Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stonewalling Charters

New York could dramatically improve its chances of winning up to $700 million in federal Race to the Top dollars by eliminating its cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state. But the United Federation of Teachers would rather forgo those much-needed funds than let Gotham's (typically) non-unionized charter-school sector expand. The UFT is making a desperate effort to confuse the state legislature into inaction, so that the deadline to compete for Race to the Top--now less than two weeks away--passes, hoping that the pressure to remove the cap will then subside. Hence the UFT's new report, in which it charges that charter schools only seem to be more effective than traditional! public schools. "No one should be surprised," the UFT report said, "that some researchers find that charter schools have higher test scores, given that charters enroll students who are, on average, less poor, less disabled, and more likely to speak English." The success of New York's charter schools, then, becomes a mirage.

But take a closer look, and you'll see how groundless the UFT's charge is. Though the UFT didn't identify the "researchers" in question, it's surely referring to Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby and her recent, high-profile study of New York City's charter schools. According to that study, the positive impact of attending a Gotham charter school rather than a public school is so large that five years of charter-school attendance nearly closes the proficiency gap between students in Harlem and those in upper-class Scarsdale.

Despite the UFT's claims, Hoxby's findings are absolutely valid. True, charter schools have smaller enrollments of special-education and ELL (English Language Learner) students than non-charter public schools. But Hoxby's study takes this into account. Her study works like a medical trial. All students who apply for seats in an oversubscribed charter school--which describes nearly every charter in New York City--must enter a lottery for admission. Hoxby's study compares the achievement of lottery winners and lottery losers. If the pool of applicants is big enough--as is the case in New York City--the laws of probability ensure that the group of students randomly selected to attend a charter school is essentially identical to the group that lost the lottery. The Hoxby study doesn't compare all charter students with all non-charter students; in essence, it compares the performance of a charter student with his nearly identical colleague who was sent back to a ! traditional public school.

Of course, Hoxby's study relies on the randomness of the lottery results. In its report, the UFT complains that the lower percentage of special-education and ELL students in charter schools proves that the lotteries are rigged. But the fact is that when disabled and ELL students enter a charter-school lottery, they are just as likely as other students to win a seat and to enroll in the charter school. Examination of the lottery results reveals no differences between lottery winners and losers in any observed characteristic, including disabilities and ELL. (The higher percentage of disabled and ELL students in non-charter schools results mainly from differences in who applies to charters, as well as the fact that charters are less willing than non-charters to diagnose marginal students as disabled.)

Granted, the Hoxby study was designed to test whether students who want to attend a charter school actually benefit from a charter-school education. It has nothing to tell us about students who don't choose to apply to charters--for example, whether those students would benefit from somehow being forced to attend one, which would be wholly inconsistent with the entire idea of charter schools as schools of choice. But that's inconsequential for our purposes. What matters is that the study results are in no way contaminated by differences between the lottery's winners and losers.

The UFT may not like it, but it's simply true: students who attend New York City's charter schools do much better than if they had remained in their previous public schools. Claiming otherwise without offering any plausible supporting evidence, as the UFT did this week, only obscures that important reality.


British socialism at work: Schools face millions of pounds in cuts for being prudent

Thousands of schools face having hundreds of millions of pounds cut from their budgets as a punishment for being prudent. A third of schools, including nurseries and special schools, have amassed almost £500 million in surplus cash in case of future cutbacks, official figures revealed. The league table was produced by the Government, which wants to name and shame the 7,196 schools with “excessive balances” that it accuses of hoarding money. It is the first time that schools have been ranked according to their account balances.

Ministers warned that head teachers must discuss handing the money back with their local council or face being forced to pay it back under new laws to be introduced next year.

Teachers’ leaders accused the Government of punishing schools for careful financial management and said that there should be no limit on the amount that schools can save. Most of the money was allocated for buildings and other projects, they said. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “There should not be an artificial ceiling on planned expenditure. If a school can demonstrate it has proper plans for the money then they should be able to keep it to spend later. It is only unacceptable if a surplus is being saved for no purpose as the money is lost to the system.”

Thousands of head teachers have saved an average of £70,000 to spend on books, salaries and IT equipment in case of funding shortages while some have run up budget deficits of £75,000. But as town hall budgets are squeezed this year, council leaders will be tempted to raid school coffers. They have powers, rarely used up to now, to recall money if head teachers at secondary schools have saved more than 5 per cent of their budgets, or more than 8 per cent at primary level.

Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said that the surpluses were too high. “While it is clearly sound financial management for schools to retain a small surplus from year to year, we expect revenue funding to be used to support the education and wellbeing of pupils in school now,” he said. “It is, however, important that schools spend their funds wisely while ensuring best value for money.” A report by the National Audit Office last June warned that hoarding was not good value for the taxpayer. But this is the first time that the schools doing so have been named.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said this week that he would increase spending on education. But head teachers fear that spending cuts will come whichever party wins the coming election and have braced themselves by holding money back rather than spending the entire budget.

Mark Wallace, campaign director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said that it was wrong to punish schools that had been careful. “There will be no incentive for schools to do anything that comes in under budget or to set anything aside for a rainy day,” he said. “Schools will simply spend as much as they possibly can and there won’t be a pound left. “We have got to avoid huge amounts of money festering, but simply allowing it to be scavenged and punishing the organisation that was wise enough to save is quite foolish.”

Town halls can decide case-by-case to recall the money but must spend it on education provision. A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets Council in London, which has the most schools in the top 20 surpluses, said: “The local authority takes the issue of surplus school balances extremely seriously and works very closely with schools to ensure these are managed carefully. Schools with surplus balances have approved three-year expenditure plans which are monitored regularly.”

Vanessa Ogden, head of the Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets, which has an uncommitted budget surplus of £3,474,270, refused to comment. The council said: “Plans are already in place for Mulberry School to use their surplus balance to expand provision for pupils at the school and a local partner primary school, as well as to build new community facilities.”

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that the figures were grossly misleading. “Politicians and the public will assume that schools are awash with extra funds,” he said. “This is not the case. Most of these funds are identified and allocated and may be for a project for the following year. Schools will have saved money and carried it over.” He accused the Government of releasing the league table without knowing how much money was earmarked for projects. “It is mischievous . . . and done in order to soften politicians and parents up for cuts to the schools budget,” he said.

The figures also highlighted a rise in the number of schools in debt. More than 1,800 (8.4 per cent of schools) were in debt in 2008-09, up from 1,695 in 2007-08. Primary schools were in the worst position, comprising 1,200 of all schools in deficit.

Schools in wealthier areas were more likely to be sitting on large surpluses. The greatest surpluses were at schools in the South East and London. The Hurlingham and Chelsea Secondary School in London has a surplus of £1,619,121. The greatest number in debt were in the North West and London, suggesting a huge disparity in budget allocations. Warren Comprehensive School in Barking and Dagenham had the highest deficit, at £1,828,981.

Statisticians said that the definition of “uncommitted” revenue differed between local authorities and comparisons could not easily be drawn.


