Saturday, August 23, 2008

Protect Our Kids from Preschool

Barack Obama says he believes in universal preschool and if he's elected president he'll pump "billions of dollars into early childhood education." Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. Democratic governors across the country -- including in Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia -- have made a major push to fund universal preschool in their states. But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence.

"Advocates and supporters of universal preschool often use existing research for purely political purposes," says James Heckman, a University of Chicago Noble laureate in economics whose work Mr. Obama and preschool activists routinely cite. "But the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations."

Mr. Obama asserted in the Las Vegas debate on Jan. 15 that every dollar spent on preschool will produce a 10-fold return by improving academic performance, which will supposedly lower juvenile delinquency and welfare use -- and raise wages and tax contributions. Such claims are wildly exaggerated at best.

In the last half-century, U.S. preschool attendance has gone up to nearly 70% from 16%. But fourth-grade reading, science, and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) -- the nation's report card -- have remained virtually stagnant since the early 1970s.

Preschool activists at the Pew Charitable Trust and Pre-K Now -- two major organizations pushing universal preschool -- refuse to take this evidence seriously. The private preschool market, they insist, is just glorified day care. Not so with quality, government-funded preschools with credentialed teachers and standardized curriculum. But the results from Oklahoma and Georgia -- both of which implemented universal preschool a decade or more ago -- paint an equally dismal picture.

A 2006 analysis by Education Week found that Oklahoma and Georgia were among the 10 states that had made the least progress on NAEP. Oklahoma, in fact, lost ground after it embraced universal preschool: In 1992 its fourth and eighth graders tested one point above the national average in math. Now they are several points below. Ditto for reading. Georgia's universal preschool program has made virtually no difference to its fourth-grade reading scores. And a study of Tennessee's preschool program released just this week by the nonpartisan Strategic Research Group found no statistical difference in the performance of preschool versus nonpreschool kids on any subject after the first grade.

What about Head Start, the 40-year-old, federal preschool program for low-income kids? Studies by the Department of Health and Human Services have repeatedly found that although Head Start kids post initial gains on IQ and other cognitive measures, in later years they become indistinguishable from non-Head Start kids.

Why don't preschool gains stick? Possibly because the K-12 system is too dysfunctional to maintain them. More likely, because early education in general is not so crucial to the long-term intellectual growth of children. Finland offers strong evidence for this view. Its kids consistently outperform their global peers in reading, math and science on international assessments even though they don't begin formal education until they are 7. Subsidized preschool is available for parents who opt for it, but only when their kids turn 6.

If anything, preschool may do lasting damage to many children. A 2005 analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, found that kindergartners with 15 or more hours of preschool every week were less motivated and more aggressive in class. Likewise, Canada's C.D. Howe Institute found a higher incidence of anxiety, hyperactivity and poor social skills among kids in Quebec after universal preschool.

The only preschool programs that seem to do more good than harm are very intense interventions targeted toward severely disadvantaged kids. A 1960s program in Ypsilanti, Mich., a 1970s program in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a 1980s program in Chicago, Ill., all report a net positive effect on adult crime, earnings, wealth and welfare dependence for participants. But the kids in the Michigan program had low IQs and all came from very poor families, often with parents who were drug addicts and neglectful.

Even so, the economic gains of these programs are grossly exaggerated. For instance, Prof. Heckman calculated that the Michigan program produced a 16-cent return on every dollar spent -- not even remotely close to the $10 return that Mr. Obama and his fellow advocates bandy about.

Our understanding of the effects of preschool is still very much in its infancy. But one inescapable conclusion from the existing research is that it is not for everyone. Kids with loving and attentive parents -- the vast majority -- might well be better off spending more time at home than away in their formative years. The last thing that public policy should do is spend vast new sums of taxpayer dollars to incentivize a premature separation between toddlers and parents.

Yet that is precisely what Mr. Obama would do. His "Zero-to-Five" plan would increase federal outlays for early education by $10 billion -- about 50% of total government spending on preschool -- and hand block grants to states to implement universal preschool. This will make the government the dominant source of funding in the early education marketplace, vastly outpacing private spending.

If Mr. Obama is serious about helping children, he should begin by fixing what is clearly broken: the K-12 system. The best way of doing that is by building on programs with a proven record of success. Many of these involve giving parents control over their own education dollars so that they have options other than dysfunctional public schools. The Obamas send their daughters to a private school whose annual fee in middle school runs around $20,000. Other parents deserve such choices too -- not promises of subsidized preschool that they may not want and that may be bad for their kids.


Study finds minorities more likely to be paddled in school

Since they misbehave more, it would be racism if they were NOT paddled more

Paddlings, swats, licks. A quarter of a million schoolchildren got them last year - and blacks, American Indians and kids with disabilities got a disproportionate share of the punishment, according to a study by a human rights group. Even little kids can be paddled. Heather Porter, who lives in Crockett, Texas, was startled to hear her little boy, then 3, say he'd been spanked at school. Porter was never told, despite a policy at the public preschool that parents be notified. "We were pretty ticked off, to say the least. The reason he got paddled was because he was untying his shoes and playing with the air conditioner thermostat," Porter said. "He was being a 3-year-old."

For the study, which was being released Wednesday, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union used Education Department data to show that, while paddling has been declining, racial disparity persists. Researchers also interviewed students, parents and school personnel in Texas and Mississippi, states that account for 40 percent of the 223,190 kids who were paddled at least once in the 2006-2007 school year.

Porter could have filled out a form telling the school not to paddle her son, if only she had realized he might be paddled. Yet many parents find that such forms are ignored, the study said.

Widespread paddling can make it unlikely that forms will be checked. A teacher interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Tiffany Bartlett, said that when she taught in the Mississippi Delta, the policy was to lock the classroom doors when the bell rang, leaving stragglers to be paddled by an administrator patrolling the hallways. Bartlett now is a school teacher in Austin, Texas. And even if schools make a mistake, they are unlikely to face lawsuits. In places where corporal punishment is allowed, teachers and principals generally have legal immunity from assault laws, the study said.

"One of the things we've seen over and over again is that parents have difficulty getting redress, if a child is paddled and severely injured, or paddled in violation of parents' wishes," said Alice Farmer, the study's author. A majority of states have outlawed it, but corporal punishment remains widespread across the South. Behind Texas and Mississippi were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri.

African American students are more than twice as likely to be paddled. The disparity persists even in places with large black populations, the study found. Similarly, Native Americans were more than twice as likely to be paddled, the study found. The study also found:

_In states where paddling is most common, black girls were paddled more than twice as often as white girls.

_Boys are three times as likely to be paddled as girls.

_Special education kids were more likely to be paddled.

More than 100 countries worldwide have banned paddling in schools, including all of Europe, Farmer said. "International human rights law puts a pretty strong prohibition on corporal punishment," she said.

In rural Drew, Miss., Nickolaus Luckett still remembers the paddlings he got in fifth and seventh grades. One happened when he called a teacher by her first name, the other when a classmate said, wrongly, that he threw a spitball. "I didn't get any bruises, but they still hurt, and from that point on, I told myself and my parents I wasn't going to take any more paddlings," said Luckett, who is about to be a sophomore at the University of Mississippi.

