Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Double Standard for Campus Free Speech

In what is yet more evidence that universities have become, as Abigail Thernstrom has described them, "islands of repression in a sea of freedom," Toronto's York University witnessed a near riot of some 100 pro-Palestinian Israel-haters, as police had to be called to usher Jewish students to safety after they had been barricaded inside the Hillel@York offices and were "isolated and threatened" by the physically and verbally aggressive demonstrators.

York, one of Canada's largest universities, also has a sizable Jewish student population, but that has not served to diffuse what has become an increasingly volatile, and distressing, problem on its campus, one that raises issues about what is acceptable behavior and discourse at universities worldwide. Universities, of course, have well-articulated regulations that supposedly define student behavior and place limits of speech and actions that might shatter what administrators like to refer to as the "civility" of the campus community. York's own student code of conduct, for instance, specifically prohibits "threats of harm, or actual harm, to a person's physical or mental wellbeing," including "verbal and non-verbal aggression . . . verbal abuse; intimidation; [and] harassment"-all of which were clearly violated by the demonstrators' physically intimidating protests.

More troubling is the invidious language used in this event, mirroring a surge of unbridled Jew-hatred manifested on campuses, as well as on city streets, worldwide since Israel's recent defensive incursions into Gaza. Parroting the morally incoherent and factually defective exhortations of Israel-haters elsewhere of "Zionism equals racism!" and "Racists off campus!," the York mob, members of both the York Federation of Students and Students Against Israeli Apartheid, demonstrated once again that what is positioned as "intellectual debate" on campuses about the Israeli/Palestinian issue has devolved into something that is not really a conversation at all; rather, it is something more akin to an ideologically-driven shout fest in which pro-Palestinians, employing a revisionist history in which the dark-skinned, third-world Arabs are the long-standing victims of white, European, colonial Zionists, have escalated the debate far beyond discussion of borders, refugee status, and the rights of both Jews and Arabs to self-determination, statehood, and peaceful coexistence.

So now, supporters of the cult of Palestinianism apparently no longer feel even a bit uncomfortable voicing what is actually on their minds when the subject of Israel comes up: when the York Hillel students were trapped inside of locked offices, surrounded by an increasingly violent and aggressive mob, the intellectual "debate" that day included such invidious and raw slurs as "Die bitch-go back to Israel" and "Die Jew-get the hell off campus." The most vicious anti-Semites have of late been able to conveniently inoculate themselves from what had become socially unacceptable in the modern age- hating Jews-by artfully masking any anti-Semitism on their part by stating, "Oh, no, it's not Jews that I loathe, only the oppressive, genocidal, and racist policies of Zionism and Israel."

But even that concern for appearing to be politically correct has now, too, vanished. When students are calling for the death of the fellow students based on their religion or political inclinations, something more serious and troubling is going on here that cannot be easily dismissed as part of the back and forth in the "marketplace of ideas" that universities are so fond of facilitating. But craven college administrators, who in their zeal to achieve "diversity" and "multiculturalism" have relieved campus victim groups of any responsibility for their noxious or morally reprehensible views and regularly fail to condemn the behavior of favored groups on campus while publicly denouncing, punishing, or distancing themselves from the opposing voices coming, for instance, from conservatives, Christians, Republicans, or pro-Israel groups or faculty members.

Imagine for a moment that during the latest incident instead of Hillel, another of the University's student organizations, the Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gay Allies at York, had held a press conference in the student union to give their views, say, on gay marriage, a topic over which there can, and are, many viewpoints. Imagine further that counter-protestors, joined in their demonstration by Rev. Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church and inflamed by what they felt was an assault on their Christian faith, angrily barricaded the TBLG Allies in their offices, pounded violently on the walls and screamed out, as the ever-sensitive Phelps is wont to do, "God hates fags," "No fags in heaven," "death to sodomites," or that some of them were "Jezebellian switch-hitting whores."

Assuming that such a counter protest would even have been allowed to occur on campus, does anyone doubt the extent of denunciation and condemnation that would have risen from an apoplectic administration and faculty if this hateful speech and behavior took place? Would not the gay students have felt "threatened," "harassed," "intimidated," or had their feelings hurt, and called for forced sensitivity training for the offenders? Is there any doubt that the counter-protestors would be de-funded, sanctioned, or punished into silence or prevented from further demonstrations or the ability to express their opinions on campus again?

Therein lies the hypocrisy in academic free speech on campus today: while coddling selected victim groups and granting them unlimited expression as a purported way to further diversity of thought, college administrators have regularly denied those same rights and privileges to groups deemed not to deserve or need them, namely, conservatives, Christians, Republicans, and or those who seek a strong defense against radical Islam and terrorism aimed at Western democracies, principally the U.S. and Israel. So if pro-Israel and Jewish students have to be escorted by police to protect them from physical assault and nothing is said about the egregious nature of the offense, and pro-Israel, anti-terror speakers such as Daniel Pipes are shouted down and heckled relentlessly when they come to York, the university is failing in its stated objective to foster true debate and free speech where reasoned conclusions can evolve through animated and lively discussion of alternate views.

" The `Israel debate,' " say Gary A. Tobin, Aryeh K. Weinberg, and Jenna Firer in The Uncivil University, "is not a true intellectual debate at all, but rather a failure of the university community at all levels to properly protect its highest ideals. No institution of higher learning should allow Jewish students to be intimidated or attacked, or pro-Israel speakers to be so physically threatened that they cannot safely visit a campus."

Why? Because "such an environment is antithetical to the mission" of the university, they say, and if the academy abandons that goal for the sake of selected groups and favored causes today, it clearly make victims of other groups whose views and voice deserve the same hearing in our marketplace of ideas.


