Saturday, August 16, 2008

Meaningless British High School qualifications

97% of students get a High School diploma

Increasing numbers of teenagers believe that three good A levels are no longer a passport to a university degree and are opting to take four or more subjects in an attempt to stand out from the growing crowd getting three A grades. A-level results published yesterday showed that more than 11 per cent of teenagers now get three A grades, increasing parental and school pressure on the most able students to go the extra mile with an extra A level to impress university admissions officers. This year's record crop of A-level results showed that the pass rate has exceeded 97 per cent for the first time, with the percentage of pupils achieving A grades up to nearly 26 per cent.

The results, published yesterday by the Joint Council for Qualifications, representing exam boards, also show that while the number of A-level candidates this year remains stable at around 317,000, the number of A levels taken has risen by more than 22,000. The number of candidates studying further mathematics, usually taken as a fourth A level to accompany maths, rose by 15.5 per cent with more than 9,000 entries.

Howard Loh, a pupil at Abingdon School, Oxfordshire, yesterday celebrated seven A grades. Similar tales abounded throughout the country. Tom Morley and Clarence Frank, pupils at City of London School, got six grade As each, as did Jenny Crowhurst, a pupil at Sutton High School in southwest London.

University admissions officials said last night that they were seeing a steady increase in the number of candidates with four or more A levels, excluding general studies. But many questioned the wisdom of such a move. Wendy Piatt, director-general of the elite Russell Group of research- intensive universities, said: "In many cases all candidates have three As - and increasingly four As."

Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, said that taking four subjects was a growing trend, given that three As was now virtually a minimum requirement. "Some talented pupils do more than three A levels because they enjoy the work and the challenge. But you can see how some pupils might think that doing more might make them stand out from those with three As. "In fact they might be disadvantaging themselves by taking the edge off their overall performance by doing so much," he said. Dr Parks said that he hoped the introduction of the new top A* grade from 2010 would reverse the trend and persuade more students to take three because the key discriminator will be quality rather than quantity.

Angela Milln, head of admissions at Bristol, said that growing numbers of pupils with four A levels were applying to the university, which attracts a record 12 applications per place (rising to 40 for drama places). "Some do it just to stretch themselves," she said. "But I'm sure there are those who think that offering something extra will give them extra credit with universities. It won't."

Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, said: "Increasingly pupils have opted for four or five as a way of distinguishing themselves from other candidates. Sixty per cent of our pupils do four A levels for this reason. "My own feeling is that pupils should not be encouraged to do too many A levels because it eats into time that should be devoted to all those other important aspects of an education such as sport, public speaking and the performing arts." He agreed that the A*, to be introduced next month for testing in 2010 as part of a package of reforms to make A levels harder, would ease the pressure on students.

Yesterday's record results meant that more pupils than ever met their university offers, but this also led to renewed concerns that the exams were getting easier. For the first time the exam board released a regional breakdown, examining pass rates and the proportion of students getting A grades in various areas of the country. It showed that the greatest improvements in the past six years have been in the South East, and the North East appears to be lagging behind. Between 2002 and 2008, the number of A grades in the South East rose 6.1 per cent, while in the North East there was an improvement of 2.1 per cent. Mike Cresswell, director-general of the AQA exam board, said that the figures suggested a worrying "long-standing historical pattern" with causes beyond what went on in school.

The results showed signs of a revival in traditional subjects, such as sciences and languages. The number of maths candidates rose from 60,093 last year to 64,593 this year. There are more candidates doing mathematics than at any time in the past. Entries rose by 2.7 per cent in biology, 3.5 per cent in chemistry and by 2.3per cent in physics, although numbers are still down on what they were in the early 2000s.

Fears that languages would undergo a slump in popularity proved unfounded as the number of candidates taking A levels in French rose to its highest level since 1993. Spanish entries were the highest they had ever been at 7,055.


Slump Squeezes Enrollment at U.S. Private Schools

Private schools across the Washington region have begun to feel the effects of the nation's economic slumber, as some families seek more financial aid to help with staggering tuition bills and others simply opt out of paying for an education.

Independent and parochial schools in the seven Maryland counties closest to Washington lost almost 8,000 students between 2005 and 2007, a 7 percent drop, in a trend that is expected to continue this fall. The Newport School, an esteemed Montgomery County campus, is shutting down for lack of students after 78 years in operation.

The Archdiocese of Washington will offer an unprecedented $2 million in need-based aid this year, including a $400,000 "opportunity fund" targeted at nine struggling schools. The goal is to lure back families that can no longer pay the tuition and attract families that could never afford it. It's a strategy borrowed from commercial airlines: Better a paying customer than an empty seat. "This economic downturn is affecting everyone, absolutely everyone," said Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese.

Enrollment has been declining in some of the area's public schools as well, chiefly because of a slowing birth rate, but not to the same extent. Public school enrollment in the Maryland suburban region slid by 1 percent over the past two years. Public school enrollment is rising in Northern Virginia, while private enrollment is essentially flat. Public enrollment in the District is falling, but enrollment in District archdiocese schools is falling faster.

Private school leaders say their community has seldom faced such a daunting combination of economic and socioeconomic woes. Tuition is rising faster than inflation, partly to meet a spiraling demand for aid. The birth rate is flat, thinning the ranks of prospective students. And consumers are reluctant to spend, unnerved by rising gas costs and falling stock prices.

The LaCourse family of Kensington decided this year that a five-figure annual investment in private education was starting to look more like luxury than necessity. So the LaCourse girls will enter kindergarten and third grade this fall at Kensington Parkwood Elementary, a well-regarded public school. By the time the two are grown, the private school where each began her education will be a distant memory. "It would have been more than $30,000 for the academic year, and that doesn't count summer, right?" said Lisa LaCourse.

The Washington region is served by a continuum of private schools, their tuition ranging from less than $10,000 a year to more than $30,000. Some are parochial schools that mirror public campuses in structure; others are nationally known independent schools that offer small classes and universal college acceptance.

An informal survey of officials at dozens of schools suggests that the region's most prestigious independent campuses may be least affected by the downturn. Such schools generally have many more applicants than spaces and a sufficient number who can afford the tuition. "But there's a big caveat here, and that's that we've never experienced the perfect storm before: rising tuitions well beyond inflation in a recessionary climate with a shrinking school-age population," said Patrick Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Even the most prestigious schools are dispensing more need-based aid to a greater number, Bassett said, and working harder to sell families on the virtues of a private education. Funds spent on need-based financial aid have almost doubled since 2001 among independent schools, said Betsy Downes, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington. Tuition has risen 37 percent in that span; enrollment, 6 percent.

More here

Foreign enrollment soars in CA colleges

Colleges across the Southland are expecting a surge in international students this year, part of a nationwide trend that many experts attribute to a weak dollar. At the University of Southern California, applications for international students grew by 10 percent this fall. Loyola Marymount saw a 33 percent spurt and University of California, Los Angeles, reports a 25 percent increase. Nationwide, the government issued 10 percent more student visas this year, and colleges across the country are reporting increases in international student applications.

For students like Jean Foo, the decision to enroll in a U.S. college boiled down to simple math. A practicing lawyer in her native Singapore, Foo said an increase in American investors there made the idea of an American law degree more of a necessity than a luxury. But last July Foo would have paid 1.8 Singapore dollars for every $1 U.S. That would have left her paying 76,000 Singapore dollars in tuition and fees at UCLA. This summer however, the exchange rate is 1.3 Singapore dollars to every $1 U.S. The savings for Foo: 21,000 Singapore dollars. "Who knows if it will ever be this low again?" Foo said.

As a result, students worldwide are taking advantage and snatching up seats at American colleges. But international education advocates think the increase is about more than just dollars and cents. "We expect to see this trend continue," said Allan Goodman, president of the New York-based Institute for International Education. "But this is not just about money. It's the country's reputation for quality, lack of corruption and huge range of choice that attracts students."

Goodman said the number to focus on is not the ratio between the dollar and the euro, yen or peso. "The number is 4,000 - the number of accredited colleges and universities in the U.S - about a third of the higher education capacity in the whole world," Goodman said. "No other country has that many."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the country saw a nationwide dip in international students because restrictions on visas both in and out of the country were tightened. Horror stories of the mistreatment of international students as they attempted to get into the U.S. coupled with other tales of years-long wait lists for student visas discouraged many students from even applying to schools in the states. International student enrollment bottomed out during the 2003-04 school year when nationwide enrollment among these students dropped by 2.4 percent - the first time the country had seen a decline in at least five decades. But in 2007 the U.S. State Department gave out a record 600,000 new student-and-exchange visas.

