Saturday, December 05, 2009

NY College Lowered Standards to rip off blacks

In an effort to boost tuition revenues, a State University of New York campus lowered admissions and retention standards to admit unqualified – predominately black – applicants who had little chance of graduating, according to a lawsuit filed by a former dean. Thomas J. Hickey, who filed the suit, says his removal as dean in July was retaliation for questioning financially-motivated academic policies that doomed students to failure at the SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. The suit alleges these policies were instituted by Anne Myers, the provost, and later supported by Donald Zingale, who was named president in 2008.

The campus has historically required students to undergo an academic review if their grade point averages fall below 2.0 during their freshmen year, but Hickey says Myers lowered that standard in an overt effort to keep bringing in money from students she knew could not succeed with the minimal remediation offerings provided on campus. According to the suit, Myers sent a Dec. 2, 2008 e-mail stating that “in light of the budget, we will use a 1.0 [Grade Point Average] cut off for first semester freshmen for Academic Review.”

Myers declined to comment, and SUNY officials would not answer specific questions about the allegations. David Henahan, a SUNY spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that “the assertions are baseless and we are confident the court will agree."

In addition to lowering standards for continuing students, the campus has employed a system since at least 1999 that is designed to admit students with insufficient credentials to perform college-level work, according to the suit. The suit cites a Myers-authored memorandum from that year that outlines the policy, although Hickey’s attorney would not provide the document to Inside Higher Ed, saying it would be inappropriate to publicly release evidence not yet provided to the court.

Hickey became dean in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he began to learn of the problems, according to Phillip G. Steck, his lawyer. “I think the faculty were very disturbed that students who are not successful in the college are being kept there, and that’s what brought the issue to Dr. Hickey’s attention,” Steck said Tuesday.

As of 2008, the three-year graduation rate for associate degree-seeking students at Cobleskill was 26 percent, and an additional 8 percent remained enrolled after three years, according to the New York State Education Department. The three-year graduation rate has declined every year since 2002, falling 11.5 percentage points over that period.

The admissions practices at the college were common knowledge among faculty, and Hickey was not the only one who expressed concern, according to Steck. In another e-mail quoted in the suit, Thomas Cronin, a physics professor, responded to Myers’s December 2008 e-mail by labeling the practices “corrupt” and even possibly “criminal."

“The list of academically and morally corrupt practices that ensue from our inability to adhere to our own standards is rather long,” he wrote. “One of our worst offenses is that we admit, and re-admit students absolutely unqualified and absolutely incapable of achieving a college degree. Many go into debt or cause their families to go into debt into [sic] order to attempt a college degree. This is an absolutely corrupt practice and it may be criminal. If we have done this to even one student, then we are guilty of a low form of corruption."

Cronin could not be reached for comment.

When Hickey confronted Myers about admissions policies that he believed had a disproportionately negative impact on black students, the provost told him “I do not care about these people,” according to the suit. Hickey and Myers are both white. The suit says Hickey repeated his concerns in an October 2008 memo, but Steck declined to provide it since it has not been submitted in court filings. Inside Higher Ed has submitted a public records request for a number of the documents referenced in the suit.

One of the most striking claims of the complaint is that “students’ academic records were falsified in order to facilitate the admission of certain African-American students to the college.” The suit provides no specific evidence to support the claim, citing “information and belief.” “Everything that is in the complaint we have some factual reason to believe is true, but obviously the admissions records are not in my office,” Steck said.

Hickey’s dismissal as dean followed an April 2009 review of his performance, but the suit suggests the review itself was an act of retaliation predestined to end in his removal. Hickey has returned to the faculty, but the complaint alleges that Myers – with the full knowledge of the president – has sought to limit his future career options. “In March, 2009, defendant Myers made false statements about Dr. Hickey that resulted in his not receiving the position of provost at SUNY Delhi even though he was the only person recommended for the position by the university’s duly constituted 16-member selection committee,” the suit states.

Actually, Hickey was not the committee’s lone recommendation, according to the chair of the search. “The president’s request was that we give her unranked three finalists after all the whole extensive search process,” said Dominic Morales, the search chair and dean of applied sciences and recreation. “Tom Hickey was one of those finalists, and that’s all I could say.”

Candace S. Vancko, the college’s president, stated that she would “call various people” to discuss the finalists, but Morales said he was unsure whether Myers was among them, much less whether she said anything negative about Hickey. “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole,” Morales said. “I have no idea.”


Public confidence in British degrees is at risk, vice-chancellors claim

Public confidence in the quality of degrees is under threat because of concerns about varying standards at universities, vice-chancellors have admitted. MPs had accused universities of “defensive complacency” and questioned whether a first-class degree from a leading institution compared with one from a former polytechnic. The number of firsts awarded has doubled in the past decade. Lord Mandelson’s office told universities recently that they must publish more information about courses, so that school-leavers can make better judgments before starting their degree.

Universities could lose public funding if they refused or gave incorrect data, higher education bodies said. A consultation has been started by the two associations that represent vice-chancellors and the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) into how university standards should be better regulated. It said: “Recent concerns have been raised over whether quality and standards are being maintained in the face of a mass higher education system. The issues discussed by various groups that have looked at the evidence for these concerns include contact time and study hours, plagiarism, admissions, assessment practices and external examining. “There are undoubtedly some areas that need to change, and there is a risk that public confidence in the quality of higher education could be damaged if no action is taken.”

The consultation document was written for the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which will decide how universities will be regulated after next year. The report said that the current system had many strengths, but needed to be revised so that any concerns could be dealt with quickly and robustly. In particular it should address concerns that “standards between institutions are not comparable, or consistently applied”, it said. “There have been a number of concerns about comparability of academic standards; that is, how we ensure that degrees or diplomas at one university are not too easy, compared with awards at another university or college.”

The system of external examiners, where academics from other universities are invited to look at students’ work to check that it meets the correct standard, could also be improved, it said. The report said that other perceived problems included the use of overly technical language and jargon, and the notion that higher education was too insular in its approach to quality assurance.

The document, written by Hefce, Universities UK and Guild HE, said that there should be external scrutiny by audits of universities. The QAA will use these to judge whether universities are giving accurate and complete information on the quality of teaching and courses. Students will take a central role, acting as auditors and giving feedback. The report recommended that all audit teams contained students as equal members.

There could also be more protection for whistleblowers among university staff, who speak out about questionable practices or unfair grading. MPs on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee criticised Manchester Metropolitan University this year for the way that it treated a lecturer, who suggested that exams were being dumbed down and that academics had been told to inflate grades. Walter Cairns, a law lecturer, claimed that he was removed from the academic board because of his complaints.


Bureaucratic waste in Britain

Britain's smallest primary school has just five pupils (and NINE teachers)

Many parents face a postcode lottery to secure their child a place in a primary school near their home. But the residents of the Derbyshire village of Hollinsclough have the opposite problem - only five children attend the local school and they are outnumbered by teachers. Nine members of staff work at Hollinsclough Primary School, thought to be the smallest in Britain.

