Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Honoring of Ignorance

Hopefully most readers have had a chance to see comedian Jay Leno's occasional foray into the streets, where he interviews young people, many of whom are in college. He asks the simplest of questions, such as "Who is our nation's founding father?" or "Who is the vice president of the United States?" Often the interviewees stare into the camera and identify our nation's first president as "Abraham Lincoln," or the current vice president as "Clinton."

Increasingly -- disturbingly -- this kind of certifiable ignorance is worn as a badge of honor.

Now consider that it has been a longstanding tradition in America for conservatives, and in some cities liberals, to bemoan the content of their local newspapers. From the major "national papers," such as the New York Times and Washington Post, to the local community daily, newspapers have for generations been the focal point of allegations of bias in their reporting -- usually to the left of center.

Now the entire newspaper industry is holding on for dear life. A combination of increases in the cost of newsprint and the loss of reliable advertisers, such as car dealerships and real estate brokers, has left even the mightiest of papers in precarious shape. The New York Times had to borrow against its own building for operating capital. Many major papers across the nation have shut down, most have had major layoffs, and others are converting to new formats or moving toward creating only a digital online version.

For everyone who has hated his or her local newspaper -- for whatever reason -- there is cause to think twice about rooting for its demise. We are rapidly moving into a situation in which what has become "short-attention-span theater" becomes "no attention span" among many Americans. If your are reading this, then you, by definition, are in the distinct minority of those who still are interested in world events.

In the future, an increasing number of people, particularly young adults, might be exposed to even less of what is happening on the planet. After all, if they never pass a newspaper box with a headline, much less read a paper, how will they have the slightest clue about what's happening on the world stage?

"What about television news?" you might answer. Think again. There is a reason why every commercial that sponsors a network news broadcast is pushing some medicine to promote prostate health or prevent osteoporosis. The demographics for these programs skew older and older. The younger you are, the less likely you'll be to know who Charlie Gibson or Brian Williams is.

So, you might say, people get their news from radio and cable television talk shows. Some do, but as a percentage of the population, you could take everyone who watches programs on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, add in everyone who listens to talk radio stations, and it still doesn't come close to the numbers needed to have an informed population.

OK, it's the Internet, right? Well, yes, in the sense that younger Americans are increasingly likely to turn to their laptops or hand-held devices for information. But how do they know the source is reliable? And since they have endless choices of where to go on the web to be entertained and enlightened, will they choose hard news sites? The news organizations would have you think so, but in reality, many of the people going to news sites on the Internet are the same news junkies who watch network or cable news, and who read papers.

So who or what should be blamed for this mess? Technology? Our educational system? The breakdown of the family unit? Certainly all of this has contributed to what I believe will be a day not too many years down the line when the average citizen will have known so little about the issues of the day during their early years that they will be too darn dumb to understand or care once they are mature adults.

The truth is that America has come to honor ignorance. Increasingly, Americans would rather worship an American Idol or a Dancing Star than take the time to read a newspaper or watch a news program. Moreover, with instant messaging, TiVo, Twitter, Facebook, DVDs and so many highly segmented ways to find entertainment, the days of the structured "television broadcast" may be numbered -- and not by a matter of decades, but of years.

Those who want to dance a jig over the hard times that many a so-called "liberal rag" or conservative "tabloid" are encountering might think twice. A public that reads, listens and forms an opinion is a public that is our only protection from becoming the pawns of powerbrokers and potential dictators. A public that doesn't is simply ignorant. To those who would wish to destroy our nation -- be it through extremism to the left or right or some other wacky direction -- ignorance is bliss


British school indifferent to bullying

Government rules under which they operate leave them powerless to discipline anybody so all that they deploy is bulldust -- to no effect whatever

The parents of the Olympic diver Tom Daley have taken him out of school after he complained of being bullied. The 14-year-old athlete, who found himself in the public eye after representing Britain at the Beijing Olympics last year, said that he had been attacked by pupils in the playground of his school in Devon, south west England.

His parents said that the bullying began when he started Year 10 in September, after returning from China. The situation became untenable last week when an older boy allegedly cornered Tom and said: "How much are those legs worth? We're going to break your legs."

His father, Rob Daley, 38, said that he kept his son at home this week after staff at the Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth refused to take action, despite complaints being lodged. Mr Daley said he was concerned that the bullying could affect his son's performance in a competition in Florida next month. He said that if the bullying did not stop he would move Tom to a new school. "The bullying is severe," he said. "He has been tackled to the floor walking through the school field and in class they throw pens and pencils at him. Some of them have even threatened to break his legs. That was the last straw. It has got to the point where enough is enough.

"The school has had plenty of opportunities to sort it out but it hasn't been done. It's gone way beyond mickey-taking - he has the whole school on his back and he knows that if he retaliates he will be all over the papers. It's just jealousy - it can't be anything else. I've been to see Tom's head of year and also the principal, because Tom has been so upset."

Mr Daley said that he had kept Tom away from school for two days before the Easter break because he felt that the bullying might affect his son's form at the Fina World Series competition in Sheffield.

Tom, who finished 7th in the men's 10m platform event in Beijing, said that he was being victimised by many pupils and had become a "hate" figure. "I ignored the `diver boy' or `Speedo boy' comments when I came back from Beijing last year, hoping they would get fed up and stop. The trouble is they haven't, and it's even the younger kids who are joining in," he said. "It's getting to the stage now where I think `oh, to hell with it. I don't want to go back to school'. "They've been taking the mick for ages, but they now spend most of their time throwing stuff at me. I thought it would calm down but it hasn't. Normally, I try not to go out during breaks if I can help it. I just stay in class. "It's sad and annoying that I can't have a normal school life. But I put up with it because I'm doing something I love. And I'm lucky I've got four good friends.

"If a teacher sees the kids doing it they'll tell them to stop, but I've got to the point that I really don't care. I'm away from school a lot anyway. I have fans outside school, but in school, it's the opposite - they all hate me." He is studying for nine GCSEs.

Katrina Borowski, the college principal, confirmed that Tom's "extremely high profile" had led to a number of "immature" students being disciplined. "Meetings have been held between college staff, parents and Tom's friends in which appropriate strategies were discussed. Certain students have been sanctioned. We take the wellbeing of students extremely seriously and have a very clear policy for dealing swiftly and firmly with any incidents of conflict that arise," she said.

Officials at British Swimming, the governing body for diving, said they would provide a psychologist and lifestyle coach for Tom, if he wants them on his return from the Florida event. "It is a shame but not a surprise in today's world," a spokesman for British Swimming said. "Tom's parents are handling things, but obviously we have a duty of care and are very concerned. We will give any help we can to a promising young athlete."


