Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ohio: College Enacts "Bias Incident Reporting"

(Columbus, Ohio) So, you're a college student and someone in the dormitory calls you a stupid doofus because you flunked a math test. You are offended but not powerless because you can now retaliate anonymously and report to the Bias Assessment Response Team that the guy who offended you committed a bias act.

Hell, it's anonymous. You could go after the guy despite whether he did or said anything offensive.

No crime committed, no state law violated, nor university policy or code of conduct, but. . .it can still be reported if someone suspects the perp’s “motivation” and feels offended. A teaching career or a school record can all go up in smoke from an anonymous report.

And what recourse does the “reported” one have? Who is the judge and jury? Imagine the twit or bureaucrat getting on this board, committee, task force. Oh the rush of power!

This is one of the most alarming things I’ve ever read on an Ohio State web site--but your school probably has one too. [...]
“Bias Incidents: Acts or behavior motivated by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, veteran status, ethnic/national origin groups or sexual-orientation group.

While these acts do not necessarily rise to the level of a crime, a violation of state law, University policy, or the student code of conduct; a bias act may contribute to creating an unsafe, negative, or unwelcome environment for the victim, anyone who shares the same social identity as the victim, and/or community members of the University.”
Looking through the list of “protected elites,” on the web site, I’d say the only target of this harassment could be white, male, heterosexual Christian students, staff and faculty.
Political correctness leading to anonymous allegations documented in one's dossier reminds me of the workings of the (former) East German Secret Police -- the STASI. Be apprised that it's happening in America's river cities.

More at the link.
"Stimulus:” $142 billion to schools … with strings

Surprisingly reasonable "strings" though

The USA's public schools stand to be the biggest winners in Congress' $825 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled last week. Schools are scheduled to receive nearly $142 billion over the next two years — more than health care, energy or infrastructure projects — and the stimulus could bring school advocates closer than ever to a long-sought dream: full funding of the No Child Left Behind law and other huge federal programs. But tucked into the text of the proposal's 328 pages are a few surprises: If they want the money — and they certainly do — schools must spend at least a portion of it on a few of education advocates' long-sought dreams. In particular, they must develop:

• High-quality educational tests.

• Ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

• Longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress.

"The new administration does not want to lose a year on the progress because of the downturn in the economy," says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education Committee. "So I think these are all things that are clearly doable."

Testing, a key part of the No Child law, has gotten short shrift from most states, says Thomas Toch of Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "Existing state tests are not as good as they could be," he says. "Putting new money into building stronger state assessments is what's needed."

But he and others say a big challenge will be to ensure that states don't simply cut their own education budgets in anticipation of massive federal increases. "That's going to be a challenge because the states are all hurting," Toch says.

The plan also will help schools modernize and fix buildings. Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, an advocacy group, says she's "pretty excited" about the requirement that states spend a portion of the stimulus cash attracting their best teachers to schools that serve low-income and minority students. "There's nothing they could do with it that would be more important for high-poverty kids."

But Charles Barone, a former congressional staffer who helped design the education reform law, says the plan doesn't go far enough. He predicts states won't do much to change how they hire teachers — and they'll still get their money. "All they're going to have to do is copy and paste what's in their current plan to get this money," says Barone, who now consults about education and writes a popular blog. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he says. "It seems to me you'd ask more from states and districts in terms of the kind of changes you've been talking about for years."


French 'Maths fairy', Stella Baruk, uses fingers to add up

WHEN Stella Baruk first proposed a teaching method for mathematics that involved magic squares, fingers and dogs' legs, there were howls of protest from the French elite. That was 30 years ago. Today, Mrs Baruk is being hailed as a saviour, making les mathematiques understandable to children whose inability to grasp square roots, algebra or geometry has come to be seen as a national crisis. She is dubbed "the maths fairy" by the radio station Europe 1 and "the J.K.Rowling of figures" by Le Nouvel Observateur, and her methods are influencing teachers and teaching programmes in France and abroad.

Schools report a spectacular improvement in the results of pupils taught her way. Her books, including her latest, an 851-page dictionary of mathematical terms, sell tens of thousands of copies.

The best-connected parents fight to send their offspring to the private lessons she gives.The Iranian-born Mrs Baruk argues that pupils' failures in school are down to the often impenetrable language in which mathematics is taught: "Teachers think their pupils understand what they are saying when, in fact, they are often understanding something entirely different." Dismissing modern maths teaching methods as nonsense, she starts children counting by displaying five fingers and then getting them to recognise five lines and dots.

There is no question of simply counting from one to 10 in the Baruk method. After introducing her pupils to five, she moves on to six and seven, three and four, eight and nine, and two and one before leaping to 37, a number "which has sufficient tens for it to be worth using them". Only later does she go back down through the twenties to 10, a number which she says is far harder to integrate. In an attempt to ensure pupils have grasped the concept, she shows them different objects, such as a dog in the lesson about four. Some children say the number is appropriate because it has four legs, others that it is inappropriate because there is just one dog. Either way, they have understood the "ideality" of four, Mrs Baruk says.

Additions are taught by putting fingers together. "Show seven fingers," she said. "Now I add seven fingers. That makes 14. It's easy to see and easy to memorise." Such methods infuriated traditionalists when Mrs Baruk first began to air them in the 1970s. But France, the land of Rene Descartes, perhaps the most celebrated Western mathematician, has slipped to 17th in the international comparison of mathematical performance at secondary school, and purists have had to think again.


Friday, January 23, 2009

The American Association of Unprincipled Progressives

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 13th General Conference of the National Association of Scholars in Washington, D.C. Among the highlights of the conference was a debate between AAUP President Cary Nelson and NAS President Peter Wood. During the Q & A some of the comments by Nelson made me thankful that I am now a member of the NAS and that I have never been a member of the AAUP.

