Saturday, October 31, 2009

Government schools flunk the test on black males

Do at-risk black males need to be emancipated en masse from America’s public school complex? A new study released about high school dropout and incarceration rates among blacks raises the question. Nearly 23 percent of all American black men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution, according to a new report from the Center for Labor Markets at Northeastern University, “Consequences of Dropping Out of High School.”

High school dropouts cost the nation severely. Not only are American taxpayers getting no return on the $8,701 we spend on average per student, each dropout costs us $292,000 over their lifetime in lost earnings, lower taxes paid, and higher spending for social programs like incarceration, health care, and welfare.

Given the many social pathologies plaguing black males in low-income and fatherless households, the best place for at-risk black males is not the dominant failed public school paradigm. Since public schools are forbidden to teach virtue and often reduce children to receptacles of information, expanding private and faith-based options to black parents is the only compelling solution.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), England’s chief education inspection agency, recently released a report lauding the attributes of faith schools. The report, “Independent Faith Schools,” examined the quality of formation provided by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religious schools. The inspectors found “pupils demonstrating an excellent understanding of spiritual and moral attributes.” In all the schools visited, “pupils gained a strong sense of identity and of belonging to their faith, their school and to Britain.” In other words, faith-based schools, by simply teaching about religion, are forming their students to be virtuous citizens.

Has America given up on making virtuous citizens out of black males? In England’s faith schools, “good citizenship was considered by all the schools visited to be the duty of a good believer because this honoured the faith,” the report says. In contrast, American public schools have become prisoner factories for at-risk black males. Because producing educated, virtuous citizens is unrelated to funding, the problem cannot be addressed by the simplistic expedient of increasing government allocations to education. The deeper problem is that the American education system seems no longer to value what faith schools in England are recognized for: producing students with good “spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding.”

Even in the public sector, blacks are realizing that the current model fails black males. Kentucky State University President Mary Sias says the university is trying to find funding to open a boarding school for black male youth to get them into college. The Eagle Academy for Young Men, a charter school in the Bronx, is the first all-male public school in New York City in 30 years. Eagle Academy has a high school graduation rate of 82 percent, compared with approximately 51.4 percent of black and 48.7 percent of Hispanic students graduating from high schools citywide. This may explain why Eagle Academy had 1,200 applications for this year’s ninth-grade class of 80 students.

Why do the education elites want to keep at-risk black males in schools that dump them in the streets or jail? Why is America content with the lie that funding is the problem? The District of Columbia spends $12,979 per student and has a black male graduation rate of 55 percent compared to 84 percent for whites. Illinois spends over $8,000 per students with a black male graduation rate of 41 percent compared to 82 percent for whites. When are black parents going to be emancipated from the government telling them what to do with their children?

Americans cannot afford, financially or morally, to trap black males in criminal cultivators masquerading as schools. Even though charter schools, vouchers, and tax-credit programs reflect some progress, black parents need radical new options that empower them with absolute freedom to choose the best schools. While every at-risk black male does not have access to good faith-based opportunities, the only hope for liberating young black males to actualize their potential to be productive participants in a global economy and virtuous citizens of a healthy nation is to free black parents from the tyranny of government bureaucrats. Black America needs a “Freedom of Choice” movement.


British Teachers who were afraid to discipline thuggish minority of Muslim pupils for fear of being branded racist

He gave his name as Henry Webster when he stepped into the witness box at the High Court in London last week. But he wasn't the Henry Webster his family and friends remember. The real Henry Webster was a strapping 6ft 2in rugby player, not someone who struggled to string sentences together and had to be given painkillers to complete his evidence.

Instead of preparing for college or university, he has been left with learning difficulties, short-term memory loss, and epilepsy. Henry will settle for that because the alternative would have meant not being here at all.

This is the only upside of being attacked with a claw hammer that left an inch-deep impression on his skull. One claw hammer and 12 teenage thugs versus one young man. Those were the odds when a gang of Asian youths ambushed him. After their work was done, his attackers punched the air in triumph - 'that's what you call Paki bashing,' they yelled.

The thugs have all been jailed. Not all the culprits, however, have been brought to book - not in the eyes of Henry's family, anyway. They believe teachers at his school, near Swindon - where the assault took place in 2007 when Henry was just 15 - are as guilty as the actual perpetrators themselves. Why? Because, they say, the school allowed ethnic minority pupils to get away with flagrant misbehaviour, and then handed them less severe punishments than their white classmates because staff feared they might otherwise be accused of racism. In other words, a culture of ' educational apartheid' prevailed in all but name at Ridgeway School.

Had this not been the case, Henry's parents insist, their son would probably not have sustained brain damage outside the school tennis courts one day in January nearly three years ago. They have now brought a civil action against Ridgeway and are seeking compensation of up to £1 million. The allegations amount to a devastating indictment not just of Ridgeway, but of policies that were supposed to lead to integration, not segregation, in our schools.

Our own investigation into the events which culminated in Henry Webster being left for dead within walking distance of his classroom does little to counter that view. Remember, this is not some inner city hell hole. Swindon (population 200,000) is often used for market research purposes precisely because it is considered to be a typical British town; neither the best nor the worst place to live, just average.

Ridgeway School, too, is average. Only about 70 - 5 per cent - of the 1,400 or so pupils are from ethnic minorities. Exam results are good, and the school continues to receive glowing government reports. Only last year, Ridgeway's headmaster Steven Colledge, who took over in September 2006, was praised by Ofsted inspectors as 'Outstanding' for his 'leadership and management' skills.

But anyone who saw his performance on Channel 4 News the day after Henry Webster was attacked might beg to differ. 'I think there is always a danger where there is a mixture of races and peoples which reflect the community we live in that any tension that might exist, any little scuffle or fight, can be twisted to be much more of a major thing than it really is,' he told the cameras. No, this is not a misquotation. He really did use the words 'little scuffle' to describe the attack in which Henry Webster was left brain damaged. Furthermore, in the immediate aftermath, neither the 'outstanding' Mr Colledge nor any of his colleagues visited the Webster family or even sent a get well card. Mr Colledge later told a governors' inquiry that gestures such as sending cards or flowers 'were not in his nature'.

Parents and former staff say that multiculturalism at Ridgeway, under his leadership, meant pupils on both sides of the religious and cultural divide breathing the same air but sharing very little else. Asian youngsters, we have been told, had their own officially designated meeting room which, to all intents and purposes, became the unofficial base for a 30-strong crew known as the 'Asian Invasion' and the 'Broad Street Massive'. Many, if not all 12, of those convicted of assaulting Henry belonged to the gang and lived mainly in the vicinity of Broad Street in Swindon. Four of them were still pupils at Ridgeway. They would often call older relatives and friends from outside school to settle disputes.

One such was Wasif Khan, then 18, who was the person who wielded the claw hammer. He was a 'wannabe militant', according to the police, and carried on his mobile phone a screensaver of the collapse of the World Trade Centre. A number of accomplices used social networking sites to communicate their message. One said: 'Play with a gun, play with a knife, play with a Bangli [Bangladeshi] and you'll lose your life.' A second posting featured a soundtrack with anti-Western lyrics.

There's no suggestion that these poisonous views were shared by the majority of the Asian pupils at Ridgeway - in fact, bar the members of the gang who attacked Henry, there were generally very good relations between the Asian and white pupils. Most have no interest whatsoever in violence. Equally, there are inevitably white children at the school who have been guilty of reprehensible behaviour. But the disturbing, and disproportionate, influence the Broad Street Massive is said to have exercised over the life of Ridgeway School is revealed in statements summarised in court papers obtained by the Mail, from parents, pupils and former staff.

All are expected to give evidence for the Websters in the High Court over the next few weeks. Racial intimidation and violence, they say, was commonplace and escalated into a mass fight on the school tennis courts after Asian gang members threatened 'warfare' against white pupils. Yet the school's extreme sensitivity on ethnic issues allegedly allowed the thuggish minority to believe they were 'untouchable'....

Ms Barker, a trainee teacher at the school for three months in 2005, said that when she first heard a pupil had been attacked in Swindon she 'knew instinctively' that it had to be at Ridgeway.' I think staff found it relatively easy to cope with the unruly white pupils, but the Asian pupils were in a league of their own. I think one of the reasons there were such problems with discipline was because the school did not promote a positive culture of cohesion and integration.