It's not an easy choice. In many schools, kids can avoid a paddling if they accept suspension or detention, or for younger kids, if they skip recess. But often, a child opts for the short-term sting of the paddle. And sometimes teachers don't have the option of after-school detention, because there are no buses to take kids home later.

During the three years Evan Couzo taught in the Mississippi Delta, he refused to paddle kids, offering detention instead. But others - teachers, parents, even kids - were accustomed to paddling. "Just about everyone at the beginning of the year said, `If he or she gives you any trouble, you can paddle them. You can send them home, and I'll paddle them. Or you can have me come out to the school, and we can both paddle them.' "It's really just a part of the culture of the school environment there," Couzo said.

There is scant research on whether paddling is effective in the classroom. But many studies have shown it doesn't work at home, said Elizabeth Gershoff, a University of Michigan assistant professor of social work. "The use of corporal punishment is associated almost overwhelmingly with negative effects, and that it increases children's problem behavior over time," Gershoff said. Children may learn to solve problems using aggression, and a sense of resentment might make them act out more, Gershoff said.

The practice is banned in 29 states, most recently in Delaware and Pennsylvania. While some education groups haven't taken a position on the issue, the national PTA believes paddling should be banned everywhere. "We teach our children that violence is wrong, yet corporal punishment teaches children that violence is a way to solve problems," said Jan Harp Domene, the group's president. "It perpetuates a cycle of child abuse. It teaches children to hit someone smaller and weaker when angry."


Friday, August 22, 2008

Hispanic-dominated L.A. school grapples with worst dropout rate and gang problems

Amid the verdant lawn and leafy trees of the tidy Jefferson Senior High School campus, a police officer patrols the grounds and a sign warns that guns are illegal. Students in this inner-city school say gang members frequently disrupt class, and teachers spend much of their time dealing with troublemakers.

The biggest problem here, however, may be what you don't see - all the dropouts. With a 58 percent dropout rate, Jefferson has the worst dropout record in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest. "It's horrendous," said Debra Duardo, director of the dropout prevention and recovery program at the district, which averages 33.6 percent dropouts. While half the students typically quit inner-city schools nationwide, Jefferson is at the lower end of the spectrum of so-called "dropout factories" because of a concentration of factors that are rarely all present at schools in other cities.

Located in South Los Angeles, where new immigrants mostly from Mexico and Central America settle, the area has a large minority population and high poverty. Of its 1,977 students last school year, 45 percent qualified as English learners. More than 90 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. The newcomer population means families shift quickly, following jobs or fleeing immigration raids. The school has a 57 percent transience rate, compared to a 38 percent average across district high schools. "There's a lack of well-paying jobs in the area," said social studies teacher Nicolle Sefferman. "When folks have a chance to move on, they move on."

A vast number of students are raised by single parents who struggle to support their families, financially and emotionally. Principal Juan Flecha noted that many students do not live with their parents, who work in other cities or even in other countries.

A shift in demographics has spurred racial divisions that peaked three years ago when blacks and Latinos clashed in several bloody melees. A quarter-century ago, Latino students totaled 31 percent of the student body; now they account for almost 90 percent. Blacks comprise about 10 percent and a sliver are Asian or white.

While ninth-graders spend a week learning conflict resolution and peer mediation, violence, particularly gang-related, frames students' lives. Gang rivalries are minimal in school because one group - the 38th Street gang - dominates school turf, but the undercurrent is ever-present. Flecha recently had to deal with a freshman who got shot in the leg on his way home from school.

Students say the gang problems divert teachers from teaching. "Teachers pay more attention to people messing around than people who want to learn," said Jeanette Garcia, 14. Such factors mean that academic failure starts long before high school. Kids arrive in the ninth grade woefully unprepared and manage to cling on until they're old enough to get a job.

"There's a psychological effect of failure," says Russell Rumberger, director of University of California at Santa Barbara's California Dropout Research Project. "Kids who experience failure start to give up."

For Sefferman, the biggest challenge is re-engaging those students. She believes Jefferson is on the right track with a new model that lets students choose a focus among creative arts, global leadership, business, and teacher preparation. There's also the academically rigorous New Tech Academy, where students wear business attire one day a week, and do assignments by computer.

Some students professed a sense of hopelessness at the lack of opportunity. "The only way to make money is selling dope on the corner," said Kahyla Love, 15.

Last year, the district launched a $200,000 marketing campaign to convince kids school is worthwhile. Promos on hip-hop radio, cell phone text messages, a MySpace Web site and You Tube videos hammered home that graduates earn an average of $175 more weekly than dropouts followed by the message: "Get your diploma." Administrators are evaluating if the ads were successful, but the campaign sparked interest across the country, inspiring a similar program in New York City public schools.

One of the most effective ways of keeping kids in school is simple - home visits, which the district has been doing for years. The visits are now conducted by "diploma project advisers," guidance counselors who work with dropout-risk students. "It gives a really powerful message that if you're not in school, we're going to your home," Duardo said. "Most of the time, we find dropouts not working and not happy with life."

There are signs of turnaround. This year Jefferson qualified for $1.9 million in state funds for disadvantaged schools and plans to hire 10 teachers to reduce class sizes, a psychiatric social worker, and more security. The campus is getting a new athletic field and cafeteria. Academically, there are glimmers of improvement. Three years ago, 50 percent of 12th-graders passed the graduation exam, LAUSD's lowest rate. Last year, 73 percent passed.

It's a far cry from a half-century ago when Jefferson was renowned as an athletic powerhouse and graduated notables such as actress Dorothy Dandridge, jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche. But for Flecha, who grew up in South Los Angeles the son of a housecleaner, it's a start. "Education is truly an equalizer. I want our youngsters to have that opportunity," he said. "But it's one day at a time."


Britain: Parents applying to university on children's behalf

Pushy parents are being allowed to apply to university on their children's behalf, it has been revealed. Students starting higher education next month will be the first to be able to leave the admissions process to mothers and fathers. Some universities are even allowing parents to sit in on vital interviews. Critics said the move risked turning universities into "schools for biologically mature children". It is also feared that it will benefit middle-class teenagers, with some students from poor homes unable to call upon articulate parents.

In the past, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) had to deal directly with students themselves. But officials insisted a rise in the number of calls from parents had prompted a rule change, with applicants now able to nominate parents, guardians or teachers to act as "agents" on their behalf. Ucas said the service - which affects almost all students applying to university - was also intended to benefit those on gap years. Around one in 10 this year are estimated to have nominated parents to make calls on their behalf this year.

Experts said it underlined the influence of so-called "helicopter parents" - mothers and fathers who hover over their children at school, putting too much pressure on them at a young age. Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said over-protective parents were "destroying the distinction between school and higher education". "All universities now have to take the parent factor into account," he told BBC Online. "On university open days you can see more parents attending than children. "There is a powerful sense of infantilism, where parents can't let go."

