Saturday, June 13, 2009

We don’t need no education

Obama wants to make college grants into an entitlement. Bad idea

Ask random members of the professoriate at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and many will confide that too many people —not too few, as recently suggested by President Barack Obama— are attending college these days. This opinion is impolite and impolitic (perhaps, in the context of the American university, we should say "un-PC"). But years of furtive conversation with academics suggest it is commonly held. And one can see why. To the professor with expertise in Austro-Hungarian history, for instance, it is unclear why his survey course on the casus foederis of World War I is a necessary stop in a management-level job training program at Hertz.

This is not to say that some Americans should be discouraged from participating in a liberal arts education. As the social scientist Charles Murray writes in his book Real Education, "Saying 'too many people are going to college' is not the same as saying that the average student does not need to know about history, science, and great works of art, music, and literature. They do need to know—and to know more than they are currently learning. So let's teach it to them, but let's not wait for college to do it."

Take this bullet point, proudly included in a November 2008 press release from the Boston public school system: "Of the [Boston public school] graduates from the Class of 2000 who enrolled in college (1,904), 35.5 percent (675 students) earned a degree within seven years of high school graduation. An additional 14 percent (267 students) were still enrolled and working toward a degree." In a news conference celebrating these dismal numbers, Mayor Tom Menino called for a "100 percent increase" in the number of city students attending college, though offered no suggestions on how to ensure that those students actually graduate or are properly prepared to handle undergraduate studies. Besides, if 14 percent of those enrolled are still ambling towards a degree after eight years, is Menino convinced that the pursuit of a university education was the right decision for these students, rather than, say, vocational training?

Alas, these numbers are not uncommon. (They're often worse in other major American cities.) Citing a recent study by two education experts at Harvard University, former Secretary of Education Margret Spellings sighed, "The report shows that two-thirds of our nation's students leave high school unprepared to even apply to a four-year college." Nevertheless, a huge number of these students are matriculating to four-year universities, incurring mountains of debt, and never finishing their degrees.

The devalued undergraduate degree is one thing when the people doing the devaluing have privately financed their education. It is quite another when the federal government foots the bill. While America debates the merits of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the nationalization of General Motors, and how to fix a broken health care system, the Obama administration has been quietly planning a massive expansion of the Pell Grant program, "making it an entitlement akin to Medicare and Social Security." Read that sentence again. As we spiral deeper into recession and debt, our dear leaders in Washington are considering the creation of a massive entitlement akin to the expensive, inefficient, and failing Medicare and Social Security programs.

According to a report in The Washington Post, Obama's proposals "could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial." It is a plan that has met with outspoken—though likely toothless—resistance from Republicans. Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, suggested that the president reform existing entitlements before creating new ones. And, as noted in the Post, Obama is facing resistance from his own side of the aisle as well, with Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressing skepticism towards both the price tag and the necessity of such an expansion.

Beyond the massive cost of expanded Pell Grants, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder argues that, historically, "it is hard to demonstrate that enhanced federal assistance has either significantly expanded college participation or brought about much greater access to higher education by those who are financially disadvantaged." If the idea is expanded into an entitlement, Vedder sees rising demand for higher education leading to significantly higher costs. "When someone else is paying the bills, costs always rise."

With more than 40 percent of students who enter college dropping out before graduation, Vedder's suggestion that "a greater percentage of entering college students should be attending community colleges, moving up to four year universities only if they succeed well at the community college level," seems sound. But the idea pushed by President Obama that, regardless of a student's career aspirations, secondary education is a necessity in 21st century America, ensures that an undergraduate education will become a required (very expensive) extension of every high school diploma.

To the average high school senior, the American university has become an institution that one simply must slog through to reach a higher salary. As one college dropout recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I am determined to finish my degree. A high school job isn't cutting it these days." The former student, the reader is told, simply wants "to do something else with her life," though it is unclear just what that something else is. Perhaps she'll figure that out after getting the degree. As Charles Murray observed in The Wall Street Journal, "Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best." But not to worry. If Obama's plan for a secondary education entitlement is foisted upon us—the final cost of which remains anyone's guess—we might soon have a one-tiered system where everyone is second-best.


The civil rights challenge of our time

An incensed Andrew Sullivan -- homosexual journalist and activist -- told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper the other night that Barack Obama is ducking the "core civil rights challenge of his time." For once, I find myself on the same page with Sullivan. But he and I have very different ideas about what that "core civil rights challenge" is. For Sullivan it's "gay rights." For me it's school choice.

We've got all kinds of flowery rhetoric from our president about the education crisis and the need to do everything to educate our kids. But, as is unfortunately often the case, Mr Obama's deeds are less inspiring than his words.

Most recently, and flagrantly, was the announcement that Obama would sit by and allow Congress to pull the plug on the five-year old voucher program enabling 1700 kids in Washington, DC to attend private schools. This despite a new study from Obama's own Department of Education saying that these kids outperformed their peers in DC public schools in reading. And that the vouchers, valued up to $7500 per scholarship, cost less than half the $17,000 per student that DC spends to maintain one of the worst public school systems in the country.

It's no secret that President Obama is very much the politician, and in this case one beholden to unions. So perhaps educating children is important to our president. But not quite as important as the perks of elected office.

But back to Mr. Sullivan, we have more than a difference of opinion about civil rights and political priorities. Sullivan's agenda not only is different from mine, but is one of the reasons I attach such importance to school choice. Listening to Sullivan, you'd think that Barack Obama is anywhere from apathetic to antipathetic to the homosexual agenda. When Anderson Cooper asked him if Obama has "actually done anything", Sullivan darted back "No!" But the president has proclaimed June "LGBT" (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) month, with a long list of agenda items, including repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just announced that same-sex couples in America's diplomatic corps around the world will now be treated identically, getting the same benefits, as traditional married couples. And, a few days ago, the Obama administration announced the appointment of homosexual activist Kevin Jennings as assistant deputy secretary in the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools. Included in the mission of this office, according to the Education Department website, is "Administer the Department's programs relating to character and civics education."

Jennings founded and was executive director of GLSEN -- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network -- whose mission is to strive "to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression."

So what exactly is Sullivan upset about? This administration is assuring that children in America's public schools will be properly educated to see all forms of sexual behavior as acceptable.

But parents who don't want this have plenty to be upset about. Today's real minority group is low to middle income parents who want their children educated with traditional values.

