Friday, December 31, 2010

Teacher evaluations and superstition

Discipline in the classroom and the IQ of the kid are the main things that make a difference

Megan McArdle has a long post on the issue of measuring teacher quality. Meanwhile, The New York Times profiles James Heckman, whose careful research suggests that by the time a child reaches school age it is too late to make much difference.

If the best evidence is that it is almost impossible to make a long-term difference in education, then the statistical evidence on teacher quality is bound to be highly unreliable. What appears to be teacher quality is likely to be random variation. The low rate of replication of statistical teacher evaluations that Megan discusses is consistent with that.

There is a term that Daniel Klein alerted me to called "white hat bias." What it means is that findings that favor a popular political viewpoint will be published, while those that contradict that viewpoint will tend to be discarded. So many people have a vested interest in believing that teachers make a difference that one has to be very wary of white hat bias in studies that purport to show such differences.

Along these lines, I am afraid that I am skeptical of Rick Hanushek's claim that the best teachers are really effective and the worst are really ineffective. If that were true, then I think we would observe private schools dramatically outperforming public schools, holding student characteristics constant, and I do not think that is what the data say. Instead, when we see differences, those differences typically do not persist over time.

In education research, intensive efforts are made to find differences caused by teachers or other inputs. This is a worthwhile effort, but whenever studies are published showing such differences, they need to be discounted heavily for the biases induced by various filters in the research and publication process. The likelihood of any strong difference holding up in repeated study is quite low.


Plans to increase university fees leave British parents querying value of higher education

Controversial plans to raise university fees to £9,000 a year are leaving parents concerned about the cost and questioning the value of higher education. A survey reveals almost a third of the parents said they no longer expected to be able to afford to help pay their child's fees, which means they will be unlikely to be able to go to university.

The survey of more than 1,000 parents, conducted by parenting website Netmums, reveals their deep fears over higher fees. They worry that they will be unable to help their children with the cost of university, while others say they will have to start saving now.

The Government policy, which sparked riots in London and demonstrations around the country last month, means English universities will be able to charge students up to £6,000 per year in fees from 2012. In 'exceptional circumstances' fees could be as much as £9,000.

Almost one in five said they were unlikely to be able to help fund the cost of the fees, but were happy that their child could apply for a Government loan to cover the cost. And more than one in 10 (11.3 per cent) said they no longer wanted their child to go due to the fee rise and the debt they would leave with.

A third of those questioned said they planned to start saving now to help their child in the future, while half said they would make sacrifices in their own lives in order for their child to go to university.. Some 13 per cent said they would consider sending their child to university abroad rather than in the UK.

In total, just 11.2 per cent said they still expected to be able to fund a university education.

And many parents were concerned that the latest fee rise would not be the last. Almost nine in 10 said they were worried that fees would have increased again by the time their child was ready to go to university.

The poll also raised questions among parents about the value of higher education.

Just over four in 10 said a university degree was worth it, simply for its educational value, while only 14.6 per cent of parents believed you need a degree to get a good job.

A quarter of parents said it was possible to work your way up in a career without a degree, while 16.7 per cent said that unless a graduate was going into a specific profession, such as medicine or teaching, then a degree was 'a waste of money'.

Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: 'The proposed rise in tuition fees will have a huge impact on parents, ultimately leaving some unable to send their children to university.

'It's clear that many are beginning to question the value of a degree if it leaves children with crippling debts, and it's likely we will see a rise in school-leavers seeking work or apprenticeships straight after their A-levels.

'It's a shame that the cost will put many people off going to university, which a majority of mums believe can be a seminal part in someone's life in terms of experiences, not just education.'

The survey findings also show that nearly two-thirds (63.3 per cent) of parents questioned believed that university was a right, not a privilege, and despite the cost, the vast majority (93.3 per cent) still wanted their child to go to university.


Australia: Conservatives tip more problems for national syllabus, warning it may be delayed beyond 2013

THE national school curriculum may not be ready for implementation even by 2013 because of fundamental problems and glaring omissions, the Coalition has warned.

Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett has also copped more criticism over his delivery of government initiatives, with opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne pointing to his management of the bungled home insulation scheme, green loans and solar panel programs.

The Australian reported today that Victoria was joining NSW and Western Australia in opting to delay implementation of the curriculum until 2013, despite the government's preferred timetable for the courses to be introduced next year.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority said in a memo that it would spend the next two tears trialling and training teachers and refining the curriculum before starting to implement it.

Mr Pyne seized on the development, telling The Australian Online the curriculum still had key flaws and was not ready for implementation. “We have been warning for 18 months that the national curriculum would not be ready in January 2011,” he said.

It is cumbersome, overly prescriptive and lacks the resources necessary for the training of teachers and as a consequence it could never begin in January 2011,” he told The Australian Online.

Mr Pyne poured scorn on Mr Garrett who, following a meeting of the nation's education ministers earlier this month, claimed an historic victory after they endorsed the content of the first four subjects - English, mathematics, science and history - to be taught in classrooms. “I can only assume that Peter Garrett, in wanting to cover the back of his Prime Minister, pretended something had been achieved at the ministerial council that hadn't. “Because the real villain in the piece of the national curriculum is Julia Gillard, who of course was the minister responsible for its implementation.”

To ensure a smooth implementation of the curriculum, Mr Pyne said the government needed to listen to the “teaching profession and to the experts about what the curriculum should contain”. He warned its “fundamental basics” had not been bedded down and pointed out the history section didn't “acknowledge that the Vietnam War needs to be taught”. Mr Pyne said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2013 timeline “gets pushed out even further”.

Changes to the curriculum can be made until the deadline of October next year and this has the potential to affect teachers introducing courses in their classrooms next year.

Only the Australian Capital Territory will start teaching the new courses next year, with Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory spending the year familiarising teachers with the new courses and running trials.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

British Universities staging admissions tests to identify the brightest students

Dumbed down school exams not much use. So we have a backdoor revival of IQ testing

Students are facing a battery of admissions tests to get into university next year amid record demand for degree courses. The Daily Telegraph has learnt that as many as one-in-five universities and higher education colleges are staging their own entrance exams to pick out the best candidates. In many cases, students are being asked to sit aptitude tests to get into the most sought-after institutions.

The disclosure will fuel fears that universities are struggling to identify the most able applicants from a huge rise in school-leavers with straight As at A-level. But other institutions are also staging more basic literacy and numeracy exams just to make sure teenagers have a decent grasp of the three-Rs before starting a degree.

It comes as record numbers of students chase higher education places next year. According to the latest figures, an unprecedented 181,814 candidates completed applications by the end of November – a rise of almost 12 per cent compared with the same point last year. If the trend continues into 2011, almost 240,000 applicants could be left without places. The scramble comes as students attempt to get into university before a sharp rise in tuition fees in 2012.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said growing numbers of admissions tutors no longer trusted A-level results. “It’s a great pity that universities are having to introduce their own entrance exams,” he said. “On the one hand it is comment on the ability of A-levels to distinguish between students at the top end. “On the other, it shows that universities don’t believe that students are literate or numerate enough to take some courses, even if they’ve passed their GCSEs and A-levels.”

In a report, researchers surveyed some 306 universities and higher education colleges. The study, by the organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA), which advises universities on admissions policies, found that 21 per cent used tests to dictate entry to some subjects. It was up on around 16 per cent two years ago and the same as the number in 2009/10.

Researchers insisted it still only accounted for a small proportion - around one per cent - of the 43,360 courses on offer next year. But the disclosure will add to growing concerns that GCSE or A-level results alone are not enough to gauge a candidate’s suitability for courses.

Students taking medicine and law are normally required to sit entrance exams to get into the most selective universities. The National Admissions Test for Law must be passed to study the subject at Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Kings College London, Nottingham, Oxford and University College London. Other universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, set their own exams for some courses.

Cambridge’s thinking skills assessment – a 90 minute multiple choice aptitude test – is needed to study computer science, economics, engineering, land economy, natural sciences and politics, psychology and sociology (PPS). Students need to sit an admissions test or submit written work to get on to 29 courses at Oxford, the SPA survey said.

But candidates also have to pass entrance tests to get into less selective universities. According to the SPA, students attempting to take undergraduate teacher training degrees at Gloucestershire need to sit English and maths tests and some courses at Bournemouth University require a “maths and logic” exam.

Students must take a written English test to study journalism at Kent and those attempting to study occupational therapy at London South Bank have to complete a writing, grammar and problem-solving assessment.

Kingston University requires students applying to aircraft engineering to take a one-hour maths and physics paper, while those attempting to read social work must sit a literacy and “case study comprehension” test.

The rise of university entry tests coincides with an increase in A-level results. According to figures, a record 27 per cent of exams were awarded an A grade this year. Some one-in-12 papers scored an elite A* grade introduced for the first time this year to pick out the brightest candidates.