The loss of a poetry education in Australian schools

Knowing great poems can be a lifelong source of pleasure, satisfaction and wisdom but that knowledge is being withheld from many young people today

It is a welcome if rare event to see poetry on prime time television. The ABC's Bush Slam is an attempt to put poetry front and centre in the national consciousness. If we believe that 19th-century bush poets such as Henry Lawson and A.B. (Banjo) Paterson were representative of a golden age of wordsmiths, then Bush Slam at least gives word nerds an opportunity to enter our living rooms. And don't we need it? ...

Unlike Britain, Australia has no national poetry day. We no longer have a national search, sponsored by the ABC, for the most popular Australian poem. The website was archived in 1999.

The pity is that schools are generally not teaching much poetry. Don't hold your breath that poetry will undergo a renaissance in the new national English curriculum. Besides NSW being prepared to teach canonical works, including poetry, this is more the exception than the rule.

It is no accident that 18-year-old student Laurie Wallis topped the NSW Higher School Certificate extension 2 English course with a suite of Japanese-inspired poetry, Water Sounds. Such work would not have been possible in any other state. Here's why.

Responding to the draft of the English national curriculum, the West Australian government has not made any defence of the place of poetry, and in fact has asked for a broader definition of literature to include "spoken, non-verbal, visual and aural texts".

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian government has argued that any study of literature needs to embody "the critique of the attitudes and values underpinning the text" -- this sounds like the codling grub of critical literacy in the Apple Isle. Tasmania is marked by a core of poor school literacy results and the lowest adult literacy figures in the country.

The question is whether there needs to be a mandatory requirement in the national English curriculum regarding poetry teaching. The new chairman of the Australia Council's Literature Board, Dennis Haskell, thinks there is room for this. In September last year, Haskell saw the black hole of Australian literature in the nation's schools, saying it's about "getting it taught at all, the canon or otherwise"...

What must change is that Australian children need to be introduced to the rich heritage of the nation's verse. The ideological angst that the mere mention of the word "canon" creates for some teachers needs to be seen for what it is. Such a position actually prevents children from knowing their literature. They are denied discovering the voices of Thwaites, John Shaw Nielson, Judith Wright, A.D. Hope, Les Murray and others.

The blunt reality is that today, in the majority of classrooms across the country, few children could name two Australian poets, and few teachers could either. I know this to be so. Having taught in Australian schools, I have been shocked at how little poetry is taught, never mind the awareness of Australian verse.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Reading at five 'fails to boost skills'

This is just a stupid Leftist search for a "one size fits all" approach. Some high IQ kids will be reading at age 3 and others will never learn to read properly at all. Specifying age as a criterion of how a kid is taught is the stupid part. Kids should be taught according to their ability. Age should be disregarded completely.

Children forced to read from the age of five are no better than those left without books until their seventh birthday, according to research. Later readers often caught up by the time they left primary school at the age of 11, it was disclosed. Starting at a young age may actually damage pupils’ love of books as it breeds resentment among those who struggle the most, the study suggested.

The findings – in a report published by Otago University in New Zealand – will raise fresh doubts over Government reforms designed to promote literacy at an increasingly early age.

Last month, the Government said boys aged just three should be encouraged to write more in an attempt to stop them lagging behind girls. Ministers have also placed renewed emphasis on early reading following the launch of Labour’s compulsory curriculum for under-fives in England in September 2008.

The latest disclosure comes just 24 hours after Kirsty Young, the broadcaster, hit out at pushy parents who attempted to shape young children into “baby Einsteins” by forcing them into extra maths and language lessons.

Dr Sebastian Suggate, who led the research, said the view that children should read from five was now “contestable”. “Because later starters at reading are still learning through play, language and interactions with adults, their long-term learning is not disadvantaged,” he said. “Instead, these activities prepare the soil well for later development of reading. "If there aren't advantages to learning to read from the age of five, could there be disadvantages to starting teaching children to read earlier? In other words, we could be putting them off."

Dr Suggate tracked the progress of 400 children over three years. It included those from progressive Steiner schools who started at seven and others from state schools who read from the age of five. He found no difference in their reading skills by the time they finished compulsory primary education aged 11.

Sue Palmer, an author and former head teacher, said: “The evidence is clear. Children start later in Scandinavian countries and still outperform British children later on, yet we seem obsessed with doing everything at an increasingly early age. The way things are going, we will start to have phonics lessons in maternity units if we’re not careful.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Reading is fundamental to the rest of the curriculum and without being able to read, progress in other areas is likely to be held back. "Putting back the age at which children start to read also risks holding all children back and widening the gaps still further without any certainty that they will be reduced later. Evidence shows that the earlier the additional support, the more successful it is likely to be and the less a child will be held back academically and socially."


Did your parents choose your degree course?

I was astonished by my son's decision to major in mathematics but I was delighted too. I suspect that able students don't have much trouble with their parents

A new survey suggests that many students don't choose what they study at university. The research, by students at the University of Westminster, found that one in four London university students were "forced" into their course by parental pressure.

It's an interesting finding, especially in the current world of higher education. With fees to pay, other high educational costs and the generally uncertain economic situation, many parents are taking a very hands-on approach to their children's education, and possibly encouraging more vocational choices. There have also been reports of "pushy" parents getting very involved when it comes to UCAS forms as well as more students living at home.

The survey, of 350 London students, all of whom were under 25, and studying full-time, found that 26 percent had argued with their parents about their choice of degree. Almost half were told to "make the choice that their family thought best for them", and 85 percent of these were dissatisfied. One student told the researchers that she had wanted to study English literature, but was told by her parents to study law, as otherwise they would not support her financially.

"I wish I was stronger and had gone ahead with my choice," she said. "I am now so unhappy as law is so difficult and something I am just not interested in."

NUS Vice President for Higher Education, Aaron Porter, said, was not impressed by the research. "Its time for helicopter parents to take flight and students to take charge of their own futures," he said.

But is Porter right, especially in this day and age? Should students stand up for themselves? It makes sense to listen to their parents' suggestions, but I'm not sure it's really worth studying something you don't want to, in order to make someone else happy.


Homeschooler aged 14 offered Cambridge University place

A 14-year-old maths prodigy has been offered a place at Cambridge University - which, if he accepts it, would make him the youngest student there for almost 230 years. Arran Fernandez, who lives in Surrey, England, passed exams set by the university last year, and now need only pass his A-level physics exam to enrol. In Britain, A-levels are commonly taken by 18-year-old students, but Arran - who was home-educated - has already passed the exams in maths and further maths.

His father, Neil Fernandez, said that if he takes the place at Fitzwilliam College, he will be the youngest undergraduate at Cambridge since William Pitt the Younger studied there aged 14 in 1773 and went on to become prime minister.

"Fitzwilliam College decided to make Arran a conditional offer after considering his application very carefully," said David Cardwell, who will be teaching Arran. "The college looks forward to welcoming Arran in October 2010 should he meet his offer, and to helping him develop and fulfil his considerable academic potential," the professor said.