Friday, April 24, 2009

Testing for 'Mismatch'

If members of some minority groups are admitted to elite colleges because of affirmative action -- and don't perform as well as they expected -- does this show a serious flaw in efforts to diversify student bodies?

Critics of affirmative action answer in the affirmative, and this is the basis of the controversial "mismatch" theory -- namely that affirmative action doesn't actually help its intended beneficiaries because they may struggle academically where admitted instead of enrolling at less competitive institutions where they might excel. Mismatch is heatedly debated -- in part because of the political potency of the argument. After all, it allows critics of affirmative action to say that they aren't just worried about white applicants, but about black and Latino students, too.

In a paper released Friday, four scholars at Duke University (three in economics and one in sociology) propose a new way to test for mismatch. They say that much more information is needed than has typically been available in the past. But because they were able to obtain this information for Duke, they argue that a mismatch test is possible. They propose a test in which applicants admitted to an elite university are asked to predict their first-year grades and are then told the average grades earned by members of similar ethnic and racial groups admitted under similar circumstances. In this situation, they argue, students admitted under affirmative action could make an informed judgment on whether they were being mismatched.

The data released by the scholars in explaining their idea could be quite controversial. Private colleges and universities historically release very little information, broken down by race and ethnicity, about the admissions qualifications and subsequent performance of students. Getting even SAT averages by race can be difficult. Duke provided the researchers not only with SAT averages, but with admissions officers' average rankings of admitted students on a five-point scale, by race, as well as the students' own projected first-year grades and actual grades.

Generally, the data show that Asian admitted students had better rankings and scores than all other groups, although their advantage over white students was modest. But Asian and white applicants are generally far above other applicants. And while all groups, on average, overestimated their academic performance in their first year at Duke, black and Latino students had the largest gaps between the performance they expected and what they achieved.

The study, "Does Affirmative Action Lead to Mismatch," is by Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban M. Aucejo, Hanming Fang and Kenneth I. Spenner, and was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (An abstract is available here, as is information on how to download the study for $5.)

More here

Reforming Britain's schools — a self-correcting system

Plagued by persistent regulation, our system of state education is barred from reaching the level of quality that teachers not only aspire to, but are fully capable of achieving. Schools themselves are better placed than local government to decide where they should be allowed to set up and how they should function.

It takes only a small reform of our current system to allow the potential of our teachers and schools to be fulfilled - the creation of a system where schools of all kinds, whether they are state, private or charity-run, provide free and universal education, funded on a per-pupil basis by government, and given the freedom from burdensome regulation that the private sector enjoys. This is not an imposed reform, instead enabling schools to run themselves, opting in of their own accord, with government acting as the financier rather than the provider of free education.

The beauty of the reform is its self-correcting nature - the first of these free schools will appear where education is most in demand. As a school becomes popular, more parents will choose to send their children there and since it is paid per pupil, its income will increase. If a school is unpopular, then fewer and fewer pupils will be sent there until it either improves or fails. Schools will be able to innovate, directly rewarded for successful models of education through their popularity. Even if the amount paid per pupil is too low, then fewer schools will opt into the system until it can be increased.

However, this reform requires that all schools that have opted into the system be allowed to make a profit - something that the opposition party have shied away from, despite it being the principal reason for the system's success in Sweden. Without the entitlement to make a profit, not only will uptake of the system be slow, but successful schools will also be unable to expand and spread that success to other parts of the country for all pupils, parents and teachers to enjoy.


The naked truth about strip searches in school

Ensuring school safety is important, but the Supreme Court must uphold students' rights

For many 13-year-old girls, being featured – even fleetingly – on a national news program might be exciting. Not for me. My image flickered across the screen only briefly on "Dateline NBC" – it was during one of my basketball games, and it showed all of my awkward teenage glory.

The context, however, made the whole thing more embarrassing than exhilarating: The program was all about how a group of my female classmates had been strip-searched after a gym class when several students reported some makeup, cash, and CDs missing. "Dateline" producers had filmed several of our team's games to use as B-roll while the anchor discussed the case.

Though I wasn't one of the girls in the class forced to remove their clothing to prove they weren't hiding the stolen items, I still look back at the episode – which for a time nearly ripped our community apart – with anger and a sense of betrayal.

Soon after the ordeal took place, I overheard my parents and grandparents discussing it, saying they didn't think the administrators and police officers who orchestrated the search were wrong. I fled the house in tears, aghast that my own family thought it would have been OK for me to have been made to undergo a humiliating act in front of a group of strange adults.

The incident at my school was not the first, nor the last in which young kids were made to strip as a result of school administrators bent on proving their "zero tolerance" for crime. The Supreme Court heard arguments in another such case tuesday – this one involving an 13-year-old Arizona honors student who was strip-searched in 2003 when school officials suspected she possessed ibuprofen. The search turned up nothing.

Defenders of such tactics insist that limiting schools' ability to carry out searches will invite more drugs and danger into classrooms. Certainly, the sentiment of protecting young people within school walls is right, but the method of protection must match that sentiment.

If students are going to be subjected to increasingly restrictive policies – no cellphones, iPods, painkillers, etc. – certainly administrators should have to operate under some limitations as well. And having rules in place to prevent kids from being forced to expose their bodies (something they'd be punished for if done by their own volition) might be a good place to start – particularly if all that's at stake is little more than some 99-cent bottles of Wet 'n' Wild nail polish and a copy of the "Grease" soundtrack.

In weighing potential threats, schools should take several factors into account: Does the suspected student pose an imminent threat? More important: Is the search itself reasonable? While that's open to interpretation, a good rule of thumb might be to get parental permission for anything other than simple tactics like making a student empty his or her pockets.

Savana Redding, the Arizona student whom the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with before the case landed before the high court, still recounts the incident as "the most humiliating experience" of her life. My closest friend shares that pain. Eleven years later, she says that being searched so intrusively left her with a deep emotional scar.

"In all the meetings and interviews afterward, the police and vice principal made it sound like they were just doing it to protect us," she recalls. "But they didn't care about protecting us in that locker room, when girls were crying and begging to call their parents."

A 2005 survey by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation revealed that high school students know shockingly little about some of their most basic constitutional rights – and it's no wonder when schools are trampling on them so blatantly.

In Tinker v. Des Moines, a 1969 case involving students who wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court famously noted that students do not "shed their constitutional rights ... at the schoolhouse gate." At the very least, that should include not having to shed their clothes.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Strip searches at schools go to Supreme Court

In an Arizona case, administrators were worried about campus safety, while the student just felt humiliated.

