Saturday, December 12, 2009

CA schools phase out homosexual curriculum

Under the duress of a lawsuit and threats of recall, the Alameda Board of Education has voted to phase out an elementary school curriculum it adopted in May to prevent anti-gay bullying. The so-called Lesson 9, which had become an opposition centerpiece in a national anti-gay marriage campaign, will be replaced by a more generic anti-bullying message.

But the board's action Tuesday night did little to ease the tension between gay parents, who want their children protected, and parents who who think elementary school is too early to talk to students about gay people.

The new anti-bullying lessons approved by the board, at the recommendation of School Superintendent Kirsten Vital, will be supplemented by children's books that explicitly address six specific forms of bias, including against gays. "This has torn apart our community," said school trustee Trish Herrera Spencer, the board member most opposed to the gay curriculum and who opposed adding the supplemental books. She said the board's latest action did not take into consideration "the strong beliefs" of all in the community.

The 45-minute Lesson 9, which was to be taught once a year in each grade starting with kindergarten, sparked a lawsuit, accusations that religious families were being discriminated against and threats of a recall election against the three board members who approved it.

Vital said her recommendation was meant to counter complaints from parents opposed to the original lesson because it highlighted only one type of bullying. "There is not an off-the-shelf, perfect curriculum that is going to work for our community," Vital said, explaining that she wants to solicit book recommendations, bring them back to the school board for approval in a few months and then work with teachers to develop accompanying lesson plans in time for the 2010-11 academic year.

Several parents said they did not trust a teachers' committee to pick books that would both satisfy gay and lesbian parents and parents with religious views that do not condone homosexuality. "Freedom of religion is protected from harassment and discrimination from anyone. It may be of no consequence to some, but it is a very integral part of many traditional families and should be honored," said Kellie Wood, who has three children in Alameda schools and is part of a group circulating recall election petitions. "If we're all honest, the friction between two protected classes, in particular, will not go away."

Kathy Passmore, a lesbian mother of two, said she hears students using anti-gay language in her job as a sixth grade teacher in Alameda. She urged the school board to retain the spirit of Lesson 9. "The children of gay families exist and are attending ASUD schools every single day," she said. "They are here."

Alameda, an island city that foots Oakland and is home to a Coast Guard installation and a former Naval base that is being eyed for housing, is the latest community to be divided by its school district's desire to curb anti-gay bullying and the concerns of parents who do not want their children to hear about gay and lesbian issues in school.

During last year's campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in California, the measure's sponsors ran commercials featuring a Massachusetts couple who unsuccessfully sued their local district for the right to pull their child out of anti-bullying lessons that included references to gay households. A year later, the same public relations firm that developed that ad developed a new one for the campaign to outlaw gay marriage in Maine focusing on a second-grade picture book that was part of Alameda's Lesson 9. The book, "Who's In A Family," contains pictures of families headed by grandparents, single parents and gay parents, among others.

A dozen Alameda families sued the school district earlier this year over its contention that parents did not have to be notified in advance when teachers planned to give the lessons so they could keep their children from receiving them. Last week, an Alameda Superior Court judge sided with the school district, ruling that a state law allowing parents to have their "opt-out" of discussions about human sexuality did not apply to Lesson 9.

Kevin Snider, a lawyer with the conservative Pacific Justice Institute who represented the Alameda families, said before the school board's vote that his clients would not appeal the judge's ruling if the school board eliminated Lesson 9. He did not immediately return a call Wednesday for clarification on whether the board's action satisfied that condition.


Thomas the Sexist Tank Engine

The children's programme portrays a world blighted by a 'conservative political ideology' and is sexist, according to a female academic

If you thought the television tales about Thomas the Tank Engine were merely light-hearted fun, think again. In fact, they portray a world blighted by a 'conservative political ideology' and a rigid class system which stifles self-expression. And they are sexist. That, at least, is the view of a female academic who took the trouble to analyse 23 episodes of the programme inspired by the books of the Rev W V Awdry.

According to Professor Shauna Wilton, women are under-represented in the stories and what few female characters there are tend to have 'secondary' roles or be bossy. What's more, she has warned that such negative messages about society subconsciously gleaned from the show might even drive its young fans off the rails in later life.

The learned professor was inspired to carry out her study after watching Thomas videos with her three-year-old daughter. While the child was enthralled, her mother was dismayed. She was left feeling 'uncomfortable' by the way the colourful steam engines are punished if they show initiative or try to change their rank or role.

Her research also highlights the class divide, with Thomas and his fellow engines including Percy and James at the bottom of the social ladder and the Fat Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, at the top. Any attempt by the downtrodden workers to show initiative or dissent is met with punishment, she found. In one episode, for example, Thomas whistles impatiently at a police officer and is replaced with a different engine as a punishment for showing dissent.

Professor Wilton, from the department of political sciences at Alberta University, Canada, wants tighter controls on what is broadcast-to children. She said: 'We tend to think of children's TV shows as neutral and safe, but they still carry messages. 'Eventually these children will attain full political citizenship, and the opinions and world outlook they develop now, partially influenced by shows like Thomas, are part of that process.'

Laura Midgley, of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, described the research as 'unbelievable nonsense'. She said: 'I cannot believe anyone has the time and energy to do such a study. I'm surprised she hasn't singled out the Fat Controller as an example of fattism too. 'Children should just be left to enjoy the innocent fun of Thomas without the politically- correct brigade stoking the fires and ruining their enjoyment.'


Australia. Kid killed in busy school playground: Nobody charged

Police should have been able to take someone into custody same day

THE father of a teenager killed in a schoolyard brawl almost six months ago says it is "atrocious" no one has been charged. Steve Drummond, father of 15-year-old Jai Morcom, who died at Mullumbimby High School in northern NSW on August 29, slammed police yesterday after they issued a media release appealing for more witnesses. "It's pretty atrocious that this hasn't been sorted out by now," Mr Drummond told the Courier-Mail newspaper. "There were that many witnesses to it and there's no doubt there were a few (specific) kids involved."

