Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why KIPP Schools Work

The informal motto of KIPP, the network of public charter schools that stands at the vanguard of America's burgeoning education-reform movement, is "Work Hard. Be Nice." That's also the title of an important new book, by veteran Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews, which chronicles how KIPP's network of 66 schools developed and offers some lessons from KIPP's extraordinary success. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently praised KIPP as a "proven strategy ready to go to scale" and mentioned the need for schools across the country to embrace KIPP's example of a longer school year, making Mathews's book even more timely.

Mathews's story starts in 1992 with David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two tall, gregarious seniors at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively. Not sure what to do with their lives, Levin and Feinberg signed up with Teach for America (TFA), the nonprofit that places America's brightest college graduates in classrooms teaching the nation's lowest-performing students. Levin and Feinberg both got teaching assignments in Houston, where-initially overwhelmed by the difficulty of imparting knowledge to rambunctious fifth-graders from the inner city-they began to develop a revolutionary new education model.

From one Houston teacher, Harriet Ball, they learned the importance of classroom management-the need to maintain order while keeping the classroom vibrant, enjoyable, and full of energy. From Rafe Esquith, an award-winning instructor in Los Angeles, they discovered the merits of extended class time and a rigorous, content-rich curriculum that holds low-income and minority students to high academic standards. Levin and Feinberg immediately appropriated one of Ball's secrets: the use of mnemonic chants that, as Mathews puts it, "firmly attach essential rules of grammar and mathematics to the brains of nine-year-olds." They used the chants to great effect, getting kids to commit important facts to memory in the same way they memorize lyrics from the latest hip-hop song. (Education-school professors frown on such devices as "rote memorization." But today, all KIPP fifth-graders can recite their multiplication tables by heart-a skill that eludes 80 percent of their peers nationwide, according to a recent study.)

Levin and Feinberg did add a few twists of their own. They implemented a broken-windows-style discipline policy, believing that leaving any misbehavior unaddressed would increase the likelihood of further misbehavior and distract from lessons. They stayed after school to work with struggling pupils, assigned mountains of homework, and encouraged students to call them at home if they needed help with their assignments. Perhaps their most important step, however, was reaching out to parents. Against the wishes of school administrators, they visited students at home and enlisted parents as active participants in their children's education. Among many memorable stories that Mathews tells: Feinberg goes to the home of a television-addicted student who has repeatedly failed to turn in her homework-and with her mother's permission, exits the house with the family's 36-inch TV in his arms.

Levin and Feinberg achieved remarkable results: nearly every one of their low-income minority students passed the Texas math and reading tests with flying colors. But they were often stymied by bureaucrats who didn't appreciate their aggressive style and unorthodox teaching methods. In fact, after his fellow teachers voted Levin Teacher of the Year, the principal fired him for insubordination.

As their two-year Teach for America commitment ended, Levin and Feinberg began to hound the Houston School District for permission to start a special initiative that they called the "Knowledge Is Power Program"-KIPP for short. It would feature a 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM school day, Saturday classes, and a three-week "summer prep" program. In exchange for hard work, students would be rewarded with perks, such as lunch at McDonald's, weekend excursions, and an end-of-the-year field trip to Washington, D.C.

The Houston school authorities finally agreed to let Levin and Feinberg launch an experimental fifth-grade program-if they could find 50 students willing to sign on to the long hours and academic rigor. The young teachers canvassed neighborhoods, asking students and their parents to sign the "KIPP Commitment to Excellence," a contract listing the specific obligations of teachers, parents, and students. In August 1994, the first 50 "KIPPsters" walked into Levin and Feinberg's classroom. Half the students began the school year having previously failed both the math and English portions of the Texas state test. By June, all but one had passed both tests, with an average class improvement of two full grade levels.

From there, the KIPP story became one of growth and replication. Levin and Feinberg hired other talented, dynamic teachers and added a sixth grade, then a seventh, and then an eighth. Homesick for his native New York, Levin approached Sy Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation (then a part of the Manhattan Institute), to help him establish a KIPP program in one of the city's low-performing school districts. By 1998, with Fliegel's help, KIPP had two fifth-through-eighth-grade middle schools in Houston and New York that were successfully preparing some 600 students for high school-many KIPP students win scholarships to attend private high schools or pass tests to attend competitive public ones-and then college. Levin and Feinberg also added cultural enrichment programs, such as orchestra and choir, which become important KIPP hallmarks.

According to Mathews, the "tipping point" for KIPP occurred in 1999, when 60 Minutes broadcast a heartwarming piece profiling students who had started at KIPP years behind in math and English and who, by eighth grade, were doing high-school-level algebra and reading a dozen novels a year. Politicians and school superintendents across the country began to reach out to Levin and Feinberg, asking them to open KIPP schools in their cities. Fortunately, Don and Doris Fisher, founders of the Gap clothing store, also saw the 60 Minutes piece and decided to commit $15 million to bankroll KIPP's expansion. (The Fishers have since contributed another $35 million, and major education philanthropies, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation have also joined the KIPP movement.)

It's difficult to replicate a successful school model on a grand scale, but KIPP, after trying a few different approaches, figured out a way to develop and monitor new schools. The process starts with the recruitment and training of "Fisher Fellows," the handful of people selected to become potential leaders of new KIPP schools. They attend a rigorous six-week summer leadership course at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, where they study topics such as curriculum, how to choose effective teachers, school management, and fund-raising. (It's telling that the Fisher Fellows have no involvement with Berkeley's education school; KIPP adheres to a results-oriented business-school ethos, rather than the soft-headed nonsense taught at most ed schools.)

Those Fisher Fellows deemed KIPP material (many don't make the cut) then spend the fall semester observing and assisting at an existing KIPP school. In January, they begin seeking space and recruiting students for their own schools. They must sign a legal licensing agreement that allows them to use the KIPP name so long as they follow the basic KIPP model. The national KIPP Foundation raises money to pay for training and start-up costs of the school, and once it's off the ground, Foundation staffers periodically evaluate and audit it. They've closed down several, or stripped them of the KIPP name, for not meeting the organization's high standards.