When Savana Redding, now 19, talks of what happened to her in eighth grade, it is clear that the painful memories linger. She speaks of being embarrassed and fearful and of staying away from school for two months. And she recalls the "whispers" and "stares" from others in this small eastern Arizona mining town after she was strip-searched in the nurse's office because a vice principal suspected she might be hiding extra-strength ibuprofen in her underwear.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear her case. Its decision, the first to address the issue of strip-searches in schools, will set legal limits, if any, on the authority of school officials to search for drugs or weapons on campus. If limits on searches are imposed, the school district warns, its ability to keep all drugs out of its schools would be reduced.

In this case, said school district lawyer Matthew Wright, the vice principal was concerned because one student had gotten seriously ill from taking unidentified pills. "That was the driving force for him. If nothing had been done, and this happened to another kid, parents would have been outraged," Wright said.

In California and six other states, strip-searches of students are not permitted. Only once in the past has the high court ruled on a school-search case, and it sounds quaint now. It arose in 1980 when a New Jersey girl was caught smoking in the bathroom, and the principal searched her purse for cigarettes.

The justices upheld that search because the principal had a specific reason for looking in her purse. However, they did not say how far officials could go -- and how much of a student's privacy could be sacrificed -- to maintain safety at school. That's the issue in Safford Unified School District vs. Redding.

Savana was an honors student, shy and "nerdy" when the she began eighth grade at Safford Middle School, she says. She first learned she was in trouble when Vice Principal Kerry Wilson entered math class one morning and told her to come with him to the office. He was in search of white pills.

Wilson knew that a boy had gotten sick from pills he obtained at school. And that morning, another eighth-grader, Marissa Glines, was found with what turned out to be several 400-milligram ibuprofen pills tucked into a folded school planner. A few days before, Savana had lent Marissa the folder. The vice principal also found a small knife, a cigarette and a lighter in it. When asked where she got the pills, Marissa named Savana Redding.

These "could only be obtained with a prescription," Wilson reported. Commonly used for headaches or to relieve pain from menstrual cramps, ibuprofen is marketed under brand names including Advil and Motrin with recommend doses of 200 and 400 milligrams. "District policy J-3050 strictly prohibits the nonmedical use or possession of any drug on campus," Wilson explained later in a sworn statement.

Savana said she knew nothing of the pills in the folder. "He asked if he could search my backpack. I said, 'Sure,' " she recalled. When nothing was found, Wilson sent Savana to the nurse's office, where the nurse and an office assistant were told to "search her clothes" for the missing pills.

Savana said she kept her head down, embarrassed and afraid she would cry. After removing her pink T-shirt and black stretch pants, she was told to pull her underwear to the side and to shake so any pills there could be dislodged. It was "the most humiliating experience" of her young life, she said.

"We did not find any pills during our search of Savana," Wilson reported.

When her mother arrived at the school to pick her up, another student called out to her: "What are you going to do about them strip-searching Savana?" Upset and angry, April Redding said she marched to the principal's office, then to the superintendent's office nearby. Both denied at first knowing that a student had been strip-searched. "It was wrong. I didn't think anything like that could happen to my daughter at school," she said, wiping a tear. She later met with the principal but left, unsatisfied: "He said you should be happy we didn't find anything."

Contacted at the school recently, Wilson declined to discuss the case, as did other school officials.

When no one apologized, April Redding sued the school district for damages. Her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union say the strip-search went far beyond the bounds of reasonableness, especially when there was no imminent danger. A strip-search can be deeply embarrassing and leave an emotional scar, they add.

So far, however, judges have been almost evenly divided over whether Savana's rights were violated. A federal magistrate in Tucson held that the search was reasonable because the vice principal was relying on the tip from another student. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Last year, however, the full 9th Circuit Court took up the case and ruled 6 to 5 for the Reddings.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said the vice principal's action defied common sense as well the Constitution. "A reasonable school official, seeking to protect the students in his charge, does not subject a 13-year-old girl to a traumatic search to 'protect' her from the danger of Advil," she wrote. "A school is not a prison. The students are not inmates," she added, noting that juvenile prisoners are given more rights than were given Savana.

Two of the dissenters agreed the search was unreasonable, but they said the officials should be shielded from suits because the law has been unclear. The three other dissenters, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, said the search was reasonable based on what Wilson knew at the time.

Last fall, the school district appealed to the Supreme Court, saying it "finds itself on the front lines of the decades-long war against drug abuse among students." The justices voted in January to hear the case, a good sign for the school district.

In recent years, national school officials say they have heard of only a few instances of strip-searches at schools. After the search, Savana refused to return to the middle school. She did not want to be in the presence of the nurse or the office assistant who she said humiliated her. She went to an alternative high school in Safford but dropped out before graduating. She is taking psychology classes at nearby Eastern Arizona College. She and her mother plan to travel to Washington to hear her case argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. For Savana, it will be her first trip on an airplane.


I've seen how Britain's education system betrays children - it's enough to make you weep

A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies is clear about who is to blame for the failure of bright children from poor families to get into universities. The reason is not, as Government ministers such as Gordon Brown, Ed Balls and John Denham claim, class bias on the part of universities. It is bad schools in deprived areas and the failure of this Government to get to grips with the issue.

The report tracked half a million children's education to give a devastating picture of a generation betrayed by Labour. Far from being a motor for social mobility, as it should be, the state school system is entrenching deprivation: youngsters from disadvantaged homes are five times more likely to fail to get five good A to C grades at GCSE than those from affluent backgrounds. As Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Schools, says, the relationship between poverty and poor results is 'stark' and poses an ' unacceptable' risk to the life chances of disadvantaged children. 'This cannot be right and we need to do more,' she says.

I have spent the past nine months interviewing youngsters all over the country, as well as visiting schools both here and in America. And my research has confirmed the utter failure of our education system to help those from deprived backgrounds. I have seen for myself that bright students are failed at every stage - at primary, secondary and at university levels.

The reason for this lamentable failure is a toxic mix of politically correct ideology on the part of the teaching unions, a feeble reluctance on the part of the Government to confront them, and a target culture for exam results which is designed to benefit politicians rather than pupils. The damage this has caused is incalculable.

The problem starts early on in primary school, where many pupils from poor backgrounds are no longer learning to read. For ideological reasons, teachers and educationists have shunned traditional phonetic teaching methods - which have a long track record of success - because they are considered a reactionary throwback. During my research, I found that the majority of children in this country learn to read however they are taught, because they have sufficient parental back-up. But at least 25 per cent - usually those from the most deprived backgrounds - do not.

