Saturday, August 08, 2009

An unwise woman

Several alert readers sent me links to this story, about a new graduate who is suing her alma mater (of all of three months) for its alleged failure to get her a job. It's one of those stories that really allows you to see what you want to see. Is the student an unrealistic whiner? Is the school trading on false hope? Is it reasonable to charge high tuition for an unemployable degree? Is it reasonable to hold a single college accountable for a nationwide recession?

I'll start by acknowledging that I don't know the student, I'm not familiar with the school, and there may be particular facts in this case that would change my interpretation of it if I knew them. That said, though, my first response is “oh, honey, no.” At the most basic level, colleges are not employment offices. While they often have Career Services offices to help people find jobs, 'help' is the key word. Absent some really serious fraud, there are no guarantees. The article quoted the student accusing the college as follows:

"They're supposed to say, 'I got this student, her attendance is good, her GPA is all right -- can you interview this person?' They're not doing that," she said.

Um, no. That's not what they're supposed to say (or do). (The article goes on to mention that the student had a 2.7 GPA, and has landed two interviews but no offers.) They're supposed to coach you on your resume, help with some interview tips, and provide some resources for you to start looking. Beyond that, it's up to you. In fact, landing two interviews within three months of graduation with a 2.7 GPA in the midst of the Great Recession isn't bad at all.

The story brought back memories of my time at Proprietary U. Since PU sold employability, students often brought outsized expectations to their job searches. (To make matters worse, the tech bubble of the late 90's briefly made those expectations actually realistic.) When the bubble burst, even the better students often struggled to find something. They weren't notably better or worse than the class that had graduated the year before; the market had just changed.

Most students understood that, at some level. But there were some who seemed to think that the Career Services office kept a top secret stash of nifty jobs that they'd dole out to whomever complained the loudest. In my observation, this was not the case.

There's no central clearinghouse for most jobs. (I'm told there actually is one for doctors, but that isn't relevant here.) Degrees and skills can improve your chances, but chances are not guarantees. If degrees guaranteed jobs, there wouldn't be PhD's trying to cobble together livelihoods from adjunct gigs. (Though I'll admit that all those freeway flying PhD's suing their graduate programs makes for a fun thought experiment.) A program can be academically rigorous, and a Career Services office can try really hard, and the result can still be nothing. It's a big world out there.

But the idea of suing the school is worse than merely missing the point. If it were just that, I'd expect it to be summarily dismissed and we'd all move on. My concern is that as an employer, if I found something like that attached to an applicant's name, that candidate would be thrown out of consideration post-haste. I don't need the headache of an overentitled, litigious applicant when I've got plenty of other good applicants who would actually be happy to have the job. A lawsuit like that renders you radioactive.

Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not – again, I don't know if Monroe College overstepped somewhere in this particular case. But as a rational employer, do I really want to take that chance? As a manager, I'm acutely aware that a small fraction of employees consume a vastly disproportionate amount of my time, complaining about everything under the sun. As Robert Sutton noted in The No Asshole Rule, these people drag down entire organizations, even when they're otherwise individually productive. Given a reasonable alternative, I'll take the alternative every single time. This student, whose name I'm not repeating as a courtesy to youth, is branding herself with a scarlet letter. Not a good idea.

We all catch lousy breaks from time to time. How you handle those breaks says a lot. My free advice to the disgruntled graduate: move on. Put this behind you, quickly, and focus on actually getting a job. Unless there's something really egregious here, there's nothing to be gained by blaming one college for a national recession. And you could lose more than legal fees.


Early mortality among British school dropouts

Dropouts often seem to indulge in risky behaviour -- particularly to do with drugs -- so this is sad but not unexpected

Fifteen per cent of school-leavers not in employment or education are dead within ten years, research suggests. Jon Coles, director general of schools at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said that the figure proved that education was a “matter of life and death”.

Nearly one in six people aged 16 to 24 in England is classified as Neet, or not in education, employment or training. Mr Coles told a seminar in London that there was a clear social cost of being outside the system, The Times Educational Supplement reports today.

He said that one city in the north of England had conducted long-term research into Neets and the results were profoundly shocking.

“Those who had been outside the system for a long period of time ... 15 per cent of those people were dead by the time that research was done [ten years later]. “For those of us who console ourselves with the thought that education is not a matter of life and death, actually for those young people for the most vulnerable children and young people in our society it really is.”

A spokeswoman for the department said: “The official made clear that this was one bit of local research which could not be taken as representative of the whole country. However, it is clear that young people who are Neet are at greater risk of poor health and negative outcomes in later life, which is one of the key reasons we see reducing the Neet numbers as such a high priority.”


Is Britain's Jewish Free School Racist?

A decision has been handed down in the British Court of Appeal that sets a monumental precedent for those wishing to place their children in a faith-based school. Reading this sorry saga Americans will be grateful for separation of Church and State and for the independence afforded parochial schools.

The British school crisis started this way: one of two couples whose children were rejected by the Jewish Free School in 2007 went straight to the High Court because in one case the rejection was based on a view that the mother had “stopped living an Orthodox lifestyle.” Mr. Justice Munby ruled that the school’s right to determine admission criteria was as valid as that of Christian or Islamic schools and their being censured could sabotage "the admission arrangements in a very large number of faith schools of many different faiths and denominations". The decision was appealed.

Putting aside the intricacies of Jewish religious law this story is an intriguing one because this summer Lord Justices Sedley and Rimer and Lady Justice Smith of the Appeals Court have handed down a decision saying that the criteria for admitting a child to the Jewish school are in breach of the Race Relations Act. The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, has interpreted this as a condemnation of Jewish ecclesiastical regulations as “racist.” He said, “Jews have been in Britain for 353 years and the JFS in existence since 1732. In all those years the same principle has applied… we extend Jewish education to applies to all Jewish schools, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike… Now an English court has declared this rule racist and since this is an essential element of Jewish law, it is in effect declaring Judaism racist..”

The Appeal Court is saying that religious criteria violate the same laws as those laid down against racial discrimination. In other words, if you want your kid to go to Catholic School or some other faith establishment, effectively the very concept of a single-faith environment smacks of racism.

The uproar this story has caused in Britain has been something to behold and has even made its way into the columns of the mainstream newspapers. Anguished commentators have been writing columns about the crisis. JFS is an outstanding state-funded school that has enjoyed a national rating in the first 1% in the scholastic excellence tables, but the judge in question is saying that taxpayers should not be footing the bill for a “racist” entry system. This reverberates not just with Jewish establishments but with Muslim and Christian schools. So -- is it reasonable for a Jewish or Muslim family to expect their children, if they so wish, to be able to observe halal and kashrut in early childhood? Once they get to Oxford or Harvard they will be exposed to bacon sandwiches and alcohol but in their formative years many feel they have a right to reassurance that their religious beliefs will be respected in a supervised school environment.

Equally so, Christian children are entitled to an education structured in Catholic, Protestant or other denominational tenets and need not be constrained by having to worry about others’ religious beliefs. In other words, if Catholic or Protestant children want to bring ham sandwiches to school or sing about Jesus they have a right to their observances with their own flock, rather than being forced by a judge to “tackle racism” and mingle with non-Christians who, in turn, could be miserable too.

The ruling will mean that it is open season on admissions. The Orthodox Chief Rabbi Sacks should never have allowed JFS to subject the couples in question to such an ordeal, and Jewish communal conflict should never have reached the mainstream press. Journalist Andrew Sanger points out that the far-right British National Party supports the JFS on this issue because the decision means no group or institution will be safe from liberal interference in defining a unique ethnic or national group. A comment from “Lord Reith” on Sanger’s blog says, “ The state should not be paying for faith schools. Why should people pay for schools they can't send their children to? If people want to indoctrinate their kids in faith schools and dogma, let them pay for it themselves.”