Bob Ericksen, director of the Dashew Center for International Students at UCLA, said many students, unfortunately, still feel like they are harshly scrutinized when they are trying to come into the U.S. "Our students did a research project last spring about students' experiences acquiring visas and entering the country, and there was no shortage of unpleasant experiences shared," Ericksen said. "From applying for visas and dealing with uncooperative officials to dealing with officials at port of entry, many feel like they are being treated as criminals. They don't understand why they are receiving so much attention as potential criminals or terrorists when they are trying to come and contribute to society."

But despite some of the hurdles, once international students begin their studies in the United States, Ericksen said most agree the sacrifices were worth it. "Students report high levels of satisfaction... they report that it's a welcoming environment," Ericksen said.

Part of the reason why many students see American colleges as welcoming environments is because these institutions are, in fact, competing on a local, national and international level with each other for these students from abroad. "Many universities are trying to do more to globalize their campuses and provide students with a global education because this helps prepare students for the world out there that is increasingly small," said Csilla Samay, director of international outreach at Loyola Marymount.

Samay's department exclusively looks at ways to attract more students from abroad. The goal is to have international students make up 5 percent of the entire student body by 2010, up from the current 2 percent. Samay said the focus isn't on the financial contributions these students make - Loyola is a private institution so tuition for out-of-state students is the same as for California residents.

But at public universities international students pay top dollar for their American degrees and these students' economic contributions don't stop at the classroom. From buying textbooks, renting homes, and buying groceries, international students spent more than $2 billion in California alone in 2006, according to statistics from the International Institute of Education. Nationwide their contributions topped at $14.5 billion.

Still, Justine Su, director of the China Institute at California State University, Northridge, said the benefits of international programs are about the dual enrichment they provides students. CSUN's institute has created a "2 plus 2" program that allows American and Chinese students to complete their undergraduate degrees in China and the U.S. Su said the result has been that American and Chinese students are equipped with a global view that will then influence the work they do. "When we send students abroad they become our best ambassadors," she said. "They absorb new ideas and help people speak differently about the American people."

As for Foo, weeks before she starts her first semester in an American college she is nervous. She has no friends or family in the city and even a simple task like getting a driver's license is cause for anxiety. And despite the savings, Foo is still going to end up shelling out about $100,000 in U.S. dollars for tuition, books, food and other living expenses. Still, Foo believes some things are worth more than money. "Everybody has that American Dream, you know? You aspire to someday work or live in the U.S. ... to experience the American life," she said. "This experience is beyond monetary value."


Friday, August 15, 2008

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:
First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place. Finding a better way should be easy. The BA acquired its current inflated status by accident. Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses. The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree.

The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough -- four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you're a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.

The merits of a CPA-like certification exam apply to any college major for which the BA is now used as a job qualification. To name just some of them: criminal justice, social work, public administration and the many separate majors under the headings of business, computer science and education. Such majors accounted for almost two-thirds of the bachelor's degrees conferred in 2005. For that matter, certification tests can be used for purely academic disciplines. Why not present graduate schools with certifications in microbiology or economics -- and who cares if the applicants passed the exam after studying in the local public library?

Certification tests need not undermine the incentives to get a traditional liberal-arts education. If professional and graduate schools want students who have acquired one, all they need do is require certification scores in the appropriate disciplines. Students facing such requirements are likely to get a much better liberal education than even our most elite schools require now.

Certification tests will not get rid of the problems associated with differences in intellectual ability: People with high intellectual ability will still have an edge. Graduates of prestigious colleges will still, on average, have higher certification scores than people who have taken online courses -- just because prestigious colleges attract intellectually talented applicants.

But that's irrelevant to the larger issue. Under a certification system, four years is not required, residence is not required, expensive tuitions are not required, and a degree is not required. Equal educational opportunity means, among other things, creating a society in which it's what you know that makes the difference. Substituting certifications for degrees would be a big step in that direction.

The incentives are right. Certification tests would provide all employers with valuable, trustworthy information about job applicants. They would benefit young people who cannot or do not want to attend a traditional four-year college. They would be welcomed by the growing post-secondary online educational industry, which cannot offer the halo effect of a BA from a traditional college, but can realistically promise their students good training for a certification test -- as good as they are likely to get at a traditional college, for a lot less money and in a lot less time.

Certification tests would disadvantage just one set of people: Students who have gotten into well-known traditional schools, but who are coasting through their years in college and would score poorly on a certification test. Disadvantaging them is an outcome devoutly to be wished.

No technical barriers stand in the way of evolving toward a system where certification tests would replace the BA. Hundreds of certification tests already exist, for everything from building code inspectors to advanced medical specialties. The problem is a shortage of tests that are nationally accepted, like the CPA exam.

But when so many of the players would benefit, a market opportunity exists. If a high-profile testing company such as the Educational Testing Service were to reach a strategic decision to create definitive certification tests, it could coordinate with major employers, professional groups and nontraditional universities to make its tests the gold standard. A handful of key decisions could produce a tipping effect. Imagine if Microsoft announced it would henceforth require scores on a certain battery of certification tests from all of its programming applicants. Scores on that battery would acquire instant credibility for programming job applicants throughout the industry.

An educational world based on certification tests would be a better place in many ways, but the overarching benefit is that the line between college and noncollege competencies would be blurred. Hardly any jobs would still have the BA as a requirement for a shot at being hired. Opportunities would be wider and fairer, and the stigma of not having a BA would diminish.

Most important in an increasingly class-riven America: The demonstration of competency in business administration or European history would, appropriately, take on similarities to the demonstration of competency in cooking or welding. Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best.

Here's the reality: Everyone in every occupation starts as an apprentice. Those who are good enough become journeymen. The best become master craftsmen. This is as true of business executives and history professors as of chefs and welders. Getting rid of the BA and replacing it with evidence of competence -- treating post-secondary education as apprenticeships for everyone -- is one way to help us to recognize that common bond.


Reading standards drop in Britain

Reading standards among 14-year-olds have fallen in the past year, national curriculum test results revealed yesterday. The Schools minister, Jim Knight, called on parents to encourage their children to read after results showed a drop of two percentage points in the number of students who had attained the required reading standard. The results of the tests, taken by 14-year-olds, showed 73 per cent of students were up to par in English (down one percentage point), 77 per cent in maths (up one point) and 71 per cent in science (down two). The drop in English was based on the reading tests, where the number of up-to-standard students fell from 71 per cent to 69 per cent. Writing, however, went up from 74 to 77 per cent.

The results were published despite calls from education professionals to delay their issue, because so many papers were missing or unmarked. Only 84 per cent of English scripts and 94 per cent of maths and science ones had been marked when the figures were compiled. Leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers said the results should not have been published. Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, claimed the tests were an "irrelevance" and should be scrapped.

Nearly 250,000 students failed to reach standards in writing, reading and maths. Only 60 per cent were up to par, the same as last year and well short of a target of 85 per cent set by ministers. Boys lagged behind girls in reading and writing. Only 62 per cent of boys reached the reading standard, compared with 76 per cent of girls, and 70 per cent attained the writing standard, compared with 83 per cent of girls. Mr Knight said boys should read more fiction instead of stories about football teams and asked parents to read the same books as their children, so they could discuss them.

The results show that writing weaknesses identified in 11-year-olds appear to have been addressed by the time children reach the age of 14, but reading and science standards fall away.


Some Australian universities highly rated

I have a large and ornate document issued to me by the University of Sydney

Australia now has three universities in the top 100 as measured by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, with the University of Sydney joining the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. However, the number of Australian universities in the top 500 dropped from 17 to 15.

ANU dropped slightly, from 57 to 59, in the world university rankings, while Melbourne continued its relentless climb, jumping six places to 73 in the otherwise fairly stable top 100. Sydney University leapt into the top 100 for the first time, at 97. Vice-chancellor Michael Spence said it was "very pleasing" that three Australian universities were ranked in the Jiao Tong top 100. "It is an indication of the strength and quality of Australian higher education that we perform so well in world class competition," he said.

Down the ranks, which were not specified outside the top 100, the University of Adelaide dropped from the second to the third 100, while James Cook, Tasmania and Wollongong universities moved up from the fifth 100 to the fourth 100, according to an analysis by the country's leading commentator on Jiao Tong, Melbourne University professor of higher education Simon Marginson. The University of New England and Murdoch University fell just below the cut-off line for the last 100 this year, while Griffith University also fell not far below the cut-off line.

While criticism of the Jiao Tong methodology is common, it attracts attention and cachet simply because it meets the need for a global performance measure. The US retained its stranglehold on the rankings, with four of the top five universities: Harvard, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are first, second, third and fifth respectively. Britain's University of Cambridge was in fourth place.