And if their primary schools fail them between the ages of five and seven, when they should learn to read, they never catch up - because no one in those children's seven subsequent years of education (most drop out of school at around 14) addresses the problem. One result of this basic failure in teaching is that last year more than a third of 14-year-old boys in this country had a reading age of 11 or below. More than one in five of them had a reading age of nine. And almost 250,000 schoolchildren - a staggering 40 per cent - start GCSE studies without the ability in reading, writing and maths to cope with their courses.

One young man told me: 'For my first two years of secondary school, I was in the top sets for maths and science, but rubbish at everything else because of my lack of literacy. That kills you in every subject. Even in maths you need to read the question.' Instead of being at university, where he obviously belongs and where as a potential science graduate the economy needs him, this bright articulate 22-year-old lives on benefits in Hastings.

But it is not just teachers. The Government, faced with this increasingly illiterate generation of schoolchildren, refuses to confront reality. Instead, it skews the curriculum to make school exam results look more impressive than they really are - and to make its own achievements look better. Last month, Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, hailed the success of schools reaching a Government target one year early: 60 per cent of 15-year-olds gaining five higher level GCSEs.

But without wishing to take anything away from the pupils' efforts, I would suggest that this 'success' is comparatively worthless because neither maths nor English has to be included among these higher level GCSEs.

What price have young people themselves paid for Jim Knight's moment of glory? John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is clear. The league tables have created perverse incentives. Schools are forced to skew the curriculum for 14 and 15-yearolds towards subjects 'in which it is easier to reach Grade C.'

A-levels create similar perversions. This might benefit schools and Jim Knight, but it has severe consequences for teenagers, especially those from a poor background. It's a crying shame that, in order to be sure of meeting Government targets, schools are deliberately pushing even able pupils away from studying difficult subjects such as science and languages. But it is these traditional subjects that top universities want. 'Soft' subjects - anything with the word 'studies' in it, as one headmaster remarked - do not win places at a good university. Geoff Parks, Cambridge's director of admissions, said: 'We know the school's bright students are on track to get As, but those As are in subjects that essentially rule them out.'

This has devastating consequences for disadvantaged teenagers. They are the most reliant on their schools for correct advice on universities and careers. They must trust that their schools have their best interests at heart. Too often this is not the case - as the educational charity Sutton Trust discovered. An online questionnaire of 3,000 students revealed that half believed there was no difference in earnings between graduates of different universities. Schools had also failed to warn them of the importance of their choice of subject. They had no idea that it would dictate not only which university would take them, but also their future salary.

According to the London Institute of Education, a decade after leaving university, nearly a fifth of graduates from leading universities earn more than £90,000 a year compared with just 5 per cent of those from the so-called new universities.

Of course, very few of the most disadvantaged pupils are lucky enough to get a university place. Government research has revealed that many state schools in disadvantaged areas are failing to bring on their brightest children 'for fear of being branded elitist'. One in seven pupils on a Government scheme to help the brightest children - defined as the top 10 per cent of the school population - even failed to get five good GCSEs.

But the state school student who does manage to get to university faces yet another piece of Government hocus pocus. More than one in five of the 230,000 full-time students entering university drop out. These are mainly working-class students. The Government has given universities almost 1 billion pounds to support these students. But universities are not penalised for recruiting students who do not graduate - provided they recruit even more to replace them and so fulfil the Government target of getting 50 per cent of youngsters into further education. Like everything in our smoke-and-mirrors education system, this fails to address the real problem - bad teaching in too many state schools.

While the Government trumpets its achievements in getting so many students into further education, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee last year discovered that university maths students, for example, say they are being forced to quit their courses because they lack basic numeracy skills and so do not understand assignments and lectures. Sir Richard Sykes, then rector of Imperial College London, put it bluntly: 'Yes, there may be thousands of kids out there who come from poorer backgrounds and are geniuses - but how can we take them at 18 if they've not been educated?'

Is it not time the Government stopped playing tricks and started examining why this is?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Washington State Criminalizes Student-Teacher Sex

(Olympia, Washington) In an embarrassing case last year, a teacher involved with an 18-year-old student was exonerated since state law didn't protect students older than age 17. Consequently, Washington state legislators took action.
The state House of Representatives gave the final stamp of approval on Tuesday to a bill making it a crime for public school employees to have sex with students up to age 21.

House Bill 1385, sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, passed 82-16, and closes a legal loophole that prevented school employees from being prosecuted for having sex with students between the ages of 18 and 21.
With a similar version of the legislation having already passed the Senate, the final bill is ready to be submitted to the governor for signature. Good.
The decay of discipline produced the Columbine massacre

William Dean Howells observed that at the theater Americans want a tragedy with a happy ending. But in life we are made of sterner stuff and demand from tragedy only this: a lesson.

That the mass killing at Columbine High School a decade ago -- it was on April 20, 1999, that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 and wounded 23 -- could offer us more than sorrow and outrage has been an article of faith since the nation first learned of the crime. The exact lesson, however, has proved elusive, and the search has seemed obdurately focused on the obscure or the strange: the trenchcoats; the question of social isolation; the possibility that jocks and cheerleaders might be so nasty to an outsider that they could render him into a sociopath.

Apparently, the thing to do was to look not at the largest questions posed by the incident but rather at its particulars and to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward any behavior that seemed to mimic them. The result was a longish, culturally embarrassing interlude when kindergartners could get tossed out of school for bringing a nail clipper in a backpack. We began to look like a nation of adults who were terrified of our smallest children.

The one aspect of Columbine that seemed unworthy of examination -- when it came to pondering the policy changes that might actually make American schools safer places -- was the fact that the two killers had a long track record of doing exactly what deeply disturbed teenage boys have been doing since time out of mind: getting in trouble -- lots of it -- with authority.

Ten months before their shooting spree, Harris and Klebold were charged and convicted of stealing tools from a parked van. They were sentenced to a "juvenile diversion" program, which was intended -- by dint of counseling, classes, and the coordinated efforts of school administrators, social workers and police officers -- to keep the boys out of the criminal-justice system. According to the records of that experience, Harris reported having homicidal feelings, obsessive thoughts and a temper. Both boys were placed in anger management, although -- strangely, given Klebold's history of alcohol use and his submission of a dilute urine sample to his minders -- they were excused from the substance-abuse class.

Back at school (which they attended throughout their enrollment in the juvenile-diversion program), they smoked cigarettes in the hollow behind campus, cut classes and blew off schoolwork. According to Dave Cullen's new book, "Columbine," when Klebold carved obscenities into a freshman's locker and was confronted by a dean, "Dylan went ballistic. He cussed him out, bounced off the walls, acted like a nutcase." Both boys also picked on younger children and got into fights.

