Saturday, June 27, 2009

School's strip-search 'violates teen's rights'

A disgrace that this had to go all the way to SCOTUS. Immediate apologies and compensation should have been offered but the school officials were obviously too full of themselves for that. So they will now have a huge bill for legal costs -- paid by the ever-generous taxpayer, of course

Arizona school officials violated the rights of a 13-year-old girl when they ordered her strip-searched to look for extra-strength pain medication in her underwear, the US Supreme Court has ruled. In a closely-watched case, the high court ruled eight to one that the strip-search by the Safford, Arizona middle school violated the girl's Fourth Amendment constitutional right against "unreasonable searches". "Because there was no reason to suspect the drugs presented a danger or were concealed in her underwear, we hold that the search did violate the constitution," the high court opinion read.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court said the plaintiff could not sue for damages because at the time the illegality of the strip-search had not been established. "There is reason to question the clarity with which the right was established," the court opinion read. "The official who ordered the unconstitutional search is entitled to qualified immunity from liability."

The 2003 case involved 19-year-old plaintiff Savana Redding, then 13, who was made to undress in a school office by female staff after officials came to suspect that she had hidden a pill containing ibuprofen - a commonly used pain reliever and anti-inflammation drug - in her knickers or bra. The school found nothing, and the girl's mother sued the school district for subjecting the teenager to an "unreasonable search".

A local magistrate ruled for the school district and threw out the lawsuit, but the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed the ruling, finding in a narrow six-to-five decision that the strip-search of an eighth-grader was unconstitutional - a finding upheld by the US high court on Thursday.


British headteachers to get more powers as Labour Party performs massive U-turn

Schools are to be freed from the key central government controls imposed under New Labour in a dramatic turnaround, it was reported today. The Government's 'national strategies' for education are to be scrapped, ending centralised prescription of teaching methods and of literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools. It will hand back powers to headteachers - and save the Government up to £100million a year currently spent employing private consultants to 'improve' schools, a newspaper reported.

The central controls, introduced after 1997, were the flagship of Labour's education policy under Tony Blair. The money saved on private consultants will instead be used to encourage successful schools to forge networks with worse-performing neighbours and to buy in their own advisers to help drive up standards.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families last night confirmed that the Education White Paper expected to be published next Tuesday will set out a new approach to provide more 'tailored' support to schools, based on their individual needs and circumstances. However, a spokesman insisted the changes were actually a mark of the success of the National Strategies. He said the reforms would not stop the daily literacy and numeracy hours introduced in the early Blair years. Schools are expected to continue with these because good teachers 'know this is the right thing to do'.

The DCSF spokesman said: 'Building on the successes we have seen since 1997, the White Paper will set out our new approach to local authority and school accountability and support, making the support that schools can access even more tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. 'The confidence that such a shift is viable is in many respects testament to the success of the National Strategies. 'All primary schools will continue to have daily English and maths lessons because strong school leaders know this is the right thing to do. We must continue to do the very best to ensure that all children get the reading and writing skills they need to succeed in later life. 'This is not about getting rid of the literacy and numeracy hours but a renewed push to raise standards and provide new forms of support and challenge for schools who need it.'

Tuesday's White Paper is also expected to include new U.S.-style 'report cards', giving grades to schools on a scale of A to F as well as information about truancy levels, behaviour and sporting achievements.

The Guardian today quoted sources close to the White Paper as saying that the Government's national strategy contracts with consultants Capita will be wound down from 2011. The company currently provides management advice, as well as materials and training to standardise teaching across schools. The White Paper follows a report from the Commons Schools Committee in April which criticised the 'degree of control' exercised by Whitehall over the curriculum and said lessons were too prescriptive and failed to take account of the needs of pupils in different areas. 'At times schooling has appeared more of a franchise operation, dependent on a recipe handed down by Government rather than the exercise of professional expertise by teachers,' said the report.


Shame of violent schools revealed

Report from South Australia (Population 1,600,000)

An average of 22 violent attacks, sexual incidents or drug abuse cases are reported each week in our schools, the Education Department has revealed. For the first time, it has released complete details of "critical incidents" serious enough to be reported in writing by schools to head office, ranging from knife attacks to sexual assaults.

In response to a Freedom of Information probe by Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, the department released details of all incidents in the 2008 school year and 2009 so far, including 406 violent attacks, 97 sexual incidents, 180 threats, 20 abductions or stalking, 35 drug possessions and 24 cases of self-harm. Among the more serious cases at the state's primary and secondary schools were:

CHILD pornography spread on students' mobile phones.

A STUDENT shot in the eye, requiring surgery.

A RECEPTION student stabbing another student with a pencil.

THREE adults found having sex and using drugs in school toilets.

A GIRL held against her will, blindfolded and photographed.

THE stabbing of a student, which was filmed.

A STUDENT breaking into a teacher's house and sexually assaulting her.

A GIRL'S hair being set alight.

A TEACHER at school under the influence of drugs.

Australian Education Union state president Correna Haythorpe said teachers and students were increasingly being put in dangerous situations. "There is absolutely no doubt that these incidents are on the increase," she said. "What we need is a systematic approach which includes more student counsellors and more resources for our schools. "Otherwise it places teachers, staff and students at risk."

SA Secondary Principals Association president Jim Davies said the real concern was "strangers" coming into school grounds. "Those sorts of incidents certainly cause a lot of concern because whilst there will inevitably always be situations where students have a go at another group of students in your school, you have more control," he said. "When there is a third party involved that is not part of your school community, it is very difficult to have those proactive influences over those people coming in."

Child protection expert Freda Briggs said while the statistics were shocking, they were only the tip of the iceberg. "We know that not everyone reports this kind of behaviour, so we won't really know the true extent of what is happening," she said. "The real problem is much deeper. "The dangerous thing is that if this is continually happening in schools and if victims are fearful, they can't relax at school, so you will get reluctance to attend and learn." Including less-dangerous events which posed a threat to student safety but no injury, there were 1271 "critical incidents" reported to the department over the 15-month period, or around four every school day.

Students were by far the worst offenders, with 641 incidents blamed on their behaviour, 215 blamed on parents, 52 on other adults, 25 on former students and 20 on staff members. Knives were the weapon of choice in most armed assaults (38), followed by scissors (8), sticks (5), pens and pencils (6), rocks (5), desks and chairs (2), and garden spades (2). Many of the weapons were improvised from common school items such as a ruler, shot-put, fire extinguisher and wheelie bin.

Mr Brokenshire said it was disturbing that many of the crimes were filmed and the images distributed for pleasure. "This data shows why we need a police-in-schools program to build rapport with students and encourage law-abiding behaviour," he said. Mr Brokenshire said authorities should study school districts which had restricted the incidence of violence and implement these strategies in other areas.