According to Professor Marginson, Jiao Tong placements increasingly are seen as an important measure of a nation's economic health and competitiveness. He told the HES that while he would like to see an Australian university in the top 50, having three in the top 100 - and six in the top 200 - compared well with European countries of similar population and wealth, such as The Netherlands. However, Australia was well behind Britain and our top universities lagged behind those of European countries such as Switzerland, whose best was at equal 24, France (42), Denmark (45), The Netherlands (47), Sweden (51) and Germany (equal 55).

Australia also was significantly behind Canada, whose best universities - the University of Toronto at equal 24 and the University of British Columbia at 35 - were stronger. The most striking improvement was shown by China: the number of Chinese universities in the top 500 increased from 25 to 30 last year.

"In (the) future we can expect to see Chinese universities bulking larger in the top 200 and then the top 100, as the hyper-investments in (research and development) of the past 10 years begin to bear fruit in stellar research performance," Professor Marginson said. On the present trajectory, China was on course to become the world's second largest knowledge economy.

In contrast, Australian universities operated in what Professor Marginson described as a hyper-scarce funding environment, where the top institutions sustained research performance by squeezing teaching resources and other facilities, which was a highly undesirable trade-off. "Full funding of research, currently under discussion, is very important because it means research no longer has to be subsidised from resources generated by local and international students," he said.

Professor Marginson noted that in the US, Canada and Britain, full funding of research sustained significantly stronger performance. The US comfortably retained its position as the country with the largest number of universities in the top 500, although the total fell from 166 to 159, according to analysis by Melbourne University's Centre for the Study of Higher Education. Next came Britain, with 42 universities in the top 500, followed by Germany with 40 (down from 41), Japan 31 (down from 33) and China 30 (up from 25).

The Australian Technology Network recently proposed that the performance of Australian universities in world rankings should be a part of formal performance benchmarks.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Exams for British High School diplomas 'now two grades easier than 20 years ago'

A-level exams are now two grades easier than they were 20 years ago, academics claimed last night. Sixth-formers of the same ability awarded C grades in the late 1980s can now expect to gain As, they said.

Researchers found that average results improved by more than two grades in most subjects, even though students were no brighter. In mathematics, scores jumped by three-and-a-half grades. Academics said the trend was likely to be influenced by a number of factors, including a fall in the rigour of exams combined with an increased focus on test preparation in schools and colleges, reigniting the debate over A-level standards.

The findings - in a study by Durham University - come as almost 250,000 students prepare to receive results of A-levels on Thursday. Experts are already predicting a rise in the number of passes and A grades. Last year, 25.3 per cent of papers were awarded the top mark - more than double the number in 1990.

Ministers have long claimed that the rise is down to improved teaching. But the latest study - published yesterday(MON) as part of a wide-ranging review of A-levels by the Institute of Directors - said it was "hard to see how the claim could be convincingly substantiated". The claims fail to explain why results improve quicker some years than others, or why improvements at A-level have been much quicker than GCSEs.

"A-level and GCSE grades achieved in 2007 certainly do correspond to a lower level of general academic ability than the same grades would have done in previous years," said the report. "Whether or not they are better taught makes no difference to this interpretation; the same grade corresponds to a lower level of general ability."

Robert Coe and Peter Tymms, from Durham's Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre, analysed standards achieved in A-levels between 1988 and 2007. They then compared them with the outcome of aptitude tests over the last two decades, which measure pupils' skills in a range of subjects without testing curriculum knowledge. They found that students with similar results in the independently-administered exam went on to score much better A-levels in 2007 than in 1988.

In the study group, the average student was awarded an E in biology in 1988, but similar sixth-formers gained a comfortable C last summer. In French, students of the same ability saw results rise from a low D grade to a B. In maths, marks were inflated by 3.5 grades. Average students in the 1988 sample gained a U (ungraded) but saw results rise to a low B by 2007. Academics said rises in GCSE results were more modest, increasing by less than a grade in science, English, history, French and maths between 1996 and last summer. "The quality of work presented for examination may well be equal to or better than that of candidates in previous years," said the study. "However, given identical conditions, today's candidates might nevertheless be unable to match the performance of their predecessors."

The IoD report also warned that university admissions tutors have seen no rise in the quality of new undergraduates, despite steadily improving A-level results in the past decade. Seven in 10 tutors believe standards either stayed the same or deteriorated in recent years.

The conclusions come as Ofqual, England's new exams regulator, said it would launch a major review of standards in the Autumn. The study will cover setting, marking and long term standards in A-levels, GCSEs, Sats and other school examinations.

Nick Gibb, Tory shadow schools minister, said A-levels lacked "rigour and relevance". "The Government has been undermining A-levels for the last few years," he said. "We are determined to restore public confidence in the A-level as the gold standard of British education."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said syllabuses and examinations were "appropriate and reliable". "We've commented on Durham University's research time and time again," she said. "Their work is quite different to GCSE or A-level as it uses aptitude tests which are not directly comparable to performance at GCSE and A level."


Tell-all report cards to rate Australian schools

Surprising sense from a Leftist

The Rudd Government is on a collision course with Morris Iemma and teachers' unions who say its push for transparent report cards that identify test results, class sizes, teacher qualifications and even the wealth of students' families will lead to unfair school league tables. The federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard - having met the chancellor of schools in New York, Joel Klein - says Australia can learn from his methodology of "comparing like schools with like schools to measure differences in school results". A former lawyer criticised for his lack of education credentials, Mr Klein has stirred the ire of New York teachers with his focus on standardised testing and links between student results and teacher performance.

Ms Gillard has distanced herself from criticism from the NSW Government and teaching unions who warn her approach will name and shame disadvantaged schools. Rather, Ms Gillard said yesterday, teaching excellence should be identified and rewarded and high standards expected of all students, rich or poor. "We're not talking about anything as simplistic and silly as league tables," she said at the Australian Council for Educational Research annual conference. "But we are talking about parents and the community understanding what kinds of students are in schools, their socio-economic status, the number of indigenous students, the number of students with disabilities, because that obviously means the schools have special needs."

Researchers have linked low performance at school to social disadvantage, with less able richer children overtaking more able poorer children by the age of six. Apart from investing in early learning and rewarding quality teaching, Ms Gillard said a spotlight was needed on schools needing extra help. "The aim should be to robustly ascertain what mix of capacities and needs children are bringing to their school," she said. "We need this information in order to understand what schools, in turn, should offer to these students, and how governments and communities working together can support schools to do so.

"As a nation, we should then be tracking attainment, knowing that we are in the powerful position of comparing like schools with like schools. If two schools have comparable school populations but widely varying results, we would be able to ask the question why and ascertain the answer. "We should be able to identify best practice and innovation, and work systematically to ensure that they are spread more widely. We should be able to especially assist those schools that need it. Specifically we should be identifying excellent teaching and excellent school leadership. We must expect high standards of every child."

However, a spokesman for the acting NSW Minister for Education, John Hatzistergos, said enough information was already available to help identify struggling students in need of help. "There is considerable concern with proposals to excessively 'tag' students and schools with various labels for little purpose," he said. "NSW is responsible for the welfare and education of its students and is committed to the constructive application of the outcomes of assessment in all its forms."

The Premier, Morris Iemma, said it would be difficult to rank schools around Australia. "It's like hospitals; it's the rules around that [ranking], because if you're going to stand in a hospital - and it's a similar example with schools - like Westmead and compare it, for example, with a small district hospital, like Canterbury, and then attempt in some way from the straight statistics that appear on that list to rank those two hospitals, you would not be comparing like with like."

The president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the learning priorities of students would not be addressed by a "divisive sideshow on league tables". "Raising overall student performance and addressing underachievement requires investment," he said. "Teachers know it and parents know it. "Public schools nationwide require an immediate $1.4 billion per annum to raise retention rates to 90 per cent and a further $1.3 billion per annum to ensure that all primary school-age children reach the minimum benchmark scores for literacy and numeracy."

The principal of SCEGGS Darlinghurst, Jenny Allum, said students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 had completed the first round of national literacy and numeracy tests in May, but no results had yet been made available to help schools diagnose any learning difficulties in students.

The federal Opposition's education spokesman, Tony Smith, said: "Already Julia Gillard has failed the first test in refusing to release the individual results of the national literacy and numeracy tests until the end of this year. The whole reason the Coalition government introduced these tests was to provide parents and schools with information in a timely fashion so parents could get help straightaway."