Needless to say, sexual moral relativism is the last thing that black kids need to hear in school. Most important for these kids, who come overwhelmingly from single parent homes, and half in our urban public schools that don't graduate, is to be taught traditional values.

Of the 1700 kids in DC's soon to be defunct voucher program, 879 have been attending Catholic elementary or high schools. Liberating our kids from the cesspools in our urban areas that we call public schools is the great "civil rights challenge" of our time.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Gaming the Rankings

Last week, Clemson University researcher Catherine E. Watt presented the extensive efforts her university had taken in the last few years to raise its U.S. News & World Report ranking at the Association for Institutional Research. Clemson’s clearly stated goal is to make the U.S. News top 20 public research universities, and Watt was unusually frank about the many actions a college can take to increase its numbers for individual indicators. She stirred up the Clemson administration and other higher education worthies with her talk. Reports about her presentation were e-mailed at a great rate — we’re shocked, shocked that gaming is going on here!

It follows as the day does the night that any time substantial rewards are at stake as a result of measuring performance, those being evaluated will do their best to game the system. The greater the payoffs, the stronger the impetus to game.

Colleges and universities are no different from any other organizations competing for rankings developed from performance measurement. In Clemson’s case, the university president, James F. Barker, has made becoming a top-20 public research university a cornerstone of his presidency. His own performance in the form of a “report card” to the board of trustees ties university goals and progress to the U.S. News rankings. Many other university presidents are striving for the same goal. The 2005-2008 employment contract of Arizona State University president Michael M. Crow rewarded him with a $10,000 performance bonus if his school moved up the U.S. News rankings into the top 120. Changes in reporting, accounting, and practice have undoubtedly been undertaken across the country as presidents pursue the same goal of higher rankings.

Any performance measure is ripe to be gamed. The percentage of alumni giving is a measure worth 5 percent of a ranking in U.S. News. A few years ago, Albion College made its own stir in the higher education rankings world when it increased its percentage of alumni making donations with the stroke of a pen. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the college recorded a $30 donation from a graduating senior as a $6 alumnus gift for the next five years. Clemson, in its systematic approach to raising its rank — “no indicator, no method, no process off limits to create improvement,” as Watt stated — solicited alumni donations in such a way as to increase their giving rate: Alumni were encouraged to give as little as $5 annually.

Watt, according to reports, literally drew gasps from her audience when she revealed that when Clemson administrators fill out U.S. News reputational rankings survey, they rate other universities lower than Clemson across the board. Why not? Reputation accounts for fully 25 percent of a school’s ranking score. Watt’s statement that she was confident that other colleges do the same is perfectly plausible.

Inside Higher Ed reported Monday that the University of Southern California inflated the number of National Academy of Engineering members on its full-time, tenure-track faculty. Because the number of NAE faculty is a criterion for U.S. News rankings, USC has good reason to include NAE faculty who are not full-time or tenure-track.

If we step back from higher education, we will see the same dynamic of gaming a performance measurement system in many other spheres. Hospitals receive “report cards” that measure their performance in many areas, including their mortality rates. A little thought reveals the easiest way to improve the mortality rate is to keep terminally ill patients from being admitted to the hospital in the first place or discharge them prior to death. In fact these events do occur. Nonprofit hospitals receive large tax exemptions but are expected to provide charity care to indigent patients in return. Their substantial tax benefits are currently being scrutinized in the courts and in Congress, so hospitals are certainly scrambling to alter their accounting procedures to increase their charity care levels.

No one should be gasping at the notion that colleges and universities respond to the importance of the U.S. News rankings by making changes and manipulating their reporting of data. Some changes — such as decreasing class size or the faculty-student ratio — may be beneficial in the pursuit of improved education, while others only improve the rankings metrics.

The rankings matter to the colleges and universities! Boards of trustees want to see their institutions move up the ranks and put pressure on the president and the administrators to raise the ranking. As long as presidents are themselves being evaluated by their success in raising the rankings, the sorts of systematic gaming of the rankings undertaken at Clemson will continue.

A few colleges and universities have opted out of the U.S. News rankings system. But most will strive to get ahead in a tough economic time in a very competitive industry. Unfortunately colleges and universities will be spending their time and money on ranking gamesmanship instead of trying to improve education and research. Gaming the rankings system is here to stay.


Headmistress from hell still allowed to teach in Britain

A bullying headmistress spent ten minutes calmly finishing her lunch while a pupil lay in agony crying for help with a broken leg, a tribunal heard. Rowena Brace ignored pupils’ pleas for help and finished her sandwiches before phoning the child’s father instead of calling an ambulance.

Mrs Brace’s staff were often reduced to tears as they worked in the ‘climate of fear’ she created, it was claimed. She also behaved ‘inappropriately’ toward fellow teachers at her primary school and fiddled the school’s test results, a General Teaching Council tribunal in Birmingham heard.

Isobel Hollis, Mrs Brace’s former deputy at Hope Brook Church of England Primary School in Longhope, Gloucestershire, told the tribunal how pupils began knocking on the staff room door after the boy broke his leg on the football field in May 2005. ‘They said “quick, quick”, but Mrs Brace, 57, continued to eat her lunch and only left the staff room ten to 15 minutes later,’ she said. ‘The pupil was lying on the ground, pale and shaking and Mrs Brace said he wanted his dad to come, so she had not called for an ambulance.’

Naina Patel, representing Mrs Brace, asked: ‘If the situation was so obviously urgent, why didn’t you say something?’ Miss Hollis said the climate of fear in the school was such that she did not dare interfere and admitted to being scared of the headmistress.

Yesterday Mrs Brace was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and issued with a reprimand, the lowest sanction. It means she can resume teaching.

Earlier, Miss Hollis said the intimidation began during the first staff meeting after Hope Brook Primary and Hopes Hill Community Primary schools merged in 2001 and Mrs Brace was installed as head. ‘Mrs Brace dismissed anything else anyone had done in the past and told us all that it was going to be done her way in the future,’ said Miss Hollis. One of the teachers became so disillusioned with the new head she resigned later that day, it was claimed. The committee panel heard that bullying, shouting and door slamming was common and ‘it was a daily occurrence for one of the teachers to be reduced to tears’.

Mair Blackman, another teacher, told the hearing that Mrs Brace informed her she had downgraded pupils’ results in an assessment at ages three to five. ‘Mrs Brace told me she had downgraded the Foundation Stage Profile results and I was both shocked and dismayed. 'If FSP results are low and then Key Stage One (ages five to seven) results are normal a year later, that makes the school sound fantastic.' When asked why she said nothing to the school governors, Miss Blackman said: 'There was such an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that I would not have dared say anything.'