Today, 66 KIPP schools in 20 states enroll more than 16,000 students, and the network has expanded to include elementary and high schools as well as middle schools. (KIPP's goal is to have 100 schools and 25,000 students by 2011.) In every city, KIPP students surpass district and citywide performance. In New York last year, for example, 94 percent of KIPP eighth-graders scored at or above grade level on the state math test-and 78 percent did the same on the English test-while in the city as a whole, those numbers were 60 percent and 43 percent, respectively. In fact, in many cities-including New York, Washington, Baltimore, San Jose, and New Orleans-the top-performing public middle school is now a KIPP school. It's worth noting, too, that KIPP's impact reaches far beyond its own network of schools, as scores of other charter schools across the country now emulate the KIPP model.

KIPP's many admirers offer various explanations for the schools' success. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell notes that KIPP students, like children in Asia, spend about 60 percent more "time on task" than students in traditional American public schools. New York Times columnist David Brooks has written extensively about how KIPP transmits to low-income minority students the "cultural capital"-how to speak effectively, how to look attentive, how to fill out a college application-that middle-class suburban kids take for granted. Oprah Winfrey has praised KIPP's ability to raise students' expectations of what they can accomplish if they're willing to work hard.

Mathews attributes KIPP's success to a combination of such factors-its instituting "high expectations for all students, a longer school day, a principal totally in charge, an emphasis on finding the best teachers, rewards for student success, close contact with parents, a focus on results, and a commitment to preparing every child for a great high school, and, most important, college." But he might offer the best explanation for KIPP's success when he notes how KIPP recalls the best "inner-city Catholic schools . . . with warm but strict teachers whose commitment to their students is motivated by far more than a weekly paycheck."

KIPP fosters the sense of community that noted sociologist and education reformer James Coleman singled out many years ago as the key difference between public and private schools. At KIPP's small schools, every teacher and school official knows every student by name. For many students, KIPP provides an oasis of affection and stability in their otherwise chaotic lives. And just like the Catholic schools of old, KIPP doesn't simply teach facts and figures but unapologetically seeks to instill values, build strength of character, and forge good habits of mind and behavior.

Mathews also acknowledges two developments that coincide with the KIPP story and have been instrumental to the schools' success: the advent of Teach for America and the rise of the charter-school movement. Mathews makes clear that KIPP wouldn't be the success story it is without the synergistic relationship that it has developed with TFA. (In fact, the synergy between the organizations runs all the way to the top: TFA founder Wendy Kopp is married to KIPP CEO Richard Barth.) From KIPP's earliest days, the majority of its teachers have come from TFA, which is now one of the nation's most selective and sought-after postcollege programs. This year, 11 percent of the Ivy League's graduating class applied to become TFA teachers; only a handful were selected. The partnership allows KIPP to attract spectacularly talented and dynamic teachers, and TFA knows that its "corps members" will teach in schools with the best chance of success. Often, TFA teachers move on to start new KIPP schools: some 60 percent of KIPP school leaders are former TFA teachers. (For a less sanguine view of TFA, see "How I Joined Teach for America-and Got Sued for $20 Million.")

As for charter schools-independently operated public schools free from union work rules and other bureaucratic impediments-they first arrived on the scene in the early 1990s in Minnesota and California, and the idea spread to other states during that decade. (Over the strenuous objection of the powerful teachers' unions, New York State passed its charter law in 1998.) KIPP schools, all of which are charters, enjoy flexibility with staffing decisions and can hold teachers accountable for student performance-so far. A recent move to unionize KIPP teachers in two New York City schools is a worrisome development.

KIPP is not without its detractors, and Mathews gives them a fair hearing. While some critics claim that KIPP is too authoritarian-the "Kids In Prison Program," some call it-Mathews points to the schools' overwhelming popularity among students, parents, and alumni. Some condemn KIPP for "teaching to the test," but Mathews retorts that it is precisely KIPP's relentless focus on student progress-which is, yes, measured by frequent quizzes and even standardized tests-that makes the schools so successful. As former education secretary Margaret Spellings liked to say in response to complaints about the testing requirements mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act: "What gets measured, gets done."

Mathews also addresses the most serious criticism of KIPP (and other charter schools): that the schools "cream" the best and most motivated students. Though KIPP schools are open-enrollment public charter schools and students are chosen by lottery, critics contend that because of its long school day and rigorous standards, only the most promising students from the most intact families apply to KIPP and stay enrolled. There may be a grain of truth in this argument. KIPP officials, however, offer statistics that show little difference between KIPP students and their public-school peers, at least with regard to race, socioeconomic status, and previous academic achievement. Two limited independent studies have confirmed KIPP's claims, and KIPP has recently hired the research firm Mathematica to conduct an extensive multiyear, longitudinal study comparing KIPP students with non-KIPP students.

Mathews devotes substantial space to the personal lives of Levin and Feinberg, which may or may not interest readers. Overall, however, his book provides a compelling look at America's most successful charter-school network and debunks the dispiriting notion that low-income minority children should not be expected to make much educational progress. As Mathews makes clear, KIPP has proved that great teachers, high expectations, extra class time, and much encouragement and commitment can close America's educational achievement gap.


Australia: McDonald's makes major move into school education with free online maths program

A lot of Leftists will pop a few rivets over this

McDONALD'S will today make a major move into school education, offering a free maths program to more than 1.4 million students. McDonald's restaurants across the nation are bankrolling the company's biggest foray yet into schools. Under the scheme the Maths Online tutoring program - usually costing $40 per month - will be provided free to individuals, classes or entire schools in the government, Catholic and independent systems.

When they open the program on their computers, students will see the McDonald's logo and the words: "Proudly provided by your local McDonald's restaurant."

McDonald's yesterday refused to reveal how much it was paying for the school campaign, claiming the figure was "commercially in-confidence". But The Daily Telegraph understands the total cost will run into millions of dollars.

McDonald's has the support of Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard and the Australian Secondary Principals' Association and will promote the program to students from Year 7 to Year 12. Ms Gillard yesterday commended the company for "encouraging secondary schools and students across the country to utilise this resource".