Education Department chief executive Chris Robinson said the reporting of critical incidents was an effective way to ensure that schools got the support they needed. "While many of these reported incidents can be quite minor, we strongly encourage schools to report all incidents so they receive adequate support," he said. "Incident reports filled out by schools stem from reasons such as abusive parents, schoolyard incidents, accidents, after-hours break-ins and intruders. "Many of our schools have close working relationships with their local police and don't hesitate to call when help is required."


Friday, June 26, 2009

Supreme Court victory for parents of disabled students

One way out of sink public schools: Justices rule that parents who remove a disabled child from public school can be reimbursed for private instruction. The court says a 'free, appropriate' education is a public duty. That could just set a very useful precedent for ANY kid in a sink school

The Supreme Court strengthened the rights of parents of children with disabilities on Monday and dealt a potentially costly setback to cash-strapped public school districts across the nation. Ruling in the case of a high school boy from Oregon, the court held that his parents may obtain a full reimbursement for the cost of sending him to a private school because the public school system failed to provide the special education he needed.

The parents' "unilateral" decision to take their child out of the public system does not shield public officials from paying the cost, the court said by a 6-3 vote.

The ruling in Forest Grove School District vs. T.A. does not mean parents can turn their backs on a public school program and automatically require public officials to pay them for the cost of private schooling. The parents' right to a reimbursement is triggered only when a judge finds that public officials failed in their duty to provide a "free, appropriate" education for a child with a mental or physical disability.

In the Oregon case, the boy was tested by a school psychologist, but officials concluded he did not have a learning disability and was not entitled to special education. Later, his parents were told by outside experts their son had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they enrolled him in a private residential school that charged $5,200 a month.

They eventually sought a reimbursement for $65,000, and they won before an administrative law judge, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and now the Supreme Court.

The National School Boards Assn. and other education groups had urged the high court to deny the right to a reimbursement to parents who acted on their own and enrolled a child in a private school. The justices refused to do so because, in this case at least, the fault appeared to lie with the school district. "We hope this will prove to be limited. Most parents do try to work with the school district," said Naomi Gittins, a lawyer for the school boards group.

School lawyers said the ruling did not focus on the more common situation in which parents and school officials disagree on the proper program for a child with a disability. In those situations, the law calls for a series of appeals so the two sides can resolve their differences, or a judge can decide which option is better.

In the Oregon case, by contrast, the parents did not go into the appeals process until after their child had been turned down for special education and he was enrolled in the private program. "All this decision establishes is that if the school district falls down on the job, the parents are not precluded from seeking a reimbursement," said Terri Keville, a lawyer for the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles.

Monday's ruling follows a decade of heated disputes over the high cost of private schooling for special education and claims from parents who wanted to be reimbursed. Congress in 1997 limited reimbursements for parents who moved their child to a private school without notifying public officials. But the high court said that provision did not apply to cases in which public officials refused to offer any special education to a child who needed it.

Justice John Paul Stevens said the court has consistently held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public officials to provide special education to all children who need it. "We conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special-education services when a school district fails to provide a free, appropriate public education," he wrote in the opinion, "regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school."

The court's vote did not follow the usual liberal-versus-conservative pattern. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. formed the majority.

The dissenters -- David H. Souter, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- worried about the costs of special education, which can amount to "as much as 20% of public school's general operating budgets," Souter wrote.


Britain: Bringing back the grammar school is the only way to give poor children a chance. And I should know!


(A British Grammar school is a government-funded High school which can only be entered by passing an academic aptitude test called the "11 plus" at a high level. It gave a near equivalent of a private school education to those most likely to benefit from that. Its "inequality" was however deeply offensive to envy-riddled Leftists, who would rather see everyone fail rather than some do well)

Two old school friends and I are planning a very special party. It's a school reunion for the class of 1956 - 110 people selected to study at Kingsbury County Grammar School in North-West London more than half a century ago. We survived the trauma of the 11-plus examination to win our prized grammar school places and on that first, windy September morning, we stood in the playground, knowing only a few of the others who'd come with us from primary schools.

Looking back at those slightly bewildered children waiting to be allocated to their classrooms, there could be no finer example to prove Tory maverick David Davis's theory of how grammar schools 'rescued a generation of underprivileged children' than to look at what happened to us, the class of '56. We were the pre-baby boomer generation, from diverse backgrounds, born to parents who were fighting to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war. Some of us knew real poverty. Real deprivation.

There were those living in pre-fabs intended to last five years but which lasted 20. There were those whose homes were rented flats in rundown properties, managed by unscrupulous landlords. My own parents had both left school at 14: my father to become a policeman during the war, later joining his brother's dressmaking firm; my mother to find work as a shop assistant before raising a family and, alas, becoming crippled by arthritis.

Yet, as children, my school friends and I were blissfully unaware of 'class differences'. And the main reason for that was that we were all, in one sense, equal. We had been given the same educational opportunity by dint of our own academic achievement, rather than as a result of our parents' pockets. The local authority's offer of places at our grammar school enabled us to receive a first-class education on a par with the finest that private and public schools could offer. Of course, we didn't know that then.

Nor did we realise what that privileged education would mean for our futures. How it would lift us beyond a 'class war'. How it would enable us to reach above expectations of manual or blue-collar jobs - working in factories, offices or on a shop floor. How far it would take us, thanks to our own efforts and that of our dedicated teachers.

Yet now these beacons of educational excellence have been dimmed - or extinguished for ever. Only 164 grammars remain today - and these are constantly under threat as the Government seeks to impose its 'one size fits all' educational policy across the board. Nor does the Tory leadership offer much hope. David Cameron remains unwilling to stand up for any form of selective entry school, fearful of being branded an elitist or highlighting his own educational privilege.

No matter that as David Davis (himself a grammar school boy) pointed out: 'However you measure it, selective systems deliver the best results for the whole community.' No matter that grammars were - and are - the single most effective way of encouraging aspiration, endeavour and social mobility. Better, it seems, to deny these simple truths than to upset the educational establishment.

Yes, the same educational establishment which has betrayed generations of children through its hatred of grammars, and which remains in utter ignorance of the travesty it has wrought. You'll know the arguments by now - that grammars were unfair to children who were 'stuck' with lousy prospects if they went to the secondary moderns or technical colleges.

Even today, with falsified exam grades unable to disguise the true scale of Britain's educational decline, they fail to see how their determination to impose the comprehensive system has dumbed down all schools rather than encouraging successful ones to prosper.

To be sure, we in the Kingsbury class of '56 were envied by those who went to the nearby secondary moderns. But they were by no means 'trapped' by their so-called 'failure' to pass the 11-plus, the exam so hated by the reformist zealots. They had another chance to move upwards and over to the grammar school for A-levels and sixth form, if they worked hard to pass their O-levels.

The fact is, all the children in our part of town learned important lessons from the existence of our grammar school - and not all of them academic. We learned that if you worked hard and applied yourself, anything was possible. For some, like me, that transformation started with the first day at Kingsbury. During our first school assembly (we had them every morning) and for the next seven years, we stood in the oak-panelled school hall and were invited to look up at the wooden scholarship boards bearing witness to the academic successes of those who'd gone before us.