Mrs Brace was suspended in 2006 and sacked in 2007 after complaints from fellow staff and parents.

The tribunal found one complaint of bullying was proved – but four were dismissed. Mrs Brace was also proved to have altered test scores and allowed pupils extra time to finish SATS test after a disturbance outside a classroom. The most serious complaint, that a child who broke his leg was left in pain while she finished lunch, was proven. However, the tribunal ruled her actions were not malicious but ‘errors of judgement’. Mrs Brace said she would seek a new teaching post ‘as soon as possible’.


Australia: Bus driver dumps school children at shopping centre in high-risk area instead of taking them home

It's now a fortnight later so has he been fired or prosecuted? No: Just "counselled"!!! Maybe he is a Muslim. They can do no wrong

A BUSLOAD of school children, some as young as seven, were dumped at a shopping centre and told to make their own way home because the driver was running late, The Daily Telegraph reports. The distraught children were dropped about 1.5km from their stop after the driver took the wrong route and then abandoned them in Blacktown - a suburb with one of Sydney's highest crime rates. "I'm running late, you all have to get off," he told the children before dropping them at busy Westpoint Shopping Centre.

Sandra Barber's children Luke, 7, and Jessica, 11, who were on the bus, had no way of contacting their parents. Mrs Barber said her children and two other frantic primary students were helped by a group of high school girls from Nagle College who were also on the bus. The girls gave them money to use a pay phone to contact their parents.

The children asked some police officers where the nearest phone was and when the officers learned why they were alone they took them to Blacktown police station and rang their parents.

Busways has failed to explain the May 28 incident to the Barbers and is now in the firing line of the Ministry of Transport for failing to report the breach until The Daily Telegraph made inquiries yesterday. About 25 children regularly catch the bus but a Busways spokeswoman refused to reveal how many were dumped as "management might not want that released".

"It was horrifying," Mrs Barber said yesterday. "When I got to the police station my son got very upset when he saw me. It hit my daughter later. She got very upset. "The bus was late, then it went a different way and the kids started getting worried. "One of the Nagle girls went to speak to the driver and he totally ignored them."

Local MP Paul Gibson said Busways' failure to deliver the children safely to their stops was abysmal and its claim there was a "miscommunication" was a poor excuse. "It is absolutely abysmal that something like that can happen, particularly when this company is being subsidised by the taxpayer," Mr Gibson said. "Anything could have happened, in this day and age, when you leave little kids and drop them off at a shopping centre without parents or anyone looking after them."

Transport Minister David Campbell wrote to Busways outlining two breaches of their obligations. The Busways spokeswoman conceded that the bus was late arriving at the school and apologised to parents, saying the driver had been counselled. She said that managers "suspected that a miscommunication was the cause of the incident".


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Edu-babble is turning schoolchildren into ‘customers’

Performativity is forcing curriculum deliverers to focus on desired outputs among customers in managed learning environments.

If you struggled to understand that sentence, pity the poor teachers (curriculum deliverers) who are struggling to interpret jargon and management language rather than simply teaching their pupils (customers).

Edu-babble has become so common that it earns censure today in a review of education led by professors at the University of Oxford. Their report criticises the “Orwellian language seeping through government documents of performance management and control that has come to dominate educational deliberation and planning”.

Heads and teachers receive edicts on inputs and outputs, audits, targets, curriculum delivery, customers, deliverers, efficiency gains, performance indicators and bottom lines, it says.

This language of policymakers and their advisers hinders the enthusiasm of teachers and engagement of pupils, it adds. The Nuffield Review report is the biggest independent analysis of education for those aged 14 to 19 in fifty years, taking six years to complete. It was led by Professor Richard Pring and Dr Geoff Hayward, from Oxford, and professors from the Institute of Education and Cardiff University.

It claims that ministers’ micro-management of schools and colleges has resulted in a narrow curriculum, teaching to the test, and a high number of disaffected teenagers not in education, employment or training.

The report says: “The increased central control of education brings with it the need for a management perspective, and language of performance management — for example, levers and drivers of change, and public service agreements as a basis of funding. The consumer or client replaces the learner. The curriculum is delivered. Stakeholders shape the aims. Aims are spelt out in terms of targets. Audits measure success defined in terms of hitting targets. Cuts in resources are euphemistically called ‘efficiency gains’. Education becomes that package of activities (or inputs) largely determined by government.”

It adds: “As the language of performance and management has advanced, so we have lost a language of education which recognises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain sorts of questions, of trying to make sense of reality, of seeking understanding, of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human.”

Professor Pring told The Times that policy language was “leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and impoverishment of learning”. He added: “We are losing the tradition of teachers being curriculum directors and developers — instead they’re curriculum deliverers. It’s almost as though they have little robots in front of them and they have to fill their minds, rather than engage with them.”

Bill Rammell, a former education minister, recently told the House of Commons about the establishment of the Centre for Procurement Performance. This had worked “proactively with the schools sector” to “embed principles and secure commitment from the front line” by “working with and through key stakeholders” and “engaging with procurement experts” to “deliver efficiency gains”.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “We call it edu-babble. It completely denudes education from being a human and social act.”


Online push in California schools

Given a tight budget and many disastrous physical schools, this may indeed be a lifeline for some

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has unveiled a plan to save money by phasing out school textbooks in favour of internet aids. Gov Schwarzenegger wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending each year. He says converting to online study will also help keep pupils more up-to-date.

California is facing a state budget gap of $24.3bn and Gov Schwarzenegger on Monday scrapped funding for contracts entered into after 1 March.

The BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani says Gov Schwarzenegger believes internet activities such as Facebook, Twitter and downloading to iPods show that young people are the first to adopt new online technologies, and so the internet is also the best way to learn in classrooms.

From the beginning of the next school year in August, maths and science students in California's high schools will have access to online texts that have passed an academic standards review. The governor says digital textbooks can be updated easily - so learning keeps pace with progress. But our correspondent says the real reason Gov Schwarzenegger wants the change is money. Last year California spent $350m on textbooks and can no longer afford it.

Authorities are making deep cuts to tackle the budget deficit. On Monday, Gov Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to scrap funding on contracts from 1 March and bar state agencies from entering into new ones. He said: "Every state agency and department will scrutinise how every penny is spent on contracts to make sure the state is getting the best deal for every taxpayer dollar."

