Saturday, May 16, 2009

Revolt in East Lansing

by Mike Adams

In April of 2007, two groups at Michigan State University (MSU) decided to host a speech on illegal immigration. The speech was disrupted by radicals. Some arrests were made. As a result, some protestors decided to retaliate by going to the MSU Office for Inclusion. They claimed to have been harassed in violation of the MSU anti-discrimination policy.

The Office for Inclusion then decided to launch a six-month investigation of all members of the two groups who invited the speaker. They also decided to investigate the two faculty advisors. This was despite the school’s claim that its anti-discrimination policy was not meant to trump free speech.

The investigation concluded that no further action was required. But those investigated disagreed. They were outraged that the policy could be used to launch long-term investigations of conservatives simply for articulating conservative principles. And they knew the policy could be used to create a chilling effect on constitutionally protected expression.

The MSU anti-discrimination policy is problematic for three reasons: 1) It assumes “protected classes” are victims as if rights belong to groups, not individuals 2) it makes the accused demonstrate his innocence, and 3) it holds speakers responsible for “feelings” of “harassment” experienced by those who chose to listen to ideas contrary to their own.

The administration of MSU relies on secrecy and fear to empower its Orwellian policies. Meanwhile, a bold new group is taking them on. The Conservative Faculty and Staff at MSU have decided to fight the administration in a very public manner. They have announced to the administration that they will be a force for ensuring that open enquiry survives and thrives in East Lansing.

Professor Fred Fico established the group ( in September of 2008 under the mission statement: To protect and defend the values articulated in the Declaration of Independence here at Michigan State University.

Nearly every university in America needs such a chapter to respond to the attempts of far left administrators, faculty, and students with an agenda to deny free speech to conservatives. Such attempts - whether made through speech codes or anti-discrimination policies – are meant to deny conservatives a platform to debate important issues. Such issues including affirmative action, gun control, and illegal immigration, need a balanced presentation in higher education.

The MSU Conservative Faculty and Staff are defending freedom by boldly exercising it themselves. They are doing it in four principal ways:

1. Defending students and faculty whose free speech rights are being denied.

2. Advocating for students who wish to speak freely against ideological indoctrination in classes.

3. Educating the university community by inviting appropriate speakers to campus to speak on issues of vital importance to America.

4. Speaking out on these issues themselves before members of the university community.

I was thrilled when the group asked me to come to MSU as the first speaker for their fine organization. I was even more thrilled when Professor Fico gave me a brochure that spelled out the four principal beliefs of the new organization. They are as follows:

1. We believe that God, not the state, is the Author of our freedom.

2. We believe that individuals, not groups, have rights.

3. We believe that the right to life enables all other rights.

4. We believe that freedom requires rights of ownership and use of property.

For years, I have been fighting a war against moral relativism, socialism, and identity politics on college campuses. Many times during the struggle I have felt very alone and discouraged. But, now, I realize that the effort is beginning to pay off. Professors are beginning to stand up for our nation in proud defense of our God-given liberties. And they are doing so at a time when those liberties are in unprecedented jeopardy.

To all conservative faculty and staff members around the country I say the following: If you have ever considered standing up against the tide of political correctness in defense of your nation and your liberties, please, do it now. We need you more than ever.


Our Schools Be Broke

A friend of mine went to his first day on the job at the United States Department of Education and was chagrined to see a sign on the door warning, “The door be broke.” That sign is emblematic of what’s wrong with education in America: our schools be broke!

Public schools are failing too many of the nation’s children by not preparing them to meet even the most basic standards for being well educated. The cause of this deficiency is not a lack of money devoted to the task. In 2006, America spent $599 billion, or 7.4 percent of the GDP, to educate the nation’s children (about $10,800 per child in public and private elementary and secondary schools). Yet, the unavoidable fact is that despite a 33 percent increase in spending per student in constant dollars since 1990 and a 10 percent decrease in the number of students per teacher, student achievement has, at best, remained essentially the same.

What happened in our nation’s schools when two decades ago America’s children were among the best in test results? A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated American children now place 24th in math behind such diverse nations as Canada, Germany, France, Korea, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Just how difficult is the testing by which this ranking was established? What follows is a fourth grade mathematics test question used by The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement:

Al wanted to find how much his cat weighed. He weighed himself and noted that the scale read 57 kg. He then stepped back on the scale holding his cat and found that it read 62 kg. What was the weight of the cat in kilograms? Only 60 percent of American students received full credit on their answers, which tied them with the Slovak Republic for the rank of 24th. The students from eleven countries had correct answers of 80 percent or better.

A 2006 Fordham Foundation report summarized the nation’s education situation in a press release: “Half of American states ‘miss the bus’ on vital education goals.” The report found that only eight states had achieved what they called “even moderate success” over the past fifteen years in improving poor and minority students’ scores on reading, mathematics, and science. Fordham officials noted that non-needy white students scored a “not-so-shabby B” on the same rating scales. What is their conclusion? “Tough-minded education reforms tend to get results. Strong curricular content, real accountability and expanded parental choice can help raise the achievement of our neediest students.”

The 1983 publication, A Nation at Risk, informed the nation that our children are not learning enough in school, and our schools are not effective enough in educating our children. Subsequently, high schools have instituted school reforms emphasizing increased academic rigor. As a result, in 2004 more than half of high school graduates have taken an advanced science course; over one-third, an honors-level English course; and over one-third, a foreign language course. In spite of this improvement in rigor, the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for high school graduates show no improvement since the early 1980s.

