Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Democrats And Competition (Or Not)

Democrats claim to love the [healthcare] public option because the competition it would provide would keep the otherwise dishonest insurance companies honest. As President Obama said in Green Bay last June, “if the private insurance companies have to compete with a public option, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down.” And as, an organization known far and wide for its love of unfettered competition, asserted in a video supporting the public option, “competition is as American as apple pie.”

It’s no wonder, then, that Democrats are such avid supporter of modest school voucher programs, since the competition they provide helps to keep the massive public school near-monopoly more honest.

Oh, wait. I was dreaming and just woke up. What I should have said is that it would be no wonder if Democrats, because of their professed love of competition with powerful entrenched interests, supported modest school voucher programs. They don’t, of course.

Neal Boortz nails them. He points out that critics of voucher usually rationalize their position by arguing that they take money away from the public schools, but that is not the case in the District of Columbia.
They can't use this argument here because the DC voucher system is funded by the federal government. The actual result is that the DC schools have even more money per student after the voucher students bail.

Well ... it didn't seem to matter that the teacher's unions had no real argument against the DC voucher program. We all know what the true argument was. The teacher's union is scared to death that the private schools are going to make them look bad. Competition is poison to teacher's unions. So the voucher system had to be killed.

And guess who just killed it.
None other than Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Remember that $1.1 trillion dollar spending program passed over the weekend? Durban had a very quiet little amendment hiding in that bill. The amendment killed all funding for the DC voucher program. Durbin's Christmas gift for teacher's unions.

But why should anyone be surprised that Democrats, who claim to be principled supporters of competition here, oppose it there? They also claim, after all, to be principled supporters of racial equality even though they vociferously defend the state treating people differently because of their race. Acting differently would require, among other things, principle and consistency.


Obama's Safe Schools Czar Tied to Lewd Readings for 7th Graders

President Obama's "Safe Schools Czar," already a target of social conservatives for his past drug abuse and what they say is his promotion of homosexuality in schools, is under fresh attack after it was revealed that the pro-gay group he formerly headed recommends books his critics say are pornographic.

The group under fire is the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which Kevin Jennings, now the assistant deputy secretary for safe and drug-free schools in the Department of Education, founded and ran from 1990 to 2008. GLSEN says it works to create a welcoming atmosphere for homosexual students in schools, and that effort includes recommending books for students of all ages.

But critics say many of the books, particularly some that are targeted for children between Grades 7 to 12, are inappropriately explicit. A full list is available at the blog Gateway Pundit, which has published dozens of controversial passages from the books.

One recommended book is titled "Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade." On pages 43 through 45, writer Justin Chin tells of how as a 13-year-old, he went along with "near-rapes" by older men, but "really did enjoy those sexual encounters." Chin also recounts each sexual action he performed with an "ugly f*** of a man" he met on a bus.

In another book, "Passages of Pride," the author writes about a 15-year-old boy's relationship with a much older man: "Near the end of summer, just before starting his sophomore year in high school, Dan picked up a weekly Twin Cities newspaper. Scanning the classifieds, he came upon an ad for a "Man-2-Man" massage. Home alone one day, he called the telephone number listed in the ad and set up an appointment to meet a man named Tom.... Even though Tom was older, almost twice Dan's age, Dan felt unthreatened by him. Dan admits Tom was a 'troll' in every sense of the word -- an older closeted gay man seeking sex with a man much younger. But Dan says he was not intimidated by the discrepancy in their ages. 'He kind of had me in a corner in that he knew I didn't have access to anything I wanted.' says Dan. 'But everything was consensual.'"

On Page 13 of a third book, "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," the author recounts his sexual encounters in first grade: "By first grade I was sexually active with many friends. In fact, a small group of us regularly met in the grammar school lavatory to perform fellatio on one another. A typical week's schedule would be Aaron and Michael on Monday during lunch; Michael and Johnny on Tuesday after school; Fred and Timmy at noon Wednesday; Aaron and Timmy after school on Thursday. None of us ever got caught, but we never worried about it anyway."

"Reflections of a Rock Lobster" was recommended in 1995, the year Jennings became GLSEN's first executive director; "Passages of Pride" made the list in 1997 and "Queer 13" in 1999. Those are just three out of over 100 books that GLSEN has recommended for students in grades 7-12 since 1990, and all three remain on GLSEN's recommended reading list.

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, says the content of the books is shocking, and it raises concerns about Jennings' judgment. "The graphic sexual content of these books is so extreme that I think any average parent or citizen, regardless of how they feel about homosexuality, would be shocked at these books being recommended to young people," Sprigg said.

GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard defended her group's recommendations, telling in a written statement: "Some of the books that might be used with young adult audiences contain mature content, as is true of many memoirs and works of literature. Because of the presence of mature content in some of the works, GLSEN provides very clear guidelines throughout, recommending that adults review each book to make sure the book is suitable."

Those guidelines, listed on each book recommendation page, read: "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability."

But critics say the guidelines themselves are damning, because they confirm that GLSEN staff have checked the books for appropriateness. And Jennings, they point out, was in charge at the time. "It's like Jennings just doesn't realize he's working with kids here.... You need a totally different set of rules when you're working with kids," said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

LaBarbera said the books should be seen in light of other recent controversies surrounding Jennings. In September it came out that, when he was a teacher in Massachusetts, Jennings did not report an incident in which a 16-year-old boy told him that he was having sexual relations with an older man he met in a bus station bathroom. After that, 53 Republican members of the House publicly called for Jennings to be dismissed....

Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton declined to comment about Jennings' role in recommending the books. But critics say Jennings, as GLSEN's first full-time employee and first executive director, must be held responsible. "He was at GLSEN from the beginning and was in charge during the time when these books were approved," said Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College.

McEwen said that the attacks on Jennings and GLSEN were motivated largely by homophobia. "There are a lot of heterosexual books that are just as explicit. In the first page of 'The Color Purple' [a 1982 novel that has caused controversy when assigned in schools], the character talks about being raped in graphic terms... what's in [GLSEN's] books is no different from what's in The Color Purple."

But Sprigg disagrees that books like "The Color Purple" are comparable to those recommended by GLSEN. "We are not talking about 'The Great Gatsby' or 'The Grapes of Wrath' here," he said. "A lot of people who have only read the news and opinion pieces on this story, without reading the actual excerpts, may think that we are talking about the kind of sexual content that might, in a film, earn a PG-13 or R rating. We are not.

"This is material that, if portrayed visually, would be a triple-X hard-core porn film, and quite possibly meet the legal definition of obscenity. In fact, I think the homosexual content is the only thing preventing the outcry from being even greater, because some people fear being labeled as 'anti-gay.' If the content were heterosexual in nature, there would be no one defending it at all."


Teachers should stop labelling children as dyslexic, say British politicians

The term does seem to be overused but that is surely an argument for using it more precisely. Throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Schools should stop labelling children 'dyslexic' because the condition cannot be distinguished from other reading difficulties, an all-party group of MPs will declare today. The Government's definition of dyslexia is too broad to be meaningful, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Schools should target extra help at all children struggling with reading and not just those diagnosed with dyslexia, it added.

The MPs recommended that dyslexia teachers should be renamed 'literacy difficulty' teachers. In their hard-hitting report, they said ministers had bowed to a powerful dyslexia lobby and framed many of their policies around the condition rather than considering the full range of reading difficulties. 'There are a range of reasons why people may struggle to learn to read and the Government's focus on dyslexia risks obscuring the broader problem,' the report said. It is 'not useful from an educational point of view' to try to differentiate between youngsters with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, it added.