Cary Nelson claims the AAUP shares many of the same goals as the NAS including an atmosphere conducive to open debate on our college campuses. He also claims the AAUP is opposed to speech codes. When people question the AAUP's opposition to speech codes they often cite their lack of response to many cases, which are instead taken up by the FIRE, a non-partisan civil liberties group based in Philadelphia.

Nelson responds to such criticisms, in part, by saying the AAUP is not as well-equipped as FIRE is to offer a quick response to such controversies. Nelson implies that the FIRE takes a lot of cases the AAUP would take were it not beaten to the punch. I disagree. I believe the AAUP is simply an unprincipled organization that ignores campus controversies because its victims are generally conservatives.

That conclusion is based on years of bad experiences with the AAUP's members - beginning with my first major free speech controversy after 911. Some readers may remember that the controversy began when a student charged me with libel for simply implying that her mass email blaming 911 on America was "bigoted," "unintelligent," and "immature."

When the university announced that it would be necessary to read my private emails in search of evidence for this bogus libel charge I turned to the FIRE for help. No member of the AAUP contacted me about the case until one year after the incident. Curiously, when the AAUP member did finally comment on the case he claimed falsely (in an email to the entire faculty) that the university did not read my private email correspondence as I had claimed. He specifically accused the FIRE of circulating a false press release.

After the university counsel corrected the completely misinformed AAUP member he was forced to apologize. I did not hear him comment on another free speech case for over a year. When he did, he completely mangled the facts of that case, too. This second infraction was much worse because it involved the attack of an AAUP member on some students, rather than on another professor.

The students were fighting to keep Democrats from joining their College Republican group with full voting rights as well as the right to run for office. They claimed the freedom of association clause of the First Amendment trumped the university's non-discrimination clause. Eventually, the Republicans won the fight. Of course, the AAUP member couldn't resist the temptation to write about the controversy in the local paper. Unfortunately, he defamed the students claiming falsely that they were trying to keep blacks and Jews out of their organization. When the kids asked for an apology for the defamation the card-carrying AAUP member refused.

During the very same semester there was another free speech controversy that was enlightened by more AAUP brilliance (sarcasm: on). This one began when a history professor claimed she had friends who were terrorists in the Middle East. The statement was made in a public forum by a professor who was a public figure on the issue of terrorism. In response, a conservative student decided to publicize her claim in the student newspaper. After the student simply reported what the public figure said, she threatened the student newspaper with a libel lawsuit.

So the former president of the UNCW chapter of AAUP came to the rescue. But he came to the rescue of the professor, not the newspaper. In a news interview the AAUP propagandist said the students were "totally confused" if they thought the general theme of the professors remarks was "terrorism." The students rightly pointed out that his remarks were - in typical AAUP fashion - completely irrelevant. They were complaining about a single sentence - "I have friends who are terrorists in the Middle East"- not the theme of the talk.

When our friend from the AAUP invited the students to engage in an email debate he said they should feel free to share it with friends. The two students - Michael Pomarico and Zeb Wright - simply excoriated the AAUP professor. The debate was so lopsided that he rescinded the offer to share the emails. Unfortunately, the student newspaper yanked (from the online site) the original article reporting accurately that the professor who had terrorist friends in the Middle East said "I have terrorist friends in the Middle East." She was allowed to offer a dishonest rebuttal, which would be the final word on the controversy. The newspaper capitulated to a bogus legal threat due in part to AAUP support of a dishonest professor with terrorist friends in the Middle East.

And, now, finally, nearly two years after I filed a federal lawsuit claiming violations of my First Amendment rights, I have read a communication about the case from the former Oregon State University AAUP President. Some will remember that he sent me a series of emails last week showing why he has the requisite mental stability to be a Professor Emeritus of Psychology. Among the epithets he hurled were "dishonest", "hateful", "stupid", "idiotic", "indecent", "propagandist" and "bigot." In an internet posting that added the new epithets "failure," phony," and "homophobe" the former AAUP chapter president claimed falsely that I had filed a suit against UNC over "anti-Southern bigotry." Furthermore, he botched literally every single fact in the post, which he subsequently pulled in an act of intellectual onanism.

The point here is not that every member of the AAUP is an unhinged bigot engaging in psychological projection. The point is that literally every time a member of the AAUP gets involved in a free speech case, the motivation is one of politics not principle. The debate always dwindles after the first AAUP "contribution." So, naturally, I hope that serious First Amendment defenders will continue to support the NAS. And I hope the AAUP will stick to issues they can handle such as faculty parking and separate bathrooms for trans-gendered professors.


Australia: Some very strange "research"

The findings I have highlighted are so contrary to eveything else we know that I think the whole study has to be disregarded. The findings were based on self-reports and factors such as boasting and embarrassment could well have distorted the results

IT doesn't matter what your background is, the key to earning big bucks at work is having a university degree or apprenticeship under your belt, a new report reveals. Young employees who have completed a bachelor's degree increase their earnings by about 31 per cent on average, while apprenticeships increase income by 23 per cent, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) report says. A university diploma will make your wallet 17 per cent fatter, while a TAFE diploma increases pay by 14 per cent. A traineeship will increase earnings by just eight per cent and a TAFE certificate by a meagre five per cent.

The study was based on interviews with a group of young people over a decade, from 1995, when they were students in Year 9, through to 2005, when 77 per cent were working full-time and their average age was 24. The report's author, Gary Marks, says post-school education and training leads to higher-status jobs and earnings, regardless of social background. Generally the effects of factors other than qualifications on earnings were small or negative,'' Mr Marks writes in The Occupations and Earnings of Young Australians. "The results indicate social background plays only a small role in accounting for differences in occupational status and earnings, indicating education is enhancing social mobility.''

People from non-English speaking and higher socioeconomic backgrounds, and those who attended Catholic or independent schools, earned five per cent less on average than their counterparts.

But ACER research director Phillip McKenzie said those somewhat surprising results could be related to these groups studying for longer periods of time. "Hence they may have had less time in the workforce,'' Dr McKenzie said. "This was a period of pretty strong job growth and people who left education earlier have been able to get pretty good jobs with good incomes.'' But Dr McKenzie suggests even the relatively small difference in earnings due to background may cancel out over time.

