Saturday, December 20, 2008

Minnesota College Bans Bay Buchanan from Campus

Administrators at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota-the nation's largest Catholic women's college-unexpectedly blocked young conservatives on campus from hosting Bay Buchanan, a popular conservative commentator and U.S. Treasurer under President Reagan. The speech was scheduled for Wednesday, October 22, but was abruptly canceled after college officials deemed Ms. Buchanan's remarks on "Feminism and the 2008 Election" too politically charged, citing concerns about the school's tax status. "Because we are a 501(c)(3) organization, the College of St. Catherine has sought to avoid any appearance of partisanship during the 2008 political season," said College spokesman Julie Michener.

That Ms. Michener can say that with a straight face is remarkable, considering the actions of her school's program, Voter Education 2008. Program-sponsored seminars have highlighted student agitators protesting the GOP's convention and featured a representative from the Joint Religious Legislative Task Force, which pushes for universal healthcare and minimum wage increases.

St. Catherine's student handbook claims, "Students enjoy the collective assurance and protection of free inquiry and open exchange of facts, ideas and openness." Except, not really. St. Catherine is filtering out ideas it doesn't want its students to hear.

In the last year, school officials sponsored vocal Hillary Clinton supporter Maya Angelou, NPR's liberal correspondent Mara Liasson, and the anti-war radical Frank Kroncke. But Bay Buchanan? Well, she's partisan, according to St. Catherine's administration.

The whole notion that a college or university's tax status would be in jeopardy is also a canard, and St. Catherine's administrators know it. The IRS in its Revenue Ruling 2007-41 Publication allows colleges and universities to host candidates or supporters of candidates without being in violation of the law. The violation occurs when such institutions prohibit a balance of ideas between parties and candidates, which means that by freezing out Bay Buchanan under the ruse of non-partisanship (while entertaining explicitly leftist viewpoints), St. Catherine is more likely to be defying IRS guidelines.

Moreover, St. Catherine boasts membership with the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities, in which other participating colleges have organized unequivocally political events. Macalester College, for instance, recently featured a rally with Michelle Obama that drew not only her husband's supporters but prominent liberal politicians as well, including St. Paul's Mayor and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. At St. Thomas College, Al Franken made a campaign stop in the school's auditorium.

Even if St. Catherine's officials are ignorant about IRS strictures (which is dubious) and the rallies taking place in their own backyard (doubly dubious), the fact that Barack Obama has spoken at more than 170 colleges and universities in his quest for the presidency and not a single school has had its tax exempt status threatened should have tipped them off that no legal ramifications would ensue by hosting Ms. Buchanan-who's neither a politician nor on John McCain's staff.

Students at St. Catherine requested to hear Bay Buchanan's perspective on American feminism, and Young America's Foundation along with the Minnesota Association of Scholars provided the funding to enable her appearance. St. Catherine merely had to provide a room for its students. Its failure to do so, aggravated by its flimsy excuse for the refusal, suggests a more sinister motive behind the cancellation of Ms. Buchanan's speech and an utter contempt for intellectual diversity.


Princeton Pays $100 Million over misused legacy

You will remember that the Robertson family had charged that Princeton had repeatedly violated donor intent by misusing funds contributed to the university by their parents, Charles and Marie Robertson -- he a devoted Princeton alumnus, she an heiress to the A&P fortune. Princeton's response to the lawsuit, originally filed in 2002, had been, first, to dismiss its merit, and then to demean the plaintiffs and, finally, to launch a war of attrition designed to exhaust the family and deplete its resources. This attack launched, mind you, against the university's most generous donor family.

Here's the backstory on Wednesday's news. Princeton settled, we sense, for two reasons, one obvious, the other less so. Up against a hard trial date of January 21, Princeton attorneys plotted the arc of a trial under the format prescribed by the newly appointed judge. What quickly became apparent was that the trial would begin with a lengthy recitation of Princeton's (alleged) malefactions -- its misallocations of large chunks of overhead, its improper billing of professors and other personnel, the construction of a building (a building!) wrongly charged to the Robertsons. The opening weeks of what was expected to be a three-month trial would amount to a jaw-dropping tale of more than $200 million of Robertson Foundation funds misused by one Princeton administration after another. By the time Robertson attorneys had completed their presentation, Princeton might have looked like the L. Dennis Kozlowski of American universities. Remember, too, that this courtroom drama would have played out in Trenton, New Jersey, just a short commute from the media capital of the world, where the trial would have been catnip in equal measure to good-gray broadsheets and taunting tabloids. After the first few days of testimony, the Princeton development office would have had all the bounce and jingle of a Christmas party at Lehman Brothers.

Reason enough to settle, to be sure, but what sharpened the focus of the institutional mind, we surmise, was the beginning of an implausible cash squeeze. Princeton sits atop a huge endowment, reported earlier this year to have topped $15 billion. But a review of public filings for its most recent fiscal year suggests the problem. Here's how Princeton reported its asset allocation: Hedge funds - 26%; Domestic equity - 9%; Fixed income - 3%; Foreign equity - 16%; Private equity - 25%; Real assets - 19%; Cash - 1%.

That's a lot of illiquidity. Just take the hedge funds, the PE investments and "real assets" (by which they mean timberland, commercial buildings and such like). That's 70% of the portfolio subject to contractual lockups, market rigidities and other liquidity constraints. All of the university's cash needs must be met by the other 30%. (One of the reasons stocks sold off so sharply this fall is that, in large portfolios like Princeton's, stocks are one of the few assets that can be sold.) To get a sense of the dynamic, take a look at the Robertson Foundation, whose assets are managed in common with the university endowment. The Foundation's assets reached a high-water mark last year of $930 million. Our back-of-the-envelope calculation is that the fund had dropped to $585 million by the time the settlement deal was struck. Princeton's leadership may be venal, and has for years been arrogant in the extreme, but it's not stupid.

As for the Robertson family, after seven years of hard slog, they weren't feeling fresh as daisies, either. Imagine, if you will, the challenge of holding four branches of a family together when, month after month, the only things going out are six figures worth of expenses and the only things coming in are ad hominem mudballs tossed by one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. In our view, the lead plaintiff, William Robertson, should win the Kissinger Medal in Shuttle Diplomacy. He held the family to its honorable course from day one to day last.

Most remarkably of all, the family knew when to take yes for an answer, which is a path rarely seen clearly through the fog of battle. It was never part of the Robertsons' purpose to damage Princeton as an institution. The family's twin objectives were proximate and discrete and, in the settlement reached yesterday, they achieved them both. First, they reclaimed resources sufficient to carry out their parents' original intention. The new Robertson philanthropy will be a significant force in developing young Americans for government service in the international arena -- Foreign Service officers, development and trade officials, intelligence analysts, and so on. (And this just at a moment when the Obama administration has announced its intention to shift strategic emphasis to diplomatic initiatives.) And second, the Robertsons have set an instructive and hopeful example for donors and grantees everywhere. The next time a nonprofit executive is seized by larcenous impulse it may be necessary only to whisper in his ear the magic word, "Princeton."


Friday, December 19, 2008

The 'Certified' Teacher Myth: It doesn't help classroom performance

I heartily agree with this. I got excellent results as a High School teacher without having had one minute of teacher training. Subject knowledge and a bit of self-confidence is all you need

Like all unions, teachers unions have a vested interest in restricting the labor supply to reduce job competition. Traditional state certification rules help to limit the supply of "certified" teachers. But a new study suggests that such requirements also hinder student learning.

