ level 3, a vocational qualification that is equivalent to an A level. The poorly qualified early-years workforce is in sharp contrast to much of Europe, and elsewhere, where the majority of staff are qualified to degree level, or have three years of intensive training in child development before they start work. New Zealand is retraining its entire childcare workforce so that they are all of degree standard by 2012.

The skills crisis has come to light only months before the introduction of a new curriculum for all under5s in September, part of a government plan to raise standards in nurseries. Education experts fear the curriculum will become a box-ticking exercise if staff do not have the skill or confidence to interpret the new rules. The report, which will be published this week by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), also identified a gulf between private and voluntary nurseries, which make up about 70 per cent of the sector, and govern-ment-funded nurseries attached to schools.

More than 80 per cent of staff at school-based nurseries are educated beyond secondary school level. "There has been nothing like the scale of action needed to transform the low-skilled and low-paid childcare workforce," said Graeme Cooke, co-author of the report. "This is despite all the evidence which shows that a highly skilled workforce is essential in early-years education." Research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that highly qualified childcare workers are the decisive ingredient in getting children to behave well, socialise and start to learn before reaching school. [Another example of "research" with foreordained conclusions, no doubt]

The Government aims to increase the number of graduates in nurseries and has stipulated that by 2015 each will have a graduate in charge. The IPPR said that this was a partial reading of the OECD research. "There is a limit to what a graduate leader can do with a low-skilled workforce, many of whom are qualified to GNVQ level 2 only, equivalent to a GCSE," Mr Cooke said. Purnima Tanuku, the chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said: "Professional development has large costs attached for nurseries in terms of increased salaries, training costs and time away from the nursery, especially at higher levels. "As salaries already account for 80 per cent of parental fees, investing in this area means that the costs will have to be passed on to parents."


Hampshire College Students Stage Walkout to Demand More Diversity

Apartheid in the name of diversity?? Hampshire College is a 1,350-student ultra-liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts

Students at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Mass., walked out of class this morning to protest what they saw as administrators' insufficient commitment to fighting racism, the Associated Press reported.

As part of a series of events called Action Awareness Week - featuring a teach-in, a speak-out, and a writing workshop on oppression - a group of students had presented a list of 17 diversity-related demands (also posted on Facebook) to Hampshire's president, Ralph J. Hexter.

Among other things, the students were calling for additional faculty and staff positions in multicultural affairs, mandatory "anti-oppression training" for all employees, and residence halls exclusively for students of color and for "queer-identified" students. A few hundred students staged the walkout, an organizer told the AP, when the college's president did not immediately agree to their demands.

But Mr. Hexter, who is one of academe's few openly gay presidents, has had several lengthy meetings with the student activists, and he plans to sit down with them again this afternoon, said Nancy Kelly, senior adviser to the president.


A good comment from John Rosenberg:

"If Hampshire College administrators, faculty, librarians, secretaries, janitors, etc., have been oppressing anyone, I'm all in favor of someone teaching them how to stop. But maybe someone could explain to me how racially segregated dorms will increase "diversity."

If "queer-identified" students deserve a dorm of their own, what about "straight-identified" students? Shouldn't they be able to have a dorm of their own, i.e., one that excludes "queer-identified" students? Moreover, shouldn't there be separate dorms for black "queer-identified" students and Hispanic "queer-identified" students? Without such separate dorms, those students would be forced to reject one of their core identities. And let's not forget the Jews...."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The pros and cons of academic tenure

I think tenure is a vital protection for conservatives. I am inclined therefore to think that it should be automatic after a one-year probationary period. I was myself appointed with tenure from day one, which was a bit incautious, but my publication record was already significant at that stage so that justified it

Claire B. Potter has a level of academic success many young Ph.D.'s these days can only dream about. A professor of history and chair of American studies at Wesleyan University, she has tenure at an elite college. Tenure provides her not only with job security, but with part of her identity as the blogger Tenured Radical, where she shares views on a range of topics, writing with the freedom that tenure is supposed to protect.

So why would Potter recently have approached her provost to inquire about the possibility of trading in tenure for a renewable contract? It turns out that there are lots of obstacles to doing so, Potter said, in that Wesleyan doesn't have a model in which someone off the tenure track could fully participate in campus governance, and this isn't a question the university is used to being asked. So she's not sure it will happen. But why even explore it? Potter's question was a natural outgrowth of a blog posting she made this month that questioned the value of tenure.

Wrote Potter: "I have argued against tenure for several reasons: that it destroys mobility in the job market. That we would do better financially, and in terms of job security and freedom of speech, in unions. That it creates sinecures which are, in some cases, undeserved. That it is an endless waste of time, for the candidate and for the evaluators, that could be better spent writing and editing other people's work. That it creates a kind of power that is responsible and accountable to no one. That it is hypocritical, in that the secrecy is designed to protect our enemies' desire to speak freely - but in fact we know who our enemies are, and in the end, someone tells us what they said. But here is another reason that tenure is wrong: It hurts people."

The posting and similar online comments from others have prompted considerable discussion - pro and con - in the academic blogosphere. And out of the blogosphere, experts on tenure say that the frustration Potter and others are expressing with tenure reflects the changing nature of how academics see their careers and how they are treated. Even many tenure experts who say that tenure skeptics fail to appreciate the full value of tenure say that the frustrations being expressed are real and may represent a turning point of sorts. What does it mean when tenure isn't just being attacked by bean counters or critics who want to rid the academy of tenured radicals, but by some tenured radicals (not to mention tenured and untenured professors of a variety of views)?

To be sure, provosts are not being overrun with questions from professors who want to get off the tenure track, and the recent Web discussion has brought out strong defenders of tenure. "There are lots of things that have hurt me in academia, but tenure is NOT one of them," wrote the blogger Lumpenprofessoriat. "I have been hurt by the lack of health care from my years as an adjunct. I have been hurt by the uncertainties of working as migrant, contingent labor in academia for more than a decade. I have been hurt by deans, provosts, and by some of my colleagues who put time and effort into delaying my start in a tenure track line and in further delaying my final tenure decision for another decade. I have been hurt by decades of debts and low wages that I may never recover from. I have grudges, depression, anger, rage, and issues aplenty from my sojourn through the academic labor market. But the one thing that has NOT hurt me is tenure."

But in online postings and elsewhere, the questioning of tenure has drawn considerable support (even if much of that support isn't necessarily calling for its abolition, but pointing to tensions in the system). See Easily Distracted on the impact of proceduralism and mystery, Uncertain Principles on the different disciplinary standards and the impact of a "make or break" moment on careers, or Confessions of a Community College Dean (whose blog appears on Inside Higher Ed) on the conflict between transparency and the tenure system. Citizen of Somewhere Else is calling for a cease-fire in the discussions. All of these postings have drawn comments from readers - tenured or not - some of them saying that they see abuses of the system with regularly, others dreading going through it, and others vowing not to.