On its website, SPA said: “Some higher education institutions use admissions tests to aid differentiation between the most able applicants. “A test score in this context has become more significant because of concerns about the high numbers of candidates who achieve high grades in qualifications, eg. the increasing number of A grades at A level. “Tests may also focus upon skills and aptitudes that are not assessed through academic attainment.”


Sanity coming to the British university admissions system?

A dramatic shake-up of university admissions could see students waiting for their A-level results before applying for degrees. Teenagers currently apply for courses on the basis of the grades their teachers predict they will achieve – even though up to half of estimated grades turn out to be wrong. The new plan would mean prospective students could apply only after they have been awarded the marks necessary to secure a place at their university of choice.

The reform would require an overhaul of the current system, with speedier marking and A-level exams taken earlier in the academic year. It is designed to help state pupils who are often predicted lower grades than they go on to achieve.

It is one of a number of proposed changes – for inclusion in next spring’s education white paper – aimed at minimising the damage that the hike in tuition fees could have on social mobility. Universities minister David Willetts has given his provisional backing to the plan.

The changes have been prompted by Oxford University research commissioned by Mr Willetts’ department which shows that the most able candidates from comprehensive schools are disadvantaged by the current system. This is because their teachers underestimate the grades they go on to receive – often because they have less experience than those in independent and grammar schools of dealing with such high achievers.

As a result, many highly capable candidates do not apply for the country’s top universities.

Mary Curnock Cook, of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the most senior figure in the admissions system, has strongly backed the plans and believes they could be implemented within five years. She believes the chief hurdle is the time taken by exam boards to mark students’ papers.

For the reform to work, A-level results would need to be available by early summer to allow time for students to apply for courses starting in late September or early October. At present students receive their results in August, nine months after receiving their predicted grades.

Mrs Curnock Cook said: ‘I have come to the conclusion that probably the biggest single reform that we can do in the qualifications arena and higher education is to move to a post-qualifications admissions system. ‘This is something that’s been put in the “too difficult to handle box” for a very long time.’

Mrs Curnock Cook said she was ‘shocked’ by the time taken by exam boards to mark papers, asking: ‘What’s happened to technology?’ She added: ‘I cannot believe that in the next five years we cannot speed up the marking of exams.’

The proposal will be studied by exam watchdog Ofqual. Its chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, said: ‘We will actively consider the proposals with Ucas and with the awarding organisation we regulate.’

Mr Willetts stressed the need for the reform. He said: ‘The big argument in favour is that in terms of social mobility, there is some underestimation in the forecast of A-level grades of teenagers at mainstream, non-academic schools.

‘There are some people from tough backgrounds who do better at their A-level grades than predicted and might have got to a more competitive university if it had been possible to judge them on their actual performance, not their predicted performance.’

However, Simon Lebus, of exam board Cambridge Assessment, questioned the feasibility of the proposals. ‘If you wanted to have results at a certain time, I am sure awarding bodies could bring it forward a week or two weeks,’ he said. ‘The issue is about schools having the ability to receive the results earlier in the summer holidays and how set-up the universities would be to handle many thousands of applications over a shorter period.’


Australia: Federal government plan to liberate schools

Any decentralization of power should be good. A bit surprising from a Leftist government, though

SCHOOLS will become self-governing under a Labor plan that hands responsibility for budgets and hiring teachers to principals and school councils. The plan would also hold them accountable for student performance.

In a move that would comprehensively reshape the nation's education system, the federal government is proposing a model of school governance based on the way independent schools operate, turning government and Catholic schools into "autonomous" institutions.

In a briefing paper submitted to a meeting of state education ministers at the beginning of the month, the federal government outlined a plan for autonomous schools to become the standard by 2018 in the government and non-government sectors. "The aim of the initiative is to facilitate systemic national reform to establish autonomous school operation as the norm across all Australian education sectors, with schools predominantly being self-governing," it says.

The paper says increasing school autonomy will "improve student performance by providing principals, parents and school communities a greater input into the management of their local school".

The plan goes further than the model outlined by Julia Gillard in the election campaign that proposed "empowering local schools" by giving principals and parents a greater say over selecting and employing teachers, and identifying funding priorities.

The idea of self-governing schools resembles the charter school movement in the US of publicly funded, but privately run, schools open to all students.

The plan is yet to be considered by education ministers. A spokeswoman for School Education Minister Peter Garrett, who is on leave, said the briefing paper was noted at the ministerial council meeting and a working group would be established in the new year, with members from states and territories, which would consult widely. "The government remains committed to delivering greater autonomy to school communities and won't pre-empt the work to be completed by the working party," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing public schools, yesterday accused the government of privatising the public education system.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said school autonomy was just a slogan and there was no evidence that increasing the control of principals and school boards improved student achievement. "Why is the government hell bent on taking the word public out of education?" he said.

"Make no mistake, this is a privatisation agenda. "When I hear the words 'local autonomy' uttered by governments, I can't help but think that what they are granting principals and teachers is nothing more than the freedom to obey. "They want to give us the autonomy to do the plumbing and fix faulty powerpoints while dictating that when reporting on student achievement, we can only use five letters of the alphabet, A to E."

The brief provided to the ministers outlines a two-phase implementation process, with 1000 schools to participate in an initial rollout in 2012 and 2013, with the selected schools to come from every state and territory and a third from regional areas.

In the second phase of the proposal, the rest of the nation's schools will be "offered the opportunity to increase their level of local independence" as part of a national rollout by 2018.

The proposal envisages a nationally agreed statement of criteria defining the "essential elements of autonomous school operation" and an assessment process by which schools are selected to participate.

A similar approach has been adopted by the West Australian government, which introduced independent public schools, with 34 starting this year and a further 64 to start next year. Boards are established to govern the schools, with principals having control over the hiring of staff and a one-line budget, allowing them to decide how to spend their money. The ACT is moving to a similar system and Victoria has operated a system of self-managed schools since the late 1990s.

Victoria's reforms, introduced by the Kennett Liberal government, were intended to go further and allow self-governing schools, which would have made them the employer - not just the selector - of teachers and responsible for industrial negotiations. But only 50 of about 1600 schools agreed to the proposal and it was dropped by the Bracks Labor government. Former premier Jeff Kennett said yesterday "the unions got to Bracks" and stopped the rollout of his original scheme.

Mr Kennett said he still believed it was the best way to run schools in the public system, by giving principals and school councils full control.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time for Big Cuts in Education Spending?

America spends far more on education than countries like Germany, Japan, Australia, Ireland, and Italy, both as a percentage of its economy, and in absolute terms. Yet despite this lavish government support for education, college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing, reaching levels of $50,000 or more a year at some colleges, and colleges are effectively rewarded for increasing tuition by mushrooming federal financial-aid spending. Americans can’t read or do math as well as the Japanese, even though America spends way more (half again more) on education than Japan does, as a percentage of income, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

In light of this, it is easy to see why some education experts like Neal McCluskey are floating the idea of “draconian education cuts“ to shake up a rotten educational establishment.

Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds at Instapundit notes that “some spending on educational institutions” may actually have a “negative” effect on education. People endure useless college courses to get paper credentials, but they get their actual education elsewhere, through internships and work. One of Professor Reynolds’ readers suggests that competition from “independent scholars” via the “internet” and elsewhere may improve education by providing competition with established universities that offer “little real education.”

Unfortunately, the colleges are well aware of this threat, and rather than improve themselves in response to competition, they are urging the government to crack down on one form of competition, for-profit colleges. The Obama administration is now doing just that, waging a war on for-profit colleges, by subjecting them, but not traditional “non-profit” colleges, to so-called “gainful employment” rules that many non-profit liberal-arts colleges would flunk. To try to rationalize this discrimination, the administration trumpeted a GAO report that has now been thoroughly discredited.

College tuition is often a rip-off, since most people who went to college because of rising college-attendance in recent years wound up in unskilled jobs (including janitors with Ph.D’s), and tuition is skyrocketing faster than housing costs did during the real estate bubble. (100 colleges charge at least $50,000 a year, compared to five in 2008-09.)

In recent years, spending on college administrators has risen massively. One study found an average increase of 61 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, between 1993 and 2007; one leading university increased spending on administrators by 600 percent. Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world, and “inflation-adjusted K-12 spending tripled over the last 40 years.”


British High school courses 'failing to prepare students for university'

British students face missing out on university places because A-levels fail to prepare them for degree courses, Michael Gove warns today. The Education Secretary says even the brightest students often lack the levels of knowledge boasted by undergraduates from abroad – putting them at a disadvantage in the race for the most sought-after institutions.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he pledges to allow universities to help script A-level questions and exam syllabuses to make sure they act as a better preparation for higher education.

