Saturday, January 16, 2010

Head of high-performing British school calls for tougher exams

The head teacher of England's top-ranked school has called for the introduction of tougher exams and said GCSEs failed to stretch the brightest pupils. Invicta Grammar, an all-girls school in Maidstone, Kent, rose from third place last year to top the league table. All of its 162 pupils achieved five A*-C grades including English and Maths, with an average total point score of 764.5. Every entrant also scored two or more science GCSEs at grade C or higher.

Kirstin Cardus, the Head of School, said that GCSEs no longer challenged her pupils. She said rather than make them take ever more GCSEs like some schools, Invicta allowed its girls to sit eight or nine “core” subjects as quickly as they liked. This then freed them to study AS-levels at 16, a year earlier than normal, or even spend time teaching in local primary schools.

“The students take their examinations when they’re ready and not due to their age,” Ms Cardus said. “They take a core eight or nine subjects at the end of year 10 or 11, or a combination of these. “Then they can look at doing one or two AS-Levels in year 11. “Most choose to take GCSEs early and are very competitive. It’s about them getting As and A*s first time round. It’s not about a resit culture, trying them many times.

Ms Cardus also called on the Government to start recognising international GCSEs, which are seen as more rigorous but do not precisely follow the National Curriculum. “Some of our students take international GCSEs in mathematics just for fun, because they can,” she said. “We’re very interested in them and will be looking to implement more in the future.”

Invicta was one of seven selective girls’ schools in the top 10 this year, as female pupils continued to outperform their male counterparts. The other three comprised two mixed grammar schools and a mixed private school, meaning there were no all-boy institutions among the very best. However the tables showed that in general the gender performance gap narrowed slightly. The total proportion of girls scoring five A*-Cs was 7.3 per cent higher than the proportion of boys. In 2008 the figure stood at eight per cent.


Don’t burden homeschoolers with regulations

The recent situation with the two mothers in New Haven, “Moms’ pleas highlight home-school dilemma” (Dec. 30), has prompted discussion about home schooling, and a recent editorial, “Indiana needs standards for home schooling” (Jan. 5), focused on increasing regulation of this private educational alternative. Unfortunately, this ignores the real concern, which is why did the public school system fail these children in the first place?

Many important facts about this case are unknown to the general public, but one fact is clear: At some point, these women stopped sending their children to the local public school. Why? Why did they choose to leave? What went wrong? Does anyone really think it’s as simple as saying that some parents are so irresponsible that they don’t want their children to be educated? If true, that points even more directly to our education system’s failure because such a parent was likely educated by our public schools.

Proposing increased regulation on Indiana home-schoolers as a solution to the concern of irresponsible parents assumes that regulation is a factor in educating a child. We already know it’s not, because if it were, our highly regulated and tested public schools would be having no problems at all.

Regulation and testing assume we can define and measure learning in one single way that works for everyone. To see how misguided this is, just ask 10 people to define a “good” education. You’ll probably get 11 answers. When we try to make education exactly the same for everyone, we end up with regulations that lack clarity, cohesiveness and even common sense.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn about education is that it cannot be defined, let alone measured and regulated. Yet measure we do. We pretend that loads of data can inform us about the connections made inside individual minds. So we test. We regulate. It makes us feel better. It makes it easier for officials to create the illusion of turning an abstract concept into something tangible.

But we know from our own experience this just isn’t true. When you passed a test, did you really celebrate because you experienced the innate joy of learning? Or did you wipe the nervous sweat off your brow and immediately move on to the next hoop placed in front of you?

We say we value individuality, yet we refuse to acknowledge this in education. Even worse, we have loads of evidence demonstrating that it’s often the misfits, the bad test-takers, the restless, etc., who often end up making valuable contributions to the world. Yet we have faith in regulations even when they stifle these individuals.

Home schooling in Indiana is an alternative that frees families from this over-regulation and creates the flexibility needed for individuals to truly learn. This is why home schooling works, so it’s completely illogical to propose that families need to preserve the right to home school by taking away the very essence of its effectiveness. In addition, imposing the same restrictions, regulations and testing on home-schoolers that are hampering the public school system will do nothing to improve our public schools.

Their problems remain, and we would only be interfering with one alternative out there for families who desperately need more flexibility.

It’s interesting that the editorial brought up the possibility of paying more in taxes to take care of adults who need public assistance because they were ineffectively home-schooled. Yet every year, schools send ineffectively educated children out into the world who cannot read, comprehend, think critically, write persuasively or manage finances. How many of them need our public aid, and why aren’t the regulations preventing this? If it’s purely a numbers game based on the possibility of having to support ill-prepared adults, then it’s obvious where we should focus our energy.

We need to figure out how to deal with the over-regulation that is causing the public school system to fail rather than trying to put the same burden on home-schoolers who aren’t even spending our tax money.


Catholic schools surging ahead in Australia

CATHOLIC schools have increased their share of the highest HSC awards, almost doubling the number of their top all-rounders. A Herald analysis of official government figures for the past five years has found that the number of HSC students in the Catholic diocesan system who achieved more than 90 per cent in each of their subjects has almost doubled.

While the Catholic sector claimed credit for setting exemplary performance targets, public school advocates have told the Herald that the improvement had come from a relatively low base compared with public and independent schools. The socio-economic status of Catholic schools had also improved over the years, as had their share of Commonwealth funding relative to schools in other sectors.

Dan White, the executive director of Catholic schools in the Sydney archdiocese, attributed the long-term improvement in results to investment in the professional development of teachers and measurable literacy and numeracy targets that helped to identify areas of need. "Our focus has been on continual improvement of teacher quality," Dr White said. "Our highest priority has been to put in place targeted intervention strategies where a clear need has been identified. Put simply, we have tried to respond quickly where the need is greatest."

In 2005, 45 students from Catholic secondary schools, not including the higher-fee independent schools, achieved the State Government's all-rounder award, figures from the Board of Studies NSW show; last year 80 achieved the award. As a proportion of the increasing number of students from all school sectors in the list, the percentage from Catholic systemic schools rose from 4.9 per cent in 2005 to 6.6 per cent last year.

Catholic and independent schools account for about a quarter of all HSC students. A Herald analysis found 38 Catholic schools in the list of top all-rounders last year, compared with 33 in 2008 and 30 in 2007.

Last year, 122 students on the list came from 59 comprehensive public high schools. The year before, 149 students came from 65 comprehensive high schools. As a proportion of all students in all school sectors, the percentage on the list from comprehensive public schools fell from 12.5 per cent in 2008 to 10 per cent last year.

Dr White said Catholic schools in the Sydney archdiocese achieved results above the state mean in 67 per cent of courses last year, up from 61 per cent the year before. A quarter of the archdiocesan schools achieved results above the state mean in more than 90 per cent of courses last year.

The president of the Secondary Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the top all-rounders list was a limited measure that did not capture all students who achieved a ranking of 99 or above since it did not take into account students who specialised in the sciences or the humanities - and so did not score above 90 per cent in every subject. "There is a greater opportunity for Catholic schools to select students from higher SES [socio-economic status] profiles now," Mr McAlpine said. "Students in low SES schools and communities require a greater level of funding in order to lift their academic performance, and that can only happen if the Federal Government bites the bullet to create a fairer funding regime for all students."

A spokeswoman for the Board of Studies said the all-rounders list represented "a very small percentage of the overall candidature [less than 2 per cent] and is just one measure of success".


Friday, January 15, 2010

Censorship and Libel at USC

In September 2009, David Horowitz was invited by the University of Southern California College Republicans to come on campus and protest an Islamic Hadith calling for the genocide of the Jews that appeared on an official USC website. His speech was attacked in advance by Students for Justice in Palestine and the USC Progressive Alliance, who made up quotes and attributed them to Horowitz in order to paint him as an Islamophobe and a racist. Undeterred by this slander, Horowitz spoke on the USC campus on November 4 to a packed house.