One anonymous academic commented on Tenured Radical this way: "I am completely freaked out by the mysteries of the tenure process and have decided not to pursue a t-t job, but instead to work toward getting either a permanent lectureship or a split admn/lectshp position, many of which are held by people at my institution. I don't think I want to deal with the pressure and anxiety of not knowing how to court all the right people into my camp. I am currently benefiting from the fact that someone else did not get tenure, as I hold a visiting position to replace someone who elected to take their `terminal' year as a leave year. I have `replaced,' due to overlapping scholarly interests, a very brilliant teacher, a dedicated colleague in all the fields of expertise with which hir work crossed, and a highly respected scholar with numerous prestigious publications. Why this person did not get tenure has never been explained to me. It was very controversial, inspiring student protests. (I have no idea if the department waged any sort of protest. It's all part of the secrecy.) I sincerely hope this person is using this year to find a job where s/he will be appreciated. I don't think I could measure up. If s/he couldn't get tenure here, what must it take?"

Many factors are at play in the debate, experts say. The majority of faculty members who work in public higher education, many say, are better protected on free speech issues by the Constitution than by tenure, and the Constitution doesn't just kick in after one gets tenure. Another factor is a growing sense that earning tenure isn't entirely a matter of merit, but in many ways can be a fluke. In an era when those who earn tenure can think of people they view as equally talented who never made it off the adjunct track, or when at many universities, people who never published a scholarly book are judging the quality of tenure portfolios that must contain two books, respect for the process has diminished.

The Mysteries of Tenure

Comparisons to other (generally criticized) processes in society come up a lot. In the blog Slave of Academe, Oso Raro compared the tenure process to hazing (a common comparison, with many noting that it's easier to imagine getting in to a fraternity or sorority after hazing than earning tenure). The blog posting was inspired by the tenure case of Andrea Smith, whose future at the University of Michigan is in danger because of a negative vote by the women's studies department.

Wrote Oso Raro: "All of which is to say that in spite of all the efforts to empiricize, measure, and delineate tenure, to `understand' the process, a large part of it will always be mysterious, the final hazing, the culminating movement of neophyte to acolyte. I feel ambivalent about such an interpretation, obviously, only insofar as such belief systems can blind us to the real inequities in tenuring processes. Similar to other rigorous, mystical institutions, like the military, Roman Catholicism, Hollywood, Broadway, and the dark arts of Wall Street and the City, the university also has its blood sacraments, which include ritualistic purging. Part of the problem with tenure being wrapped in mystery, ceremony, and hocus-pocus worthy of a Skull and Bones initiation, is that in the dark all cats are gray, and it becomes hard to discern legitimate concern (and yes, indeed, outrage) from hucksterism and carpet bagger self-aggrandizement. This has led a sizable portion of the profession to shrug their shoulders when tenure scandals emerge, or worse, reach for the easy answer of dismissal ('activist-scholar')."

The issue of mystery is one that comes up again and again in the new critiques of tenure. While tradition has it that only a secret process allows evaluators to speak freely, that argument isn't selling with the current generation - for whom tenure is more rare and whose value systems don't accept the same premises their elders did. Cathy A. Trower, co-principal investigator of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, at Harvard University, supports the idea of tenure, but said that the criticisms reflect demands for real change.

"Tenure is an employment system," she said. "People carry out tenure processes and inflict - or not - the pain on others that these people describe. I say: Fix the perpetrators/abusers, not throw out tenure." Trower noted that even with more people being hired off the tenure track, most colleges do have tenure, so it is important to look for ways to make the system work so that "the people in charge put young scholars through a humane and dare I say nurturing process that leaves them polished, poised, and excited fully vested, productive, and tenured members of the campus community who will treat those coming up behind them equally well and equitably."

Of course, Trower acknowledged that today's concept of "humane" is different from yesterday's. In an article on faculty diversity in Harvard Magazine that she wrote with Richard P. Chait, co-principal director of COACHE, they noted the frustrations of many with the tenure system, which is largely based on standards adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940. "We do not contend that the abolition of tenure will somehow solve the problem of faculty diversity. The issue is less one of tenure as an institution and more one of tenure in its implementation. That is, do the policies and practices of yesteryear best serve contemporary faculty? The proposition might be posed as follows: If a representative random sample of faculty, selected to mirror the diversity the academy presumably desires, were to assemble as a `constitutional convention' to rethink tenure policy, would the document that emerged essentially paraphrase or materially depart from the 1940 AAUP statement? We do not know. We think, however, that the idea merits philanthropic support and deserves to be tested."

They go on to suggest ways - very consistent with the current critique of tenure - that their surveys of young faculty members suggest that today's assistant professors are likely to differ from their more senior colleagues when it comes to tenure evaluations. Where the traditional model held that "secrecy assures quality," younger academics think that "transparency of the review process assures equity." While the traditional view was that merit was "empirically determined" and that "competition improves performance," the new view is that merit is ""socially constructed" and that "cooperation is better than competition."

In an interview, Potter said that secrecy is central to the flaws of the tenure system. While she blogs about all sorts of university matters, she said that when she writes about tenure, she gets the most grief on campus, with people telling her that even writing about tenure issues in general ways is inappropriate. "A private institution is like an allegory for the WASP family when it comes to talking about tenure - it's like you're not supposed to say that Mommy's drinking. Whatever happens, the real crime is talking about it."

The Limits of Academic Freedom

Potter said it is very clear - from cases in the public record - that talented people are turned down for tenure because their colleagues don't much like them, regardless of issues of quality. She cited the case of KC Johnson, the Brooklyn College historian who was nearly denied tenure despite an impressive publishing record and evaluations that demonstrated his commitment to teaching. His department "voted against him because they didn't like him," but his professional accomplishments should have made the case an easy one to resolve in his favor, Potter said. (Johnson eventually won tenure, but not before columnists and others took up his case and it became something of a cause celebre.)

Johnson's political views tend to anger Potter, but she said it is hard to imagine how people could have justifiably voted against him, except that secrecy protects any vote and can cover up personal dislike. And similar votes, she said, hurt many female and minority candidates. As Johnson's case illustrates, she said, there are better protections for academic freedom than tenure. She cited faculty unions (although Johnson did not feel supported by his), renewable contracts stating acceptable reasons to be dismissed or not renewed, and the public pressure on colleges to respect certain standards and ideals.