This brings me to the story of one of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton’s mother, living amongst the seventeenth-century Sephardi community of the Caribbean island of Nevis, had left her Jewish husband and given birth after a liaison with a new, non-Jewish partner. Because he was regarded as “born out of wedlock” Alexander could not gain admission to the Christian schools on the island. The one Jewish school in existence decided to let him enroll. He enjoyed a fine education at the little synagogue on Jew’s Walk and learned Hebrew. Later in life he rejoiced in being able to read a Hebrew bible and write in the language. He often said he was indebted for life to the Jewish community for taking the view that education overtook any other aspiration. Likewise did anything bad happen to the cheder (Hebrew school) he attended? Was its stature diminished because he was the offspring of a gentile mother? No. Hamilton’s biographer Dorothie Bobbé wrote: "..Denied schooling, [his mother] sent him to the Jewish school.. The Jews were respectable, and respected, in the islands...His teacher liked to stand him on a table and make him recite the Decalogue in Hebrew."

When a practicing lawyer he said during a case , “ the progress of the Jews...from their earliest history to the present time has been and is entirely out of the ordinary course of human affairs. Is it not then a fair conclusion that the cause also is an extraordinary one---in other words that it is the effect of some great providential plan?..”

What an irony that in 2009, two-hundred-and fifty years after one of the most revered of the Founding Fathers enjoyed a full Jewish education despite his un-Jewish roots, a British school could impose on families restrictions that could have been resolved within its own community and not become a national cause celebre. As I write this, headlines abound: “JFS ruling leaves schools in chaos;” “The Court judgment that has declared Judaism racist” and “This is a battle for justice and unity.” Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg passionately decries the “profoundly unjust” behavior of JFS.

Having said earlier on that children of faith tend to be happier amongst their own, I would venture that JFS should have adapted to the modern world and modified its rules to accommodate the children of converts. Life would have gone on. Some historians posit that Alexander Hamilton’s mother was indeed Jewish and so was he. Whether he was or not, his school bent the rules and the Hamilton experience produced a man who treasured his core religious education, venerated Judaism for the rest of his life and became a great leader.

For those who wish to keep their offspring in a religious environment this case has resulted in a judgment that effectively declares the centuries-old tradition of faith schools a violation of race laws. Some on the Right are saying the British court judgment is the first step to abolishing faith schools in a passionately secular, Dawkins-esque nation. On the Left it is being mooted that this is a sinister plot to close down Islamic madrassahs across Britain and force a mass-exodus of Muslims from our shores, just as the campaign to ban ritual slaughter has been perceived as an attempt to make Britain Muslim and Jew-free.

Although separation of Church and State will preclude even a super-liberal US Supreme Court from following suit, and secularism in France, for example, will also make such crises unlikely there, those who favor faith schools should take note of the enormous influence the courts can wield and the seismic shocks they can inflict.


MA: Backers seek end to charter school cap

The number of charter schools in Massachusetts could increase without limit under a ballot question that proponents will file today, putting a reticent Legislature on notice that inaction on expansion proposals could place the issue in voters’ hands. Charter school supporters intend to file the necessary paperwork by today’s deadline to officially launch the effort to repeal the state-imposed cap, which has left more than 20,000 students on waiting lists for available slots. The ballot question, if it meets legal criteria and gains the necessary signatures, would go before voters in the next statewide election in November 2010.

The language goes much further than legislation filed last month by Governor Deval Patrick, who proposed doubling the number of charter school seats in only the school districts with the lowest MCAS scores.

Although charter supporters embrace many aspects of the governor’s proposal, they are worried that his bill will die in the Legislature due to lingering concerns that charter schools - public schools that are often touted as laboratories of innovation - draw too much money from traditional public schools.

Several legislators have indicated they will resist an expansion in the number of charter schools until the state overhauls the charter school funding formula.

The ballot initiative process, while lengthy and arduous, has frequently allowed voters to make fundamental changes in state law. Most recently, voters approved the end of dog racing at the state’s tracks and legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Earlier this decade, they voted to end bilingual education. Other voter-approved initiatives, such as public financing of political campaigns and a rollback of the state income tax, have been partially or completely ignored by the Legislature.

Charter school supporters characterized the new initiative as a last resort to prod the Legislature into lifting the state cap and vowed to drop the effort if the Legislature approves the governor’s bill. “It’s time for the Legislature to act, and, if they can’t, it’s time for the people to decide,’’ said James Peyser, a former chairman of the state Board of Education who is cochairing the ballot initiative campaign.

In a statement, Representative Martha Walz, cochairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, did not directly address the ballot initiative, but stressed the need for all parties to work together on a complex policy question. ’’The Education Committee is actively reviewing numerous proposals to expand the number of charter schools,’’ she wrote in an e-mail. “We are also evaluating the financial implications of the proposals.’’

Created under the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act, charter schools were designed to foster cutting-edge teaching techniques that could eventually be transferred to mainstream public schools. Charter schools operate under fewer regulatory restrictions, and nearly all run independently of school districts. Most do not have teacher unions.

While many of the state’s 62 charter schools boast high MCAS scores and college entrance rates, the model has been embroiled in controversy over funding. Every time students leave a local district for a charter, they take with them several thousands of dollars in state aid, which is allotted on a per-student basis. The loss is a painful pinch for local districts, particularly in tough economic times. Boston, for instance, expects to lose about $50 million next year.

Earlier this year, Patrick proposed changes to the funding formula as part of a modest expansion of charter schools that would have benefited local districts. But charter school proponents balked, and the proposal went nowhere in the Legislature. In his latest proposal, Patrick does not address funding.

Momentum has been growing for more charter schools, spurred in part by President Obama’s threat of not sending additional federal stimulus dollars for education to states that restrict charter school growth. That helped persuade Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, a longtime charter school opponent, to file legislation this summer that would allow local school districts to open new, district-run charter schools and control the state aid sent to those schools.

Several cities - including Boston, Cambridge, Springfield, and Lawrence - have hit or are about to reach the maximum number of charter schools. “With 23,000 kids on a waiting list, it’s time to allow charters to expand and provide opportunities to more kids and give parents additional choices,’’ said Dominic Slowey, a petition signer who also is a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

Charter supporters are filing two versions of the ballot question. Their preference is to pursue one that, in addition to eliminating a cap, would preserve the current funding formula for charter schools. They are unsure, however, if the funding language meets legal muster, so they filed a second version without it.

To gain a spot on the 2010 ballot, a question must first be deemed constitutional by the attorney general and then gain signatures from 66,593 registered voters, or 3 percent of the number who voted in the last governor’s race, by Dec. 2.

Both proposed questions would eliminate three provisions that limit the total number of charters statewide to 120, restrict charter enrollment to no more than 4 percent of the total statewide public school enrollment, and dictate that no more than 9 percent of a school district’s net spending can be dedicated to charter schools.

Among those leading the ballot initiative effort are former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy; William Edgerly, former head of State Street Bank; and Kevin Andrews, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association and headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester.

