Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beverly Hills schools to boot outsiders

The very uneven quality of tax-funded schools again

Threats on Facebook, name-calling, security guard escorts -- tempers are running high around schools these days in this normally sedate enclave of ostentatious wealth. The reason: The Beverly Hills school board is preparing to boot out 10 percent of its students as it ends a decades-old practice of allowing out-of-district pupils to attend city schools on "opportunity permits."

The move has upset many so-called "permit parents" -- mostly middle-class families living in the tonier areas of Los Angeles who are loath to send their children to the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, where more than a quarter of high-schoolers drop out. "Every family on permit is outraged," said Simy Levy, a Los Angeles resident whose two daughters attend school in Beverly Hills. "It's incredibly unfair."

The plan, which is expected to get final board approval next month, comes as the Beverly Hills Unified School District switches to a budget plan financed directly by the city's well-to-do tax base instead of with state money based on enrollment. The change results from steep cuts in state education funds that has left several affluent communities across the nation paying more school taxes to the state than they receive.

Beverly Hills is the latest to consider the self-financing model, in which the district would keep its school taxes and forgo the $6,239 the state sends for each nonresident student. Without the financial incentive of enrolling outsiders, district officials are concerned their taxpayers would be subsidizing nonresidents' education.

"What is wrong with me saying, 'We have to save our resources for residents?' " said Lisa Korbatov, Beverly Hills school board vice president. "Our police do not respond to neighboring cities if someone is mugged or assaulted."

As education dollars dry up, districts across the nation are taking a closer look at nonresident students. In Tonganoxie, Kan., school officials are considering charging outsiders tuition if state law allows them to do so. Many other districts are aggressively weeding out illegally enrolled outsiders.

The students booted from Beverly Hills would leave schools that have won state and federal recognition for academic excellence. The district offers a rich menu of extracurricular activities, ranging from madrigal singers to water polo. Facilities include an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a swimming pool underneath.

Facebook pages have sprung up on both sides, with police investigating one posting that called for "machine gun machetes" to be used against those who favor ending permits. Board meetings have turned unruly with accusations that members were acting like Hitler. Miss Korbatov had a security guard escort her to her car after a recent session.


Politicizing Preschool

Universal health care may top the wish-lists of many liberals this Christmas -- but universal preschool isn’t far behind. President Obama is doing his best to play the role of Santa, bringing subsidized pre-kindergarten to a growing number of American families.

The president has called for $10 billion in new funding for preschool programs, and Congress is working to deliver. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $5 billion for preschool and childcare programs. In September, the House passed a higher education bill that included an $8 billion “Early Learning Challenge Fund” to provide grants to states to expand subsidized preschool. The Senate is expected to follow suit.

These proposals are based on the belief that “investments” in early childhood education yield significant long-term benefits for children served. As President Obama himself promised, “For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime.”

If the president is right, we should look forward to a safer, healthier, and welfare-free world sometime soon, thanks to our federal “investments” in preschool. In 2009, taxpayers will spend $25 billion on the federal government’s 69 federal preschool and childcare programs.

Unfortunately, little is known about whether these programs work. One might think that Congress and the administration would be focusing on evaluating these programs’ effectiveness before spending another $8 billion on preschool. Actually, there is reason to believe that they are instead ignoring empirical evidence that undermines the case for a new federal preschool program.

Consider the saga of the Head Start program and its national evaluation. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created Head Start, the first national preschool and childcare program serving low-income children. Nearly 45 years later, the federal government has spent more than $100 billion on it. With annual funding of approximately $7 billion, Head Start currently spends at least $7,300 annually on each of the 900,000 low-income children served.

For more than a decade, Congress has been trying to figure out whether Head Start has provided lasting benefits for participating children. In 1997, the GAO reviewed the available literature on Head Start’s impact and concluded that body of research was inadequate for drawing conclusions about the program’s effectiveness. This finding led Congress in 1998 to mandate a national evaluation of Head Start’s impact on participants.

Seven years later, the Department of Health and Human Services released the preliminary findings of the national impact evaluation -- comparing the development of children served by Head Start with their peers who didn’t participate in the program. In the critical area of cognitive development, the evaluation found that Head Start’s participants experienced modestly positive benefits compared to their peers who weren’t served by the program. Head Start children outperformed their peers in four out of the six cognitive constructs: pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary, and parent reports of students’ literacy skills.

But the 2005 evaluation looked only at children’s developmental progress after one year in Head Start. It didn’t address the $100 billion question: Does Head Start provide lasting benefits?
This question would be addressed by future evaluations of the performance of former Head Start students and their peers through the end of first grade and third grade. Data collection for the initial study of first graders’ progress was completed in the spring of 2006.

Three years have now passed. According to the HHS Web site, this project was supposed to be completed by March 2009. But the findings of the congressionally-mandated evaluation have never been made public.

One can’t help but wonder: What’s causing the delay? Former HHS officials have told me that they were briefed on the results of the first-grade evaluation in 2008. They report that the evaluation found that, overall, Head Start participants experienced zero lasting benefits compared to their non-Head Start peers by the end of first grade. These officials expressed little surprise that the report’s release had been delayed.

Is the Department of HHS burying a damaging study? Perhaps there’s a good explanation for the delay. But without raising the question, we won’t know the answer. Before taxpayers “invest” another $8 billion in another preschool program, we deserve to know whether programs like Head Start are, indeed, making a lasting difference.

President Obama has said that his administration’s only test for deciding what education programs to fund with our “precious tax dollars” will be whether it “works.” It’s time to find out whether he will keep his word -- even if it means bad news for one of liberals’ favorite initiatives.


Jewish literature a no-go area on U.S. campuses

The Modern Language Association is famous for the provocative titles of sessions at its annual meeting. But the provocative title of one session Sunday night -- so surprising to several MLA members that they expressed disbelief when told about it -- contained no sexual wordplay or trendy literary buzzwords. The title: Does the English Department Have a Jewish Problem?

One reason the question is such a surprise is that there is no apparent shortage of Jews among those who study or teach literature. But the problem defined and debated here wasn't about Jews as students or professors, but about experts in teaching Jewish literature (a group by no means limited to Jews).

The underlying premise of the panel was that English departments that would never allow themselves to be without experts in the literatures of many racial and ethnic groups in the United States don't think twice about failing to have a knowledge base in American Jewish literature. Further, the view of many here is that discussions about multicultural literature that ought to include Jewish writers simply don't.

Joshua Lambert, an assistant professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, kicked off the discussion with an analysis of the top 20 English departments (as judged by U.S. News & World Report, a source that he acknowledged was flawed, but that he used to get a group of programs at highly regarded universities). He found that at these departments, every one has at least two and typically more specialists in African-American literature. All but two have at least one scholar focused on Asian-American literature. All but five have a Latino literature expert. All but 9 have an expert in Native American literature on the faculty.

Only two of the institutions have a tenure-track faculty member whose area of expertise is American Jewish literature, he said. (The University of Michigan, where Lambert earned his doctorate, is so ahead of the pack, with seven, that someone later referred to it with admiration as a shtetl.) Five other universities had at least someone with interest (as stated on departmental listings of faculty expertise) in Jewish studies, but Lambert said none of them have published on American Jewish literature or can read Yiddish. Six of the departments have experts in Holocaust literature and here, Lambert did not dispute the expertise.

But he did question why that one literature should be so much more present -- in literature departments in the United States -- than American Jewish fiction and culture. It is "fascinating and unfortunate ... that the genocide of Jews can seem more worthy of attention than the culture of Jews themselves," he said.

Looking at courses at these top 20 universities, he found 12 of them have offered courses on American Jewish literature, but only 4 have been taught by tenure-track professors (and one of those was last taught in 2001).

As another illustration of why Jewish literature is not necessarily valued (at least as Jewish), Lambert read this text from the Web site of one of the universities: The American literature faculty, the department boasted, "represent the full scope of ethnic American literatures: African American, Asian American, Caribbean, Chicana/o, Latina/o, Native American." Lambert said it was striking to see a department define "the full scope" in that way.

Lambert was quick to note that he was not alleging anti-Semitism or a mass "marginalization" of Jewish scholars. But he said it was clear that while Jewish literature is taught, it is "not a hiring priority" and "not considered a research specialty" that matters to many departments....

Several of the speakers said that both faculty and student attitudes are influenced -- unreasonably, they argued -- by the Middle East. Rachel Rubinstein, assistant professor of American literature and Jewish studies at Hampshire College and the author of Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination (forthcoming from Wayne State University Press), said that students view Jewish issues as being solely about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, a subject that has become "fetishized." Meanwhile, she said, “Jewishness has been associated with Israel, white privilege, colonialism and racism."

More here

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Courageous NY Student seeks balance in teaching of controversial topics

A Rhinebeck High School sophomore is urging the school district to require alternative views be presented by teachers on controversial topics like climate change.

Michelle Dewkett said the global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was being shown in science and English classes without equal weight being given to other positions on the topic. “As of now, the teaching of controversial topics is out of control,” Dewkett told members of the Board of Education on Tuesday. She also said the district is not following its own policy of providing students with a wide range of materials.

Dewkett cited a class on global warming as an example, saying the effects of human activity on the environment are not being balanced with information about the natural course of changes on Earth. “It says (global warming) will kill us all without offering any alternative views throughout high school,” she said. “This goes against board policy which states ‘Teachers shall approach controversial topics in an impartial and unprejudiced manner.’”

