Saturday, October 10, 2009

Do Kids Need More Time in School?

President Obama recommends shorter summer vacations for U.S. schoolchildren so they can attend school for more days than they do already, because he believes that they’re at a disadvantage compared to students in other countries. His Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says more school hours will “even the playing field” when it comes to comparing our schoolchildren to those in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers excel with far fewer hours of instruction than most public schoolchildren receive. So is it really more hours of instruction that schoolchildren need? First off, President Obama’s assertion appears to be inaccurate:
Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school. “Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school. Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests - Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

Apparently children in the countries that outscore ours in math and science attend school for more days per year but fewer hours per year. So the suggestion by Obama and Duncan that a longer school day results in “gains” (test scores, which do not necessarily equal learning) is not backed up by the foreign countries whose kids outscore ours. They actually have shorter school days.

But if you read the entire article, you find that merely educating kids isn’t really the point anyway. Here are your clues:
The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents. That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. “Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan said. “They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”

Do you see it? What we’re talking about here goes way beyond merely educating a child. This is about raising children because their parents have been deemed unable or unwilling. This is about schools becoming publicly subsidized daycare centers for school-age children, even on the weekends.

What it’s not about is how many hours of instruction it takes to educate a child so he can beat the math and science scores of kids in other countries. Homeschoolers have already demonstrated that.


British students stumped by photo of Australian leader

Who is the mysterious man above? Don't ask a British university student. Since there is an endless and heavy traffic of visits to Australia by Brits and visits to Britain by Australians, this degree of ignorance is a good commentary on British education. Australia is one country, Brits SHOULD know about. But it appears that even very bright students know very little

KEVIN Rudd may be on record highs of popularity in Australia, however it appears he has not made much of an impact in the British university scene. In a recent episode of the venerable BBC quiz show University Challenge, the UK's brainiest youths were shown pictures of various leaders of the G20 nations and asked to match them to their home country.

But when a picture of Mr Rudd and his wife Therese Rein was shown first up to the team from St George's College in London, it was met with a wall of silence, until after 13 seconds of nothingness a team member says: "Pass". Then one of his teamamtes meekly offered: "Ukraine?"

With great disdain University Challenge host Jeremy Paxton informed the baffled students that not only was Mr Rudd not Prime Minister of the Ukraine but that the Ukraine was not actually in the G20. Paxton then revealed Mr Rudd's identity to the, perhaps chastened, whiz kids.

The segment came just days after Australia was made a permanent member of the world body - which the Government announced with much fanfare.


University – who needs it?

A former student at a British Polytechnic has won the Nobel Prize. Jasper Gerard sings the praises of a derided institution

The announcement that a polytechnic graduate has been awarded the Nobel Prize for physics has prompted some very British tittering – the sub-text being “weren’t polys meant to train people to become gas fitters, not give them ideas and Nobel Prizes?”

But the triumph of Professor Charles Kao, who graduated from Woolwich Polytechnic with an electrical engineering degree in 1957, should be seen as a tribute to a venerable institution that has enhanced British life. By developing fibre optics and thus ushering in the internet, Kao is the most celebrated alumnus to wear the Woolwich gown; but do not overlook all those, many from poor backgrounds, whose heads left the poly considerably fuller than they entered. It is at least arguable that polytechnic graduates have contributed more to society than those, like me, who attended supposedly grander universities to read waffly arts subjects.

Not that you would have bet on Kao’s future greatness. In an interview with a student magazine, he recalled: “I spent more time on the tennis courts than studying. My social life was busy too, and I met my future wife at one of the student dances I organised. Of course, the failure to study and my over-confidence caught up with me. I failed to achieve first-class honours.”

Woolwich, which opened in 1890, was country’s second polytechnic. “At this time England only had a handful of universities,” says Baroness Blackstone, former education minister, now vice chancellor of the erstwhile poly, re-branded the University of Greenwich.

Woolwich was founded with advice from Quentin Hogg, a sugar merchant, and money from TA Denny, a local merchant. Within a year, 504 students from surrounding south London slums had enrolled on 38 courses, mainly taught at night so they could continue to work in nearby factories. Evangelicals such as Hogg hoped that education would save the working class from its supposedly dissolute ways, especially drunkenness.

Woolwich took over various technical colleges, morphing into Thames Polytechnic and from 1992 rejoicing in university status. This followed John Major’s attempt to heal higher education’s class divide by allowing polytechnics to become universities, thus ending the distinction whereby polys focused on vocational courses.

Whether Woolwich has improved since its elevation is a moot point. The Government was monitoring Greenwich in 2004, and expressing concerns over funding and the influx of foreign students. Kinglsey Amis famously said of university expansion that “more will mean worse”, while Geoffrey Alderman of Buckingham University has claimed that plagiarism goes unpunished in many newer universities which are engaged in a “grotesque bidding game” to award good grades to climb league tables. While Kao’s research gave us the internet, recent Greenwich research has included a study of the perfect mince pie.

Far from hiding Greenwich’s roots, Blackstone claims to nurture them by encouraging research, vocational degrees, part-time learning and mature students. “Polytechnics enabled people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, providing local places to study,” she says. “And when you consider the historical barriers to university, there was as much talent in polytechnics as universities.” She says that Woolwich turned out many who have “achieved considerable status”, particularly in the City.

Greenwich must surely have seemed like the Oxbridge of the poly world. The main campus is the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, a World Heritage Site and it boasts a Victorian library in Eltham. One of its sites in Medway is described as “ivy clad”. It sounds less Citizen Smith, more Evelyn Waugh.

And perhaps more Nobel. Hopefully Kao’s award will to a reevaluation of these great old institutions.


Friday, October 09, 2009

The Campus War Against Israel and the Jews

The radical Islamic state of Iran is leading a global movement calling for a second Holocaust — the elimination of Israel from the face of the earth. The Islamic terrorist organizations Hizbollah and Hamas are calling on Muslims to destroy the Jewish state and kill the Jews in those exact words. And on campuses across the United States, radical professors and student groups are lining up to support the genocide.

The day Israeli troops left Gaza – a territory that has been used as a launching pad for three aggressive wars against the Jewish state – Hamas terrorists began a three-year campaign of rocket attacks on Israel that was only halted by an Israeli counter attack, which began in December 2008. As Israel was defending itself from these Hamas attacks, University of California Sociology professor William Robinson assembled pictures university administrators described as “lurid” of Nazis persecuting Jews and emailed them to all the students in his course on globalization along with a diatribe about how the Israeli soldiers fighting Hamas terrorists were no different from fascist troops in World War II destroying the city of Warsaw.

Robinson’s propaganda message had no educational context, was unrelated to the subject of the course, and allowed for no alternative viewpoints. It had nothing to do with education. It was purely an act of aggression, part of an intensifying war against the Jews that has broken out on many fronts across American higher education:

* A University of Rochester sit- in during Israel’s defensive war in Gaza intimidates school administrators into backing a demand for the university to divest from companies doing business with “the Israeli war machine.”

* During Israel’s war to defend itself from 7,000 unprovoked rocket attacks launched at civilian targets from the Hamas-run Gaza strip, “teach-ins” were held on campuses across the country whose theme was that Israel is a Nazi apartheid state and the Hamas terrorists are freedom fighters.

* An event at UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies encourages the audience in a “Zionism is Nazism” chant and portrays the genocidal terrorists of Hamas as peace-seeking, unjustly provoked victims.

* At University of California Irvine graduation ceremonies, members of the Muslim Students Union wear green stoles mimicking those of suicide bombers with Arabic word shahada (“martyr”) printed on them.

The campus war against Israel and the Jews, with its ominous overtones of the 1930s, is both a reflection of the Middle East conflict and something much more: an effort by radical groups to stigmatize America and the west by stigmatizing Israel. This campus conflict has been building for several years, as radical professors and student groups have targeted Israel and the Jewish students who defend it. But in the aftermath of 9/11, as Israel became a front line state in the war on terror, this campus war has intensified. Students, particularly Jews, who refuse to join the attack on Israel are not only criticized; they are subjected to hatred and intimidation.