Jai died after a playground fight over a lunch table. Students later staged a mass walkout and protest amid claims of a bullying problem at the school.

Mr Drummond has raised suggestions of "standover tactics" at Mullumbimby High, and NSW education officials have ordered a major review into student welfare at the school.

Tweed/Byron police crime manager Inspector Greg Carey appealed for patience, saying "every effort" was being made to solve the case. "We have conducted interviews with literally dozens of students, teachers and community members," he said. "We have been in constant contact with Jai's parents and the school community. "Investigators have also set up an email address which has been circulated throughout the school community, in the hope that additional information could be provided by that method."

Jai died from his injuries in the Gold Coast Hospital. Insp Carey said NSW police were still waiting the full autopsy report from Queensland authorities. "As Jai died in Queensland, the (NSW police) report will be submitted initially to the Queensland Coroner," Insp Carey said.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Bloated college costs hurt the poor

Most young adults who started college but didn’t finish left because they needed to work more to make ends meet, according to a recent survey of more than 600 individuals aged 22 to 30 by Public Agenda. Managing work, school, and family was their biggest challenge.

That’s just one of many surprising new realities facing America’s college students, according to “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them,” a report based on a new Public Agenda survey of more than 600 young adults. The study compared the views of students who started, but did not finish, their college education with those who received a degree or certificate. The national survey, which also included focus groups in five cities, was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

When it came time for these students to consider going back to college, it was again their work and family responsibilities that kept them from reenrolling. For 56 percent of the survey participants, their need to work full-time was a “major” factor preventing them from going back to school. Family commitments were also cited as “major” factors for more than half of those surveyed. More than one third of former students who said they wanted to return also said they wouldn’t be able to even if their tuition and books were fully covered.

“The conventional wisdom is that students leave school because they aren’t willing to work hard and aren’t really interested in more education,” said Jean Johnson, director of Education Insights at Public Agenda. “What we found was almost precisely the opposite. Most are working and go to school at the same time, and most are not getting financial help from their families or the system itself. It is the stress of this juggling act that forces many of them to abandon their pursuit of a college degree.”

For 40 years, the United States has worked to ensure all young people have access to college, and over that time enrollment has increased by 13 million students. But nationwide, less than half of all college students graduate within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. At public community colleges, the numbers are even more grim: only 20 percent graduate within three years.

Last February, President Obama set a goal to again make America first in the world in the percentage of adults with a postsecondary credential. “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” provides insight into the lives of those students, and helps identify solutions that could help solve the nation’s college completion problem.

For example, those who failed to complete a degree said financial aid for part-time enrollees, more classes at night and on weekends, steep tuition reductions, and child care assistance, and would be most beneficial to helping them reenroll and graduate.

“Getting more and more students into college means nothing if we don’t also provide them with the support they need to graduate,” said Hilary Pennington, the director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This report is another piece of evidence that our college-going students today are nothing like those that the system was built to serve.”

The survey results showed that while the college selection process is frenetic and unnerving for many college goers, those who failed to graduate faced more limited options and took a much more haphazard and uninformed route. Generally, they chose their college based on “convenience” factors, such as location, cost and how well classes meshed with their work schedules.

Moreover, those who failed to graduate were not getting financial support from their family and the system. Of those who did not graduate, 58 percent did not receive support from parents or other relatives, and 69 percent did not receive support from a scholarship or financial aid.

Despite that, 89 percent of those who failed to complete a degree said they have thought about returning to college, and nearly all (97 percent) said it is important that their own children attend college.


U.S. school meals not as safe as Macca's

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products." That isn't always the case. McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day. And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders— KFC won't buy them — and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations."

"We simply are not giving our kids in schools the same level of quality and safety as you get when you go to many fast-food restaurants," says J. Glenn Morris, professor of medicine and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. "We are not using those same standards."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2000, then-Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman directed the USDA to adopt "the highest standards" for school meat. He cited concerns that fast-food chains had tougher safety and quality requirements than those set by the USDA for schools, and he vowed that "the disparity would exist no more."

Today, USDA rules for meat sent to schools remain more stringent than the department's minimum safety requirements for meat sold at supermarkets. But those government rules have fallen behind the increasingly tough standards that have evolved among fast-food chains and more selective retailers.

Morris, who used to run the USDA office that investigates food-borne illnesses, says the department's purchases of meat that doesn't satisfy higher-end commercial standards are especially worrisome because the meat goes to schools. It's not just that children are more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses because of their fledgling immune systems; it's also because there's less assurance that school cafeteria workers will cook the meat well enough to kill any pathogens that might slip through the USDA's less stringent safety checks.

USDA-purchased meat is donated to almost every school district in the country and served to 31 million students a day, 62% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals. President Obama noted earlier this year that, for many children, school lunches are "their most nutritious meal — sometimes their only meal — of the day." Next year, Congress will revisit the Child Nutrition Act, which governs the lunch program.

"If there are higher quality and safety standards, the government should set them," says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. "Ensuring the safety of food in schools is something we'll look at closely."

Officials with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, insist that schools get top-notch products. AMS standards for meat sent to schools have been "extremely successful in protecting against food-borne pathogens," AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg says in a written statement. She notes that AMS oversight, inspections and tests of that meat exceed those required for meat sold to the general public.

The AMS also has a "zero-tolerance" policy that requires rejection of meat that tests positive for salmonella or E. coli O157:H7, pathogens that can cause serious illness or death.

Still, after USA TODAY presented USDA officials with its findings, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised an independent review of testing requirements for ground beef that the AMS sends to schools. The review, set for next year, is meant "to ensure the food served to our school children is as safe as possible," Vilsack says in a statement...

