Saturday, November 14, 2009

Computerised essay marking a shambles

They are some of the most memorable and stirring words of the 20th century, but Churchill’s speech exhorting the British to “fight on the beaches” would fail if submitted as a school essay and subjected to a proposed computerised marking system. The wartime leader had a style that was too repetitive, according to the computer being tested for the online marking of school qualifications. It rated Churchill as below average in the equivalent of an A level English exam. His reference to the “might of the German army” lost him marks because the computer interpreted this as an incorrect way of writing “might have” rather than recognising “might” as an abstract noun.

Other authors, including Ernest Hemingway and William Golding, were also dismissed by the computer as not being up to standard in the American equivalent of an A-level English exam.

David Wright, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA), an umbrella body for exam boards and other organisations, said that Churchill’s speeches to the nation in 1940 had not impressed the computer. It criticised his repetition of the words “upon” and “our” and did not identify “broad, sunlit uplands” as a metaphor.

Graham Herbert, deputy head of the institute, said: “The computer was limited in its scope. It couldn’t cope with metaphor and didn’t understand the purpose of the speech. We also tried a passage from Hemingway. It couldn’t understand the fact that he had a very spartan style and [it] said he should write with more care and detail. He was also rated less than average.”

The institute tested an extract from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, using a tense part of the story that contains a paragraph of just two words: “A face.” Mr Herbert said: “We, as readers, understand the horror in that but the computer marked it as wrong because it was erratic. It also described the opening of A Clockwork Orange as bizarre.”

The potential shortcomings of such a system were pinpointed at the Westminster Education Forum yesterday. Online marking of school qualifications is being tested by British exam boards and could be introduced in the next few years.

Computers are already used to mark some multiple choice GCSE exam papers and trials are taking place with technology that could assess essay-style answers. This system is already in use in America.

The computer program has been created using a range of comments given by human markers in response to exam papers. While the program can recognise sentence structure, it is not able to understand style or purpose.

Mr Herbert said that some children in American had “cracked the code” by learning to write in a style that the computer recognised. This was called “schmoozing the computer”, he said. “At the moment we do not have a reliable and valid way of assessing English language using a software package, although this is something for which there is demand.”

One education company is preparing to start trials of marking GCSE English papers by computer, although it will not use the scripts of British children. Experts expect increasing numbers of schools to adopt online testing and marking.

Sue Kirkham, a retired head teacher, told the forum that it was unlikely that today’s primary school children would, at the age of 18, sit their A levels by handwriting on exam papers. She said a recent survey showed that schools spend more on exam-related costs than on books and equipment. Another speaker at the forum said that £750 million was spent each year on testing children in schools.

Greg Watson, chief executive of OCR, of one of the biggest exam boards in Britain, suggested after the forum that A levels had become devalued. He said: “A levels, which started pretty much as a qualification to gain university entry, have become widened to take in a broader group of students. That has compromised the ability of A levels to be the ideal entry point for university courses.”


Why does Britain spend so much money on schools?

Why do we spend so much money on schools? Like all public sectors, the education world is holding its breath to see where and when the spending axe will fall. The ubiquitous question: who will suffer when the funding tap – free flowing since the early Blair days – is squeezed? But I have a different question. Are we, in our blinkered British bubble, deluding ourselves in assuming that less money will necessarily mean a less effective education system? And the reverse applies equally. Does more money necessarily mean more learning?

My suspicion that we do overrate raw spending levels was strengthened at a recent conference in Bahrain (www.educationprojecbahrain. org), where a couple of hundred educationalists – teachers, managers, campaigners – from every corner of the globe exchanged experiences and ideas. It was an uncomfortable place to be English as the light the conference shone on our school system revealed some disturbing truths.

The message came home most pointedly in a session chaired by Ralph Tabberer, a man who knows a thing or two about the English state school system: he ran it for three years, leaving his post as the Government's Director General for Schools in 2009. He is now the chief schools officer for GEMS Education, which runs independent schools around the world, including a few in the UK.

The particular discussion centred on education funding, and the models most likely to produce value for money. The outstanding contribution, which stopped many of us in our tracks, came from Dr Taddy Blecher, a South African who has successfully launched a college for the poorest, most dispossessed teenagers living on the margins of society in Johannesburg. To an awestruck room, Blecher described how he has pulled this off with next to no funding. The unique ingredient is that students, while they're studying, work for campus-based small businesses to pay for tuition. Older students are expected to help teach younger ones, and overheads are kept to a minimum with students, for example, doing the campus cleaning and basic maintenance. This creates highly motivated students who surge ahead and gain life-changing qualifications. Summing up, Blecher made a simple observation: "Perhaps having no money helps?" His point was that motivation always trumps financial considerations.

In response, Tabberer, who was in change of a gargantuan schools budget of £34bn at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said he found Blecher's story inspiring and fascinating in equal measure. He displayed a graph that served to underline Blecher's point. It showed the educational achievement of pupils at a Gems secondary school serving the Indian immigrant community in Dubai, where each pupil is funded, in real terms, at one-fifth the rate that the taxpayer lavishes on English state school children. But these Dubai children, who follow the English curriculum in a second language, get GCSE results that would put most state schools in England to shame. The reason? They turn up with an unquenchable thirst for learning.

Given Tabberer's recent position as a senior civil servant, he does not comment publicly on the system he left behind. But he did not really need to say anything. He had focused attention on what is the elephant in the room of English education: the fact that vast numbers of British children go through 11 years of expensive, publicly-funded education with a mindset that hovers between indifference and hostility. Result: chronic underachievement on a large scale. The money we chuck at them evaporates with hardly a brain cell stirred.

That's the problem. We have created and tolerate an atmosphere that incubates an anti-education attitude in too many young minds. The extra money poured into education for more than a decade have had little impact. We've spent zillions on new buildings, technology and qualification systems, with endless targeted initiatives, all wrapped up in the feel-good cloak of "Every Child Matters". To negligible effect. The latest example of this is truancy rates now higher than at any time since 1994, despite hundreds (yes hundreds) of millions of pounds spent on initiatives to reduce it. The message is clear. Money isn't the answer to our educational dysfunction.

So, we drastically need some new thinking and some risk-taking to shake us out of the status quo. Here is one idea from the Bahrain conference. Children should only be allowed to progress from one school year to the next if they pass a basic threshold of achievement, with only the genuinely weak protected. They do it in some countries. Here, it would cause short-term chaos as thousands of lazy and disruptive children and their families realise too late that free education comes with strings. But in the medium term it might provide a jolt to reshape a cosy mindset.


Muslims allowed to rule the roost in an Australian school

Parents say son was tormented for eating salami sandwich during Ramadan

A SYDNEY couple has withdrawn their two children from a public primary school, claiming their 11-year-old son was bullied by Muslim students because he ate a salami sandwich during Ramadan. Andrew Grigoriou said yesterday he complained to the school and to police after his son Antonios was chased and later assaulted by Muslim students after a confrontation over the contents of his lunch, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Antonios, a Year 5 student of Greek-Australian background at Punchbowl Public School in Sydney's southwest, said he and a friend had to be locked inside the library for an hour after being chased by a group of Muslim boys offended by his choice of food while they were fasting. The Grigoriou family said the following exchange took place:

Muslim student to Antonios: "Why are you eating ham, it's Ramadan?"

Antonios: "My mum packed this for lunch today."

Muslim student: "Don't eat that. How can you eat pig, it's disgusting."

During the confrontation a Muslim boy allegedly accused Antonios of saying: "F--- the Muslims" but Antonios denied swearing.

Mr Grigoriou said he removed his son and a younger child from the school on Tuesday after the boy was punched in the eye and kicked in the legs by a Muslim student. "It has broken my heart to see this happening to my boy," he said. Antonios, who wrote about his experiences in words and drawings, still has nightmares.