A Nation Accountable: Twenty-Five Years after a Nation at Risk, a report issued in April 2008 in an attempt to evaluate the changes in education, summed up the outcome of their efforts. “The [National Commission on Excellence in Education] was disturbed by the easy courses and ‘curricular smorgasbord’ available to high school students. Unfortunately, this has not changed greatly. Both easy courses and this smorgasbord still remain, with diluted content now hiding behind inflated course names.”

School districts are trying numerous ways to address the problems in the nation’s schools. One successful attempt to provide quality education is Charter Schools — publicly funded schools that run like private schools with accountability and performance standards. More and more education and policy experts are recommending school choice as a way to improve the education of the nation’s children. While rare just decades ago, millions of parents today can benefit from public policies that allow them to choose their children’s schools.

At some point, we will have to come to grips with the fact that a very large percentage of our students fail because of their home environment. They lack a father and mother who value, encourage, support, and reinforce their efforts to learn. Research and common sense agree: a married-couple, father-mother family is the very best home structure for children’s well-being and success in school and in life. For children to succeed somebody has to believe in them and expect the best from them. Good parenting provides the foundation for learning before children even begin their formal schooling.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Michigan: Detroit to Close 29 Schools

(Detroit, Michigan) Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in January to take over complete control of the school system purse strings.

Burdened with a deficit over $300 million, Bobb announced this week that 29 schools will be closed next year with an anticipated savings of $14 million annually.

If $14 million can be saved annually from here on out, it will take over 21 years to whittle the deficit down to zero, assuming that nothing is added to the deficit.

For an emergency financial manager to launch a 21-year solution to the financial crisis is arguably less than timely. Mr. Bobb must be considering other avenues to reduce costs since a 21-year plan fits in the category of long-term strategic planning. As an emergency response, it surely isn't.
British infants' classrooms 'becoming increasingly overcrowded’

A considerable irony here: It is only with the very young that small classes seem to be beneficial. The class size fetish is in general a crock, according to the research. Mandates to reduce class sizes just encourage the hiring of incompetent teachers. See here. See also the article immediately below this one

The number of unlawfully large classes for infants has more than doubled in two years, according to government figures released yesterday. Ten thousand pupils aged 5 to 7 are taught in classes of more than 30 children. This age group should be taught in smaller groups but the number of infant classes classed as unlawfully large has risen from 130 in 2007 to 310 this year.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Schools Secretary, said: “The number of children in unacceptably large classes has rocketed over recent years. These huge classes make it difficult for teachers to give our youngest children the individual attention they need when they start school.

“The situation could be even worse next year given the shortage of school places across the country. We know that smaller infant classes make a real difference. We need to be cutting class sizes to private school levels of 15.”

Nick Gibb, the Tory schools spokesman, said: “The huge rise in unlawfully large class sizes underlines concern that there will not be enough primary provision to cover the likely number of children needing a place in September. “It would be a tragedy if the Government’s short-term policy of reducing surplus places led to children missing their first few weeks of school.”

Civitas, the think-tank, said even class sizes defined as small — under 30 — were too big, particularly when compared with other countries. An official said: “Academic research on class size defines ‘small’ as being between 15 and 20 pupils in a class. Yet in 1997, the Government’s pledge for small infant class sizes set a legal limit of 30 pupils. The Government has failed to honour even this flawed pledge by allowing infant classes over 30 in some circumstances.”

Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The Government’s pledge to reduce class sizes appears to be unravelling at the edges. For all those primary teachers who are now facing the impossible job of fully responding to each child’s needs in excessively large classes, this deterioration is a blow both to their stress levels and to teaching and learning.”


Rock star pay for rock star teachers

Bang for the buck has been declining for decades in American public schools. We spend at record levels, employ vast numbers of people, but student test scores have been stubbornly flat. At the Goldwater Institute, we released a blueprint for a new school model that hopes to reverse this trend. Our roadmap, “New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains,” scraps many current practices and focuses financial resources on what research shows makes a difference: attracting and keeping high-quality teachers in the classroom.

In response to an online news story last year, a Nevada elementary school teacher left a telling comment: she had 34 students in her classroom and she was angry. Total revenue generated by this classroom, at $11,000 per child, was $374,000. Assuming the teacher has a total compensation package of $60,000, the question becomes, what did the school district do with the other $314,000?

That, in fact, is what she’s angry about. Her school has eight teachers in “non-classroom assignments.” These “teachers” are in addition to the administrators, paraprofessionals, specialists, and assorted others who work in schools but actually don’t teach. Whatever these people do doesn’t seem to be helping children learn: 43 percent of fourth-graders in Nevada can’t read at fourth-grade level according to national tests.

Other countries manage their schools much more effectively than America. In “How the World’s Best Performing Schools Come Out on Top,” the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company found the answer is to focus on teacher quality. In South Korea, for example, schools have average class sizes twice as large as the United States, 49 versus 23, but score 21 percent higher on international seventh-grade math tests. What might help explain that unexpected result? South Korean schools draw from the top 5 percent of college graduates. American schools, by contrast, recruit their teachers, on average, from the bottom third of college students.

How do South Korean schools attract the top university students? Money. Larger class sizes frees up the resources to pay South Korean teachers much higher salaries, drawing the best and brightest into the profession. If American schools paid veteran teachers as well as South Korean schools do, teachers would average more than $116,000 in annual salary.

America must stop the decades-old practice of emphasizing the quantity of school employees and replace it with a rigorous focus on the quality of each teacher. A growing body of research shows that the skill level of individual teachers is by far the most important factor in determining how much students will learn. Students with high-quality teachers have been found to learn 50 percent more of any given subject than those with low-quality teachers for three years in a row.