Much more here

British schools use "dirty" tricks to attract best pupils, research finds

State secondary schools are "gazumping" each other to attract the best pupils, research published today on school admissions has revealed. Headteachers are employing underhand tactics, such as courting the parents of very bright children and manipulating waiting lists, academics from the London School of Economics said.

The findings came as the chief schools adjudicator warned that the government's new code on school admissions provided a "bonanza" for lawyers being hired by parents, schools and local authorities.

Ministers hoped the stricter code, which came into force in February, would make admissions fairer, but the LSE study of five local authorities found that the code was not enough to stop schools tricking one another, and that it was "not difficult to find schools that fell foul of the code".

Researchers were told that the headteacher of a school with surplus places had contacted parents to persuade them to reject offers from a more popular school. Another school was said to rank children on its waiting list according to its own criteria rather than the official rules which put children with special needs before others. Another was said to have picked pupils according to how near their homes were to a building half a mile from the school, in an attempt to upgrade its intake. A secondary school had tried to impress parents by naming one primary as a "feeder" school, without telling the primary school.

These dubious practices can leave some families in "dead zones" – neighbourhoods where children stand little chance of an offer from any popular school in their area, the academics told a conference on fair school admissions in London today.

"Major concerns remain about school admissions, raising questions about fairness," Philip Noden, an education research fellow at the LSE and one of the study's authors, said. The study said: "While most admissions authorities were thought to operate their admission arrangements in accordance with the relevant rules, there was some evidence of a small number of schools breaking admissions rules or adopting practices that would be unlikely to be supported by regulatory authorities." "There is a world of suspicion out there," Noden said. People were "very doubtful about the motives" of some schools. "While the code states that it is 'necessary to improve the chances of more disadvantaged children getting into good schools', it is clear that those interpreting the code are not taking advantage of all opportunities to improve those chances," he said.

The study found that many of those who decide a school's admissions policy struggle to understand the new code. Even those "working day-to-day on admissions stated that they found the code a difficult document". Rather than tighten the rules, ministers should give local authorities more control over the administration of school admissions, the researchers suggest. This would include faith schools and academies, which have their own admissions arrangements.

Last year, the education secretary, Ed Balls, revealed that some state secondary schools in England had been caught charging parents for the privilege of being given a place. Now competition at top state schools is fiercer than ever as middle-class families seek to save on private school fees in the recession.

Meanwhile, the chief schools adjudicator for England, Ian Craig, told the conference that lawyers were cashing in on the complexity of the code as more parents, local authorities and schools hired them. He said: "Unfortunately, the more complex the code, the more lawyers are earning their money trying to find ways to around it. There will be more challenges in the high court on admissions issues. I'm convinced of that."


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Court to Decide If Christian College Group Must Allow homosexuals

The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether a California law school must force a Christian group to admit gays, lesbians and nonbelievers to gain stature as an official campus organization.

The high court agreed to hear an appeal from a chapter of the Christian Legal Society at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. A federal judge had turned aside the group's attempt to force the school to give it campus funding and other benefits without opening its membership to gays, lesbians and nonbelievers -- a requirement of the San Francisco school.

The 30-member Hastings group was told in 2004 that it was being denied recognition, including university funding and benefits, because of its policy of exclusion. Federal courts have rejected the group's assertions that the law school's policy violated its freedoms of speech, religion and association.

"The court below got it wrong and we're trusting that the Supreme Court will correct this," said Kim Colby, senior counsel with the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom.

According to a society news release, it invites all students to its meetings. "However, CLS voting members and officers must affirm its Statement of Faith," the statement said. "CLS interprets the Statement of Faith to include the belief that Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman."

Colby said that simply means that the group simply "requires that their leaders share their religious beliefs." The Christian Legal Society has chapters at universities nationwide. The group has sued other universities on the same grounds. It won at Southern Illinois University, whether the university settled with the group in 2007 and recognized its membership and leadership policies.


Charter Colleges Could Provide Real Alternatives to a Corrupt System

Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an unlikely source: an Ivy Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and saw the Soviet Union falling apart. He first announced a vague reform plan that proposed increased productivity, technological modernization, and some reform of the Soviet bureaucracy. That achieved little, so in 1986 he moved on to perestroika, designed to encourage initiative and reduce inefficiency. That didn't do much so in 1988 he introduced glasnost, which brought in some freedom of speech and a new law that encouraged private ownership of businesses. That good idea came too late to keep the Soviet evil empire from disintegrating in 1989 and collapsing in 1991.

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.


British primary schools bad for boys

Being taught by women indoctrinated into feminism must be very alienating

Boys are slipping further behind girls after just two years of schooling, official figures have revealed. They are behind girls in English, maths and science by the age of seven and the gender gap is widening, it emerged. The figures, from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, sparked renewed concerns about the prospects for a generation of boys.

Millions have been spent on initiatives aimed at reducing the educational gulf between the sexes but ministers insisted yesterday there were no quick solutions. Research has shown that youngsters who perform poorly at primary school are less likely to do well in their GCSEs and progress on to university. A report last month warned that the failure to teach the three Rs properly in primary schools drove 'angry and resentful boys out of school and into trouble'.

The report, published by the Centre for Policy Studies, claimed left-wing 'ideological fads' had wreaked most damage on working-class boys.

Yesterday's statistics reveal how the gender gap at seven is widest in writing, with 86.7 per cent of girls reaching 'level two' - the standard expected for their age - compared to 75.3 per cent of boys. This gives a gap of 11.4 per cent - an increase on 11 per cent in 2006. Girls also pulled further ahead in maths and science, while the gap in reading remained similar.

A lack of male teachers and growing exposure to computer games and TV have also been blamed for the under-performance of boys, who are also considered late starters.

Dr Richard House, senior lecturer in psychotherapy at Roehampton University, said: 'There is a grave danger that boys will simply become disaffected and 'turn off' from learning if they experience comparative failure at too young an age.'