Our headmaster, Mr Jones, resplendent in his graduation gown and mortar board, told us then, and many times afterwards, just how privileged we were to be here, in this august institution - and we were. All our teachers taught by example - not only when it came to the strict dress code. We were taught, through mutual respect, that concentration paid dividends; that if we set our sights high enough, we could reach the sky. It was a matter of reaching for the highest denominator, not sinking to the lowest.

Of course, there were those who mucked around, as children do. We weren't, by any means, angels or academics. We got into scrapes - and paid the price. Attainment wasn't always instant, either. But we learned more than academic excellence. We learned how to hold our heads high, whether we met commoners or kings. It's a lesson that we carried with us into our adult lives.

There was a girl, whom I will call Barbara, who lived in a dilapidated rented house near the school. She was the youngest of three girls and the first in her family's history to pass the 11-plus. Her father spent years out of work, caring for her mother, who had tuberculosis. Her school uniform was second hand. There was no privacy in their house where she could do homework. She shared her bedroom. The dining table was generally filled with rubbish.

Yet grammar school offered her dreams that her parents' purse quite simply couldn't meet. In her 30s, she met a famous American author, married him and went to live in the U.S., where she will attest that, thanks entirely to her grammar school education, she attained a degree. She is now a curator at a museum of art in Atlanta, Georgia, a job she adores.

Then there was Alan, whose father was a joiner, who went to Australia after gaining his A-levels. He is a highly successful businessman with homes in Melbourne, France and the Isle of Wight. As our reunion approaches, many more such success stories have come to light. Among our number are doctors, teachers, lawyers, chemists, academics, singers (and, yes, a few rogues too).

As we all exchanged emails, someone wrote: 'There must have been something very special about the Year of '56. We became members of a unique club by dint of the whims of the 11-plus and a local authority.'

In truth, we weren't that unique. We were ordinary children, with a modicum of academic ability, who'd been encouraged to make the most of our lives through education. If that's not the best way to bring about social progress, I don't know what is. Grammar school raised us, nurtured us and gave us an opportunity in a hard world. I only hope David Davis will succeed in his campaign to bring back grammars and thus offer my own grandchildren that same chance to shine.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Back in the Closet

by Mike Adams

Dear UNC-Wilmington Students: It’s getting close to time to start another semester. That means that it’s time to lay down the rules for all of my classes. I’m going to continue to use all the rules I’ve used before, which can be found in my syllabus. But, starting this semester, I’m adding three more rules. Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered students (GILBERTS) need to pay especially close attention.

First of all, GILBERTS will not be allowed to mention their status as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans-gendered. A few semesters ago, a gay student in one of my classes said – right in the middle of class, mind you – “I’m gay.” It offended me when he said that. That is why I am banning such statements for the duration of the semester. The simple awareness of the presence of gays in my classes offends me. No other reason need be offered. Just shut up and comply with the rule.

Second of all, GILBERTS will not be allowed to offer even mild criticisms of those who disagree with them. Last semester, a gay student was talking to one of his female friends – probably one of those fag hags - when he said “I want to marry my boyfriend some day if the bigots will let me.” Since I oppose gay marriage, for obvious religious reasons, it offended me when he made that statement. That is why I am banning any such statements for the duration of the semester. Even mild criticism of my beliefs offends me. No other reason need be offered. Just shut up and comply with the rule.

Finally, GILBERTS will not be allowed to state their beliefs concerning the origins of human rights. Last semester, a gay student said he supported gay marriage because he felt in his soul that it was the right thing to do. It offended me when he said that. That is why I am banning such statements for the duration of the semester. I’m simply offended when people discuss their beliefs about the origins of human rights, especially when it entails discussing their feelings. No other reason need be offered. Just shut up and comply with the rule.

Hopefully, by now, most of you realize you are reading political satire. But that crucial fact - and the larger point of the satire - was lost on countless GILBERTS across the nation. After reading only two paragraphs of this letter, which was posted in its entirety on, they began to fire off letters to the UNC-Wilmington administration demanding that I be fired.

Had the GILBERTS taken the time to read this far they would have understood that a real letter of complaint was filed against me in January simply for a) mentioning my Christianity, b) offering very mild criticism of one assertion of Darwinism, and c) revealing a basic belief about the origins of human rights; namely, that they are endowed by a Creator.

It is sad that a college student would lack the maturity needed to hear someone say “I’m an outspoken Christian professor” without having an emotional breakdown. It is also sad that he was arrogant enough to write a letter of complaint to my Marxist chairwoman. I am simply not intimidated by anti-Christian bigots. Nothing short of a bullet in the head will keep me from professing my Christian beliefs. And most anti-Christian bigots don’t own guns.

It is also sad that the administration failed to reprimand the narrow-minded Marxist who expressed disappointment that the student’s letter would not result in a formal complaint. This is unmitigated bigotry, plain and simple. If I were not an adult, I would argue that it’s hate speech.

Of course, while sad, none of this is too surprising. This is an administration that removed the word “Christmas” from the tree and “Good Friday” from the university calendar. They even once tried to force faculty and staff to remove Bible verses from their university email signatures.

Nor is it surprising that GILBERTS express outrage at satire more often than Christians express outrage at real persecution. That is because most GILBERTS love their sexuality more than most Christians love Christ. And that’s the saddest thing of all.


Bring back selective schools to help the poor, says British Conservative politician

David Cameron is facing a fresh row over grammar schools [academically selective schools] after an extraordinary challenge to Tory policy by his one-time leadership rival David Davis. The former shadow home secretary, who went to grammar school, insisted only a return to selective education could 'rescue the next generation of the underprivileged'.

'The simple truth is that grammar schools were the greatest instrument for social mobility ever invented,' he said. In what will be seen as a thinly-veiled swipe at Eton-educated Mr Cameron's privileged upbringing, he said the only winners from the 'catastrophe' of the death of grammars were public school boys who now 'run Britain'.

Mr Davis, who quit as shadow home secretary last year to campaign on civil liberties, has been careful not to voice criticism of the Tory leadership since then. But his decision to reopen the toxic issue of grammar schools, which triggered an angry rebellion by Tory MPs early in Mr Cameron's leadership, will be seen as a declaration of war.

Mr Davis told the Mail he was also planning to speak out on other issues, such as the need for public spending cuts. 'I think the public are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for,' he said. 'They want to hear us debate these issues such as education, public spending and defence sensibly and intelligently, and that's what I intend to do.'

Right-wing MPs remain angry at Mr Cameron's decision to drop his party's long-standing commitment to academic selection. The Tory leader said in 2007 he was 'determined to move on from a sterile debate about building a few more grammar schools'. He insists there will be no return to the 11-plus [entry exam at age 11] under a Tory government.