Harvard researchers Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler compared states that have genuine alternative certification with those that have it in name only. And they found that between 2003 and 2007 students in states with a real alternative pathway to teaching gained more on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a federal standardized test) than did students in other states.

"In states that had genuine alternative certification, test-score gains on the NAEP exceeded those in the other states by 4.8 points and 7.6 points in 4th- and 8th-grade math, respectively," report the authors in the current issue of Education Next. "In reading, the additional gains in the states with genuine alternative certification were 10.6 points and 3.9 points for the two grade levels respectively."

The study undermines the arguments from colleges of education and teachers unions, which say that traditional certification, which they control, is the only process that can produce quality teachers. The findings hold up even after controlling for race, ethnicity, free-lunch eligibility, class size and per-pupil state spending.

The study also found that loosening certification rules can help alleviate teacher shortages. Unions blame these shortages on low pay, though in Washington, D.C. now they are also refusing an offer of higher pay in return for giving up teacher tenure. Messrs. Peterson and Nadler show that broader recruitment paths can also address shortages, particularly among minority teachers who are in especially short supply.

This is important because there is broad agreement that minority students tend to benefit from having a minority instructor, who can also serve as a role model. And it turns out that black and Hispanic college graduates are much more likely to take advantage of alternative paths to certification.

"Minorities are represented in the teaching force to a greater extent in states with genuine alternative certification than in other states," write the authors, who conclude, "there is every reason to believe that alternative certification is key to recruiting more minorities into the teaching profession." In Mississippi, 60% of the more than 800 teachers who were alternatively certified in 2004-05 were minorities, even though the overall teaching force in the state is only 26% minority.

President-elect Barack Obama has expressed guarded support for education reforms like merit pay and charter schools. Yet he chose Linda Darling-Hammond to head the education policy team for his transition. Ms. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford, is a union favorite and vocal supporter of traditional certification. She's also been a fierce critic of Teach for America and other successful alternative certification programs.

Unions claim that traditional certification serves the interests of students. But it's clear that students would be better served if the teaching profession were open to more college graduates. Teachers learn by teaching, not by mastering the required "education" courses associated with state certification.

Far from regulating teacher quality, forcing prospective teachers to take a specific set of education-related courses merely deters college graduates who might otherwise consider teaching. That outcome may serve the goals of labor unions, but it's hard to see how it helps the kids. If we want better teachers and more of them, relaxing certification standards would be a good place to start.


Australia: Destructive Victorian government meddling in education

The never-ending Leftist attack on discipline

Angry state school principals have attacked a plan by the Brumby Government to curtail their power to suspend and expel unruly students. They say that a move to suspend students a maximum of three days in a row would seriously undermine state education and drive more middle-class families into private schools. "In the case of a serious assault or the selling of drugs to other students, three days is simply inadequate and sends a terrible message to other members of the school community," said a submission by a principals' group.

The Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals was responding to draft student behaviour guidelines released by the Education Department. As revealed by the Herald Sun last week, the proposals include plans to suspend students for a maximum three days instead of 10 now. The total days a student could be suspended in a year would be cut from 20 to 15. And principals would have less power to expel students, with education bureaucrats given the right to overturn decisions.

The VASSP's submission said that the draft guidelines were part of an unrelenting campaign to wind back the autonomy of Victorian principals. "The proposed guidelines completely undermine the role of the principal and school council president," it said. That a bureaucrat, often with no school-leadership experience, is considered better placed to make this judgment is an insult to dedicated school leaders, the submission said.

The submission included comments by several principals and assistant principals, such as: "This is unarguably the greatest threat to the good order of our schools that we have seen. "It is designed by 'do gooders' with no actual concept of what occurs within a school."

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike has said the Government wants a bigger focus on schools preventing bad behaviour before suspensions were required. Ms Pike is expected to release the revised guidelines early next year after considering submissions.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

OH: University Announces "Free Speech" Area

Deserving to be in the spotlight this month is the University of Cincinnati which has announced a policy that allows free speech in one designated campus area only.

Free speech is permissible in the specified area but only after being authorized and scheduled by the Campus Scheduling Office.

Those individuals failing to comply with the policy are threatened with criminal trespassing charges. According to F.I.R.E.,
A quick look at a map of the university’s West Campus shows that the “northwest section of McMicken Commons” is a very small area of campus, and that there are numerous other greens, commons, lawn areas, and sidewalks where students should be able to exercise their free speech rights.

It is truly shameful this public university--legally bound to uphold its students' First Amendment rights--not only maintains this repressive Free Speech Area policy but threatens students with criminal prosecution merely for exercising their constitutionally protected rights outside of the paltry area it has designated for free speech.
Notably, previous similar attempts to suppress free speech at other colleges have failed when challenged.

Tip: Patrick Poole
Social work bigotry

A former student at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work is suing the school and several of his professors for discrimination, saying he was persecuted by the school's "liberal political machine" for being a conservative. William Felkner, 45, says the New England college and six professors wouldn't approve his final project on welfare reform because he was on the "wrong" side of political issues and countered the school's "progressive" liberal agenda.

Felkner said his problems with his professors began in his first semester, in the fall of 2004, when he objected in an e-mail to one of his professors that the school was showing and promoting Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" on campus. He said he objected because no opposing point of view was presented. He said Professor James Ryczek wrote to him on Oct. 15, 2004, saying he was proud of his bias and questioning Felkner's ability to "fit with the profession." "I think the biases and predilections I hold toward how I see the world and how it should be are why I am a social worker. In the words of a colleague, I revel in my biases," he wrote.

Felkner's complaint, filed two years ago, alleges that Ryczek discriminated against him for his conservative viewpoint and gave him bad grades because of it in several classes. It also alleges discrimination by other professors and administrators. Felkner said he received failing grades in Ryczek's class for holding viewpoints opposed to the progressive direction of the class.

Felkner says he was also discriminated against by Professor Roberta Pearlmutter, who he says refused to allow him to participate in a group project lobbying for a conservative issue because the assignment was to lobby for a liberal issue. He alleges that Perlmutter spent a 50-minute class "assailing" his views and allowed students to openly ridicule his conservative positions, and that she reduced his grade because he was not "progressive." The Rhode Island College School of Social Work did not respond to a request for comment.

Felkner, a self-proclaimed free-market conservative, told that during his final year, he wanted to do a project on "work first" welfare, which requires that recipients get jobs before they can get benefits. He said the school advocated an "education first" system, in which recipients get job training and don't have to work for benefits. "Basically it was a system that resulted in 2 percent of [Rhode Island's] recipients being on welfare for over 10 years. It was just not working," Felkner said. While at the college he had an internship with the governor's office on public policy to work on welfare reform.

The social work organizing and policy degree program requires a student to complete a project that works for "progressive social change." He was scheduled to complete his project in January, but he said the defendants' actions kept him from finishing and graduating. "There were two years worth of discrimination really, there's no better way to put it, because I had different views than the school does," Felkner said. "It's kind of insane to think that someone studying how to help the poor can't research welfare reform."

Felkner also alleges in his complaint that the school's treatment of him restricted his ability to express his opinions and that his bad grades damaged his professional reputation and would make it difficult for him to get a job as a social worker.

