Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anti-Islamic Dutch Lawmaker Event at University Cut Short as Crowd Turns Nasty

Amid tight security and a large turnout of protesters, Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders told an assembly of Temple University students that Europe and America must fight an ongoing "stealth jihad" that threatens democracy and free speech. "Where Islam sets roots, freedom dies," Geert Wilders told the students during his 30-minute address organized by a new student group called Temple University Purpose and funded by the California-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, a foundation that promotes conservative scholarship.

His remarks were met by a mixture of applause and boos, and occasionally gasps - particularly when he stated that "our Western culture is far better than the Islamic culture and we should defend it."

He decried as a "disgrace" a resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and Egypt, and backed by the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month, deploring attacks on religions while insisting that freedom of expression remains a basic right. Wilders also criticized President Barack Obama for his efforts to extend a hand to the Islamic world, saying that such appeasement marks "the beginning of the end." If the spread of Islam continues unabated in the Western world, "you might at the end of the day lose your Constitution," he told the assembly. "Wake up, defend your freedom." He also touched on common themes in his speeches, including calling for an end to Muslim immigration and referring to the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as "an evil book" that promotes violence and intolerance.

A question-and-answer session was cut short after the tone of the event began to turn nasty, when some in the crowd of several hundred students began shouting jeers. Wilders' security detail quickly ushered him from the room.

"In order to improve our understanding of others, we need to learn," said Alvaro Watson of Purpose, the student group. "We can't fight for something if we only know one side."

Before his remarks at Temple, a public university serving about 34,000 students, Wilders showed his 15-minute anti-Islam film, "Fitna," which juxtaposes passages from the suras, or chapters, of the Quran with images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, beheadings, shootings and speeches from clerics advocating violence against non-Muslims.

"I think it's completely wrong that someone who promotes racism and intolerance should be given a platform at this university," said Temple student Josh Rosenthal. "It's hate speech disguised as free speech." Another student, Joseph Rodrigues, said that being able to voice unpopular opinions is a freedom not to be taken lightly. "I might not like what he said, but I think it's important that he be allowed to say it," he said.

Temple officials issued a statement saying the university "is a community of scholars in which freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are valued." "We respect the right of our student organizations to invite people who express a wide variety of views and ideas," the school said in a statement.

British officials once banned Wilders from visiting for fear it would spark violence. He successfully sued the government and visited Friday.

Wilders is scheduled to speak at Columbia University in New York on Wednesday.


How crazy Leftist Britain encourages good student behaviour in its schools

Nine-month nightmare for school helper hauled to court after marching yob from class

A classroom assistant accused of assaulting a pupil broke down in tears yesterday as he was cleared at the end of a nine-month nightmare. Mark Ellwood was fingerprinted, held in a cell, and banned from living with his children during the ordeal, which began when he escorted a foulmouthed schoolboy out of a lesson.

The 46-year-old claims he was 'hung out to dry' by the authorities and warned that a climate of fear in schools means pupils are often beyond control and that teachers are too frightened to discipline them. Speaking outside court, Mr Ellwood, a married father of two teenage girls, said: 'Any confidence a teacher may have will have been sapped out of them after what has happened to me. 'On a daily basis, staff are threatened with being stabbed. 'Swearing is endemic; the respect is simply not there and if you pick a pupil up on their language they tell you where to get off. The teachers are scared of the pupils anyway and they know it. 'I lost my job, was removed from my family and faced a criminal conviction, only to be found not guilty. If the power is in favour of the pupil you have not got a hope in hell.'

Mr Ellwood's ordeal began last January, three months after he began work at David Lister School in Hull, which had recently been placed in 'special measures'. As a 'classroom mentor', Mr Ellwood helped deal with children who had been removed from general classes and placed in a special unit because of bad behaviour. The incident occurred when he noticed a 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, playing with a mobile phone during an art lesson and still wearing his jacket. When he asked the boy to take his coat off and put away his phone, the 15-year-old responded by threatening to stab him, adding: 'I will have you killed.' The boy, who was taken out of the class, along a corridor and into the car park, then tried to kick Mr Ellwood in the shins.

Hull magistrates heard how the classroom assistant - a former kickboxing champion - responded by skilfully and 'gently' sweeping the boy's legs from under him to prevent any further attack. Although the teenager suffered no injury, a complaint from his mother led to Mr Ellwood being charged weeks later with common assault.

Police revealed the boy had claimed he had been thrown on to the classroom floor. 'This did not happen at all,' Mr Ellwood said. 'The teacher was in the classroom at the time and he denied seeing anything untoward. 'He landed with his back on the floor. It was done gently and he suffered no injury.'

After being charged with assault, social services visited Mr Ellwood's home before ordering him to move out pending an inquiry. He was forced to sleep on a gym floor for two weeks before being allowed to move back into his home. After the verdict was announced, magistrates chairman Christopher Buren told Mr Ellwood to 'forget about this and restart your life'.

The classroom assistant said he is considering his career options. Stuart Todd, David Lister School's new headmaster, said that Mr Ellwood would be 'welcome back' at the school.


British pupils skipped 8 million school days last year

Children skipped more than eight million days of school last year as the truancy rate soared, official figures show.

Pupils in primary and secondary schools in England missed 1.03 per cent of half days in the autumn term last year and the spring term this year due to unauthorised absence. This is up from 0.97 per cent for the same two terms in 2007-08.

It means that almost 64,800 pupils skipped school without permission on a typical day through truancy, family holidays, illness and other reasons. In total, 8.2 million days were lost due to unauthorised absence.

The Schools minister Vernon Coaker said that missing schools without a good reason was "totally unacceptable". The most common reason for absence was illness, accounting for 59.2 per cent of cases.

Absence for family holidays was the second biggest reason, accounting for 9.7 per cent of absent half days; of these almost a fifth (18.6 per cent) were not authorised.


Friday, October 23, 2009

A private path out of poverty

A former believer in government schools learns why some of the world's poorest people sacrifice to get their kids into for-profit schools

Are you gonna believe the experts, or will you believe your lyin' eyes? That might be the subtheme of James Tooley's beautifully written and masterfully argued new book, "The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world's poorest people are educating themselves." Tooley, a Briton, took his mathematics degree to Zimbabwe to teach in the early 1980s, and, despite requesting a post in a poor rural village, was assigned to a school for the children of the government elite. Two years later he wangled a position in a rural school.

At the time he defended Zimbabwe's attempt to provide free government schools for all its people and believed that "once richer urban people properly paid all their taxes, and the international community coughed up a decent amount of aid, it would be able to make education free for all." "Only when rich Western governments spend much more on aid can every child be saved from ignorance and illiteracy. That's the message we hear every day, from the international aid agencies and our governments, and from pop stars and other celebrities."

Tooley then taught at a university in South Africa, went back to England to get a doctorate in education and, in due time, got a commission in 2000 from the World Bank's International Finance Commission to study private schools in developing countries. But he was troubled that, despite his concern for the poor, his job would wind up being to study how the privileged were being served, because everybody knows that in developing countries private schools only serve the wealthy and privileged.

"Then one day, everything changed," he writes. On a national holiday he took an autorickshaw into the Old City – the slums – of Hyderabad, India. As he shocked his driver with his determination to explore the slums, he discovered that "the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from the poshest parts of town to the poorest. Everywhere among the little stores and workshops, were private schools!"

So began his journey of discovery.

Tooley that first day encountered Fazalur Rahman Khurrum, head of a ramshackle establishment grandly named the Royal Grammar School and also head of an association catering to private schools serving the poor, with 500 members in Hyderabad alone. Over the next 10 days Tooley visited 50 schools and was impressed by the enthusiasm of students and teachers alike.

It turned out that even though government schools were set up throughout the city, many poor parents had a low opinion of them and scraped together the 60-100 rupees a month ($1.33-$2.22 at exchange rates then) to send their children to private schools. And while many of these schools were begun by people with a special feeling for poor people and a desire to help them, almost none were charities (though all accepted for free or at reduced rates orphans and others who couldn't afford the regular fees) but had to make a profit to survive.

Bias against profit

The experts at the World Bank, when told of this discovery, dismissed the phenomenon as "businessmen ripping off the poor," but that didn't jibe with what Mr. Tooley had seen with his own lyin' eyes. Still, he wondered about the quality of education these children were receiving and just how widespread the phenomenon of private schools for the poor was.