He told how some parents arrived at university expecting to attend their son or daughter's interview. Some academics even accepted that it would be "a family discussion", and allowed parents to take part.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School, said parents wanted to control the "psychological and financial investment in their children". "These parents are paying more, so they think they can demand more," he said.

A Ucas spokesman said: "This is usually because the parent feels they haven't got all the information they need from their son or daughter and so phone back to double check and clarify points."


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ohio: Cleveland Schools on Academic Watch

(Cleveland, Ohio) Public education continues to endure troubling times in the city of Cleveland.
After a year of celebrating gains in achievement, the Cleveland schools are braced to drop in state rankings to academic watch, the equivalent of a D grade.
On a positive note, and somehow it's considered good news, the graduation rate jumped seven percentage points to 61.9 percent. I'd call it mixed news. Although the rate increased by seven percent, it still is dismally low.

Furthermore, it's reported that the graduation rate is the highest ever for Cleveland public schools. That is hard to believe. Even if one has to go back to the early 20th Century, I have to believe that the public school system in Cleveland had, at some point, a higher graduation rate.
Congress Recognizes Importance of Free Speech, Due Process in Higher Education

President Bush signed the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act into law yesterday. Referred to by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as a bipartisan effort, the new law recognizes the importance of free speech and due process rights for college students across the nation. Congress amended the law to include provisions stating that it was the sense of the Congress that "an institution of higher education should facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas" and that "students should not be intimidated, harassed, discouraged from speaking out, or discriminated against." In defense of due process, Congress added that college "students should be treated equally and fairly" and any sanctions of students should be imposed "objectively and fairly."

While "sense of Congress" resolutions are not legally binding, the author of these provisions, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) explained why the amendment is important:
Colleges and universities across the country play a key role in preparing our students to be the nation's next leaders. As such, it is the duty of these institutions to promote and facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas among students, and not prohibit students from speaking out with ideas that are politically or culturally different. During a time where it seems natural to take political sides, my provision protects free speech in an environment where it is most important that this freedom be preserved-the college classroom.

The bipartisan support for this law demonstrates the American public's strong commitment to its universities operating as a free marketplace of ideas. The fact that Congress felt a need to add this language to the Higher Education Act illustrates that while the public is devoted to these core principles, the academy has too often strayed from them (as FIRE is well aware), and needed to be reminded of their importance.

Congress' strong words add to those of the federal judiciary in urging universities to live up to their unique and important role in society. Hopefully, universities will listen, and re-commit themselves to fostering open campuses where ideas can be exchanged freely without threat or sanction.


Merit pay for teachers catches on.

IN A PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN dominated by foreign affairs and the economy, both candidates have made a point of endorsing one controversial education proposal: teacher merit pay. Barack Obama even braved the boos of a core Democratic constituency, the National Education Association (NEA), with his exhortation "to reward those who teach in underserved areas, learn new skills that serve their students better, [and] consistently excel in the classroom."

Merit pay is an idea that just won't die. On the school reform agenda for over 30 years, it has been defeated outright or negotiated past recognition in most school districts where it's been tried--yet, in 2008, the candidates for president apparently believe it has voter appeal. More important, it is still being pushed at the local level, where control of schools actually resides--notably in the president's backyard, Washington, D.C.

Washington's dynamic new schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is currently leading the District's public schools in contract negotiations with the Washington Teachers' Union. Rhee was given unprecedented autonomy as Mayor Adrian Fenty's appointee after Fenty assumed control of the school district in 2007. She's young, and her only previous experience inside a school system was a three-year stint as a Teach for America elementary instructor in Baltimore. However, she has been engaged since then with the New Teacher Project, a "social capitalist" organization that works with school districts to streamline their hiring procedures in order to attract and retain high-quality teachers.

As D.C. schools chancellor, Rhee has proposed offering teachers dramatically higher salaries and plentiful bonuses, rocketing their pay to six figures, if they sacrifice tenure and seniority. While negotiations are underway, details are meant to be confidential; however, leaks have been abundant. According to the Washington Post, under a two-tiered system current teachers could choose to remain on the traditional union salary schedule (the "red" tier) or switch to the higher-salaried scale and defend their jobs yearly in an individual evaluation and assessment of their effectiveness in raising student test scores (the "green" tier). All new teachers would be admitted on the green tier.

It isn't the first time merit pay has been suggested in Washington. The District has seen six superintendents of schools in the last decade, and more than one has advocated merit pay, with indifferent results. A behemoth central bureaucracy and vicious local politics hobbled superintendents' power to effect sweeping reforms. The District has long been infamous for combining one of the country's highest per-pupil spending rates with some of its lowest student performance. In 1998 General Julius Becton, a veteran of three wars and wounded in Korea, resigned after less than two years as D.C. schools superintendent, calling it "the toughest job" he'd ever had.

Actual corruption was part of the problem, in both the union and the city government. In 2003, the president of the Washington Teachers' Union, Barbara Bullock, pleaded guilty to stealing $5 million from the organization she had been elected to lead. She had been respected in some quarters for holding a hard line for teachers' rights--the kind of hard line that dragged out their contract negotiations for half a decade while teachers went without a raise.

In the wake of that scandal, the American Federation of Teachers assumed control of the Washington union, but in 2005 it handed the reins back to a local president, George Parker. The preamble to the union's 2006 contract, which Parker helped to negotiate, called for a more trusting and collaborative relationship between the union and the D.C. public schools administration. Both the contract and the union's website proclaim the organization "The New Washington Teachers' Union." Parker recently organized a series of informational meetings for teachers while negotiations are still in progress, allowing union members a 10-minute question and answer session with Rhee herself.

"Merit pay" has long been associated, by opponents, with fears of favoritism and inequality. Sometimes called "performance pay" or "incentive pay," it has usually been so watered-down by the end of negotiations that the eventual bonuses or raises are inconsequentially small. Some plans dole out only a trivially higher reward for "exceeding expectations" than the bonus a teacher is entitled to for simply "meeting" them. In many districts, firing incompetent teachers is so difficult, time-consuming, and expensive that principals choose to transfer them to different schools instead. The only merit-based pay reform teachers' unions have consistently supported is "skills and knowledge" pay--raises based on graduate degrees or National Board Certification, measures not conclusively proven to enhance their students' performance.

The American Federation of Teachers is the smaller of the two major national teachers' unions, but more open to reform. The NEA strenuously opposes nearly any kind of merit pay; they're the crowd that booed Obama. The union has overwhelmingly supported a Democrat in every presidential election since it began issuing endorsements; however, it endorsed Obama by the weakest vote since 1980: slightly less than 80 percent. In 1996, Bill Clinton won the NEA endorsement with 91 percent.

The Washington union's current contract negotiations have been underway since December 2007, before the presidential candidates' recent spate of education rhetoric, and they could last much longer. Denver took six years to hash out a similar plan, enacted in 2004, which offered teachers raises and bonuses ranging from several hundred dollars up to about $3,000 for meeting various performance and professional qualification criteria. Denver's contract is due to be renegotiated this year, and tensions are high: "a recent [union] newsletter called on teachers to prepare for a strike if negotiations fall through," Education Week reported.