All of this was in addition, of course, to the notorious AOL postings in which the boys laid their murderous plans bare. Those postings were the basis of the affidavit that the Jefferson County district attorney compiled for a search warrant of the boys' houses. Lacking enough evidence to present it to a judge, however, the affidavit was not acted upon, and the thugs moved closer and closer to their goal. There was a time when boys like these would have been labeled "juvenile delinquents" and removed from the society and company of good kids, whose rights were understood to supersede those of known offenders against the law. It was once believed that good kids should be neither endangered nor influenced by criminals-in-training.

At the turn of the last century, the U.S. -- a nation of laws, of course, and a nation with an ever-evolving sense of sympathy for children and teenagers -- decided that sending youthful offenders to adult prison was a grotesque form of punishment, and so were born the juvenile code and the juvenile court system. With these innovations came something that was still talked about in tones of dread and excitement when I was a girl in the 1960s and '70s. "He's going to end up in reform school," we would say of a bully or a fighter, some luckless child of a rotten drunk or a mean single mother. One way or another, it came to pass: Boys disappeared and were not missed.

Due process? Who knew, who cared? All we knew was that the funny-looking, heavy-set boy who used to smash kids' heads into the porcelain backsplash at the drinking fountain of Cragmont School was no more a menace in our lives.

Harsh fate that would send a boy away for no greater crime than the accident of his birth! Homeward the course of juvenile justice went, reinventing the system in yet another iteration, the one in which Harris and Klebold were allowed to stay put in their own houses and at Columbine, during the very time that they were not only committing petty thefts and cursing out their teachers but also communicating openly about their plans for mayhem.

Today only the most incorrigible young offenders are removed from their guardians' care and forced to live and study in correctional facilities. Furthermore, to expel a student in most public school districts is an arduous business. An expulsion hearing is required, and parents may choose to appeal the decision, a process that rains down a world of legal woe on whatever teachers and administrators have been involved in the action. Many expulsions, moreover, constitute a strange reinterpretation of the very word: They are time-limited and include within them plans for re-enrollment.

It is, of course, the responsibility of the state to provide some sort of education to all its children under the age of 18, and so for a host of legal, moral and economic reasons we end up with an ugly truth about our nation's schools: By design, they contain within them -- right alongside the good kids who are getting an education and running the yearbook and student government -- kids whose criminal rehabilitation is supposedly being conducted simultaneously with their academic instruction.

As someone who taught school for a decade and who has now been a mother for about as long, I can tell you that -- when it comes to children -- the rigid exercise of "due process" in matters of correction and discipline makes for high comedy at best and shared tragedy at worst. Someone needs to stand apart from children and decide what is best for them and for those around them. When it comes to matters of state-ordered punishment, someone needs to stand apart from their parents, too, and make the necessary decisions. It's a complete bummer; I will grant you that.

Who would possibly be willing to side not with the students of an institution -- those fun-loving creatures of the now -- but with the institution itself, a place ostensibly devoted, above all else, to the well-being of its population? I'll tell you who: adults. Remember them?

In my teaching days, no single document shaped my thinking as much as Flannery O'Connor's 1963 essay called "Total Effect and the Eighth Grade." It concerned neither guns nor violence, neither cliques nor experimental approaches to the treatment of adolescent depression. It was about . . . books. In defending the teaching of the great works of the Western canon rather than those of the modern day (which kids far preferred), she said something wise, the sort of thing an adult might say. She said that the whims and preferences of children should always, always be sublimated to the sense and judgment of their elders.

"And what if the student finds this is not to his taste?" O'Connor asked. "Well that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed."


Britain. The working class children betrayed by Labour: Bad schools NOT class bias to blame for thousands missing university

Bright children from poor homes are failing to get into university because of under-performing state schools and not class bias. That is the finding of a major study, covering hundreds of thousands of children, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Pupils at struggling comprehensives are getting such low grades they are simply not equipped for degree-level studies, it revealed.

It was one of three studies published yesterday which together painted a picture of a 'lost generation' betrayed by Labour. Government figures showed the number of Neets - teenage dropouts who are not in employment, education or training - has soared to record levels.

Meanwhile, a report by York university found that British children are among the worst-off in Europe in terms of health, wealth and happiness. The study by the IFS - conducted jointly with another research body, the Institute of Education - blows apart ministers' claims that 'elitist' universities are snubbing youngsters from less privileged backgrounds. Gordon Brown and education ministers Ed Balls and John Denham have put universities under intense pressure to widen the class mix of students by reforming the admissions process and spending millions on 'outreach' work in schools.

In a recent speech, Mr Denham called on top universities to 'address fair access effectively, or their student population will remain skewed'. He has also accused them of 'social bias' and 'failing to attract' talent from across all sections of society.

However, the IFS research, which will be presented this week at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society, throws the blame for the university class divide squarely on to ministers' failure to tackle poor-quality schooling. It will also fuel the belief that the abolition of most grammar schools since the 1960s has closed off an important route to university for bright children from poor homes.

The study, which involved tracking more than 500,000 state school students, revealed that the gulf between the university haves and have-nots has its roots in the school system. 'It comes about because poorer pupils do not achieve as highly in secondary school,' the research said. Grade for grade, pupils from low income backgrounds stand virtually the same chance of getting into university as their wealthier peers, according to the study. The problem was partly that poorer pupils were more likely to attend under-performing schools, it said.

The report added: 'At least part of the explanation for the relatively low achievement of disadvantaged children in secondary school is likely to be rooted in school quality.' The latest findings also undermine Mr Denham's claim that 'social bias' by universities plays a part in their selection process. Pupils from poorer backgrounds are just as likely to get into the most selective universities as middle-class peers, after taking into account their A-level grades, the study found.

The report said initiatives aimed at dispelling a 'university is not for people like us' attitude must begin much earlier, perhaps in primaries. Drives at sixth-form level - the focus of much taxpayer-funded activity - 'will not tackle the more major problem... namely, the underachievement of disadvantaged pupils in secondary schools'.

The findings were released as it emerged that 11 prestigious universities - including Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle - have launched a scheme to consider working-class school-leavers who would normally be rejected outright because of their predicted A-level grades. Critics have warned that the initiative could become a 'charter for bad schools'.

The Tories said the denial of opportunities to poor children was a ' scandal' and accused ministers of attacking universities instead of tackling failures in the school system. Admissions tutors said the research showed the real barrier to top universities was England's 'uneven' education system and the link between children's prospects and their social background.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'Over the past five years the attainment gap between those children eligible for free school meals and those who aren't has narrowed and the results for these children are rising faster than the average, but we know there is still more to do. 'That is why we have invested more than £21billion in child care and the early years since 1997, so that poor children get better chances in early life. We are also massively expanding one-to- one tuition for children falling behind in English and maths.'


