Saturday, July 12, 2008

McCain to talk pocketbook education issues

Sen. John McCain intends to talk about how teachers are paid and tutoring for poor kids when he goes before the NAACP convention next week. The likely Republican presidential nominee wasn't expected to roll out an education platform until the end of the summer, but his remarks July 16 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People annual meeting in Cincinnati were expected to touch on his support for expanding merit-pay programs for teachers who improve their students' academic performance.

McCain education adviser Lisa Keegan told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Arizona senator decided his appearance before the civil rights group was the right opportunity to talk about America's schools.

Keegan said McCain supports changes but not a scrapping of President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education law. It was enacted in 2002 with the stated goal of getting all students reading and doing math at their proper grade levels by 2013-2014. Schools must test kids in those subjects and face consequences such as replacing staff for scores that fall short of state goals.

Unlike Democratic candidate Barack Obama, McCain is not calling for increasing the roughly $23 billion the federal government now spends to implement the law. Much of that goes toward educating poor children. Keegan said McCain would reallocate how the money is spent. For example, more would go toward merit-pay programs for teachers. School districts are increasingly experimenting with programs like that, in part because of a Bush administration program that helps pay for the initiatives. The national teachers' unions oppose linking student test scores to teacher pay. Obama supports the idea when teachers help negotiate and craft the merit-pay plans.

McCain also will discuss allowing poor students to get academic tutoring with federal money more quickly than is allowed under the education law. "The senator is very impatient for kids to have interventions when they need it," Keegan said. McCain also would increase the choices kids have when they are in schools that are failing to meet academic benchmarks, Keegan said, adding that he would support a school voucher program for poor children in failing schools under some circumstances.

Vouchers, generally supported by conservatives and opposed by many Democrats, can be politically divisive. "He would not take that option off the table," Keegan said. "We are failing all over the place."

Obama has called for changes to the law, though he also has expressed support for some aspects of it. He says the federal government hasn't adequately funded the law. Obama also is speaking before the NAACP next week.


Children need risk to thrive as adults

The obsessive "safety-first" culture in schools will rob Britain of the next generation of entrepreneurs just when the country needs them most, a leading businessmen has claimed. Simon Woodroffe, founder of Yo! Sushi and a judge on the BBC show Dragons' Den, has told The Times that children must be exposed to more danger to help them to cope with the daily risk-taking required in the modern business world.

He said that he was in despair when he heard that schools were no longer taking pupils canoeing or camping in case they injured themselves. "My greatest fear is our children will grow up expecting to be looked after their whole lives, and expect corporate reasonableness for their entire working life. There would be no way we could compete with India and China with that attitude. Businesses there are doing everything they can to succeed," he said. "We need to encourage children to push themselves, to go beyond their limits, in order to build a nation of bold and confident people."

Mr Woodroffe, 56, is patron of the Go4It awards for schools, run by the Heads, Teachers and Industry (HTI) enterprise, to encourage sensible risktaking and rivalry among pupils. The awards were launched last year by Lord Jones of Birmingham, Minister of State for Trade and Development and a former Director-General of the CBI, in response to concerns of employers over the "cotton-wool kids" culture. HTI is the leading agency that links education with business and is a key adviser to the Government.

Lord Jones and other HTI leaders were horrified at last year's Go4It awards to discover that one of the winning schools was not allowed to attend because the locals authority deemed the journey to London too risky for the pupils. There is increasing concern that health and safety is stifling schools, some of which have banned traditional playground games such as conkers, snowball fights and cartwheeling, or prohibited pupils from doing the backstroke in swimming lessons.

Mr Woodroffe said: "We need to expose ourselves to danger to build the muscles of self-protection. If you don't learn to protect yourself when you are young, you may end up in even more danger later on." It was worrying that while people of his generation thought that health and safety was getting out of control, young people thought it was natural to ban adventurous activities because they might be dangerous, he said.

Mr Woodroffe left school at 16 with two O levels and spent 30 years in the entertainment business. He helped to stage Live Aid in 1985 and went into television before setting up Yo! Sushi in 1997. A new venture to produce extreme sport videos in the 1990s was a flop. He said, however, that he had not been afraid to fail and neither should children.

The Go4It awards will be presented tonight to schools which have developed a positive approach to risk. One winner is Langdale, a primary school in Cumbria, where pupils have just swum across Windermere and take geography lessons up mountains.

Meanwhile, the Children's Society is conducting a two-year inquiry about the pressures and restrictions on young people. It found that the average distance a nine-year-old girl is allowed to roam has been reduced from 840 metres in 1970 to 280 in 1997. The limit today appears to be the bottom of the garden, the charity said. Sue Palmer, an education expert and author of Toxic Childhood, argues that play has changed radically since the 1970s with outdoor activities replaced by screen time indoors. "What's happened is a sort of sedentary, screen-based existence has crept up on children. They used to be free-range and now they're practically battery children, living indoors, experiencing through the medium of a screen," she said.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Obama tackles merit pay after getting NEA endorsement

He actually does have some spine!

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Saturday thanked the National Education Association for its endorsement but also made it clear that he continues to support merit pay for teachers. His position is a controversial one with the 3.2 million member group and it has earned him criticism when he addressed the NEA in 2007.

"Now I know this wasn't necessarily the most popular part of my speech last year but I said it then and I'm saying it again now because it's what I believe and I will always be an honest partner to you in the White House," said the Illinois senator, who spoke to the group via satellite from Montana.

Obama proposes to raise teacher pay through merit based rewards for work above and beyond their positions. The issue has long been a widely opposed proposal among the NEA due to its potential for abuse through favoritism and "subjective" evaluations.

