Saturday, January 02, 2010

Democrats resegregate DC school system

Are you surprised? I’m not surprised.
The leaders of D.C.’s school choice movement, Kevin P. Chavous (former D.C. Councilman) and Virginia Walden Ford (executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice), today issued the following statement:

“House and Senate Appropriators this week ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s public schools chancellor, a majority of D.C.’s city council, and more than 70 percent of D.C. residents and have mandated the slow death of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. This successful school voucher program—for D.C.’s poorest families—has allowed more than 3,300 children to attend the best schools they have ever known.

You know, there’s a part of me that would almost prefer that this was evidence of some sort of long term payback - one that would have been in the works for about 150 years at this point - against African-Americans by the Democratic party. At least that would be a reason to wreck school choice. It would be a conscious decision. Instead, though, I’m faced with the tawdry reality that the Democratic Party simply just doesn’t care.


Berkeley High School May Drop Science Labs because they are mainly attended by whites

On international science tests, American students perpetually lag behind their peers in other developed countries. A logical response might be to beef up science programs in government schools, but logic is hard to come by in skin-deep-only-diversity-obsessed bureaucracies.

One school seeks to do the opposite, and for the most insulting of reasons. Berkeley High's School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students, proposes to eliminate before- and after-school science labs at Berkeley High School (BHS) and divert resources to narrowing the intractable racial academic achievement gap.

According to the East Bay Express, an alternate parent representative on the council said "information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students," although black students take science classes. One teacher said she has 12 black male students in her Advanced Placement classes, and black and Hispanic students account for a third of her four environmental science classes.

BHS purportedly has the widest racial academic achievement gap in California, which the council deemed "unconscionable." Depriving students of science lab instruction because the labs benefit mostly white students apparently isn't unconscionable. "The labs help the struggling students most," physics teacher Matt McHugh told the Berkeley Daily Planet, "because they're the ones who need the most help."

For those who frequently blog and write about racial preferences and lowered standards for blacks, this isn't surprising or shocking. Bureaucrats are embarrassed that blacks lag behind their peers, so taxpayers fork over millions to try to achieve the unattainable goal of equal outcomes.

Berkeley High's plan apparently was surprising and shocking to tech blogger and Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson. Author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Anderson mentioned the story on Twitter, and other bloggers picked it up. "I'm not necessarily opposed to race-based proposals," Anderson told me via e-mail. "I just think the premise of this one—'science is for white people'--is absurd and deeply counterproductive."

TechDirt blogger Mike Masnick saw Anderson's tweet. "It seems like there must be more to this story than what's being reported," Masnick wrote. "The concept of cutting science labs because more white students take them just seems too preposterous to make sense." Unfortunately, there isn't more to the story, and yes, cutting programs because they benefit white students is preposterous and doesn't make sense. But that's what misguided social engineers do.

The school board will discuss the plan at its January 13 meeting. In the meantime, parents and guardians of BHS students are asked to sign a petition opposing the plan: "The elimination of these labs would reduce instructional time by more than 21% (30% in AP classes). Such devastating cuts would force science teachers to eliminate many of the labs that enrich the experience for students by having them 'do science.' These cuts would result in the reduction in coverage of the state standards and the inability to effectively use instructional strategies that support student learning. This flies in the face of the current push for equity and the 2020 Vision. To close the achievement gap, students require more instruction, not less; more time with qualified instructors, not less."

Is the proposed elimination of the labs per se the problem, or the reason behind the proposal? No matter how much money the government spends trying to close the achievement gap, individuals will never, ever, perform equally, nor will outcomes between racial groups reach parity. Individuals have varying levels of interest, aptitude, motivation, and determination. Bureaucrats need to get over the "unconscionable" gap, keep expectations high for all students, and stop defining achievement down.


British Government spending on schools soars but parents are flocking to go private

The Leftist government's refusal to tackle bad behaviour in the schools makes many parents desperate. Money is no substitute for discipline

The proportion of children sent to private schools has risen to a 12-year high despite billions of pounds of extra spending on state education. Nearly 9 per cent of pupils of secondary school age are being educated in the independent sector as growing numbers of middle-class parents turn their backs on comprehensives.

The scale of the exodus to fee-paying schools is greatest in shire counties such as Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Surrey and West Sussex. But official figures also point to significant numbers of privately educated pupils in many major towns and cities – outside private schools’ traditional Home Counties heartlands. In Bristol, 21.4 per cent of parents are paying for their children’s secondary education, while in Blackburn and Portsmouth the figure is 19.1 per cent. In one London borough, 56.5 per cent of secondary pupils and 52.1 per cent of primary are privately educated. [Because the state schools are mainly black and Muslim -- with all the problems that entails]

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, are based on a census in January 2009. They show private schools weathered the early effects of the credit crunch and increased their market share despite a hike in fees estimated at 40 per cent in five years.

But the success of private schools during 12 years of Labour rule has triggered claims that the party has failed to reform state schools. Ministers promised to boost state schooling so that parents no longer felt the need to go private. In 1996 Tony Blair, then leader of the Opposition, insisted: ‘The heart of any attempt to break down the barriers must be improving the quality of the state sector.’ His party significantly increased investment in state education, with public funding rising from £35.3billion a year to £63.9billion.

Responding to the new figures, Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove said: ‘The fact that parents are increasingly opting for fee-paying schools is a worrying sign that state education is not good enough in too many areas.’

The statistics, from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, show how the proportion of 11 to 19-year-olds being taught in independent schools reached a low of 8.3 per cent in 2000 but rose to 8.9 per cent by January 2009 – the highest figure for at least 12 years. The area with the highest level of private attendance is the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where fee-paying parents are in a majority in both the primary and secondary stages.

There were also warnings of a growing educational apartheid as it emerged towns with some of the highest levels of child poverty also had large numbers of privately-educated youngsters. In Manchester, where 16 per cent of secondary pupils are privately educated, 28 per cent get free school meals, compared with the national average of 10.3 per cent.