Instead of seeing such schools as a possible answer to illiteracy and poverty, however, the certified development experts – most of whom had never personally ventured into a slum – instructed him that this only meant the government must redouble its efforts to bring government schools to everybody, with plenty of aid and instruction from the international community, of course. The private schools were simply a passing phenomenon, run by unscrupulous people who cared only about profit.

Studying the development literature, Tooley found that some reputed experts, including India's Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen, were aware of private schools, even noting that in rural areas as many as 30 percent of poor parents sent their children to private schools. But these facts played no part in the experts' recommendations. Only when government-run schools reached every poor child would the Nirvana of education for all be reached.

Some of the experts were even aware of shortcomings in public schools. One report on four provinces in India noted that unannounced visits found "teaching activity" was occurring in only half of the government schools, and in a third of them the principal wasn't even around. Reports abounded of teachers sleeping during class time, showing up drunk or not showing up at all. This report even noted some valid reasons parents might prefer private schools:

"In a private school, the teachers are accountable to the manager (who can fire them), and, through him or her, to the parents (who can withdraw their children). In a government school, the chain of accountability is much weaker, as teachers have a permanent job with salaries and promotions unrelated to performance. This contrast is perceived with crystal clarity by the vast majority of parents."

Yet such observations never made it into the executive summaries of such reports. Instead of recommending encouragement of private schools – the government instead sent inspectors to note the absence of playgrounds and clean facilities, but didn't recommend closing them if they received suitable bribes, which were built into the private schools' budgets – they advocated the long path of improving government schools and treating private schools as an unfortunate embarrassment.

Undeterred, Tooley took time from his official job – investigating schools for the privileged in every country he visited – to get into the slums to see what the poor were doing for themselves. In Ghana, Somaliland and Goa, he found similar developments: poor parents were sacrificing to send their children to private schools.

Finally, at a conference where he presented his findings, Tooley met Chuck Harper, senior vice president of the John Templeton Foundation, which was interested in "free-market solutions to poverty." He got a grant from the Templeton Foundation and began a research project to explore private schools for the poor and how they stacked up to government schools in quality of education.

Thus he assembled teams of researchers in India, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and elsewhere. In Nigeria he had to negotiate open sewers, mud and narrow alleyways, but he found a thriving community of private schools in the slums of Makoko in Lagos. He found private schools in tiny fishing villages in Ghana, and even in the far reaches of rural China, after officials confidently informed him that there were no private schools for the poor anywhere in that communist bastion.

On one occasion in Ghana, Tooley became impatient with a school proprietor who kept him waiting 20 minutes while she talked to "a very thin, unkempt older man." When he got up to tell her that he was upset by her rudeness and was ready to leave, she simply said, "I'm sorry, but this is a parent." She knew who was important in her world. International experts could wait.

Commitment gap

So what did Tooley's research project uncover? In India, teaching commitment (measured by teachers actually teaching during unannounced visits) was highest in recognized (officially tolerated) private schools, followed by unrecognized private schools, with government schools trailing badly. Most private schools in India teach in English, while government schools, thanks to political pressure, start teaching in the local dialect.

Looking at 14 inputs that could be seen as proxies for quality – drinking water, toilets, proper buildings, desks, blackboards, libraries and the like – government schools outperformed private schools operating on shoestring budgets in only one category: playgrounds.

Tooley's teams tested students in government and private schools and found that when it came to educational attainments the students in private schools outperformed counterparts in government schools dramatically. "The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. … In English, the performance difference was much greater (children in unrecognized schools enjoyed a 35 percentage-point advantage over their public school counterparts, whereas children in recognized schools scored 41 percentage points more)." Private-school students even outperformed public school students in Hindi, though English was usually the medium of instruction.

Tooley's teams found similar results in Nigeria and Ghana (statistical details at And the government schools had far greater resources to work with – in some areas public school teachers were paid seven times what private school teachers were, and international aid agencies, both governmental and private, give money only to government schools.

'Beautiful tree'

Finally, Tooley was intrigued by a 1931 statement from Mahatma Gandhi that illiteracy was more prevalent in India than before the British came because the British administrators "when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished." So Tooley began to research education in pre-colonial India. Rooting through musty colonial archives, he found reports that confirmed that before the British came more Indians had been educated at least to the level of minimum literacy, almost all in village-based private schools that charged fees.

There's a happy ending. In 2006 Tooley won a competition on private-sector development sponsored by the Financial Times. After presenting a paper in Singapore and having it reprinted in the Financial Times, he listened to a message on his answering machine from Richard Chandler, a New Zealander who founded Orient Global, a private investment company. "Professor Tooley," he said, "I've read your article in the Financial Times … well, I'm your investor."

Chandler was as good as his word. James Tooley is now head of Orient Global's Education Fund, capitalized at $100 million, which gives grants, advice on curriculum and educational standards, and low-cost loans to private schools around the world, and is building a chain of private schools for the poor in Hyderabad, India, where it all began. The "international development community" still has no clue about private schools for the poor, but in undeveloped countries around the world the poor, with a little help from their real friends, entrepreneurs and investors, are finding their own way out of poverty.


British faith schools are accused of using ‘inflammatory language’

In good politically correct style, observations of Muslim hatred have to be balanced by accusations about Jews. I would like to see examples of the two. I'm betting that there is no comparison

Independent faith schools are using “inflammatory language” and biased material on classroom displays Ofsted warns today. The school inspectors visited 51 private faith schools in England to judge whether they developed children spiritually, culturally and morally. But in eight of the schools they found posters and work on the walls that “had a bias in favour of one group.”

“For example, wording used to describe the situation in Palestine, seen in a Muslim school, used inflammatory language,” the report said. “Similarly, in a Jewish school, pupils' writing used strong language in describing situations in that part of the world.”

Inspectors found some published teaching materials with incorrect information about the beliefs of other religions being used in schools they visited. The report recommends that all resources used to teach about other faiths are accurate and unbiased.

“All the schools emphasised the need for their pupils to respect other people and recognise their freedom of worship, but it was strongly felt that this should remain distinct from any requirement to teach about other faiths in detail,” the inspectors found.

Posters seen by inspectors in one Muslim school referred to the situation in Palestine as an Israeli “occupation” and failed to show the other side of the argument or a balanced viewpoint.

In one Jewish school the language used in children’s work was influenced by events that had happened to their relatives in the Middle East and was highly emotive.

Teaching materials used generalised statements about the beliefs held by other religions and failed to express nuances of belief, inspectors found.


When should children start school?

Children are being attacked from all sides these days. Firstly there is a recommendation that children should not start "formal" education until they are six. As someone who started school at four, I can't imagine waiting so late, but obviously others take a different line.

Dame Gillian Pugh, review author, said, "four and five-year-olds tended to be at a stage where they were just "tuning in" to learning and that they could be "turned off" if they were made to follow too formal a curriculum, too early on." Perhaps, but not for all children. The mandated age for children to enter school is questionable as the parents should decide, an issue Douglas Carswell eloquently puts forward here.

On top of this, or indeed in direct competition to it, the European People's Party believes that children should be given lessons in the benefits of the European Union from the earliest of ages. Of course, some would question how long a lesson it would be.

They claim that, "knowing and understanding, from a young age, the principles, the procedures and the successful history of the European Union, the generations of tomorrow will be immune to any distortion of the perception of the role of the EU and will much better embrace the advantages of this unique project of voluntary sharing of sovereignty." They want to 'instruct' young children in the "benefits" of the EU before they have a chance to formulate their own opinions on the institution.

Clearly both of these examples highlight why government needs to stand aside in the provision of education. The temptation to meddle and mould children's minds to be in sync with the government thinking of the time is too great. Free enterprise in schooling is best for parents, the taxpayer and the children themselves.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Hate Campaign at Temple U

Everywhere you look these days Americans’ most basic freedom is under attack by the jihadists of the international left. The infamous UN Human Rights Commission which includes the worst human rights violators on the planet (now joined by the Obama Administration) has recently passed a resolution against religious defamation — defined as linking Islamists to terrorism. At home Democrats have attached a “hate crimes” amendment which would make thinking a crime to the new defense appropriations bill. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been banned from owning a National Football League team on the grounds that he is a conservative and conservatives are hateful. And at Temple students who have invited one of the most important international figures in the fight against Islamic terrorism are being attacked by the Muslim Students Association on the grounds that his speech is going to be “hateful.” I myself was scheuled to speak at St. Louis University a Catholic college next Friday but was banned by administrators when supporters of the jihad claimed that my speech would insult Muslims.