The senator pledged to fix the unpopular "No Child Left Behind Act," saying, that while the law had been passed in 2002 with good intentions, it had ultimately failed to produce the desired results. "Let me be clear NEA, opposing No Child Left Behind alone is not an education policy it's just the starting point. We've got more work to do," Obama said and then listed the votes in presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) record that he deemed wrong on education.

"He voted against funding the hiring of 100,000 more teachers," Obama said, noting that McCain also voted against increasing funding for a laundry list of NEA backed initiatives. "He even applauded the idea of abolishing the Department of Education."

The NEA has said it is prepared to spend $50 million on the 2008 elections. McCain was also invited to address the annual convention, but declined the invitation.


Taboo research in authoritarian Canada

Ask Russel Ogden why he studies suicide, and the sociologist answers by quoting Shakespeare: "To be or not to be?" The Bard's question has never been more relevant, Ogden said in an interview about his studies of people with terminal diseases who take their own lives.

Hamlet's question might also apply to the latest phase in Ogden's research. Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the British Columbia institution where Ogden works, is trying to prevent him from observing assisted suicides. An ethics review board at the university approved the research, but the university has since barred Ogden from carrying out his plans. While suicide is not illegal in Canada, assisting a suicide is illegal, and the university has equated Ogden's proposal to observe assisted suicides with assisting suicides himself.

The dispute has become public in the last week, with Canadian faculty groups charging that the university's actions are a violation of academic freedom, and that the principles cited by the university endanger not only Ogden's research, but the work of social scientists throughout the country who study illegal acts in part by observation. Sociologists in the United States say that the case is important for them as well - and illustrates how studying some of the cutting edge issues in bioethics can create challenging ethical and political issues for academics and universities.

Ogden is no stranger to controversy or to suicide, which he has been studying for 18 years. He first became interested in the subject when "as a teen, I had a couple of close friends who took their lives," he said. "Those suicides had a profound impact on me." Ogden doesn't romanticize suicide. "I regret that they died. I wish that they were still here."

But with legal and political debates growing about whether people with incurable diseases should be able to end their lives - and with some people not waiting for the law, and doing so - Ogden found the topic to be one in need of sociological inquiry.

Even before he decided that he wanted to observe assisted suicides, he has faced lengthy legal battles. He wrote his master's thesis at Simon Fraser University on the decision of some AIDS patients to take their own lives, and he interviewed some of those involved, promising full confidentiality under terms of a research protocol that had been approved by the university's ethics committee.

He spent several years in the '90s in courts over this research, successfully fighting off demands from the Vancouver coroner's office that he reveal information he considered confidential relating to one of the deaths. At the same time, he fought with Simon Fraser, which didn't back him in court and only later agreed to provide some of his legal expenses.

Since then, assisted suicide has continued to divide members of the public, in Canada and the United States. A petition drive has been filed in Washington State to permit medically assisted suicide. Ogden's research has been cited over the years both by proponents and critics of assisted suicide. He describes himself as "supportive of individual choice" for a terminal patient to decide whether to live or die.

But Ogden is quick to say that supporting choice does not mean he or his research are designed to encourage anyone to make that choice. Ogden said he is interested in the decisions people make - to consider suicide, to carry it out - and the impact this has on survivors, medicine, medical professionals, and so forth. He stressed that he does not want to actually help a person commit suicide, but to watch and, as possible, interview those doing so - typically with his having conducted numerous interviews beforehand.

Among the many protections he worked into his research protocol was one designed to prevent a would-be suicide from being influenced by his presence: Ogden would tell anyone contemplating suicide that he is as interested in those who opt to stay alive as those who take their lives - so a last-minute decision to live would in no way disappoint him or his research. He also makes clear that he will in no way help with a suicide.

The various protections Ogden outlined won the approval of his university's ethics board. But then the university administration got involved, and told him that he couldn't proceed because the university believed that his research might be illegal. The university declined to discuss the case, but released a statement outlining in its views in general terms.

"As a university, we encourage and support research which addresses important issues, including controversial issues, in a responsible manner," the statement said. University reviews "take into account the legal and ethical dimensions associated with the proposal, the means by which the researcher intends to address those legal and ethical dimensions, and the appropriate protections for research subjects." In this case, the university consulted with "one of Canada's foremost criminal lawyers about the legal implications of the proposed research. Based on our due diligence, including the lawyer's opinions, we concluded that there were real and unacceptable legal risks associated with the proposed research. In the circumstances, we could not allow the research to take place in its proposed form with Kwantlen's support."

Not only have faculty groups already obtained countering legal opinions, but they say that the opinion the university obtained wasn't based on knowledge of all the protections Ogden put in place. Faculty groups also note that the standard being applied is completely different from that used in other cases. If Kwantlen is not challenged, they argue, much other research could be hindered.

John Lowman is a criminologist at Simon Fraser who was director of graduate studies when Ogden was a graduate student there, and backed him in the dispute over the earlier research. Lowman studies prostitution and much of what he observes for his work is illegal. "I routinely witness criminal activity," he said. "I am a field criminologist. That's what we do. What good would it do if criminologists just study those who have been caught," he said.

Lowman said that the blocking of Ogden's research is "a flagrant violation of academic freedom."

The Canadian Association of University Teachers appears to agree. James Turk, executive director, said that his organization commissioned a legal opinion backing the research. He said that professors can't be in the position of going through a strict ethics review, getting the appropriate sign-off, and then having senior administrators veto their work. "He's a respected social scientist doing research on illegal behavior, but many sociologists study criminal behavior," he said. "If this is upheld, much important social science research would be blocked."

The association has started a formal inquiry into whether Kwantlen has violated Ogden's academic freedom. In addition, numerous academics in Canada are now speaking out about the case - trying to build public pressure to let Ogden go ahead with his studies.