Only two years ago 50 pupils filled the corridors, but that number has dwindled to just four boys and one girl following a substantial drop in families settling in the village. Headteacher Janette Mountford-Lees believes the children benefit from the one-to-one tuition. She said: 'We've got five pupils using the space of 50. 'When people walk in they think the school is filled with children because there is so much work on the walls, but it is all done by these five. 'The children do all the normal things, just not in the normal way.

'Some parents don't want their children coming here because they worry about their social skills, but our kids are very confident. They can't hide themselves behind a big class.'

With the head, two general teachers and specialist music, art and IT teachers, the staff provide near-private tuition. There are also three teaching assistants.

There is no football team and the pupils have to share PE with nearby Flash Primary. But they have weekly assemblies and are in the school from 9am to 3pm each weekday. The children - aged from five to ten - are taught together in a group but also have one-to-one sessions. Ms Mountford-Lees said: 'If they are enjoying something we spend a lot of time on it, but if they aren't bothered we just go on to something else. 'We get to go on lots of school trips because we can just jump in the car. 'When we went to Chelford market we bought our own food and worked out the prices together. People were amazed when they found out it was the whole school.'

The eldest pupil is 10-year-old Jorge Barna followed by Steven Bellfield, nine. Sam Scott, five, is the only pupil in the reception class. The other two pupils are a brother and sister - Sammy Wilston, nine, the only girl, and her brother Joe, six. Their mother Wendy Wilston, 38, is also a governor. She said: 'My kids love it here, I couldn't ask for anything better.'


Friday, December 04, 2009

Feminists want even fewer males on campus

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced in November that it will investigate whether colleges illegally discriminate against women by admitting less qualified men. This is only the latest in a decades-long campaign by the feminist lobby to sell the false propaganda that girls are cheated all through the education system, K through 12.

Colleges used to have a male-female ratio of about 60-40, and suddenly, we've discovered that it's close to 40-60. Colleges don't like this change; men don't like it; women don't like it; but the feminists are bragging about it and plan to use their clout in the government bureaucracy and in the Democratic Party to maintain it.

One of the causes for this dramatic shift is that colleges perceive applications by women to be better than those by men. Another cause seems to be that men don't seem to be as eager to get a college education as women. We see the results in the granting of degrees. Women receive 58 percent of bachelor's degrees in four-year colleges and 62 percent in community colleges, and graduate degrees are headed in the same direction.

Those who worry about the continuation of American exceptionalism are concerned because, if they have the courage to face reality, they know that women and men follow different paths both in and after college. Many more men than women drop out before graduation, and women receive only about a fifth of bachelor's degrees in engineering, physics or computer science.

After college, men and women make different choices, too. Women don't take the risks necessary for business start-ups or for business ownership, or choose the social isolation of technical laboratories, in anywhere near the proportion of men.

But why is it that women knock at the college admissions office with higher high-school grade-point averages, better essays and even a bigger variety of extracurricular activities than men? Fewer boys manifest significant interest in academic achievement or aspirations to walk through the doors that a college degree can open. Even the Wall Street Journal calls this the "boy mystery" that "nobody has solved." We should respond with the famous line attributed to Sherlock Holmes: It's "elementary, my dear Watson."

We can even claim a double entendre for the word elementary. The reason is obvious, and the causes originated in elementary school. The ultra-feminist American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued a report in 1992 called "How Schools Shortchange Girls." It claimed "findings" that teachers focused their attention on boys, neglected girls and discouraged girls from taking important math and science courses.

The AAUW report was a lie that started real discrimination against boys and young men plus government spending to address a nonexistent problem. The AAUW report was fully debunked by researcher Christina Hoff Sommers, who proved that feminist claims that girls are shortchanged in school are "riddled with errors" and not "published in peer-reviewed professional journals."

Elementary schools are not only ruled by females -- they are dominated by feminists who make school unpleasant for boys from the get-go. Fewer than 10 percent of elementary school teachers are men, giving boys the distinct impression that school is not for them. Elementary school teachers used to understand that boys will be boys, but teachers now look upon boys as just unruly girls. Feminists manifest hostility to males and to masculine traits such as competitiveness and aggressiveness, and instead reward typical female behaviors such as non-assertiveness and group cooperation.

Schools cannot make gender go away by pretending that boys do not have an innate masculinity, or by trying to suppress it with ridiculous zero-tolerance punishments, banning sports such as dodge ball and tag, and allowing only playground games without winners.

Five- and 6-year-old boys are not as able or willing as little girls to sit quietly at a desk and do neat work with pencil and paper. Even worse is the appalling fact that first-grade kids are not taught how to read phonetically, and the assigned stories are mostly about topics of interest to girls, not boys.

It's no wonder that boys are more likely to have academic or behavior problems, repeat a grade, get suspended, be enrolled in special education programs or become involved in drugs, alcohol or crime. Little boys make the calculation that school (and college) is not an environment where they want to remain.

The solution to the college 40-60 male-female problem is certainly not to let the feminist bureaucrats force colleges to admit an even higher percentage of women. One solution is for colleges to be told (by regulation or statute) that a 50-50 male-female ratio is not, by definition, "sex discrimination."


Extra billions fail to raise British school standards

Billions of pounds channelled into schools under Labour have failed to produce a corresponding improvement in standards, the Government’s statistics agency said yesterday.

Although spending has increased by more than £30 billion a year, value for money from schools has fallen steadily and is no better than in the final years under the Conservatives, it said.

The findings by the Office for National Statistics will embarrass ministers and infuriate teachers. The Conservatives said that higher budgets had not been matched with lasting reforms and had been wasted on Whitehall bureaucracy.

Statisticians said that the cost of hiring large numbers of support staff to ease teachers’ workloads, combined with falling pupil numbers, in effect cancelled out the benefits of improved exam results. As a result, productivity in the education sector had been on a downward trend for eight years and last year fell to zero.

Implicit in the report is that increased spending should have led to a sustained rise in productivity and that standards in schools ought to have increased by a significantly bigger margin than they have. The authors measured productivity by comparing the cost of the education system over 12 years with the quality of its output, based on exam results plus attendance rates.

Spending on education rose, at current prices, from £29 billion in 1996 to £63.9 billion last year — an annual rate of increase of 6.8 per cent. Although the number of teachers rose from 399,200 to 432,800, the biggest change was in support staff: numbers of teaching assistants increased from 60,600 to 181,600, and other administrative staff from 72,900 to 157,300.

The figures also reflected increased spending on goods and services, such as teaching materials, electricity and capital services, based on the rental value of buildings. Overall total “input”, in terms of more staff, goods, services and capital spending, rose by 33.3 per cent over the period, an average of 2.4 per cent a year.

The Office for National Statistics admitted that no single measure could accurately rate schools’ productivity, and its focus on GCSE results did not reflect extra support for children with special needs, broader improvements in children’s wellbeing or early years education.

Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, said: “Huge sums of money have been spent on fortnightly initiatives and bureaucracy, which are burying teachers under a mountain of paperwork and which rarely lead to improvements in education.”


British primary schools 'failing' in English and science

The number of pupils leaving primary school with high test scores in English and science has declined for the second successive year.

Primary school league tables out yesterday showed that the proportion of children achieving a Level 5 score in English dipped to 29 per cent last year, down from 30 per cent the previous year and 34 per cent two years ago.

In science, 43 per cent achieved a Level 5, down from 44 per cent a year earlier and 46 per cent in 2007.

Only in mathematics did the results of more able children improve, 35 per cent scoring at Level 5, compared with last year’s figure of 31 per cent. Two years ago the number was 32 per cent.

The lower proportion of pupils doing well in national curriculum tests will raise concerns that schools are failing to stretch more able children at 11.

Almost three in ten children — 28 per cent — left England’s primary schools without the basic levels of English and maths, one percentage point more than last year. The Government’s target is that within two years 78 per cent of pupils will achieve a basic Level 4 pass in both subjects. Results at Level 4 for English were also down, by one percentage point, at 80 per cent, the first drop since 1995.

As in the past, boys lagged behind girls in English. This was especially marked in writing, 75 per cent of girls achieving a Level 4 pass but only 61 per cent of boys. In reading, girls were ahead by 89 to 82 per cent. Girls were also ahead in science and maths.

A total of 1,472 schools failed to meet the Government’s basic target that 55 per cent of pupils should achieve Level 4 passes in both English and maths, up from 1,359 last year.

Diana Johnson, a junior Schools Minister, admitted to “concern” about the fall in results for English but said that extra funds for one-to-one tuition for those behind in their maths and reading would lead to improvements. Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “There remains a huge problem with literacy in primary schools, one in ten 11-year-old boys not even getting a grade in this vital subject.”


Thursday, December 03, 2009

British students "should study more academic subjects”

All students should study at least five academic subjects up to the age of 16, claims a report. The findings, published by influential think tank Reform, warns that England is "unique" among developed nations in the "narrowness" of its expectations of pupils at 16. It says there is a perception that some pupils are unable to cope with academic study, which does not exist in other nations. Teenagers are only expected to sit GCSEs in English and maths, whereas in many other countries, pupils are expected to take between four and six core academic qualifications.

The study warns that there is a perception in England that some students are unable to cope with academic study, which does not exist in other nations. This perception has led to some pupils being pushed towards vocational qualifications. But there is evidence that while successfully gaining GCSEs can add 15% to a pupil's future average earnings, vocational qualifications do not provide a similar result, the report says. Only 0.2 per cent of students who take non-academic qualifications go on to university, it claims.

The report, entitled Core Business, calls for every 16-year-old to study a core of five academic GCSEs, including English, maths, sciences, foreign languages and history or geography. It says: "The continuing move away from academic qualifications could lead to a new cultural divide developing, entrenching privilege and further impacting on the UK's poor social mobility. "A number of grammar and the best comprehensive schools are already encouraging their pupils to follow more rigorous routes such as the three separate science GCSEs, while independent schools are increasingly offering well-regarded qualifications like the International Baccalaureate and International GCSE. "Meanwhile the most disadvantaged children are deprived of opportunities for rigorous academic study, and are instead pushed to follow non-academic qualifications that boost league table results."

The report analysed the standard of English, maths and science GCSEs, compared to similar qualifications in Canada, Germany, France, Japan and the United States. It found that while English GCSE was of a similar standard, the science papers showed a "clear aversion to academic rigour" and a "noticeable intellectual deficiency when compared with the other countries." And in maths, candidates are "frequently led through the solutions in very small steps".

The report says the Government was right to acknowledge that there should be some "core" academic study for all pupils. This led to the introduction of "functional skills" qualifications in English and maths. But it adds that academic levels of these qualifications is "far below" that of GCSEs.

The report recommends universities and school heads of department take control of exam standards, instead of exams watchdog Ofqual, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA). And it calls for league tables to be changed so that they only measure attainment of GCSEs, rather than vocational qualifications as well.

Dale Bassett, senior researcher at Reform, said: "For three decades governments have pushed more and more school children into poor quality vocational routes, on the unfounded assumption that they just can't handle academic study. "Other countries understand that only a strong academic core can help social mobility and guarantee our future economic success. It's time for England to catch up."

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "It's plain wrong to say we are 'pushing' pupils towards vocational qualifications - we're clear about the need to offer a broad, flexible and yet at all times challenging education, including GCSEs, diplomas and apprenticeships, so that young people have the opportunity to do the qualifications that are right for them. "Different qualifications do not mean a drop in standards or a lack of challenge, and we have established an independent regulator, Ofqual, to oversee standards. "The system proposed in this report is prescriptive and would mean all young people are forced to take a set of exams that may not be right for them. That would be unfair to pupils and deny teachers the freedom to help pupils decide."

Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said: "This report highlights once again how we are falling behind international competitors when it comes to educational standards. That is why we would insist the regulator scrutinises the exams our children sit so they stand comparison with the world's best. "And we would allow state schools to sit the rigorous exams that are currently only available to private school pupils, so that children from less well-off backgrounds are not at a disadvantage to their wealthier peers."


Schoolkids arrested for Kick-A-Ginger Day attack

THREE children at a California school may face criminal charges for allegedly bullying redheaded students following an internet-based "Kick a Ginger Day", police said. Three boys - a 13-year-old and two 12-year-olds - from AE Wright Middle School in Calabasas were detained last week and booked for misdemeanours, according to Steve Whitmore of the Los Angeles Sheriff's department.

The older boy was detained and booked on suspicion of "threatening to inflict injury by means of electronic communication - commonly known as cyber bullying", Mr Whitmore said. The younger boys were booked on suspicion of "battery on school property", he added.

Seven children - four boys and three girls - were targeted in the attacks according to police, which were motivated by "Kick a Ginger Day", an online spoof reputedly inspired by a 2005 episode of South Park which satirised racial intolerance.

Las Virgenes School District Superintendent Donald Zimring said the school where the incidents took place had 926 "really terrific children" with a handful who did "a dumb thing". The superintendent stressed initial reports suggesting some of the victims suffered broken bones were inaccurate. "That doesn't make it insignificant, but it didn't rise to having a broke arm or a beating," Mr Zimring said.

"We had some kids who made a very poor decision. "They thought they were playacting, or just having a joke. "These youngsters did not understand the ramifications or the consequences."


Australia: Arrogant head-teacher ignores grievous bullying at government school

It was only the glare of publicity that got some decency out of this lazy bureaucrat

BRAVE Tyler Fishlock had to flee his school after standing up to repeated attacks by a bully he cannot see. Tyler - who captured the hearts of Victorians after having both his eyes removed to save his life from cancer - has been beaten with a ruler and a xylophone stick, kicked and punched, pushed, and had scissors clicked dangerously in front of this face. He was also called "retard", "spastic" and "blind kid".