His comments come after it emerged that one-in-five universities are being forced to set their own entrance tests because they can no longer rely on the results of school and college exams to pick out exceptional candidates. It is likely to make it even harder for students to get on to degree courses in 2011 following a dramatic 12 per cent surge in university applications for next year.

In an article today, Mr Gove says: “Colleges can no longer rely on the existing A level to identify the best candidates, so they have to set their own tests. And academics report that even the brightest of our students don’t have the level of knowledge which undergraduates from abroad can boast, so when they arrive at college they need remedial work, especially on subjects like maths, to compete. “We can’t afford to waste time while our students fall further behind in the race for the best university places and jobs, which is why we’re accelerating the pace of reform.”

The Education Secretary says a proposed overhaul of A-levels should restore faith in the so-called “gold standard" qualification, leading to a cut in the number of universities setting their own entrance tests.

An education Bill being published in the New Year will require exam boards to consult universities before setting A-levels and benchmark exams against tests set by some of the world’s best education systems.

A reform of school league tables will also be made to stop teachers pushing pupils on to “soft” courses used to inflate their position in official rankings.


Australia: Children can't get enough science lessons

ALMOST half of 12-year-olds have a science lesson less than once a week, even though most think the subject is interesting and would like to learn more.

A survey of Year 6 students conducted for the first time last year as part of the National Science Tests reveals 21 per cent of students reported having a science lesson "hardly ever" while 19 per cent said they were taught the subject less than once a week. Yet three-quarters said they would like to learn more science.

The survey of students' interests and experiences revealed generally positive attitudes towards science.

More than 80 per cent of students agreed science was "important for lots of jobs" and that learning science would be more important in high school.

About 67 per cent agreed it would be interesting to be a scientist and only 40 per cent agreed that "science is too difficult for most people to understand".

But when asked how often they had science lessons at school, only 6 per cent said every day and 54 per cent said once a week, while 48 per cent said lessons were mostly held in the afternoon, when students are typically less alert.

At the same time, the national test results show students' scientific understanding is falling, with the average score dropping during the past decade, primarily among the top students.

The tests, comprising a written exam and a practical task, have been conducted every three years since 2003 among a representative sample of Year 6 students, with about 5 per cent - or more than 13,000 - sitting the most recent tests last year. The results show the average score has dropped eight points since 2006 and while not statistically significant, it continues a trend of declining marks. Changes in the tests between 2003 and 2006 make the results not strictly comparable, but the trend is a drop in the national average of 17 points between 2003 and last year.

The average score of Year 6 students in Tasmania did fall significantly over the past three years, by 20 points.

Lower scores were recorded around the nation, except in Western Australia, where the average score rose 12 points, which is not statistically significant, and in the Northern Territory, where the average rose one point.

ACT students achieved the highest scores, followed by Victoria, which overtook NSW, and Western Australia, which rose from seventh to fourth over the past three years.

Students are also marked against five levels of proficiency, with almost 52 per cent deemed to have met the standard last year compared with 54.3 per cent in 2006. But while about 10 per cent of students scored in the top two levels in 2006, this proportion had dropped to 7.3 per cent last year. The proportion of students in the bottom level had increased from 8.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent.

The difference between the scores achieved by girls and boys was negligible, but indigenous students scored about 100 points lower on average, and about two-thirds of students in remote and very remote areas did not meet the proficiency standard. The difference between metropolitan and provincial areas was small.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Angry Anti-Christmas at School

The metaphor "the War on Christmas" can be mocked -- as if Santa and his reindeer are dodging anti-aircraft fire. But many of our public schools have church-and-state sensitivity police with an alarming degree of Santaphobia. Anyone who's attended a school's "winter concert" in December with no traditional Christmas music -- not even "Frosty the Snowman" -- knows the drill. The vast Christian majority (that funds the public schools) is told that school is no place to celebrate one's religion, even in its most watered-down and secularized forms.

There are real-life stories of Scrooge-like school administrators, like the one at the appropriately named Battlefield High School in Haymarket, Va. A group of 10 boys calling themselves the Christmas Sweater Club were given detention and at least two hours of cleaning for tossing free 2-inch candy canes at students as they entered before classes started. They were "creating a disturbance." One of their mothers, Kathleen Flannery, told WUSA-TV that an administrator called her and explained, "(N)ot everyone wants Christmas cheer, that suicide rates are up over Christmas, and that they should keep their cheer to themselves, perhaps."

Of course, that level of sensitivity is not applied when it comes to slamming Christianity during the Christmas season. On Dec. 16, The Washington Post paid tribute to another suburban school in northern Virginia, McLean High School, for warming hearts during the season with "The Laramie Project." This play is a political assault, using transcripts of real-life interviews by gay activists out to blame America's religious people for the beating death of homosexual college student Matthew Shepard in 1998.

The Post championed how in the play, "there is a Baptist minister who says he hopes Shepard was thinking of his lifestyle as he was tied to the fence ... There is a young woman who grew up in the Muslim faith in Laramie and thinks the town and nation need to accept what the case has laid bare. 'We are like this,' she says."

This account actually underplayed what the character "lays bare" -- a guilt trip. In the script, she says "there are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this." (Emphasis by the playwright, Moises Kaufman.)

That attack keeps coming. A Catholic priest insists the killers "must be our teachers. What did we as a society do to teach you that?" A character also reads an e-mail from a college student: "You and the straight people of Laramie and Wyoming are guilty of the beating of Matthew Shepard just as the Germans who looked the other way are guilty of the deaths of the Jews, the gypsies, and the homosexuals. You have taught your straight children to hate their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters -- until and unless you acknowledge that Matt Shepard's beating is not just a random occurrence, not just the work of a couple of random crazies, you have Matthew's blood on your hands."

This is vicious anti-Christian propaganda, plain and simple. Any teaching that homosexuality is a sin is an invitation to murder? These mudslinging culture warriors are celebrated as compassionate by administrators, while just down the road, the Christmas Sweater Club is given detention for spreading Christmas cheer.

The McLean High students putting on this play are candid. They are trying to walk people away from the Bible. "I hope that this changes some people's perspectives on gay rights and maybe opens their minds a little bit," proclaimed Lauren Stewart, 17, the student-director. "I think the way to progress on issues is to talk about them."

Another student added, "If one person comes into the theater and is on the fence about ... any discrimination and leaves questioning their beliefs, I think we've done this play justice."

Making people "have conversations" is presented as glorious. But it wouldn't be a constructive conversation if students were trying to convert people to Christianity -- only when you try to convert people away from it.

A little research shows plenty of "socially conscious" public high schools have staged this propaganda bombing, aiming to crush biblical "discrimination." But it takes a really special school administrator to let it be scheduled in the last two weeks before Christmas. It's amazing that at Battlefield High School, the accusation was that Christmas cheer invited suicides, but plays about murderous "hate crimes" that America has collectively committed by our "fear and ignorance of the Other" somehow should make our spirits bright.


Scrapping School Religious Holidays Solves Nothing

In a recent column for USA Today, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero argues that public schools should do away with giving students’ days off for religious holidays because honoring Christian holidays in this manner is unfair to other religions.

“As I read the First Amendment,” writes Prothero, “using taxpayer dollars to prop up Christianity and Judaism at the expense of Hinduism is unconstitutional, whether the number of parents who won’t send their children to school on [the Hindu festival of] Diwali totals 80 or 800.”

Prothero suggests that those who agree with him should clamor to have every religious holiday under the sun celebrated in our public schools, in which schools would thereby be overwhelmed and forced to honor none of them as a matter of “fairness.”

One would hope that USA Today, which presented this article as a half-page, quasi editorial would let someone write a similarly placed piece reminding us of the need for renewing our moral values at Christmas, and to add their shock when Christmas parades, holidays and greetings come under fire from militant secularists.

Nevertheless, it is always amusing when folks, typically college professors, drape themselves in the Constitution when they want to do away with something they don’t like, and in the process, ignore the rest of the Constitution that, were it adhered to, would have prevented the very “problem” they’d like to solve.

Nowhere in our Constitution is there a mandate for a centralized public education system to begin with – a system where the Federal Government spends $70 billion per year dictating which attitudes, values and beliefs ought to be drilled into every American students’ mind. Perhaps our Founders realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to education, whereby the ruling class was the final arbiter, was dangerous to all of our liberties and not just those laid out in the First Amendment.

Nor did our Founders establish a school system whereby American families are taxed into oblivion and essentially forced to enroll their children in government schools – schools they must pay for regardless of whether they use them or not, and regardless of whether they even have children or not. Schools, incidentally, where students are told to check their religion at the door under some bizarre interpretation of the First Amendment.