More here

Thursday, July 10, 2008

ADHD as a reaction to feminized schools

If you were an energetic nine-year-old boy who loved school, did your best but also loved charging about, trying to beat your friends at every game possible, imagine the hell of our currrent state school system where ball games are banned from the playground in case someone gets hurt, there is no outside play in bad weather and you are constantly in trouble for being too competitive because winning is not what it's about. And, worse, Jamie Oliver fruit smoothies have replaced sponge pudding in your school dinner, so you're starving by two o'clock.

Sue Palmer is a former head teacher, literacy adviser and the author of 21st Century Boys. She says it is a biological necessity that boys run about, take risks, swing off things and compete with each other to develop properly. "If they can't, a lot of them find it impossible to sit still, focus on a book or wield a pencil," she says, "so their behaviour is considered `difficult', they get into trouble and tumble into a cycle of school failure."

Boys are three times as likely as girls to need extra help with reading at primary school, and 75 per cent of children supposedly suffering from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are male. "We are losing boys at a rate of knots, particularly in literacy," Palmer says, "because at some point in the past 30 years, masculinity became an embarrassment."

Research by Simon Baron-Cohen, a respected Cambridge professor, that began as an investigation into autism, puts a solid case for biological male/female differences in the brain, with boys tending to be "systematisers" and girls "empathisers". This explains why boys generally are less keen on reading and comprehension, and lag behind girls in literacy. A lot of boys find it easier to explain the workings of a watch than to discuss how a character in a story is feeling. "But now," says Palmer, "apart from the very bright ones, boys aren't even doing better at maths and science."

Some people blame this nosedive, first noticed in the mid-Nineties, on the "feminisation" of education - too many women teachers, girl-friendly classroom environments and modular exam systems that suit girls' study skills but disadvantage risk-takers. "Geniuses are much more likely to be male," Palmer says, "but if you don't tick the right boxes, you fail."

There are seven times as many women primary school teachers as men, but Christine Skelton, Professor of Gender Equality in Education at Birmingham University, argues that there have always been far more female teachers than male. "Obviously there are some women who understand active boys, and some men who don't, just as there are energetic girls and inactive boys," she says.

The current generation of teachers, though, were born and raised in an atmosphere dominated by women's liberation and "non-gender-specific" education that began in the Seventies. Barbies were banned, most protagonists in books were female and there was no tolerance of war or superhero play. As a head teacher, Palmer remembers making her reception teacher remove all the cloakroom pegs that depicted tractors for boys and bunnies for girls. "The belief was that you were shaped by your environment, and it was the teacher's responsibility to `socialise' boys away from their natural inclinations and to encourage girls to study traditionally male subjects such as physics and technology," she says.

Palmer would never deny that some of it was absolutely necessary - but with movements such as Reclaim the Night, Greenham Common and Gay Pride, groups that offered an alternative perspective to the traditionally dominant male view taking centre stage, masculinity became suspect. "I really think," she says, "that the almighty cock-up of the sisterhood in the Seventies was that we believed we could turn boys into girls."

Palmer says that most women are not natural risk-takers, so for teachers who have not helped to bring up brothers and who don't have sons, boys' behaviour can be frightening. "Play-fighting, for example, reaches a peak at age 7 or 8 but is not actually aggressive," she says. "It's social - it's the way boys get to know each other and see how the other one ticks. A lot of women teachers are horrified when I suggest that they should let boys get on with fighting and shouting because eventually they'll come out the other side and start negotiating."

Another problem for boys seeking adventure is that, because we live in an increasingly risk-averse society, children are rarely allowed to play unsupervised. When did you last see a group of boys climbing a tree? "There is a rational fear of increased traffic but also an irrational fear of stranger danger, fanned by media reporting of child abduction," says Palmer. "Parents are worried about being considered irresponsible, so they never let their children out of their sight." And because we are not used to seeing boys playing outside, when we do it feels hostile even when what is going on is not particularly boisterous.

Dan Travis, a sports coach, argues that it is very important for boys to muck about on their own. "Coaching is formal and necessary but should only take up 20 per cent of the time they play," he says. "The informal 80 per cent is where most of the learning and practising occurs - away from adult supervision." Travis is running a campaign to bring competition back to school sport. "The Sport for All ethos took hold in the Seventies and never let go," he says. "Games are only about inclusion, with no winners allowed." This is disastrous for boys, who need to compete to establish their place in the hierarchy, which is how they organise their friendships and something that they understand from nursery age onwards. It is also bad for sport. Palmer adds that "self-esteem" arrived from America and now no child is allowed to "lose" at anything.

Palmer is not suggesting that boys should be allowed to behave in any way they want. What we need, she says, is to celebrate what makes them boys and help them to understand the things that don't come naturally to them. That means getting them outside more, particularly as space gets squeezed in urban schools. "Not letting boys be boys is not only detrimental to them but also to girls, many of whom become overcompliant with what is considered `good' behaviour and could do with a shove outdoors to take more risks," she says. "I certainly wish that had happened to me."

Palmer is especially enthusiastic about the few "outdoor nurseries" that we have in this country, and about the Scandinavian system that puts off formal learning until the age of 7 or 8, concentrating instead on playing outside and the development of social skills. In the ideal Palmer world, everyone would go to a Scandinavian-style school. What we are doing instead is bringing in the Early Years Foundation Stage, a new government framework that becomes law in September. It says that by the age of 5 children should be writing sentences, some of which are punctuated. "That would be impressive for a seven-year-old," says Palmer. "So rather than tackling the imbalance in the way that we have treated boys for too long, we are going to make them sit still and learn even younger. I'd call that little short of state-sponsored child abuse."


Nutty Leftist "terror studies" in Australia

Why are these clowns funded when medical schools are greatly underfunded for the demand on them?