While background doesn't play a big role in determining status and pay, sex does matter. Young women were slightly more likely to be in prestigious jobs than young men, but they earned 20 per cent less. The report says this could be due to the incidence of full-time work being substantially higher among young men than women.

On average, people who completed an apprenticeship earned $907 per week while university graduates earned $816 per week. Someone with a TAFE certificate earned $663 per week while those with a TAFE diploma earned $674 per week.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

British Parents want more men to be school teachers, survey shows

Parents are calling for more men to become teachers because they fear their children lack male role models, research showed yesterday. Demand is even stronger among single mothers, who told the survey their children had little contact with men in caring roles. The study found one in six children living with a single mother spends less than two hours a week with a male role model, such as a father figure, relative or teacher. One in three of these children has such contact for under six hours a week.

Over the past 20 years there has been a dramatic decline in the number of men working in schools and nurseries and a growing trend for children never to be taught by a man. The slump in male recruitment has been blamed on a perception among men that teaching, especially of young children, is 'women's work' and that they risk false allegations of child abuse.

But 55 per cent of parents in yesterday's poll said they wanted to see male staff working with the youngest children. This rose to 66 per cent among single mothers. More than a third of all those polled agreed that male teachers give boys someone to look up to and set a good example. A quarter believe boys behave better if taught by a man. A majority of parents told the survey that men and women have different skills to offer young children and that nurseries should better reflect the real world's gender mix. But despite the demand for male staff, almost two-thirds of the 1,000 parents polled said the childcare they use has no male worker.

The Children's Workforce Development Council, which commissioned the survey, said it wanted to encourage more men to see childcare and nursery work as a viable career. Campaigns are already underway to encourage more men into primary and secondary teaching. Thom Crabbe, the council's national development manager for early years education, said: 'Parents are right to want to see more men working in early years. 'It is important that during the crucial first five years of a child's life they have quality contact with both male and female role models.'

However, there are signs that the economic downturn may change the make-up of the teaching profession. The Teaching and Development Agency has seen the number of potential applicants shoot up 50 per cent on this time last year. In the past two and a half months, 424,802 people made inquiries through their website - up from 283,641 during the same period a year earlier. There is no gender breakdown but the increase is thought to be linked to rising redundancies in areas such as banking, manufacturing and transport, which have mostly male workforces.


Australia: Disgusting "postmodern" university media studies program still in deep Doo Doo

If a conservative had made a film called "Laughing at the Disabled", there would have been hell to pay. But if you are a "postmodern" Leftist, your university will back you to the hilt -- and even attack your critics

Queensland University of Technology and one of its PhD filmmakers, Michael Noonan, face a maximum $250,000 damages claim after mediation talks with an Aboriginal woman broke down. The dispute, which has ramifications for how research involving indigenous people is conducted, has moved to the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia after conciliation talks were terminated.

Brisbane solicitor Stephen Kerin, representing May Dunne, has alleged the Boulia elder was racially vilified by depicting her as an intoxicated Aboriginal woman in a stereotypical manner in video footage as part of Mr Noonan's PhD project, "Laughing at the Disabled". Ms Dunne has denied she ever signed a consent form authorising her appearance in the film which has the working title "Darren & James' Down Under Mystery Tour". Mr Noonan maintains that he is holding a consent form signed by Ms Dunne after she danced with one of the disabled men in the Boulia pub.

Mr Noonan maintains that the clip shown at his confirmation hearing, the "Boulia pub scene", has been unnecessarily demonised by his academic opponents, John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, and was unlikely to have ever made the pilot.

In April 2007 two QUT academics, Dr MacLennan and Dr Hookham, wrote an article in the HES condemning the project as an unethical exercise in mockery. A dispute on many fronts was unleashed. QUT convicted Dr MacLennan and Dr Hookham on disciplinary charges, apparently on the basis they had overstepped the limits of civil debate. They said QUT had trampled academic freedom. The two academics responded with a Federal Court challenge, which was settled on confidential terms. They resigned, were cleared of misconduct charges and walked away with $200,000 each, the HES reported.

QUT is named as the second respondent to the latest complaint as Mr Kerin alleges it gave ethical clearance to Mr Noonan's PhD project, which included the footage depicting Ms Dunne. A QUT spokeswoman told the HES yesterday it is not appropriate for the university to comment on a matter that will be before the courts.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why Did UVa Cancel Classes Only This Time?

On Jan. 20, 2005, George Bush was sworn in as president of the United States. On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. The University of Virginia decided to suspend classes on only one of these important days. Can you guess which one?

Arthur Garson Jr., the executive vice president and provost of UVa, announced by e-mail that classes will be suspended on Jan. 20, 2009 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama. In 2005, while I was an undergraduate at UVa, classes carried on as usual for George Bush's Inauguration Day.

UVa also will be opening the doors of the basketball arena for live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony. In his e-mail to the UVa community, Garson explains, "The coming together of a nation at the same time every four years for presidential inaugurations -- as dictated by the Constitution for noon on Jan. 20 -- is an educational moment that binds us as a nation and a people." His e-mail continues: "In order to allow our students, as well as other members of our community, to participate in this exercise in democracy, the University will suspend classes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009."

Based on the actions of the UVa administration, George Bush's Inauguration Day was somehow not "an educational moment" or an "exercise in democracy." This explanation is suspect. Furthermore, neither Garson's e-mail nor the official press release announcement that the suspension of class on Inauguration Day is a new policy that will be implemented well into the future regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat is elected.

Explaining the liberal bias on college campuses can be challenging because it is often a combination of overt and covert action and inaction. The suspension of classes for the inauguration of Barack Obama -- but not for George Bush -- gives a clear example of this bias.