This same research shows that America’s current limited-supply of high-quality teachers are clustered in suburban schools. What this means is that the students who need access to a high-quality teacher—inner-city, low-income children—are least likely to have it. Teacher quality literally makes the difference between literacy and illiteracy for many students.

The evidence is clear: teacher quality is far more important than small variations in class size. So every child needs access to high-quality teachers. Our solution: identify high-quality teachers by measuring how much their students learn during a school year, pay them what they deserve, and give more students the opportunity to learn from them.

With schools around the country facing teacher lay-offs because of state budget deficits, is now really the time to call for increasing teacher salaries? Absolutely. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush describes American public schools as an 8-Track in an iPod world. There is more than enough money in the system to reward outstanding performance with outstanding compensation. There’s never been a better time for schools to identify and let go their worst performing teachers.

“New Millennium Schools” proposes giving high-quality teachers a bonus for each additional student they add to their classroom. The bonus would amount to two-thirds of the per-pupil funding that the school receives. Using Arizona’s funding for charter schools, which is modest by national standards, this would give teachers a $5,200 bonus per-child above a class size of 20. A teacher with a class size in the low 30s, about the same as when the baby-boomers went to school, would make six figures.

Six-figure teacher salaries would not only allow schools to properly reward the long-suffering, high-quality teachers already in the classroom, but also to recruit the most capable and ambitious college students.

A school’s job is to equip children with the academic knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, not employ as many adults as possible. It’s time to focus resources on quality and give rock star teachers rock star pay.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Colorado HS student assignment: Plot terror attack on US

A ninth grade history project at a high school in Pueblo was supposed to teach students about terrorism, but instead it outraged parents. Gini Fischer says her daughter came home Thursday saying she had two minutes to come up with a plot for an act of terrorism. Over 110 freshmen at Pueblo County High School were given the project.

The teacher claims the assignment was to illustrate an act of terrorism by a foreign government on American soil.

Fischer says, "To ask them to use their creative energies to come up with a plot for an act of terrorism is very ludicrous."

District 70 Superintendent Dr. Dan Lere said students may have misinterpreted the assignment. He says if a student, "actually did illustrate an act of terrorism that they might commit, let's say against the school, we've expelled students for that."

The school district has decided to collect the assignment from students and destroy them.


UK: Science test to be abolished

The teaching of science has become absymal but rather than improve it, they shoot the messenger

Labour signalled a move away from traditional paper and pencil exams yesterday, after an expert group set up by Schools Secretary Ed Balls recommended the abolition of science exams for 11-year-olds.

The tests will end this year after advisers said they narrowed opportunities for group work and experimental-based learning. Last night there were growing calls from teaching unions for English and maths to follow suit.

The group – designed to review the way children aged seven to 14 are assessed – insisted that both would remain, but that tests should be put back a month to give children more time to work through the curriculum.

In the statement, the group said ministers "should continue to invest in, strengthen in and monitor the reliability of teacher assessment to judge whether a move away from externally marked national tests might be viable at a future date".

The move was welcomed by the National Union of Teachers and the NAHT, amid calls to go further. General secretary Christine Blower said: "If teacher assessment is judged to be good enough for science then why not other subjects?"


Schools failing to provide education for excluded pupils, British regulator says

Almost a third of schools are failing to provide suitable education for pupils they exclude, Ofsted said today. The watchdog found some schools were hampered by transport problems and uncooperative parents, while pupil referral units (PRU) were swamped in some areas and unable to cope with the number of disruptive children sent to them. Critics said the findings showed the gap between “reality and rhetoric” for the prospects of children excluded by their schools.

Schools are legally required to arrange full-time, suitable education for pupils excluded for six days or more. It must be off site, or shared with other schools. Yet, 10 of the 36 schools scrutinised by Ofsted had not provided this, it claimed in a report.

Inspectors visited 28 secondary, five primary and three special schools, and 16 referral units, across 18 local authorities. Sixteen of the 18 authorities said that their PRU provided education for excluded pupils. However, this did not happen in practice in eight of those areas because many units were full and could not cope. The report said: “In one PRU visited, a lack of capacity meant that pupils attended for half-day sessions only. In another, a rise in permanent exclusions surprised the local authority, overwhelmed the PRU and resulted in most of the permanently excluded pupils not having access to ‘day six’ provision. “There were delays before pupils could start: in some cases just a day, in others much longer.” In two areas, this was blamed on the school’s poor communication with the local authority.

Two of the schools used exclusion inappropriately as a trigger to review the placement of children with special educational needs, the report added. It added: “Weak guidance and support [from local authorities] were reflected in weak provision and, in one case, a failure to comply with the legal requirements. Two of the authorities were unable to report what their schools were doing for fixed-period excluded pupils from day six.”

Transport difficulties meant that some schools kept their children on site, and educated them in isolation, rather than comply with the rules. Although this breached the legislation as it did not qualify as a PRU or as provision shared with other schools, it was in some cases better for the child, Ofsted acknowledged. It said: “Using supervisory staff who were known the the pupils also helped to maintain relationships, expectations and continuity; the schools argued that this was easier to do than if the pupils were off site in another school’s provision.”

And some - mainly in rural areas - chose never to exclude a child for more than five days so they would not have to risk the pupil not attending if sent to a unit far away. “All were clear that the pupils’ misdemeanours warranted exclusions of more than five days, but they did not want the exclusion to impede pupils’ learning, so they arranged for the child to return to school on the sixth day of the exclusion,” the report said.