The Department of Education and Training said it had a zero tolerance policy [A fat lot of good a "policy" is without enforcement] towards racism. "Claims of bullying or racial intolerance are taken very seriously and looked into," a spokeswoman said. "The School Education Director is looking into the matter and called the father concerned. "As a result ... the school will work with all families and students involved to ensure that the values promoted by Punchbowl Public School and the department are understood and supported." [In other words, all talk and no action]

After the salami sandwich incident a student described as "the ringleader of the group" was suspended from the school [And was back in a few days, no doubt]. The department said that the school had "ongoing cultural and interfaith awareness programs to improve understanding among students of events like Ramadan and Christmas". Other parents also complained to The Daily Telegraph about bullying at the school and claimed victims received too little protection. One said her 12-year-old son was scared to open his lunch box at school because he was harassed about what is in it. "He has been bullied from day one ... about being a Christian and about the hot salami in his lunch," she said.

"My boy has a Greek background ... the bullying is extreme. "He has been called a fat pig and hit on the back with a stick." Another mother said her young son refused to go on school excursions for fear he would be bashed.


Friday, November 13, 2009

NEA Recommends Saul Alinsky's Rules For Radicals

(this post is cross-posted at A Conservative Teacher)

The National Education Association, or NEA, is the largest teacher's union in the country and one of the top lobbying groups in the nation. Almost every single state teacher's association also belongs to the NEA. These state associations are among the most powerful lobbying groups in their respective states. And the NEA recommends that every teacher read Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals.

On the NEA website, under "Tools and Ideas", along with lesson plans and articles on classroom management, there is a resource called "Association Representative Resources." Follow that link and then click on "Articles & Multimedia." You will see that out of all of the books in the entire world of books, the NEA recommends reading only three, one of which is Saul Alinsky's book Rules for Radicals.

Here is the review of this book from the largest teacher's union in the country:

Saul Alinsky, who was a labor and civil-rights activist from the 1910's until he died in 1972, has written here a guidebook for those who are out to change things. Alinsky was hated and defamed by powerful enemies, proof that his tactics worked. His simple formula for success...
"Agitate + Aggravate + Educate + Organize"
This is the official review of this book written by the NEA. The NEA didn't choose many books to recommend that teachers read- they only choose three. And in its review of Alinsky, the NEA reviewer embraced Alinsky's radical ideas.

Based on the logic that the NEA is recommending that teachers read this book and the the NEA endorsed reviewer appears to be embracing it, it is reasonable to assume that the NEA recommends that teachers follow the advice in the book and that teachers agitate against the rule of law in this nation, aggravate anyone who opposes the teachers and the NEA's views on issues, educate children on what to believe, and organize in such as way as to defeat any enemies of the NEA. The NEA recommends that teachers become radicals.
Antisemitism on Campus-Deja Vu

A Norwegian university recently joined others who try boycotting Israel's academics while supporting Islamofascists. On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, this is a reminder of what academics did as the Nazis rose to power.

Campus political extremism today is shocking. Large numbers of university professors and administrators advocate positions that combine support for totalitarian Islamofascism and its terrorists with deep hatred of Israel and anti-Americanism. How did this come about in the twenty-first century? Actually, the roots go back to 1930.

Some of the worst political extremism in academic history took the form of enthusiastic support on American campuses for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This is a disgraceful chapter in American academic history and one largely unknown. Its story is the topic of a new book, “The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower,” by Stephen H. Norwood (Cambridge University Press, 2009). The author is a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and holds a PhD from Columbia University (of all places). The book is already inflaming controversies and debate.

Norwood’s study shows that that the appeasement, support for totalitarian aggression and terror, academic bigotry, and anti-Semitism that today fill so many American universities were predominant forces on many campuses in the 1930s. The Chomsky’s, Cole’s, Beinin’s et al of today could easily fit into the campus atmosphere of the time. He sums up the situation at American universities in the 1930s thus:
“American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses.... America’s most distinguished university presidents willfully crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich’s economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazi Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press.”

Norwood’s book is a must read, but also a sad and uncomfortable read. He also details the reactions of America’s professors and universities to the rise of Hitler. The responses on American campuses ranged from complete indifference and refusal to join in campaigns against Nazi Germany to widespread support for German Nazism, including for German atrocities committed against Jews.

Starting in 1933 anti-Hitler mass protests were being held throughout the United States. Americans of all creeds joined in. So did labor unions, political parties, and others. Perhaps the most memorable anti-Nazi sign from the marches was that of the Undertakers Union, “We want Hitler!” American streets were filled with anti-Nazi protests every week. College and university presidents and administrators did not take part. They did not convene protest meetings against Nazi anti-Semitism on the campuses, nor did they urge their students and faculty members to attend the nationwide mass rallies held on March 27, 1933.”

Some leading German Jewish scientists and professors managed to make it to the United States. The most famous was of course Albert Einstein. Some American schools went out of their way to hire these refugees. Harvard and Yale (which has a Hebrew slogan on its official coat of arms) did not. Harvard refused to hire refugees even when the Rockefeller Foundation offered to cover half their salaries.

Some academics condemned those calling for a boycott of Germany in response to the atrocities committed on Kristallnacht. They insisted it would be “hypocritical” on the part of those protesting the boycott of German Jews by Nazis to call for a boycott of Nazi Germany. This is worth noting because one hears the exact same claim today when those who call for boycotts of anti-Israel academics are similarly denounced and accused of exhibiting “hypocrisy.”

Many of the faculty members at Harvard were openly anti-Semitic, including Harvard’s president James Bryant Conant. Later, after the war, Conant served as US Ambassador to Germany and worked feverishly to get Nazi war criminals paroled.

Harvard went out of its way to host and celebrate Nazi leaders. The high Nazi official Ernst (Putzi) Hanfstaungl was invited as the Harvard commencement speaker in 1934. The wealthy Hanfstaungel had been one of Hitler’s most important backers, insisted that “the Jews must be crushed,” and describing Jews as “the vampire sucking German blood.” He openly advocated the mass arrest or worse of German Jews.

In 1935 the German consul in Boston was invited by Harvard to lay a wreath with a swastika on it in the campus chapel. Nazi officials were invited to Harvard’s tercentenary celebrations in 1936, held intentionally on the Jewish High Holidays as a slap in the face of Jewish faculty and students. A mock student debate held in 1936 was presided over by Harvard professors as judges. They acquitted Hitler of most of the mock charges and declared that German persecution of Jews was simply irrelevant.

Yale was only marginally less friendly to the Nazis than Harvard. Yale and Harvard presidents welcomed a delegation of Italian fascists to both campuses in October of 1934. The student newspapers at both schools warmly approved.

Some MIT professors came out vocally in support of Hitler and Nazi Germany, including mechanical engineering professor Wilhelm Spannhake. His son Ernst was a student at the time at MIT; the son insisted that the Nazis had committed no atrocities at all.

Professor Thomas Chalmers of the history department at Boston University publicly demanded a “hands off “ policy regarding Hitler and opposed American denunciations of Nazi Germany. After the war the University of Chicago hired one of the leaders of the Romanian genocidal fascist organization “Iron Guard” as a faculty member.

Norwood’s own alma mater, Columbia University, collaberated with Nazi Germany in many ways. Months after Germany started book burning, Columbia’s President Nicholas Murray Butler went out of his way to welcome Nazi Germany’s ambassador to the US for a lecture circuit at the school, and praised the Nazi emotionally as a gentleman and a representative of “a friendly people”.

A Columbia Dean named Thomas Alexander praised Hitler’s Nazism sycophantically and visited Germany himself. He especially approved of the Nazi policy of forced sterilizations.

The “Seven Sisters,” as the seven elite women’s colleges in America were called, were unwilling to take any anti-Nazi stand. Collaboration with the Nazis continued at some campuses after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland. The oppression of women in Nazi Germany made no more impression upon them than the oppression of women in Islamic societies does on today’s campus extremists and feminists.

False symmetry, the condemnation of fascism together with condemning Western democracies, is not the innovation of the past decade’s campus campaign to defend Islamic terror. In the 1930s academics and university presidents signed statements that protested German behavior but at the same time gave it legitimacy. For example, in one attempt at “even-handedness,” a petition claimed that “minorities are suppressed and discriminated against to some degree in every land.”