But speaking at a debate last night, Mr Davis, who went to Bec Grammar School in Tooting, South London, said it was clear selective education delivered better results for all. 'Every chance I had was created by that grammar school,' he said. 'And that is what grammar schools have done for hundreds of thousands of children from poor homes, council estates, even broken homes, through the postwar years. 'The charge against the grammar school is that they helped the brightest at the expense of the weaker child. The truth about the comprehensive system is that it failed the best without helping the weak.'

Mr Davis said it was self-evident that selective systems produced better results. Some 70 per cent of children in selective education get five good GCSEs against 60 per cent in comprehensive systems, he said. 'However you measure it, selective systems deliver better results for the whole community,' he added.

Mr Davis blamed Britain's descent to the bottom of the international league table in social mobility on the death of grammars. 'Today we are witnessing the results of a failed revolution, where egalitarians abolished grammar schools to level opportunity in our society, and accidentally destroyed the chances of the very people they were trying to help,' he said. 'They punished the bright poor kids who were held back. They handicapped the intellectual capacity of the country. 'And out of this catastrophe there was only one winning group. Do you know who they were?

'Yes, the public schools [The traditional British term for private schools]. Who teach just 7 per cent of the population.' Mr Davis said public school boys now 'run Britain', adding: 'The media, the law, business - they are all dominated by public school boys.'


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Segregated high school proms divide Georgia's students

Being socially rejected can of course be hurtful but life is full of rejections and part of maturity is learning to deal with that. People will always prefer to associate with others who are similar to themselves and the differences in the lifestyles of most of the black and white graduates are undoubtedly going to be great in the years ahead. Many clever brains have been racked to find a way of bridging the black/white achievement gap but nothing has ever worked to a significant degree. So letting a privately-organized Prom be an introduction to that inevitable separation is an exercise in realism, whatever else it may be.

In late grade-school age and early High school age in the late '50s and early '60s, I was myself something of a "n*gger" -- i.e. rather socially ostracized -- but I was barely aware of it. I was as interested in books as most of the rest of the kids were interested in sport. I just saw the other kids as lacking and thought no more about it. There was always another world of books to enter! I remember going into the local library and reading parts of Marx's "Das Kapital" when I was about 14 and I had certainly read most of the Greek canon (Plato, Homer, Thucydides, Euripedes etc.) and had a close look at the Holy Koran and learnt a bit of Ancient Greek by the time I sat down for my final High School examinations. I was weird! But happily so. So get on with your own life regardless of what others might think of you would be my advice to the upset lady mentioned below -- JR

Kera Nobles' senior prom should have been a high point of her life, as she celebrated graduation from her home town's school system after 13 years of education. But instead it has left the normally bubbly 17-year-old smouldering with anger. For, following a local tradition that seems extraordinary in a country which has elected its first black president, there was not just one formal dance for the 54 classmates who graduated from Montgomery County High, but two. On the first night, a prom was held for the school's white students; the following night came the celebration for Miss Nobles and the school's other blacks.

"I don't like segregated proms, there's no need for it," she said, her eyes still burning with hurt. "We went to school together and we all graduated at the same time. I feel like I've been deprived of something that was important to me."

In early summer when Georgia peaches are at their sweetest and high school seniors can't wait to be loosed on the world, separate proms are part of the bitter aftertaste of segregation that persists in parts of America's Deep South. For nearly 40 years state school pupils have been educated together. They have played sports together and developed close bonds of friendship, before finding themselves face to face with a cruel ghost from America's past.

"It was heartbreaking," said Miss Nobles, who will be leaving home to go to university this autumn. "It was the one night to see all your friends dressed up and I'm told, I have to wait until the next night because of the colour of my skin."

The annual prom held by high schools across America near the end of the academic year is big event, for which students and parents spend months preparing. But in a handful of Southern towns, parents still insist on whites-only proms which blacks are not allowed to attend.

The election of Barack Obama did nothing to change attitudes that go back generations in the small rural towns of Montgomery county, Georgia; the surge of pride black people felt in the election of the first black President was met by frosty silence by whites. The county, which is two thirds white, voted overwhelmingly Republican last November and attitudes have hardened as the months have passed.

Barred from attending the white prom, Kera still stood outside to show moral support for her closest friends, cheering and taking photographs as they arrived and did the "senior walk" into the community hall with their boyfriends or their fathers. Then she left, with her black friends.

Next evening her own white friends encouraged her and took their own pictures as she and her friends dressed in lavishly coloured dresses and rented dress suits for their own event at the same venue. She was close to tears. "Every (school) class we sat beside each other," she said, ticking off the names of her best white girlfirends, Harley Boone and Cierra Sharpe. "We love each other. But there's a lot of hidden history here, and while everybody gets along there's always something... If your parents are a certain way nine times out of 10 you're going to think the same way."

Blake Conner, 17, who is white, did not want to go to the prom at all, but was persuaded to attend by friends. "There's a lot of people I went to school with, who are my friends that I wish could have been there," he said, lifting sacks of sweet corn from an elderly farmer's pickup truck into farm shop where he has a summer job. He believes it would be hard to have a successful integrated prom for what he calls "cultural reasons." "My friends tried to organise a joint prom but they just couldn't agree on the music or even a theme," he said.

For two white sisters, Terra and Tamara Fountain, both of whom have black boyfriends, prom night was especially trying. "I wanted to go to the black prom," said Terra, 18, "but my mom wouldn't pay. She doesn't like me talking to black people anyway." She now lives with her black boyfriend, Gary Carswell, but neither feels comfortable living under scrutiny in a small town. Her sister Tamara, 16, added that she cannot be seen on the street with her boyfriend Ken Troupe. "Its terrible, everybody's so racist round here," she said. "If they see you in public with a black guy they just stare at you with hate in their eyes."

Montgomery county's time warp seems to be rooted in institutionalised racism. Until relatively recently the black community of this town lived in terror of the lynch mob. In one infamous killing in early August 1930, a prominent 70-year old black politician was taken from his house by a mob and tortured to death. In 1944, after a one-day trial by an all white jury, a maid was convicted and later executed for shooting dead a man who was sexually assaulting her. Racially motivated killings continued through the 1950s, and in the late 1970s a white man was shot dead for having an affair with a black woman. No one was prosecuted.

Officials insist that the once powerful Ku Klux Klan is no longer active. "The Klan is now history and thank the Lord for that," said one. "They are gone now, we are just dealing with some old attitudes."

It's those attitudes that kept last month's proms segregated, since the parents of white pupils refuse to support it another way. This year's "white folks' prom", as it is known, was a lavish affair for which tickets cost over $200 a head - out of the reach of most black pupils, who are from some of the poorest families in the country.

The sadness of the black pupils was captured by Gillian Laub, a freelance photographer who reported on the town's segregated events for the New York Times Magazine.