British teachers 'not allowed' to chase four-year-old school runaway - because of health and safety risk

Using police instead of teachers is a huge waste of resources

It's being called a 'safe handling policy,' but the extraordinary health and safety rule which has enabled an inquisitive four-year-old boy to repeatedly wander out the school playground is enough to give any parent nightmares. On four occasions since the start of term, youngster River Baker has walked out of school grounds during break time to explore the outside world. Each time he has apparently been spotted by the supervising member of staff. But instead of grabbing or running after him to bring him back, the teacher has 'tracked' the youngster on foot to ensure he comes to no harm and rung the police so officers can stop him.

On one occasion River and another boy of similar age were followed as they walked near a busy main road and five police vehicles turned up to pick them up, she claimed.

The bizarre series of events and refusal of staff to physically stop the four-year-old walking out the open school entrance has appalled and astonished River's mother Suzan Baker, 44. 'There are all sorts of issues here,' she said. 'The school policy is crazy but the security is also pathetic. The teachers say they keep an eye on the kids in the playground all the time, but when they get out, which is so easy to do, they have to follow them a couple of hundred yards behind. It's ludicrous.'

River has left St Mary's Roman Catholic Primary School in Richmond, North Yorkshire, four times since January - twice going into a school next door, once walking alongside a busy road and once heading for woodland.

Miss Baker, a single mother-of-three, said she was told due to policy staff were not allowed to grab him. 'I was on a driving lesson when I got a call telling me that they had picked him up from woods at the back of his school. They told me they had followed him and rung the police. When I questioned them about it they just said "do you know how fast a four-year-old can run?"

'It's crazy, an adult could easily catch up with him and safely restrain him. But apparently it is school policy not to grab them.'

Two weeks earlier River and a friend were heading towards an abbey about a mile from the school and walking next to a busy road. 'Again the teacher followed behind and this time five police vans turned up to pick them up. When I found out about this I flipped my lid. 'It's so dangerous out there, it's terrifying what could have happened to them. They could have been run over or grabbed by a sicko before the police got there, it doesn't bear thinking about.'

Miss Baker, a caterer who also has a 14-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, lives in fear of the next call from school and keeps her mobile phone with her at all times. The youngster has once climbed the six ft high fence, but usually just walks out the open entrance. 'When I ask him why he runs away he says "I want to get some exercise." 'He's four years old and he's a boy, so of course he is going to want to run about and explore like all other kids do. He's always been a lively lad.'

And it seems staff are acting according to local authority policy. Acting headteacher Jill Wilkinson said:'We have a positive safe handling policy that allows us to use reasonable action. However it can be dangerous to chase after a child because often it makes them run faster.'

A spokeswoman for North Yorkshire County Council said it helped draw up a 'protocol' about what to do when a child runs away and denied ordering staff not to stop them leaving school. 'If a teacher or a member of support staff considers a child is in immediate danger of running away then he or she can use reasonable and appropriate physical intervention. 'If a child does run away a member of staff has to make a quick judgement as to whether giving chase in order to restrain a child might put that child in greater danger, such as running into oncoming traffic. 'The school is situated next to a busy highway. If they consider this is the case they are advised to track the child rather than chase and if necessary call the police.'


Friday, March 06, 2009

British teachers' careers 'blighted' by false allegations

Hundreds of teachers are facing false allegations of abusing children every year, union leaders said. More than 800 claims are being made against staff, according to the NASUWT union. Many of the allegations follow attempts by teachers to discipline pupils who misbehave in class, it was claimed.

The union argued that teachers were seen as "guilty until proven innocent" and can face suspension, police investigations or disciplinary procedures if they are confronted with abuse allegations or claims they used excessive force against a pupil. Even if a teacher is later cleared, the complaint is still held on record, they said.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said the majority of allegations were unfounded and told the BBC that the situation was a "blight" on the teaching profession. She said: "Whatever the outcome of the investigation, that will be on the teacher's file. If that teacher applies for another job that allegation will be resurrected under the Criminal Records Bureau check. "So you could say that every one of those 800 teachers has got a blight over their career for the rest of their time teaching." While no-one doubts that children needed protection, Miss Keates added: "This presumption of guilt is one of the major flaws in the current system."

Ministers said they were looking at the guidance on accusations against teachers. A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Guidance on more consistent and swifter handling of allegations was issued for education in 2005. "We are also looking at whether guidance should be amended to make clear that accusations which have been demonstrated to be untrue do not need to be included in teachers' references."


Australia: Mathematics in crisis as teachers go private

Advanced mathematics is disappearing from public school classrooms, leaving students able to learn only basic maths, because the few qualified teachers are being snapped up by the private sector. The shortage of maths teachers will become more acute as fewer students continue maths at university, undermining the nation's skills base in engineering, the sciences and technology, scientists warn. "The inequitable access to quality mathematics education is a national disgrace," the National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences says in a report calling for a national strategy to boost the discipline.

An estimated 40 per cent of senior school mathematics teachers do not have a maths major, the minimum needed to teach the subject to senior years, the committee believes. That is up from 30 per cent in 1999. At the same time, university enrolments for maths majors fell almost 14 per cent between 2001 and 2007.

The committee is part of the Australian Academy of Science. Its chairman, Hyam Rubinstein, said state schools could not compete with the private sector for qualified maths teachers. "Students not having access to (higher level maths) in government schools is really disadvantaging them in a number of important areas of study," Professor Rubinstein said. "It is just going to make the skills shortage worse because, even with the economic downturn, we need to replace our engineers who are all ageing, and we aren't going to be able to do that if people aren't doing mathematics at school."