All of the above sound familiar? It does to Norwood, who says he sees frightening similarities between what has been happening in American campuses since the early 1990s and what transpired in the 1930s.


British school places crisis as migration and credit crunch lead to shortage for tens of thousands of children

Tens of thousands of children face being turned away from local primary schools because classrooms are full to bursting point, a report warned yesterday. Parents could be forced to separate four-year-olds from older siblings and send them to schools miles from their home. As councils struggle to educate all children in their boroughs, they are being forced to resort to measures 'they would not choose under any other circumstances', the report said.

London needs an extra 50,000 places to ease a shortage of places predicted to worsen every year until 2018, according to the report. The document also highlights pressures in other urban areas, including Birmingham, Slough and Luton.

Councils are contemplating measures such as 'transporting very young children to schools several miles from their homes and failing to guarantee places for siblings at the same school', according to the report. Tough decisions to send young children to schools miles from their homes have already led to a rise in absenteeism, the report warned. The number of parents launching appeals against the primary school places allocated to their children is also likely to rise.

The shortage is being attributed to a baby boom fuelled in part by rising migration. A sluggish housing market has compounded the crisis because parents are effectively trapped in areas with a lack of school places. Meanwhile, parents abandoning aspirations of sending their offspring to private schools have also contributed to rising demand.

Some pupils are temporarily being taught in school libraries or church halls because schools lack space. Of 118 extra primary classrooms created in London this September, 79 are temporary buildings or sections of school libraries. Some schools are erecting portable cabins on school playing fields, and others are raising class sizes.

The report, from the London Councils lobby group, says that authorities have 'nowhere near sufficient' funds to pay for the extra places needed. The Government will soon distribute £200million in emergency funds to help ease the situation. But tackling the school place shortages in London alone could cost £1.5billion over the next seven years, the report claims. Areas with the most severe shortfalls include Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Croydon, Barnet and Brent, which need an extra 2,000 primary places. 'There are now some very large geographical areas with absolutely no capacity, particularly for reception-class children,' the report said. As well as the South-East and West Midlands, primary schools in Bristol, Bradford, Sheffield and Hove are also under pressure.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'Some local authorities are facing exceptional, unanticipated rises in demand for reception-age pupils; others simply did not plan or budget effectively for rising birth rates.'

Schools are being turned into 'exam factories' to meet Government targets, the head of one of the country's biggest exam boards said yesterday. Pupils are increasingly entered for unsuitable exams as part of an education 'production line' to boost Ofsted ratings, according to Greg Watson, head of the OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examination) board. He added that government meddling in the school system was damaging public trust in exams.


Australia. Breaking the law: the NSW exam results that the do-gooders do not want you to see

THE Herald is breaching state law today, risking a $55,000 fine by comparing the test results of three schools. After an announcement by the federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, that she will publish test results from around Australia on a new website in January, the Herald has learnt that publishing the exam results of just two of the schools could result in a fine in NSW.

And half of that fine could be paid to the Teachers' Federation or any other complainant under the anti-league table laws introduced by the NSW Greens MP John Kaye in June and supported by the State Opposition.

The national literacy and numeracy test results published today were obtained from the schools' annual reports. They show the selective schools Sydney Girls and Hornsby Girls scored higher than Macarthur Girls High in Parramatta.

The legislation, which levies the fines on newspapers for the publication of school comparisons and league tables, has caused rifts in the Liberal Party. The Government initially backed it because it was part of a package of legislation which guaranteed federal funding of schools, but the Premier, Nathan Rees, tried to overturn it in September in a bid to wedge the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell. He was defeated in the upper house by the Opposition and the Greens.

It states: ''A person must not, in a newspaper or other document that is publicly available in this state: (a) publish any ranking or other comparison of particular schools according to school results, except with the permission of the principals of the schools involved.'' Yesterday the Government confirmed that should a breach occur, action would be able to be taken in a court by a local community or the Teachers' Federation, and should a fine be levied half the proceeds would go to the plaintiff.

The act allows only for the publication of the rankings of the top 10 per cent of HSC schools. A Government spokesman confirmed yesterday that should the newspaper decide to publish the top 15 per cent instead, the newspaper would be subject to penalty. Mr Kaye defended his legislation yesterday, saying he is trying to protect poorer communities from being ''stigmatised''. ''It's no more draconian than the ban on naming minors in the criminal justice system, no more draconian than our laws on libel,'' he said.

The Opposition's education spokesman, Adrian Piccoli, said the Herald was welcome to publish information ''in alphabetical order'', as long as schools were not ranked. ''We think ranking schools simply on one result is unfair and provides no useful information to parents, does the school no justice, nor the students any justice.''

Bob Lipscombe, president of the NSW Teachers' Federation, said he was ''hopeful'' newspapers would not publish league tables but if they did the federation would ''make a decision at the time as to what action we would take''. Angelo Gavrielatos, president of the Australian Education Union, said the school reports would go live without vital information about school income that Ms Gillard had promised.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Defending school choice

3 Reasons Why We Need It

When it comes to education reforms, few topics generate as much passion, debate and disagreement as the topic of school choice. Naturally, I couldn’t resist diving into the debate.

In one of my recent columns I not only offered my support for the principle of school choice, I even offered my own modest proposal to enhance school choice in Oklahoma. I proposed that Oklahoma start funding a $3,000 tuition scholarship for every K-12 student who enrolls in an accredited Oklahoma private school. Such a proposal, I argued, would provide Oklahoma parents with more freedom, more flexibility and more choices in finding the school that best fits their children’s needs.

In the weeks since I first wrote about school choice I have heard from many people who have great compassion for our children, and a great passion for improving our educational system, yet who believe I am wrong. This week I want to address the three most common arguments I have heard against my proposal.

1. "We already have school choice.” Some dismissed the need for my proposal by arguing that we already have school choice in Oklahoma. It is true that parents have some school choice in our state. We have made progress in recent years in the formation of charter schools, yet these are limited only to Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. Furthermore, parents can choose a public school by choosing where to live. Yet this raises the question, if some school choice is good … wouldn’t more school choice be better? Currently, many families have limited access to the network of private schools in our state. Why not give more parents more choices by making a private school education more affordable (as my proposal does)?

2. "No public money for private schools.” The most common argument (at least expressed to me) against my proposal for the government to fund private school scholarships is that we should not use public money for private schools. In fact the phrase is usually stated in a manner that indicates the speaker believes it should be a debate-stopper. However, this argument is inconsistent with how we operate many other government programs. For example, when the Department of Transportation wants to fund repairs to our state’s roads and bridges, it often turns to private companies to perform the service. When the Oklahoma Health Care Authority wants to fund health care expenses for Oklahoma’s needy families, it often turns to private health care providers to provide that service. When the State Regents for Higher Education want to provide tuition assistance to Oklahoma college students with the Oklahoma’s Promise program, it turns to Oklahoma’s private colleges and universities to accept those funds and provide the education. We routinely use public funds to hire private organizations to provide important services. Why not do it with K-12 education too?

3. "School choice hurts public schools.” Some school choice opponents admit that my proposal would benefit many Oklahoma children but still oppose the idea because many children would be left in a public school system that would have even fewer resources to serve students. Thus, they argue, school choice would hurt the public schools and their students. There are two reasons though, that the opposite — school choice helps public schools — is more likely to be true.

First, under my proposal the state would provide a modest scholarship of $3,000 to every K-12 student enrolled in an accredited private school, paid for by reducing each public school’s allocation by $3,000 for each student they lose to a private school. First, since we currently spend much more than $3,000 per student (actually more than twice that amount), public school funding on a per-pupil basis actually would rise under my proposal.

Furthermore, recent economic research finds that public schools that are losing money and/or students respond by increasing spending on technology, teacher development, and enhancing their curriculum. In other words, competition forces public schools to get better.

Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals all should be able to agree to do all we can to give our children the best education possible. But it is time for us to recognize that if we truly want to give our children the best education, we must enable our parents to choose the best schools for their children.