The pattern is clear. First smear those who disagree with you as “hate-mongers” and then silence them as untouchables. And soon — if the hate crimes legislation movement continues to roll — put them in jail. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the attempts to shut down the Temple speech of Geert Wilders which is being sponsored by a student organization called Temple University Purpose is the role played by three Temple University administrators who run the student activities program and who at a meeting last week pressured the TUP students to close down their event.

Temple University Purpose is an organization created “to advocate for justice and equality for oppressed and under-represented populations” — which would presumably include Muslim women oppressed by Shariah law and peaceful Muslims oppressed by the Taliban and Hamas and other radical Muslim groups. In the service of this mission, Temple University Purpose proposes “to provide an open forum in which conventional and unconventional views are exchanged and challenged.” It is this aspect of the TUP mission that is under attack, first from the Muslim Students Association, which supports the Islamic jihad against the West and does not want the views of Geert Wilders heard, but most disturbingly from Temple administrators in charge of student activities at the school. These administrators told TUP leader Brittany Walsh that Wilders did not have free speech rights at Temple or in America because he was a foreigner. In a courageous response to these administrators Walsh wrote:
“[You} stated in our meeting that Mr. Wilders is not an American citizen and therefore the First Amendment does not apply to him. The American Bill of Rights is not written to confer rights on Americans as to what they can do, but rather these American rights are conceived as limitations on government. The Bill of Rights says Congress shall make no law abridging free speech and not once claims this only applies to American born citizens, but rather to all of man kind. Freedom of Speech has proved an essential tool in providing a medium for progressive social change in the United States; ie: Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Equal Rights Movement, Vietnam War protests, and even the Equal Human Rights Movement occurring right now in the U.S. advocating on behalf of the LGBT community. Throughout world history, we have witnessed the devastation caused when individuals are deprived of this Right to advocate on behalf of themselves. Many men and women have sacrificed their life or suffered severely to allow you and I to be free; thousands are still doing so today.

Furthermore, I would never dream of telling the Muslim Students Association that they may not practice their religion or espouse their beliefs, but I expect that same respect and consideration to be extended to all individuals and/or groups. As was stated previously in our meeting, regardless of how I may, or may not, feel about what Mr. Wilders believes, I do believe it is his right to say it. Temple University Purpose will defend Mr. Wilders, and anyone else for that matter, against institutions and communities who attempt to silence them. The Right to Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right upon which this country was founded. Our founding fathers found that tyrants will always seek to silence those in opposition in an effort to squash non compliant beliefs and felt it to be of vital importance that men and women alike are protected from future governments, mob rule, and tyrants who seek to steal their voice. All of this being said, it would be a disservice to the Temple community, hypocritical of TUP’s mission, and a disrespect to all of those who have sacrificed for our right to invite Mr. Wilders to Temple, to rescind his invitation. The Temple community is being provided with a rare opportunity to have an open forum with a highly intelligent, though controversial, politician. Moreover, it is my hope that the community will come together, let their voices be heard, and participate in this educational experience being provided for them. Temple University Purpose plans to go ahead with the event on the 20th of October and hope we may do so with your support.”

I hope that the Temple administrators will be persuaded by this eloquent statement and will attend the event and give courageous students like Brittany Walsh and her colleague Alvaro Watson their support. And that every American reading this will understand the gravity of the battle that has been joined.


British Diplomas in science 'cannot work'

Labour’s new diploma in science should be scrapped because it lacks academic rigour, according to leading scientists

In an embarrassing blow to the Government, highly-respected bodies including the Royal Society and the Institute of Physics said the flagship qualification “cannot work for the sciences”. They said the diploma – which combines classroom study with practical, work-based learning – was confused and failed to “satisfy this diverse range of requirements”.

Ministers have suggested that diplomas could eventually replace GCSEs and A-levels altogether, bridging the divide between academic and vocational qualifications. But in a letter to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, scientists said it was disingenuous to suggest that courses could appeal to practically-minded pupils while preparing others for traditional degrees such as physics, chemistry, mathematics and medicine. It should be replaced by a more overtly vocational diploma in “applied sciences”, they said.

The comments strike at the heart of concerns over Labour’s diplomas which are being introduced in three academic subjects – science, languages and humanities. The Conservatives have already pledged to scrap the academic diplomas. Last year, the Confederation of British Industry said the new-style qualifications risked "undermining the integrity" of key subjects and could lead to fewer schoolchildren studying science and mathematics to a high standard.

In their letter to Mr Balls, it was claimed many scientists had “serious reservations” about the new diploma. “The science diploma under development apparently still aims to meet the needs of those students aspiring to the full range of science and mathematics courses at all universities while, at the same time, also addressing the needs of students preparing to enter the world of work at age 19,” it said. “We do not accept the view that a… science qualification with the structure of the current diplomas can satisfy this diverse range of requirements.”

Earlier this year the Government announced the science diploma would be delayed by 12 months because it needed “further work”. Pupils will now study it in 2012.

The letter – signed by leading figures at the Royal Society, the Society of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics, the Nuffield Foundation and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation – welcomed the move but insisted it was still dogged by the “confused thinking and bureaucracy that plagued the early development” of the qualification.

Diplomas are currently offered in 10 practical subjects, such as hospitality, hair and beauty, manufacturing and media studies. Four more vocational subjects will be introduced to the programme before academic diplomas are introduced in 2011 and 2012.

In the letter, sent last month, scientists said: “This is not to say that we reject diplomas outright, just that the current model cannot work for the sciences.” They added: “Our vision is for a science diploma which is explicitly an applied sciences qualification. To convey this appropriately to key stakeholders we believe the qualification should be renamed ‘diploma in applied sciences’. “Crucially, our vision is not one which includes an attempt to meet the needs of the majority of young people who aspire to study the sciences at university. It therefore differs significantly from what is currently being developed.”

Iain Wright, the Schools Minister, said: “The Royal Society letter represents the views of just some but not all of the science community. "Indeed there is strong support from both academics and industry who do see the potential value of this new and exciting offer for young people. These include universities, employers and practitioners, as well as influential members of the science community such as science academics from Oxford University, Imperial College, AstraZeneca and the NHS. It was and is being produced hand in glove with industry and higher education. “The diplomas have yet to be finalised and we continue to listen to all views. The Science Diploma Development Partnership is currently holding a series of focus groups with universities, employers and practitioners to hear directly from them what they want from the diploma. No final decisions will be taken until we have had an opportunity to hear all views including those expressed in the letter from members of the Royal Society.”


Parents seek £1m for hammer attack on white son at racist British school

Muslim racism is just fine, apparently, no matter who gets hurt

A white pupil was battered with a hammer at a school where politically correct teachers were afraid to deal with racial tensions, the High Court heard yesterday. Henry Webster, 15, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage after being set upon by a gang of Asian [Muslim] youths. Twelve people were jailed over the 2007 attack, but Mr Webster's parents have now brought a civil action against Ridgeway Foundation School near Swindon. They claim there was a negligent failure to maintain proper discipline and deal with racial tension and are seeking compensation of up to £1million.

The family's lawyers told the court a 'culture of racist bullying and harassment' built up around a 30-strong gang called the 'Asian Invasion'. Teachers were too anxious about being seen as bigoted to intervene, but white pupils were branded 'racist' by the acting headmaster and given harsher punishments.

Robert Glancey, QC, representing the family, said tensions escalated after the July 7 London bombings in 2005 and when more Asian pupils joined the school, some of whom were 'radicalised and hostile'. Racial intimidation and violence became a 'feature of the life of the school' with eruptions of 'extreme acts of violence', it was alleged. Asians were 'encouraged' to separate from white pupils and formed a gang that would laugh at and abuse them. Serious incidents included a riot on the playing field in May 2006, which led to armed police attending the school.