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said he is worried that a proliferation of charter schools will not leave enough money to teach the children left in the districts. Many of those students, he said, have the severest education needs and, unlike students in charter schools, often do not have a parent advocating on their behalf.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Useless "business management" education and theory

I hate to be so cliche, but my success in business was learnt in the school of hard knocks. My social science doctorate was no help at all. So I heartily agree with the article below -- JR

Three years ago, Matthew Stewart published a ­provocative article in The Atlantic magazine blasting modern management theory and ­education. His advice to anyone considering an MBA was “don’t go to business school, study philosophy.”The ­secrets of business, he said, were to be found in ­history, literature and the classic ruminations on life and existence, not in the half-baked ramblings of ­business academics, consultants and “gurus.” In “The ­Management Myth,” he expands the Atlantic article into a devastating bombardment of managerial ­thinking and the profession of management consulting. As a former management consultant, Mr. Stewart lived long enough in the belly of the beast to know its ­nature.

Mr. Stewart quotes Bruce Henderson, the founder of the ­Boston Consulting Group, who describes consulting as “the most improbable business on earth” and who goes on to ask: “Can you think of anything less ­improbable [sic] than taking the world’s most ­successful firms, leaders in their businesses, and ­hiring people just fresh out of school and telling them how to run their ­businesses, and they are willing to pay ­millions of dollars for their ­advice?”

Yet jobs at ­consulting firms are still the brass ring for many graduates from elite schools. Chief ­executives continue to blow shareholder money on teams of ­outside consultants, and business schools and ­corporate ­managers routinely ­promote management as a ­science—which might all be fine, Mr. Stewart says, if the effects of management consulting were trivial.

But they are not. Consulting “contributes to a ­misunderstanding about the sources of our prosperity, leading us to neglect the social, moral, and political ­infrastructure on which our well-being depends.” Mr. Stewart argues that the profession is built on a science of management that is both narrow-minded and ­intellectually bogus. In its pursuit of single goals, such as efficiency, it ignores the broader purpose of ­business.

The business world, according to Mr. Stewart, has become so obsessed with its own perverse value ­system and view of human nature that it is ­undermining the “commons” of society. Workers, for instance, are regarded as dehumanized labor, tools for businesses to use and dispose of at will. Management “science” also fails to take into account the broader ­context in which businesses function, choosing to focus on the ­interests of individual businesses at the expense of the rest of society. Mr. Stewart blames the enablers and peddlers of management science, including the consultants who seem to be everywhere.

Mr. Stewart interweaves the story of his own ­inglorious consulting career with his reflections on management’s history as a science. Upon graduating from Oxford with a master’s degree in philosophy, he drifted into a job with a small consulting firm. For the next decade, he bounced around the profession, taking a couple of years off to write an unpublished history of philosophy, rising to be a partner at a new firm and then getting fired before it collapsed.

His account of his consulting work leavens what is a serious and valuable polemic. For an entire year early in his consulting career, Mr. Stewart stashed his ­belongings with his family and moved from hotel to ­hotel on assignment. “Almost all of my interactions with people,” he writes, “were connected to work in some way. . . . With my overpriced advisory services and profligate spending on luxury travel, I was a grossly inefficient efficiency expert, a parody of ­economic virtue.”

The consultant co-workers he describes are a ­collection of intelligent nut-jobs devoted to corporate in-fighting, client-gouging, psychological humiliation and sexual harassment. Mr. Stewart does not name his employers, but he implies that their conduct is ­symptomatic of the profession.

Mr. Stewart traces the problems with management theory back to Frederick Taylor, the early 20th-century evangelist of efficiency. Taylor’s study of the way pig-iron was handled by laborers at Bethlehem Steel was adored by industrial leaders of the time. It led to the notion of scientific management, even though it was soon discovered that Taylor had fudged both his ­research and his results. One of his lead associates called parts of Taylor’s work “nothing but fiction.” It was the original sin behind a century of increasingly influential management science.

Mr. Stewart also takes a scalpel to contemporary business thinkers, including “On Competition” author Michael E. Porter, whose primary aim seems to be ­“figuring out how to secure profits without having to make a better product, work harder, or be smarter.” This is clever but unfair. Mr. Porter’s work on business strategy is in fact considerably richer than Mr. Stewart suggests, pointing to the ways in which businesses can benefit from a proper awareness of the structure and context of their business environment.

The greater cause of “The Management Myth” is to introduce more humanity and apply less bad science in the way we think about business. To judge by the slew of unorthodox business books in recent years inspired by the research of sociologists and behavioral ­psychologists (“The Tipping Point,” ­“Freakonomics,” “Nudge ”) thing may already be going Mr. Stewart’s way. Timothy Ferriss, the young author of “The 4-Hour Work Week” and as influential a figure to his ­generation as Mr. Porter has been to his own, believes that most of what we need to know about work and life was written down centuries ago by Seneca, the Roman philosopher. In the hip, technology crowd, Seneca’s ­essay “On the Shortness of Life”—about living well and behaving honorably—is now required reading. Mr. Stewart should be pleased.


British grade school exam results fall for the first time in 15 years

DESPITE all the grade inflation that now has to be taken for granted!

English test results for 11-year-olds have fallen for the first time in the 15-year history of the national curriculum SATs. Figures published yesterday show one in five youngsters failing to master English – with the percentage reaching the required standard dropping by one percentage point to 80 per cent this year. All told, that means a total of 115,000 primary pupils beginning secondary school next month still struggling to master English. Of these, 46,000 failed to gain any grade at all and are borderline illiterate.

In addition, the percentage mastering the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic has also fallen from 62 per cent to 61 per cent. This, again, is the first fall since joint statistics were first collected four years ago and shows 225,000 struggling to succeed in all three areas. The biggest problem identified by yesterday's results was with boys' writing – where four out of 10 still leave primary school struggling to write properly.

The results are an embarrassment for ministers who now face going into a general election with reading and writing standards in primary schools – their top policy priority in 1997 – falling.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' schools spokesman, said: "Progress in primary schools has clearly stalled and in some cases has even slipped backwards. The yawning gap between girls and boys in literacy is very worrying. One in four boys now starts secondary school without being able to read or write at the expected level."

Yesterday's results show that – at 80 per cent – the numbers reaching the required standard in English remains doggedly at the target set by ministers for 2002 when Labour first took office in 1997. In maths and science, the percentage reaching the required standard remained the same as last year – 79 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.

A second target of achieving 85 per cent in both English and maths – originally pencilled in for 2005 – lies in tatters. A new target of 78 per cent reaching the required standard in both subjects by 2011 looks unattainable, too – the figure slipped from 73 per cent to 72 per cent this year,

Yesterday ministers were at pains to point out that those just failing to reach the target – achieving what is called level three as opposed to the target of level four – should not be considered illiterate or innumerate. Diana Johnson, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Schools and Learning, insisted: "A child at level three, for instance, is able to read and understand a Harry Potter novel." Guidance notes show a level three candidate can read independently and write a sound sentence. In maths, they can do two-figure additions and subtractions in their heads.

Ms Johnson took heart from the fact that, in the-worst performing schools, there had been a six percentage point rise in pupils achieving the standard expected. However, this means there are pockets of under-performance in some of the schools experiencing the best results in the past.

A breakdown of the results show girls are way ahead of boys in reading (89 per cent of girls reached the standard as opposed to 82 per cent of boys) and writing (75 per cent and 60 per cent respectively) and just ahead in science (89 per cent compared to 88 per cent). Boys nudge ahead in maths (79 per cent compared to 78 per cent).

The number of bright youngsters going on to reach a higher level in English – level five – has also fallen by two percentage points in reading to 47 per cent and one percentage point in writing to 19 per cent. In maths, it has gone up four percentage points to 35 per cent....

