Saturday, August 01, 2009

Do we need expensive college degrees to get a simple job?

Until 1960 or so, the percentage of people getting college degrees was relatively low. There was plenty of work for people who had ‘merely’ graduated from high school, and a high school graduate could support a family.

Then came the Vietnam War, where the United States government would happily enslave high-school graduates, but not students in college. The number of students entering college zoomed upward, and the number of colleges proliferated.

But the war ended in the early 1970’s, and the U.S. government stopped enslaving young men, although it does reserve the capability to start doing so at any time.

Yet, despite this pressure, the number of people entering college continued to increase. Why? Quite simply because it started to become difficult for a high school graduate to find a job. An increasing number of companies started demanding a college degree for jobs that clearly don’t require anything more than the education that could be acquired at a half-way decent high school.

Why would employers do this? What could prompt such a strange change? As usual, dig down into the matter, and the answer becomes clear. In a paper posted at the John William Pope Canter for Higher Education, Bryan O’Keefe and Richard Vedder argue that the reduced employment opportunities for high-school graduates and the resulting rise of the higher education bubble is an unintended consequence of the 1964 Civil Right Act, namely this part of Section VII:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

At the time this law was passed employers routinely classified prospective employees via pre-employment testing. This testing was used to determine things like knowledge, technical aptitude, personality compatibility and, yes, the race of applicants. At the time the law was being debated, its opponents raised the objection that this law could outlaw non-racist testing alongside racist testing. To which the proponents of the bill replied:
There is no requirement in Title VII that employers abandon bona fide qualification tests where, because of differences in background and educations, members of some groups are able to perform better on these tests than members of other groups. An employer may set his qualification as high as he likes, he may test to determine which applicants have these qualifications, and he may hire, assign, and promote on the basis of test performance.

Of course, like Madison’s claims that the Federal Government would obviously be limited to the powers described in Section 8 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution, these legislators claims did not survive actual contact with the courts. In the case Griggs v. Duke Power, the U.S. Supreme Court described what criteria can be used for pre-employment testing:
A test where members of one race performed more poorly than members of another race – demonstrating a “disparate” performance – was assumed to be discriminatory with respect to race, even if that was not the intention of the test.

Tests with disparate results are illegal unless the test has a direct business necessity.

Since, most businesses weren’t interested in wasting money on tests that were not necessary to screening out unfit employees or identifying the most fit employees, they were stunned. The Supreme Court had a very complicated definition of what constituted “Direct Business Necessity”, one that was difficult to meet and gave considerable deference to the employee of the Equal Opportunity Commission who was deciding whether or not to accuse a company of illegal discrimination. Only the simplest tests, such as requiring a prospective driver to pass a driving test could reasonably pass muster. Other tests, which businessmen clearly felt were useful to reducing the risk of hiring the wrong person for the job, now could get them sued.

Companies began casting about for a way to screen out the-incompetent or unfit in a way that would not result in them being sued. The simplest solution is to demand a college degree. Any racial discrimination demonstrated in the pool of degreed people would be the colleges’ liability, and the business could get on with the business of hiring new employees without being worried about lawsuits.

It has taken thirty years for this unfortunate unintended consequence to play out;
People entering the workforce have been kept idle for four years unnecessarily.

People entering the workforce are saddled with debts that are difficult to pay off.

Colleges have gotten away with lowering educational standards because their graduates are in such high demand.

When summed across the millions of people who have entered the workforce in the last two decades, the economic costs imposed by this well-intended but horrendously misguided effort are staggering. They include
Almost 100 million man-years’ lost productivity.

An additional 10 million man-years spent paying off college loans

Increased pressure on children to engage in organized activities designed to win the child a scholarship at the expense of their personal development.

Had the proponents of the Civil Rights Act limited their aim at racial discrimination by the government, they would have been crafting a very socially beneficial law. But by seeking to use the law to force people not to racially discriminate, they wreaked massive damage on the economy. Ironically, this damage disproportionately affects minorities who are far more likely to be at the mercy of awful government schools than other ethnic/racial groups.


British school pupils suspended for assaults 90,000 times last year, figures show

A further 98,000 suspensions were given for verbal abuse or threatening behaviour towards adults and other pupils. The number of pupils aged five and under who were permanently expelled rose to 90 last year - an increase of 50 per cent. At the same time, the number of days for which the most serious offenders were removed from the classroom dropped.

The Conservatives said that the Government figures, which were released yesterday [THURS], showed that there was still a "serious problem with discipline" in schools.

The number of suspensions given to primary school pupils for attacking teachers rose by five per cent, from 6,710 in 2006/07 to 7,090 in 2007/08.

Nick Gibb, the shadow schools minister, said "There is a serious problem with discipline and poor behaviour in English schools. "We need to give teachers more powers to discipline children, so that they can nip problems in the bud before they spiral out of control."

The figures show that in all, there were 89,200 suspensions from schools for assaults last year. This was a fall of 8,570, or 8.8 per cent, on the previous year. Meanwhile the number of suspensions for verbal abuse or threatening behaviour totalled 97,880. This was a fall of 8,090, or 7.6 per cent, on the previous year. However, the figures also showed that the number of suspensions lasting more than seven days - typically given to punish the most seriously misbehaving children - had been cut dramatically. [More likely to indicate greater leniency than better behaviour]

While last year 36,220 suspensions - 8.5 per cent of the total - lasted for more than seven days, this year just 9,650, or 2.5 per cent of the total, did. The length of the average suspension has been slashed by almost 20 per cent, the figures showed.

Dawn Primarolo, the children's minister, said: "It is positive to see the rate of exclusions decreasing indicating that behaviour in our schools is getting better. "It is time to put to bed the myth that behaviour is deteriorating with teachers powerless to act."


Friday, July 31, 2009

‘Suited for teaching’ after all

By Joanne Jacobs

Michele Kerr, who comments here as “Cal,” has earned a master’s degree from Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP), despite threats to declare her “unsuited” for teaching. FIRE has the links.
. . . Stanford tried to revoke Kerr’s admission after she voiced disagreement with “progressive” views held by STEP administrators, but FIRE intervened and resolved the issue. Kerr also was blogging about her thoughts and experiences as a future certified teacher. Stanford School of Education administrators demanded the password to her private blog and threatened to expel her for her opinions and teaching philosophy.

Kerr was told that her problems had nothing to do with her views, that other students found her domineering and intimidating. In an e-mail, she told classmates that “you are all fantastic, passionate, committed people who I think will make outstanding teachers.” But:
. . . if you are sitting in class privately seething because you feel that I or anyone else is derailing a conversation that you wish to go in a different direction, then you should reconsider your own priorities and values as a novice educator. SPEAK UP.

Fight for the education you want. And if you don’t feel you should have to, if you’d rather complain to the powers-that-be in the hopes that the power will take care of an interpersonal problem, then how on earth are you planning on going out in the far more ruthless world of public education and effect any change worth mentioning?

She was told the e-mail was “intimidating” in itself.

WashPost columnist Jay Mathews, often a target of Kerr’s caustic comments, wonders why academics can’t tolerate independent thinkers.