Anarchy in UNC

by Mike Adams

Last week, I was away speaking at Michigan State University. While I was gone, my inbox filled with requests that I write about the recent disruption of Tom Tancredo’s speech at UNC-Chapel Hill. I am pleased to do so. As a professor in the UNC system, I’m also pleased to explain why this embarrassing incident occurred.

If one is to understand the Tancredo incident one must be familiar with ten rules that apply to free speech and to other rights in the UNC system. One must also understand the origin of at least some of these ten rules. Once one is properly educated in these rules, it becomes obvious that Tom Tancredo is not a victim in any sense of the word. In fact, it is Tancredo, not the protestors, who should be embarrassed.

1. Groups, not individuals, possess rights. Many observers are confused into thinking that Tom Tancredo’s constitutional rights were violated last week in Chapel Hill. This is based on the antiquated notion that free speech is an individual right. Because our Founding Fathers owned slaves (read: violated individual rights) those rights have now been transferred from individuals to groups.

2. The rights of any given group are determined by the extent of historical oppression the group has suffered. Obviously, as a group, African-Americans now have rights because of slavery. Illegal aliens also have rights, as a group, because the conditions that caused them to become “illegal” were oppressive.

3. Oppression need not have occurred in this country to produce rights in this country. Some will note that the oppression that produced illegal immigration occurred in another country implying that this does not create any rights here in this country. This criticism assumes the legitimacy of the term “countries,” which like the term “laws” is suspect. It should also be noted that prior to any discussion of how to patrol our border, the term “border” is designated as oppressive. This helps us to think globally.

4. Jews are exempt from rule #3. Jews have suffered a lot throughout history. But most of that suffering occurred in other countries. Since the Jews now control so much of America and probably planned 911 there is no need to grant them unnecessary rights.

5. Rights do not compel responsibility. The notion of responsibility is antithetical to the notion of collectivism. Notions of responsibility help to advance capitalism, which help to advance oppression. In other words, it is irresponsible to advance responsibility because it is responsible for a lot of group oppression.

6. Whites may establish rights temporarily by acting as spokespersons for oppressed groups. The fact that most of the people protesting Tancredo were, like Tancredo, whites in the country legally, is irrelevant. They had free speech rights because they were speaking up for the oppressed. Tancredo did not because he was speaking out against the oppressed and, hence, advancing oppression.

7. Oppressed groups need not give consent to their spokespersons. White liberals always know what is best for minorities who do not always know what is best for them.

8. Vandalism is a permissible form of expression. Jonathan Curtis, a UNC administrator, aided and abetted the theft of the conservative Carolina Review in 1996. He went unpunished. Since then, the administration has been reluctant to suggest that lawlessness is illegal. Lawlessness can be a good way of showing how laws are oppressive. This includes pounding on windows and shattering glass while people are trying to speak.

9. An effect may precede its cause. The protestors claimed that the Tancredo incident was the fault of the police who sprayed pepper spray to disperse the crowd. It should not matter that the disruption happened first. These kids have taken sociology courses where they are taught that labeling someone “delinquent” causes delinquency. They have taken education courses where they are taught that labeling someone as “slow” causes bad grades. These assertions are not backed up by longitudinal studies that can separate cause and effect. That would constitute “evidence” and evidence is oppressive. In fact, the videotape of the protestors smashing a window is oppressive.

10. The law is an instrument of oppression and criminality is a form of expression. Tom Tancredo supports the enforcement of the law. He is an oppressor. The protestors were breaking the law as a form of expression. In the same way, illegal immigration is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment and unaffected by antiquated notions like “citizenship.” Citizenship is oppressive.

Now that you have heard the rules and know something of their origin you may decide to sympathize with the protestors. Or you may decide that I’ve been right about what I’ve been saying in this column for the last six years. And why I often feel like an alien in a strange land speaking a language no one understands.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Despite a doubling in the amount spent per primary and secondary pupil, attainment levels have remained flat"

Sound familiar? Detroit or DC? No. Scotland. The Leftist idea that money is the solution to everything constantly fails but they never lose faith in it. And they accuse business of being money-mad!

Analysis by Reform Scotland shows that despite a doubling in the amount spent per primary and secondary pupil, attainment levels have remained flat. “It is clear from the research that the extra spending is simply not delivering value for money,” Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, said. “Put another way, billions of pounds have been spent in the last decade to little or no effect.” While spending per pupil has risen from £2,092 to £4,638 at primary level and from £3,194 to £6,326 at secondary schools, the proportion of those gaining five good grades at the end of fourth year has fallen from 47 per cent to 46 per cent.

Reform Scotland also claimed that data it had obtained showed that pupils in England who had been lagging behind Scotland in 1998 are now ahead, with the number achieving equivalent grades rising from 36 per cent to 48 per cent. The Scottish education system has long been regarded as among the best in the world, but the report claims that this view is now a myth.

Mr Mawdsley called on the Scottish government to publish more information about pupils' performance. “Using the measure of the pupils attaining five good grades by S4, including maths and English, would be a good start,” he said.

Reform Scotland also urged ministers to look at best practice from other countries and said that the government should consider a report it published this year, in which it argued for parents to be given more power to choose which school to send their children to. The report said that parents from poor backgrounds should be given credits of up to £10,000 to allow them to send their children to independent schools.

Responding to the latest report, Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “This shows that the way devolution has been administered has not provided value for money for Scots. Politicians who only have the power to spend money without having to worry about where it comes from are never going to be as responsible as those who have to keep an eye on the income side of the ledger.”

The report provoked a furious response from a former Scottish minister in the previous Labour-Lib Dem Executive, who said: “Reform Scotland has produced a series of reports, none of which has contained any original research or thought. It is simply regurgitating right-wing ideas which have failed in Scotland in the past. To call them a think-tank is an abuse of the word ‘think'.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “There is no doubt that Scotland can do better in education performance. That is why we are now embarking on the biggest reform in education for a generation.”

Reform Scotland's report comes as a former Labour economic adviser claimed that devolution has had an adverse effect on public services in Scotland. John McLaren, who worked for the late First Minister Donald Dewar, also said that the education system had been particularly affected, with performance lagging behind that in England. His report commissioned by The Sunday Times to mark the tenth anniversary of devolution said: “One can tentatively conclude that government being closer to the people has not led to improved relative performance in Scotland. In fact it may have had the opposite effect.”