A DCSF spokesman said: ‘The overwhelming majority of pupils attend state schools, which are delivering the best standards ever. Some parents will always choose the private sector.’

The Case of the Vanishing Full-Time Professor on U.S. campuses

It's most unlikely that a part-time teacher will be able to accumulate the research experience that a full-time professor has the time to accumulate. And without research involvment, a university is little more than a trade-school. It is research involvement that keeps people at the cutting edge of knowledge and getting to the cutting edge of knowledge is what a university is all about

If you’ve written a few five-figure tuition checks or taken on 10 years’ of debt, you probably think you’re paying to be taught by full-time professors. But it’s entirely possible that most of your teachers are freelancers.

In 1960, 75 percent of college instructors were full-time tenured or tenure-track professors; today only 27 percent are. The rest are graduate students or adjunct and contingent faculty — instructors employed on a per-course or yearly contract basis, usually without benefits and earning a third or less of what their tenured colleagues make. The recession means their numbers are growing.

“When a tenure-track position is empty,” says Gwendolyn Bradley, director of communications at the American Association of University Professors, “institutions are choosing to hire three part-timers to save money.”

While many adjuncts are talented teachers with the same degrees as tenured professors, they’re treated as second-class citizens on most campuses, and that affects students. It’s sometimes harder to track down adjuncts outside of class, because they rarely have offices or even their own departmental mailboxes.

Many patch together jobs at different colleges to make ends meet, and with commuting, there’s less time to confer with students or prepare for class. It’s not unusual for adjuncts to be hired at the last minute to teach courses they’ve never taught. And with no job security, they may consider it advantageous to tailor classes for student approval.

Colleges tend to play down the increasingly central role of adjuncts. This fall, the American Federation of Teachers complained that some top-ranked universities exaggerated the percentage of full-time faculty to U.S. News & World Report for its rankings. U.S. News declined to investigate. Another source is the “Compare Higher Education Institutions” search tool at A.F.T.’s Higher Education Data Center ( These are the stats that colleges report to the federal government.

Ask admissions officers point-blank: what percentage of classes and discussion sections are taught by part-timers and graduate assistants, and are they required to hold office hours?

For entry-level classes — the ones tenured faculty famously don’t want to teach — the squeaky wheel often gets a full-time professor, says Harlan Cohen, author of “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College.” “If you’re not thrilled with your adjunct professor,” he says, “go to the head of the department and see what options are available. They may put you in a different section.”


'Bureaucracy' is driving talented teachers out of British schools, Tories claim

Hundreds of thousands of qualified teachers have left state schools or never even taught a lesson, the Tories claim today. More than 400,000 teachers are working in other professions, at independent schools, are unemployed or have taken early retirement. About 25,000 people who qualified as teachers in the past ten years never entered the classroom, according to figures released by the Conservatives. They claim that bureaucracy is driving talented teachers out of schools.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said: “This is a tragic waste of talent that is costing taxpayers millions of pounds every year. “The Government must take responsibility for driving so many experienced professionals out of the classroom by tying their hands in red tape and watering down their powers to keep order.” Mr Gove said that the Conservatives would give head teachers the final say over whether or not a child should be excluded. He added: “These measures, coupled with raising the status of teaching by making the entry requirements more rigorous and allowing good teachers to be paid more, could start to attract highly skilled teachers back to the classroom.”

The Tories recently announced plans to improve standards in the profession if they win power in the general election this year. No one with a third-class degree would be allowed to train as a teacher and they would end the practice of trainee teachers resitting numeracy and literacy tests until they passed.

The Conservatives would also scrap tuition fees for science and maths graduates who embarked on a career in teaching.


Pupils failed by 'shameful' education system, British Industry leader warns

Britain should be "ashamed” of the extent of academic underachievement among schoolchildren, Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, has said in a withering attack on the state education system. Mr Lambert said that despite the Government pumping millions of pounds into education, its constant “messing around” had left a generation of pupils without the relevant skills to succeed in business.

He sympathised with head teachers who he claimed have had to grapple with a “kaleidoscope” of “very complicated” changes to the education system in recent years. As a result, youngsters’ education has suffered, meaning that Britain is now lumbered with one of the highest proportions of Neets (people not in employment, education or training) in the world, he warned.

Children from poor backgrounds are being particularly failed, Mr Lambert said.

In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Lambert said: “If you look at all the data you see as a country we spend a lot on educating kids, but the outcomes aren't great. “There's a very long tail of under-performance. I think this is more than an educational issue, it's a social and cultural issue as well. “Part of the story is the correlation between deprivation and poor academic outcomes, which are more marked in this country than we ought to be able to contemplate. We ought to be ashamed of the numbers.”

Earlier this month a breakdown of GCSE results suggested Britain has enjoyed sustained improvements over the past three years. However, figures released by the Tories last month disclosed that just one-in-10 children in the most deprived communities leaves school with good GCSEs. A study by Reform, the think tank, also warned that pupils in England are lagging behind those from other countries after being failed by an "intellectually deficient'' education system.

Mr Lambert said he believes that the problems are rooted in a “culture of low aspiration” that has pervaded over the past five decades. He said he felt compelled to raise his concerns because employers are struggling to recruit people with the right skills, despite greater competition for jobs amid the recession. Some employers have been forced to provide remedial classes to bring staff up to speed in the 3Rs, he said.

Mr Lambert added: "The OECD ((Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) figures show we have more drunkenness in students than any other country in the OECD. "We have the fourth highest cohort of Neets after Turkey, Italy and Mexico, that can't be something we can be proud of.

“I would be critical of the government in the way that policy has seemed like a bit of a kaleidoscope. There are lots of initiatives, quite complex initiatives like the diplomas programme. Very, very complicated. “I would hate to be a head teacher having to handle diplomas and GCSEs and A-levels and not quite knowing the extent to which they are going to be sustained or not sustained. I do think there has been a lot of messing around."