Kim Strom-Gottfried, professor of social work at U.N.C. Chapel Hill, said that faculty members should not impose their politics on students. "My bottom line is I think clearly as faculty we have to appraise our students based on required competencies and demonstrations of that, whether critical thinking or whatever, but there shouldn't be a belief litmus test for joining the profession or for an assignment," Strom-Gottfried said. "The questions I have in cases such as his - why would someone choose to affiliate with a profession that's so at odds with his beliefs and his value-base? That's always a question for me," she said.

Bruce Thyer, professor of social work and former dean at the College of Social Work at Florida State University, has written about discrimination against conservatives and against evangelical Christians in social work. He said discrimination hurts the profession. "I have seen students actively discouraged from pursuing social work because of their politically conservative views. I've also seen it happen with students who have held strong religious views," he said. "I think that the profession is a great and noble discipline and there are occasional episodes like this that cast a black eye, and it's really unnecessary." Thyer said liberal and conservative social workers have the same goal - to help people - and that the school overstepped its bounds in Felkner's case. "I think it's an overzealous faculty wishing to impose their own political views upon those of their students, and that's unfortunate because there are many areas in which liberal and conservative thinkers within the discipline of social work have so much to agree upon," he said. "Nobody's advocating, certainly not Bill Felkner, that people not be helped."

The college filed a motion for summary judgment this summer, but it was recently denied by the court. Felkner said the school is now seeking a settlement. He said he would still like to receive his masters in social work, and he is still working on government policy on social welfare programs in Rhode Island through the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, which he founded after leaving the school. "You can say what you want about the war on poverty and how it's going, but I think that it hasn't gone well and I think there are better alternatives, and I think it was a shame I wasn't even allowed to research and pursue those interests," Felkner said. "It's indoctrination."


Obama to name Arne Duncan as education secretary

Sounds hopeful -- insofar as there is any hope at all for public school education

Arne Duncan, who aggressively closed failing schools in Chicago but also opened dozens of new ones, is expected to be named today as President-elect Barack Obama's pick to head the U.S. Department of Education, a transition source said. The 6-foot-5-inch Harvard graduate played professional basketball in Australia and is one of the longest-serving big-city school chiefs in the country. His nomination to Obama's Cabinet is expected to be announced today at Dodge Renaissance School. Barbara Eason-Watkins, the chief education officer in CPS, is expected to replace Duncan as CEO of the nation's third-largest school district, a City Hall source told the Sun-Times. Duncan, 44, did not respond to phone calls Monday night.

As education secretary, Duncan will be implementing the controversial No Child Left Behind law, which both he and Obama have criticized. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate committee that must confirm the education nomination, said in a statement that Duncan was a consensus candidate. "Arne has been a pragmatic and effective leader of Chicago's schools," Kennedy said. "He's brought people together to address difficult challenges and expand opportunities so that every child can succeed."

Last Thursday, President Bush's own education secretary, Margaret Spellings, praised Duncan as ''a visionary leader'' and said he would be a "great choice" for her job. Duncan's father was a University of Chicago psychology professor; his mother ran an inner-city tutoring center where Duncan played every day. His mentor, John Rogers, founder of Ariel Capital Management and a friend and fund-raiser of Obama, lured him away from basketball to run the Ariel Foundation and start a small school. By 2001, Duncan was a quiet, relatively unknown senior manager in the Chicago Public School bureaucracy when Mayor Daley tapped him to replace headline machine Paul Vallas as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Duncan went on to head one of Daley's boldest and most controversial initiatives: Renaissance 2010.

With the mayor's blessing, and over protests from union and parent groups, he has closed 61 CPS schools, mostly for poor performance or underenrollment, but also opened 75 new schools, including an all-girls public school, an all-boys public school, and a "virtual'' school. Although designers of a proposed "gay-friendly'' school withdrew their proposal last month, Duncan didn't shy from supporting the idea.

Some say Duncan had the inside track on the appointment, signaled by the Election Day basketball game he played with Obama. Duncan and Obama both have Hyde Park ties and attended Harvard. Duncan's wife is the athletic director at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where Obama's two daughters attend classes. Duncan and his wife have two young children, one of whom attends a neighborhood CPS school. Duncan had well-connected boosters. Rogers is co-chair of Obama's Presidential Inauguration Committee. Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who plays pickup ball with Obama and Duncan, also was a supporter. Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker is a Duncan fan. Pritzker served as Obama's presidential campaign finance director and is current co-chair of his transition team.

To Duncan's education supporters, his selection seemed natural. "Arne is open to new ideas and he respects data,'' said John Easton, co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

Under Duncan, elementary test scores have slowly climbed, but high school scores have been problematic. While other districts focused on high school graduation, Duncan pushed CPS to be the first big-city district to track the ultimate bottom line -- whether CPS freshmen were enrolling in and finishing college, said Melissa Roderick, another consortium co-director. The first round of answers, one U. of C. researcher conceded at the time, was "appalling.'' Only 8 percent of CPS freshmen had a four-year degree by their mid-20s, early research showed. "It was on the front page of the paper and [Duncan] said, 'We have to deal with it,' '' Roderick said. "That's a courage I hope he brings to the U.S. Department of Education.''

Quality and quantity of teacher applicants have clearly risen under Duncan. He also has embraced alternative certification programs such as Teach for America, criticized by Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, considered a contender for education secretary.

Duncan has shown an ability to work civilly with foes. Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart has blasted Duncan for displacing teachers with his Renaissance 2010 shakeup but supported him on a teacher pay-for-performance experiment.

Some say Duncan has done little to stop the test preparation mania that has swept the nation in the wake of No Child Left Behind. He closed some high schools despite warnings that sending their students elsewhere, across gang boundaries, would lead to violence -- and data later showed violence followed such closings. "There have been good things and bad things about what's been happening in Chicago schools,'' said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education. "We all need to look very carefully at what those things are.''



A good comment from blogwonks

Incoming Education Secretary Pledges to Teach Kids to Talk Good

Not to nitpick, but Arne Duncan, who ran the Chicago school system, is a Harvard grad and will be Secretary of Education in Barack Obama’s administration, was reading from a prepared text that, if you’re a stickler on grammar, will give you the chills.

“It gave my sister and I the opportunity…”

This makes I want to home school my kids from here on in:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Parent fury at anti-Christmas talk in school

I note that a number of conservatives have been peeved by this but I see no problem. It is a good fundamentalist Christian teaching that Christmas is a commercialized pagan holiday. Does any serious Christian believe that Father Christmas, reindeer, Christmas trees and Frosty the snowman are in the Bible? JWs just put their money where their mouth is. The only anniversary that Christ commanded his followers to observe was Passover. Should a school censor the Bible?

A school has come under fire for allowing Jehovah's Witnesses to tell pupils why they choose not to celebrate Christmas. But today leaders at Kirkby's Westvale primary said the talk was just part of its commitment to promote tolerance among all faiths, which is clearly stated to parents in its official brochure. The row surrounds a 30-minute religious education lesson at the Melverley Road school.

On Wednesday, parents were invited in to discuss why they were Jehovah's Witnesses and what their faith entails. This included the fact the religion does not celebrate Christmas - believing it and Easter are based on, or largely influenced by, paganism.

The school hoped the visit would mean students would be more understanding as to why the Jehovah's Witnesses' children were "being excused from coming in for Christmas nativity". However, the fact parents at the 250-pupil school were not asked for formal consent prior to the talk has sparked anger. One man whose eight-year-old daughter attends the school said: "How can it be that pupils who are Jehovah's Witnesses can be excused from lessons, yet the first thing I knew about this talk is when my daughter came home? "We should have been consulted. I am livid and would not have allowed my child to take part. To say I'm furious with the school is an understatement."