The Republican governor has ruled out imposing higher taxes to meet the shortfall. Last month voters rejected a raft of Gov Schwarzenegger's proposals to tackle the deficit.


Colleges: Male Science Profs, Buzz Off! We Want Chicks

By Debbie Schlussel

For several years now, I've been documenting how men are vastly outnumbered by women in college and graduate school admissions and student bodies. That's what happens when you have years of affirmative action preferences for vulvas. Now, men are being told they aren't wanted in the sciences--a field where they previously dominated and for which they've shown far more aptitude in test scores, awards, and research.

According to a tax-funded National Research Council study of hiring and promotions in the sciences at 89 universities, women with advanced degrees in math, science, and engineering are more likely to be chosen for faculty positions and promotions when they apply.

From a press release abstract of the study:
Although women are still underrepresented in the applicant pool for faculty positions in math, science, and engineering at major research universities, those who do apply are interviewed and hired at rates equal to or higher than those for men. . . . Similarly, women are underrepresented among those considered for tenure, but those who are considered receive tenure at the same or higher rates than men.
The Congressionally mandated report examines how women at research-intensive universities fare compared with men at key transition points in their careers. Two national surveys were commissioned to help address the issue. The report's conclusions are based on the findings of these surveys of tenure-track and tenured faculty in six disciplines -- biology, chemistry, mathematics, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and physics -- at 89 institutions in 2004 and 2005. The study committee also heard testimony and examined data from federal agencies, professional societies, individual university studies, and academic articles.

In each of the six disciplines, women who applied for tenure-track positions had a better chance of being interviewed and receiving job offers than male applicants had. For example, women made up 20 percent of applicants for positions in mathematics but accounted for 28 percent of those interviewed, and received 32 percent of the job offers. This was also true for tenured positions, with the exception of those in biology.

However, women are not applying for tenure-track jobs at research-intensive universities at the same rate that they are earning Ph.D.s, the report says. The gap is most pronounced in disciplines with larger fractions of women receiving Ph.D.s; for example, while women received 45 percent of the Ph.D.s in biology awarded by research-intensive universities from 1999 to 2003, they accounted for only 26 percent of applicants to tenure-track positions at those schools. Research is needed to investigate why more women are not applying for these jobs, the committee said.

Um, no it isn't. Some women want to stay home and have families, raise their kids, etc. This is not a problem. It's a good thing. And get this--here's the money quote:

"Our data suggest that, on average, institutions have become more effective in using the means under their direct control to promote faculty diversity, including hiring and promoting women and providing resources," said committee co-chair Claude Canizares, Bruno Rossi Professor of Physics and vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

That's a nice way of saying, we don't care for male scientists. We're trying to get rid of them to promote "diversity."

But that's not good enough for this hypocrite, Canizares.

"Nevertheless we find evidence for stubborn and persistent underrepresentation of women at all faculty ranks."

I say, since he's a male, time to deep six his "stubborn and persistent" career and address "underrepresentation" by replacing him with a chick. It's only fair, after all.

The report also assessed gender differences in . . . [c]limate and interaction with colleagues: Female faculty reported that they were less likely than men to engage in conversation with their colleagues on many professional topics, including research, salary, and benefits. This distance may prevent women from accessing important information and may make them feel less included and more marginalized in their professional lives, the committee observed.

Well, whose fault is that? This whole study is ridiculous in its aim, especially when it's so revealing of what's already happened: that women scientists and mathematicians are being preferred over men based solely on internal plumbing and not on qualifications.

And that--the new sexism--is tolerated far too much. Read the whole study, "Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty."

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Education is not one-size-fits-all

Kevin Drum recounts a tale of a specific charter school that has had excellent results. He unwittingly makes a good argument for school choice:
In a nutshell, this story explains pretty well why I like charter schools [snip] So I say: fine. If there are some parents who want their kids to go to schools like this, let ‘em....

It makes sense to try out different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids and different kinds of neighborhoods. With a few obvious caveats, I’m all for it. But let’s not pretend that any particular one of these charters is necessarily the model for everyone else on the basis of 18 cherry-picked graduates. It ain’t so.

Well, given that he was marginally quoting someone else’s strawman, I’ll let his aside about pretending that any one of these is “necessarily the model for everyone else”. As far as I can tell, most libertarians and most advocates of vouchers don’t think that there’s a one-size-fits-all model.

And Kevin Drum, from these comments, doesn’t seem to think that there’s a one-size-fits-all model. But the education bureaucracy seems to want to put everyone into a one-size-fits-all model.

Most reasonable collectivists I know are honestly more concerned with making education work than making it uniform. To some extent, they view things as charter schools as laboratories to test new educational methods, which can then be integrated into “regular” public schools. But they forget that there’s an enormous entrenched bureaucracy that is adamantly opposed to doing anything outside of what is best for the unions.

I agree with Kevin Drum that it makes sense to try out different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids and different kinds of neighborhoods. But where I suspect we disagree is in the assumption that the educational bureaucracy will EVER allow charter schools to do this in any meaningful way. They have too much stake in controlling the debate, and charter schools allow the debate to slip out of their grasp.

The only way to fix education is to offer real choice. Allow parents the ability to make the choice where to send their kids on a real widespread basis, not limited by geography or a tiny number of charter schools with far too many applicants for slots. And the only realistic way that I can see to achieve real choice, given the landscape as it currently sits, is through vouchers.

Education is not one-size-fits-all. We need to stop pretending that we can make it so*.


Privatize universities

Sir Roy Anderson, Rector of Imperial College London, said the top UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, should be freed from state control and allowed to charge students more than the current £3,145 capped fees, and to attract more international students to boost their income.

Why stop there? Before 1919, all UK universities were independent. They should be again. Britain has four universities in the world's top ten, but the league tables are dominated by America's independent universities like Harvard, Yale, CalTech, Chicago, MIT and Columbia. And while we are slipping, America's colleges are rising. They are taking the best brains, and the best students, and are pulling in more cash to fund their teaching and their research. Thirty US universities have endowment funds of over £1bn. Only Oxford and Cambridge come close, but Harvard has five times more cash in the bank than either of them.

But that's how the US system works. The real cost of a university education is not £3,145. It's more like £40,000. And some US universities do indeed charge that amount of money. But they use their endowment funds to make sure that bright students who can't afford fees on that scale are given scholarships so they can get the education anyway. Students are admitted on merit, but supported according to their needs.