Dewkett also questioned the showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” as part of an English course, saying district policy states that “material will not be introduced for their own sake and must be part of normal instruction.”

School district officials did not immediately respond to Dewkett’s comments but previously have encouraged students and parents to offer their views during annual planning sessions of the Board of Education’s Curriculum Committee.

Dewkett said afterward that there is support for presenting other viewpoints in courses but that calling for change has been difficult. “My friend and I want to start a club for young conservatives in Rhinebeck,” she said. “Right now, though, when someone wants to talk about these things, there are a lot of students that really don’t want to hear them.”


British boys aged three 'must work more': Government demands action to close the nursery school gender gap

This is absurd. Boys are later developers than girls. Ignoring that is evil

Boys aged three and four must be made to write more to stop them falling behind girls before they even reach school, the Government will order nurseries and childminders. New boy-friendly guidance is to be sent to all nurseries and childminders advising them to get the youngest boys to take more interest in writing, scribbling and drawing – basically just putting pencil to paper.

After a year of school, more than one in six boys cannot write his own name or simple words such as "mum", "dad" or "cat" – double the number of girls – official figures show.

Early-years experts condemned the move, arguing that having more targets to get children writing by the age of five would be "developmentally inappropriate" and potentially damaging, particularly for boys. But Dawn Primarolo, the Children's minister, said in an interview with The Independent that after 12 years of Labour government, the gender gap remained a "stubborn" and "worrying" problem.

"It is about readiness to learn. It is part of the development process. There is a gap, and it is a worrying gap," Ms Primarolo said. "What we can see is that boys, particularly on emotional development, lag behind girls. That emotional development is very important in language development through play before they start school and reading and writing. "Although that gap between boys and girls is closing, in writing it is still quite wide."

The guidance, which will be sent to nurseries from January, will include advice to set up role-play activities tailored to boys' interests, such as builders taking phone messages and writing up orders, post office employees writing on forms, and waiters taking orders from customers. Boys will also be encouraged to write using unusual materials such as chocolate powder and coloured sand to make marks on the floor and walls outside.

Ms Primarolo said the new guidance aims to get all nurseries and childminders to learn from those who have successfully narrowed the gender gap.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Some boys don't enjoy writing or see it as relevant – but teachers and practitioners can make it fun and relevant. The guidance will offer practical examples about how to do this. "Because boys don't seem to be as interested as girls in drawing and mark-making, it is important that practitioners ensure that this doesn't then result in limited access to resources such as paper, crayons, paint etc, and insufficient opportunities or encouragement for boys to write."

Official figures released earlier this year showed that boys were lagging further behind girls by the age of five since the introduction of Labour's "nappy curriculum". Boys are also less likely to know the alphabet, or how to count to 10, sing simple nursery rhymes from memory, dress themselves and work well with classmates at the end of the reception year, before they start Year One.

The figures were the first results from the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory programme introduced in September last year for all schools, nurseries and childminders. Overall, just over half of children reached government targets for all areas of early development, including personal and social skills, literacy, problem-solving and numeracy, physical development, and creativity.

Some 52 per cent of five-year-olds were competent in all areas – a three-percentage-point rise from last year. However, boys were significantly less likely than girls to start the first full year of school properly prepared. The gender gap widened in three key areas: writing, problem-solving and elements of personal development. The Government said that at least 23,000 more children had reached a good level of development this summer compared with 2008.

Child-development specialists have opposed the writing targets for five-year-olds since they were first proposed, arguing that many children, particularly boys, do not develop the fine motor skills needed for writing until they are six or seven.

Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book 21st Century Boys, described the decision as "state-sponsored child abuse", arguing that boys were developmentally behind at birth and needed time to "run, jump and play, in order to acquire the physical control and capacity to focus that they will need later on". She said: "The Government's belief that they can accelerate human development is just nonsense. This is massive control freakery which will be disastrous for the children. These very young children have become hostages to political fortunes because ministers believe that their political futures depend on getting a certain number of children to reach these targets by the age of five. That is just wrong."

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University and a founder of the Open Eye campaign against the early-years curriculum, warned that many of the targets for five-year-olds were inappropriate for the age group. He added: "Many of the much-criticised 'teaching to test', assessment-driven characteristics of the primary school are now invading our nursery settings."


Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab radicalized while at a prestigious British university

British universities are breeding grounds of anti-Western attitudes too

According to, an online magazine for Muslim students, War on Terror Week at University College London was one of the events of the year in 2007. There was a slick video advertisement for the event, an eye-catching poster and packed lecture theatres for five days of discussions about Guantánamo Bay, allegations of torture and the subject of “Jihad v Terrorism”.

The website reported the week of talks as “informative, relevant and always entertaining — the audience got involved with a good mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim attendees asking tough questions of the speakers”. In a corner of the poster, the event is declared to have been “approved by Umar Farook, president of UCLU Islamic Society”. The speakers advertised included George Galloway, the Respect MP; Geoffrey Bindman, the human rights lawyer; and former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

The Nigerian student who organised “War on Terror Week” in January 2007 is now better known as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be suicide bomber who tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner last week.

Mr Galloway said last night that he did not attend any of the events in War on Terror Week and had no record in his parliamentary diary of any contact with UCL Islamic Society. Mr Bindman, a visiting professor at UCL, said that he could not recall the event or meeting Mr Abdulmutallab.

UCL has confirmed that Mr Abdulmutallab was a mechanical engineering student on its Central London campus in 2005-08 and in the academic year 2006-07 was president of the student union’s Islamic Society.

His role in organising War on Terror Week is the first indication that during his years in London he was heavily involved in radical political activity. Experts believe that this would have put him at risk of being groomed by al-Qaeda recruiters who routinely prey on such radical religious and political gatherings. “Before someone goes off for explosives training they have to be converted to the cause of al-Qaeda,” said Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham.

“I think that happened in London in the case of Abdulmutallab, as has happened to many others. He is one of a considerable number of people who have turned to al-Qaeda after being recruited in the UK. This recruitment often goes on where political events take place. Those who speak at such events are not terrorists, but they are being irresponsible if they do not realise that what they say could contribute to the radicalisation of people who could then be recruited into terror.”

The emerging picture of Mr Abdulmutallab is of a lonely young man who arrived in London as a devout, sometimes angry, figure and became increasingly radicalised while here.

He had previously joined discussions on an internet message board that revealed a confused and alienated personality. Writing in January 2005 under the name Farouk1986, he said: “I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems.” He talked of wrestling with liberalism and extremism and striving to live according to the Koran’s teaching.

And he confessed to having “jihad fantasies”, writing: “I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win (Allah willing) and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again.” But many more of his posts were about football, suggesting that he was far from being the finished article as a mujahidin.

Within a year of arriving in London Mr Abdulmutallab started to adopt a more formal religious dress code, including a white robe and skullcap.

He is reported to have attended some of the radical meetings held at London colleges and mosques. He is understood to have attended talks given by the extremist US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki at East London Mosque. Awlaki, who was later banned from Britain and is believed to be in hiding with al-Qaeda in Yemen, where Mr Abdulmutallab spent months.

Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL, told the BBC: “We are very shocked by what has happened and we will be reflecting on it very carefully but — as presently advised — there was nothing about his conduct which gave his tutors any cause for concern.” Professor Grant said students were admitted to UCL on merit and there could not be vetting of their “political, racial or religious background or beliefs”.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Teaching that America is a 'hellhole' called 'creative' at the University of Minnesota

'Hate-filled' would be more like it

A lawyer for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus has confirmed to an educational rights organization that a plan described by a critic as teaching America as a "hellhole" hasn't been adopted, and came about because of brainstorming efforts by the education department.

The issue of the program at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was raised by officials with The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The group questioned President Robert Bruinicks about the legality of the program. The proposal included the suggestion of examinations of teacher candidates on "white privilege" as well as "remedial re-education" for those who hold the "wrong" views.

The FIRE today announced that in response to its pressure on the university, officials there are backing away from their plans "to enforce a political litmus test." "The plans from its College of Education and Human Development involved redesigning admissions and the curriculum to enforce an ideology centered on a narrow view of 'cultural competence," the FIRE announced. "Those with the 'wrong' views were to receive remedial re-education, be weeded out, or be denied admission altogether," the group said.

However, a letter to FIRE from General Counsel Mark B. Rotenberg said those plans, while recommendations, were not adopted. "Neither the university nor CEHD has adopted or implemented any 'new policies' discussed in the particular … task force report submitted in July 2009 from which you quoted extensively," his letter to the organization said. "The task force report at issue was one of seven separate task force reports; none of them has been adopted as CEHD policy…

"The various task group reports reflect the creative thinking of many faculty members charged with exploring ideas to improve P-12 education and student achievement," he continued. "CEHD Dean Jean Quam has characterized the various task froup reports as 'faculty brainstorming' on how best to accomplish this curricular redesign." Further, he said, "no university policy or practice ever will mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs.'"

"We are relieved that the University of Minnesota has finally committed itself to upholding the freedom of conscience of its students," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Prospective teachers will keep the right to have their own thoughts, values, and beliefs." He promised FIRE would continue to watch the university's actions. Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said the college's next version of the plan "must reflect" the school's newest commitment.