'I felt the school was letting down its pupils; all that was needed was some education for the pupils in terms of respect and good discipline. The Asian pupils at the school were allowed to think of themselves as superior. This was partly the fault of the school because the Asian pupils would never be disciplined or, if they were, they would receive a lesser punishment than the white pupils.' ...

More here

Thousands of British nursery school children branded racist by teachers... before they know what the word means

As many as 40,000 youngsters a year are being wrongly branded racists as new rules force schools to investigate every playground spat, according to a new report. Children in nurseries and primary schools are being disciplined over racist insults even before they know what the terms mean, it claimed.

A growing army of diversity 'missionaries' may be fuelling tensions instead of easing them, warned the report from the Manifesto Club civil liberties group. These race advisers and bureaucrats are said to be increasing the divide between white and black youngsters by forcing them to see the world through the filter of race.

The report said a child had been severely disciplined for calling two other children a 'chocolate bar'. Another child had been punished for calling a boy 'white trash'. Report author Adrian Hart said: 'The obligation on schools to report these incidents wastes teachers' time, interferes in children's space in the playground, and undermines teachers' ability to deal with problems in their classrooms. 'Worse, such anti-racist policies can create divisions where none had existed, by turning everyday playground spats into "race issues". 'There are a small number of cases of sustained targeted bullying, and schools certainly need to deal with those. 'But most of these 'racist incidents' are just kids falling out. They don't need re-educating out of their prejudice - they and their teachers need to be left alone.'

Under rules introduced in 2002, schools must monitor and report all racist incidents to their local authority. Teachers are required to fill in special referral forms detailing the incident and punishment. According to the report The Myth of Racist Kids, around 280,000 incidents have been reported in England since full records began. Many involve pupils still at primary school, it said. Out of 5,000 incidents in Yorkshire in 2006/07, for example, the majority were in primary schools. Meanwhile Essex County Council figures show that most of the children involved in reported racist incidents were between nine and 11.

One teacher told researchers that anti-racist interventions had led to 'an absolutely awful atmosphere around the school'. 'Children who used to play beautifully together are starting to separate along racial lines,' the teacher said.

The Manifesto Group is calling for 'adult politics' not to be projected on to children and compulsory reporting of racist incidents to be abolished.

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of of School and College Leaders, said: 'Certainly any racist incident in schools should be dealt with swiftly but the definition of racism can be taken too far, especially with young children who clearly don't understand the connotation behind the words.'

But Schools Minister Diana Johnson said: 'If racist bullying is not dealt with in schools, then this will send a powerful message to children that racism is acceptable - not only in schools but in society as a whole.'


Friday, October 30, 2009

Silencing voices for school choice

To Obama, keeping teachers' unions happy matters more than helping poor black kids

President Obama isn't taking kindly to a television ad that criticizes his opposition to a popular scholarship program for poor children, and his administration wants the ad pulled. Former D.C. Councilmember Kevin Chavous of D.C. Children First said October 16 that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had recently approached him and told him to kill the ad. The 30-second ad, which has been airing on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and News Channel 8 to viewers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, urges the president to reauthorize the federally-funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 for D.C. students to attend private schools.

The ad features Chavous and a young boy--one of 216 students whose scholarships were rescinded by the Department of Education earlier this year when the agency announced no new students would be allowed into the program. The ad also includes an excerpt taken from one of Obama's campaign statements. "We're losing several generations of kids," Obama says, "and something has to be done."

"President Obama is ending a program that helps low-income kids go to better schools, refusing to let any new children in," Chavous says in the ad. "I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I support our president. But it's wrong that he won't support an education program that helps our kids learn." The young 5th-grade student then pleads for the president's help. "President Obama, I need a good education right now," he says. "You can help. Do it for me."

The nation's first black president has come under intense criticism for failing to support the program that is helping poor African-American students escape some of the nation's most dangerous and worst-performing public schools. After embracing the teachers unions' anti-voucher stance, the president now finds himself in the uncomfortable and awkward position of denying students access to a program that has strong bipartisan, local support, and that multiple studies say is helping poor African-American children succeed.

Little wonder then that the president and powerful allies like Holder--many of whom have benefited from school choice and are currently sending their children to expensive private schools--want the ad to go away.

Chavous discussed Holder's comments during an Oct. 16 interview with WAMU radio host Kojo Nnamdi and NBC 4 reporter Tom Sherwood during Nnamdi's The Politics Hour. A related article on Holder's objection to the ad on has also been circulating. During the broadcast Chavous elaborated on his interaction with Holder, and said he will continue running the ad until the president agrees to support the program. "I saw [Holder] at an event," said Chavous. "He did ask me in front of others to pull the ad. My response was, 'No, and I tell you what, if the president does the right thing, not only will we pull it but we will celebrate him.'

"We have high hopes based on his capacity to understand the plight of low-income families," continued Chavous. "You know what, if this were 20 years ago and community organizer Obama was in this city and picking sides, he'd be right here in this studio fighting for these parents and these kids, and we want him to remember from whence he came, and [support] these families. He had the benefit of scholarships--many of us have--and I think that these families who have already been awarded scholarships that were taken away from them by the administration, they should have that benefit as well." ....

Secretary Arne Duncan said in an email through a Department of Education spokesman that while "this Administration is devoting more resources and supports more ambitious reform of our public school systems than any Administration in history," he believes that "vouchers are not the solution to America's educational challenges. Taking a tiny percentage of the kids out of the public school system and putting them in private schools is not the answer. We need to be more ambitious. We need to fix all of our schools."

The program's defenders have signaled that the ad campaign is just getting started, and that more hard-hitting ads are on the way.

The National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and People for the American Way have been waging a massive campaign to try to kill the voucher program, which they say takes money and focus away from public schools and is discriminatory....

The price the teacher's unions and their members were willing to pay to ensure their presidential candidate's success was steep. In August of 2008 the NEA announced a $50 million election campaign plan to elect Obama by targeting swing states. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama received $22.9 million from individuals affiliated with the "Education Industry" during the 2008 election cycle alone. That's a whopping $21.1 million more than Sen. John McCain received from the same industry.

These donations came predominately from individuals--many of whom are teachers' union members--employed by educational institutions, colleges and schools. Teacher's unions spent millions more dollars on independent expenditures on Obama's behalf that is not even included in these figures. Prior to his election, then-Illinois state Sen. Obama acknowledged that political realities meant that candidates cannot always answer or act from the heart.

Asked by Chicago Tribune writer David Mendell whether it might have been wiser to spend hundreds of millions of dollars improving Chicago's troubled public schools rather than on Millennium Park, Obama replied: "How do you really expect me to answer that? If I told you how I really felt, I'd be committing political suicide right here in front of you."

More here

Too much praise can ruin your child

Good to see this message finally getting out but the emphasis below on effort only is also too narrow. Real achievement is the most important thing to encourage

PRAISING children too much can backfire, an expert has warned. Author, TV producer and educator Dr Patricia Edgar said US research had found too much praise could lead to performance anxiety and sap motivation. "Smart kids have been told so often how great they are, they may see all peers as rivals, often lie about their test scores, and actually perform less well the more praise they get for being smart," she said. "In contrast, when they are praised for the process - how they tackle a maths problem rather than whether or not they get it right - and for trying, for the effort put into a task, their performance improves."

There is concern among psychologists that children are generally praised too much. Every child wins a prize at parties, some sporting teams give every child a medal at the end of the season and many schools give "student of the week" awards to all children.

"Kids have a pretty good in-built crap detector," Dr Edgar wrote in Shine, a monthly publication of Victoria's Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. "They know when praise is false and when praise given is not warranted and it's pretty scary having to be the best all the time."

There also is too much emphasis on winning, so if children don't win they give up. "Parents should praise children for doing their best. The research is clear that those children who are rewarded for doing their best will continue to strive to improve."

Dr Edgar said research also found that practice, not talent, made people excel in life. Parents had to tread the tightrope of encouraging their children to practise, while not pushing or praising too much. "I think parents have been taught to believe by self-help books, the education system, that giving praise is the way to get best performance. "So they praise anything and everything. "Sometimes children put in no effort but still expect praise."

Dr Edgar said the key was to emphasise effort, which children could control. It was important to cultivate minds capable of thinking and acting in disciplined, creative ways through sustained effort.


Some British parents want no school discipline at all

A school which puts unruly pupils in a store room is facing a backlash from furious parents who are planning a protest. Disruptive children are sent to the 8ft by 4ft room, which has no handles on the inside and only a window in the door, until they calm down. But mothers and fathers have compared the punishment to 'something from the dark ages' and are threatening to keep their children out of classes and picket the main gate until the school changes its policy.