Denver's plan is new enough that even as negotiations are scheduled to reopen it's difficult to judge its success and make plans for improvement. Mike Antonucci, an education expert based in California, believes that school districts suffer from a lack of information concerning other merit pay programs across the country and their results. If Barack Obama and John McCain really do favor merit pay, they could draw attention to these unfolding stories, especially the ambitious proposal in the nation's capital.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Academics Against Israel and the Jews

One of the greatest myths in Middle East studies departments across North America is that if one has an Israeli faculty member, one has a balanced department. In fact, many Israeli academics have built their reputation on scholarship that is critical of Israel and Israel's existence. And these academics are also given center stage by the Association for Jewish Studies, Middle East scholars, and Middle East studies centers, which frequently host them and provide visiting appointments. This gives Israeli scholars the visibility they seek while allowing their hosts to claim balance in presenting an "Israeli viewpoint."

In his book Fabricating Israeli History, Middle East historian Efraim Karsh observes that in the field of Middle East studies, propaganda has become the accepted norm, more so than in any other discipline. If this had happened in any other field it would have created a serious issue of credibility. As Karsh notes, "not so in contemporary Middle East Studies. For such is the politicization of this field that the New Historiography's partisanship has been its entry ticket to the Arabist club and its attendant access to academic journals, respected publishing houses, and the mass media."[1]

Israel as Stand-In for "the Jews"

In Academics against Israel and the Jews, Manfred Gerstenfeld, chairman of the Board of Fellows at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, presents a collection of essays on the latest surge of anti-Israeli/Western sentiment on college campuses in the United States and Europe. The phenomenon itself is not blatantly anti-Semitic but rather appears only critical of "Zionist policies." This well-worn distinction has enabled the anti-Israeli camp to pose as legitimate critics. But what has actually emerged is a new form of anti-Semitism whereby the state of Israel acts as a proxy for Jews at large. The situation has become increasingly inimical to the pro-Israeli community as it becomes harder to make a case for Israel on campus.

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy[2] presents yet another challenge as it focuses on the U.S.-Israeli partnership. The authors contend that there are no genuine motives for America's support for Israel, which they refer to as a "strategic burden." They argue further that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked by the pro-Israeli camp to the detriment of America's own interests. Mearsheimer and Walt indeed claim that the war in Iraq resulted from AIPAC's pressure.

In turn, an integral part of this trend is the adaptation of Holocaust rhetoric to the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, such as equating the Palestinian Naqba (catastrophe) with the Holocaust. This has engendered statements that, for example, Israelis are doing to Palestinians what was done to them during World War II and the security fence is Israel's method of ghettoizing the Palestinians. This poses yet another hurdle to the pro-Israeli community, which has to counter demands to recognize a nonexistent Palestinian Holocaust. The task becomes increasingly difficult as the media consistently promotes the Palestinian angle.

Several of the contributors to Academics against Israel and the Jews note that 9/11 fostered yet another element of the formula, namely, the apologetic tendency among American Jews with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In particular, rabbis and Jewish educators, whether on the Left or Right of Israeli politics, feel the need to apologize for defending Israel. This, along with the need to be politically correct, is one of the prime sources of confusion among students.

For example, the Palestinian "right of return" has always been a topic of debate when discussing prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The issue, however, is almost always framed in terms of "Israeli oppression," which is assumed to be solely responsible for the plight of Palestinians wherever they may be. In contrast, the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is among those also never raised by Arabs or by liberal American Jews.

"Academic Freedom" as Pretense

College campuses have become podiums for those who denigrate Israel, such as the various human rights, antiglobalization, and anti-imperialism groups that have adopted the Palestinian cause. In academic circles, individual scholars' views are often, as Daniel Pipes and Norvell B. De Atkine note,
turned into a political litmus test. For example, Fouad Ajami, the articulate interpreter of Arab culture and politics who teaches at Johns Hopkins University, has been subject to scathing attacks from Arab critics. In a review of his book The Vanished Imam, Asad Abu Khalil verbally assaulted Ajami, calling him a "neo-orientalist," an insult in Middle East studies circles. Ostensibly, Arab critics find Ajami's scholarship faulty. In reality, they see him as too soft on Israel and, worse, as selling out to the enemy. He endured much abuse, for example, for attending a Jewish function.

Pipes and De Atkine also note that "this factional infighting becomes particularly bitter in the context of the Arab-Israeli issue. Halim Barakat of Georgetown University simply dismisses as `Zionist scholarship' anyone who dares dispute his dubious vision of the Arab world as `a single overarching society.'"[3]

This type of anti-Israeli advocacy is highlighted in Academics against Israel and the Jews. Contributors emphasize the need to provide students with a broad understanding of Israel before they leave high school for the college campus. Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is by no means black and white, the Palestinian cause has, primarily under the impact of the late Palestinian apologist Edward Said, become the flagship of many Middle East studies departments across North America. Said's Orientalism posited the Palestinians as the icon of alleged Western prejudice against the Arab world and Islam in general. Thus, in the post-1967 era the Arab-Israeli conflict was portrayed in this light, and Israel as the latest outpost of Western oppression of non-Europeans.

Said's thesis adds another element to the political correctness that already dominates American society. It must be recognized that there is no acceptable use of terrorism, nor any acceptable notion of eliminating a living and breathing state like Israel. Those who advocate such "causes" are the ones who should be on the defensive. An open climate for discussion of Israeli society and Israel's quest for peace will enable calm reflections on what Israel means to American Jews.

Furthermore, academic freedom has been used as a shield and a "get-out-of-jail-free card" when speakers are dismissed as conservative. The modern notions of free speech and academic freedom stem from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Mill argued that free speech originates in society's desire to discover the truth. By vetoing a right opinion, society loses the opportunity to exchange an error for truth. But banning a false opinion, Mill maintained, means losing something almost as precious-a clearer perception of truth that is produced by its clash with error. If no foes are available to put one's ideas to the test, Mill urges inventing arguments against one's own beliefs.

Today whatever is said in a classroom, whether or not it is academic, is deemed protected by "academic freedom." Only sexual harassment appears exempt from this blanket protection. Gradually the entire campus has become an "academic freedom" zone where protests and other activities now qualify as academic "speech." The freedom to critique is, predictably, directed mostly at the two Satans, Israel and America, while efforts to curtail speech that academics find uncongenial have long taken the form of "speech codes" and restrictions on "hate speech." Clearly, academic freedom is a one-way street; only those having the correct opinions may claim it.

Academics against Israel and the Jews presents testimony of the clear lack of balance in academia, especially in Middle East studies departments where so-called scholarship consistently fails to examine, much less condemn, terrorism or jihadism. Such an atmosphere enables intolerable ideas to become accepted as the norm. This situation needs to be challenged by all those concerned about the health of academia, as well as the continued wellbeing of Israel. It is to be hoped that the essays in this book will serve as a wakeup call for the Jewish community at large and engender proactive steps on these critical issues.