At the same time, white pupils received unfair treatment, the court was told. One boy was disciplined for wearing an England shirt. Mr Glancey said: 'There were a large number of incidents, events, complaints and warnings which would or should have made any school which was being reasonably competent realise there was a serious problem with racism, violence security, discipline and misbehaviour.'

Mr Webster was attacked after being told an Asian youth wanted a one-to-one fight. But reinforcements from outside the school were called in by mobile phone.

Ridgeway School disputes the allegations against it and says blaming it for the attack, carried out by a non-pupil outside school hours, is 'unprecedented and far-fetched'.

The case is being brought by Mr Webster, now 18, his mother Elizabeth Walker, 46, who has her own nanny recruitment business, his younger brother Joseph, 14, and his step-father Roger Durnford, 44, who runs a building company. They are also seeking damages, saying they were traumatised by witnessing his injuries and his suffering.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New methods in the Old Line State

How Japan's Kumon Is Filling U.S. Public School Gaps

Something magical is happening at the Largo Kumon Center located in Largo, Maryland: students are studying beyond school grade level and actually enjoying it. Not surprisingly, their parents have great things to say about Kumon. One mom, Sandy Frazier, said: "Kumon gave my son the challenge that he needed. He wasn't challenged in school. I started him in Kumon in the fourth grade and he reached algebra before middle school."

Another mom, Kim McCarley, said: "We initially got our children into Kumon to help with giving them a foundation for math and reading. The thing we really like about Kumon is that our children don't just learn math and reading, but it's set up in a way that allows them to master math and reading. They don't progress until they master something. Whereas in school, it's once you have knowledge of, an awareness of, you move on. At Kumon, it's once you master it. And I think that's a big difference in that foundation for them."

Adoline Shodiya, owner of the Largo Kumon Center, credits Kumon for the success of her two daughters. Tayo recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in biomedical engineering, and Titi is in her final year at Penn State University studying material science engineering with a minor in math.

What is Kumon? It's an after-school math and reading program that employs a unique learning method designed to help each child develop the skills needed to perform to his or her full potential. The curriculum ranges from preschool to high school. Founded by Toru Kumon in 1958 in Japan, Kumon has 26,100 centers in 46 countries and regions serving over 4.1 million students worldwide, making it the largest and most established program of its kind in the world. Kumon broke into the U.S. market in 1983. Now boasting 1,300 centers and 194,000 students in the U.S., Kumon has surpassed competitors Huntington Learning Center and Sylvan Learning. The shortcomings of U.S. public schools have fueled Kumon's robust growth. In less than a decade, the number of Kumon students in the U.S. has doubled.

As U.S. public schools have progressively embraced reform math over traditional math and whole language over phonics, the U.S. has fallen farther behind other nations in scholastic performance. Many U.S. public schools are not doing a good job of teaching students basic skills in math and reading, which is why many parents are sending their children to Kumon.

Kumon has found what works and has not tinkered with that successful formula for over fifty years. During those same fifty years, the U.S. public education system has gone through several waves of reform, none of which have led to a successful formula.

In "Learning for Life: The Kumon Way", author Reiko Kinoshita writes that the foundation of the unique learning method used by Kumon—called the "Kumon Method"—can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan. During that period, private educational institutions known as "terakoya" taught basic skills in the three R's while emphasizing individualized learning and self-acquisition of knowledge. The terakoya were abolished in 1872 when the Japanese government established a compulsory public education system. However, the tenets and practices of the terakoya would resurface 86 years later through the work of Toru Kumon.

During my recent visits to Japan and Taiwan to research why students in those nations outperform U.S. students in areas like math and science, I first learned about Kumon. To better understand the Kumon Method, I visited Kumon's Tokyo head office to interview public relations executives Mayu Katata and Shinichiro Iwasaki. When I returned to the U.S., I visited the Largo Kumon Center. I learned that the Kumon Method consists of seven principles:

1. Students experience success from the start. After taking a placement test, students begin learning at a level below their current proficiency level. This reduces frustration and builds confidence.

2. Students advance in small, manageable steps. Each new assignment is only slightly more challenging than the last. Advancing is gradual and easy.

3. Students learn primarily by teaching themselves. Kumon instructors assign worksheets that provide examples of concepts to be learned.Students solve the worksheets on their own. If they have problems, instructors are there to help. Self-learning fosters independence and a sense of accomplishment.

4. Students master concepts before advancing. Mastery means earning a perfect score on a worksheet within a prescribed period of time. There are 200 worksheets for each level of learning. Some students may develop mastery after one worksheet while others may require several. Mastering basic concepts establishes a strong foundation for more advanced concepts.

5. Students practice daily. As the saying goes, "Repetition is the mother of all learning."

6. Students learn at the "just right" level. Each student studies according to his or her own pace and level regardless of age or grade level. In a Kumon classroom, each student is studying different concepts.Learning at the "just right" level prevents students from becoming bored with a pace that's too slow or frustrated with a pace that's too fast.

7. Students realize their potential. Unlimited by age, grade level, prescribed teaching agendas, or the needs of a group, each student can advance according to his or her ability and initiative.

The Kumon Method works. It works for the students I met at the Largo Kumon Center. And it works for 194,000 students throughout the U.S. As long as U.S. public schools fail to provide students with a strong foundation in basic math and reading skills, Kumon will be there to fill in the gaps.


Hugging banned at Primary School in South Australia

YEAR six and seven students have been banned from mixed-sex consensual hugging at a primary school in South Australia for fear it would set a "bad example" to younger students, AdelaideNow reports. Following complaints from parents at Largs Bay Primary School, the school has banned hugging and other displays of affection for "boyfriends or girlfriends" in the two senior grades.

"Hugging is not banned (between friends) at Largs Bay Primary School but we do discourage displays of affection in the schoolyard among students in years 6 and 7 who have a boyfriend or girlfriend at the school," principal Julie Gail said in a statement. ". . . we want our older students to set a strong example for younger students at the school."

The SA Education Department yesterday refused to endorse the policy and could not say whether it applied at any other school in the state.

Parents from two families not happy with the policy contacted The Advertiser and said the school should act only if the display of affection was inappropriate, rather than a blanket ban for all 11 and 12-year-olds. Neither would be named because of fears their children would suffer at school, saying students had been punished for hugging. They said the school's deputy principal and counsellor had told the students of the ban at a meeting of Year 6 and 7s this week, after an outbreak of hugging when friends were reunited following the recent school holidays.

The school's governing council has not discussed the ban at its meetings but one family which has a girl at the school, and another with two students, are not happy with the policy. They said it was far more strictly applied than the school suggests. "I don't want my child to go to a school in which displays of affection lead to punishment," one mother told The Advertiser. "My daughter has boys who are friends and she is being told she will be punished if she hugs them, I think that is setting a very bad example for younger and older children."

UniSA child protection expert Elspeth McInnes said the benefits or disadvantages of the policy would depend on how it was applied and policed. "Commonsense needs to prevail and if someone has just heard of terrible news and is being hugged you would not expect the school to overreact as opposed to what may be going on at the back of the class," she said.


Gap in educational success between rich and poor areas of Britain widening, says report

Despite 12 years of government by a party loudly committed to narrowing the gap. More evidence that Leftist parties don't know what they are doing. If your theories are wrong, you won't get the results you expect

The gap in educational success between rich and poor areas of Britain is widening, despite investment of millions of pounds each year, according to research published today. A day before Lord Mandelson, the Universities Secretary, outlines the Government’s strategy for increasing social mobility through wider access to further and higher education, a report by the University and College Union (UCU) shows that the gulf between rich and poor areas in the numbers completing a degree has widened over four years.

In some parliamentary constituencies, almost two thirds of the working-age population are graduates while in others fewer than one person in ten has a degree or equivalent qualification. Across Britain 29 per cent now have a degree but more than 12 per cent have no qualifications, according to the report.

Tomorrow Lord Mandelson will give the Confederation of British Industry a preview of his plans to boost social mobility through a new framework for higher education.

A Government taskforce chaired by Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary, identified the continuing low participation in higher education by those from poor families as one of the main obstacles to social mobility. There have been marginal increases in the number of students from the lowest socio-economic groups over the past two years but the UCU report shows that many areas have not shared in the trend. In Sheffield, for example, 60 per cent of people living in the Hallam constituency represented by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, are graduates - four times the figure for the nearby Brightside constituency represented by David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary.