Though the education school has no blogging policy, Kerr was reprimanded for her blog, which mentioned Stanford but not the high school where she was student teaching. She “took down the blog temporarily, renamed it, eliminated all references to Stanford, and gave it password protection so that only she and a few friends could read it,” Mathews writes. That didn’t help.

After filing a complaint, Kerr got a new supervisor with whom she got along very well. She completed the program and was hired by a high school in the area to teach algebra, geometry and humanities.


British schoolchildren now discouraged from skipping

The little girls twirl their skipping ropes while the boys gather round to bash each other's conkers. In the corner, another group of children scramble up a tree. For many parents, it is a picture of the perfect playground scene.

But it is not one they are likely to see today. It lives on only in memories of their childhood, while their own school-age children are more likely to be glued to a computer screen. More than three in four of today's little girls do not play with skipping ropes, a survey has found.

The figure compares with 94 per cent of their mothers who remember skipping to rhymes and songs when they were at school. Little more than 33 per cent of boys play conkers, while 83 per cent of their fathers have fond memories of glorious conker battles at the same age.

A growing appetite for computer games and television is not the only reason that traditional games appear to be passing the present generation by. The survey shows that parents believe today's 'cotton-wool culture', in which children are molly-coddled and not allowed to take any risks, is to blame. Eighty per cent of parents said modern health and safety regulations were behind the demise of traditional playground favourites such as skipping, conkers, hopscotch, British bulldog and climbing trees.

More than 4,000 parents were questioned for the survey on how childhood freedom is being curtailed. They felt children were missing out on exercise and developing social skills by not being encouraged to play traditional games.

There were also concerns that parents themselves can be over-protective of their children, which means fewer are allowed to play outdoors out of school hours.

Overall, 59 per cent of parents said childhood today was worse than when they were young. Independent child psychologist Emma Kenny analysed the results of the survey which was carried out for a soft drink company. 'Many treasured children's activities are becoming rare, but it's the implications of this that are the cause for concern,' she said. 'Traditional children's play activities such as hopscotch, climbing trees or playing tag provide learning experiences based on imagination. 'These all help kids develop key skills such as team playing, counting and creativity that are crucial to their future development.'

Recent research suggests teachers are equally concerned and that almost half believe pupils are negatively affected by the ever-tightening grip of health and safety rules. Under these rules some schools have banned snowball fights, sports-day sack races and even nature walks for fear of injury and the chance of being sued for compensation by parents.

Emma Kenny added: 'This "Big Mothered Britain" mentality is in fact restricting opportunities for our children to learn and play freely. 'Ultimately, we're seeing a gap emerge in today's younger generation in the "fun" skills that we learn through a wide variety of physical and mental activities. 'This in turn, is not giving our kids the best opportunities for their future.'


British teachers put on the spot

A teaching union is to campaign against the new code of conduct for teachers, which it says intrudes on their private lives. The code, which will come into force in October, states that teachers must “demonstrate honesty and integrity and uphold public trust and confidence in the teaching profession”.

Teachers are also expected to “maintain reasonable standards in their own behaviour” or face disciplinary procedures, according to the General Teaching Council, the profession’s watchdog, which drew up the code.

The actions of teachers while off duty will now be under the spotlight — a move that the NASUWT, a teaching union, said set “unreasonable expectations of how people should conduct themselves”.

The teaching council has said that, for example, those who drink heavily and disgrace themselves face discipline for bringing the profession into disrepute, even if it is outside school hours and they have not broken the law.

Chris Keates, chief executive of the NASUWT, said that there was a lot of anger among teachers about the revised code. The union is to ask members to protest against the code in the coming months. “Teachers are entitled to a private life,” Ms Keates said. “It will lead to teachers being put in a position that no other workers are put in. Their conduct outside work is under a scrutiny that no one else’s life would be under.”

The NASUWT is calling for the code to be abandoned because, it says, teachers are already subject to professional standards, capability and disciplinary measures for their conduct in school.

The General Teaching Council said that the code “sets out expectations of reasonable standards of behaviour but does not limit a teacher’s right to a private life”.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Special privileges for gypsy children in Britain

More than a thousand gipsy and traveller children have been given laptop computers to help them with their schoolwork. The free equipment and wireless internet access is estimated to be worth up to £750 per pupil, and is costing the taxpayer £300,000 a year. Some children are also being handed printers and digital cameras under a controversial Government-backed scheme aimed at encouraging them to stay in education.

Figures have revealed that free IT equipment has been handed to 1,317 pupils from gipsy and traveller families since 2004. However, ministers have admitted that some of the laptops have been used by parents to buy and sell goods, and book foreign holidays online.

Last night, the Conservatives, who obtained the figures, warned that the scheme risked fuelling resentment among taxpayers. Only days ago it emerged that gipsy and traveller children are being given priority admission to popular state schools. In addition, gipsy and traveller families are getting priority to see GPs and dentists.

The Electronic Learning and Mobility Programme (E-LAMP) is designed to offer 'quality distance learning opportunities' to gipsy and traveller children who regularly change schools and are on the move throughout large parts of the school year. Under the scheme, being run in 330 schools, the children are given laptops with, for example, 3G wireless internet software, which enables them to study while travelling and keep in touch with their 'base' school.

There are an estimated one million children from around 350,000 gipsy and traveller families in the UK, but fewer than 9 per cent obtain five good GCSEs including maths and English.

Studies have shown that children who relocate regularly quickly become demotivated with learning and disengaged with their school friends and school life. In addition, many traveller parents provide little support for their children's academic learning, with a small number believing that formal education offers little or no value to their children's futures.

In a written Parliamentary answer, schools minister Jim Knight said 1,317 laptops were issued from 2004 to 2009. He said: 'The vast majority are still out on loan to the students. There have only been seven incidents of minor accidental damage. One laptop was sold by the family, but recovered quickly as it had been tagged.'

A survey by the National Association of Teachers of Travellers has found adult travellers are using their children's laptops to book holidays, shop and sell goods online. It said: 'Initially the restriction on data transfer allowed, due to shared group tariff packages, caused issues when the students became more confident workers and their parents discovered the joys of Amazon, eBay and booking flights online.'

Tory local government spokesman Bob Neill said: 'However well-meaning, I am concerned the Government's policies on travellers threaten to undermine community cohesion and inflame community tensions. 'The British people believe in fair play - it's not fair that one small group get privileged access to public services, whilst hard-working families who struggle to pay their bills and taxes are pushed to the back of the queue.'



The legal threat to Christian schools

I wonder whether Muslim schools will be required to hire teachers hostile to Islam? That should be fun!

What happens when equal rights between men and women are so widely accepted mainstream Australia hardly thinks about it? Surely it is time to acknowledge that anti-discrimination statutes have done their job?

Not according to the Victorian Government. It harbours the view that discrimination has got sophisticated – so hard to find under current law – that we must widen the law to catch more of it.

Its Attorney-General has his sights set on men-only clubs (apparently it is OK to have female-only clubs and it is OK for men-only rules at gay venues). The Government has also put religion on notice it will come under closer scrutiny.