One might try to dismiss this suspension of classes as the deci sion of one administrator. However, this was not the decision of one man and he is not the only one defending it.

In response to further student inquiries, Carol Wood, the assistant vice president for public affairs at UVa, wrote: "As you know, the interest among young people across the nation -- regardless of their party -- was unprecedented during the recent presidential campaign. Our own students here at the University were equally as engaged and they have expressed a desire to participate in some way in Inauguration Day. Given the number of important issues facing our country and the world, students told us they wanted to hear live -- with their friends -- what President-elect Obama would have to say in his Inaugural address."

Wood celebrates the 2008 election and the youth participation in it although youth voter turnout was not as high as anticipated. Oddly, she highlights the "unprecedented" participation of young people in this election, while ignoring the fact that the main way students participated was through technology -- the same technology which will make Barack Obama's Inauguration Day speech available to students 24 hours a day.

From my experience of four years of college and almost three years of law school at UVa, I do not recall classes ever being suspended for a planned political event. For example, despite student petitions, classes carried on as normal during Election Day last year.

On Jan. 20, I plan to attend the classes for which I am paying, regardless of how college administrators weigh my interest in classes against my interest in hearing Barack Obama's speech live. I also plan to watch some of the Inauguration Day activities, but I will do so on my own time.


British kids wearing stab-proof vests to school

BRITISH children are wearing stab-proof vests to protect themselves from becoming victims of violence, according to a report on the impact of gangs on schools. The report, given to London's The Independent newspaper, said teachers at one school where pupils are said to be "seriously involved in gangs" were "aware of young people wearing bullet-proof/stab-proof vests in school".

It cites one estimate that the number of pupils under 16 involved in gangs had doubled in the past five years.

The report, commissioned by the NASUWT teachers' union and prepared by consultancy firm Perpetuity, is the first in-depth look at how youth gang culture is influencing schools, The Independent reports. It comes to the conclusion that children as young as nine at primary school are becoming involved with gangs used as "runners" and "couriers" to ferry messages by older members.

"Some of the case study schools felt the problem had increased over the last few years with gangs becoming more dangerous involving children at a younger age," the research says. "Some schools have problems with pupils carrying weapons in school. This can include young people who carry weapons and/or those who hide weapons in and around school grounds." The most common weapons teachers reported seeing were BB air pistols and batons. In one incident a teacher saw a meat cleaver.

One pupil told researchers he was wearing body armour because of "needing to", although attacks were more likely to take place on the way to and from school. The report suggests several measures to lessen the impact of gang involvement, such as sending children on prison visits to see the effect of loss of liberty


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Elite pay for math and science teachers needed

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, an international test of fourth- and eighth-grade student achievement, recently released its latest results. As in prior years, the mean U.S. scores were roughly on par with those in most developed nations in Europe, though well below those in Asia. But students in other developed nations far outpaced U.S. students in top-level science scores. For instance, only 10 percent of American eighth-graders performed at the highest level in science, placing the U.S. 11th among the tested nations and well behind countries such as England (17 percent), Japan (17 percent), and Singapore (an astounding 32 percent).

It's no surprise, then, that the U.S. also lags the world in the proportion of students earning a college degree in technical fields. According to the National Science Foundation, only about 17 percent of U.S. college graduates earned a degree in subjects related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM for short). That's well below the world average of 26 percent. We trail not only economic competitors such as China (52 percent), India (24 percent), Japan (64 percent), and Russia (33 percent), but even Mexico (25 percent) and the nations of the Middle East (24 percent). These figures become even more disturbing when we consider that American colleges grant many of their STEM-related degrees to foreign students, the majority of whom go back home.

American schools simply don't produce the scientists and engineers whom we need to remain competitive in a technology-driven world. In their excellent recent book The Race Between Education and Technology, Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz convincingly show that the economic and political dominance of the U.S. throughout the twentieth century was based on its better-educated workforce, which could create and swiftly adapt to new technologies. But we've been losing that edge since our educational attainment began to stagnate in the mid-1970s--and as more nations surpass us in education, they also chip away at our economic dominance.

The troubles in STEM education mirror the broader problems of American K-12 education. The primary issue--and our best chance to make improvements--concerns teacher quality. A wide body of research has consistently identified teacher quality as the most important means within a school's control to improve student learning. That likely goes double for STEM subjects, which require instructors not only to be knowledgeable but also to be able to convey difficult technical information in a graspable way. Attracting such people to STEM teaching requires a compensation system that recognizes their talents. Unfortunately, though, the way we pay public-school teachers today--based exclusively on seniority and number of advanced degrees held--doesn't work.

Research consistently finds that these two attributes have little or nothing to do with teachers' actual ability to improve student learning. Paying the same salaries to teachers of widely varying effectiveness is inefficient, to say the least. But another big problem with the current pay system, especially when it comes to STEM teaching, is that it compensates teachers in different subjects equally, too, and this ignores labor-market realities. With the same number of years in the classroom and the same number of advanced degrees, a high school gym teacher earns the same salary as a high school chemistry teacher.

A better system would pay STEM teachers more than their counterparts. After all, the skills required to teach STEM subjects are often more valuable in the broader labor market than those required to teach most other subjects. Of course, not every good math teacher would make a good engineer, and vice versa. But an individual with math and technology skills has more attractive job opportunities than, say, someone with the skills to teach elementary-level reading. The bottom line: public schools must dig deeper into the labor skill pool, hiring STEM teachers of lower quality than teachers in other subjects.

A system of differential teacher pay, on the other hand, could not only attract new teachers from the outside labor market, but also encourage the current crop of teacher talent to move into STEM subjects, which they're currently shunning for understandable reasons--the coursework required to become a teacher in a non-technical subject is much less demanding than what's necessary for STEM subjects. We need to give these people a financial motive to take the more difficult STEM path. Teachers' unions support increasing the pay of STEM teachers--so long as the pay of all other teachers goes up as well. But spreading dollars around equally means giving small increases to all teachers instead of large pay increases to those we most need.