Michael Gove, the Conservatives' schools spokesman, added: "We have seen a historic drop in English results, the brightest students are not being stretched and the weakest are being failed the most. "This is final proof that Labour, elected on a platform to raise standards in education, has failed to deliver."

Ms Johnson said that plans to introduce more one-to-one coaching for struggling pupils from September would help to improve standards.

More here

Running out of rationales to oppose DC school vouchers

Washington, D.C. is about as politically liberal a city as there is anywhere in the United States. President Barack Obama rolled up a 93 percent landslide win over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to garner D.C.'s three electoral votes last November. The District has never come close to going Republican since the 23rd Amendment gave its residents the right to vote in presidential elections beginning in 1964.

So if school vouchers are part of a right-wing plot to take down public education, as teacher union leaders often insinuate, this method of advancing school choice ought to be despised by the vast majority of D.C. residents.

To the contrary, the latest public opinion poll on the issue shows 74 percent of D.C.'s registered voters view favorably the federally funded program that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 to 1,700 needy children to enable them to attend private schools.

Moreover, nearly eight in 10 parents of school-age children in D.C. oppose ending the vouchers, which are officially called D.C. Opportunity Scholarships.

Will this impressive show of public support make a difference? In March, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill with a provision engineered by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin that targets D.C. vouchers for extinction. President Obama intervened only to the extent of preserving the tuition aid for students already in their chosen schools, refusing to extend this educational lifeline to future students.

The opinion poll was commissioned by the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and released by it and eight other groups, including the Greater Washington Urban League. The polling was done by a respected firm, Braun Research, Inc., which has done work for such organizations as Gallup, Pew Research Center, and Newsweek.

The research showed deep support for school choice beyond just this voucher program. For instance, 74 percent of voters had a favorable view of charter schools, which are independently managed public schools parents are free to choose.

As Friedman executive Robert Enlow wondered aloud, what more evidence could possibly be needed to show official Washington this program is both valued and valuable?

In addition to the show of public support (which also includes a letter of endorsement from a majority of D.C. City Council members), a U.S. Department of Education study has shown voucher students reading at a significantly higher level than their public-school peers.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is still trying to lead a bipartisan effort to rescue the voucher program when it comes up for reauthorization. However, unless President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan join in and defy the National Education Association, which virulently opposes all school choice vouchers, the D.C. program will likely die on the vine. Lately, the two have been courting the teacher unions as backers of national education standards and assessments, along with more government scrutiny of charter schools.

One might think the wishes of voters in a city that gave Obama 93 percent support would carry more weight with the president, but the NEA has a huge political war chest, thanks to its ability to collect hefty mandatory dues from its 3.2 million members. Sometimes, however, money talks louder than voters.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Obama Administration To Impose Liberal UN Curriculum

On July 24, 2009, the U.S Department of Education (DOE) announced that the "centerpiece of the Obama administration's education reform efforts" in its "$4.35 billion Race to the Top," will include "adopting internationally benchmarked education standards." These will be national standards, said the press release, keyed to international standards and will be incentivized to the states with federal "stimulus" dollars.

By the term "education standards" DOE means content standards; meaning curriculum-the content schools must teach. By "national education standards" DOE means that schools in all 50 states will teach the same content. This will create a de facto federal curriculum The Department of Education will financially reward those states that teach what DOE wants taught. The Department can be expected to insist that the values taught in the national curriculum conform to the very liberal ideology of the Obama administration.

According to the announcement, this federal curriculum will consist of "internationally benchmarked" standards. The only extant comprehensive "internationally benchmarked" education standards are those developed by UNESCO, the UN's education arm The UNESCO website clarifies that its education standards conform to the treaties and agreements of the UN. This means that its curriculum includes, for example, the requirements of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which says, "Education shall . . . further the activities of the United Nations" (Art. 26:2).

American schools used to teach the fundamental values of the United States--including the inalienable, God-given rights of life, liberty and property, as guaranteed by our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Not any more. Now our students will be indoctrinated in the UN's definition of human rights. As clarified by the UN's UDHR, our rights now may not "be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations" (Art 29:3). Our children will be taught that they have only those rights the UN says they have.

The UNESCO standards also include the UN's Earth Charter which further defines internationally benchmarked standards. The Charter says these standards must entail what it calls "sustainability education" (Art 14:b). The Charter explains that "sustainability education" entails the "promotion of the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations" (Art. 10:a), nuclear disarmament (Art. 16:d), gay marriage (Art. 12:a), legalized abortion (Art. 7:e), adoption of an "international legally binding instrument on environment" (The way Forward), and indoctrination in pantheism (Art. 14d and Art. 16:f).

The National Governor's Association is enabling the Obama administration's plans by calling for "voluntary national education standards." Goals 2000 of 1994 was "voluntary," too, but most legislators were unaware of the fine print in the companion bill, HR6, which required that states would lose all their federal education funding if they failed to comply. That is why all 50 states joined Goals 2000. The Obama administration has made it clear that it views "voluntary national standards" the same way.


School Choice Would Satisfy Hunger for Change

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently wrote in the Washington Post about the plans for the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund, saying it is "by far the largest pot of discretionary funding for K-12 education reform in the history of the United States." Yet, even in the midst of an unprecedented recession, adding more money is not the only answer.

Since 2000 education funding has increase 49 percent, and student performance has yet to see improvements. However, Secretary Duncan stated, "America urgently needs to elevate the quality of K-12 schooling and boost college graduation rates, not simply to propel the economic recovery but also because students need stronger skills to compete in a global economy." To compete globally, we must consider international practices that are working.

In their shoot-for-the-moon, Race to the Top competition, states should look to countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands for models of allowing the education funding to follow the child either to public, private, or independent schools. This method, not only equalizing the playing field for all children to have a chance of success-but by creating market competition saves the state money in the long run.

In the U.S., existing school choice programs have saved nearly $444 million from 1990 to 2006. "I have visited 23 states in the past six months and have met countless students, teachers, parents, and administrators who hunger for change," says Duncan. Why not end that hunger once and for all with change from the bottom-up, instead of more top-down pablum that satisfies no one except defenders of the status quo?


Britain's grade-school marking bungles continue

Key Stage 2 test papers sent back for remarking by primary schools

Thousands of primary school national curriculum test papers have been sent back by schools for re-marking, The Times has discovered. Teachers’ leaders say that hundreds of schools have complained, but that the extent of the problem is even wider and that the standard of marking should be investigated by Ofqual, the exams regulator.

National results for the Key Stage 2 tests, which were taken by about 600,000 11-year-olds, will be released today although individual schools already know how their pupils have done. Heads and teachers plan to boycott the tests next year amid accusations that they restrict the curriculum and damage children’s learning.

More than 100 schools have contacted one teaching union to say that they have returned papers. Head teachers believe that many more have done the same without contacting their unions.

The National Association of Head Teachers, which represents 85 per cent of primary school head teachers, said that “considerable numbers” of its members had complained about standards of marking since Edexcel returned the test papers last month.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary, said: “There have been particular concerns about the quality of marking in the writing papers. This affects the overall score in English. There is an average 17 percentage point difference between standards in writing and reading among the same children taught by the same teachers. “Either reading has been marked too high or writing has been marked too low. Wherever we go, people are particularly incandescent about the quality of marking of writing. “We want Ofqual to find out how many schools have appealed. We think the ones who have contacted us could be the tip of the iceberg.”

The Liberal Democrats predicted that today’s figures would show that the number of children leaving primary school unable to read or write, since Labour came to power, would pass 500,000.