Ed Balls, the schools secretary, denied the claims saying that English schools were now performing well compared with those in other developed countries, in maths and sciences. He said: "We have seen unprecedented steady and consistent improvement at all ages in the last 12 years after decades of stagnation. “Yes, this has cost money but the entire school estate needed redeveloping to replace the tens of thousands of temporary classrooms with new, modern learning environments; teachers needed fair pay rises following years of low salaries and teacher shortages; and class sizes were too big for proper learning. "I understand producer concerns about initiatives. But public sector reform is vital to ensure every school is a good school, every child is supported to learn and businesses get the skills they need."


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beverly Hills schools to boot outsiders

The very uneven quality of tax-funded schools again

Threats on Facebook, name-calling, security guard escorts -- tempers are running high around schools these days in this normally sedate enclave of ostentatious wealth. The reason: The Beverly Hills school board is preparing to boot out 10 percent of its students as it ends a decades-old practice of allowing out-of-district pupils to attend city schools on "opportunity permits."

The move has upset many so-called "permit parents" -- mostly middle-class families living in the tonier areas of Los Angeles who are loath to send their children to the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, where more than a quarter of high-schoolers drop out. "Every family on permit is outraged," said Simy Levy, a Los Angeles resident whose two daughters attend school in Beverly Hills. "It's incredibly unfair."

The plan, which is expected to get final board approval next month, comes as the Beverly Hills Unified School District switches to a budget plan financed directly by the city's well-to-do tax base instead of with state money based on enrollment. The change results from steep cuts in state education funds that has left several affluent communities across the nation paying more school taxes to the state than they receive.

Beverly Hills is the latest to consider the self-financing model, in which the district would keep its school taxes and forgo the $6,239 the state sends for each nonresident student. Without the financial incentive of enrolling outsiders, district officials are concerned their taxpayers would be subsidizing nonresidents' education.

"What is wrong with me saying, 'We have to save our resources for residents?' " said Lisa Korbatov, Beverly Hills school board vice president. "Our police do not respond to neighboring cities if someone is mugged or assaulted."

As education dollars dry up, districts across the nation are taking a closer look at nonresident students. In Tonganoxie, Kan., school officials are considering charging outsiders tuition if state law allows them to do so. Many other districts are aggressively weeding out illegally enrolled outsiders.

The students booted from Beverly Hills would leave schools that have won state and federal recognition for academic excellence. The district offers a rich menu of extracurricular activities, ranging from madrigal singers to water polo. Facilities include an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a swimming pool underneath.

Facebook pages have sprung up on both sides, with police investigating one posting that called for "machine gun machetes" to be used against those who favor ending permits. Board meetings have turned unruly with accusations that members were acting like Hitler. Miss Korbatov had a security guard escort her to her car after a recent session.


Politicizing Preschool

Universal health care may top the wish-lists of many liberals this Christmas -- but universal preschool isn’t far behind. President Obama is doing his best to play the role of Santa, bringing subsidized pre-kindergarten to a growing number of American families.

The president has called for $10 billion in new funding for preschool programs, and Congress is working to deliver. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $5 billion for preschool and childcare programs. In September, the House passed a higher education bill that included an $8 billion “Early Learning Challenge Fund” to provide grants to states to expand subsidized preschool. The Senate is expected to follow suit.

These proposals are based on the belief that “investments” in early childhood education yield significant long-term benefits for children served. As President Obama himself promised, “For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime.”

If the president is right, we should look forward to a safer, healthier, and welfare-free world sometime soon, thanks to our federal “investments” in preschool. In 2009, taxpayers will spend $25 billion on the federal government’s 69 federal preschool and childcare programs.

Unfortunately, little is known about whether these programs work. One might think that Congress and the administration would be focusing on evaluating these programs’ effectiveness before spending another $8 billion on preschool. Actually, there is reason to believe that they are instead ignoring empirical evidence that undermines the case for a new federal preschool program.

Consider the saga of the Head Start program and its national evaluation. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created Head Start, the first national preschool and childcare program serving low-income children. Nearly 45 years later, the federal government has spent more than $100 billion on it. With annual funding of approximately $7 billion, Head Start currently spends at least $7,300 annually on each of the 900,000 low-income children served.

For more than a decade, Congress has been trying to figure out whether Head Start has provided lasting benefits for participating children. In 1997, the GAO reviewed the available literature on Head Start’s impact and concluded that body of research was inadequate for drawing conclusions about the program’s effectiveness. This finding led Congress in 1998 to mandate a national evaluation of Head Start’s impact on participants.

Seven years later, the Department of Health and Human Services released the preliminary findings of the national impact evaluation -- comparing the development of children served by Head Start with their peers who didn’t participate in the program. In the critical area of cognitive development, the evaluation found that Head Start’s participants experienced modestly positive benefits compared to their peers who weren’t served by the program. Head Start children outperformed their peers in four out of the six cognitive constructs: pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary, and parent reports of students’ literacy skills.

But the 2005 evaluation looked only at children’s developmental progress after one year in Head Start. It didn’t address the $100 billion question: Does Head Start provide lasting benefits?
This question would be addressed by future evaluations of the performance of former Head Start students and their peers through the end of first grade and third grade. Data collection for the initial study of first graders’ progress was completed in the spring of 2006.

Three years have now passed. According to the HHS Web site, this project was supposed to be completed by March 2009. But the findings of the congressionally-mandated evaluation have never been made public.

One can’t help but wonder: What’s causing the delay? Former HHS officials have told me that they were briefed on the results of the first-grade evaluation in 2008. They report that the evaluation found that, overall, Head Start participants experienced zero lasting benefits compared to their non-Head Start peers by the end of first grade. These officials expressed little surprise that the report’s release had been delayed.