Committee member Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said: 'We came to the conclusion the definition of dyslexia was so wide as to be meaningless.' Around one in ten children - more than a million - are now diagnosed with dyslexia, compared with barely any two decades ago. The condition is often used to win up to 25 per cent extra time in GCSEs and A-levels. Critics are now arguing that extra time in exams should be conditional on a clear description of the candidate's problems rather than a diagnostic label.

In its report, the Labour-dominated committee said there was 'no convincing evidence' that treating dyslexia differently to other reading problems made any difference to children's progress. The report said: 'That is because the techniques to teach a child diagnosed with dyslexia to read are exactly the same as the techniques used to teach any other struggling reader. 'There is a further danger that an overemphasis on dyslexia may disadvantage other children with profound reading difficulties.'

It said the Government's favoured definition of dyslexia was 'exceedingly broad' and 'a continuum with no clear cut-off points'. 'The definition is so broad and blurred at the edges that it is difficult to see how it could be useful in any diagnostic sense,' the report said.

The committee heard evidence from Professor Julian Elliott, of Durham University, who argued that attempts to distinguish between dyslexia and other categories of poor reader were 'scientifically unsupportable and arbitrary'.

In further findings, the committee warned that a flagship Government reading scheme, Reading Recovery, was relying too heavily on discredited teaching methods which encourage struggling readers to guess at words. It had not fully embraced the back-to-basics 'synthetic phonics' method of teaching children to read, which encourages them to learn the sounds of the alphabet and blend them together.

Ministers had extended the programme nationally despite only low quality evidence it worked, they said. No 'randomised controlled trials' had been carried out even though they are the 'gold standard' of research. The report said: 'Wikipedia is more thorough and informative than the Government's guidelines on randomised controlled trials.'


Friday, December 18, 2009

New York is broke

And teachers won't accept it

The New York State United Teachers union, the state School Boards Association, the Council of School Superintendents and the School Administrators Association claim that the governor is acting illegally and unconstitutionally in holding back funds the Legislature allocated.

"This is a terrible day in New York's history. For ... this coalition to stand back and watch the governor take the money that was allocated by the state Legislature for schools, for programs, for children and pull it back is really a terrible thing for us to have witnessed," said Alan Lubin, NYSUT's executive vice president.

Paterson announced Sunday that he is holding back a total of $750 million in state aid to schools, local governments and other agencies because the state doesn't have enough money to pay all its bills.

The school-aid reduction totals $146 million, a cut of about 10 percent. The state is withholding $436 million in reimbursements to districts for money they didn't receive because of the state's school tax-relief program (STAR) that gives homeowners exemptions. The $436 million is a 19 percent cut.

The lawsuit contends that the governor is violating the "separation of powers" doctrine in the state Constitution and the constitutional guarantee of a "sound, basic education" for students. The Legislature approved the school funding, and lawmakers refused early this month to make mid-year education cuts to reduce the state's budget deficit, something Paterson had proposed.

Paterson described the lawsuit as a "desperate attempt by special interests to put their needs above the needs of all the people in the state of New York." Other funding that has been delayed includes Aid to Municipalities and payments to human-service programs and insurance carriers.

"Today's group of plaintiffs have added their names to the list of those who have stuck their heads in the sand and don't want to realize that the state is in as poor financial condition as it is," he told reporters Wednesday afternoon.


Hawaii is broke

And teachers won't accept it

Negotiations meant to restore school on furlough Fridays ended abruptly today. This puts into limbo whether any furlough days will be turned back into school days, this as the semester is about to end and parents wonder what's next. What seemed like progress one day quickly turned around the next -- with negotiations broken off after just about an hour Wednesday morning. "The state side went into a caucus, and we were excused,” said Wil Okabe from HSTA.

The governor's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, said in a statement, “"HSTA has failed to seize this opportunity to solve the furlough Friday issue, “ and continued saying, "at this point, the ability to resolve the furlough situation rests squarely on the shoulders of the HSTA leadership.

“Fifty million dollars cannot restore 27 furlough days. There must be an agreement to compromise, and so from this state administration there is no compromise whatsoever,” said Dwight Takeno of HSTA.

"It's sort of like everybody's blaming everybody, but I don't know whose fault it is, and I know the parents are upset because the children are losing out,” said Geri Sakai, a retired teacher and grandmother.

One major issue is whether teachers would have to give up planning time to create more school days. The administration said the union said they'd have to find planning time elsewhere by restricting teachers from after school volunteering on events like prom or clubs, and even proposing teachers not supervise at playground time. "They have other units in the security, we have vice principals and principals would be able to supervise those activities,” said Okabe.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education says it will keep talks going with the union with dates planned for next week. Parents and kids head to the last day of the semester on Thursday, not knowing what will happen when they come back next year. The union says the $50 million the governor had put on the table would cover furlough days from January through May. They say it would cost about $125 million to cover the full 27 days between January and all of the following school year.


British faith school admissions in doubt after ruling

The power of faith schools to select pupils along religious lines has been thrown into doubt following a controversial Supreme Court ruling. All Jewish schools in England are already being forced to rewrite admissions rules after the court upheld an earlier judgment that a school in north London racially discriminated against a boy. He was rejected from JFS – formerly the Jews’ Free School, in Brent – because his mother was not born Jewish.

It is thought the ruling will force most of the 38 state and 60 private Jewish schools to tear up their entry policies as admissions were not based solely on the child’s faith. The court said this amounted to racial discrimination.

But lawyers acting for Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, warned that the judgment “potentially impacts on other schools that give preference to members of particular faiths” because religion was “closely related” to ethnic origin. In some areas, Christian schools may be “largely or exclusively white”, the Government said in a submission to an earlier court hearing. “If membership of a religion in that area is regarded as ‘closely related’ to one ethnic group rather than another, it may be that admissions arrangements will fall within the ambit of the… decision,” the document said.

Mr Balls insisted that action could be taken to allow England’s 7,000 Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish schools to continue selecting along religious lines. He said: "We are going to need to look carefully at the implications of this, and all faith organisations will as well. We must make sure that the role of faith schools is properly protected in our state education system. Any further steps which have to be taken should only be taken once we have studied the judgment."

The school went to the Supreme Court after three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled in June that the admissions rules were unfair. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court failed to overturn the decision. Lord Rodger – one of nine Justices who heard the case – said the decision meant “that there can in future be no Jewish faith schools which give preference to children because they are Jewish according to Jewish religious law and belief.”

“Jewish schools will be forced to apply a concocted test for deciding who is to be admitted [that] has no basis whatsoever in 3,500 years of Jewish law and teaching,” he said. “The… decision leads to such extraordinary results, and produces such manifest discrimination against Jewish schools in comparison with other faith schools, that one can’t help feeling that something has gone wrong.”

After the hearing, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was “extremely disappointed by this decision”. It said it would lobby for a law change to allow Jewish schools to apply admissions rules based on the faith of children’s parents, which was a “fundamental right for our community”.

But the move was welcomed by groups opposed to faith schools. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of Accord, which lobbies for a major overhaul of faith schools entry requirements, said: "We hope this ruling will serve as a wake-up call to faith schools by showing that religious admissions rules must conform to the law of the land, though we will continue urging for all faith schools to stop discriminatory policies entirely. Taxpayer funded faith schools should serve not just themselves but also the community around them.”