Arran first hit the headlines in 2001 when he took a GCSE maths exam - normally taken by 16-year-olds - at the age of five. "Maths has been my favourite subject for as long as I can remember," said the teenager, who aspires to become a research mathematician.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Do We Need More Latino Scientists?

Inside Higher Ed reports on yet another report, this one from the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education, that measures the success (or lack of it) of various institutions “in getting students from Latino backgrounds interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) disciplines and, ultimately, to degrees.”

Yes, but why should we be concerned with the number or proportion or whatever of Latino students getting STEM degrees?
Like many recent analyses, the center’s report embraces the idea that the United States must -- for competitive, economic and other reasons -- draw more, and more qualified, young people into STEM fields to help ensure that it has skilled workers for the information age.

But like most of the USC center’s own work, the newly released study -- part of a three-year project financed by the National Science Foundation -- views the issue through the prism of an “equity” framework, which it defines as “creating opportunities for equal access and success among historically underrepresented student populations, such as racial and ethnic minority and low-income students.”

In other words, says Alicia C. Dowd, the center’s co-director and a co-author of the report, the study aims both to recognize the central role that Latinos (given their growing share of the U.S. population) will have to play if the country is to achieve the college completion goals set out by President Obama, and to focus on how well colleges and universities are educating Latinos compared to other students....

As I have argued before, I believe the only reasonable “equity” concern is whether discrimination prevents individuals from any racial or ethnic group from having the same opportunities other students have to choose their own careers. Non-discriminatory factors, such as poverty, may also have a racially disparate impact, but in my view the appropriate response is to have financial aid available to all who qualify, not racially targeted financial aid. In short, equity, like equality, requires colorblind non-discrimination, not racial and ethnic proportionality.

But what of the combination of the national need for more scientists with the fact that Latinos will make up an increasing proportion of college students? Doesn’t that justify ethnically targeted policies to encourage more Latinos to become scientists, and to assist those who do choose to do so?

I have my doubts. If public policy should concentrate on the production of more scientists, shouldn’t research be directed toward developing policies and programs that produce, well, more scientists — not more black, Latino, women, etc., scientists?

What if all the money and effort that has been and is being directed toward increasing the numbers of “underrepresented minority” STEM students and graduates had instead been directed toward, say, increasing the number of Asian Americans in STEM fields? Now insofar as “equity” is the concern, we don’t need any more Asian scientists because they’re already “overrepresented.” But maybe with a little money and effort we could produce even more Asian scientists, in fact more than would be produced by spending that money trying to jack up the numbers of scientists from “underrepresented” groups? Wouldn’t that be a better investment?

Just asking.


Britain's selective school controversy

There was an interesting article in the Guardian (yes, really) yesterday about grammar schools and selection. Peter Mortimore (ex director of the Institute of Education) argued that selection underpinned a "hierarchy of status", promoted snobbery and prevented many schools from gaining a fair share of pupils. He seems to want grammar schools to be re-positioned, to "serve the whole community." However, he didn't really explain how this can be done.

So many people are anti-selection on an academic basis, and yet all in favour of academies/colleges which select on the basis of music, sport or languages. I find this very contradictory, but probably not as concerning as those who argue against private and grammar schools without really addressing why parents seek them out. They may not be "good" for the education system as a whole, but parents often choose them because they feel their children will not be stimulated or stretched properly in the state sector. They want the best for their child; is that so bad?

And often they interpret this as meaning smaller class sizes, the removal of disruptive children and a strong peer group. Instead of dismissing these parents as pushy, why not address the issues which concern them? Ed Balls has called for an education debate before the next election. I hope it's a real one, which addresses issues that genuinely concern parents. In any case, Mr Balls will soon be appearing on School Gate to do a Q and A, so please ask him questions then.


Australia's private schools become less affordable

Even though there are lot of them. The reason is higher demand -- once again the old law of supply and demand dictates price. And why the higher demand? Because many government schools have got so bad -- mainly due to negligible discipline -- that parents are driven to the private sector in desperation

TOP private schools have become less affordable over the past decade, despite taxpayer subsidies and claims from John Howard when he introduced the current funding system that fee increases would taper off. The yearly fees in the top schools of about $11,500 in 1999 were about 28 per cent of the average yearly wage, whereas this year's fees of about $23,500 at these schools are about 36 per cent of the average salary.

The decline in affordability comes despite private schools securing billions in taxpayers' money under the Socioeconomic Status funding model that has been extended until 2012 by the federal Labor government. When it unveiled the SES model in 1999, the Howard government boasted it was about giving parents of all incomes a "choice" in schooling. "In some cases, it will mean that fees won't go up at the same rate that would otherwise be the case," the then prime minister said at the time.

However, looking at the typical fees payable for the upper echelon of schools, this is clearly not the case. To use the Kings School in Sydney as an example, a parent in 1999 would pay $11,595, or 28.4 per cent of the average wage of $40,820. This year, that parent would be paying $23,442, or 36 per cent of the average wage of $64,896.

The Rudd government decision to extend the SES funding model until 2012 gave non-government schools an estimated $28 billion. It was made despite protests from public education unions.

The Australian yesterday reported that private schools were putting up their fees for this year by an average of 6 per cent.

The reaction to the hikes has been muted so far, with parents groups and the Independent Education Union noting that the education component of the consumer price index had risen by 5.6 per cent in the past year. IEU federal secretary Chris Watt said teachers' wages were rising at about 4.5 per cent a year and it was possible that schools were facing reduced fee payments and donations from alumni amid the global financial crisis. "If the increase was of the order of 10 per cent, we would say it's outrageous, but it's not that much more than the base wage increase plus extra costs," he said.

Tony Abbott yesterday defended the public subsidisation of elite private schools and said they had the right to increase fees. "In the end, these are private institutions and it's up to them to decide what their fees should be," the Opposition Leader said.

Mr Abbott also defended the SES funding model. "Every Australian child is entitled to government assistance towards his or her education," he said. "Whether people choose to utilise that assistance by going to a public school or whether they choose to go to a private school and receive a reduced level of support, but nevertheless a substantial level of support, that's up to the parents of the child."


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

When a school gets sick

The very disillusioned teacher below certainly has reason to be dissatisfied with government schools but the alternative he advocates is just the old "progressive" school that goes back to Montessori, Steiner and that ilk -- schools that are more usually favoured by Leftists. I once taught in such a school and the school concerned did work well for about half the students -- the ones with a lot of encouragement from home. The other half learnt nothing. I think that the total privatization of education is the answer. That would result in a variety of school types to suit the variety of student types.