The number of Year 12 students studying advanced maths has fallen 20 per cent, from 25,000 in 1995 to 20,000 in 2007. The proportion of Year 12 students studying senior maths has now fallen from 14 per cent to 10per cent, with the proportion taking intermediate maths down from 27 per cent to 21 per cent. In contrast, the proportion studying elementary maths has risen from 37 per cent to 48 per cent.

Mathematical Association of Victoria head Simon Pryor said: "Year 7 and Year 8 are critical years, especially if you are going to get kids to love mathematics." Mr Pryor said principals, hit by limited resources, were being forced to staff maths classes with teachers lacking maths qualifications. This year, Mr Pryor took a call from a young teacher at a Victorian state school who last studied maths at school in Year 12. He was desperate for coaching after discovering he had been given a full load teaching maths to Years 10 and 11.

While it is not new for the association to get cries for help from teachers with little maths training, Mr Pryor said he was surprised that senior school students were being taught by teachers lacking maths training. A senior mathematics teacher, who preferred not to be named, said unqualified maths teachers inevitably could only teach practical maths. As a result students were missing out on the higher, abstract maths required to go on to university study.

The National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences is calling for a national system of mathematics teacher registration. It wants school systems to be able to offer "golden handshakes" to attract mathematicians into teaching. It also wants schools to offer tenure to new maths teachers. It recommends a widening of the federal Government's HECS discount scheme for science graduates entering teaching to include other degrees that also include maths, such as computer science and engineering. It also wants the Government to crack down on universities and ensure government money specifically targeted for maths and statistics departments is not spent elsewhere within the universities.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Leading British school is first to ditch all government middle-school exams for tougher rival

Dumbed down government curriculum being abandoned

A top independent school has become the first in the country to ditch GCSEs wholesale in favour of a more 'challenging' international alternative. Manchester Grammar is to drop the GCSEs from September in almost all subjects and switch to the International GCSE, which is modelled on the old O-level and takes the focus away from coursework. The switch will heighten fears that a two-tier national exam system is emerging as new qualifications challenge GCSEs and A-levels.

Other private school heads are considering a similar move, with one describing GCSEs as 'pap' and 'baby food' for the most able pupils. The trigger for Manchester Grammar's decision was a Government overhaul of GCSE courses starting in September, which will split courses into bite-size modules that pupils can resit as they go along.

Dr Christopher Ray, Manchester Grammar's high master, said the heads of individual subject departments at his school had almost unanimously decided to move to IGCSEs. 'The difficulty that we have got is that the entire GCSE syllabus, if you want to use a metaphor, is rather like getting able students through a combination of dressage and a low hurdle race,' he said. 'You have to explain to them how they put their feet very carefully over low hurdles so they will not irritate the examiner. It's not challenging at all.' He added: 'The vast majority of time spent on coursework is at best unhelpful and at worst it's destructive to creative intellectual capacities. The whole thing is misconceived.'

Manchester Grammar, a 9,000 pounds-a-year boys' day school whose alumni include former England cricket captain Michael Atherton and Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, has offered the IGCSE in Maths for the past four years, and the sciences for the past three. From September, English Language, English Literature, History, Religious Studies, Latin, Music and Modern Languages will move to the IGCSE, with Geography following in 2010. Art is the only subject for which there is an IGCSE alternative which will not move away from the domestic GCSE exam.

The decision means the school - described in the Good Schools Guide as a 'premier league academic powerhouse' - will slump to the foot of official GCSE league tables because the Government does not recognise IGCSEs. But Dr Ray said the tables were 'totally irrelevant'. Other well-known schools are moving to the IGCSE in some subjects, including Winchester College and St Paul's School in Barnes, West London.

Dr Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's and a former high master of Manchester Grammar, said: 'The new GCSEs are appalling for the most able students. They are simply pap, they are baby food, they are examination rusks in too many subjects, and they do not stretch and challenge the most able.'


Lazy feminist

Overpaid and under-worked

At a moment when the University of Florida is slashing its budget and laying off faculty and staff, administrators thought it was reasonable to ask Florence Babb to increase her teaching load to three courses a year. She doesn't agree. Babb, an endowed professor and graduate coordinator of UF's Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, has entered into arbitration proceedings to challenge the increased teaching load. Babb was given an appointment letter in 2004 that said her teaching load would be limited to one course each semester, and now says the university isn't upholding its written agreement.

The United Faculty of Florida, a statewide union affiliated with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, is backing Babb. As more universities contemplate budget cuts, Babb said it's important to make a stand. "This could be a kind of a test case," said Babb, who makes close to $100,000 a year. "I think there is some awareness that this is a big issue for me, but it's potentially a significant issue for many more people."

The university does not dispute that Babb's appointment letter laid out a one-class per semester course load. Even so, university officials argue that changing teaching loads is permissible under Florida's collective bargaining agreement with the union. "From the university's point of view, it is black and white in the collective bargaining agreement that a chair can adjust the assignment of a faculty member whenever they need to do so," said Joe Glover, Florida's provost. According to the agreement, the university is authorized to "determine the mix" of duties, which include teaching, research and service. Assignments must be "fair and reasonable," according to the agreement

Babb draws an annual salary of $99,223, according to university officials. The two classes she's teaching this spring have a total of 43 students. One of the classes she's teaching this spring is a graduate level course. "I was hired with a very attractive set of conditions, but no more attractive I think than other endowed professors at the University of Florida -- very typical of what I've seen in other contracts," she said.