Rich Chinese send kids to US military schools

"Beating is a sign of affection, cursing is a sign of love." Many may not expect to hear the words of the old Chinese saying in these modern times - with parents wealthier and better educated than they have ever been - but experts say they still ring true. Today, it seems, Chinese parents are less inclined to be of the pampering and spoiling variety than they were a few years ago and more likely to send their children to pre-college military academies in the United States in the hope that some tough love will pave the way to success.

While parents in some countries send unruly children to these military schools in an effort to get them to learn some discipline, in China, many parents are treating the camps as a place where good children can become even better, sharpening their integrity and leadership skills. "Good education doesn't mean letting your child enjoy privileges, especially our boys," said Song Wenming, an entrepreneur in Jinhua, East China's Zhejiang province. "They should be raised in tough conditions to know what to fight for in the future." In August, Song sent his 17-year-old son to Valley Forge Military Academy (VFMA) in Pennsylvania.

And he is far from alone, even though it takes a lot of money - around $48,000 per year - to send a child to a strict military school. Statistics show that an increasing number of Chinese students have been registering with such academies. A few years ago, there were no Chinese students at Valley Forge. Today, there are 28. "All of the Chinese students at Valley Forge came from wealthy families, some of them were spoiled," said Jennifer Myers, director of marketing and communications at the school. "They are generally performing well and hard working." [Of course]

Song's only son, Song Siyu, had a rocky start during his first six weeks at the school. The teenager said he went to the school voluntarily but did not expect it to be as difficult. "From 5:30 am to 8 pm, we are occupied with physical training, marching, shining shoes and badges, ironing clothes and ties, memorizing codes and rules. Worst of all, being scolded by seniors loudly and taking punishment, which means doing push-ups frequently." "The rules sound ridiculous and there is no room to argue or question," said Song Siyu.

Thanks to a previous exchange program in the US, Song has learned enough English to understand orders. "I have done at least 8,000 push-ups in the past three months," he said. It was so "miserable" at the school he considered quitting. Now, three months later, he has perfected the art of taking a bath in 35 seconds, finishing a meal without looking at his food, and making his bed with precision. He can even take criticism, no matter how unreasonable.

"The training is harsh but I know it is good for self-development of individuals," said Song Siyu. "The endless training and scolding are just ways to build up our character, they are not personal."

But his enthusiasm is far from universal. Ten of the 13 Chinese students who joined the academy this year have asked for transfers to other schools. But for those who stick with it, there is a reward for all the hard work. "From a follower to leader, I learned a lot - to lead and to contribute," said Han Tianyu, who is now a student at Case Western Reserve University. He graduated from Culver Military Academy in March. "I did try my best to help out in the unit and lead by example," Han said.

Mo Fan, the grandson of a Chinese entrepreneur, is one of four squad commanders at Randolph-Macon Academy in Chicago. He too enjoys the opportunities to lead. Mo started out in charge of three cadets. Now he leads 80 of the academy's 300 cadets. His mother, Lu Weifang, has been delighted to see the many positive changes in her son. "He is more independent and responsible," said Lu. "I don't think a boy will come to any harm from doing a few push-ups or a bit of running."


British school governors are becoming powerless 'pawns'

Britain's Leftist government is centralizing power over its schools. How predictable!

A new study suggests school governors, traditionally amateurs holding the professionals to account, are losing their role. Does it matter? School governors, the largest group of volunteers in Britain, are on the frontline of what could be a battle for the future of state education in Britain.

The traditional role of this unpaid and often unnoticed army of 300,000 people, who for decades have been seen as the link between schools and their local communities, is coming under threat. And the outcome is likely to have big implications for how schools are run and even whether we continue to have a state system of education as it has been understood since the 1940s in England.

These are among the implications of a new research study on governance. It says that the position of the governing body is in danger of changing profoundly through a variety of pressures, from the advent of academies and trust schools to the drive for schools to co-operate with one another. At risk are some big ideals, such as the notion that educators should be accountable to local people, rather than to Whitehall or to the organisations now sponsoring schools.

The findings of the study by academics at the University of Warwick, funded by the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT) charity, come at a time when school governance is still the subject of a major government review, which has so far taken 18 months. Its final report is now a year overdue. Education Guardian understands there have been "furious" behind-the-scenes arguments over this review, and that ministers are to back down on plans to cut the size of governing bodies and to limit the time anyone can serve as a governor at one school. The review's final report, which may be published before Christmas, will also propose compulsory training for all new chairs of governors but not go forward with plans to pay governors for their work.

The CfBT report, by Stewart Ranson and Colin Crouch, considers how the role of the school governor is changing. It says that the modern-day governance system is traceable to the 1986 Education Act, which built on local democratic schooling structures dating to the 1944 Education Act. The 1986 Act established the "stakeholder model", which constructed governing bodies from the groups with an interest in the school: parents, teachers and support staff were elected, while others, including local business people, were appointed by the local authority. The idea was that these were the users of education, or "the constituencies in society that have an interest in the institution of the school". They were amateurs holding the professionals to account.

But this traditional model is breaking down, warns the report, in the face of twin pressures: the increasing complexity of education and its domination by professionals who may position themselves as better placed to understand detailed policy; and growing directives by central government and the advent of alternative, less "democratic", forms of governance.

The report discusses this in two ways: first through a series of case study investigations looking at the involvement of governors in three unnamed local authorities as they set up partnerships between schools and colleges to develop the services they offer; and second, through a discussion on trends in governance.

The authors argue that, in two of the case study authorities, the involvement of governors in deliberations on the operation of the partnership arrangements was "typically negligible or non-existent". This is significant, as ministers see partnership as central to their notion of a "21st-century school". Institutions across England must now work together on initiatives including offering joint curricula for 14- to 19-year-olds; developing joint strategies on pupil behaviour ; and on "extended services" schemes offering education and care for children from 8am to 6pm.

The first two case study authorities had set up joint bodies to oversee the running of extended schools services – providing activities including homework clubs, sport and music tuition. But governors did not have much say: one or two could find themselves in a room of 25 "professionals", says the report. School managers and local authority officials dominated proceedings.

In the third authority, a joint committee was set up between heads and governors to oversee partnership arrangements for a new curriculum for 14- to 19-year-olds. Although this was not without success, says the report, in reality the heads "could control" the meetings of this group.

One of the case studies also offers insights into the way governors, and even headteachers and local authorities, can be marginalised in the face of pressure from Whitehall to "insist" that trust schools and academies, with different governance arrangements, are established. Trust schools, run by not-for-profit foundations, can appoint the majority on a governing body. In academies, which are sponsored by business people, faith groups, companies or, in some cases, local authorities, the sponsor also appoints most governors. Both of these new types of school need to have only one parent on the governing body. By contrast, in more traditional community schools, elected parents must form the biggest group on the governing body.

In this case study, the local authority applied for funding under the government's multibillion-pound school refurbishment scheme, Building Schools for the Future (BSF). But the government told it that BSF cash would come only if it accepted the creation of a number of trust schools and academies.

Eventually, the authority agreed to set up five trust schools and two academies. But in all but two cases, the schools themselves, including governors, were reluctant. A chair of governors professed still not to see the benefits even after their own school had become a trust. There is also a description of how one school was being pushed, against the will of existing governors, into offering a more vocational curriculum as it became an academy sponsored by a local further education college.

The report adds that, across the authority: "[The governing bodies] became passive pawns in a larger game of power that was led by Whitehall with the local authority struggling on behalf of schools to retain something of their prevailing values ... in exchange for the largesse of capital which they could not do without." ....

More here

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tel Aviv students afraid to challenge leftist professors

In faculty memo, TAU prof. says some students fear penalty for expressing contrary viewpoints in class

Tel Aviv University students are hesitant to express their political views in class, lest lecturers perceived to have left-wing political views penalize them with lower grades, the head of TAU's Department of Curriculum and Instruction wrote in an internal memorandum last month. Prof. Nira Hativa's comment in the faculty memo ignited controversy among professors, with some declaring that her sentiments should not be made public.