I note that one of the things the writer complains about is the pressure on "honors" students. I don't see that as the fault of the school at all. That is a parental thing. My son never had any pressure on him to do well at school and spent a large amount of time playing computer games instead of doing homework and taking part in more active pursuits. But his genes were decisive. He now has a first class honours degree from a major university in a subject he enjoys: mathematics. He is now working with great enthusiasm on his doctorate. His school was a private one run on traditional lines but it certainly did him no harm and gave him no grief

Being a libertarian, I have never been comfortable working in a government-run public school, but a PowerPoint presentation at a recent faculty meeting made me realize just how monstrous the system really is. The presentation was on something called RTI (Response to Intervention), and it began with a slide entitled "When a kid gets sick..." While RTI is hailed as a revolutionary new approach, it is really just an old practice dressed up in new jargon. With both RTI and its predecessor, nonperforming or uncooperative students are identified and treated as if they suffer from some kind of illness. In either case, the process typically ends with parents seated at a long conference table facing grim-faced teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers and perhaps even a psychiatrist all armed with file folders full of evaluations and test results. The remedy these "experts" prescribe usually involves placement in some Special Education program (i.e. low expectations dumping ground) and sometimes even the prescription of some dangerous mind-altering drug like Ritalin. Few parents ever object to or question these measures. Many parents even insist on them believing this special treatment is necessary to help their "ill" child. Supporters of RTI may protest that they are only trying to help and that Special Education or drugs are only last resorts. That may be true, but they fail to see the stigma attached to the child being labeled and processed like some kind of lab rat, and they fail to acknowledge the record of failure for all of their "interventions." Most important, they fail to even consider that the problem may be with the school and not with the child.

But it is not only the fate of the so-called "Speders" (a term used by a Special Education teacher I knew to describe his students) that concerns me here. The students we label as "gifted and talented" or "honors" are also being emasculated by our schools. They, in fact, are the more frightening because, unlike the "troublemakers" who at least show the spark of resistance, the "gifted" completely surrender themselves. Being labeled gifted means entering a fiercely competitive world of point mongering and grade grubbing. Honor students work extraordinarily hard to please their teachers and other authority figures. In academics, they fight for every point and are always looking for "extra credit." Typically, the parents of these students are also highly involved (i.e. applying pressure) and express tremendous concern about their son’s or daughter’s grades. At parent-teacher conferences, it is only grades in fact that come up for discussion – never learning. For the honor student, getting a "C" (and for some even a "B") on a major test, project or (God forbid!) on a report card brings on a personal and family crisis. It never occurs to these students or to their parents that these grades are merely the subjective evaluations of their teachers who know little to nothing about the person they are evaluating. Indeed, the parents know little to nothing about the teacher doing the evaluating. Nevertheless, the honor student’s self-esteem and parental approval is completely tied to the teacher-assigned letter grades. In addition to obsessing over grades, honor students also join many clubs and go out for competitive sports. Many times they do this because they actually enjoy such activity, but just as often they join for the same reason they fight for grades – because it is expected of them and because they believe it is the key to getting into a big-name university. The life of the typical honor student is a life of frenetic activity, competition, homework and anxiety. Rarely is there time for reflection, solitude or contentment. Upon graduation from high school, many honor students know only that they are to go to college. As for what they want to do with their lives or what their real passion is, most have no clue. Many will never know.

As for learning, most adults I know have forgotten most of the subjects they allegedly learned in school (even those they got A’s and B’s in), and what they do remember is usually politically correct nonsense. Witness how many parents are unable to help their children with their homework. We learn only those things we genuinely want to learn. Forcing students to take classes in subjects they are either uninterested in or not ready for is pointless and only frustrates student and teacher alike. At best, teachers in our public schools are mere entertainers filling the dreary hours of the school day. Despite all the clever classroom activities, worksheets, and projects, how many former high school honor students ten years after graduation can still factor a quadratic equation, prove a geometry theorem or explain and classify the different types of rock in the Earth’s crust? Unless they are professional mathematicians or geologists, who really cares if they can?

In my own field of social studies, we are dealing less with learning and more with political indoctrination. How many adults believe, for example, that Lincoln freed the slaves, FDR ended the Great Depression, and that labor unions are responsible for America’s relatively high standard of living? Unfortunately, it seems the only thing students actually do remember from their government-provided education is the government’s propaganda. One has to wonder, in fact, if such indoctrination has been the purpose of government schooling all along. How else but through indoctrination does one explain people’s willingness to vote to raise their own taxes, sacrifice themselves or their children to the government’s military, or continue to hold to an almost cult-like belief in a system that has an unbroken record of failure? To get a sense of the damage, compare the attitude of today’s typical American with that of our non-schooled ancestors. The spirited self-reliance, daring and individualism that once defined the American character have been replaced by a docile dependency and mindless conformity.

We teachers tell ourselves that we are preparing our students for adult life, but nothing about our schools even remotely resembles mature adult life. At school, students are segregated by age and ordered about all day given little choice in what they do, when they do it or how they do it. Students are never alone, and they are constantly being watched and judged. Is it any wonder that many students resent such treatment and act out in immature and anti-social ways? Given the pressures and alienation of school life, is it any wonder that cheating, lying, evasion of responsibility, and other forms of unethical behavior are the norm? Students typically survive all this and move on, of course. Once free of the system and all of its perversity, most (but not all) students finally start displaying mature adult behavior. Some even go on to successful and satisfying careers and make a great deal of money. We count these students as our successes whether we had anything to do with their success or not. As for the failures, we teachers generally blame the failures on bad parenting or on social and economic ills we, of course, played no part in creating. Schools take credit but never accept responsibility.

This spring, my daughter Julia will turn four, and my wife Tina and I have begun to consider her future education. One thing for sure is that she will not be attending a public school. Unfortunately, most private schools are little better – patterned as they are on the same dysfunctional and coercive model as the public ones. While most public school teachers are well meaning and sincere, they must work within a corrupt system, and they are co-opted by that system’s financial rewards. As much as teachers try to treat their students with respect, they are compelled to enforce oppressive rules over which neither they nor their captive students have any say. As much as teachers try to motivate their students and share their enthusiasm, they mostly end up forcing themselves on students who would rather be somewhere else doing something else. And finally, as much as teachers wish to offer help and meaningful feedback, they instead end up spending most of their time judging their students – grading papers, administering tests and entering point totals in grade books. Students come and go through our crowded classrooms, and we are rarely afforded the luxury of getting to know any of them. Many teachers who went into teaching with high ideals and enthusiasm find themselves near the end of their careers tired and frustrated and counting the days until they can retire.

So, what might a real education look like? My wife and I are currently looking into Sudbury schools both for Julia and for her father. Though radically different from anything most parents have ever heard of, I believe such non-coercive, student-centered, and democratically run schools offer the best hope for the future. To be effective, schools must reject the idea that learning must be forced on children and the idea that all children must learn the same things in the same way at the same time. Naturally curious, children must be given time and space to shape their own learning experience and pursue that which interests them. Schools must also reject the destructive and demoralizing practice of grading, testing, and ranking that waste so much time and energy in the current system. Instead, students must learn to evaluate their own success and failure and to adjust their efforts and direction accordingly. Finally, schools must end the practice of age segregation. School must afford children the opportunity to interact with and learn from people of all ages and not just spend time with their age-group peers and adult authority figures. In short, schools must be a secure microcosm of the real world where children are afforded rights while still being held accountable for their actions.