Coppins Green Primary School in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, has refused to back down, however, saying it is necessary to control 'extreme, disturbed children in a safe way'. Mother of three Michelle Evans, 37, has had her daughter Rebecca, nine, locked in the room three times last week after being disruptive in class. She said: 'There is no window to the outside world, there is just a window in the door. 'There is no handle on the inside, the door opens inwards. What if a child is asthmatic or epileptic and has a fit and falls against the door? 'It is like something from the dark ages. I don't want to send my child to a concentration camp.' She added: 'My daughter's claustrophobic and hates confined spaces. It's awful.'

Another parent, Sarah Powell, 33, who has two daughters at the school, said: 'There's supposed to be a teacher on the outside of the room and they hold the child in until they calm down. 'But it can be terrifying for a child and it is going to make a child more upset.'

About 50 parents are expected to protest at the school gates on Monday and organisers claim up to 120 children will be kept away from classes. Many are also angry about a rewards system based on attendance, punctuality, behaviour and dress code which blocks some children from going on school trips.

Schools across the UK have been adopting forms of isolation as a punishment for unruly behaviour among pupils. Parents of children at Ridgewood School in Doncaster last year complained about a black booth lit by a spotlight, dubbing it 'Guantanamo Bay'. The school defended the system, saying time spent in the punishment room gave pupils time to reflect on their bad behaviour. Morley High School in Leeds brought in booths where pupils do work under the supervisions of teachers as part of a 'positive discipline' scheme.

A 2006 study of school isolation techniques for Investing In Children, an organisation which promotes the rights of young people, argued they did not work. The report concluded: 'Isolation has a bad effect on young people's physical and mental health. It makes people feel inadequate; it can take away their confidence and self-esteem.'

The room at Coppins Green School - a mixed establishment with around 650 pupils aged three to 11 - is watched over by a specially trained member of staff. There is no lock, but the door is held closed by the member of staff on the outside and there is no handle on the inside. However, the room has been designed so that the door will swing open if the adult is called away, allowing the child to leave. An Ofsted inspection earlier this year classed the school as 'satisfactory', the third lowest of four categories, but said behaviour was 'of a high standard'.

Head teacher Stuart Livingstone admitted the isolation techniques were controversial but insisted they benefited students. 'It is not a punishment at all. It is a safe room where adults can control an extreme, disturbed child in a safe way,' he said. 'It is not something we use automatically. It really isn't used often, except in extreme cases. It is a small room, not a cupboard, but it is all we can find.'

Mr Livingstone added: 'Coppins Green Primary School has an extremely sophisticated pastoral care system in place which is implemented by a highly qualified team of staff. 'There is a reward system in place at the school which is based on how children themselves choose to behave, which many of the children thrive on. 'Very occasionally we have to deal with extremely violent and disruptive behaviour in order to safeguard and protect other pupils and staff at the school.

'There are a number of safe places at the school to calm children down including a family room with sofas and in very extreme cases a smaller safe room for the most disruptive and violent children. 'Any child that is placed in the room is fully supervised by one of more qualified members of staff and parents are informed. 'We take the welfare of all children very seriously and strive to provide and safe, caring and nurturing environment.'


Thursday, October 29, 2009

America's government schools

I went to Catholic primary and secondary schools and then six years of Catholic college. My son also attended parochial schools. The same with my working-class parents, both of whom attended parochial grade schools and high schools that would be considered college prep schools today on par with Brophy Prep. Their poor immigrant parents (my grandparents) could afford Catholic tuition at the time on a waiter's pay and a barkeep's pay because taxes were a third of today's confiscatory levels, due in part to public school taxes being much lower.

Higher taxes are one of the reasons that so few working-class and poor parents can now afford both private tuition and public school taxes. It's also part of the reason why Catholic schools have had to close in inner cities, thus leaving blacks and Hispanics in those cities trapped in lousy public schools, where the dropout rate is nearly 50% and where crime and drugs are rampant.

The original goal of compulsory public education was universal education. With those dropout rates, and with a national graduation rate of only 70%, compulsory public ed has been a failure, as measured by the original goal. I believe that the reason for this is that a quality public education has become an entitlement for mostly middle- and upper-class whites in suburbia.

The latest book I've read on education supports that belief: The Street Stops Here. I encourage you to read it. It's about a Catholic high school in the Bronx. The school is the last hope for the students' parents, who know that if their kids fail to make the grade at the school, the'll end up at a public school and have bleak futures.

I'm very versed in the history and facts of public education, and at one time was active in public education reform, until I realized that public education is a political system first, and an education system, second. As such, it will always operate as a political system; that is, inefficiently, irrationally, and beholden to special interests, especially teacher unions.

A case in point: Nationally, productivity has fallen by over 70% in public schools over the last 40 years, as measured by stagnant test scores and skyrocketing per-pupil spending in inflation-adjusted dollars.

A related note: Years ago for one of my Arizona Republic columns, I researched how the overhead compared at the Scottsdale Unified School District to the Phoenix Diocese school system. This is from memory, so the numbers might not be totally accurate, but SUSD had something like one administrator at HQ for every 400 students. The Diocese, on the other hand, had one for every 4,000 students. Other researchers have found similar disparities between public and parochial systems in other cities.

As you can tell by my preceding comments, I disagree that more public ed spending will help lower-income children.

What would help is to end the government education monopoly and make public schools compete with private ones, as in Europe, where most of the leading countries in education don't discriminate against private schools in funding. Yeah, I know the constitutional problems with that here and the history of the anti-Catholic Blaine amendments, but there are no legitimate constitutional prohibitions against giving at least education tax refunds or credits to parents who send their kids to private schools.

Besides, the current system of funding public education violates parents' freedom of religion. It does this indirectly, by making parents who want their kids taught in religious schools to pay twice for education, once in public school taxes and once in private tuition. As I've said, most can't afford to pay twice, so the system is a de facto infringement of freedom of religion. To draw an analogy, it would be akin to the government forcing parents to contribute huge sums of money to a Church of the United States and then saying that they are free to also support the church of their choice.

Can you imagine a class of 35 1st graders and 1 teacher? How can this one teacher possibly devote any individual attention to each child making sure they learn how to read and write. I can't only imagine it, but I've experienced it firsthand. That was the class size of my parents' classes, my classes, and my son's classes. There are even larger classes in countries that far surpass the U.S. in education. Granted, discipline and family problems have permeated American schools, due, I belive, to misguided and wrongheaded government policies for the last 45 years. It's a case of hope trumping experience to expect the same government that caused classroom problems and learning difficulties to fix the problems.

More here

Leftist bigots in one-fifth of British primary schools 'refusing to lay on help for brightest children'

One in five primary schools are rejecting Government demands to identify their brightest pupils because teachers have "philosophical issues" with giving extra support to the most able children, a senior civil servant said. Teachers have been warned that they are breaking the law by refusing to nominate pupils for the so-called Gifted and Talented scheme.

The programme obliges schools to put on extra activities to stretch the top five to 10 per cent of their students. It was introduced in 1999 to encourage the parents of the most intelligent children to remain in the state sector. But a fifth of schools are still refusing to register suitable pupils because of ideological objections, according to Tim Dracup, who the runs the scheme at the Department for Children, Schools and Families. "It seems many have philosophical issues with the label 'gifted and talented', but the census is statutory and if they are not filling it in, then they are acting illegally."

"The guidance doesn't give anyone the opportunity to say, 'There's nobody we can identify here,' because it's relative to their group of children. We want all schools to put down a marker and give extra challenge and support."

In January a Government report found deep-rooted objections to the Gifted and Talented scheme at a significant number of schools, despite previous warnings from ministers that teachers are legally obliged to co-operate.

Nominated pupils should be given access to after-school classes and weekend tuition, to ensure they are challenged. Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said it was "absolutely scandalous" that some primary school teachers were damaging the prospects of intelligent children by refusing to lay on additional help. "It is vital to the young people themselves and to the future of the country that the brightest children are given the best possible support," he said. "Too many teachers think high achievement is elitist and they have ideological objections to any kind of education that isn't egalitarian."

He warned that the reluctance of teachers in the state sector to go out of their way to help able pupils would increase support for grammar schools and lead to the most talented pupils being moved into private education.