On December 3, the USC Vice President of Student Affairs, Michael Jackson, published “an open letter to the USC community” in the Daily Trojan, the USC campus newspaper, attacking the College Republicans for bringing Horowitz to campus. Jackson claimed that Horowitz’s presence “led members of our community, our Muslim students, to feel threatened, unsafe, and betrayed.” This letter was also sent to every official USC student, faculty, and staff email address and was published as an ad in the Daily Trojan.

Horowitz wrote a response to Jackson’s letter and submitted it as an ad to the Daily Trojan, which Jackson controls and which initially rejected it. The David Horowitz Freedom Center responded by notifying USC officials of its intent to pursue relief under California’s Unruh Act, which requires student papers to observe rules of basic fairness. After reflection, the Trojan agreed to print Horowitz’s response and it ran in Tuesday’s edition of the paper. It appears below.
An Open Letter to the USC Community: Response to VP Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson:

Vice President Jackson’s “Open Letter to the USC Community” denigrating student leaders of College Republicans for inviting me to speak is ill-informed and provides unfortunate support for campus hate speech, specifically for the attacks on Jewish students that have become increasingly prevalent on college campuses these days. I was invited to USC to speak about this problem and specifically about an incitement to kill Jews posted on an official USC website and attributed to the prophet Mohammed. The incitement was originally posted by the USC Muslim Student Union. It was removed last spring by Provost Nicias, who called it “disgusting,” over protests from the Muslim Student Union. It was recently restored to a USC website by another campus group. When this re-posting came to my attention, I contacted USC students and said I would like to come to campus to address this and related issues. This led to my invitation from College Republicans.

My speech and my hosts were attacked, however, before I even appeared at USC. We were subjected to a series of vicious slanders which should have no place on a university campus. A flyer put out by the USC Progressive Alliance maliciously and falsely claimed that College Republicans hate Muslims and then invented an entire quote attributed to me claiming that Muslim believers are “soulless beasts.” I have never said or written anything that could be construed this way, nor do I believe it. In the millions of words I have published I have never used the phrase “soulless beast” to describe anyone, let alone pious Muslims.

Nor was this the only attack on us. The president of Students for Justice in Palestine sent out a campus email making a series of false claims about what I have written in the past, including the malicious lie that I said that African Americans should be grateful for slavery. A version of this slander endorsed by half a dozen recognized USC student groups and five USC professors was published in the Daily Trojan, which is under Michael Jackson’s jurisdiction and which refused to print my rebuttal.

In his “Open Letter” Vice President Jackson not only ignores these assaults on campus tolerance but singles out the victims of these attacks for disapprobation. He justifies this moral blindness by claiming that I described the USC Muslim Student Union as “a terrorist organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.” I never made such a statement – not before my speech nor during the course of it.

What I did point out in my speech was the USC Muslim Student Union’s decision to post the alleged saying of the prophet Mohammed that in order for the Day of Judgment to come, Muslims must “fight the Jews and kill them,” and its defense of the posting after Provost Nicias ordered its removal.

It is true that on other occasions I have said that the national Muslim Students Association is part of the Muslim Brotherhood network with ties to Hamas. I have also said that the national Muslim Students Association sponsors anti-gay, anti-woman and anti-Semitic speakers on many campuses, and is behind an event on every anniversary of the creation of the state Israel that calls for its destruction – a genocidal incitement. These claims are documented here in this Investigative Project report on the Muslim Student Association. In any case, they should be a legitimate part of any dialogue on a university campus concerned with the current conflict between radical elements in Islam and the democracies of the West. The fact that a vice president in charge of student affairs should want to de-legitimize and thereby suppress these opinions in the name of “tolerance” is positively Orwellian and does not speak well for the intellectual climate at this great university.


As School Exit Tests Prove Tough, States water standards down to almost nothing

A law adopting statewide high school exams for graduation took effect in Pennsylvania on Saturday, with the goal of ensuring that students leaving high school are prepared for college and the workplace. But critics say the requirement has been so watered down that it is unlikely to have major impact.

The situation in Pennsylvania mirrors what has happened in many of the 26 states that have adopted high school exit exams. As deadlines approached for schools to start making passage of the exams a requirement for graduation, and practice tests indicated that large numbers of students would fail, many states softened standards, delayed the requirement or added alternative paths to a diploma.

People who have studied the exams, which affect two-thirds of the nation’s public school students, say they often fall short of officials’ ambitious goals. “The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them,” said John Robert Warren, an expert on exit exams and a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. “The exams are just challenging enough to reduce the graduation rate,” Professor Warren added, “but not challenging enough to have measurable consequences for how much students learn or for how prepared they are for life after high school.”

In 2008, state officials in Alabama, Arizona and Washington delayed the start of the exit exam requirement and lowered standards after seeing that many students, including a disproportionate number of minorities, would fail the tests.

Many states have faced lawsuits over the proposed requirements amid accusations that the tests are unfair to students with disabilities, non-native speakers of English and students attending schools with fewer educational resources. These concerns have been bolstered by recent studies that indicate that the exams lead to increased dropout rates by one or two percentage points.

But proponents say that with the decline in manufacturing and the growth of the information economy, higher educational standards are needed to reinforce the value of a high school diploma. The exams, they argue, give school districts better incentives to succeed and ensure that no one will graduate without documented skills in specific subjects. “Momentum is definitely still moving in favor of states’ adopting these exit exams,” said John F. Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, which publishes annual reports on high school exit exams.

Mr. Jennings added that this momentum was likely to grow next month when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state school superintendents, are to release a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for kindergarten through Grade 12. Federal officials have set aside $350 million for states to create tests that correspond to the new national standards, and Mr. Jennings said there was a good chance that states would consider adopting these new tests for their exit exams.

Despite criticism of exit exams, some experts say that schools have benefited from them. Surveys indicate that teachers say the tests have brought clearer guidelines on curriculum, which they find helpful. And after the exam grades begin to count, students often start taking them more seriously, which causes passage rates to increase, Mr. Jennings said.

Gerald L. Zahorchak, the secretary of education in Pennsylvania, is a strong advocate for the state’s new tests, which will be phased in over the next five years. “I want more than anything to be able to say with confidence that every Pennsylvania student who receives a diploma is ready for the real world,” Dr. Zahorchak said. He added that in 2007-8, more than 20,000 public high school graduates who enrolled in a public higher education institution required some form of remedial help, with a total cost to taxpayers, students and parents in excess of $26 million.

Nonetheless, responding to fervent opposition from legislators, teachers unions and advocates for parents who feared a loss of local control, Pennsylvania opted in October to allow school districts to substitute their own versions of the exit exams, with state approval, and to give students who fail multiple times alternative paths to graduation.

The rules in Pennsylvania require students to pass at least four courses, with the end-of-course exams counting for a third of the course grade. If students fail an exam or a section of an exam, they will have two chances to retake it. If they cannot pass after that, they have the option of doing a subject-specific project that is approved by district officials.

More here

Islamic extremist teaches at one of Britain's most prestigious universities

A senior figure in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a hardline Islamist group that the Government keeps “under continuous review” and the Conservatives want to ban, is teaching and preaching at a top university. The Times has learnt that Reza Pankhurst, who was imprisoned in Egypt for membership of the group, is a teacher at the London School of Economics and regularly preaches to students at Friday prayers.

The group is supposedly barred from organising and speaking on campuses under the National Union of Students’ policy of “no platform” for racist or fascist views. The presence of one of its prominent members as a university teacher raises new concerns about Islamist radicalisation on campus.