Formerly called SATs, the tests in English, maths and science are taken at the end of a child’s primary school education and are used to judge how much each child has improved since they started at the school. The results are then used to rank schools. Many teachers and some parents want the tests for 11-year-olds to be abolished. Key Stage 3 tests, which were sat by 14-year-olds, were abolished last year after problems with marking resulted in the loss and delayed return of millions of papers taken by both age groups.

An inquiry discovered that ETS Europe, the company responsible for setting and marking the tests, had a huge backlog of unanswered e-mails and phone calls and that there were unresolved problems with the online marking system. The £156 million contract with ETS, which was to run for five years, was severed in its first year and Ken Boston resigned as head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the government agency responsible for overseeing the tests.

Last year’s chaos saw about 200,000 papers returned for re-marking, four times the number sent back in 2007. These included the Key Stage 3 test results and Key Stage 2 science tests, both of which were abolished this year, making comparisons difficult.

This year’s tests were administered by Edexcel, the exam board that was also responsible for them between 2005 and 2007. Two of the biggest teaching unions have voted to disrupt next year’s tests if the Government does not accede to their demands.

Kathleen Tattersall, chairman of Ofqual, said it would investigate this year’s marking. She added: “I’m pleased that, this year, 99.9 per cent of results have been received by schools on time. Following the problems experienced last year, the timely delivery of results will be welcomed by schools, parents and pupils. “Ofqual is continuing to monitor the quality control of the marking of this year’s papers and we will be listening to schools about any concerns that they might have. Building on research already done, we will do some further work into the marking quality of this year’s tests.”

Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, said: “We know that 163,000 more pupils have gained at least a Level 3 in English, and 183,000 in maths, than if school standards had remained the same as in 1997. This means that thousands more children have started secondary school with a firm foundation in the basics.”


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Unionized teachers are the enemy of good education

The conflicting interests of teachers unions and students is an underreported education story, so we thought we’d highlight two recent stories in Baltimore and New York City that illustrate the problem.

The Ujima Village Academy is one of the best public schools in Baltimore and all of Maryland. Students at the charter middle school are primarily low-income minorities; 98% are black and 84% qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Yet Ujima Village students regularly outperform the top-flight suburban schools on state tests. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Ujima Village students earned the highest eighth-grade math scores in Maryland. Started in 2002, the school has met or exceeded state academic standards every year—a rarity in a city that boasts one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country.

Ujima Village is part of the KIPP network of charter schools, which now extends to 19 states and Washington, D.C. KIPP excels at raising academic achievement among disadvantaged children who often arrive two or three grade-levels behind in reading and math. KIPP educators cite longer school days and a longer school year as crucial to their success. At KIPP schools, kids start as early as 7:30 a.m., stay as late as 5 p.m., and attend school every other Saturday and three weeks in the summer.

However, Maryland’s charter law requires teachers to be part of the union. And the Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding that the charter school pay its teachers 33% more than other city teachers, an amount that the school says it can’t afford. Ujima Village teachers are already paid 18% above the union salary scale, reflecting the extra hours they work. To meet the union demands, the school recently told the Baltimore Sun that it has staggered staff starting times, shortened the school day, canceled Saturday classes and laid off staffers who worked with struggling students. For teachers unions, this outcome is a victory; how it affects the quality of public education in Baltimore is beside the point.

Meanwhile, in New York City, some public schools have raised money from parents to hire teaching assistants. Last year, the United Federation of Teachers filed a grievance about the hiring, and city education officials recently ordered an end to the practice. “It’s hurting our union members,” said a UFT spokesman, even though it’s helping kids and saving taxpayers money. The aides typically earned from $12 to $15 an hour. Their unionized equivalents cost as much as $23 an hour, plus benefits.

“School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more, but would also probably bring in people with less experience,” reported the New York Times. Many of the teaching assistants hired directly by schools had graduate degrees in education and state teaching licenses, while the typical unionized aide lacks a four-year degree.

The actions of the teachers unions in both Baltimore and New York make sense from their perspective. Unions exist to advance the interests of their members. The problem is that unions present themselves as student advocates while pushing education policies that work for their members even if they leave kids worse off. Until school choice puts more money and power in the hands of parents, public education will continue to put teachers ahead of students.


Three million British pupils have left primary school without the basics since the Labour party came to power

More than three million children have started secondary school without a proper grasp of reading, writing and maths since Labour came to power. Half a million have left primary school unable to read and write at all. The depressing figures come despite Labour investing billions over the past decade in literacy and numeracy drives.

This September alone, around four in ten children - almost 220,000 - are expected to move up to secondary school without sufficient mastery of the three Rs. They will struggle to punctuate basic sentences, spell words with more than one syllable or recall the six times table. Around 35,000 will be completely unable to read and write.

National curriculum test results for 11-year-olds, published today, are expected to show that more than one in five is failing to reach the grade in maths, while almost as many are not achieving the standard expected of their age in English.

Between 1998 and last year, 3,069,843 children who took national tests for 11-year-olds failed to achieve 'level four' in reading, writing and maths, the standard expected for their age. An analysis by the Liberal Democrats shows that 465,797 of these children left primary school with 'no useful literacy' over the same period. This number is expected to pass the 500,000 mark when the Government unveils this year's results later today. Last year, 81 per cent of pupils reached 'level four' in English and 78 per cent in maths. This represented a one percentage point increase in both subjects on the figures for 2007. However, 39 per cent failed to achieve the required standard in reading, writing and maths combined.

Today's figures are expected to show marginal improvements in English and maths but they will still fall short of the Government's 85 per cent target in both subjects.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman-David Laws said: 'It is shocking that under Labour nearly half a million children have so far left primary school unable to read and write. 'These children are far more likely to fall further behind and be turned off education altogether.'

Tory education spokesman Michael Gove said: 'Ministers may boast about ever-rising standards. But the reality is that hundreds of thousands of students do not have the qualifications required to compete effectively in the current economic environment.'


British Conservatives talk crap on education

"Excellence should be for all" -- a dreamy Leftist impossibility, a logical impossibility, in fact. The Labour party tried it for years with a disastrous outcome. There is no alternative to bringing back the Grammar (selective) schools if a way is to be opened up for all able Britons to get a decent education

Mr Gove is one of the inner circle, that core of those closest to the leader who provoke jealousy among some MPs. He is so close, in fact, that the Goves share the school run with the Camerons. As the party's education spokesman, it is his task to persuade the sceptics that a Conservative policy that is explicitly against grammar schools and selection stands a cat's chance of reversing the appalling decline in standards over the past 30 years.

It is a tall order. There are those who believe the Conservatives are ducking the real debate about education reform because they are cowards, public-school boys too embarrassed about their origins to challenge a cosy Left-wing consensus about comprehensive education.

The recent attack by the Charity Commission on the charitable status of independent schools is a case in point. Why did we not hear more from Mr Gove? He professes his admiration for what the independent sector achieves and boasts of his contacts with the headmasters of Eton and St Paul's. Asked whether he would reverse attempts to end the tax advantages of private schools, he says he is reviewing the issue: "Excellent academic institutions should not be damaged in this country."

He says he wants to run education for the many, not the few. "The responsibility of the Shadow Secretary of State is primarily to ensure that state education improves. The crucial argument that we need to have is how do we improve all of our children's education, given that the majority will be educated in the state sector."

What he takes issue with is the "soft bigotry of low expectations" – a phrase coined by George Bush senior – on both the Left and the Right. "There are people on the Right and on the Left who assume that any academic education can only ever be the preserve of a minority. They are both wrong."