The vision outlined above is a radical change from the status quo. For it to become reality for anyone outside the currently very small community of Sudbury parents and students, we must make a complete break with past practice. Political pseudo-reforms including "No Child Left Behind" and its mind-numbing testing regimes must be rejected; they are nothing more than a corrupt and failing system’s attempt to disguise its malignancy. Government-funded charter schools (now fashionable among anti-public school conservatives) must also be seen for what they are – an attempt by the public school establishment to co-opt and ultimately destroy legitimate private school competition.

Our public schools are long past sick, and they are incapable of reform. They have become brain-eating, spirit-killing zombies operating not for the benefit of their students but for the benefit of those who work in them and those who profit by doing business with them. The big teacher’s unions, educational bureaucrats, education professors, teacher colleges, textbook publishers, and educational testing companies all profit from the status quo. They will not give up what they have without a fight. Because of the power these organized interests exert on all levels of government, change must come not from politics but from parental initiative. We parents must recognize the harm public schools are doing to our children and simply pull them out. Then we must actively seek out and if necessary create private alternatives independent of government funding and control.

This year is my nineteenth year teaching in a government school, and I am hopeful it will be my last. On the financial side, my school has been good to me. I now make well over $100,000 a year, live in a luxurious house, have comfortable savings, excellent benefits, job security (tenure), and if I chose to, I could retire in just six more years at age fifty-five. In addition, the taxpayer-funded pension I would collect (I will not say "earn") would pay me more for not working than the vast majority of the taxpayers make by working. It will be difficult to give all that up, and it is hard not to be tempted or corrupted by it.

I have tried to convince myself that by staying where I am, I can somehow change this evil system from within or that I might somehow be able to save a few students from its consequences, but these schools are what they are and the powerful and rapacious interests that control them will never yield or change. As for my influence on students, whatever I might say to a student is undermined by what I do.

No, the best thing I can do for my students and for my family is set a good example and leave. I plan to continue teaching but not in a public school or anything that resembles one. In preparation for my departure from government employment, my wife and I will be significantly downsizing our home and lifestyle, but come what may, my daughter Julia will receive the finest education we can provide for her – one that respects her rights, nurtures her dreams and treats her with dignity. She will grow to be proud of herself and where she comes from and so will her mom and dad.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Some Debate over Dumbing Down

Bonnie Armbruster, a researcher at the University of Illinois Center for the Study of Reading, last month ran an experiment in which she gave a group of adults 20 paragraphs from sixth-grade texts. "Their instructions," says Armbruster, "were to underline the main idea—if they could find it—and if they couldn't, then to write one of their own." The grownups flunked on both counts: the content was so disjointed they could not pick out a main idea. "They couldn't believe these excerpts were from real textbooks," Armbruster adds.

But the books are real, and they are the product of a process that outgoing Secretary of Education Terrel Bell has labeled the "dumbing down" of study materials for U.S. classrooms. Significantly, in a study at Harvard of sample texts and standardized test scores for Grades 1,8 and 11, Reading Expert Jeanne Chall discovered a correlation between textbook quality and learning. "We saw that in the years SAT scores went down," she says, "the year before, textbooks had also declined," The roots of dumbing down go back to the 1920s, when schools began systematic testing of students and concluded that the curriculum was too hard. "They made the curriculum easier," says Chall, "and they made it easier, and they made it easier." The principal target was the textbook, which provides from 75% to 90% of the curriculum content. A key instrument was a set of readability formulas designed to measure the difficulty of a text. Most of the formulas are based on three factors: word length, sentence length and the number of uncommon words. For example, a 15-word sentence or a three-syllable word may be rated too tough for first grade.

No sooner were the formulas created by reading specialists than the details hardened into a doctrine by which educators judged the books they would allow in classrooms. Moreover, the formulas hatched lists of specific words and sentences deemed inappropriate. Subordinate clauses and connectives became no-nos up to certain levels; even topic sentences vanished. Textbook Expert Harriet Bernstein of the Council of Chief State School Officers points out that the word because does not appear in most American schoolbooks before the eighth grade. "And," she adds, "you can imagine what that does to the text."

What these rules do to a text is create horrors like Modern Curriculum Press's "Tap, tap, tap . . ." story for first-graders, an adaptation of the classic fairy tale The Shoemaker and the Elves, in which the words elves, shoemaker and shoes do not appear. In the same way, the frogfish, from Ginn & Co.'s Across the Fence, is a creature of formula writing, whose intent may be simplification but whose consequence is too often mystification. That mystification is compounded by ethnic, religious, political and other groups that have lobbied their attitudes and taboos into texts. In Maryland, Tom Sawyer no longer says "honest injun." Just "honest." And the bland Watergate reference from McGraw-Hill's fifth-grade social-studies textbook United States is a result of the almost universal avoidance of controversy in textbooks.

Most critics of dumbing down have found it easiest to blame publishers. But the fact is that publishers try to produce what their customers want. Twenty-two states, including Texas and California, whose combined purchases account for nearly 16% of the $1.1 billion market, have statewide adoption codes weighted with formulas and taboos. Since it may cost up to $20 million to to develop a major, text-based study program, publishers have to cater to the rules of the big states. Moreover, much of the pressure for simplified texts has come from overworked or undertrained teachers who need something easy to handle in class. This is particularly true in such states as California and Texas, with high percentages of foreign-born or ghetto students with poorly developed language skills.

In San Francisco last month, Bill Honig, California's superintendent of public instruction, voiced the wide spread frustration with the textbook dilemma when he asked a convocation of 43 educators and 50 representatives from 16 publishing houses, "Who is in charge?" The answer is everybody and nobody. Certainly not Honig, though his voice has been one of the loudest and most persistent calling for textbook reform. In his own state, below fifth grade a zoo story may not include such words as beaver, parrot, goat — and zoo. A California anti-junk-food lobby's taboo still limits references to ice cream, cake and pie. "I'm all for good eating," says Illinois Reading Specialist Jean Osborn, "but for a child in a story not to be able to have a birthday cake?"

Honig remains confident of impending change. At the conference he told publishers of new, higher standards, outlined in two pamphlets approved by the state board of education. But industry representatives are skeptical. "We've heard a number of times that things were going to change," says Roger Rogalin, editor in chief of D.C. Heath & Co. Yet the formulas remain in place. "It's a catch-22 situation," sums up Bernstein. "Until the states stop requiring readability formulas, publishers won't stop using them to write and edit texts."

More here

The bell curve rediscovered

British children reaching age 3 without being able to say a word, survey finds -- which is very much what you would expect from the normal (bell curve) distribution of IQ. Age of learning to speak is a good indicator of IQ and the small number (4% is quoted below) of VERY low IQ individuals must be expected to be very slow to speak. Heredity strikes again

Children are reaching the age of 3 without being able to say a word, according to a survey that also found boys are almost twice as likely to struggle to learn to speak as girls. The average age for a baby to speak their first word is 10 to 11 months. However, a significant minority (4 per cent) of parents reported that their child said nothing until they were 3.

Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3 should be able to use up to 300 words, including adjectives, and be able to link words together, according to I CAN, the children’s communication charity. Late speech development can lead to problems, such as low achievement at school or mental health problems.

The survey of more than 1,000 parents found that a child’s background was not a factor in how quickly they learnt to talk. Working parents who put their babies in day care are just as likely to have a child whose speech develops late as those who leave their baby in front of the television.

More here

Australian conservative leader defends government private school subsidies and 6pc fee hike

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has defended the public subsidisation of elite private schools and said they have the right to increase fees. "Well in the end these are private institutions and it's up to them to decide what their fees should be,” he said in a radio interview today.

Mr Abbott was responding to a report in The Australian today showing wealthy private schools are increasing fees by an average of 6 per cent this year despite acknowleding parents are feeling the pinch.

The Opposition Leader also defended the introduction under the Howard Government of the SES funding model that is set to deliver non-government schools $28 billion in taxpayers' money between 2009 and 2012. “Every Australian child is entitled to government assistance towards his or her education,” he said.

“Now, whether people choose to utilise that assistance by going to a public school or whether they choose to go to a private school and receive a reduced level of support, but nevertheless a substantial level of support, that's up to the parents of the child, so we don't support these schools because we think they should be free or almost free we support these schools because every kid is entitled to get government support towards an education.

“Now, obviously it would be better if fees were lower and the increases were less but in the end it is up to these schools to make their own decision on”.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Latino numbers increasing at public universities

University officials say Latinos are an increasingly important group of students to attract, retain and graduate - not only to keep tuition rolling in, but also to ensure that tomorrow's workers have the highest possible chances of earning a good living and becoming productive citizens.

Erika Bahamon, born to Colombian immigrants in southern Texas, had never seen so many white faces as when she showed up for classes at Iowa State University. "So many blond people - I didn't know it was so common," recalled a laughing Bahamon, now a 21-year-old senior majoring in pre-med.

It probably won't always be that way. Latinos are the fastest growing minority group on the campuses of ISU, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, as they are in Iowa and the nation. At this rate, there could be more Latinos on Iowa's college campuses than African-Americans or Asians within a few years.

University officials say Latinos are an increasingly important group of students to attract, retain and graduate - not only to keep tuition rolling in, but also to ensure that tomorrow's workers have the highest possible chances of earning a good living and becoming productive citizens. "This is an obligation we owe to the state of Iowa and to our own future," U of I Provost Wallace Loh said.

The wave of Latino students has already been seen in Iowa's elementary, middle and high schools. Their numbers have increased nearly 150 percent in the past decade, becoming the schools' largest minority group in 2001, according to the Iowa Department of Education. That compares to a 63 percent increase in African-American students, now the second largest minority group, a 26 percent increase among Asian students and a 24 percent increase in American Indian students. The number of white students fell 11 percent in the same period, although they still make up 85.6 percent of all students.

Now the wave is showing up at Iowa's public universities:

• At ISU, the number of Latinos increased 33 percent to 595 between 2004 and 2008, while the number of African-Americans and Asians remained relatively steady. Latinos now account for 2.8 percent of undergraduates. International students are counted separately.

• At the U of I, Latinos have been the second largest minority group among students since at least 2005. In 2009, they numbered 936, which is 3.2 percent of enrollment. And their numbers are increasing at twice the rate of Asian students, still the largest minority group on campus.

• At UNI, the number of Latino students more than doubled in 10 years, from 105 in 1999 to 282 in 2009. They are now the second largest minority group on campus, with 2.2 percent of students, and growing faster than all others.

"The future of higher education in Iowa is becoming much more diverse," said ISU Professor Laura Rendón, a Latina and chairwoman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. The benefits of more minorities on campus are not for the minorities alone, she said. By being exposed to people of many backgrounds and ethnicities, white students learn in college what it's like in an increasingly diverse world. "We cannot continue to work in silos - whites with whites, African-Americans with African-Americans, Latinos with Latinos," Rendón said. "The new world order is calling for a new global consciousness on the part of individuals."

Making a campus more diverse is not without challenges, however. Recruiting Latinos has its own obstacles. National studies have shown that Latinos typically attain less education than others, and surveys have found that the number of young Latinos who plan to go to college is well below average. In Iowa, many Latinos came to the state to work in agriculture, as well as meat-packing and chicken-processing plants, Rendón said. Students and university officials say many of those parents did not go to college, so they struggle to coach their children toward college, if they do at all....

But just getting the students to college is not enough. "The main issue is retention - it's a problem," said ISU senior Brian Casto, 21, a civil engineering senior from Puerto Rico and president of Sigma Lambda Beta. He said the learning environment at ISU is good, and that Ames residents try to be open to other cultures. But he said minority students new to Iowa State often find themselves with no one to relate to.

For him, it was the fraternity - not one with a house, just a tight group of friends. "If I never met the fraternity, I probably would have been out of here a long time ago," he said. "It's a culture shock."

He didn't blame white students, however. He said they are usually glad to become friends with minority students - if they connect with each other in the first place. Casto said minority students too often stick together....

More here

British universities: seats of learning – and loathing

Many British universities are breeding grounds for Muslim extremism. Islamic specialist Ruth Dudley Edwards explains why financial need and government interference have rendered academics oblivious to this threat to democratic society

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “never gave his tutors any cause for concern, and was a well-mannered, quietly spoken, polite and able young man”, explained University College London, as it busily seemed to wash its hands of any responsibility for fostering a suicide bomber who attempted to down a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. While of course, said Provost Malcolm Grant, the authorities would be reflecting very carefully, students were admitted on merit and there could be no vetting “of their political, racial or religious background or beliefs”.

What Abdulmutallab’s parents must be wondering is what happened to the college’s duty of care towards their son. Did no tutor talk to him about his life outside engineering? Did it concern no one that this lonely boy had taken to wearing Islamic dress? Wasn’t anyone worried about the radicalism of the “War on Terror Week” Abdulmutallab organised as president? Did anyone know he had asked a “hate-preacher” to address the society? Or did UCL think their job was simply to teach the boy engineering in exchange for his father’s large cheques?

As a writer on Irish terrorism, who knew how easily idealistic teenagers could be transformed into ruthless terrorists, I became fascinated by what was happening on a much larger scale in Islamist circles. Years of studying the religion and politics of Islam have given me an insight into young people like Abdulmutallab which his tutors seem to have lacked.

It’s not that universities haven’t had enough warnings. Sheikh Musa Admani, an imam at London Metropolitan University, pleaded with both the Home Office and academic leaders to supervise and control Islamic societies. He spoke eloquently of vulnerable, friendless first-year students, confused about the conflict between Islam and hedonistic secular values, who are natural prey for Islamist evangelists offering companionship, brotherly love and a clear sense of identity.