The report painted a picture of a breakdown of communication. Many parents were reluctant to send their children to pupil referral units because of the stigma. Some local authorities were impeded in arranging a placements by the difficulty in contacting parents. In addition, most PRUs told inspectors they were given insufficient information by schools about the pupils they were sent.

Use of funding was variable: officials in two local authorities were unsure how a government grant to establish provision for excluded pupils had been spent.

Sir Alan Steer, the government’s behaviour advisor, said last year in a review commissioned by ministers: “A school that permanently excludes a child should expect to receive a permanently excluded child on the principle of ‘one out, one in.” Yet David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Schools Secretary, said: “This shows the gap between reality and rhetoric when it comes to providing education for excluded pupils. “Ministers have promised that expelled pupils will be back in education after six days, but this is clearly not happening. There must be much broader provision for excluded pupils.”


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fraud in academia

Soon college students will come home and present parents with their grades. To avoid delusion, parents should do some serious discounting because of rampant grade inflation. If grade inflation continues, a college bachelor's degree will have just as much credibility as a high school diploma.

Writing for the National Association of Scholars, Professor Thomas C. Reeves documents what is no less than academic fraud in his article "The Happy Classroom: Grade Inflation Works." From 1991 to 2007, in public institutions, the average grade point average (GPA) rose, on a four-point scale, from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools, the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30. Put within a historical perspective, in the 1930s, the average GPA was 2.35 (about a C-plus); whereby now it's a B-plus.

Academic fraud is rife at many of the nation's most prestigious and costliest universities. At Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are A's. At Harvard, 50 percent of all grades were either A or A- (up from 22 percent in 1966); 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors. The Boston Globe called Harvard's grading practices "the laughing stock of the Ivy League." Eighty percent of the grades given at the University of Illinois are A's and B's. Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C.

Some college administrators will tell us that the higher grades merely reflect higher-quality students. Balderdash! SAT scores have been in decline for four decades and at least a third of entering freshmen must enroll in a remedial course either in math, writing or reading, which indicates academic fraud at the high school level. A recent survey of more than 30,000 first-year students revealed that nearly half spent more hours drinking than study. Another survey found that a third of students expected B's just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.

Last year, the Delaware-based Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) published results of their national survey titled "Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions." The survey questions were not rocket science. Only 21 percent of survey respondents knew that the phrase "government of the people, by the people, for the people" comes from President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Almost 40 percent incorrectly believe the Constitution gives the president the power to declare war. Only 27 percent knew that the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States. Remarkably, close to 25 percent of Americans believe that Congress shares its foreign policy powers with the United Nations. Other questions asked included: "Who is the commander-in-chief of the U S. military?" "Name two countries that were our enemies during World War II." "Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?" Of the 2,508 nationwide sample of Americans taking ISI's civic literacy test, 71 percent failed; the average score on the test was 49 percent.

Possessing a college degree often does not mean much in terms of basic skills. According to a 2006 Pew Charitable Trusts study, 50 percent of college seniors failed a test that required them to interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, and compare credit card offers. About 20 percent of college seniors did not have the quantitative skills to estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station. According a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving.

The bottom line: To approach truth in grading, parents and employers should lower the average student's grade by one letter, and interpret a C grade as an F.


Amazing educational realism from Britain

Middle class children are more likely to be clever because they have better genes, according to the former chief inspector of schools. The science has been showing that for decades but to have an educator admit to it is quite a breakthrough

Chris Woodhead, who became the scourge of the teaching profession in the 1990s, said that grammar school pupils would be less likely to come from impoverished backgrounds than the children of teachers, academics and lawyers. The former teacher, known for his frank views, said that middle class children were not only born with better genes but were also more likely to be better nurtured.

He said some children were simply born 'not very bright,' and that politicians should allow them to follow practical educational courses rather than forcing conventional teaching on them. He said there can still be exceptional working-class students, however, such as writer DH Lawrence, who came from a humble background.

Referring to a paper by the novelist, who wrote about a boy named Jimmy who was not very bright, he asked: 'Why do we think that we can make him brighter than God made him?'.

Mr Woodhead, who once demanded that 15,000 incompetent teachers be sacked, argued that the Labour Government had betrayed children by denying that some weren't suited to formal education, and creating a system designed to make learning 'accessible' and 'personalised' rather than rigorous. 'I've taught, and I can still remember trying to interest children who had no interest whatsoever in English,' he said. 'They didn't want to be in the classroom. If I'm honest I didn't want them to be there either because they were disruptive to children who did want to learn.

'What was the point? If we had had a system whereby those young people were able to follow practical educational courses that gave them a sense of worth, a sense that they weren't dull and less intelligent than others, it would have been much better for them.'

Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Woodhead suggested giving all children a basic primary education, like reading, writing and maths, and then sending them to a selective secondary system. He recommends education vouchers so that schools that failed to perform would have to change or eventually close.

Mr Woodhead, who suffers from motor neurone disease but continues to chair Cognita, a company that runs independent schools, admits that this system would not be entirely fair. 'Life isn't fair,' he said. 'We're never going to make it fair.'


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NYC to use failed teachers instead of new hires

They have to pay the incompetents anyway so why not? Too bad about the standard of education that the kids get

In an effort to cut costs and avoid teacher layoffs, the Department of Education on Wednesday ordered principals to fill vacancies with internal candidates only. As a result, aspiring teachers at education schools and members of programs like Teach for America — a corps of recent college graduates — and the city’s Teaching Fellows — which trains career professionals to become teachers — are scrambling for jobs.