Is the Department of HHS burying a damaging study? Perhaps there’s a good explanation for the delay. But without raising the question, we won’t know the answer. Before taxpayers “invest” another $8 billion in another preschool program, we deserve to know whether programs like Head Start are, indeed, making a lasting difference.

President Obama has said that his administration’s only test for deciding what education programs to fund with our “precious tax dollars” will be whether it “works.” It’s time to find out whether he will keep his word -- even if it means bad news for one of liberals’ favorite initiatives.


Jewish literature a no-go area on U.S. campuses

The Modern Language Association is famous for the provocative titles of sessions at its annual meeting. But the provocative title of one session Sunday night -- so surprising to several MLA members that they expressed disbelief when told about it -- contained no sexual wordplay or trendy literary buzzwords. The title: Does the English Department Have a Jewish Problem?

One reason the question is such a surprise is that there is no apparent shortage of Jews among those who study or teach literature. But the problem defined and debated here wasn't about Jews as students or professors, but about experts in teaching Jewish literature (a group by no means limited to Jews).

The underlying premise of the panel was that English departments that would never allow themselves to be without experts in the literatures of many racial and ethnic groups in the United States don't think twice about failing to have a knowledge base in American Jewish literature. Further, the view of many here is that discussions about multicultural literature that ought to include Jewish writers simply don't.

Joshua Lambert, an assistant professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, kicked off the discussion with an analysis of the top 20 English departments (as judged by U.S. News & World Report, a source that he acknowledged was flawed, but that he used to get a group of programs at highly regarded universities). He found that at these departments, every one has at least two and typically more specialists in African-American literature. All but two have at least one scholar focused on Asian-American literature. All but five have a Latino literature expert. All but 9 have an expert in Native American literature on the faculty.

Only two of the institutions have a tenure-track faculty member whose area of expertise is American Jewish literature, he said. (The University of Michigan, where Lambert earned his doctorate, is so ahead of the pack, with seven, that someone later referred to it with admiration as a shtetl.) Five other universities had at least someone with interest (as stated on departmental listings of faculty expertise) in Jewish studies, but Lambert said none of them have published on American Jewish literature or can read Yiddish. Six of the departments have experts in Holocaust literature and here, Lambert did not dispute the expertise.

But he did question why that one literature should be so much more present -- in literature departments in the United States -- than American Jewish fiction and culture. It is "fascinating and unfortunate ... that the genocide of Jews can seem more worthy of attention than the culture of Jews themselves," he said.

Looking at courses at these top 20 universities, he found 12 of them have offered courses on American Jewish literature, but only 4 have been taught by tenure-track professors (and one of those was last taught in 2001).

As another illustration of why Jewish literature is not necessarily valued (at least as Jewish), Lambert read this text from the Web site of one of the universities: The American literature faculty, the department boasted, "represent the full scope of ethnic American literatures: African American, Asian American, Caribbean, Chicana/o, Latina/o, Native American." Lambert said it was striking to see a department define "the full scope" in that way.

Lambert was quick to note that he was not alleging anti-Semitism or a mass "marginalization" of Jewish scholars. But he said it was clear that while Jewish literature is taught, it is "not a hiring priority" and "not considered a research specialty" that matters to many departments....

Several of the speakers said that both faculty and student attitudes are influenced -- unreasonably, they argued -- by the Middle East. Rachel Rubinstein, assistant professor of American literature and Jewish studies at Hampshire College and the author of Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination (forthcoming from Wayne State University Press), said that students view Jewish issues as being solely about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, a subject that has become "fetishized." Meanwhile, she said, “Jewishness has been associated with Israel, white privilege, colonialism and racism."

More here

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Courageous NY Student seeks balance in teaching of controversial topics

A Rhinebeck High School sophomore is urging the school district to require alternative views be presented by teachers on controversial topics like climate change.

Michelle Dewkett said the global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was being shown in science and English classes without equal weight being given to other positions on the topic. “As of now, the teaching of controversial topics is out of control,” Dewkett told members of the Board of Education on Tuesday. She also said the district is not following its own policy of providing students with a wide range of materials.

Dewkett cited a class on global warming as an example, saying the effects of human activity on the environment are not being balanced with information about the natural course of changes on Earth. “It says (global warming) will kill us all without offering any alternative views throughout high school,” she said. “This goes against board policy which states ‘Teachers shall approach controversial topics in an impartial and unprejudiced manner.’”

Dewkett also questioned the showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” as part of an English course, saying district policy states that “material will not be introduced for their own sake and must be part of normal instruction.”

School district officials did not immediately respond to Dewkett’s comments but previously have encouraged students and parents to offer their views during annual planning sessions of the Board of Education’s Curriculum Committee.

Dewkett said afterward that there is support for presenting other viewpoints in courses but that calling for change has been difficult. “My friend and I want to start a club for young conservatives in Rhinebeck,” she said. “Right now, though, when someone wants to talk about these things, there are a lot of students that really don’t want to hear them.”


British boys aged three 'must work more': Government demands action to close the nursery school gender gap

This is absurd. Boys are later developers than girls. Ignoring that is evil

Boys aged three and four must be made to write more to stop them falling behind girls before they even reach school, the Government will order nurseries and childminders. New boy-friendly guidance is to be sent to all nurseries and childminders advising them to get the youngest boys to take more interest in writing, scribbling and drawing – basically just putting pencil to paper.

After a year of school, more than one in six boys cannot write his own name or simple words such as "mum", "dad" or "cat" – double the number of girls – official figures show.

Early-years experts condemned the move, arguing that having more targets to get children writing by the age of five would be "developmentally inappropriate" and potentially damaging, particularly for boys. But Dawn Primarolo, the Children's minister, said in an interview with The Independent that after 12 years of Labour government, the gender gap remained a "stubborn" and "worrying" problem.

"It is about readiness to learn. It is part of the development process. There is a gap, and it is a worrying gap," Ms Primarolo said. "What we can see is that boys, particularly on emotional development, lag behind girls. That emotional development is very important in language development through play before they start school and reading and writing. "Although that gap between boys and girls is closing, in writing it is still quite wide."