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Better Grades Through Bling-Bling

With alarming failure rates at our nation's inner city schools, one wants to celebrate any attempt to motivate success. Still, sincere efforts must be examined not according to their intentions but to their likely or demonstrated results. One new concept that is gaining attention gives kids immediate cash or gifts for completing normal academic tasks, such as homework. While such programs are well intentioned, hustling minority kids with "bling-bling" is sure to cultivate materialism and deteriorate family relationships.

Harvard economist Roland Fryer developed the Sparks Incentive program in an effort to raise achievement scores for America's black children. In the pay-to-learn scheme, children are redirected from finding intrinsic meaning in their work, and are instead seduced to pursue the vanity of money. The power of learning the value of delayed gratification, one of the most important principles of long-term success in anything, is totally incapacitated.

Last year, the New York City schools, desperate for solutions, hired Fryer as its Chief Equality Officer. His job was to figure out how to narrow the racial gap in achievement in the city's schools. Today, over 5,000 students in the New York City public school system are participating in this privately funded program. In one Brooklyn elementary school, students can earn up to $250 a year. School districts in at least twelve states have similar incentive programs, including the cities of Atlanta, Dallas, and Baltimore.

One misguided school even offers free cell phones as an incentive. Fryer defends this rueful practice saying, "[with] cell phones, [as] financial rewards for kids, we're meeting kids where they are and giving them rewards to do the things that we want them to do." What's next? Free sagging pants? Coupons for weaves, rims, designer jeans, gold chains, and gold-teeth grills?

This type of disregard for the practical effects produced by striving for good ends via dubious means reduces the humanity of entire families. Black kids are more than simply a variable in a complex economic algorithm applied to education philosophy. Black kids are human beings with inherent dignity who must be formed into virtuous adults destined to make a positive contribution to the world within the context of family and community.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege, reports that research shows that giving kids cash for grades is one of the most psychologically damaging approaches to education. Manipulating behavior in this way profoundly sabotages the internal mechanisms needed to form the character and integrity required for adulthood.

Hustling performance with cash can never substitute, Levine argues, "for parental interest, presence, and guidance." It leads to a lessening of parental influence and cultivates greed. One would think that America's public school system would not wish to cultivate "bling, bling" ideology.

Children have a nascent ability to desire and appreciate parental approval. Once upon a time, children were challenged to perform well--or else parents would be involved. Children knowing, early on, that they are accountable to their parents--and that other adults cooperate in that accountability--creates conditions for healthy family life in general.

The late Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University railed against the deification of material goods as incentives for living well at the univeristy's commencement ceremony on May 18, 2008. Pausch encouraged graduates to pursue meaningful vocations that stirred their spirits. "You will not find that passion in things," he warned, "and you will not find that passion in money."

When asked if giving cash for performance might send a message to children that learning is not its own reward, Fryer responded, "Those are not my concerns. My biggest concern is [that] we don't do anything." Why is cultivating self-centered materialism and breaking down parent/child relationships the only alternative to doing nothing? Herein lies the problem of hiring an economist who may not have the wherewithal to connect economics to the formation of children with character and integrity.

While economics teaches helpful things about the role of incentives, the dignity of children and the integrity of family life cannot be subverted for algorithmic results. Ignoring the character process will give us a generation of children who can perform on exams but have little humanity.


When Will School Choice Come to the 'Land of the Free'?

Note: Australia has for many years had a system where the Federal government pays a substantial share of the costs of private schools, thus greatly reducing the burden on parents who seek private education for their children. As a result, around 40% of high school students in Australia are privately educated

While presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama was on his world tour, the world came to Newark, New Jersey and demonstrated how parental choice has become an engine of education reform around the globe. For the first time in its 30-year existence, the International Standing Conference for the History of Education held its annual conference in the United States--in Newark, July 23-26, with the city and Rutgers University as co-sponsors.

It did not go without notice among the conferees that the school choice available through broad consensus in many nations still confronts stiff education-establishment resistance in the United States. Newark may have landed the conference partly because its mayor, Cory Booker (D), is a strong advocate of empowering families in this way. "America, the land of freedom and choice, except when it comes to your schools," The Star-Ledger of New Jersey quoted Prof. Sjaak Braster of Utrecht University in the Netherlands as quipping.

In Holland, one of the featured nations in a discussion of access and excellence, it has been a right of parents for almost 100 years to send their children to schools they choose, using a government grant. Two-thirds now choose private or religious schools. If schools fail, they can be de-funded.

While the conference was underway, the Associated Press distributed a dispatch, run by many U.S. papers, telling how Sweden had defied its own welfarist ways and allowed parents to choose between state-run and independent schools. The independents are government-funded but may make their own decisions on staffing, teaching methods, and buildings. They may not charge tuition. Before the advent of choice in 1992, only 1.7 percent of Sweden's high school students attended private schools. Now, 17 percent do. In another deviation from democratic socialism, Sweden allows managers of independent schools to turn a profit if they can deliver quality cost-effectively.

Sweden is not the most out-of-character fan of school choice. In 2003 the People's Republic of China gave private schools equal standing with government schools and began assisting them with tax credits and loans in an attempt to boost their growth. As China Daily explained at the time: "Although local governments have put a lot of cash into education, government-run schools can't meet the needs of the public due to the large population of China."

Choice is a force in many other lands. In Canada, the degree of school choice varies considerably among the provinces. Alberta, which has the most education freedom, also has the highest level of academic achievement, while spending the least per-pupil.

So what about using the bully pulpit of the U.S. presidency to help bring more parental choice to American K-12 schools? Will that be a high-profile issue this fall? Until recently, education has not received much attention from the two major-party candidates. But that may have changed as of the mid-July NAACP convention in Cincinnati. Speaking there July 16, the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, made choice a central focus of his education program, endorsing the Washington, DC school voucher program for low-income families, an alternative to monopolistic teacher certification, new approaches to charter school funding that would empower principals, and creation of new charter schools offering online instruction.

Sen. Obama, the expected Democratic nominee, put the onus on parents in his July 14 NAACP talk, stressing the need for them to provide their children more guidance. He criticized McCain for supporting vouchers. While endorsing public charter schools, Obama has taken a harder line against vouchers since first telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board in February that he might favor them if research proved they helped students succeed.

Ultimately, it will be up to the voters to decide whether the U.S. has something to learn from the international community about choice in school reform--and, if so, which candidate is for true reform.


Australian education unions oppose choice

Like the little Stalinists they are

The Australian Education Union has reacted angrily to plans to move towards a voucher-like scheme, which would give students the power to choose between private training providers and public ones such as TAFEs. AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos warned yesterday the union would launch a community campaign to head off any such changes, accusing federal Labor of continuing the "failed policies" of its Coalition predecessor. "Vouchers represent an attempt to commodify education and an abrogation on the part ofgovernment for ensuring planned provision of education," he said.

The Weekend Australian revealed on Saturday that the Rudd Government could use its reform of federalism to encourage its state Labor counterparts to introduce competition into vocational education. Victoria has already released plans to make public and private training bodies bid for students, prompting the AEU to declare the shift "the biggest threat to TAFE" in the state's history.

Education Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday the Government was in intensive discussions with the states and territories on the best ways to deliver vocational education and training. But she said training providers should not be the ones to decide what should be available. "Rather, the structure and funding of VET has to give students and industry the power to get providers to respond to their needs," Ms Gillard said.

She said future reforms would, however, not be modelled on the previous government's voucher system, since cut by Labor, which offered young Australians up to $3000 for vocational training. "There are a number of ways of achieving this reform, but an ill-thought-through, badly implemented voucher program like the Howard government's Work Skills vouchers isn't one of them," Ms Gillard said.

Martin Riordon, chief executive officer of TAFE Directors Australia, which represents TAFE and technology institutes, said vouchers were one of the financing options being discussed by governments. While he was yet to see the details of the proposal, he said it was important any reform was accompanied by a funding boost. "The last voucher system was trialled but it really was both poorly targeted and inadequately funded," Mr Riordon said.

"We are just keen to see that, in the next commonwealth and state agreement that comes in force in July next year, whatever funding agreement is ultimately agreed that there's a lift in training funding." Ms Gillard is also negotiating with the states and territories on school funding and yesterday told ABC's Insiders program she was "very assertively" challenging them to open up their schools to public scrutiny.

In a speech to the Australian Council for Educational Research conference in Brisbane today, she will call for school-by-school data on student populations, their socio-economic mix and development status to be made available nationally. "If two schools have comparable school populations but widely varying results, we would then be able to ask the question why and ascertain the answer," Ms Gillard said.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Four-Year-Old Expelled for Acting Like a Child

What kind of society have we become when a four-year-old is expelled for saying he is going to shoot his friends?
Kyle reached his limit about the time his pillow was taken away. Unable to sleep during nap time, and made to step into the hallway until he could stop crying, the cranky 4-year-old lashed out in a classroom at The Family Development Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

"I am going to go shoot all my friends!" he said, according to a written account that the day care center provided the boy's parents after the July 22 tantrum.