Lots of antisemitism in British universities

A massive rise in anti-semitic incidents involving students and campus life has contributed towards a overall increase in cases of hate against Jews, according to new statistics released today. The Community Security Trust recorded a total of 266 incidents during the first half of 2008, representing a nine percent hike on the same period last year and including many more incidents of abusive behaviour and mass-produced anti-semitic literature. One of the few positives seemed to be the fall in violent assaults by 24 percent.

However, "particular concern" was expressed over the fact there were almost double the number of incidents reported to the CST involving Jewish students, student bodies or academics, 49 compared with 26. Among them were 41 classified under the category of abusive behaviour', 27 of which involved anti-semitic verbal abuse, while there were also 12 cases of anti-semitic graffiti on property belonging to universities or non-Jewish students including graffiti saying Kill the Jews at leeds University. There were also two minor assaults off campus.

"We will work with the Union of Jewish Students, university authorities and the government to tackle what is clearly a growing problem," said CST spokesman Mark Gardner. UJS, for its part, challenged "all relevant organisations to take a firmer stance against anti-semitism, which affects students either on or off campus", but claimed the increased numbers reflect the attitude of students not to accept anti-semitism.

"One of the main campus related recommendations of the All Party Inquiry into Antisemitism was that UJS and CST "set up reporting facilities that allow unchallengeable, evidences examples of abusive behaviour" associated with university life. These latest figures show that the recommendation has been, and continues to be, implemented. The next step is for the sector to work with UJS to find effective and creative methods to tackle the problem."

Nevertheless, the union's Campaigns Director Yair Zivan insisted "really good progress" was being made with government and higher education sector "in our strategy to confront the problem. Last year UJS and Jewish students had a fantastic year with key political victories across the country. We are confident that these will play a vital role in firmly tackling anti-semitic incidents over the next year. "At the National Union of Students conference this year we set the precedent of how we expect anti-semitism to be dealt with when an organisation handing out antisemitic material was removed and banned. The stance taken by the NUS should be an example to the rest of the higher education sector."

The CST's report - which represents the first time the organisation has supplemented its annual incidents report by also publishing figures for the first six months of a year - showed schools, synagogues and individuals all fell victim. One of the worst incidents came when a visibly Jewish man was walking down the street when a gang of youths on bicycles surrounded him, called him a "f***ing Jew" and kicked and punched him.

While the number of incidents in London and Manchester were almost identical to the period between January and June last year, the overall rise was attributed largely to a significant increase in incidents reported from elsewhere - 98 in 38 towns and cities compared to 70 in 25 separate places. This was put partly down to the orgaisation's efforts to improve contact with less populous Jewish areas.

The final figures do not include a further 158 incidents reported to the CST that on investigation did not appear to be anti-semitic.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Judge Rules California University Has Right to Reject Christian Courses for Admission Requirements

A federal judge ruled Friday that the University of California is permitted to reject certain Christian curricula as inadequate for meeting admission requirements. The University of California (UC) system has decided that high school students who use certain Christian textbooks will not be considered to have taken the requisite courses necessary for admission to the University.

However, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), as well as Calvary Chapel Christian School and five Calvary students, argued that the University's decision was not based on a rational assessment of the texts' educational value, and reveals a bias against Christian beliefs. This, they alleged, violates their Constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.

The dispute concerned certain textbooks - including physics, American literature, and biology texts from such publishers as Bob Jones University (BJU) Press and A Beka books - which utilize a Christian perspective. While the UC argued that these texts were deemed inadequate purely on an objective assessment of their educational content, ACSI contends that the inclusion of Christian material in no way compromised the curriculum.

According to court documents, in order to prove that their rights were violated, ACSI and Calvary School "would have to show that Defendants rejected the challenged courses to punish religious viewpoints rather than out of rational concern about the academic merit of those religious viewpoints."

Many of the plaintiff's motions were dismissed for procedural reasons. The remaining complaints attempted to convince the Court that UC's admission policy was unduly subjective. Wyatt R. Hume, UC provost and executive vice president for academic and health affairs, however, claimed that the textbooks were evaluated from an objective academic perspective: "The question the university addresses in reviewing courses is not whether they have religious content, but whether they provide adequate instruction in the subject matter. "We also evaluate whether or not they promote the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed at the University. Our decisions are made based on the academic merits of the course."

However, an ACSI document reported that, by the University's own admission, the decision to reject the textbooks was based, not upon the quality of objective material, but upon the perception that they "prioritize religion over science." According to the report, UC officials had also said in the case of the BJU physics book, there was no objection to the factual information presented. Instead it was indicated that "if the Scripture verses that begin each chapter were removed the textbook would likely be approved."

Yet the court ultimately rejected the claim that the UC system showed ill will toward the Christian faith, and stated that the University had legitimate reasons to reject the texts, including the omission of important subject material and inadequate emphasis on developing critical thinking skills. According to the decision summary, the Court "agreed with the analyses of experts who found [the textbooks] academically inadequate."

To Ian Slatter, representing the Home School Legal Defense Association, the UC system's victory came as little surprise. He declined to comment as to whether the new court ruling could pose a significant threat to the homeschooling agenda.

Jennifer Monk, the plaintiff's lawyer, condemned the decision as a threat to the religious freedom of Christian education. "It appears that UC is attempting to secularize private religious schools," she said. "Science courses from a religious perspective are not approved . . . if it comes from certain publishers or from a religious perspective, UC simply denies them."

This ruling does not mean that students who have taken courses using the unapproved texts cannot still be accepted to UC. Most students qualify for admission to UC by taking an approved set of college preparatory classes; students whose courses lack UC approval can still remain eligible by scoring well in those subjects on the Scholastic Assessment Test.

Judge Otero's ruling has been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and if upheld, could reach the Supreme Court, considering its potential ramifications for future cases concerning freedom of religion in schools.


British universities pay women to study science

Affirmative action madness: Cash awards, often unrelated to merit, are being used to filll places on undersubscribed university courses

Women can win cash payments of $2,000 a year to study science as universities struggle to fill places on undersubscribed courses, an investigation has found. An undercover reporter was told by Leicester University physics department that she was a strong candidate for the money partly because women were "underrepresented" on the course.

The policy, which critics argue is the result of "social engineering", is evidence of the booming market in cash awards to fill some courses. Other offers made to reporters posing as applicants last week included an institution paying up to $2,000 cash to all comers, regardless of their income. Another was offered $1,000 a year for choosing a less popular course.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University's centre for education research, said using gender as a justification for offering money was "really quite alarming". "It's all about the social engineering from government. The universities have to respond," he said.

The inquiries about degree places were made during clearing, the method by which institutions scramble to allocate unfilled degree places after A-level results are released. The process began last week following the publication of record A-level grades, which showed nearly 26% of exams resulting in an A and a further 25% scoring a B; 11% of teenagers scored at least three As.