The guidance, which will be sent to nurseries from January, will include advice to set up role-play activities tailored to boys' interests, such as builders taking phone messages and writing up orders, post office employees writing on forms, and waiters taking orders from customers. Boys will also be encouraged to write using unusual materials such as chocolate powder and coloured sand to make marks on the floor and walls outside.

Ms Primarolo said the new guidance aims to get all nurseries and childminders to learn from those who have successfully narrowed the gender gap.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Some boys don't enjoy writing or see it as relevant – but teachers and practitioners can make it fun and relevant. The guidance will offer practical examples about how to do this. "Because boys don't seem to be as interested as girls in drawing and mark-making, it is important that practitioners ensure that this doesn't then result in limited access to resources such as paper, crayons, paint etc, and insufficient opportunities or encouragement for boys to write."

Official figures released earlier this year showed that boys were lagging further behind girls by the age of five since the introduction of Labour's "nappy curriculum". Boys are also less likely to know the alphabet, or how to count to 10, sing simple nursery rhymes from memory, dress themselves and work well with classmates at the end of the reception year, before they start Year One.

The figures were the first results from the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory programme introduced in September last year for all schools, nurseries and childminders. Overall, just over half of children reached government targets for all areas of early development, including personal and social skills, literacy, problem-solving and numeracy, physical development, and creativity.

Some 52 per cent of five-year-olds were competent in all areas – a three-percentage-point rise from last year. However, boys were significantly less likely than girls to start the first full year of school properly prepared. The gender gap widened in three key areas: writing, problem-solving and elements of personal development. The Government said that at least 23,000 more children had reached a good level of development this summer compared with 2008.

Child-development specialists have opposed the writing targets for five-year-olds since they were first proposed, arguing that many children, particularly boys, do not develop the fine motor skills needed for writing until they are six or seven.

Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book 21st Century Boys, described the decision as "state-sponsored child abuse", arguing that boys were developmentally behind at birth and needed time to "run, jump and play, in order to acquire the physical control and capacity to focus that they will need later on". She said: "The Government's belief that they can accelerate human development is just nonsense. This is massive control freakery which will be disastrous for the children. These very young children have become hostages to political fortunes because ministers believe that their political futures depend on getting a certain number of children to reach these targets by the age of five. That is just wrong."

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University and a founder of the Open Eye campaign against the early-years curriculum, warned that many of the targets for five-year-olds were inappropriate for the age group. He added: "Many of the much-criticised 'teaching to test', assessment-driven characteristics of the primary school are now invading our nursery settings."


Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab radicalized while at a prestigious British university

British universities are breeding grounds of anti-Western attitudes too

According to, an online magazine for Muslim students, War on Terror Week at University College London was one of the events of the year in 2007. There was a slick video advertisement for the event, an eye-catching poster and packed lecture theatres for five days of discussions about Guantánamo Bay, allegations of torture and the subject of “Jihad v Terrorism”.

The website reported the week of talks as “informative, relevant and always entertaining — the audience got involved with a good mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim attendees asking tough questions of the speakers”. In a corner of the poster, the event is declared to have been “approved by Umar Farook, president of UCLU Islamic Society”. The speakers advertised included George Galloway, the Respect MP; Geoffrey Bindman, the human rights lawyer; and former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

The Nigerian student who organised “War on Terror Week” in January 2007 is now better known as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be suicide bomber who tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner last week.

Mr Galloway said last night that he did not attend any of the events in War on Terror Week and had no record in his parliamentary diary of any contact with UCL Islamic Society. Mr Bindman, a visiting professor at UCL, said that he could not recall the event or meeting Mr Abdulmutallab.

UCL has confirmed that Mr Abdulmutallab was a mechanical engineering student on its Central London campus in 2005-08 and in the academic year 2006-07 was president of the student union’s Islamic Society.

His role in organising War on Terror Week is the first indication that during his years in London he was heavily involved in radical political activity. Experts believe that this would have put him at risk of being groomed by al-Qaeda recruiters who routinely prey on such radical religious and political gatherings. “Before someone goes off for explosives training they have to be converted to the cause of al-Qaeda,” said Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham.

“I think that happened in London in the case of Abdulmutallab, as has happened to many others. He is one of a considerable number of people who have turned to al-Qaeda after being recruited in the UK. This recruitment often goes on where political events take place. Those who speak at such events are not terrorists, but they are being irresponsible if they do not realise that what they say could contribute to the radicalisation of people who could then be recruited into terror.”

The emerging picture of Mr Abdulmutallab is of a lonely young man who arrived in London as a devout, sometimes angry, figure and became increasingly radicalised while here.

He had previously joined discussions on an internet message board that revealed a confused and alienated personality. Writing in January 2005 under the name Farouk1986, he said: “I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems.” He talked of wrestling with liberalism and extremism and striving to live according to the Koran’s teaching.

And he confessed to having “jihad fantasies”, writing: “I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win (Allah willing) and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again.” But many more of his posts were about football, suggesting that he was far from being the finished article as a mujahidin.

Within a year of arriving in London Mr Abdulmutallab started to adopt a more formal religious dress code, including a white robe and skullcap.

He is reported to have attended some of the radical meetings held at London colleges and mosques. He is understood to have attended talks given by the extremist US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki at East London Mosque. Awlaki, who was later banned from Britain and is believed to be in hiding with al-Qaeda in Yemen, where Mr Abdulmutallab spent months.

Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL, told the BBC: “We are very shocked by what has happened and we will be reflecting on it very carefully but — as presently advised — there was nothing about his conduct which gave his tutors any cause for concern.” Professor Grant said students were admitted to UCL on merit and there could not be vetting of their “political, racial or religious background or beliefs”.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Teaching that America is a 'hellhole' called 'creative' at the University of Minnesota

'Hate-filled' would be more like it

A lawyer for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus has confirmed to an educational rights organization that a plan described by a critic as teaching America as a "hellhole" hasn't been adopted, and came about because of brainstorming efforts by the education department.