A boy - named only as M – was rejected because his mother was not born a Jew. She converted to the faith but this was not recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi. It is a basic principle that a child is not recognised by the OCR and other bodies as Jewish unless his or her mother is Jewish. JFS argued that its admissions policy giving preference to Jewish children when the school was oversubscribed was lawful because it was based on religious and not racial criteria.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

More British parents 'educating children at home'

Growing numbers of parents are shunning state schools to educate their children at home

Up to 150,000 children are taught outside mainstream schools and numbers are "believed to be growing steadily", said the Commons schools select committee. In a report published on Wednesday, it was suggested the trend was driven by parents’ failure to get sons and daughters into their preferred school, coupled with the impact of testing and a perceived rise in bullying.

MPs said there was also growing evidence that some children were being effectively forced out of school by head teachers and local councils. Parents were "coerced to deregister" children from school because of problems with their examination results, attendance or behaviour, said the report.

The findings will raise fresh fears that schools are prioritising their reputation and league table position over the needs of individual children. It came as the select committee criticised new rules designed to crackdown on parents who educate their children at home.

Earlier this year, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, announced plans to force all families with children taught at home to register sons and daughters with local councils for the first time. They must also submit lesson plans every 12 months. Under proposals, authorities can “inspect” parents’ homes and order children back into school if education standards are not high enough. The move followed claims in a study by Graham Badman, former head of education at Kent Council, that home education could be a front for abuse.

In the least report, the select committee said these claims were built on a “less than robust evidence base”. MPs welcomed some of the measures to improve home education but insisted many of the recommendations went too far. It suggested the registration scheme should be voluntary and education officials lacked the training and expertise to support families. MPs also demanded the introduction of a more precise definition of what constituted a “suitable” education.

The study said that – despite the action – more parents were choosing to educate children in their own home. “The lower estimate is 45,000 – higher estimates are 80,000 and 150,000,” the study said. This represents up to two per cent of the 7,300,000 schoolchildren in England, it was disclosed.

MPs said that a “common motivation” for pulling children out mainstream education was the “nature of schooling, including the impact of testing on children and children’s learning”. Children with special needs were often educated at home because local authorities had failed to cater for them in normal schools, it was claimed.

The report added: “There were also references to instances where children had been so badly bullied and traumatised by their time at school that they did not feel able to return to a school environment. “The comments of some of the local authority officers with whom we met as part of our inquiry suggested that the failure to obtain a place for the child at the family’s preferred school was another reason for a family to choose to home educate.”

In some cases, local councils and schools "coerced" parents into pulling children out of mainstream education, MPs said. "Local authorities and schools encourage parents to deregister their child from school it is typically as a result of a child’s poor school attendance, poor behaviour and/or poor attainment," the report said. "That schools are held accountable on all three is no doubt part of the explanation for this practice."


Australian universities bribed to accept unqualified students

Fixing the High Schools is the real solution to helping the poor but spending the taxpayers' money is so much easier

UNIVERSITIES are likely to have a significant financial incentive to enrol poor students as the federal government's loading for low-socioeconomic status students increases to about $1500 a student by 2012. While the initial loading set for next year of about $540 a student doesn't cover the costs of successfully teaching non-traditional students, who are generally less prepared for university study, it is five times the present rate of low-SES loading.

The loading, which is sourced from a fixed four-year bucket of money, is dependent on the number of students in any year. It is forecast to be about $1033 in 2011 and $1434 in 2013. The HES has seen internal cost estimates from one university suggesting the extra cost of low-SES students is in the region of $1100 to $1200 a student. About $42 million will be available for the loading next year, rising to $84m in 2011 and about $126m in both 2012 and 2013.

"The low-SES student loading is generous and, combined with proposed additional funding for the progress and retention of these students, will ensure that educational equity becomes more than a discretionary policy," said Deakin University's manager of student access and equity Jennifer Oriel. "It is an incentive to give these students the red carpet treatment," Richard James, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, told the HES.

Professor James said the loading would allow universities to invest in extra student support and new curriculum in the first year to better cater for these students and encourage their retention. He said the initial loading was modest but at the higher rates it would be "a serious financial incentive for universities".

The government signalled that in identifying low-SES students next year it may use Centrelink data on student income support to supplement its reliance on ranking post codes. Such a combined measure would apply in the interim while more accurate measures were developed. These could take into account parental education and may utilise a smaller geographic indicator than post codes such as census collection districts, which comprise about 250 households.

The government has released a discussion paper on measures. Submissions are due by February 5.

The government has allocated $433m during the four years to June 30, 2013, towards raising the participation at university of students from the poorest 25 per cent of society, from about 15 per cent of the student body now to at least 20 per cent by 2020. That is about a further 55,000 low-SES students.

About $325m will be allocated as a loading for low-SES enrolments and $108m will fund partnerships between universities, schools and vocational providers to boost aspirations and pathways to university for low-SES students. About $14m of partnership money will be available to the sector next year and will be divided equally among the 38 universities. From 2011 the money will be allocated as grants to individual proposals and projects as approved by the government.

Successful applications will be judged on a series of principles. Among them are that the proposals include mechanisms to measure results and, where appropriate, that they address early intervention, defined as beginning before year 9.


Australian principals seek to hire and fire

SCHOOL principals are calling for the power to hire and fire teachers and manage their schools if they are to be held accountable for student results with the publication of national performance reports next month. With the launch on January 28 of the myschool website, on which student results for every school in the nation will be publicly available for the first time, principals are worried they will be held responsible for their school's performance while many are denied the power to effect changes necessary for improvement.

The presidents of the primary and secondary school principal associations, Leonie Trimper and Andrew Blair, argue that international research shows a direct correlation between a principal's ability to select staff and school results.

Education Minister Julia Gillard agrees that principals should be given more control over the running of their school, and says comparison of school results in January will provide evidence on the effectiveness of different management practices. The issue was raised at a principals forum last month hosted by Ms Gillard, where Adelaide high school principal Wendy Johnson questioned the validity of school comparisons on the website. Myschool attempts to compare schools considered alike in their students' social makeup.

Ms Johnson said a group of similar schools could include very different management practices, and compare a school where a principal was able to hire teachers with another where a principal had to accept the teacher sent to them from the education department.

Ms Johnson, principal of Glenunga International High School, yesterday said that international research showed the key to making a difference in student learning was the quality of a teacher, which could account for up to 30-40 per cent of student results. "If you have teachers who want to be working with these students and want to be working in that particular school with its particular emphasis, its particular directions and its particular culture, you have enormous advantage over a situation where a teacher might be not bothered or the match between the school culture and their beliefs doesn't sit well," she said. "If you have no control over it, it's really difficult to hold you accountable. Every principal is committed to making an improvement in student outcomes -- that's why we went into teaching in the first place -- but if you don't have the material to make a difference it makes it really difficult to deliver."

State education departments give their schools varying degrees of autonomy, with Victorian principals having the most control and NSW considered to have the most centralised system. Western Australia is relaxing its control in some schools next year, with the introduction of 30 "independent public schools", allowing principals and parents greater control over their school including hiring teachers.

Mr Blair, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, said principal autonomy was a necessary precondition for school improvement. He queried the validity of comparing schools with different principal powers, asking how accountable a principal was for the results of teachers that were sent to the school.