"I can't dodge it. I can't see him coming and I think 'Oh God, here comes the monster again'," said Tyler, 7. "I am terrified of him."

After the third serious attack last week, the bully was suspended for two days and Caroline Springs College hired a "bodyguard" teacher to protect other children.

Tyler's distraught mother Georgette Fishlock yesterday withdrew him from school after the principal refused to remove the troublemaker from Tyler's class. But after being contacted by the Herald Sun, the school reversed its decision and has promised to move the boy to another class from tomorrow.

Ms Fishlock said Tyler will now return to school, but he missed out on performing in The Lion Sleeps Tonight at his first school concert last night because he was too scared. "Up until this point he never felt any different to any other child," Ms Fishlock said. "He tends to tackle life head-on like he always has, but this has put a real dampener on his school year." Ms Fishlock said the bully picked on other kids too, "but I think he favors Tyler because he gets something out of scaring him".

In the worst attack, teachers told the Fishlocks how Tyler was jabbed with a ruler in the area where he has painful scar tissue on his torso from operations. In a separate incident, the boy's mother made him apologise for threatening Tyler with scissors.

Last Wednesday Tyler was hit with a xylophone stick before being kicked in the kneecaps until he was rescued, cowering in the corner of his music class. After that attack, Ms Fishlock threatened to withdraw Tyler from school for the rest of the year unless the bully was removed from his class.

When contacted by the Herald Sun, college director Patrick Waring said the Fishlocks had no right to demand the boy be removed. He soon called back to say an agreement had been reached and the boy would be moved. "Parents are in no position - it doesn't matter who they are - to tell us ... what they want done with other people's children," Mr Waring said. "These are six-year-olds who are having a bit of trouble getting on with each other. We are not talking about high-end bullying, it is just spasmodic bad behaviour." [He might change his tune if someone blinded him and pushed him around]


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Do You Know What Textbooks Your Children Are Really Reading?

FOX News Reporting investigated the $10 billion dollar-a-year textbook industry and how the drive to be politically correct might be taking over American schools. Host Tucker Carlson, asked experts, teachers, publishers and parents the same question: "Do you know what is inside your children's textbooks?" From kindergarten through college, we found staggering errors and omissions which may be pushing agendas, hidden and otherwise.

We spoke to the author of “The Language Police,” education historian Diane Ravitch, who said textbook publishers censor images or words they deem to be controversial in children’s textbooks. She told us that publishers pander to special interest groups, and assemble bias and sensitivity review committees. These committees decide what words to ban or redefine, and even what images are deemed offensive.

And we examined some college textbooks both in print and in digital forms. We found a glaring mistake in an expensive history book written by Alan Brinkley, Provost at New York’s Columbia University.

And in Fairfax County Virginia, questions remain about what textbooks are used in the private Islamic Saudi Academy. The ISA teaches about 1000 students each year pre-K — 12. Questions have been raised about its textbooks at least since 2006. This summer, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, ISA’s 1999 valedictorian, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a 2002 Al Qaeda plot to assassinate President George W. Bush.

The ISA is wholly owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and teaches students from textbooks, which according to a report by a Saudi scholar interviewed by FOX News, continues to “propagate an ideology of hate to the unbeliever.” FOX News Reporting obtained some of their current 2008-2009 textbooks which were supposed to be purged of inflammatory language. We found proof otherwise.

We tracked down two American college professors who were paid by the ISA to review these textbooks. They signed a letter obtained by FOX News that the ISA’s 2008-2009 textbooks “do not contain inflammatory material…” One of them sat down for an interview; the other refused.

And in California’s Alameda County, our cameras were there as parents were embroiled in a heated debate over a mandatory curriculum designed to teach students from grades K-5 about different types of families, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyles. After a vote by the Alameda Unified School District in May of this year, the second grade reading curriculum now requires a book about gay penguins.


British private schools refusing to sign up for new diplomas

The diplomas are just a weak trade qualification

The Government's flagship diploma qualifications have been almost universally shunned by independent schools, according to new figures seen by The Independent.

Only six fee-paying schools in the entire country have joined one of the consortia set up to deliver the new qualification, which is in its second year of being offered to pupils. Opposition MPs say the diplomas effectively reinforce a two-tier education system if they fail to appeal to the independent sector.

The figures also reveal that more than one in 10 state schools have yet to sign up – although the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said this figure had been almost halved since they were compiled.

The figures, revealed by the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws, come despite the qualification being launched in a blaze of publicity – which stressed the fact that Cambridge University, in particular, was welcoming applicants who were studying for engineering diplomas.

"The vast majority of independent schools are still shunning the diplomas. These new qualifications are heading towards being a massive flop, with take-up being lower than the Government first predicted," Mr Laws said. "With a general election looming and the inevitable uncertainty and confusion this will generate, there is likely to be even less interest in them." He added that there would have to be a major review of both academic and vocational qualifications after the election.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 fee-paying schools, said: "I'm surprised the number is that high. The trouble is [that] independent schools are hampered by the requirement to sign up to a consortium to deliver them all. They don't want to do that."

Mr Grant, who is headmaster of St Albans school in Hertfordshire, added: "There is also a question mark hanging over the programme as a result of the possibility of a change in government. The only chance they had was under the original proposal [by former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson] to have one diploma embracing all qualifications. That would have had a good chance of success. The pity about the present diplomas is that they are divisive. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on their chances of survival."

The figures, contained in a Commons reply to Mr Laws by the Schools minister Iain Wright, show that there are still 349 state secondary schools which are not members of any of the consortia delivering the diplomas.

At present, the qualifications are being offered in 10 subjects, ranging from the highly rated engineering diploma – the maths content of which has been praised by Cambridge University as superior to A-levels – to leisure and tourism. One of the country's top fee-paying schools, Wellington College, is offering the engineering diplomas.

The DCSF said an update on the figures showed that they were being offered in 94 per cent of all state schools and colleges.

Mr Wright added: "Whilst, of course, our aim is for 100 per cent coverage for what is a very new qualification, the high proportion of schools and colleges involved in diplomas is truly remarkable. We are encouraging independent schools to offer diplomas and want to see them available in all parts of the schools sector. This is a new qualification, but one which is obviously becoming increasingly popular with pupils, teachers, employers and all types of schools and colleges."

Three academic diplomas – in science, languages and humanities – are due to be launched by the Government in two years' time. However, the Conservatives have indicated they will not go ahead with these, on the grounds that they duplicate what is already on offer in A-levels.

At the launch of the diplomas, the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, said they could eventually take over from A-levels as the natural way for pupils to progress at school.


British co-ed schools experiment with separate classes for boys and girls

Boys and girls are being taught in separate classes as growing numbers of co-educational schools show interest in segregating lessons. They have found that both male and female pupils concentrate better and are less intimidated when taught core subjects without the distraction of the opposite sex.