The plan from the college's Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group had suggested requiring every future teacher to accept theories of "white privileges, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and internalized oppression;" "develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity;" and "recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism ... but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation," according to the documentation...

More here

British private schools hampered by incessant government regulation

Private schools are losing their independence because of endless government regulation and a tick-box culture, according to a leading headmistress. Gillian Low, the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association, warned that a barrage of rules from Whitehall was diverting teachers away from education. Such rules were counterproductive and robbed independent schools of the idiosyncrasies that were the key to their success, Mrs Low said.

She added: “Each school is a bit different and demands a slightly different approach.” The problem was that the Government started from the point of not trusting people, she said.

Head teachers and teachers in the majority of schools were experienced professionals who knew how to deal with issues such as bullying and parental complaints, according to Mrs Low. “The problem is [that] the regulations keep changing. We are on our third variation of regulation guidance this year, and the fourth is coming.” Mrs Low, who is head of Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, southwest London, said: “It is a very difficult way to operate when faced with that frequency of change.”

She said the danger was that overregulation and micromanagement created a “tick-box culture” that rarely led to school improvement. Success was gained by giving people responsibility and ownership, she said.

The Department for Schools said: “The Government is keen to support the delivery of high-quality education by schools in the independent sector. “But it is right that parents and the wider public are assured that all schools — whether in the maintained or independent sector — provide their pupils with a suitable education in a safe and secure environment.” [Blah, Blah, Blah]


Policies for Britain in 2010: Free schools

Assuming the Conservatives win the upcoming General Election, it looks like Britain will finally get a fully fledged school choice scheme in 2010 – something the Adam Smith Institute has been pushing for ever since it was founded. Under Michael Gove’s planned reforms, parents would be free to choose which school their children attended, with government funding following that choice. Crucially, Gove also aims to liberate the supply-side of education, by allowing charities, companies, groups of parents and so on to set up new schools, which would compete with existing state sector ones.

The policy is not perfect: with the Conservatives saying they would not allow schools to make a profit, how many private companies would get involved in providing education? In Sweden, where a similar school choice scheme was set up in 1994, for-profit companies have been the dominant providers of new school places, and have often been the most innovative and successful market entrants. But regardless, school choice is a great idea that could have a transformative effect on British education. As well as empowering parents (itself a valuable objective), the competition it unleashes will drive up standards as good schools prosper and bad ones go out of business, and will also encourage schools to innovate, specialise, and tailor their services to their pupils.

But it is vital that the Conservatives understand that an effective school system needs more than just parental choice and voucher-style funding arrangements. Schools must also be freed from a whole raft of red-tape if the benefits of competition are really to be felt. Firstly, starting a new school needs to be made much easier – planning laws need to be radically altered, and bureaucratic processes dramatically streamlined. Secondly, schools need to be given far more freedom about how and what they teach – that means getting rid of the national curriculum and compulsory standardized tests, and allowing schools to pick whichever exam system they think best (be it GCSE/A-Level, iGCSE/Pre-U, the IB, or whatever). Thirdly, the teaching profession needs a big shake-up. Teachers should be employed by schools, not the government, and should have individually negotiated contracts, not nationally collective-bargained ones. Just as importantly, the route into the teaching profession should be liberalised, with schools themselves taking greater responsibility for teacher training and certification. Finally, these freedoms should not just be for new schools, but should be extended to schools currently in the state sector, all of which should become independent – perhaps as trusts, perhaps as parent-teacher co-operatives, or perhaps under some other management structure.

Ultimately, what needs to be realized is that school choice involves the wholesale rejection of the comprehensive ideology – that one size, determined by Whitehall, fits all – and the adoption a completely new outlook: let a thousand flowers bloom.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Thousands of Children’s Wish-Lists Include Chance to Attend a Good School

While many kids have sent their wish lists to Santa Claus, millions of kids around the country are wishing for an even more important gift this year—the chance to attend a good school.

Brooke Dollins Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation published an important report documenting the long waiting lists at the Lone Star State’s charter schools. She found that: “Last year, 40,813 students were on waiting lists to attend a public charter school in Texas,” This number is more than double the 16,810 students the previous year.” Texas is not alone with its long waiting list. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an estimated 365,000 students were on charter school waiting lists this year.

At these over-subscribed charter schools, lotteries are generally held to decide which lucky kids get the chance to attend. This means that whether or not a child has a chance to attend a good school often depends on whether their ping-pong ball or number is chosen randomly out of a box. That’s right: their futures are decided by chance.

Of course, lotteries are also held to determine which children get to participate in over-subscribed private school choice programs. For example, in 1999, the non-profit Children’s Scholarship Fund announced that it would award tuition scholarships to 40,000 low-income students across the country. More than 1 million children applied. Lotteries were held in participating cities. In Baltimore, for example, more than 40 percent of eligible children applied. Oversubscribed voucher programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarships have been forced to hold lotteries to determine which lucky kids get to attend private school.

Something is seriously wrong with American education when whether children have an opportunity to attend good schools is left up to chance.

This holiday season, elected officials across the country—from school boards to state houses to Capitol Hill—should resolve to answer children’s wishes to attend good schools by reforming education policies to give all families the power to choose the best learning environment for their children. For starters, they can do this by enacting private school choice policies like scholarships and tax credits, by allowing more high-performing charter schools to open, and by expanding access to online learning and virtual education programs. No child’s future should be determined by a lottery.


Australia: Newer playgrounds are too dull for kids

FINDING a decent playground these school holidays should be a walk in the park, but parents and health experts say the quality of Melbourne play spots for children is on the slide. New-age playgrounds designed to minimise injury have come under fire for being boring and limiting.

Experts have warned a lack of older-style "adventure" playgrounds could be holding back our children's development. Child nutritionist Kim Bishop, of Yu Food and Lifestyle, said old-fashioned playgrounds let children exercise more effectively. "I certainly tend to go for the older playgrounds rather than the more sterile environments," Ms Bishop said. "At a playground, kids need a space where they are free to move in a variety of different ways. "There has even been controversy around sandpits as play spaces, but I think it's important to let kids put their hands and feet in dirt and sand."

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have launched a study on the declining quality and number of playgrounds and their effect on children. The project's research leader, Lisa Wood, has said councils and schools go overboard in creating safe and sterile environments, and that children should be given greater scope to play.

Docklands mum-of-three Kristy Seymour-Smith agreed, saying playgrounds should be designed for fun. "I think of the playgrounds that were around when I was a kid - they were quite a bit different," Ms Seymour-Smith said. "As long as there's supervision, they can be fun and safe at the same time."


Australia: Centre to tame violent preschoolers

Without physical punishment, it is almost certain to be ineffective but it least it will keep the badly behaved ones away from the others for a while

CHILDREN as young as four who are too violent to teach will be sent to Queensland's first behaviour school for Prep students. The trial centre will open in January and comes as primary teachers complain of being hit, kicked and sworn at. Experts say the epidemic of broken families and substance abuse in the home is fuelling the anger and volatile behaviour in young children.

Educators want the initiative rolled out across Queensland to protect staff and other students and save troubled kids from growing into dangerous adults. The Early Years Education Centre, partly funded by Education Queensland, will be based on the Gold Coast. Problem students aged between four and six will be referred by state schools and undertake a course for up to a semester. Their parents will be encouraged to take part and will be taught life skills in recognition that behaviour problems usually stem from home.

Education Queensland's South Coast Region executive director Glen Hoppner said principals, parents, teachers and other agencies would confer before referring students. Mr Hoppner said behaviours that "impeded a student's capacity to successfully engage in learning and to interact socially" would be addressed with both parents and students. "To our knowledge, this is the first such centre with this unique collaborative community-based approach," he said.

The breakthrough early intervention centre has been welcomed by teachers, with the union calling on the State Government to extend it throughout Queensland. Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said Prep students were hitting and kicking other students and teachers and throwing furniture. "It's a sad reflection on society that we actually have to go to these steps with kids so young," said Mr Ryan, who added he was concerned the program was not being properly funded by Education Queensland.

EQ will provide a teacher, teacher aide and psychologist for the centre, which will accept 12 students at a time. The community group SAILS (Sailing Adventures in Life Skills), which came up with the idea, will wear the remaining costs for up to six program facilitators and an administration officer. Money will be sought from the community and through fundraising.

SAILS director Russell McClue said there were already more students needing help than could be accommodated. Students and parents would attend three days a week for up to a semester and undergo the American-created "Incredible Years" course which he said had been proven to have the best results. Mr McClue said students would continue their Education Queensland Prep curriculum but in smaller groups with teachers trained specifically in how to deal with them. The children would also be taught how to better interact with teachers, peers and family. At the same time parents will undergo training in life skills and parenting.

Teachers will offer praise and incentives for co-operative behaviour and establish clear rules and routines that promote responsibility. They will also help children stay calm and regulate and understand their emotions.

However, child psychologist Dr Alina Morawska, from the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland, warned that grouping children together with similar problems could make behaviour worse. Dr Morawska said evidence suggested the best way to treat kids was through parenting intervention. [And how do you do that?? The stupid b*tch has obviously had very little to do with the real ferals -- who respect nobody]


Sunday, December 27, 2009

As Congress Ends D.C. Voucher Program, Qatar Moves Toward Universal School Choice

As regular readers of the Foundry know, Congress has recently moved to end the popular and effective D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, denying low-income families the chance to attend a school of their parents’ choice. Meanwhile, other countries are pushing forward with plans to give all parents school choice.