University departments dominated by so-called critical terror studies are consigning themselves to ever greater irrelevance, according to security analyst Carl Ungerer. Dr Ungerer, who left the University of Queensland in January to join the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said security agencies were open to outside advice and "deeply interested in engaging with the academic community". But he said policymakers could see no value in critical terror studies, which in its hostility to sovereign states implied a moral equivalence between terror and counter-terror and even blamed open societies for the rise of religious extremists.

"So, the traditional policy analysis work is now being done by ASPI and the Lowy Institute and the Kokoda Foundation and others," Dr Ungerer said. "If any point comes across strongly since I've been here (in Canberra), it's the way in which the gap between academe and the policy community has widened, which is interesting because the Rudd Government is tapping a wide range of voices. "(But) in the security field they're just not interested in these critical theory ideas. It offers them absolutely nothing to be told that we need to rethink sovereignty or that (terror is) our fault."

In 2006 Dr Ungerer and UQ colleague David Martin Jones first spoke out against the rise of critical terror studies. They said the policy implication of this emerging discipline was "radical pacifism". This week Dr Ungerer described as "eyebrow raising" the February appointment of critical theorist Anthony Burke to the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy. "The lecturers at ADFA are teaching the next generation of military leaders," Dr Ungerer said.

Speaking from Israel, Dr Burke, the author of Beyond Security Ethics and Violence: War Against The Other, said he did not oppose "controlled and measured" use of military force. He said nation states were ambiguous since they could provide citizens with security as well as subject them to abuse. Some state actions -- such as Israel's approach in the "occupied territories" and possibly the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- were similar to terrorism in that they targeted civilians and sought to inflict suffering and fear for a political purpose, he said. Dr Burke said critical terror studies was a new discipline with lively internal debate. To say it dominated academe was "a neoconservative, highly culture wars-type argument".

Soon after the September 11 attacks, Dr Burke wrote: "These events have brought enormous levels of organised military violence -- intensifying Israeli Defence Force operations in Palestine, the war on Afghanistan and sabre-rattling against Iraq -- but also quasi-military, normalised patterns of violence and coercion in the form of domestic security, surveillance, and the 'deterrence' of asylum-seekers."


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The hysterical persecution mounted by Purdue University tells us that American Politics Aren't 'Post-Racial' yet

The not-quite-concluded racial drama playing out at Purdue University in the last months can't be ranked with the embittering rape charge scandal at Duke that so recently mesmerized the nation. And as news it's not in the same league as the total war waged against Harvard president Lawrence Summers for having had the temerity to suggest that factors in addition to prejudice might have something to do with the underrepresentation of women in math and the sciences. Still, what happened at Purdue is a pungent reminder of all that's possible now in the rarefied ideological atmosphere on our college campuses - and in this presidential election year, not perhaps only on our campuses.

The story began prosaically enough. Keith Sampson, a student employee on the janitorial staff earning his way toward a degree, was in the habit of reading during work breaks. Last October he was immersed in "Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan."

Mr. Sampson was in short order visited by his union representative, who informed him he must not bring this book to the break room, and that he could be fired. Taking the book to the campus, Mr. Sampson says he was told, was "like bringing pornography to work." That it was a history of the battle students waged against the Klan in the 1920s in no way impressed the union rep.

The assistant affirmative action officer who next summoned the student was similarly unimpressed. Indeed she was, Mr. Sampson says, irate at his explanation that he was, after all, reading a scholarly book. "The Klan still rules Indiana," Marguerite Watkins told him - didn't he know that? Mr. Sampson, by now dazed, pointed out that this book was carried in the university library. Yes, she retorted, you can get Klan propaganda in the library. The university has allowed no interviews with Ms. Watkins or any other university official involved in the case. Still, there can be no disputing the contents of the official letter that set forth the university's case.

Mr. Sampson stood accused of "openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers." The statement, signed by chief affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston, asserted that her office had completed its investigation of the charges brought by Ms. Nakea William, his co-worker - that Mr. Sampson had continued, despite complaints, to read a book on this "inflammatory topic." "We conclude," the letter informed him, "that your conduct constitutes racial harassment. . . ." A very serious matter, with serious consequences, it went on to point out.

That was in November. Months later, in February of this year, Mr. Sampson received - from the same source - a letter with an astonishingly transformed version of his offense. And there could be no mystery as to the cause of this change. After the official judgment against him, Mr. Sampson turned to the Indiana state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, whose office contacted university attorneys. Worse, the case got some sharp local press coverage that threatened to get wider.

Ludicrous harassment cases are not rare at our institutions of higher learning. But there was undeniably something special - something pure, and glorious - in the clarity of this picture. A university had brought a case against a student on grounds of a book he had been reading.

And so the new letter to Mr. Sampson by affirmative action officer Charleston brought word that she wished to clarify her previous letter, and to say it was "permissible for him to read scholarly books or other materials on break time." About the essential and only theme of the first letter - the "racially abhorrent" subject of the book - or the warnings that any "future substantiated conduct of a similar nature could mean serious disciplinary action" - there was not a word. She had meant in that first letter, she said, only to address "conduct" that caused concern among his co-workers. What that conduct was, the affirmative action officer did not reveal - but she had delivered the message rewriting the history of the case. Absolutely and for certain there had been no problem about any book he had been reading.

This, indeed, was now the official story - as any journalist asking about the case would learn instantly from the university's media relations representatives. It would take a heart of stone not to be moved - if not much - by the extraordinary efforts of these tormented agents trying to explain that the first letter was all wrong: No reading of any book had anything to do with the charges against Mr. Sampson. This means, I asked one, that Mr. Sampson could have been reading about the adventures of Jack and Jill and he still would have been charged? Yes. What, then, was the offense? "Harassing behavior." While reading the book? The question led to careful explanations hopeless in tone - for good reason - and well removed from all semblance of reason. What the behavior was, one learned, could never be revealed.