In the 20 constituencies with the largest numbers going to university, the proportion of the working-age population with a degree-level qualification increased from 48.8 per cent in 2005 to 57.2 per cent in 2008. But the 20 constituencies with the lowest level of participation in higher education saw a decline from 12.6 per cent to 12.1 per cent. The Richmond Park constituency, in southwest London, has the largest proportion of graduates, at more than 63 per cent of the working-age population. In Doncaster North and Birmingham Hodge Hill fewer than 10 per cent have degrees.

The report also shows considerable regional variations. Eight of the 20 constituencies with the lowest proportion of qualifications are in the West Midlands. London attracts the highest number of graduates, with 17 of the 25 constituencies that boast the most graduates found in the capital.

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: "The current Government has rightly prioritised investment in education but this report shows that the problem is even more deep-seated than previously thought and is a challenge for all the parties. Education holds the key to improving social mobility, tackling poverty and extending opportunity for all." Ms Hunt said the report showed the current divide between the “haves and have nots” was growing. Where a person lived largely determined their chances of educational success. [Rubbish! Place of residence is incidental. Richer people are smarter overall and have smarter kids]


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Making the Grade Isn't About Race. It's About Parents (?)

There is a nugget of truth in the observations below. Parental pressure can raise educational achievement. But it is no substitute for IQ. My son had zero pressure on him during his schooling and I was an "absent father" throughout. His mother and I split up in the same year that he began school. But he was always a couple of years ahead of his class in reading age and now has a first class honours degree in Mathematics from a distinguished university and is well set for an academic career. How come? I am a high-achieving academic and he has academic genes. He didn't need pushing. He mainly just coasted but the work was easy for him so he still did well.

I myself grew up in a working class family, which, like most such families, had no expectations of high achievements among its children and I was in fact discouraged from continuing my education beyond junior school. But my parents were both great readers of books and both had siblings who did exceptionally well at school. So I obviously got good genes from them which enabled me also to cruise and still do well academically.

The explanation for low black achievement given below does have one virtue: Absent black fathers are not going to change any time soon so if it is absent fathers that are the problem, we have to conclude that the "gap" problem is insoluble. And it is insoluble, though not for that reason

"Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" In a moment of exasperation last spring, I asked that question to a virtually all-black class of 12th-graders who had done horribly on a test I had just given. A kid who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- shot back: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."

Another student angrily challenged me: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When I did, not one hand went up.

I was stunned. These were good kids; I had grown attached to them over the school year. It hit me that these students, at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, understood what I knew too well: The lack of a father in their lives had undermined their education. The young man who spoke up knew that with a father in his house he probably wouldn't be ending 12 years of school in the bottom 10 percent of his class with a D average. His classmate, normally a sweet young woman with a great sense of humor, must have long harbored resentment at her father's absence to speak out as she did. Both had hit upon an essential difference between the kids who make it in school and those who don't: parents.

My students knew intuitively that the reason they were lagging academically had nothing to do with race, which is the too-handy explanation for the achievement gap in Alexandria. And it wasn't because the school system had failed them. They knew that excuses about a lack of resources and access just didn't wash at the new, state-of-the-art, $100 million T.C. Williams, where every student is given a laptop and where there is open enrollment in Advanced Placement and honors courses. Rather, it was because their parents just weren't there for them -- at least not in the same way that parents of kids who were doing well tended to be.

In an example of how bad the fixation on race here has become, last year Morton Sherman, the new superintendent, ordered principals throughout the city to post huge charts in their hallways so everyone -- including 10-year-old kids -- could see differences in test scores between white, black and Hispanic students. One mother told me that a black fifth-grader at Cora Kelly Magnet School said that "whoever sees that sign will think I am stupid." A fourth-grade African American girl there looked at the sign and said to a friend: "That's not me." When black and white parents protested that impressionable young children don't need such information, administrators accused them of not facing up to the problem. Only when the local NAACP complained did Sherman have the charts removed.

Achievement gaps don't break down neatly along racial lines. Take Yasir Hussein, a student of mine last year whose parents emigrated from Sudan in the early 1990s, and who entered the engineering program at Virginia Tech this fall. "My parents were big on our family living the American dream," he said. "One quarter when I got a 3.5 grade-point average, the guys I hung around with were congratulating me, but my parents had the opposite reaction. They took my PlayStation and TV out of my bedroom and told me I could do better."

Yasir said it wasn't just fear that made him study: "Knowing how hard my parents worked simply to give me the opportunity to get an education in America, it was hard for me not to care about getting good grades."

But Yasir's experience isn't what community activists and school administrators at T.C. Williams or around the country focus on. They cast the difference between kids who are succeeding in school and those who are not in terms of race and seem obsessed with what they call "the gap" between the test scores of white and black students.

This year, community groups in St. Louis and Portland, Ore., issued reports decrying the gap. After a recent state report on test scores in California schools, Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of instruction, said the gap is "the biggest civil rights issue of this generation" -- a very popular phrase in education circles.

But focusing on a "racial achievement gap" is too simple; it's a gap in familial support and involvement, too. Administrators focused solely on race are stigmatizing black students. At the same time, they are encouraging the easy excuse that the kids who are not excelling are victims, as well as the idea that once schools stop being racist and raise expectations, these low achievers will suddenly blossom.

Last year, two of the finest and most dedicated teachers at my school -- one in science and one in math -- tried to move students who were failing their classes into more appropriate prerequisite courses, because the kids had none of the background knowledge essential to mastering more advanced material. Both teachers were told by a T.C. Williams administrator that the problem was not with the students but with their own low expectations.

"The real problem," says Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides preschool and other services to low-income families, "is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap."

Hopkins notes that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income and class, things superintendents have little control over. "Even with best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problem," he says. "They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close."

Perhaps nothing shows how out of touch administrators are with the depth of poor students' problems more than the way they chose to start this school year. The Alexandria School Board had added two more paid work days to the calendar, a move that cost more than $1 million in teachers' salaries. So the administration decided to put on a three-day conference they dubbed "Equity and Excellence." We were promised "world-class speakers." If only that had been true. As part of the festivities, Sherman formed a choir of teachers and administrators that gave us renditions of "Imagine" and "This Land Is Your Land." Sherman closed the conference by telling us that if we didn't believe that "each and every" child in Alexandria could learn, he would give us a ticket to Fairfax County.

Now, six weeks into the academic year, some 30 fights -- two gang-related -- have taken place at T.C. Williams. I wish those three days had been spent bringing students to school to lay out clear rules and consequences, and for sessions on conflict resolution and anger management.

Last week, Sherman announced that a second installment of "Equity and Excellence" featuring a "courageous conversation" with Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, will take place at T.C. Williams tomorrow. I am eager to find ways to help my students succeed, but I am afraid that Ferguson -- whose book includes a chapter titled "Teachers' Perceptions and Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap" -- may underestimate what it will take to meet the challenges that we face.

There is one moment of those frivolous first days of the year that I do keep returning to: One of the speakers, Yvette Jackson, the chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, made it clear that the lip service and labels Alexandria is putting forward are not going to help children who are what she calls "school-dependent learners." These are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes. To her, the gap everyone is talking about is not a question of black and white but of the "difference between children's potential and their performance."

"No matter how poor they are, when little kids start school, they are excited; they believe they are going to learn," Jackson said. "But unless schools give them the background knowledge . . . so they can connect with what they study and feel confident, they begin to feel that school is a foreign place, and they give up."

For Junior Bailey, a senior in my Advanced Placement English class, school has never been a foreign place, a fact he attributes to his dad. "He has always been on me; it's been hard to get away with much," Junior said. He also told me that hardly any of his friends have their fathers living with them. "Their mothers are soft on them, and they don't get any push from home."

On parents' night a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to see Junior's dad, Willie Bailey, a star on T.C. Williams's 1983 basketball team, walk into my classroom. Willie told me that after seeing how the guys he grew up with were affected by not having their dads around, he promised himself that he would be a real presence in his son's life.

With more parents like Willie Bailey, someday schools might realistically talk about closing the gap between students' potential and their performance.