We can still ensure that this century will be as much an American Century as the last--but only if we address our students' performance gap in math and science. And the best way to do that is to incentivize more teachers to master the hard stuff.


British bureaucracy to destroy popular school

Destroying success is what they are best at -- witness all the vanished Grammar Schools

Sometimes, government promises and proclamations can sound a little hollow. When it comes to schools, Ed Balls talks often of parental choice. Hearing this, many parents shake their heads as they know that it's a promise which hasn't been fulfilled for them. But in Stoke-On-Trent, many parents are doing more than shake their heads. They are campaigning vigorously. And this is not because they don't have a choice of good school to send their children to; it's because they feel their choice is being taken away for no good reason. This may be a "local" story, but it has a much larger resonance.

Julian Teed is a father of two from Stoke. His son is set to start at Trentham High School, a local community school which is under the auspices of the LEA, this coming September. In the new league tables and GCSE results, it's the top performing non-selective school in the city. And Louis Teed is going to start there, even though the school is under threat of closure. It, and another local school, Blurton, are set to be amalgamated and turned into an Academy. That Academy will be opening in September 2010. "Trentham is a well loved and respected school in the centre of our community," says Teed. "Every child can walk or cycle there, it is perfect."

Two years ago, Trentham High went into special measures. A new head, Sue Chesterton, was brought in and she appears to have turned the school around. It came out of special measures a year later, the day after parents were told at a consultation evening that the school would be closing. Trentham High is now second only to St Joseph's, a grammar school and 57 percent of the children just received 5 A-C grades in their recent GCSEs, including maths and English. The head is convinced that this will continue, indeed improve, if the school is given a chance. "I've always argued that it is potentially one of the highest performing schools in this city" says Ms Chesterton. "And parents are delighted with the progress we've made. Academies are normally for failing schools, but neither Blurton or Trentham are failing. It's very strange."

It certainly is strange, but for parents, it is horribly real. They feel that change is imminent, and that the government's fondness for Academies and reluctance for be drawn into local battles, means they are fighting a losing battle. I'm afraid they are right; but I don't know why. Sue Chesterton feels that parents have fought a very long and hard battle over this. "They feel very let down," she says. "They feel betrayed by the council...the community is centred around the school."

Trentham - which caters for 11-16 year olds - is not a huge school. It lost some pupils when it went into special measures and has just under 600 pupils at present. But it is part of a community, open every evening for community activities and with sports facilities which are heavily used by local residents. With all this local involvement, the school appears to be behaving exactly as the government wants its schools to. But it is still in danger.

The current situation began because of Stoke's involvement in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF)programme. This has the specified aim of "Placing the school at the heart of the community", an aim which may well sound more than a little hollow to local parents. Stoke on Trent council has had problems with its schools for a few years now (that's a understatement: it was named the third worst local authority for education in the country). It brought in a private company, Serco, to assess what should happen next as part of the BSF programme and Serco decided that various schools should be closed down or amalgamated. Parents at another school, St Joseph's College, are also up in arms.

Julian Teed, who is part of the Save Trentham High campaign, says that he and other parents don't want a huge school (the new Academy would be aimed at 900-1200 pupils, which seems too small:if you add the current pupils from Trentham and Blurton together, it comes to over 1400). The council claims that birth rates are falling, and that is partly why some schools need to be closed, but parents dispute that. They also claim there are major safety issues with the changes. The only way to the new school (which will be located on the Blurton site) is down a very busy main road. "It's a travesty" he says.

Parents are also unhappy that the choice of sponsor for the Academy is the Ormiston Trust, which at least according to its website, is set up to help disadvantaged children. They have been campaigning for over a year, but feel that they are simply not being listened to. Ed Balls has said that he's happy for parents to get stuck into their schools and set up smaller secondaries. But the Save Trentham parents, who feel that this is exactly what they want to do, are not finding that it's possible. And this is despite the fact that no new school would save the council an awful lot of money!

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, talked about this last November, but parents won't be thrilled by what he said (you can see his comments here; he seems to take all the councils' assertions as correct).

No story is one-sided, and a spokesman for the council says that parents' views and opinions have been "taken into account throughout the consultation process." He adds. "We do understand their concerns. The Building Schools for the Future programme is ongoing and we will continue to consult and draw opinions from parents and all those who who have an interest in the education of children in Stoke-on-Trent."

Parents are expecting the council to make its decision on January 21st, but I'm afraid that it has already been taken. The report, which you can see here (dated January 21st) clearly states: "That the Council approves the publication of the statutory notices proposing the closure of Brownhills, James Brindley, Berry Hill, St. Peter's CE, Mitchell, Edensor, Blurton and Trentham High Schools to enable the establishment of five replacement academies in accordance with the timetable outlined in section 7." This is despite the fact that the report contains a litany of concerns from parents. How depressing - and yet not surprising at all.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Arizona: Traditional schools thriving in Valley

Traditional academies relying on age-old curriculum methods paired with a structured learning environment are thriving in school districts Valley-wide. Laveen Elementary School District opened a traditional elementary school, and the Madison Traditional Academy in Phoenix is in its second year. The majority of schools with traditional curriculums are elementary schools, but next year Chandler junior-high students will be able to benefit from the education style when a new traditional school opens in the Chandler Unified School District. Parents asked for the junior high to bridge the gap between the district's four traditional elementary schools and high schools.

At most traditional schools, students are taught as a whole group with the teacher in front of class giving direct instruction. Desks are in neat rows facing the front, not in clusters that some public schools use. Students wear uniforms, and homework relating to the day's lessons is given usually every night. "I'm a firm believer in the traditional philosophy," said Casey George, principal of the Madison school. "It creates a solid foundation and leads to a higher level of critical thinking."

The curriculum at several of the schools is also accelerated. At Chandler's traditional elementary schools, students work about a year ahead in math. Expectations are high, and teachers push beyond state standards, said Don Shelley, the brainchild behind Chandler's traditional schools. He'll also serve as the junior high's principal. "Kids can do more than they are currently doing if they are given the chance and are expected to do it," Shelley said.