Constitution aside, Prothero’s suggestion that we should do away with school-sanctioned religious holidays is hardly a solution. It’s a false notion that we can respect everyone by respecting no one, as he suggests. Telling the 76 percent of Americans who are Christian that observance of their holy days must be scrapped in deference to the 0.4 percent of Americans who are Hindu might seem fair within the confines of the Boston University Religious Department. However, in the real world, this doesn’t hold up to anyone’s idea of fairness.

Those who wish to make a point by invoking the Constitution need to understand that they can’t pick and choose from the document like it’s a cafeteria line. The Constitution is only as strong, and as rational, as the sum of its parts. So while it’s true that our Founders never intended a government mandated religion, it’s equally true that they never intended a coerced government education system in which all children are prohibited from practicing or exhibiting any religious beliefs.


Christian assemblies in British schools face axe over claims they infringe children's human rights

Christian assemblies in schools could be scrapped if campaigning atheists and teachers get their way. According to the National Secular Society, a legal requirement for pupils to take part in a daily act of collective worship ‘of a broadly Christian character’ discriminates against young atheists and non-Christians, and infringes human rights.

And the campaign has support from headmasters who claim that many schools already ignore the requirement, despite it being set in stone since the passing of the 1944 Education Act. The Association of School and College Leaders has also suggested assemblies should end, and the British Humanist Association is campaigning on the subject.

But the most direct attack on religious assemblies, which represents yet another assault on Britain’s historic Christian culture, has come in a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove from Keith Porteous, executive director of the National Secular Society.

Mr Porteous wrote: ‘We believe that the mandatory daily acts of mainly Christian worship and, in particular, the imposition on children to take part in such acts, represent an infringement of rights. ‘We recognise that assemblies with an ethical framework have a vital contribution to make to school life. ‘We do, however, object to collective worship in principle, as not being a legitimate activity of a state-funded institution. ‘We are confident that you would not wish to perpetuate a law that is routinely disregarded. We hope that, under your leadership, the law will be changed so that it is brought out of disrepute.’

The letter goes on to urge the Education Secretary to scrap the requirement to stage Christian assemblies in an education bill due to be produced next year.

Although parents can withdraw their children from such assemblies simply by writing a letter to the headmaster or headmistress, the atheist campaigners claim many fear such letters could make their children targets for bullying.

The National Secular Society had already prompted outrage this year by launching legal action using the much-derided Human Rights Act to stop councils beginning meetings with prayers. If such action was taken through the appropriate courts, religious assemblies could ultimately be ruled illegal.

The campaigning atheists have willing supporters inside the school system, with many of them saying schools do not have big enough halls to accommodate all their pupils every morning.

Paul Kelley, the headmaster of Monkseaton High School, Tyne and Wear, has claimed that most schools ignore the requirement to stage a daily collective act of worship anyway. Five years ago he lobbied the Labour government to scrap the requirement, but was told the House of Lords would never approve such a move.

The Association of School and College Leaders has also backed calls for an end to the law on daily religious assemblies, saying that in reality they often simply did not happen. ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said: ‘Many schools aren’t doing the daily act of worship and theoretically they are breaking the law.’

The Church of England, however, is strongly opposed to changing the law. A spokesman said: ‘To deny children the entitlement to take part in worship at school is to deny them a learning experience that is increasingly important in the modern world.’

And the Department for Education said the Government was not planning to bring an end to compulsory Christian assemblies. A spokesman said: ‘The Government believes that the requirement for collective worship in schools encourages pupils to reflect on the concept of belief and the role it plays in the traditions and values of this country.

‘Schools have the flexibility to design provision that is appropriate to the age and background of their pupils. ‘If a headteacher feels it is inappropriate to have Christian collective worship, the school can apply to have this changed.’


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Short Hiatus

This blog is suspended for a couple of days over the Christmas period. But as Macarthur said for the cameras: "I shall return"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Report: One in four flunk Army entrance exam

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The report by the Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will become too small.

"Too many of our high-school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career, and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press. "I am deeply troubled by the national-security burden created by America's underperforming education system."

The effect of the low eligibility rate might not be noticeable now - the Department of Defense says it is meeting its recruitment goals - but that could change as the economy improves, said retired Navy Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett. "If you can't get the people that you need, there's a potential for a decline in your readiness," said Barnett, who is part of Mission: Readiness, a coalition of retired military leaders working to raise awareness of the high ineligibility rates.

The report found that 23 percent of recent high-school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. Questions are often basic, such as: "If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?" (The answer is 2.)

The military-exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data show that 75 percent of those ages 17 to 24 don't even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate from high school.

Educators expressed dismay that so many high-school graduates are unable to pass a test of basic skills. "It's surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across the stage who really don't deserve to be and haven't earned that right," said Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a group that represents more than 80,000 educators.

This is the first time the Army has released this test data publicly, said Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based children's advocacy group.

The study examined the scores of nearly 350,000 high-school graduates, ages 17 to 20, who took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam between 2004 and 2009. About half of the applicants went on to join the Army. Recruits must score at least 31 out of 99 on the first stage of the three-hour test to get into the Army. Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard recruits need higher scores.

Further tests determine what kind of job the recruit can do.


The Obama administration’s misguided war on for-profit colleges

In Forbes, economist Richard Vedder of Ohio University documents the blunders behind the Obama administration’s war on for-profit colleges that wiped out $8 billion in value for shareholders.

Earlier, former Congressman Bob Barr wrote about the topic. Forbes also has articles on how America is saturated with unnecessary college graduates, and how government-subsidized higher education is increasingly becoming a bad bargain for state taxpayers.

As Vedder notes, the government is foolishly attacking for-profit colleges even though non-profit colleges have even worse outcomes in terms of leading to gainful employment for their students. Moreover, some public colleges have drop-out rates that exceed 90 percent.

At Reason magazine, Nick Gillespie explains how claims that elite colleges use to justify their inflated tuition are based on a statistical fallacy.

We wrote earlier about how college tuition is increasingly a rip-off, since most of the people who have ended up in college due to increasing college-attendance rates in recent years have ended up in unskilled jobs (such as 5,057 janitors with Ph.D’s or advanced degrees), and since the current college debt bubble dwarfs the housing bubble. (100 colleges now charge $50,000 or more a year, compared to just 5 in 2008-09.)


Shrinking British universities

There will be a freeze in university places next year and 10,000 fewer places the following year as the higher rate of tuition fees comes into force, the government has announced, meaning that hundreds of thousands will fail to get onto degree courses. David Willetts, the Universities and Science minister, said that teaching budgets would be slashed by almost £400 million, equivalent to 6% of the overall budget, next April, more than a year before fees rise to a maximum of £9,000.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the announcement was a “Christmas kick in the teeth for the sector” and warned that British universities face falling behind on the world stage. The union said the cuts, outlined in a grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), will force academic institutions to freeze staff pay and cut courses.

Mr Willetts said that “extremely challenging” public spending constraints meant that public expenditure costs had to be controlled by controlling student numbers. The fine on over-recruitment comes despite Mr Willetts' criticism of a similar policy implemented by Labour last year, which he said at the time would add "real pressure" to the sector and was "very bad news" for Britain's universities.

There has been a substantial rise in applications for places in 2011 as students battle to enter higher education before the new fee cap is introduced. At the end of November, applications were up by around 12% on the same period last year, meaning that some 235,000 people could be without places next autumn.

The grant letter, from Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and Mr Willetts, said that total funding from loans and HEFCE grants would fall by around £600 million in 2011, from £9.8 billion to £9.2 billion. That figure will rise to £9.412 billion in 2012, when a larger proportion of the cash will be made up of Government loans to cover students' tuition fees, to be repaid when they reach an income of £21,000 after graduation.

Teaching grants will be cut from £4.9 billion to £4.6 billion in 2011. This will drop to £3.8 billion in 2012, which will be offset by raised tuition fees. The figures are based on assumed average fees of £7,500 per year.

Ministers insisted that universities continue to receive "significant public funding", with the total budget from Government grants and tuition fees rising from £9 billion to £10 billion by 2014. They suggested that in order to save money, universities collaborate “through greater sharing of research equipment and infrastructure”.

Mr Willetts said that despite the tough fiscal scene, institutions would be able to cope with the cuts and that in cash terms, there would be a “modest recovery” of funding going into universities in 2012, providing that they could attract the necessary number of students.

“We believe there is scope for efficiency savings within English universities and that they can handle cuts on this scale,” he said. “With the increase in revenues we expect universities to get from fees and loans, the aggregate effect could represent a rise in cash terms.” He said the rise in fees should create incentives to improve the quality of teaching.

Gareth Thomas MP, Labour’s Higher Education Spokesman criticised the government's "triple whammy" imposed on universities - cuts in teaching funding, in research funding and in capital investment. He said: "Even within the terms of their own reckless approach to cutting the deficit such big cuts were not needed. Every other country in the G8 is increasing their higher education, science and research budgets despite their economic challenges.”