I am actually more worried about indiscriminate behaviour: things like the indiscriminate bashing of innocent people on city streets. Putting an end to that would be a real advance for their human rights. But it’s also hard, so let’s get back to some easier targets.

At present, discrimination statutes don’t apply to religious bodies and their schools on the grounds of freedom of religion. So a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.

The churches want to continue current practice. But a host of community organisations want to change it. The Federation of Community Legal Services told the parliamentary review the current law should change, saying: "To allow religious organisations a broad exemption for conscience encourages prejudice."

Think about the moral vanity of that statement. According to these lawyers, a religious conscience leads to prejudice. How did the church arouse public conscience over slavery? How did Florence become a haven for the arts and letters to flourish? How did civilisation develop over the past couple of millennia without the Community Legal Services to guide it?

A leading discrimination law expert, Professor Margaret Thornton, wants to narrow the exemption for religious freedom of schools on the grounds that: "If private schools receive money from the state they should be subject to the law of the land." Of course they should be.

The question is whether the law should require them to employ people who are indifferent or hostile to their religion in their schools. At present it doesn’t. Changing that law will affect not only the schools who employ the staff.

Parents who send their children to a Christian school have a reasonable expectation this means the child will get a Christian education. How could the school fulfil its obligation to the parents if it is required by law to employ non-Christian or anti-Christian teachers to provide it? If the law demands this, you might as well close down the concept of a Christian school – which may be what some of the critics intend.

The provisions applying to religion have been operating for more 30 years with no great community outrage. So why is a parliamentary committee reviewing them now? Because, we are told, they have to be assessed for compliance against the 2006 Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. This charter was introduced with the promise it would amplify rights and freedoms.

There is something so predictable about this. The human rights industry begins with grand promises and ends up intervening in non-problems. We are led to believe that the purpose of such charters is to stop arbitrary arrests, guarantee a free press and guard against dictatorship. In practice, what does it do? It complicates the life of religious schools and open lawsuits against the churches.

Another inquiry has been set up by the Federal Government to look at promoting human rights. It is looking at a statutory charter of rights. No one will tell you the purpose of such a Commonwealth charter will be to curtail religious conscience or practice. But it will work out the same way.

The crusading lawyers will use any new federal charter against those institutions to which they are hostile. They will have sympathetic ears in the equal opportunity commissions. After all, experience in the human rights industry will be a qualification for appointment to those bodies.

The churches and Christian schools will be in the firing line. As the community legal services make clear – their view is that religious conscience encourages prejudice. Once the churches and religious conscience are out of the way, lawyers will have a clear run. Lawsuits will be used to decide the great moral questions of the age.

You can see what’s in it for the lawyers. But don’t think it is a step forward for liberty.


Brilliant Education Dept. internet filter blocks education sites, but not porn

The whole idea of web filtering is a crock

An internet filter installed by the NSW education department gave students access to pornographic material - but blocked educational sites. One site a Year 10 student opened while searching for a type of bird contained graphic sexual material and was only barred on Monday after inquiries from The Daily Telegraph.

George Cochrane said his school-aged son and daughter, who study by distance education from their farm in Grenfell, were horrified by the sites they could access. Other educational sites and harmless web pages for the local member of parliament - and even Education Minister Verity Firth's own site - have been blocked by the filter.

The Department of Education and Training confirmed that the filter would be used on thousands of laptops for high school students. It is also currently used on all computers in schools.

"My daughter typed in 'swallow', as in the bird, and it blocked access to a documentary on swallowing toothpaste but gave you access to a male site talking about inappropriate material," Mr Cochrane said. "The system isn't actually protecting anybody, especially isolated kids."

An education department spokesman confirmed that the site had been blocked on Monday. He said some questionable websites escaped the filter but staff responded to each concern and updated it daily. "On rare occasions inappropriate websites are not captured," he said.

Acting Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner yesterday labelled the filter flaws a "debacle". "Internet access should be a key component of Kevin Rudd's so-called Education Revolution," he said. "Nathan Rees and Education Minister Verity Firth are quick to claim credit for the good news so they should accept responsibility for this debacle and fix it as soon as possible."


Bullying victim gets $484,766

This OUGHT to make the NSW government sit up and become more active in preventing school bullying but it won't. Why? Because they don't know how. The only thing that would do some good would be a good thrashing for each bully and, since there is no such thing as right and wrong anymore, that cannot be considered. Offenders can only be "helped"

A victim of school bullying in northern NSW has had his damages award increased by more than $16,000 to $484,766. Last month in the NSW Supreme Court, Justice Elizabeth Fullerton awarded $468,736 to David Gregory, who had sued the State of NSW.

The now 30-year-old had complained of years of bullying while attending Farrer Agricultural High School at Tamworth in the 1990s. He said the bullying led to behavioural problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder and symptoms of depression.

Today, the judge ruled he should also have received $6030 for past medical treatment and expenses and $10,000 for future treatment. She also ordered the State of NSW to pay the legal costs of Mr Gregory, who now lives in Mollymook on NSW's South Coast.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

California: HS Diplomas w/o Exam for Special-Ed Students

Currently, satisfactory grades on the California High School Exit Exam are required to receive a high school diploma, however, that will soon change. Pending legislation will eliminate the exam requirement for special education students. Reportedly, 16,000 special education students fail the exam every year and are denied diplomas.

Consequently, employers interviewing job applicants are in a pickle when seeing prospective new hires with high school diplomas from California. Either they know something, having passed the exit exam, or they received a diploma because they're special.

I suggest that the awarding of diplomas to students who don't pass the exit exam devalues all high school diplomas earned in California. That is unless the special education diplomas are clearly emblazoned with language indicating that they are given to students who failed to acquire a requisite amount of knowledge to pass the exit exam. That, however, isn't reported to be part of the plan.

In any event, it would seem to be easy to simply classify all students failing the exit exam as "special" and give them diplomas anyway. Graduation rates would soar and school administrators would be given awards for excellence.

New York State Spends the Most in U.S. on Education

A breakdown between NYC and upstate could be very instructive

New York led the nation in K-12 education spending per pupil in 2006-07, according to new data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Empire State’s school spending of $15,981 per pupil was 65 percent above the national average of $9,666. New York’s total school spending of nearly $51 billion was exceeded only by California, which has more than twice as many students.

Here are some “takeaways” from the Empire Center’s report:

* New York’s state government paid for 45.2 percent of school spending, slightly below the national state-funded average of 47.6 percent. New York’s 48.4 percent locally funded share was above the national average of 44 percent. But in absolute terms, New York ranked high in both categories — fifth among states in state-supported spending at $8,293 per pupil, and third in local spending at $8,875 per pupil.

* The lion’s share of the $6,315 per-pupil difference between New York and the national average could be attributed to higher spending on salaries and benefits for instructional purposes, the new federal data indicate. In fact, New York’s spending on instructional salaries and benefits alone–which came to $11,042 per pupil, 88 percent above average–exceeded the total per-pupil spending of 37 states.

* Many assume that New York’s high school spending is in part a factor of its unusually large number of local school districts. But if true, this is not reflected in spending on education administration. New York’s per-pupil administrative expenditures were just 18 percent above the national average. If New York had reduced its administrative spending to the national average in 2006-07, the resulting savings would have come to $270 million — just 0.06 percent of the total that year.