Hativa wrote: "There are no small number of students of lecturers with left-wing views who complain bitterly that they are extremely offended by the presentation of materials that oppose their views, but are fearful of expressing contrary viewpoints in class, lest it harm their grades."

In response to the uproar, Hativa, who is currently abroad, wrote Haaretz this weekend that "the things I wrote in the context of an internal disagreement are based on intuition and my personal impressions."

The chair of the university's students' union, Shahar Botzer, said his organization receives a number of complaints each year from students dissatisfied with what they view as lecturers' biased portrayal of material in favor of left-wing positions. He said that such complaints are the exception, however, rather than the rule.

"If lecturers express their views in class in a way that makes it illegitimate to express contrary views - that is inappropriate and unacceptable to us," Botzer said. "This university is founded on pluralism and on the ability to express a variety of opinions."

Hativa's statements were prompted by a story in the Haaretz English Edition on rightist activists monitoring lecturers who are considered to have leftist views, as well as an article in Maariv on what it described as the right-wing views of Daniel Schueftan, deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

"At the end of each semester, I read comments from several hundred students on the teaching they receive," Hativa wrote on October 23. "I have come across many complaints from students about a small number of lecturers in various fields, who express radical left-wing opinions in their classes - that they are lashing out at the State of Israel, the army, the Zionist movement and worse."

TAU said in response that "informal discussions are held frequently on controversial issues, and people feel 'at home' in expressing opinions based on their understanding and intuition. The university is an institution where pluralism is a guiding principle."


The Lost Boys

This week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced that it will investigate whether colleges discriminate against women by admitting less qualified men. It will strike many as odd to think that American men would need such a leg up. From the men-only basketball games at the White House to the testosterone club on Wall Street, we seem surrounded by male dominance.

And yet, when looking to America's future—trying to spot the future entrepreneurs and inventors—there's reason to be troubled by the flagging academic performance among men. Nearly 58% of all those earning bachelor's degrees are women. Graduate programs are headed in the same direction, and the gender gaps at community colleges—where 62% of those earning two-year degrees are female—are even wider.

Economists at both the Department of Education and the College Board agree that, to ensure high future earnings, men and women have an equal need for college degrees, and yet only women are getting that message. The numbers are startling. This summer the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University published the results of a study tracking the students who graduated from Boston Public Schools in 2007. Their conclusion: For every 167 females in four-year colleges, there were 100 males.

In theory, the surge in the number of educated women should make up for male shortcomings when we're looking at the overall prospects for the economy. But men and women are not the same. At the same levels of education, women remain less inclined to roll the dice on risky business start-ups or to grind out careers in isolated tech labs. Revenue generated by women-owned businesses remains less than 5% of all revenue. And while the number of women taking on economically important majors is rising, women still earn only a fifth of the bachelor's degrees granted in physics, computer science and engineering.

Why males don't seem to "get" the importance of a college education is a mystery, especially considering the current collapse of jobs that traditionally don't require post-high-school study. (Even "cash for clunkers" isn't going to mark the return of car companies as a major employer of uneducated men.) And who could miss the message of the recession, where as many as 80% of the workers laid off have been male?

Too many boys arrive at their senior year of high school lacking both the skills and aspirations that would get them into, and through, college. At a typical state university, a gender gap of 10 percentage points in the freshman class grows by five points by graduation day, as more men than women drop out.

All this explains why colleges have been putting a thumb on the scale to favor men in admissions. There just aren't enough highly qualified men to go around. Determining that colleges practice discrimination doesn't take much detective work. Higher acceptance rates for men show that colleges dig deeper into their applicant pool to find them. The final proof: Freshman class profiles reveal that the women, with their far higher high-school grade point averages, are more academically qualified than the men. Interviews with admissions officers reveal that the girls' essays sparkle compared to the boys', and girls far outshine boys in extracurricular activities as well.

The Commission on Civil Rights cited an example written about in U.S. News & World Report in 2007: Virginia's University of Richmond was maintaining its rough gender parity in men and women only by accepting women at a rate 13 percentage points lower than the men.

It would be patriotic to report that this discrimination against women is carried out in the national economic interest of boosting graduates in key math and science fields. But, in truth, it's really a social consideration. Colleges simply want to avoid approaching the dreaded 60-40 female-male ratio. At that point, men start to take advantage of their scarcity and make social life miserable for the women by becoming "players" on the dating scene.

The case to abolish male gender preferences is problematic. Most of those male preferences are granted by private colleges, which consider themselves on solid legal ground. (Some public colleges and universities also grant those preferences at considerable legal risk, an indication of the depth of the fear about broaching that 60-40 threshold.)

In truth, these gender preferences are a sideshow. The real issue is the flagging academic interest among boys, a phenomenon that dates back only about two decades. It's a new issue to most Americans but hotly debated in countries such as England. So far, nobody has solved the boy mystery, but some countries are years ahead of the U.S. Australia has had some success with literacy-boosting programs for young boys. Until the code gets cracked, there's a national economic interest in keeping those preferences in place—just for a few more years.


British Leftists angry at evangelicals' charity scheme

Teacher union leaders are warning schools to vet the charities they support after complaints from parents about a scheme to send gifts to the developing world run by an evangelical Christian group.

Under Operation Christmas Child, schoolchildren are asked to fill a shoebox full of presents and wrap it up before the charity Samaritan's Purse distributes the boxes to children in Africa and eastern Europe. Last year 1.2m boxes were sent by children in the UK and the charity received £23.5m in voluntary donations.

A booklet of Bible stories is sent with the boxes to some countries, including a pledge that children are asked to sign to "become God's child today", attend church, read the Bible and convince friends to do the same.

Samaritan's Purse is part of an American evangelical organisation run by the Rev Franklin Graham, who has called Islam "a very wicked and evil religion". The charity has been criticised in the past and five years ago was told by the Charity Commission to change its literature.

This year's campaign has sparked a debate between parents on website Mumsnet. Mandy Rabin, a parent in north London, said her children's school had withdrawn from the scheme. "The evangelical nature of this organisation is in complete contrast to the ethos of the school," she wrote.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "Schools … have to be careful of the background of sponsors of these schemes. It's a minefield – careful vetting is required."

Samaritan's Purse insists it now makes clear in all its information that it is a Christian organisation.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The fight over abstinence at Harvard

How to stir up feminist outrage

At Harvard, it's sounding a lot like the '70s again. Thanks to the provocations of True Love Revolution, the university's three-year-old pro-abstinence club, brainy women are defending their right to have sex with whomever they want, whenever and however they want. "To say that a consensual sexual act is degrading to you is the complete opposite of feminism," insisted Silpa Kovvali when I spoke with her last week. "For women to take control of the sex act can be an incredibly empowering experience." Kovvali, a computer-science major, was echoing an editorial she recently published in The Harvard Crimson. (Click here to follow Lisa Miller)

TLR, as it's called, has irked and unnerved campus progressives since its founding in 2006. On Valentine's Day 2007, TLR representatives put a chocolate in every freshwoman's mailbox with a heart-shaped card that read: "Why wait? Because you're worth it." Feminists on campus went wild, accusing TLR of promoting a retrograde view of sex and relationships. Recently the group has drawn fresh ire because it added to its mission statement, which had formerly supported sexual abstinence as a lifestyle choice, a platform that seemed calculated to ignite a culture war on campus. The new statement asserted that sex outside of marriage is "harmful to both parties"; it embraced "traditional marriage" (that is, not gay marriage); and it argued that choosing abstinence is "true feminism" in that "it recognizes the natural characteristics, strengths, and abilities of women and seeks to affirm them in this identity." The back and forth in the Crimson and on various university message boards continues to be acrimonious. TLR's claim to "true" feminism draws special fire because it raises questions about the goals of the sexual revolution: Does female liberation mean being able to say yes? Or does it mean saying no?