Ms Trimper, president of the Primary Principals Association, said matching the needs of the school and its students with the expertise and skills of the teacher would improve the system. "Name any company that sits back for Centrelink to ring and say, `Here's your 10 staff'," she said. "It just doesn't happen."

Ms Gillard said there were differing views among school principals about the nature of school management and leadership, but the federal government was encouraging greater empowerment of principals through its national partnerships on disadvantaged schools and teacher quality. The Education Minister believed devolving power to local schools and principals could make a difference to students' results. "But the more weight we put on the shoulders of school leaders, the greater the obligation we have to support and nurture school leadership," Ms Gillard said.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

California’s education gets an insufficient funds notification

What will it take for Californians to stand-up and realize our state, the 8th largest economy in the world, is run by complete incompetents? When will our citizens recognize that the state bureaucrats we entrust to run our school system are flunking?

Our once proud public education system used to be first in the nation. Over the last 40 years it has dropped to 47th. I am not going to debate the reasons for the onerous plunge here. As someone who has seen the bowels of education, I have my theories and devoted one of the largest chapters of my book to the topic.

As the trustees of the San Diego Unified School District and other state school districts mull enormous cuts to close Sacramento’s insufficient education funds, one must ask if cutting employee pay is the answer. Perhaps. Is cutting the education bureaucracy in Sacramento which bleeds the state education budget for 55 percent of the total education revenues the answer? Perhaps. Is cutting all extraneous programs unrelated to a good education an answer? Perhaps.

I submit our California’s public schools need to suspend all extracurricular programs, including athletics and, music and arts. Transportation needs to be completely axed from every school district budget, and parents needs to find alternatives to getting their children to school. I rode public transportation to high school in Los Angeles until I turned 16 and obtained my driver’s license.

California is in financial ruin, and without a federal bailout, massive changes to employee pension plans, or enormous cuts to the bureaucracy, the state most assuredly faces bankruptcy – or some form thereof.

At present, many education unions are still fighting to squeeze more pay for teachers and classified employees, precisely the charter of unions. They represent their union membership and it is their responsibility to get every penny they can for their members.

Who represents the union of 40 million citizens of our state? Our elected officials certainly have shown their proclivities to every nonsensical and extraneous program that has siphoned the coiffeurs dry. They negotiated overly generous pensions for state employees that are causing a substantial portion of the pain. State government employees now make more than their private sector counterparts, a dramatic reversal from 20 years ago.

In response, let’s reward substandard performance by cutting everything outside of the classroom and concentrating on what our children are supposed to be doing in school in the first place – getting an education.

We also need to abandon P.E. and just let students play on the playgrounds – just give them a few balls to play with. Eliminate all after school programs. Draconian cuts on a scale never seen before are needed in education.

I am being extreme for a reason. The public, en masse, does not realize the situation in Sacramento is dire. The generations of incompetents who have been running our state, governors and legislators alike from both parties, knew this was coming and buried their heads in the sands of Death Valley.

I love sports at all levels, including high school. My two children start high school next year and both hope to make athletic teams. The last thing I want is the elimination of our youth sports programs. But if these proposed cuts become the impetus that compel Californians to act, I would support such action.

Our once beautiful state is in decay, with seemingly no end in site. A state where over one in eight is now unemployed (12.5 percent) – the equivalent of the total population of the County of San Diego – out of work. We have water rationing in Southern California and for the farmers in the San Joaquin Dust Bowl – due to environmental restrictions caused by an endangered fish. We had electrical shortages just a few years ago, whereas 30 years ago we exported energy from our excess capacity. Our roads are congested beyond belief, and our infrastructure is crumbling. These are all issues our legislators have known about for many years.

Do my solutions sound absurd? They do to me as I type this commentary. However, the absurd should be in the realm of possibilities since we have allowed the state government to operate in absurd mode for three decades.

Our state taxes in every category are in the top one to three in the nation. The state has issued IOUs. Now, the state is attempting to take an additional 10 percent in withholding from our paychecks as a “loan”. I am sorry, but I do not want to loan the state money. They are pulling every financial rabbit out of the hat instead of dealing with the harsh realities of making massive cuts to the bureaucracy.

We have some extremely difficult decisions to make right now, and our elected officials are afraid of making the tough choices as they do not want to jeopardize their chances for reelection and their power-grip over each of us.

We the sheeple can continue to entrust our leaders, or throw each incumbent out of office. We need to act to stop the ridiculous policies, force the government to pursue standards of fiscal responsibility, and restore our state to the envy of the nation that it once was. Or, we can continue to get that insufficient funds notification when we try to make a withdrawal from the state’s ATM.


Israel's educational system has been in trouble for a long time

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel's educational system has been in trouble for a long time. He told a conference organized by the newspaper Globes in Tel Aviv that it would be possible to improve education with additional budgets, but that can only occur when there is economic growth.

"It is important to provide every student the ability to achieve [his potential]," Netanyahu said, speaking of the need to provide all students, regardless of their background, the necessary tools for educational development. He spoke of the need to include various populations - such as Haredim, Arabs and Druze - within the educational system.

"The managerial problem [for schools] is no less critical. It is possible to invest a lot of money and still not succeed," the prime minister said. "The proper mix of budget, management and technology is the key to educational progress."

"There is a clear relationship between investment in education and Israel's success," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar told the conference. "The country's future is in its human capital. This is clear from the recent achievements we have seen in science, which are the result of past investments in education."

However, Sa'ar said the OECD's recent report, Education at a Glance, "reflects a sorry picture at every stage of Israeli education. The investment in every one of these stages is significantly less than the average in OECD nations. For example, it turns out that Israeli teachers earn about 40 percent of the international average salary." "We must continue to expand the process of raising teachers' pay," he added. "Rebuilding the ethos of teaching needs to be the top priority."

The principal of the Gymnasia Herzliya high school in Tel Aviv, Dr. Zeev Degani, said yesterday in response: "There are many examples of schools whose students have reached high levels of achievement, despite heavy criticism against their principals. The difficult and more fundamental problem is that nothing in the educational system is tested in depth over the long term. Education ministers change every few years - and with them the reforms, plans and agendas also change."


A Leftist government cuts the bureaucracy to spend more on teachers!

Sadly, it is only in faraway Tasmania (population 500,000) but it shows what is possible

Tasmania's special schools have received a funding boost. The Tasmanian Government is investing an extra $930,000 a year to provide 10 new teachers. Tasmania has three main special schools catering for about 150 students with disabilities.

The Premier and Education Minister, David Bartlett, says the extra money has been cut from bureaucracy and re-invested in front-line services. "[Thereby] ensuring that parents who choose special schools over inclusion in regular schools have a fantastic level of to provide more in the way of art, in music, in PE, for special needs students," he said.

Mr Bartlett today toured the new southern campus for children with disabilities. The revamped Hazelwood school on Hobart's eastern shore will open next year but the cost has blown out from $3 million $4.6 million. Mr Bartlett is not concerned, saying he made a promise to parents. "We wouldn't be penny-pinching or cutting corners. It has cost a bit extra," he said.