In addition to her teaching, Babb serves as graduate coordinator in the women's studies center. Given her duties as coordinator, her new teaching load expanded to three courses over spring and fall semesters -- as opposed to four classes -- because her coordinator responsibility qualifies as a course. Prior to Babb's tenure in the position, the university had never previously granted the center's graduate coordinator course relief, because the center is relatively small, Glover said.

Florida took a $69 million budget cut last year, and Babb's college was already in financial trouble -- even before the state's economy started to plummet. Glover said the cuts put strains on the university's teaching mission, and increasing Babb's load was necessary. "This is a time when the budget process in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was so bad that we took the unprecedented step of laying off seven faculty, including several who were tenure track," Glover said. "Travel budgets were cut to the bone, there was very little hiring and everything was cut back. This is a professor who had a 1:1 course load who has complained about being asked to teach an additional course. I think that's a disproportionate response given the severity of the situation the college was facing."

Babb argues, however, that's she's been singled out in a way that others have not. "We're not aware of faculty who have had an increase of course load for the indefinite time period," she said. "That's striking." Actually, there was one endowed faculty member in Babb's college who was asked to increase his teaching load, according to Glover. That faculty member, whom Glover declined to identify, opted to retire instead, he said.

Milagros Pena, director of the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, declined an interview request. She did, however, send an e-mail affirming that the center's "most important" function is teaching. "The central mission of our center is its teaching mission," she wrote. "With loss of faculty and diminished . resources the center is facing the need for all core faculty to be available to meet the needs of the center's teaching mission."

The sticking point in the debate over Babb's teaching load may be the presence of a written document that articulates her teaching responsibilities, limiting them to one class each semester. Inside Higher Ed requested the document from both Babb and the university, neither of whom provided it Monday. Both parties confirm, however, that the agreement limits Babb's teaching load.

John Biro, president of the university's chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, said the union would not have backed Babb if it didn't feel there was a strong case to be made that the university had violated its contract. "It's not the case that everyone's teaching load is specified in our collective bargaining agreement; that could not be the case for 2,000 faculty," he said. "The point is, when it is specified as part of the conditions of the employment then it can't be arbitrarily changed."

The union always has an interest in addressing any potential contract violations, but Biro said the need to do so was only heightened in an environment when the university is using budget cuts to justify layoffs and other changes. "I think it's especially important [now] to be vigilant about the contract," he said. "That's not incompatible with saying that we would at any time, under any circumstances, without exception challenge any violation."


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Catholic Church slams new British code of conduct forcing teachers to promote Islam and gay rights

The Roman Catholic Church has severely criticised a proposed new code of conduct for teachers which it says will force Christian schools to actively promote Islam and gay rights. The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has warned the General Teaching Council, by the professional regulatory body, that many teachers will quit the profession because they will not be able to accept the revised code of conduct in good conscience. Their advisers say the code would also seriously undermine the religious character of church schools by imposing on them a hostile form of secular morality. The legally-binding code would discriminate against Christian teachers in recruitment and in the classroom, they say.

Principle 4 of the code demands that teachers `proactively challenge discrimination' and `promote equality and value diversity in all their professional relationships and interactions' before they can be registered. It means that campaigners can complain if teachers fail to observe the new demands and that teachers and schools can be punished if a complaint is upheld.

Oona Stannard, head of the Catholic Education Service, an agency of the bishops' conference, told the GTC in a written submission that `there was an understandable fear that the call to "proactively challenge discrimination" could be used to oppose faith schools per se, and the rights that they have in law, for example, to select leaders who are of the faith'. `This anxiety extends similarly to the direction to "promote equality",' Miss Stannard said. `It would be unacceptable to expect anyone to be required to promote something contrary to their own faith beliefs and, indeed, it would not be possible for a person of faith to promote another faith - this is a matter of conscience.'

Miss Stannard added that there were grave concerns in the Church over the question of whether Catholic teachers would in good conscience feel able to register under the new code. This means they would either quit the profession or would be dissuaded from entering in the first place, heightening the recruitment crisis already afflicting many schools. The code proposed by the GTC would be binding on all schools, including the 2,300 primary and secondary schools run by the Catholic Church and the 4,660 run by the Church of England.

The GTC is insisting that all teachers will have to sign up to the new code before they can practice. The code will then be used by the GTC to assess cases of serious misconduct by teachers and trainee teachers. However, it will also be used by school governing bodies and local authorities in recruitment and disciplining of teachers; universities in assessing candidates for teacher training and by employment tribunals assessing claims of unfair dismissal.

Many Christians already fear that equality and diversity rules are being used against them. Caroline Petrie, a nurse, was suspended by North Somerset Primary Care Trust, for failing to `demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity' after telling a patients she would pray for her, while marriage registrar Lillian Ladelle, disciplined for refusing to preside over same-sex civil partnerships, lost her case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal after the panel ruled in favour of the Islington Council's `commitment to equality'.

Brighton Council also withdrew funding from Pilgrim Homes, a Christian care home, after staff refused to quiz elderly residents over the sexual orientation in keeping with `fair access and diversity' policies.

The Christian Institute, a non-denominational charity, says that the GTC code means that universities might ask applicants about their willingness to promote gay rights and Islam. If a teacher was asked at interview if he or she was willing to use materials designed by gay rights groups, the teacher could be rejected for declining because he or she would be in breach of Principle 4. If a pupil asked an RE teacher if Jesus Christ was the only means to salvation and the teacher replied yes, a non-Christian parent could complain to the GTC over a breach of Principle 4.