As Professor Terence Kealey, head of the (largely) independent Buckingham University, says in an Adam Smith Institute Briefing, that is what should happen in the UK. Instead of subsidizing universities, we should subsidize needy students, so that anyone who is capable of doing well at university has the opportunity to go. I would tell Sir Roy and his colleagues to charge whatever they like – £40,000 if that it what their product actually costs – provided that they make sure no needy student is turned away. Yes, some of the money that is currently doled out to the universities by the Higher Education Funding Councils could be used for those scholarships. Otherwise, the universities will have to go out and raise the money for scholarship funds themselves.


Many pupils 'would be better off learning woodwork than being forced into university'

Half of all teenagers are failed by a school system which forces them to pursue academic studies, a landmark report says today. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters better suited to practical work leave with poor qualifications because their skills go unrecognised. Woodwork, metalwork and home economics have all but disappeared while geography field-work and science experiments are in decline, the six-year investigation concludes.

The Oxford-based Nuffield Review, the most comprehensive study of secondary education in 50 years, found those who are better suited to 'learning by doing' are simply not catered for. Instead, a culture of testing has brought about a narrow focus on written exams at GCSE and A-level. This has consigned a generation of pupils to an 'impoverished' education.

In a damning indictment, the study said school attainment remained 'low' despite unprecedented investment in education. The Government's school diplomas covering 14 industry areas do little to improve matters, because they put greater emphasis on 'learning about the world of work' than on practical learning, the review warns. It says the entire system needs to be overhauled because it has suffered years of tinkering and piecemeal changes. Universities now have so little confidence in A-levels that 45 are setting their own admissions tests to help them distinguish between the most able candidates.

Professor Richard Pring, who led the review team of academics from Oxford, London's Institute of Education and Cardiff University, said concern about the achievement of young people was 'not new'. 'That bottom half is still a cause for concern,' he said. 'So many young people leave school inadequately prepared for further study or training.' He pointed out that around half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths - the Government's yardstick of secondary school achievement. Around one in ten ended up classified as 'Neets' - not in education, employment or training. 'A lot of those have been told they are failures for about ten years,' Professor Pring said.

A generation ago, hands-on lessons were 'very much part of the learning experience at school', he said. But the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988 had hastened the 'demise' of practical learning. 'We now have a rather narrow view of success in learning,' he said. 'A great many young people achieve quite a lot in other areas which are equally valid and don't get recognised.' Many might benefit-from practical training in crafts, engineering, hairdressing, mechanics and catering. Apprenticeships should also be promoted more widely as an alternative to university, he added. His review concludes: 'There is not the progress which one might expect from so much effort and investment.

'The review believed that a tradition of learning based on practical engagement has been lost in schools, reflected in the near demise of woodwork, metalwork and home economics, in the decline of field-work in geography, in less experimental approaches to science (caused partly by assessment almost exclusively through written examination), and in the decline of work-based learning and employer-related apprenticeships.

Sixth-formers face extra tests on top of A-levels to get into 45 universities, today's review reveals. These include aptitude tests for medicine and law, and thinking skills tests and SATs. 'The growth of independent entrance tests by universities needs to be curbed,' the review says. It suggests bolstering national qualifications so that universities do not need to resort to other tests to identify the brightest students.

Schools should teach moral values to educate pupils for life as well as work. They should encourage youngsters to take responsibility for themselves, treat others with respect and care for the environment. Academics on the review team had seen youngsters 'transformed' in schools which promote justice and respect.

The review said teachers should also foster intellectual virtues, encouraging children to be open to evidence, argument and criticism.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Higher Education in America: Individualism or Central Planning?

In education individual decisions are determinative. Each person (for children, with the assistance of parents) is able to choose the best kind and the ideal duration of education. That is why it’s foolish to talk about the “national education level” as too low or too high. There is no “national level.” If any individual should decide that he would benefit from more education, he will act accordingly. There is no more need for government action here than on the “national fitness level” or “national artistic level.”

America’s higher education establishment, however, loves to think in aggregate terms. Two recent initiatives show its penchant for central planning rather than individualism.

Falling Behind

First, the College Board released a study, “Coming to Our Senses: Education and the American Future,” last year that advances the notion that unless the United States increases the percentage of young people with college degrees to 55 percent (currently 34 percent) by 2025, we will “fall behind” other nations, including Canada and Japan, where a higher percentage of young people are getting college degrees. If we attain this goal, we’re told, the United States will be able to “to maintain the educational underpinnings of American democracy, improve the quality of American life, meet national workforce needs in a global economy, and re-establish the United States among international leaders in postsecondary education.”

Second, last December the Carnegie Corporation released an “open letter” signed by more than 40 education establishment dignitaries who pleaded for a 5 percent cut of any federal “economic stimulus” spending—around $50 billion—to be spent on campus construction projects. (In good Keynesian fashion, they assume that adding to construction demand in some college towns will “stimulate the economy.” Of course, there is no mention of the opportunity cost of steering more money and resources into the pet projects of these education officials.)

What’s most interesting about the letter is the justification it gives for this new federal spending:“For the first time in our history the cohort of Americans ages 25 to 34 is less well educated than the older cohorts that preceded it.” And we had better worry about that: “We cannot accept such dangerous signs that our future prosperity and security will be weaker than in the past.”

Again we see the central-planning mentality at work. We’re falling behind our educational targets! Bad things will happen unless we produce more college graduates!

But how could anyone—even a group of “education experts”—know the right number or percentage of people with college degrees? It’s simply impossible because the necessary information is dispersed, residing in the minds of individuals. That point is one of F. A. Hayek’s greatest contributions to social understanding, but it’s doubtful that any of the experts who think they know how many college graduates we need has ever read “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” The optimal number of college graduates, like the optimal number of auto mechanics, painters, plastic surgeons and so on, depends on evaluations that only individuals can make regarding the costs and benefits of the choices they confront.

Is College Always a Good Idea?

Should Bill, a high school senior, go to college? That decision has nothing to do with any education statistics, national competitiveness, the underpinnings of democracy, or other airy considerations. It has to do only with the pros and cons of Bill (and his family) spending a large amount of time and money on college studies. If he’s a sharp student with an aptitude for analytical thinking, it probably makes sense for him to enroll in a college or university that’s a good fit for him. On the other hand, if he’s an indifferent student, averse to academic pursuits, then it would most likely be a bad decision for him to go to college. (To go right after high school, anyway; many Americans figure out that some postsecondary education would be valuable after they have had more time to mature and have spent a few years in the labor force.)