But State Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said that parents expected education to be independent of corporate interests. "Maccas should stick to making hamburgers and the Government should stick to educating children," Mr Piccoli said. Professor Bobby Banerjee from the University of Western Sydney College of Business said the program might improve students' maths but it was also promoting McDonald's. "There is a return for the company - they claim they are doing it to serve the community but that's not entirely true," he said.

Maths Online was developed by a team led by Sydney teacher Patrick Murray and features hundreds of animated and narrated lessons and over 15,000 exam-style questions. Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said McDonald's was making a "generous contribution to building the foundation skills of Australian students". "The Maths Online product will be a marvellous assistance to the work of mathematics teachers throughout Australia," he said.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Less than $4,500 a year... a British university graduate's paltry pay premium

Thousands of graduates end up in jobs that don't pay enough to justify the cash spent on tuition fees and living expenses, a study revealed yesterday. With some university chiefs wanting fees to rise as high as 20,000 pounds a year, research showed the graduate earnings 'premium' is minimal for many students - especially arts and humanities graduates with middling or poor degree grades. Studies have already suggested the earning power of a degree is declining as student numbers soar.

Ministers claimed that graduates could earn 400,000 pounds more over a lifetime as they sought to justify raising fees to 3,000 a year three years ago. Subsequent studies put the figure at 160,000. Now a study from Warwick University has found that the earnings 'premium' for some graduates is negligible. Male arts and humanities graduates earn on average just 2,800 a year more than counterparts who went straight into jobs after A-levels. With debts accrued through tuition costs and board, those who attended more obscure universities and gained unremarkable grades may have been wealthier if they gave university a miss.

The research comes amid a growing row over a call yesterday by university chiefs for fees to be more than doubled to 6,500 a year. Meanwhile a BBC survey showed that some vice-chancellors wish to see fees rise to 20,000. Former Education Secretary David Blunkett said it would be 'unacceptable to lift the cap on fees and have a free-for-all across universities'.

The Warwick research, involving almost 3,000 Britons born in 1970, found that the earning power of a degree varies widely according to the discipline and class of degree attained. Social sciences, including law and economics, gave the highest return. The report found that on average there was still a 'substantial' earnings premium linked to gaining a degree, but for students at less prestigious universities who get mediocre degrees the decision to attend university will be 'marginal', and more so with a hike in fees.


Judge orders public schooling for home-schooled kids in divorce case

Ostensibly he is taking the side of the father. That would be a very rare event if so.

A North Carolina judge presiding over a bitter divorce case has ruled that three home-schooled children must start attending public school - a decision their mother angrily says was based on her religious beliefs. Wake County Judge Ned Mangum granted Thomas and Venessa Mills joint custody of their children - ages 10, 11 and 12 - and ruled that the children's "best interest" would be served by sending them to public school this fall, according to a temporary custody order.

But Venessa Mills insists her association with the Sound Doctrine Church played a "big factor" in Mangum's ruling, in which he also ordered her to undergo a mental health assessment within 30 days. "He disregarded the facts and said that even though the children are thriving in home school, they'd do better in public school," Venessa Mills told "It's a clear cover-up by the judge. He made a bad ruling about home schooling and he is clearly covering his tracks."

Venessa Mills, whose home-school curriculum includes swimming, piano lessons and instruction from Sound Doctrine members via phone and Web cam, claims Mangum showed his bias by not including rebuttals to damaging testimony by her relatives and close friends in his ruling. "He said that public school will challenge the ideas that I taught them," Mills said. "My children have clearly stated they do not want to go to public school. They want to remain at home school ... so why rip them out?"

Mangum disputed that claim in his order released Tuesday, ruling that the children's father, Thomas Mills, has the right to expose his children to alternative views. "As previously stated in open court, while this Court clearly recognizes the benefits of home school, and any effort to characterize it differently is incorrect, it is Mr. Mills' request to re-enroll these children back into the public school system and expose them and challenge them to more than just Venessa Mills' viewpoint," Mangum wrote. "Contrary to Ms. Mills' requested relief, this Court can not and will not infringe upon either party's right to practice their own religion and expose their children to the same."

According to court documents, the Millses had a "strong and happy" marriage until 2005, when Venessa Mills joined the Sound Doctrine Church in Enumclaw, Wash. At that point, her husband testified, she "became unrecognizable as the person" he had married. "She withdrew emotionally from me," said Mills, who admitted to having an affair.

Venessa Mills' mother, Dawn Lewis, told the judge she soon became "concerned" about her daughter's involvement with the church and its effect on her grandchildren. The church was described by as a "cult" by former members, according to court documents. "Sound Doctrine is not a healthy place for kids to grow up," former member Tina Wasik testified. "It is run by fear and manipulation." Referring to the church's leaders, Tim and Carla Williams, Wasik said, "Timothy and Carla manage to ruin relationships between man and wife and parents and kids."

Jessica Gambill, another former church member and acquaintance of Venessa Mills, testified that Tim Williams made several inappropriate sexual comments about girls as young as 4 years old.

"After I joined Sound Doctrine, Tim Williams told me that my oldest daughter (then age 12) was the kind of girl men would take advantage of, that my middle daughter (then age 7) was the kind of girl that would sleep with any guy, and that my youngest daughter (age 4) was the kind of girl that would use her looks to seduce men," Gambill testified.

The accusations against Sound Doctrine were denied by church officials and in affidavits filed by Venessa Mills' attorney. "They're completely false," Malcolm Fraser, an assistant pastor for Sound Doctrine, said of the accusations. "Clearly someone has an ax to grind with the church."

Attempts to reach Thomas Mills were unsuccessful. Calls to his attorney, Jaye Meyer, were not returned.

The judge indicated that his ruling had nothing to do with Venessa Mills' religious beliefs - and rather that her husband should be allowed to "expose their children to more than just the experiences that [she] desires" - supporters say Venessa Mills was wronged.