Harley Boone, a graduating white student who posed by her parents' outdoor swimming pool, told her: "There's always been two separate proms. It don't seem like a big deal around here, it's just what we know and what our parents have done for so many years. "In our school system it's not really about being racist or having all white friends or all black friends. We all hang out together, we're all in the same classes, and we all eat lunch together at the same table. It's not about what colour you are." Miss Boone's comments outraged many and she found herself cruelly caricatured as a racist on a YouTube video that has been widely viewed.

Betty McCoy, the editor of the local newspaper, the Montgomery Monitor, has watched with dismay as segregated proms continue year after year. "It's really the fault of a few families," she said. "This is really a friendly and well integrated community."

Pastor F Lee Carter of the African Baptist Church - who once marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama with Rev Martin Luther King, has little patience with those who demand separate proms. "Political life is intertwined; educational life is too," he said. "So why shouldn't our social life be intertwined as well?"

But the school superintendent, Leon Batten, pointed out: "The most segregated hour of the week is 11 am on a Sunday morning when white and black attend separate churches." Even so, Mr Batten has decided it is time to end the segregation - and next year there will be an integrated prom, arranged by the school instead of the parents, he told The Sunday Telegraph. "It may not be a great success at first, but we will persist and over time the segregation will be history."


You can't ban parents from taking pictures, British schools told

Parents who want to take photos of their children in school plays or at sports days can once again snap happily away. The privacy watchdog says authorities that have banned parents taking shots for the family album are wrongly interpreting the rules. Relatives wanting to take pictures at nativity plays, sports days or other public events are often told that doing so would breach the Data Protection Act. But the Office of the Information Commissioner has said this interpretation of the law is simply wrong. It decreed that any picture taken for the family photograph album would normally be acceptable. This guidance can now be used by parents and grandparents to challenge 'barmy' rulings relating to the upcoming school sports day season.

Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said: 'We recognise that parents want to capture significant moments on camera. 'We want to reassure them and other family members that whatever they might be told, data protection does not prevent them taking photographs of their children and friends at school events. 'Photographs taken for the family photo album are exempt from the Act and citing the Data Protection Act to stop people taking photos or filming their children at school is wrong.'

The guidance, sent to education authorities across the country, says: 'Fear of breaching the provisions of the Act should not be wrongly used to stop people taking photographs or videos which provide many with much pleasure. 'Where the Act does apply, a common sense approach suggests that if the photographer asks for permission to take a photograph, this will usually be enough to ensure compliance.'

Specific examples of what is allowed includes a parent taking 'a photograph of their child and some friends taking part in the school sports day to be put in the family photo album'. The video recording of school nativity plays is also listed as being acceptable.

The guidance says that, in some cases, official school photographs or visits by newspaper photographers may be covered by data protection laws. But provided that parents and children are informed about what is happening, there should be no problem in these cases. Earlier this month, the Mail reported how parents at Mrs Ethelston's Church of England Primary School were upset after being told they could not take pictures of their own children at sports day.

The village school in Uplyme, Devon, cited changes to child protection legislation for the ban on cameras. Headmistress Andrea Rice said 'vulnerable pupils' needed to be protected. There has been a string of similar cases in which parents were stopped from taking pictures at school events.

Margaret Morrissey, of pressure group Parents Outloud, said: 'I am really pleased that common sense has broken out. We have to be sensible about this and allow families to build up histories of their children and stop spoiling life for those parents who want to be involved.'


Australia: Leftist NSW government still bullsh*tting about horror school

A recent successful bullying claim has put the spotlight back on Farrer high school.

IN THE days when boys were allowed to be animals at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School, the end of each school year was marked by "the rumble". Year 12s stood at one end of the oval and the rest of the school at the other, with mattresses padding the intervening ground. At the squeal of a whistle they would launch themselves at one another - 13, 14 and 15-year-old boys against 18-year-old men - in a mass wrestle. Anybody caught punching would be whacked by the principal with a stick. It was an exercise in catharsis for the boys, who had suffered a year of brutal discipline at the hands of the year 12s, but was stopped in the early 1990s after a series of broken bones.

The NSW Department of Education says the Tamworth school now adheres to rigorous anti-bullying policies, promotes friendship between boarders and day boys through the "Farrer Friends" program and has a student welfare system that is regarded as best practice.

But the bullying claim brought by a Farrer old boy that resulted in a payout of nearly $500,000 in the Supreme Court on Friday has whipped up a squall in the community of students, alumni, teachers and parents known as the "Farrer Family". Some have accused David Gregory of whinging and money grabbing, but others have said his experience was neither isolated nor historical, and continues at the school.

"It's a totally traditional thing, in that what went on 20 years ago still goes on, and it's absolutely historical," said one mother, who withdrew her son last year after he threatened self-harm. "In year 7 you've got no rights; in year 12 you've got all the rights."

The conditions for bullying were fertile at Farrer during the 1990s when Mr Gregory was a student, because the school's philosophy was to give year 12s responsibility for the discipline of their juniors, creating what one former student described as a Lord Of The Flies effect.

Old boys have told of punishments such as having their heads held between speakers on loud volume, being forced to fill a pond on the prefects' lawn one cup at a time from a tap 50 metres away and being stripped naked and thrown into an icy pool in midwinter.

Karen Strachan, whose son Jeremy was a contemporary of Mr Gregory, said he was still damaged from his six years at Farrer, which included six boys tying him up one night and simulating sexual acts upon him to humiliate him. "Jeremy asked me not to take it any further, so I didn't. He had a horrific time when he was there. He went in the army and the army is pretty tough but he said his time at Farrer was worse than the army."

Parents say practices to which Mr Gregory was subjected, such as "gnome duty", which requires students to stand outside the year 12 dormitory holding a broom and a rubbish bin lid, still occur at the school. Moreover, they say, a rivalry has developed between the boarders and the day boys, and the school is reluctant to respond to complaints.

Lianne Penfold withdrew her son from the school in 2007 after he complained of bullying, much of which involved fights between the boarders and day boys, and often resulted in his arriving home with cuts and torn clothing. "We thought the selective school and all-boy environment with good role models would be good for him … but he was very unhappy," she told the Northern Daily Leader. "He never had friends over, and he would come home from school and go to his room and stay there."

The other mother, who pulled her son from the school last year, said her day-boy son was a target at Farrer because he was more brains than brawn. "The kids who were bright weren't treated the same as those on the footy team," she said. "Farrer footy team is the golden egg over there, and they were treated differently to everyone else." In this environment a boy such as Mr Gregory, who enjoyed politics and literature, might always have been regarded as an eccentric. But former students say the school has little tolerance for those who are different.

Simon Smart, who attended the school in the 1980s, said he enjoyed it because he fitted in, but he could see in retrospect that it would have been a difficult place for outsiders. "It was a very aggressively heterosexual environment," Mr Smart said. "It had the potential to be a great school, but its great failing was the inability to protect the vulnerable kids."