Ofsted inspectors would also be able to criticise schools for promoting the Christian vision of marriage, while teachers who say they will pray for troubled pupils could be suspended for failing to `value diversity'. Colin Hart, Christian Institute director, said: `Respect for people as people is not the same as respecting or valuing every religious belief or sexual lifestyle. `Forcing this on Christian teachers is to force them to go against their conscience,' he said. `Teachers are there to teach not to be diversity officers.'

The GTC consultation on the new code closed last Friday.


British government backpedalling on school admission lotteries

They have suddenly realized that the despised middle class have got a lot of votes and upsetting them is not wise

The use of lotteries to allocate school places is to be reviewed by the Government as it emerges that more than 20 per cent of children are failing to get into their first-choice schools in parts of the country. Competition for secondary school places has reached record levels this year, increasing anxiety for hundreds of thousands of families. A survey by The Times of 43 local authorities suggests that in many areas up to a fifth of children face disappointment. Families in London are the hardest hit Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, is setting up an inquiry into the part played by lotteries, arguing that "in some areas, this is the fairest way of resolving a tiny minority of decisions".

This week is admissions week, when about 570,000 families will be receiving their secondary school offers. As the recession forces more parents to consider a state education rather than a private one for their child, early indications are that more than a third of local authorities have seen rises in applications for secondary school places.

This year, just 62 per cent of parents in Richmond upon Thames got into their first-choice school, down from 64 per cent last year. The council said the fall was after a rise in applications. In another London authority, Tower Hamlets, 72.1 per cent of parents got their first choice. In Leeds and Warwickshire 85 per cent were successful, in Derby it was 81 per cent, while in Wiltshire, Stockport and Lincolnshire the figure was 89 per cent.

In many authorities the figures are similar to last year. Exceptions include Brighton and Hove, which introduced a lottery system to allocate oversubscribed places last year. This year, it has seen a 3.5 per cent increase in the number of children gaining their first choice, bringing the total to nearly 88 per cent. However, more than 5 per cent of children in the area have been allocated a place at a school that did not appear among any of their choices. In Blackpool, there was a 7.4 per cent increase in the number of children gaining admission to their preferred school, bringing the total to 96 per cent. In several local authorities more than 90 per cent of children gained admission to their first choice of school, the highest being Stockton-on-Tees, with 96.9 per cent.

Mr Balls, accepted that nearly 20 per cent of parents in some areas would not obtain a place at their preferred school. "More than eight out of ten parents get their first choice, but until every school is a good school and there isn't a concentration of oversubscription in some, then there is going to be disappointment, so there is more to do," he said. "I have sympathy with the view that a lottery system can feel arbitrary, random and hard to explain to children in years five and six who don't know what's going to happen and don't know which children in their class they're going to be going on to secondary school with," he said.

Lotteries are being used, at the Government's own suggestion, by a small number of oversubscribed schools in around 25 local authorities. They were meant to prevent middle class parents from playing the system, by buying or renting homes close to the best schools.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Two Letters of Recommendation

By Mike S. Adams

To: Shannon K. Jones

Good afternoon, Shannon. I received your request for a letter of recommendation to UNC School of Law. I also received your resume, your transcripts, and your LSAT results. Based upon what I read I have written you two letters of recommendation. The first letter is for North Carolina Central School of Law, which I believe would be a better choice given that your grades and test scores are good but less than stellar. The full text of the letter follows:
To Whom It May Concern:

As a professor at UNC-Wilmington, I have had the pleasure of knowing Shannon Jones for the last four years. She has been a good student and an asset to our program. I would like to take this opportunity to recommend Shannon to N.C. Central School of Law.

I feel confident that Shannon will continue to do well in her studies. She is a dedicated student and thus far her grades have been strong. She has a 3.1 overall GPA. In class, she has proven to be a leader who is able to successfully develop ideas and presentations and to implement them.

Shannon has also assisted us in our main office. She has successfully demonstrated leadership ability by speaking with prospective students. Her advice has been a great help to students, some of whom have taken time to share their comments with me. Many noted her pleasant and encouraging attitude.

It is for these reasons that I offer recommendations for Shannon without reservation. Her drive and abilities will truly be an asset to your law school. If you have any questions regarding this recommendation, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Mike Adams, Associate Professor, UNC-Wilmington

As you can see, I wrote this letter without any reference to your status as a black female. Instead, I relied on your legitimate qualifications as a potential law student. But I also wrote a second letter based upon the sliding scale that is used for minorities (especially double minorities) in the law school admissions process. The full text of the second letter follows:
To Whom It May Concern:

As a professor at UNC-Wilmington, I have had the pleasure of knowing Shannon Jones for the last four years. She has been a good student and an asset to our program. I would like to take this opportunity to offer a minority recommendation for Shannon's consideration by the admissions committee at UNC School of Law.

I feel confident that Shannon would do better in her studies were she to attend another law school. However, I am confident that Shannon will be given special consideration at UNC School of Law. Even if she lands near the bottom of the class, she will be guaranteed a good summer job by the progressives working in the placement office. She is a dedicated student and thus far her grades have been strong - although they are about half a grade point below the average expected of white male applicants. Her LSAT score of 156 is also well below that expected of white males. But her status as a black female should more than make up the difference.

Shannon has also assisted us in our main office. She has successfully demonstrated leadership ability by speaking with prospective students. Her advice has been a great help to students, some of whom have taken time to share their comments with me. Many noted her pleasant and encouraging attitude. This will undoubtedly help her to console other struggling minority students many of whom suffer greatly from the double standard operating at the law school.