Academics and state and independent head teachers will meet tomorrow at a conference in Cambridge devoted to the issue. Mike Younger, head of the education faculty at the University of Cambridge, will describe the renewed popularity of single-sex classes in mixed secondary schools. He is expected to say that separating boys and girls is not a panacea for disruptive classrooms, but can help to raise academic standards in schools, under the right conditions. “The number of single-sex schools has decreased since the early 1970s in both state and independent sectors,” Mr Younger told The Times. “In the state sector some ideological resistance to single-sex teaching, a notion that comprehensive schools must be co-educational.”

A resurgence of interest in teaching girls without their male classmates had been prompted by the lower number who study maths and science after the age of 16, despite performing as well as or better than boys, he suggested. He said: “Some schools enter girls for lower-tier, less demanding papers in technical and scientific subjects at GCSE, and thus narrow their subsequent choice, despite evidence of superior prior achievements by girls aged 14 and above.”

Boys can also benefit from single-sex classes because they sometimes allowed them to perform without worrying about their image in front of girls.

Mr Younger, who has written reports for the Government on raising boys’ achievement, said that some attempts to teach girls and boys separately about ten years ago had resulted in confusion and had been conducted on an ad hoc basis. More recent research had found that male pupils concentrated better in single-sex classes. They were more likely to respond to questions without embarrassment and ridicule and to participate without showing off. The standard of their work had improved.

However, Mr Younger said that schools had also experienced some problems in separating classes. “There is a need to avoid an intimidating atmosphere for other boys, which can be generated among all-boys’ classes, and to be alert to the dangers of generating a homophobic environment,” he said. “There is also a need to beware of girls becoming aggressive towards each other.” Head teachers needed to establish an ethos of collaborative working with their staff, exchanging experiences without feeling undermined, he said.

Research had uncovered positive reactions from students to being taught in same-sex groups. One boy said: “There’s more participation in the lesson and no one is shy or afraid to express an opinion — you know the other boys won’t laugh at you and you don’t lose face.” A female student told researchers: “Girls are more hard-working and work better without the boys around. Girls want to do their best and this is an environment where they’re not afraid to show what their best is.”

Case study

Girls and boys at Moulsham High School in Essex learn apart, together (Joanna Sugden writes). While girls discuss quietly in groups whether the Civil War broke out because of money, down the corridor boys answer quick-fire questions on the main reasons for the conflict.

The head, Dr Chris Nicholls, says it is counter-productive to keep them apart outside lessons: “Girls and boys have got to learn to get along.” Students learn separately until they are 14 at Moulsham, which is in a relatively affluent area of Chelmsford, has been rated good for attainment by Ofsted and achieves above-average results. “I’m utterly convinced of the differences between boys and girls and the way that they learn,” says Dr Nicholls.

Tom Power, 12, prefers lessons without girls, particularly PE. “In junior school I used to get annoyed because I worried that if I picked all-boys teams the girls would moan and if I picked girls I wouldn’t win,” he says. “That sounds a bit sexist doesn’t it?” His friend Jacob Jeffries interjects: “You’re supposed to be sexist — you’re 12 years old.”


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Teaching plan: America 'an oppressive hellhole'

University outlines 're-education' for those who hold 'wrong' views. Very reminiscent of North Korean brainwashing and indicative of the same totalitarian mindset

A program proposed at the University of Minnesota would result in required examinations of teacher candidates on "white privilege" as well as "remedial re-education" for those who hold the "wrong" views, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The organization, which promotes civil liberties on the campuses of America's colleges and universities, has dispatched a letter to University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks asking him to intervene to prevent the adoption of policies proposed in his College of Education and Human Development. "The university's general counsel should be asked to comment as soon as possible," said the letter from Adam Kissel, an officer with The FIRE. "If the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group achieves its stated goals, the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the 'wrong' views and values, [and] withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university's political reeducation efforts proved ineffective." By any "non-totalitarian" standards, he wrote, the the plans being made so far by the school are "severely unjust and impermissibly intrude into matters of individual conscience."

Kissel wrote that it appears that the university "intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the 'wrong' beliefs and values – those who either do not have sufficient 'cultural competence' or those who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the 'correct' beliefs and values even after remedial re-education." "These intentions violate the freedom of conscience of the university's students. As a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the university is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right," he wrote.

Among the issues discussed in the plans are requirements that teachers would be able to instruct students on the "myth of meritocracy" in the United States, "the history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values," and the "history of white racism." The demands appear to be similar to those promoted earlier at the University of Delaware.

As WND reported, the Delaware university's office of residential life was caught requiring students to participant in a program that taught "all whites are racist." School officials immediately defended the teaching, but in the face of a backlash from alumni and publicity about its work, the school decided to drop the curriculum, although some factions later suggested its revival. FIRE, which challenged the Delaware plan, later produced a video explaining how the institution of the university pushed for the teachings, was caught and later backed off:

Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten said the developing Minnesota plan would require teachers to "embrace – and be prepared to teach our state's kids – the task force's own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic." She said the plan from the university's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative – a multiyear project to change the way future teachers are trained – "is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of 'cultural competence' contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students." "The first step toward 'cultural competence,' says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize – and confess – their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the reeducation camps of China's Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi," she said.

"What if some aspiring teachers resist this effort at thought control and object to parroting back an ideological line as a condition of future employment?" she posed. "The task group has Orwellian plans for such rebels: The U, it says, must 'develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan.'"

The plan asks: "How can we be sure that teaching supervisors are themselves developed and equipped in cultural competence outcomes in order to supervise beginning teachers around issues of race, class, culture, and gender?" The original correct answer was to have "a training session disguised as a thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year." The task force later edited itself to call for a required "training/workshop for all supervisors. Perhaps as part of an orientation/thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year?"

"There was no deception planned or intended as may be implied in the use of the word [disguised]," a footnote said, "We have edited this to reflect our commitment to integrity in our work. This amendment was made 11/09/2009."

Nevertheless, FIRE's concern included the apparent plan for demands that teachers "discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression." Further, the letter noted, "the college in its proposal promises to start screening its applicants to make sure they have the proper 'commitments' and 'dispositions.'"

"Here's the kicker," Fire said in its report. "The college even realizes that its efforts to impose such a severe ideological litmus test may be unconstitutional." T

The letter cited a proposal to consult with the university's own lawyers. "FIRE urges you to consider the Supreme Court's ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), which invalidated mandated allegiances to political ideologies at public schools," Kissel wrote for FIRE.

Writing for the court, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared: "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. "


British Home-schooling parents may face criminal record checks

Parents who teach their own children at home must undergo criminal records checks, say Government education inspectors. The estimated 40,000 parents who choose not to send their children to school should be vetted, says Ofsted. It said that parents whose records throw up suspicions should be barred from teaching their own children.

Vetting to root out any record of violence against children would be by the Criminal Records Bureau. It would reveal to local authorities parents’ criminal convictions, cautions and warnings, and even information that did not lead to a criminal conviction. It would also show any unproven complaints noted by the controversial new Independent Safeguarding Authority, set up to vet adults working with other people’s children.