Convicts teaching British children: How indecent assault and drug use are no bar to working in schools

Dozens of teachers with criminal convictions are being allowed to remain in the classroom, a shocking investigation has discovered. Members of staff who have been convicted of crimes including harassment, battery, assault, indecent exposure, indecent assault and possessing Class A drugs have not been banned from teaching. They have either escaped punishment entirely or just received a 'slap on the wrist' from the profession's watchdog, the General Teaching Council. This is despite a public furore three years ago about a loophole that allowed sex offenders to work in schools.

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the last five years 133 teachers were convicted of offences. Ninety-two had sanctions enforced against them by the GTC. Three were unlimited prohibition orders - two for driving dangerously and harassment and one for forgery. This means they can no longer work in state schools. There was also a prohibition order for 12 years for six counts of indecent assault. The 88 others either had shorter prohibition, suspension or conditional registration orders enforced.

However 14 teachers had no sanctions enforced against them at all. Five had convictions for assaults; three for driving under the influence of alcohol; two for possession of drugs; two for obtaining property by deception; one for harassment and one for conspiracy to defraud.

Twenty-seven were given reprimands that stay on their records for just two years. Five had convictions for possessing class A drugs; five for driving under the influence of alcohol; four for indecent exposure; four for assault; three for battery; two for theft; one for making a false statement; one for causing death by dangerous driving; one for not declaring offences to an employer and one for outraging public decency.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: 'It's astonishing that teachers found guilty of serious crimes are getting nothing but a slap on the wrists from the Teaching Council. 'We need to be confident that appropriate action is being taken when a teacher commits a serious offence.' Margaret Morrissey, of the pressure group Parents Outloud, insisted: 'If they didn't want to lose their jobs, they shouldn't have broken the law.'

An inquiry concluded earlier this year that at least 50 sex offenders who pose an 'ongoing risk' to children were cleared to work in schools. Some were approved by ministers or senior officials to continue working with children despite evidence they had committed sex offences. An investigation - instigated in January 2006 by former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly - ordered the barring of 50 offenders permitted to work with children.

The law was tightened and now all adults convicted or cautioned for sex offences against children are automatically placed on List 99, the list of people banned from working with children.

A spokesman for the General Teaching Council said yesterday: 'Each hearing committee needs to determine whether the criminal conviction or caution is relevant to the teacher's role as a teacher. It also looks at how serious the offence was.'


Fears for 'exhausted' young children as British government steps up the push to start schooling at FOUR

It seems that this scheme allows for parent choice so it may be worthwhile. Brighter kids could well benefit from an early start but less bright kids could well be stressed by demands that are beyond them and they should probably be excused until age 6. Sadly, however, the less-bright parents of less-bright pupils may well seize the opportunity to "unload" their kids early

Parents will be encouraged to send their children to school at the age of four under a major shake-up of primary education. Schools Secretary Ed Balls wants youngsters to start classes in the September after their fourth birthday, instead of waiting until the compulsory schooling age of five. The move comes despite a major inquiry into primary education in England last week concluded that youngsters should not start formal learning until they were six.

The current school-starting age - a term after a child's fifth birthday - is already among the lowest in Europe. This compulsory schooling age will remain, but Mr Balls wants to change the mandatory School Admissions Code, which will effectively lower the starting age to four as parents are pressured to enrol their children earlier. The changes, published for consultation today, will come into force in February and apply to admission arrangements from September 2011.

In a concession to critics who believe youngsters are being schooled too early, parents will be able to choose whether their children start reception classes full or part-time in the September, January or April after their fourth birthday. But critics claim that thousands of exhausted young children will be turned off formal learning as a result of the overhaul.

Parents will be able to opt for a free full-time place in a nursery if they believe their son or daughter is not ready for school. They may also choose to wait until the compulsory schooling age of five.

The change comes after Mr Balls accepted Sir Jim Rose's primary curriculum review, published in April. It stressed that children should be able to start school from the earliest possible point after their fourth birthday.

Mr Balls said yesterday: 'It is important that children hit the ground running (at) school. There is clear evidence the sooner summer-born children start pre-schooling, the sooner they close the gap on their peers.'

However, the Cambridge Primary Review last week claimed there was no evidence. It did, however, say there were suggestions an early schooling start could do harm, and called for a delay in formal lessons until the age of six.


British schools told: Shut for three more holy festivals

Schools are being ordered to close on Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holy days despite objections from teachers. The directive by two London councils means the schools must shut for the annual celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak's birthday in addition to the traditional Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. The policy even affects schools with only a small number of Muslim, Hindu or Sikh pupils.

Headteachers have complained about the enforced holidays, arguing they should decide if the religious dates are marked with days off. The controversy surrounds Waltham Forest and Newham councils, which have publicised their school calendars for Autumn 2009-2010.

They both told schools to take off September 21 for Eid-Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, was also included in the calendar as a holiday, but this year it fell on Saturday October 17. Guru Nanak's birthday is scheduled for a holiday on November 2. It is celebrated by Sikhs and Nanak's teachings form a central part of their scripture.

The policy in Waltham Forest affects all community primary and secondary schools in the borough, but not Church of England or Catholic schools. A review of the policy has begun after complaints from schools. Rachel MacFarlane, head of Walthamstow School for Girls, said the school is 'frustrated' by the holiday requirements.

Councillor Liaquat Ali, Cabinet member for children and young people in Waltham Forest, said it was important to teach children about different cultures and backgrounds 'as much as possible'. Nobody was available to comment from Newham Council yesterday.


Monday, October 19, 2009

"Special schools" revived at Berkeley?

So much for mainstreaming

The Berkeley school board is considering creating an alternative high school or charter school proposed by one of its high school principals for 500 kids who are falling behind. Victor Diaz, principal of Berkeley Technology Academy, said the school would serve kids from grades six through 12 who traditionally fall behind: students of color scoring well below their white counterparts.

Berkeley schools have the largest gap between well performing white students and students of color in the entire State of California, according to schools spokesman Mark Coplan.

Diaz said he has developed a curriculum for the new school based partly on project-based learning and immersive technology with professors from UC Berkeley, Harvard and the University of Maryland.

If the school board decides to create a charter run within the school district, called a dependent charter, the new school would get money from state and federal sources and would pay the Berkeley school district for facilities and administrative services, he said.

That plan could face resistance from the school board because the district could lose money for each student who enrolls in the charter. And since charter schools are open to anyone, there are worries that it could fill up with students from outside Berkeley. It also could face resistance from the teachers union. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers considered an official position on the charter proposal at its Sept. 24 meeting, but union President Cathy Campbell did not return phone calls.

Berkeley Schools Superintendent Bill Huyett said he is open to new ideas but a charter "is putting the cart before the horse." "At this point we're talking to the school board about changing our paradigm," Huyett said. "Some people would like to see it as a charter, but the district is not there."

Diaz said low-performing students in Berkeley need an alternative place to call home for several years, something that is codified like a charter that the school district can't change on a whim. He said at his school under achievement is now deep rooted and multigenerational. Students with either academic or behavior problems are sent there to get help for about six months before going back to Berkeley High School. "There's a group of kids who traditionally fail year after year, and we are now seeing the second generation of kids whose parents went to this same school," Diaz, said. "I don't know how much more appalling you can get than that. It's not uncommon where a parent shows up and says 'I attended this same school.'"

Diaz, who grew up in San Jose with a single teenage mother, attended six different high schools before he was kicked out when he was 16. From that experience, he said he knows what kids like him need. "If we can get them for six years rather than six months, think what we can do with them," Diaz said. "But when you get them in the second semester of their sophomore year or their senior year, there's not much left you can do."

Diaz, who is working on his doctorate in education from UC Berkeley, said he hopes to get the school board to approve the plan for what is called a dependent charter school by December. The school would open next fall if the board agrees. A dependent charter would have its own mission apart from other schools in the district, and once it is created it can't be changed by administrators or the school board, he said.

He also has the option of taking his proposal, which he says is backed by parents, teachers and the Berkeley Organization of Congregations for Action, directly to the State of California and starting a charter school independently of the school district.

School board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said she likes the idea of the charter school, but she's worried about the district losing money. "It is a great idea, and I certainly believe in bringing different kinds of curriculum, but our biggest concern is financial," Leyva-Cutler said. "For me the questions are: Who will it serve? Will it serve Berkeley students? Will it be staffed by Berkeley teachers? We have a lot to think about. We continue to see our African-American and Latino students failing, but do we need to do something as drastic as this?" Leyva-Cutler agreed that Diaz could take his proposal directly to the state and seek an independent charter to run outside the Berkeley school district. "That's always an option," she said. "In that case, I don't know what would happen."