Mr Gove is a Scot, who was adopted by parents from a modest background who made great efforts to educate him privately and send him to Oxford. This "accident of birth" informs the zeal with which he approaches the issue of grammar schools and selection.

He knows the emotion the issue provokes. His party bears the scars of a dispute that still simmers. The audience on Radio 4's Any Questions? recently roared its approval when the columnist Peter Hitchens called for a return to grammar schools. The view is one that exercises readers of The Daily Telegraph. My colleague Simon Heffer is one of their most eloquent champions.

"People know there is something wrong with our education system and they know the rot set in the Sixties," Mr Gove says. He insists he, too, wants a return to traditional teaching, to narrative history built around a chronology, to teachers as respected figures who introduce children to an inheritance of knowledge, to the proper place for science and mathematics,

"So when Peter Hitchens evokes grammar schools, or Simon Heffer does, or Jeff Randall does, all of them are absolutely hitting the sweet spot of public concern. Because people know that the place of knowledge at the heart of our curriculum is not what it was and not what it should be. More and more children should be given access to that kind of education. A proper knowledge-based curriculum should be available to all rather than just a few."

But surely that cannot be done without selection? It is a "difficulty" in the debate, he admits. Excellence should be for all. "I hope Simon Heffer wouldn't have any objection to all children enjoying the sort of education that he enjoyed. Simon's fear, I think, is that in order to have a good education you have to ration it to a minority. If you open it too widely, you dilute the quality."

Mr Gove's favourite school is Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, where the teachers wear ties, the pupils rise whenever an adult enters the room, and all students follow an academic curriculum until 16. And it is a state comprehensive. "For a school what matters is not its intake, but its ethos."

Mr Gove wants to turn every comprehensive into a grammar, but without the selection: "We will ensure that the curriculum your children are taught reflects your values, your concerns and your priorities."

To achieve that, he proposes a number of supply-side reforms, the most important being an end to local-authority control over the supply of school places, allowing funding to follow pupils wherever they go, and a pupil "premium" for those in poor areas to give an incentive to new providers – charities, livery companies, private firms – to set up new independent academies.

It is a priority for the first Queen's Speech of a new administration, but he fears some on his own side do not quite understand how serious Mr Cameron is about education. "We are going to have in David Cameron a Prime Minister who has made it explicitly clear that anyone who gets in his way will be blown out of the way," he says, before acknowledging the doubts some have about his leader.

More here

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

College Grad Can't Find Job, Wants $$$ Back

She went to college to boost her chances of finding a great job once she got out of school, but now that that hasn't happened, Trina Thompson wants her money back. Thompson, a graduate of Monroe College, is suing her school for the $70,000 she spent on tuition because she hasn't found solid employment since receiving her bachelor's degree in April, according to a published report.

The business-oriented school in the Bronx didn't do enough to help her find a job, Thompson alleges, so she wants a refund. The college says it does plenty for grads.

The 27-year-old information-technology student accuses the school's Office of Career Advancement for not living up to its end of the deal and offering her the leads and employment advice it promised, according to The New York Post. "They have not tried hard enough to help me," the beleaguered Bronx resident wrote in her lawsuit, filed July 24 in Bronx Supreme Court.

Thompson's mother is proud of her daughter for completing her college education, but acknowledges Trina is upset that all her high hopes haven't panned out. The mother and daughter live together, but Trina's mother, Carol, is a substitute teacher and the only one of the two who makes any money. They're barely scraping enough together to get by, reports the Post. On top of her unemployment woes, Trina now faces mounting debt from student loans.

"This is not the way we want to live our life," her mom told the paper. "This is not what we planned." Monroe defends its career-advice programs and is adamant that its staff assists young professionals in their careers. "The lawsuit is completely without merit," school spokesman Gary Axelbank told the Post. "The college prides itself on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students, and this case does not deserve further consideration."

On the school's Web site, the career program boasts that it provides free services for graduates at any point in their lives.


An interesting reader comment suggests that the young lady may have been misled about the suitability of her education for the work available:

She probably has never made an Ethernet cable, been inside a noisy server room, built her own computer, and would tremble in ignorance if she had to go on-site and figure out an issue at a co-location facility. I get these people all the time submitting their resumes to me thinking that they're automatically qualified for a 90K per year job to start because of an IT degree. Sorry, I'll take a kid who figured out much of this stuff on his own and who has the nicks and cuts along with boxes full of parts and wires from hands-on work over today's average grads who can recite from memory the OSI model but have no idea what it means.

British universities accused of dumbing down after number of first class degrees doubles in a decade

Universities have been accused of falling standards after it emerged that the number of first-class degrees has almost doubled in a decade. A scathing report by MPs claimed university vice-chancellors are guilty of 'defensive complacency' over fears of grade inflation. It also voiced frustration that different institutions appear to use wildly varying standards to grade students. This suggests that top grades from some newer universities are not the same as those gained from top colleges, such as Oxford or Cambridge.

The powerful all-party Commons' select committee on innovation, universities, science and skills provides a damning indictment on standards in higher education. MPs have accused universities of not doing enough to safeguard degree quality, with vice chancellors guilty of 'defensive complacency' over the subject. Vice chancellors are already under fire after seeing their average pay rise by nine per cent to £193,970, which is virtually Gordon Brown's salary.

Meanwhile, figures in the report show that the proportion of graduates awarded a first has risen from 7.7 per cent in 1996/7 to 13.3 per cent in 2007/8. The proportion of upper second class degrees has also risen from 44.5 per cent in 1996/7 to 48.1 per cent in 2007/8.

MPs concluded that 'different standards may be being applied' at different universities. Committee chairman Phil Willis claimed that 'inconsistency in standards is rife and there is a reluctance to address this issue'. His committee 'found no appetite' in universities 'to explore key issues such as the reasons for proportional increases in first and upper second class honours degrees in the past 15 years'.

MPs said: 'It is unacceptable to the committee that vice chancellors could not give a straightforward answer to the simple question of whether first class honours degrees achieved at different universities indicate the same or different intellectual standards.' For example, there was no clear answer to MPs' attempts to discover whether an upper second history degree from Oxford University and former polytechnic Oxford Brookes University were equivalent.

The report argued that the current system for ensuring quality is 'out of date' and needs to be replaced. It described as 'absurd and disreputable' the claim that the growing demand for courses, including from overseas students, is proof that university standards are being maintained.

The report also attacks the elite Russell Group of universities which had claimed there was no evidence of 'degree inflation' and pointed to a strong correlation between entry qualifications and degree results.

MPs said: 'In our view, it is not a sufficient defence of the comparability of standards to show that they match the improvement in A-level grades. 'On this logic, if A-level grades have inflated unjustifiably (and there are many who think they have) then so must higher education degree classes.'

Gillian Evans, a lecturer in medieval theology at Oxford University and an expert in university regulation, yesterday attributed the rise in first class degrees to competition for league table positions. She said: 'I am quite sure the reason proportions have gone up is exactly the same as the reasons A-levels have gone up: it's straightforward grade inflation, chasing a place in league tables.'

And Liberal Democrat universities spokesman Stephen Williams added: 'Universities often raise the issue of grade inflation in GCSEs and A-levels so they should not be afraid of examining degree classification to ensure that standards are high.'

But Wendy Piatt, of the Russell Group of leading universities, insisted that 'universities are not schools'. She said: 'An essential feature of a university is its academic freedom and autonomy with the responsibility to award degrees and standards.'