The market in awards is unrelated to income and operates outside the usual hardship assistance given to students from poor families. They are often described as scholarships and linked to grades, although these are often not high. Leicester is a well-respected university - ranked 19th equal in The Sunday Times University Guide - but physics courses nationally are hard to fill because there has been a near-halving of A-level pupils studying the subject in the past 25 years.

The department told the reporter that she had a strong case for $2,000 a year partly because she was from an "underrepresented" group as well as being a good candidate. About 30% of Leicester's physics intake are women and, although this is above the national average, she was told: "You tick that box because you are female."

Almost every undergraduate course in England costs students the maximum $6,290 tuition fee. Institutions have been reluctant to appear cheap, and they market the cash awards as scholarships, paying them directly into students' bank accounts rather than reducing fee bills.

Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne offered a reporter $2,000 a year simply to take up a place - the cash is not means-tested and is open to any British or EU student. The reporter told the staff member: "It's a pretty good offer. It's basically just cutting the tuition fees, isn't it?", to which the staff member replied: "Yes". Westminster University told a reporter he was highly likely to receive a "silver scholarship" worth $4,000 a year - if he had applied earlier, his three As would have won him twice as much money.

Hull told a reporter that grades of ABB were enough for a 50% fee reduction to study economics - worth $9,000 over the four-year degree because the university wanted to "encourage good students to come, people with grades like yours, we need more of them". Bangor offered $1,000 a year to a reporter to study subjects including chemistry, languages and law. "There is no condition," said a staff member. "It's to assist in recruitment of the sciences."

Smithers said the boom in cash awards was because universities were "trying to lift themselves through the league tables and they are like a football team paying to attract new talent". Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The shift towards a market in higher education is inevitably bringing about a consumer culture."

All the universities contacted last week said financial incentives were a sensible way to attract talented applicants and that they had generous additional bursaries to help low-income candidates. [So you get money if you are smart and money if you are poor and money if you are female. How come mainstream men need no help? Sounds like gross bigotry against mainstream men to me] "It's part of the reality for a competitive marketplace," said Matthew Andrews, academic registrar at Oxford Brookes University. Applicants to highly ranked institutions, by contrast, can expect no payment as thousands of applicants with three As are being turned away.

Independent and grammar pupils have dramatically widened their lead over comprehensives, with four or more As now commonplace. Some of the strongest performances are at girls' schools. Minette Monteith, 18, from Perthshire, left Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucester-shire with five As.

Monteith, who has been talent-spotted as a potential rower for the 2012 Olympics, was turned down by Cambridge, Imperial College London, Ddinburgh and St Andrews. She won a place at Edinburgh to study medicine through clearing only last week. "I'm very happy with the course I've got now, but I didn't really see what more I could have done," said Monteith.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Monopoly unionism is inimical to academic standards and enterprise

The faculty at Montana State University in Bozeman will soon vote on whether to unionize. If a majority vote yes, the school will gradually descend into academic mediocrity or worse.

The vast majority of unionized faculty in higher education are employed in government colleges and universities. This is because in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, ruled that faculties in private higher education are "managers" and hence are exempted from the mandatory recognition and bargaining provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Private-sector college and university administrations may choose to recognize and bargain with faculty unions, but they are not compelled to do so even if a majority of faculty members want them to. By contrast, unionization in government colleges and universities (as well as K-12 education) is controlled by individual state laws. Most states have enacted statutes, modeled on the NLRA, that force administrations in government higher education to recognize and bargain with faculty unions if a majority of faculty members vote to unionize.

Consider the worst feature of NLRA-style unionism: exclusive representation. If 50 percent plus one of the members of a faculty vote to have, say, the local National Education Association (NEA) be their representative in bargaining with their university over the terms and conditions of employment, all faculty members who were eligible to vote must accept the union's representation whether they want it or not. Faculty who prefer another union or some non-union organization to represent them are out of luck. They are even forbidden to represent themselves. The winner of the election becomes the monopoly representative of the faculty, and there are no regularly scheduled reelections. As individuals, professors lose voice. All professors are treated exactly like all other professors. Excellence is not rewarded and often disparaged; poor performance is protected; individual autonomy vanishes; and strife replaces collegiality.

Unionists justify exclusive bargaining on the grounds that it is merely workplace democracy. Most faculty accept the legitimacy of majority rule in governmental matters. So, unionists argue, to be consistent, faculty must accept its legitimacy in the workplace. This is a silly, inapt analogy. There are three branches of American government- executive, legislative, and judicial. There is no fourth branch of government called unions. Democracy, forcing a numerical minority to submit to the will of a numerical majority, is appropriate in governmental matters but not in private matters. The sale and purchase of one's labor is a private matter.

On legitimately governmental matters individuals cannot be allowed to go their own way. Government makes decisions that must apply to all its citizens uniformly. But on private matters individuals must be allowed to go their own way subject only to the rule that no one can infringe on the equal rights of others to do the same. In the private sphere of human interactions, mutual consent, not majority rule, is the proper decision. Individuals may choose to associate with others who are willing to associate with them to pursue some common goal, but no one should be forced into any association by any means, including majority rule. If asked, most professors would agree that coerced associations are anathema to the academy. Too many professors fail to apply this admirable principle to faculty unionism. Logical consistency and academic freedom demand that they do so.

From the time of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum, academic freedom and scholarly creativity have been highly prized academic values. Ideally, successes and failures of individual academics are based on the values that other academics (and students) place on their work. Performance, not politics, is what counts. Of course all academic institutions fall short of the ideal. Even at the best schools, campus politics intrudes into decision-making. But when it does, most academics struggle to minimize its impact. As soon as faculty unionism intrudes, politics displaces excellence. Professors come to be treated, by their unions as well as their administrations, like assembly-line workers whose responsibility is limited to playing the roles assigned to them in so-called collective-bargaining agreements. All degrees of freedom in decision-making are swallowed by slavish adherence to "the contract."

The union that has monopoly representation privileges over the California State University faculty is the California Faculty Association (CFA). My experience with it is a cautionary tale. When CFA campaigned to become the monopoly faculty representative, it promised it would never try to compel payment of forced dues. Soon after becoming certified as the monopoly representative, it undertook a long campaign to do precisely that. It finally succeeded in 1999 by giving sufficient electoral support to Gray Davis in the 1998 gubernatorial election to bribe him into signing such legislation-a fine example of politics as exchange.

What else hath the CFA wrought? For one thing, it established de facto tenure for many adjunct faculty even though most of them never publish anything. For another, it quashed merit pay for faculty who demonstrate outstanding professional contributions. It asserted that all faculty contributions are equally meritorious. CFA also imposed a faculty staffing rule that says in the event of any downsizing, faculty must be let go in reverse order of seniority. Expertise and the needs of students and the integrity of the academic enterprise do not matter at all.