The NSW Department of Education said it did not accept that there was rivalry between boarders and day boys and conducted regular anonymous surveys to spot concerns including bullying. S"Any incidence is dealt with strongly and thoroughly, through the school's welfare and discipline procedures and by providing necessary counselling and support," a spokesman said.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Budget crisis forces deep cuts at Calif. schools

No suggestion that it's the bureaucracy that should be cut. But the proposed moves could be a blessing in disguise if class sizes are expanded and only the good teachers are kept on. The results might actually improve!

California's historic budget crisis threatens to devastate a public education system that was once considered a national model but now ranks near the bottom in school funding and academic achievement. Deep budget cuts are forcing California school districts to lay off thousands of teachers, expand class sizes, close schools, eliminate bus service, cancel summer school programs, and possibly shorten the academic year. Without a strong economic recovery, which few experts predict, the reduced school funding could last for years, shortchanging millions of students, driving away residents and businesses, and darkening California's economic future.

"California used to lead the nation in education," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a recent visit to San Francisco. "Honestly, I think California has lost its way, and I think the long-term consequences of that are very troubling."

The budget cuts will be especially painful for struggling schools such as Richmond High School, where more than half of its 1,700 students are English learners and three-quarters are considered poor. The East Bay area school has failed to meet academic standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for more than four years. Now Richmond High stands to lose 10 percent of its 80 teachers. Electives such as French and woodshop will be scrapped. Some classes will expand to more than 40 students. And many special education and English-language students will be placed in mainstream classes.

"We're going to see more and more students slipping through the cracks as those class sizes increase," said Assistant Principal Jen Bender. Richmond High students are worried about how the cuts will affect their education and ability to attend college. "I think we won't be able to learn as much," said freshman Andrew Taylor, 15. "They should put more money into schools. If you take money away from schools, you're going to end up with more people going to jail."

Slammed by an epic housing bust and massive job losses, California faces a $24 billion budget deficit and could run out of cash by late July if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature cannot reach a budget deal. To balance the budget, the governor has proposed closing more than 200 state parks, releasing prisoners early, selling state property, laying off state workers and cutting health care.

Under the governor's plan, K-12 schools and community colleges would lose $5.3 billion over the coming year — on top of billions of dollars in recent reductions and payment delays. The state would spend $7,806 per K-12 student in 2009-10, almost 10 percent less than two years ago, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. Federal stimulus funds have prevented deeper cuts to a public school system that educates 6.3 million children, of which about a quarter do not speak English well, and nearly half are considered poor under federal guidelines.

School districts have already issued layoff notices to more than 30,000 teachers and other employees, and they could issue more pink slips this summer, according to the state Department of Education. "All of the things that make schools vibrant and help students learn are on the chopping block, if they haven't been cut already," Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the Education Coalition, which advocates funding increases. "When school doors open in the fall, it's going to be a very different public school system."

Many Democrats and school advocates are calling for tax increases to lessen the impact on schools, but Republicans oppose raising taxes. They say California should live within its means and school districts should be given more flexibility to spend their funds. "You can't spend what you don't have, and you can't spend what the taxpayers don't have," said State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee.

The unprecedented budget cuts mark a new low for a once highly regarded public school system that began its decline in 1978, when voters approved Proposition 13, which undercut counties' ability to raise property taxes and generate revenue. The ballot measure shifted the responsibility of funding schools to the state and made it more difficult to increase education funding.

California schools now rank at or near the bottom nationally in academic performance, student-teacher ratios in middle and high school, access to guidance counselors and the percentage of seniors who go directly to four-year colleges, according to a February report by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. In its annual survey this year, Education Week magazine ranked California 47th in per-pupil spending and gave the state a D in academic achievement.

In recent decades, California developed a robust, innovative economy by importing educated workers from other states and countries. But a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California projected that the state would face a shortage of nearly 1 million college-educated workers in 2025.

State education officials say the budget cuts threaten recent gains in raising test scores and closing a persistent achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts. [Nothing ever tried has altered that significantly]

Democrats are now proposing to eliminate the high school exit exam as a graduation requirement. Jack O'Connell, the state schools chief, has says the exam is essential to helping identify students who fall behind.

The state's budget crisis is taking a heavy toll on school districts such as West Contra Costa Unified, whose financial troubles made it the first school district to be taken over by the state in 1991. Officials say the district, which has large numbers of poor students and English language learners, could face another state takeover if it cannot overcome a $16 million budget shortfall. "The system is broken," said school board member Antonio Medrano. "We are being forced to cut all kinds of programs."

The cuts are expected to lead to sharp reductions or complete elimination of after-school programs, summer school, adult education, guidance counselors, and electives such as art and music. Class sizes are set to expand from 20 to more than 30 students for kindergarten through third grade.

The teachers union is threatening to strike to protest layoffs of 125 teachers, larger class sizes and proposed cuts to their health care benefits. "We can't cut our way out of this. We really can't. There will be nothing left of education," said Pixie Hayward-Schickele, who heads the teachers union.

Richmond High School students are bracing for crowded classrooms, fewer course offerings and fewer teachers. "This school is already overcrowded," said junior Jessica Ledesma, 17. "If there are more students, it's going to be harder to pay attention because it will be loud and crowded and stuffy in there."


Canadians concerned about the value of an education: poll

As young people prepare to don caps and gowns this month and take the stage to grab their diplomas, Canadians confess a certain skepticism about the value of an education in this country. Nearly half of the Canadians polled in a recent Harris-Decima survey said they feel Canada's educational system does not adequately prepare young people for work in the modern economy. Albertans are most pessimistic about the system - 52 per cent say they find it inadequate.

Younger Canadians, between the ages of 18-34, are more likely to say it is up to snuff than older respondents. Nathan Seebaran, a student at Edmonton's Ross Sheppard High School, says he feels optimistic about the training he's getting through a registered apprentice program. He's studying to become a cabinetmaker and will be doing projects at the University of Alberta as part of his training. "I was thinking of dropping out of high school because I didn't really think I needed it, but I'm glad I stayed to do this," Seebaran said.

Confidence is the hallmark of the so-called "Generation Y," which is now hitting graduation age, says Harris-Decima vice-president Jeff Walker. "Part of that self-awareness and self belief of that generation of people is the feeling that they work extremely hard and that the system has been beneficial to them," said Walker.

When asked to grade different levels of education, Canadians gave high school the lowest marks. Only 37 per cent felt high school did "very well" or well at preparing young people for the workforce.

Walker said that affected how Canadians see the education system overall. "What it shows us is that if people perceive that there is even one weak link the system, they really worry that the system isn't necessarily getting Canada or Canadians to where they need to be."

The response was more favourable to graduate schools, where 62 per cent thought they were doing well at giving young Canadians the skills and abilities they needed. Ironically, a recent report by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council noted that high school students are actually performing well in science, math and reading when compared to their peers in other countries. The report said not enough students are getting science and engineering degrees, or PhDs.


British photography phobia again

Parents of children at a primary school have been banned from taking pictures of their own children at the annual sports day. Parents criticised the move and said they felt there was no legal reason why they cannot take photos for personal use.