Many are forwarding their résumés to charter schools and private schools; others are looking to the suburbs and across state lines. Some are reconsidering the teaching profession altogether.

“This was a pretty big bomb that dropped,” said Pam Ritchie, 43, a substitute teacher in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who had hoped the connections she developed would land her a permanent job in the fall. “I’m devastated.”

Ms. Ritchie was looking to leave behind the on-call lifestyle of a substitute teacher and finally have her own classroom with regular students and regular pay. “I have to stick with this until I get a job,” she said. “This is what I want to do.”

The Department of Education typically hires thousands of teachers for the start of school each September. In 2008, it hired 5,725 educators — 1,792 from the Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows programs, and 3,933 who, by and large, came from schools of education.

But this year, the department anticipates fewer openings and will not hire externally except in certain high-needs areas like speech therapy and bilingual special education. Instead, principals can fill spots only with internal candidates, including teachers from a reserve pool made up of those whose jobs have been eliminated and many who have earned unsatisfactory ratings.

Schools that opened in the past two years and are still expanding their ranks are also exempt from the hiring restrictions, as are charter schools.


The decline into anarchy of British schools

The need for police to be permanently stationed in British schools would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago

Police have been drafted in at almost a quarter of schools as part of an initiative to tackle classroom violence, gang membership and truancy, according to new figures. More than 5,000 state schools in England, including one in five primaries, have their own dedicated officer, it was disclosed. The Government said the number was around 10 times higher than previous estimates and insisted every school in the country could eventually get its own police officer. Labour claimed the drive improved child safety, cut expulsion rates and stopped pupils slipping into crime or joining gangs. Police also helped search pupils for weapons in some schools, ministers said.

Opposition MPs said it underlined the extent to which teachers were powerless to impose discipline. It is also feared the initiative drains limited police resources.

But Rod Jarman, Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, said: "Partnerships have helped to make the schools and the surrounding area safer places, evidenced through significant reductions in crime and antisocial behaviour and greater confidence of young people that police will deal with their issues. "Through these partnerships we are also better able tackle the causes of violent extremism and to deal with specific issues that are of concern to young people such as bullying, weapons, drugs, alcohol and gang culture."

The Safer Schools Partnership was introduced by David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, in 2002. Under the plan, some police officers are permanently based on the school site and others patrol schools as part of their beat. Ministers said police were used to deter crime and anti-social behaviour in corridors and classrooms, stopping children playing truant and helping pupils "at risk of offending or susceptible to violent extremism or gang culture".

They are also intended to help boost relations between the police and young people and provide "specialist support" for searching pupils suspected of attempting to smuggle weapons past the school gates. Teachers themselves have already been given legal powers to search pupils' clothes, bags and lockers for knives, but research suggests many are reluctant to use them.

On Monday, updated guidance was due to be launched by the Government, Youth Justice Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers about how to set up partnerships.

A survey of police forces also showed more than 5,000 schools already have dedicated officers. Previous figures suggested the number was nearer 500. It was disclosed that 45 per cent of secondary schools and 20 per cent of primaries are now involved.

But Nick Gibb, the Conservative shadow schools minister, said it showed some schools were out of control. The Tories have accused Labour of undermining headteachers' right to expel badly behaved pupils by allowing parents to challenge rulings - leading to many excluded children being reinstated. "We have reached a sorry state when thousands of policemen are stationed in primary and secondary schools in this country," he said. "We need to give heads and teachers powers they need to install discipline and not resort to using up valuable police time."

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said: "It's great news that over 5000 schools are already involved in Safer School Partnerships but I want every school to work with the police to keep young people safe and prevent problems with youth crime before they escalate." More than 5,000 state schools in England, including one in five primaries, have their own dedicated officer, it was disclosed.


Australian Universities demand easier passage for academic migrants

Hard to see any objection to this

UNIVERSITIES are urging the Government to ease immigration restrictions on academics to help head off a looming shortage as large numbers of baby-boomer professors and lecturers retire. Amid the fallout from the global financial crisis, the Government in March moved to cut the permanent skilled migration intake. But universities, which see migration as a way to overcome looming academic skills shortages, are warning that the move could leave the economy short when it recovers.

"There is generally a two-year time lag from immigration policy change to outcome, so as a response to the global financial crisis, this policy will do little to protect the jobs of Australian citizens in the short to medium term," Vicki Thomson, executive director of the Australian Technology Network group of five universities, said in a briefing paper. "In fact, it has the potential to see the economy left wanting precisely at the time we expect to see improved economic conditions."

The ATN is lobbying Immigration Minister Chris Evans to ease restrictions on academic migration to make it easier to recruit offshore amid rising competition globally for academics. Between 1994 and 2006, Australian universities employed more than 7000 academics from overseas on permanent or long-term arrangements. "This figure will need to grow expotentially to replace the exodus of academics leaving the workforce in the next 15 years," the ATN said.


Monday, May 11, 2009

'Give unruly kids a right royal rollicking' (whatever that is) says British nut

School behaviour tsar spells out his solution to Britain's unruly classrooms: don't suspend pupils, just send them to the head. Talk without the cane to back it up is unlikely to achieve anything, though

A good old-fashioned bawling out in the head's office can be a better way of dealing with badly behaved pupils than suspending them, the Government's behaviour "tsar" says today. Sir Alan Steer, a former headteacher, warns that schools that frequently suspend pupils for two or three weeks at a time should review their policies because they are failing to tackle poor behaviour.