A new review of campus extremism began last month after it was discovered that the alleged Detroit airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was a former president of the Islamic Society at University College London. The Times understands that at least two London university lecturers are either supporters or members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Mr Pankhurst is a postgraduate student in the LSE’s government department and teaches classes for the course “States, Nations and Empires”. On Fridays he is one of the regular speakers at prayers organised by the students’ union Islamic Society in the college gym. A society member told The Times: “He preaches every other week and is constantly bringing the subject around to politics, talking about Afghanistan and the need to establish the Caliphate [Islamic state]. “Only last week he was talking about the Detroit bomber and saying the guy was not radicalised in London and it was all to do with foreign policy. “Last year he recommended we should attend a conference which I later discovered was organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he never mentions the party by name.”

In 2002 Mr Pankhurst was one of three British Hizb ut-Tahrir members arrested in Egypt for attempting to promote the movement. They were held for four years and tortured before being released in 2006. He remained active in the movement after his return and, according to well-informed sources, is still a senior figure. Last month a meeting at Queen Mary College, London, at which Mr Pankhurst and Jamal Harwood, another member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, were due to speak, was cancelled after student protests about the speakers’ views.

The Times made repeated attempts to contact the group and Mr Pankhurst yesterday but without success. The group states on its website that its “political aim is the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate as an independent state”. It says that it rejects forcing change “by means of violence and terror”. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Germany for anti-semitic activity but, despite Tony Blair announcing plans to proscribe it in 2005, it remains legal in Britain.

In a speech last month Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the Conservative Party would ban the group if elected to Government. Mr Grayling said: “Within the UK it takes extreme care about how it words its propaganda ... But anyone who doubts its true character should take a look at the website for its sister organisation in Bangladesh, which talks about evil American plans to subjugate Muslims and about mobilising armed forces to eliminate the Jewish entity. We cannot allow such views free rein in our society.”

The LSE confirmed that Mr Pankhurst was a research student and a graduate teaching assistant. A spokesman said: “No concerns about his conduct have been raised with the school and we are not aware that he is a member of any proscribed organisation or has broken any laws or LSE regulations.”

The students’ union said that Mr Pankhurst was a member of its Islamic Society. Aled Dilwyn Fisher, general secretary of the union, said: “As far as we are aware, Mr Pankhurst is not currently a member of an illegal extremist group.”

A spokesman for the anti-extremism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, said: “Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation which has a long track record of promoting intolerance, has not abandoned its efforts to infiltrate British universities in order to spread its destructive, confrontational message. “Its infiltration of internationally renowned universities such as the LSE make a mockery of universities’ claims to be tackling extremism on campus.”

A Home Office spokesman said “Hizb ut-Tahrir is kept under continuous review. As and when new material comes to light it is considered and the organisation reassessed as part of that process.” [Translation: "We do nothing unless pushed"]


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Perry: Texas Rejects Federal Education Funding

Too many strings for the Lone Star state

Texas won't compete for up to $700 million in federal stimulus money for education because the program "smacks of a federal takeover of our public schools," Republican Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday.

The funding is from the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" program, a $5 billion competitive fund that will award grants to states to improve education quality and results. The program, created in the economic stimulus law, is part of Democratic President Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's schools.

Perry has been critical of the federal stimulus program and the federal bailout of the nation's financial institutions. He previously turned down $555 million in federal stimulus money for the state's unemployment fund because it would have required Texas to expand its unemployment benefits. However, the state did accept billions of dollars of federal stimulus money to help balance its two-year budget in 2009.

Perry stood next to Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and representatives of teachers' unions and said taking the money would force the state to adopt national education and testing standards and result in Texas losing its autonomy in educating children.

The education program is pushing for a link between student test scores and teacher pay. Other reforms it is asking for include turning around the lowest-achieving schools and building data systems that measure student growth and success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.

Leaders in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin have been pushing hard for lawmakers to overhaul their education systems so they have a better chance at qualifying for the money. At least 10 states have changed laws banning the use of student test scores to judge teachers, eased charter school restrictions or backed off budget cuts to boost their chances.

Perry said Texas' education system is doing well under state and local control -- standardized test scores are up, the dropout rate is down and Texas has been recognized as one of only four states that is closing the achievement gap in math. The grant program doesn't remove schools from state and local control but it gives Obama considerable leverage as he pushes education reform. "Here in Texas, we don't have broad consensus on every issue facing our school system," Perry said. "We do agree we'd rather work those differences out in Texas with solutions that work for Texans instead of accepting a top down mandate from some distant bureaucrats."

Texas Democrats were quick to criticize Perry's decision. State Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said he didn't agree with all of Race to the Top's mandates, but the grants could help the state lower the achievement gap and better prepare Texas children for college. "By throwing in the towel before the competition has even begun, Gov. Perry has officially won the race to the bottom," said Dunnam, chairman of the House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding.

But several teachers' unions and groups promoting fiscal responsibility supported Perry's decision, saying the state's curriculum serves students well and they have no interest in the federal government dictating teaching practices. "The dollars being dangled have far too many strings attached and for Texans the price would be far too high," said Jeri Stone, executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.


Why computers should be banned from British schools

Have you been inside a primary school recently? The old blackboards are gone, and so are the wooden desks with those little inkwells. No great loss, perhaps, but what has replaced them is frightening. Those handsome, Victorian red-brick board schools, set up under the 1870 Education Act, might look pretty much unchanged on the outside. But on the inside they have become little offices. Whiteboards, hooked up to computers, are the main teaching tool in the classroom. Whole areas are given over to ranks of gleaming screens. In one North London classroom I visited recently (to deliver a lecture on journalism) every single child had their own laptop.

I was astonished - and not a little dismayed - by this wholesale reliance on technology. Yes, the children were on the whole polite, attentive and curious; the teachers committed and good at keeping discipline. But the moment the teacher's attention was diverted for more than a minute, the children all turned to their computer games.

And, just like in any office, the school IT system then went on the blink (while the children's computer games kept on going). The pupils were unable to complete their work (they had to produce a mock newspaper) because the printers had gone down. Cue another half an hour of computer games, while the teacher tried and failed to get the printers working again.

That's why I was so dismayed by Gordon Brown's latest misguided wheeze. At the beginning of the week, he announced he's going to give away £300million worth of free laptops and broadband access to 270,000 poor families, with priority for those with educational needs. His aim is to make every family a 'broadband family', in the naive belief that the internet, because it's modern, is some kind of magic wand that will help lift them out of poverty.

It's no such thing. For the moment you hand a laptop to a child, the child will treat it the way most adults do - as a device beautifully designed to waste their time, avoid long periods of concentrated work, play games on, indulge their obsessions, narrow their horizons and reduce their attention span.

This might not matter so much were it not for the fact that widespread use of computers and the internet now lie at the heart of our education system. There is no doubt technology can be a wonderful tool in the classroom. But I'd argue there is a pretty neat equation showing that the greater the use of computers in teaching, the less likely the pupils are to concentrate on what they are being taught, or retain information. After all, the very nature of computerised learning involves 'surfing' from one page to the next, from one subject to another, flicking through reams of material in seconds; only pausing on subjects that instantly seize your attention; never needing to memorise anything because it's all stored digitally. That, surely, is anathema to the academic rigour that was once the foundation of a worthwhile education.

The simple truth is that sticking children in front of the internet, whether at school or in the home, is like sticking them in an enormous library - with every book in the world; and every computer game, too. Yes, as Gordon Brown hopes, they might be reading War And Peace on their laptop - or even writing on it - but, much, much more likely, they'll be playing Grand Theft Auto IV or emailing each other graphic definitions of rude words.