The Gifted and Talented scheme has a higher uptake at secondary level, with around 95 per cent of schools nominating pupils.


British teacher's relief after child cruelty case thrown out

A teacher has described the “horrible” ordeal after she was accused of banging a six-year-old pupil's hand on a desk in a temper and taken to court.

Halina Glebocki, 26, said she had been through a traumatic four months and had “not had a night’s sleep in four months”. She said: "It's been the worst experience of my life. I've barely slept since it all started. When I found out I was being prosecuted, I was just in a total state of shock and disbelief. "When everyone around you knows your character and your level of professionalism, for it to have been taken so far is beyond comprehension."

Miss Glebocki was arrested in June after a “spurious allegation” was made that she had banged a child’s hand against a desk, causing bruising, while supervising an extra reading lesson for a small group of children at St Thomas of Canterbury RC Primary School in Walsall, West Mids.

She denied an allegation of child cruelty and at her first appearance before magistrates in the town requested the case ben sent to Crown Court. However, when the case called again at Walsall magistrates for committal on Wednesday, the bench ruled that lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service had taken too long to gather their evidence. Refusing a request from them for more time, they discharged the case.

Miss Glebocki, from Hednesford, West Mids, has since left the school while the charge was hanging over her. A teacher for three years, she said she had an unblemished record, but said that the ongoing court case had cost her a job abroad. She said: "I was due to take a teaching job in Thailand, but this whole thing has stopped me pursuing my career and living my life. "I just can't understand how one person's spurious allegation can lead to something like this. It's just been horrible. "I've always had it at the back of my mind. “I had to attend the police station every week and every week they just told me to go away and come back again the following week. “I have never been so tired in my life due to the lack of sleep.”

However, she added that her experience had not put her off the profession. "I just want to get back to teaching," she said. "It's a real relief and I just want to put it all behind me."


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Elite American Private Colleges Discriminate Against Asian Students

Students of different races have varying odds of admission to elite private colleges, a study finds

A recent study of the applicants to seven elite colleges in 1997 found that Asian students were much more likely to be rejected than seemingly similar students of other races. Also, athletes and students from top high schools had admissions edges, as did low-income African-Americans and Hispanics.

Translating the advantages into SAT scores, study author Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist, calculated that African-Americans who achieved 1150 scores on the two original SAT tests had the same chances of getting accepted to top private colleges in 1997 as whites who scored 1460s and Asians who scored perfect 1600s.

He also found some indications that while rich students make up an increasingly large share of the entering freshman classes, the top private schools appeared to be giving admissions edges to low-income minorities, but not necessarily low-income white students. The very richest students also generally had lower acceptance rates than similarly qualified, but less wealthy, students.

Espenshade warned against concluding that his study proved that colleges improperly discriminated. For one thing, Asians, who make up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, often make up nearly a third of the applicant pools to elite colleges. And they generally account for at least 10 percent of the student body. Meanwhile, low-income students and minorities make up disproportionately smaller shares of the applicant pools and, often, student populations. Harvard reported last year, for example, that 15 percent of its undergraduates were Asian, but only 7 percent were black, and just 6 percent were Hispanic.

In addition, Espenshade's study didn't account for "soft" qualifications such as essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, musical or artistic talents, or community service, all of which play important roles in admissions decisions.

Nevertheless, some experts said Espenshade's findings seem likely to add more fuel to long-running criticisms of admissions offices. Even though the study reflects 12-year-old practices, "I have no doubt that circumstances have not changed in the interval between then and now," said Ward Connerly, who has spearheaded anti-affirmative action drives in several states. Connerly and other observers noted that college admissions policies have been controversial for decades.

During the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, African-Americans, American Indians, Jews, and other minorities were barred or severely restricted from many colleges. Civil rights laws and court rulings banned discrimination and encouraged colleges to reach out to long-disadvantaged students.

Some of those efforts created resentment among white and Asian students who felt they were denied opportunities to make room for those whom they believed to be less qualified minorities. Sparked by a lawsuit filed by a white applicant who had been rejected from a medical school, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 ruled that racial quotas were illegal. Voters in California, Michigan, and Washington have since voted to ban many affirmative action practices. In recent years, Asian-Americans have fought admissions policies they believe artificially limited their numbers on campuses. In 2006, an Asian student who scored a perfect 2400 on the three SAT tests filed a federal complaint against Princeton alleging the university rejected him because of anti-Asian bias. The U.S. Department of Education is now examining Princeton's admissions policies.

Although the schools Espenshade studied have not been identified, Princeton says it wasn't part of the set. And it says it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. "The class of 2010 had a record 17,564 applicants for a class of 1,231. We admitted only about half of all the applicants with maximum 2400 SAT scores," says university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt. "Princeton considers factors such as interest in and demonstrated commitment to a particular field of study or extracurricular activity, exceptional skills and talents, experiences and background, status as an alumni child or Princeton faculty or staff child, athletic achievement, musical or artistic talent, geographic or socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, any unique circumstances, and a range of other factors," she added. Currently, Asians make up 15 percent of Princeton's undergraduate student body.

Mitchell Chang, a professor of higher education at UCLA, said Asians have long complained about the "penalty" they face when applying to colleges. But Espenshade's documentation of a threefold difference for similarly qualified students at elite private universities "is stunning. Really worrisome." Chang said Asian students might be disproportionately less likely to participate in certain kinds of extracurricular activities and that many Asian parents push their children to apply to famous "brand name" elite schools. But he insisted that the Asian applicant pool is nevertheless diverse. He fears that college admissions officers might be stereotyping Asians and saying to themselves: "'We don't want another academic nerd.' "

Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education, noted, however, that other recent studies have shown that many well-qualified students who come from low-income, African-American, or Hispanic families don't apply to elite schools. So the few who do apply are likely to have better odds.

Espenshade's research indicates that eliminating affirmative action policies would most likely reduce the number of Hispanic and African-American students and racial diversity on campuses. Some schools that have eliminated affirmative action policies have seen significant changes in their student demographics. At UC-Berkeley, for example, 42 percent of undergraduates are Asian. Fewer than one third are white. While African-Americans make up 14 percent of the general population in Michigan, they account for only 6 percent of the undergraduates at the University of Michigan.

Espenshade found that when comparing applicants with similar grades, scores, athletic qualifications, and family history for seven elite private colleges and universities:

* Whites were three times as likely to get fat envelopes as Asians.

* Hispanics were twice as likely to win admission as whites.

* African-Americans were at least five times as likely to be accepted as whites.

* Athletes were more than twice as likely to get in as non-athletes with similar qualifications.

* Students from private high schools were twice as likely to receive acceptance letters as similar students from regular public high schools.

* Students from highly regarded public and private high schools were three times as likely to win admission as others.

* Students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes were about twice as likely to get in as students in the next 10 percent.


The British teachers who can do no right

A report claims that a third of teachers have been falsely accused of wrongdoing. Our writer argues that it's time parents recognised their responsibilities

Who would be a teacher in Britain today? The public may be surprised by a new poll that reveals 28 per cent of school staff have been falsely accused of wrongdoing by pupils, but most professionals who work in schools will not be. Living with parents’ criticism, complaints and false allegations from pupils has become part of a teachers’ lives. They work in a world where pupils feel they can make accusations because their parents will automatically back them, often with far-reaching results.

The poll by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that school staff who have been the subject of an unfounded allegation of misconduct by pupils, often have their careers blighted and their private lives damaged.

So how have we got to this situation where the adults involved in education, from parents to teachers, are in a not- so-civil civil war. And how does this affect the children they are trying to serve?

In my view, the first problem is that we now live in a culture where many of us no longer think twice before making a disparaging comment about any grown-ups in front of children. And as parents’ frustration with their children’s schools performance grows, it is the often hard-working teachers on whom they take it out.

Geraldine, for example, is an angry par- ent. This 39-year-old office administrator intends to sue her daughter’s Portsmouth primary school for failing to get Trish through the 11-plus. When I ask her: “Was it really the teachers’ fault?” she dismisses my question with a look of incomprehen- sion. She is, she says, “totally geared up” to “take on” her daughter’s “useless teachers”. But what example does this set Trish?

Tiff, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mum in Kent, is also a confident and seasoned advocate of her three children’s interest. Her latest triumph was to face down her 14-year-old daughter’s headmaster and force him to revoke the detention that she was given for texting in the middle of her science lessons. Tiff is so contemptuous towards her daughter’s headmaster that she calls him a “waste of space”. Her daughter, meanwhile, feels vindicated for her behaviour.