Schools Minister Diana Johnson said there were no quick fixes. 'It takes time and energy from both parents and teachers to make changes,' she said. 'You need focused, long-term support to get sustained improvement over time.'


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Skeleton in Arne Duncan's Closet

Halloween season is an appropriate time to talk about rattling skeletons in the closet. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appears to have a noisy one dating from his years running the Chicago Public Schools. Her name is Carol J. Spizzirri.

A little background. Spizzirri is a convicted shoplifter. According to a sworn affidavit by her ex-husband, a court ordered psychological evaluation diagnosed her as a paranoid schizophrenic and pathological liar. Spizzirri claimed to be a registered nurse and a renal specialist. Her alma mater, now defunct, denied giving her an RN and reportedly she has never been a registered nurse in either Wisconsin or Illinois, as she had claimed. One of her daughters filed a protective order against her because of alleged abuse.

This same daughter died in a car crash in 1992 after which Spizzirri started the nonprofit Save-a-Life Foundation (SALF) whose charter was to teach first aid skills like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver to school children using EMTs and firemen as in-class trainers. According to Spizzirri, her daughter was the victim of a hit-and-run driver and bled to death because the ambulance took a half hour to reach the scene and no one at the scene knew how to stanch the flow of blood. Spizzirri claimed her mother's grief motivated her to start the foundation which attracted political and financial support, including about $9 million in IL state and federal dollars. Famed doctors Peter Safar (who developed CPR) and Henry J. Heimlich (known for the maneuver) served on SALF's medical advisory board.

But official records indicate that the daughter's alcohol level was twice the legal limit, that she flipped the car, and died a half hour after reaching a hospital. Confronted with these facts by Chicago TV investigative reporter Chuck Goudie in 2006, Spizzirri terminated the interview and stomped off the set. Over the next year, Goudie did another three reports raising more questions about SALF.

Those stories appear to have been the first time a Chicago reporter did any fact checking about the foundation. For instance, in an uncritical 2002 Sun-Times article, Spizzirri claimed that her foundation trained 400,000 Illinois school children in 2001 alone. Do the math. In a 180-day school year, that's 2,222 children per day.

During his years as CPS big dog, Arne Duncan was apparently close to Spizzirri. He was a featured speaker at a 2003 SALF conference and a 2006 press statement has him receiving a SALF "Sponsorship Award" from Spizzirri, his second such prize. Duncan is quoted saying, "Carol is one of my heroes. I really appreciate the partnership." Duncan even appeared as an animated pitchman on SALF's website, cheerily hyping kids on the program: "Hi, friend, I'm Arne Duncan ... Ask your school teacher today if the 'SALF-Town' heroes can visit you!"

Before she huffed out of the interview with Chuck Goudie, Spizzirri said SALF trained 67,000 Chicago Public School (CPS) children in first aid the year before and that the training was free to the children. In fact, records show that CPS paid the foundation a considerable amount.

After Goudie's reports, Spizzirri filed a defamation suit against three people who criticized SALF (including Dr. Heimlich's son), claiming the criticisms cost it 11 contracts, including CPS. But the lawsuit resulted in only more scrutiny. For example, in response to a subpoena from the defendants' lawyer for all their SALF records, CPS produced a grand total of 19 invoices from 2000-2007 totaling $12,855.

Three more invoices from 2004/2005 -- which CPS failed to provide to the defendants' attorney -- have since turned up via a public records request. The first 19 invoices produced by the subpoena appear to have gone through regular CPS payroll. But the three later invoices, totaling $49,000, were processed and signed off by CEO Arne Duncan's office. One includes this handwritten notation: "per AD per Ann Whalen 9-14-05." Whalen was Duncan's personal assistant. She now works for him in Washington.

The $49,000 was for "training elementary school students in life supporting first aid skills which will take place in approximately 15 schools with approximately 2,400 students." But the subpoena to CPS didn't produce any records showing the training ever happened.

What about all those CPS students allegedly trained by SALF? If you train 67,000 children in a single year and there are, let's say, 25 children per session, that's 2,680 sessions, 15 per day if evenly distributed across a 180-day school year. As any overworked administrator can testify, that's likely to produce a mountain of paper work -- work orders, reports, employment records, evaluations, etc. Twenty-two invoices over a seven year period do not a mountain make.

On July 9, a federal judge in Chicago granted SALF's request for voluntary dismissal and the lawsuit was dropped. A few months later, SALF filed dissolution papers with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office. But questions remain about the organization's 16-year history, their funding, and their relationships with powerful public officials -- including Arne Duncan.

Why did CPS pay SALF over $60,000 for a "free" program? What happened to the more than $1,000,000 SALF received from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for one year (there were other CDC contracts)? What about the millions SALF received from Illinois taxpayers? In the case of the Illinois State Board of Education, it's a guessing game. ISBE's complete records consist of a form showing a disbursement of $600,000 to SALF -- no application, no review, no evaluation, no nothin'.

According to an Oct. 11 Chicago Tribune article, "(Spizzirri) estimates 2 million children took the classes, many of them from the Chicago Public Schools ... City school officials did not respond to inquiries about how many students received emergency training"

Looks like this tale is so spooky that CPS won't even talk about it to a Trib reporter. But the public may feel entitled to know whether their money went for tricks or treats. For example, the $60,000+ CPS gave SALF was apparently spent on first aid training for hundreds of thousands of ghosts. I'd say it's time to knock on the door of someone who can get to the bottom of this money mystery. He lives in that big house down at the end of the street, the one marked, "Secretary of Education."


The New York Times On Hiring Discrimination ... Again

Leftist craziness again. They use affirmative action to devalue qualifications held by blacks then wonder why people respect black qualifications less!

Five days ago the New York Times published a front page article on the job hunt travails of black college graduates, an article I criticized here. Now, here they go again: today’s ‘Whitening’ the Résumé adds little or nothing to what was published last week.