It is for these reasons that I offer recommendations for Shannon without any reservations aside from the fact that she is not actually qualified, which I understand to be irrelevant in this case. Her demographic characteristics will truly be an asset to your law school's mission as you have defined it. If you have any questions regarding this recommendation, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Mike Adams Associate Professor UNC-Wilmington

As you may have guessed, Shannon, I only intend to send one of these letters of recommendation. The one you choose will reveal whether you wish to be judged by the content of your character or the color of your skin. It will also say a lot about your character.


Can we please have less politics in our exams? Plea from a British 16 year old.....

Joe Iles is 16. He's about to do his GCSEs and hopes to study Latin, German, Further Maths and English or History at A Level (so he's no slouch). After that, he's thinking of studying Classics and Modern Languages at University. But he's not happy with the school curriculum, and was inspired to write for School Gate after the Cambridge Primary Review criticised the restrictions for children at a younger age. He thinks that there's too much politics, that these are pushing out proper learning, and that social issues are being pushed far too hard... So, over to Joe:
In recent years, it seems that the school curricula are featuring more and more in public debate. There was considerable press coverage of a study last week which revealed that in primary education, the focus has been steered away from the arts and humanities leaving children "tied to their desks" struggling with the nine times table. The report claims this has "squeezed out" other areas of learning, rendering children's artistic capacities under-developed and neglected. Furthermore, the report claims not only that the curriculum has been narrowed, but that what remains has become heavily "politicised".

As a current GCSE student, I can identify with this "politicisation". It seems to me as if the GCSE curricula, above all for science, no longer focus on understanding the subject. The core biology science curriculum now calls for very little knowledge of the biology that we had studied in the years preceding GCSE, but seems to be a governmental attempt to raise awareness of current social issues. For example, section A of the core biology exam concentrates on contraception, drugs, alcohol, smoking, obesity, anorexia and the MMR vaccines, whilst section B tackles broader issues such as global warming, GM crops, creationism vs Darwinism and alternative energy sources.

Perhaps this is the best solution to the some of the social problems that Britain faces today. Maybe through education, education and education, Labour may finally succeed in reducing teenage pregnancies, child obesity and begin to steer Britain towards a greener way of life. Perhaps indeed, learning about the advantages and disadvantages of wind and solar power is vastly more useful to the average sixteen year old than a full understanding of the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. In this way, the younger generation may begin to have a much clearer idea of current affairs, enabling us to partake more readily in the critical issues of the day, making us more informed voters and leaders of tomorrow.

An important aspect of the "politicisation" of the curriculum is the use of exams. Not only are the social issues agenda studied in class, but students must take exams on these topics, requiring an in depth analysis of the themes, and also meaning that students' grades at GCSE depend on their knowledge of the subject in hand, encouraging a much more motivated and engaged learning process.

However, one of the key problems with sitting exams about topics of this nature is that the exam board are required to write mark schemes clearly detailing the answers that they want within a rigid framework. This leaves no room for debate on the part of the student, meaning that instead of producing insightful, perceptive and interesting answers, pupils tend towards putting down what they think the mark scheme is most likely to have as an acceptable response. For example, in a question about embryo screening, the advantage of screening embryos in accordance to the mark scheme was to reduce health care costs for the parents. I found it a little disconcerting, if not positively concerning, to discover that my answer that it would improve the quality of life for the child, did not feature. Is it right to present these issues to pupils in such a way that they are blinkered into one channel of thought? Is it not more productive to allow pupils to debate current affairs in such a way that they are able to access all viewpoints and form their own opinions? Arguably, the government is now more concerned with indoctrination than discussion.

In my view, it must be asked if the science curriculum is really the right place for these social issues to be debated and taught. Indeed, if education is really the process by which someone's innate intelligence is led out, then perhaps topical issues should be addressed elsewhere. Arguably, in the hours that we spend in full time education, it is more important to develop an understanding of the basics of the world around us; to understand the science behind the issues as opposed to an awareness of the actual issues, and indeed problems, that science can both cause and solve.

Furthermore, those who are employed to teach Biology, Chemistry and Physics may well become frustrated by the deviance of the curriculum from their chosen subject. Thus, their passion for the subject, presumably because of which they chose teaching in the first place, diminishes. Can pupils really find a topic which frustrates their teachers engaging?

For the pupils, this intervention and politicisation can become annoyingly transparent. Having studied global warming in all three sciences, Geography, English, French, German and Spanish, I have found that its initial shock has now ceased to have an impact. The topic has become stale, and my will to change for the better has been weakened.

There is no doubt that there are a number of social issues, concerning young people, which need to be addressed in one way or another. My question is whether GCSE science is really the place for it. Maybe PSHE is a more obvious option, but the problem is that PSHE is not regarded with anywhere near the same level of importance. I think that as young people, we do need to understand the current topics being debated, but it is possibly more beneficial to be invited to participate seriously in balanced discussion, as opposed to having to show we know the effects of smoking in part b) of question nine."


Monday, March 02, 2009

Oops! I'll Do It Again. And Again. And Again...

Beginning next month, the College Board will allow high-school students who have taken the SATs multiple times to submit only their highest score to the colleges to which they are applying. Called "Score Choice," this policy brings the SAT into line with the ACT, the rival college-entrance examination, and it is supposedly designed to reduce the stress that this examination places on students worried about their futures.

Of course, Score Choice will also give what many would see as an unfair advantage to those who can afford the time and the money to take the test more than once -- and the more they can take it, the greater the advantage. For colleges, it must make the job of assessing their applicants' abilities more difficult and may thus contribute to the trend toward downgrading or eliminating standardized testing in college admissions.