Robyn Williams, a home-school mother who has chronicled the divorce proceedings at, accused Mangum of attacking both Venessa Mills' character and her church. "He is diverting attention from his own biased decision and is attacking the church because he knows he's wrong," Williams told "If the roles were reversed, do you really think the judge would have ordered them to be subjected to home schooling?"


Thursday, March 19, 2009

There are good reasons to subject the theory of evolution to critical thinking

Please encourage the Texas State Board of Education to vote unanimously to teach strengths and weaknesses of evolution. I believe the well-meaning efforts of groups like the 21st Century Science Coalition are instead misleading. I agree with some of their positions, but am disappointed by their false portrayal of critical thinking as something that DOESN'T require teaching of strengths and weaknesses. In reality, the coalition is asking Texans to cling to 19th and 20th Century hypotheses that use things like the fossil record as evidence for molecules-to-man evolution.

An example of real 21st Century science is the mounting evidence against the idea of molecular clocks. Scientists look at differences in genes along with fossil evidence to determine when two species diverged from a common ancestor. For the human species, scientists use molecular clocks to predict the date of "Mitochondrial Eve", our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) that supposedly originated in Africa.

Molecular clocks came into use in the 1960s. In the 1990 edition of Biology by Neil Campbell, an age between 200,000 and 400,000 years is given for "Eve" (p. 669). Moving ahead to 2004, we find in the 10th edition of Biology by Starr and Taggart that Eve is now only 100,000 to 200,000 years old (p. 471). The fact that the estimates were cut in half, on top of the huge error involved (50%), would make any reasonable scientist question molecular clocks.

And they do. As we entered the 21st century, we saw F.J. Ayala's paper titled "Molecular Clock Mirages". And then there's F. Chang's study using genealogy and statistics to predict an MRCA of less than 1,000 years ago. Chang began with an overly-simplified model, so over the next few years he added to it, and in 2003 colleague D. Rohde published research revealing an MRCA of between 2,000 and 5,000 years ago. And molecular clock skeptics Thorne and Wolpoff voiced their opinions in the 2003 Human Evolution Special Issue of Scientific American, flatly stating "putting aside the idea of a molecular clock, one can interpret the genetic data in a much more reasonable way." (p. 52).

In 2004, Rohde, Chang, and Olson published their latest findings in Nature, and their findings shift the MRCA from Africa to somewhere in Asia. In 2006, world renowned evolutionary biologist Thomas Cavalier-Smith stated in a paper "Evolution is not evenly paced and there are no real molecular clocks."

In 2008, a paper by Matsen and Evans tried to tie genetics with the genealogy of Rohde and others, and they simply concluded genetic diversity is related to the number of descendants, confirming the ability of Rohde and other's model to explain the human diversity we see today as resulting from a very recent ancestor.

This crash course in 21st century science may be a bit confusing, but the reason for that is not just the complex mathematics involved, but the basic fact that confusion exists over what happened in the past. To add to the confusion, in 2008 fossil collectors discovered a human footprint alongside that of a dinosaur providing evidence for the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs.

The truth is, there will ALWAYS be confusion about what happened in the past because we cannot go back and verify it. Not only that, scientists believe up to 99.9% of the species that ever existed may be missing from the fossil record. On top of that, genetic mutations are almost always neutral (see "neutral theory") or harmful, rarely beneficial, and never has a gene been observed to mutate and create a new and beneficial function. And finally, as Professor Jerry Coyne said on page 17 of Why Evolution is True, "By predictions, I don't mean that Darwinism can predict how things will evolve in the future."

Evolution is weak when it comes to explaining the past, present and future. It tries to explain itself by looking at similarities, but says our understanding of differences "remains murky at best" (see p. 13 of Unit 9 in Rediscovering Biology). As such, its status in Texas Biology textbooks should be weak. At the very least, teach the weaknesses. And please consider asking the SBOE to have a special session, rewriting the Biology TEKS to remove sections on origins and "macroevolution", and replacing them with a more modern coverage of genetics and ecosystem management. 19th century science has had its turn long enough.


British grade-school chaos: Mother's fury after son is sent to different school despite 36 others being closer to home

A boy has been placed at a primary school an hour's drive from his home - even though 36 other schools are closer. Robbie Cowley missed out on his chosen school and then found that all the others near his home were oversubscribed too. From September, the four-year-old will have to make an eight-mile journey across Oxford every weekday morning.

His mother, Tracey Richen, said she was devastated at losing out on Larkrise school because both she and Robbie's elder sister had been pupils there. She had even paid 1,500 pounds for her son to attend a foundation class at the primary. The 32-year-old midwife said: 'Larkrise is a really special family school where we know all the teachers and staff. 'But sending him so far away is ridiculous as I'll lose my job if I'm late every morning going through the traffic.

'All the teachers at the school really like Robbie so they just can't understand the decision. Robbie's made loads of friends since doing a foundation unit there so it's unfair to make him move elsewhere.' Robbie has been given a place at Botley Primary, which has some of the worst results in Oxfordshire. The school is 3.7 miles from his Headington home as the crow flies but requires an eight-mile drive around the centre of Oxford.

The 36 oversubscribed schools are within 3.7 miles of the family home. Miss Richen might have got Robbie a place at one of them, but she was so sure Robbie would go to Larkrise, she left blank the second and third choices. She added: 'This is very disrupting for Robbie because he was all set to go to Larkrise. Now he faces having to go to a school which is alien to him. 'I really hate the idea of him going to a school where he won't know anyone and miles away from any of the other pupils.'

She and her partner Kevin Cowley, Robbie's 39-year-old father, plan to appeal against the decision but the process could take months. They will not find out the result until a few weeks before term starts. John Mitchell, a spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council, said: 'We have immense sympathy for any parents who find themselves in this position. 'But schools have a finite capacity and there will always be occasions that some schools will be oversubscribed.' Councils last week informed the parents of 92,000 children that they had missed out on their first choice of secondary school.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Fairness Doctrine: Coming to a Campus Near You

by Mike S. Adams

I am pleased to finally be able to write a column praising a decision by the administrators at my university. Recently, the Women's Resource Center (WRC) decided to put up an "art" display featuring pictures of naked females with captions below them telling stories about their lives. The problem was that some of the females were minors. Recognizing that posting a picture of a naked 12 year-old girl is not protected by academic freedom, the university administration removed the illegal pictures.