Well, there was this: Michael Luo, the New York Times reporter, finds it “startling” that black job seekers, fearing discrimination, often attempt to disguise their race.
That seemed startling somehow, maybe because of the popular perception that affirmative action still confers significant advantages to black job candidates, a perception that is not borne out in studies. Moreover, statistics show even college-educated blacks suffering disproportionately in this jobless environment compared with whites, as that [earlier] article reported.

What studies? And is there evidence that the black applicants who are “suffering disproportionately” are in fact proportionately qualified?

On what may be a related point, last week the National Science Foundation published an initial report from its Survey of Earned Doctorates, and the demographic data there may well have some bearing on job prospects, and not just of those with doctorates. A breakdown of that demographic data can be found here.

30,791 doctorates in all fields were awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents in 2008, and 2030 of them went to blacks. But of those black doctorates, 758, or over 37%, were in education. 241, or a little under 12%, were in physical sciences or engineering. By contrast, 24% of all the doctorates earned by whites and Asians were in physical sciences or engineering.

If we assume that the demographic distribution of undergraduate majors is not significantly different from the distribution of doctorates, it is certainly possible that black college graduates have a “disproportionately” harder time finding jobs because they “disproportionately” earned degrees that carry less weight in the job market.

SOURCE See the original for links

Admit your limitations

The guy described below sounds like a typical Leftist to me. They don't argue. All they do is assert. That is what I almost universally find in messages and emails that I get from Leftists

Kevin Wilmeth's observation in yesterday's comments that a good teacher admits when he doesn't have an answer really struck a chord in me. It reminds me of when I lost respect for a state-employed teacher over a silly act of "saving face".

Our class was preparing for a zoology test on taxonomy, where we would look at examples of different animals and assign them to their proper order, class, and family.

Things were fine until I got to a tiny pickled flatfish in a jar. The teacher said it was a "ray". Now, that is a major discrepancy, since a flatfish is a bony fish (Osteichthyes) and a ray is a cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes); almost as different as two fish can be while still being fish. When I pointed it out to the teacher, he said I was wrong. I knew I wasn't. I got reference books and showed him the pictures clearly illustrating the differences. He got very angry and said "You're beating a dead horse. I don't care if you are right; for our purposes it is a ray." My respect for him plummeted as a result. He was not only unwilling to face the truth for himself, but he was also actively teaching false information to people who had been trained to accept whatever "authorities" told them.

How many of the students he deceived went on with life, never questioning whether what they were told was the truth? How many became good little cogs in the machinery of the state due to lies even more egregious than this? On the other hand, how much did this event help cement my own suspicion that "authorities" were at least as likely to be wrong as anyone, and less likely to admit it when they were?


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Voucher schools undergo natural selection

Which is exactly what is supposed to happen

Michelle Lukacs grew up in Mequon and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee. Then she was a teacher and guidance counselor in Jefferson. She got a school principal's license through a program at Edgewood College in Madison.

She moved back to Milwaukee and decided to open a school as part of the publicly funded private school voucher program. She called it Atlas Preparatory Academy because she liked the image of Atlas holding the whole world up and because it was the name of a refrigeration company her husband owns.

On the first day of classes in September 2001, Atlas had 23 students in leased space in an old school building at 2911 S. 32nd St.

This September, Atlas had 814 students, a growth of 3,439% over eight years. It now uses three buildings on the south side and has grown, grade by grade, to be a full kindergarten through 12th-grade program.

Atlas' growth is explosive, even within the continually growing, nationally significant voucher program. Voucher enrollment over the same period has roughly doubled from 10,882 in September 2001 to 21,062 this fall.

The Atlas story underscores an interesting trend: The number of voucher schools in recent years has leveled off, and this year, fell significantly. But the total number of students using vouchers to attend private schools in the city has gone up, and a few schools have become particular powerhouses, at least when it comes to enrollment.

This year, there are four voucher schools with more than 750 students, which puts them among the largest schools in Milwaukee. St. Anthony School, in three buildings on the near south side, added a ninth grade this year and reported 1,277 voucher students. Messmer High School and Messmer Preparatory on the north side had 979 voucher students. And Greater Holy Temple Christian Academy on the northwest side had 751 (it had 78 six years ago).

There are 111 schools receiving up to $6,442 per student from the state this year as part of the voucher program. That is down from 127 a year ago (and the payments are down from $6,607). Only two new schools, with 21 voucher students between them, joined the program this year, as a result of creation of a new board that played a stern role as gatekeeper to allowing start-up schools to get voucher money.

And 18 schools that were on the voucher roster a year ago were not there. It's hard to get sentimental looking at the list. Most were small or weak. Some could not meet the tightened requirements of state law, including rules being applied full force now that voucher schools get accredited by independent organizations.

What's going on in the voucher movement may well be a case of addition by subtraction - a lot of the schools from several years ago that were weak, poorly run or just plain bad have disappeared. Tightened laws, tightened regulations and more public scrutiny have clearly had positive effects.

Frankly, there are still a few schools on the list that can leave you wondering. But overall, based on visits to many schools over the years and close attention to trends, I can see more positives now, and some of the schools are or are moving toward becoming significant educational assets to the city.

More here

Safe schools chief touts child porn for classrooms

A new report is raising alarms that the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, a homosexual advocacy organization founded by Kevin Jennings, now head of the U.S. Office of Safe Schools for the Obama administration, is recommending XXX-rated sex writings for children as young as preschoolers.

"We were unprepared for what we encountered. Book after book after book contained stories and anecdotes that weren't merely X-rated and pornographic, but which featured explicit descriptions of sex acts between preschoolers; stories that seemed to promote and recommend child-adult sexual relationships; stories of public masturbation, anal sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, five-year-olds playing sex games, semen flying through the air," said the report.