She also said that what Johnson did in his pre-tenure period (show a willingness to challenge his senior colleagues) demonstrates the great failing of the tenure system. Not only does it not protect adjuncts, she said, but it may actively limit the academic freedom of those on the tenure track, but not yet up for review. "Tenure does not protect the academic freedom of people who are not tenured. It works in the opposite direction," she said. "If you take the first six to eight years of someone's career, people are urged to be cautious, not to publish things in nontraditional media, not to offend anyone.... You take people coming out of graduate school when they have fertile or radical imaginations and you tell them to play it safe."

In an e-mail interview from Israel, where he is currently teaching on a Fulbright at Tel Aviv University, Johnson said he agreed with part of Potter's critique of tenure. He said she was absolutely correct to focus attention on the secrecy issue. "More sunlight in the personnel process will help eliminate some of the abuses," he said.

And Johnson agreed that tenure was designed for a different period - when professors faced a constant threat of dismissal for views opposed by the government. "In the last seven years, despite the AAUP's overblown rhetoric, how many professors have been denied employment because of speaking out against government policies?" he asked. "So in this sense tenure can now be used a club to deny academic freedom to untenured faculty - if they teach in humanities and most social science departments, unless they want to risk their jobs, they can't challenge the personnel preferences of a majority of their tenured colleagues, they have to be careful about the kind of topics they research, and they need to be silent on non-academic issues unless their opinions correspond to the race/class/gender world view."

But despite that skepticism, Johnson said that tenure - once he won it - has protected him. In his blog and book on the Duke University lacrosse scandal, Johnson has been unrelenting in criticizing Duke professors - some of them academic stars - whom he believes made irresponsible statements about the lacrosse players and have refused to apologize, even after evidence cleared the athletes. "I could never have spoken out on the Duke case if I didn't have tenure at Brooklyn, since I would have been subject to retribution from local ideological allies" of the Duke professors, he said.

So what might work better? Johnson said he would favor tenure followed by five-year post-tenure reviews, but in ways that couldn't be manipulated by personal likes or dislikes of a department's members. He would like to see "a review process that's quantifiable (requiring, for instance, tenured profs to show that they've developed new courses, or published new articles, or done research for new books) rather than having subjective reviews."

The Value of Tenure

Some of those who study tenure issues or work to expand tenure are less than impressed with the logic of those arguing to move beyond it. Gregory Saltzman, a professor of economics and management at Albion College, writes for the National Education Association about how to protect faculty members from unjustified dismissals. In an interview, he said that while he believes unions strengthen tenure, he dismissed the idea that they could replace tenure. He gave the example of "just cause" provisions, in which unions specify that dismissal is only allowed for legitimate reasons.

He offered this example. A tenured professor shows up at a city council meeting and argues against granting the university a building permit for some project and criticizes the university administration. Such behavior wouldn't endear a professor to his or her superiors, but it wouldn't get a tenured professor fired, Saltzman said. But move away from the tenure construct, and that situation is one of insubordination for which someone could be fired. "Tenure provides more extensive rights," he said. "Deans and presidents put up with a lot of behavior that a non-academic employer would call insubordination and act on."

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors and author of Manifesto of a Tenured Radical, went further. "Giving up tenure would actually be insane," he said. Nelson said that higher education indeed is weaker because so many professors without tenure do not enjoy full academic freedom. But he said that the solutions to that problem are to heighten protection for them while also pushing for the creation of more tenure-track positions. He also said that the continued strength of tenure at elite institutions has a power that goes beyond them. "Tenure there establishes standards for academic freedom that anchor the professoriate as a whole," Nelson said. "I don't think the professoriate can survive in its present form without a significant number of anchor institutions with tenure."

Further, Nelson rejected the idea that all of those votes behind closed doors are full of inappropriate or unfair deliberations. "I've been behind the closed doors in my own institution, and by and large, I think our tenure system is fair and the overwhelming majority of our decisions are the right decisions." And in "a significant number" of the decisions that don't go the right way, Nelson said, errors were made by the person coming up for tenure that contributed to the outcome.

While many have responded to the recent discussion with shock that professors themselves would put this topic on the agenda, there are a few examples of some who have done so previously. David J. Helfand started as an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia University in 1978, and when he came up for tenure, he decided he didn't want it, believing that it wasn't necessary for academic freedom, that lifetime employment was inherently flawed, and that tenure didn't encourage the sort of career path and creativity to which he aspired. It took two years to negotiate, but he won the right to five-year renewable contracts instead of tenure and he is currently in his fifth such contract.

Helfand said that at the end of the fourth year of each contract, he writes up his accomplishments in teaching, service and research and provides "a few pages" of his plans for the next five years. In a process similar to tenure reviews, senior members of his department review the proposal, which they send with a recommendation to the provost, who has another committee review the plans before deciding whether to renew. "One of the more salutary aspects of this procedure is that I get to see the divergence of reality from my plans, and have occasion to reflect on where I have been and where I am going," he said.

While Helfand said he hasn't noticed a groundswell of others following his lead, he said that he has been involved in the planning of Quest University, in British Columbia, a new institution without tenure that is the first private, nonprofit university in Canada. Helfand said that faculty members have individual contracts that cover six, one-month teaching blocks, with the remaining time designated based on faculty strengths. Some contracts outline research expectations, others focus on public outreach or student recruiting. "This allows each faculty member to play to his or her strengths," he said.

What about academic freedom without tenure? Helfand noted that he has been active in many campus debates and that during the end of the presidency of Michael Sovern at Columbia, Helfand was publicly identified with a group of faculty members who believed it was time for a leadership change. Noting that he was even quoted to that effect in The New York Times in an article Columbia administrators couldn't have liked, Helfand said, "I have not felt this arrangement has shackled me in the least." The president Helfand criticized has been gone from office for years. Helfand remains, but is now - still without tenure - his department's chair.


Australia: Small schools outshine bigger rivals in final-year examinations

But the government is still being secretive about detailed results. The taxpayers must be kept in the dark. They only pay for it all! But the politicians are so much wiser than us, of course

STUDENTS at schools in smaller regional centres around Queensland and those at private schools in the southeast's outer suburbs have outshone their colleagues across the state in academic achievement. The list of achievements by senior students at Queensland schools last year, to be released by the Queensland Studies Authority today, shows that the big city is not necessarily better when it comes to academia. It also shows that despite the hefty tuition fees demanded by some of the established inner-city private schools, some of the better state high schools are outperforming them academically. [i.e. The State schools in upmarket suburbs do well -- where the results reflect pupil quality rather than teaching quality]

Topping the state is All Saints Anglican School at Merrimac [South of Brisbane], where 94 per cent of eligible students gained an Overall Position (OP) score of 15 or better. The school eased Brisbane Grammar out of the top spot it occupied the previous year. OPs give a statewide rank order to students of between 1 and 25, with 1 the highest. Universities use OP scores to select applicants to degree courses. Brisbane Grammar scored 93 per cent, while another Gold Coast school, Emmanuel College at Carrara, came next with 91 per cent.