Parents who fail the checks could also find themselves receiving attention from child protection social workers. If accepted by ministers, the Ofsted rules would be the first state attempt to investigate and vet ordinary parents over the way they bring up their own children.

The proposal brought fierce protests from family campaigners. Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said: ‘It is sheer madness for Ofsted to suggest that parents should be required to undergo CRB checks to be with their children between the hours of 9am and 3pm from Monday to Friday during term-time. ‘If it is deemed unsafe for children to be with their parents during normal school hours, it is equally unsafe for them to be with their parents in the evenings, at weekends and during the school holidays. ‘If Ofsted are calling for CRB checks for home-educating parents now, how long will it be before they are demanding that all parents are CRB-checked?’

Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank said: ‘You can no longer be a parent without a piece of paper from the state. This is a monstrous idea and it shows the danger of taking things to logical extremes.’

A Bill from Children’s Secretary Ed Balls already backs the idea of a home-schooling registration scheme where parents must set out a curriculum and allow town hall officials to inspect their homes. But in a written report to MPs on the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, Ofsted said: ‘Registration would not of itself prevent those who have a conviction for offences against children, including parents, step-parents or privately employed home tutors, from home educating children. ‘Criminal Records Bureau checks should be a requirement of registration.’

The right of parents to educate their children at home has been enshrined in law since 1944. Parents have until now not had to register with councils or tell them what they are teaching.


Australia: Teachers bullied to keep quiet on problem government schools

The Queensland Opposition said whistleblowing teachers were being bullied by other teachers to keep problems in schools quiet. New figures released by the State Government showed the number of formal complaints of bullying and aggressive behaviour by teachers against other teachers had increased by more than 40 per cent over the past two years. In 2007, 26 teachers made formal complaints to the education department about other teachers. The number rose to 30 in 2008 and there have been 37 complaints so far in 2009.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson said in an answer to a parliamentary question on notice that the number represented less than one per cent of the state's 47,000 teachers.

Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said he had been approached by a number of teachers concerned about being told by other teachers to keep quiet about school problems. He said the Government was also covering up by refusing to release to the Opposition details of apprehended violence orders against teachers and the number of weapons seized in schools. "There's pressure to cover up those sorts of events, but teachers in those schools want the root causes to be addressed," Dr Flegg said.

"I don't think there is any doubt whistleblowers are being bullied. "The agenda is about controlling the public relations rather than fixing the problems." He said it was a systemic problem that required government action.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Charter colleges?

The editors of The Chronicle of Higher Education—academe's trade journal—recently gave the well-read back cover of an issue to Hamid Shirvani, president of California State University-Stanislaus. Under a provocative headline—"Will a Culture of Entitlement Bankrupt Higher Education?"—Shirvani compared colleges and universities to the auto industry and noted that "resistance to change in academe has helped create inflexible, unsustainable organizations" like General Motors. He then, like Gorby in 1985, recommended a vague reform plan—"review redundancies, rethink staffing models, and streamline business practices"—along with several specific suggestions, such as larger classes and larger course loads for faculty.

One problem with such economically necessary reforms is that they will reduce traditional education's ability to compete with online offerings: If students don't get personal attention from classroom professors, they're often better off taking online courses (see "Class without rooms," Oct. 10). A second shortcoming is that Shirvani's reforms do not deal with the problem of left-wing-only campuses. American universities are not yet as disliked as Soviet institutions in 1989—football teams still spark loyalty—but as more donors and legislators rebel against campus intellectual repression, higher education's support base will shrink even as costs rise beyond the ability of financially beleaguered parents to keep up.

My own choice in this situation has been to leave the socialist sector of higher education and attempt to make a competitive private college work. That's hard going in today's economy, and for those who still hope to work within government-funded institutions a new alternative has emerged. Rob Koons, the University of Texas professor removed last fall as head of a UT Western Civilization program (see "Losing a beachhead," Sept. 12), is proposing that Texas legislators back the creation of charter colleges, as they now support the creation of charter schools.

Charter colleges could offer specific majors or they could be "core curriculum charters" that would offer "at least eighteen semester hours in ethics and the classics of Western civilization and of American thought." Core curriculum charter colleges could offer great books seminars including courses on the Bible, ancient Greece and Rome, Renaissance and Reformation, and the American tradition: Students in that last course could study works including the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Thoreau's Walden, and Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery.

Charter colleges would receive per-student funding as charter K-12 schools now do. They could rent space in university buildings. Their liberty would be limited: They would have to be nonpartisan and nonsectarian in terms of control by religious institutions. They would have to offer a viable business plan, a governance structure satisfying the principles of professional responsibility and academic freedom, and a set of procedures and standards for hiring and retaining instructors. Whenever the government cat stalks the premises, intellectual mice cannot play as freely as they otherwise might.

Nevertheless, the development of a charter college system would end the hegemony of the bureaucratic, central-planning model of higher education that has grown up during the last 60 years. Competition would improve the quality of education at state universities by ending unchecked and innovation-stifling educational control by faculty majorities. Competition would push academic specialists to consider the interests and goals of students instead of offering fragmented and hyper-specialized courses that merely fulfill their own research objectives.

We need campus glasnost: more intellectual diversity and free speech. We won't achieve it without a thorough perestroika that allows room for moderates and conservatives as well as liberals and radicals.


Promotion of failure by Britain's school inspectorate

A whistleblower tells how her fellow school inspectors fret more over pupils’ lunch boxes than their literacy

One day last summer I found myself sharing a table with three seven-year-olds in an inner-city primary school. It was chaos. The three children were giggling, kicking each other and chatting. Their attention was on what was immediately in front of them — each other. Somewhere on the periphery of our vision, the teacher walked about, struggling to keep order. Elsewhere, behind our heads, hung a whiteboard with work on it — gleefully ignored.

I was getting crosser and crosser. It was not just that my knees were hurting nor that the girl opposite, with striped bobbles at the end of each plait, had spat something pink and sticky onto my handbag. No, what upset me was simple. Nobody was learning anything.

When I helped Cedric, the boy next to me, with his comprehension, I got a shock. He could barely read, let alone write an answer to the question. He shrugged, threw a rubber at the girl with the bobbles and was sent out of the class.

It was the last straw. I liked Cedric, who was obviously bright. I forgot I was meant to be an observer and confronted the teacher. Instead of sending children out, I said, why not improve discipline and concentration? We could rearrange the tables to face her and she could stand in front of the board. She looked at me with horror. “The pupils are working together, directing their own learning,” she said, her voice almost drowned by noise. Had I not appreciated what was going on?

Ofsted’s annual report to parliament, submitted last week, makes clear this is taking place across the country. More than a third of schools are providing inadequate teaching. Also last week Sir Stuart Rose, chairman of Marks & Spencer, one of the nation’s biggest employers of school-leavers, summed up the implications of the incident I had witnessed: “They cannot do reading. They cannot do arithmetic. They cannot do writing.”