Traditional schools throughout the Valley post high scores on AIMS. At Alhambra Traditional School in Phoenix all the school's third-graders passed the math and reading portions of the state standardized test in 2008. The state average for the grade was 71 percent passing in math and 69 percent in reading. Traditional schools, tied to public school districts, offer parents a choice in how their children are educated. A traditional school opened in Mesa Public Schools 31 years ago. Now the Benjamin Franklin Elementary Schools has four campuses.

Parents grew concerned of decisions public schools were making that strayed from long-held practices such as phonics and self-contained classrooms, said Gayle Householder, principal of Franklin East Elementary School in Mesa. Most traditional academies in Phoenix use the Spalding Method, an integrated language-arts approach based on phonics that's used to teach reading comprehension, spelling and penmanship. At Alhambra, students aren't called out of class, and assemblies and field trips are limited. "We use every possible moment of the day dedicated to teaching and learning for teaching and learning," said Tracey Lopeman, the school's principal. "We see state standards as our floor. Not the stopping point but the beginning."

When Chandler Traditional Junior High opens next year, it will serve sixth- and seventh-graders. Grade 8 will be added during the 2010-2011 school year, and when school enrollment reaches a certain point, Grade 6, already offered in the district's traditional elementary schools, will be phased out. The school, to be located at the Pathways Learning Center near Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard, fulfills a longtime need for parents. When the district's first traditional elementary school opened several years ago, parents were already asking for a junior high. "Some parents see this as a great opportunity to carry on with what they've grown to love," said Shelley at a Chandler Governing Board meeting in December.



Deep down, most Americans once thought they were immune from blatant propaganda, government-sanctioned media-bias and psychiatric hospitals-cum-prisons - hallmarks of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and Josef Stalin's Communism. Such confidence is shifting as folks increasingly fear speaking their mind - on schools campuses, on the job, in houses of worship and public places. Worse, a metastasizing mental health industry has convinced government leaders that "nonprofessionals" - especially parents - are unqualified to make decisions on behalf of children. Average Americans find themselves intimidated by bureaucracies ranging from Child Protective Services to universities to the Environmental Protection Agency. These are just three agencies steeped in a deep-rooted presumption of citizen incompetence - precisely opposite the view of American Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Today's national leaders, agency heads and mainstream reporters are mostly hostile to American idealism, Christian morality and Western culture, which have taken the hardest hits under the banner of political correctness.

TV sitcoms, women's magazines, and much of what passes for news daily prove that traditional notions of integrity and decency are in their death throes, while psychology (despite its dismal track record) is promoted as being firmly anchored in "science," just as it was under Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. The difference today - thanks to exponential advances in computer cross-matching, identification and tracking - is that politically incorrect "troublemakers" can be identified and marginalized before they secure careers involving leadership, status or influence. That, of course, is always the end-game of campaigns in political correctness.

The Forty-Five Year "Leap Forward"

Just as in Mao Tse-tung's "Great Leap Forward" (a.k.a. "cultural revolution"), during which millions were murdered, the current state of affairs in America did not emerge suddenly. There were abundant warnings. Many writers, myself included, penned well-read works signaling a multitude of subtle twists and turns which our government, together with special interests, had undertaken since World War II in pursuit of, first, a socialist America, and then a totalitarian Superstate.

For some reason, Americans resist ominous signs. Perhaps it is because this nation was founded upon optimism, not created out of desperation. The earliest immigrants to our shores left everything familiar to institutionalize a different sort of governing style, one in which individuals were important instead of being servants of the State. This was a huge departure from prior ideas about the relationship of government to the governed. Modern citizens have pretty much lost touch with the radical nature of that single step.

The "Mouse" That Morphed

Today's schools, of course, barely touch on anything about the early values, philosophies or ideals that formed the "America" of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This is not surprising. Every "wannabe" tyrant that ever existed has always tried to wipe out knowledge about a nation's past, or recast it to reflect "new" thinking. Today's elites and special interests are no different - except for one thing: the computer. Sophisticated mathematical models and data-collection techniques make it possible, with the click of a "mouse," to know which people are "buying in" to the incessant flow of disinformation and which citizens are not. Those who are not "buying" are "resisters." Those who do "buy" are accepted into the better colleges, obtain the influential jobs and enjoy "status."

Within the space of 30 years, computer giants had perfected software and hardware packages that gave the public - and, more importantly, its overseers - "what they wanted." (For step-by-step details of data-collection and tracking, see Educating for the New World Order, 1991 and its sequel, Microchipped, 1994, Halcyon House Publishers). Meanwhile, a silent revolution was taking place in the media. The so-called "mainstream" sources - and both major political parties - started engaging in turf battles, which meant, basically, ignoring any "competitor" who might be saying something a little different. Nobody wanted to lose funding to somebody else. This resulted in fewer forums for real whistleblowers, and less dissemination of ideas. Despite the conveniences of the Internet, average people found it necessary to become proactive in obtaining their news. They couldn't rely on any of the old standbys. Even libraries and bookstores displayed "preferred" books and magazines prominently (for money, of course) and relegated everything else to the back wall or to "special order." Consequently, one had to know beforehand what to ask for. Americans had to sleuth around in a way they never did previously. Most people thought they had more pressing priorities.