All Saints principal Patrick Wallas said the students' achievements were "wonderful news". He said the school also had a strong vocational education and training record, but students understood and encouraged academic excellence. "It's cool to do well at All Saints," Mr Wallas said. "You don't get humiliated or teased, and you can do it in a fun and liberating way."

Students at Christian and independent schools in outer metropolitan areas performed particularly well in 2007, confirming a trend from the previous year. Year 12 students at The Gap High School [An upmarket suburb] scored 84 per cent, the highest for a metropolitan high school and much better than some of the pricier private schools in Brisbane.

Elsewhere in Queensland, students at schools in smaller regional centres such as Atherton (81 per cent), Ayr (84 per cent) and Home Hill (88 per cent) did well. Seven schools had 90 per cent or more of their eligible Year 12 students gaining an OP15 or better. Only three were in Brisbane - Brisbane Grammar, Mt St Michael's at Ashgrove and St Margaret's Anglican at Ascot.

Education Minister Rod Welford said parents should use the information, published in The Courier-Mail today, as a guide. "There are many factors that make a school suitable for a student,' he said. However, despite insisting the Government was serious about school accountability, Mr Welford again refused to release more detailed information on the academic record of individual schools. The Government keeps information such as how many OP1s a school achieved secret, arguing that OPs are only one measure of a school's suitability. Mr Welford said he chose to release the proportion of students achieving OP15 or better because such a score would usually get them into university.


Australia: "Indigenous children start as equals"

Insofar as there is any truth in this, I am afraid that it is likely to be just another example of the Chimpanzee effect. I doubt however that the sampling of black kids was in any way representative. What percentage of black 5 year olds are in school anyway? About half of blacks live in remote settlements and their schooling is very nominal

Indigenous [black] children start school with a similar level of developmental skills as non-indigenous children, with gaps in achievement appearing to widen as they progress through school. In tests measuring readiness for school and language comprehension, indigenous students aged five have the skills of non-indigenous students aged four. [So that's equal?? That's a large gap at that age. Five year olds are a heap more capable than four year olds]

The analysis by Australian National University researchers Andrew Leigh and Xiaodong Gong estimates that between one-third and two-thirds of the gap in test scores is related to socio-economic differences. But Dr Leigh, from the Research School of Social Sciences, said the study showed that the big gaps in educational achievement occurred during the school years, not that indigenous students started school far behind the rest of the community. "Paradoxically, it's really quite an optimistic finding," he said. "It would be deeply depressing if we discovered that four and five-year-olds were as far behind as 14 and 15-year-olds, which would basically tell us that the problem was in families," he said. "Governments are bad at fixing families but these results suggest we need to focus on schools, and that's something policymakers have been thinking for years now."

The study looks at the performance of about 5000 children aged four and five and their results in two cognitive tests measured in the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children. One test asked students to pick one of four pictures that best suited the word said by the examiner. The other asked students to perform 10 writing exercises, from copying shapes to completing a sentence to drawing a picture of themselves. Indigenous students at the age of five were about one year behind their non-indigenous peers. Dr Leigh said other studies, and the national literacy and numeracy tests, have shown this gap widens substantially by late primary and early high school.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

5 ideas for homeschooling your children

Guest post from Heather Johnson -- who is is a freelance writer, as well as a regular contributor for OEDb, a site for learning about online education. Heather invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address:

With government controls as stringent as ever these days, the far-reaching tentacles of bureaucracy can be felt very strongly in the realm of education. Consequently, many parents are turning to homeschooling their children. It is a daunting task to take over the role of educator as you want to make sure your children receive the best possible learning experience. Here are some ways you can ensure your children’s success:

1. Get ready to read. There are countless “how-to” books on homeschooling and you’ll go crazy if you try to master this craft from these manuals. Certainly use some as a guide, but read as much as you can on individual subjects like history, philosophy and the sciences. This will ensure that you have a solid background in a myriad of subjects.

2. Teach according to your children’s style. Everyone learns in many different ways but most children favor one method above everything else. Discover what their propensity is and dive into teaching that way. It could be visually, auditory or kinesthetically; whatever gets them in the best learning gear is how you should handle your teaching duties.

3. Give it some time. Don’t try to measure success immediately as it will take months to develop a steady routine that you and your child are comfortable with. A year is usually a good benchmark to reflect on your child’s progress. At this time you can better gauge how far your child has developed. If you’re unhappy with the results you can retool your style.

4. Balance academic skills and life skills. Try to give equal weight to academic subjects and necessary, everyday skills. While it’s imperative you cover the traditional subjects use this situation as a way to teach your children useful skills like driving, balancing a budget or sewing. While these don’t smack of “normal” school topics, they still require stretching your brain in directions it may not be used to.

5. Have fun. When you think back to when you were in school everything you learned probably seems like a blur. This is your chance to present material to your children in a way that they’ll want to learn and not feel like they’re going to work. Tackle subjects in a manner that you both have fun. You’ll immediately notice that they typical malaise most students feel in a traditional school setting is dissipating.

The Vanishing Cultivated Girl and her Replacement: From Reading Novels to Talking Trash on Campus

By Thomas F. Bertonneau


I begin with three vignettes, the veracity of which my patient readers will accept on faith.

First Vignette. It is the end of the semester in my "Western Heritage I" course, an undergraduate "general education requirement" that I teach as a large-enrollment enterprise, with over a hundred students in the auditorium. Even with the help of a graduate-student teaching assistant, keeping order in the classroom has required a massive and annoying investment of the teacher's energy. Students come late, complain about lost points due to missed quizzes, shuffle in their seats, and - most distracting of all - talk during the lecture. It is women, far more than men, who offend in this manner although men are not free from the vice. To allay student fears about the final examination, I have agreed to spend the last two days of the semester summing up the major points of the syllabus and offering reminders about what we have read during the semester. (Some, who have not done the reading, mistakenly think that by taking notes during these concluding sessions, they can fake their way through the examination.) I am carefully making my way through an outline, tying Homer to the tragedians, the tragedians to the philosophers, Greek literature to Latin literature, and pagan civilization to the early Christian discourse that it at last produced. I find that I cannot keep the thread intact. Something is addling my concentration. I cock an ear and discover the source. From the moment I began, two young women sitting halfway back in the auditorium and close to the right aisle (from the lecturer's perspective) have been chattering to one another in loud stage whispers. I shoot them a disapproving look. The chattering continues, as if no one else were present. I shoot them another look and clear my throat. No result. Finally, I must stop my lecture and address the two of them directly, with a mandate to cease gossiping or take their palaver out of the classroom. Both girls make it clear by their expressions that they feel put upon and abused.