There is something very wrong with a Women's Resource Center that posts pictures of nude women with fake breasts in our library with captions arguing that they are grotesque and perverted. But there is something even more disturbing about their subsequent decision to post pictures of naked children arguing that they are not in any way grotesque or perverted.

I think the UNC-Wilmington administration has finally realized that the Interim Director of the WRC is simply a complete embarrassment to the university and must be monitored in order to protect the university from potential legal liability. Indeed, this is what happens when leftist extremists start to implement their own religion of moral relativism on our nation's campuses. Pretty soon, they're at a loss to find an objective basis for judging anything. And they become so arrogant that the argument "it's illegal" is irrelevant.

Given that leftist relativist groupthink is producing such poor decisions at my university I believe it is time to consider implementing a version of the Fairness Doctrine. Given my university's recent experiment with common sense and sanity, I think we would be a great place to start what could be a nationwide trend. Plus, we are a public university which, like the public airwaves, should not be dominated by speech from one side of the political spectrum.

We could begin implementing the Fairness Doctrine at my school by having Dr. Frank Turek speak to the Sociology of Religion class that is being offered next fall. Students in that class are being asked to read texts by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In these books, the authors explain why they hate a God that doesn't exist. Dr. Turek could give a lecture explaining why he loves a God that does exist.

We could also invite Dr. Miriam Grossman to speak to the Sociology of Gender classes. Currently, we employ feminists who argue that all male/female differences are "socially constructed." Dr. Grossman could explain, in medical terms, why the feminists' Ms-guided decision to encourage promiscuity hurts women more than men.

We could also invite Dr. Larry Schweikart to speak in American History classes where students are taught that Ronald Reagan ran up higher deficits than Franklin Roosevelt. Larry could present them with charts they've never seen, which introduce them to the complex statistical idea of controlling for inflation.

In Microeconomics, we could have Dr. Richard Vedder explain how FDR's New Deal policies exacerbated the Great Depression. We could invite the president to attend the lecture. I mean the President of the United States, not the President of UNCW.

In Linguistics, we could have John McWhorter talk about the deleterious effects the ebonics movement is having on black progress.

In our graduate course in Social Justice, I could make a guest appearance to talk about how most people on death row are white despite the fact that most homicides are committed by blacks.

The Campus Fairness Doctrine would cut both ways, of course. In my "Trials of the Century" class I teach about the O.J. Simpson case and the Charles Manson case. I argue that both are guilty. So, naturally, I would allow the feminist in my department who thinks O.J. is innocent (read: sides with O.J. over Nicole) to come make her case. I would also ask the sociologist who once told me that Manson was a "poor guy who got railroaded by the system" to come argue his innocence. Then I'll remind everyone that insanity can negate mens rea but it can't negate tenure.

Finally, I'll have my friend Travis Barham of the Alliance Defense Fund give a speech to the Women's Resource Center. In it, he'll explain that the Fourth Circuit has ruled that the display of child pornography is not protected by the First Amendment. Someone has to tell the empress that she isn't wearing clothes.


Cambridge university no longer happy to accept rubbish High School marks

The general dumbing down and grade inflation of British High school education meant this had to happen if Cambridge's high academic standards were to be maintained

Fears of a new educational elitism emerged yesterday after the University of Cambridge changed its admissions policy in a way that critics said would favour independent schools. The university announced that 3 As at A-level would no longer be enough for entry. From 2010 at least one grade should be at the new A* being introduced that academic year. Others, including Oxford, are expected to follow. The decision was taken even though the Government's advisory body said the new grade should not be used as a benchmark until it had been tested.

Independent schools welcomed the move, but Labour MPs, teaching unions and education experts said that the measure would be used to "fillet out" state school pupils. In 2007, 59 per cent of Cambridge's intake were from the state sector. Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons' Children, Schools and Families Committee, said: "I'm very concerned that some of our greatest universities are becoming no-go zones for children from normal backgrounds."

The Sutton Trust, which campaigns to reduce inequality in education, said that using the A* would benefit only students at the best schools. Its director, Lee Elliot Major, described it as "another sign of the ever-growing arms race that defines the issue of social mobility - just as the playing field begins to level out for the less affluent up pops a new way for the privileged to assert their advantage".

Universities argue that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the thousands of applicants predicted to achieve 3 A grades. Last year Cambridge rejected 5,500 teenagers who went on to achieve 3 As. The A* would require a mark of 90 per cent. The university said that its admission criterion would probably rise to two A*s and an A "in the fullness of time".

Exam boards have been wary of the A*, saying it would take "time to bed down". The National Council for Educational Excellence has recommended that universities delay using the grade until it has been reviewed. Sussex, Worcester, Dundee and East Anglia universities have said that they will not use the A* grade in 2010 because of concerns that it would result in more independent school pupils being be awarded places, jeopardising their government funding.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Head-masters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents independent schools, said: "We are delighted that Cambridge has shown leadership in coming out in support of the A*."

School Lunch Gestapo

(London, England) Children attending grade school in London are having their lunches inspected by school staff and all items determined to be unhealthy are confiscated. The Danegrove Primary School has been accused of running a "mealtime Gestapo."

The confiscated items will be returned at the end of the day but only if the parents ask.

Isn't that just great? The nanny-state has turned food into contraband.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

School Choice Clarity From a Public Ed Heroine

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the struggling public school system in the District of Columbia, has already won bi-partisan admiration for her energetic and innovative efforts to shake up one of the most troubled educational establishments in the country. Now she deserves further plaudits for her courageous clarity on the issue of vouchers. Most public education bureaucrats reflexively oppose vouchers as a threat to their monopoly, denouncing any use of government funds to allow poor children to choose parochial or private school alternatives to failing neighborhood schools. Ms. Rhee, however, fearlessly spoke up against efforts by Congressional Democrats to kill a promising vouchers program in the nation's capital. "Part of my job is to make sure that all kids get a great education," she told the New York Times, "and it doesn't matter whether it's charter, parochial or public schools. I don't think vouchers are going to solve all the ills of public education, but parents who are zoned to schools that are failing kids should have options to do better by their kids."