The issue of the program at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was raised by officials with The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The group questioned President Robert Bruinicks about the legality of the program. The proposal included the suggestion of examinations of teacher candidates on "white privilege" as well as "remedial re-education" for those who hold the "wrong" views.

The FIRE today announced that in response to its pressure on the university, officials there are backing away from their plans "to enforce a political litmus test." "The plans from its College of Education and Human Development involved redesigning admissions and the curriculum to enforce an ideology centered on a narrow view of 'cultural competence," the FIRE announced. "Those with the 'wrong' views were to receive remedial re-education, be weeded out, or be denied admission altogether," the group said.

However, a letter to FIRE from General Counsel Mark B. Rotenberg said those plans, while recommendations, were not adopted. "Neither the university nor CEHD has adopted or implemented any 'new policies' discussed in the particular … task force report submitted in July 2009 from which you quoted extensively," his letter to the organization said. "The task force report at issue was one of seven separate task force reports; none of them has been adopted as CEHD policy…

"The various task group reports reflect the creative thinking of many faculty members charged with exploring ideas to improve P-12 education and student achievement," he continued. "CEHD Dean Jean Quam has characterized the various task froup reports as 'faculty brainstorming' on how best to accomplish this curricular redesign." Further, he said, "no university policy or practice ever will mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs.'"

"We are relieved that the University of Minnesota has finally committed itself to upholding the freedom of conscience of its students," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Prospective teachers will keep the right to have their own thoughts, values, and beliefs." He promised FIRE would continue to watch the university's actions. Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said the college's next version of the plan "must reflect" the school's newest commitment.

The plan from the college's Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group had suggested requiring every future teacher to accept theories of "white privileges, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and internalized oppression;" "develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity;" and "recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism ... but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation," according to the documentation...

More here

British private schools hampered by incessant government regulation

Private schools are losing their independence because of endless government regulation and a tick-box culture, according to a leading headmistress. Gillian Low, the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association, warned that a barrage of rules from Whitehall was diverting teachers away from education. Such rules were counterproductive and robbed independent schools of the idiosyncrasies that were the key to their success, Mrs Low said.

She added: “Each school is a bit different and demands a slightly different approach.” The problem was that the Government started from the point of not trusting people, she said.

Head teachers and teachers in the majority of schools were experienced professionals who knew how to deal with issues such as bullying and parental complaints, according to Mrs Low. “The problem is [that] the regulations keep changing. We are on our third variation of regulation guidance this year, and the fourth is coming.” Mrs Low, who is head of Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, southwest London, said: “It is a very difficult way to operate when faced with that frequency of change.”

She said the danger was that overregulation and micromanagement created a “tick-box culture” that rarely led to school improvement. Success was gained by giving people responsibility and ownership, she said.

The Department for Schools said: “The Government is keen to support the delivery of high-quality education by schools in the independent sector. “But it is right that parents and the wider public are assured that all schools — whether in the maintained or independent sector — provide their pupils with a suitable education in a safe and secure environment.” [Blah, Blah, Blah]


Policies for Britain in 2010: Free schools

Assuming the Conservatives win the upcoming General Election, it looks like Britain will finally get a fully fledged school choice scheme in 2010 – something the Adam Smith Institute has been pushing for ever since it was founded. Under Michael Gove’s planned reforms, parents would be free to choose which school their children attended, with government funding following that choice. Crucially, Gove also aims to liberate the supply-side of education, by allowing charities, companies, groups of parents and so on to set up new schools, which would compete with existing state sector ones.

The policy is not perfect: with the Conservatives saying they would not allow schools to make a profit, how many private companies would get involved in providing education? In Sweden, where a similar school choice scheme was set up in 1994, for-profit companies have been the dominant providers of new school places, and have often been the most innovative and successful market entrants. But regardless, school choice is a great idea that could have a transformative effect on British education. As well as empowering parents (itself a valuable objective), the competition it unleashes will drive up standards as good schools prosper and bad ones go out of business, and will also encourage schools to innovate, specialise, and tailor their services to their pupils.

But it is vital that the Conservatives understand that an effective school system needs more than just parental choice and voucher-style funding arrangements. Schools must also be freed from a whole raft of red-tape if the benefits of competition are really to be felt. Firstly, starting a new school needs to be made much easier – planning laws need to be radically altered, and bureaucratic processes dramatically streamlined. Secondly, schools need to be given far more freedom about how and what they teach – that means getting rid of the national curriculum and compulsory standardized tests, and allowing schools to pick whichever exam system they think best (be it GCSE/A-Level, iGCSE/Pre-U, the IB, or whatever). Thirdly, the teaching profession needs a big shake-up. Teachers should be employed by schools, not the government, and should have individually negotiated contracts, not nationally collective-bargained ones. Just as importantly, the route into the teaching profession should be liberalised, with schools themselves taking greater responsibility for teacher training and certification. Finally, these freedoms should not just be for new schools, but should be extended to schools currently in the state sector, all of which should become independent – perhaps as trusts, perhaps as parent-teacher co-operatives, or perhaps under some other management structure.

Ultimately, what needs to be realized is that school choice involves the wholesale rejection of the comprehensive ideology – that one size, determined by Whitehall, fits all – and the adoption a completely new outlook: let a thousand flowers bloom.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Thousands of Children’s Wish-Lists Include Chance to Attend a Good School

While many kids have sent their wish lists to Santa Claus, millions of kids around the country are wishing for an even more important gift this year—the chance to attend a good school.

Brooke Dollins Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation published an important report documenting the long waiting lists at the Lone Star State’s charter schools. She found that: “Last year, 40,813 students were on waiting lists to attend a public charter school in Texas,” This number is more than double the 16,810 students the previous year.” Texas is not alone with its long waiting list. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an estimated 365,000 students were on charter school waiting lists this year.