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said the coalition’s Christmas message to the sector was “funding cuts, higher fees, fewer university places, a pay freeze and attacks on staff pensions”. She said: “After weeks of attacks on students and universities through budget cuts and increased tuition fees the coalition has delivered a real Christmas kick in the teeth to the sector by announcing these cuts to funding and student places and attacks on pay and conditions.

“The government seems to think that the sector will be able to deliver more for less and students will be happy to pay three times the price. “That is absolute madness, especially when we consider the increased spending on higher education in the vast majority of developed and developing countries around the world. “Put bluntly, by cutting funding and access to university, attacking staff pay and conditions and charging students record fees we are going to be left behind.”

Aaron Porter, NUS President, said that fines for over-recruiting would see hundreds of thousands of highly qualified students “missing out on places and being left between a hostile jobs market and tripled tuition fees if they dare to reapply".


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Black Education Disaster in America

Black kids learnt a lot more in the high discipline schools of the past, so improvement is possible if the right learning environment is provided

Walter E. Williams

Harvard University Professor Stephan Thernstrom's recent essay, "Minorities in College---Good News, But...," in Minding the Campus (11/4/10), a website sponsored by the New York-based Manhattan Institute, commented on the results of the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress test: The scores "mean that black students aged 17 do not read with any greater facility than whites who are four years younger and still in junior high. ... Exactly the same glaring gaps appear in NAEP's tests of basic mathematics skills."

Thernstrom asks, "If we put a randomly-selected group of 100 eighth-graders and another of 100 twelfth-graders in a typical college, would we expect the first group to perform as well as the second?" In other words, is it reasonable to expect a college freshman of any race with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education to compete successfully with those having a twelfth-grade education?

SAT scores confirm the poor education received by blacks. In 2009, average SAT reading test scores were: whites (528), Asians (516) and blacks (429). In math it was whites (536), Asians (587) and blacks (426). Twelve years of fraudulent primary and secondary education received by most blacks are not erased by four or five years of college.

This is evidenced by examination scores taken for admission to graduate schools. In 2007, Graduate Record Examination verbal scores were: whites (493), Asians (485) and blacks (395). The math portion scores were: whites (562), Asians (617) and blacks (419). Scores on the LSAT in 2006, for admission to law school, were: whites (152), Asians (152) and blacks (142). In 2010, MCAT scores for admission to medical schools were: whites (26), Asians (26) and blacks (21).

What's some of the response of the black community to efforts to do something about fraudulent primary and secondary education? Voters in Washington, D.C., might provide a partial answer. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed and backed Michelle Rhee as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.

She fired large numbers of ineffective teachers, most of whom were black, and fought the teachers' union. During her tenure, there were small gains made in student test scores.

How did all of this go over with Washington voters? Washington's teachers' union, as well as D.C.'s public-employee unions, spent massive amounts of money campaigning against Fenty. Voters unseated him in the November elections and with him went Chancellor Rhee. Fenty had other "faults"; he didn't play the racial patronage game that has become a part of D.C.'s political landscape. The clear message given by D.C. voters and teachers' union is that any politician who's willing to play hardball in an effort to improve black education will be run out of town.

The education establishment's solution is always more money; however, according to a Washington Post article (4/6/2008), "The Real Cost Of Public Schools," written by Andrew J. Coulson, if we include its total operating budget, teacher retirement, capital budget and federal funding, the D.C. public schools spend $24,600 per student.

Washington's fraudulent black education is by no means unique; it's duplicated in one degree or another in most of our major cities. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the increasing demand for charter schools and educational vouchers. This movement is being fought tooth and nail by an education establishment that fears the competition and subsequent threats to their employment. The charter school and the educational vouchers movement will help prevent parents and children who care about education from being held hostage in an environment hostile to the learning process. And there's plenty of evidence that children do better and parents are more pleased when they have a measure of school choice.

The fact that black youngsters trail their white counterparts by three or four years becomes even more grim when we recognize that the education white youngsters receive is nothing to write home about.

According to the recently released Program for International Student Assessment exam, our 15-year-olds rank 25th among 34 industrialized nations in math and 14th in reading.


Distance Learning Students Make Performance Gains

Probably because they are more motivated

Post-secondary students who take online “distance learning” classes outperform their peers who work face-to-face with teachers in a physical classroom, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching.

The study by Mickey Shachar and Yoram Neumann could aid efforts to extend learning opportunities to students in rural communities and others—for example, whose parents want them to be able to work at their own schedule and pace—via remote technology instead of building and equipping expensive new schools for small or remote populations.

“For many years distance learning was treated as the stepchild of higher education,” said Neumann, now president and CEO of United States University in National City, California. “Now we have verifiable proof and results that distance learners outperform their traditional counterparts.”

The duo’s “meta-study” examined studies comparing the academic achievement of postsecondary students over two decades, between 1990 and 2009. “We found that in 70 percent of the cases, distance learning students outperformed their traditional counterparts,” Neumann said, “and in the past seven years, when distance learning was mainly using the online modality, the online learning students outperformed their counterparts in 84 percent of the cases.”

Shachar and Neumann’s conclusions come as no surprise to Michael Ritter, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who teaches geography and meteorology courses online. He featured Shachar and Neumann’s study on his blog “The Digital Professor.” “Distance education is simply education that occurs when the instructor and student are physically separated from one another.” Ritter said. “Hence there may be no pedagogically significant difference.”

However, Ritter added, virtual classrooms come without many of the distractions of a bricks-and-mortar school building, even with a teacher right there to focus on a student. “I’m less distracted when teaching in a synchronous online environment than in a classroom of 80 students,” Ritter said. “I, and other students, don’t have the distraction of those who are not paying attention to the class activity and possibly disrupting the learning process.”

“I’m finding it’s easier to provide one-on-one help in an online environment,” Ritter said. “Though I have to set boundaries on my time, students are able to get help much quicker in an online environment than having to physically show up at my office.”

Neumann says distance teaching doesn’t just allow for more focus—it demands it. “I found from my own experience that online learning requires much more discipline, in terms of focused leadership, design, and planning,” he said. The result is that distance learning tends to feature “a major emphasis on learning outcomes, accountability, timely feedback, and continuous student engagement in the learning process itself.”

The study didn’t look at the performance of distance learners in elementary and secondary schools, and Neumann declined to speculate whether the postsecondary results have implications for younger grades. “I am not in a position to offer any prediction,” he said.

Ritter, however, says he thinks the results could be similar in K-12. “For the most part I do, so long as there is on-site guidance by a parent,” he said. “The most difficult aspect of distance education is keeping students on task.”

In their study, Schachar and Neumann suggest policymakers should consider distance learning as an option in dealing with tight education budgets and growing market demand.

“The improvements of technology, the widespread Internet access, the increased legitimacy of online learning within established universities and employers, and the increased participation of adult learners in higher education with clear preferences toward learning anytime and anywhere will further drive future improvements in the quality of distance learning programs,” they wrote.

That money, though, will come with oversight and regulations. It will also attract the attention of educators and others who stand to be affected by changes in their job requirements.

Paul E. Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and author of Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, says it would “be a shame” for policymakers “to use this difficult economic environment to suppress the growth of online learning.”

Although Peterson says he doesn’t oppose regulation, he worries overregulation would undermine the cost savings and other benefits of distance learning programs. “There’s going to have to be some regulation,” Peterson said. “The question is whether it will be attentive to genuine pedagogical objectives or whether it’s going to get captured by unions, and they’re going to say, ‘OK, you’ve got to have X number of people teaching the course, or involved in the instruction part so we can save jobs.’ That would be the bad thing that could happen.”

Peterson warns that opponents of online learning may go too far, too fast. “They can’t win when people begin to see the cost savings and the possibilities of distance learning,” he said.

Ritter says he’s hopeful for change. “Though changing at some public institutions, I’ve found reticence on the part of some administrators, and everything from ambivalence to outright hostility by faculty to the idea of teaching online,” he said. “It is clear from recent data that there is a demand for online learning. If the same outcomes can be achieved with a delivery system that students want, policymakers must take notice.”


Bible study opens door to mastering literature

David Hastie, commenting from Australia

In this yuletide Tony Abbott went on record again as regarding the Bible as essential for all Australian schools. "It is important for people to leave school with some understanding of the Bible," he responded to a question from the floor at his Penrith community forum on November 29. "It is impossible to imagine our society without the influence of Christendom."

Abbott stated a similar position in December 2009, drawing the ire of ACT Labor Senator Kate Lundy, prominent Muslim academic Ameer Ali and Australian Education Union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, who stated: " ultimately we consider it a private matter for parents and their children". Is it?