These mothers are just two of many examples of parental misbehaviour. Researching my new book Wasted: Why Education isn’t Educating, during which I spoke to scores of parents, it struck me how quickly they turned into vociferous critics of their children’s school. Often, they responded to a teacher’s criticism of their offspring as if it were a slight on themselves.

And the way grown-ups behave in everyday life does not go unnoticed by children. I have met kids as young as 8 or 9 who feel that they have permission to make fun of and attack their teachers. One group of 14-year-old boys whom I met in Canterbury routinely described their teachers to me as “losers”, “random” and “morons”.

On the other side, many teachers say that they now dread meeting their pupils’ parents. Parents’ evenings have become a battleground where the father or mother is the enemy. Greg, an experienced science teacher who works in a Manchester comprehensive, told me of his well-rehearsed routine for managing the “pushy parent”. “If you take their whining seriously they can turn your world upside-down,” he says. His solution is to “smile, switch off, look agreeable and move on as fast as possible”.

But not all teachers possess Greg’s confidence. Sue has been teaching drama in a Surrey school for two years. During that time she has had several rows with parents. She recalls that the low point of her career so far occurred when she had a shouting match with an angry parent in front of her class. A furious mother stormed into the school hall in the middle of a play rehearsal demanding to know why her son was not offered a more important part.

Another public face-off with an aggressive parent may prompt Sue to sign up for one of the many assertiveness-training courses for teachers that are now a growing strand of in-service instruction. They offer conflict management, mediation and communication skills for teachers requiring support to deal with difficult parents. It is a sign of the times that teachers’ organisations even now have leaflets on topics such as “fear of parents’ evenings”. One leaflet titled, Meet the Parents, published by the Teachers Support Network, cautions that it “can be a daunting experience”. It warns that sometimes parents will “support their child against the school — no matter what”, that they can turn “hostile, defensive and confrontational” and in rare cases even become “aggressive or violent”.

Predictably, sections of the teaching profession have responded to displays of parental disrespect by returning the favour. Educators blame parents for the low achievement and poor behaviour of their children. Without thinking of the damaging consequences for parental authority, many educators too have no inhibitions about ticking off irresponsible parents in front of their kids.

It is difficult to unravel the origins of the divisive feuds among grown-ups that afflict institutions of education. But it is evident to me that these squabbles have been exacerbated by recent government policies. A few months ago, a report published by the MP Alan Milburn argued for harnessing the energy of “pushy parents” to improve standards of education. He echoed the suggestion of the former Education Minister, Lord Adonis, that more pushy parents were needed to force schools to improve. In March, the Government announced a scheme that would allow parents and pupils to use “satisfaction ratings” to grade their school. Such measures risk reinforcing the tendency for parents to vent their frustration on their children’s schools, while failing to provide any constructive measures to improve the quality of education.

Mobilising parents’ instinctive love for their children to shore up the institution of education does not solve deep-seated problems. It simply encourages parents to become their children’s advocates, leading to the widespread adoption of the “my child, right or wrong” attitude. Once such attitudes gain momentum, parents can easily lose sight of what is in the best interest of their child and his or her classmates. One father told me that having challenged the mark that his daughter got for her geography project and questioned the teacher’s judgment, he knew that he had gone too far. “It got to be bigger than a dispute about the grade and it felt wrong,” he says.

It’s not hard to see how parents have got here. With increasing pressure on state schools and growing anxiety about standards, schooling has become a focus of intense competition for parents. Many devote considerable resources to get their children into a “good” school, some paying as much as £2,000 to get legal help with their appeal if children don’t win a place. Rob, 43, a businessman from Birmingham, was appalled when told that his 11-year-old son was refused a place in his school of choice. He appealed and showed up to a panel hearing with a solicitor, who specialised in education law. He says: “I made sure they knew that I meant business.”

Paying for legal advice, moving house to live in the catchment area of a desirable school, or even joining the congregation of a church with an attached school, is now not unusual. Studies indicate that a fifth of secondary pupils in England and Wales receive private tuition. In some middle-class secondary schools more than half of students had used a private tutor. Once the children are in the “right” school, their parents play an active role in helping them with their homework and projects. According to a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, two thirds of parents help their children with GCSE coursework — and many do far more than “help”: it is often parents, not the students, who are busy looking for information on the internet or at the library.

Despite all these efforts, petty and divisive bickering between parents and teachers will undermine all the good that parents try to do. If adults behave authoritatively towards youngsters at home and in their communities, teachers will feel comfortable in exercising authority in the classroom. However, if grown-ups point the finger at one another for a school’s alleged failing they undermine not only the authority of the teacher, but of all adults.

Education works best when it is underpinned by a genuine intergenerational conversation. Ideally, through such a conversation, the experience and wisdom of the adult world is transmitted to children. But when grown-ups find it difficult to speak with one voice and education becomes a battlefield on which pointless conflicts between grown-ups are fought, those intergenerational transactions are lost. Teachers and parents need to be on the same side — for the sake of education. Our children and our futures depend on it.



Three current articles below:

Teachers failing the maths grade

STUDENTS in almost 60 per cent of high schools are being taught by unqualified teachers, with mathematics one of the worst-hit subjects. The disturbing number of teachers working in areas outside their expertise has been uncovered in a special survey of 1473 principals across Australia.

One in five schools in NSW said they had at least one maths teacher who was not fully qualified. Other subjects shown to be suffering from a lack of specialists include technology, computer science, languages, science, music and special education.

The shock figures emerged as more than 30,000 Year 12 candidates sat the HSC General Mathematics paper yesterday and a leading maths educator warned Australia was slipping behind other countries.

The Australian Education Union said its survey showed schools faced major problems including serious shortages of teachers qualified in key subjects and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. "(It) found that because of the shortages 59 per cent of secondary schools had teachers working outside their area of expertise," AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said. "We need a long-term plan to address the chronic problems with the supply of teachers. "It is not good enough to have unconnected initiatives that do not go to the fundamental issue of how we value and reward teachers."

Principals were also asked what they believed the Rudd Government's main education priority should be. Twenty-eight per cent said increased teacher numbers. None suggested computers for Year 9-12 students, a policy plank of the Government.

One of the state's top maths students in the 2008 HSC, Ahmad Sultani (Parramatta High School) said maths needed a much better image in the early years of high school. Mr Sultani, now completing his first year at UNSW, said the subject should be promoted more vigorously to students.


School heads to get more control

STATE education departments should hand control of school finances and the power to hire teachers to principals and school boards, reversing a century of bureaucratic stranglehold over the running of schools. A federal government report, released to The Australian, argues that the starting point in school governance should devolve decision-making to the school level, allowing principals to respond to the individual needs of the students and their communities. The only place for centralised control over schools should be in setting frameworks for curriculum and standards and, in exceptional cases, where a school believes it is more efficient for decisions to be made by the department, such as for very small schools and those in remote areas.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday backed the broad directions outlined in the report, saying the Rudd government was already pursuing the measures in its education reforms. "School principals should have the autonomy to make more staffing and salary decisions to help tackle local problems like poor literacy and numeracy," she said. "It is important principals have the support and flexibility they need to respond to the needs of their students. The creation of the first national education authority responsible for curriculum, assessment and reporting provides a solid framework for greater principal autonomy."

The report highlights the need for principals to be trained as managers to run the business of schools, and Ms Gillard said the new Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership formed by the commonwealth, states and territories would fulfil that role in developing the tools and support required.

The release of the report, commissioned by the previous federal government, comes in time for a national forum hosted by Ms Gillard next month, giving individual school principals a rare opportunity to speak directly to the government about its education revolution. Announcing the forum at the weekend, Ms Gillard said she wanted to have a "national conversation with school principals about the challenges they are facing on the ground".

The report identifies widespread support among principals for greater autonomy, with a large proportion wanting greater involvement in the selection and management of staff and their performance and greater flexibility in the allocation of school budgets. "There is a general acceptance of the view that a degree of autonomy is necessary if schools are to respond to the expectations of their communities and the mix of student needs in the local setting," it says. "Principals accept the need for accountability and seek to exercise a higher level of educational leadership. "(But) administrative support for government schools is inadequate given expectations for schools and in comparison to the support for principals in most independent schools."

In Australia, state and territory governments give varying degrees of autonomy to schools within a framework of standards and accountability, with Victoria giving principals the greatest control and NSW the most rigid centralised system.