At these over-subscribed charter schools, lotteries are generally held to decide which lucky kids get the chance to attend. This means that whether or not a child has a chance to attend a good school often depends on whether their ping-pong ball or number is chosen randomly out of a box. That’s right: their futures are decided by chance.

Of course, lotteries are also held to determine which children get to participate in over-subscribed private school choice programs. For example, in 1999, the non-profit Children’s Scholarship Fund announced that it would award tuition scholarships to 40,000 low-income students across the country. More than 1 million children applied. Lotteries were held in participating cities. In Baltimore, for example, more than 40 percent of eligible children applied. Oversubscribed voucher programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarships have been forced to hold lotteries to determine which lucky kids get to attend private school.

Something is seriously wrong with American education when whether children have an opportunity to attend good schools is left up to chance.

This holiday season, elected officials across the country—from school boards to state houses to Capitol Hill—should resolve to answer children’s wishes to attend good schools by reforming education policies to give all families the power to choose the best learning environment for their children. For starters, they can do this by enacting private school choice policies like scholarships and tax credits, by allowing more high-performing charter schools to open, and by expanding access to online learning and virtual education programs. No child’s future should be determined by a lottery.


Australia: Newer playgrounds are too dull for kids

FINDING a decent playground these school holidays should be a walk in the park, but parents and health experts say the quality of Melbourne play spots for children is on the slide. New-age playgrounds designed to minimise injury have come under fire for being boring and limiting.

Experts have warned a lack of older-style "adventure" playgrounds could be holding back our children's development. Child nutritionist Kim Bishop, of Yu Food and Lifestyle, said old-fashioned playgrounds let children exercise more effectively. "I certainly tend to go for the older playgrounds rather than the more sterile environments," Ms Bishop said. "At a playground, kids need a space where they are free to move in a variety of different ways. "There has even been controversy around sandpits as play spaces, but I think it's important to let kids put their hands and feet in dirt and sand."

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have launched a study on the declining quality and number of playgrounds and their effect on children. The project's research leader, Lisa Wood, has said councils and schools go overboard in creating safe and sterile environments, and that children should be given greater scope to play.

Docklands mum-of-three Kristy Seymour-Smith agreed, saying playgrounds should be designed for fun. "I think of the playgrounds that were around when I was a kid - they were quite a bit different," Ms Seymour-Smith said. "As long as there's supervision, they can be fun and safe at the same time."


Australia: Centre to tame violent preschoolers

Without physical punishment, it is almost certain to be ineffective but it least it will keep the badly behaved ones away from the others for a while

CHILDREN as young as four who are too violent to teach will be sent to Queensland's first behaviour school for Prep students. The trial centre will open in January and comes as primary teachers complain of being hit, kicked and sworn at. Experts say the epidemic of broken families and substance abuse in the home is fuelling the anger and volatile behaviour in young children.

Educators want the initiative rolled out across Queensland to protect staff and other students and save troubled kids from growing into dangerous adults. The Early Years Education Centre, partly funded by Education Queensland, will be based on the Gold Coast. Problem students aged between four and six will be referred by state schools and undertake a course for up to a semester. Their parents will be encouraged to take part and will be taught life skills in recognition that behaviour problems usually stem from home.

Education Queensland's South Coast Region executive director Glen Hoppner said principals, parents, teachers and other agencies would confer before referring students. Mr Hoppner said behaviours that "impeded a student's capacity to successfully engage in learning and to interact socially" would be addressed with both parents and students. "To our knowledge, this is the first such centre with this unique collaborative community-based approach," he said.

The breakthrough early intervention centre has been welcomed by teachers, with the union calling on the State Government to extend it throughout Queensland. Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said Prep students were hitting and kicking other students and teachers and throwing furniture. "It's a sad reflection on society that we actually have to go to these steps with kids so young," said Mr Ryan, who added he was concerned the program was not being properly funded by Education Queensland.

EQ will provide a teacher, teacher aide and psychologist for the centre, which will accept 12 students at a time. The community group SAILS (Sailing Adventures in Life Skills), which came up with the idea, will wear the remaining costs for up to six program facilitators and an administration officer. Money will be sought from the community and through fundraising.

SAILS director Russell McClue said there were already more students needing help than could be accommodated. Students and parents would attend three days a week for up to a semester and undergo the American-created "Incredible Years" course which he said had been proven to have the best results. Mr McClue said students would continue their Education Queensland Prep curriculum but in smaller groups with teachers trained specifically in how to deal with them. The children would also be taught how to better interact with teachers, peers and family. At the same time parents will undergo training in life skills and parenting.

Teachers will offer praise and incentives for co-operative behaviour and establish clear rules and routines that promote responsibility. They will also help children stay calm and regulate and understand their emotions.

However, child psychologist Dr Alina Morawska, from the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland, warned that grouping children together with similar problems could make behaviour worse. Dr Morawska said evidence suggested the best way to treat kids was through parenting intervention. [And how do you do that?? The stupid b*tch has obviously had very little to do with the real ferals -- who respect nobody]


Sunday, December 27, 2009

As Congress Ends D.C. Voucher Program, Qatar Moves Toward Universal School Choice

As regular readers of the Foundry know, Congress has recently moved to end the popular and effective D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, denying low-income families the chance to attend a school of their parents’ choice. Meanwhile, other countries are pushing forward with plans to give all parents school choice.

In September, Heritage’s Stuart Butler looked at the Sweden’s popular universal school voucher that began in 1992. Now, Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute explains that Qatar, the small Persian Gulf nation, is planning to move forward with a universal school voucher program:
Qatar’s voucher program, which is just being implemented this year, is part of the country’s comprehensive reform effort called “Education for a New Era.” The voucher amount will be equivalent to the per-pupil funding allotment for government-run schools. It is envisioned that this amount will pay for the majority of private-school fees, with parents paying the rest. Initially, the number of private schools will be limited, but over time that number should increase until the system is universal, with vouchers available to all Qatari parents.