Lord Mandelson, Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary, said: 'I don't recognise the committee's description of our higher education sector, which is in fact world class and second only to the USA as a top destination for overseas students.'

More than half of university students will be forced to rely on help from their parents when the new term begins, research suggests. In total, parents are contributing 61 per cent of their child's weekly term time income (around £69), up from 58 per cent (£64) last year, the sixth annual Student Living Index found. Almost four in ten students will be juggling their studies with part-time work in order to make ends meet.

Critics have previously claimed that universities are under pressure to award more first class degrees due to the growing number of overseas students who pay higher fees. UK students are also demanding a return for their money after the introduction of top-up fees.


Australia: Running writing consigned to blackboard of history

This is one innovation I agree with. Printing is more legible. Just to be awkward, I think I will start using cursive again, however. It would be a pity if it were lost. I might even see if I can find my old fountain pen

Running writing is being progressively phased out at Perth primary schools. The death knell has tolled for running writing, with a Perth Hills primary school making printing its hand writing of choice. Chidlow Primary School principal Darrell Kent told Radio 6PR's Harvey Deegan that printing was already the default option for most children when they took notes. "We're teaching a form of printing rather than necessarily cursive hand writing," Mr Kent said. "When adults sit down and write or fill in forms it's always in printing rather than cursive hand writing."

A report penned by Chidlow Primary School reasoned that the "vast majority" of WA students from Year 6 to Year 12 print when presenting their work, taking notes and focusing on writing neatness. The report said that running writing, otherwise known as Victorian Modern Cursive, was used by most students only at school. Printing also matched the format of computer keyboards, the report noted. "The focus is on the educational side of the kids," Mr Kent said. "This is a way that encourages people in spelling and other things as well."

Department of Education spokesman Andrew Thompson said his agency no longer required running writing to be taught in West Australian schools. Mr Thompson said Chidlow Primary's decision to make printing the handwriting of choice was made in consultation with parents and teachers.


Monday, August 03, 2009

God and Majors

Some parents of faith have long worried about the possible impact of (secular) colleges on the religious observances of their children. A new national study that looks at trends between study of certain subjects and religious observance provides some evidence to back up those worries, but also may surprise members of some disciplines and some faiths. And the research also finds that religious students are more likely than others to attend college. The study is by four scholars at the University of Michigan and was released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract and ordering information available here). Among the findings:

The odds of going to college increase for high school students who attend religious services more frequently or who view religion as more important in their lives. The researchers speculate that there may be a "nagging theory" in which fellow churchgoers encourage the students to attend college.

Being a humanities or a social science major has a statistically significant negative effect on religiosity -- measured by either religious attendance and how important students consider the importance of religion in their lives. The impact appears to be strongest in the social sciences.

Students in education and business show an increase in religiosity over their time at college.

Majoring in the biological or physical sciences does not affect religious attendance of students, but majoring in the physical sciences does negatively relate to the way students view the importance of religion in their lives.

Religious attendance is positively associated with staying in majors in the social sciences, biological sciences and business majors. For most vocational majors, the researchers found a negative relationship between religious attendance and staying in the same major. The researchers compare this finding to their data about how students who attend services are more likely to enroll in college in the first place: "In both cases, religious attendance encourages a shift toward a higher status path."

The study also pays attention to those who switch majors in college, noting that initial majors may reflect in part students' pre-collegiate values (or parents' values and religiosity). Here the study students with high levels of religiosity are significantly more likely than others to switch into education majors, and more likely than others to switch into the humanities and biology.

The data in the study are from the Monitoring the Future Study, a University of Michigan research project that conducts surveys of a nationally representative sample of high school seniors, following a representative sample of them into college. The study is the primary source of national data on trends in drug use among students, but the survey participants are asked many questions about demographics, beliefs and education that allow for the comparisons made on student majors and religiosity.

The Michigan scholars who wrote the study -- Miles S. Kimball, Colter M. Mitchell, Arland D. Thornton and Linda C. Young-Demarco -- write that they were interested to see whether a scientific mindset would discourage religiosity, or whether postmodern ideas associated with the humanities and some other fields would.

"Our results are thus consistent with the overall theoretical framework guiding this research. We believe that there are important differences among the college majors in world views and overall philosophies of life....," they write. "[O]ur results suggest that postmodernism, rather than science, is the bête noir -- the strongest antagonist -- of religiosity."


Should Public Schools Close for Muslim Holidays?

New York City public schools have long recognized Christian and Jewish holidays. Now many Muslims want classes canceled for theirs as well. Last month the City Council agreed, passing a nonbinding resolution which urges that Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha be included. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has the final say on the matter, is not so enthusiastic. "If you close the schools for every single holiday," he argued, "there won't be any school."

Addressing the dispute begins with understanding how religious holidays end up on public school calendars. Though the First Amendment blocks government bodies from promoting religion, faith-based holidays often have secular impacts that can be taken into account. Specifically, if enough students — not to mention teachers and staff — will not show up on a given date, it is difficult to conduct business as usual. Charles C. Haynes writes:

Christian and Jewish holiday closings can probably be justified under the First Amendment because there are legitimate secular grounds for the policy. In New York City, Christians remain the majority faith and Jews make up approximately 12% of the population.

If New York schools are unable to function well due to high absenteeism among students and faculty on certain holy days, then school officials may close for educational reasons without violating the establishment clause.

So how many Muslims attend New York City public schools? Activists who support the resolution claim that 12% of students are Muslim. It must be noted, however, that U.S. Islamic groups have a history of overstating the size of the population they represent. Indeed, a 2008 Columbia University study estimates that Muslims comprise closer to 10% of city pupils, while others insist that the fraction is lower still. Clearly we require better data.

Yet if it could be demonstrated objectively that the numbers of Muslims and Jews in the school system are comparable, it is hard to see how the city would be able to justify canceling classes for Jewish holidays but not for Muslim ones. After all, the same secular arguments used to back closure on religious holidays would apply equally to each set.

Because conflicts are inevitable in a diverse school system with ever-shifting demographics, New York City would be wise to adopt a neutral formula for recognizing holidays, based solely on the number of students who celebrate them. It also would be reasonable to grant pupils an excused absence or two that could be put toward fulfilling religious requirements.

Successfully navigating the challenges of a multi-faith society starts with a simple mantra: equal rights for all and special privileges for none. To this end, if and when schools accommodate religious holidays, they must do so in a manner that is unbiased and detached from politics.


Britain: Teacher who complained about training day 'promoting gay rights' is cleared

A senior teacher who was suspended after complaining that a training day for staff was used to promote gay rights has been reinstated. Kwabena Peat, 54, is to return to his £50,000-a-year job at a North London school next term after his plight was highlighted by The Mail on Sunday in April.

Mr Peat was one of several Christian staff who walked out of the compulsory training session in January after an invited speaker questioned why heterosexuality was assumed to be natural.

Mr Peat, a history teacher who is also a head of year, said he had expected the session on child protection issues merely to provide information to help teachers tackle homophobic bullying.

He sent a written complaint to three staff members involved in organising the session and was then suspended because they said they felt harassed by the letter.

The teacher, supported by the Christian Legal Centre and human rights lawyer Paul Diamond, denied harassment as the staff to whom he had complained were senior to him. The school’s appeal panel has now agreed the charge was out of proportion.

The director of the Christian Legal Centre, Andrea Williams, said: ‘What kind of society are we living in when a legitimate orthodox Christian view is construed in this way?’