The report notes that, as a result, there are less innovative approaches to school autonomy in Australia of the kind gaining momentum in other places around the world, such as the charter movement in the US of publicly funded and privately operated schools, usually run by local communities, and the academies in England, of privately run and funded schools operating as public schools. "New governance arrangements should be established to allow federations of schools to be established and greater creativity should be encouraged in the development of new kinds of schools that will have higher levels of autonomy ..." the report says.

"(It) shall provide schools or several schools planning together with a range of options to traditional patterns of governance, including federations of schools to share resources and other innovative governance arrangements. After more than a century of operations in which the 'default position' has been 'centralisation', a new default position of decentralisation should be adopted, with exceptions to be based on local and regional circumstances. "The default position should remain at centralisation in establishing frameworks of curriculum, standards and accountabilities."

It says the most effective model for school autonomy has "direct school involvement in the selection and performance management of staff, the deployment of funds in a budget that covers real costs in all aspects of recurrent expenditure, adaptation of curriculum and approaches to learning and teaching to the needs of the school's community, and choice in determining the source of support required by the school".

But it says autonomy should not permit schools to change the selection of students, such as enrolling only smart students and excluding students in their local catchment area.

The report says any system must allow individual schools flexibility in the level of autonomy they think is appropriate, saying that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be successful. "The extent of autonomy in each instance may be varied according to exceptional circumstances," it says.

The report, commissioned in 2007, calls for decision-making to be simplified and a reduction in the compliance and paperwork demanded of principals. It says school budgets should reflect the actual salaries paid to teachers rather than the average.


Teachers accused of sexual misconduct missed by government screening system

TWO private school teachers under investigation for sexual misconduct against students were able to walk into state school jobs without background checks. One teacher was accused of further misconduct in the state system before Education Queensland learnt of the original allegations, 18 months after the teacher was hired.

The cases, which allegedly occurred at Brisbane and Gold Coast schools, have highlighted flaws in Education Queensland's teacher screening system. The teachers were not required to reveal whether they were under investigation when they applied for jobs in the state school system.

Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show Education Queensland only became aware of the alleged misconduct when the teachers were referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission by the Queensland College of Teachers in September last year. One teacher has been sacked and is facing court action. The other has resigned. The QCT is investigating six other alleged inappropriate relationships.

The State Opposition has labelled the screening process for teachers a "disgrace", accusing the Government of putting the rights of teachers before student welfare. "It's not acceptable they can slip through (the net) and turn up teaching somewhere else while they're under investigation," Opposition Education spokesman Bruce Flegg said.

The RTI documents show one of the teachers was under investigation following allegations he "inappropriately touched a student, breached the student protection policy, carried on an inappropriate relationship with one of the students, (and) allowed students to engage in behaviour that could have exposed them to physical harm" while working at a Brisbane Catholic school. The Courier-Mail understands the teacher subsequently resigned, before taking up a position at a state high school. This teacher has since been sacked and the matter is before the courts.

In the second case, the teacher resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct at a Gold Coast Catholic school, only to be given full-time work at two state high schools during which time the teacher was accused of further misconduct. That teacher has since resigned.

An internal investigation by the State Government's Ethical Standards Unit recommended in October last year that the Department of Education and Training "urgently undertake a risk assessment process to determine the appropriateness of retaining these officers in their current teaching roles". It found hiring processes "do not require an applicant to declare outstanding or incomplete investigations". "The department does not have any jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of employees prior to their engagement . . . and cannot be held accountable under the department's Code of Conduct for his alleged behaviour whilst employed in the private school sector."

Education Minister Geoff Wilson refused to be interviewed but said in a statement that he "understands" additional checks were now being undertaken. They include a disciplinary investigation by a past or present employer and police check.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Race to the Top: The Obama admin and the Gates Foundation are working hand in hand

The government has set aside $4.5 billion, as part of the $787-billion economic stimulus, to spur public schools toward better achievement. As states compete for grants under the "Race to the Top" program, they are being held to a standard that took root during the Bush administration, with its requirements that schools demonstrate yearly progress, and has blossomed in the Obama administration, which also is setting measurements for progress.

And for both the No Child Left Behind initiative that Bush won during his first year in office and the Race to the Top initiative that Obama's Department of Education is sponsoring in his first year, that means more student testing. It's a clear indicator of the common goals at work that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and school reformer, and former president's brother, has heartily endorsed the work that Obama's education department is doing.

It has also, as the Associated Press reports in an analysis of a blossoming partnership underway in Washington, spawned a new joke: "The real secretary of education is Bill Gates."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become the biggest player in the school reform movement, spending around $200 million a year on grants to elementary and secondary education, the AP's Lbby Quaid and Donna Blankenship report. But now the foundation is taking "unprecedented steps to influence education policy, spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes nearly $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools. The federal dollars are unprecedented, too."

Since Obama secured the money as part of the economic stimulus to spur schools that are failing their students, the Gates Foundation has offered grants of $250,000 apiece to help states apply for the money - "so long as they agree with the foundation's approach." The administration and foundation share common goals: Paying schoolteachers based on the performance of their students, and that means testing, encouraging charter schools that operate independently of local school boards; and establishing a common academic standards adopted by every state.

The big teachers' unions are at odds with some of these goals. They complain that standardized testing has run amok. The Obama administration has directly confronted a constituency that has been a longtime ally of the Democrats, those teachers' unions.

"Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America's public schools," the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, said in comments about the grant competition submitted to the Education Department. "We should not continue the unhealthy focus on standardized tests as the primary evidence of student success, the NEA said. The American Federation of Teachers submitted similar comments. Together, the unions count about 4.6 million members.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former superintendent of schools from Chicago, welcomes the foundation's involvement. "The more all of us are in the game of reform, the more all of us are pushing for dramatic improvement, the better," Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Duncan's inner circle includes two former Gates employees, the AP report notes. His chief of staff is Margot Rogers, who was special assistant to Gates' education director. Assistant Deputy Secretary James Shelton was a program director for Gates' education division. The administration has waived ethics rules to allow Rogers and Shelton to deal more freely with the foundation, but Rogers said she talks infrequently with her former colleagues.

"It's no secret the U.S. education system is failing," Bill Gates says in this report. "We're doing all kinds of experiments that are different. The Race To The Top is going to do many different ones. There's no group-think."

When the foundation offered to help states apply for the federal funding, it initially offered the $250,000 to only 15 states. Officials in other states complained when they learned of the plan. And the foundation agreed to expand its offer, now agreeing to help any state that meets eight criteria, including a commitment to the common standards effort and the ability to link student data to teachers. The foundation also is helping some districts that are eligible for a share of the money if they are working in partnership with nonprofits such as the Gates Foundation.

The Department of Education has announced public meetings across the country "to listen and learn from assessment experts and practitioners," the agency says. "The goals are two-fold: first to gather technical input to inform the development of a Race to the Top Assessment Competition; and second to enable states, who will be the competition applicants, and the public to participate in and learn from these events.

"The next generation of assessments will provide information that helps accelerate student learning and improve teachers' practice," Duncan says. "At these meetings, experts will give us their best ideas so we can support states' efforts to build the new assessments our country needs to ensure that our students are prepared for success in college and careers."

In the Race to the Top, the agency says:

Duncan has pledged to reserve up to $350 million to support consortia of states that are working to create new assessments tied to a common set of standards. The grants will be distributed next year through a competitive process. The assessment grants will come from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund and will be awarded under a separate program from the larger one designed to support states' comprehensive efforts to reform education.

Department officials will use the input gathered to design the application for the assessment competition; consortia of states, who are the applicants for the competition, will use the information to inform their proposed assessment designs. The department plans to publish the application early next year and will award grants by next fall.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund. The law requires the money to be distributed through four areas of reform:

Adopting college- and career-ready standards and assessments;

Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;

Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve their practices; and

Turning around our lowest-performing schools.

"To succeed in comprehensive efforts to reform, states need to have plans to address each of these areas," Duncan says. "But high-quality standards and assessments are the foundation on which reforms are built. High-quality assessments are one of the most important ingredients of reform. We look forward to supporting states as they lead the way in this critical effort."


Half of the British think creationism should be taught alongside evolution

More than half of all Britons believe that creationism and other theories about the origins of life should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons, according to a survey published today. The study, published to coincide with a British Council symposium on science education, suggests that three-quarters of adults support the teaching of evolution. But only one in five thinks this should be to the exclusion of theories such as creationism and intelligent design.