"Sending them to the head and giving them a right royal rollicking could be better than giving them a fixed-term exclusion," he said in an interview with The Independent. "Some schools seem to have very high levels of fixed-term exclusions," he said ."I don't see that as showing you're tough on discipline. It could be absolutely the opposite. It is not being very effective and you might need to rethink your strategy if a pupil is excluded again and again. They just get used to being out of school."

Sir Alan, a former head of Seven Kings school in Ilford, Essex, who is coming to the end of his four-year tenure, was speaking for the first time since his "swansong" report on discipline last month. His comments also come on the day a new report shows that bright pupils in disadvantaged schools are missing out on GCSE grades because of the anti-learning culture of other children in the school.

The report, by the education charity the Sutton Trust, revealed talented pupils in the most disadvantaged schools underperform compared to pupils from the suburbs by half a grade per GCSE.

Sir Alan also discussed his plan to enshrine in law the teacher's right to impose discipline – making measures such as detention and confiscating mobile phones legal. He considers the new powers necessary because too many parents challenge school discipline rather than support it. As a result, some schools are reluctant to use traditional methods of discipline.

Sir Alan also warned that schools are flouting a new law under which children expelled or suspended are entitled to a full-time education after six days out of the classroom. By not sticking to the rules, excluded pupils are left to roam the streets and are falling prey to gang influences. "They're not likely to go to libraries," he added.

Figures show that, while the overall number of permanent exclusions has fallen to around 8,680 a year, the number of suspensions has risen. In particular, according to figures released by the Conservatives, the number of children excluded more than 10 times in a year has tripled in four years.

Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, says that headteachers should have more freedom to exclude pupils permanently by abandoning the right to appeal against exclusion, but Sir Alan said he believed Mr Gove's case to be "misleading". "It is said that 25 per cent of pupils successfully appeal," he said. "Well, there are 8,680 permanent exclusions – 970 of which went to appeal. Of these 250 were successful but only 100 of them ended with the pupil being reinstated. You can see where they got the 25 per cent figure from, just about, but the number reinstated was about 1.2 per cent of the total."

Sir Alan also wants new powers allowing teachers to search pupils for weapons, drugs and alcohol to be reviewed in three years' time to see whether they are effective. He said: "If you're faced with a 6ft 6in teenager you suspect of having a machete, I would be the first to say it's a case for bringing in the boys in blue rather than searching for it yourself."

Sir Alan, who caused controversy when he launched his latest report at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference with a declaration that "there is no behaviour crisis in schools", stuck to his guns. "I really strongly believe we don't have a crisis in our schools," he said. "We have problems and we have to tackle them but there have always been problems. Most kids are great. Why don't we think more of the 150,000 kids who are sole carers for their family – or the tens of thousands who spend hours and hours volunteering in the community? We have a tendency to be constantly negative about children."


Students at top British university revolt over teaching standards

A PRESTIGIOUS university has been hit by Britain’s first tuition fee rebellion from hundreds of students angry at reduced teaching hours and attempts to have essays marked by undergraduates instead of lecturers. Some 600 students reading economics and finance at Bristol have signed a complaint arguing that the university has failed to improve its teaching since tuition fees were raised to more than £3,000 in 2006. Instead, they claim standards have deteriorated. In a seven-page complaint to the university they write: “Since 2006 the university has charged more and delivered less. We demand results today.”

The rebellion may be copied by students at other universities as the number studying for degrees increases while funding to teach them is squeezed. It will make it harder for universities to justify a further increase in fees in a review this summer by John Denham, the universities secretary.

Eric Thomas, Bristol’s vice-chancellor, has argued that the £3,145 limit on tuition fees is too low, although he acknowledges the recession has ruled out an early increase.

The protests at Bristol have been led by Robert Denham, a former grammar school pupil from Croydon, south London, and Roderick McKinley, who attended the independent Westminster school. “Bristol gives a good education, but it is not good enough,” said Denham (who is not related to John Denham). “There had been a lot of general moaning but the spark was a decision to cut the length of exams from three hours to two.”

One academic at Bristol, who declined to be named, said: “It has created a sensation at the university. This is the most important student rebellion in this country in a generation. They should be proud.”

The complaint by Denham, McKinley and fellow students analyses the university’s finances and points out how it has benefited from increased income. “Revenue per student from tuition fees has increased and we simply ask that the quality of our education be improved accordingly,” it says, before listing grievances, all of which it claims have been sparked by the university's cost-cutting:

- Some student essays are already being marked by fellow undergraduates, instead of academics, in a trial that could see strugglers giving marks to high-flyers.

- The prospectus suggested lectures would be given to groups of about 100 students. In reality, they contain up to 380, although 150-200 is more typical.

- Tutorials for small groups have been withdrawn for many students. Some of the rest contain up to 30 undergraduates. “The [department] should be providing more contact with academics, not less,” the complaint states.

- Money from tuition fees is being diverted to other parts of the university rather than improving education for undergraduates.

David Willetts, the Tories’ shadow universities secretary, who has helped broker negotiations at Bristol, said: “The students have done a very impressive and thorough analysis of the education they are entitled to expect for paying their fees. This will be a powerful trend that universities ignore at their peril.” He added: “The only way universities could ever win an argument for higher fees is to show this would benefit the students and parents paying the fees. They have to wise up.”

The dispute at Bristol - which the complaint acknowledges still offers a “top-class education” - shows even the most prestigious universities are under severe pressure from Labour’s mass expansion of higher education. Universities say that they may have to make thousands of redundancies to achieve £180m efficiency savings by 2011. Academics are being balloted by the University and College Union on action in support of a 6% pay claim.