At one level it is a war of symbols: campuses are adorned with banners in which the Star of David is joined to the swastika by an equal sign; as Israel is the only Jewish state and was created against the backdrop of the Nazi Holocaust, this is a hate crime in itself; student governments and academic senates push measures for disinvestment based on the blood libel that Israel – the only democratic state in the Middle East — is morally equivalent to the racist apartheid regime of South Africa; in a cynical reversal of the Biblical story, the genocide inciting Islamic world, enabled becomes David and tiny and outnumbered Israel becomes Goliath.

The conflict increasingly features the threat of real, as opposed to merely rhetorical violence. Pro-jihad groups such as the Muslim Students Association, an organization that supports Hamas and is part of the Muslim Brotherhood network which now has hundred of campus chapters and regularly sponsors fundamentalist Islamic prophets of hate, have dropped the pretense that it is only Israel and not Jews that are in their gun sights. In demonstrations at UCLA, its members showed that there is no such distinction as they chanted “Death to Israel!” in almost the same breath as “Death to the Jews!” At a pro Palestinian demonstration at UC Irvine, MSA members threaten Jewish students with violence and chase them off campus.

Stopping the Campus War Against Israel and the Jews

Until now, the unholy campus alliance of Muslim supporters of the Islamic jihad and secular radicals at war with America, have been winning these battles. In large part this is because of the support they receive from faculty members who use their classrooms to reinforce the virulent anti-Israel and anti-American messages of the jihad. They are abetted by administrators, who otherwise rigorously punish even the suspicion of “hate speech” but are so cowed by the campus left that they refuse to apply similar standards to the Jew-haters on their faculties and among their campus organizations. But the real problem is that this campus war has been going on for so long now and has been so one-sided that it has created a culture of stigma for Israel and the Jewish students who support it or who criticize the genocidal ambitions of Hamas and other Islamo Fascist groups involved in the Palestinian cause.

During the week of October 12-16, 2009 the David Horowitz Freedom Center is organizing a nationwide protest whose theme will be “Stop the Campus War Against Israel the Jews.” We intends to attack the culture of stigma that has placed a target on the back of every Jew attending a college and to support students who are standing up to the hate and fighting back. We will do this in several ways:

* In a series of pamphlets and flash videos, we will document the fact that the all out, totalitarian attack on Israel is in fact a blatant form of anti Semitism. These publications will show the full range of the left’s anti Semitic assault —in classrooms, in administrative decisions, and especially in the abusive arena of campus politics.

* We will report on the bigotry Jewish students on campuses experience as part of their every day academic and social lives in a series of first person accounts that will dramatize the crushing way in which the virulence of the hatred against Israel affects individuals, especially when they speak up in or out of class with an opposing view.

* We will establish alliances with Jewish student groups under attack and with Christian groups defending Israel. We will also reach out to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an embattled faculty organization that attempts to promote an even handed discussion of Israel and Palestine on campus, and increase their visibility and influence. We will do the same with individuals such as Alan Dershowitz, who has waged an often lonely struggle against the “divestment” movement that has become one of the left’s most potent weapons in its offensive against Israel.

The centerpiece of the Freedom Center’s campaign to “Stop the Campus War Against Israel and the Jews” will be a week-long series of demonstrations . Based on the Center’s successful “Islamo Fascism Awareness Weeks,” these teach ins will feature films, lectures, and panel discussions with figures such as Nonie Darwish, Yossi Ohlmert, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and myself. By revealing the irrational hatred of the left’s attack on Israel, and documenting its anti Semitic overtones and its support for terrorist groups, this week of demonstrations will win space for an honest discussion of Israel and the Middle East conflict and of the objectives of the campus left in our universities.


British Private schools to keep tax breaks after charity chief backs down

The Leather lady is not such a stern mistress after all (She was educated at private schools herself)

Private schools will be allowed to keep tax breaks worth £100 million a year after a major and unexpected victory in a campaign to protect their status as charities. The Charity Commission has effectively scrapped plans to remove their charitable status by giving them five years to meet tough new criteria imposed by the Government. Dame Suzi Leather, the commission’s chairman, said that the changes would be difficult to enforce “in the current economic climate”.

The announcement was welcomed by head teachers whose independent schools were ordered to offer more bursaries and strengthen links with state schools or risk losing the tax breaks. The Conservatives have indicated that a Tory government would not enforce the law in its current form.

However, the move will infuriate Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, who expected the Charity Commission to carry out the law with immediate effect. Ministers demanded that independent schools had to justify their status as charities by doing much more for the community.

Last night, critics of private schools accused the commission of bowing to an aggressive lobbying campaign. Fiona Miller, chairman of Comprehensive Future, a campaign group for fair admissions policies in schools, said: “There’s a lot more that independent schools could do to benefit the wider community and they should be made to do it more quickly.”

Earlier this week, Andrew Grant, the chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), accused Dame Suzi of presiding over a witch-hunt against private schools.

However, Dame Suzi told the HMC in Liverpool yesterday: “We recognise developing partnership activities or building up a bursaries fund will take time.We also recognise that in the current economic climate it is more difficult. We know you can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat. “The commission does not inhabit a parallel universe or stand aloof from the realities of running an organisation. “We understand not all charitable independent schools have large endowments, that many parents find it difficult to pay the fees, that it is not always easy to bridge the divide between the educational sectors and build relationships with neighbouring schools. “We recognise what many of you are up against.”

Sources close to the campaign questioned the timing of the announcement, coming only weeks after the Charity Commission’s annual open meeting where no time-frame was given. The extra time to put their houses in order will please head teachers — the Tories have said they would revise the laws if they come to power at the next election.

But Dame Suzi softened her stance and promised heads and other charities that the commission would enforce the law only in extreme cases. “Only in the event of a charity being absolutely unwilling to formulate and implement workable plans for demonstrating that its purposes are for the public benefit would we take more robust action,” she said. “Where we judge that a charity needs an extended period of time to make the necessary changes, we will be prepared to give that charity time. “We would not normally expect that period to be longer than five years.”

Two of the five schools assessed by the commission in its initial investigations failed because of lack of bursary provision. Mr Grant, who is also head of St Albans School, Hertfordshire, said: “She went much farther than we have heard before. It was good to hear public recognition of what many of our schools have been doing for years to share our benefits.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he hoped the Charity Commission would look beyond bursaries to partnerships between state and independent schools. He said: “I think it will give schools more time to develop sustainable schemes and I hope that the partnerships developed by independent schools and state schools gain recognition.”


Claim: Australian schools 'too focused' on literacy, numeracy

Some incredibly confused nonsense below. They identify people skills and technology skills as of first importance but how are you going to do any of that if you can't read and can't handle numbers? They seem to want kids to run before they can crawl. Sounds like more ivory-tower academic Leftism to me. They appear to be totally unaware of how bad literacy and numeracy skills among young people have become. More confusion: "system is too focussed on .. computing" yet "technology skills is a terrific first focus". These people are perilously close to brain death. Moonshine from Ms Moon, it would seem

New research says Australian schools are failing to properly prepare students for employment. The report by the Centre for Skills Development says the education system is too focussed on basics like literacy, numeracy and computing, neglecting more complex things such as teamwork and emotional intelligence.

Sheryle Moon, the co-author of the report, says young people need more complex skills for the modern workforce. "We live in a globalised world where people need a different set of skills than they needed in the 1970s or the 1980s," Ms Moon said. "It's less about task focus, or hand skills, it's more about brain skills and how you interact with other people.

"Ensuring that people have the technology skills is a terrific first focus. The thing that's missing in the revolution is how you incorporate modern technology applications into the curriculum."


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Unreliable Sexual Assault statistics

Feminists say all men are rapists. Was that attitude behind the exaggeration below?

The University of California at Davis revealed Thursday that for at least three years it reported an inflated number of sexual assaults to the federal government.