In my role as an English and history teacher, rather than as a person of faith, I am convinced we disadvantage our public school students by not acquainting them with the meta-structures, motifs and moral queries of the Abrahamic scriptures. And I am not alone.

Cantankerous atheist Christopher Hitchens declared in 2006: "You are not educated if you don't know the Bible. You can't read Shakespeare or Milton without it . . . And with the schools now, that's what I hate about secular relativism. They're afraid of insurance liability. They don't even teach it as a document. They stay out of the whole thing to avoid controversy."

Indeed, when studying literature, children now in Australian faith-based schools (about 32 per cent of total enrolments, and much higher in senior secondary) enjoy a significant advantage over their state-school peers. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dickens, Bronte (both), George Eliot, Hopkins, Hardy, T.S.Eliot, Steinbeck, Beckett, Yeats, Plath, Golding, Attwood and many, many others, require more than a passing knowledge of the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments.

The necessary time taken to induct students unfamiliar with them when studying literature is time saved in faith-based schools.

And it's not just Western texts: post-colonial writers such as Rushdie, Allende, Marquez, Neruda and lots more are infused with biblical material. Emerging Australian "canons" - Hart, Murray, Winton, Harwood, Dawe, Keneally and so forth - are also littered with biblical plot lines and motifs. With the shift of the New Australian English Curriculum back to a more "canonical" approach to teaching literature, this inequity is only set to intensify.

Similarly in teaching history, ancient religion is extra weird for students who can't access the language and categories of our own Western (even secular) religiosity.

So too medieval and renaissance history, the Elizabethan era, the English republic, the Reformation, the post-Christian Enlightenment, the American and French revolutions, anti-slavery movements, Darwin, American civil rights, Australian stolen generations, and political language of the Cold War. These are all intrinsically informed by explanations, motivations and the language of the Bible. The same could be equally said for the study of film, visual art and music.

British educationalist John Hull describes the phenomena of "bafflement" in adolescents: suddenly realising their lived experience contradicts their education. If an institution continues to dogmatically hold the line in such matters, students develop what he terms "learning sickness" or "ideological enclosure", ultimately rejecting what they have learned, along with its institutional context.

Ironically, he was describing fundamentalist religious schools, yet his critique applies to much of Australian state education where religion is concerned, effectively excised from curriculum as a "non-topic". Hence, the master-originating Urtext of the Bible is treated as the "untext".

Yet students continually stumble across it in their novels and history lessons, in their homes, in public debate, in geopolitics, in the playground, and become baffled by the contradiction.

Certainly, religious proselytising is inappropriate through the state curriculum: parents thus inclined can send their child to a faith-based school. But vital cultural knowledge is vital to the universal "public guarantee".

Narratives and motifs of Abrahamic scriptures form a vitally significant mythic text for Western civilisation, and are also important for Jewish and Islamic civilisations.

After all, curriculum is always about what is deemed as important. Existing Australian English curricula, and the New Australian English Curriculum, for example, rightly regard Aboriginal spirituality as nationally important. Indigenous dreaming stories are thus mandated and studied as "canonical" texts.

Yet, even though these are obviously religious in character, they are clearly not to be treated as "religious tracts", but rather as significant cultural texts.

Why should we not also endow our children with understanding of Western literary and historical heritage in the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments?

Abbott may be regarded as the mad monk, but in the case of the Bible in schools, there's certainly method in him, particularly considering the vast amount of Australians vaguely sentimental about Christianity, or Christmas, or voting.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

School punishes Virginia kids for sharing candy canes that could be used as weapons

What utter nonsense!

TEN high school students attempting to spread holiday cheer have been disciplined for distributing candy canes that school administrators said could be used to maim other students.

The boys were punished with detention for giving out 5cm candy canes to fellow students as they entered Battlefield High School in Haymarket, located in northeast Virginia, WUSA-TV said.

School administrators accused them of trying to "maliciously maim students with the intent to injure," according to high school junior Zakk Rhine. "They said the candy canes are weapons because you can sharpen them with your mouth and stab people with them," said Skylar Torbett, also a junior.

While the boys' disciplinary notices do not mention maiming, they do say the boys littered and created a disturbance. The boys said their candy giveaway may have caused litter because some students dropped the treats on the floor. Their punishment also included at least two hours of cleaning, WUSA-TV reported.

Battlefield High School Principal Amy Etheridge-Conti said she would not comment specifically on the discipline but said it was warranted.

But the boys' parents believe their sons were punished for trying to spread Christmas cheer. Mother Kathleen Flannery alleged that one administrator told her that "not everyone wants Christmas cheer. That suicide rates are up over Christmas, and that they should keep their cheer to themselves, perhaps."


British private pupils 55 times more likely to go to Oxford or Cambridge universities than some others

Entirely to be predicted from the well-known correlates of IQ. But what a nutty comparison: Comparing the richest with the poorest. It is the large middle that counts and because of the large middle, around half of the students at Oxbridge did NOT go to private schools

Children at independent schools are 55 times more likely to go to Oxford or Cambridge than the poorest state school students, a report has found. The gap extends to Britain’s other top-­ranking universities, where private pupils are 22 times more likely to get in than those entitled to free school meals – the Government’s ­measure of poverty.

The research on social mobility by education charity The Sutton Trust suggests that success at getting into elite universities is largely based on wealth. [Rubbish! It's IQ. Being smart helps you to get rich]

Only one in 100 students admitted to Oxbridge between 2005 and 2007 had been entitled to free school meals. At the 25 most academically selective universities, free schools meals pupils made up just 2 per cent of the student intake.

The report found that the ‘stark’ income gap begins early, with students at independent schools three-and-a-half times more likely than free school meals pupils to get five GCSEs at grades A to C, including English and maths.

It said: ‘This newly available data provides an insight into the extent of the widening education gap between the latest cohorts of the poorest and most privileged students both at school and university.’

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman and founder of the Sutton Trust, said the situation would get worse as a result of Government cuts and allowing universities almost to treble tuition fees.’

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said the Coalition was sending ‘a clear message that university is only for those able to afford it’ and that ‘social mobility remains a pipe dream for far too many people’.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said closing the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils was a ‘key priority’ for the Coalition.


South Australia: Fired Principal in line to return to school

A difficult school got a capable principal for once -- so the bureaucrats fired her. They should have stood up for her but were too gutless. Amusing that the bureaucrat who fired here has now himself been fired, though. Background here

FORMER Coober Pedy Area School principal Sue Burtenshaw could return to the school she was ousted from if she wins an appeal. But the school will start 2011 with another principal appointed for Term 1 while the matter is resolved. The Education Department cannot appoint a permanent replacement until the appeal is settled.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled Ms Burtenshaw could continue with her appeal through the Teachers Appeal Board, after the department sought clarification on whether her challenge could be heard by the board.

Ms Burtenshaw has appealed against the disciplinary decision of former chief executive Chris Robinson, and also the separate decision to transfer her, which was handed down in July.

She was put on "special leave" in January so the department could investigate concerns raised by parents and the community about the principal's alleged unreasonable disciplinary action and abrasive behaviour.

The Education Department will now face the Teachers Appeal Board. "A principal has been appointed (to the area school) for Term 1, and term-by-term appointments of that principal will be made until the outcome of the appeal is known," a department spokeswoman said.

At the time of Ms Burtenshaw's transfer, Mr Robinson - who has since been sacked by Education Minister Jay Weatherill - said it was not disciplinary action but in the best interest of the school community that the principal did not return.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

American Education, Curbing Excellence

America's primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them. Not only do our weak students fare poorly in international comparisons, so do our strong ones. Mediocrity is the national norm.

The very best students are the ones most likely to do things of great benefit to the rest of us -- cure malaria, devise revolutionary inventions, start the next Apple or plumb the secrets of the universe. But we don't always put much importance on helping them realize their full potential.

A case in point is Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., a racially and economically mixed suburb of Chicago that is home to Northwestern University. It recently decided to eliminate a high honors freshman English course aimed at challenging the top students.

Henceforth, these youngsters will be grouped with everyone else in a regular "honors" class in humanities. Next year, the same may be done with biology. Your kid is an honor student at ETHS? Heck, everyone is an honors student at ETHS.

It's hardly the only school in America where grouping students according to their ability is in disrepute. There is a widespread impulse to treat all kids as equally able and willing to learn. But the results often fall dismally short of the hopes.

When the Chicago public schools scrapped remedial classes for ninth graders and put everyone in college-prep courses, "failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve and students were no more likely to enter college," according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Among average and above-average students, absenteeism rose.

The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don't elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, "The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There's a long-standing attitude that, 'Well, smart kids can make it on their own.'"

But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math -- lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.