I have spent the past year visiting schools and interviewing teachers, pupils and parents in an attempt to find out why black Caribbean and white working-class boys are failing. Again and again I saw the dire impact of educational ideology and government initiatives on children’s lives. A 16-year-old heroin dealer from Streatham, south London, summed up the effect this had on him: “School shatters your dreams before you get anywhere.”

Ofsted’s report blames schools and teachers for the shortcomings. What I saw made me think further: what about Ofsted’s inspection process? How much is it to blame for what is going wrong?

Shortly after encountering Cedric, I was in a scruffy south London sandwich bar. My informant had insisted on meeting there because she feared being seen with me. Amy (not her real name) was an Ofsted inspector and she was very angry. She had taught English for 20 years and had inspected schools for more than five. Far from protecting the education of our children, she told me, Ofsted inspectors were “ actively discouraged from inspecting what really matters”. Take reading and writing: despite the introduction of a literacy hour and a big increase in spending on education, a third of 14-year-olds have a reading age of 11 or below. One in five has a reading age of nine.This is an extraordinarily high level of failure. Why do we accept it?

There is compelling evidence that synthetic phonics is the best method of teaching children to read. Unfortunately, in the surreal world of education, success is not enough. However good the evidence, synthetic phonics is unfashionable among teachers such as Cedric’s because it depends on direct teaching, not learning through play.

In her report, Christine Gilbert, the Ofsted chief, blamed primary schools for the fact that a third of pupils start secondary school without a grounding in the basics. This is disingenuous. It is her inspectors who are not enforcing the rules — as Amy learnt in an inner-city primary school with weak Sat scores. She asked the chief inspector why nobody was checking the reading method used. Was it synthetic phonics and how well was it being taught? He shrugged and said: “I don’t ask the question.” Presumably it was contrary to his educational philosophy. Amy, outraged, complained to Ofsted. And was duly “fobbed off”.

Ofsted’s lack of interest in these basic skills is clear from the self-evaluation report every inspected school must present. Amy pulled one from her bag. It was dauntingly thick and contained 48,000 words: of those, a mere 12 dealt with literacy and numeracy. They read: “School X promotes good basic skills, especially in literacy, numeracy and ICT.” Amy dismissed this as “wish fulfilment”. She went on: “It ‘promotes’ but what does it achieve? It says nothing about achievement.” Amy wanted to replace the useless self-evaluation with maths and reading tests done by Ofsted inspectors without warning: “That would make schools sit up and take notice.”

What was Amy allowed to inspect? She sighed. Ofsted orders inspectors to concentrate on social welfare, behaviour and attendance. They have to check if children are “independent learners” in charge of their own education and if a child enjoys “ownership” of its work. Work should not be corrected in red ink by the teacher.

This, like many educational fads, misses the point. Amy put the low standard of writing, even in good schools, down to the low standard of marking. She was shocked to see that a child’s work was often marked only one in three times for accuracy. Even then, children were not asked to write corrections.

When she complained — again — to the chief inspector, “I was rapped over the knuckles for ‘discouraging’ the children. Well, it’s going to be a lot more discouraging when they get to 14 and can’t read the sign on the front of a bus”.

As for government initiatives, “don’t even get me started”, said Amy. “I spend more time looking in children’s lunch boxes then testing their literacy.” In the topsy-turvy world of state education a fizzy drink causes more horror than poor spelling.

The latest buzzword initiative is “community cohesion”. Ofsted inspectors must ensure that a school “has developed an understanding of its own community in a local and national context, including an awareness of each of the three strands of faith, ethnicity and culture, and the socioeconomic dimension”. Nor is that all. Each school has to demonstrate it “has planned and taken an appropriate set of actions, based upon its analysis of its context, to promote community cohesion within the school and beyond the school community”. What does this mean? And why is a body guilty of such gobbledegook in charge of our children’s education? There is no mention of the impact that illiterate teenage boys have on community cohesion.

As well as ideological fads, Ofsted is subject to political pressure. The emphasis is on what makes the government look good rather than what might benefit pupils. Take the “deprivation factor”. A school can be well below average in Sats results but still be classed as satisfactory purely because of its intake. Schools with ethnic minorities, for example, parents without college education, children with special educational needs and even too many boys, all contribute to the deprivation factor. This is nothing more than an excuse for failure. A “deprivation factor” is not going to get a young man a job, buy him a house or take him on holiday.

Progress of learners is another dodgy item on the inspectors’ list. “We are besotted by progress,” said Amy. “The majority of the Ofsted report is based on what the school plans — not on what is actually going on in the classroom.” As long as a school demonstrates progress, it can achieve a “good” and sometimes an “outstanding” Ofsted report — even if the result is still below average. This emphasis on progress has serious implications. A good report means the school will not be inspected so frequently. It misleads parents and the public. Amy pointed out: “If the end result is still weak, however much improvement there has been, how does that help the child?”

Now we came to the crux of what had made her so angry. She leant towards me and said: “We forget that for these children this is their only chance of an education.”

Back in the primary school it was break time. In the staff room the teachers complained that the boys misbehaved every afternoon. They saw this as immutable. I suggested the PE teacher organise football every lunch break. The teachers — female and two stone overweight — looked at me as if I was talking an alien language. They dismissed competitive sport as promoting “negative feelings among our children”.

Cedric had spent his surplus energy putting a schoolmate’s head down the loo and was confined to the library. I showed him a book on castles. He had never seen a castle. He was immediately engaged and asked intelligent questions. In the afternoon he lasted barely 10 minutes in class before being sent to stand in the corridor.

I left the school gloomy. I was interviewing teenagers and young men in their twenties. I knew what lay ahead for bright, energetic boys like Cedric. Our warped inspection process, the emphasis on government initiatives and ideological fads create countless victims. Cedric possesses talents that should be the making of him. Instead he is already another statistic of failure.


British "regulator" is simply making schools worse

Ofsted has become a Left-wing front dedicated to maintaining the pretence that schools under Labour are getting better all the time, writes Simon Heffer.

Things are not looking fabulous for Ofsted, which last year soaked up £222 million in ensuring that schools get progressively worse and pupils progressively thicker. Friends in the education world tell me much has changed since the golden age of Chris Woodhead, and the body has become a Left-wing front dedicated to maintaining the pretence that schools under Labour are getting better all the time. I do not support wholesale retribution against Labour placemen should we have a new government, but the future of Christine Gilbert – Ofsted chief and wife of Tony McNulty, a Labour MP and former minister who recently had to apologise for financial irregularities – should surely lie outside her present field.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Attack on home schooling in Sweden

An officially proposed law, set to be voted on next year, would outlaw most home-schooling in Sweden. Government officials in the alleged Scandinavian utopia explain that "there is no need for the law to offer the possibility of homeschooling because of religious or philosophical reasons in the family."