Second Vignette. It is a more recent semester. Again I am teaching "Western Heritage I," but in this little story the actual course plays only a small part. The public schools have a hiatus, so my twelve-year-old, a seventh-grader, is with me on campus. He sits through a lecture on Virgil while reading a book about UFOs. When the class-time has elapsed, he helps me pack up my chattels and we begin to walk to my next class, on the other side of campus. In the crush of students we find ourselves walking next to a female undergraduate engaged, like eighty percent of other students, in a peripatetic cell phone conversation. The young lady is well dressed - in the female equivalent of "junior executive." She walks briskly, oblivious of anyone's co-presence in the public space. Her dialogue grows excited. She is complaining to a sympathetic listener about one of her instructors, who has apparently assigned what she believes to be too much reading and who grades, as she sees it, harshly. "He f---ing thinks nobody's got other things to do," she says loudly. "Well, I'm f---ing not going to let him push me around. I'm f---ing going to report this f---er to the dean." In three sentences, she has inserted sailor-talk into her speech four times. At the second usage of the Anglo-Saxonism, I give her a disapproving glance. At the fourth I say loudly, "Thank you for sharing that with my twelve-year-old." She drops back, looking more irritated than ashamed, avoiding my eyes.

Third Vignette. Often it is in the freshman composition course that I have closest contact with students. Here, still a bit intimidated by the college experience and not yet cynically inured to education, students tend to show themselves most naively and candidly. Insisting that students share with me for consultation two drafts of each of their four formal essays gives me the opportunity actually to talk to them individually many times during the semester. Undergraduates come to college today with less literacy than ever. As a rule functional illiteracy little bothers the men - they imagine other spheres than the intellectual in which they might demonstrate some kind of prowess; women generally show themselves more amenable to constructive discipline in the domain of their written expression and generally make better progress than the men. "Better," however, means in comparison to a paltry norm. This semester (Fall 2007), the best writer, and the most mature eighteen-year-old in the class, is a young woman whom I shall call, by a chain of protective associations, "Veronica." No opportunity presents itself that would let me discern much about Veronica's background. She distinguishes herself from others, however, by doing the reading that I assign (most skip it) and by always turning in her required draft-versions of the paper; again, many fewer basic-language deformities mar her prose than is the case with other students. She has a mien of some awareness, a careful way of speaking, and a measure of poise, as previous generations would have named it. Veronica can make, rudimentarily, a logical and evidentiary argument, something few of her peers can. Her range of references shows much restriction; she has read a little - more than other freshmen - but nothing challenging or brave. I think to myself: Veronica might be much more intellectually and culturally developed than a jejune education has made her - and she is unaware of the possibility.

More than one commentator in recent years has bemoaned, and rightly, the decline of masculinity in college students. In place of the aspiring young man who seeks to add lettered cultivation to his purely physical development, the male undergraduate has become, for the most part, an infantilized, marginally overweight, video-game-obsessed consumer of rap music. In his sartorial habit and demeanor he resembles the slaphappy imbecile played to perfection by Huntz Hall in the old Bowery Boys comedies, right down to the invariable baseball cap worn at any angle except brim-forward, as the haberdasher sensibly designed it. He might be de-sexed or not yet sexually determined (this will be in parallel with his infantilism), or he might be crudely and pornographically sex-obsessed. What he avoids is balance. In class he tends to the surly, but a noticeable admixture of effeminacy often emasculates his surliness. A male student once told me, when I asked him in accordance with my rules for classroom decorum to remove his hat, that he couldn't do so because he was, as he said, "having a bad hair day." He intended this as a meaningful remark. Asked why he has come to college, the typical male student cannot say, unless he recites the empty formula about "earning a big salary" when - or rather if - he graduates. Another characteristic of contemporary college males is that their numbers have steadily decreased over the last decade. Fewer men come to college than ever before; more men than women drop out before completing a degree.

The blame for this etiolating of masculinity lies not solely on the men themselves although they contribute to it by making choices that they could make otherwise. Rather, for twenty-five years or more the American nation, in its public schools and through its commercial mass-culture, has been deliberately censuring real masculine behavior and deliberately feminizing males. I wish to explore, however, not the emasculation of young men, as catastrophic as that is, but rather its corollary: the equally enormous de-feminizing of females.

Do comparisons run to unfairness? So be it. In my graduating class at Santa Monica High School (1972), I knew many already formidably cultivated young women. They were, for one thing, readers. They read books on the bus traveling to and from school - the usual girl's fare of Jane Austen but also surprising things like the Tolkien trilogy, just then issued in paperback. By the tenth grade, Diane S---------- had finished the last installment. They read Demian, Siddhartha, and The Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. They read The Stranger by Albert Camus and Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. They read Love Story by Eric Segal, too, but this had its context in their other literary involvements. They read John Keats and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which no boy did. In Mr. Johnston's Senior Honors English course, they sustained their part in the discussion and often left the boys looking like they had little to say. One really had to compete with Regine W---------- or Janet M---------- or Ruth K---------- in the endeavor of interpretation. Those girls sang in the chorus or in the smaller Madrigal Society or they played an instrument in the school orchestra. They had their favorite Top Forty hits, I'm sure, but they could appreciate a symphony concert or a song recital. When an exhibition of Impressionist paintings came to the Los Angeles County Art Museum on a weekend, Regine and Janet and Ruth would come to school on Monday able to talk about it. I once spent a memorable afternoon with Regine in the Huntington Gardens, whose grassy and flowery beauty she grasped much more vividly than I. Again in college, at UCLA, despite the pull still exerted on adolescent habits by the descent into Hippiedom of the previous few years, one yet encountered straight-backed girls, well dressed, well read, and serious in their spiritual pursuits.

The privilege fell to me of dating such a girl, stately in her possession of Episcopalian form, during my sophomore year. Elizabeth ("Liz") A----------, who later earned a law degree, played piano (Bach and Mozart), spoke French, and did not find an Ingmar Bergman film foreign to her experience although she could equally well laugh her heart out at a Woody Allen movie. Among their accomplishments Regine and Elizabeth knew how to dine. Their interest in cuisines embraced the adventurous and both knew to stand to let the lad seat them. I can imagine neither of them eating a fast-food chimichunga. In the incipient wisdom of my early thirties, right in the shrillest Harridan days of academic feminism, I had the luck to marry a genuine lady of the same species as Regine and Elizabeth.