What came next - after a day care worker talked to Kyle about appropriate language, eliciting an apology - was an investigation that sent university police to question Kyle's parents and ended with the boy's dismissal from the day care center he had attended for the past three years.

Even if I had not given away the plot of this tragic farce in the first paragraph, you would have already guessed where this was going before they got to the University Police investigation part. This is the result of political correctness run amok.
Officers questioned Kyle's parents, asking if they had any guns. His mother said they don't. She said she doesn't allow her son to watch TV or play with toy guns. The investigation ended with Kyle dismissal from the day care center he had attended for the past three years. His mother believes the whole thing was handled unreasonably.

The fact that this situation was handled unreasonably is beyond dispute. The article mentions that Kyle has had numerous reports filed about his behavior over the last three years that he attended the day care center, most for behavioral issues such as not staying still during nap time and running instead of walking - flogging offenses I'm sure.

Perhaps the authorities were fooled by young Kyle's size or the timbre of his voice, but they seem to have forgotten one tiny detail about him: HE'S FOUR YEARS OLD!

I have an 8-year-old son, and even with daily admonishments, he still runs around when he shouldn't (in the store, in the house, in the barn - one shouldn't run around horses). I believe it's perfectly normal for a four year old to run instead of walk sometimes.

This is the single stupidest story I have seen in memory. The road we are heading down, where children are expected to act like little adults, is one we will regret when we have a generation that is completely off their rockers simply because they were never allowed to really BE children.

Also, with all the debate about our children becoming more and more obese and getting less and less exercise, one would think that a child running around would be looked upon favorably. Chalk up yet another cognitive disconnect for the adherents of political correctness, eh?

What I fear even worse is that someone will soon approach Kyle's mom, who works in a mental health clinic, and explain to her that poor little Kyle can't concentrate and is fidgety and needs medication. Children are not being allowed to be children anymore, to the detriment of everyone save overburdened day care workers, and it's a sad sign of our times when that happens.

Add in the fact of many schools banning tag and dodge ball and even running at recess, and what we have here is a movement so insane it defies definition. When I was a kid, we rode our bikes without helmets and our skateboards without kneepads, and climbed trees and fell out of them in our neighbor's yard. Nothing was said other than "Oh, are you OK?" We got angry with each other and made silly threats ("I'm gonna hit you so hard your grandkids are gonna cry"), and had fights, many times where one of us or - more usually - both of us ended up with bloody noses, scrapes, and bruises. But the next day, sometimes in the next ten minutes, we were back to being friends. Nobody got sued, nobody went to jail, and we grew up into perfectly fine adults capable of taking care of ourselves and treating our fellow humans in a decent manner.

We are creating a generation of fearful drones who, once they are thrust into real life after they graduate from school, will be unable to handle reality, think for themselves, and speak freely, as they will never have been taught how to do so. They are simply being taught what not to say, how not to act, and what not to think. And I, for one, think that stinks.


Swedish Left indoctrinating schoolkids

Two new publishing houses for children's books have sparked debate in gender-equal Sweden over their professed aim of instilling the country's open-minded social values in the next generation. "Our goal is for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other such things, to have the freedom to create their own identity and be respected for their personal qualities," said Karin Salmson, the co-founder of the new Vilda publishing house.

But several critics are outraged, saying they are simply pushing propaganda disguised as literature. Vilda and another small publisher, Olika, both opened their doors last year with the express aim of making children's books that promote liberal values and challenge traditional views on gender, race and sexual orientation. "Many parents feel forced to change he to she or she to he and other details as they read stories for their children, because so many details in children's books are so very traditional," Salmson said.

Vilda has therefore introduced a so-called "hug label", guaranteeing that its books have been "scrutinised from a democracy, equality and diversity perspective" and contain no details "based on prejudice or traditional gender roles that rein in individual freedom". The publisher for instance makes sure girls are not always dressed in pink and boys in blue, that dad is not necessarily the one rushing off to work while mom stays home whipping up dinner and that same-sex parents are portrayed as a natural part of life.

Olika's co-founder Marie Tomicic also says her publishing house aims to "break down traditional gender roles and offer children broader role models, allowing them to be all they can be." Together the two small publishers have so far only released about a dozen titles, including a book about a boy who wears pink sandals, and a story about a girl who likes to make farting sounds using her armpits, who just happens to have two dads.

The publishers' philosophies are largely in line with ruling attitudes in this Scandinavian country, which is widely considered a world leader in gender equality and minority rights. But critics have challenged their methods.

"For both Vilda and Olika, their values are the top priority ... and I think that is simply the wrong approach when you want to make good children's books," says Lotta Olsson, a literary critic at Sweden's paper of reference Dagens Nyheter. If the whole aim of a story is to promote an idea and alter children's behaviour and attitudes, the artistic and literary side of the book tends to suffer she insists. "You cannot write a book simply because you want it to be gender equal. You can however write a good book that is gender equal, but as soon as you can see the thought behind the book, I think the artistic side has failed," she tells AFP.

Both Tomicic and Salmson, however, dismiss the criticism as "cultural elitism," pointing out that they have received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents. "It is perfectly possible to make good literature that takes these issues into consideration," Tomicic says, pointing out that "we have good authors and illustrators and we insist there is a good story. That is absolutely the most important thing."

One of Olika's illustrators, Per Gustavsson, has publicly criticised the publisher's request to change the colour of a girl's T-shirt from its original pink in one book, while questions have been raised about the interest of portraying homosexual parents in another book when the fact is not important to the story line. "We are trying to break a pattern," Tomicic responds, insisting that it is important to show children that there are many natural alternatives to traditional ways of describing gender roles, including the colours girls and boys wear, and family structures.

Salmson agrees. "Portraying a gay family in a story that is not simply about gay families shows that these families exist too and are just as normal as other types of families." "I really can't see how that can affect the quality of the story itself," she says, adding however that "I guess there are people who really feel very threatened when you try to open up perceptions on sexuality and gender identity."

Olsson rejects that notion, maintaining that the problem with the new publishing houses is their "prerequisite that they only take in authors with the same perspective. That affects their access to books in a way that just isn't good." "I don't think it works either," she insists. "Children do as we do, not as we tell them to do. If you look around and see women being treated worse than men, it makes no difference that you've read a children's book in which the mother goes to work and the father stays home with the kids."


British education spending spree has 'failed pupils'

The literacy and numeracy of new employees have tumbled over the past decade despite Labour's œ28 billion increase in annual education spending, according to research by a leading employers' organisation. The Institute of Directors (IoD) found that 71% of its members believe the writing abilities of new employees had worsened, while 60% believed numeracy had also declined; 52% reported a worsening of the basic ability to communicate.

With the exam results season under way, more than 60% of company directors now think GCSEs and A-levels are less demanding than a decade ago. Overall, only 27% believe schools have got better under Labour. A-level results to be released this Thursday are expected to show the number of passes going above 97% and the proportion of A grades rising slightly from last year's 25.3%, the 11th successive annual rise. One exam board chief said the results will show continued decline in the numbers taking languages but rises in some science subjects, reversing the trend of recent years.

According to the IoD report, to be published this week, the results of Labour's education policies fall far short of what might be expected given the surge in school spending since the party came to power. In 1997-8, $96 billion was devoted to education, rising to $152.6 billion in the current year, an increase of nearly 60% when adjusted for inflation. "Despite the impressive political energy and resources focused on education, our members believe the government has generally performed poorly in this critical area," said Miles Templeman, the IoD's director-general. "There is a substantial credibility gap between what official statistics show and what employers feel on the front line."

Exam grades improve almost every year, leading to arguments between ministers who claim they show a real improvement and critics who argue that standards are becoming more lax.

The research also includes a review by Durham University academics of evidence on whether the rigour of GCSEs, A-levels and primary education has been maintained. They find that, at best, standards have remained the same or improved marginally. In basic scientific knowledge - such as knowing what density means - they report a "dramatic" fall, particularly for boys.

The Durham academics, Robert Coe and Peter Tymms, found strong evidence of "grade inflation" in their analysis of GCSE and A-level results over the past three decades. They also report that the understanding of basic scientific concepts such as volume and weight among 11 and 12-year-olds has deteriorated since 1976. The proportion of boys giving the right answer to an elementary question on the displacement of water fell from 54% to 17% over the period. "The fact schools are not teaching this is a real problem," Coe said. "The scale of the drop is just huge: it is dramatic. Many people would argue that you cannot do science without these fundamentals."