But headteacher Gillian Holland said the talk was the latest in a number by visitors of different faiths as part of a government expectation that schools tackle community cohesion. The school brochure made it clear RE lessons would explore all faiths and parents could make use of its "open door" policy to raise concern. "We are a Christian school but have a duty to promote tolerance and understanding of other faiths. "We encourage parents of all faiths to come in all the time. "They are accompanied by teachers and teaching assistants and will just talk about their traditions and what it is based on. "When pupils see their children not coming in for Christmas nativity they have more of an understanding why."


A College Returns to Teaching

Lindenwood University dean tells how the school escaped ruin, offering a model for success

The famed economist Thomas Sowell has observed that the chief problem with our education system is that it is dominated by the interests of the producers rather than the interests of the consumers. Keep that in mind as you read about the near-death and resuscitation of one university.

Lindenwood University, located near St. Louis, almost died in the late 1980s. Student enrollments had been falling and the endowment was nearly gone. It survived only because a new president was brought in and dramatically refocused the school so it would do a much better job of what colleges are supposed to do: teach the students. His "new" model made the faculty concentrate on teaching rather than research. Tenure was abolished. He also trimmed the curriculum and administration, allowing Lindenwood to keep tuition low.

Edward Morris, Dean of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship, tells the story in his book The Lindenwood Model. In doing so, he makes it clear that most universities and even many smaller colleges are today infected with the research virus, which is detrimental to good undergraduate teaching. Morris knows that professors are hired and promoted mainly on the basis of their published research work, not on their ability to teach undergraduates. The mania for research means that professors are expected to do little teaching, and what teaching they do won't be carefully evaluated.

Most professors, however, prefer spending their time on research, and that's easier to measure than teaching competence. Furthermore, faculty research can help enhance a school's reputation and perhaps raise its U.S. News ranking-the Holy Grail of most college presidents.

The president of Lindenwood at the time, Dennis Spellmann, saw that the school was dying under the standard university model. Students were not getting much educational value for their tuition dollars. He decided that the only course that would work was one that put their interests first. A key step in his revitalization plan was a requirement that professors teach five courses (fifteen class hours a week) per semester.

But doesn't doing research make professors better teachers? Spellmann didn't buy that idea and Morris spends quite a few pages in refuting it. The research that professors do rarely has much connection with the content of an undergraduate course; worse yet, they sometimes displace the content that ought to be in their courses with whatever their current research interests happens to be. So instead of learning the broad principles of an academic discipline, students often spend at least some of their class time immersed in minutiae that interest their professors.

Morris realizes that he's taking on a sacred cow here, but blurts out the truth that much academic research is "trivial, conducted with questionable methodology, and written in jargon that makes it nearly incomprehensible." His own finance dissertation was on a tiny point regarding the "efficient market hypothesis." He managed to prove something no one had ever doubted and since then his research has merely gathered dust on a library shelf.

(For an amusing look at some faculty research that would fall into Dave Barry's "I'm NOT making this up!" category, check out the IgNobel Prizes.)

Once the "teaching model" took effect at Lindenwood, enrollments did a U-turn and began steadily increasing. The flow of red ink stopped and the university was soon operating in the black, accumulating capital for improvements and expansion. It helps a great deal that the university spends little on athletics. Lindenwood is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, an association that allows schools to compete in many sports, but without going crazy in pursuit of athletic glory. (There are no athletic scholarships, for instance.) Nearly half of the school's students play on one or more of its 38 teams.

Tuition at Lindenwood for the 2007-08 academic year was $12,400. Compared with the average for private colleges and universities (over $21,000), it's clear that the lean, educationally-focused approach Spellmann brought to the school makes it an excellent value.

Here is an illuminating comparison. The University of Missouri at St. Louis and Lindenwood are comparable in size (around 4,000 students), but UMSL goes in for research, sports, various "community service" activities, and carries a much greater number of administrators. Tuition is about the same at the two institutions. Morris concludes:
Lindenwood is able to offer its students a private undergraduate education that is competitively priced with that of UMSL - even though the State of Missouri provides UMSL with a per student subsidy of approximately $6,000 per year and Lindenwood with none. The $6,000 differential may also be viewed, of course, as the amount Missouri taxpayers pay in order for UMSL to pursue its non-instructional ventures.

In the coming years, there will be other private colleges and universities facing the dire financial troubles that drove Lindenwood to undertake the momentous changes that not only saved it, but proved to be very popular with students. Reading Ed Morris's book could enable their presidents to make the right decisions.

It would be even better if the presidents of non-floundering schools would also follow the Lindenwood model, simply because doing so would be an excellent competitive move. Students and parents will increasingly be searching for affordable colleges that don't merely award credits and degrees, but actually educate. Colleges and universities that take Morris's "antidote for what ails undergraduate education" (the subtitle of the book) will become more and more attractive to those who demand more from college than just a fancy diploma.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

British Headteachers told to 'high-five' pupils to improve exam results

This is just more of the feelgood approach that has already failed

Trainee head teachers are being told to give pupils in tough areas high-fives in an effort to improve exam results. A Government-backed training scheme is urging would-be heads to give pupils the U.S-style welcome to help forge 'positive relationships'.

Sir Iain Hall, training director for the scheme called Future Leaders, is passing on the advice at intensive residential courses after visiting schools in the U.S. He is also recommending a technique which involves pupils gathering in a circle and applauding one of their number, with the head saying the pupils name and 'we appreciate you' and the children cheering that child.

But his suggestions brought claims that heads were being asked to 'ingratiate' themselves with pupils, undermining their authority. Under Sir Iain's approach, heads would greet children at classroom doors by giving them high-fives - slapping their palms with arms extended - or shaking their hands. 'When your children come into the classroom, how do you greet them?' he asked a meeting of prospective heads, the Times Educational Supplement reported.

'Whether it is a high-five, it is touching a child's hand, it is shaking their hands, we teach our Future Leaders to stand at the classroom door and greet every kid who comes through it. It's about establishing positive relationships all the time, shaking the hands of kids that go past, giving those high-fives.'

Sir Iain, a 'superhead' who was knighted in 2002 for services to education, revealed he had been inspired by visits to schools in tough parts of America. He was recommending the circle and applauding technique after seeing it at a New York school. 'It is getting that positive relationship where children can relax and think "somebody believes in me",' he said. Asked whether English pupils would respond to high-fives, he said: 'If I believe it will work with every student, then it will.'

But Anastasia de Waal, of the social policy think-tank Civitas, warned that high-fiving by senior staff could hamper attempts to impose discipline. 'We are struggling to assert authority in schools. 'I fear this is just going to look ridiculous and actually some pupils are going to be moderately insulted by it. 'I don't think they will see it as cool and in fact will see it as deeply uncool so it will backfire.'

She added: 'This is characteristic of much about secondary schools these days, that everything should be relevant to pupils and fun,' she added. 'But what makes things relevant is when children understand their work and can apply it to the real world.' She said some primary schools in Finland invited pupils to shake hands with teachers at the end of lessons. 'This is more about showing teachers respect,' she said.

'We are approaching this completely the wrong way round. We should be trying to generate respect for teachers rather than encouraging them to ingratiate themselves with pupils.'