It's not the children's fault. Us grown-ups are just the same. That man tapping on his laptop throughout the train journey to Norwich might be finding a cure for cancer. More likely he's sending his wife a YouTube clip of a panda waking up. Surely, though, we adults (especially teachers) should be encouraging children away from such time-wasting temptations, not driving them headlong towards them?

My fear is, as schools become increasingly dependant on computerised learning tools, so their teachers will become too lazy or uninspiring to seize their pupils' attention by traditional methods. That would not only be a terrible sadness, it would be an educational disaster. For the increasing use of computers for schoolwork has led to widespread plagiarism: copying other people's work is the easiest thing in the world with the internet, making it almost impossible for teachers to assess their pupils' true ability. Even for those pupils who resist the temptation to cheat, the luxury of constant self- correction has undermined-intellectual discipline.

I count myself lucky to belong to the last generation that had to do my essays at university by hand - I graduated in 1993. Now, if I make a mistake, I can hit the backspace key. I can make up an argument on the hoof, and restitch my line of thought. In pre-laptop days, it was fatal to put pen to paper before you had gone through the mental process of first constructing a pretty good argument in your mind or on paper.

I am no Luddite who wishes we could return to the days of chalk-on-blackboard. Modern technology - used sparingly and wisely - can enhance the learning experience. But wide-eyed Gordon Brown treats it with absurd reverence, ignoring the evidence that its influence is harming the way children interact with the world around them.

Only this week, the Government's adviser on children's speech, Jean Gross, warned that teenagers are becoming unemployable because they use a vocabulary of just 800 words. Although most of them have a vocabulary of 40,000 words by the age of 16, they choose to limit themselves to the smaller range they use for texts and electronic media.

This is an example of how limiting computers can be. Precisely because everything under the sun is on the internet and you pick what you want, you end up tailoring your content to yourself and what you know. You rarely venture into the odd, obscure or the difficult but worthwhile.

That's why Gordon's latest political gimmick is so flawed. Throwing money at the poorest children, and filling their schools and homes with expensive hardware, is an abdication of responsibility.

Go to the best schools in the country - independent and state - and, yes, they'll be using computers. But only in the way they use books, pens and paper: as tools to guide children away from childish interests and into more difficult areas. That is what teachers are for, as the inspirational teacher in Muriel Spark's The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie put it. 'Education,' she says, is from the Latin 'ex, out, and duco, I lead - education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul'.

A computer, however high-tech, remains an inert object; it can only follow what it is instructed to search for. Only another, older, better, human brain can do the best sort of 'leading out'.


Teachers attack British government for subjecting schools to an ‘initiative a week’

A leading headmistress has criticised Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, for subjecting schools to an “initiative a week” without any sense of a coherent plan. Gillian Low, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association, cited last week’s announcement that all pupils should be offered lessons in Mandarin. This came on top of proposals for lessons on debt management, parenthood and domestic violence. In an interview with The Times, she said: “I think we need time to pause and actually think, ‘Is there a cohesive plan here?’ Because it doesn’t come across that way.”

Mrs Low appealed to politicians to use the general election as an opportunity to rethink the demands placed upon schools and the impact on their core mission of education.

Her comments, which coincide with the publication today of school league tables of last summer’s A-level and GCSE results, were echoed by other head teachers. Andrew Grant, the chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said: “This Government has been hyperactive in heaping responsibilities onto schools ever since it came to power and crowding the curriculum with bright new ideas. Something has to give.” John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have had wholesale changes to the curriculum for 11-14 year olds ... Whatever merits these changes have, they have presented a huge burden on schools.”

Mrs Low, whose association represents 186 independent schools, said that private schools had to take account of government initiatives. Referring to Mandarin lessons, she said: “While independent schools may choose not to do that, we need to take note of it because, in simply a commercial way, our parents may be saying to us, ‘Why aren’t you doing Arabic? They can do Arabic in the school down the road’. “But, also, we need to think is it appropriate? I have a big, big question about how far they get in those languages, particularly Mandarin, which is an incredibly complex language.”

She added: “I am hoping that the election, whether we get a change of government or not, will give people time to think, ‘Right, what are we trying to do in education? What are the priorities? How do we best achieve those ends?’.”

Mrs Low, the headmistress of Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, West London, said that the intervention trend began under the Conservatives, with the introduction of the national curriculum in 1992, but had increased, particularly under Mr Balls.

Mrs Low began her career in state schools before moving to the independent sector. The biggest change, she said, has been to give schools a greater role in what she called a “socialising agenda”. “These are all important issues,” she said. “I am not suggesting for a moment that these are not important things in our society to deal.” But she added: “As more is going in, the length of the day and the school year remain the same. What is either going out or getting less attention?”

Pupils might learn some skills better beyond the classroom, such as by being given a budget to run a school club or society, and learn values though a school’s “hidden curriculum”, she said.

Mr Balls’s ministry was unrepentant. The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “We make no apology for providing the modern and diverse education that parents demand, while maintaining our focus on traditional subjects such as maths, English and the sciences, which are all seeing record results. “Parents can choose to send their children to independent schools but, with record investment, record numbers of school staff and sustained improvements year on year, state schools are better than ever.”

Bright ideas

January 11 Consultation on personal tutors for all secondary pupils

January 4 “Aspiration” that all secondary pupils have chance to learn Mandarin, right, Japanese or Arabic

January 3 Savings, credit cards, mortgages, financial markets to be compulsory in curriculum from the age of 5

December 31 All secondary schools to get 15 new books for libraries from department list of 260 titles

December 16 Parents of children with special needs given more rights to complain if dissatisfied with schools

December 10 Schools given new requirement to record and report serious or recurring bullying to local authority

November 26 Smart meters for every school to help them to cut electricity use as part of efficiency drive

November 19 Theory of evolution to become compulsory part of science curriculum in primary schools

November 13 New guidance says that schools need clear plans to educate pupils about drugs, alcohol and smoking

November 6 New guidance for teachers leading school trips

November 4 Sex education to be compulsory for all pupils, ending parents’ rights to withdraw children once they reach 15

November 2 Consultation on new complaints system over admissions to academies

October 20 New programme to help school pupils who stammer

October 16 All new secondary school buildings to be subjected to £6,000-a-time acoustic tests

September 30 All schools to have good or outstanding behaviour rating from Ofsted by 2012

September 16 One-to-one tuition pledged for pupils who fall behind in English and maths from this school year


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Texas: Education board tackles issue of religion in textbooks

Religion, in the founding and evolution of America, has taken the leading role in a new drama playing at the State Board of Education, as educators and elected officials edit new scripts for Texas school children. SBOE board members will decide just how big a leading role religion will play in textbooks for Texas public schools. "The expert reports and proposals put inaccurate and artificial weight on religious influences on our nation's founding," law and history professor Steven Green said. Green is also director of the Willamette Center for Religion at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right, was joined by clergy and scholars Tuesday in advance of the board's preliminary vote on curriculum changes. The groups hope the lines of separation of church and state won't be blurred.

Recommendations made by some of the board-appointed reviewers in 2009 include more emphasis on documents like the Mayflower Compact of 1620, which was written by Christian pilgrims, and faith beliefs of the founding fathers. "They suggested we teach students George Washington was saved by a divine miracle in battle, which is a perfectly appropriate faith belief, but not appropriate in public school classrooms," Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said.

The conservative organization Liberty Legal Institute argues its point from under the umbrella of censorship. "If you want to teach accurate social studies, teach students the real information, you shouldn't allow censorship of the faith of the founding fathers just because some people aren't comfortable with it," Jonathan Saenz, with Liberty Legal Institute, said. Saenz said the so-called Austin liberals attacking the reviewers are desperate for change and want to rewrite or distort history.