Schools: The Primary Aggressor in the War Against America

The National Education Association (NEA) became a primary aggressor in the war against parents, religion and national sovereignty during the post-war period, beginning with its landmark publication, Toward World Understanding and its co-founding of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, co-founded in 1947 with a grant from the NEA and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). Passing itself off as a "professional teacher's organization," the NEA's leftist leadership lured educators by offering incentives like insurance and retirement benefits, then proceeded to create proxies to infiltrate teachers' colleges and dictate weird accreditation standards. The orthodoxy of parental incompetence began pervading teacher-preparation programs. Politicians were neutralized as they came to fear loss of NEA support more than loss of American principles. Other institutions and corporations soon fell into step. The new supercomputers introduced features most people had ever heard of in a pre-personal-computer world. In 25 years, the era of psychological dossier-building was a done deed (see Chapter 3, "Taking a Ride on the SPEEDE-ExPRESS," in my 1998, award-winning book, Cloning of the American Mind, available from the bookstore. Note: Book out of print, supply is limited). Analysts with concurrent degrees in psychology and statistics sealed the deal.

Today, children are "empowered" - blatantly encouraged to circumvent their parents and defy traditional values. Unfortunately, their "empowerment" had more to do with creating chaos and a vigorous data-collection effort than with self-determination.

Applying Marxist Terminologies to Psychological Profiling Programs

The 1995 Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP), inaugurated in Texas (and funded by the leftist Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) under then-Governor George W. Bush, morphed into a congressionally funded universal mental-health screening program and psychotropic drug-treatment plan encompassing some 25 federal agencies by 2004. This would enable a future administration (incoming President Barack Obama?) to enforce psychological profiling (and mandatory drugging, if "necessary") on every man, woman and toddler under an umbrella of "security." Today, TMAP goes by the Marxist-like moniker "New Freedom Initiative" and is linked directly to political correctness. A quiet campaign of coercion, hidden amongst computerized records collected over two decades was launched. Today, the Powers That Be can access and merge information about you, "flag" anything that might prove damaging to you down the road (should you become a "refusenik"), while simultaneously editing out anything positive, and relegating it, in effect, to the cutting-room floor. How would anyone know, after all?

Among the first hints that such atrocities were under construction occurred in 1973. Parents in Pennsylvania got wind of intimate questions being included on a standardized achievement test. The "test" supposedly required parental consent and voluntary participation, but complied with neither directive. These parents called in the American Civil Liberties Union. The case was settled out of court in favor of the complainants. The Chief of Pennsylvania's Department of Testing was told that if he henceforth would agree to adhere to a policy of voluntary participation and provide notification, then charges would be dropped.

But a decade later, the old U.S. Office of Education took on cabinet-level status as the U.S. Department of Education. Its state clones, called "state education agencies," decided that such admonitions could be safely ignored. An avalanche of what-would-you-do-if queries and word-association games passed off as legitimate test items were disseminated to 120,000 students in the 5th, 8th and 11th grades through Pennsylvania's Educational Quality Assessment (EQA). Irate parents were shuffled between the local, state and federal bureaucracies, each of which blamed the other. When Pennsylvania's Division of Testing took the fall (again) - this time for linking curriculum directly to the tests, renamed "assessments," as well as for failing to give notice - politicians dithered. It turned out that the money trail for both the assessments and the "remediating" curriculums (bearing the EQA logo right on the covers) led back to the federal government, through salaries and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

The whistleblowers were already too late.

More here

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Who'd be a teacher in today's nervous educational system?

Comment from Australia -- but what it describes is true in the UK and USA too. It documents the familiar modern practice of allowing one whiner to dictate to everyone else. Policy should be changed only when there is an extensive demand for it, not just a demand from one individual

WANTED: A mature adult, with tertiary qualifications, good values, ability to work long hours to educate tomorrow's leaders in everything from maths to English to good manners. Need to be able to be criticised, abused and possibly even assaulted.

Who would apply to be a teacher in 2009? As the school doors closed last year, the debate centred around whether red pens should be used in classrooms and whether building a replica of Noah's Ark amounted to Christian indoctrination. But as those teachers preparing to go back into the classroom this month will tell you, that's only the beginning. Each day, someone will question the decisions they make. They accept that. But more and more often, the questions become complaints, which are taking up more and more of a teacher's time. And it's the consequence of that that we should be worried about.

Teachers are rethinking their career choices; many with years of experience are choosing to leave and none of the debate is focusing on where that leaves our education system -- or the children at its centre. The following is a list of real examples you will not have heard about; they are complaints given to organisers of the Queensland Teachers Union.

* A primary school teacher had a complaint lodged by a parent because she had given the kids a worksheet headed "Spelling demons". The parent's objection centred around "the association with the supernatural" and thought the children would be frightened.

* A primary school in a regional area in Queensland withdrew yoga classes that had been offered to students as part of their fitness program. The reason hehind the forced withdrawal? A parental complaint about yoga's association with "foreign religions" .

* Another primary school removed Harry Potter posters after a parent complained that the posters "introduced children to witchcraft".

* Similarly, a parent of a high school student complained about Macbeth being studied in English classes because it "promoted witchcraft".

* The parents of a high school student complained about the "grave health risk to their child" who was asked to pick up papers from the school grounds as a consequence of persistent disruptive behaviour.

* Melbourne Cup Day was difficult last year -- as it is every year - because of the litany of complaints it brings. For example, the last race prompted complaints from parents because students were not allowed to discuss "the big race". The teachers were accused of being un-Australian. But the same day - and race -- brought complaints from parents of children who were allowed to discuss it, because it allegedly promotes gambling.

* In cases wbere Santa was allowed to be part of recent classroom celebrations, these complaints were logged. 1. Santa promotes a fantasy figure and should be banned. 2. Teachers were promoting an unhealthy overweight role model to children and should be brought into line 3. The presence of Santa in the classroom promoted "greed". You'd think that would make a teacher's plan for the next Christmas easy: Ban Santa and stop the complaints. But no. An equal number of complaints are received each December when Santa is not part of celebrations. Parents have complained that (a) it is political correctness "gone mad"; and (b) that teachers are denying children exposure to a well-loved traditional and cultural figure.

Even the sun-safe "no hat, no play" rule - which has been in place in Queensland state schools for years - brings regular complaints from parents who claim their children have been "discriminated against" if they are not allowed on to the oval because they have no hat. The issue of homework, too, is fraught with problems. Some parents argue that children should do all their work during school hours. But those on the other side say not giving enough homework means teachers are not fully providing for their education and how can all education be achieved from 8.30am to 3pm five days a week?