* New York’s schools were ranked among the nation’s best in Education Week’s recent annual “Quality Count” report. But two higher-ranked states, Maryland and Massachusetts, spent $4,257 and $3,243 less per pupil, respectively. If New York spent at the Maryland rate, it would have saved $11.7 billion; if it had spent Massachusetts rate, it would have saved $8.9 billion.


British dictate: universities must do more for the working class

One confused man below. How is it going to help the working class by making fees more expensive? The only way is if the universities give more students free tuition. But that would negate what they gained through higher fees. So why bother? Leftist non-logic very much in evidence here -- as is a Nelsonian blind eye to the fact that it is failing schools that are hurting the poor -- not the universites

Universities must recruit more working-class students to justify an increase in tuition fees, Lord Mandelson said yesterday. He also admitted that a long-awaited review of top-up tuition fees, to begin this autumn, would not conclude before the general election. This means neither political party will face the wrath of middle-class voters if the review decides — as expected — that the current £3,000 cap on fees should rise.

Lord Mandelson set out his vision for higher education in his first speech to leading vice-chancellors since taking responsibility for universities as the Business Secretary.

It heralded an end to universities’ reputation as ivory towers catering for full-time, young undergraduates living away from home. The future lies in mature and part-time students taking shorter or alternative degrees, such as two-year honours degrees, part-time degrees and modular programmes that do not result in a degree, he said. This was reflected in his choice of setting for the speech: Birkbeck — which offers only part-time degrees. It is part of the University of London.

Universities’ efforts to attract students from poor backgrounds had not been good enough, Lord Mandelson said. He “intended to turn up the spotlight on university admissions”.

He described a university education as a ticket to the best-paid employment and said access to it would “inevitably define the degree of social mobility in Britain”. He added: “Any institution that wants to use greater costs to the student to fund excellence must face an equal expectation to ensure its services remain accessible to more than just those with the ability to pay.”

Universities are desperately trying to widen access by providing bursaries, setting up summer schools for disadvantaged teenagers and visiting primary schools. While this has improved the breadth of intake, many older institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge, remain dominated by middle-class and independent school students.

Lord Mandelson had a dig at elite universities, asking: “Why, for all the work in the sector and all the seriousness with which it has tackled this question, are we still making only limited progress in widening access to higher education to young people from poorer backgrounds — especially at our most selective universities? It is not enough for universities simply to confer life advantages from one generation of professionals to their children.”

He wanted going to university to become a “peer group ambition” among pupils, but refused to be drawn on the detail of how he thought universities should widen access — or whether they should accept lower grades from applicants from disadvantaged families.

Rather than operating as remote institutions, universities should be forging links with local business and exploiting their talent for commercial gain, Lord Mandelson said. He accepted that they were not “factories for producing workers”, but said more could set up companies that market the expertise of their postgraduates and professors.

Foreign students — who account for 8 per cent of income earned by universities — are vital to the economy, Lord Mandelson said, although he revealed that several vice-chancellors had contacted him with concerns about a points-based visa system that makes it more difficult for some potential students to come to Britain.

Universities emphasised the key role of schools in widening participation in higher education. Wendy Piatt, of the elite Russell Group of universities, said: “Evidence shows that academic achievement at school continues to be key factor in determining whether a student will go on to university.”

Diana Warwick, of Universities UK, said: “While we recognise the importance of universities having strong links with employers and schools in raising aspiration, we are clear that greater attainment at 16 is still the critical factor in achieving wider participation in higher education.”

Paul Wellings, of the 1994 Group of research intensive universities, said: “It is crucial that universities work in partnership with schools to provide advice and raise aspirations.”


Australian Prime Minister fails economic history lesson

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has got his economic history in his latest exercise in essaying "exactly wrong". That's the view of RMIT University academic Sinclair Davidson, who says it doesn't augur well for our future. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age morphed into something similar to the Pyongyang Post when they ran 6000 words of the PM's most recent deep thoughts over two full pages on Saturday, replete with sub-headings rarely seen outside an election manifesto. The headline across the front page of the SMH read "Rudd's recipe for recovery".

Davidson wants to know how we can trust a bloke who has got the past wrong to lead us into the future.

There's yet more huffing and puffing about those dastardly neo-liberals in the PM's piece. He also takes the novel step of having a go at the 1931 premiers' plan where governments cut expenditure, a bugbear of the ALP since the Scullin Labor government lost power at the end of that year. "It was seen as a very anti-Labor policy," Davidson says. "It was crammed down their throats by Sir Otto Niemeyer and the Bank of England and the Scullin government introduced it and lost the election.

But he adds, "whatever the flaws of the premiers' plan, it certainly did not give rise to catastrophic unemployment". Davidson points to research by RMIT colleague Steven Kates which shows how unemployment in Australia after 1932 fell more swiftly than in the US and Britain. And he pulls out a glittering nugget of trivia -- Niemeyer beat the PM's new hero JM Keynes in their civil service economics exam.

Davidson isn't worried that the PM is channelling Paul Keating channelling Jack Lang. He's worried that Rudd is talking about an entirely different country. "Australia had a v-shaped depression while the US had a big u-shaped depression. The essay shows how ignorant Kevin Rudd is of Australian economic history. He's taking the populist lessons of the Great Depression from the United States. "Americans seem to often think America is the world but the Prime Minister of Australia shouldn't think that American history is Australian history. His advisers either don't know this or don't care enough to tell him."

All up, Davidson describes the background to Rudd's latest essay as extraordinary. "He's put us into debt to the tune of $300 billion having claimed to have learned lessons that he doesn't know."

SOURCE. More on Rudd's warped manifesto here

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Must not criticize homosexuality at an American university

Thio Li-ann won't be coming to New York University this fall after all. Thio, a professor at the National University of Singapore and a politician in her home country as well, was to have taught a course on human rights law as part of an NYU program that brings scholars from around the world to teach at the law school. But in recent weeks, as students and others have circulated information about her anti-gay statements, some have questioned whether it was appropriate for NYU to hire someone with limited views of human rights to teach the subject. But NYU has defended the hire on academic freedom grounds, and Thio indicated that she was looking forward to debating the issues while teaching on the campus.

Not anymore. While NYU has not changed its position, its law dean issued a statement in which he announced that Thio has decided not to come to NYU. "She explained that she was disappointed by what she called the atmosphere of hostility by some members of our community towards her views and by the low enrollments in her classes," wrote Dean Richard L. Revesz.

In response to a request for comment on the situation, Thio sent Inside Higher Ed her resignation letter to NYU. "As an Asian woman whose legal training has spanned the finest institutions in both East and West, I believe I would have something of value to offer your students. However, the conditions no longer exist to proceed with the visit, given the animus fueled by irresponsible misrepresentation/distortions and/or concerted invective from certain parties. Friends and colleagues have also expressed serious concerns about my safety and well-being."