The history, which students will learn in future years ,is now essentially left up to the board to decide which key historical figures and events make the final cut. More than 100 people are signed up to speak at Wednesday's public hearing before the board in Austin. The board could then vote on preliminary changes this week. A final vote is expected in March.


Spending cuts 'could force more than 30 British universities to close'

More than 30 universities could be forced to close amid “terrifying” Government spending cuts of up to £2.5 billion, leaders of Britain’s top institutions warned yesterday. Representatives from the Russell Group, which comprises 20 leading universities, say the cuts risk destroying 800 years of progress in British higher education.

The fallout from the financial restraints could hamper Britain’s ability to claw out of the recession, according to Wendy Piatt, the Russell Group’s director general, and Michael Arthur, its chairman. They warned that urgent action was needed to save dozens of historic institutions from “meltdown” which threatened to undermine the country’s international competitiveness.

Dr Piatt and Prof Arthur said: “Irrespective of who will bear most of the pain, all universities are really going to suffer. Wherever the axe falls, it’s a really quite terrifying prospect. “Having got to a position where we are just getting our head above the water, really punching above our weight in terms of our ability to cope internationally … it seems as if we are sliding backwards very quickly. “We don’t see how, with the size and the magnitude of these budget restraints, we are going to return to that position. “Such huge cuts in university budgets would have a devastating effect not only on students and staff, but also on Britain's international competitiveness, economy and ability to recover from recession.”

Writing in a newspaper, Dr Piatt and Prof Arthur added: “Reports suggest that as many as 30 universities may not survive in their current form if even minimal funding cuts are introduced. “We would go further than [that] bleak assessment. This is a defining moment. If politicians don't act now, they will be faced with meltdown in a sector that is vital to our national prosperity. “It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems, and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees."

Their attack comes after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, who oversees higher education, last month told universities they faced a £135 million cut in funding next year. That came on top of £180 million of cuts unveiled last year by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and a further £600 million of longer efficiency savings to be made from 2012.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that additional cuts of 12.3 per cent over 2011 and 2012 are needed if the Government is to achieve its target of halving the national debt by 2013. This would mean another £1.6 billion of cuts for the science and higher education budgets, bringing the total to £2.5 billion – equivalent to a third of the current annual spend on higher education.

Prof Arthur said: “If that occurs then it will lead to closures of universities, closures of courses and that inevitably means that we will not be able to offer the same number of places that we currently offer."

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, which represents the higher education sector, said this month that cuts of 30 per cent to universities' budgets would force academic institutions to take “drastic measures”, slashing the number of courses, students and staff.

A reduction in the number of courses would mean thousands of students could miss out on the opportunity to attend university. It would be a major blow to the government’s pledge to ensure that 50 per cent of school leavers go on to higher education – a central plank of Labour's education policy. The Daily Telegraph disclosed last week that thousands of teenagers will be rejected by 19 of the country’s top 20 universities who have toughened entry criteria to restrict numbers in the wake of the cuts.

The Russell Group includes Cambridge – which celebrated its 800th anniversary last year – as well as Oxford and Bristol among others.


One British pupil in five fails to graduate High School

One in five teenagers finishes school without gaining a single C grade GCSE or higher, official figures are expected to reveal today. National results are also predicted to show that just half of teenagers finish compulsory schooling with even a basic set of GCSE qualifications. Around 300,000 pupils who went through their entire education under Labour failed to meet the Government's benchmark for secondary school achievement - five GCSEs at C grade or higher including English and maths.

The figures will be published alongside national league tables which list the GCSE results of every state and independent school in the country. Provisional figures published late last year indicate that only half of pupils achieved the desired five A* to C-grade GCSEs including English and maths last year. This leaves ministers with a struggle to hit a Treasury target of 53 per cent by 2011. Almost one in five pupils completed compulsory education without achieving a single C grade or higher in any subject.

Today's figures are also expected to show how a quarter of a million children are being taught in schools Gordon Brown has threatened with closure because of substandard GCSE results.

Speaking at the weekend, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker admitted around one in 12 secondaries still 'falls short' of the Government's GCSE achievement benchmark. But he insisted 'many of those 270 are firmly on the right trajectory'. Under a 'National Challenge' programme launched by Mr Brown, the schools face closure unless they reach a 'floor target' for minimum expected performance by 2011. They must ensure at least 30 per cent of pupils pass five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C.

Under the scheme, schools are given extra help and monitoring - sometimes including conversion into academies - to ensure they meet the deadline. But around 270 schools which are still below the target teach just over 250,000 children between them.

At A-level, the figures are expected to show a widening gulf between private and state schools, with fee-paying pupils four times more likely to get three straight As at A-level. Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove revealed last week that more boys at Eton achieved three straight As than boys at any school whose parents are on benefits.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the figures were 'completely unacceptable in a rich country such as Britain'. He added: 'Instead of more daft gimmicks and initiatives from Ed Balls and Gordon Brown, we need action to reduce class sizes and improve school leadership.'

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'It's important to put these figures into context. 'Twelve years ago a third of pupils were getting five good GCSEs with English and maths, it's now half of pupils and rising every year. 'And where half of secondary schools would have been considered under-performing by today's high bench mark, it's now just one in 12 and on target to be none by next year.'


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Losing liberal arts

Good riddance to Leftist propaganda mills

At the end of the 2007-2008 academic year, shrinking enrollment and a budget crisis forced Antioch College to close its doors after 156 years of progressive liberal arts education. Other liberal arts colleges and programs are under similar stress. University of California-Santa Cruz is not accepting applications to its History of Consciousness for the 2010-2011 academic year. Goddard College underwent dramatic restructuring in 2002, and the New College of California ended operations in 2008. These losses are emblematic of the hardships facing liberal arts and humanities programs.

In light of rising costs, students fear liberal arts degrees are not worth the price tag. Consequently, interest in the liberal arts and humanities is on the wane, and the education they provide runs the risk of becoming restricted to elites who are rich in capital—cultural and otherwise. The liberal arts are not the only source of a valuable education, but they place an unparalleled emphasis on critical thinking, integrated learning and civic engagement. The growing inaccessibility threatens to deepen the divide between a well-educated elite (once called the ruling class) and a technically proficient, but less broadly educated, middle and working class.

In the face of financial insecurity, students, colleges and universities have begun to calculate the value of higher education in terms of the “bottom line.” As tuition skyrockets and education becomes more unaffordable, students want assurances that their degrees will benefit them financially. A 2004 UCLA survey of incoming freshmen at 700 colleges and universities reported that the top reasons chosen for going to college included “to get training for a specific career” (74.6 percent), “to be able to get a better job” (71.8 percent), and/or “to be able to make more money” (70.1 percent). Meanwhile, over the last 25 years tuition has risen by 440 percent—more than four times the rate of inflation.

A college degree is no longer a dependable ticket to a middle-class lifestyle. Though a 2006 study commissioned by the Association of American Colleges & Universities showed that business leaders seek employees with a wide base of skills and knowledge, recent graduates are not finding a higher education advantageous amid the economic downturn. The job market for college graduates dropped 40 percent in 2009, according to a Michigan State University study of 2,500 companies nationwide. For many graduates lucky enough to find employment, the recession has meant taking low-paying retail or customer service jobs while struggling to pay off student loans.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are explicitly gearing their curricula toward the job market, including tailoring academic programs toward the needs of local corporations. Macalester College President Brian Rosenberg predicts that “20 years from now there will be fewer colleges that fall under the category of small residential liberal arts colleges.” Data on emerging trends seems to agree. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, “The Case of the Disappearing Liberal Arts College,” Roger G. Baldwin and Vicki L. Baker write that “national data on liberal arts colleges suggest that their numbers are decreasing as many evolve into ‘professional colleges’ or other types of higher education institutions.”