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said: "English and maths standards have risen over the last decade and quality has been rigorously scrutinised. "Business concerns about school-leavers reflect the reality of the changing economy with historic low unemployment and the virtual elimination of low-skill jobs. Employers rightly have far higher expectations of workers' skills than ever. "We are tackling employers' concerns head-on with the biggest education reforms for generations such as tougher A-levels and GCSEs; improved skills training across the board; and raising the participation age to 18."

- More teenagers are not in education, employment or training (Neet) than studying for A-levels in three of Britain's poorest boroughs, according to new research by the Conservatives. Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, argues that the figures for Rochdale in Greater Manchester, Sandwell in the West Midlands, and Knowsley, Merseyside, are evidence of "shocking" polarisation between rich and poor areas.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Homeschooling OK - even in California

Reversed: Ruling that parents had no right to teach children

An appeals court in California has ruled that state law does permit homeschooling "as a species of private school education" but that statutory permission for parents to teach their own children could be "overridden in order to protect the safety of a child who has been declared dependent." The long-awaited case resolves many of the questions that had developed in homeschooling circles across the nation when the same court earlier found that parents had no such rights - statutorily or constitutionally - in California.

The ruling released this morning by the 2nd Appellate District in Los Angeles said the dispute came out of juvenile court proceedings in which court-appointed lawyers for two children demanded "an order that they be sent to private or public school, rather than educated at home by their mother."

The dependency court did not agree, "primarily based on its view that parents have an absolute constitutional right to homeschool their children," the appeals court said. The lawyers then advanced their case to the appeals level, which earlier granted the order. "We filed our original opinion on Feb. 28, 2008, granting the petition on the bases that: (1) California statutory law does not permit homeschooling; and (2) this prohibition does not violate the U.S. Constitution," the opinion said.

But the judges granted a request for rehearing "in order to provide an opportunity for further argument on the multiple complex issues involved in this case, including, but not limited to: (1) additional California statutes that might bear upon the issue; and (2) potentially applicable provisions of the California Constitution."

"This is a great victory for homeschool freedom," said Micheal Farris, who is chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association and was one of the attorneys who had argued the case. "I have never seen such an impressive array of people and organizations coming to the defense of homeschooling." "Tens of thousands of California parents teaching over 166,000 homeschooled children are now breathing easier," he said. The opinion said the judges were not deciding whether homeschool should be allowed. "That job is for the Legislature," they said.

"Homeschooling was initially expressly permitted in California, when the compulsory education law was enacted in 1903," the court said. "In 1929, however, homeschool was amended out of the law, and children who were not educated in public or private schools could be taught privately only by a credentialed tutor."

However, since then, "subsequent developments in the law call this conclusion into question. Although the Legislature did not amend the statutory scheme so as to expressly permit homeschooling, more recent enactments demonstrate an apparent acceptance by the Legislature of the proposition that homeschooling is taking place in California, with homeschools allowed as private schools," the court ruling said. "Recent statutes indicate that the Legislature is aware that some parents in California homeschool their children by declaring their homes to be private schools. Moreover, several statutory enactments indicate a legislative approval of homeschooling, by exempting homeschools from requirements otherwise applicable to private schools."

The court said, "it is our view that the proper course of action is to interpret the earlier statutes in light of the later ones, and to recognize, as controlling, the Legislature's apparent acceptance of the proposition that homeschools are permissible in California when conducted as a private school." The opinion was authored by H. Walter Croskey, who had written the earlier opinion as well. He was joined by Joan Klein and Patti Kitching....

The court found multiple specific provisions in state law, including one that exempts "a parent or guardian working exclusively with his or her children" from fingerprinting requirements, that support the legitimacy of homeschooling. "We therefore conclude that home schools may constitute private schools," the opinion said.

In the specific case that prompted the questions, however, the court said state law permits a dependency court "to issue any reasonable orders for the care of a dependent child, including orders limiting the right of the parents to make educational decisions for the child." "Because the United States Supreme Court has held that parents possess a constitutional right to direct the education of their children, it is argued that any restriction on homeschooling is a violation of this constitutional right. We disagree. We conclude that an order requiring a dependent child to attend school outside the home in order to protect that child's safety is not an unconstitutional violation of the parents' right to direct the education of their children," the judges wrote. "Parents possess a constitutional liberty interest in directing the education of their children, but the right must yield to state interests in certain circumstances," the court said.

"In this case, the restriction on homeschooling would arise in a proceeding in which the children have already been found dependent due to abuse and neglect of a sibling," the court said. "Should a dependency court conclude, in the proper exercise of its discretion, that due to the history of abuse and neglect in the family, requiring a dependent child to have regular contact with mandated reporters is necessary to guarantee the child's safety, that order would satisfy strict scrutiny. There can be no dispute that the child's safety is a compelling governmental interest. Restricting homeschooling also appears to be narrowly tailored to achieving that goal. Without contact with mandated reporters, it may well be that the child's safety cannot be guaranteed without removing the child from the parents' custody. As such, the restriction on homeschooling would be the least restrictive means of achieving the goal of protecting the children; they would be permitted to continue to live at home with their parents, but their educators would change in order to provide them an extra layer of protection."

The judges' earlier opinion had ruled in the case the family failed to demonstrate "that mother has a teaching credential such that the children can be said to be receiving an education from a credentialed tutor," and that their involvement and supervision by Sunland Christian School's independent study programs was of no value. Nor did the family's religious beliefs matter to the court. Their "sincerely held religious beliefs" are "not the quality of evidence that permits us to say that application of California's compulsory public school education law to them violates their First Amendment rights." "Such sparse representations are too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to homeschool his or her child," the court concluded.

The parents of the children talked with WND as the case developed about the situation over the education being provided to two of their eight children. The father said the family objects to public school because of the pro-homosexual, pro-bisexual, pro-transgender agenda of California's public schools, on which WND previously has reported. Just yesterday, California lawmakers decided to mandate a day of celebration and honor for Harvey Milk, the late San Francisco supervisor who was an activist for homosexuality. "We just don't want them teaching our children," he told WND. "They teach things that are totally contrary to what we believe. They put questions in our children's minds we don't feel they're ready for. "When they are much more mature, they can deal with these issues, alternative lifestyles, and such, or whether they came from primordial slop. At the present time it's my job to teach them the correct way of thinking," he said.

That was the court opinion, however, that was vacated by the appeals court prior to the newest ruling. And while today's decision was pending, a judge ended the juvenile court case that had established jurisdiction over the two children, opening the door for the demand for public school enrollment. The Home School Legal Defense Association said, "the juvenile court judge terminated jurisdiction over the two young L. children in a hearing held on July 10, 2008."

An estimated 166,000 children are being homeschooled in California, and their parents and advocates had expressed concern that the court's original ruling would leave parents who educate their children at home open to criminal truancy charges and civil charges for child neglect. A number of groups already have assembled in California under the Rescue Your Child slogan to encourage parents to withdraw their children from the state's public school system. The Discover Christian Schools website reports getting thousands of hits daily from parents and others seeking information about alternatives to California's public schools. WND reported leaders of the campaign called California Exodus say they hope to encourage parents of 600,000 children to withdraw them from the public districts.


British universities discriminating against private school students

Under big pressure from the government -- in the name of "equality"

Top universities are at the centre of a new social engineering row over plans to reject the new A* grade at A-level, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. An investigation by this newspaper has uncovered plans by several leading universities to ignore the new award because it will mean offering more places to independent school pupils.

The A* grade was introduced by ministers because universities were finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between top candidates in an era when 25 per cent of sixth formers gain an A grade at A-level. That proportion is expected to rise when exam results are released next week. Internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that admission committees at a number of Britain's universities are reluctant to sanction the new A* because they fear that state school pupils will not achieve the grade in sufficient numbers. Oxford University said it is "highly unlikely" that it will utilise the A* in offers until "there is a sense of the probable grade distribution".

Exeter and Bath Universities cite concerns that if the top grade is used in offers, it is likely to "disadvantage state schools" and "have a detrimental effect on widening participation efforts". Bristol has also expressed reservations about the A* because "some schools will be able to provide intensive preparation for their pupils and others will not" which could "exacerbate existing inequalities in education provision".

Critics last night accused the universities of trying to "fix" their admissions. "It is quite disgraceful if universities are saying 'we are not going to use this measure because we are afraid of what it is going to show'," said Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University. "It is a terrible situation to get in to that higher education is avoiding the best qualified candidates because of where they were educated in a bid to comply with state school benchmarks set by its paymasters. "We will have good institutions, that should be recruiting the brightest talent, trying to fix admissions by ignoring a new grade."