An internal investigation and an external review both found that the university totals released for 2005, 2006 and 2007 were substantially greater than the totals that had actually been reported on and around campus. Under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, colleges and universities must file annual statistics with the Department of Education and release them publicly to students and employees.

Davis reported 48 forcible sexual offenses in 2005, 68 in 2006 and 69 in 2007. The actual totals, according to the two reviews, were 21, 23 and 33.

The university places the blame on Jennifer Beeman, former director of its Campus Violence Prevention Program, who retired in June 2009. Beeman was on medical leave during the spring semester and a staffer tallying the 2008 statistics in her place found there had been just 17 forcible sexual offenses reported that year, which either indicated a drastic drop in crime from the year before or an indication of past misreporting. The latter, according to the internal and external reviews, was true.

Robert Loessberg-Zahl, assistant executive vice chancellor, said that because Beeman was “widely recognized as an authority on Clery matters, we didn’t have a second set of eyes look at the numbers reported.” In retrospect, he added, “that was a mistake.… We trusted her too much.”

Beeman, reached at her home in Sacramento, declined comment. Since she is no longer a university employee, Loessberg-Zahl said, the institution can’t take disciplinary action against her. He declined to speculate on her motivations for inflating the statistics.

After its initial announcement Thursday, the university also disclosed Beeman was placed on paid administrative leave in December 2008 while under investigation for improperly charging travel expenses to a federal grant. The university later changed her status to medical leave and she reimbursed Davis $1,372 for the charges. The findings of that probe led the university to initiate a second investigation, which is still ongoing.

S. Daniel Carter, director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit group run by the Clery family, said his group has “never seen anything like this.” Though there have been several incidents over the years of “what amounted to sloppy record keeping, there have been no other cases where you’re talking about 100 percent -- almost 200 percent -- more crimes of a certain kind being reported to the federal government than is actually true.”

Under the Clery Act, the Department of Education can fine institutions for misrepresenting crime statistics, whether underreporting, overreporting or otherwise conveying inaccurate information. West Virginia University is under investigation by the department and facing fines of as much as $27,500 for misrepresentations made in 2001 and 2002, Carter said. He estimated that Davis could face fines totaling $2.96 million.

Loessberg-Zahl said Davis was “absolutely cooperating with the Department of Education” as it investigates what happened there. “We understand there’s the possibility of sanctions, but at this point we haven’t heard from the department on any actions they’ll be taking.”

Going forward, though, the university has learned its lesson, he said. “All crime statistics compiled by staff will be checked by a panel of three experts,” a uniformed campus police officer, a Clery Act specialist from its Office of Student Judicial Affairs and a university counsel. With the new system in place, “we’ll have done what’s necessary to make sure the information we’re sending to the federal government is verified.”

Recent signs of trouble came in February, when the local Fox affiliate reported that there were more sexual assaults at Davis in 2007 than there were at all other University of California campuses combined. At the time, a Davis spokeswoman attributed the numbers to the fact that the institution had a “nationally recognized … model program for its outreach efforts and services for survivors.”

Beeman's misconduct may go back further. A 2001 Sacramento Bee investigation found that though the university had reported no sexual assaults under the Clery Act in 1998, Beeman said, when applying for a $543,000 federal grant, that there had been 700 rapes or attempted rapes there that year. She told the newspaper that she had extrapolated the number from national statistics on sexual assaults of college students but had not meant to include that total in her application.

Loessberg-Zahl said the university will work to re-verify its statistics for all 16 years that Beeman led the Campus Violence Prevention Program if the Department of Education "gives us some indication that we ought to go back and review those years


British teacher convicted of assault for removing unruly student

Another assault on British educational standards

A teacher with an exemplary record is facing the end of his career after being convicted of assault for removing a pupil from class for telling a racist joke. Michael Becker, 62, snapped after repeatedly telling the 15-year-old to stop telling the joke and disturbing other pupils. When the boy refused to leave the room he took hold of his sweatshirt collar with one hand and the waistband of his trousers with the other and hauled him out. He then put him in a storeroom, which had a window in its door, before the pupil let himself out moments later.

Mr Becker was charged after the teenager complained of some redness around his neck and a sore stomach. He was suspended by the county council and pleaded not guilty but was convicted by South East Suffolk magistrates in Ipswich. During the hearing the pupil denied that he repeatedly told the joke and claimed that Mr Becker had dangled him by an ankle. 'He came over, picked me up and opened the classroom door and hung me upside down and then threw me in the cupboard,' he said.

But Mr Becker, of Stutton, near Ipswich, insisted that the pupil had told the joke four times and ignored his order to leave the classroom on November 10 last year. Any suggestion he had dangled him upside down was 'preposterous', he added. 'I acted swiftly to remove the student,' he said. 'I didn't really want to do it but I had to do it so the other students could carry on learning. 'My intention was to lead him towards the door. I just took him by his belt and then my hand went back and took him by the back of his jumper. 'I felt that under the circumstances I had to try to get him out because he was refusing. It was my intention to take him outside for ten minutes.'

He told the court the police investigation had left him ' devastated', adding: 'My whole life is based on my family and my teaching. My world was shattered.'

The school's former headmaster, Roland Gooding, told the court that Mr Becker's conduct had always been exemplary. He added: 'Since I have known him I have always found him to be extremely compassionate, caring, dedicated, honest and of the utmost integrity.'

Magistrates accepted that Mr Becker had not held the pupil by an ankle, but said: 'We are satisfied there was a reason [for removing the boy from the classroom] but not that you used reasonable force. 'Use of any force should be used as a last resort - in this case it wasn't.'

Mr Becker, who is married with two children, will be sentenced on October 23. The maximum jail term for common assault is six months.

The case is likely to be referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority or the General Teaching Council for England, both of which have the power to ban Mr Becker from teaching.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said Mr Becker had overreacted but should not have been found guilty of assault. 'As every teacher knows, pupils regularly go beyond the bounds of normal behaviour and receive little or no punishment,' he said. 'Yet the first time a teacher does something he stands to lose his job.'

Suffolk County Council said: 'As soon as he is sentenced we will initiate our own formal disciplinary measures against him.'


British classrooms have become war zones

A comment on the story immediately above

No evening meal around our kitchen table is complete without one of the children whining about some teacher who has been 'really, really mean to me'. What they're actually saying is a teacher told them off for something they did wrong - and they didn't like it.

Himself shuts up the little darlings sharpish by regaling them with bloodcurdling tales of his maths teacher, Mr X, who, 35 years ago, used to express his frustration by hurling a board rubber in the direction of dozy little Johnny. One day, the rubber was thrown so hard it lodged in the door and stuck there. Like an Apache tomahawk, it gave out a warning of the fate that awaited any boy who failed to behave.

Mr X was frightening. He could also be incredibly kind, and was a brilliant teacher. But he wouldn't be allowed to teach today. Not even at a time when the male maths teacher is becoming extinct faster than the Bengal tiger. A powerful authority figure like him couldn't survive in a school where it's the teacher who gets told off for a discipline problem.

The latest casualty of this Alice In Wonderland farrago is Michael Becker, a 62-year-old teacher whose story is depressingly familiar. After asking a 15-year-old pupil four times to stop telling a racist joke, Mr Becker hauled the lad out of the class and parked him in a storeroom.

The subsequent police investigation almost destroyed the veteran master, who was described as 'compassionate, dedicated and of the utmost integrity'. Clearly, the young joker lied through his teeth. He claimed that Mr Becker dangled him by an ankle. Magistrates rejected that account.

But will the teenager get punished for giving false testimony? Hell, no. It is poor Michael Becker who has been convicted of assault. A long career is in pieces after one moment of refusing to take any more nonsense.

Thank you, East Suffolk magistrates! Now every nightmare child in the country has a green light to abuse or ignore their teachers. If Mr Becker had appeared before a jury of parents, do you think they would have convicted him? I bet they'd have shaken his hand.

Michael Becker is old enough to remember a time before pupils ruled the classroom. I don't think that's a coincidence. Young teachers are too scared to be frightening. So what will happen when the older generation is gone?