That brings me back to the alleged problem that the United States is “under-producing” college graduates. Why is a smaller percentage of young Americans graduating from college than in the recent past?

Naturally, there is no single answer, but I strongly suspect that in many instances it’s because of kitchen-table discussions that go something like this:

Mom and Dad: Bill, as you know, your sister graduated from XYZ State three years ago and since then she has been working as an aerobics instructor making $24,000 per year. You’re no better a student than she was. Let’s face it: you get by with as little studying as possible. We know that several of your best friends are going to XYZ State, but before we decide to do that, and further deplete our savings, how about considering something else—electrical work, maybe.

Bill: Those are good points. College would be fun, but I know there’s good, steady money for electricians.

You Want Fries With That?

Despite the talk about the need for a workforce capable of competing in the global economy, the truth is that substantial numbers of Americans who earn college degrees now end up doing jobs that call for no academic preparation whatever. We find many college graduates now employed as travel agents, retail-sales supervisors, and the like. More and more people are finding out that one of the main sales pitches for higher education—that it means a big boost in lifetime earnings—isn’t necessarily true.

For decades, the federal and state governments have been subsidizing higher education through loans, grants, and low tuition rates. As a result, the labor market is glutted with people who have college degrees. Because of that glut, many employers now use college credentials as a rough screening mechanism, requiring that applicants have a college degree to be considered. They usually aren’t looking for particular skills or knowledge, but just don’t want to bother with individuals who have lesser educational credentials. Observing that trend, Professors James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield write in their book Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money, “[T]he United States has become the most rigidly credentialized society in the world. A B.A. is required for jobs that by no stretch of imagination need two years of full-time training, let alone four.”

And yet, the higher-education establishment solemnly proclaims that it’s imperative we put more people through college to raise our “national educational level.”

Nonsense. If individuals conclude that they would benefit from additional formal education, they can enroll and take courses. If employers conclude that they need more workers with certain abilities that call for postsecondary education, they can (and already do) encourage people to go into certain fields of study. We can rely on individualism and the invisible hand of the free market to find the optimal level of education. Central planning will end up benefiting only the education establishment.


Australia: University of Sydney offers degrees in Leftist disruption

As a graduate of USyd, I find this very disappointing, though not unexpected. But, as usual, the light of publicity has caused a retreat

Anti-military activists have been offered training on how to disrupt Australia's top-level wargames with the US military in an official course run by Sydney University. The University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies offered students a six-week "Peace and Activism Training Course" culminating in a trip to Queensland next month to disrupt Exercise Talisman Sabre.

The $500 course fee even included travel expenses for the six-day trip to Rockhampton to take part in the "Peace Convergence" for the first week of the three-week exercise. An online discussion group by organisers investigated by The Daily Telegraph reveals the group plans to blockade Rockhampton airport on Sunday, July 12 and other direct action. It also anticipates possible arrests. In previous years protesters have tried to blockade the Shoalwater Bay military training base and several have been arrested.

The course's instructors included Dr Hannah Middleton, who is also a protest organiser. [Hannah is also the leader of Australia's Communist Party so she is not opposed to the military as such, just democratic militaries. The Red army did a lot more than bake cookies and distribute knitting patterns]

However, after being contacted by The Daily Telegraph, Dr Middleton said late yesterday that the course had been cancelled. She also said students in the course would not have been asked to take part in actions that could get them arrested. "They are studying non-violent responses to conflict," she said.

The group is also preparing an "activist's handbook" for those taking part. However, it has not yet been distributed. The 2007 handbook has been pulled from the organisers' website. An existing manual circulated among members promotes the use of techniques such as tunnelling, occupying buildings and throwing pies.


Not all teaching should be web-based

Comment from Australia. I think there still is something to the idea of a community of scholars so I have some sympathy with the ideas below

A LEADING Brisbane academic is refusing to post lecture material on the web, as part of his campaign for colleagues to halt the "dumbing down" of universities. Professor Tor Hundloe, an emeritus professor at the the University of Queensland, professor at Griffith and Bond universities and a lecturer for 34 years, is leading what he hopes will become a staff backlash against the rising trend of university students learning via the internet.

The Sunday Mail last week revealed many university students were skipping face-to-face lectures in favour of later downloading them online. In one case, a near-full lecture theatre at the start of the semester was more than half empty by the middle of the semester.

Griffith University and UQ are among the tertiary institutions pushing ahead with systems to allow staff more easily to post recordings of lectures on the web. Proi Hundloe last week rejected denials by some academics that lectures on the web had led to a decline in student attendance at lectures. He said he and other teaching staff had seen a drop-off.

He said university management was pushing staff to post more material online as a result of student demand, but some staff did not feel it was doing students any favours. "There are so many academics I know that are seeing this trend," Prof Hundloe said. "It is quite dramatic in some classes. It has correlated undoubtedly with people putting material online. I would like to see teaching staff react before it becomes too late. I would like to rescue the universities from what ultimately they will find ... (has been) a major mistake.

"As professional educators, our first and foremost task is to entice students to think for themselves. "All the brilliant breakthroughs in modern medicine and in communication technologies have developed via this process. You only get this type of education in class. "I am not anti-computers. I just don't think it is the way we should be teaching students". There is no policy at Queensland's universities requiring lectures to be recorded and posted online. But universities, such as Griffith, which has paid to install recording equipment in many of its lecture theatres, will strongly encourage staff to take advantage of the technology.

Griffith's flexible learning and access services acting director, Kevin Ashford-Rowe, said students were increasingly expecting to have access to content online. "I cannot foresee a situation where it won't be up to the individual teacher as to how they want to deliver lessons," he said. "When (students) are in the lecture itself, they don't have to worry about something they might miss. (But) it is fair to acknowledge that providing students with opportunities to gain additional access to that teaching content ... I am not entirely sure that can be seen as a bad thing." Prof Hundloe wants other educators to contact him if they want to help "rebuild the universities as a place of scholarship".

The above story by Kelmeny Fraser appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 7, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Inevitability of Parental Choice

A year ago, the nation's largest newspaper wrote in an editorial that it was time to "move beyond vouchers" in the debate over America's educational future. Although it did not reject any particular solution outright, the paper's recommendation at the time was that America focus its energy and attention on less controversial education reforms. In other words, it was a victory for those who have spent years – and expended untold taxpayer resources – in an effort to demonize parental choice and its supporters.