Picking Up Crumbs

By Drew A. Bennett

Last week, The Harvard Crimson and then The New York Times reported that, in a cost-cutting move, Harvard University would no longer provide cookies for faculty meetings, saving approximately $500 per meeting. A Harvard faculty member was quoted as saying, “We are sharing the pain with the undergraduates.” Meanwhile, due to the economic downturn, Harvard’s endowment has dropped to a mere $27 billion.


It is high time to educate the supporters of education and publications that cover higher education that Harvard’s cookie crisis, however traumatic it may be in Cambridge, is not remotely illustrative of the depth of the economic crisis being faced by the colleges that serve those who need education the most. I’m the chancellor of an open-admission, two-year college within the 14th poorest congressional district in the country; we have half as many freshmen as Harvard, yet only a minuscule amount of the resources. We have had a 35 percent increase in enrollment since 2006, yet kept tuition the same. Our state appropriations – already the 47th lowest in the nation in terms of support for higher education – have never recovered from budget cuts back in 2002. Our budget was flat last year, at best will be flat this year, and will very likely decline in fiscal year 2012.

Approximately 86 percent of our degree-seeking students receive some type of financial assistance, and many work full time while going to school. Most are first-generation college students, and a disproportionate number are single parents. Yet, we are breaking the cycle of poverty and providing future opportunities for students who, because of admission standards and financial needs, don't choose which college to attend, but whether to go at all.

Few people outside of the Ozarks know about Missouri State University-West Plains, where we don’t spend $500 every meeting on cookies! Maybe it’s time to stop drawing attention to the alleged sacrifice of doing without cookies and ask what’s wrong with a system where some institutions have that much money in the first place. Another example is Princeton University spending $5,000 each on chairs for its new library. Every time I read about something like this I want to shout that a million-dollar gift to an institution like Harvard or Princeton is a drop in the bucket, while the same gift to a two-year, rural college is a tsunami.

Who wants to endow a chair at our school? Currently we have none.

Who wants to modernize facilities for our nursing program? We have a waiting list of students wanting to be accepted into the program, but because of program limitations, we cannot admit them. This is an extremely successful program in which virtually 100 percent of our graduates find employment upon graduation.

Who wants to fund our Honors Program for an overseas trip? Many of our students have never traveled farther than 100 miles, let alone visited another country.

Let me tell you what we have cut back.

* For 13 years we have been trying to add classrooms and facilities for the 75 percent of our students who require developmental classes before they are ready for freshman-level math and English. Last year we finally got $8 million appropriated for two buildings. This appropriation passed the legislature and was signed into law by the governor, but because of the lack of state revenues has now been withheld indefinitely.

* Our Honors Program, which includes some of our best and brightest students, no longer visits China, a country that will have a greater and greater impact on the world in which they will live, work and compete.

* We have closed our Center for Business and Industry Training, and we are closing one of our satellite classroom facilities.We have eliminated, consolidated, or reduced to part time numerous staff positions.

* Our faculty and staff, who always go above and beyond the requirements of their jobs, have been underpaid for years, did not receive a raise last year, will not receive one this year, and will be fortunate to have a job next year. Compare the average salary of our professors and assistant professors, $53,333 and $40,307, to the average salary for Harvard’s professors and assistant professors, $192,600 and $101,400. While I am well aware that Missouri State-West Plains is not a four-year college with elite graduate programs, I am also well aware that faculty at two-year colleges educate almost half of the undergraduates in the United States.

While this information is specific to my campus, you will find similar examples of administrators stretching the dollar at two-year campuses across the country.

Let me recognize that Harvard is a world-class institution, and Ivy League universities provide unique educational opportunities. That is not the issue. While I concede that the “cookie cutback” and subsequent faculty comment are not indicative of all of Harvard’s programs, they do serve to highlight a very real problem – the lopsided support of different institutions within higher education.

One can make a sound argument that a Harvard education is worth more than an education at Missouri State-West Plains. But, when you remember that our campus has half as many freshmen as Harvard, that our institution is the only option for many of our students, and that our endowment of $1.7 million is just pennies compared to Harvard’s $27 billion, is a Harvard education worth over 15,000 times more? Let me put it another way – are our students 15,000 times less worthy of the benefits of higher education? We must find a way for supporters of education to contribute in a more meaningful and balanced approach. Otherwise, a growing philanthropic egoism widens the chasm between those who have and those who can’t even have the opportunity to have.

Are we just going to keep saying, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles?”


Whatever age British children start school, teaching will be dire

Education, education, education. Last week the chief executive of Tesco, the country’s largest private employer, said publicly that school standards were “woefully low”: teenagers leave school unfit for work and employers “are often left to pick up the pieces”. Sir Terry Leahy, the Tesco boss, is not alone in taking this bleak view: the head of the Confederation of British Industry said many of its members shared Leahy’s opinions. The chief executive of Asda commented that “no one can deny that Britain has spawned generations of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths”.

We do not need these top employers to tell us this. We know. The evidence for it is so familiar. Occasionally I wonder what, after all his promises, Tony Blair feels about his government’s betrayal of schoolchildren. Last week he was spotted in Westminster Cathedral visiting the bones of St Thérèse of Lisieux. Perhaps he was hoping for divine intervention on this and other matters.

Earthly intervention was on offer last week, however. Professor Robin Alexander of Cambridge University published his long-awaited independent review of primary education on Thursday and made some radical suggestions. His team’s view of what has happened in primary schools under Labour is exceptionally bleak: the report finds that successive ministers have imposed on teachers an unprecedented degree of control in a system with “Stalinist overtones”; it accuses the government of introducing an educational diet “even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools”.

What the report recommends is delaying formal education until children are six, concentrating before that on play-based learning; abolishing Sats and league tables and replacing them with assessments by teachers; extending teacher training; and introducing more specialist teachers for subjects such as languages and music.

One can only say, along with poor illiterate Vicky Pollard of Little Britain — an icon of failed education — “Yeah but no but yeah but no.”

Yes, of course “formal education” isn’t necessary or desirable for five-year-olds, if “formal” means what it usually does. Yes, of course the best education for young children should be fun and playful and interesting to them, if that is what a “play-based curriculum” means. Of course many children can easily be put off learning for ever by excessively formal education. Of course it is true that better, more enjoyable teaching is the way to improve attention and discipline among little children, rather than stricter rules. Of course the current curriculum for five-year-olds is absolutely daft in its manic, stupid, unrealistic scope — try reading it. Of course Sats are worse than useless and should be dropped. Of course league tables have been counterproductive. And of course it is true that this government has tried to micromanage teachers’ every working minute, driving many of them out of the profession; the word “Stalinist” is right.

Yes but no but: none of this is simple. I oppose any rigid, narrow education that blasts the joy of childhood and destroys children’s natural longing to learn — the teaching style of a Victorian elementary school. But I don’t believe that the teaching children get in year 1 these days is at all formal, in that sense — rather the reverse. I don’t imagine you see that kind of formal primary education anywhere now, except in private schools.

What can the report be getting at? I suspect that at the root of its objection to “formal” education is a dislike of the government requirement — much ignored — to teach all children phonics from year 1; that is, from the age of five or so. Primaries have been too focused on the three Rs, the report says, to which one can only reply that if this is true, there is something horribly wrong with their focus — a clear case of aiming low and missing. One does not have to be Thomas Gradgrind to believe that a primary education that doesn’t teach all children to read, quickly and well, within a year is a failed education. A child who can’t decode words confidently at seven is a child handicapped for life.

That doesn’t mean all children must start at four or five or six — many are not ready in any way, although others may already be fluent readers at three and four. But phonics itself — at the right age — can, with a well-trained, charismatic, fun-loving teacher, be good fun, as well as fast and efficient. It is forbiddingly formal only in the hands of poor teachers. Everything depends on the quality of the teacher. A bad teacher can put any child off anything. A bad teacher will be bad at play and play-based teaching, too, yet many have already retreated into it, imagining, wrongly, that it is easier. It is harder. Doing it badly — leaving deprived children who can hardly talk to grunt at each other in little groups — is worse than useless.