It's a deeply alarming prospect and it's coming very soon. In Wales, the numbers of teachers taking early retirement is up 65 per cent in the past five years. Some are so desperate that they leave even before they are entitled to their pension.

Ninety-two per cent of teachers claim to have been verbally abused and 49 per cent have been physically attacked. Of those, 53 per cent have been assaulted with a thrown object.

It's not old Mr X who's hurling that board rubber any more. It's little Johnny.

Last week, I took part in a discussion on Woman's Hour with Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers and with the deputy head of a former sink school. Ms Blower seemed anxious to play down the problems her members face, but she did accept that teaching is the second most stressful job in the country. In an extraordinary admission of defeat, Ms Blower said she didn't think teaching should be seen any longer as a career for life. In other words, like a tour of duty in Afghanistan, teachers can take their life in their hands for a few years in the war zone that is modern state education.

The deputy head, meanwhile, talked about turning round an inner London school. And how had this miracle been achieved? Oh, by insisting pupils wore uniform and sending them home if they didn't. By the formidable headmaster standing at the local station and eyeballing any pupils who dared to be uncivil. By laying down rules and - now here's a radical idea - punishing those who broke them.

This new approach is called 'modern strict'. It sounds suspiciously like 'old strict'. That was a pedagogic approach that worked pretty well in our schools for, ooh, about 430 years, until the educational establishment opted for the view that children, not teachers, know best.

A reader writes to say he has just got the entry form for the BBC's My Story competition. At the top, in big red letters, the form says: 'Remember, judging is based on how great the story is, not on grammar and spelling.'

With that kind of attitude in one of our great institutions, is it any wonder that British students have poorer written English than undergraduates from abroad? A study of work by final-year students showed that foreigners made 18.8 spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors per exam paper compared to a staggering 52.2 from young people who were brought up speaking English.

What a travesty. English is one of this country's glories, as well as one of its few remaining competitive advantages. A language that most of the planet has to learn is the one we get free with our mother's milk.

By failing to insist on decent standards of written English in its competition, the BBC isn't being generous; it's encouraging children to lose the blessing with which they were born.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Crackdown on Bake Sales in NYC Schools

No individual liberty for kids, apparently

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake. According to New York City’s latest regulations, not even zucchini bread makes the cut. In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs.

The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms. The elaborate rules were outlined in a three-page memo issued at the end of June, but in the new school year, principals and parents are just beginning to, well, digest them.

Parent groups and Parent-Teacher Associations are conspicuously given an exception: once a month they are allowed to sell as many dark fudge brownies and lemon bars as they please, so long as lunch has ended. And after 6 p.m. on weekdays, anything goes. But at that hour, most students are long gone, and as far as the Education Department is concerned, stuffing oneself with coconut macaroons and peanut butter cookies at that hour is one’s prerogative.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made both public health and public education centerpieces of his tenure, and the changes in the schools’ food are an outgrowth of his efforts to curb trans fats, salt and other unwanted additives.

Roughly 40 percent of the city’s elementary and middle school students are overweight or obese, according to the Education Department. The department also found a correlation between student health and performance on standardized tests, according to a survey it released in July.

The previous regulations limited sales to once a month and allowed them at any time during that day, but they were loosely enforced. Officials say they will do more to monitor the new regulations. “We have an undeniable problem in the city, state and the country with obesity,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief of the office of school support services. “During the school day, we have to focus on what is healthy for the mind and the body.”

Unsurprisingly, the rationale is getting a cool reception among students. At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School on the Upper West Side, students are used to having bake sales several times a month. Now, Yardain Amron, a sophomore basketball player, laments that his team will not be able to raise money for a new scoreboard. Another La Guardia student, Eli Salamon-Abrams, 14, said that when the soccer team held a bake sale in May, his blueberry muffins sold out in 15 minutes. He said of the ban: “I think it’s kind of pointless. I mean, why can’t we have bake sales?”

The new policy also requires that vending machines, which generate millions of dollars for school sports, be supplied with snacks such as reduced-fat Baked Doritos and low-sugar granola bars. A new vending machine contract is expected to be approved on Wednesday by the Panel for Educational Policy, the school oversight board. Student stores will be able to sell only approved snacks bought from the new vendor, rather than obtain the food themselves, as they once did. Principals are expected to enforce the new rules. “Noncompliance may result in adverse impact on the principal’s compliance performance rating,” the policy states.

With the changes, school administrators and teachers who oversee student clubs are laboring to come up with other easy ways to raise money, particularly at a time when school budgets are being cut. John Sommers, the assistant principal of organization at La Guardia, said that all fund-raisers using food were on hold for now. He said teachers had encouraged students for years to be careful with what they sold. “There was never any cotton candy or something like that, and there weren’t sales all the time,” he said. “But they are definitely a way kids count on to get money.” A typical weekday sale, he said, could bring in about $500 in profit. “If they wanted to buy some uniforms or go on a trip, that was enough,” he added. Mr. Sommers said he was trying to figure out other ways for students to raise money, perhaps by selling T-shirts or key chains. (All of which are decidedly more expensive to produce than a box of brownies.)

Department officials are suggesting that teams use walk-a-thons and similar activities as a way of raising money and doing something active.

For all the changes, there is much the regulations do not address. For instance, there are no stipulations of what kind of treats students may bring to class, so birthday cupcakes appear to be safe. Snack bars of any kind are permitted at after-school sporting events, a prime time for cheese-laden nachos and fatty hot dogs.

Schools around the United States, including throughout California, have banned bake sales or put a limit on the sugar and fat content of the goodies. But New York’s regulations are among the strictest in the country, said Howard Wechsler, the director of the division of adolescent and school health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are more schools that are making more changes in what is available for kids at school,” said Dr. Wechsler, who has studied nutrition policies at schools nationwide. “Schools are supposed to be a place where we establish a model environment, and the last thing kids need is an extra source of pointless calories.”


Head claims parents of British private school pupils deserve tax breaks

Parents of private school pupils should be allowed to claim tax breaks on their children’s education because they are saving the state money, the head of a powerful coalition of public schools has said. Andrew Grant told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses’ Conference in Liverpool that parents are paying twice to educate their children because they also have to stump up taxes to fund state schools. Parents should be allowed tax relief of up to 40 per cent on fees, saving the highest earners at the most expensive schools £10,000 a year, Mr Grant told The Times.

“Let people keep more of their own money and place upon them the responsibility to spend it wisely,” Mr Grant, who is also head of St Albans School in Hertfordshire, said. “Allow them tax relief if they save the state money. If the school is a charity, why shouldn’t they pay the fees as gift aid? Taxpayers who give money to charity through the gift-aid scheme do not pay tax on their donations. “In a time when the public sector is broke, [it makes sense] to make it less difficult for those who can afford to pay for their children’s education to do so,” Mr Grant said.

Private schools are under scrutiny from the Charity Commission to prove their “public benefit” in order to retain their charitable status. Two of the first five schools to be assessed failed the “public benefit” test. Highfield Priory, in Fulwood, Preston and St Anselm's in Bakewell, Derbyshire must now work with the Commission on changes to meet the requirements but the decisions have been published as final and not open to appeal.

Mr Grant likened the Charity Commission’s investigations to the abolition of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. He went on to accuse Dame Suzi Leather, head of the commission who is addressing the conference on Wednesday, of acting the part of Sir Thomas Cromwell - one of the chief architects of the Reformation. “Dame Suzi might think on the fate of Thomas Cromwell,” Mr Grant said. The chief minister in Henry VIII’s court was executed by order of the king, he told 250 heads of leading independents.

Private schools claim that parents save the Government £3 billion by educating their children in the private sector. In a direct attack on politicians who have threatened to withdraw charitable status and the financial gains it brings to the private sector, Mr Grant said: “Our parents’ taxes have not only funded a state education - their right to which they forgo - but have paid for your mortgages, your moats and your mint imperials,” Mr Grant said.