There was, of course, no other offensive behavior; had there been any it would surely have appeared in the first letter's gusher of accusation. Like those prosecutors who invent new charges when the first ones fail in court, the administrators threw in the mysterious harassment count. Such were the operations of the university's guardians of equity and justice.

In April - having been pressed by the potent national watchdog group FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) as well as the ACLU - University Chancellor Charles R. Bantz finally sent them a letter expressing regret over this affair, and testifying to his profound commitment to freedom of expression. So far as can be ascertained, the university has extended no such expressions of regret to Keith Sampson.

This case and all its kind are worth bearing in mind for anyone pondering the hypersensitivity surrounding the issue of race today. The mindset that produces those harassment courts, those super-heated capacities for perceiving insult, is not limited to college campuses.

Its presence is evident in this election campaign, which has seen more than a touch of readiness to impute some form of racism to all tough criticisms of Barack Obama. The deranged response that greeted Bill Clinton's remark that certain of Sen. Obama's claims were "a fairy tale," told the story. No need to go into the now famous catalogue of accusations about the Clintons' "sly racist" tactics.

There will be much more ahead, directed to the Republicans and their candidate. Some more, no doubt, about the Willie Horton ad of 1988, whose status as a quintessential piece of racism is - except for a few rare voices of reason - accepted throughout our media as revealed truth. To be sure, the Willie Horton charge has for some time been overshadowed by ominous predictions of all the Swiftboating Republicans are supposed to be readying.

And Mr. Obama himself, the candidate of racial transcendence, has now taken a plunge of sorts to old-style race politics. In a pre-emptive dismissal of future criticism, he warned a Florida audience on June 20 of the racist tactics the Republicans planned. "We know the strategy," he said. Republicans planned to make people afraid of him. They'd say "he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"

All this may be far from the world of the universities. But to those aforementioned campus ideologues, the thinking is familiar.


Australia: No strings school funding 'a failure'

GIVING disadvantaged schools extra money without tying it to specific interventions fails to lift the performance of students from poorer backgrounds. A review of funding programs designed to overcome social disadvantage says current arrangements are failing to reduce or neutralise the effects of a child's background on their achievement at school.

The study by University of Melbourne researchers contains a lesson for the federal Government in pursuing its education revolution, and its commitment to fund schools according to the needs of their students. Education Minister Julia Gillard has proposed a new funding agreement with the states and territories to fund schools according to the socio-economic status of their students. The study underlines the importance of funding being tied to programs designed to tackle problems identified by the school. One of the review's authors, Stephen Lamb from the university's Centre for Post-compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning, said merely allocating resources to schools without a clear idea on how they would or should be spent, fails to improve student performance. "It's an ongoing problem around the world," he said. "It's no use just handing over money to schools; in fact, you could be putting out good money after bad. We need to work out what works and fund that."

The review was conducted into the equity programs run by the NSW Government that are intended to close the gap in achievement between students from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds. Among the programs reviewed was the general equity program, called the Priority Schools Funding Program, which targets 21per cent of the most socially disadvantaged students, giving extra resources to about 25per cent of the state's schools.

The PSFP received about $20 million of commonwealth funding in 2004, with the state Government providing an additional 280 teachers to those schools. The review also analysed a pilot program called the Priority Action Schools Program, which gave 74 disadvantaged schools between $100,000 and $400,000 each. The PSFP hands money to the schools to spend how they see fit, with all schools receiving the same amount regardless of the level of disadvantage. But schools received funding under the PASP only after identifying strategies to address specific problems in their schools, linking the money to programs that then had to be monitored and evaluated for their effectiveness.

Comparing the results in literacy and numeracy tests and the Year 10 School Certificate between disadvantaged schools on the different programs, the review found that non-PASP schools tended to experience falls in the mean levels of student achievement in literacy and numeracy tests. In contrast, PASP schools tended to experience gains, and in some cases the change in achievement was statistically significant.

The report says the main approach to addressing social inequality in public schools in NSW in the past is largely based on fiscal compensation. "The assumption is that money is necessary and sufficient to improve the quality of schooling in disadvantaged areas," it says. "This leads to a situation in which there is little accountability from schools, and little control over how schools use the funds and whether or not they are employed to develop programs that target the needs of the students."


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Study allegedly debunks theory that Asian students are top notchers in US

This study does not seem to have passed peer review and I can have a good guess why. Grouping all "Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders" together is absurd. Polynesians and Filipinos are of below average IQ while Japanese and Chinese are of above average IQ. No wonder averaging out two such opposite groups produced average results! Not to put too fine a point on it, the "study" is a propaganda con-job

A belief that Asian-Americans are taking over US universities, outperforming other groups and grabbing the bulk of math, science and engineering degrees has been debunked in a landmark study.

American popular culture is full of claims that Asian Americans are "overrunning college campuses with high enrollment" but "such impressions exaggerate" their presence in US higher education, the study said.

Entitled "Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders -- Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight," the study was conducted by New York University, a group of mostly Asian-American educators, and the College Board, a group that holds standardized tests for mostly high school students.

The study showed that the number of Asian-Americans at institutions of higher learning was inflated by foreign students from Asian nations and that not all were top students gaining easy entry to the best colleges and universities to become doctors and engineers.

"Contrary to the fiction that Asian American and Pacific Islander students are taking over colleges and universities across the country, the increase in (their) higher education participation has mirrored the increases found among other populations during the same time period," according to the report.

"Because of the assumption that they are doing well and are high achievers, many people assume that they don't have needs, and they are ignored in education and social policy," Robert Teranishi, a New York University education professor and key author of the report, told AFP.

Asian-Americans, he said, had long been missing from discussions in educational research and policy, and "remain in the shadows of America's commitment to equality and social justice.