School administrators in Evanston insist the change is aimed at making the curriculum more demanding, even as they make it less demanding for some students. Thanks to the abolition of this elite course, we are told, "high-achieving students" will profit from "experiencing multiple perspectives and diversity in their classes to gain cultural capital."

In other words, racial balance will take priority over academic rigor. Blacks and Hispanics make up nearly half of all students but only 19 percent of those in advanced placement courses and 29 percent of those in honors courses.

This is because minority students at Evanston, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000, generally score lower on achievement tests. Putting all students together is supposed to give everyone an equal opportunity.

But if you have a fever, you don't bring it down by breaking the thermometer. The low numbers of black and Hispanic students are a symptom of a deeper problem, namely the failure of elementary and middle schools to prepare them for the most challenging course work. Evanston has had a big racial gap in academic performance for decades, and there is nothing to gain from pretending it doesn't exist.

Schools that group (or "track") kids by ability generally get better overall results. Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes in a recent report, "Middle schools with more tracks have significantly more math pupils performing at the advanced and proficient levels and fewer students at the needs improvement and failing levels."

Why would that be? Teaching is not easy, and teaching kids with a wide range of aptitude and interest is even harder. Grouping students by ability allows the tailoring of lessons to match the needs of each group. Putting them all together is bound to fail one group or another.

Shortchanging gifted teens creates the risk of another unwanted effect: inducing their parents to leave. Families in Evanston can always move to neighboring suburbs with good schools, or they can opt for several fine private and parochial alternatives. Average students don't gain from being in the same classes as exceptional ones if the exceptional ones are not there.

We as a society have not been very successful at turning average students into high achievers. Maybe we'll have better luck doing the opposite.


School sports U-turn: British government forced into embarrassing back-track after public outcry at cuts

The Education Secretary has performed a U-turn over his controversial decision to cut funding for school sports. Michael Gove, who announced plans to scrap the School Sports Partnerships scheme earlier this year, has now agreed to invest £112 million in a network of 3,600 sports teachers until the London Olympics in 2012.

His climbdown came after his plans to scrap the £162 million-a-year scheme was met with criticism by headteachers and prominent athletes including heptathlon gold medallist Denise Lewis and diver Tom Daley.

Announcing his compromise yesterday, Mr Gove said he has found £47million to fund the scheme until the start of the academic year in September. At that point 100 nationwide competition managers and 300 further education sports coordinators will be axed.

But £65 million will be spent to the end of the 2012-13 academic year for 3,600 PE teachers to spend one day a week on school sport. They are currently funded for two days a week.

David Cameron told Mr Gove to change tack when it emerged that the number of young people doing two hours or more of sport per week increased from 25 per cent in 2002 to more than 90 per cent now, demonstrating the success of the sports initiatives.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had also demanded a partial reprieve, saying scrapping partnerships could harm the pledge to use the Olympics to increase participation in school sport.

The funds will also pay for encouraging take-up of competitive sport in primary schools and securing a fixture network between schools. Mr Gove said: ‘I want competitive sport to be at the centre of a truly rounded education.’

Labour education spokesman Andy Burnham Mr Gove’s ‘overruling’ was ‘a warning to this Tory-led Government that it cannot simply do what it likes’.


Australia: School bully victims paid $1m in NSW

A poor substitute for discipline

SCHOOL bullying victims have received almost $1 million in compensation from the Department of Education since January last year. One student who was harassed over 10 years won $500,000 in a court settlement, while two children were paid more than $15,000 each after their arms were broken by bullies. Another boy was paid more than $4200 because he claimed harassment by teachers caused him to fail his HSC.

The claims, which include both physical and severe psychological injuries up to September 30, were obtained under freedom of information laws by the Opposition.

The figures show students whose claims were settled by the department received less than those who went to court. A student who claimed to have been assaulted and that bullying caused a psychiatric illness was given $11,636.

The claims coincide with the Child Death Review Team this year that revealed several students committed suicide in 2009 after being bullied. One boy who claimed to suffer from gender identity disorder was "teased and threatened" at school.

Another boy was driven out of school by "taunts" in the lead-up to his suicide, while a third boy was also the subject of "taunts and bullying" while at his school.

The compensation claims show staff won payouts of more than $5000 between them over bullying cases, including ongoing sexual harassment in the school workplace and bullying and victimisation by a superior.

"These documents confirm that bullying is rife in our public schools, with both students and teachers feeling the brunt of it," Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said yesterday. "What is worse is the state is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims from students and teachers that have been victims of bullying. "Bullying can leave its victims with severe and lasting physical and psychological damage, and it must be stamped out immediately."

A spokesman for Education Minister Verity Firth said there were 26 claims which were "a tiny proportion" of staff and students. "We have given principals the power to impose strong sanctions to counter bullying, including suspensions of up to 20 days," he said. "NSW public schools are among the safest places in the community for young people, and serious incidents of violence are rare."

The department has introduced a web guide for parents on cyber bullying, including tips on how to prevent it.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Plan bans illegals from public universities

Virginia could join list of states creating off-limits locations for aliens

The "DREAM Act" plan, defeated in Congress today, would have given benefits and rights to illegal aliens who want to go to school in the U.S., but the state of Virginia isn't prepared to depend on what Washington decides - it has its own plan to address the situation: a ban on those students in public colleges and universities.

A leading GOP legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates is poised to introduce a bill which would prohibit illegal aliens from attending public colleges and universities in the commonwealth, and a constitutional scholar tells WND that U.S. Supreme Court case law may well ensure that the proposed law can be enforced.

Delegate Chris Peace, a Republican from the state's 97th House district in suburban Richmond, in an interview with WND said he was "amazed" to learn when researching the bill that some of Virginia's public universities, like Virginia Tech, did not have any policy regarding the admission of illegal aliens.

Others, like the prestigious University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, told Peace they did not "knowingly" admit or enroll individuals who were illegally present in the U.S.

The result was Peace's bill, House Bill 1465, which he says provides not just cost savings for the state, but also creates a uniform policy for state-supported institutions of higher education. Further, it ensures that bright youngsters from Virginia who have received perfect grades are not shut out of the admissions process because of issues of "space" at the public colleges, he said.

"Should this legislation pass, it is difficult to determine how much savings would accrue to the Commonwealth, since there is no current policy screening applicants," Peace told WND. "But the public policy goal does not center on savings, per se; rather, it is one of principle. If all colleges and universities created policies sua sponte [Law Latin – for on their own initiative] then there would be no need for this legislation. To date, several have been unwilling to do so." Peace noted that higher education is a "privilege," not a "right," and that illegal aliens would still be able to attend private colleges in Virginia.

Straight 'A's' required

Schools like the College of William & Mary, University of Virginia – like University of Maryland and UCLA, considered "public Ivies" – report that the average grade point average of incoming freshman is 4.0 on 4.0 scale – straight A's.

"The bottom line is that there's wide-spread sentiment that public benefit should not be going to those who are here illegally," said Peace. "The opponents of this legislation say it is targeting one group of people, or establishing preferences. But we're not trying to be mean-spirited here. Instead, those who support this legislation are simply trying to open the doors to Virginians."

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina already ban illegal immigrants from some or all public colleges. But the report said 10 other states, including Florida, New York and Texas, give them permission to pay only in-state tuition under many circumstances.

The Chronicle report documented the decision from the California Supreme Court just a few weeks ago that affirmed a law allowing some illegals to pay in-state tuition. Justice Ming Chin concluded that providing that special benefit does not violate federal immigration law. The case might be advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Peace noted that his plan is timely "in light of the proposed amnesty-lite, DREAM Act."

A leading constitutional law expert, Professor Ronald D. Rotunda, at Chapman University School of Law, Orange, Calif., told WND that the U.S. Supreme Court said it was illegal for states to discriminate against legal aliens in "Toll v. Moreno" (1982). The court, what is more, has not allowed states to discriminate against minor illegal aliens attending grades K-12 in "Plyler v. Doe" (1982).

"But Plyler emphasized that these children are minors, not 18 or over, and have little control over what their parents do," Rotunda tells WND. "The court has suggested that states can deny free public education to illegal aliens who want to attend state universities because these aliens are not children and university education is not like K-12."

Immigration attorney Michael Wildes said he does not think the legislation will pass because "a blanket policy of verifying every student's immigration status would be onerous and time-consuming." Further, he said, it would be "wildly discriminatory" to verify the immigration status of individuals based on "presumptions about students' ethnic identities, or the sound of someone's last name."

But Peace waved off those concerns. "Many will try to use emotional arguments for those children brought here without consent by their parents, who access the K-12 system, but then would be ineligible for the public college experience," Peace said.

Peace noted that there is widespread support for the legislation in the House of Delegates, where a different, earlier version of the measure passed overwhelmingly with bi-partisan support, 73-26, in 2008, but failed to get out of committee in the Democrat-dominated Senate. Now the GOP has increased its strength in the Virginia Senate, and elected a Republican governor in 2009.