The Future Leaders scheme aims to tackle a growing shortage of heads in inner-city areas. It is part-funded by the Government, through the National College of School Leadership and Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and the charity ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), which was set up by millionaire financier Arpad Busson, fiance of actress Uma Thurman.

Andrew Day, deputy head of Greenford High in Ealing, West London, has taken part in the Future Leaders training scheme and is an advocate for the high-fives approach, claiming that pupils can relate to it. 'It is what they do. It is all about how they perceive you. The moment you start working with them, they know you care,' he said.

High-fiving is thought to have originated in the U.S. in 1970s, probably during basketball or baseball games.


The old, old story again -- this time from Australia

Fewer dumb girls but fewer very bright ones too (ENTER is the test for entering university in the State of Victoria)

Girls rule overall in the study stakes but boys are still the brains' trust. New VCE data backs up the trend of female students achieving a higher average ENTER, but more boys nail the perfect score at the elite end of the scale. More than double the number of boys (21) than girls (10) received the highest possible ENTER of 99.95 this year. Last year, 19 boys and 13 girls aced their final year of school with the perfect score. The average ENTER for girls in the class of 2008 is 65.51 and 62.63 for boys.

Females also topped males last year when comparing average scores; the 2007 female average was 64.06 and 61.42 for males. Boys outperformed girls at the top level in 2006, with 26 male students getting 99.95 compared with just nine females. For the past three years, more girls have passed VCE than boys. Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre Director Elaine Wenn said girls outperformed boys overall. "However, boys continue to outnumber girls by two to one at the highest level of 99.95," she said.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Mediocre teachers + jargon = low standards

Huge numbers of British 11-year-olds can't read, write or do basic sums. The latest curriculum rehash will not help in the least

But what about the teachers? I feel like the child who had to point out that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. What we got this week, from the Government's primary schools adviser, was a rehashed curriculum in fine new garb, and a rather verbose way of setting out what good teachers do already - but not a word about what really matters: the quality of the teachers.

Sir Jim Rose's report is a tragic missed opportunity. If this is the limit of ministers' ambition for primary schools then they might as well go home early, clutching those little prizes which schools award the slower pupils for "effort". There certainly won't be any progress. Sir Jim is in danger of giving bad and mediocre teachers even more jargon and curricular complexity to hide behind. The Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum is itself smothered in it. Sir Jim sums up his ideas: "The report explores a curriculum design based on a clear set of culturally derived aims and values, which promote challenging subject teaching alongside equally challenging cross-curricular studies." You what?

This sort of jargon filters down through teachers to the classroom, with lessons wrapped in equally incomprehensible verbiage. "Are we doing reading now?" I asked one primary school teacher recently. "Oh no", she replied, "this isn't reading - this is literacy." Er...

There is something wrong with the teaching profession. Not all of it, but some of it - and presumably the part that curriculum reviews are intended to reach. The teachers have turned insular and defensive; even their language has become alien. It's as if they inhabit a different world.

So spelling isn't spelling any more (there is but one mention of "spelling" in Sir Jim's 73-page report): it has become "decoding" and "encoding". Is it really necessary for an educational adviser to write out the following: "Children may know how to decode and encode print but must then apply that knowledge and skill to understanding the words on the page." You mean, children should be taught to read, sir? Good teachers - even barely competent teachers - do not need to be told that. Good teachers will already apply the best of the ideas in Sir Jim's report, while good schools will do some of what he recommends already, such as using specialised teachers in certain subjects. Good teachers do not hide behind jargon.

The problem is with the bad schools and the bad teachers, who rigorously apply the rules handed down by ministers and officials to groups of baffled children. Like the chilling Ofsted official who described Baby P as a collection of data last week, they can talk the strange talk, but they cannot walk the walk.

So children unable to write their alphabet sit in circles parroting the definitions of "phoneme" and "grapheme": "sound" and "letter" to you and me. "It's in the curriculum," shrugs a teacher. "Silly, isn't it?"

Incompetent teachers, or those lacking in confidence, and afraid of the authorities, stick rigidly to any script they are given, carefully ticking all the little boxes. And Sir Jim is about to hand them quite a script. Take the idea of a "theme" uniting all the primary subjects. This could be done well, so that a Second World War theme for the term incorporates European geography as well as a spot of French, and the mathematics of how many planes in a squadron returned if seven were shot down - that sort of thing. But it could be done badly, like the early-years teacher I saw writing down "a" for "aeroplane" in a child's first reading lesson - "because the theme this term is travel".

It's all very well trying to make the curriculum "relevant" but the fundamental purpose of education must be that the basic building blocks are taught well first. "Relevance" can crowd out education. Take mathematics: Sir Jim issues a familiar warning that children are not being taught how to apply their mathematics skills to the real world. Teachers have heard this complaint many times before. So keen are they to listen that many have overcorrected, asking a child, for instance, how he would hand out 12 chocolate bars among four children, but not teaching him that 12 divided by 4 is 3.

"What is that?" a six-year-old asked me the other day, pointing to a minus sign. He knew how to "count back two from five" (although he couldn't read the words; they had to be read to him) but he was unable to decipher 5 - 2 = 3. A seven-year-old state school child taking a maths exam for private school entry asked his mother of the multiplication questions: "Why were there kisses all over the paper?"

There will be many teachers who insist this does not matter; that children are picking up the concepts or themes, or developing understanding, or some such. But it does matter. So hard are educationists trying to keep the attention of every child with "varied and matched learning", to use some more jargon, that education has become frighteningly dumbed down. Middle-class flight from state schools is directly attributable to this happy-clappy, thematic, lowest-common-denominator, "entire planned learning experience" approach. Some kids enjoy learning times tables.

Listen to this terrifying sentence in the Rose report: "The teacher who once said: `If children leave my school and can't paint, that's a pity but if they leave and can't read, that's a disaster' was perhaps exaggerating to make a point." Exaggerating? It's appalling that the man reviewing the primary curriculum considers that an exaggeration.

Children are leaving primary schools unable to read and write and do basic sums - a fifth failed English this year, a fifth maths and almost four in ten failed in combined reading, writing and arithmetic - and they tip into the secondary system already five years behind their peers, too late for many ever to catch up. It is absolutely essential to get this right. Yet nowhere in Sir Jim's report (because it wasn't in his remit drawn up by the Schools Secretary Ed Balls) is there anything about improving the quality of teachers.

A McKinsey study last year, conducted by Tony Blair's former policy adviser Sir Michael Barber, examined school systems around the world to see what made the difference in the best. The absolutely key element, beyond new buildings and class sizes, the curriculum or the structure of the system, was the quality of teachers. Yet Britain is still stuck in a rule-bound, jobs-for-life education system that rewards laziness and mediocrity as highly as real talent and drive. The gulf between the public and private sectors gets wider and wider. Sir Jim is in danger of pulling up the drawbridge.


As conventional U.S. higher education scene turns into a Leftist miasma, alternatives spring up for those who want knowledge instead of propaganda

As classical education declined and new approaches arose to replace it, the university core curriculum turned into a restaurant menu that gave 18-year-olds dozens of classes to choose from, the easiest and most therapeutic usually garnering the heaviest attendance. The result, as many critics have noted, is that most of today's students have no shared notion of education, whether fact-based, requisite knowledge or universal theoretical methodologies. They either do not know what the Parthenon is or, if they do, they do not understand how its role as the democratic civic treasury of the Athenians was any different from-much less any "better" than-what went on atop the monumental Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. Most likewise could not distinguish Corinthian from Doric columns on their venerable campuses, or a frieze from a pediment on their administration buildings.