"A lot of Asian-Americans are doing well, we don't dispute that but that's not the only story that needs to be told," he said.

The "landmark" study was debated recently in the first education "summit" of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), comprising US lawmakers from the communities.

"The myth of student achievement throughout our communities has masked particular linguistic and cultural needs of our young people for far too long," said Mike Honda, a Japanese American lawmaker who heads CAPAC.

The report shows "how the 'model minority' stereotype is harmful, often leading teachers to overlook (these) students, many of whom may require additional academic support," said Vivien Stewart of the US-based Asia Society and who was on the panel that compiled report.

It said that Asian-American student population was "concentrated in a small percentage of institutions, giving the false impression of high enrollment in higher education overall."

They have a wide range of academic interests, including the social sciences, humanities and education as opposed to just science, technology, engineering, and math, it said.

Furthermore, Asian Americans cannot be generalized as they are an ethnically diverse population having many different languages and dialects with varying economic, social, and cultural factors, the report said.

The US Census Bureau estimates that there are now almost 17 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, an umbrella term for 48 different ethnic groups from such historically different places as East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands.

Some entered the country because US employers needed their expertise, while others came as refugees with few resources and opportunities or just to study and then return home, the report said.

Yet they are perceived to be so ubiquitous in higher education and seen as the same studious, self-sufficient high achievers, the report said.


The '60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire

When Michael Olneck was standing, arms linked with other protesters, singing "We Shall Not Be Moved" in front of Columbia University's library in 1968, Sara Goldrick-Rab had not yet been born. When he won tenure at the University of Wisconsin here in 1980, she was 3. And in January, when he retires at 62, Ms. Goldrick-Rab will be just across the hall, working to earn a permanent spot on the same faculty from which he is departing. Together, these Midwestern academics, one leaving the professoriate and another working her way up, are part of a vast generational change that is likely to profoundly alter the culture at American universities and colleges over the next decade.

Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the '70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors - less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate. "There's definitely something happening," said Peter W. Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, which was created in 1987 to counter attacks on Western culture and values. "I hear from quite a few faculty members and graduate students from around the country. They are not really interested in fighting the battles that have been fought over the last 20 years."

Individual colleges and organizations like the American Association of University Professors are already bracing for what has been labeled the graying of the faculty. More than 54 percent of full-time faculty members in the United States were older than 50 in 2005, compared with 22.5 percent in 1969. How many will actually retire in the next decade or so depends on personal preferences and health, as well as how their pensions fare in the financial markets.

Yet already there are signs that the intense passions and polemics that roiled campuses during the past couple of decades have begun to fade. At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology. At Amherst, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, students crammed into a lecture hall this year to listen as alumni who served in Iraq urged them to join the military.

In general, information on professors' political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. "Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s," they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves "liberal activists," 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger. "These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism," the study says.

The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old. But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama's statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: "I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation - a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago - played out on the national stage."

With more than 675,000 professors at the nation's more than 4,100 four-year and two-year institutions, it is easy to find faculty members, young and old, who defy any mold. Still, this move to the middle is "certainly the conventional wisdom," said Jack H. Schuster, who along with Martin J. Finkelstein, wrote "The American Faculty," a comprehensive analysis of existing data on the profession. "The agenda is different now than what it had been."

With previous battles already settled, like the creation of women's and ethnic studies departments, moderation can be found at both ends of the political spectrum. David DesRosiers, executive director of the Veritas Fund for Higher Education Reform, which contributes to conservative activities on campuses, said impending retirements present an opportunity. However, he added, "we're not looking for fights," but rather "a civil dialogue." His model? A seminar on great books at Princeton jointly taught by two philosophers, the left-wing Cornel West and the right-wing Robert P. George.

More here

Monday, July 07, 2008

Children who WILL be left behind

In a few instances inspired teachers can help students like this but such teachers are rare. Only high discipline schools could fix this on a nationwide basis. But such schools are out of fashion -- effective though they once were

I was talking to a friend the other day who teaches at an elementary school and has a student whom I shall name Shakir. Shakir is ten, and he's barely literate. My friend's class is not a large one; she has five to eight students. She also has a teaching assistant, and between them, the kids receive a lot of personal, one-to-one attention. Nevertheless, Shakir still can't read.

The why of this phenomenon is quite important; you see, there are lots of Shakirs in the black community. For he is one of many kids flunking his way through the educational system, even as he advances through it. I think there are many causal factors for Shakir's non-performance in school; amongst them are Shakir himself and his priorities; the instability of his family; his community culture; and, the school system itself.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I am not going to point the finger first at the school. After all, Shakir is not a receptacle whose lid can be raised so that some teacher can stuff in the knowledge he needs. Education is a participative process, you see. The school and teachers have their part, and the kid and his family have their role to play.

A large part of the problem is that Shakir refuses to do his bit to educate himself. Given classwork in school, Shakir engages in a series of acts of avoidance. He will disrupt, pick fights with his classmates, curse, destroy objects in his environment, sleep, declare that he will do nothing, or take the entire day simply to write his name. No amount of cajoling, promises, or behavioral modification methods can change Shakir's mind. For him to work for a little bit, there must be some immediate object or event that he finds desirable to attain or participate in. Even then, when the gain is weighed against the effort required to work, Shakir may well determine that the work is not worth doing to obtain the prospective reward.

At the root of all his disruptive behavior is Shakir's acknowledgment that he cannot read, his frustration with his illiteracy, and his stated unwillingness to use the kindergarten level materials that will help him to read. Shakir will neither let his teacher nor her aide help him --that requires him to work; plus, he has to represent before his peers -- nor will he go to the kindergarten or the reading teachers both of whom have offered assistance. Given homework that will help him to solve his problem, Shakir either refuses to take it home or, if he does, does not return it. Compounding the problem, Shakir cannot get help at home.