Peace pre-filed the bill on December 6, and it will be formally offered to the legislature on Jan. 12, 2011. The bill allows the board of visitors or board of governors of every public college in Virginia to establish rules and regulations, and prohibit "an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S." from being admitted to "any public institution of higher education in Virginia."

Wilde says he'd rather have Washington making rules for the states. "It's important to keep in mind that immigration law is within federal jurisdiction and it is not the state's place to enforce federal law," Wildes says. "The proper forum is Washington, D.C."


Union Leaders want Tenure to be Automatic, Even For Unsatisfactory Teachers

Teacher union leaders have been known to bark back when their strongest job protection – tenure – is referred to as a job for life. Typical rebuttals include: “It’s a necessary protection from overzealous administrators,” or, “It’s critical to maintain academic freedom.”

But in a recent blog post ,United Federation of Teachers honcho Jeff Kaufman sticks his foot in his mouth when he attempts to clear up misconceptions about how tenure is granted in New York City. The blog, titled “Is tenure a strike issue?” is in response to the city Department of Education’s call to overhaul the process, and reveals that some union leaders may be willing to fight for the currently ineffective system at any cost.

“Despite current misconceptions tenure is not ‘given’ by the DOE. The only legal requirement for tenure is actually time; three years for teachers. After a three year period, within license, of being on payroll and the DOE has done nothing to stop the clock, you are automatically granted tenure,” Kaufman writes. “In fact you can be theoretically rated unsatisfactory for each of the three years and still get tenure if the DOE doesn't fire you or cause you to extend your probation.”

I believe that Kaufman’s musings are clear evidence that the UFT and its affiliated locals are keenly aware that the current tenure process in NYC is flawed. The fact that Kaufman and his UFT brethren continue to defend that process, regardless of the problems it creates for improving student instruction, only further exposes the union’s already obvious selfish interests.

Kaufman leaves his readers with a little nugget to ponder, possibly foreshadowing serious resistance to the city’s promised tenure reform. He reflects on the good old days with former UFT President Randi Weingarten, who now heads the union’s national affiliate - the American Federation of Teachers.

“So, is tenure a strike issue? I am reminded of one of my first arguments with Randi Weingarten in the early days of the Bloomberg administration at a Chapter Leaders' retreat. After making it clear how a strike or job action was almost never justified I asked her whether there was ‘any’ strike issue,” Kaufman writes. “She thought for a moment and said, ‘Yeah, tenure.’”

Kaufman’s lesson on how easy it actually is for teachers to be granted tenure in New York City only solidifies our support for DOE officials working to protect the interests of students by injecting some sanity into the process. We continue to be amazed by union insiders like Kaufman, who knowingly fight to maintain a tenure system that costs taxpayers millions each year at the expense of student learning.

His conclusion is clear - if you can fog up a mirror, you can have a job seemingly for life. It says a lot about the mentality of labor leaders, and quickly erodes any credibility they might have left with the public.


Israel on Campus, Where Are We?

The situation on campus continues to change for Israel’s supporters: abuse is now almost everyplace. There have been important successes, like upholding the recent veto of a “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) proposal at the University of California at Berkeley’s student council, and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s recent definition of anti-Semitism on campus as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there have also been notable failures, such as the continuing unwillingness of the administration of the University of California at Irvine to take harassment of Jewish and Israeli students and speakers seriously. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was heckled and silenced there by a group of students from the Muslim Student Association before university security stepped in and removed them. These students later accused the university administration of denying them their First Amendment rights.

At Evergreen State University Jewish students have felt compelled to transfer to other schools after overt harassment. Sukkahs have been vandalized in recent years at Stanford, the University of Colorado, the University of Southern California, and other campuses. “Israel Apartheid Week” is now an established part of the calendar at colleges across the country, bringing verbal harassment and even physical assaults against Jewish students. At these events, “Jews” are assumed to be “Zionists” and are subject to abuse on this basis, as well as because they are Jews. Worse, universities and the community at large are getting accustomed to it all.

Seeing the anti-Israel movement in isolation has always been part of the problem. There is a well-organized network of international anti-Israel activists and organizations. In the U.S. it operates at all levels, from giant state universities, to local churches, to suburban living rooms. The group that makes up “International Apartheid Week” sponsors a coordinated week-long protest in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Israel, Italy, South Africa, Holland and elsewhere. Groups like “Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition” sponsor speaking tours by noted anti-Israel figures such as Norman Finkelstein, George Galloway and countless others throughout the U.S.. Local branches of Al-Awda and the “International Solidarity Movement” are found throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Coordinated internationally, these groups share speakers and also train and bring “activists” to Israel. Muslim student groups facilitate and support these. and bring their own speakers, such as the radical Muhammad al-Asi, to their gatherings.

These groups have made common cause on and off campus with extremist groups, seemingly united by their hatred of Israel, the U.S., and its policies worldwide. Anti-Israel events have also been co-sponsored — or organized as a part of “anti-war,” “anti-globalization’” and “anti-imperialism’” protests — by groups such as “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER),” “United For Peace and Justice,” and the “Stop the War Coalition.” The U.S. and Israel appear to be regarded as part of a larger “capitalist-imperialist conspiracy” that must be “exposed” and “smashed.”

Anti-Israel groups have also been allied with those defending Iran, such as the Socialist Workers Party; although the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” are both forthright about defending themselves and the freedoms of others. The related “boycott, divestment and sanction” (BDS) movements against Israel are also active everywhere, from the Cambridge City Council to the Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia Washington, to pension funds in Canada and England. This too is an international movement. The group “International BDS” is directed by the “Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign National Committee,” made up of Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trade unions and Islamist groups While they have so far failed to get any American university or significant group to actually boycott or divest from Israel, they lie and say they have succeeded, as occurred recently at Hampshire College and Harvard University.

In Europe, BDS has mostly succeeded in provoking weekly protests outside Israeli shops, such as the Dead Sea cosmetics firm Ahava, and rampaging through French supermarkets.

While extreme right-wing groups have always hated Israel, usually on traditional anti-Semitic terms, anti-Israel organizations are now primarily on the far left. But Neo-Nazis, radical Muslims and anarchists are all happy to put aside their differences to join in hatred of Israel. Far right groups such as the John Birch Society or the Lyndon LaRouche movement and neo-Nazis are still not welcome on campus. But left-wing groups have been accepted or even invited on American university campuses by faculties that either embrace them or who are merely “tolerant” of their presence, and who indignantly pull out free speech and academic freedom defenses when challenged. University administrations and trustees have been equally tolerant. They simply want the problem to stay manageably quiet, and for the money to keep flowing in from the government and from donors.

The language and tools of human and civil rights have also been hijacked. The respect for NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International is especially high on campuses, along with the United Nations, since these represent secular and “global” alternatives to the U.S. government and groups like church-based charities. NGOs and international organizations are wrapped in a “halo effect” provided by the secular religious term “human rights.” To question them and their ideas is to appear to be “against human rights.” Mainstream NGOs tend to focus on Israel to a disproportionate degree, as opposed to countries that violate human rights extravagantly; these NGOs bitterly criticize every Israeli action to defend itself against terrorist attacks and overt threats of annihilation. Other NGOs, such as Adalah, Badil and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, often backed by the European Union, attack Israel as virtually their sole focus, and are deeply connected with the BDS movement. Even Israel’s defense of its identity as the sole Jewish state has been cast as a violation of “international law” and “human rights,” and regularly send speakers to appear regularly on U.S. campuses.

The Goldstone investigation, ordered by the United Nations Human Rights Council, was apparently intended provided legal cover for the intensification of such abuses of law and language. By ignoring evidence presented to them by Israelis, and ignoring the words and deeds of Hamas, the report reached a completely predictable outcome that has rippled around the world. Shooting back at those who shoot at you was declared de facto a “war crime;” Israeli politicians and military leaders have now been subjected to investigations and arrest warrants in Europe, on charges brought by NGOs, Muslim groups and other fellow travelers. Pro-Palestinian groups have long claimed that Israel is practicing “genocide,” albeit a strange kind that actually increases the life span and numbers of its alleged “victims,” as just this year alone, over 180,000 Palestinians, as well as people of all races and creeds are treated daily in Israeli hospitals.

This vitriol, however, has has spilled over onto college campuses in the U.S., where Israel is branded as a criminal state by a growing number of activists and professors, both inside and outside the classroom. Convincing idealistic college students not to be blinded by the “halo effect” around NGOs is a challenge. Helping them to recognizing that faith in NGOs and other forms of “global governance,” which may be distorted and politicized, and is part of a Western secular religion of internationalism, albeit where there is no further recourse, is vital to understanding and combating their abuses.

More here