But Score Choice is also a manifestation of the do-over mentality whose insidious creep into the larger culture has been made apparent over the past several months by the queue of failed businessmen and financiers who have come to Washington with their hands out, asking to be rescued from the consequences of their own poor answers to life's examination questions.

Friedrich Hayek once wrote, in "The Constitution of Liberty," that a free society depends on the willingness of its people to take responsibility for their actions. Not to do so is not merely to create what we have all lately learned to call "moral hazard," but to jeopardize the very foundation of our free institutions.

If we had to point to a cause of today's all-but-universal sentiment in favor of rewarding the improvident, we might want to look first to the self-esteem movement in education. Many of the financial hotshots now wielding begging bowls must have been schoolchildren in the 1980s, when this curious philosophy took hold of our educators. Back then, in Maryland's Montgomery County, near Washington, the school district banned placing students in alphabetical order for fear that the self-esteem of those whose names began with the later letters of the alphabet would suffer.

In 1986, California was the first state to introduce self-esteem education as such. It was based on the assumption that constant praise for even the feeblest effort would encourage schoolchildren to do better. In fact, it simply removed the incentive for them to work hard. The de-emphasis on competition in school sports and the grade inflation that has become so unfortunate a feature of the academy since then have had similar effects. Studies have shown that, while American students perform poorly compared with many foreigners of the same age, they are top of the charts when it comes to how well they think they have performed. Artificially pumping up their self-esteem produces only self-deception in the first instance and frustration and anger when -- or if -- the truth must be faced.

Maybe it is our instinctive recognition of this fact which has made "American Idol" the most popular show on television. There, people are forced to face unwelcome truths about their abilities -- most of them from the British judge, Simon Cowell, whose unconcern about treading on people's vanities makes him sound deliciously naughty in a world based on self-esteem. The loud resentment felt by many of those whose illusions have been punctured is another manifestation of this culture-wide sense of entitlement.

A friend of mine not long ago listened to her 8-year-old granddaughter play a piece on the piano and suggested to her that she needed to practice some more. The child burst into tears. "Grandma," she wailed. "You're not proud of me!"

We do children no favors by teaching them that they have a right to a favorable outcome in all that they do. It used to be the case that education was thought of not just as the acquisition of knowledge -- still less as the acquisition of credentials -- but as a form of character building. And one of the ways to build character is to submit students to the same sorts of stresses and failures that adult life does, in order to teach them how to cope with such things.

There are some signs that the worst may be over. Last summer, after the British Olympic team did better than expected in Beijing, the Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, gave a speech saying that competition was a good thing after all.

But much of our popular culture is still wedded to the assumptions behind the self-esteem movement. On her most recent album, the popular chanteuse Joni Mitchell rewrote Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, "If . . . ," changing his words,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run . . .

to her own,
If you can fill the journey of a minute

With sixty seconds worth of wonder and delight.

Of course, there are no more unforgiving minutes in the wonder and delight of Ms. Mitchell's imaginary land of endless do-overs -- which gives the lie to her subsequent promise: "Then the Earth is yours and everything that's in it, / But more than that I know you'll be all right."

No you won't. If you fail, sooner or later that failure will have to be recognized, confronted and put to rights. Not to do so in a timely fashion is only to spread the consequences of failure much more widely -- to the whole educational system in the case of the SATs and the ordinary taxpayer in the case of the bailouts. Both deserve better.


Caning pupils 'can be effective behaviour control'

Behaviour among British children has got worse since the cane was abolished, according to parents.

Government research showed some mothers and fathers believed corporal punishment was an "effective method of control" when they were at school. They said the decision to outlaw physical chastisement contributed to a decline in discipline. The comments - in a study backed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families - come just months after a fifth of teachers called for the cane to be reintroduced to restore order in the classroom.

This week, a report by Ofsted suggested traditional discipline methods such as suspending hundreds of troublemakers at a time and banning children with shaven heads and designer trainers was a good deterrent. Corporal punishment, including the use of the cane and ruler, was abolished in state schools in 1987 and 1998 in the fee-paying sector.

In the latest study, the Department for Children, Schools and Families held in-depth interviews with 48 adults to gauge their perception of behaviour among young people. When asked to describe what they felt was behind a decline in discipline, they made a series of observations. This included the "increasing demands on teachers - paper work, planning etc - leaving them less effective to teach and discipline effectively".

The group, which included 32 parents, also cited the "suitability of some teachers to the profession", suggesting that some lacked an ability to "instil respect and good behaviour amongst teenage pupils". They added that "the removal of corporal punishment in schools, which many felt had been an effective method of control in their day", also affected discipline standards.

Margaret Morrissey, from the campaign group Parents Outloud, said: "When it was used as a threat, rather than being used to actually hit a child, corporal punishment was often an effective deterrent. It was certainly abused in some schools and it could become something of a badge of honour for those that were hit, but the threat could be effective. "I am just not convinced that in the present climate there is a possibility it can come back. Can you imagine the number of compensation claims it would lead to? "I really do believe that the problem for the deteriorating behaviour is the political correctness of the last 10 years that has told children to stand up and complain the moment someone tries to tell them off." In the study, parents also blamed the fact that "children and young people [were] becoming more vocal and demanding and at the same time less afraid of authority".

Increasing pressure on children to be academically successful was also cited. A survey of more than 6,000 teachers last year found more than a fifth believed the cane should be brought back. One supply teacher told researchers: "Children's behaviour is now absolutely outrageous in the majority of schools. I am a supply teacher, so I see very many schools and there are no sanctions. There are too many anger management people and their ilk who give children the idea that it is their right to flounce out of lessons for time out because they have problems with their temper. They should be caned instead."