Shakir's family situation is a significant part of his problem. He is one of four children to a twenty-something mother who has three other children by three different men, and she might well be pregnant again by her current boyfriend. Shakir's mother is unemployed and on welfare. She and her current boyfriend tend to have loud fights which can become physical, and often her boyfriend, who can be a positive influence on Shakir, will disappear for weeks at a time to avoid doing violence to her. Shakir's father is currently in prison, scheduled to be released some time later this year; his current stint in prison is not his first, and I fear it is not likely to be his last.

The uncertainty of the shifting relationships in the boy's life is compounded by the constant housing moves to which his mother subjects the family. On welfare and a recipient of a Section Eight housing grant, Shakir's family experiences a regular housing cycle from apartment in a tough neighborhood to government-sponsored motel/hotel and back before the cycle repeats all over again. What determines the move from apartment in a tough neighborhood to a motel/hotel is his mother. Given an apartment found by the proper authorities, Shakir's mother will not pay rent, even though she receives money to do so.

Eventually, the family will have to move to a motel, and his mother will acquire a new cell phone number along with a new address. Shakir is deeply ashamed that his family lives in a motel/hotel, even temporarily, and he avoids telling his classmates anything about where he resides. If his teachers tell him they know how to contact his mom when he misbehaves, Shakir will flare up and curse because he believes that his teachers are putting his business on the street.

The instability in his home life, characterized by the constant moves and the stress under which the child lives because of his shame and fear, means that, for Shakir, education is not a priority. He has no stable home with books, magazines, or trips to the library. His mother is either a high school dropout or limped her way to graduation with a poor academic record herself. She does not check his book-bag, makes no effort to ensure that he does his homework, nor does she provide any assistance with his reading.

What she will do, when school authorities call her to complain about her son's behavior, is come to the school ready to curse and fight his teachers. No matter how badly Shakir acts in school, his mother will, in front of him, blame his teachers. Often, she will add to the lack of stability in the boy's life by changing his school because she thinks his teachers are out to get him. Thus, Shakir has been to several schools in his district and has even gone to schools in a neighboring state. Nevertheless, Shakir still can't read.

Community plays an important role in the behavior and priorities of individuals. For instance, if a child belongs to a community in which education is prized, then he will have an external force compelling him to achieve in some way because he does not wish to be out of step with his peers. Regrettably, in low income communities like Shakir's, the external force compels kids away from educational achievement, in spite of the efforts of some to turn things around. For many of Shakir's peers, educational achievement is a mark of whiteness; thus, the high achieving black kid has to deal with issues of authenticity.

If he does not sound ghetto, he experiences a loss of black identity. More than that, he will be preyed upon by the gang-bangers and thugs who will consider him easy prey. So, he has to be tough, and educational achievement is not part of the toughness.

Shakir's peers are not focused on education. Instead, their everyday talk is of gang-related activities, shooting with B-B guns, fighting, or engaging in illicit activity. For instance, Shakir and his friends are already gang members. That is the way of the community in which he lives, when he lives there. Since his neighborhood is high crime, with assorted toughs standing on the street corners, there is always some sort of violence on a daily basis. Somebody gets shot, robbed, beaten up. The neighborhood is not for the faint-hearted; big dogs in their teens and twenties prey on the little dogs who are excited by prospective gang membership. This is the life they know. For them, there is excitement in talking about who got shot or assaulted. Some of Shakir's peers express their disdain for quieter and more residential communities because there is no action in them-meaning no gun play and such.

Thus, neither Shakir himself, his family such as it is, nor his community seem to have much interested in his education, in him learning to read. So, then, what about the school system?

In the school system, Shakir, whatever enthusiasm he might have started out his school career with, by the age of ten has none. He has spent the years since kindergarten fighting, cursing, and distracting away from his reading problems. Each teacher he has encountered has made an active effort to help him. Each has been beaten by the combination of forces outside of the school system and by the child himself. Tired of his behavior, of his resistance and refusal, even when he is held back, his teachers have passed him on to the next grade where he is ill-prepared to do that grade's work because he never mastered the content matter of the previous grades.

All across America, schools are confronted with Shakirs who either do not show up for school or who attend school but hang out in the hallways, bathrooms, and other hideaways. Even in well disciplined schools, there are Shakirs who go to class and put their heads on the desk. They refuse to work; the same way, their parents refuse to attend parent-teacher meetings. They sleep, they disrupt, curse, fight, and do no work. Many of those who do work, do it indifferently; they go through the motions expecting to achieve high marks for minimal effort. Moreover, even when these Shakirs have done no work at all, they expect to graduate.

What can the schools do, confronted with thousands of Shakirs all across America? Many schools are just passing the kids through, just biding time until the kids are no longer the responsibility of the school. Why Shakir can't read is the same reason many black kids in America can't read: the kid's own lack of interest in education, his unstable home life with a single parent who doesn't care, a community that regards education as being destructive of black authenticity, and school systems which are burnt out with the stress of dealing with such kids.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the school cannot do it all; for, education is essentially reciprocal. Therefore, the first three must change before school systems can produce Shakirs who can read.


Walter Shakespeare? More evidence of the decline in British education

The questions, you might think, are child's play. But the number of adults who struggled with the answers paints a disturbing picture of a nation of dunces. In a test carried out for an information website, many were unable to answer questions aimed at children as young as seven. And some were guilty of the most appalling howlers, including giving Shakespeare's first name as Walter, the capital of Sweden as Oslo, and the cube of 2 as 24.

More than 2,000 adults were asked ten questions based on the Key Stage Two curriculum, which is studied by children aged seven to 11. Only 5 per cent answered all ten questions correctly and 3 per cent scored a dismal one out of ten. Critics will cite the findings as an indictment of the education system, which has been accused of failing to adequately teach schoolleavers important facts and figures.