Her clarity on this issue should embarrass the Obama administration to halt the efforts by its allies to undermine the vouchers program in the nation's capital. Currently, the Opportunity Scholarships Program provides $7,500 annually to cover tuition, fees and transportation expenses for 1,700 poor children to attend private school. A recent study showed that the parents of these students overwhelming preferred the religious and private alternatives they chose in large part because they considered the environments safer than the D.C. public schools. Of the children who currently participate in the program, 90% are African-American, and 9% Hispanic - with less than 1% white or Asian.

Nevertheless, Congressional Democrats have urged Ms. Rhee to prepare to re-enroll the vouchers kids in public schools after they succeed in terminating the Opportunity Scholarships. If they do return to the D.C. system, taxpayers will spend far more - twice as much, in fact --- for each of them than the cost of the current $7,500 a year scholarships.

The brain-dead Democrats who support this idiotic teachers union priority ought to explain why they want to waste public funds and to take away choice from 1,700 black and Latino kids, in order to force them into a school system whose heroic chancellor doesn't even want them back. Why should purportedly compassionate liberals impose their own partisan values not only on a group of impoverished but loving parents who support and depend on the vouchers program, but on Michelle Rhee, one of the most courageous and clear-thinking school administrators in the country?


Harvard's poisonous MBAs

Harvard is far to the Left of the American mainstream so the influence of the Leftist credo "There is no such thing as right and wrong" is to be expected.

SPIRITUALLY deformed graduates from business colleges taught by people whose reputations are based on jargon have robbed millions. They have sentenced many more, often in countries whose names they could barely pronounce, and whose location remains a mystery, to lives of unemployment and penury. With the so-called free market in freefall, with industrial legends of 20th century capitalism begging for help, and as arrogant bankers ask taxpayers they have caned for years to bail them out, it's time to look at who's to blame. One name keeps coming up: Harvard University.

The business school of the wealthiest and most prestigious university in America churns out 900 graduates each year. I wouldn't employ any of them. Harvard Business School's motto "to educate leaders who make a difference in the world" has been fulfilled, but it can't have been the difference its founding fathers envisaged. Most likely it does not care.

Harvard has become the unacceptable face of capitalism and you should see who they've been teaching. Let's start with Stanley O'Neal who many saw as a role model for ambitious black Americans. He had all the Harvard traits. He was earning about $45 million a year, seemingly cared little for his colleagues, and under his watch as chairman and chief executive Merrill Lynch sank in the mire of subprime home loans. In August and September 2007, as the company posted losses of $8 billion for the quarter, he reportedly managed 20 rounds of golf, once squeezing in three rounds in one day on three different courses. We know this because the friendless O'Neal recorded the results - he played alone - on an amateur golf website. Rather than sack Wall Street's worst performed CEO, Merrill Lynch allowed him to "retire" with a package valued at $161 million.

Harvard wasn't finished with Merrill Lynch, even if the company was all but washed up. Another of its graduates, John Thain, took over from O'Neal - receiving a $15 million signing on fee - and quickly renovated his office spending $1.2 million doing so, including $1400 on a waste paper bin. It's a beauty.

Thain oversaw $4 billion in bonus payments to Merrill Lynch employees as the company groaned under losses that rose to $15 billion for the fourth quarter last year. By then Merrill Lynch was staggering and Thain arranged for it to be purchased by Bank of America which having failed to do its homework nearly collapsed with the debt in January, before being saved by US taxpayers. Thain asked for a $10 million bonus for his efforts.

Franklin Raines graduated from Harvard in 1971, went on to become an investment banker and later worked for then president Bill Clinton. His stewardship of mortgage lender Fannie Mae was less successful, indeed some blame him for its troubles which in turn helped drag down the entire US economy. When he was in the driver's seat Fannie Mae misstated its earnings as things went seriously awry with its unsustainable lending policies.

He took the blame for this, in a traditionally Harvard manner. "While I long ago accepted managerial accountability for any errors committed by subordinates while I was CEO, it is a very different matter to suggest that I was legally culpable in any way," Raines said, settling a legal action against him and two other senior executives. By now Raines name was mud.

He was succeeded by another Harvard graduate whose name was already a problem. Daniel Mudd took over as CEO of Fannie Mae, but things worsened and he was sacked and sent home to his 22-room colonial mansion with servants' quarters.

Christopher Cox left Harvard in 1977 for a glittering career in law and finance that saw him become a Californian congressman and be appointed by George Bush as chairman of the powerful US Securities and Exchange Commission. With Cox in charge of the SEC, which should have been looking for corruption and mismanagement on Wall Street and elsewhere in the US financial system, it would subpoena reporters whose stories embarrassed big corporations.

Meanwhile, Bernard Madoff, who Cox's team should have spotted long ago, was able to lie, cheat and steal his way to a $100 billion fortune as he ripped of banks and private investors and ruined lives, all of which Madoff admitted in a New York court last Friday. Cox, meanwhile, resigned on January 20.

The seemingly self-delusional and brittle deputy leader of the [Australian] federal Liberal Party, Julia Bishop, has also passed through Harvard business studies school where she clearly attended the popular "always blame others" classes. Last year The Australian revealed that the cat-clawing one-time shadow treasurer's chapter in the book Liberals and Power included words borrowed from a prominent New Zealand businessman Roger Kerr. Her chief-of-staff, Murray Hansen, took the fall for that one, with Bishop blaming the editor-in-chief of the newspaper for the "campaign" against her. Earlier, she appeared to have used some sentences from the Wall Street Journal website in a speech in Parliament. Of course, she denied stealing the Journal's words, but she could not rule out the possibility her staff had nicked them.

Once you've been to Harvard the buck never stops with you.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Do boys need boys schools?