Sunday, August 02, 2009

That desperate Leftist faith in money again

You begin to wonder who the capitalists are when it comes to education

The Obama Administration unveiled its new “Race to the Top” initiative late last week, in which it will use the lure of $4.35 billion in federal cash to induce states to improve their K-12 schools. This is going to be interesting to watch, because if nothing else the public school establishment is no longer going to be able to say that lack of money is its big problem.

Four billion dollars is a lot of money, but it’s a tiny percentage of what the U.S. spends on education. The Department of Education estimates that the U.S. as a whole spent $667 billion on K-12 education in the 2008-09 school year alone, up from $553 billion in 2006-07. The stimulus bill from earlier this year includes some $100 billion more in federal education spending—an unprecedented amount. The tragedy is that nearly all of this $100 billion is being dispensed to the states by formula, which allows school districts to continue resisting reform while risking very little in overall federal funding.

All of this is on top of the education spending boom during the Bush years to pay for the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Democrats liked to claim that law was “underfunded,” but the reality is that inflation-adjusted Education Department elementary and secondary spending under President Bush grew to $37.9 billion from $28.3 billion, or 34%. NCLB-specific funding rose by more than 40% between 2001 and 2008.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has been trying without much success to spend its way to education excellence for decades. Between 1970 and 2004, per-pupil outlays more than doubled in real terms, and the federal portion of that spending nearly tripled. Yet reading scores on national standardized tests have remained relatively flat. Black and Hispanic students are doing better, but they continue to lag far behind white students in both test scores and graduation rates.

So now comes “Race to the Top,” which the Obama Administration claims will reward only those states that raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and expand the reach of charter schools. “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group,” said President Obama on Friday. “Instead, it will be based on a simple principle—whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant.”

Sounds great, though this White House is, at the behest of the unions, also shuttering a popular school voucher program that its own evaluation shows is improving test scores for low-income minorities in Washington, D.C. The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first. The acid test is whether Messrs. Duncan and Obama are willing to withhold money from politically important states as the calendar marches toward 2012.

Race to the Top is bound to have some impact, and lawmakers in several states—including Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Massachusetts—already have passed charter-friendly legislation in hopes of tapping the fund. But the exercise will fail if it is merely a one-off trade of cash for this or that new law. The key is whether the money can be used to promote enough school choice and other reforms that induce school districts to change how the other $800 billion or so is spent.

Charter schools and voucher programs regularly produce better educational outcomes with less money. But as long as most education spending goes to support the status quo, Race to the Top will be mostly a case of political show and tell.


A Portrait of STEM Majors

That science students tend to be Asian I have remarked before in connection with my son's recent graduation. I am pleased that my son is helping in a small way to keep alive the Anglo presence in STEM. He is a mathematician

From new federal grant programs to angst-ridden reports to Congressional scrutiny, concern has accelerated without pause in recent years about whether the United States is drawing enough young people to study science and technology fields in college. Policy makers have paid comparatively little attention, however, to how the students who enter those disciplines fare, and whether they stay in those fields once they enter them.

A new federal study aims to remedy that. The report, "Students Who Study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Postsecondary Education," from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, examines three federal databases to follow students who enter those high-demand fields through the higher education pipeline.

In addition to largely reaffirming the demographic profile of the 23 percent of students who chose to major in science and technology fields during their undergraduate careers -- disproportionately male, Asian and of foreign citizenship, and more likely to be of traditional age than older -- the study puts the outcomes of those students side by side with their peers who do not major in science fields, and finds that they compare favorably.

Students who entered college in 1995-96 and majored in a STEM field some time between then and 2001 earned a degree or certificate at a rate of 54.9 percent, compared to 50.6 percent for students who did not choose a science or technology major. Within science fields, the rates were highest for those in the physical sciences (68.4 percent), natural sciences (63.5), and mathematics (61.4 percent), and lowest for those in computer or information sciences (46.4). Fifty-three percent of engineering students earned a credential, but they were least likely among their STEM peers to earn a bachelor's degree (as opposed to an associate degree or certificate).

But while the general outcomes of science and technology students were stronger than their peers, the degrees they earned were not necessarily in STEM fields. Of the 1995-96 entering students who majored in a STEM field at some point during their undergraduate careers, 40.7 percent got a degree or certificate in a science, math or technology field and another 12 percent were still enrolled in one of those fields, but 20.6 percent had left STEM disciplines entirely and 26.7 percent had left postsecondary education.

White students in STEM majors were likelier than their peers of other races to have earned a degree (43.9 percent vs. 39.9 percent for Asian, 33.1 percent for Hispanic, and 31.7 percent for black), and those whose parents had at least a bachelor's degree were far likelier than STEM majors whose parents had less education to get a degree.


Australian government school wins battle with bureaucratic bullies over wasted "stimulus" money

Wow! They actually now get to do something useful with the money -- but only after big publicity

A DISSIDENT primary school principal who blew the whistle on bungling within the government's $14.7 billion Building the Education Revolution program has won his way. The school, in Melbourne's outer southeast, was originally offered a $3 million gym, even though it already had a gym. It was told to accept the gym or lose its share of money in the first funding round in March.

But now, after spilling the beans in The Australian, Berwick Lodge Primary School principal Henry Grossek says Victorian education authorities have caved in to his demands for a library and new classrooms instead. Mr Grossek has urged other schools to resist bureaucratic bullying. "In speaking out we haven't been penalised," he told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "It's a tick for the federal government. Some principals are now ruing the decision to keep quiet."

The veteran principal was pictured on the front page of The Australian last month after he wrote a scathing open letter detailing claims of bullying, incompetence and dubious accounting in his school's upgrade. When his school was allocated $3m to build a second gym it did not want or need, Mr Grossek obtained an independent valuation that put its cost at $1.65m. He then told state officials the school wanted a library and some classrooms to the full value of the grant.

"If you stand up and make a stand in a professional manner, and you are supported by the community, you give other people confidence in doing that," he said yesterday. "After I spoke out, other principals came out in our region and spoke out. "It had an impact on others who would have (otherwise) been a bit fearful to speak out. "We were also taking a stand against bullying and harassment. You don't stop bullying by pretending it is not there or giving in to that kind of behaviour."

Mr Grossek said Victorian officials had since been instructed that his school be given the library and six classrooms it had originally sought. And it could spend any leftover funds on a "companion project", up to the total value of $3m. The Victorian Department of Education confirmed yesterday that Berwick Lodge would be given the library and six classrooms, although it made no mention in its response to The Weekend Australian about a "companion project".

A spokesman said the department had worked closely with schools to "ensure that the best results for the school and local community" could be achieved within the BER guidelines. "In some cases this working relationship has resulted in solutions being negotiated and proposals being modified," he said. "In all cases the best interests of the school community and their future needs has been paramount." [Blah, blah, blah!]

The Queensland Education Department this week gagged its school principals from speaking to the media. "If your school is contacted by a journalist to request information held by the school ... it will have to be referred to the (department's) media manager," says a letter circulated to schools this week. The ban flies in the face of calls by federal Education Minister Julia Gillard this week for a "raging debate" about education, when she urged the media to interview teachers and school leaders.

"Let's fill the newspapers with a raging debate, a passionate debate about the future of our education system," she said in a speech on Wednesday. "I'd like to see our newspapers speak to every one of Australia's 9500 school principals and report every word they say. "I'd like to see our newspapers surveying teachers and parents on what is happening at their local school." [She knows how hopeless the bureaucrats are too]

The Queensland's Education Department's media unit yesterday refused to give a reason for the gag. [Reason? Who needs a reason? Secrecy is just a normal reflex for them. If people knew all that went on there would be no end of trouble]