The previous hike in fees sparked one of the most serious backbench rebellions of Tony Blair’s premiership.

Bristol, which celebrates its centenary this year, is still negotiating with students over their complaints. A spokesman said several of the changes described by the undergraduates as a decline in quality had been carried out only after consulting them - for example, changes to class size and to exam time. He said that students were not receiving less teaching time than those studying economics and finance at rival universities.

Bristol has described as “not true” the idea that increased tuition fees were intended to lead directly to improved teaching. Instead, it says they are aimed at strengthening the finances of universities.

Bristol University came 16th in the latest Sunday Times University Guide rankings, and would have been higher but for poor student scores. It was ranked sixth by head teachers and ninth by academics, but data from the National Student Survey showed undergraduates were less positive, putting it 109th, with just 11 institutions below it.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kid wants the protection of oldfashioned Christian values without having to abide by them

There's nothing stopping him from finding a school more to his liking

A student at a fundamentalist Baptist school that forbids dancing, rock music, hand-holding and kissing will be suspended if he takes his girlfriend to her public high school prom, his principal said. Despite the warning, 17-year-old Tyler Frost, who has never been to a dance before, said he plans to attend Findlay High School's prom Saturday.

Frost, a senior at Heritage Christian School in northwest Ohio, agreed to the school's rules when he signed a statement of cooperation at the beginning of the year, principal Tim England said.

The teen, who is scheduled to receive his diploma May 24, would be suspended from classes and receive an "incomplete" on remaining assignments, England said. Frost also would not be permitted to attend graduation but would get a diploma once he completes final exams. If Frost is involved with alcohol or sex at the prom, he will be expelled, England said.

Frost's stepfather Stephan Johnson said the school's rules should not apply outside the classroom. "He deserves to wear that cap and gown," Johnson said.

Frost said he thought he had handled the situation properly. Findlay requires students from other schools attending the prom to get a signature from their principal, which Frost did. "I expected a short lecture about making the right decisions and not doing something stupid," Frost said. "I thought I would get his signature and that would be the end."

England acknowledged signing the form but warned Frost there would be consequences if he attended the dance. England then took the issue to a school committee made up of church members, who decided to threaten Frost with suspension. "In life, we constantly make decisions whether we are going to please self or please God. (Frost) chose one path, and the school committee chose the other," England said.

The handbook for the 84-student Christian school says rock music "is part of the counterculture which seeks to implant seeds of rebellion in young people's hearts and minds."

England said Frost's family should not be surprised by the school's position. "For the parents to claim any injustice regarding this issue is at best forgetful and at worst disingenuous," he said. "It is our hope that the student and his parents will abide by the policies they have already agreed to."

The principal at Findlay High School, whose graduates include Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, said he respects, but does not agree with, Heritage Christian School's view of prom. "I don't see (dancing and rock music) as immoral acts," Craig Kupferberg said.



Three current articles below

Rural school ignores bully reports

That great government education again. It makes a mockery of the claim that schools act "in loco parentis"

BULLYING is so out of control at a small rural school that parents are threatening to pull their children out while some have already done so. One child was so badly terrorised at Mt Tarampa State School, about 40km north-west of Ipswich, that after years of bullying his mother pulled him out of the school. Kathrine Rodgers said she was so concerned about her nine-year-old son being abused that she reported the incidents to the school repeatedly - but his ordeal continued for two years. “He was being bullied and harassed constantly,” Ms Rodgers said. “One time he even got hit with a star picket in the middle of his back.”

The turning point for Ms Rodgers was when her son, who was in year four at the time, was punched repeatedly. Ms Rodgers said she reported the incidents but little was done. After witnessing more students being bullied at the school she has gained the courage to support other parents in their fight to stop the bullying.

A teacher, who cannot be named, worked at the school for more than a year and described the classrooms as “out of control”. The teacher said she left after a year because her concerns fell on “deaf ears”. “Some of the students should be expelled or suspended because they are out of control,” she said. “There are students at that school who shouldn't be there because their behaviour is unacceptable and disruptive to other children and they need more support than is available.”

Another parent, who asked not to be named, said her two sons aged 10 and 8 were constantly being bullied and victimised at the school. “They are getting beaten up on a regular basis and they are absolutely petrified of going to school,” she said. “They get their hair pulled, stomach punched and kicked and it doesn't matter how many times I tell the school nothing changes.”

But she is confident with a bit of help she can make the school a safer environment for her children. “I have them crying and pleading with me every day to not make them go to school but my only hope is that things will change,” she said.

No one from Education Queensland was available to comment yesterday.


School invaders menace students and teachers

VIOLENT intruders, including some armed with weapons, are attacking and hurling abuse at teachers and students almost daily in Queensland schools. The Courier-Mail can report parents as well as complete strangers last year invaded schools at least four times a week on average. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show some intruders waved knives and axes. In one shocking incident, an intruder told teachers at a Brisbane school that he was a terrorist and threatened to wreak vengeance with an AK-47 assault rifle, which fires 600 rounds a minute.

In other cases of school violence, intruders have assaulted girls outside school toilets and teachers have been kicked and headbutted. The documents detail at least 152 school invasions during the 2008 school year but Education Queensland issued only brief letters to parents for some cases and little more than a dozen media releases for the entire year.

Parents also are taking matters into their own hands, picking fights on behalf of their children and storming classrooms. One parent tried to kick in the door of a principal's office. In another incident last May at Runcorn State High School, in Brisbane's south, a person terrorised staff and students after entering without permission during the lunch break. "The male went back to his bike and came back with an axe, which he held up in a menacing way," an internal report said.