For a brief four-year period, students inherit a now-foreign vocabulary of archaic terms, such as "provost," "summa cum laude," and "honorarium," which they employ but usually do not understand. While the public may not fully appreciate the role that classical education once played, it nonetheless understands that university graduates know ever less, even as the cost of their education rises ever more. Any common, shared notion of what it means to be either a Westerner or an American is increasingly rare.

The universities apparently believed that their traditional prestige, the financial resources of their alumni, and the fossilized cultural desideratum of "going to college" would allow them to postpone a reckoning. But by failing in their central mission to educate our youth, they have provoked the beginnings of an educational counterrevolution. Just as the arrogance and ideological biases of the mainstream media have made them slow to appreciate technological trends and the growing dissatisfaction of their audience, so, too, are universities beginning to fragment, their new multifaceted roles farmed out to others that can do them more cheaply and with less political sermonizing.

The most obvious challenge to university predominance is technological-in particular, Internet-based education offered by private-sector virtual campuses masquerading as traditional universities. As the American workforce increasingly needs retraining and as higher-paying jobs demand ever more specialized skills, students are beginning to pay for their education on a class-by-class basis through distance learning. Online classes, which do not require campus residence or commuting, also eliminate the overhead of highly paid, tenured faculty, campus infrastructure, and such costly elements of undergraduate education as on-campus lectures and extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, private online schools also do away with the old notion of offering liberal arts classes to enrich citizenship and enhance technological specialization. Perhaps their unspoken premise is that if universities do not believe in the value of teaching Western civilization as part of a mandated general-education curriculum, then why not simply go to the heart of the matter and offer computer-programming skills or aeronautical-engineering know-how without the pretense of a broad education? And who is to say that paid-by-the-hour instructors at the online University of Phoenix are less responsible teachers than their traditional counterparts? After all, their market-driven employers must serve a paying constituency that, unlike traditional university students, often demands near-instant results for its fees.

At American Military University, it's worth noting in this light, online instructors receive compensation based on the number of students they teach, rather than the number of courses they offer. Cost-cutting measures are radical in the online education world. Bookstores and libraries become almost superfluous; instead, students simply pay fees for the use of Internet resources. The University of Phoenix actually negotiates deals with textbook publishers to make all of their books available online for a flat fee. The logic is to redefine education as an affordable product that finds its value in the marketplace among competing buyers and sellers.

It's hard to fault these companies; they are serving a need. It would be reassuring, certainly, to think that a psychology student at Smith or Occidental would receive a broader understanding of the discipline, its history, and its place within the liberal arts than would a counterpart graduating from the far cheaper online Argosy University. But it would be far from certain.

Traditional colleges and universities, seeking to compete, have started to enter the online education market. The present university system is partly subsidized by low-paid, part-time faculty without tenure who teach large classes and thereby support a smaller mandarin cohort of tenured professors with full benefits, fewer students, and little worry about the consequences of poor peer reviews or student evaluations. Indeed, since the 1970s, the percentage of tenured and tenure-track professors in the academy has declined dramatically, as the university seeks to exploit the many to pay for the chosen, though dwindling, few. Schools are now starting to complement these two tiers with a third-a new sort of distance-learning adjunct, paid even less, who offers classes via the Internet and may never venture onto campus at all, but whose courses carry the prestige of a well-known university brand. An informal survey suggests that distance learning now makes up as much as 20 percent of total offered classes at some schools.

One can also see a growing cultural reaction to the modern university in the spread of conservative Christian colleges. According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, enrollment in such schools increased 70.6 percent between 1990 and 2004, versus 12.8 percent for public universities and 28 percent for all private universities. The national news media have split into genres predicated on political partisanship: network news, public radio, and large newspapers for liberals; and talk radio, cable news, and Internet sites for conservatives. So, too, have our mainstream universities, promising free thought but in reality indoctrinating their students, become increasingly distinct from religious colleges and universities that take pride in a more classical curriculum.

The religious schools are recognizing their market advantage. What was once the old Bible school has now often become the popular conservative antidote to the liberal university. Liberty University and Oral Roberts University have seen endowments and enrollments soar as they have broadened their mandates to encompass general cultural conservatism rather than solely religious orthodoxy. Liberty University is no longer Jerry Falwell's weird and tiny Liberty Baptist College of the 1970s but has swelled to more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students, with another 4,500 enrolled in online graduate programs alone. Thirty years ago, Fresno Pacific College was a small evangelical Mennonite campus; today, its successor, Fresno Pacific University, is a generic traditional campus that offers an alternative to the cumbersome bureaucracy and politically charged culture of nearby California State University, Fresno. The teacher-credential program at Fresno Pacific's education school, for example, has earned regional acknowledgment for being more rigorous, better organized, and freer from therapeutic and political biases than its much larger counterpart at CSU, Fresno.

The growth of classically minded religious colleges is not limited to the Protestant evangelical movement. Against-the-grain Catholic schools have flourished, too, offering an alternative not just to Berkeley, Wisconsin, and Amherst but also to increasingly liberal Notre Dame and Santa Clara, which have abandoned traditional Catholic themes and classical values. Thomas Aquinas College, founded in 1969, to take one example, has won recognition for its traditional curriculum. A few nonreligious schools, too, like Hillsdale College and St. John's College, concentrate solely on the classical curriculum, offering Great Books-based courses whose very success serves as an effective critique of higher education elsewhere.

It's no accident that millions of laypeople don't find endowed professors at elite schools interesting or useful. Many public universities have rejected merit pay for faculty on the grounds that academic or teaching excellence is impossible to quantify. More elite private universities have embraced a star system of compensation, but in the liberal arts, the criteria of evaluation usually hinge on esoteric and jargon-laden scholarly publications, not teaching excellence. So those who wish to discover history or literature-to learn about the Founding Fathers or military history, say-often look outside the university, to public intellectuals on television and noted best-selling authors like David McCullough or John Keegan.

Private companies have made considerable profits by responding to the public hunger for inspired teaching of traditional liberal arts. The Teaching Company markets prerecorded lectures with rich content in history, literature, and other subjects from proven classroom stars, many of whom have found far less success under normal academic evaluation. Rosetta Stone's software offers foreign-language instruction in dozens of languages, without the embedded cultural sermonizing that often characterizes foreign-language departments' curricula. In a series of CDs from a company called Knowledge Products, marketed as "Giants of Philosophy," the late Charlton Heston narrates excerpts from the seminal philosophers of the Western tradition. Consumers understand that they are buying the words of the philosophers themselves, read and explained by a skilled orator and actor, and skipping the postmodern jargon and leftist bias.

In the future, to learn professions, many students will enroll in specific classes to master accounting, programming, or spreadsheets, and not feel the need to study inductive reasoning or be equipped with the analogies and similes supplied by great literature and the study of history. If, later in life, graduates feel robbed of such a classical foundation, they can buy CDs and recorded lectures or take self-administered correspondence courses. Since universities are no longer places for disinterested investigation in the manner of Socratic inquiry, one can envision a future in which there will be liberal schools and conservative schools, and religious schools and antireligious schools. But the old, classical, unifying university will then have completed its transformation into a multiversity: knowledge, imbued with politics and ideology, will be fragmented, balkanized, and increasingly appropriated by for-profit companies.