In September, Heritage’s Stuart Butler looked at the Sweden’s popular universal school voucher that began in 1992. Now, Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute explains that Qatar, the small Persian Gulf nation, is planning to move forward with a universal school voucher program:
Qatar’s voucher program, which is just being implemented this year, is part of the country’s comprehensive reform effort called “Education for a New Era.” The voucher amount will be equivalent to the per-pupil funding allotment for government-run schools. It is envisioned that this amount will pay for the majority of private-school fees, with parents paying the rest. Initially, the number of private schools will be limited, but over time that number should increase until the system is universal, with vouchers available to all Qatari parents.

“Parents will have options to select a school of their choice that suits the needs of their children,” says Adel al-Sayed, a top-ranking official at the Supreme Education Council (SEC), Qatar’s national education agency. The voucher program was adopted because it meets the principles that the SEC says inform Qatar’s education policies: schools should be autonomous, schools should be held accountable for student learning, and parents should exercise increasing levels of choice in selecting the best school for their children from a growing number of alternatives.

Parental options are a key element of internationally competitive education in the 21st century, as more countries are recognizing.


Why Britain should scrap GSCEs and return to the leaving certificates of the 1950s

The abolition of GCSEs and a return to the leaving certificate of the 1950s would stop the academic rot, writes Ken Boston (Ken Boston was chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from 2002 to 2009)

Core Business, the recent report from the Conservative think-tank Reform, is absolutely correct in calling for all 16 year-olds to undertake a broad core of academic study as part of their school programme. It errs, however, in attributing the absence of such a core to the replacement of O-levels by GCSEs in 1986, and to the introduction of vocational qualifications. The rot set in much earlier. The error matters, because it leads Core Business into proposing an inadequate solution to a very real problem.

The genesis of the problem goes back to 1951, when O-level and A-level examinations replaced the School and Higher School Certificates. The latter were single qualifications comprising a number of subjects, all of which had to be completed, and some of which – such as English and mathematics – were mandatory. The new, replacement qualifications were single-subject qualifications (for example, O-level history).

The change was highly controversial; some people argued that by dropping their weak subjects, students would be better able to demonstrate their achievements; others claimed that a qualification would only have public currency if it contained passes in five or six subjects, including English, mathematics and a foreign language.

The chickens then came home to roost. The steady transition to mass secondary education in the following half-century was accompanied by the rapid growth of new single-subject qualifications (mainly in academic rather than vocational areas), by greatly increased choice between those qualifications, and by a decline in the percentage of students taking the traditional hard-core disciplines.

In competitor countries with which Core Business compares England so unfavourably, each of the qualifications at age 16 is comprised of groups of subjects, some of which are mandatory. In the main, the qualifications are not awarded unless a pass is achieved in the compulsory subjects and in the required number of additional subjects. Although most students in England take English and mathematics at GCSE level, a pass in the two subjects is not in fact mandatory. Surprisingly, the report does not propose to make these or any other subjects compulsory.

Instead, it turns its angst on vocational qualifications, which it sees as diverting youngsters from the true path of academic study. But the reality is that the use of industry-derived curriculum for growing the minds and imaginations of 16 year-olds as part of their general secondary education has been a critical factor in raising school performance in many of the international competitor countries cited in the report.

In England, we have never understood the role of vocational curriculum in cognitive development, nor reaped its benefits: at best, vocational education is seen by many as catering for the dummies in the hope of doing something about skills shortages.

Core Business shies away from its logical conclusion: that England needs to return to a single age-16 qualification encompassing a range of subjects, some of which are mandatory, and all of which must be passed if the qualification is to be awarded.

The purpose of the qualification must be to guarantee completion of a full, well-rounded secondary education, including achieving the required level of performance in specified compulsory academic subjects. The International Baccalaureate provides a model; so does the recently announced Harrow Diploma; so too do the qualifications offered in countries far ahead of us in the international league tables.

Five years ago, in its response to the Tomlinson Report, the Government had the opportunity to introduce a single overarching qualification embracing the current GCSE and GCE qualifications, and requiring a mandatory standard of achievement in English, mathematics and other core subjects. It prevaricated, equivocated and eventually copped out. Let's hope the next Government has a clearer vision and more resolve.


New bureaucratic controls drive thousands of British childminders to quit

More than 4,000 childminders have left the profession since the Government introduced the so-called "nappy curriculum", figures show. An analysis of Ofsted figures carried out for the Conservatives found that there were 59,323 registered childminders in England at the end of September, compared to 63,600 at the end of August last year. This drop of 4,277 is equivalent to around 12 childminders leaving the job each day of the year, the Tories said.

They blamed the loss on the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), nicknamed the "nappy curriculum", which was introduced in September last year. Under the EYFS reforms, every nursery, childminder and reception class in England has to monitor children's progress towards 69 Government-set "early learning goals". But the curriculum has led to bureaucracy, excessive form filling and unnecessary red tape for schools and early years workers, the Tories said.

Maria Miller, the shadow families minister, said: "At a time when thousands of families are struggling to find affordable childcare, it is deeply worrying to learn that thousands of experienced childminders are being forced out of the profession. "The Government's new early years curriculum was supposed to improve the provision of quality childcare, but the evidence shows it is having the opposite effect. "Childminders would rather quit than deal with the reams of bureaucracy and red tape which ministers have introduced."

Dawn Primarolo, the Children's Minister, said: "Childminders have a vital role to play and we know they are valued by many parents for the unique type of childcare they provide. "We are aware that the overall number of registered childminders has declined recently. There are many possible causes, including changes in demand as a result of the recession and rising demand for other types of childcare."

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: "Our inspection evidence shows that most childminders are implementing the EYFS successfully, with 65% judged good or outstanding in helping children to learn and develop in line with the new requirements in 2008/09. "Ofsted has seen no evidence which links the reduction in the number of providers with the introduction of the EYFS."

Catherine Farrell, Joint Chief Executive of the National Childminding Association (NCMA), added: "NCMA is disappointed that the number of registered childminders is continuing to decline, albeit at a slower rate. "We know that there are a number of reasons for this, most notably changes to policy and regulatory frameworks and the challenging economic environment. "The decline is, however, partly offset by an increase in the number of 'childcare on domestic premises' settings, where childminders are choosing to work collectively."


Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Bathroom of Her Own

The coed college bathroom, like the coed college dormitory, is so common (at least in some parts of the country) that it inspires crude comedy sketches, advice columns and complaints.

At least one student who doesn't think bathrooms should be shared between male and female students is fighting back. A new lawsuit by a student at Green Mountain College charges that Vermont officials (and those in other states) have an obligation to make sure that all public buildings need to have separate bathrooms for men and women.

Jennifer Weiler, the freshman who sued, says that Green Mountain housed her in a facility where only shared bathrooms were available. When she complained, the suit says, the college designated a bathroom in her dormitory as a women's bathroom, but did nothing when male students went right on using it.

Ron Weiler, Jennifer's father, said in an interview that his daughter had no idea when enrolling that the bathrooms were shared by men and women. He said that the bathrooms feature showers with curtains, and toilets in stalls. But he said that while the female students generally disrobe and towel themselves behind the shower curtains, many male students do not, nor do the male students necessarily shut the stall doors.

"The men just disrobe in the middle of the room," Weiler said, and women shouldn't have to see that.

Weiler said that state building codes generally require public buildings -- a category that would include dormitories -- to have both men's and women's facilities. And Weiler said he complained to the college, to state officials, and to others before suing the state to compel enforcement of building codes. "What we have is that it's seen as politically incorrect to interfere with what goes on on college campuses," Weiler said.

He added that he has no problem with a college opting to have some coed bathrooms, as long as there are single-sex facilities readily available throughout any residential facilities.

Vermont and college officials couldn't be reached for comment, and the suit indicates that the state has asserted that it is not responsible for determining the bathroom breakdown at colleges. But Weiler noted that the issue has come up elsewhere and he predicted that more people might raise protests about coed bathrooms.

Bathroom Politics in Higher Ed

The suit in Vermont represents the latest twist in the politics of bathrooms in higher education. Of late, the big push has been by transgender students, who have urged the creation of coed bathrooms or of individual bathrooms, where one does not need to designate oneself in a traditional male/female dichotomy to use the facilities. But many colleges -- outside of institutions where religious or local political traditions would frown on such a move -- have had coed bathrooms for years. In part this has been a matter of convenience, as colleges that used to have strict gender separation in residence halls, with one large bathroom to a floor, have modified bathroom policies as they became open to coeducational floors.

The issue has been debated periodically at Williams College, courtesy of Wendy Shalit, an alumna who launched her career as a pundit and an advocate for sexual "modesty" with an essay in Commentary, later reprinted for a much larger audience in Reader's Digest, in which she criticized the college's coed bathrooms and linked them to the decline of traditional dating.

Shalit, in comments similar to those of Weiler's suit, says that it wasn't her own body that led her to complain but the forced closeness to others. "When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I 'must not be comfortable with [my] body.' Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about," she wrote. In an interview with the Independent Women's Forum, Shalit said that while she was mocked for expressing these views, she was thanked privately by many students who told her that they agreed, but didn't want to be labeled as prudes.