Some, like Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland, hail this development. Freeland is part of a movement to connect liberal arts and professional programs through the inclusion of internships, practical skill development, study abroad programs and experiential education. He argues that advocacy for a stronger emphasis on practical skills can complement the traditional goals of liberal learning.

Yet, it is unclear if liberal arts colleges will be able to undergo this transformation and retain their core missions. “Whether you can sustain the intensity of focus on the liberal arts portion while still doing all those other things is an open question,” says Rosenberg.

As colleges and universities strive to become more profitable, faculty are coping with their own economic squeeze. Over the past three decades, colleges and universities have replaced tenure-track faculty positions with contract positions, often part-time. In his 2008 book The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Fordham University Press), Ohio State University English professor Frank Donoghue writes that tenure-track and tenured professors now make up only 35 percent of college faculty, and that number is steadily falling. He notes that the decline in tenured positions has disproportionately affected faculty in liberal arts and humanities programs, which lack the government and private funding enjoyed by other departments. In turn, aspiring professors are becoming discouraged by the prospect of juggling multiple academic adjunct positions for little pay and no job security.

The current recession has greatly amplified existing pressures on liberal arts and humanities programs. Thomas H. Benton writes in his Chronicle of Higher Education article “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,” that universities have “historically taken advantage of recessions to bring austerity to teaching” through hiring freezes, early retirements, and the replacement of tenured faculty with adjuncts. He writes, “When the recession ends, the hiring freezes will become permanent, since departments will have demonstrated that they can function with fewer tenured faculty members.”

Students, too, are likely to face the long-lasting consequences of shrinking endowments at private colleges and budget cuts at public institutions.

This past year, the director of financial aid at Reed College tasked the admissions team to not send acceptance letters to 100 scholarship students and instead find 100 students rich enough to pay $49,950 per year for tuition, room and board. If liberal arts colleges such as Reed are unable to recover from financial hardship, they risk losing their economic, social and ethnic diversity. In turn, students lacking a privileged background may be denied access to a liberal arts education, regardless of their achievements or aspirations. “Figuring out a way with smaller endowments to provide the financial aid necessary to enroll an economically diverse student body—and to pay for all the other things that you have to pay for at a college—is a very big challenge,” says Rosenberg of Macalester College. “One of the risks that we have to attend to is not becoming the educational equivalent of a BMW.”

If a liberal arts education becomes a luxury, the implications for civil society are profound. A broad-based higher education provides an environment that fosters the critical thinking skills [Kneejerk Leftist reflexes more like it] that are the hallmark of informed, responsible citizenship. Disparity in education equals disparity in power. By making a well-rounded education available only to the elite, we move one step closer to a society of two classes: one taught to think and rule and another groomed to follow and obey. [The average man is a more realistic thinker than a liberal arts graduate]


NH: Democrat assault on homeschoolers looming: Vote pending on new demands for tests, reviews

The homeschool community is reacting with alarm to plans for a vote in the New Hampshire legislature as early as this week that could create restrictive new testing and reporting requirements for homeschoolers in the state. "Trying to sneak through massive changes in the New Hampshire homeschool law by manipulating the system is unacceptable. The Democratic leadership and the chairman of the education committee know that if they allowed an open process the overwhelming majority would vote [against the plan]," said Mike Donnelly, a staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The organization is the premiere group in the world working on behalf of homeschoolers. The proposal to create the new state requirements is being pushed by Democratic leaders in the legislature, even though its own task force recommended against such changes.

Democratic leaders are using a legislative maneuver to prepare to advance the piece, after a bipartisan legislative study committee voted 14-6 against forwarding the new homeschool law, House Bill 368. Democratic Rep. Barbara Shaw, a retired teacher with 45 years experience, wrote the majority report, suggesting the plan is "inexpedient to legislate," or should be rejected. "After studying this issue for several years, I've gotten to know homeschoolers, the law, and how the system works, and I'm convinced that it is working fine – there are no changes needed," she said. "Some people have accused me of doing a 180 on homeschooling – and I would have to admit that's true. But that's because I've seen that homeschooling is working for children in our state and the current law is adequate," she said.

HSLDA's analysis said the Democrats are trying to move forward a whole new piece of legislation as an amendment to another proposal. It would allow, among other things, state officials to "terminate" a homeschooling program and report a child to the "appropriate resident district superintendent, who shall, if necessary, take appropriate action to ensure that compulsory attendance requirements are met."

Republican Minority Leader Sherman Packard said his party supports no further changes in the state's homeschooling law. "We've always supported homeschoolers … Until the end of last week we weren't aware that there was a problem with this legislation since the majority report was [to reject]," he said. As WND reported, the issue previously was on the agenda but didn't get a vote because of time constraints.

The plan would require new tests for every homeschool student, demand a portfolio review and submit test scores to the state Department of Education, which would be given "sweeping rule-making authority" for homeschoolers. "This legislation is completely unnecessary," said Donnelly. "The existing New Hampshire law works well, and in an era when homeschoolers are significantly out-performing their public school counterparts the last thing homeschoolers and taxpayers need is another bureaucracy wasting their time and money. We hope that enough legislators will see through the maneuver which is being used and vote to retain the existing homeschool law."

The analysis by the HSLDA of the issue said the package of recommendations from Rep. Judith Day is "the most significant threat to New Hampshire homeschoolers" since 1990. "These [plans] impose a needless burden on homeschoolers and shift authority to determine whether a child should be homeschooled from parents to others," the analysis said. "Parents have a fundamental right under the United States Constitution to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and legislation like Rep. Day's undermines this right by going against the presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children."

Both parts of the plan, H.B. 367 and 368, "are unnecessary," the analysis said, and would create additional burdens and costs and are "problematic in that it creates potentially unconstitutional vagueness which could result in needless litigation."


In Australia too, the media hate fundamentalist Christians

Lots of private religious schools get government subsidies. It is the Australian system -- going back to the days of Bob Menzies. But just one small set of private schools is singled out for criticism below -- the Brethren schools. And Rudd hates the Brethren because they supported his opposition. All the major churches supported Rudd

THE Rudd Government is handing more than $70 million to schools run by the Exclusive Brethren, a religious sect Kevin Rudd described as an "extremist cult" that breaks up families. The sect's schools have secured more than $8.4m under the Government's school building stimulus package and they will share in $62m in recurrent taxpayer funding.

Documents show a Brethren-run school at Swan Hill in northern Victoria was granted $1.2m for a library and $800,000 for a hall when its most recent annual report shows it had just 16 pupils and already had a library. [Many such bureaucratic bungles have happened with government schools too] Grants data released by the commonwealth shows that Brethren schools in every state received funding under the $12.4 billion schools stimulus package, The Australian reports.

Despite the Brethren's past disdain for computers, figures show its schools have received more than 300 under the commonwealth computers-in-school initiative.

Brethren schools have also secured grants under the Schools Pride program. All up, the 2400 children in Brethren schools will each receive the equivalent of $26,127 in recurrent funding and $11,200 in stimulus funding.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said these sums were outrageous and the funding system had to be urgently replaced. "How can the Government justify handing tens of millions of dollars to an organisation it believes is a cult while public schools which educate the vast majority of our children are struggling for funds?" Mr Gavrielatos said. "The Government has said it will review schools funding this year. That review needs to be begin as a matter of urgency to allow for a proper public debate on where school funding should be directed and for what purpose."