Maleness impels me to the usual sex-related interest in women, including frankly the coeds in my classes. I don't say that I fancy them, as a predatory humanities professor of my UCLA days was known to do serially. Indeed, most of these nymphae exert moderate repulsion by virtue of their personal qualities or, as it might well be, their amorphous lack of definite personality and their culturally bereft condition. Nevertheless, at an organic level, the presence of young ladies solicits a mixture of curiosity and avuncular protectiveness that informs my sense of them despite reason. Plato says that Eros is intrinsic to and necessary for education so perhaps this influences the fact that my innards kick in. I expect the males to avoid humane discipline like a plague; I expect them to behave and speak crudely and to mumble their lame "I dunnos" when addressed in the interrogative. Emotionally unmoved by them, I have learned to shrug my shoulders at their barbarian imperviousness to knowledge. For the coeds, although facts militate against it, I stubbornly await a freshening of the wind, a calm sea, and a prosperous voyage. In respect of them the thought whispers to me: There is a physiological beauty in this girl that ought to be matched by intellectual formation; a bit of genuine knowledge might refine her expression or positively alter her posture somehow. Elizabeth, my sophomore-year girlfriend, and my wife, Susan, in their common upright and clear-eyed self-presentation furnish the ideal. Perhaps a prospect of discovery will loom. The ship of this hope usually breaks its keel on the Siren-Rocks of classroom reality, as in the first of my three vignettes. Men in their grimacing apathy sleep during class or stare at the ceiling. Whispering to one another lies outside their repertory of offenses. No longer a rare intrusion, the chattering girls turn up ubiquitously, holding forth in private parliament during the lecture, while registering alarming non-susceptibility to rebuke.

Much more here

Monday, March 31, 2008

Doomed to Disappoint Justice O'Connor

Affirmative action has done nothing positive for black education -- as anyone aware of black IQ scores would have expected. If your theory is wrong, your results will not be what you expected. And conventional theories of black underachievement should be judged by their fruit too. Their only fruit has been to degrade the education of white kids who are forced to share classrooms with unselected groups of blacks

Five years ago, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor saved affirmative action in public college admissions when she crafted the majority decision affirming the consideration of race in admissions by the University of Michigan's law school. While O'Connor found justifications for the (limited) consideration of race and ethnicity, she also spoke of the need for such consideration to stop at some point. "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today," she wrote.

The American Educational Research Association assembled a group of leading scholars Tuesday to consider the state of affirmative action. Officially they were looking at the state of the Bakke decision that first authorized affirmative action. But they kept returning to O'Connor's deadline and her prediction that in 25 years (20 years from today), diversity would be possible without affirmative action. The unanimous opinion: no chance in hell.

Scholars examined a range of demographic and educational data showing how little progress has been made in narrowing key gaps in the educational opportunities available to black and Latino students. Given how slowly American education changes, they said, the idea that the need for affirmative action will disappear in 20 years is almost impossible to imagine. A subtext for their discussion was the reality that some states have shown less patience for affirmative action than did Justice O'Connor and have gone ahead and banned affirmative action - and more states are expected to follow suit this year.

While much of the panel discussion focused on inequality in American society, another group of institutions was also criticized for decisions that - without affirmative action - hinder the enrollment of minority students. Top colleges, the researchers said, are putting more emphasis on extremely high SAT scores, even though this means that the resulting pool is increasingly white and Asian.

In a paper called "Is 1500 the new 1280?" Catherine L. Horn, of the University of Houston, and John T. Yun, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, looked at the verbal SAT score averages of students at the 30 top colleges and universities (as determined by U.S. News & World Report). At all but four of these institutions, at least 30 percent of the freshman class had scored 700 or greater on the verbal SAT, and at half of these colleges, more than 50 percent of freshmen have such scores. In 1989, only one of the 30 colleges reported that more than 30 percent of the freshman class had a score of at least 700 on the verbal SAT. The shift is "extreme," Horn said, "suggesting a real shift in admissions toward very high-scoring individuals."

Raising the issue in this way is sensitive for supporters of affirmative action, even if they are skeptics of standardized testing. As Horn noted, two of the Supreme Court justices most critical of affirmative action, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, wrote a dissent in the Michigan law case in which they pointed out that the law school could easily have a diverse class without affirmative action. They said that a law school like Michigan's could set admissions policies that were relatively open or relatively elitist, and that the former would result in more diversity than the latter. If Michigan really wants diversity, the justices said, it could just lower standards.

"No one would argue that a university could set up a lower general admission standard and then impose heightened requirements only on black applicants," the justices wrote. "Similarly, a university may not maintain a high admission standard and grant exemptions to favored races. The Law School, of its own choosing, and for its own purposes, maintains an exclusionary admissions system that it knows produces racially disproportionate results. Racial discrimination is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admissions policy."

Horn stressed that in questioning the elite colleges devotion to the highest possible SAT scores, she was not endorsing the Thomas-Scalia view. They are implying, she said, a strict dichotomy between academic rigor and diversity - a dichotomy she called "a false one."

When the elite colleges were admitting students with 600 verbal SAT scores, they were still plenty competitive, she said, and the increase wasn't necessitated by some terrible academic failings of those students or a national rise in scores. Rather she viewed it as part of a sense that higher numbers are always better (since U.S. News says so). If colleges stepped back a bit, she said, they would find they could attract very talented (and more diverse) students by focusing on admitting students who are very strong, but not necessarily part of the most elite (and less diverse) group out there. "What we're talking about is a reconceptualization of merit," she said.

The Demographic and Policy Picture

If colleges are at fault for SAT obsessions, the researchers said, there are plenty of other trends for which the culprit is the failure of American society to tackle educational and economic inequity. The audience heard a range of statistics - most of them "depressing," as one discussant said - that suggest that relatively few black and Latino students 20 years from now will end up in elite colleges without some kind of affirmative action.

For instance, in another paper, Yun cited findings that in California, high schools with large minority populations are 6.75 times more likely than other high schools to have unqualified teachers. By numerous measures, he said, minority students are more likely to attend schools with fewer offerings and to end up with a worse education. For O'Connor's vision to work in 20 years, minority and non-minority students would need to be "virtually indistinguishable" on a range of academic qualities, and the gaps in educational opportunity are too wide today for that to be viable, he said. He called it "very unlikely" that the high school student population 20 years from now would reflect O'Connor's wishes.

Donald E. Heller of Pennsylvania then outlined a series of gaps in high school graduation rates and college enrollment and graduation rates. At every stage along the way, he noted, schools and colleges lose black and Latino students. For example, 84 percent of white students who enroll in 9th grade are enrolled in 12th grade three falls later, while the figures are 61 percent for black students and 66 for Latino students. Those minority students are then less likely to enroll in college and to graduate from college.

Heller's paper focused on his attempts to identify states that have more success than others at closing the white-minority gaps, and he found that the states that do the best job at this are generally states without many minority students period. The odds of achieving O'Connor's goals in 20 years? "Slim," Heller said.