I went to college in the early 1980s, when feminist arguments like Kovvali's were as ordinary as air: I think True Love Revolution is on to something. Not its platform, seemingly cribbed from the Christian conservative playbook, but its articulation of students' dissatisfaction with sex and sex talk on campus. Although the actual amount of sex college students are having may not be as high as parents fear —nearly 80 percent of college students report having had one or no sexual partners in the past year— students say the hookup culture is dominant and oppressive. A new student Web site called Harvard FML (F--k My Life) reads like a Judd Apatow script, all horniness, nudity, vomit, and missed connections. (A G-rated example: "I am a conservative Christian. I am going mad with sexual desire. FML.") Who wouldn't welcome a vacation from that?

Donna Freitas, a visiting scholar in religion at Boston University, studied attitudes about sex on seven college campuses and published her findings in her 2008 book, Sex and the Soul. She believes college students are not given an opportunity to tell the truth about what they want out of sex and relationships —desires that can include courtship, romance, and, yes, chocolates— without drawing the derision of their peers and even their professors. Their health service gives them condoms and lectures about sexually transmitted infections; their friends boast and complain endlessly about hookups real and imagined. "The average college student is miserable about sex. The idea of getting to step away from it is really appealing." Groups like TLR (and at Princeton and MIT, the Anscombe Society), are missing an opportunity if they don't invite a more nuanced conversation about sex.

True Love Revolution might do better, then, to leave aside the divisive and wrongheaded "one man, one woman" language and help guide students through this modern sexual wilderness. And though it is not a religious group, it has religious underpinnings, and it might look to religion for some of the most thoughtful (and, perhaps, useful) analyses of how liberated women and men can reasonably opt out of sex —or, at least, the kind of sex they don't want to have. Christine Firer Hinze, a theologian at Fordham University, believes that choosing abstinence can carry a strong countercultural message and a vision of personal fulfillment beyond immediate gratification. "A religious viewpoint can point you in a direction that says wholeness, integrity, enjoying life, even being a sensual person, can lead to a kind of fulfillment. Kids don't hear this anymore." Teaching kids that saying no can feel as good as saying yes—that's a revolution.


Another failure of British education

Adolf Hitler was Germany's football team manager, according to youngsters aged nine to 15

A study of 2,000 children which tested them on their knowledge of facts of both world wars found that 40 per cent of them did not know that Remembrance Day falls on November 11. Twelve per cent said the symbol of the day is the golden arches of McDonald's, rather than the poppy.

Some of the more disturbing results were that one in six children believed Auschwitz was a World War Two theme park. Only half knew D-Day was the invasion of Normandy - a quarter believing it was 'Dooms Day' and one quarter thought a nuclear bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbour which spurred America's involvement.

The study was conducted by war veterans' charity Erskine in the run-up to Remembrance Day. Major Jim Panton, chief executive of Erskine, said: 'Some of the answers to this poll have shocked us and it has shown that Erskine, amongst others, has a part to play, not just in caring for veterans but in educating society as a whole.

The survey questioned the children on their knowledge of key World War triggers, events, people and dates. A quarter admitted they don't stop to think about the soldiers who sacrificed their lives but just over half do know where their local war memorial is located. Twelve per cent of the 2000 students surveyed assumed the McDonald's golden arches - not the red poppy - symbolised Remembrance Day

Encouragingly though, it emerged that 70 per cent wish they are taught more about the World Wars at school. One in 20 thought the Holocaust was the celebration at the end of the war and one in ten said the SS was Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, not Hitler's personal bodyguards. And one in 12 said The Blitz was a massive clean-up operation in Europe after World War Two.

Each year, Erskine cares for over 1,350 veterans, many having served in World War Two and who are more than willing to share their firsthand experiences and memorable war stories with younger generations. Following the survey Erskine will work in partnership with Their Past Your Future, a UK-wide educations project, to develop the charity's schools pack on the back of the survey results. This will enable Erskine and Their Past Your Future to start educating young people online about the sacrifices made during World War Two.

Andrew Salmond, TPYF Scotland Project Manager for Museums Galleries Scotland said: 'This initiative offers a fantastic opportunity to inform young people about the experiences of war - both at home and abroad. 'Some, we know, will convey wartime loss and suffering, others will speak of daring and inspiration. 'However, all will be of great educational value, offering an insight to what previous generations have endured in times of conflict.'


Cambridge University study finds children too young for school

What rubbish! It all depends on the IQ of the kid. Smart kids can not only handle the work better at an early age but tend to be more socially adept too -- typically playing with kids older than themselves. There should be minimal rules about age to start school. It should depend on an individual assessment of the kid. Comment below from Australia, where the present NSW laws seem about right

CHILDREN in New South Wales can start school as young as four but an international study says enrolment should be delayed until they are at least six years old. A Cambridge University study recommends children aged under six engage in a year of play-based learning before they start school. It found younger students are not emotionally, socially or developmentally prepared to tackle the rigours of a curriculum. The findings are at odds with other research which suggests four and five are the ideal ages to start school.

Children in NSW can enrol in the first year of school, called kindergarten or Year K, at four years and six months. They must be enrolled by the age of six. Kindergarten students are taught English and maths for at least 12 hours a week. Their lessons include reading, writing, spelling and counting as well as simple addition and subtraction. From next year, all public school kindergarten students will be tested in basic literacy and numeracy for the first time.

Most European children don't start school until they turn six and in Sweden, Poland and Finland, they begin at age seven.

Cambridge Primary Review co-author and chairwoman Gillian Pugh said forcing subject-based learning onto four-year-olds could dent their confidence. "They are not going to learn to read, write and add up if you have alienated children by the age of four and five,'' she said. "If they are already failing by age four-and-a-half or five, then it's going to be quite difficult to get them back into the system again.'' The authors call for a "full and open debate'' on the issue.

Child psychologist Dr John Irvine warned that accelerating children's learning could backfire. "Play is the way a child learns what no adult can teach them,'' he said. "But we're trying to cut short children's childhood to fast-forward them into this manic anxious state where they get learned early. "In time, the brain will turn off something it's not enjoying so they'll be at school in body, but missing in spirit.''

Primary curriculum officer at Sydney's Catholic Education Office Franceyn O'Connor said children should be assessed individually. "The idea that six, or any age, is the magic number when all children are ready to embark into the structured world of formal education does not make sense,'' she said.

National president of advocacy group Early Childhood Australia, Margaret Young, said children would be disadvantaged if the starting age changed. She said delaying the start of kindergarten worked in Europe because they had strong transitional early childhood education programs, something lacking here. "That's why we're reluctant to say `let's move on to this model'. It's really dangerous to impose one without the other,'' she said.

Western Sydney mother Monique Fenech held back her eldest son, Nicholas, who turns six next March, from school this year because she felt he wasn't ready. "The extra year has given him so many more skills. It means that when he starts school, he's going to enjoy it a lot more,'' she said.

An Education Department spokesman said the NSW Government had no plans to change its enrolment policy or lift the school-starting age.


Monday, November 09, 2009

To defang Taliban, some look to private schools

QUTBAL, Pakistan — The schoolhouse is so tiny that dozens of pupils have to sit outdoors. They're lucky if their teachers have more than a basic education. And the chanting of math equations and Quranic verses gets so loud that the children have a hard time hearing themselves. Yet the pupils love the Islamia Model School, one of thousands of private schools popping up in Pakistan. Unlike at area public schools, Islamia's seven teachers show up regularly to work. Unlike at religious schools, its curriculum extends well beyond Islam. Plus, it has desks and chairs — no small thing to the many poor families who enroll their children here.

Pakistan is seeing a surge in private schools, a trend some find hopeful in a country where the government education system is decrepit and the other alternative is religious schools, known here as madrasas, which offer little education beyond memorizing the Quran and are seen as one source of Islamic militancy.

The U.S., for one, says it plans to invest in private schools as part of a multibillion-dollar aid package designed to erode extremism in the nuclear-armed country battered by Taliban attacks. "The quality of education in the public sector is deteriorating day by day," said T.M. Qureshi, a Ministry of Education official. "When there's a vacuum of quality, someone will fill it."