The Brethren is a fundamentalist Christian sect that lives by the doctrine of separation from mainstream society. Brethren schools must teach the normal curriculum, although reports say some novels are banned and chapters on sex and reproduction are excised from science textbooks. Brethren members are taught to shun broader society. They do not use TV, radios and do not watch movies or eat in restaurants. They do not vote, are opposed to unions and other forms of association, except their own church. [There have always been Protestants with similar views -- e.g. Scotland's "Wee Frees" and the historic Puritans of Britain and America. And some famous Catholic monastic orders were doing it even before the Protestants came along. It is a perfectly defensible version of Christianity, even if it is not fashionable these days. Check John 15:19; James 4:4; John 18:36, for instance]

The Brethren has been accused by former members, and the Prime Minister in his 2007 comments, of denying those who leave access to their children, a claim the organisation denies.

Doug Burgess, the head of the Brethren's Victorian schools, said its schools were growing rapidly and the funding reflected that. He defended the sect's right to school funding, saying the children would otherwise be enrolled in state schools at full taxpayers' expense.


Monday, January 11, 2010

800 words won't get job done

A generation of teenagers risks making itself unemployable because its members are using a vocabulary of only about 800 words a day, according to the British government's first children's communication tsar.

The teenagers are avoiding using a broad vocabulary and complex words in favour of the abbreviated "teenspeak" of text messages, social networking sites and internet chat rooms.

Jean Gross, the government's adviser on childhood language development, is planning a national campaign to prevent children failing in the classroom and the workplace because they cannot express themselves. "Teenagers are spending more time communicating through electronic media and text messaging, which is short and brief," she said. "We need to help today's teenagers understand the difference between their textspeak and the language they need to succeed -- 800 words will not get you a job."

By the age of 16, most teenagers have developed a vocabulary of 40,000 words. Language consultant John Bald said: "When kids are in social situations, the instinct is to simplify. That's partly prompted by the habit of shortening language when texting but it's seen as uncool to use complex vocabulary."

Ms Gross said her concerns were supported by research by Tony McEnery, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University, who found in a study that the top 20 words used by teenagers, including "yeah", "no" and "but", account for about one-third of the words used. Professor McEnery's research was sponsored by supermarket chain Tesco, whose chief executive, Terry Leahy, recently raised concerns about the "woefully low standards" in schools that cause employers problems. Ms Gross's campaign will target primary and secondary schools.

Linguistics professor David Crystal, at Bangor University in Wales, disagreed. "The issue here is that people object to kids having a vocabulary for hip-hop and not for politics. "They have an articulate vocabulary for the kind of things they want to talk about," he said.


Chaotic Australian schools mean that some kids have to turn to the courts for protection

KIDS as young as 10 are turning to the courts to protect them from fellow students, with 613 taking out apprehended violence orders against other children last year. But these figures are only the tip of the iceberg, according to the Daily Telegraph, with thousands more being protected by bail conditions ordering juvenile offenders to stay away from their victims while their cases are pursued through the Children's Court. Even the education department took out AVOs against two students in 2008 to protect teachers and other classmates.

Teachers complain that the increasing number of court orders is making the school system almost unworkable as they try to minimise the contact between the disputing parties, placing them in different classes, having allocated areas in the playground or staggering their lessons and lunch breaks.

Psychologists also attacked the trend and said adults are failing children by letting the situation deteriorate to such a point the courts have to become involved.

According to latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research there were 3062 children across New South Wales protected by personal AVOs, 20 per cent of them from other children. Personal AVOs are court orders to protect individuals from others in society, as opposed to domestic AVOs which offer protection from family members.

The surge of AVOs taken out against bullies is coming from the state's west. One country school teacher said that dealing with AVOs when the students attended the same school was "almost farcical". "They come in and this kid's got an AVO against this one, this one and this one and another's got AVOs against these kids," he said. "But in a small town like this there is only really one high school they can go to and legally they still have to attend school."

Wagga Wagga's Senior Constable Steven Johnson said some students were taking out AVOs against fellow classmates in a sort of arms race or "one upmanship". Armed with an AVO, he said they wielded it as a threat when they came into further conflict with their rival.

University of NSW National Children's and Youth Law Centre director James McDougall said: "It's adults failing children." He said it meant bullies would be excluded from mixing with other children and never learn how to change their behaviour. [i.e. much less effective than a good thrashing]


Culturally adrift without classical moorings

A return to Latin and ancient Greek would make for a real education revolution, writes Dan Ryan from Australia

MY grandfather, who spent most of his life on a sheep station in western Queensland, could quote tracts of Virgil and Homer from memory. My mother topped Latin in year 10 in her school in Brisbane in the 1960s, but things were on the slide; her prize was a copy of the Iliad not in Greek but in English, and in an abridged form, with all the poetry stripped away.

By the time I went to school there was apparently no need to teach the classics any more. They were dead languages and, besides, there was not enough time in the school day to fit them in between classes in home economics, woodwork, typing and the like. How sure are we that the effective elimination of the classics from our education system has been without consequence?

Educators once believed in the classical education very strongly. Little more than a generation ago you could not get into Oxford or Cambridge without demonstrating competency in Latin, and practically every Western historical figure and writer until the 1950s was taught the classics from an early age. The line of thinking that we don't need to learn Latin and Greek because they are too hard, irrelevant, not useful or not the languages of the future would have been regarded as the argument of philistines.

The rationale was not always stated explicitly; it was simply understood. A classical education was needed first of all to impart content -- to maintain basic Western cultural literacy. Your understanding of the West would be necessarily incomplete and superficial without a good acquaintance of the Aeneid, the works of Ovid and Aeschylus, the speeches of Pericles and Cicero, and the Homeric epics. The second reason, as classicist Tracy Lee Simmons emphasises in his excellent book Climbing Parnassus, was that learning these hard ancient languages had a point in itself -- it required students to focus on the precise meaning of words, making them less patient with sloppy language and thinking. For Westerners, only the languages of Latin and Greek can perform this role.

The high-minded hope was that the combination of the content and the process would make us better able to govern ourselves, both individually and as a society. To know a liberty fit for men, notanimals. What does it say that we are now fixated about becoming Asia-literate, but that there is no concern about the obvious decline in Western cultural literacy levels?

I am not saying that one should not learn Asian languages or have a deep interest in the cultures of Asia. I speak and read Mandarin and have been learning since university days. I ended up marrying a Brit who speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Whether spending $11 billion on compulsory mass Asian language education training from year 3 onwards would result in a net economic gain or otherwise make sense is something others can duke out. From what I've seen so far of the plans, colour me highly sceptical.

What I do strongly believe is that one's understanding of the East will, in the long run, be hindered unless you have a proper understanding of the West. Lawrence of Arabia would have thought the lack of Latin and Greek a terrible obstacle to the understanding of Arabic. William Jones, the famed Sanskrit scholar, would have thought likewise with regard to understanding the languages and cultures of the subcontinent. The same holds true for the languages of East Asia. Australia's pre-eminent Sinologist, Pierre Ryckmans, was educated in Europe. I bet my bottom dollar he was taught Latin during his formative years. It shows in his writing style and liberal mind.

Without a decent acquaintance with the Western classical heritage we are dooming ourselves to a glib relativism born of ignorance, to being forever trapped in the parochialism of the present, to being a nation adrift without a cultural anchor.

What is needed is not a new state education plan. The renewal is unlikely to come via our sclerotic state-directed command-and-control education system that governs both fee-paying and non-fee-paying schools. Carthago delenda est.

If there is a renewal, I suspect it will be through less mainstream institutions like Sydney's Campion College, through teachers with a deep love of Western culture, and through some of the classically educating home schooling families I have been honoured to know.