Traditional colleges and universities aren't about to die, of course. But their attractions-and especially the enticements of the Ivy League schools, Stanford, Berkeley, and such private four-year colleges as Amherst and Oberlin-will largely derive from the status that they convey, the career advantages that accrue from their brand-name diplomas, and the unspoken allure of networking and associating with others of a similarly affluent and privileged class. They are becoming social entities, private clubs for young people, certification and proof of career seriousness, but hardly centers for excellence in undergraduate education in the classical sense. For all the tens of thousands of dollars invested in yearly tuition, there will be no guarantee, or indeed, even a general expectation, that students will encounter singular faculty or receive a superior liberal arts education-let alone that they will know much more about their exceptional civilization than what they could find on the Internet, at religious schools, or on CDs and DVDs.

Once academia lost the agreed-upon, universally held notion of what classical learning was and why it was important, a steady unraveling process removed not just the mission but the mystery-and indeed, the beauty-from the American university. How ironic that the struggling university, in its efforts to meet changing political, technological, and cultural tastes and fads, willingly forfeited the only commodity that made it irreplaceable and that it alone could do well. And how sad, since once the university broke apart the liberal arts, all the religious schools, self-help courses, and CDs couldn't quite put them together again.


Some Australian students to be taught (optionally) that there's no God

This is fair enough but I hope that there is some place in the curriculum for kids to learn something about the immense impact Christianity has had on the development of our civilization. I am myself an atheist but I sent my son to a Catholic school because I felt his education would be incomplete without an exposure to Christian ideas

Victorian state primary school students will soon be able to take religious education classes which teach there is no evidence God exists. The Humanist Society of Victoria has developed a curriculum for primary pupils that the state government accreditation body says it intends to approve, The Sunday Age newspaper reported. Accredited volunteers will be able to teach their philosophy in the class time allotted for religious instruction, the newspaper said.

As with lessons delivered by faith groups, parents will be able to request that their children do not participate. "Atheistical parents will be pleased to hear that humanistic courses of ethics will soon be available in some state schools," Victorian Humanist Society president Stephen Stuart said.

The society does not consider itself to be a religious organisation and believes ethics have "no necessary connection with religion". Humanists believe people are responsible for their own destiny and reject the notion of a supernatural force or God.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Discrimination against blacks still there in American public Schools

Nothing dramatizes the two-tier public-education system quite like the announcement by the First Couple that their daughters, 10 and 7, will attend Sidwell Friends, perhaps the elitist of the elite private schools in Washington, tuition $30,000 a year. "Sidwell," the parents joke, "is where Episcopalians teach Jews how to be Quakers." The Obamas called Sidwell, as the locals refer to it, the "best fit" of security and comfort for their children. No doubt. Few begrudge the Parents in Chief seeking the best education money can buy. It's easier than choosing a puppy.

Unfortunately, most Americans don't have that kind of opportunity or that kind of money, particularly in Washington, where the public schools are, to put it kindly, lousy. These schools are distinguished for the lowest performance rates of any school district in the nation despite spending $13,000 per pupil, third highest in the country.

No congressman sends his children to public schools in the nation's capital. More than a quarter of the teachers in the public schools send their children to private school. The Obamas noted that their friends, many of whom will become colleagues on the White House staff, send their daughters to private schools. Joe Biden's grandchildren will go to school with the Obama girls. Chelsea Clinton went to Sidwell and then on to Stanford and Oxford. President Carter sent his daughter Amy to a public school for a while, but soon reconsidered and sent her to Sidwell and then to Brown. Private-school education doesn't determine acceptance to an elite college, but it makes it easier.

Though Washington has several good charter schools, which are funded with public money and run independently of the public-school bureaucracy, their capacity is limited. (The Obama girls would likely have made the cut.) My grandsons attend one, and there's a long waiting list. Charters are not burdened with platinum-plated union contracts and "teacher tenure" designed to protect the incompetents.

Reforms are vehemently opposed by the American Federation of Teachers, the big umbrella union with lots of clout. Beholden as he is to the unions, the president-elect is not likely to offend them. He has emphatically opposed vouchers because they "might benefit some kids at the top; what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." Unlike his own kids, who have already fled.

Few parents (and grandparents) I've talked to envy the Obamas for their presidential privileges -- the servants and limousines and the big Boeing 747 -- but they truly envy their ability to educate their children in a good school. Michelle Obama insists that her daughters will make their own beds and won't rely on the servants, and good for her. But neither will they get a glimpse of how most of the children in Washington, the majority of whom are black, suffer from an inferior education. That's a vividly drawn line dividing childhood friendships.

The public schools were segregated by race when I grew up in Washington. They're segregated just as rigidly today by economic class, as schools are in many cities, and the result is all but the same -- public schools for blacks, private schools for whites. I once took my son out of a public school because his American history teacher was absent more days than she was on the job; in one conversation, she couldn't identify the fourth president of the United States without consulting her lesson plan, and was not embarrassed for it. She was protected, as incompetent teachers are protected today, by union-backed tenure.

Michelle Rhee, the tough new chancellor of the Washington schools who gets more grief than thanks for trying to do something about the quality of education, offered teachers who agree to give up tenure considerably higher pay. Most declined. They know what we know -- that few could pass merit muster.

In the bad old days, Southerners often said they would be happy to send their children to school with the likes of the children of Ralph Bunche, the secretary-general of the United Nations and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but not with the children the elite private schools wouldn't take. Such thinking was, of course, racist. Nobody would say such a thing today. But many poor black (and white) children get a public school education in the ghettos that wouldn't prepare them for Sidwell Friends even if their parents could afford it.

Administrative and economic racism, which President Bush called "the bigotry of low expectations," dooms these children, and perpetuates prejudice, as well. Racism, like that rose by any other name, still smells -- but it's not sweet.


German Family Freed from Criminal Charges for Homeschooling

After living under a cloud of criminal charges since 2007, the Brause family in Germany has finally been cleared of criminal child neglect for having homeschooled their five children. On December 2nd, Johannes Hildebrandt of the International Human Rights Group (IHRG), who had assisted the family's legal battle, reported that the German court and the prosecutor are dropping charges against Mr. and Mrs. Brause. The Brouses had paid several fines and faced up to 2 years in prison as well as the potential loss of their children, who had been placed under the custody of the youth welfare office, or Jugendamt, since March 2007.

The children - Rosine, Jotham, Kurt-Simon, Lovis and Ernst - were allowed to stay at home during this time but were vulnerable to seizure by the government at any moment unless their parents submitted to the government's demands and enrolled them in public school. "We are pleased that the court and the prosecuting counsel asked whether the process can be ended," said Joel Thornton, President and General Counsel for the IHRG. The decision came after the court received a detailed psychiatric assessment proving that no psychological harm was done to the children from homeschooling. The two eldest children also proved their scholastic aptitude by successfully completing public school exams.

The Brause family may now choose whether to have a sentence of acquittal in a public meeting in court, or a document issued declaring the process closed and the charges dropped. The decision is being hailed as a major victory for families' right to choose education in Germany, where homeschooling has been illegal since the Third Reich. Chancellor Adolf Hitler banned private schooling in 1938 in order to indoctrinate Nazi ideology through public schools, and created the Jugendamt in 1939 to supervise German families.