Leanne Wright, from the Education Union, says it has taken almost two years to address a funding shortfall. "I presume part of that would be because of the Global Financial Crisis," she said.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Detroit parents want DPS teachers, officials jailed over low test scores

This is a logical consequence of the refusal to acknowledge inborn racial differences. As Detroit completes the transition to a wholly black city, with black teachers and black students, the achievements of its children must fall

Impassioned parents demanded jail time for educators and district officials Saturday following the release of test scores that showed fourth- and eighth-graders had the worst math scores in the nation. City students took the National Assessment of Educational Progress test this year, and 69 percent of fourth-graders scored below the basic level in math and 77 percent of eighth-graders scored below basic. The Detroit scores on the progress test were the lowest in its 40-year history. The sample of students included 900 of Detroit's 6,000 fourth-graders and 1,000 of the district's 6,000 eighth-graders.

Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, called for jailing and civil lawsuits against anyone in the city's educational system that is not doing his or her share to help properly educate children. "Somebody needs to go to jail," she said in a tearful address to 500 parents gathered Saturday for the organization's annual breakfast forum. "Somebody needs to pay for this. Somebody needs to go to jail, and it shouldn't be the kids."

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb told the crowd the test scores weren't the result of children who were incompetent or parents who didn't care. He blamed the scores on the district not doing its job. "This is an abysmal failure," Bobb said. "It is not the fault of our kids individually, and it is not the fault of our kids collectively. It is not the kids' fault. It is the adults' fault. It is a failure of leadership."

The scores were so low that DPS parent Tonya Allen said she thinks students could have stayed home and done just as badly on the tests. "No other city in the history of this test has done this bad," said Allen, a founding member of the 7-year-old network. "They could have took this test in French and done just as bad."

Celia Huerta, also a DPS parent, said the scores show how much work is needed in the schools. "I am hoping and praying there will be investments in the schools, but I am not seeing it," she said. "Our kids are smart, the problem is the way they are being taught."

Bobb said he is going to announce a new reading initiative Monday in which he will be calling for 100,000 volunteer hours to help children with reading. Reading was one of the reasons cited for the low math scores. Attendees gave Bobb a rousing reception and loudly applauded him during his remarks. They had harsh words, though, for Mayor Dave Bing, who was not in attendance. "Where is the mayor?" Buckman asked. "Don't release a statement. Do something. Show up."

But according to the mayor's office, Bing did not receive an invitation to the event. Mayoral spokesman Edward Cardenas said Bing not being there shouldn't be construed as the mayor not having an interest or not wanting to be involved.

Buckman also had harsh words for a group of teachers who are in favor of striking instead of approving a new contract that forces them to give up $500 per month or $250 per paycheck as an investment. The money will be given to the district to help plug a $219 million deficit, and it will be returned when they retire. "If they strike, I hope we start a homeschool movement," she said in a fiery rebuke. "If you want to walk out on us now, when we have all of our kids can't do it."

A group of teachers was to prepare Saturday evening to get out the word to vote against the proposed contract and seek to remove Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson. The Vote No and Prepare to Strike Committee, made up of a limited number of teacher activists, is prepared to take action against the district, according to a release.

But Bobb said teachers should understand that Johnson negotiated a better financial deal for members than Johnson is being credited for. "I proposed a 10 percent pay cut," Bobb said. "Mr. Johnson and his team are actually saving the teachers financially from what I was proposing. The negotiations are over. Our final and best offer is on the table." Teachers begin voting on a three-year contract next week.


Politics dominate Calif education reform effort

To education reformers, a $4.3 billion school funding competition from the Obama administration seemed like just the push California needed to start making long overdue changes to restore academic luster to the state's public schools.

But the drive to dramatically turn around a faltering system that serves more than 6 million children has run into political reality in a Legislature dominated by special interests. The result could leave the state with the nation's largest public school system ill-positioned to compete for the so-called Race to the Top funds. Officials estimate California stands to gain up to $700 million.

Lawmakers meeting in a special session on education called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are considering competing Democratic bills. Both are intended to clear the way for California's federal application and to deal with some of the same issues, such as increasing the number of charter schools, revamping state tests and restructuring the worst-of-the-worst schools.

But how they propose to reach those goals is vastly different, and it's unclear whether the versions can be reconciled in time for the state to meet a Jan. 19 federal application deadline.

A Schwarzenegger-backed bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and the state superintendent of public instruction gives parents more say in what happens to failing schools and makes it easier to evaluate teachers and principals based on student achievement. It also would let parents move their children out of failing districts. After narrowly passing the state Senate in November, with several Democrats opposing it or opting to sit out the vote, that measure is now stalled in an Assembly committee. One of the most powerful and well-funded political interests in the state, the California Teachers Association, is lobbying against it. The teachers union instead backs different legislation offered by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica.

Reform advocates say that legislative package, which passed the Assembly on Thursday, does not go nearly far enough to fix California schools. Because of that, they say it wouldn't stand a chance in a competition against other large states such as Florida and Texas, which already have made bold school reforms.

Schwarzenegger has supported many of the changes included in the federal guidelines since taking office but has not had the political muscle to get the changes through a Legislature controlled by Democrats, who receive campaign funding from the teachers union. He said he will veto the Assembly legislation if it reaches his desk, although that is unlikely because the Senate already has passed much tougher reform measures. "This is a Race to the Top, not a race to mediocrity or the status quo," Schwarzenegger said.

The Republican governor has been blunt about the Assembly's effort, saying its Democratic majority simply wants to water down the tougher Senate legislation. The Assembly bill, he said, won't provide a real shot at the federal money in a state that has sustained billions of dollars in education cuts during the last three fiscal years. "The kids and education need every single dollar," Schwarzenegger said.

California's education system was once considered a national model that bred a generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, but the state has fallen to near the bottom among states in school funding and academics, earning a D in academic achievement this year from Education Week magazine's annual national schools survey. Students perform below the national average on nearly all measures, with black, Hispanic and poor children faring worst. Nearly 2,800 of its schools are considered to be failing by federal standards.

The dispute over whether to enter the federal competition and, if so, how strong the reforms should be is dividing Democratic allies and discouraging reformers who had hoped for historic change.

Margaret Fortune, a California State University trustee who once served as an education adviser to Schwarzenegger, said she has become disillusioned. Many lawmakers put partisan interests ahead of reasonable changes in school policy, she said. "If they were responsible leaders, they would stand up and say, 'You know what? We're leading a broken system, so we need to turn around and fix it, because this is shameful,'" said Fortune, who now runs an independent teacher-training program and has launched several charter schools.

Representatives of the California Teachers Association and other influential education groups, including the California School Boards Association, argue that the state should approach Race to the Top cautiously. They say lawmakers should not rush headlong into major reforms for what amounts to a relatively small pot of one-time federal money. California, which will spend $50 billion on K-12 education this fiscal year, stands to receive between $300 million and $700 million if its application is successful.

The teachers association opposes provisions in the Senate bill that would allow parents to transfer students in persistently failing schools to other districts, expand the number of charter schools without imposing new restrictions on them and allow parents to lobby for closure or conversion to a charter when schools don't improve. The union says the Senate legislation lacks legislative oversight in making the changes.

Patricia Rucker, a legislative advocate for the CTA, urged lawmakers during a hearing on both bills to "resist the temptation to simply race for dollars for the prestige of winning an award and a competition and instead (ask) what is the overall goal of education reform in California?"