A spokesman for Williams said that changes at Williams over the years have had "the result, though not the purpose," of placing more first-year students in buildings with separate men's and women's bathrooms than was the case previously (when Shalit raised the issue).

But one of the practices Shalit criticized -- letting students on a given floor decide whether to make the bathrooms coed -- remains. "It's still the case that students organize dorm life and in some situations, over the course of the year, students determine that the cost of walking to the bathroom designated for their sex, though close by adult standards, exceeds the benefit," he said.

James Baumann, director of communications for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said that there are no national data on the percentage of colleges that have coed bathrooms. But he said that "it grows in its commonality each year."

Joey McNamara, national chair of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, which represents students who live in the halls, said that bathroom issues have come up for the group primarily when planning conferences. Some members don't want to meet at campuses that have strictly male and female bathrooms, he said.

McNamara, a student at Lynn University, said he has only experienced single-sex bathrooms and that he has sympathy for Weiler. "I think privacy needs to be allowed," he said.

Of course, at many campuses with coed bathrooms, the concerns tend to come from parents and prospective students -- while the realities of coed bathrooms are sufficiently mundane that everyone seems to get used to the situation. Michael Snively, one of the students who blogs for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admissions office, wrote on his blog that he is constantly asked to write about the issue or to answer questions about this topic during campus tours.

The post mocks the excessive interest in bathrooms, noting there are four things about which to be certain: "1) The bathrooms are coed. 2) The bathrooms do not have locks on them. 3) Yes, two people may very well be showering in the same bathroom at the same time. 4) Nobody cares. That's right guys, if you get into MIT there's a high likelihood that you'll get to stand 6 inches away from a naked senior on just your first or second day here! That goes for you too ladies, naked guys standing just 6 inches away! Oo la la!"

Snively's discussion of the topic -- including authentic, G-rated photographs -- discusses how the bathrooms are set up and offers key rules. (Knocking is important). And comments posted suggest that many MIT students get questions from their family members about the topic, and chuckle at the interest.

The article concludes: "From my experience, there are so many things at MIT that are important, difficult, and take adjusting to, worrying about bathrooms just isn't that critical. We're grown ups now, just be civil and polite and everybody gets along alright. You may not be used to having to share a bathroom with a girl or a guy, but you'll find that very little changes (except the length of the hair you find in the shower), so don't sweat the small stuff and worry more about, well, anything, more than bathrooms at MIT."


British Conservatives challege a government demand that is driving up the cost of private education

Tories 'would persuade Charity Commission to drop private school bursary demand'

A Tory government would ask the Charity Commission to soften the "public benefit" test for private schools, Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, has said. Mr Gove said that he would call an immediate meeting with the Commission over the issue.

In his strongest commitment yet to reforming the guidelines that have infuriated the independent sector, Mr Gove said that schools should be awarded charitable status for opening up their facilities to local state children. In recent rulings the commission has turned down applications from private schools on the sole ground that they do not provide enough bursaries.

The Tories want charitable status to be granted to schools like St Paul's School for Boys in west London, which runs maths "master classes" for talented pupils from the state sector. "The Charity Commission say the way private schools can demonstrate public benefit is by having more scholarships. I have no objection to that – but I think it is wrong to say that's the only way they can provide public benefit," Mr Gove told The Independent. "Rather than benefiting a small group of children, why not use their resources to the benefit of a greater number like St Paul's has done?"

Responding to criticism of Dame Suzi Leather, head of the commission, he added: "I don't want to get into personalities but we do want to talk to people at the Charity Commission about this."

Private schools that have long enjoyed charitable status have warned that they may go under if it is revoked under the commission's current interpretation of the "public benefit" test. Parents have also been told that they may face higher fees to cover the cost of bursaries for children from lower-income families if the rules are not changed.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Rot At Duke U -- And Beyond

Much of academia appears to have a disregard of due process and a bias against white males

You might think that a university whose students were victims of the most notorious fraudulent rape claim in recent history, and whose professors -- 88 of them -- signed an ad implicitly presuming guilt, and whose president came close to doing the same would have learned some lessons. The facts are otherwise. They also suggest that Duke University's ugly abuse in 2006 and 2007 of its now-exonerated lacrosse players -- white males accused by a black stripper and hounded by a mob hewing to political correctness -- reflects a disregard of due process and a bias against white males that infect much of academia.

In September, far from taking pains to protect its students from false rape charges, Duke adopted a revised "sexual misconduct" policy that makes a mockery of due process and may well foster more false rape charges by rigging the disciplinary rules against the accused.

Meanwhile, none of the 88 guilt-presuming professors has publicly apologized. (Duke's president, Richard Brodhead, did -- but too little and too late.) Many of the faculty signers -- a majority of whom are white -- have expressed pride in their rush to judgment. None was dismissed, demoted, or publicly rebuked. Two were glorified this month in Duke's in-house organ as pioneers of "diversity," with no reference to their roles in signing the ad. Three others have won prestigious positions at Cornell, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago.

The two stated reasons for the revised sexual-misconduct rules, as reported in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, almost advertise that they were driven by politically correct ideology more than by any surge in sexual assaults. "The first was... fear of litigation, as expressed by Duke General Counsel Pamela Bernard," as Johnson wrote in his blog, Durham-in-Wonderland. "Yet the policy Duke has developed seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. The second factor was a development that those in the reality-based community might consider to be a good thing: Over a three-year period, reported cases of sexual misconduct on college campuses as a whole and at Duke specifically (slightly) declined."

But for many in academia, Johnson explains, "these figures must mean something else -- that a plethora of rapes are going unreported." Indeed, Sheila Broderick, a Duke Women's Center staff member, told The Chronicle without evidence that Duke had a "rape culture." And Ada Gregory, director of the Duke Women's Center, said that "higher IQ" males, such as those at Duke, could be "highly manipulative and coercive."

The revised policy requires involving the Women's Center in the disciplinary process for all known allegations of sexual misconduct and empowers the Office of Student Conduct to investigate even if the accuser does not want to proceed.

Duke's rules define sexual misconduct so broadly and vaguely as to include any sexual activity without explicit "verbal or nonverbal" consent, which must be so "clear" as to dispel "real or perceived power differentials between individuals [that] may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion" (emphasis added).

The disciplinary rules deny the accused any right to have an attorney at the hearing panel or to confront his accuser. The rules also give her -- but not him -- the right to be treated with "sensitivity"; to make opening and closing statements; and to receive copies of investigative documents.

The revised policy, among other things, shows that Duke is still in the grip of the same biases, indifference to evidence, and de facto presumption of guilt that led so many professors and administrators to smear innocent lacrosse players as rapists (and as racists) for many months in 2006 and 2007. The centerpiece was the full-page ad taken out by the "Group of 88" professors, as critics call them, in The Chronicle on April 6, 2006, about three weeks after the woman claimed rape.

This ad stopped just short of explicitly branding the lacrosse players as rapists. But it treated almost as a given the truth of the stripper's claims of a brutal gang rape by three team members amid a hail of racist slurs. It praised protesters who had put lacrosse players' photos on "wanted" posters. It associated "what happened to this young woman" with "racism and sexism." It suggested that the lacrosse players were getting privileged treatment because they are white -- which was the opposite of the truth.

And in January 2007, after the fraudulence of the stripper's rape claim and of rogue Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's indictments of three players had become increasingly evident, most of the 88 also signed a letter rejecting calls for apologies while denying that their April 2006 ad had meant what it seemed to say.

Among the most prominent signers of both the ad and the letter were Karla Holloway, an English professor, and Paula McClain, a political science professor. They also slimed the lacrosse players in opaquely worded, academic-jargon-filled individual statements full of innuendo.

This disgraceful behavior apparently did not trouble Duke's Academic Council, which in February 2007 made McClain its next chairwoman -- the highest elected position for a faculty member.

And just this month, the university's in-house organ, Duke Today, heaped special attention and praise on Holloway and McClain and featured their photos in a gushing five-part series titled "Diversity & Excellence," focusing on Duke's efforts to hire more black faculty members.

None of the five articles mentioned the roles of Holloway, McClain, and most of the African and African-American studies faculty (the vast majority of whom signed both the ad and the subsequent letter) in smearing innocent Duke students -- not only the lacrosse players but also the many others whom the letter fatuously accused of fostering an "atmosphere that allows sexism, racism, and sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus." ...

The fact that these five people of questionable judgment have subsequently won glorification by Duke or advancement to other prestigious positions may reflect the interaction of academia's demand for more "diversity" with the small supply of aspiring black professors who are well credentialed in traditional disciplines. These factors, amplified by politically correct ideology, have advanced many academics who -- unlike most African-Americans -- are obsessed with grievances rooted more in our history of slavery and racial oppression than in contemporary reality.

Try imagining a white male professor who had smeared innocent black students enjoying a similar path of advancement in academia today.


Too many students - too few apprentices in Britain

Both parties' misplaced egalitarianism is to blame for the funding crisis, argues George Walden (George Walden is a former minister for higher education)

Lord Mandelson's announcement of reduced university funding and his warning against over-recruitment are signals that the unworkable system imposed by successive governments is now getting what a student of our language once called its "up and comings". As the nation's cash runs out, there were always going to be cuts, but the way universities have been structured makes them poorly placed to handle them.