"One memoir even praised becoming a prostitute as a way to increase one's self-esteem. Above all, the books seemed to have less to do with promoting tolerance than with an unabashed attempt to indoctrinate students into a hyper-sexualized worldview," it advised.

The report was posted online by Jim Hoft at the Gatetway Pundit blog after it was obtained from co-founder Scott Baker, who said the recommended children's reading assignments need attention.

The team whose members assembled the report said a handful of books from the more than 100 titles on GLSEN's recommended reading list for school children were picked randomly. Writings were reviewed with titles such as "Queer 13," "Being Different," "The Full Spectrum," "Revolutionary Voices," "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," "Passages of Pride," "Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian," "The Order of the Poison Oak," "In Your Face," "Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son" and "Love & Sex: Ten Stories of Truth."

"What we discovered shocked us. We were flabbergasted. Rendered speechless," the report said. "Read the passages … and judge for yourself … The language is explicit, the intent is clear," the report said.

WND has reported previously on Jennings' background and agenda, including when it was revealed a publisher of "gay erotica" sought him out to write a book aimed at encouraging homosexuality in high schools and colleges. The result was "Becoming Visible," which opens with, "Why teach gay and lesbian history? … Indeed, as lesbian and gay studies has emerged as a discipline over the last two decades, its dramatic discoveries have shown it to be one of the most exciting fields in contemporary historical scholarship." Researchers at Mass Resistance reported Sasha Alyson of Alyson Publications sought out Jennings to do the book.

In Jennings' acknowledgments for the book, he writes, "Writing this part of the book has caused me more anxiety than any other. It simply is not possible to express my gratitude to the many people who have helped make this book possible. ... With apologies to anyone omitted, here we go! The obvious place to begin is with Alyson Publications. First, Sasha Alyson had the vision to conceive of this project, and I had the good luck to be the person he sought out to complete it. I am deeply appreciative of being afforded this opportunity."

WND also has reported concerns by Mission America over subject material in books recommended by GLSEN for school children. The group's Linda Harvey warned, "GLSEN believes the early sexualization of children can be beneficial. This means that virtually any sexual activity as well as exposure to graphic sexual images and material, is not just permissible but good for children, as part of the process of discovering their sexuality." Her report cited one passage from a book recommended for students in grades 7-12: "I released his arms. They glided around my neck, pulling my head down to his. I stretched full length on top of him, our heads touching. Our heavy breathing from the struggle gradually subsided. I felt …"

What follows in "Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian" by Malcolm Boyd is a "graphic description" of a homosexual encounter.

More here

British teachers trying to shoot the messenger

Head teachers are threatening to block the publication of primary school league tables next year after branding them “demoralising”. The National Association of Head Teachers said it was “determined” that 2009's rankings would the last of their kind. The union, which represents the majority of primary school leaders, warned that members would boycott Sats tests in 2010 unless they were scrapped – making them effectively impossible to proceed. The proposed action is being backed by the National Union of Teachers. It comes despite the announcement of an overhaul of league tables by Labour.

Mick Brookes, general secretary, said: “NAHT is determined that this is the last time that this system will be used to unfairly compare schools in vastly different contexts. "League tables of pupil performance are misleading to parents. They are also demoralising for schools and school leaders, particularly those working tirelessly in tough communities, and they add nothing to the impetus for school improvement."

Unions claim Sats narrow the curriculum and promote a culture of "teaching to the test" as school attempt to climb league tables. Some schools cut subjects such as history, art and PE in the final year of primary school to drill pupils to pass, it is claimed. Under the proposed industrial action, teachers would refuse to administer, invigilate and mark Sats in English and maths next year. It would affect most exams taken by almost 600,000 pupils in England in May.

Last week, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, signalled a softening of his opposition to the scrapping of Sats. He said teacher assessments - when staff analyse pupils' work over the course of the final year without a formal test - would would be included alongside raw Sats results in league tables from 2010. He suggested the alternative system could eventually replace tests altogether. But unions have refused to call off the proposed boycott.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Every year teachers ask themselves why their schools have to go through this charade. There is only one answer to the annual, traditional hunt for ‘the worst school in the country’. Governments now and in the future have to drop their deeply engrained habit of naming and shaming schools as their principle method of school improvement."

Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, said: "Figures demonstrate exactly why it’s important that we have a strong school accountability system, based on externally validated results. "Tests in English and maths play a key role in giving parents the information they need on their child's level of attainment and progress after seven years of publically funded education.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, which opposes the industrial action, said: "I have no doubt that the results will once again show the steady and sustained year-on-year improvement schools consistently produce. "However, the tables will no doubt once again provoke the mind-numbing debate on Sats which will serve only to undermine the hard work and achievement of pupils and teachers."

Sats tests in science were scrapped earlier this year following a recommendation from the Government's expert group on testing.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Peaceful Islam Strikes Again: Muslim Grad Student Stabs Jewish Professor to Death

Of course, the mainstream news won't touch this one, either, but if it were a Jew killing a Muslim professor, they would. Or if it were a white guy killing a black professor, the world would learn all about it. Should we be upset with this Muslim? After all, he only did what his Holy Qu'ran instructs all Muslims to do!
Suspect identified in fatal stabbing of Binghamton University professor:

Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani has been charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Binghamton University Professor Richard T. Antoun.

Al-Zahrani was taken to the Broome County Jail at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, said Broome County Sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Carlson. He arraigned in Vestal Town Court Saturday morning. No bail was set. Al-Zahrani, of Main Street, Binghamton, was charged by Binghamton University Police.

Al-Zahrani was a cultural anthropology student working on his dissertation, according to the university Web site.


Judge: Parents bigots for opposing 'gay' lessons

Families grilled about religious beliefs, church sermons against homosexuality

A judge has attacked parents, suggesting they are bigots for seeking to opt-out their elementary-age children from a mandatory controversial pro-homosexual curriculum, according to a non-profit law firm. The parents were represented in California's Alameda Superior Court by Pacific Justice Institute. On Dec. 1, Judge Frank Roesch denied a motion to allow them to have their children excused from the lessons.