Many reform advocates say slow progress isn't acceptable in a state where one in five high school students drops out. "I just don't have the patience for incremental change any more," said Assemblyman Juan Arambula, an independent from Fresno who left the Democratic caucus earlier this year. He sided with Republicans in opposing the Assembly bill and backing the more stringent Senate version.

Some Democratic lawmakers, particularly Hispanics and blacks, are feeling pressure from both sides: the teachers union, which opposes dramatic changes, and community groups that are frustrated by a persistent racial achievement gap.

Alice Huffman, president of the state NAACP and a former political director of the CTA, testified before the Assembly Education Committee that reforming the state's faltering schools is an urgent civil rights issue. She said she has nieces and nephews who have graduated from California schools yet cannot read and write. "I'm just going to say that if we don't get this done, we have really blown it one more time," she said.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office is urging lawmakers to take the Obama administration's education reforms seriously, warning that they are likely to provide the framework for new federal education guidelines, putting at stake billions of dollars in federal money.


Britain's "Academies" (Charter schools) 'shunning tough subjects'

Labour’s flagship academy schools have been accused of inflating their exam results by shunning tough subjects. In a damning report, researchers said evidence strongly suggested that schools gained good grades by entering pupils in “easier” vocational courses such as computing, catering and travel and tourism. It was claimed that pupils were being “short-changed” by academies that were putting league table rankings above a rigorous education.

The conclusions, in a study by the think-tank Civitas, come just weeks after Ofsted's annual report found almost half of academies inspected in the last 12 months were no better than adequate.

The latest comments come despite the fact that the majority of academies have refused to publish their exam results. As independent state schools, they are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. One head teacher told the think-tank that academies should be able to keep test scores secret because publication would “identify the subjects that the academy has chosen not to prioritise” such as separate sciences and geography.

Anastasia de Waal, Civitas head of education, who wrote the report, said: “To attack academies for using weak vocational qualifications to improve their results might seem unfair when we know it's also happening in mainstream schools. “However, the difference is that academies are supposed to be ‘models of excellence’ improving life chances – and at least in mainstream schools we're able to see their use of vocational entries.”

Both Labour and the Conservatives have placed academies at the heart of school reforms - claiming they are the answer to underperformance in deprived areas. The Government has repeatedly hailed academies’ exam results as evidence that the controversial programme is working.

The schools, which are sponsored and run by private companies, entrepreneurs, faith groups and charities, have seen GCSE results improve at twice the rate of ordinary state schools, although in many cases they were starting from a lower base after taking over failing schools. Last year, some 36 per cent of pupils in academies gained five decent grades, including English and maths, compared with 48 per cent nationally.

In the latest report, researchers surveyed 118 of the 200 academies opened to date in an attempt to gauge the extent to which schools are able to “inflate” their results by entering pupils for vocational qualifications instead of normal GCSEs. Fewer than half of academies agreed to submit their results.

The report said the “high performance of vocational entries was very noticeable” for those schools supplying exam information. At one academy in the south west, half of students were entered for a practical course in “digital applications” which is worth two good GCSEs. All students passed. Another academy put 232 teenagers through BTEC courses in science, arts and sport, with every pupil gaining the equivalent of a C grade or better.

“Without vocational subjects, the headline performance at GCSE of a number of academies is considerably lower than it is when they are included,” the study said. An academy in the east midlands saw its equivalent GCSE results plunge by 21 percentage points when researchers discounted scores in a BTEC travel and tourism course.

At the same time, entries for traditional GCSEs such as geography and history were low in some academies. An academy in Yorkshire failed to enter any pupils for geography and only nine for history – out of a year group of 150. Another academy entered only 15 pupils for history and geography – half the number who took a “catering” GCSE. A third school entered 12 pupils for the humanities, compared with around 30 who took an “office technology” course.

The study - The Secrets of Academies' Success – also criticised the number of schools choosing to withhold their results. Only 43 per cent of head teachers were willing to publish details. “These conflicting responses beg the question: if so many academies consider themselves to be successful, why are so few willing to reveal the subjects and qualifications they're doing?” the study said.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Hollywood and Howard Zinn's Marxist Education Project

by Michelle Malkin

The two most important questions for society, according to the Greek philosopher Plato, are these: What will we teach our children? And who will teach them? Left-wing celebrities have teamed up with one of America's most radical historians to take control of the classroom in the name of "social justice." Parents, beware: This Hollywood-backed Marxist education project may be coming to a school near you.

On Sunday, Dec. 13, the History Channel will air "The People Speak" -- a documentary based on Marxist academic Howard Zinn's capitalism-bashing, America-dissing, grievance-mongering history textbook, "A People's History of the United States." The film was co-produced and bankrolled by Zinn's Boston neighbor and mentee Matt Damon. An all-star cast of Bush-bashing liberals, including Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, Bruce Springsteen, Marisa Tomei and Eddie Vedder, will appear. Zinn's work is a self-proclaimed "biased account" of American history that rails against white oppressors, the free market and the military.

Zinn's objective is not to impart knowledge, but to instigate "change" and nurture a political "counterforce" (an echo of fellow radical academic and Hugo Chavez admirer Bill Ayers' proclamation of education as the "motor-force of revolution"). Teachers are not supposed to teach facts in the school of Zinn. "There is no such thing as pure fact," Zinn asserts. Educators are not supposed to emphasize individual academic achievement. They are supposed to "empower" student collectivism by emphasizing "the role of working people, women, people of color and organized social movements." School officials are not facilitators of intellectual inquiry, but leaders of "social struggle."

Zinn and company have launched a nationwide education project in conjunction with the documentary. "A people's history requires a people's pedagogy to match," Zinn preaches. The project is a collaboration between two "social justice" activist groups, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Rethinking Schools recently boasted of killing a social studies textbook series in the Milwaukee school system because it "failed to teach social responsibility." A Rethinking Schools guide on the September 11 jihadi attacks instructs teachers to "nurture student empathy" for our enemies and dissuade students from identifying as Americans. "It's our job to reach beyond this chauvinism." And a Rethinking Schools guide to early childhood education written by Ann Pelo disparages "a too-heavy focus on academic skills" in favor of "social justice and ecological teaching" for preschoolers.

Teaching for Change's objective, in Obama-esque fashion, is to train students not to achieve actual proficiency in core academic subjects, but to inspire them to "become active global citizens." Today's non-achieving aspirants are tomorrow's Nobel Peace Prize winners, after all.

No part of the school curriculum is immune from the social justice makeover crew. Zinn's partners at Rethinking Schools have even issued teaching guides to "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers" -- which rejects the traditional white male patriarchal methods of teaching computation and statistics in favor of p.c.-ified number-crunching:
"'Rethinking Mathematics' is divided into four parts. The first part is devoted to a broad view of mathematics that includes historical and cultural implications. Part Two includes nine classroom narratives in which teachers describe lessons they have used that infuse social justice issues into their mathematics curriculum. Included here … an AP calculus lesson on income distribution. The third part contains three detailed classroom experiences/lessons. These include a physical depiction of the inequitable distribution of the world's wealth, the results of a student investigation into how many U.S. presidents owned slaves, and a wonderful classroom game called 'Transnational Capital Auction' in which students take on the role of leaders of Third World countries bidding competitively for new factories from a multinational corporation. …

"Short lessons, provocative cartoons and snippets of statistics are scattered throughout 'Rethinking Mathematics.' A partial list of topics includes racial profiling, unemployment rate calculation, the war in Iraq, environmental racism, globalization, wealth distribution and poverty, wheelchair ramps, urban density, HIV/AIDS, deconstructing Barbie, junk food advertising to children and lotteries." (from a review by James V. Rauff of Millikin University)

Our students will continue to come in dead last in international testing. But no worries. With Howard Zinn and Hollywood leftists in charge, empty-headed young global citizens will have heavier guilt, wider social consciences and more hatred for America than any other students in the world.