According to UNESCO figures, Pakistan spends 2.9 percent of its gross domestic product on education, slightly less than India's 3.2 percent and well below the U.S.'s 5.2 percent. One reason education has historically been a low priority for Pakistani governments, experts say, is that the governing elite can afford to send their children to the best private schools or to academies abroad. Another, the experts say, is the feudal structures in the rural areas that give landowners an incentive to keep farm workers uneducated and submissive. Only around half of Pakistani adults can read, schools often lack basic amenities like water, teachers get away with absences, and the bureaucracy is cumbersome.

But since the mid-1990s, small, inexpensive private schools, once an urban phenomenon, have been sprouting in earnest in the poorer countryside, offering relatively affordable tuition, according to a 2008 World Bank report. Between 2000 and 2005, their number grew from 32,000 to 47,000, the report said. More recent Pakistani government statistics put the figure at more than 58,000. Around one-third of Pakistan's 33 million students attend a range of private schools, far more than the 1.6 million in the 12,000 madrasas.

The private schools tend to outperform their government peers academically, though generally speaking, standards are low across the board, said Tahir Andrabi, an economics professor at Pomona College in California who has studied the trend.

In the big picture, proponents of private schools echo the argument for charter schools in the U.S. — that they can make schools better and children more educated, and in Pakistan's case dent poverty and the appeal of extremism. Still, analysts say they are no cure-all, cautioning that insurgent movements emerge for reasons well beyond a glut of youth with little secular education. "It's better to have private schools than madrasas," said Pervez Hoodbhoy, an academic and outspoken critic of Pakistan's education policies. "On the other hand, a lot of these private schools teach a very high amount of religious content. It's not a full solution."

The Islamia Model School in Qutbal, a town of 5,000 about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside the capital, Islamabad, opened its doors in 2004, and now teaches 98 children to fifth grade, said owner and headmaster Mohammad Yaqoob Khan, a 52-year-old retired government teacher. Around half the pupils are girls. Students pay an average of $1.50 a month in tuition. The subjects include Islamic studies, but also math, reading and writing, and English, the lingua franca from British colonial times that is still the key to career advancement.

One recent day, children in one of the three indoor classrooms took turns leading the others in learning new English words. "F is for flag!" a girl yelled as she swept a wooden pointer along the sentence on the blackboard.

Like many schools in South Asia, the teaching appeared to be through memorization, not critical thinking. One teacher smacked a boy in the face for misunderstanding a math question. The pupils seemed content, nonetheless. "We have furniture here," said Rimsha Mehmood, an almond-eyed 10-year-old girl who used to attend a government school.

Islamia doesn't have enough room to add more grades, so older students eventually have to turn to the higher-level government schools or find other private schools, Khan said. He said the government system is frustrating because there is little accountability and parents feel they have no voice in their children's education. "We feel that we have influence in private schools," he said. "The parents visit here and ask about their children."

It was a similar story across the town at the Pakistan Public School, which is actually a private school with more than 300 boys and girls and charges nearly twice as much on average as Islamia. But mothers collecting their children after working for hours in the fields said the private option was worth it. "The government schools' standards are quite poor," said Tanveer Bibi, who has two children in the school.

The resources and quality of the various private schools in Pakistan vary widely, even within a town. At the Pakistan Public School teachers can earn more than $25 a month, owner Mushtaq Ahmad Khan said. Islamia pays its teachers less than $10 a month. ("It's pocket change," one Islamia teacher sighed.)

A sliver of Washington's planned aid package will go into private schools, said an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development, speaking on condition of anonymity due to diplomatic protocol. The official declined to elaborate, saying the planning was still in the works.

Qureshi, the Education Ministry official, said he feared that outside donors could end up investing in a sector that has little oversight and often uneven results. Plus, it could spur the already lackadaisical government to do even less. "The private schools are not doing service in the true sense — they are commercial," he said. "If they are strengthened, the public sector will grow more weak."


Useless education

Jobless graduate tally to hit 100,000 in Britain

THE number of jobless university leavers is expected to break the 100,000 barrier this week, heightening fears of a “lost generation”. Tens of thousands of out-of-work graduates from the class of 2009 have joined the 70,000 from last year who have still not found employment, official figures are expected to confirm.

The flood of applicants for the shrinking number of graduate jobs has led recruiters to become increasingly tough in their entrance requirements. Sainsbury’s has joined the growing ranks of companies that will not accept any entrants to its graduate programme with a degree lower than a 2:1, a threshold once confined mainly to elite City firms and consultancies.

Unemployment data to be published on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics will also show that the total number of jobless under 25 passed the 1m barrier in October, up from 946,000 in August. The number of new graduates unable to find a job means nearly 8% of those aged under 25 with a degree are now without a job.

David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, said the level of joblessness among graduates and other young people was a “national crisis”. He called for the suspension of national insurance contributions for the under-25s and subsidies for employing the young. “A spell of unemployment is bad when young and the longer it is, the worse it is,” said Blanchflower. “We want to do everything to prevent it becoming long-term unemployment.”

The rise in the numbers leaving university and entering the jobs market, with 300,000 graduating this year, has led to increasingly strict selection criteria. In addition to asking for at least a 2:1 degree, companies are demanding strong grades at A-levels and even GCSEs to pick the best candidates. KPMG, the accountancy firm, demands that graduates have at least an A and two Bs at A-level rather than the three Bs it required in 2008. Similarly, Accenture, the management consultancy, has raised the A-level grades threshold graduate applicants must reach from one A and two Bs, to two As and one B. “We’ve done that to manage the volume of applications,” said Julia Harvie-Liddel, recruitment director for Accenture UK and Ireland.

The competition for jobs is illustrated by companies such as the budget retailer Aldi, which received 22,000 CVs for 130 graduate places this year. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accountants, saw a 35% jump in graduate applications with 12,000 vying for 1,000 jobs.

There is also heavy competition in the public sector. Rachel Cowe, 22, has a psychology degree from Liverpool University and £13,000 of student loans to repay. She would like to work with young offenders but every job application she has made to the prison service has been rejected. “Almost everyone from my course is in the same situation. I desperately want to get my career started but I can’t see things improving. “I might go to Australia and try to get a job there. I’m open to anything at this stage,” Cowe said.

Jackson Almond, 22, has a 2:1 in business studies from Liverpool. He would like to get a job in marketing but so far the most positive reaction he has had from the dozens of companies he has applied to is that they will keep his CV on file for future positions. “It is frustrating that someone who walked out of university with exactly the same degree as me a few years earlier would have walked into a really good job, whereas now that seems impossible,” he said.

Charles Ball, research director at the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, said graduate unemployment was at its worst since 1992 when it peaked at 13%. If the current downturn continues, the graduate unemployment rate may continue to rise.

The overall impact could be bigger because in 1992, 160,000 people obtained degrees, just over half the current figure. The expansion of higher education has been fuelled partly by better job prospects and the promise of higher salaries.

Ball warned that the market may not pick up soon. “If we are to follow the pattern of other recessions, the graduate market is unlikely to return to normal until 2013,” he said. Four years from now might be too late for many of today’s graduates. Previous studies have found that graduates who fail to find work are still held back in their forties.


More oppressive British "safety" regulations

No paddling on school trips, children told

Children are being banned from paddling in water during school trips under new health and safety guidelines. Pupils are ordered not to wade into ankle-deep water unless teachers first carry out a full risk assessment and put “proper measures in place”. Staff are expected to check rivers, ponds and the sea for currents and rocks before allowing children to dip their feet. Guidance issued to schools warns that any “impromptu water-based activities” could pose dangers to children – including hypothermia.

The rules were branded “ridiculous” by parents’ groups. It prompted fresh concerns that children’s development risked being undermined by over-zealous health and safety regulations. The recommendations were outlined in a document – available to all 21,000 schools in England – to help teachers organise more school trips. Advice from the Department for Children, Schools and Families is intended to cut red tape, debunk health and safety “myths” and give staff practical tips.