The prospect of quicker degrees is especially disquieting. If progress in our schools were as marked as Labour claims, there might be logic in shortening certain courses, since students would be better prepared for them. In reality, billions more have been spent with little to show for it. Achievement at primary level has faltered, and the results of the city academies rarely reflect the cost of their premises. Academics at university complain about the amount of remedial teaching they have to do, in maths especially, before students are ready to tackle their courses.

More focus, Lord Mandelson says, is needed on skills demanded by employers. The old polytechnics used to provide this, though in a civilised society it should never be at the expense of the humanities. That's what the old, more selective university system was good at. Not everyone with a couple of indifferent A-levels in questionable subjects was allowed in, and not everyone emerged with a First or Upper Second.

Many of those going to university are unprepared or unsuited for higher education. They should have been doing training or apprenticeship courses in colleges of further education, the underrated Cinderellas of the system. Aerospace, plumbing, health studies, business studies or beauty and catering would be of greater use to everyone. They would be cheaper and better than a poorly taught course in English literature, featuring warm-hearted reflections on the role of nature in the poetry of Ted Hughes, or the life and work of Sylvia Plath, with a helping hand from the internet.

Students and academics have an equal right to feel aggrieved: just as Labour supported the Tories' daft conversion of polytechnics into universities, the Tories are backing the over-hyped city academies, from which better-qualified students are supposed to come. Meanwhile, both Cameron and the Labour Left shun any suggestion of selection (except, in the case of the Tories, in private schools). But more selectivity in schools would make it easier to decide who was best suited to higher education, and to keep up university standards.

Though the Tories claim to oppose it, it is misplaced egalitarianism that is behind Labour's vast expansion of student numbers, which Lord Mandelson admits is "putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budget". It puts pressures on academics and facilities, too, with the risk of Britain regressing from its relatively successful higher education ethos into a mass, mediocre system, as in France.

On top of that, Lord Mandelson says he wants greater priority in admissions to students from modest backgrounds. Sensitively handled, this can be justified: studies by the Sutton Trust have shown that, when properly taught on campus, bright but poor pupils can outperform private school students. But the risk is of a dogmatic, politicised application of the principle as a stick to beat independent schools, and to massage admission figures in the correct sociological direction, by keeping some of our best-educated pupils out of our best universities.

No one should be penalised by their background. A principle, Lord Mandelson appears to have forgotten, that works both ways.


Britain adopting 2 year degrees

Universities face a move towards two-year degree courses as the Government dramatically reduces higher education spending. The announcement of the cuts, which will see £518m lopped off university funding next year, provoked an outcry from vice-chancellors, students, lecturers and opposition MPs last night. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said: "We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy and society."

Key elements of the plan, outlined by the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, include a shift away from the traditional three-year degree to two-year courses. In addition, universities that recruited more students in the autumn than ministers had budgeted for will face fines of £3,700 per extra head.

One estimate indicated that 22,000 additional students were taken on as demand for places reached an all-time high because of the recession. Universities were allowed to recruit 10,000 extra undergraduates because of the increased demand. Even so, about 130,000 students eligible for a clearing place failed to find one in the summer. Lord Mandelson made it plain there would be no repeat next year and reduced the funding for higher education from the £7.8bn grant for 2009-10 to just under £7.3bn for 2010-11.

This, coupled with the fines, lowers the Government's chances of meeting its oft-stated aim of recruiting 50 per cent of young people into higher education courses, though ministers will hope that introducing more two-year courses might be enough to achieve it.

Vice-chancellors will now put more pressure on the government review into top-up fees to increase the current cap of £3,240. They have already indicated that they would like to see it doubled to more than £6,500. The review is due to report next year, after the election. Research funding – which helps the more selective universities like Oxford and Cambridge retain world-class research contracts – is to be maintained.

In a letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is responsible for allocating university cash, Lord Mandelson said he wanted more programmes "such as foundation and fast-track degrees that can be completed full-time in two years". He added: "Over the next spending review period [to 2014], we will want some shift away from full-time, three-year places towards a wider variety of provision."

Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of the university think-tank million+ and vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said the shift towards two-year degrees was "tinkering with the edges". "Two-year degrees work for some students, who do not have to fund themselves with part-time jobs," he said. "They will only be offered by a limited number of universities for a small number of courses." Examples of two-year degree courses already running include one for higher level teaching assistants at Stroud College in Gloucestershire and a fast-track nursing degree at King's College London for those with a degree already.

In his letter, Lord Mandelson went on to warn that any further over-recruitment next autumn could again provoke fines. The £3,700 is equivalent to the average cost of providing one student with teaching and access to facilities for one year.

The Conservatives immediately attacked the Government for fining universities that were trying to meet its own target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education. Even with the increase in student numbers allowed by the Government this autumn, the overall participation rate remains at around 43 per cent when, ironically, because of the demand created by the lack of employment prospects, ministers had a realistic chance of nearing the 50 per cent target for the first time this year.

"We now have the bizarre situation that universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government," said David Willetts, the Conservatives' universities spokesman.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Education

by Walter E. Williams

Detroit's (predominantly black) public schools are the worst in the nation and it takes some doing to be worse than Washington, D.C. Only 3 percent of Detroit's fourth-graders scored proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, sometimes called "The Nation's Report Card." Twenty-eight percent scored basic and 69 percent below basic. "Below basic" is the NAEP category when students are unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. It's the same story for Detroit's eighth-graders. Four percent scored proficient, 18 percent basic and 77 percent below basic.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the D.C.-based Council on Great City Schools, in an article appearing in Crain's Detroit Business, (12/8/09) titled, "Detroit's Public Schools Post Worst Scores on Record in National Assessment," said, "There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers." The academic performance of black students in other large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles is not much better than Detroit and Washington.

What's to be done about this tragic state of black education? The education establishment and politicians tell us that we need to spend more for higher teacher pay and smaller class size. The fact of business is higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes mean little or nothing in terms of academic achievement. Washington, D.C., for example spends over $15,000 per student, has class sizes smaller than the nation's average, and with an average annual salary of $61,195, its teachers are the most highly paid in the nation.

What about role models? Standard psychobabble asserts a positive relationship between the race of teachers and administrators and student performance. That's nonsense. Black academic performance is the worst in the very cities where large percentages of teachers and administrators are black, and often the school superintendent is black, the mayor is black, most of the city council is black and very often the chief of police is black.

Black people have accepted hare-brained ideas that have made large percentages of black youngsters virtually useless in an increasingly technological economy. This destruction will continue until the day comes when black people are willing to turn their backs on liberals and the education establishment's agenda and confront issues that are both embarrassing and uncomfortable. To a lesser extent, this also applies to whites because the educational performance of many white kids is nothing to write home about; it's just not the disaster that black education is.

Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others. They should be removed or those students who want to learn should be provided with a mechanism to go to another school.

Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.

Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when in fact he can't perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?

Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.


Failing Public Schools Cost Us All

Everyone knows our public schools aren't what they should be. The nation spends more than $500 billion per year on K-12 education. That's much more than other countries – yet we still rank in the middle on international tests measuring the educational performance.

Many parents take comfort, assuming that their local schools are better than the average. They know there are places where the public schools are little more than expensive, dangerous, holding pens in which little education occurs. They think of Detroit, where only about a quarter of high schoolers will receive a diploma. They think of Baltimore City, where little more than a third of students are expected to graduate high school. And they think of Washington D.C., which spends more than $14,000 per year per student but produces only 15% of students who are proficient in reading and math. Parents figure those places weigh down the U.S.'s performance on those worldwide tests; other Americans need to worry about education reform, but not them.

Certainly, communities with the worst schools have the most to gain from education reform. Yet we are all affected by the outcomes of our nation's education system. Most people understand intuitively that we are better off with a more educated populace since educated people are less likely to commit crimes and can better contribute to their communities.

It makes sense that our country would be better off if all of our citizens were better prepared to contribute and compete in today's global, knowledge-based economy. But this is too often lost in our discussions about education policy, which tends to be an emotional subject. Education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a successful life. By perpetuating an inadequate system, we let down a generation of children. Kids who may have grown up to be scientists, professors, doctors, or authors will be forced to settle for more modest aspirations as they fail to acquire needed skills while passing through our lousy schools.

But education isn't just a moral imperative: it’s an urgent national priority that is critical to long term growth and prosperity. Few seem to comprehend that we are actually paying a price in dollars and cents because of the failures of these school systems. The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company looked at the effects of our failure to provide a quality education in order to estimate its impact on the economy. They compared it to a “permanent national recession” that made our country hundreds of billions of dollars poorer each year. Imagining how much better off we would be if our education system achieved the superior results of other countries, analysts concluded that “if the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher.” That's between $4,300 and $7,600 per person.

Sadly, the media tends to miss the benefits that will accrue to communities and individuals with better education. For example, the press all but ignored the recent debate about the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. This program, launched in 2004, helped over 1700 students from low-income families in Washington D.C. to attend schools of their parents' choice. Last year, a U.S. Department of Education study proved that this program was working: test scores showed that students using vouchers were performing two years ahead of their public school peers on standardized reading tests. These are incredibly powerful results for a modest investment. In fact, the program actually saved taxpayers money, as tuition at the average private school attended by a scholarship recipient was just $6,600 – a fraction of what is currently being spent per pupil in D.C. dysfunctional public schools.