The Research Agenda

Gary Orfield of the University of California at Los Angeles agreed. "These problems are not going to be solved" in 20 years, he said. Part of the problem, Orfield said, is that too many people assume that there has been steady progress on educational equity. In fact, he said that while some figures for individual students have improved, there have in fact been two distinct periods since the civil rights movement. In the 1960s and much of the 1970s, the government was creating new programs to promote equity, adding substantially to the budgets of schools and colleges, and demanding evidence that states were educating their minority students.

Much of that stopped in the Reagan administration, he said, and has never really been replaced. Lacking some sort of sustained movement, he said, "nothing suggests we will meet Justice O'Connor's prediction. I think these trends suggest it will get worse."


How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

I have no doubt that those who originally conceived of race-based admissions policies -- nearly forty years ago -- were acting in good faith. By lowering admissions standards for African-American and Hispanic students at selective law schools, they hoped to increase the number of minority students on campus and ultimately to promote minority integration into both the legal profession and mainstream society. Similarly, however, I have no doubt of the good faith of those who opposed the policies. Indeed, their warnings that academic double standards cannot solve the nation's problems and may well exacerbate them seem especially prescient in light of recent research.

The real conflict over race-based admissions policies has not been about good or bad faith or about whether we should aspire to be a society in which members of racial minorities are fully integrated into the mainstream. There is no question we should. The conflict is about whether racial discrimination -- something that nearly all Americans abhor -- is an appropriate tool to achieve that end. Put starkly: Should the principle of non-discrimination be temporarily sacrificed in the hope that such a sacrifice will, in the long run, help us become the society of equal opportunity that we all aspire to?

Justice Stanley Mosk warned of the risks associated with such temporary compromises with principle over thirty years ago, when, writing for the California Supreme Court in Bakke v. UC Regents (1976), he held racially discriminatory admissions policies to be unconstitutional:

To uphold the University would call for the sacrifice of principle for the sake of dubious expediency and would represent a retreat in the struggle to assure that each man and woman shall be judged on the basis of individual merit alone, a struggle which has only lately achieved success in removing legal barriers to racial equality.

Mosk would probably laugh to hear his view characterized as "conservative" today; far more frequently he was accused of the opposite tendency. But whatever his political persuasion, Mosk had been a staunch ally of the civil rights movement from its beginning. Far from seeing a contradiction between his support for the civil rights movement and his opposition to the "minority friendly" race-based admissions policies in Bakke, he viewed them as one and the same. His opposition to race discrimination was a matter of principle. And he was unwilling to sacrifice that principle for the "dubious" practical gains promised by preference supporters.

Mosk's vision of civil rights did not prevail. His opinion in Bakke was superseded by the U.S. Supreme Court's fractured decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and again by the just-as-fractured decision in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) twenty-five years later. Despite Mosk's warning, race-based admissions policies mushroomed on college and university campuses, and a thriving diversity bureaucracy was established to administer them.

If Mosk was right, the mistake will be difficult to correct at this late date. It isn't just the iron rule of bureaucracy at work today -- that first and foremost, bureaucracies work to preserve themselves. Many distinguished citizens -- university presidents, philanthropists, judges and legislators -- have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Their jobs are not at stake, but their sense of accomplishment may be. Overcoming that will not be easy.

Much more here

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I note that GOS did not like the references I gave in my last mention of this subject so I thought I might mention a few research findings here just to brighten his day. I initially below re-run an article I posted here last year. Then I reproduce a second, recent, article from Britain.

Note that this report dates from 1985. It has been known for a LONG time that smaller class sizes are for the convenience of the teachers rather than for the benefit of the students.

Note also that I spent most of my working life teaching so I have nothing against teachers as such. They are on the whole a very Bolshie lot, however, and many seem never to be satisfied. Some of them are even grumpy old sods!

1). Class Size: Where Belief Trumps Reality

See also earlier posts on this blog here and here and here

Class size can make a difference, based on many variables but perhaps no belief is so expensive or contrary to the facts than that which maintains smaller classes, as determined by some arbitrary number, is beneficial to students. It is to be expected educators will harbor this view because, whatever the impact on students, clearly a teacher with, say, fifteen students per class has less responsibility than one with thirty. But members of the general public, especially parents of school students stubbornly maintain this view, contrary to history, research findings, and current experience.

Those who, such as this writer has done from time to time over the years, take a contrary view are not merely swimming upstream but they are facing upstream while the current rushes them the other way. Nonetheless, let's try this one more time. First, some history.

Class size has been regularly reduced over the years, and is currently smaller than ever. For example, early in the nineteenth century, under the Lancasterian system, a teacher might be responsible for a class of 1000 or more. They handled it by using students as assistants. In New York City schools at the time of the Civil War, relatively untrained young women teachers had classes with as many as 150 students. Even the superintendent agreed that was unreasonable, that no teacher should have more than 100 students per class.

When this writer began teaching in a public high school more than 45 years ago, the school had an 8-period teaching day. Teachers typically had six classes, one period of nonteaching duty, and one free period daily. During the six teaching periods classes commonly had 30-35 students each, giving the teacher a daily student load of 175-200+ students. Interestingly, although he was for several years president of the local teachers' association, class size rarely came up for discussion. Today's classes are typically about 25 students and, as we'll see, often mandated to be fewer, yet class size is a constant complaint.

If smaller classes are a guarantee of better education, why hasn't it happened? Does anyone maintain that public education in New York City today , with many classes of 25 students, and none with 150, is five or six times more effective than was true with the 150 or so in the 1860s?

Then there is research. A decade ago, Eric Hanushek at the University of Rochester reviewed more than 300 studies of class size. Almost without exception they concluded it made no difference. The few positive findings were so minor as to be insignificant. And they were counterbalanced by a few that found negative results - that is, as class size went down so did student achievement. Of course educators quote the few with any good news for them, without noting they are the exceptions and the gains are almost nonexistent.

Then there is the classic current experience in California which ten years ago by a statewide law mandated maximum class size in grades 1-3 (later adding 4th grade) of 20. This cost an additional $1.5 billion the first year. Ten years later more than $15 billion additional has been spent chasing this moonbeam, with miserable results. Even ignoring such frauds as reported in the March 31 Los Angeles Times of a district that "created phantom classes to pull the wool over state officials' eyes," the paper concluded that "There is still no evidence that the multibillion-dollar investment in small primary classes has made more than an incremental difference." Talk about waste! After ten years you would think citizens, particularly irate taxpayers, would be demanding that it's time to give it up. But, no. The program is still popular.

If they continue to defend this obvious failure at least they could stop complaining about school taxes. But don't expect that. This is not a system based on sound research or experience. What is done is done because that's how it is done. But if we insist upon ignoring what research suggests is the way to go, at least we should not do what research suggests doesn't work and, most of all, stop doing those things what clearly do not work.