Independent schools accused universities of being "lilly-livered" in their approach to the A*. "If there are reservations, they should be about potential differences between subjects and exam boards in the awarding of A*, not how different schools will perform," said Geoff Lucas, the secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. "This is woolly, lilly-livered thinking and not very honest. It shows the extent to which universities are cowered by Government pressure to widen participation. They should be giving credit to pupils who are best equipped to do well in the subject they are applying for."

Pupils starting out on their courses in September will have the chance of gaining the grade when they complete their exams in 2010. It was assumed that universities would use the grade when making offers in that year. However, internal documents reveal many institutions have yet to decide and could delay using it in case it increases the dominance of independent school pupils. Admission tutors' concerns are based on research which suggests that private school pupils will do better in A* than comprehensive pupils. Almost a quarter of those at fee-paying schools are expected to gain at least one A*, compared to just nine per cent at comprehensives, according to an analysis by exam board AQA.

Bath University admissions committee, which will consult with tutors on the issue in the autumn, fears that independent schools will gain too many of the top grades. "It was noted that the A* grade was intended to be awarded only to the highest scoring percentage of students, who would largely be in attendance at independent schools," said minutes of a meeting earlier this year. "There are some concerns that selection on the basis of A* might have adverse effects on widening participation."

Extracts from the minutes of Exeter's admissions working group said: "Other institutions are not including the A* in their offers as they feel that this is likely to disadvantage state schools." It added: "The admissions group felt they required a more informed debate on the issue and have asked for an indicator from the 1994 Group of universities (of which it is a member)."

Bristol University said despite reservations, it would accept the A* but take in to account the school context in which candidates have studied. Only one university said it had made the decision to include the A* in some offers. At University College London, departments such as history, English and economics, which currently demand three grade As, will be permitted to ask for a maximum of one A* from 2010.


The irrelevance of sociology

At one large public university, more than 600 undergraduates are currently classified as sociology majors. Students pick among five concentrations, and one - criminal justice - attracts more than half of the majors. Yet of the 30 faculty members, only 3 specialize in criminology. The department is "trying to bring the criminology majors in the fold of sociology" but finding that many of the students interested in criminal justice aren't necessarily interested, said a professor in the department. "They want hard core probation or forensics courses," not sociology, said the professor, who like many in this article asked that her institution not be identified.

The professor spoke on Sunday at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting, at a briefing by a special task force.the association created to study its relationship to criminology and criminal justice. Another professor described a department of seven faculty members where they "view it as a badge of honor to dismiss criminology" and to deal with increasing student interest by hiring adjuncts for the courses.

The tensions described by these professors were seen by task force members as typical of many campuses, where interest in criminal justice is taking off. At an increasing number of colleges, criminal justice has broken off from sociology into separate departments. But at many campuses where that has not happened, departments are facing what Steven E. Barkan, a professor at the University of Maine, called "structural tensions" of the sort he noted that sociologists realize have the potential to be unhealthy.

Many departments have reported to the task force, of which Barkan is a member, that two-thirds of their enrollments are now in criminal justice while one-third of faculty slots are there. Elite universities appear to be less affected by the trend, but elsewhere it is increasingly visible. Between 2001 and 2006, criminal justice overtook sociology in the number of bachelor's degrees completed. Sociology increased by 14.5 percent during that period, to 31,406. Criminology increased by 35.7 percent, to 34,209. During the same period of time, sociology master's degrees declined by 15 percent while criminology degrees (of which there aren't as many) increased by 135.5 percent, and criminal justice master's degrees were up 56.5 percent.

For sociology, the debates over what to do about these numbers aren't easy. Many in the discipline believe that such fields as gerontology and communications studies should be more fully integrated with sociology - and partisans of the various approaches debate whether sociology pushed them out on their own or whether professors in those areas wanted to be seen as independent from sociology. In an era of tight budgets, when enrollments are more crucial than ever to liberal arts departments, some sociologists want to be sure criminal justice stays within the discipline, while others fear its presence will dilute standards.

For sociology, there are actually two discussions going on. One is about criminology - which is seen as closer to sociology's roots and has a shared research and theoretical base, but focuses on a subset of issues. The other is about criminal justice, a more practical field in many cases designed to prepare students for careers in law enforcement or the judicial system. Many sociology departments are changing their names to "sociology and criminal justice" or just becoming the major for students interested in criminal justice, even though there isn't as much shared intellectual vision between the fields.

A survey of colleges by the ASA's task force found that 49 percent of institutions offered a sociology major only, 28 percent have separate departments of sociology and criminal justice with each offering a major, 19 percent have criminal justice and sociology majors offered by the sociology department, and the remainder offer only the criminal justice major.

According to results that task force members stressed were "very preliminary," many sociology chairs are reporting that they are being pressured to add criminal justice programs or to expand concentrations into full-fledged majors. The pressure, according to the chairs, comes from admissions offices, who report that criminal justice majors are hot, and will attract more applicants. Adding to the tension, the survey found, many chairs believe that their professors, especially older ones, hold their criminal justice colleagues in "low esteem."

If so, departments may be in for a rude awakening, according to data collected by the sociology task force. In the five years studied, the number of sociology Ph.D.'s increased by 3.1 percent, to 558. Doctorates in criminology and criminal justice, while still fewer in number, are increasing at much faster rates. The number of criminology doctorates awarded was up 19.0 percent, to 25, while criminal justice doctorates were up 88.1 percent, to 79. The increase is significant because many criminal justice programs have historically been led by sociologists, but with a critical mass of criminal justice Ph.D.'s being produced, that may change.

Some sociologists at the meeting Sunday talked about concerns over a "cop shop" mentality in criminal justice programs. In some programs, sociologists said, retired police officers are hired to "tell war stories," and the result is a loss of focus on the kinds of issues sociologists care about: the impact of poverty, race, gender and inequity on society. One sociologist said that he has been urged by his local police force to insist on the discipline's relevance in criminal justice programs. He quoted one police officer as saying: "We don't want you to teach them to shoot. We'll teach them to shoot."

But stressing traditional sociology knowledge may be easier said than done. Dennis W. MacDonald, chair of sociology at Saint Anselm College and chair of the task force, said that "even our sociology majors don't like theory." Several said that the attraction of criminal justice is pragmatic - with either students or their parents seeing that a criminal justice degree leads to many jobs. Even as sociology professors boast about how their bachelor's students can package their degrees for a variety of careers, they acknowledge that there is a huge demand for criminal justice graduates - no packaging needed.

That pragmatism upsets some sociologists, who view their field proudly within the liberal arts and sciences - not as job training. "We've gone from a culture that values higher education for the civilizing influence it has produced. And it should civilize and temper the worst impulses of humanity," said one professor. "Now we have a vocationalizing influence. Our students are not coming to be better citizens, but to be employable."

The degree of frustration at individual colleges seems to vary widely. Several described respectful and even friendly relationships between sociology and criminal justice professors, but at the other extreme, one person described one mixed department as "a war zone." Even some of those who described cordial relations, however, said that tended to change if departmental reorganizations were proposed. Beyond issues of philosophy, professors noted practical reasons some may want separate departments. One criminologist who is in a sociology department, but whose university has a separate criminal justice department, said that the criminologists in sociology have realized that their criminal justice colleagues in their own department are being paid more, and that's led them to discuss whether they want to move there.

The sociology task force appeared torn on just how much to push sociology's values. Barkan said that one proposal the committee is considering would be to set up a minimum list of sociology course topics - theory, research methods, statistics, inequalities - that should be part of any criminal justice degree. One member of the audience said that would be a great idea because it would allow sociologists to point to a national standard to be sure criminal justice programs have enough intellectual heft. But another audience member said such a list of requirements might have the opposite of the intended effect. It could easily prompt more criminal justice programs to sever ties to sociology and just do their own thing, he said.

An audience member who teaches criminology in a sociology program asked the task force to specifically address part of its report to non-criminology sociologists, and to stress that "criminal justice does belong." MacDonald said he thought it was important that criminal justice and criminology stay connected to sociology and that "it would be suicide" for the discipline to be seen as kicking the field out.

W. Wesley Johnson, president of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and director of the doctoral program in criminal justice at the University of Southern Mississippi, was not at the sociology meeting, but in a phone interview, he said he was not surprised by the discussion. Johnson said that when he started studying criminal justice, all programs were led by sociologists, and that's no longer the case. Currently, he said, there are three faculty jobs available for every new Ph.D. in criminal justice.

Johnson said that he believes that sociology professors and criminal justice professors have more in common than they sometimes realize. The roots of criminal justice and criminology are all in sociology research, he said. "We are both grounded in communities and environments."