Yet Congress moved to defund this program, condemning future low-income D.C. students to the public school system that we know fails so many. The President and the Secretary of Education had promised to pursue “whatever works” when it comes to education reform. However, it is increasingly clear that was just empty rhetoric. The all-powerful teachers unions loathe any program that helps kids exit the public schools, and Democratic leaders seem to have calculated that teachers unions’ interests are more important than the future of those students.

Politically, Congress’ decision probably made sense. After all, the teachers unions give loads of money to politicians in order to maintain the status quo. Clearly, the poor families receiving opportunity scholarships in Washington D.C. don't. And, for the most part, those around the country—even those who are sympathetic to the cause of education reform and school choice—don't see a debate about a program out in the nation's capitol as their fight.

But it should be all of our fights.

A dynamic, effective education system is in everyone's self-interest. Our public schools are a drag on the economy, bringing everyone down. We are poorer and have lower standard of living because we have allowed this problem to persist. Americans need to fight for meaningful reforms and against those who cling to the dysfunctional status quo. For a stronger nation, education reform should be everyone's cause.


British universities in big financial trouble

Universities will have to make severe cuts after Lord Mandelson abruptly slashed teaching budgets by millions of pounds yesterday. Departments are expected to close, degree courses will be scrapped and students will have to pay higher fees.

Academics were furious at the plan to claw back £135 million and condemned the timing of the announcement. Universities had already been ordered to find £180 million in savings in the next 18 months.

When savage spending cuts were announced in the Pre-Budget Report, schools were given immunity but universities were not. The cuts mean that funding per student has fallen in real terms for the first time in ten years.

A review of tuition fees that began last month and will conclude after the general election is expected to recommend that they be raised considerably from the current £3,225 a year.

The Business Secretary said that universities should move from the three-year, full-time undergraduate degree model towards a “wider variety of provision”, such as foundation and fast-track degrees. They will be encouraged to focus more on the skills and knowledge demanded by employers rather than on academia for its own sake. Those that disobeyed the Government by taking on too many students this autumn will be penalised in next year’s grants at a rate of £3,700 per extra full-time student.

Lord Mandelson made his position clear in the Secretary of State’s annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He said: “My predecessor repeatedly made clear the risks of student over-recruitment putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budgets.” The council will inform universities of their individual grants in March.

Lord Mandelson said that teaching grants would be cut by £51 million but urged universities to minimise the impact on teaching and students. The remaining £84 million will come from capital budgets. After adjustments, the overall higher education grant will fall from £7.8 billion to £7.3 billion. The Times reported earlier this month that universities were already slashing thousands of jobs, scrapping courses and putting campuses out of use to meet budget constraints. The 10,000 extra unfunded places the Government allowed this year for science, technology, engineering and maths degrees will disappear next year, even though the recession means that unprecedented numbers are expected to apply for places.

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that the cost of subsidising tuition fees would jeopardise the quality of the student experience. “The sector will not be able to deliver more with less without compromising our longer-term sustainability and international competitiveness.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “You cannot make these kinds of cuts and expect no consequences. We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy or society.”

Wes Streeting, of the National Union of Students, said: “The Government was quick to take credit for avoiding a student places crisis earlier this year, but is now shamefully cutting teaching funding to the very universities that helped it achieve it.”

The university research grant is protected, meaning that newer universities that focus mainly on teaching will feel extra pressure. Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of Million+, which represents some of these institutions, said: “December 22 will go down as a good day for the Government to bury bad news for universities and students.

David Willetts, the Shadow Universities Secretary, said: “Universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government. Higher education should be available to all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue it, and who wish to do so.”


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Bilingual Ban That Worked

In 1998, Californians voted to pass Proposition 227, the “English for the Children Act,” and dismantle the state’s bilingual-education industry. The results, according to California’s education establishment, were not supposed to look like this: button-cute Hispanic pupils at a Santa Ana elementary school boasting about their English skills to a visitor. Those same pupils cheerfully calling out to their principal on their way to lunch: “Hi, Miss Champion!” A statewide increase in English proficiency among all Hispanic students.

Instead, warned legions of educrats, eliminating bilingual education in California would demoralize Hispanic students and widen the achievement gap. Unless Hispanic children were taught in Spanish, the bilingual advocates moaned, they would be unable to learn English or to succeed in other academic subjects.

California’s electorate has been proved right: Hispanic test scores on a range of subjects have risen since Prop. 227 became law. But while the curtailment of California’s bilingual-education industry has removed a significant barrier to Hispanic assimilation, the persistence of a Hispanic academic underclass suggests the need for further reform.

The counterintuitive linguistic claims behind bilingual education were always a fig leaf covering a political agenda. The 1960s Chicano rights movement (“Chicano” refers to Mexican-Americans) asserted that the American tradition of assimilation was destroying not just Mexican-American identity but also Mexican-American students’ capacity to learn. Teaching these students in English rather than in Spanish hurt their self-esteem and pride in their culture, Chicano activists alleged: hence the high drop-out rates, poor academic performance, and gang involvement that characterized so many Mexican-American students in the Southwest. Manuel Ramirez III, currently a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that bilingual education was necessary to ensure “the academic survival of Chicano children and the political and economic strength of the Chicano community.” The role of American schools, according to this nascent ideology, became the preservation of the Spanish language and Mexican culture for Mexican-origin U.S. residents.

Novel linguistic theories arose to buttress this political platform. Children could not learn a second language well unless they were already fully literate in their native tongue, the newly minted bilingual-ed proponents argued. To teach English to a five-year-old who spoke Spanish at home, you had to instruct him in Spanish for several more years, until he had mastered Spanish grammar and spelling. “Young children are not language sponges,” asserts McGill University psychology professor Fred Genesee, defying centuries of parental observation. Even more surprisingly, the advocates suddenly discovered that the ability to learn a second language improved with age—news to every adult who has struggled through do-it-yourself language recordings.

Such ad hoc justifications rested on shaky scientific ground. Psycholinguistics research supports what generations of immigrants experienced firsthand: the younger you are when you tackle a second language, the greater your chances of achieving full proficiency. Children who learn a second language early in life may even process it in the same parts of the brain that process their first language, an advantage lost as they age.

Only one justification for bilingual education made possible sense. The bilingual theorists maintained that children should be taught academic content—physics, say, or history—in their home language, lest they fall behind their peers in their knowledge of subject matter. But this argument applied most forcefully where bilingual education has always been the rarest: in high school, where, one would hope, teachers use relatively sophisticated concepts. In the earliest grades, however, where bilingual education has always been concentrated, academic content is predominantly learning a language—how to read and write B-A-T, for example. Moreover, most Hispanic children who show up in American elementary school have subpar Spanish skills to begin with, so teaching them in Spanish does not provide a large advantage over English in conveying knowledge about language—or anything else.

The bilingual-education crusade also contained patent inequities that never seemed to trouble its advocates. If teaching a nonnative speaker in his home tongue was such a boon—if it was, as many argued, a civil right—bilingual education should have been provided to every minority-language group, not just to Hispanics, who have been almost the exclusive beneficiaries of the practice. If instructing non-English-speaking students in English was destructive, it would damage a school’s sole Pashto speaker just as much as its Hispanic majority. But minority rights, usually the proud battle cry of self-styled progressives, invariably crumpled before brute political power when it came to bilingual ed. “If it could benefit 82 percent of the kids, you don’t have to offer it to everyone,” says Robert Linquanti, a project director for the government-supported research organization WestEd.

Nor did bilingual-education proponents pause long before counterevidence. In 1965, just as the movement was getting under way in the United States, the Canadian province of Quebec decided that not enough Quebecois children were learning French. It instituted the most efficient method for overcoming that deficit: immersion. Young English-speaking students started spending their school days in all-French classes, emerging into English teaching only after having absorbed French. By all accounts, the immersion schools have been successful. And no wonder: the simple insight of immersion is that the more one practices a new language, the better one learns it. Students at America’s most prestigious language academy, the Middlebury Language Schools, pledge not to speak a word of English once the program begins, even if they are beginners in their target languages. “If you go back to speaking English, the English patterns will reassert themselves and interfere with acquisition of the new grammatical patterns,” explains Middlebury vice president Michael Geisler.

McGill professor Genesee—who opposed Prop. 227 in 1998, when he was directing the education school at the University of California at Davis—hates it when proponents of English immersion in America point to the success of French immersion in Quebec. The English-speaking Quebecois don’t risk losing English, Genesee says, since it remains the predominant Canadian tongue and is a “high-prestige language.”

Whereas if you start American Hispanics off in English, Genesee maintains, “they won’t want to speak Spanish” because it is a “stigmatized, low-prestige language.” Genesee’s argument exposes the enduring influence of Chicano political activism on academic bilingual theory. Hispanic students do risk losing their home tongue when taught in the majority language. Such linguistic oblivion has beset second- and third-generation immigrants throughout American history—not because of the relative status of their home languages but simply because of the power of language immersion and the magnetic force of the public culture. But bilingual-ed proponents know that most Americans don’t view preserving immigrants’ home tongues as a school responsibility. So they publicly promote bilingual education as a pedagogically superior way to teach Hispanics English and other academic subjects, even as they privately embrace the practice as a means for ensuring that Hispanic students preserve their Spanish.