According to the group, Roesch blasted the parents for seeking enforcement of a provision of the California Education Code that gives parents a right to opt their kids out of health education. Education Code Section 51240 allows a parent to have a student excused from instruction, "If any part of a school's instruction in health conflicts with the religious training and beliefs of a parent or guardian of a pupil."

However, Pacific Justice Institute said Roesch repeatedly insinuated that the parents are bigots and insisted there can be no homosexual indoctrination because, he purportedly argued, people are born that way. In his opinion Roesch said the opt-out provision in section 51240 "is not reasonably construed to include instruction in family life education, but was intended to be more limited in scope."

Pacific Justice Institute reported, "The judge equated a view contrary to his own with creationism and called both false."

WND earlier reported when the district was accused of violating federal law for approving the mandatory homosexual curriculum for children as young as 5 – without allowing parents to opt out of the lessons.

The legal fight over Alameda's anti-bullying curriculum has intensified after the Alameda Board of Education voted to supplement its anti-bullying policy with "LGBT Lesson #9." The board approved the mandatory program May 26 by a vote of 3-2. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade are required to learn about "tolerance" for the homosexual lifestyle this year.

The curriculum is in addition to the school's current anti-bullying program and is estimated to cost $8,000 for curriculum and training. The school decided parents should not be given an opportunity to opt out of lessons that go against their religious beliefs, even though opponents of the program submitted a petition with 468 signatures of opponents of the homosexual lessons.

In kindergarten, children are introduced to "The New Girl … And Me" by Jacqui Robins. The book is about a young girl who is new at a school and strikes up a friendship with another girl after a popular boy refuses to play with her. In first grade, students read "Who is in a Family?" By Robert Skutch. It explores different types of families. One page states, " … Robin's family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad's partner, Henry, and Robin's cat, Sassy."

In a May 3, 2005, National Public Radio interview, Skutch said he wrote the book because his niece and her lesbian partner "decided to have a family." He explained, "The whole purpose of the book was to get the subject [of same-sex parents] out into the minds and the awareness of children before they are old enough to have been convinced that there's another way of looking at life. … It would be really nice if children were not subjected to the – I don't want to use the word 'bigotry,' but that's what I want to say anyway – of their parents and older people."

Second grade students read about two homosexual penguins that raise a young chick in the book "And Tango Makes Three" by J. Richardson and P. Parnell. 3rd grade students will watch 'That's a Family' film. The two male penguins, Roy and Silo, are described as being "a little bit different." "They didn't spend much time with the girl penguins, and the girl penguins didn't spend much time with them," the text states. When the male penguins nurture an egg, it soon hatches. "We'll call her Tango," it states, "because it takes two to make a Tango." The book declares, "Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies."

In the third grade, students watch a film called "That's a Family," featuring some homosexual couples in addition to traditional families. According to the lesson plan, it aims to "assist students in developing sensitivity to gay and lesbian family structures" and teach "respect and tolerance for every type of family."

Fourth graders are required to read an essay titled, "My School is Accepting – but Things Could be Better" by Robert, an 11-year-old who has two lesbian mothers. They are introduced to terms such as "ally," "gay," "lesbian" and "LGBT." Teachers are instructed to ask, "How do you think Robert feels when he hears people say things like, 'this is gay' or 'You're so gay'?"

By fifth grade, students learn to "identify stereotypes about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." They are told that "LGBT people have made important contributions within the United States and beyond."

Teachers are asked to write the acronym LGBT and ask students the meaning of each letter. Students discuss why stereotypes are "incorrect and hurtful" to LGBT people and people with LGBT family members. The curriculum also provides a list of LGBT vocabulary words for students, including the following: bisexual, transgender, gay, LGBT and lesbian.

According to Pacific Justice Institute, attorneys for the school district have grilled parents in depositions about their religious beliefs, asking numerous questions about church attendance, sermons they had heard against homosexuality and whether they were aware that the Bible had been used to defend racism and oppression. "We believe that this ruling against parents is inconsistent with the Education Code, and we are looking forward to continuing this battle until opt-out rights are restored on appeal, or the curriculum is changed," Pacific Justice Institute Chief Counsel Kevin Snider said in a statement.

While the parents say they do not oppose the anti-bullying efforts, they object to the current elementary curriculum that focuses almost exclusively on homosexuality.

Pacific Justice Institute argues that school records released by Alameda Unified School District show bullying based on race and gender is far more prevalent the district than sexual orientation harassment. "Most parents do not want their first through fifth graders bombarded with pro-homosexual messages at school," Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus said. "If LGBT advocates really want to stop name-calling and bullying, they should start with themselves."


"There's no such thing as right and wrong" bears fruit in Australian schools

Huge rise in assault, drugs at schools as students are taught that everything is relative

NEW South Wales principals have reported more than 500 cases of serious assaults, threats and drug use in public schools this year. More than 109 students were caught bringing firearms, knives and other weapons to school in the first two terms of this year - up 300 per cent compared to the same period five years ago. The 526 cases of serious offences were logged by the Education Department's school safety and response unit hotline, a 24-hour line offering support and advice for principals. The number of students reported with illegal drugs has risen sharply - from nine in 2005 to 60 this year. South Western Sydney and the NSW north coast were the worst offending regions and accounted for 38 per cent of all drug busts.

NSW Parents and Citizens' Federation spokeswoman Helen Walton said there were anecdotal reports of students bringing heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and the drug ice to school. "I think people are silly if they're blind to the fact that it does exist," she said. "It really does happen. It's not just a one-off as some people seem to think. Anybody who turns a blind eye and says it won't happen in our school is just leaving themselves open to be very disappointed."