Thio praised NYU for standing by the job offer, and blamed the critics for making it difficult for her to accept. "I understand that you, too, have been under great pressure to rescind the invitation. I appreciate the commitment NYU has shown towards the principle of academic freedom in resisting this pressure; to yield to politicking would be deleterious to the academic enterprise. Today's heresy can become tomorrow's orthodoxy and vice versa," she wrote to the dean. "Despite this, it has become clear that the fraught atmosphere of hostility towards me is inimical to an effective teaching and learning environment. As you know, the ireful campaign against me has negatively affected class enrollment, a sad commentary on this present noisome state of affairs."

In his statement, Dean Revesz answered one of the questions many have been asking when he said that NYU was unaware of Thio's anti-gay statements when she was hired. But he went on to say that the university makes a practice of not looking for such statements (even her critics say Thio has made no effort to hide her views), and that they wouldn't have changed the hiring decision.

"Of course, an electronic search of her public statements would have produced the text of [an anti-gay speech much cited by critics]," he wrote. "We did not conduct such a search in considering this appointment, and we have not conducted such searches in considering other appointments: We limit our inquiry to the review of academic publications and works in progress, teaching evaluations, and reputation for collegiality. That is the general norm at academic institutions."

The text of the speech becomes important, her critics have said, because it shows her not just to be someone who doesn't endorse gay rights, but someone who espouses views that in some cases have been widely repudiated by scholars (that people can change sexual orientation if they want) and that run counter to what most human rights groups consider basic human rights (she argues for criminalizing sex between people of the same sex). In addition, she has repeatedly mocked gay people, saying for example that anal sex is "like shoving a straw up your nose to drink," and rejected arguments based on a diversity of sexual orientations by saying that "diversity is not license for perversity."

In some disputes over hiring controversial faculty members who are viewed as bigoted, student groups have demanded that individuals be dismissed or not hired in the first place. In this case, however, NYU OUTlaw, the gay student group that spread word of Thio's views, didn't demand that she be kept off campus. The group's board adopted a statement saying that the best way "to fight Dr. Thio's offensive views not by silencing her but by engaging in a respectful and productive dialogue about the boundaries of human rights. This fall, we plan to hold events to explore issues of academic freedom, LGBT rights, and human rights in Asia, and we look forward to Dr. Thio’s participation in the discussion."

Others, however, have called for NYU to withdraw the invitation to Thio. Hundreds have signed an online petition that says she shouldn't be at NYU. "To harbor Dr. Thio under the banner of 'academic freedom' is disingenuous, untenable and unacceptable. The full dignity of LGBT persons is beyond debate and the criminalization of private sexual conduct between consenting same-sex adults is a tool of oppression. While Dr. Thio believes that 'diversity is not a license for perversity,' we believe that academic freedom is not a license for bigotry," says the text of the petition.

In his statement, Revesz wrote that the situation changed for Thio as the controversy continued. E-mail exchanges between NYU students and Thio offended those on both sides of the debate, he wrote.

"In the last few weeks, a number of members of our community wrote to Professor Thio indicating their objection to her appointment as a visiting professor," he wrote. "She considers some of these messages to be offensive. In turn, she replied to them in a manner that many members of our community -- myself included -- consider offensive and hurtful.... Members of our community have questioned whether Professor Thio's statements create an unwelcoming atmosphere, one in which students in her classes would have been unable to participate effectively in the learning experience. Determination of where that point is on the continuum of free speech is a difficult, case-by-case judgment based upon context, history of the relationship, and many other factors. But it would be an extraordinary measure, almost never taken by universities in the United States, to cancel a course on the basis of e-mail exchanges between a faculty member and members of the student body. To do so would eviscerate the concept of academic freedom and chill student-faculty debate."

Revesz also rejected the idea that a scholar "opposed to the recognition of certain important human rights" should be disqualified from teaching a course on human rights: "An academic's views on a substantive issue should be irrelevant to his or her suitability to teach a course in a particular area as long as the opposing views are treated fairly in the classroom: A proponent or opponent of the death penalty can be equally qualified to lead a seminar on capital punishment, for example. The contrary position would be a serious affront to academic freedom, would lead to endless political litmus tests, and would greatly impoverish academic institutions, which gain so much from the robust discussion of controversial legal issues."


A young Australian woman who likes correct grammar

Poor grammar is still unprestigious but finding people with good grammar is becoming harder as it is no longer taught in the schools

It was a Monday morning; he was frothing milk as we chatted idly about the drunken antics of our respective weekends. All the usual stuff - the people we knew in common, the places we had almost run into each other, the quality of the cocktail jugs at various Sydney locations. He might have been carefully watching the temperature gauge rise on that little jug of milk, but we both knew where the real heat was. Just as I was about to casually invite him to a rock gig he dropped a clanger.

‘Yeah I like World Bar. Dave and me were there last Thursday.’ Instinctively, impulsively, STUPIDLY I fired back. “You mean Dave and I were there.” Because nothing says “we should go out” like a grammar check.

He looked at me like I was a three week old sausage roll he’d found wedged into the tread of his shoe, mumbled a ‘“yeah, whatever” and went back to making the coffee. Silently.

It’s a look I get often. As a grammar Nazi I am the irritating friend who corrects Facebook posts from “there” to “their.” The one who has to hold back facial spasms whenever someone says “youse.” I am something of a rarity amongst my peers – a 22 year old who adores a well constructed sentence.

As a card carrying member of Gen Y, I am a product of an education system that is more focussed on alliteration and assonance than the basics of adverbs and adjectives. Somewhere during my schooling (all done at state public schools) we jumped from learning the alphabet, to examining the themes of novels and plays. The participles and pronouns – in truth the finer points of basic grammar - were lost by the wayside.

Now this isn’t to say I had a poor English education. Far from it. I had some wonderful and enthusiastic teachers during my years at school. I learned to love and appreciate good literature, I learned to debate and discuss in my essays and by the end I achieved some very good results in my HSC. To put it bluntly I fulfilled everything that the NSW English curriculum required of me. But where was the grammar? That basic stepping stone schooling that older generations had to go through.

I asked my mother about what her English education was like and she told me all about “parsing,” - basically pulling apart sentences. Examining their structure. Learning exactly what adverbs, verbs, nouns and pronouns were. Getting drilled and tested on it day in, day out. Sure it’s boring, but so is algebra – and at least it’s a sure bet you’ll need to use grammar later in life. I’m struggling to remember the last time I had to work out the value of ‘x,’ but I’m always unsure whether it’s meant to be ‘learned’ or ‘learnt.’ Why are we not still taught grammar like this at school?

What’s scary is that in my first year of a journalism degree at University, my lecturer handed out a basic grammar and punctuation test. Unsurprisingly, the entire class performed dismally. We couldn’t conjugate if our lives depended on it.

And what’s scarier is that to a certain degree they do. Name me an employer who is going to hire a young graduate doesn’t know the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its.’ In these times of growing unemployment and job un-security it could be the difference between getting an interview, or having a resume tossed into the reject pile.

I believe it’s time that grammar was brought back into schools, and I believe it should be done quickly – before we start having generations of English teachers who themselves don’t know the difference between a verb and an adverb.

And as for me? I changed coffee spots. The barista might have been hot but I’m hoping there’s someone out there for me that can use prepositions properly as they proposition me.


British university education for the wealthy only?