Mrs Ethelston's Church of England Primary School, in Uplyme, Devon, prohibited photos and video filming, claiming it was due to changes in child protection and images legislation. It is the first time the school has taken such measures.

Parents criticised the move and said they felt there was no legal reason why they cannot take photos for personal use. Jane Souter, who has a son at the school and is chair of the Parents Teachers and Friends Association, said: "It is a shame but that is the way it is all going now, you are not allowed to do a lot of things because of rules and regulations. "A lot of the parents think it is a great shame. There are people who have been there for many, many years and they are upset about it, although they do not blame the school. "It is sad that you are not allowed to take pictures of your own children.

"It is all to do with the pictures getting into the wrong hands and the school has to follow its own code of conduct. "I am sure the school do not like it just as much as we do."

Another parent, who did not want to be named, said: "Parents want to record achievements through their child's life and not to be made to feel that they are all criminals and are going to upload dodgy photos to some porn site."

They added that many parents were upset that they could no longer take photos and fear photography will be banned at every school event. They said: "Speaking to many parents, they were extremely annoyed and exasperated and no one really knew why they couldn't take photos of their children as they done so in the past. "Many seemed just resigned that it was a sign of the times." They added: "Please, please, clear this ridiculous nanny state affair up."

A spokesman for the Devon local education authority said: "It's a decision which individual head teachers come to, usually with consultation with governors."


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Private Schools No One Sees: In the world’s slums, the poor have taken to educating themselves

BOOK REVIEW OF: "The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves, by James Tooley". Review by LIAM JULIAN

University of Newcastle professor James Tooley journeyed to Hyderabad, India in early 2000 at the behest of the World Bank, to study private schools there. Or, more specifically, to study familiar private schools—that is, those that served the children of middle-class and wealthy families.

But while on a sightseeing excursion to the city’s teeming slums, Tooley observed something peculiar: private schools were just as prevalent in these struggling areas as in the nicer neighborhoods. Everywhere he spotted hand-painted signs advertising locally run educational enterprises. “Why,” he wondered, “had no one I’d worked with in India told me about them?”

Ignorance was surely one reason. Most of Tooley’s colleagues, even those who’d spent decades enmeshed in education policy, were simply unaware that these back-alley private schools existed. But the hush surrounding private schools for the poor also had murkier, less-innocent origins. Breaking the silence, Tooley found, could generate hostility. When he related his Hyderabad discovery at the World Bank office in Delhi, for example, one staffer “launched into a tirade”: such private schools, she said, were ramshackle and shoddy; they ripped off the poor by charging money for worthless instruction; their owners were motivated solely by profits; and their teachers were unqualified, unskilled, and ineffective.

Her sentiments jibed with the larger development community’s notions about private schools for the poor but not with what Tooley saw in the slums of Hyderabad, where he returned several times to visit schools, observe classes, and chat with students, parents, teachers, and owners. The schools’ physical structures were indeed mostly ramshackle, but they were assembled no worse (and often far better) than the homes of the neighborhood children who learned in them. The owners seemed responsible and often caring, the teachers engaged and capable. And the parents Tooley met were adamant that the tuition they paid—between $1 and $2 per child, per month—was money well spent. They would never send their kids to the local public schools, they said, where facilities were fancier but teachers were truant.

These organic educational institutions captivated Tooley. Over the last ten years, he has labored to learn more about them, to publicize their existence and their successes, and to battle against the idea that they are insignificant. He passionately recounts this decade-long study in The Beautiful Tree, a book that should shake up adherents of traditional wisdom on education.

“Development experts,” as Tooley calls them, have long believed that if citizens of developing countries are to be educated, their governments, helped by heaps of money from rich nations, must invest in free and universal public schooling. If the resultant public education is lousy—as it is in India, for instance—then it must simply be reformed through more money and more regulation. Meanwhile, the poor must be patient.

But the poor have run short of patience, Tooley found, and so they have rejected the development experts’ failed syllogism and created one of their own: You open a school, and we’ll pay you to teach our children. If they don’t learn, we’ll stop paying. Therefore, you will ensure that our children receive a solid education.

In slums around the world, from Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya to rural villages in Ghana and China and places in between, Tooley has discovered poor people opening small private schools that offer alternatives to dismal or inaccessible public education. The schools charge only pennies a day, and most also provide scholarships to orphans or children of the indigent. One in five students in the Hyderabad slums, for example, attends a private school on some kind of need-based scholarship. Whether in Kibera (Kenya) or Gansu (China), these schools all seem to boast committed and punctual teachers, efficient and attentive owners, and satisfied parents.

Tooley visited numerous public schools in these far-flung places as well, and they also share certain traits: a dearth of discipline; teacher complacency; and classes in which students sit and chat instead of learning. Development experts readily acknowledge the shortcomings of public schools in less-wealthy nations. But Tooley expresses bafflement at their proposed remedies—more regulation, more money, better teaching training—especially when impoverished communities have already improvised and created their own successful alternatives.

Just how successful? Do pupils in private schools for the poor actually learn more than those in public schools? To find out, Tooley assembled and trained research teams that eventually tested 24,000 fourth-graders from impoverished areas who attended a range of schools—private schools recognized by the local government, private schools not so recognized, and public schools—in India, Nigeria, Ghana, and China. His findings are stunning:

The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. That is, children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!), while children in recognized private schools scored over 19 percentage points more than children in government schools (a 79 percent advantage).

As goes Delhi, so apparently go Hyderabad, Ghana, Nigeria, and China: private-school students drastically outperformed their public-school peers in every location. Through unannounced visits, researchers also determined that the private schools had smaller class sizes and more committed teachers than the public schools. (This proved true everywhere but China, where class sizes and teacher commitment were similar in all institutions.)

The data Tooley unearthed are fascinating. Not only do networks of private schools for the poor exist across the developing world—networks that emerged without any government- or NGO-sponsored help—but their students learn far more than do those of government- and NGO-funded public schools. These private schools for the poor are not only local, entrepreneurial, and efficient: they work.

The Beautiful Tree could have explored one question more thoroughly: when parents pay tuition, does it affect how they and their children perceive education? Tooley does a fine job mining the ways in which tuition creates school accountability, but might the payments not also render a parent more likely to value his child’s schooling and, therefore, to demand that his child be academically diligent? If so, the wisdom of providing free public education might be more tenuous than is generally assumed.

The Beautiful Tree is a refreshing aberration in the stolid ranks of development literature. Tooley writes engagingly and obviously finds the story he tells exciting. His enthusiasm is contagious. One cannot help but think that Tooley has provided the rudimentary outline of how education can be brought to many more millions of the world’s poorest.


Teens turn to the net, mobiles to pass tests

A MAJORITY of teenagers are using smart phones and the internet to cheat at school work and on examinations, an American study has found. Slightly more than half of teens surveyed for a Common Sense Media poll yesterday admitted to using the internet to cheat and more than a third of students with mobile telephones said they had used them to cheat. About 65 per cent of all teens surveyed in the US poll said they had heard or seen other students using mobiles to cheat at school.