Then, two weeks ago, USA Today suddenly changed its tune. Not only did the paper enthusiastically embrace parental choice – it also roundly criticized our nation's teachers' unions for "protecting failing schools." "Twenty million low-income school kids need a chance to succeed," the USA Today editorial board wrote. "School choice is the most effective way to give it to them."

What caused the turnaround? While there's certainly no shortage of reasons, the initial impetus for the shift appears to stem from President Barack Obama's rank hypocrisy in closing an effective parental choice program in Washington D.C. to new applicants.

"Teacher unions, fearing loss of jobs, have pushed most Democrats to oppose vouchers and other options that invite competition for public schools," the USA Today editorial board wrote. "Put another way, they oppose giving poor parents the same choice that the president himself — along with his chief of staff and some 35% of Democrats in Congress — have made in sending their children to private schools."

Of course, it's not just about failing schools and low-income students. It's about giving all parents a choice in their child's academic future, no matter where they live. With each passing day, the mountain of evidence attesting to the futility of our nation's failed status quo grows higher. Correspondingly, in those rare instances where choice has been permitted to take root and flourish, its success is undeniable.

According to the most recent data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), America's per pupil expenditure on public education is the highest of any industrialized nation in the world. Unfortunately, we are not receiving anywhere near a commensurate return on our investment. On the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, American students scored well below the average of other industrialized nations on both the math and science portions of the exam – just as they did the last time the tests were administered. And the time before that.

And in a telling nod to the sort of institutional incompetence that has long plagued our public system, America's reading scores on the most recent PISA exam had to be thrown out due to a printing error by the company that the U.S. Department of Education hired to administer the tests.

But our crisis is much bigger than poor standardized test results and bureaucratic errors. Over 12,000 schools across America currently rate as failing or below average – with hundreds of thousands of children trapped inside of them. Of course, each year when organizations like "Teach for America" try to place talented, highly-motivated college graduates in teaching positions within higher-risk school districts, their efforts are always rebuffed by the unions.

Each year, the purveyors of this country's education monopoly continue failing children at a record clip – and yet in a perfect example of precisely what's wrong with our system, they are rewarded for their poor performance with additional taxpayer resources. In fact, according to President Obama's plan – the more children you fail, the more money you get. This self-perpetuating cycle serves no one. It doesn't serve our children, it doesn't serve their parents, and it doesn't serve the best interests of our country.

Nor are we well-served by pretending that our "average" public schools are meeting the needs of most middle income children. In an increasingly competitive global economy, we cannot afford to maintain a failed status quo on one hand and mediocrity on the other.

USA Today's acknowledgment of this fact – and its support for parental choice – is yet another example of the inevitable march toward a system of education that promotes true academic achievement, a system built around a competitive, parent-driven marketplace where schools are held accountable for their performance.


Women are soaring ahead of men at British universities

Women are trouncing men in British higher education, according to a new study which has found that they are more likely to go to university, do far better once they get there and win higher- quality jobs as a result. More than 49% of women now go to university, meaning they have almost reached Tony Blair’s target that half of all young people should do so. Men lag far behind, with just 37.8% studying for degrees.

The researchers at the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found that the gap between women and men is widening most quickly among the most disadvantaged social classes. They argue that the gap in performance is exacerbated by school exams, particularly GCSEs, which heavily favour girls.

They warn that plunging male performance risks creating an excluded generation of men, particularly among the working class. “The under-performance of males matters: graduates after all tend to form the elites of society,” said Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the institute and an adviser to the Commons universities select committee.

The number of women going to university overtook men in 1992-3 and they now outnumber male undergraduates in every type of university except Oxford and Cambridge, where the numbers are about equal.

The Hepi study shows they secure better degrees than men, with 63.9% achieving first or upper second class results, against 59.9% of men. They are also less likely to drop out of courses and less likely to be unemployed.


Stanford Professor Beinin's Hatred of Israel

by Cinnamon Stillwell

Stanford Middle East history professor Joel Beinin's appearances on the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center (PPJC) Palo Alto cable television program "Other Voices" reliably produce anti-American, anti-Israel invective. In September 2008, Beinin declared, "The American empire is going down," and during a taping for the February 2009 show, "Gaza and the Future," he pronounced, "The United States aids and abets Israeli war crimes." What Beinin labeled Israeli "war crimes" (i.e. defending its citizenry) and U.S. collusion therewith were central to his discussion, as the show aired soon after Israel's military incursion into Gaza in December 2008.

One might have thought Obama's election would make Beinin optimistic about the prospects for weakening U.S. support for Israel, but his mood was decidedly downbeat. Obama, Beinin predicted, would "act like all America presidents" by "pushing U.S. interests with foreign policy." (What country doesn't pursue its own interests with foreign policy?) But, Beinin allowed, if Obama were to simply issue a "statement" telling Israel "it's committing war crimes," "going against U.N resolutions," and that "the U.S. will no longer sell Israel weapons," "the Israel Lobby and AIPAC would crumble." The crowd of mostly aging hippies murmured in agreement.

Jimmy Carter, the most rabidly anti-Israel U.S. president and author of the widely criticized book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, was the only American leader Beinin praised. Beinin lauded Carter as a "deeply religious man" but, he qualified with a chuckle, "in a good way." Apparently, he only sees the minority of practicing Christians who toe the anti-Israel line as palatable.

In a case of tortured logic, Beinin blamed Israel for making "Hamas and Hezbollah…heroes in the Arab world" with its defensive military actions. "It's almost as if Israel was trying to make Hamas appear to represent the Palestinian cause," Beinin continued—apparently forgetting that Gazans elected Hamas by a landslide—and then quipped, "not to get conspiratorial or anything."

Beinin proceeded to do exactly that by echoing many of his peers in the perennially anti-Israel field of Middle East studies with the statement: The Gaza operation was premeditated. It had nothing to do with rockets, terrorism, or anything the Israeli government claims.

Regarding Hamas's deliberate use of civilians as human shields and civilian buildings as targets, Beinin made the equally preposterous statement: Of course Hamas hides among civilians. Gaza's a very small, densely populated place. Where else are they going to hide?

Similarly, on the advisability of either Israel or the U.S. negotiating with Iran and Syria, Beinin made the axiomatic statement that, "You have to talk with the people you're trying to negotiate with."