Add to that the appalling pay given to our teachers, and you wonder whether we are setting our education system up to fail. Of course, parents should have a say in the education of their children. But surely once you investigate the options, and select a school for your children, barring real evidence that your child is being damaged, shouldn't we leave the education to those trained to do it?

The spectre of daily complaints and even legal threats must have an effect on those at the front of the classroom. Why would you go the extra yard, think outside the square, or add to the curriculum if the risk is a barrage of complaints and the threat of legal action? It's our children who risk missing out here.

The above story by Madonna King appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" of Saturday 17, January, 2009

Short-Changing the Gifted

For elites, more should be required.

I see the College Board is axing four of its AP courses after the current academic year. The axees are: Italian, Latin-literature, French-literature, and the higher-level of their two computer-science courses.

AP stands for "Advanced Placement." These are courses taught to the brightest kids in high schools, allowing them to get college credits. Not just in high schools, either: the College Board is independent of the public-education and teacher-union power structures, and anyone can take an AP exam just by signing up and paying the (very modest) fee. AP is therefore a step in the direction of the general "certification" model of libertarian education, as described by Charles Murray in his recent book. AP programs are a Good Thing.

[Before continuing, I had better apologize for the gross act of political incorrectness I committed in the second sentence of my previous paragraph. It is of course not the case that some kids are "bright" while others are "dull." There are only "privileged" kids and "disadvantaged" kids. As the lady from the New York Times told Charles when interviewing him about his book: "Given the opportunity, most people could do most anything." To suggest otherwise is shameful, bigoted, and hurtful. I am sorry. Sorry sorry sorry! May I continue please? Thank you!]

Since AP programs are a Good Thing, the cancellation of four of them is a Bad Thing. It's especially a Bad Thing in the educational environment of today, when more and more public-education resources are devoted to the slower students [Gosh darn it, there I go again-Sorry! Sorry!] in pursuit of No Child Left Behind goals. If no child is to be left behind, teachers can justify giving most of their attention to the stragglers while ignoring the ones who are forging ahead. Something like this has been happening.

The cancellation of Italian is a doubly Bad Thing. This is the first time a language AP program has ever been cancelled in the 50-odd years these programs have been available. Cancellation of programs is anyway a rare thing. A music-appreciation course was dropped in 1991; I don't know of any other instances. In the case of Italian, the College Board declared that they were faced with "a question of funding." Some part of the fault lies with the Italian government, which had promised to help out with the funding. Unfortunately, the Italian government is even more hopelessly incompetent at getting anything done than the average national government-which is to say, very, very incompetent indeed.

The College Board emphasizes that these are small programs. Only 1,930 students nationwide took the AP Italian exam last May, compared with 4,322 for Chinese and over 100,000 for Spanish. We are, indeed, drifting towards a situation where "foreign-language instruction" in public schools means Spanish. My own two kids were given a free choice of foreign language by their over-indulgent parents when the time came. They both opted for Spanish (from menus that included French, Italian, and Latin). We couldn't dissuade them. Why Spanish? "Because all my friends are doing it." References to Exodus 23:2 were of no avail.

I'm guessing, in any case, that my kids made the right choice. Though decently good students when pushed, neither shows signs of being an academic superstar. For ordinary middle-class Americans, Spanish probably is the best choice of a high-school language, to the degree it matters. (Which is not, in my opinion, much. Very few of us can attain mastery of a foreign language by school instruction. Most of us, in fact, once we have graduated, lose whatever of our school language we had. Learning a foreign language is a good mental discipline, and in a few scattered cases it will have some future advantage; but vocation-wise, high-school language instruction is mostly pointless.)

For the gifted few, though [Sorry! Sorry!], a different logic applies, or should. Charles Murray:

The proposition is not that America's future should depend on an elite that is educated to run the country; but that, whether we like it or not, America's future does depend on an elite that runs the country. The members of that elite are drawn overwhelmingly from among the academically gifted. We had better make sure that we do the best possible job of educating them.

These brightest [I am flagellating myself!] kids are exactly the ones taking AP programs in their Junior and Senior years of high school. The number is about a million, taking an average two programs each. That's out of a total of about 16 million high-school-age Americans. For these members of our future elite, the rules should, as I said, be different. For them, considerations above and beyond the merely utilitarian and satisfactory should apply.

Of course we want all our young people to leave school acquainted with the civilization they belong to. I should be ashamed for my own kids to enter adulthood unfamiliar with at least the names, nationalities, and approximate dates of Plato and Aristotle, Alexander and Caesar, Henry VIII and Louis XIV, Newton and Darwin, Shakespeare and Dickens, and so on.

For elites, though, more should be required. These students should engage with our civilization and its high culture, and that involves good, close acquaintance with at least one modern European language and one ancient one. For ancient languages the choice is of course Latin or Greek. In modern languages, I'd put French at the head of the list, with German close behind, Italian below that, and Russian and Spanish, in that order, considerably below that. For complicated historical reasons, Spain simply didn't contribute much to European civilization. Spain had novelists, poets, painters, composers, philosophers, and scientists to be sure, but nothing like as many-not remotely as many-as the other great European nations. To take just one aspect of civilization dear to my own heart, try clicking on the various European regions here to see the birthplaces of great mathematicians.

To the degree-which, I say again, is not very far-that there is any point in teaching foreign languages to average, un-brilliant kids like mine, Spanish should be the language of choice, just because it's the other big language of our hemisphere, and most likely to be some use to them in adult life. On the gifted few, though-the ones taking AP programs-we should press those languages that encode the high civilization of the West. So far as modern languages are concerned, that means French, German, and Italian. With the decision of the College Board to drop Italian, something has been lost. Not much, perhaps; but at this point in our civilizational decay, how much can we afford to lose?