The CFA significantly impeded the 2005-2007 effort of the College of Business and Economics (CBE) at California State University, East Bay, to maintain its accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). In 2005 the administration hired a new dean and charged him to get the CBE ready for its reaccreditation review. It had been almost ten years since the previous review, and academic standards at the College had been allowed to decay in favor of keeping nonproducing faculty happy and quiet (that is, not filing complaints with the CFA) and boosting student enrollment. The new dean set out to remedy this decay as quickly as possible. Among other things, he tried to implement a set of incentives to get faculty to increase their research and publication activities. For example, he proposed to give faculty who published in reputable academic journals a reduced teaching load, and he proposed to give faculty who produced good research proposals financial bonuses and summer research grants to help them with their work.

The CFA, at the behest of some faculty who figured they could not compete on these grounds, intervened to impede these incentives on the grounds that they created invidious distinctions between members of the faculty. Five-year, post-tenure reviews of faculty have long been required in the California State University system. In practice they had become little more than pro forma endorsement of everyone under review. The dean attempted to strengthen these reviews as a way of reminding faculty of their academic responsibilities, particularly in research and publication. The CFA again intervened stating that "the contract" limited the post-tenure reviews to teaching performance. Notwithstanding "the contract," AACSB considers research and publication important criteria for accreditation.

In the end, CBE was not reaccredited, but was given three years to remedy its deficiencies. Failing that, CBE accreditation will be withdrawn. In a unionized environment it is doubtful that three years will be enough time for CBE to restore its academic legitimacy.


British government tries to civilize its Leftist academics

British academics will be encouraged to conduct research with their Israeli peers in an attempt to heal fractured relations between UK and Israeli universities. Gordon Brown has signed up to a $1,480,000 academic exchange scheme during his trip to Israel today. The government has been keen to promote links between the two countries to play down attempts by British academics to boycott Israeli academics over the treatment of Palestinians.

In May, members of the University and College Union voted to consider the moral and political implications of education links with Israeli institutions. But the UK government's contribution of $40,000 to the scheme which is mainly funded by charities was described as an insult by a leading Anglo-Jewish historian. Geoffrey Alderman, visiting professor of theology and education at York St John University, said: "Compared to the money that the government is giving to the Palestinian Authority, this is an insult. I would throw this back in their faces. If the government was seriously interested in a programme to foster academic cooperation, it would think in terms of millions."

The higher education minister, Bill Rammell, said the new scheme would help foster academic cooperation through joint research programmes and academic exchange trips between the UK and Israel.

The Britain-Israel research and academic exchange partnership (BIRAX) will award scientific research grants to junior academics - from postdoctoral students to mid-career researchers and lecturers - who tend to have far fewer international opportunities. The British Council will manage the scheme, which is funded by the Pears Foundation, the United Jewish Israel Appeal, with smaller contributions from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Israel's Ministry of Science.

The academic who led the call for the boycott, Tom Hickey, a politics and philosophy lecturer from the University of Brighton, said academics should consider whether it was "morally acceptable to continue links with Israeli institutions where there was evidence that they were complicit in the occupation".

The government will give the same amount to improve links between British researchers and their peers in Palestine. Rammell said this would be "in the near future".

The scheme will last for five years in the first instance, although it is anticipated that it will develop over time into a longer-term partnership.

The British Council is also working on proposals to support academic links between Britain and Palestine, which the government will offer equal funding to support. Rammell said: "There is a long history of cooperation between Israel and the UK and BIRAX will help further cement this relationship and create new partnerships. It will help strengthen academic links between individual researchers and between universities in both countries. "There have been calls in the past for a boycott of Israeli academics but I strongly believe that we have much to learn from each other and our researchers have much to gain from working together. Education should be a bridge between nations not a barrier."

Trevor Pears, the executive chair of the Pears Foundation, said: "The new scheme increases academic collaboration in science and technology with potentially lasting benefits for Britain, Israel and, hopefully, the world."

The chairman of UJIA, Mick Davis, said the scheme would strengthen "the living bridge that draws on the great history of academic cooperation that has benefited Israel and the UK so greatly over the years".


Administrators versus faculty in academe

C.P. Snow wrote of the "two cultures" of the sciences and humanities and of the divisions between them. In higher education today, many feel an ever-increasing culture gap between administrators and faculty members. Professors - at least those with tenure - sometimes share their views of the deans and presidents who lead institutions. But what of administrators? Forget the platitudes of Faculty Senate meetings. What do they really think of the faculty role in running campuses?

A national survey of administrators reveals a mixed picture. A majority (60 percent) believe that faculty members should play a bigger role in running campuses, with most of the rest happy with the status quo and only a few believing that professors should play less of a role. But while seeking more of a faculty role, the administrators share a highly critical view of faculty knowledge and perspective when it comes to campus decision making, with a broad consensus finding professors focused far too much on their own issues or departmental issues, and lacking either the knowledge or perspective to think about institutions as a whole and to promote change.

The study was prepared by a team of sociologists: Debra Guckenheimer, Sarah Fensternmaker and John Mohr from the University of California at Santa Barbara and Joseph Castro from the University of California at San Francisco. They surveyed 200 academic administrators (dean level or higher) at nine four-year colleges and universities. The institutions were a mix of sizes, were located in different parts of the United States, and included public and private, unionized faculty and non-unionized faculty. The results were presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The paper - presented by Fensternmaker - notes that whether collaborations between professors and administrators are "easy or awkward" can have a major impact on many campus policies and initiatives. At the same time, she noted that there is relatively little research done on administrators' attitudes about professors. She noted the apparent contradiction between administrators generally saying that they want faculty members more involved while overwhelmingly agreeing with factors that limit the ability of professors to be effective players in faculty governance.

Using quotes from the interviews with survey participants, the paper outlines four common complaints about professors with regard to governance: ignorance, inability to see the big picture, a self-serving approach and a lack of appreciation for the role of administrators.

One administrator was quoted saying: "Faculty usually underestimate the complexity and difficulty of making a university operate well. They think it will just happen by itself if administrators would get out of the way. This is an ignorant opinion." Another said: "I think that sometimes faculty have tunnel vision and do not understand the full picture of what it means to effectively operate and manage a college." Repeatedly, administrators said that professors didn't understand financial matters related to their institutions or issues outside of their own disciplines.

Asked about their greatest disappointment as administrators, a frequent response was "faculty resistance to change," the paper says. "Administrators varied in how they responded to this issue - some saw faculty members as a group resistant to change, while others saw it as a problem of only some of the faculty." The perspective stays with administrators even if they return to the faculty, the paper says.

One other commonality found in the study is that administrators believe that faculty fail to exercise the power that they have. Many reported that they feel that their initiatives ultimately succeed or fail when professors either embrace or ignore them. One typical response: "Faculty think we administrators have more power than we actually do and have more money than we actually do. Faculty do not understand or are aware of the great power they have. Faculty hold the key to change and institutional transformations but most are not aware of that."

The paper notes all of the ironies in the fact that administrators and faculty members both view the other side as having the power, and that administrators simultaneously want more faculty involvement and fault faculty members for lacking knowledge.

So does this leave administrators on Mars and professors on Venus? Some in the audience when the paper was presented said that the research suggests the need to focus on specific qualities that may encourage behaviors that keep the two sides apart. For instance, one professor said that he believes too many chairs "play up the us vs. them divide rather than taking a more responsible academic leadership role." So instead of explaining the rationale behind administrative proposals, this professor said, chairs are telling their departments: "You won't believe what academic affairs is proposing now."