On the prospects for a two-state solution, Beinin claimed that "successive Israeli administrations have done everything to prevent it from happening: The settlements, the wall, the roads." There was no word on the role of Palestinian violence toward Israelis in the failure of the "peace process," which, he allowed, was "effectively dead."

Beinin also avoided focusing on internecine battles among Palestinian factions, either in the Middle East or in the U.S. When an audience member asked him about a highly circulated video produced by Minnesotans Against Terrorism depicting a pro-Palestinian rally at the state capital in St. Paul that descended into a pitched battle between Fatah and Hamas supporters, Beinin was clueless. (The rally featured the first Muslim congressman, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, being shouted down by followers of Hamas, apparently for not being radical enough.) Seemingly unaware that Minnesota is a center for Islamist activity, Beinin was surprised that a story from that state could have any significance and brushed the question off.

Beinin's actions since this interview have amplified his anti-Israel credentials. Although Middle East studies academia has largely avoided Israel Apartheid Week since its inception in 2005, Beinin took part this year, with a talk at the University of California, Berkeley on March 5th. So too did University of Massachusetts Boston political science assistant professor Leila Farsakh, who spoke at York University the same day. Beinin's participation in this propagandistic and offensive week of Israel-bashing further affirms his lack of objectivity on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although Beinin's audience at the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center likely consists of like-minded viewers, his students are another matter. They should treat most of what he says with the skepticism one reserves when listening to ideologues.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Torture in America's Schools


Last month the Government Accountability Office issued a shocking report on "selected cases of death and abuse"--not at Guantanamo Bay or other detention facilities for terrorists, but at schools for American children:
GAO also examined the details of 10 restraint and seclusion cases in which there was a criminal conviction, a finding of civil or administrative liability, or a large financial settlement. The cases share the following common themes: they involved children with disabilities who were restrained and secluded, often in cases where they were not physically aggressive and their parents did not give consent; restraints that block air to the lungs can be deadly; teachers and staff in the cases were often not trained on the use of seclusions and restraints; and teachers and staff from at least 5 of the 10 cases continue to be employed as educators.

The 10 cases involved children ranging in age from 4 to 14, and eight of the cases occurred at government schools. Here is just a sample:

At a public school in West Virginia, a 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and autism "was 'uncooperative,' so teachers restrained her in a chair with multiple leather straps that resembled a 'miniature electric chair.' " The girl was later diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. "At least one of the three teachers responsible" is still at the school.

At a Texas public school, a 230-pound "special education teacher" placed a 129-pound boy of 14 "into a prone restraint and lay on top of him because he would not stay seated." The student died. The case was ruled a homicide but no charges were filed. The teacher "currently teaches in Virginia and is licensed to instruct children with disabilities."

In a California public school, the teacher of a 7-year-old autistic girl "secluded child in a walled off area because she refused to do work, sat on top of her because she was wiggling a loose tooth, and repeatedly restrained and abused her." The teacher "left the school but began teaching again in a different school district."

"GAO could not determine whether allegations were widespread," the report disclaims, but it makes clear they are more widespread than just the 10 cited cases:
GAO did find hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades. Examples of these cases include a 7 year old purportedly dying after being held face down for hours by school staff, 5 year olds allegedly being tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape by their teacher and suffering broken arms and bloody noses, and a 13 year old reportedly hanging himself in a seclusion room after prolonged confinement.

When the report came out on May 19, we figured it would be a good opportunity to find common ground with politicians and commentators who've been complaining for years about the "torture" of terrorists. We figured President Obama would issue an executive order banning torture in schools, the New York Times would publish an indignant editorial, Dick Durbin would take to the Senate floor to declare that the teachers unions remind him of the Gestapo, and that nut who writes for The Atlantic would proclaim himself "shocked to the core."

We were going to respond by saying that although we think there are circumstances under which it is justifiable to treat terrorists roughly, all good people can agree that torturing schoolchildren is categorically wrong. But we didn't have anything to respond to. As far as we are aware, the GAO's findings have been greeted with silence by the leading self-proclaimed "torture" opponents--though Education Secretary Arne Duncan did tepidly promise "he will ask state school chiefs around the country about the use of restraints and confinement of pupils in the classroom," according to the Associated Press.

Where's the outrage? Could it be that all the complaining about "torture" was but a pretext for some less noble agenda?


British plan to give parents the power to oust underperforming headmasters

Schools Secretary Ed Balls is considering a new scheme that will let parents overthrow poor headmasters. Parents would be able to rate their children’s education and trigger the overthrow of poor headmasters under plans being drawn up by ministers. Councils will be required to act on their views and send in superheads or open new primaries and secondaries where families are dissatisfied. Officials will also be expected to expand popular schools if large numbers of pupils miss out on their first choice school. The ‘parent power’ proposals are expected to form part of a White Paper to be unveiled later this month by Schools Secretary Ed Balls.

The measures, seen as an answer to Conservative plans to allow families to set up their own schools, will be launched as Gordon Brown desperately seeks to shift attention from questions over his leadership. The Tories branded the proposals as underwhelming. The Liberal Democrats said they were gimmicks.

Under the initiative, parents will be asked to rate schools on U.S.-style report cards, which will eventually replace traditional league tables. The report cards will give grades in each of up to six categories including parents’ views, pupils’ views, attainment, pupil progress and children’s well-being. These grades are expected to be condensed into an overall grade for the school, from A to E or even F.

Parents will also be asked to rate the schools in their area as part of plans to force councils to overhaul education provision if parents are unhappy. Parents already answer questionnaires from inspection body Ofsted and this mechanism is expected to be expanded to cover schools across an authority. Officials would be forced to respond to parental concerns, for example by changing the management of struggling schools. Underperforming schools could be taken over by higher-achieving neighbours. There would be an expansion in the number of ‘federations’ or chains of schools run by an executive head.

Outlining his thinking in a recent speech, Mr Brown said: ‘Where there is significant dissatisfaction with the pattern of secondary school provision, and where standards across an area are too low, then the local authority will be required to act. ‘This could mean either the creation of a federation of schools, an expansion of good school places, or, in some cases, the establishment of entirely new schools.’

A Tory party spokesman branded the proposals timid: ‘The Government should be introducing legislation to give teachers more power to keep order in the classroom and to sort out the exam system.’

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘We will be interested to see what will be in the White Paper. ‘We support the direction the Government seems to want to travel in. But we are against a large letter being on the report card denoting a school’s category. ‘We think this would be incredibly misleading for everyone, especially parents.’