There has been growing controversy over the place of alternative theories in schools. Professor Michael Reiss was sacked last year as the Royal Society’s director of education after arguing that creationism and intelligent design should be addressed as a “world view” if they were raised by pupils.

There was further controversy this summer when the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance asked GCSE candidates to compare creationism with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Creationism is the literal interpretation of scripture, while intelligent design holds that living organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone.

National Curriculum guidelines stipulate that evolution alone should be taught in science lessons, while creationism may be discussed as part of religious education. But it has been estimated that as many as ten per cent of pupils now come from families that believe in the accounts of divine creation in the Bible or the Koran.

The MORI research, commissioned by the British Council, polled 1,000 adults in Britain among 12,000 in ten countries, including America, Russia and India. British support for teaching other theories alongside evolution was higher, at 54 per cent, than in any of the other countries apart from Argentina and Mexico. But Britain had the lowest proportion (6 per cent) believing that other theories should be taught in preference to evolution.

However, when responses were restricted to those who had heard of Charles Darwin and knew something of his theory of evolution, the proportion supporting lessons on evolution alone rose from 21 per cent to 24 per cent. Among the more informed group, 60 per cent favoured the mixed approach.

Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, the head of the British Council’s Darwin Now programme, which is running today's symposium at the National Science Learning Centre on evolution and education, said: “One of the most interesting findings of our survey is that there is evidence the more people understand about evolutionary theory the more enthusiastic they are about it being taught as part of the science curriculum.”

But Dr Baker added that the overall level of support for the teaching of theories other than evolution might reflect a need for a "more sophisticated approach to teaching and communicating how science works as a process, and how it is debated alongside other perspectives". The council is launching a range of international education resources on the subject for schools, museums and science centres.

Professor Reiss, who is now Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education, in London, is speaking at the symposium. He said he was not surprised that so many people felt that creationism and intelligent design should be taught in schools, even though they were not scientific theories. "In my experience in the UK, the overwhelming majority of science teachers do not want creationism or intelligent design taught as valid scientific alternatives to evolution, but are often comfortable with pupils bringing up such ideas," Professor Reiss said. "When I was taught science, we were allowed to bring anything up in lessons.


Power in those old school ties

AUSTRALIA enjoys clout and access in the Asia-Pacific thanks to politicians and officials in the region who have not forgotten their student days here. This is the claim of a report released last week to talk up the non-financial benefits of the $16 billion industry in international education. "What we've found a bit distressing is that so much attention is given to the economic impact of international education," said Peter Coaldrake from the peak body Universities Australia, which commissioned the independent report. "It's important that we remind ourselves and everyone else of some of the other benefits."

Those benefits include more positive attitudes to Australia, open doors for our diplomats and a better hearing, according to the Hong-Kong based consultancy, Strategy Policy and Research in Education Ltd, which is behind the report.

The report says the son of Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a graduate of Curtin University of Technology, and the country's top three economic policy-makers have close ties to Australian education. In 2001-02, when the issue of East Timor's independence strained relations between Jakarta and Canberra, the Indonesian cabinet at that point had five Australian-educated members. This helped ease tensions, according to Ric Smith, a former ambassador quoted in the report.

The report makes much of the good work done in Indonesia and China by the Australian National University. Mr Smith said ANU economist Ross Garnaut played a remarkable role in the education of Chinese economists. "For a time those (ANU-trained) economists exerted disproportionate influence in China," he said. Former ANU vice-chancellor Deane Terrell pointed out that ANU's expertise in the region rested heavily on languages, a field under pressure in the education system.

The report attributes the rise of Australia's soft power in the region especially to the elite former students of the Colombo Plan. The report asks why they "appear to shine brightly against those who followed them in the fee-paying era for international students which began in the late 1980s".

It suggests the fruits of the Colombo Plan are well known because its former students have by now reached or passed the peak of their careers. "However, the far larger wave of fee-paying students is still to hit their career pinnacle ... expect to see more eminent Australian alumni emerge soon into senior roles in Asian countries," the report says.

Monash University's Bob Birrell said the report failed to come to grips with criticism of the overseas student industry, its poor standard of English and the "dumbing down" of courses popular with these students, many of them seeking permanent residency. "On outcomes (the report's) rosy assessment relies mainly on research which shows that some 90 per cent of overseas students in our universities successfully complete their courses. This is hardly surprising since the students have heavily invested in the course fees and thus have a very strong motive to finish," Dr Birrell said.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Protestant schools under attack in Ireland

Protestant schools in Ireland have been funded by the Irish government on parity with government schools for 40 years but the present government now want a big cut to such funding. Protestant schools tend to be more prestigious so there is both class hatred and religious bigotry at work

EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe claimed yesterday that he withdrew €2.8m in grants from Protestant schools because the payment was deemed unconstitutional. The Attorney General believed that to continue the grants would be unconstitutional as they were being given to the Protestant denomination and being refused to the Catholic denomination, he said in a heated Dail exchange with Fine Gael education spokesperson Brian Hayes. Mr O'Keeffe accepted that the funding position for Protestant schools in many areas could be more difficult than in Dublin.

And he repeated that he would consider any proposals that would effectively channel funding in rural areas. The claim about the constitutional position was made hours before a stinging attack on Mr O'Keeffe by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill.

Dr Neill said he would like to see the legal advice offered by the Attorney General and noted that it was strange that it was being sought now, 40 years after the arrangements for Protestant schools were first made. He warned that some Protestant schools would be put out of business. "Those that survive will only do so by charging excessive fees, thereby excluding the very community they were founded to serve," he said.

The archbishop suggested that the 're-classification' of the Protestant schools was not driven by financial considerations. "It was driven by what amounts to a very determined and doctrinaire effort within the Department of Education and Science to strike at a sector which some officials totally failed to understand," he claimed. Previous Governments treated these schools in a fair manner, he said. "The same cannot be said of the present Fianna Fail / Green Party coalition," he added.

The future of the Protestant schools was also threatened by the changes in the pupil teacher ratio from 18:1 to 20:1. "These two changes will not only cost jobs, but actually make some schools no longer viable in quite a short span of time," he added.

Mr Hayes said Mr O'Keeffe was undermining Protestant confidence in the Government's position, in terms of denominational education and the rights of its 21 secondary schools. Legal opinion that had never been sought in the past 40 years "has resulted in a terrible loss of faith in his position as Minister for Education and Science among the minority community," he said. He said Protestant schools had done a deal with former Education Minister Donogh O'Malley, when he introduced free education in the 1960s, to ensure they kept grants and the minister was breaking that agreement.

Today, Mr O'Keeffe meets the management committee for Protestant schools which will ask him to restore grants and teachers to the sector.


The farce of teacher-training colleges

I got good results for my High School students and I have never had one second of teacher-training. For High School teaching, a relevant degree should be sufficient. Teachers are born, not made

On Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went to Columbia University's Teachers College, the oldest teacher-training school in the nation, and delivered a speech blasting the education schools that have trained the majority of the 3.2 million teachers working in U.S. public schools today. "By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom," he said to an audience of teaching students who listened with more curiosity than ire — this was Columbia University after all, and they knew Duncan wasn't talking to them. It was a damning, but not unprecedented, assessment of teacher colleges, which have long been the stepchildren of the American university system and a frequent target of education reformers' scorn over the past quarter-century.

But Duncan's speech raises another question: If most teacher colleges are "mediocre," does that mean the teachers they produce are equally lackluster?

One of the major problems with answering that question, says David Steiner, New York's education commissioner, is that we simply don't know, can't know. It is nearly impossible in many states to tell which teachers produce the best student outcomes, let alone which teacher colleges. "And if we can't identify the skills that make a difference in terms of student learning, then what we're saying is that teaching is an undefinable art, as opposed to something that can be taught," says Steiner. Until recently, Steiner served as dean of Hunter College's School of Education, where he was a vocal critic of the typical ed-school approach, in which teachers-in-training study theories and philosophies of education at the expense of practical, in-the-classroom experience. Steiner maintains that institutions need to turn their eyes toward the practical and away from the hypothetical.

Which brings people like Steiner to a central concern: What good are teachers' credentials if we can't tell how much their students are learning?

To that end, Duncan said, "I am urging every teacher-education program today to make better outcomes for students the overarching mission that propels all their efforts." He suggested that more states mimic a model currently being used in Louisiana in which student test scores in grades 4-9 are traced back to their teachers, who are in turn traced back to their place of training, whether it be an ed school or an alternative certification program like Teach for America.