Admani’s common-sense advice – for instance, that prayer rooms should be open to all, not just Muslims, and that speakers should be vetted – were seemingly ignored by most academics and officials. So what he had observed continued: university after university provided Muslim prayer rooms that were all too often taken over by extremists who changed the locks, showed innocent freshers heavy-duty propaganda films of Muslim suffering at the hands of wicked Jews, Americans and Brits, and brought to the campus inspirational speakers who encouraged the young to sacrifice themselves for Allah.

Then there was Professor Anthony Glees who, four years ago in his book When Students Turn to Terror, named more than 30 universities where “extremist and/or terror groups” were to be found. He was denounced by the National Union of Students and met with hostility from the academic establishment. The following year, when an all-party parliamentary commission reported on the rise in anti-Semitism that was accompanying increasing support for Islamism on campuses, in the words of its chairman, the respected Denis MacShane, “university vice-chancellors and the university lecturers’ union pooh-poohed our concerns”. And when the Government finally became alarmed, its suggestion that academics should keep an eye on their students and report signs of extremism was angrily rejected by the same union (University and College Union), which boasts a substantial minority who want an academic boycott against Israel.

And all this denial has continued, despite a steady stream of evidence about the university background of notorious jihadists like Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the murderer of Daniel Pearl (London School of Economics), the London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan (Leeds Metropolitan), Kafeel Ahmed (Cambridge), who blew himself up at Glasgow Airport, and Omar Rehman (Westminster) now serving 15 years for conspiracy to blow up several UK and US targets. There are close to 100,000 Muslim students in the UK, and extremists are swimming among them. In the work of radicalisation, the agents of the controversial Hizb ut-Tahrir – which works to set up a global caliphate – infest the campuses of Britain unchecked.

The truth is that a mixture of greed, knee-jerk Left-wingery, anti-Semitism and pusillanimity have combined to make our universities breeding grounds for Islamism. The greed is two‑fold. Starved of funds and bullied by the Government into dropping standards in the name of social and ethnic diversity, universities court more foreign students than they can cope with and do nothing to upset them. Equally alarmingly, they woo benefactors from such rotten societies as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In A Degree of Influence: the Funding of Strategically Important Subjects in UK Universities, the Centre for Social Cohesion revealed how universities have been seduced by vast sums of money from Arabic and Islamic sources. At Cambridge and Edinburgh, for instance, appointees of Prince Alwaleed, the Saudi principal donor of the Islamic Studies centres, sit on the management committee. The Al-Maktoum Institute, which has its degrees validated by the University of Aberdeen, exists to disseminate the political and religious vision of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London ordered the removal from an exhibition of a photo taken by a Saudi artist lest it insult Muslims.

The anti-Western and anti-Israel propaganda emanating from some SOAS academics and students has made a once-great institution a joke. The editor of its student newspaper assures us that because of its wicked past as a facilitator of colonialism, the school has gone through a process of intellectual reorientation. Its “mentality and values”, we are told, “now seem to reflect an acute awareness of the subtle forms that racism can take.” That seems to mean that anyone with a claim to be an underdog can do and say anything they like.

Academics tend towards the Left and, for a variety of perverse reasons, the Left has allied itself with radical Islam, choosing to ignore the brutality, the oppression of women, the stifling of dissent and many of the other repellent aspects of countries ruled by Sharia law. There will always be a substantial body of students who are idealistic, radical and hot-headed, but all too many academics seem incapable of grasping that the Islamist variety is a threat to the very foundations of democratic society: even the worst of the small number of student lunatics in the late Sixties were not suicide bombers intent on random mass murder.

Worse still, fearful of being accused of racism and cultural insensitivity, the academic establishment is running scared of Islamic bully-boys. Supporters of the BNP would be run off campuses where there are no rebukes for proponents of Islamic fascism and murder.

Society has always laughed at the unworldliness of ivory towers, but the times are too dangerous now for such indulgence. If vice-chancellors of universities that contain festering ideological cesspits do not clear them out, they should be replaced.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was by all accounts a decent, virtuous teenager who wanted to do good but, lost and alone in London, he fell into a malign embrace. Indifference, cowardice and neglect on the part of those who should have protected him may have contributed to the causes that turned him into a would-be agent of death. Rather than producing mealy-mouthed defensive statements, it is my personal opinion that Provost Grant should seriously reconsider his position. And the heads of all those universities who are duty-bound to prevent the corruption of confused young men in their care should have the decency to admit their failures and follow suit.


The lasting guarantee of a decent education

Britain owes its national curriculum to Matthew Arnold. It would be folly to lose it, says David Conway

Critics of the national curriculum – and they are legion in our classrooms and teacher training colleges – seem curiously unaware that the first person to propose such a curriculum for England was Matthew Arnold. Today, Arnold is best known as a leading Victorian social and literary critic, as well as a poet. But education was in his blood. His father, Thomas, was the famed headmaster of Rugby School and for 35 years Arnold was also an elementary schools inspector. It was in that capacity that, on several occasions, he was asked by parliamentary commissions to tour Europe and inspect educational arrangements there, reporting back with recommendations on how schooling in England might be improved.

The foreign schools that most impressed Arnold were those of France and Prussia. Both had started to subsidise their secondary schools in ways England had not. Additionally, both had introduced into them strikingly similar curricula which, and not by accident, bear striking resemblance to both the 1904 Regulations for Secondary Schools – the first ever attempt at prescribing classroom subjects in secondary schools – and the present national curriculum introduced in 1988.

Arnold unhesitatingly recommended that England should introduce generous state subsidy to secondary schools as well as a common curriculum similar to those that he had seen in France and Prussia. Writing in 1868, he proposed that, during the junior years of secondary school, pupils should study, "the mother-tongue, the elements of Latin, and of the chief modern languages, the elements of history, of arithmetic and geometry, of geography, and of the knowledge of nature."

Arnold believed such a curriculum would be "the first great stage of a liberal education". He did not invent the idea of such a form of education. Its roots go back to classical antiquity, when it was widely recognised that, to use Aristotle's words, "there is a form of education which we must provide for our sons, not as being useful or essential but as elevated and worthy of free men."

Arnold believed liberal education should be the prime aim of all schooling beyond the most elementary and crudely vocational. His reasons have great contemporary relevance, given how increasingly less focused on traditional subjects state-schooling is becoming: "The aim and office of instruction… is to enable a man to know himself and the world… To know himself, a man must know the capabilities and performances of the human spirit… [which is] the value of the humanities… but it is also a vital and formative knowledge to know the world, the laws which govern nature, and man as a part of nature."

For Arnold, and all who followed him, the principal value of such knowledge was not vocational, however useful such knowledge might be. Its main value was thought to reside in its providing a sound basis for action, as well as the means to appreciate and derive insight and solace from "the best which has been said and thought". This was Arnold's term for culture whose canonical literary and artistic works, he believed, it should be the aim of schooling to make the patrimony of everyman.