Both reports' findings were dismissed by Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the teaching union Educational Institute of Scotland, who said: “Scotland continues to send a higher proportion of pupils on to higher education than England does, and if things were as bad as is being made out that wouldn't be happening.” [Would that be because there are substantial tuition fees in England but none in Scotland? Never trust a Leftist to give you the full facts]


British Teenagers don't know how to write a letter, say education chiefs

Letter writing is becoming a lost art, according to education chiefs. They said teenagers are increasingly unlikely to be able to address a letter correctly, spell 'sincerely' or sign off with their name. Basic punctuation is being abandoned as emails, text messages and gossip magazine-style 'cliches' take over. It is feared that youngsters will be handicapped by their failings, particularly when applying for jobs.

The problems were highlighted by the country's largest exam board, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, in a series of reports on last summer's English GCSEs. In one question, candidates were found lacking when asked to address a letter to a Government minister about education.

'There were surprisingly few who: put an address, included a date, wrote an appropriate salutation, signed off appropriately and consistently with the salutation, included the name of the sender,' the report said.

Of another paper, which also called for the writing of a letter, the alliance said: 'The misuse or lack of capital letters were the commonest errors, an error often compounded by poor hand-writing and illegibility. Initial letters in sentences are frequently written in lower case; random capitals are used throughout the response, and the personal pronoun "I" is written in lower case. 'Inaccurate sentence structure where punctuation is almost entirely lacking, or where sentences are loose and lack accurate sentence breaks abounded.'

Meanwhile, examiners at Oxford and Cambridge have warned about the death of the apostrophe due to increased use of text messaging. They criticised pupils' limited vocabularies, which left them 'trapped firmly in the world of magazine-speak and dully predictable cliche; such as "you will love it".'

Examiners agreed that 'sentence construction, spelling and boundary punctuation were becoming less reliable'. Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: 'Everyone from time to time needs to be able to write a formal letter. It is worrying if children aren't picking this up as it will essentially handicap them in future.'


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Union War on Charter Schools

As New York shows, they want to kill any education choice

On education policy, appeasement is about as ineffective as it is in foreign affairs. Many proponents of school choice, especially Democrats, have tried to appease teachers unions by limiting their support to charter schools while opposing private school vouchers. They hope that by sacrificing vouchers, the unions will spare charter schools from political destruction.

But these reformers are starting to learn that appeasement on vouchers only whets unions appetites for eliminating all meaningful types of choice. With voucher programs facing termination in Washington, D.C., and heavy regulation in Milwaukee, the teachers unions have now set their sights on charter schools. Despite their proclamations about supporting charters, the actions of unions and their allies in state and national politics belie their rhetoric.

In New York, for example, the unions have backed a new budget that effectively cuts $51.5 million from charter-school funding, even as district-school spending can continue to increase thanks to local taxes and stimulus money that the charters lack. New York charters already receive less money per pupil than their district school counterparts; now they will receive even less.

Unions are also seeking to strangle charter schools with red tape. New York already has the "card check" unionization procedure for teachers that replaces secret ballots with public arm-twisting. And the teachers unions appear to have collected enough cards to unionize the teachers at two highly successful charter schools in New York City. If unions force charters to enter into collective bargaining, one can only imagine how those schools will be able to maintain the flexible work rules that allow them to succeed.

Matt Ladner, a researcher at Arizona's Goldwater Institute, envisioned what charters burdened with a lengthy union contract might look like on my blog: "Need to change a light bulb in your classroom? Page 844, paragraph five clearly states that you must call a union electrician. You kids sit quietly with your heads down in the dark until he arrives. It will be any day now."

Eva Moskowitz, former chair of the New York City Council education committee and now a charter school operator, has characterized this new push against charters as a "backlash" led by "a union-political-educational complex that is trying to halt progress and put the interests of adults above the interests of children." She is right. If the union-political-education complex succeeds in depriving charter schools of funding and burdening them with regulations, children really will be harmed.

The highest quality studies have consistently shown that students learn more in charter schools. In New York City, Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby found that students accepted by lottery to charter schools were significantly outpacing the academic progress of their peers who lost the lottery and were forced to return to district schools.

Florida State economist Tim Sass and colleagues found that middle-school students at charters in Florida and Chicago who continued into charter high schools were significantly more likely to graduate and go on to college than their peers who returned to district high schools because charter high schools were not available.

The most telling study is by Harvard economist Tom Kane about charter schools in Boston. It found that students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit.

When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have given speeches promoting charter schools. Despite their talk, charter spending constituted less than one-quarter of 1% of education spending in the stimulus package. And the Obama administration has done union bidding by killing the D.C. voucher program. They did this in the face of solid evidence of academic progress for the voucher students, and despite their stated commitment to do "what works for kids" regardless of ideology.

Vouchers made the world safe for charters by drawing union fire. But now that the unions have the voucher threat under control, charters are in trouble. It's time for reformers to increase pressure on politicians bending to the will of the unions and close the new education gap -- the one between what Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan say about education and what they do.


Britain CAN turn back the clock and make the schools places of excellence. Here's how...

By Peter Hitchens

All the solutions to all our problems are obvious but shocking. They have also been ruled out in advance by the miserable pygmies and parasites who have taken over both sides of Parliament.

The breakdown of order in our State schools is a grave example of this political trap, in which everyone knows there is something wrong and nobody dares do anything effective about it. This is now a severe national crisis. Like the desperate state of our exam system, it is also a State secret, buried under a monstrous heap of official lies and twisted statistics.

A teacher who exposed it by filming undercover was not thanked, or invited to share her evidence with the authorities. She was disciplined more severely than another teacher convicted of smoking crack cocaine. I know of others who fear to speak out because they do not wish to damage their careers.

The teachers’ unions know perfectly well what is happening, though they are really interested only in getting more money for their members and gaining more recruits – since they are nowadays all in the hands of the Sixties Left.

But because they need to let off steam at their annual conferences, we get a yearly outbreak of stories about how schools are hiring bouncers to keep order – or even that teachers are going to work in body-armour. Of course there is some exaggeration for effect here. But nobody seriously doubts that many classrooms are now so chaotic that even the most determined pupil and the most dedicated teacher must fight to get any work done at all.

What is worse, many excellent teachers are more than weary of having to be policemen first, social workers second and teachers third. Some schools now actually have real police officers on the premises.

This is all completely ridiculous and unnecessary. It could be reversed in a matter of months and put right in a few years. Only a few things need to be done. Teachers need to be given back the power to use corporal punishment. We should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaties which prevent the operation of commonsense British laws.

The school-leaving age should be reduced to 15. Secondary schools should be divided between the vocational and the academic, with selection on merit.