The average score was just six questions right. In the South East and South West the average was seven, dropping to three in the North West. Seventy-seven per cent could not spell the word 'skilful', 35 per cent did not know that a heptagon has seven sides and 58 per cent incorrectly named the capital of Sweden, with some thinking it was Gothenburg or even the Finnish capital Helsinki.

Twelve per cent suggested that the Bard's first name was Walter and 7 per cent believed that Henry VIII was on the throne in 1900. In all, 39 per cent could not name Queen Victoria as the reigning monarch at the start of the 20th century. The dates of the Second World War, the medical term for the skull and the name of the planet nearest the sun also caused problems.

The test was sat only by adults but based around questions that children aged seven to 11 would be expected to be able to answer. Andy Salmon, founder of, which undertook the nationwide general knowledge test, said: 'Considering that these questions could be answered by at least a seven-year-old, you might say the test was easy and so an average score of six out of ten is pretty weak. 'Of course, it's not that any of the questions were particularly difficult, we have all been taught the information, it is retaining the knowledge that is the hard bit.' Mr Salmon's website advises people to remember facts and figures by linking the answer to a memorable phrase.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

British schoolboys punished with detention for refusing to kneel in class and pray to Allah

Two schoolboys were given detention after refusing to kneel down and 'pray to Allah' during a religious education lesson. Parents were outraged that the two boys from year seven (11 to 12-year-olds) were punished for not wanting to take part in the practical demonstration of how Allah is worshipped. They said forcing their children to take part in the exercise at Alsager High School, near Stoke-on-Trent - which included wearing Muslim headgear - was a breach of their human rights.

One parent, Sharon Luinen, said: "This isn't right, it's taking things too far. "I understand that they have to learn about other religions. I can live with that but it is taking it a step too far to be punished because they wouldn't join in Muslim prayer. "Making them pray to Allah, who isn't who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that they were told they were being disrespectful. "I don't want this to look as if I have a problem with the school because I am generally very happy with it."

Another parent Karen Williams said: "I am absolutely furious my daughter was made to take part in it and I don't find it acceptable. "I haven't got a problem with them teaching my child other religions and a small amount of information doesn't do any harm. "But not only did they have to pray, the teacher had gone into the class and made them watch a short film and then said 'we are now going out to pray to Allah'. "Then two boys got detention and all the other children missed their refreshment break because of the teacher. "Not only was it forced upon them, my daughter was told off for not doing it right. "They'd never done it before and they were supposed to do it in another language."

"My child has been forced to pray to Allah in a school lesson." The grandfather of one of the pupils in the class said: "It's absolutely disgusting, there's no other way of putting it. "My daughter and a lot of other mothers are furious about their children being made to kneel on the floor and pray to Islam. If they didn't do it they were given detention. "I am not racist, I've been friendly with an Indian for 30 years. I've also been to a Muslim wedding where it was explained to me that alcohol would not be served and I respected that. "But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion there would be war."

Parents said that their children were made to bend down on their knees on prayer mats which the RE teacher had got out of her cupboard and they were also told to wear Islamic headgear during the lesson on Tuesday afternoon. Deputy headmaster Keith Plant said: "It's difficult to know at the moment whether this was part of the curriculum or not. I am not an RE teacher, I am an English teacher. "At the moment it is our enterprise week and many of our members of staff are away. "The particular member of staff you need to speak to isn't around. I think that it is a shame that so many parents have got in touch with the Press before coming to me. "I have spoken to the teacher and she has articulately given me her version of events, but that is all I can give you at the moment."

A statement from Cheshire County Council on behalf of the school read: "The headteacher David Black contacted this authority immediately complaints were received. "Enquiries are being made into the circumstances as a matter of urgency and all parents will be informed accordingly. "Educating children in the beliefs of different faith is part of the diversity curriculum on the basis that knowledge is essential to understanding. "We accept that such teaching is to be conducted with some sense of sensitivity."


British experts want sex education from age four to cut teen pregnancies

This is ridiculous. Let kids be kids

Two leading sexual health charities are calling for children as young as four to be given compulsory sex education. Brook and the Family Planning Association argue that teaching children about sex from a young age would help cut abortion rates and sexually transmitted infections when adolescents. The charities said children should be taught the names of body parts and about sex and relationships.

The Brook chief executive, Simon Blake, said: "If we get high-quality sex and relationships education in every primary and secondary school across the UK all the evidence shows teenage pregnancy rates will continue to fall and will improve young people's sexual health. "While sex and relationships education continues to be patchy, another generation of children and young people do not get the education they need to form healthy relationships and protect their sexual health." He wants every primary and secondary school to be legally required to provide sex and relationships education and secondary schools to ensure young people have access to free confidential contraceptive and sexual health services.

He told the BBC: "Many young people are having sex because they want to find out what it is, because they were drunk or because their mates were." He added: "All the evidence shows that if you start sex and relationships education early - before children start puberty, before they feel sexual attraction - they start having sex later. They are much more likely to use contraception and practise safe sex." The Department for Children, Schools and Families issued new draft guidance on wellbeing for schools yesterday.

The Sex Education Forum, the national authority on sex and relationships teaching, called for personal, social, health and economic education, which includes sex and relationships, to be made statutory. Julie Bentley, the Family Planning Association chief executive, said: "This is not about teaching four-year-olds how to have sex ... it's like maths - at primary school children learn the basics so that they can understand more and more complex concepts at a later stage." She added: "Parents are concerned that if they are told about sex they will go straight out and have it but the research shows the complete opposite. They have sex later and when they do, they have safer sex."

At present all children have to learn about the biology of reproduction but parents can opt to remove children from personal, social, health and economic education lessons, where they learn about the emotional and relationships side of sex