That seems to be where Britain is heading -- despite repeated claims that they want more working class kids at university. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

STUDENTS face tuition fees of £7,000 a year by 2013 under plans being developed by both Labour and the Conservatives. Both parties are studying an overhaul of the system under which top universities would be allowed to lift fees above the current legal limit of £3,225, while many former polytechnics would offer no-frills degrees for free.

The proposal was handed by John Denham, the former universities secretary, to Lord Mandelson, the business, innovation and skills secretary, who has taken over responsibility for higher education. Vice-chancellors say a £7,000 maximum fee is the “consensus” figure — the minimum to rescue university finances without being so high as to be politically unacceptable.

There is a legal obligation on the government to consider the future of the current fee system, which was introduced in 2006, after its first three years of operation. Mandelson is due to launch the review this autumn. It is thought highly unlikely it will be finished before the next election, which must be held by next June.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are anxious to avoid fees becoming an issue with voters. Labour blamed its loss of marginal seats in university towns at the 2005 election on its recent legislation for the previous increase in fees.

One vice-chancellor said: “A simple rise in the cap to £7,000 could be put through soon after this election and it would have the advantage of letting the government cut the amount it puts into universities.”

It has emerged, however, that Mandelson is also studying options that go far beyond simply deciding whether fees can be increased. Denham’s idea calls for a wholesale restructuring of higher education. Some post-1992 universities and further education colleges could offer free, government-funded “walk to study” degrees, often in vocational subjects, to local students living at home. Elite research institutions, meanwhile, would be allowed to charge far higher fees than at present, with students paying for future earning power.

Denham did not put a figure on fees in his scenario, but experts who worked closely with him said it could eventually mean a ceiling of £15,000, including a £2,000 “levy” to fund bursaries for poorer students.

David Willetts, the shadow universities secretary, has also studied Denham’s plan. He said the Conservatives would not decide their policy in advance of the review, and cautioned: “Just putting up fees has a series of problems. Charging more at the bottom of the recession will be tough, and universities would have to show any extra fees were going to help the quality of education — a challenge to which I don’t think they have yet risen.”

Supporters of an increase believe university funding has become an emergency. Cuts of 5%-20% in government funding for higher education are expected whoever wins the next election, despite increasing numbers of students.

Seven universities, including London Metropolitan and Thames Valley, are on a secret official list of institutions at risk of financial failure, a total expected to reach as high as 30 next year.

Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of Lancaster and incoming chairman of the 1994 Group of research institutions, warned of a “valley of death” over the next few years until fees could be raised, with universities forced into severe cutbacks.

Another source said political considerations were bound to hamper the funding review. “Mandelson is nowhere near knowing how he wants to fund universities,” he said. “This is not a government that believes it will actually be making decisions, but it is thinking about how to box the Tories in.”

He added: “A few months ago I would have thought it inconceivable for any change to come in before 2013. Now I see the possibility of George Osborne [the shadow chancellor] putting it into a ‘days of misery’ package after the election. It would technically be possible to bring in change for 2011.”

A condition of freeing universities to charge higher fees is likely to be that better-off students are charged a levy on fees to subsidise bursaries for those on lower incomes. Further cross-subsidy could be provided by money from overseas students and alumni.

Luke Johnson, the Channel 4 chairman and entrepreneur who is a member of Oxford’s fundraising committee, said: “It is inevitable there will be higher fees and more independence, but it has to go hand in hand with much more for bursaries. There is a disproportionate number of private school undergraduates at Oxford and it is by no means ideal.”

Alan Ryan, retiring warden of New College, Oxford, said his college was drawing up bursary plans to ensure no family on an income of less than £35,000 would be worse off if fees were raised from their current level.

Birmingham University, meanwhile, is one of those planning in the long term to offer “needs-blind” admission, in which bursaries for poor students are provided mainly from a levy on better-off students.

Last week Alan Milburn, the former cabinet minister, wrote in a report commissioned by Gordon Brown that such an arrangement could promote social mobility by drawing more people from poorer families into university.

Tomorrow, in a speech to Universities UK, an association of vice-chancellors, Mandelson is expected to take up Milburn’s theme and warn that institutions need to step up efforts to bring in more students from poor backgrounds through their admission and bursary policies.

Some universities are already making preparations for an increase. Exeter is understood to be one of several preparing an aggressive strategy of charging fees of at least £7,000. It will also offer generous bursaries in addition to non-means-tested awards — including sports and academic scholarships — to lure the best students regardless of income.

The result will be far higher debts for those whose studies are not covered by bursaries. Recent research by Universities UK has found that raising fees to £7,000 would bring average debts of £32,400, compared with the current £20,000.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Detroit’s Schools Are Going Bankrupt, Too

Now’s the time to cast off collective bargaining agreements and introduce school choice

‘Am I optimistic that they can avoid it . . . ? I am not.” That’s what retired judge Ray Graves said this week when asked whether the Detroit public schools, which he is advising, would be forced into bankruptcy. Facing violence, a shrinking student body, and graduating just one out of every four students who enter the ninth grade on time, the city’s schools have been stumbling for years. Now they face a seemingly insurmountable deficit and are expected to file for bankruptcy protection at about the time that students should be settling down in a new school year.

As embarrassing as such a filing would be, it also may be the only thing that can force the kinds of changes Detroit schools need—as the financial turmoil is just the latest manifestation of a system in terminal decline.

Detroit is like many urban school districts—large, unwieldy and bureaucratic, with a powerful union that makes the system unable to adapt to changing circumstances and that until very recently had an indulgent political class that insulated it from reform. That insulation came in two forms. The first was neglect. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spent several years distracted by a scandal stemming from his affair with a staffer. He resigned last year, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to four months in jail. Had he been an effective mayor, he might have also been a powerful advocate for students.

The other insulating force was a conscious decision to wall off Detroit from charter schools. In 1993, Michigan’s legislature made it difficult to create new charters in Detroit by declaring that only community colleges could authorize charters for primary and secondary schools in “First-Class Districts”—defined as those with more than 100,000 students. Detroit was the only First-Class District. In 2003 the state, under pressure from the Detroit Federation of Teachers, turned down a gift of $200 million from philanthropist Robert Thompson that would have established 15 charter schools in the city. Those charters are needed today.

The net result has been a school system that’s been coming apart as the teachers union has dug in its heels. In 2006, the union illegally went on strike, killing a plan to force teachers to take a pay cut to balance the system’s books.

In June, seven students were wounded in a shooting near Cody Ninth Grade Academy just two weeks after 16-year-old Tenecia Walter was shot in the chest shortly after leaving class at Denby High School. Earlier this year a gunfight broke out in Detroit’s Central High School and last year a student was shot and killed walking home from Henry Ford High School. All of this has forced school officials to step up security measures, including increasing the number of police patrols.

Meanwhile, only 16.2% of the city’s 11th graders scored proficient in math this year on the state’s standardized Merit Examination, compared to 49.3% statewide. Detroit reading and science scores are just as bleak. And this in schools that spend $1,700 more per student than the state average.