Human rights groups have been strongly critical of Germany's totalitarian policies on education and the activities of the Jugendamt, which gained negative press when cracking down on another homeschooling family about the same time last year. After the Buskeros family consistently refused to return their 15-year-old daughter Melissa to public school, fifteen police officers forcibly seized the girl and placed her in a foster home in a location undisclosed to her parents, during which time she was allowed to see her family once a week.

Despite igniting outrage from Christians and human rights activists around the world, the German government continued to hold Melissa against her will, while falsely claiming to German media that the teen was happy in state custody. Practically the instant midnight struck on her 16th birthday, however - an age carrying greater independence under German law - Melissa left the foster home and arrived on her family's doorstep at 3 a.m., after almost three months away from home.


Elite British universities discriminate against academic merit

More than half of leading universities discriminate in favour of students from deprived backgrounds, sparking a fresh row over "social engineering". An official report reveals the majority of institutions belonging to the elite Russell Group show favour to sixth-formers from poor-performing schools. One in five give priority to applicants' whose parents missed out on higher education. And 53 per cent of universities take students' "family problems" into account as an admissions tiebreaker.

According to the report, Nottingham - which traditionally attracts more applicants than any other university - said students' A-level grades "may be valued more highly" if applicants were refugees or came from the traveller community, poor homes or a family without a history of going to university.

Last night, it prompted claims that children were being "punished" for attending a good school. Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: "This will inevitable lead to someone with great potential, who doesn't tick all these boxes, being deprived of his or her rightful place. Social engineering like this can only weaken the university system and leave a sour taste in the mouth of many parents who see their bright and hard-working children denied places on social grounds."

The disclosure was made in a Government-backed study published four years after a landmark commission on fair access to university. The 2004 report, led by Professor Steven Schwartz, the former vice-chancellor of Brunel University, said institutions had to take a "wider view" of an applicant's potential to close the gap between the number of students admitted from professional and unskilled homes.

In the latest study, the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions unit, based at Sheffield Hallam University, said many "positive changes" had been made by universities in light of the Schwartz Report. It surveyed almost three-quarters of universities and colleges. Four in 10 vice-chancellors and principals said "should choose students partly in order to achieve a social mix".

The report said the 20-strong Russell Group - which includes Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London, Nottingham and St Andrews - were most likely to use admissions procedures to achieve a mixed student body. More than half of all universities - 51 per cent - said it was fair to make lower-grade offers to sixth formers from poor-performing schools and deprived homes.

Among Russell Group members, 53 per cent considered whether students attended a "low-achieving school" or had family problems, 40 per cent marked-up students in local authority care, 40 per cent favoured candidates with disabilities and 20 per cent looked favourably on those without university-educated parents.

Earlier this year, an investigation by the Telegraph found the London School of Economics, Bristol, Nottingham, Newcastle, and Edinburgh were among those allowing staff to admit students from poor-performing comprehensives with worse A-levels than those from top schools.

Dr Wendy Piatt, Russell Group director general, said: "A-level qualifications are a key source of information about academic ability but we do not just rely on exam grades. Russell Group universities take a range of factors and information into account to ensure that we can identify the candidates with the most potential to excel on our courses - whatever their social or educational background."

David Lammy, Higher Education Minister, said: "Creating a transparent and open admissions process is crucial to ensuring fair access and maintaining public confidence in our universities and colleges."


Too many uni students cry poor

By Ross Gittins, a Left-leaning Australian economist

I like to think I care about the plight of the less fortunate. But if you feel sorry for everyone with a hard-luck story you debase the currency. So one of the groups I've never had much sympathy for is self-pitying university students. They're middle-class kids pretending to be poor and deserving, whereas they're actually setting themselves up for a life of well-above-average earnings. The few years of their life they spend having to scrimp and save won't do them any harm. It might teach them to have some concern for the genuinely needy.

Psychologists say we read less for enlightenment than to reinforce our existing opinions, and I found much to support my prejudices in last week's report on the private costs of tertiary education, prepared by the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling for AMP. Let's start with the much maligned Higher Education Contribution Scheme. When the Howard government was increasing HECS payments we got used to reading scandalised reports about how the cost of a medical degree for someone having to buy their way into uni had blown out to almost $200,000. As is the media's wont, this was an extreme example. Turns out that for students graduating last year, their average total fee was $20,500. That's less than you'd borrow to buy a car.

The report estimates that it takes the average single male or female seven or eight years to pay off the HECS debt. Does that sound a long time? It's certainly longer than you'd be given to pay off most commercial loans. But that's a sign of the generosity of the scheme. You don't have to start making repayments until your income hits $41,600 a year ($800 a week), at which point the repayments start at $32 a week. The report estimates that it may take a male sole parent with two children as long as 14 years to repay his debt, while a female sole parent in similar circumstances may never get her debt paid off.

Does that sound bad? It's actually good. The point of the scheme is that your repayments are geared to your income, so that if you don't earn much - or don't earn anything while you're off minding kids - the Government will wait as long as it takes for its money. And, unlike any commercial lender, it doesn't charge a real interest rate while it waits. To me, the fact that sole parents fallen on hard times may never be required to repay the charge for their education is a virtue, not a vice.

It's sometimes objected that lumbering our young graduates with all this debt must surely reduce their ability to afford a home of their own. But the report finds little evidence to support this fear - which is hardly surprising. Why? Because the greatest impediment to owning a home isn't having to repay a HECS debt, it's not having the high salary that goes with being a uni graduate. That, to me, is the point. When you become a university graduate you're translated to the ranks of the privileged in our community.

Professor Bruce Chapman of the Australian National University estimates that, on average, the lifetime earnings of graduates are about 70 per cent greater than for those who went only to year 12. That difference averages more than $1.5 million, even after you allow for the earnings students forgo when they study full-time. And we're supposed to feel sorry for kids who can't buy everything they want for a few years while they qualify to enter the winners' circle?

It's not just more income that being a graduate gets you, of course. Graduates tend to have jobs that are cleaner, safer, more secure and more intellectually satisfying. They're far less likely to be out of work during their lives. And they ought to have had their minds opened to wonders of the world. It's these private benefits to possessors of a tertiary education that justify the Government requiring them to contribute towards the cost of that education. But the report finds our uni fees are third highest among developed countries.

Even that's not quite as bad as it sounds. Our fees are about a third lower than students pay in Japan, about a quarter lower than in the United States and not much higher than in Canada. What's more, few countries allow their university fees to be paid on the generous terms we do. With us, you don't have to pay a cent until you've graduated and are earning a decent salary, nor do you ever pay a real interest rate. The scheme was designed that way to ensure the fees didn't deter kids from poor families from going to uni.

But just how deprived are uni students? Well, two-thirds of full-time uni students under 25 live at home, so they're probably not doing too badly. Some of these would be eligible for the Government's youth allowance but most wouldn't because their parents' incomes are too high. More than 60 per cent of full-time uni students of all ages have jobs. Forty per cent work up to 19 hours a week, 15 per cent work between 20 and 34 hours a week and 6 per cent work full-time.

Full-time students under 25 who live in group households have earnings averaging only about a third of the earnings of full-time workers under 25 living in group households - $270 a week versus $820 a week. But, on average, the students spend $540 a week each, which is only about 20 per cent less than the $690 a week the workers spend.

That tells us two things. First, the students can't be greatly deprived and, second, they must still be being propped up by their parents even though they've left home. Sounds to me, if anything, it's the students' parents we should feel sorry for. But I bet the kids don't see it that way.