A voucher scheme, in which parents receive vouchers for the cost of education to spend at their chosen school, would be another way of widening participation at top schools, he added. The poorest would get higher value vouchers to incentivise schools to take these pupils. “The costs of education would travel with the parent.” This would create a market system in which the weakest schools would be killed off, Mr Grant said. “Increasing the pool of good schools allows people to opt out of the bad ones. You have to have more schools than the bare minimum if you are going to allow people to escape the worst ones.”

Mr Grant also accused top universities of dumbing down under government pressure to take students from poorer backgrounds. "Universities, too, have had their own dependency exploited to advance a political agenda. The logic runs thus; life has been unfair to Group X so we must take responsibility for introducing some unfairness into the lives of Group Y."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “We are surprised by the tone of the HMC Chair’s speech, which seems at odds with the constructive dialogue we have had with schools and other schools bodies. "It is still the case that we expect that most charities, including schools, will be able to meet the requirement."


British Universities accused of 'crude social engineering' by ignoring bright students from good schools

This is another report of the speech already mentioned above. It covers largely different ground

Leading universities were yesterday accused of running admissions policies which disadvantage bright pupils from good schools. Headmasters' leader Andrew Grant said new points-based systems were 'crude social engineering' as they give pupils from poor-performing schools a 'leg up' worth several grades. He accused the Government of exploiting universities' dependence on funding to 'advance a political agenda' of having more working-class students. Ministers were 'putting pressure on universities to socially engineer their intake according to criteria other than proven academic ability', he declared.

Mr Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference of 250 leading independent schools, made his comments in a keynote address to the body's annual gathering. He also condemned interference in private schools. The heads' leader accused ministers of a 'medieval' attack on their charitable status, drawing parallels with Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.

On university admissions, he highlighted a 'shocking' system used by Durham, which applies a 'modifier' to pupils from low-performing schools. The lower the school's average GCSE score, the higher the modifier. This can lead to some applicants getting a head start worth five or six A*s at GCSE. Pupils who attended schools including Agnes Stewart CofE High in Leeds, and Anfield Comprehensive in Liverpool, are given the maximum advantage of 5.5 A*s at GCSE. However, pupils from Eton and Mr Grant's school, St Albans, have none.

The score is used with factors such as AS-level grades, actual or predicted grades, personal statements and school references to decide admission. Mr Grant added that using such formulae left universities open to accusations they were 'penalising' pupils who were 'intelligent and well-educated'.

Oxford, Bristol, Warwick and Manchester were among other universities said to be using or considering-such systems for admissions.

In a coruscating attack, Mr Grant said: 'So enamoured are social engineers of unsuccess, they are determined to spread it.' He went on to warn that ministers were trying to push more pupils into university but failing to fund enough places. Many graduates-found themselves with huge debts of £23,000 and jobs unlikely to merit the time and expense spent, said Mr Grant. Thousands of students had suffered in 'the summer of the great betrayal', because they can't find university places or jobs, he added.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NY kids must not ride bikes to school?

Seventh-grader Adam Marino is getting a firsthand lesson in civil disobedience. The 12-year-old and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino, are defying Saratoga Springs school policy by biking to Maple Avenue Middle School on Route 9. The Jackson Street residents pedal more than four miles together each way to the middle school on nice days despite being told not to by school officials and police."I guess you can say that we continue to do what we feel is our right," Kaddo Marino said recently. "We feel strongly we have a right to get to school by a mode of transportation we deem appropriate."

Their methods may be unconventional, but the Marinos are part of a growing number of Americans challenging the sedentary habits of today's youths and what they view as overanxious "helicopter" parenting. As fewer children walk and bike to school nationwide, parents have started groups like the "Walking School Bus," which promotes physical activity and fitness in youth by having them walk to school with adults.

Parents and teachers at Niskayuna's Hillside Elementary School implemented the state's first Walking School Bus program. Separately, this week marks the end of the first "Children and Nature: Saratoga -- Come Out and Play," a week of outdoor events in Saratoga Springs coordinated by the local chapter of a national organization that seeks to "reconnect" children and their families to the outdoors.

Riding his 21-speed Giant mountain bike to school benefits Adam Marino's health and the environment, his mother says, and Adam believes it makes him a better student. "It would be really nice if it got changed," he said of the school policy.

The youngster may get his way. While the school district does not allow elementary school or Maple Avenue students to ride bikes to school, that could change in the coming weeks, Superintendent Janice White said. The Board of Education could vote to amend the policy on Oct. 13, when it is scheduled to discuss a recommendation from a district-formed committee. "Supervised, parent/guardian bike riding may be permitted at specific sites in the future," White said in an interview Friday. The school has no legal responsibility over what occurs on Route 9, she added.

The biking debate started last spring, when school district officials told Kaddo Marino that Adam was violating school rules by biking to class. Walking to the school also is not permitted. Kaddo Marino challenged the policy and asked the school board to change it. The district charged a committee to review the rule, which was instituted in 1994.

At the start of school in September, Kaddo Marino thought that she had a nonverbal agreement with school officials to allow her son to ride his bike until a new policy was resolved. But on the night before classes started, school authorities called parents to say that walking and biking to school would not be tolerated. When the pair stuck with their plan, they were met by school administrators and a state trooper, who emphasized that biking was prohibited, Kaddo Marino said.

In response, members of an advocacy group, Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, rallied around the mother and son by accompanying them on their rides to school. They go an average of twice a week. Mom rides to the school to join her son coming home.

Route 9 is a state road also called Maple Avenue. The suburban thoroughfare is busy with cars and businesses. It has crosswalks and wide shoulders, but no bike lanes. The accident rate on the road near the school is less than the statewide average for similar streets, and no bike accidents have been reported in the last three years ending Feb. 1, according to Mark Kennedy, regional traffic engineer at the state Department of Transportation.

At Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake schools, officials allow elementary and middle school students to ride their bikes to school if they bring in notes from their parents, spokeswoman Christy Multer said. About six to 10 middle school students ride on nice days, Multer said. They park their bikes in racks, and leave after buses depart.

SOURCE. Comment here

The enormous difficulty of getting your kid into a good British State school

Leftist governments hate them but parents love "Grammar" (selective) schools because they know that only there is a kid with ability likely to get a good education in the State ("free") sector

Sally has contacted me to express the astonishment she felt when she recently took her son for a grammar selection test. The scenes, she said, were unbelievable, and she's willing to share them with you. It all sounds rather frightening...

"Like hundreds of other children, my 10 year-old sits secondary school and grammar selection tests this autumn, and like many parents, we’re new to the process. But nothing prepared us for the extraordinary scenes last week at our first test day for entry to a London grammar for boys.

We arrived early and so did everyone else. A mile from the school gates, and with 45 minutes before the test was due to start, we drove past crowds of families streaming in the same direction. Hundreds of people strode along clutching registration forms, their faces set to stony, and behind each group of adults trotted a bewildered looking boy struggling to keep up.

We joined the swarm at the school gates. So did five police officers, who, it turned out, would spend the morning marshalling the crowds and directing the arriving and departing traffic. Three testing sessions were to take place that day; ours was just the first.

A general sense of panic grew, and we struggled to resist the urge to join in. About 300 people gathered in the road. Anxious boys pushed past other boys, on past a barrier and towards the exam hall. "Why are they going in?", we asked the man carrying a clipboard guarding the gate. There was still 45 minutes to go. “Get him in if he’s ready!” barked the man. ”Boys go in NOW! BOYS HAVE GONE IN ALREADY! Say goodbye, mums and dads!”

The crowd surged as the message was passed back along the pavement. It all proved too much for one boy, who started to sob. “OK Olly - Go GO GO!” his mother shouted, her face full of forced cheerfulness. He slunk off, shoulders shaking.

Another family clumped themselves into a huddle, arms round one another in the style of Madonna and her dancers before a concert. To the astonishment of the rest of us, they sang a quick and demonstrative prayer before releasing one another then clapping and whooping at their boy. He emerged with a euphoric expression on his face, and then scampered off towards the exam hall.