“Parents will have options to select a school of their choice that suits the needs of their children,” says Adel al-Sayed, a top-ranking official at the Supreme Education Council (SEC), Qatar’s national education agency. The voucher program was adopted because it meets the principles that the SEC says inform Qatar’s education policies: schools should be autonomous, schools should be held accountable for student learning, and parents should exercise increasing levels of choice in selecting the best school for their children from a growing number of alternatives.

Parental options are a key element of internationally competitive education in the 21st century, as more countries are recognizing.


Why Britain should scrap GSCEs and return to the leaving certificates of the 1950s

The abolition of GCSEs and a return to the leaving certificate of the 1950s would stop the academic rot, writes Ken Boston (Ken Boston was chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from 2002 to 2009)

Core Business, the recent report from the Conservative think-tank Reform, is absolutely correct in calling for all 16 year-olds to undertake a broad core of academic study as part of their school programme. It errs, however, in attributing the absence of such a core to the replacement of O-levels by GCSEs in 1986, and to the introduction of vocational qualifications. The rot set in much earlier. The error matters, because it leads Core Business into proposing an inadequate solution to a very real problem.

The genesis of the problem goes back to 1951, when O-level and A-level examinations replaced the School and Higher School Certificates. The latter were single qualifications comprising a number of subjects, all of which had to be completed, and some of which – such as English and mathematics – were mandatory. The new, replacement qualifications were single-subject qualifications (for example, O-level history).

The change was highly controversial; some people argued that by dropping their weak subjects, students would be better able to demonstrate their achievements; others claimed that a qualification would only have public currency if it contained passes in five or six subjects, including English, mathematics and a foreign language.

The chickens then came home to roost. The steady transition to mass secondary education in the following half-century was accompanied by the rapid growth of new single-subject qualifications (mainly in academic rather than vocational areas), by greatly increased choice between those qualifications, and by a decline in the percentage of students taking the traditional hard-core disciplines.

In competitor countries with which Core Business compares England so unfavourably, each of the qualifications at age 16 is comprised of groups of subjects, some of which are mandatory. In the main, the qualifications are not awarded unless a pass is achieved in the compulsory subjects and in the required number of additional subjects. Although most students in England take English and mathematics at GCSE level, a pass in the two subjects is not in fact mandatory. Surprisingly, the report does not propose to make these or any other subjects compulsory.

Instead, it turns its angst on vocational qualifications, which it sees as diverting youngsters from the true path of academic study. But the reality is that the use of industry-derived curriculum for growing the minds and imaginations of 16 year-olds as part of their general secondary education has been a critical factor in raising school performance in many of the international competitor countries cited in the report.

In England, we have never understood the role of vocational curriculum in cognitive development, nor reaped its benefits: at best, vocational education is seen by many as catering for the dummies in the hope of doing something about skills shortages.

Core Business shies away from its logical conclusion: that England needs to return to a single age-16 qualification encompassing a range of subjects, some of which are mandatory, and all of which must be passed if the qualification is to be awarded.

The purpose of the qualification must be to guarantee completion of a full, well-rounded secondary education, including achieving the required level of performance in specified compulsory academic subjects. The International Baccalaureate provides a model; so does the recently announced Harrow Diploma; so too do the qualifications offered in countries far ahead of us in the international league tables.

Five years ago, in its response to the Tomlinson Report, the Government had the opportunity to introduce a single overarching qualification embracing the current GCSE and GCE qualifications, and requiring a mandatory standard of achievement in English, mathematics and other core subjects. It prevaricated, equivocated and eventually copped out. Let's hope the next Government has a clearer vision and more resolve.


New bureaucratic controls drive thousands of British childminders to quit

More than 4,000 childminders have left the profession since the Government introduced the so-called "nappy curriculum", figures show. An analysis of Ofsted figures carried out for the Conservatives found that there were 59,323 registered childminders in England at the end of September, compared to 63,600 at the end of August last year. This drop of 4,277 is equivalent to around 12 childminders leaving the job each day of the year, the Tories said.

They blamed the loss on the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), nicknamed the "nappy curriculum", which was introduced in September last year. Under the EYFS reforms, every nursery, childminder and reception class in England has to monitor children's progress towards 69 Government-set "early learning goals". But the curriculum has led to bureaucracy, excessive form filling and unnecessary red tape for schools and early years workers, the Tories said.

Maria Miller, the shadow families minister, said: "At a time when thousands of families are struggling to find affordable childcare, it is deeply worrying to learn that thousands of experienced childminders are being forced out of the profession. "The Government's new early years curriculum was supposed to improve the provision of quality childcare, but the evidence shows it is having the opposite effect. "Childminders would rather quit than deal with the reams of bureaucracy and red tape which ministers have introduced."

Dawn Primarolo, the Children's Minister, said: "Childminders have a vital role to play and we know they are valued by many parents for the unique type of childcare they provide. "We are aware that the overall number of registered childminders has declined recently. There are many possible causes, including changes in demand as a result of the recession and rising demand for other types of childcare."

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: "Our inspection evidence shows that most childminders are implementing the EYFS successfully, with 65% judged good or outstanding in helping children to learn and develop in line with the new requirements in 2008/09. "Ofsted has seen no evidence which links the reduction in the number of providers with the introduction of the EYFS."

Catherine Farrell, Joint Chief Executive of the National Childminding Association (NCMA), added: "NCMA is disappointed that the number of registered childminders is continuing to decline, albeit at a slower rate. "We know that there are a number of reasons for this, most notably changes to policy and regulatory frameworks and the challenging economic environment. "The decline is, however, partly offset by an increase in the number of 'childcare on domestic premises' settings, where childminders are choosing to work collectively."