Ms Walton said the department needed to conduct an on-going review of their programs to address the issue of drug use in schools. "The department needs to make sure the programs are aimed at preventing this violence. Let's make it on-going and let's make it based on the needs over a period of time."

The figures, released quietly on the department's website last month, reveal assaults on students and teachers continue to be a major issue. Schools in south-western and western Sydney recorded the highest number of assaults and threats. In an incident earlier this year, an argument between two teenage boys over a female that began on the Internet spilled over at school when one held a knife to the other's throat. In another case, a mother allegedly paid a student to harm a Year Three boy who had been bullying her son. She also made threats towards the principal of the school.

The statistics don't include the death in August of 15-year-old Jai Morcom at Mullumbimby High School during a brawl over the right to sit at a playground lunch table.

Despite more than four in five schools not recording any serious incidents, 52 filed at least three cases of criminal behaviour. NSW Public School Principals Forum chair Cheryl McBride denied there has been a significant spike in school violence. She said only an "incredibly small percentage" of students were at fault, considering more than 735,000 students attended public schools. "Does this 109 number signal a great concern for us as school principals? No, because it's such an infinitesimal part of the population," Ms McBride said.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Texas education head warns of 'federal takeover'

Embrace of 'common standards' by Obama administration is first step to losing local control, Scott says

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said Wednesday that the Obama administration is marching toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools — and Texas should fight it. The first step, he said, is an effort to develop common math and English curriculum standards that is being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Participation in the ongoing common standards effort is part of the criteria for a $4 billion federal grant program called Race to the Top. Texas and Alaska are the only states not participating in the common standards effort. Scott said Texas is already ahead of the other states in developing tough standards.

The U.S. Education Department appears to be "placing its desire for a federal takeover of public education above the interests of the 4.7 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas by setting two different starting lines — one for nearly every other state in the country and one for Texas," Scott wrote last week in a letter to the state's congressional delegation. "Because Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools," said Scott, "the state is now placed at a serious disadvantage in competing for its share of (the grant money)." That is coercion, Scott said in an interview Wednesday, adding that he could see future federal education dollars being tied to participation in the common standards.

Coercion, no; bribery, yes, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington. "They are bribing states to participate. That is very different than mandating," said Petrilli, a former education official under President George W. Bush. He said there has been no discussion of requiring states to participate to get future federal dollars. "I can't foresee that happening. I don't think anybody would support making this mandatory," Petrilli said.

But the Race to the Top is a discretionary, competitive grant program, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made the common standards a key — though not defining — part of it. "This is not money that is earmarked for Texas," Petrilli said.

Texas still has a chance to win as much as $700 million because the state has a pretty good school reform story to tell and is otherwise well aligned with the federal government's goals in this grant program, Petrilli said.

Scott's letter to the delegation was sent a day after Gov. Rick Perry issued a news release decrying the inclusion of the common standards criteria in the grant competition. Perry is embroiled in a Republican primary battle with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and has cast her as a Washington insider.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said Texas' refusal to work with the other states on the common standards initiative does a disservice to the state's students. "Other states want to race to the top, but Gov. Perry remains determined to pursue an ideologically driven race to the bottom," Doggett said.


One in five Scots unable to read and write

This would once have been unimaginable in education-mad Scotland

Almost one million Scots are unable to read and write properly, according to an influential group of educationalists who have called for an overhaul of the country’s approach to literacy.

According to the Literacy Commission — which also includes business leaders and the novelist Ian Rankin — about a fifth of adults do not have the literacy skills they need for their daily lives. The group has also warned that about 13,000 pupils leave primary school every year without reaching even basic levels.

The commission has set out a plan to improve standards and achieve the aim of making Scotland the first fully literate country. It believes deprivation is the biggest barrier to this and wants help to begin before children start school.

Under its proposals, primary school pupils will learn to read by the synthetic phonics method, which involves learning the sounds that make up words, rather than recognising individual words. Teachers will be trained to identify slow learners, who can then be put through diagnostic testing and given one-to-one support.


The business of education reform in Britain

Reform’s latest report, Core Business, does an excellent job of pinpointing some of the main problems with education in the UK, but, to my mind, does not go quite far enough on the solutions.

As the report makes clear, low expectations, a lack of intellectual rigor and grade inflation are serious problems in our schools, while the fact that the most disadvantaged children are pushed to follow non-academic qualifications to boost school league table results is nothing less than a disgrace. A powerful and convincing case is also made that government policies of emphasizing differences in educational potential of children is in fact a symptom of the failure of state education.

On the policy side, there are two recommendations. Firstly, it is suggested that, “all students should be required to study a minimum of five academic GCSEs”, while vocational qualifications would be done in addition to, not instead of GCSEs. Yet on its own, this change would offer little for the thousands of children let down by state education. The problem isn’t vocational qualifications per se – just consider the Indian examples of NIIT and GNIIT – but rather the fact that the state holds a debilitating monopoly on education funding and delivery. It might well make the skewed league tables more accurate to ignore vocational qualifications, but as competition between schools is nonexistent, this will not return power to parents in any genuine sense. What we need is for parents to become consumers of education – something which Reform, to their credit, have pointed out in numerous other reports.

Secondly, the report recommends ending Ofqual’s and the QCDA’s control of the curriculum. This makes sense, but replacing them with another Quango run by academics is a Band-Aid solution to a much wider problem. It may prevent grade inflation, but will do little for improving the quality of teaching. Once again, I feel the focus should be on more competition, not just ‘better regulation’.

If the Conservative Party does come to power, they will have a mandate for radical reform of the education system. The failure of state education as things stand is beyond doubt. With a voucher system that allows schools to profit, competing curriculums to better meet the demands of parents and a bonfire of the multifarious regulations, Michael Gove MP could succeed where so many before him have failed. A proper market place with competing brands of schools, teaching methods, exam boards and curriculums is the only way to extract ourselves from the hole we have been digging since 1870.