We hugged and kissed our son quickly before he sank into the stream of stunned looking boys. Then we, and the rest of the wild-eyed crowd, shuffled off to the ‘parents waiting area’, a playing field with a tea stall, chairs and a portaloo, to sit in the drizzle and wait. We learned later that there was no need for the urgency: the boys had sat in silence for forty minutes on crash mats until the exam started.

While we were waiting, we noticed how some parents had pointed their chairs in the direction of the exam hall and were simply staring in its direction. They appeared to be attempting to will their sons to perform well. We joined the rest at the tea queue, where the atmosphere was still crazed. One mother solemnly confessed to her friend: “I’ve never shouted at James before, but I did last week. He was playing with Pokemon cards instead of studying.” “But you’re always shouting at him,” said her friend. “Not like this. This time I lost it completely.” Then she started crying and couldn’t stop.

Perhaps these scenes of police crowd control and sobbing parents are unusual. The school is oversubscribed; we are told 2,000 boys sit a test for 150 places. Nevertheless, on that day we wondered what the hell we were doing, and whether we wanted to put our son through this or any more selective tests.

But equally, it was cheering to see parents from different races, religions and classes who all loved and wanted the best for their children, even if that meant behaving irrationally in public. And in spite of the tension, parents were at pains to be very friendly to one another. Once the panic subsided, strangers struck up conversations. Who knows? If our sons pass, we might become lifelong friends. "


British school lab health and safety rules 'could stop future scientists'

Schools have banned experiments seen as dangerous, even though they teach vital skills

It is a scientific fact, tested and proven by generations of pupils, that experiments in school laboratories win young people to the cause of science. White coats, goggles and the chance to set fire to things foster a passion for chemistry that even years of examinations do not extinguish. But government advisers and eminent scientists are warning of a disturbing development that could endanger generations of future scientists: pupils are no longer allowed to experiment.

Health and safety concerns are preventing students — including those taking A levels — from performing vital and exciting investigations into what happens when one sets fire to magnesium ribbon, or drops a small glob of sodium into a dish of water.

The fear of burns, spillages and volatile reactions means that even mundane procedures such as distillation are often viewed online rather than performed in the laboratory. Professor John Holman, the Government’s chief adviser on science in schools, and Professor David Phillips, incoming president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told The Times that it was vital for pupils to learn how to handle hazardous substances and to experiment.

Professor Holman, who is also director of the National Science Learning Centre, said trainee teachers spent too little time preparing exciting practicals. “There is much less practical work now because of a huge focus on exams,” he said. “Schools are so aware of health and safety — they will say, ‘That’s too dangerous’. “But in most cases you can do it, you just need to take precautions. The schools do formulaic investigations which give pupils a higher grade.”

Professor Phillips, who is also Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London, said: “Many of the experiments we did handling strong acids wouldn’t be allowed today, but learning to handle dangerous materials teaches you how to deal with things sensibly,” he said. Without the stimulation produced by making elements combust and fizz, pupils would not continue science beyond GCSEs, the professors warned. “All the evidence points to practical work being the thing that pupils like to do,” Professor Holman said. “This isn’t about how do you get more Grade Cs in GCSEs, it’s about how you inspire more young people.”

The comments follow an Ofsted report warning that the national curriculum and testing regime led to boring science lessons. Schools spent too much time drilling students for tests, it said.

Jane Lees, head of Hindley High School in Wigan, and a former head of science, agreed that health and safety had put an end to a number of “whiz-bang” experiments. “But we’re moving on to different ways of teaching science — with videos, and on the web with virtual learning environments which are quite as interesting. It’s a different way of learning but it should still be able to turn them on. What you need is inspirational teachers.”


Monday, October 05, 2009

Extended School Year Would Have Dire Economic Effects, Critics Say

It's a brainless idea anyway. More exposure to failed methods is not going to achieve anything

President Obama's call to extend the academic calendar may bring with it a host of unintended consequences, including increased costs for schools and major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, critics say.

If the academic year gets pushed deeper into summer, as President Obama is advocating, the grumbling will not be limited just to students and teachers who will be forced to spend more days in school. Critics say the president's call for a longer academic calendar and a shorter summer vacation will bring on a host of unintended consequences -- including increased costs for school systems, major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, and a serious blow to summer camp operators.

Obama says kids in the U.S. spend too little time in the classroom, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with students in other countries. The president has suggested that making school days longer and extending the school year will increase learning, raise test scores and close the achievement gap. But while Obama's proposal is meant to improve education, critics say a curtailed summer vacation will have a dire economic impact on school systems, which could be forced to retrofit their schools for air conditioning, pay overtime to teachers and incur higher utility costs.

They also warn that the leisure industry, which relies on family vacation travel, could take a major hit. "Fewer vacation days will dry up the industry's labor source and lead to huge losses of revenue for American hotels and resorts," said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. "From Memorial Day to Labor day, we hire many high school and college students for summer employment to work," McInerney told "If we don't have those people, there will not be enough Americans out there available to fill those positions." "A lot of different people are affected by cutting out travel," he said. "This is not the right thing to do on a national basis."

In one popular East Coast resort area alone -- the New Jersey shore -- the average cost of a rental home is $1,500 to $2,000 a week, according to realtors. In the tourist town of Wildwood, N.J., approximately 7 million visitors flood the boardwalks, beaches, and restaurants from mid-June to September, spending over $185 million on hotels and prepared food and beverages alone, according to John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwood Tourism Authority. Siciliano said that figure does not include dollars spent in stores, on the resort's boardwalk and on its amusement rides, which he said could triple the $185 million -- totaling a whopping $555 million.

If the prime weeks of summer vacation are cut in half because kids have to stay in school, the effects on the industry could be devastating, critics said. The travel industry has already suffered from a dwindling economy, and a shortened summer vacation may only "add fuel to the fire," said Chris Russo, president of the American Association of Travel Agents. "We're not making as much money if people are going on a shorter stay," Russo said. But he added that a shorter summer vacation might have an upside: "If families are forced to take shorter breaks, they may book more two- to three-day stays, as opposed to just one seven-week vacation," he said.

And then there's the camp industry -- which for nearly 150 years has served as a summertime rite of passage for many American children. There are approximately 12,000 camps in the U.S., and 11.5 million children and adults attend them each year, according to the American Camp Association. The ACA estimates that the average "sleepaway" camp costs anywhere from $400 to $700 a week. Others go much higher. The cost for a 28-day session at a camp that is a member of ACANE, the American Camp Association New England, runs $5,654.

Scott Shaffer, who runs Shaffer's High Sierra Camp, a family-owned day camp in the Tahoe National Forest, says a cut in summer vacation would likely destroy his business. High Sierra Camp, which takes children from 8 to 17 and costs $1,100 per week, runs for eight weeks -- beginning the third week in June and ending the last week in August. Shaffer said the camp can operate only during that stretch because of the snow, which melts in May and covers the mountains again in October. A longer school year "would have a really, really negative impact on our business, especially on the heels of a poor economy," Shaffer said.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, said camps are not necessarily a carefree escape from school. They can be critical to child development, she said, and should be a vital part of the president's year-round education plan. "Physical, emotion, and social development provide fertile ground for academic learning," Smith said. "When people walk into a camp they may think, 'Oh, well these kids are just playing. But play is designed to provide teachable moments -- life lessons. And so what may look frivolous to the adult eye is really how children learn."

Obama has brought new attention to the notion of expanding the school year, but it is not a new concept. States have long experimented with year-round education -- with mixed results. Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida implemented an extended-year program in 2004, but they abandoned the initiative last year after it produced few results. The extended school year also increased teacher pay and energy costs.

But other education experts say Obama is on the right track. Most states set their minimum number of public school days at 180, though some require 175 to 179 days. And "increasing time is correlated with raising achievement," said researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. "The more time that kids have on being instructed on academic subjects, the more likely they'll score higher."

The details of Obama's school initiative have been kept close to the vest, and many educators say they'll withhold judgment until a more specific plan is unveiled.