Kristin G. Esterberg, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, who is also studying administrative attitudes about faculty, said it was important for administrators to consider realities facing professors. She noted, for example, that it's not surprising that professors focus on their departments when "faculty-reward structures focus on the disciplines." Further, because administrators can move in or out of their positions on their campuses - or switch campuses - they are "mobile in ways that faculty are not."


Sunday, August 17, 2008


Two years after protracted American-Saudi negotiations persuaded the State Department that the Saudis would remove religious intolerance from their national textbooks, a new study finds the books still portray non-Sunni Muslims as the enemies of true believers.

The report from the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute finds that the Saudi textbooks are filled with the austere supremacism of the Wahhabi sect of Islam, despite promises from the Kingdom in 2006 to alter them. For example, a textbook for 10th graders on Islamic jurisprudence not only says it is permissible in Islam to murder a homosexual, but recommends the methods for doing so: burning alive, stoning, or throwing oneoff a high building.

Jews, Christians, and non-Wahhabi Sunni Muslims are described in many of the textbooks as enemies of the true faith and infidels. What's more, examples from Muhammad's teachings that focus on tolerance of other faiths are often ignored.

The report coincides with a conference the Saudi monarch is sponsoring in Madrid, at which he appeared to want reconciliation between the clerics of the Muslim world and their counterparts among Christians and Jews.

Saudi textbooks are not only a human rights issue, but also increasingly a national security matter, as the House of Saud underwrites Islamic education across the world, including a school in northern Virginia that has come under scrutiny for using the Saudi official textbooks.

The director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, Nina Shea, said yesterday that the State Department should consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia. "The government of Saudi Arabia may have told the State Department it would thoroughly revise its textbooks in order to diffuse criticism two years ago. But it's two years later and now is the time for reckoning. The State Department must now demonstrate it was not an unwitting accomplice to a public relations ploy. They must intensely scrutinize these textbooks and work with them to remove it, or impose sanctions," she said.

Nearly two years ago, the State Department waived a series of sanctions suggested under the International Religious Freedom Act after America and Saudi Arabia came to an arrangement whereby Riyadh promised to excise the intolerance of their textbooks by the start of the fall 2008 school year.

The report says: "This analysis documents that thorough textbook reform has not yet occurred. It is in American interests that the U.S. Government, in this administration and the next, hold Saudi Arabia to its obligations."


British kids can get a GCSE (Middle school) mathematics pass by reading a thermometer

Teenagers were required to read a simple thermometer and measure a straight line with a ruler to pass a GCSE maths exam, The Daily Telegraph has learned. Just days before results for 600,000 pupils will be released, it emerged 16-year-olds could gain a C grade in the test - officially a good pass - by answering two-thirds of the "simple" questions correctly. The disclosure prompted fresh claims that tests were being "dumbed down", with the Conservatives insisting they were "suitable for an eight-year-old".

It comes as results published next week are expected to show fewer than half of pupils leave school with five good GCSEs including English and maths - the standard expected of all 16-year-olds. Just over 55 per cent of pupils gained at least a C grade in maths last year. It follows fears that many young people are being turned off the subject because of a lack of rigour in the curriculum.

A report by the think-tank Reform said GCSEs were "considerably" easier than 50 years ago as questions had been simplified to make them more relevant to modern teenagers. The Telegraph obtained a foundation tier GCSE paper set by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, Britain's biggest exam board. In one question, pupils are asked to read a diagram of a thermometer. One arrow points to 13C and another to -4C, with students required write down the temperatures for two marks. Another question presents pupils with seven numbers - 24, 26, 29, 34, 40, 47 and 55 - and asks to write down the multiples of five and eight.

Pupils are also shown a short line and asked to measure it - giving their answer in millimetres. They are then required to measure 4cm along the line and mark it on the exam script.

In another question pupils are asked to write down the most suitable metric unit to measure the distance from London to Edinburgh. And one more asks students, who cannot use a calculator, to multiply 350 by two.

Pupils sitting the foundation tier test can score C to G grades. They need to get around two-thirds of questions correct to gain a C in the exam element of the GCSE.

Last night, AQA said questions were easier at the beginning of the exam but became more challenging, including those testing circle area, formulation and solution of equations, algebraic simplification and angle geometry. The exam was just one element of the GCSE, the board said, and pupils must also complete two pieces of coursework, a statistics module, a number module and a second test paper - some four hours and 40 minutes worth of assessment.

"The skills tested by the questions in the paper referred to are all part of the specified content for GCSE which has been unchanged for five years so such questions will have appeared on foundation papers in the past," said a spokesman. "AQA is confident that sufficient evidence is therefore present to ensure that candidates awarded a grade C on this tier will have shown comparable performance to candidates awarded grade C on the higher tier this year."

Nick Gibb, the Conservative shadow schools minister, said: "This is primary level maths suitable for an eight or nine-year-old. It is clear evidence that GCSEs have been dumbed down."


Australian kid, 10, banned from school for bikini pic

A happy snap of a bikini-clad woman taken on a family day out has landed a Grade 4 Cairns schoolboy a seven-day suspension from class. The 10-year-old boy's father, who asked not to be named fearing reprisal for his children, yesterday told The Weekend Post he was ropeable about the way Bentley Park College had disciplined his son, saying pictures in store catalogues were more risque.

"I remember the picture being taken and there was nothing rude about it," the father said. "It was taken from a moving car." The dad said he had to visit the school before the principal admitted that no teachers had seen the picture and it could not be found on the boy's laptop computer. His son had shown the picture to his classmates, he said.

"Because they (five kids) said it was rude, (the teachers) believed them even though they hadn't seen it," he said. "They have punished him for a crime when they haven't even seen the evidence. "I am all for punishing him if he's done something wrong or taken something rude to school, but this was taken on a family day out," the dad said. The boy's parents were told about the suspension in a phone call from the school.

The photograph was taken from the window of a rental car, during a family trip to the northern beaches to celebrate the parents' wedding anniversary. The photo showed the back of a woman who was wearing a Brazilian-style swimming costume.

Opposition education spokesman John-Paul Langbroek called on the Government to investigate why a boy so young would cop a suspension over what appeared to be a "minor infraction". An Education Queensland spokesman confirmed the Year 4 student had been suspended for taking an inappropriate photograph to school and using it to harass ["Harass?? Entertain, more likely] other kids. "The student was suspended under the college's Responsible Behaviour Plan for breaching guidelines covering safety and respect for others," the spokesman said. [What sickening cant!]

Mulgrave MP Warren Pitt told The Weekend Post he was stunned about the suspension, but wanted to find out the full circumstances before criticising the decision. He urged the boy's father to contact him so he could investigate the claim. Late on Friday after The Weekend Post contacted the Education Department, the boy's father said he was phoned by the school principal to arrange a meeting on Monday to discuss his son immediately returning to school.