Yet increasing numbers of Swedes feel otherwise. The Swedish Association for Home Education, called ROHUS, has appealed to the international community for help in what its members regard as a concerted attack on human rights. The proposed law, according to the group, shows off the country's "worst totalitarian socialist roots."

I don't know much about Sweden's government-run schools. My wife and I home-school our kids here in Virginia. We do this mainly for reasons of security and quality control. But this is, nevertheless, a philosophic issue. Surely parents have the right to resist governments' efforts to control every aspect of their lives, especially the micromanaging of their kids' education.

Government schools tend to perform poorly. In America, we have witnessed a degradation in standards. Sweden, apparently, isn't immune to such trends. One English woman married to a Swede fears that the country's "'no-one should aspire to be better' mentality" pervades the schools; she insists the "no-grade" system degrades competitive standards.

A reason to home-school, yes. And a reason to defend a philosophic case for the home-school option: That option is a human right.


Academic Achievement and Violence Free Zones

On Monday, Bob Woodson and his team of youth mentors, along with school administrators, law enforcement and government leaders, held a summit on youth violence and the success of Woodson’s Violence Free Zones. Those in attendance at the Washington, D.C. conference testified to the efficacy of Violence Free Zones, citing a 32 percent reduction in violent incidents in Milwaukee Public Schools, a reduction in car thefts of more than 60 percent around high schools in Richmond, Virginia, and in general, a reduction in violence, suspensions, and disruptions in schools.

Violence Free Zones staff train youth mentors who come from the same cultural zip code as the children they are trying to help – many of whom are involved in gang activity and drug use. Bob Woodson, President of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, writes:
School systems rely almost exclusively upon metal detectors, cameras, and security guards or police to secure the schools. While these external approaches have their place, they are limited in the control they can exert. They may suppress some behaviors, but they do not confront the causes of those behaviors.

Violence Free Zones work because they get at the root of the problem by providing solid role models for the children who, prior to the mentor program, turned to gang activity and drug use. The mentors teach problem-solving skills, model successful behavior, and are available 24 hours a day. Not only has the Violence Free Zone program made a significant impact on reducing violence, it has also raised the academic achievement of those involved.

Researchers at Baylor University conducted a case study of the impact of the VFZ program on public schools in Milwaukee, and found that the academic achievement of students in the VFZ schools had risen nearly 4 percent. Part of this increase may have been due to a reduction in suspensions. As a result of the VFZ program, suspensions in Milwaukee public schools declined 37 percent. Those extra days spent in school likely contributed to the rise in academic achievement.

Students in Richmond, Virginia also benefited from the Violence Free Zones. Students in VFZ schools saw an 8 percent increase in GPA, and a 55 percent reduction in suspensions.

In many of the nation’s largest cities, school violence and low academic achievement persists. In Washington, D.C. for example, 1 in 8 children reports being threatened with a deadly weapon in the last 12 months. During the 2007-08 school year, there were 912 incidents of violence reported to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. It is impossible for a child to learn in a dangerous school environment.

Every school and every city is different, and Woodson’s distinctive approach to tackling school violence meets the unique needs of students and schools across the country. While his approach meets unique needs, the VFZ approach of mentoring is entirely replicable in other troubled districts across the county.


The 'Diversity' Sham

At New York University, intellect gives way to ritualized emotion

It has been 6½ years since the U.S. Supreme Court, in Grutter v. Bollinger, upheld the legality of racial discrimination in university admissions for the purpose of realizing "the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." Longstanding precedent requires the court to apply "strict scrutiny" to any claim justifying discrimination on the basis of race. Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asserted that the court's "deference" to the "expertise" of the defendant in this case was sufficiently strict to meet this test.

But there is reason to doubt whether "diversity," as practiced by American higher education today, has any educational benefits at all--never mind whether those benefits are sufficient to justify discrimination. Whatever its benefits in theory, diversity in practice is often anti-intellectual, replacing reasoned debate with ritualized expressions of phony emotion.

A kerfuffle at New York University is a case in point. Last week, as we noted, Tunku Varadarajan of wrote a column meditating on the Fort Hood massacre, which, he noted, appears to have been a religiously motivated "act of messianic violence."

In addition to his work in journalism, Varadarajan teaches at NYU's Stern School of Business, and his column set off predictable complaints from Muslim students and alumni. One alum, Haroon Moghul, wrote an essay at in which he accused Varadarajan of "hate-mongering." He wrote that Varadarajan's column had caused him "pain" and "feelings of marginalization," and the headline and subheadline described him as "shocked" by Varadarajan's writing.

Eventually the university president, John Sexton, was compelled to respond. While he correctly noted that it would be wrong for the university "to punish faculty officially for expressing such ideas," he also issued a declaration of disapproval:
A journalist and NYU clinical faculty member has written a piece for Forbes that many Muslims find offensive. I understand how they feel--I found it offensive, too. I am teaching Muslim students now, and I have taught them in the past; the portrayal of Muslims in the Forbes piece bears no resemblance to my experience; I disagree with the Forbes piece and think it is wrong.

I say all this because as president I have not foresworn the rights I have as a member of the NYU faculty to challenge an idea that I believe is erroneous.

Yesterday Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of NYU's Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life sent an "URGENT Letter" to his email list:
I am writing to urge you to join me today in "A Campaign Against Hate" celebrating diversity at NYU, commemorating the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood and responding to a recent article in Forbes Magazine entitled "Going Muslim". The event, dubbed "Harmonyu," is being spearheaded by the Islamic Center at NYU.

In my opinion, the article, written by an NYU professor, does not deal sensitively enough with the role and place of Muslims in America.

How's that for diversity? NYU's Jews and Muslims are ganging up on a Hindu and accusing him of promoting "hate"-- an inflammatory charge anywhere, but especially on a university campus. Yet it's clear that Rabbi Sarna knows the charge is unjustified, since his actual criticism of Varadarajan's work--it "does not deal sensitively enough"--is so tepid.

Likewise, President Sexton's claim to have been offended by Varadarajan's article has no credibility. There's no doubt he was inconvenienced by it, and we expect he's none too happy with Varadarajan for that. But his statement "I found it offensive, too" is a ritualized expression of empathy, not to be mistaken for the real thing. And if you read the entire letter, you will find that in spite of Sexton's statement that he has "not forsworn" his right "to challenge an idea that I believe is erroneous," he offers no substantive argument to rebut Varadarajan's column.

This is how "diversity" works in practice: Intellectual contention is drowned out in a sea of emotion, much of it phony. Members of designated victim groups respond to a serious argument with "pain" and "shock" and accusations of "hate," and university administrators make a show of pretending to care.

At some campuses, administrators and faculty members actually do practice censorship. NYU, at least in this instance, is not the worst offender in this respect. But this sort of emotional frenzy is nonetheless inimical to the spirit of rational inquiry that universities are supposed to encourage. Every incident of this sort makes it clearer how the University of Michigan played Justice O'Connor and her colleagues for fools.