Another way that sociology and criminal justice are similar, he said, is that neither approach has a monopoly on academic excellence. "This is a new degree and it is evolving, and some programs are more rigorous than others" he said, "but that's true of sociology as well."

Johnson declined to endorse either joint sociology-criminal justice departments or separate programs. But he said that as long as enrollments boom in criminal justice, there will be more pressure to hire professors in the field and to be sure that the discipline's interests are addressed. "Administrators are going to allocate resources to units that are producing the most credit hours," he said. "Whoever hold the checkbook gets to call the shots."


Sunday, August 10, 2008

California Court OKs Homeschooling

(Los Angeles, California) The teachers unions are not pleased about this ruling.
A state appeals court lifted the cloud it had cast on the homeschooling of 166,000 California children and ruled Friday that parents have a right to educate their children at home even if they lack a teaching credential.

After an outpouring of protest from homeschooling advocates and politicians, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles reversed its Feb. 28 ruling that could have reclassified most homeschooled children as truants.

In its earlier ruling, the court said California's compulsory education law requires parents to send their children ages 6 to 18 to a full-time public or private school or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home. After agreeing to reconsider the case in March, the same three-judge panel ruled Friday that parents - with or without teaching credentials - can comply with the law by declaring their home to be a private school.

Schwarzenegger, who had pledged to get the law changed if the earlier ruling prevailed, issued a statement saying the new decision "confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children."
In protest, a lawyer for the California Teachers Association said, "Parents do not have an unfettered right to dictate the terms of their children's education." Presumably, the fight is not over. The teachers unions won't give up until every child receives indoctrination approved by the public school systems.
Britain: Correct spelling under attack

Just because students can't spell `their' and `truly' doesn't mean we should accept variations that break all our useful rules

So English spelling is in the dock once again. This time it's students who write "thier", "ignor" and "arguement" (and obviously don't know how to use a spell checker). The solution? According to Ken Smith, an academic at Bucks New University, we should now tolerate variant spellings. Students are now incapable of learning the spellings of "their" and "truly" that countless millions have mastered over the centuries. So let's change our attitudes to spelling to help this deserving minority.

Two important things are left out of this argument. One is that English spelling does have a system. The silent "e" in "tone" shows that the preceding "o" is long; the lack of "e" in "ton" show the "o" is short.

And so on with all the other vowels: "Dane/Dan", "pin/pine" etc. (The exception is TV commercials for Danone that pronounce the name to rhyme with "salmon" in breach of the silent "e" rule.) If we allowed odd variants like "ignor/ignore", this would obscure the silent "e" system in English. Better to teach people the real rules of English spelling, not folk myths about "i" before "e", which at best affects 11 common words.

The real advantage of a sound-based system like English is indeed that anything can be read aloud - as newsreaders demonstrate with foreign names, such as Solzhenitsyn and Pervez Musharraf in the past couple of days. As the system has been around for centuries, it has stuck with various anomalies, like the 11 ways of saying "a" - "age", "bad", "bath", "about", "beat", "many", "aisle", "coat", "ball", "beauty" and "cauliflower". The only languages that don't have such problems are those with "shallow" spelling systems that were standardised comparatively recently, such as Finnish.

English is called a "deep" spelling system because of rules like silent "e" and because it treats words as wholes. When we're reading silently, we don't read words like "the" and "of" letter by letter; we recognise them as wholes, just as we recognise a Nike swoosh or McDonald's golden arches. We go straight from the whole word to its meaning without passing through the sounds. We recognise the two hundred or so most frequent words of English as shapes - and we couldn't read silently at speed if we didn't. But reading whole words also applies to the famous oddities like "lieutenant" and "yacht": we store them as one-offs and don't work out their pronunciation letter by letter.

If we made the spelling of "they're", "there" and "their" interchangeable, we would be ignoring all the aspects of English writing other than sounds. The three forms fit into sentences in very different ways; the difference in spelling helps us to see the structure of the sentence. Spelling makes distinctions that are impossible in speech, such as "whole" versus "hole" or "beech" versus "beach". Reducing writing to a pale shadow of speech is impoverishing the English language.

There's nothing very unusual about using whole words: it's how Chinese works. Speakers of the different Chinese dialects can understand each other in writing even if they have different words for the same character. An educated Chinese speaker knows about 5,000 characters; a dictionary has 40,000. Surely we can manage a few hundred unique words in English? Memorising the spelling of the hundred most common words of English would mean that you spelt at least 45 per cent of the words correctly in any piece of typical writing, quite a useful start.

The panel (above right) shows some of the words that English-speakers are most likely to get wrong, the variants that people produce and the percentage of web pages that get them wrong. Would accepting all these variants make life easier?

One type of variation is between styles of spelling. Look up "judgment" or "minuscule" and the preferred spelling varies between North American and British dictionaries and from publisher to publisher. It's a matter of identity; use "color" and you're American, use "colour" and you're British.

The most common type concerns the consonant doubling rules of English - "embarrass", "accommodate", "desiccate". "Supersede" and "definitely" are probably examples of one-offs where you have to remember the word as a unique whole.

Before adopting greater tolerance to spelling, we need to take many factors into consideration, not just how letters go with sounds. And we need to take far more people into consideration than UK students.

The majority of people using English in the world are not native speakers and live outside English-speaking countries. Any change will have to take their needs into account, in particular the need for a consistent spelling system with constant word forms rather than something based on native speakers' pronunciation and characteristic spelling mistakes.


Florida school-voucher plan allowed on the ballot

It's a disgrace that people have to fight to give voters a say. But the antidemocratic education groups are fighting tooth and nail to prevent that

A Leon County circuit judge ruled Monday that two constitutional reforms designed to expand taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools can go before voters statewide in November. Opponents promised to appeal. Judge John C. Cooper rejected arguments by attorneys for the Florida Education Association, school superintendents and other education groups that the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission had overstepped its authority by putting Amendments 7 and 9 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The two amendments were crafted to eliminate constitutional language cited by the 1st District Court of Appeal in 2004 and Florida Supreme Court in 2006 in decisions that scrapped former Gov. Jeb Bush's statewide voucher program called "Opportunity Scholarships."

Cooper, however, did not consider the legal merit of vouchers, which was not at issue in the Monday morning hearing. Instead, he ruled that the tax and budget commission -- empaneled every 20 years to review the state's finances -- has the authority to put the measures before voters. The state constitution's language empowering the panel to propose "state budgetary process" reforms allowed it "to propose revisions to any portion of the constitution touching upon the state budgetary process generally," Cooper wrote in a 14-page decision.

Amendment 7 would scrap state constitutional language prohibiting state aid to religious or "sectarian" institutions. Amendment 9 combines two issues -- spelling out that school districts must spend 65 percent of their budgets on classroom education, and also mandating that the state isn't "exclusively" required to fund education through a free public-school system.

If the two amendments are approved by voters, the Legislature could reinstate and even broaden Bush's voucher program to subsidize enrollment at religiously affiliated and other private schools.

More here

Surprise! Free college boosts enrolment

Tulsa County, Okla., is attracting the attention of educators across the country with a new scholarship program that has dramatically boosted college attendance by guaranteeing free tuition to all high school graduates. Tulsa Achieves is among a growing number of programs nationwide that seek to boost economic growth by expanding the skilled labor force though improved access to higher education.

The Tulsa program has proved a boon for Cassidy Mays, 19, who had planned to take a year off after graduating from Union High School in Tulsa to earn money for college. "I didn't really have money just to fork out, so it would have been a good time to take a break," said Mr. Mays, who is pursuing a pre-med associate degree. "There's no telling if I would have ever gone back." He is not alone. Tulsa Community College has doubled its enrollment of county applicants in the past two years, from 972 in 2006 to more than 1,800 this year, said Lauren F. Brookey, the college's vice president of external affairs.

Miss Brookey said the Tulsa Achieves scholarships will provide up to 100 percent of any county high school graduate's tuition at the college. The program requires applicants to complete up to 63 credits in three years. Tuition costs $2,100 for full-time enrollment, which is 30 credits a year.

No new taxes were levied to pay for the program, said William Stuart Price, owner of a Tulsa energy company and vice chairman of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Instead, the college reallocated 1 percent of its general operating budget to fund the program last year, and this year will spend just less than 2 percent of the operating budget, Miss Brookey said, adding that private donations offset the reallocated funds.

The budget comprises revenue from state and county taxes, and programs like the federal Pell Grants and the state Oklahoma's Promise, which gives free tuition to children from families earning less than $50,000 annually. "Our goal was to get more people into the college pipeline so that they would go on to get higher degrees and increase the number of college graduates in the area," Miss Brookey said. "All social indicators are tied to your level of education."