But John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Thankfully, corporal punishment is no longer on the agenda, except in the most uncivilised countries. I am sure that this barbaric punishment has disappeared forever."


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Many students from British government schools not well enough prepared for Cambridge

State school students are missing out on places at elite universities because their grades are not good enough, Cambridge admissions chiefs said yesterday. The 'critical obstacle' to an official crusade to widen the social class mix of students is their poor performance compared with private school pupils, it was claimed. In a veiled attack on Labour's record, the university said it had failed to break the 'pernicious link between deprivation and educational attainment'.

Research commissioned by Cambridge found state school pupils make up 86 per cent of A-level candidates but only 63 per cent of those achieving three As in academic disciplines. In an analysis, Dr Geoff Parks and Richard Partington said this figure was 'unlikely' to rise 'unless their exam performance improves'.

Areas which still had grammar schools dominated the top of a table of authorities with the most state school pupils gaining three As at A-level, they added. More than 27 per cent of state pupils in Reading, which has high-performing grammars, achieved three As in 2006, compared with none in Southwark, said the analysis. Many sixthform colleges also did well. But, said Dr Parks and Mr Partington, the research showed the real barrier to top universities was an 'uneven' education playing field and the link between a child's prospects and their social background.

The research follows a Commons inquiry which found that almost 400million pounds has been spent on boosting recruitment of working-class students to university with barely any effect. Cambridge's intervention will rile Universities Secretary John Denham, who believes leading universities should do more to change the social make-up of their students. In a speech this week, Mr Denham declared: 'The more research intensive universities must address fair access effectively, or their student population will remain skewed. 'Failing to attract the best talent from all parts of our society is bad for those institutions and bad for the students who miss out on studying there.'

When Cambridge vice-chancellor Alison Richard claimed last year ministers were 'meddling' in university affairs and expecting them to pursue a 'social justice' agenda instead of concentrating on their core purposes of education and research, Mr Denham said he disagreed 'profoundly'.

Research by Cambridge Assessment, the exam board linked to the university, found that 24,580 A-levels students in 2006 achieved three or more As in subjects excluding general studies and critical thinking. Of those, 8,858 - or 36 per cent - were independently educated [with independent schools accounting for only 7% of the student population]. Grammar schools accounted for a further 4,191 - or 17 per cent - of triple A students.


Neo-Marxist English teachers trying to downgrade literature in Australian national curriculum

The old nonsense about the back of the cornflakes packet being just as important as Shakespeare. Literature introduces kids to diversity in thinking and we can't have that, apparently. And they are still resisting phonics! Too bad if lots of kids never learn to read, apparently.

In their own education, English teachers have had "Theory" drummed into them and they have still not unlearned that -- even though the chief protagonists of "Theory" have now abandoned it.

English teachers are seeking to downgrade the importance of literature in the national curriculum to allow the study of an expanded range of texts covering visual and multimodal forms "as essential works in their own right". The professional association purporting to represent the view of the nation's English teachers also calls for the national curriculum to recognise a whole-language method for teaching reading rather than exclusively emphasising phonics and the letter-sound relationships as the initial step.

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board's framing paper on the English curriculum, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English declares studying literature is "inherently a political action" in creating the type of people society values. The submission disputes the National Curriculum Board's definition of school English as the three elements of language, literature and literacy. "Meaning-making in, and through, language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the curriculum," it says. "There is a need to state (that) English is the study of language, its central focus being the different processes through which meaning is made and received through different textual expressions - literary and otherwise."

It calls for the end of traditional literature as a discrete element, and for other types of English texts - which would include advertising, TV shows, signage, text messages and websites - to be viewed as essential rather than "add ons" to accompany the understanding of literary texts. "The place and role of non-literary texts in a national English curriculum needs to be rethought in terms that do not see the value of such texts as being predominantly in their potential to enhance the study of literature," it says. "The expansion of the range of texts used in English ... will necessarily mean a significant reconfiguration of the subject, including a relative reduction in the number of literary works, as the term is traditionally conceived, studied."

The AATE challenges the curriculum's view that studying literature is "a form of arts-related and arts-enriched learning experience" related to aesthetic value, saying it is only "true to a point". Rather, studying literature is "inherently a political action in that it is also about 'nation' building through the dissemination of a 'national' culture". "Studying literature also has historically had an ethical function, contributing to the shaping of a certain sort of person that societies have found desirable," it says. "It is difficult to imagine, for example, that the enduring value of works such as Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird, both widely taught in schools, rests on their aesthetic qualities."

The English framing document for the national curriculum released in October is unequivocal in mandating the explicit teaching of the basic structures ofthe English language from grammar, spelling and punctuation to phonics in the first years of school. "Explicit teaching of decoding, spelling and other aspects of the basic codes of written English will be an important and routine aspect," the curriculum says.

But the AATE submission says the emphasis on phonics "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program", which is the term now applied to whole language methods of teaching reading. It calls for explicit reference to be made to "all three cueing systems" used to make sense of the written word. Under the Three Cueing Systems model for teaching reading, the sounding of letters is the least important skill, with children first asked to use semantics, and guess the word based on the context including using pictures and then use the sentence syntax to work out the meaning.

Then children use the syntax or where the word sits in the sentence to try to work out the meaning. The third and least important cue under this model is sounding out the letters. In a separate submission, the English Teachers Association of NSW argues the national curriculum threatens to "deprofessionalise" English teachers for limiting its aims to developing literacy skills and knowledge about literature.

The ETA argues for the definition of school English to be expanded to include cultural studies, critical literacy (a sociological model analysing gender, race and class in literature to expose inherent prejudices and agendas) and personal growth of students.