The early Chicano activists sought the “replacement of assimilationist ideals . . . with cultural pluralism,” writes University of Houston history professor Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. in his book Contested Policy. Bilingual education was the activists’ primary weapon in fighting assimilation because, as they rightly understood, English-language teaching is a powerful tool for encouraging assimilation. In a country as diverse as the United States, fluency in the common tongue is an essential bond among citizens, and the experience of learning it alongside classmates of different ethnic origins reinforces the message that Americans share a common culture. Bilingual-ed proponents often accuse immersion advocates of opposing multilingualism or wanting to stamp out Spanish. This is nonsense. But it is true that maintaining students’ home language for the sake of strengthened ethnic identity is no part of a school’s mandate. Its primary language duty, rather, is to ensure that citizens can understand one another and participate in democracy.

Despite its conceptual contradictions, bilingual education spread inexorably through the federal and state education bureaucracies. The National Education Association, undoubtedly whiffing a jobs bonanza for its unionized members, produced a report in 1966 arguing that teaching Hispanic children in English hurt their self-esteem and led to underachievement. In 1968, Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act, which provided federal funds for bilingual teaching. When not enough school districts applied for the funds, advocacy groups sued, claiming that the districts were violating Hispanic children’s civil rights. The federal Department of Education agreed, issuing rules in 1975 that penalized schools for not establishing bilingual programs for their non-English-speaking students. Though the Reagan administration cut back on several bilingual-education mandates from the Ford and Carter years, the federal bilingual bureaucracy remained firmly entrenched for decades.

In California, which contains the vast majority of the country’s so-called English learners—students from homes where a language other than English is regularly spoken—the rise of the bilingual machine was swift and decisive. The 1976 Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act declared that bilingual education was the right of every English learner. Elementary schools had to provide native-language instruction if they enrolled a certain number of English learners; bilingual education in the lower grades became the default mode for anyone with a Hispanic surname. (Hispanics have always dominated the “English learner” category. In California, they make up 85 percent of all English learners; the next-largest language group—Vietnamese—constitutes just 2.4 percent.)

Even after Governor George Deukmejian refused to reauthorize the Chacon-Moscone bill in 1987, the bilingual establishment in Sacramento continued to enforce the law’s mandates. The state’s department of education sponsored numerous conferences and reports alleging that bilingual education was necessary for Hispanic success and showered an additional $5,000 a year on bilingual teachers. Administrators and teachers in heavily Hispanic areas often saw themselves as part of the Chicano empowerment movement. “You weren’t worthwhile if you didn’t speak Spanish,” recalls a Santa Ana teacher. “The attitude was: ‘No one should teach our kids but native language speakers.’”...

Much more here

Factory schools don’t give real education

A ten-hour day could close the attainment gap between state and private, but only if it’s used well

You can imagine the look on the faces of the poor children. At the final assembly of the Christmas term last Friday they are told by their headteacher that in the new year the school day will last ten hours, from 7.30am to 5.30pm, not the traditional seven hours. There couldn’t have been more dismay if the head had announced that Christmas has been cancelled.

Yet this ten-hour day is exactly what the Sutton Trust announced yesterday in an effort to further its mission to improve educational opportunities for children from deprived backgrounds. The decision echoes the Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP) in the US, which has caught the eye of Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary. These schools have ten-hour days and are open every other Saturday, and for three weeks in the summer holidays. Thus KIPP students are in school 60 per cent longer than in other publicly run schools in the US. These free, open-enrolment schools, are heavily oversubscribed. More than 90 per cent of students are from African-American or Hispanic-Latino backgrounds, and more than 80 per cent are eligible for free or subsidised school meals. Parents are desperate to get their children into these schools in the hope of their getting into college and experiencing better lives than they did themselves.

Is the extended day the answer to chronic underachievement in British schools? Would it help to narrow the gap in performance between state and independent schools? Despite huge increases in public spending, the attainment gap between private and state has widened.

We should beware the idea that more teaching time necessarily means better education. In the independent sector, children are rarely taught in class for more than five hours a day averaged over the week, including Saturday mornings. The evidence suggests that even the most academically able cannot concentrate in class for much longer, and that further hours become counter-productive.

What counts is not extending the hours taught, but improving the quality of what happens in the time children are in lessons. Independent schools outperform state schools academically for three principal reasons. The teachers may not be better or harder working, but the ratio of subject specialists, for example in maths and physics, is far higher. Class sizes are far smaller, with, on average, twice as many teachers per pupil. Finally, behaviour and work expectations are higher, as are parental expectations. If one wants to improve the quality of academic results, it is to these three areas that attention should be given.

A deeper concern is about the narrowing of education that has happened in Britain in the past 15 years as a direct consequence of the culture of targets, league tables and low trust of schools. “Education” is derived from the Latin educare, “to draw out”. Schools should be drawing out all children’s faculties or intelligences: yet in our exam-drunk country, breadth of education and the nurturing of individuality have all too often been sacrificed to achieve quantifiable test and exam data.

Children, of course, need to be taught academic subjects rigorously, and to be tested regularly to assess their development: But, there is a world of difference between a child with a string of A grades and an educated child. Genuine learning has all too often been replaced in our factory schools by rote-learning.

What are the different intelligences that each child, regardless of background, should have “drawn out”? My own school, Wellington College, structures its curriculum and extracurricular life around eight different aptitudes, inspired by the work of Howard Gardner of Harvard University: the logical and linguistic; the creative and kinaesthetic; the moral and spiritual and the personal and the social. Where these are not developed by schools, they may lay dormant for the rest of a person’s life. Schools have a responsibility not only to develop logical and linguistic intelligences, but also the other six.

Why should children who go to independent schools enjoy this far richer education? The injustice is all the more stark because children in state schools often lack the same opportunities and support at home to develop their broader intelligences, and school thus becomes all the more important if they are to become fully rounded human beings, knowing more about who they are and what their talents are.

KIPP schools focus on extracurricular activities, including music, dance and sport. They also make a feature of the “joy factor”, using a variety of techniques, including movement and chanting to make lessons engaging and positive.

Schools should be immensely happy places, but in the “factory school” mentality we have allowed to grow up in Britain, they are anything but. Achieving breadth and depth is not an add-on: it is the right of every child. So three cheers for the Sutton Trust if its ten-hour day allows time for the wider development of the whole child.


Graduation for kindergarten gets A+ for weirdness

Graduation season is upon us. But not the university type. The class of 2009, the leaders of the future, are a bunch of five-year-olds who can barely spell their name, let alone write a thesis.

Graduation for children is a bizarre phenomenon that has gained momentum in the past few years. A child who enters preschool and completes a university degree may potentially "graduate" half a dozen times over the space of 13 years, giving us the most overqualified generation yet to step on a dais.

Kindy graduation comes first, for those "school leavers" off to start school, followed by year 6 graduation for those moving from primary school to high school, then year 12 graduation . . . And some schools even have a ceremony for students moving from middle school to senior school.

Some may never go on to tertiary education - you know, from which you actually graduate, with a degree or diploma in hand - but still would have ''graduated'' many times over.

A degree is a concrete and measurable marker of having earned something, not just having turned up. It is for students. For those who have studied, researched, written dissertations, been examined and assessed. They will pick up many vital lessons of life along the way, gaining financial and emotional independence from their parents that may include moving out of home, developing adult relationships and experimenting with vices.

To finance their educational enterprise, many will work long hours for the minimum wage, while studying and racking up a big debt to complement that hard-won certification.

Their degree is conferred upon them by a senior member of the institution or a guest, usually selected from the field of study they have undertaken. This is graduation, not kindergarten.

Don't get me wrong. Little kids with their cardboard mortar boards and hastily sewn capes pinned over freshly ironed clothes are as cute as a button. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment as they parade in front of proud families, belt out the national anthem and demonstrate the things they have learnt during the year.

But kindergarten, preschool, day care - whatever form of childcare - is a mixture of childminding, play, socialisation and preparation for school. The lessons learnt in the playground of a child-care centre are valuable but they have not even entered formal learning.

Some might see it as harmless fun, but it devalues the worth of a degree or diploma that has been hard-earned, whether with a pass or with honours. It suggests you deserve to graduate just by turning up.

It is not just about getting letters to put after your name to make you look more impressive - most tertiary-educated people don't bother with that. But a degree or diploma will be there through life: it qualifies graduates for fields of employment, it is a sign of higher learning, it is a building block for further study to become a specialist in a particular field.

So what, then, to make of this kindy grad trend? Surely it is more about us as adults, parents, than about our young children. Why are we in such a rush for them to grow up? What delusions of grandeur are we inflicting upon them? Where will it end? Will there be new tiers of graduation, with different-coloured hoods on their gowns and honours for those who know their alphabet and can count to more than 10?

I have no beef with the excellent childcare workers who do so much for the children in their care and try hard to ensure these ceremonies are a success. But it has become one of those hard-to-resist phenomena in which once a few start doing it others follow, and soon kindy graduation becomes the norm in an ever-increasing trend of tailoring adult behaviour to children.

It is more evidence of our rush to fast-track kids, creating mini-adults out of them rather than letting them enjoy their childhood and grow up at their own pace.

My guess is that most five-year-olds would happily settle for cupcakes, cordial and a singalong to celebrate the end of their attendance at preschool, rather than endure a semi-solemn ceremony requiring rehearsals and motherhood statements.