Arnold's educational ideas proved hugely influential in England. All subsequent major educationists there proposed variants of his curriculum as national curricula. These proponents range from Robert Morant, responsible for the 1904 Regulations, to the members of the Hadow Committee, which included Richard Tawney, and those of the Norwood Committee. Really, it is as a result of Arnold's influence that England can be said to have the national curriculum it acquired.

Yet ever since it was introduced two decades ago, teachers and those who train them have complained it is hopelessly outmoded and overly academic. As a result of the influence such critics have had in recent years, the national curriculum has undergone steady erosion. Its original subjects have increasingly been squeezed to make room for non-subject approaches, greater vocational emphasis, as well as a raft of new, less traditional subjects such as citizenship.

But a liberal education is too edifying and unifying to be allowed once more to become the exclusive preserve of only those children with parents sufficiently affluent to be able to purchase one at an independent school. Neither misplaced child-centredness, nor excessive concern for greater parental choice and supply-side diversity –however desirable these last two goals might be – should be allowed to sacrifice the liberal education that is alone provided through a broad subject-based curriculum.

The case, then, for retaining the national curriculum remains compelling. That being said, in its current form, it does need to be made less prescriptive and constraining of schools and teachers. That is an easy enough reform for any incoming administration dedicated to ensuring that every child enjoys the benefits of a liberal education.

Black Education

by Walter Williams. Walt is pretty right but does not touch the "third rail" -- the need for high-discipline schools for some students

Detroit’s (predominantly black) public schools are the worst in the nation and it takes some doing to be worse than Washington, D.C. Only 3 percent of Detroit’s fourth-graders scored proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, sometimes called “The Nation’s Report Card.” Twenty-eight percent scored basic and 69 percent below basic. “Below basic” is the NAEP category when students are unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. It’s the same story for Detroit’s eighth-graders. Four percent scored proficient, 18 percent basic and 77 percent below basic.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the D.C.-based Council on Great City Schools, in an article appearing in Crain’s Detroit Business, (12/8/09) titled, “Detroit’s Public Schools Post Worst Scores on Record in National Assessment,” said, “There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers.” The academic performance of black students in other large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles is not much better than Detroit and Washington.

What’s to be done about this tragic state of black education? The education establishment and politicians tell us that we need to spend more for higher teacher pay and smaller class size. The fact of business is higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes mean little or nothing in terms of academic achievement. Washington, D.C., for example spends over $15,000 per student, has class sizes smaller than the nation’s average, and with an average annual salary of $61,195, its teachers are the most highly paid in the nation.

What about role models? Standard psychobabble asserts a positive relationship between the race of teachers and administrators and student performance. That’s nonsense. Black academic performance is the worst in the very cities where large percentages of teachers and administrators are black, and often the school superintendent is black, the mayor is black, most of the city council is black and very often the chief of police is black.

Black people have accepted hare-brained ideas that have made large percentages of black youngsters virtually useless in an increasingly technological economy. This destruction will continue until the day comes when black people are willing to turn their backs on liberals and the education establishment’s agenda and confront issues that are both embarrassing and uncomfortable. To a lesser extent, this also applies to whites because the educational performance of many white kids is nothing to write home about; it’s just not the disaster that black education is.

Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others. They should be removed or those students who want to learn should be provided with a mechanism to go to another school.

Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.

Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when in fact he can’t perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?

Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.


Top British schools could be branded failures for failing to promote race relations

Another attack on educational standards -- if skin-colour etc matters more than ability and academic achievement

Schools could be put into 'special measures' if they do not do enough to promote race relations, sexual equality and human rights, it emerged today. Even institutions with top academic results could be deemed inadequate under rules that make equality as important as pupils' marks and safety. Official Government guidance says inspectors have to look out for 'gender imbalances' in classes and even that sport after school is not dominated by one ethnic group. Some schools are being told to ensure their staff reflect the ethnic mix in the local community and include people with disabilities.

Critics claim the rules mean schools will be increasingly forced to address 'social problems' rather than focus on providing a decent education.

The Ofsted guidance says inspectors will look for a disparity in results between different groups such as those from broken homes, the disabled or ethnic minorities. It adds that schools 'should be aware of gender imbalances in "upper ability" groups and which groups of learners, by ethnicity, are participating in after-school sport'.

Institutions are expected to outline their approach to gender, race and disability discrimination in an 'equality plan' dossier, it prescribes. Some councils have given head teachers draft documents they can alter to their own needs. Cornwall county council advised them to include 'realistic images of lesbian, gay and bisexual people', according to the Telegraph. It added that schools should make sure its staff include a 'balanced gender mix' as well as diverse ethnic groups and the disabled to provide good role models.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: 'We all want discrimination and equality to be tackled wherever they exist, but the Government has given too much of the responsibility for tackling social problems to schools alone, which can have the effect of diverting them from their core educational purpose - and ultimately it's education that narrows inequalities in our society.'

Ofsted said the promotion of equality and tackling of discrimination was one of three 'limiting judgments' along with academic achievement and children's safety. This means they are all given higher priority, when previously all parts of a Government inspection had equal importance. If a school is deemed inadequate on any of the three measures, its overall performance is also likely to be considered inadequate, the watchdog said.

A spokesman said: 'Inspections place a strong emphasis on outcomes for pupils and we believe attention to equality and diversity is essential in assuring the quality of their development and wellbeing.'

Last year, Stretford Grammar in Manchester was threatened with closure because of its 'outdated' race equality policy despite having a 96 per cent GCSE success rate. The school became the first grammar in Britain to be put into special measures after being branded 'failing' by inspectors who singled out its sex education programme. Ofsted said the school's curriculum was 'inadequate', while admitting academic standards were 'exceptionally and consistently high'.


Australia: School policies on disruptive students 'not working'

The Leftist horror of physical punishment is anything but kind

A MOTHER whose nine-year-old son missed 53 days of school on suspension last year is appealing for Education Queensland to improve its policies on disruptive students. Brock Duchnicz will start year 5 at a new school this year unable to spell simple words like at, in or on.

In two years he has missed 63 days – almost 13 weeks – of school for offences such as swearing, class disruption and pushing chairs over. His mother Sarndra said EQ's policy of blocking her son from the classroom was not working. Ms Duchnicz said teachers were not equipped to deal with children like Brock and called on the Government to introduce specialised behaviour management training for all teachers.

"I feel as though these kids are just pushed to the back of the classroom in the too hard basket," she said. "There are so many more children coming up the line like this and if they (teachers) are not equipped they need more understanding and time put into them."

Ms Duchnicz said the more Brock was suspended from Eagleby State School, the more he misbehaved to get another day off. "He thinks if he's naughty he gets to go home. The little light bulb goes on 'if I'm naughty I get to go home'," said Ms Duchnicz. Brock was recently diagnosed with ADHD but Ms Duchnicz stopped his Ritalin medication because it had no effect. She plans to have him reassessed.

EQ's assistant director-general of education (student services) Patrea Walton said the department fully supported a principal's decision to take disciplinary action. "It is not in any school's interests to keep badly behaved students in the classroom disrupting the learning of others," Ms Walton said.