House Leaders Vote to End D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program

It’s turning out to be a lousy Christmas for D.C. children. Late last night, the House dealt a hefty blow to the future of school choice in the District of Columbia. House leadership passed an omnibus appropriations bill which includes language to phase-out the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships of up to $7,500 to low-income children to attend a private school of their choice. The omnibus prohibits any new students from receiving scholarships, phasing it out in the coming years. The omnibus now moves on to the Senate for consideration, and if passed, will effectively end the D.C. OSP – and the hopes of thousands of District children of receiving a better education.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to support “what works” in education, he and Secretary Arne Duncan have stood idly by as the future of the Opportunity Scholarship Program grows dimmer and dimmer. Lawmakers know the OSP works, D.C. residents know the OSP works, and families know the OSP works. Yet weeks continue to tick by as low-income D.C. children wait to hear the support of their President for their continued educational success.

Some members of Congress understand what’s at stake for District families. In a letter to Senator Richard Durbin and Representative José Serrano written on Monday, Minority Leader Boehner and Senator Joseph Lieberman others wrote: "This program has the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, former Mayor Anthony Williams, and the D.C. City Council….Five years after the first scholarship students walked into their new schools, we know that the program is helping them both academically and socially…Local D.C. officials and residents have been very clear – they want this program to continue…In fact, during his sworn testimony before the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia, Mayor Fenty stated that he supports adding new students to maintain the current cap."

As members contemplate the future of school choice this weekend, they should inform their decision by watching Let Me Rise: The Struggle to Save School Choice in the Nation’s Capital. Perhaps seeing the faces of the children and families so greatly impacted by the opportunity to receive a quality education will move them to support school choice in the District.


British children have never worked so hard and learnt so little

For all the time and money put in, the education system is fundamentally flawed, says Charles Moore

Exams in the summer are well known for high stress, but mid-December is the time of the school year when everyone is at their most tired. What John Donne called “the year’s midnight” coincides with the end of the longest term. Look at the strained, anxious faces of mothers on the school run. Look at the pale, exhausted children who totter out of school into the mid-afternoon darkness. Look at the teachers, writing reports, filling in forms, snuffling with incipient colds and trying to smile through the Nativity play (where “diversity” policy still permits it).

What is it all for? Never in history have politicians talked more about the importance of education. Never has it been more generally agreed that the modern world is a “knowledge economy”. The famous Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution referred to securing for “workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry”. Everyone realises that nowadays brain usually secures fuller fruits than hand.

And yet, does the average pupil end up knowing more or knowing things more deeply than, say, 50 years ago? Could the average pupil of today do long division, or speak French, or write an English paragraph, or explain the Great Reform Bill, or find Valparaiso on a map, or operate the laws of thermo-dynamics better than his or her equivalent half a century ago?

Perhaps not, the defenders of current education would say, but modern pupils know much more about saving the planet, safe sex, Eid, and challenging racism, not to mention things not even thought of in the 1950s, such as the internet. They learn more that is “relevant”. They also, modern educationalists argue, acquire more “skills”. Instead of being crammed with sterile facts, they know how to engage with a subject. They learn less mere “what”, but more “why” and “how to”.

This is not all rubbish. Looking back on my own (mostly good) education, both state and private, in the 1960s, I can see some of its deficiencies. We were not taught where history came from. It was just a series of facts and stories: no one taught me the idea of sources and evidence until I was about 15.

We learnt grammar – both Latin and English – well, but we never quite knew what grammar was. Grammar was considered so important that it gave its name to the best state schools in the country, but why was it considered so important? We were not really told. The aim of modern education to teach children to ask more questions, and not simply to stuff them with information, is surely right.

But that promise has been broken. We seem to have devised a system of curriculum and examination which pulls off the incredible double of being very hard work but very low quality. There are endless projects and modules, and endless ways of re-marking to upgrade one’s results, but no definite test of what is known and understood.

In this process, a strange thing has happened. For all the patter about diversity, education has become more hostile to things that are outside the immediate experience of the pupil. Much less pre-20th-century history or literature is taught. Fewer pupils learn foreign languages, let alone dead ones. Individual sciences have been conflated into the easier “dual science” paper. We heard this week that a quarter of primary schools never teach pupils the Lord’s Prayer, partly (presumably) because the words of a Jew who has been dead for 2,000 years are considered out of date.

Because of my current war against Andrew Marr’s TV history of The Making of Modern Britain, I went on the Today programme yesterday to argue with the historian Tristram Hunt. He said that 14-year-old London pupils who had watched Marr had pronounced it boring because, despite all Marr’s costume capers and silly accents, it was not relevant enough to them. Hunt wanted Marrxism squared – yet more japes to get the wandering teenage attention.

In the end, though, how can anything be taught if the test is whether pupils who know very little find it boring? One of the worst things about being badly educated is that you are easily bored. If somebody asks, “How could Jane Austen/Plato/Mozart/William the Conqueror/Einstein or whoever be relevant to inner-city kids?”, the answer is surely that it is the kids, not Jane Austen etc, who have the problem. It is the job of teachers to help them out of it.

There is a nice bit in Boswell’s Life of Johnson when Dr Johnson stops a poor boy and says, “What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?” “Sir, I would give everything I had,” the boy replies. But we have given up teaching poor boys about the Argonauts. We have despaired of the transformation which education can bring about.

Schooling is now effectively compulsory from the age of four to 18. But too often, the people who emerge from those long years have not learnt the “what” or the “how to” or the “why”. You can see this in the practical things of daily life. Huge numbers of drugs, it turns out, are wrongly administered in hospital because nurses have not followed the instructions precisely. No one taught them the habit of accuracy.

How many people can draft, unaided, a letter or email that coherently makes an argument? How many people can calculate their own tax, or work out whether they are choosing the right pension? How many people can begin to understand the legal system or argue successfully with a bureaucrat or comprehend with any accuracy what their doctor is telling them?

More important still, how can people enjoy the richness of our civilisation if no one has introduced them to its glories? It is possible to go to school now without ever learning why those large buildings in every town have plus signs on them, or to look at a pound coin and not to know why it says “D.G.REG.F.D” on it, or to catch a train at Waterloo station without knowing why it is so called.

None of this can improve so long as politicians are so heavily engaged in education. Ed Balls can no more work out what our children should be taught than he can bring them up for us. Education is essentially a contract between parents, who want their children to acquire knowledge, and teachers, who must have their own independent idea of what that knowledge should be. The role of the state is only to support it, not to order it.

And that, in embryo, seems to be the policy that the Tories are developing. I sometimes wonder if they really know how radical they are being, and therefore how fiercely the bureaucracy will resist them.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Charter schools gain traction in 2009

By Jennifer Buckingham, writing from Australia

This has been the year of the charter school (public schools run by private operators) in education policy in the United States. Federal education secretary Arne Duncan made charter schools one of the centre-pieces of the US$4.35 billion ‘Race to the Top’ economic stimulus package, requiring all states to authorise charter schools to be eligible for funding. And two of the most high profile education chiefs in the country – Joel Klein in New York and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. – have built successful reforms around increasing the number of charter schools in their cities.