The law permitting ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawsuits should be repealed. So should the Children Act 1989 and the other social workers’ charters which have robbed sensible adults of authority for two decades.

Then we should embark on a Restoration Of The Married Family Act, which would end the many-headed attack on stable married families and restore the lost position of fathers in the home, one of the major causes of bad behaviour by boys. Divorce should be difficult. Every social institution, every law, tax-break and benefit, should discriminate clearly and unapologetically in favour of those parents committed to each other by the marriage bond.

None of these things is actually outrageous, though if a frontbench spokesman for any party dared embrace them, he would be met with cries of rage and fake expressions of shock and be quickly driven from his post.

There are plenty of people still living who can testify that when such rules operated, millions of British people lived free and happy lives, learned useful things in orderly schools, did not need to be under police surveillance, pass through metal detectors on their way to classes or be watched by CCTV cameras.

Yes, there were disadvantages and difficulties. Who denies it? Perfection isn’t possible. But they were nothing compared with the horrible mess we have made with our good intentions.

Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that a headmaster would be knifed to death at the gates of his school, thousands of children would be forced to take powerful drugs to make them behave and the only ‘powers’ available to besieged teachers would be either to keep their charges in for a few hours or force them to go away for a few weeks?

And who would have believed that people would say this was freedom and progress and that Conservative politicians would declare they were happy with this country as it is? The supposed freedom is a new slavery, enforced by social workers, lawyers, the BBC and PC police. The alleged progress is an accelerating slide back into the Dark Ages.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rising sons

What Japanese Schools are Doing Right

In March, I had the opportunity to visit a Japanese school. Kadena Elementary School is located on Okinawa Island in the town of Kadena, and is not to be confused with the school of the same name operated by the U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS). The purpose of my visit was to research successful aspects of the Japanese school system that could be used to improve the American school system. As an educational researcher, I believe that cultures should borrow the best practices from each other.

During my visit to Kadena Elementary, I observed several practices that worked well and could be adopted by American schools. First, Kadena Elementary has a social curriculum in addition to an academic curriculum. For example, the students clean the school every day by themselves; there is no janitor. They sign up for chores on the blackboard. The Japanese custom of removing street shoes at the front door of the school and replacing them with shoes that are only worn indoors makes cleaning somewhat easier.

Also, the students serve the school lunch to the teachers and themselves; there are no cafeteria workers. After lunch, the students clean up after themselves. The social curriculum helps students develop autonomy, responsibility, and a strong work ethic. It's an idea that could work well in American schools.

The second practice I observed that worked well is that the students eat a healthy diet. There are no soda vending machines at Kadena Elementary. The school lunch is planned by a dietician and prepared at a central location in the school's district. It is then delivered daily to every elementary school, middle school, and high school in the district. Japanese schools do not have cafeterias. Students eat lunch in the classroom with their homeroom teacher.

The school lunch I ate at Kadena Elementary consisted of rice, soup, broiled fish, and milk. By comparison, the American school lunch typically consists of processed foods that are higher in fat and sugar.

Third, the students stay active at Kadena Elementary. They have recess every day and participate in a rigorous physical exercise program. In contrast, American schools are cutting back or completely eliminating recess and physical education. Besides recess and physical education, the students also stay active in the classroom. I observed classrooms wherein students were not just passively sitting still listening to the teacher; they stood up and moved around while learning. They played educational games and learned by seeing, hearing, and doing.

Studies show that proper nutrition and increased physical activity lead to higher academic achievement. American schools can improve student learning by serving a healthier school lunch and giving students more opportunities to stay active during the school day.

Japan has outperformed the U.S. in math and science on several international assessments of educational achievement. For example, the average math achievement score for 15-year-old Japanese students was 523 on the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).American students only scored 474. In science, Japanese students outperformed American students 531 to 489.

The Japanese school system is teaching math and science to students more effectively than the American school system, and it still has enough resources left over to implement a social curriculum, offer healthy food, and allow students to stay physically active during the school day. These are all great practices that American schools should consider borrowing.


Broken English immersion

BOSTON SUFFERS from a garbled approach to education for students with limited English - an approach that is widening achievement gaps at all grade levels and driving students to drop out. A change of course is needed to ensure opportunity for the 24,000 Boston students who aren't native speakers of English.

A report released this week by the Gastón Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston revealed the system's inability to adjust to changes in state law on how to teach students with limited English ability. The high school drop-out rates for so-called English language learners nearly doubled, to 12 percent, between 2003 and 2006, according to the report. The school district's family resource centers routinely fail to assess students' language skills. And fearing stigma, parents often make matters worse by withholding information about their native tongues.

It would be tempting to blame this entire mess on a 2002 ballot initiative mandating English immersion as the primary means of instruction. Previously, schools offered a broad array of classes for students in their native languages. But the authors of the UMass study wisely chose to focus on ways to improve the current system rather than on reigniting an old political debate. Immersion can work for many students. And for those who struggle with it, the law still offers various waivers and alternatives, including opportunities for students to attend classes in their native languages.

Boston has suffered from a lack of leadership within the school department on how to teach English language learners. The top post in the department has been empty for about a year. That changed yesterday when the school department tapped Eileen de los Reyes, a former education professor at Harvard. She'll have plenty to do, starting with the study's recommendation to hire staffers with enough knowledge and expertise to implement the immersion program.

Much smaller school systems, including Framingham, have managed to recruit on an international level for effective teachers of English learners, according to a 2007 Rennie Center report on best practices in the field. Brockton High School also has found ways to hasten the academic progress of non-native English speakers with the use of English language texts and teachers who use English and a foreign language interchangeably for instruction. Administrators in Boston should take some field trips to these and other smaller districts that do the job better.

There is also a dearth of statewide data on how school systems are progressing - or regressing - since the passage of the English immersion law. Boston is probably not alone in the beginners' category when it comes to teaching its bilingual students.


UK: Unruly pupils to be removed from lessons

Too little too late

Pupils who misbehave should be sent to "sin-bin" support units until they calm down, a government inquiry will recommend this week. The report, by former headteacher Sir Alan Steer, will say that more use should be made of "withdrawal rooms" for disruptive pupils. The move is designed to tackle low-level misbehaviour which falls short of demanding that a pupil be excluded.

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls will unveil the measure on Wednesday when he addresses the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference.

Sir Alan's report will also stress the need for adults to set a better example. In a leaflet being sent to schools, heads are urged to get parents to sign contracts promoting good behaviour and to attend parenting classes if their children are disruptive. If they fail to attend, the school has the power to fine them up to £100 with the further threat of prosecution for non compliance.

The leaflet makes it clear that teachers have the right to search pupils for weapons, drugs or alcohol.