Don't expect that either. The establishment only demands research findings when they don't like a proposal. They ignore it if it exists; and seek to prevent research if it's lacking. Yet they implement their proposals on class size, bilingualism, whole language teaching, school-to-work, etc., on as wide a basis as possible without research or ignoring hundreds of studies - on building size, certification, etc. -contrary to their views.


2). Class size isn't everything

Why teachers may be wrong about this class issue

"Strike threat over class sizes" is a familiar Easter headline as the teachers' unions hold their annual conferences. This year was no exception, with the National Union of Teachers demanding legislation to set a maximum limit of 20 pupils per class and delegates describing large state-school classes as a "national scandal". Their indignation acquired an extra edge when Jim Knight, the schools minister, told another union conference that classes could work well with as many as 70 pupils, provided there are sufficient teachers' assistants around.

Unfortunately for the NUT, research provides little evidence in favour of small classes. The best that can be said is that they lead to significant gains in academic test scores for pupils in the very early years of schooling, particularly if they are disadvantaged. But among children in Year 3 and upwards, class size has no measurable effect on literacy and numeracy levels. These results emerge from large-scale American studies as well as a current project at the London University Institute of Education.

The usual explanation - that schools put the less able and less well-behaved children in smaller classes - is exploded by the most recent research, which takes account of such factors as prior attainment and home background.

It is all monstrously counter-intuitive. All over the world, politicians promise smaller classes as a token of their commitment to education. Despite their outstanding past results in subjects such as maths, east Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have policies to reduce class sizes. Here, parents pay thousands of pounds to fee-charging schools, where primary-age classes have 10.7 pupils on average, against 26.2 in the state sector. Given that teachers' salaries account for the lion's share of any school's costs, parents are being overcharged, if the research is correct, by something like 100 per cent. Can everybody be mad? It is surely common sense that children in small classes, whatever their age, ability and background, will get more of the teacher's attention and therefore learn more.

In fact, research proves at least part of the common sense. The latest findings from the Institute of Education project, presented to the American Educational Research Association this month, found that the larger the class, the less the pupils concentrated on their work (or engaged in "on-task behaviour", to use the jargon). This was particularly true of low attainers in secondary schools who, in a class of 30, spent twice as much time off-task as they did in a class of 15. However, class size had no effect at all on medium and high attainers in secondary school. And for children older than six, the research remains clear: the effects of small classes on test scores are nil, zero, zilch.

How do we explain it? The "progressive" lobby in education would argue that teachers do not sufficiently adapt their teaching to take advantage of small classes. They may, for example, still spend most of their time addressing the class as a whole and fail to use the greater opportunities to give individual attention. They may even use less small-group work because the class as a whole is easier to control. The "traditionalists" would argue that, on the contrary, teachers adapt their methods too much. Given a small class, they drop whole-class teaching, which, regardless of numbers, is the most effective method of instruction.

Another possibility is that, leaving aside the first year or so of primary school, the academic benefits of small classes kick in only when the pupil numbers drop well below 20, and perhaps below 15, as they do in the fee-charging sector. Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education, argues that most teachers can't do anything in a class of 20 that they couldn't do in a class of 26. The individual attention they can give to children is still limited. The difference to the Treasury, however, is enormous, because the class of 20 entails an increase in teacher costs of more than 25 per cent. There are, Wiliam argues, more cost-effective ways of using public money.

To my surprise, I find myself in sympathy with Jim Knight. He is not the first minister to suggest that, with the growth of computer-aided learning and the advent of teachers' assistants, it is absurd to talk of "class size" at all. Margaret Hodge, then chairing the Commons education select committee, put forward a similar argument in the New Statesman ten years ago. There may be some occasions, in secondary schools at any rate, when children manage perfectly well in groups of 75; others where they should get half an hour of individual tuition.

Small classes serve as a convenient slogan for unions and politicians, because they are easily understood and accepted by the public as self-evidently a good thing. It is time we moved beyond them and thought more creatively about how we use educational resources.


"Women's studies" dies in Britain

Women's studies, which came to prominence in the wake of the 1960s feminist movement, is to vanish from British universities as an undergraduate degree this summer. Dwindling interest in the subject means that the final 12 students will graduate with a BA in women's studies from London's Metropolitan University in July.

Universities offering the course, devised as the second wave of the women's rights movement peaked, attracted students in their hundreds during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the mood on campuses has changed. Students, it seems, no longer want to immerse themselves in the sisterhood's struggle for equality or the finer points of feminist history.

The disappearance of a course that women academics fought so long and hard to have taught in universities has divided opinion on what this means for feminism. Is it irrelevant in today's world or has the quest for equality hit the mainstream? The course's critics argue that women's studies became its own worst enemy, remaining trapped in the feminist movement of the 1970s while women and society moved on. "Feminist scholarship has become predictable, tiresome and dreary, and most young women avoid it like the plague," said Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for public policy research in Washington and author of Who Stole Feminism? "British and American societies are no longer patriarchal and oppressive 'male hegemonies'. But most women's studies departments are predicated on the assumption that women in the West are under siege. What nonsense."

Others believe young women have shied away from studying feminist theory because they would rather opt for degrees that more obviously lead to jobs, especially since the introduction of tuition fees. "[Taking] women's studies as a separate course may not feel as relevant to women who go to university to help them enter the job market," said Jean Edelstein, an author and journalist. "As the feminist movement has become increasingly associated with extreme thoughts, women who may have previously been interested in women's studies may be deterred by these overtones."

Anyone ruing the degree's demise can take heart: many gender and equality issues are now dealt with by mainstream courses, from sociology and law to history and English. And many universities, including Oxford, still offer the course to postgraduates. Mary Evans, visiting fellow at the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics, said: "This final closure does not signal the end of an era: feminist ideas and literature are as lively as ever, but the institutional framework in which they are taught has changed." Ms Edelstein added: "Feminist critique should be studied by everyone. If integration into more mainstream courses means more people looking at gender theory and increases the number of people who are aware of the issues, then that is a good thing."

But Dr Irene Gedalof, who has led the London Metropolitan University women's studies course for the past 10 years, defended the discipline. "The women's movement is less visible now and many of its gains are taken for granted, which fuels the perception there is no longer a need for women's studies. But while other disciplines now 'deal' with gender issues we still need a dedicated focus by academics. Despite the gains women have made, this is just as relevant in today's world," she said, blaming the course's downfall on universities' collective failure to promote the discipline.

Given that graduate courses in women's studies are thriving in many countries, such as India and Iran, the decision to stop the course here has surprised many. Baroness Haleh Afshar, professor in politics and women's studies at the University of York, said: "In the past quarter of a century, women's studies scholars have been at the forefront of new and powerful work that has placed women at the centre but has also had echoes right across academia. In particular, it is important to note the pioneering work of Sue Lees, which began at the Metropolitan and still has a long way to go. I am desolate to see that the university has decided to close it."