But the guidance prompted controversy after teachers were presented with a series of edicts surrounding swimming and the use of minibuses. It said: “Swimming and paddling or otherwise entering the waters of river, canal, sea or lake should never be allowed as an impromptu activity. The pleas of young people to bathe – because it is hot weather, for example, or after a kayaking exercise – should be resisted where bathing has not been prepared for. “In-water activities should take place only when a proper risk assessment has been completed and proper measures put in place to control the risks”.

Teachers are urged to check the weather, currents, weeds, rip tides, river or sea beds and breakwaters before allowing children into the water. No child should be able to swim deeper than waist height, the guidance added. It said: “Be aware of the dangerous effects of sudden immersion in cold water, also of the dangers of paddling, especially for children or in rough seas.”

Margaret Morrissey, from campaign group Parents Outloud, said: “Wading out into the ocean is one thing but there’s nothing wrong with paddling where the waves break. “Part of children’s learning is to walk along the water’s edge and get your feet wet. There are dangerous currents further out and you stay at the edge.” She added: “I want to see schools and youth groups taking advantage of opportunities that learning outside the classroom can provide.”

But the Department for Children, Schools and Families said teachers had to plan activities carefully. “We are not banning paddling,” said a spokeswoman. “We have seen cases in the past where things have not been planned and assessed for the risk. Unplanned activities around water can be dangerous.”


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Educational examiners weigh anonymity for teachers' accusers

Battle lines are being drawn between Iowa teachers and the people who accuse them of abuse, fraud or other violations that could cost them their professional licenses. On one side are Iowans who, fearing retaliation, want to keep their names out of complaints against educators until state officials find probable cause and begin disciplinary hearings. On the other side are teachers who say they have the right to know their accusers when their jobs and reputations are on the line.

The issue has sparked a debate that has played out in state offices and schools across Iowa. "I would like to know who the person was, and not because I'm a vindictive person," said Karen Benton, a fifth-grade teacher in Guthrie Center. "We all deserve due process."

The debate will come to a head today when members of the state Board of Educational Examiners decide whether to stop forwarding copies of complaints to educators while they're under investigation. An attorney warned the examiners in August that the practice violates a 2000 state law that says all investigative files are private. The law was pushed by the state's largest teachers union, which wanted to keep complaints against teachers out of the public eye until investigations move ahead to disciplinary hearings. If the examiners change their rules, educators will receive a summary of allegations instead. The board received 117 complaints last year, records show. "The individual will know what the situation is," said George Maurer, the examiners board's director. "They just won't know who filed the complaint."

Maurer said the legal warning fueled his support for the rule change. But examiners also were advised that identifying accusers early on opens them to retaliation and could discourage reports of professional misconduct.

Joy Jager says she learned that lesson the hard way. The northeast Iowa sexual-assault counselor bought a home security system after two of her family's cars were broken into and a person she did not identify kept driving by her house. She believes the actions were payback for a complaint she made to authorities about a local teacher. Jager declined to elaborate, but Delaware County officials confirmed that there was a teacher investigation. No charges have been filed. "I became a target because I did my job as a mandatory reporter," Jager said. "Some people just don't play by the rules."

Teachers say they receive their fair share of abuse. Greg Stevens, an Okoboji High School teacher, said three male co-workers have been wrongly accused of fondling female students during his 28-year career. Stevens said it's not good enough to know the identity of an accuser once an investigation moves ahead to a disciplinary hearing. "The problem with that is, once it gets to the disciplinary format, the public knows and it's pretty hard to defend yourself in a public atmosphere, ever," he said.

Other state licensing boards already follow the 2000 law, said Bob Brammer, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office. "The attempt here is to bring the Board of Educational Examiners' rules into harmony with their statutes," he said.

Jim Smith, an attorney for the Iowa State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said the law doesn't apply to the examiners board because it once was an arm of the Iowa Department of Education. The board "has always historically been considered different from the rest of the administrative agencies because of the types of situations it has and because of the way the board was originally set up," Smith said. The teachers union will fight the proposed rule change even if it passes, Smith said. Leaders could turn to the courts or lawmakers for help, he said.


British 6-year-old girl branded as racist

But it appears that publicity has brought a backdown

The parents of a six-year-old girl are outraged after their daughter was branded a racist for telling a black girl she had chocolate on her face. They fear the incident could 'haunt' her throughout her time at school.

Sharona Gower had been eating chocolate mousse and was playing with a friend when she was chased by two 11-year-old girls. When one of the older girls, who was black, said Sharona had chocolate on her face, the youngster replied: 'Well, you've got chocolate on yours.' The older girl wiped her face and said: 'I've got nothing on my face, actually.' The girl then complained to a teacher, who gave Sharona a telling off.

But when Michelle Gower, 34, went to collect her daughter from school, she was told the incident was 'racist' and that a complaint had been logged. Now Mrs Gower and her husband Nick, 45, believe the incident at St Paul's School, in Rusthall, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was not properly investigated and has left their daughter 'distressed and confused'. Mrs Gower said: 'The teacher told me that the girl had complained that Sharona was racist. 'The teacher said she had to record this and it had been logged as required by law. 'The teacher said they have a zero-tolerance policy for racism and bullying, which my husband and I totally agree with. 'She also said she did not know whether the other girl had chocolate on her face or not, her words were she may have done, but she did not know.'

Mr Gower, a dealer in antique collectibles, said: 'It was a bit of playground banter that has been taken as a sinister racial remark. 'This is a six-year-old who hasn't got an idea what racism is and has been labelled as a racist.' He added: 'This is political correctness gone absolutely crazy.' Mrs Gower, who lives in Rusthall, said the teacher did not explain what 'logging' the incident meant. She and her husband now fear the information may be kept on the school's database and haunt their daughter for the rest of her school career.

Mrs Gower, who also has a nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine, at the school, said she complained to the school's head, Carolyn Cohen, who took the side of the older girls. She added: 'I told her Sharona is very upset and confused about this situation and didn't fully understand why she was being reprimanded.'

Mrs Cohen last night denied that the incident had been logged on a computer database. A spokesman for St Paul's school said in a statement: 'This was a small incident, which has been blown out of all proportion. Children and parents were spoken to following an inappropriate comment. 'The matter was dealt with appropriately and the issue is closed.'


Australian State headed for dumb, immoral future, warns teacher

And such problems are far from isolated to Queensland or Australia

A BRAVE Queensland teacher has spoken out against thousands of students and their parents who couldn't care less about education. Cooper Dawson, who has taught at 12 state primary schools across the Gold Coast and Cairns, says levels of apathy, petty crime and disrespect in classrooms are now so bad that Queensland faces a dumbed-down and immoral future.

While most teachers fear going public with such opinions, Mr Dawson, 38, says breaking the silence about pathetic learning attitudes and behaviours – often triggered and passively supported by parents – might be the only way to stimulate much-needed change. "As a teacher in an industry where the burnout rate is five years, I am taken aback, astounded and shocked by the behaviour and disinclination of students to learn," he said. "We are facing a generation of single-minded children equipped with little academic knowledge (through no fault of teachers) and wavering morals determined to ask or steal from society any tangible item. "And, remarkably, they believe they deserve it.

"The social behaviour of primary school children is hard to ignore when faced with the growing epidemic of school bullying and student suspensions. "Children from negative households and with parents who are disinterested or fail to see the importance of education are contributing to a cycle where their child is entering a world without the tools to become a positive part of society."

His view, backed in private by many teachers, principals and parents across the state, supports figures released by the State Government this year showing a 46 per cent spike in suspensions for "refusal to participate" from 2006 to 2008 (with 6620 last year). Over the same period, there was a 40 per cent spike in suspensions for "property misconduct" (with 3785 last year).

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Association president Margaret Black said Mr Dawson's revelations and the suspension data were a reminder to parents and teachers to work together to solve the crisis. "There's nothing more powerful than a three-way (parent/teacher/child) partnership," she said.

A rapid rise in schoolyard bullying, including cyber-bullying, has also been documented this year, with an average of three students in each class bullied every day.