"If you want to get more-effective teachers, one of the obvious places to begin is to look at the supply side," says George Noell, a researcher at Louisiana State University who has worked for several years on the state's Teacher Quality initiative. "You need to know who's coming into teaching, how they were prepared and where they were prepared. Then you can make a link between who taught a kid, who trained the teacher and the overall efficacy of that teacher." Although such measures may seem a prelude to punitive measures on ed schools, "we aren't seeking to close people down," says Noell. "That's not the point." Rather, the ideal situation would be to have schools use the feedback to improve the quality of their instruction. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, for example, increased admissions standards and added other programs after data from the initiative alerted the school to its weaknesses.

Concern over the ability of teacher colleges to produce effective teachers has long existed and only increased as the focus of education policy has turned to accountability and data. As Duncan points out, one of his predecessors, Richard Riley, put ed colleges on notice a full decade ago. The difference, as Duncan never misses an opportunity to say, is that the Federal Government now has financial incentives through which to effect change — a $4.35 billion pot of competitive innovation grants and $43 million to support "residency" programs that put budding teachers in classrooms for longer periods of time under the watchful eye of a veteran teacher, in much the same way that medical residents are supervised by seasoned staff for their first few years out of med school.

Smart as they may be, trace-back programs are still likely to meet resistance. "Who wakes up one morning and says, 'I want to be publicly accountable?' " says Noell of teacher colleges. "That's kind of scary for anybody. Nobody wants to be embarrassed."


Australia: A childhood policy straight out of fantasyland

Get up and Grow, the guidelines for healthy eating and exercise in early childhood, part of the Federal Government's anti-obesity drive, are nearing release. They recommend children should be banned from watching television until they turn two and from two to age five viewing should be limited to one hour a day. Such policy recommendations emanate from a fantasyland where officials never seem to learn from the past or understand the real world where most of us live.

Television is omnipresent and a powerful means of educating young children. It has always been true that one-third of children do two-thirds of the viewing and many of these heavy viewers are children who live in disadvantaged families. This fact of life provides educators with an opportunity.

There have been only two comprehensive educational experiments that have attempted to fundamentally change the focus of early childhood education through television. The first was Sesame Street developed 50 years ago to address disadvantage among American preschoolers; the second was Lift Off, developed in the '90s by the Australian Children's Television Foundation. In both cases the television program was the centre-piece for a nationwide community outreach program with support materials designed for families, carers and teachers.

Lift Off exemplified the way in which the media and the education system could work together with parents to create a valuable resource for the education of children. The process of collaboration worked, but the ABC, for its own political purposes, took the program off air and the project collapsed. As a concept, Lift Off was ahead of its time but that time has come again with the Government acknowledging the vital importance of early childhood education.

Education does not begin when children go to preschool or school for the first time. Eighty five per cent of brain development takes place in the first few years of life. Research has taught us that infants and toddlers' brains are voraciously active from birth and that disadvantage in society is born when young children's education is neglected.

The major influence on children's learning comes from the home, from parents, without a formal teacher, with no clear curriculum and with few conscious goals. Community, culture and place are important influences. So the starting point of all formal early childhood education has to be each child's unequal and diverse family and community background and an attempt to expand each child's horizons beyond what has already happened to them. That means working with parents as much as with children and ensuring the broader social environment – the neighbourhood playgrounds, shopping centres and mass media - supports and enriches the experiences of every child as they grow.

Former British education minister Alan Milburn, in his recent report Unleashing Aspiration, emphasised the central importance of "pushy parents". So did US President Barack Obama in his "no excuses" call to the underprivileged to improve their lot. But parents need government to help them make a difference. Some children are born into a world rich in resources and experiences while others are deprived from the start. And this is where the Government should focus its attention.

The kindergarten movement began as a philanthropic attempt to redress working-class disadvantage; the maternal and child health system was set up to ensure every parent had access to professional health care and sound advice on child development; child care was to ensure a safe environment for the children of employed parents; primary schools were made free and compulsory to help remove the disadvantages of the working poor. None of these reforms were meant simply to develop services for the already privileged.

So what of the new policy initiative from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)? The first Early Years Learning Framework for Australia is intended to make sure all children from birth to five years and through the transition to school get off to a good start in life. It has recently been released for trial and comment. In the introduction, the document states that the Framework "has been designed for use by early childhood educators working in partnership with families, children's first and most influential educators". Following that acknowledgement the document has nothing further to say to parents but goes on to address, in professional jargon, only those educators working in formal child care and preschool settings.

The Learning Framework for birth-five skirts round the inequalities and disadvantages that exist for many children by addressing the general themes of "Belonging, Being and Becoming" — goals that remind teachers that every child needs to be included, to feel they belong, that they should not be pushed too quickly towards formally defined educational outcomes. The framework's five outcomes for children are listed as having a strong sense of identity; feeling connected with and able to contribute to their world; having a strong sense of wellbeing; being confident and involved learners; and being effective communicators.

These are worthy objectives but missing is the content and the means by which each of those objectives can be achieved for the diverse child population entering preschool. There is no notion of how child care or kindergarten teachers can overcome gaps in wellbeing or confidence or communication skills that derive from the home. The framework is not informed by a theory of intelligence or developing competence.

Apart from a list of desired outcomes there is no discourse on what sort of experiences the child-care centre or playgroup or kindergarten might provide to expand the horizons of children from disadvantaged homes, or on the effectiveness of praise for effort and process rather than results. The dominant philosophy is "play-based learning" with a nod in the direction of teacher-directed play and with few mentions of the need for teachers to use the ever-more potent media technologies at the disposal of most children.

This blinkered approach, which makes only passing mention of learning outside formal child care and kindergartens, will do nothing for the development of most toddlers in their vital formative years and leaves parents out in the cold without help and guidance at the same time as too many children are falling through the kindergarten gap.

Soon parents are to be informed they should ban their children from watching television as part of the Government's anti-obesity drive. The onus is to be thrown back on parents to cope, with government abdicating a role in ensuring the television programs available to children during these years provide educational and entertainment value appropriate for their rapidly expanding brain power.

The important early years at home are being ignored within our first national framework and the education revolution, which began with such a bang, is wandering along through assorted bureaucratic tunnels with no one looking at children's environment as a whole. A critically important opportunity for integrated child policy is being missed again.

The new Early Years Learning Framework for Australia is still in development. It presents an opportunity to reach parents, to use constructively the ubiquitous media and influence those who shape the wider social environment of Australian children, as well as teachers, with a comprehensive statement on early childhood education.


Australia: In Victorian government schools, some "temporary" classrooms are over 40 years old!

Some would undoubtedly be closed down if they were part of a private school

THOUSANDS of Victorian state school students are being taught in old and shabby portable classrooms, including some believed to contain dangerous asbestos. Almost three-quarters of the 8070 portables spread throughout our schools are more than 20 years old, according to an Education Department audit seen by the Herald Sun.

Berwick Lodge primary school principal Henry Grossek said he was concerned about asbestos-lined ceilings among his 18 portable classrooms. "If you leave it there it's largely safe, but it can be dangerous if there's damage to the walls and ceilings," he said. "It costs a fortune to remove asbestos and if you need to do an upgrade it could blow a hole in the school budget." "Portables are not a good option for most schools."

Melton West primary and Wangaratta's Carraragarmungee primary have 48-year-old portables - the state's oldest, according to the audit released under Freedom of Information. They are among nearly 500 temporary classrooms that are more than 40 years old. A further 3000 portables are between 20 and 30 years old, and 2357 are aged between 30 and 40 years.

Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said that there was something very wrong when more than 70 per cent of portable classrooms were more than 20 years old. "It is conceivable that in some schools, three generations of one family could have been educated in the same portable, temporary classroom," he said.

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said the Government had acted on a 2002 auditor-general's report that identified 1000 portables needing immediate replacement. Since 2005, the Government had spent $95 million rolling out 1000 modern portables, she said. "These newly-designed relocatable buildings contain two classrooms, providing schools with flexibility in a modern setting and replace older style relocatable classrooms," she said.

Parents Victoria spokeswoman Elaine Crowle said there were some pretty ordinary portables around, but a lot of good things were happening in education. "The Government deserves some credit for its building program and it is pretty much on track to phase out many of its old portables," she said.