Bad teaching is at the heart of all this. It’s true the Labour ministers have tried to micromanage teachers in every way, but there was a reason. They recognised, like their predecessors, that there were too many inadequate teachers getting poor results. But rather than sack them or revolutionise teacher training, they chose to try to make education teacher-proof by micromanagement. Daft, but understandable. Micromanagement is what you do when you don’t trust the employee.

What’s wrong with the Alexander report, for all its right-minded ideals, is that its proposals depend on trusting teachers. And the truth is that teachers here and now cannot as a group be trusted. That’s why the curriculum and league tables and Sats were originally introduced, counterproductive though they proved. I apologise to the many good teachers out there. But the system has been brought low by poorly qualified, trained and motivated teachers, supported by their unions. Between them they managed to subvert the literacy hour, for example.

Ask any turnaround head teacher what the most important change has to be and it is invariably to sack the bad teachers first, which is always extremely difficult. Poor teachers have been tolerated too long: the Alexander report says there is no evidence for Ofsted’s claim that schools now have the best cohort of new teachers in history. No single thing is more urgent, or more neglected, in education policy today than to put a bomb under teacher training and the outdated, lazy orthodoxy that has almost wrecked English teaching traditions. That’s what is most needed. Teacher training, teacher training, teacher training.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

An educational a**hole

The upstate New York school superintendent who suspended an Eagle Scout for 20 days for keeping a 2-inch utility knife locked in his car is unwilling to speak to the teen's family or bend in his ruling. Lansingburgh Central School District Superintendent George J. Goodwin, 55, said in a written statement that his district "has an established policy of zero tolerance with respect to the possession of weapons of any kind on school property or in school buildings." But nowhere in the school district's rule book, which is published online, is there any mention of a "zero tolerance" policy, leading some to question whether Goodwin, in fact, was compelled to suspend the youth.

Seventeen-year-old Matthew Whalen, a senior at Lansingburgh High School in Troy, N.Y., says he got in trouble over a survival kit he keeps in his car that includes a sleeping bag, water, a ready-to-eat meal and the small pocketknife, which was given to him by his grandfather, a police chief in a nearby town. When Whalen acknowledged he had the knife locked in his car, he was barred from school for a calendar month. Now that he is getting just 90 minutes a day with a tutor instead of 7 hours of instruction in class, he says he is worried that the suspension will mar his academic record and affect his application to attend the U.S. Military Academy.

Whalen was initially suspended for five days by his assistant principal — but then had another 15 tacked on by Goodwin following a hearing to decide his fate. Though Goodwin was not present at the hearing, he told Fox News he listened to a tape of the proceedings, and decided to extend the suspension. Since then, Whalen's family says, Goodwin has refused to speak to Matthew even during daily interactions at the district's head office, where he meets with his tutor...


America's violent schools again

Trevor Varinecz, above, was shot dead in a struggle with police. He was autistic and should have been in a facility better adapted to his needs -- but the Leftist mania for "mainstreaming" of problem kids prevents that. It's a failure that police even needed to be at the school. Carolina Forest High School has nine walk through metal detectors but has numerous buildings and entrances so that is mostly tokenism. The officer was stabbed several times before he fired

A POLICE officer assigned to a South Carolina school shot dead a 16-year-old student after the 11th grader stabbed him, the local school district said. "That is... exactly what is understood to have happened,'' said Teal Britton, a spokeswoman for the Horry County School District, after reports first emerged about the incident at Carolina Forest High School today.

"At 8:20am, 8:25am (local time), an incident occurred that involved an 11th grade student and the school resource officer that was not witnessed by any other student,'' she said. School administrators were on campus at the time and "heard the struggle'' between the officer and the male student, Ms Britton added. "As a result of the incident, both the student and the school resource officer were injured and were transported to Conway Medical Centre, and it was reported... shortly after 11am by the coroner that the student was deceased.''

The officer, whose name was not released, was part of a South Carolina program providing liaison police officers to all state secondary and middle schools "to assist with school safety'', she added.

The high school, which has 1975 students according to its website, was locked down in the wake of the incident, but students were not evacuated and Britton said classes were still being taught. Parents were given the option of picking up their children.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident because it involved a police officer. "We have agents still assessing the situation. We hope to release information as confirmed details are gathered,'' said division spokesman Jennifer Timmons.


Schwarzenegger OKs school bill required by US law

California is removing a legal ban on using the results of student achievement tests to evaluate teachers, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The bill lifts a barrier that prevented California from applying for $4.5 billion under the federal Race to the Top program. Schwarzenegger says more legislation is needed beyond the bill he signed Sunday. He has called lawmakers back into special session this fall.

California still has to qualify for the federal money in competition with other states. To do so, education officials say the state must approve other reforms, including removing a cap on the number of charter schools, improving poorly performing local schools, and giving the state more authority to intervene in failing schools.


Duncan wrong again on school choice

As grassroots momentum builds to save the Washington, DC school-choice voucher program from the congressional chopping block, U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan continues to dig in his heels in opposition. His comments betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how the education market works and what parents want for their children.

The five-year-old pilot program gives voucher scholarships of up to $7,500 to low-income Washington students to attend the private schools and escape the notoriously bad DC public schools. Approximately 3,000 students have received vouchers since the inception of the program, which has garnered the strong and impassioned support of parents.

“These politicians can’t put themselves in my shoes,” LaTasha Bennet told ABC News. “They can’t understand our struggle to get our children good educations.”

Ms. Bennet was one of more than 1,000 parents who recently rallied outside the U.S. Department of Education to protest the Obama administration’s opposition to the DC scholarship program. Listening to Arne Duncan, one can understand her frustration.

When asked by ABC News for suggestions for parents and children whose vouchers would be cut off, Duncan blithely replied, “I encourage them to come in and look at what's going on with the public schools here in DC.” Earth to Arne: those parents have seen what’s going on in their children’s public schools and they don’t like it, which is why they want vouchers. In a speech earlier this year, Duncan explained why he opposes choice for parents and their children.
“Vouchers usually serve 1 to 2 percent of the children in the community,” claimed Duncan, “I don’t want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown.” “This is why I would argue . . . rather than taking three kids out of there and putting them in a better school and feeling good and sleeping well at night, I want to turn that school around now and do that for those 400, 500, 800, 1,200 kids in that school, and give every child in that school, in that community, something better and do it with a real sense of urgency.”

Duncan’s statement is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin. First, it’s disingenuous to fault voucher programs for serving limited populations of students.

Voucher programs in this country have been limited because of the opposition of liberal politicians, teacher unions and other entrenched public education special interests – many of them friends and allies of the Obama administration. If Duncan doesn’t “want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown,” then he should favor a full universal voucher system that gives all parents, not just a few poor parents, the same right to choose the best education option – public or private – for their child.

When asked what he thought about the limited voucher programs in the U.S., Per Unckel, former Swedish minister of education and one of the architects of his country’s much lauded universal voucher program, replied, “That is the problem.”

“The secret of the Swedish voucher program’s success is that it is universal,” he observed, “This is the right of the parents to choose the school that their kids would like to have or the school that is most supportive of the needs of their kids.” “Choice,” he emphasized, “is for everyone, whatever income you have.”

Rather than give all children an immediate escape ticket in the form of a voucher, Duncan wants to turn around poor-performing public schools. Yet it would be delusional in the extreme to believe that President Obama’s massive spending plans will rapidly improve the vast number of poorly performing government-run schools.

In a recent analysis, Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute concluded that most of President Obama’s $100 billion education stimulus package has “not been used to advance reforms as the administration has vigorously urged.” “Instead,” according to Smarick, “they are being used to preserve jobs and programs, in effect protecting the status quo.” And as Ronald Reagan famously observed, status quo is Latin for “the mess we’re in.”

Competition in the education marketplace through a universal voucher system or similar widespread school-choice system will foster more positive change than any dictate from Washington. Parents would have an immediate chance to send their children to competing private schools. New private schools would start up to meet the needs and demands of parents. Public schools would feel immediate pressure to improve or lose their customer base.

All these things have already happened in Sweden. In America, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama are taking away choice, crushing a successful voucher program, and sending children to drown in bad public schools. LaTasha Bennet is right. These politicians can’t put themselves in her shoes.