In today's Times 2 I have an article about the problems with boys and schools. It came about because of a fascinating book I read recently, The Trouble With Boys: A surprising report card on our sons, their problems at school, and what parents and educators must do. The book is written by Peg Tyre, the mother of two boys herself, and a specialist in education journalism. When Tyre started looking into this whole issue, she was amazed by the response. Parents across America contacted her to thank her for bringing this issue - fears for boys, of all backgrounds - to the forefront.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to boys and education, and it's something which the government (and all the political parties and educationalists) are well aware of. Girls are doing better than boys these days, in GCSEs and A levels, and also entering university in greater numbers. The government has launched "Boys into Books" to help "build a platform for boys' educational success" and last year launched the Gender Agenda, a national year of gender action research. There is now a whole "industry" being built on the differences between girls and boys. People argue that boys should be taught differently, treated differently, and helped an awful lot more in the classroom.

Some feminists are now asking whether people are getting excited simply because girls are being given the chance to achieve. "In some ways it's nice to see women on top," admits Tyre. But she still thinks that this is a "massive cultural shift" and we do need to be concerned. It's difficult to pay justice to this huge area in one blog post. That's why I'm going to refer you to my feature (!), ask you for your thoughts on boys and education, and move onto one thorny issue in particular, single sex education.

A few months ago I posted a piece asking whether girls need girls schools. It had a phenomenal response, and comments keep on coming. This post was inspired by a speech from the then head of the Girls School Association, who thinks this issue is self-evident: girls, she argues, do better in their own environment. Girls Schools also perform exceptionally well in the league tables.

But what about boys? Graham Able is the master at Dulwich College, an independent school which boasts 1460 boys. Not surprisingly, he also thinks that separate schooling is vital. "Is there a gap or difference between boys and girls? Obviously, there is," he says. "Girls mature at a much earlier age than boys, and in any classroom, the greater the range of ability and maturity, the more difficult it is to teach well." Mr Able is convinced that boys also learn differently to girls - more visually - and that they need to "run around more and let off steam." "Go and look at any primary school playground and you'll see lots of little girls working together, while little boys run around at great speed," he says. "There's something about the male brain which seems to find motion appealing."

But while Peg Tyre might agree with some of Mr Able's arguments (the running around, for example), she's not convinced that single sex schooling is the answer. Instead she calls for more research to be done in this area and is keener on changes to be made to the existing set-up - to understand boys better.

Dr Alice Sullivan, from the Institute of Education, has looked at the impact of single-sex education, and is not convinced that it is vital for girls or boys. "I don't think there's any evidence that boys do worse in co-educational schools," she says. "It's very fashionable to say that they have different brains and need different teaching styles, but there's very little evidence to support it." Yet Dr Sullivan does admit that there is some truth in the idea that single sex schools don't stereotype students as much. Boys are more likely to do humanities and modern languages, while girls are encouraged to take maths and sciences.

On a purely anecdotal basis, I asked a number of people what they thought of boys and girls schools. Many were happy with the thought of sending their daughters to girls schools, but unhappy with the idea of educating their sons in a boys school. "Boys at secondary school need girls to civilise them," one mother of three boys told me. Another said that she wanted her sons to get used to being round girls, and was worried about the "social disadvantages". I found this fascinating.

Graham Able, naturally, would hope to persuade these parents otherwise. "I don't see any problem with the boys here when it comes to relationships with children of the opposite sex," he says. "In isolated boarding schools, that may be a danger, but there it is total nonsense. We are inner-city boys school."

But Angela Phillips, who wrote her own book called The Trouble with Boys back in 1993, strongly disagrees. "The social importance of putting girls and boys together outweigh anything else," she says, although she does add that "middle-class, single sex schools do well, especially girls schools."

Of course, this class argument is one which shouldn't be ignored (there's so much to say on this topic!). One of the main reasons girls - and boys - schools do so well is because of the intake (i.e selective nature) of the pupils. In America, however, there are all sorts of experiments going on. The Eagle Academy, an all male public (i.e. state) school in the South Bronx is just one example. Here boys from disadvantaged African-American backgrounds are taught together in a single-sex school with the aim of receiving a better education.

Graham Able thinks that we need a lot more research on how children learn and what's best for them. But he's concerned that social conventions (the idea that boys shouldn't be separated from girls) might mean that boys aren't given the chance to shine. "We shouldn't restrict ourselves because of some social conventions" he says. "Undoubtedly it helps to be in single-sex schools."


Different reading methods on trial in Australia

This is a fraud. Such a trial was done a few years ago in Scotland with the result that kids taught using phonics ended up two years ahead in reading age compared to the rest. What's so different about Australians and the Scots? This is just a ploy to delay the inevitable. Leftist teachers WANT kids to be poorly educated. And they succeed. With "whole word" learning, lots of kids end up virtually illiterate. Knowledge is the enemy of Leftism and being unable to read is a major obstacle to acquiring knowledge

The divisive debate over how best to teach children to read has prompted the first trial in Australia comparing phonics-based techniques with other methods. The NSW Government is planning a pilot study assessing a reading program that teaches children letter-sound combinations as the first step in reading. Their progress will be compared with students taught by methods that place less emphasis on phonics and more on "whole language" techniques, such as pictures and sentence structure. It is believed to be the first head-to-head comparison of phonics with other reading programs in the nation.

In an interview with The Weekend Australian, NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said the aim of the trial was to gather evidence of what worked. "Surely all of us can agree we want the best for our kids, and stop arguing about what we believe and start talking about what we know," she said. "As Education Minister, my job isn't to find myself in the middle of internecine debates, but to try to be able to look at how reading is taught with the primary motivation of what's best for our kids."

NSW will run the trial as one of the programs funded through the National Partnership with the commonwealth on literacy and numeracy that was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. Ms Firth said the state's aims were in line with the federal Government's objectives, which had called for phonics trials. The NSW study will use the MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time in Literacy) reading program developed by education researchers at Macquarie University, which places letter-sound relationships or phonemic awareness as the foundation of learning to read. The details of the trial are still being finalised but it is envisaged it will run for at least a year, targeting students in Years 3 and 4 reading well below the level of their peers.