The school system also has been rocked by corruption. A few years ago, an audit revealed that Detroit’s school system misused more than $46 million on insurance and other contracts and was forced to sue venders to get some of its money back. Two of the system’s employees were recently indicted for allegedly embezzling $400,000 from the school system over the past couple of years.

To clean up the mess, the state took control of the district earlier this year and brought in Robert Bobb as an “emergency financial manager.” In June, to stem pay-check fraud he required that employees pick up their paychecks in person. Paychecks for 257 suspected “ghost” employees—people who had improperly been getting checks—went unclaimed.

Mr. Bobb has been energetic in tackling problems. At the outset, he faced a $306 million shortfall in a $1.3 billion budget. He responded by closing 29 schools, laying off 2,500 employees, and cutting 80% from the budget of the department that draws up the district’s curriculum. He plans to overhaul 40 schools and has hired private companies to run 17 of the district’s 22 high schools. He also tapped Mr. Graves, a bankruptcy expert, for advice.

The Detroit Board of Education has gone along with many of these changes. But it is now seeking a court injunction to block private companies from running district high schools. The board says Mr. Bobb exceeded his authority in hiring the companies. But a court fight will only bog things down at a time when the district still faces a $260 million deficit.

This is why Mr. Graves and others see little alternative to declaring bankruptcy, and why doing so would likely be a net benefit. It would allow the city to tear up union contracts, cut some of its debt, and forge a political consensus for lasting reforms. No one will want to repeat the bankruptcy experience any time soon.

What the city needs is a multitude of charter schools and other school-choice provisions that would give students a means to escape. It also needs to break free of collective-bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining for government employees is not a constitutional right; it is a special privilege, and one that has been abused. Michigan’s education laws could be amended to allow school districts to suspend collective-bargaining agreements when that district fails to meet minimal academic standards, is pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, or when the union goes out on an illegal strike.

Over the past seven years, Detroit schools have lost 60,000 students. Its system is now, according to the state’s attorney general, so small that it no longer qualifies as a First-Class District.

That gives the state legislature and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm an opportunity to do what they needed to do all along: Treat Detroit like other school districts in the state and hold local officials accountable when the schools fail to perform. Walling off Detroit from the rest of the state may have some appeal and was once the politically easy thing to do, but it’s only given Michigan a larger mess to clean up.


Estimating the effects of teacher quality

A report from Australia

The Rudd Government's education revolution will amount to little if it fails to lift teacher quality. Computers, libraries, arts centres and well-functioning buildings are vital in improving the learning environment, and the appeal of schools. Only a curmudgeon would quibble over the extra expenditure. But unless teacher quality also improves, the revolution will be half-baked.

With so many baby-boomer teachers retiring over the next seven years - in NSW virtually half the teaching population - there is both opportunity and imperative to raise the standard.

Any parent knows the quality of the child's teacher is critical. That is why the pushier parents lobby to secure the best teacher for their child, and more reticent parents accept with sinking hearts the lost year or lost marks a bad teacher represents.

Now economists have quantified the effect of a good teacher compared to a bad teacher - not only on a child's academic attainment and future earnings but on the health of a national economy. The difference a good teacher makes is large.

Professor Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, has just visited Australia, bringing a body of research that should focus the minds of politicians on teacher quality. It's not easy. Rolling out laptops is child's play in comparison.

Based on extensive work, conducted partly in the Texas school system, he estimates the students of a bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in a year. The students of a good teacher will learn 1 ½ year's worth of material. That's a whole year's more learning with a quality teacher.

To people who say family background is the most decisive influence on children's academic attainment and that teachers can't compensate, Hanushek says: "Dead wrong." If a disadvantaged student had a good teacher instead of an average one for three or four years in a row, the achievement gains would be dramatic, he says. Put another way, a student who starts at the 50th percentile of the state's distribution on test scores after a year with a good teacher will move up to the 59th percentile.

Teacher effects dwarf school effects, his work shows, so that it is better to be in a bad school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher; and better to be in a big class with a great teacher than in a small class with a hopeless one.

In Australia he was talking about the effect of better schooling on economic growth. In a dazzling comparison of 50 countries over four decades, he was able to demonstrate the huge importance of a nation's cognitive skills in explaining economic growth. Countries that have improved their schools - as measured by student scores in international tests of maths, science and literacy ) have also improved their economic growth rates. This applies to developing and developed countries.

Just by getting rid of the bottom 5 per cent to 10 per cent of bad teachers and replacing them with average ones could improve Australia's brainpower, and its economic performance, he says.

Not everyone agrees that teacher quality is so critical. For a start, if this is the main problem it gives governments a handy excuse to minimise expenditure on facilities, or on lower class sizes. A study led by the University of New England that monitored 500 pairs of identical twins through the first three years of school says the "teacher effect" is about 8 per cent, not the 40 per cent other researchers have found. But even if the effect has been overstated in the past, it is still important. Imagine having three talented teachers in a row; even a single gifted teacher can change lives.

Yet improving teacher quality is harder than economists' PowerPoint presentations make out. Good teachers are hard to identify in advance of doing the job - teacher credentials and even years of service are no guide.

It is only when they teach they demonstrate their abilities and, in our system, teachers have virtual tenure for life once they are admitted to a classroom. Little can be done about poor teachers. Even in-service training, Hanushek, claims, has disappointing results.

His own suggestion for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is the much-lambasted idea of performance pay. Under the single-salary structure that operates here, a bad teacher costs the state as much as a good teacher; across-the-board pay increases give the bad teacher no incentive to leave, and the talented no incentive to stay. The idea is so resisted by teacher unions around the world there is little empirical evidence that performance pay delivers for students.

Thanks partly to the number of bright girls who entered teaching in the 1970s, the baby-boomer teacher generation can boast a high proportion of talented teachers. Australia's respectable international tests scores reflect a reasonable standard of teaching overall. With this generation retiring, it is imperative the replacements are even better teachers. A well-constructed incentive pay scheme deserves consideration, as does better ways to weed out bad teachers. Above all, we have to make schools places where talented people will want to work.


It’s not pushy parents Britain needs, it’s pushy schools

Education in Britain is bedevilled by social class considerations and the British Left have never been able to decide whether middle-class families should be a model for the workers to aim at or an evil to be avoided. Generally, however, they do their best to destroy the middle class, but tend to destroy the working class even more in the process

With its usual self-serving incoherence, Gordon Brown’s government has come out, in the person of the Blairite MP Alan Milburn, in favour of “pushy parents”. Milburn’s report for Brown on social mobility found that “parental interest has four times more influence on attainment by the age of 16 than does socioeconomic background”. He said last week that he wanted “more pushy parents, not fewer”.

How odd it is to hear such talk from a man authorised by the prime minister to say things that sound just the opposite of what Brown and old Labour have always stood for. It seems only yesterday that Brown’s blue-eyed boy, Ed Balls, the schools secretary, and his people were being sniffy about pushy parents.

It reminds me of Peter Mandelson’s notorious remark that he was “intensely relaxed” about people being “filthy rich”.

Personally I am not only relaxed but rather in favour of pushy parents, up to a point, being one myself. But I think the government should be careful of what it allows itself to say it wishes for. Its members may not all realise what pushy parents are like.