The policy focus on charters schools has not emerged in a research and knowledge vacuum. A number of important studies on charter school performance have been published this year. One of the most recent, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week, found that student achievement gains were significantly higher in Boston’s charter schools than in traditional public schools and the self-managing ‘pilot’ public schools, for both maths and English in middle school and high school. This closely follows a study of New York schools that found children who attended charter schools from kindergarten strongly outperformed their peers in public schools by the third grade, and that the gap widened as children progressed through the grades. Both these studies controlled for selection bias and student characteristics.

While these studies had large positive results, this is not uniformly true of all charter schools. This year’s meta-studies such as the CREDO and RAND studies demonstrated the variability in results from individual charter schools across the country. Some charter schools do exceptionally well, while others are barely better than their neighbouring public schools, and some worse. Part of this variability is due to the newness of many charter schools, a factor overlooked in much of the commentary about the CREDO study in particular, but some of it is to do with quality.

Fortunately, researchers are also gradually building a picture of which charter schools are effective and why. The characteristics of the best charter schools, which all but eliminate the achievement gap between white and black students, include: high flexibility in staffing and budgeting, allowing schools to lengthen the school day, and intensifying the learning program; explicit teaching; strong discipline; and robust accountability measures for performance. Forward thinkers like Noel Pearson have been looking to these gap-closing schools for inspiration to improve education for Indigenous children in Cape York [Australia]. Education bureaucrats would be well-advised to do the same.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated December 11. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Teachers forced to 'hide in closets' to pray

Florida school teachers say they are being forced to hide in closets to pray after a controversial court ruling. Under an order crafted by the ACLU, school employees in Santa Rosa School District must act in an "official capacity" whenever they are at a "school event" – including breaks, after-school events on or off campus and private events held on campus.

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm, alongside Christian Educators Association International, is seeking to overturn the court order, which has resulted in three school officials being charged with contempt. According to the group, school officials are strictly prohibited from showing agreement with anyone "communicating with a deity," such as "bowing the head" or "folding hands." "School officials" must also prohibit "third-parties" from praying, Liberty Counsel said.

During testimony that ended last week, Christian employees said the order has literally driven them to hide in closets to pray to avoid contempt charges.

As WND reported, Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant, earlier faced contempt charges after her husband read a prayer at a private banquet held at a Naval base to honor non-instructional school district employees. The judge eventually found that Winkler's husband's prayer at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate any court order.

During her recent testimony, Winkler broke down on the witness stand as she told a story about how her coworker sought comfort from her after losing her 2-year-old child. The two hid behind a closet door to pray, for fear they would be seen and held in contempt of the court order.

Denise Gibson, an elementary teacher for 20 years, testified that the order requires her to inform parents that she cannot respond if they mention church or their faith. She said she is prohibited from replying to e-mails from parents if they contain Bible verses or even "God bless you." Instead, she said, the district has instructed her to open a separate e-mail to answer the parents rather than hit "reply." The district calls for the action to eliminate any trace of religious language in school communication.

As WND reported, Liberty Counsel successfully defended Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman against criminal contempt charges after the ACLU complained when Freeman gave a 15-second blessing for a lunch meal for 20 adults with no students present. The men had faced penalties of up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines each.

The situation began in August 2008 when two anonymous students sued with the help of the ACLU over long-standing practices at the school allowing prayer at some events. The school's separate counsel had agreed to a consent decree that "essentially bans all Santa Rose County School District employees from engaging in prayer or religious activities," Liberty Counsel reported.

WND also reported earlier when members of the 2009 graduating class at Florida's Pace High School expressed their objections to the ACLU restrictions on statements of religious faith at their school by rising up en masse at their ceremony and reciting the Lord's Prayer. Nearly 400 graduating seniors at Pace, a Santa Rosa County school, stood up at their graduation, according to Staver. Parents, family and friends joined in the recitation, and applauded the students when they were finished, Staver told WND. "Many of the students also painted crosses on their graduation caps to make a statement of faith," the organization reported.

"The court order crafted by the ACLU takes my breath away," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. "I am embarrassed for our country, knowing that school employees in Santa Rosa County are hiding in closets to pray out of fear they may be hauled into court by the ACLU. We intend to restore religious freedom to Santa Rosa County. We will not allow the ACLU to criminalize Christianity."


Australia: Poor students top performers at elite universities

Which suggests that only the very bright can overcome a poor background

STUDENTS from poor backgrounds are less likely to attend the nation's prestige universities, but those who do are likelier to finish their degrees, according to a report by the Group of Eight.

The report, released earlier this week, will inform a Go8 equity strategy that is being hammered out in response to the federal government's call for a boost in the proportion of undergraduates from low socioeconomic backgrounds to 20 per cent by 2020.

The report found 72.4 per cent of applicants to Go8 universities achieved an equivalent national tertiary entrance rank score of more than 80.05 last year, and of these only 10.4 per cent were from low socioeconomic backgrounds. But the imbalance was corrected to some extent by better retention and academic success rates for students from these backgrounds.

"Retention rates were higher in Go8 universities than any other universities across all equity groups in the five-year period from 2002 to 2006," the report says. "The difference was greatest for remote students (77 per cent in Go8 universities, 66.9 per cent in other universities) and indigenous students (70.2 per cent in Go8 universities compared with 60.6 per cent in other universities)." The report says the dropout rate for low-socio economic status students, likewise, is lower within the Go8 than outside it.

The Go8 report comes after the federal government released its own attrition figures for 2001-07 which revealed a national dropout rate of 18.9 per cent for undergraduates. The worst rate, of 40 per cent, was found at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory, while the lowest dropout rate, of 8 per cent, was recorded by the University of Melbourne.

Earlier this year the Go8 was stung by a higher education equity report written for the University of South Australia's new National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

While the report, by Griffith University researcher Leesa Wheelahan, found that universities such as Macquarie and Canberra had worse equity credentials than the sandstone universities, it revealed that the Go8 admitted an average of 10.9 per cent of their students from poor backgrounds. This compared with an average across the higher education system of 17.4 per cent. At the time the Go8 strenuously asserted its members' capacity to retain disadvantaged students through to graduation.

The new report, which pledges to improve ways to identify students with academic potential and develop "multiple pathways through partnerships with other post-secondary education and training institutions", gives substance to this claim.

In a related development, the University of Melbourne has unveiled a "guaranteed access" program which it says will "give certainty" to students from rural or isolated areas and in disadvantaged socioeconomic circumstances who apply to enter the university next year and meet the published criteria. These students will be guaranteed a commonwealth-supported place in the university's new-look degrees (except music, for which students have to audition) if their ENTER is 78 or above for arts, environments or science, or 88 or above for biomedicine and commerce. Disadvantaged students whose ENTER scores are below this level will still be eligible for a place.

Melbourne University's deputy vice-chancellor Sue Elliott said of students from disadvantaged groups who meet the criteria: "They will know they have a place at Melbourne when they get their [Victorian Certificate of Education] results. These are high-quality students whose results don't necessarily reflect their true academic ability."

Professor Elliott said disadvantaged students had been shown to perform at much the same level at university as other students. "The undergraduate experience at a good university is a level playing field where students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to flourish," she said.