In a statement sent to, the Florida Department of Education said, "For some time, longer school hours and/or an extended school year has been a heavily debated issue nationally due to the financial implications on individual states. While research shows that students in the United States don't spend as much time in the classroom as their global counterparts, we're interested in further elevating this discussion and all discussions that potentially improve our students' ability to successfully compete internationally."

Officials from the American Federation of Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association did not reply to requests for comment.


British High School students hit by 'rigged' exam grades

EXAM chiefs have been accused of systematically fixing the new A-levels to deny pupils the grades they deserved. Head teachers who discovered the downgrading believe it could affect the chances of thousands of pupils applying to university this winter. The concerns have surfaced over results in this year’s AS-levels, the exams pupils take in the first year of their A-levels. These students are the first to take reformed qualifications, which are intended to be tougher than the current A-levels. Evidence has emerged to suggest exam boards are under pressure from regulators to ensure that the proportion of pupils scoring top grades is kept down. They deny this.

Subjects over which there is the greatest concern include biology, chemistry, drama, economics, English and modern languages, where heads are complaining that pupils have been awarded far lower grades than those of similar ability last year. In biology, for example, 7.4% fewer pupils taking the Edexcel paper this year scored As than last year.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which holds its annual meeting this week, said there were likely to be thousands of requests for re-marks. Grant, headmaster of St Albans school, Hertfordshire, first noticed the marking problems among his pupils taking drama AS-levels. He then spoke to his fellow heads, analysed the results of other subjects and found discrepancies that showed signs of a dramatic reversal to the 27-year trend of rising A-level grades. “Other schools shared our initial assumption: a vague sense of underperformance and that the year group deserved a bit of a rocket,” Grant said. “But the fact that so many have had similar experiences is establishing a pattern.”

Grant added that the marking problems had “some of the makings of 2002”. Seven years ago, Sir William Stubbs, chairman of the QCA, then the regulator, had to resign when tens of thousands of papers were re-marked amid claims that the regulators had pushed exam boards to keep the numbers of A grades down. The fiasco contributed to the resignation of Lady Morris, then education secretary.

Further evidence of problems this year has emerged in postings on the internet. A contribution from one anonymous physics examiner to a discussion forum reads: “This year AS was targeted particularly and we have been informed that A2 [exams in the second year of A-levels] will be similarly monitored and scrutinised next year. “As a team of examiners we were not happy, but were told in no uncertain terms that if we tried to raise the pass rate, then our decisions would be overruled.”

Grant said: “It would be difficult to find more compelling circumstantial evidence of the interference of the regulator to depress the award of higher grades in the new AS, presumably to give themselves wriggle room next year, when they have to allocate final results.”

His concerns were shared by Richard Russell, headmaster of Colfe’s school, south London. Last year, all his economics and business studies pupils scored a grade A or B. This year, only 20% of the group scored the highest grades. Russell said he had initially been disappointed in the performance of the “academically very strong cohort”, but, as he spoke to other heads, the scale of the problem became clear. “It has all the hallmarks of high-level manipulation,” Russell said.

Suspicions have been further raised by a letter sent to them by Kathleen Tattersall, chairwoman of Ofqual, the exams regulator, in which she warned that marks would be modified with complex statistical formulae using data such as pupils’ GCSE results. She wrote: “The marking ... may indicate students have performed differently from their peers who took last year’s examinations ... in spite of evidence that the performance of both groups [was] similar.” One head said: “That letter read like gibberish until we saw the results and understood she was warning us.”

The A-level reforms were intended to make it easier for universities to identify the cream of candidates. Grades have been rising for 27 years in a row and 26.7% of all papers now receive an A. If the proportion of As continued to rise next year after the first cohort of pupils have been through the new A-levels, it would be highly embarrassing to the government.

Some schools have already had papers re-marked upwards. At Magdalen College school, Oxford, 10 re-marks were requested on an AS-level French oral exam. Every single one led to an improved mark, sometimes by as much as two grades, although Tim Hands, the head, said he had no reason to blame it on deliberate manipulation.

Exam boards denied claims that grades had been fixed and said the differences could have been caused by schools being under-prepared for the new exams. Mike Cresswell, chief executive of the AQA exam board, described claims of manipulation as “absolute nonsense” and said that if candidates were compared like-with-like, grades this year and last were “extraordinarily comparable”.

Tattersall said: “Ofqual worked closely with the awarding bodies this year and ... there has been no recalibration of the standard this year. “However, the changed structure of the specifications means that ... grade boundaries and outcomes on individual units will sometimes differ from [the previous syllabus].”


Australia: Overcoming socio-economic disadvantage in education

Jennifer Buckingham

Literacy and numeracy are not everything, but they are almost everything. Somewhere between one in five and one in six students are barely literate and numerate, according to recent national literacy and numeracy results. These children are concentrated in particular schools and in particular areas, especially where there are high levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

Although the relationship between socio-economic status and school performance is undeniable, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. As the late, great Australian education expert Professor Ken Rowe showed, family background may establish where children start in life, but it doesn’t have to determine where they end up.

Participants at the CIS’s annual conference Consilium in August this year heard the stories of two extraordinary schools that have defied the odds of socio-economic disadvantage. Bellfield Primary School is a public school in one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in Australia. Yet in the space of 10 years, during which time social disadvantage intensified, Melbourne educator John Fleming transformed the school performance from chronic failure to one of the best in the state.

These extraordinary results were not achieved through increased spending. There was no increase in teacher pay. There were no major capital works or new technologies. Fleming attributes the success of the school to three changes in school policy: implementing a research-based pedagogy; introducing performance-based accountability for students and teachers; and changing the school culture to reflect traditional values and discipline.

The same ‘tough love’ strategy was applied at Djarragun College in Gordonvale in far north Queensland, once a crumbling school with low attendance. Educator Jean Illingworth oversaw its incredible transformation into a well-maintained, high functioning school where children from indigenous communities in Cape York and the Torres Strait are achieving outstanding results.

For many students across Australia, social disadvantage is being translated ineluctably into educational disadvantage year after year. The evidence from Australia and elsewhere is that this need not be the case.

The above is part of a press release dated October 2 from the Centre for Independent Studies. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Schoolhouse Shariah in the US

California's educrats have put out new rules for teaching Islamic studies to seventh-graders in public schools, and they are as biased as ever. They'll also likely spread eastward. The lesson guidelines adopted by the bellwether state whitewash the violence and oppression of women codified in Islamic law, or Shariah. And they're loaded with revisionist history about the faith.

For example, the suggested framework glorifies Shariah as a liberal reform movement that "rejected" the mistreatment of women that existed in Arabia before Muhammad and his successors conquered the region, according to Accuracy in Academia. The guidelines claim that Islamic law established for the first time that men and women were entitled to equal "respect."

Not so, says Islamic scholar and author Nonie Darwish, who grew up Muslim in Egypt. "I am shocked that that is what they teach," she said. "Women had more rights in Arabia before Shariah."

In fact, "wife beating is allowed under Shariah" today, she added. "It allows a woman seen without a headdress to be flogged, punishes rape victims, and calls for beheading for adultery."

California's course on world religions also omits Islam's long history of jihadist violence, while portraying Christianity as an intolerant and bloodthirsty faith. Christianity isn't given equal time, either. It's covered in just two days — as opposed to up to two weeks for Islam — and doesn't involve kids in any role-playing activities like the Islam unit. Students do get a healthy dose of skepticism about the Christian faith, including a biting history of its persecution of other people.

Islam, in contrast, gets a pass from critical review. Even jihad is presented as an "internal personal struggle to do one's best to resist temptation," not waging holy war. "California schools are pushing an unbalanced religious agenda that favors Islam and minimizes Christianity and Judaism," Accuracy in Academia warns in its latest Campus Report. Who helped build the California Education Department's framework for Islamic studies? Islamist "scholars" with the Council on Islamic Education, or CIE, a Saudi-tied activist group.

The consultancy changed its name after former IBD Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry, author of Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington, exposed that its chief researcher and textbook consultant for years taught social studies at a Saudi madrassa just outside Washington. The Islamic Saudi Academy is a breeding ground for terrorists, including the valedictorian-turned-al-Qaida agent recently sentenced to life for plotting to assassinate President Bush.