In one high-profile case, not detailed under FOI, several teenage gang members last July allegedly armed themselves with a meat cleaver and hunted students at Brisbane's prestigious private boys school St Laurence's College. Two 15-year-old students underwent surgery after the alleged attack.

While most cases occurred on Brisbane's southside and the Gold Coast, one case at Indooroopilly State High School, in which an male intruder was reported wandering around the school on four occasions, received special attention by top bureaucrats "given that there are some high-profile media parents of the school". Just a month later, the school faced an even graver threat when a Year 11 girl received a text message stating an intruder planned to "come to the school with a gun". "I'm going to come and shoot up your school," the SMS read.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson yesterday insisted schools had systems in place to deal with intruders, calling police for criminal behaviour, while angry parents faced bans. However, he conceded schools were hard to protect given their size. "I don't believe anyone wants to send their child to school behind barbed wire," he said. "All schools have lockdown procedures in place, which are practised on a regular basis each year to ensure students and staff are prepared for any potential incidents."

However, teachers at Brisbane bayside schools experiencing a spate of intrusions in February last year were told to catch the female intruder themselves. "Should she attempt to leave the grounds, follow at a discreet distance," an internal report said.

Students at Yeronga State High School last year "displayed signs of trauma" for days after a stranger attacked two staffers in front of children and claimed to be a terrorist with an AK-47 assault rifle. "It has been stressful as many students report not seeing such level of violence before in our school community and it has led to them to question the safety of our school," a teacher said in an incident report.

Queensland Teachers Union state secretary Steve Ryan yesterday blamed society for school invasions, saying he was surprised only 152 had been reported. "It's another example of the unnecessary and unwanted pressures that are forced upon schools as a result of societal changes," Mr Ryan said.

Education Queensland has admitted it keeps no record of intrusion statistics, while many of the FOI documents have been blacked out beyond personal details – with some cases completely censored.


Curriculum reform looking hopeful

DURING her time as Minister for Education, Julia Gillard has made her stance, and that of the Government, very clear on school curriculum. Mirroring concerns about falling standards and state and territory dumbed-down curriculums, Gillard describes herself as a traditionalist and argues for a back-to-basics approach to learning, where the subject disciplines are centre stage. As such, it should not surprise that the most recent round of national curriculum documents, released yesterday by the National Curriculum Board (appointed by the Rudd Government), embody a conservative approach.

When outlining the principles and guidelines on which the national curriculum will be built, the board argues that all students, regardless of socioeconomic background and perceived ability, must be taught "the knowledge and understandings on which major disciplines are based".

While nodding in the direction of cross-disciplinary learning and teaching generic skills, such as problem solving and working in teams, the paper, The Shape of the Australian Curriculum, states that each discipline is unique and that schools must provide students with a "systematic engagement with a discipline-based curriculum". Thankfully, after years of curriculum frameworks being full of vague and generalised statements that drown teachers in useless detail, the national board argues that frameworks must be concise, manageable, free of jargon and explicit.

After years of curriculum development being based on no more than ideological bent, personal preference and whatever is the most recent educational fad, it is also good that the National Curriculum Board states there must be a "strong evidence base" for any new curriculum, both in terms of theory and what works in the classroom.

Additional evidence that Australia's national curriculum is on the right track relates to its assessment and reporting regime. During his period as the education minister under the Howard government, Brendan Nelson mandated A-to-E reports (or equivalent), detailing student performance. Not only does the board also argue for A-to-E reports, but in opposition to the current practice of grouping curriculum into key stages (such as kindergarten to year two, or years five and six) states that so-called achievement standards, detailing standards of learning students should demonstrate, will be year-level specific.

No longer will students move from year to year with vague and confusing comments such as "consolidating" and "not yet established'. Parents and teachers will have a clear standard at each year to evaluate each student's level of performance, with a D or E signifying cause for concern.

The first stage of the national curriculum, to be implemented at the start of 2011, involves English, mathematics, history and science. The document Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (to be used as a guide when writing the English curriculum K-12) provides further evidence of a conservative bent.

Readers who have followed debates in The Australian will appreciate how English teaching has been adversely affected by whole language (where children are taught to read by looking and guessing) and the failure to teach grammar and more formal aspects of language use, such as spelling, punctuation and syntax. Not only does the English document call for teaching the "fundamentals, like phonological and phonemic awareness", it also states that grammar should be taught "across all the years of schooling" and that "explicit teaching and consolidation of the fundamentals of spoken and written English are important aspects of the national English curriculum".

While the definition of literature is weakened by the inclusion of multimodal texts (can watching a film or posting an entry on Facebook ever replace the type of engagement demanded by the printed word?), specific mention of the need to teach those works associated with "Australia's literary heritage" should be commended. When detailing the importance of literature, the board's paper, in opposition to texts being analysed in terms of power relationships and the rights of victim groups, states that literary texts are significant because of their cultural value and that students should explore the "aesthetic and ethical aspects of literary texts".

Since the personal-growth model became prevalent during the early 1970s, and more recently with the advent of discovery learning, where teachers become facilitators and students self-directed knowledge navigators, more formal approaches to teaching have been shunned. Thankfully, the English document argues for a proper balance between curriculum content and process - both are essential and how they are employed depends on the task at hand - and between explicit teaching and more student-centred approaches.

While the curriculum frameworks to be implemented in 2011 have yet to be written, and the devil will be in the detail, based on the two documents discussed above, there is cause for optimism.