Pushy parents are not just mothers and fathers who show “parental interest”, which is highly to be desired and all too rare. Pushy parents are red in tooth and aspirational in claw; they are social Darwinists to a man and a woman and while I think their struggles are natural and largely unstoppable - pushy parents, like the poor, are always with us – I do not think a socialist-lite government ought to be crying out for more of them.

In any case, it can’t; it won’t work. The soft left culture of the Labour party and of nearly all our national institutions, particularly of our state schools, is entirely at odds with the culture of pushy parents.

Being a pushy parent begins even before parenthood. Pushy parents-to-be, in their quest for the best possible of everything, put their babies down for favoured schools, or move to a good school catchment area, before they are even born. Pushy mothers-to-be eat carefully chosen super-foods to push the embryonic brain to the peak of its potential and listen to carefully chosen music to ensure high-level music appreciation later in life. I admit I myself thought like that.

But then I was the child of a pushy parent - a single mother whose determination ensured that I, like my brothers, did well enough to get scholarships to private schools and full grants to university - something denied to poor but aspiring teenagers today. She even tried to persuade me, years later, to teach my own infant children maths according to some American baby-genius method, when they were still almost too young to speak.

Unusual then, such extremes are now common among hyper-competitive pushy mummies. I am glad to say that I refused; nor did I make my children do Suzuki violin lessons at three or competitive tennis at six, as did so many other mothers of my acquaintance.

That’s because the cost, I know, of such expectations on children can be high; it means forcing them to confront the constant fear of failure, including failing to pass into a school at the age of four when your elder sister did before you - something our politicians seem unable to understand and many teachers seem quite unable to accept.

Is that what Milburn is recommending? In my case it meant going into several exams with a chamber pot, as extreme anxiety regularly made me throw up because I had been encouraged to be so desperate to win. Per ardua ad astra - which, as those who’ve been crammed into elitist schools by pushy parents will know, means the way to the stars, whatever they may be, is pretty damn hard – and, of course, a lot of people fall by the wayside.

Although pushy parents never stop pushing themselves, they also contract out whenever they can to professional pushers in the form of private schools, evening tutors and even live-in holiday tutors.

My day at a good private school in the West Country began about 6am when, under parental pressure, I got out of bed to catch up with homework. I had to be in school by 8.10am and couldn’t go home until 7pm – in that time I had nine 40-minute periods of lessons or study each day (and five on Saturday mornings), one period of compulsory games, one of music practice and some time for eating; at home later I had more homework and reading.

To my astonishment, my daughter’s day at a top London day school was (and is) just as long and much more competitive, as the girls were all much cleverer than those at my school. There are also casualties to match among children at such academic private schools – boys and girls who collapse under the strain, who drop out with addictions and eating disorders.

This is what it means to push a child, for better and for worse. It takes not only a lot of money and effort all round, but also a lot of time. It astonishes me how short the day is, by comparison, at state schools – how can clever state school children hope to accomplish anything like as much as their private school competitors, or foreign competitors from pushy cultures, if they have less than half the amount of teaching or carefully supervised study?

Equally, seeing children come out of state school in the early afternoon, I often wonder how many of their parents would really want to see them studying as hard as private school children - particularly if their children are not bright. Putting such intense demands on the brightest children, even agreeing to select precisely which are the brightest children, is outside the mindset of the state educational establishment. Private schools don’t question it; state schools cannot accept it. It is anathema to the all-shall-have-prizes, all-shall-have-A-levels culture. And while that culture may be beginning to change, even the notion that one child is much more intelligent than another is still widely unacceptable among educationists.

The government should be calling not for pushy parents, but for pushier state schools, and for a system that can find an acceptable way of selecting and teaching all children according to their real aptitudes; the failure of our education system cannot be either blamed on or solved by parents. It is the educational culture that is to blame. And what will save our schools is a recognition, which is indeed characteristic of pushy parents, that the world is a painfully competitive place.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

$4.35 billion for U.S. education reform

Obama is a typical simplistic Leftist who thinks that throwing money at a problem will solve it: A strange combination of knowing nothing about money but having huge faith in it. Things that really would help -- such as bringing back discipline, academically selective schooling or offering vouchers -- are against the current Leftist religion so are not considered

President Barack Obama on Friday introduced what was described as the largest-ever federal investment in education reform, including a competition aimed at bringing schools in line with the administration's education goals.

The "Race to the Top" fund would disburse about $4.35 billion in competitive grants, in an incentive for states and local schools to adopt the administration's core agenda: implementing more rigorous standards, improving teacher quality, transforming the lowest-performing schools and embracing data-driven systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

"This competition will not be based on politics, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group," Obama said at the Department of Education headquarters in Washington.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former Chicago Public Schools chief, said the program would mark "a new federal partnership" with states, districts and unions. But Duncan said it would also be "a competition" in which states could decrease their odds of winning federal support if, for example, they capped the number of charter schools or prohibited the linkage of student-achievement data to staff evaluations.


Competition has become a dirty word in British schools, says Dame Kelly

Dame Kelly Holmes yesterday launched a stinging attack on the decline of competitive sport in schools and said it risked spawning a generation of bad losers. The double Olympic champion and former Army physical training instructor blamed a culture of political correctness for making 'competitiveness' a dirty word. Her comments come a year after Gordon Brown admitted Labour had made a 'tragic mistake' by allowing dozens of mainly left-wing councils to scrap competitive sports in schools in the 1980s.

This meant huge numbers of inter- school matches and tournaments were cut from state schools after theorists claimed children on losing teams could end up psychologically traumatised. After the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Government pledged to end a 'medals for all' culture in which sports days have been cancelled and field sports 'dumbed down'.

But Dame Kelly has criticised established policies that continue to allow health and safety concerns to ride roughshod over sporting rivalry. The 39-year-old former middle distance athlete said: 'Too often, in these politically sensitive times, it seems that competitiveness is seen as a dirty word. 'I was surprised by how many schools I came across where sports day had been abandoned. It's very important to learn how to lose. 'What you should do is pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. If everyone gets a prize, where on earth is the incentive to push yourself to do better next time?'

The retired British recordbreaking athlete, who won two gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, called for competitive sport to play a much larger part in the school curriculum.

Dame Kelly, who was awarded an honorary degree from Brunel University this week, told Heat magazine: 'Competitive sport can increase a child's confidence, develop their social skills and get them fit into the bargain.'

The Prime Minister has promised to reverse the longterm decline in competitive school games in the run-up to the London Olympics. Fixtures between schools dropped 70 per cent in the early 1990s following a steady decade-long decline, according to figures from the Secondary Heads Association. But in 2007, Government figures showed numbers were still falling. One million fewer school children were pitted against their classmates than the previous year.

In total, 3.1million pupils aged five to 16 - equal to more than four in ten school children - did not play any competitive sport, while 438 schools did not hold a sports day, a survey for the Department for Children, Schools and Families showed.

Last year the Football Association banned children under the age of eight from playing in football leagues and cups amid fears they are under too much pressure. Youngsters can still play matches but results must be kept private and no league tables can be compiled. They should not compete in knockout tournaments where trophies or medals are at stake, FA officials said.