The debate in the reading wars is over the importance of teaching phonics to children learning to read, with "whole language" techniques supplanting the sounding out of words as the first step in learning. The term whole language is no longer used, proponents now call for a "balanced" approach that teaches a range of methods, such as looking at the pictures on the page, the context of the word and the syntax of the sentence, rather than starting with sounding out the letters of the word. As reported in The Weekend Australian last month, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English has criticised the emphasis on phonics in the draft national curriculum, saying it "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program".

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board, the AATE 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, 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. The third and least important cue is sounding out the letters.

Literacy associate professor Kerry Hempenstall said the three cueing system had been discredited as a method for teaching reading. "It has never been validated that anyone can integrate these three methods," he said.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brilliant. UK education gets an A* for defeatism

British schools are failing horribly. But when a useful idea emerges that might help, it gets shot down in flames

Bankers becoming teachers? What a bonus! Or maybe not. The Government's plan to fast-track ex-City workers into teaching has unleashed a furore from people who see it as a scam, a quantitative easing of the unemployment figures. "What will they teach?" is the common refrain. "How to screw up the stock market?" Well, perhaps they could teach more children to count. When 150,000 pupils start secondary school innumerate every year, I'm not sure we can afford to be so precious about who is at the blackboard.

One of the most inspiring teachers I ever met was a finance man, Steve Mariotti. After being mugged in the Bronx he tried to deal with the trauma by becoming a maths teacher and signing on at a sink school. After two terms he was close to giving up: he asked his worst students if they remembered a single thing he had said. After a blank silence one boy retold, in detail, a story Steve had given from his business career. This boy didn't care about abstract maths. But he was hungry to understand money and profit, the language of the street. So Steve kept teaching, but made more use of his life experience. He created an "entrepreneurship" curriculum (called NFTE), which improves results across many different subjects, and is now used in 13 countries.

I have seen his ideas working in US charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run. In a school in Brooklyn, with metal detectors on the door, I was mobbed by a group of teens selling T-shirts, home-made gizmos and books that were the practical product of the course. Some of the books were in Japanese: I must have blinked. "Yes we've just started Japanese," I remember the headmistress saying. "I don't see why our students should be denied the opportunity". There, in one of the bleakest parts of the city, was ambition on a scale those children deserved. She saw no reason why her mostly African-American pupils should not go as far as any on the Upper East Side. And she was right. But she was lucky to be running a charter school, free from deadening bureaucracy.

I have seen great schools transforming the lives of poor children in Britain too. But there is a fatal lack of ambition in much of the education debate. Increasingly the view seems to be that whole swaths of children have become almost impossible to teach, that teaching is mostly behaviour management and that anyone who thinks they could do it better is naive. That is the tenor of most of the comments about fast-tracking bankers. But there is no genetic reason why Finland routinely comes top of international league tables that Britain keeps slipping down. When one in five children is leaving school without any recognisable qualification after 11 years in the classroom, a period in which we have spent 650 billion pounds on education, we literally cannot afford to be defeatist.

Defeatism is widening the gap between rich and poor. In 2002 the Government decided that learning a modern language was asking too much from children. It made languages optional. The result is that fewer than half of 14-year-olds are now taking a language GCSE, and some schools are closing the opportunity to all pupils. Languages, like proper science, are increasingly the preserve of the fee-paying minority. So are top exams. If you grow up in Singapore, or New Zealand, or go to an independent school, you can take international exams that are more rigorous than the dumbed-down GCSEs that Manchester Grammar School has just said it will scrap. If you're in the UK state system, you're being told to travel third class.

Last week we learnt that more than half of the pupils who got three As at A level were educated at private school: a shameful figure, since the independent sector educates only 7 per cent of children. The 13 per cent of pupils who are on free school meals, the Tory education spokesman Michael Gove said this week, made up only 0.5 per cent of those getting three As. This is indefensible: Gove called it "an affront to our national conscience".

But where is the sense of shame, of urgency, in the Establishment? Having lumped "Schools" together with "Children" and "Families" in an Orwellian mega-department, the Government is now backsliding on its own city academy programme, which was supposed to free teachers from bureaucracy. More than 70 academy heads said last month that the steady erosion of their independence was making it harder to raise standards.

Eight years ago I sat in a Whitehall office trying to convince education officials to create a fast-track teacher- training scheme for graduates. This was important for what later became Teach First, a programme that brings top graduates into teaching. The officials were not interested in what could be achieved, or what had already been done in America. Their sole concern seemed to be that a new training scheme might devalue those who had slogged their way through the old one. I seem to remember the use of the word "unseemly". The huge outcry about a little government scheme to recruit new teachers sounds the same. They should suffer like we did. It won't work.

There can be no monopoly on thinking when one in five children leaves school without one C grade at GCSE. Of course, not all bankers will make good teachers. They're hardly famed for empathy. But the junior bod from the equities desk, or the ex-corporate lawyer, might well be harbouring a vocation. Many of those who went into the City in the past ten years got there, contrary to myth, from poor backgrounds. They are used to stress and negative feedback, which could prove invaluable: to judge by the hostility of teachers' comments in the blogosphere, they may find the classroom a pushover compared with the staffroom. What few have lacked is ambition. And that, surely, is to be encouraged.


British education policymakers ‘are out of control’

Schools are being swamped by initiatives, legislation and edicts on children’s wellbeing as education policymakers run “out of control”, head teachers said. Their criticisms coincided with a report by the House of Lords Merits Committee, which said that the Government needed to back off and adopt a less heavy-handed approach.

Jane Lees, the president of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the opening of its annual conference in Birmingham that future heads were being deterred from seeking leadership roles because of the mass of bureaucracy and lack of support. She said: “The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of talented potential or experienced leaders, but more of a reluctance to take on the mantle of leadership with all its responsibilities and accountabilities. It seems we have football manager-style employment of heads.”

Schools find out in May the extent of their responsibilities for children’s wellbeing, when the results of a joint consultation by Ofsted and the Department for Children, Schools and Families is announced.