Recently, Fox News reported that the head of CIE — now known as the Institute on Religion and Civic Values — misled California education authorities about his academic credentials. For one, Shabbir Mansuri never received a USC degree in chemical engineering as he has claimed, Fox says.The group's Web site no longer includes the claim. These are the folks who are teaching your children about Islam in public schools. Parents have protested, even sued, but to no avail.

For example, parents of seventh-graders in the San Francisco area, who after 9/11 were taught pro-Islamic lessons as part of California's world history curriculum, sued under the First Amendment ban on religious establishment.

They argued, reasonably, that the government was promoting Islam by mandating that their kids participate in Muslim role-playing exercises such as designing prayer rugs, taking an Arabic name and essentially "becoming a Muslim" for two full weeks. Children also were told to recite aloud Muslim prayers that begin with "In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful," and memorize the Muslim profession of faith: "Allah is the only true God, and Muhammad is his messenger."

But a federal judge appointed by President Clinton told parents in so many words to get over it, that the state was merely teaching kids about another "culture." California's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, ruling that it was OK to put public-school kids through Muslim role-playing exercises. The decision was a major victory for the multiculturalists and Islamic apologists in California and across the country who've never met a culture or religion they didn't like — with the exception of Western civilization and Christianity.

You can't teach the Ten Commandments in public schools. But teaching the five pillars of Islam is A-OK.


Alternate assessments are better for educrats than students

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale referred to my Sept. 22 column on inflated tests scores as "inaccurate" and "unsubstantiated" in his Sept. 27 letter to the editor ("Column on test scores misleading, inaccurate and unsubstantiated").

But if that's the case, Dale himself is to blame. The data I cited, which was sent by FCPS to the state Department of Education, shows an exponential explosion in the use of the Virginia Grade Level Assessments in Fairfax County schools.

For example, the number of students taking VGLAs instead of Standards of Learning tests at Poe Middle School more than doubled this year from 75 to 165 -- after the alternative assessment program was fully implemented.

Same for Key Middle School, where 51 VGLA students last year increased to 107 this year. Is it a coincidence that both schools' pass rates also increased by double digits?

Because neither DOE nor FCPS report separate SOL and VGLA scores - both combine them to calculate a school's overall pass rate - it is disingenuous for Dale to deny that the VGLA affects test scores. Data submitted by FCPS show that 14 of the 20 elementary schools with the most VGLA portfolios posted 100 percent pass rates this year; four more were at 98 or 99 percent, and only one was below 90.

It's ridiculous to argue that the massive jump in scores since 2006 - the year before the VGLAs were approved for students with learning disabilities and those still learning English - has nothing to do with the 1,200 percent increase in VGLA participation.

If Dale can explain how Lynbrook Elementary got a 100 percent pass rate (up 30 percentage points in just three years) when three-fourths of its students are non-English speaking without factoring in the 103 students (40 percent of third- through sixth-graders) who took the VGLA, he should be running the U.S. Department of Education himself.

Data released by DOE also shows that the grading of VGLA portfolios is unreliable and subjective. In spring 2007, work from 61 Fairfax County students was audited and 24 were rejected for a 39.3 percent overturn rate.

Same thing in spring 2008: 178 portfolios out of 590 audited were tossed, for a 30.2 percent error rate. This spring, 265 of 885 portfolios - 29.9 percent - didn't make the grade.

The fact that almost a third of all audited VGLAs are rejected, with no substantiating evidence to the contrary from Dale, makes it pretty obvious that these tests are not equivalent to the SOLs. But while higher scores make Dale and his administrators look good, they are actually quite harmful to the students who really do need help.

There are 32 Title 1 schools in Fairfax County with high percentages of disadvantaged students, for which FCPS gets federal funds for additional instruction in language arts and mathematics specifically to help these students pass the SOLs. If a Title 1 school fails to meet its annual yearly progress goals for three years, parents are entitled to "pupil place" their children in another school under No Child Left Behind.

When a high percentage of at-risk students are steered into doing VGLA portfolios instead of taking the SOLs (all of the top 10 VGLA schools are also Title 1 schools), the final test numbers are skewed.

But that's not all. If enough students in a particular Title 1 school "pass," all the students in that school forfeit their right to additional tutoring and/or pupil placement under NCLB, especially worrisome during a time of deep budget cuts.

The charade continues until parents figure out that the chief beneficiaries of the "alternative assessment" are really Dale and his staff of educrats, not their kids.


Free to choose

"Go down Moses, tell the Pharaoh let my people go! ... Go down Mr. President, let our children go to the school of their choice!" former Washington Mayor Marion Barry proclaimed to applause at the D.C. School Choice Rally yesterday in front of Capitol Hill.

Moses' cry to "let my people go" rallied the civil-rights movement in the 1950s and '60s. The mostly black crowd agreed with Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has said that education is the "civil rights issue of our generation." Yet on the issue of D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program allowing school choice, the president, his Education Department, and Congress would rather play the role of Pharaoh than Moses.

Some 1,500 people were there -- most with yellow T-shirts reading "Put kids first." Many of the attendees were students on lunch break, in addition to several hundred parents and relatives of students who turned out to voice support for the program. "Give parents a choice, kids a chance," said April Cole-Walter, whose daughter was enrolled under the scholarship program.

Kids in D.C. public schools don't have much of a chance. Of the states plus D.C., Washington ranked last, 51st out of 50 states, in the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2007 test in 8th grade math and reading proficiency rates. Students in voucher programs have demonstrated better results, yet these data have not persuaded enough politicians to buck Democratic constituencies that favor the status quo.

The trouble began in March when Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) inserted language in a spending bill that cut the $14 million for the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the Department of Education's budget. The cut meant that the 1,700 scholarships under the program would be revoked. However, since TAS reported on the issue in May, the president has allowed ongoing scholarship recipients to continue through the 12th grade, but has reneged on incoming scholarship recipients for this academic year.

Last year, LaTasha Bennett was informed that her 4-year-old daughter, Nia, would receive a scholarship under the program that they would use to enroll her in Naylor Road School with her older brother. But last spring she received a second letter from the Department of Education that said her daughter's scholarship was being canceled because of the program's termination. Nia was one of 216 low-income children that had her scholarship revoked by the Obama administration.

"I'm not going to send my child to a public school," Ms. Bennett told TAS yesterday. She then explained that her nephew had died in a gunfight at a public school and that she would not allow that to happen to her daughter. Nia is now receiving support from private donations, allowing her to go to the private Naylor Road School, but it is uncertain how long she will be able to continue receiving sufficient donations.

Some children aren't as fortunate. Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, told TAS she believed that the majority of the 216 children who had their scholarships revoked were forced to attend public schools this year.

Also present was Bruce Stewart, former head of Sidwell Friends School, the prestigious private Quaker school attended by the president's children. No new students will attend that school this year under voucher money -- just the students whose parents can afford it, wealthy students like Sasha and Malia Obama.

Several members of the audience were less than happy with the Congress. "Durbin, he's the worst!" a lady said about the Democratic majority whip. Public support for the D.C. voucher program has polled at around 75% approval. Yet, teachers unions overwhelmingly reject vouchers as a solution to failing public schools. In the 2008 election cycle, 95% of teacher union political contributions went to Democrats.

Ex-mayor Barry, House Minority Leader John Boehner, and former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, were among several who voiced support yesterday for school choice in Washington, D.C. It remains uncertain what will happen to the program. On July 30, Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), George Voinovich (R-OH), Robert Byrd (D-WV), and John Ensign (R-NV) introduced legislation expanding the program, but it hasn't been brought to the floor for a vote. The bill would authorize $20 million in Opportunity Scholarships.

The fight for school choice in D.C. has pitted predominantly black, Democratic parents against their own party and produced an unlikely alliance with the GOP. Barack Obama's election was arguably the culmination of the civil rights struggle. But these parents are still looking for someone to let their people go.