"This poll shows the unintended consequence of these versatile technologies is that they've made cheating easier," the study found. "Digital life, by its nature, is distant, hard to track, and often anonymous, which can diminish the impact of action and consequences."

Cheating tactics include storing notes on mobiles for reference during exams and exchanging text messages about test answers. Teens also told of using smart phones to search the internet for exam answers and of using the devices to send pictures of tests to friends scheduled to take the same class later in a day.

Only half of the students surveyed considered mobile telephone or internet cheating as "serious offences" and a significant number of teens didn't deem those tactics cheating at all.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

The NEA's Latest Trick

Trying to deny military families

Public school teachers are supposed to teach kids to read, so it would be nice if their unions could master the same skill. In a recent letter to Senators, the National Education Association claims Washington, D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarships aren't working, ignoring a recent evaluation showing the opposite. "The DC voucher pilot program, which is set to expire this year, has been a failure," the NEA's letter fibs. "Over its five year span, the pilot program has yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement."

That must be news to the voucher students who are reading almost a half-grade level ahead of their peers. Or to the study's earliest participants, who are 19 months ahead after three years. Parents were also more satisfied with their children's schools and more confident about their safety. Those were among the findings of the Department of Education's own Institute of Education Sciences, which used rigorous standards to measure statistically significant improvement.

If you call that "failure," no wonder the program has been swimming in several times as many applications as it can accept. They come from parents desperate to give their kids a chance to get the kind of education D.C.'s notorious public schools do not provide. That's the same chance the Obamas have made by opting for private schools and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has taken by choosing to live in a Virginia suburb with better public schools.

Contrary to the NEA's letter, the D.C. voucher program isn't magically expiring of its own accord. In March, Congress voted to eliminate the vouchers after the 2009-2010 school year unless it is re-approved by the D.C. City Council and . . . Congress. The program, which helps send 1,700 kids to school with $7,500 vouchers, was excised even as the stimulus is throwing billions to the nation's school districts.

The NEA's letter was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility that 750,000 students in military families would benefit from vouchers. That idea was raised in a Senate hearing this month, when military families explained that frequent moves and inconsistent schooling was harmful to their children. "The creation of a school voucher program should be considered," Air Force wife Patricia Davis dared to say.

President Obama pledged to support whatever works in schools, ideology notwithstanding. But neither he nor Mr. Duncan have dared to speak truth to the power of the NEA. Military families can join urban parents on the list of those who matter less to the NEA than does maintaining the failed status quo.


Education and politics: Like oil and water

By Jennifer Buckingham, a Research Fellow at CIS -- speaking of bureaucratic waste of Australian "stimulus" spending

If ever there was evidence that politics and education don’t mix, the fiasco of the Building the Education Revolution program is it. How did this policy, which should have been a political slam-dunk, go so spectacularly wrong?

First, it was never about education. According to a 14 June media release from the Minister Gillard’s office, ‘The Guidelines for the Building the Education Revolution are clear and were developed to ensure that this investment supported as many jobs, in as many communities and as quickly as possible, to cushion the effects of the global recession on the Australian economy.’ Nothing there about teaching, learning, student achievement, or anything even remotely scholastic.

To meet the economic stimulus objective, the time frame has been extremely short, and schools have had to accept what would normally be unacceptable in nature and in cost, or risk missing out altogether. But just to confuse matters, in a bid to make the program sound education-friendly, all building works must be mainly for student use, which presents schools with a fairly narrow range of options and not necessarily the most useful ones.

For example, a school in my area already has a new hall/gymnasium and library, so it is using its BER funding to build more new classrooms when it already has several unused ones. What this school really needs is better staff facilities and a building that could be used both in and out-of-school hours to increase parental and community involvement in the school, which is sorely lacking. This does not meet the criteria, however.

On top of all that, the cost of the buildings for public schools is being inflated by the use of state government contractors, substantial project-management costs extracted by state governments, and the price premiums caused by urgency.

Second, by maintaining a sector-neutral approach and offering funding to all schools, the size of the building grants are dependent only on school size. This means that schools that already have every kind of building they could possibly need have been given millions of dollars to build more. Yes, there have been some stuff-ups, with a number of terminal schools being given money for new buildings, but rushing out a funding program of this scope will inevitably get it wrong in some cases. However, the broader issue of school need is fundamental and should have been foreseen.

It is hard not to see this as a missed opportunity for education. Granted, it wasn’t really about schools, it was about creating jobs. In this program, schools were just a politically safe place to dump some money. Nonetheless, a better program could have served both purposes with a much smaller price tag.

The above is a press release from the "Centre for Independent Studies" dated June 19th.

School bullying: Qld. Education Dept. trying to shoot the messenger

Australia: Because effective discipline has been outlawed, many schools are now unsafe for weaker children but only an ideological backflip could cure that so the Dept. just averts its eyes from the problem. The NSW Education Dept. recently had to fork out $468,000 as a result of a lawsuit by a victim of school bullying so the Qld. mob might find that their victory is a very Pyrrhic one if they successfully prosecute this guy

A BRISBANE dad who took his daughter out of school because she was being bullied has been charged with failing to ensure she participates in full-time education. Vanessa McKenna, 10, has not returned to Sunnybank State Primary School on Brisbane's southside since March 24 2008, after suffering multiple physical attacks.

Her father John McKenna told The Courier-Mail the school had failed to adequately address his concerns about his daughter's safety, despite his numerous calls and letters. "It's been going on for several years," said Mr McKenna. "Her glasses got broken, three boys ran her into a pole chasing her into the toilet and one boy pulled his pants down in front of her in the classroom. "Instead of taking action against the boy responsible, the teacher made Vanessa sit next to him."

Mr McKenna said he had been told the school had no record of the assaults against his daughter. "The teachers have developed a code of silence and cover-ups and it makes parents believe their children are liars," he said. "I don't believe my child is a liar. I've seen the marks on her body. What's got to happen? Does a child have to die?"

Although Vanessa has not attended Sunnybank State School since last March, Mr McKenna said he did not hear from Education Queensland until September. An official from the district office contacted the family to try to get Vanessa into other schools in the area, but Mr McKenna said one "just didn't seem good enough" and the other couldn't promise his daughter would be safe from bullies. "The bloke up there was a very decent gentleman, he was very honest. He said he had five boys who were worse than the boy who assaulted Vanessa and he couldn't guarantee her safety."

Police charged Mr McKenna last Friday with failing to ensure a child in his care was participating in full-time education. He is due to appear in Richlands Magistrate's Court on July 3 and, if convicted, faces a maximum fine of $450. An Education Queensland spokesman said the department was unable to comment on the case because it was now before court. But the spokesman stressed that prosecution of parents over a student's attendance at school was a "last resort".