It will come when we realise that it has been a terrible dereliction of duty not to pass on "the best that has been thought and said" to the next generation and we are not going to let it continue. Now that truly would be an education revolution.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

I guess this is "inclusiveness": Australian schoolkids to sing New Zealand national anthem!

I am not sure when inclusiveness became a good thing. I recollect no debate about it and I have been following politics for 50 years. It used to be exclusiveness that was honoured. But asking school students to sing the national anthem of another country on Australia's most solemn day of commemoration is certainly rather odd. Australians, however, generally have positive attitudes toward New Zealanders (though the converse is notably different) so I expect the idea will be accepted to some extent

QUEENSLAND state school students will for the first time be encouraged to sing the New Zealand national anthem to commemorate Anzac Day. Premier Anna Bligh will write to principals asking them to play God Defend New Zealand, along with the Australian national anthem, at school ceremonies. Her request, as chairwoman of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, could be controversial considering the rivalry between the Tasman neighbours, particularly in sport.

Queensland continues to be a magnet for Kiwis, with 11,700 settling here in the past year. More than 150,000 live in the Sunshine State, about 40 per cent of all New Zealanders in Australia. Trade between the countries is worth about $2.8 billion.

Ms Bligh said it was time to mark NZ's contribution to Australia by playing God Defend New Zealand. "This would be a fitting tribute and suitable recognition of the members of the New Zealand armed forces who have served alongside the men and women of our Australian armed forces during wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations," Ms Bligh said. "I encourage you to give favourable consideration to this request when planning the 2010 Anzac Day ceremony."

The Premier said schools could obtain free copies of the Kiwi anthem on CD or the sheet music. It would be up to individual schools whether they got the children to sing the song or just listen to God Defend New Zealand.

The New Zealand consulate office in Brisbane said it was unlikely that schools in NZ would reciprocate [THAT'S for sure!], but a spokesman said Ms Bligh's direction to state schools was a "wonderful gesture".

Anzac Day – April 25 – falls on a Sunday this year, so the public holiday will be held the following day.

Queensland Principals Association chairman Norm Hart said it was "an interesting idea". He said Ms Bligh had called on schools to improve numeracy and literacy, with a target of being one of the top three states in the country, and the focus was on that rather that extracurricular activities. "If she is saying our students have to learn the lyrics and sing it, then I am less impressed," Mr Hart said.


More choice coming in California

The greatest revolution in education in the United States today is taking place in Los Angeles. It is the mandate of the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board to convert almost a third of its schools either to charter schools, the public schools of choice that are the one shining light in an otherwise dysfunctional system, or other alternatives such as magnet schools. The change is not only a mighty one for the state's largest school district, but in time it could double the number of public schools of choice in California.

What is remarkable is not just the magnitude of this earth-shaking change, but the complete shift of the paradigm about how we think about public education. The driving force behind this revolution is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is not only a Democrat but also a former organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Los Angeles teachers' union. Villaraigosa took his nontraditional stand because, as he noted, LAUSD was racked with violence and plagued with a dropout rate of 50 percent, and showed no signs of improving.

Even more astounding: With the doors open to making bids to the school board to launch pioneering schools, groups of public school teachers and the teachers' unions themselves are submitting proposals. "This is the power that teachers have always been asking for, the authority to choose what is happening in our schools," Monterey Park English teacher Patricia Jauregui told the Los Angeles Times. She added, "With power comes responsibility. We are accountable for the results, and I don't mind that."

In his 1978 book, "Education by Choice," John Coons, UC Berkeley School of Law professor and father of the American charter school movement, predicted that one day public school teachers would see the benefit of teaching in schools in which they had professional autonomy, and in which every child wanted to be there and valued what that school had to offer. It has taken 32 years for that prediction to come to pass.

California public schools, once the envy of the nation, have students performing on some tests of reading skills barely above Mississippi students. Our once-vaunted high technology sector must import engineers from Asia. And our state budget has been busted in large part because of a bulging prison system, with more than 85 percent of the convicts high school dropouts.

At the state level too, school choice has become a far more bipartisan issue than could have been imagined even a year ago. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and his colleague Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, teamed up to get legislation passed that mandates more complete reporting of dropout rates. Four of the candidates for governor of California, Republicans and Democrats both, are charter school advocates.

This is public education's fall of the Berlin Wall. The old model of the compulsory, one-size-fits-all, factory-style public school is being tossed on the scrap heap of history, to be replaced by upholding the U.N. Charter of Universal Human Rights, which guarantees the right of parents to direct the education of their children.

Someday soon, all of our children will be enrolled in schools that their families have freely chosen and that give them the sense of community, even of family, that will keep them in school and get them safely to graduation day.


More than 230 British schools have ditched Christian assemblies

Almost 100,000 pupils are being taught in schools which have dropped Christian assemblies in favour of Islamic or multi-faith worship. More than 230 schools have applied to councils for exemption from the legal requirement to hold a daily act of collective worship of a "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". In some of these schools, Islamic assemblies are held instead, with readings from the Koran. Other schools run secular or multi-faith assemblies where Christianity is avoided or relegated to just one example of a faith among many.

Religious organisations said Christianity in schools was being marginalised and accused schools of failing children. "The worst thing of all that schools can do, whether they have a determination or not, is a multi-faith mish mash," said Colin Hart, the director of the Christian Institute. "The British Social Attitudes survey found that 69 per cent of parents backed daily prayers in schools. Yet Christianity in schools is being marginalised. Parents do not want assemblies to be either secular or a confusing amalgam of faiths. Look at the massive number of parents of other faiths who apply to Church schools. They don't like the secularism that is pervading community schools."

The scale of the opt-out can be revealed for the first time after 105 councils in England responded to a Freedom of Information request from The Sunday Telegraph. Between them, the local authorities had granted "determinations" to 185 primaries and 45 secondaries, teaching an estimated 96,000 pupils. In most schools with opt-outs, the vast majority of pupils were from ethnic minorities. However, in some, white British pupils formed a sizeable minority.

Inner city authorities, such as Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester and the London boroughs of Brent, Hounslow and Ealing, had dozens of schools which had dropped Christian assemblies. Government figures show that the number of ethnic minority pupils in English schools is growing. One in four primary schoolchildren is from an ethnic minority – double the figure a decade ago.

A number of councils with high numbers of ethnic minority pupils, such as Tower Hamlets and Hackney, in London, had no exemptions. But religious experts said this did not necessarily mean that Christian worship was taking place. The Church of England said the law was flexible enough to cater for mixed school intakes, without the need for opt-outs. "Collective worship within a broadly Christian framework rarely poses an issue for students of other faith backgrounds, which tend to share the same core values," said a spokesman.

"The law is sufficient flexibility for schools to be able to reflect the nature of a multicultural intake without needing a determination. For instance, almost half of the content could be from a non-Christian faith. If parents are uncomfortable with what is on offer, they have the legal right to withdraw their child from what is provided by the school."

The duty on schools to provide a daily act of Christian worship dates back to 1944 but was strengthened in the 1988 education act. Schools can apply to the local authority Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), made up of school and faith representatives, for an exemption from the "broadly Christian" requirement for some or all of their pupils. If this "determination" is granted, the school must provide alternative worship for these pupils. In 2007, sixth forms were given the right to opt-out of collective worship and in 2008, a committee of MPs recommended that under-16s should also be given the choice.

Many head teachers and their staff object to the requirement and bend or break the rules, particularly in secondary schools. Ofsed is supposed to check that schools do comply but some critics said inspectors took too broad a view. In 2004, David Bell, the then chief inspector and now the permanent secretary of the Department of Children, Schools and Families, suggested that the law on Christian worship be repealed.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, said: "The concept of compulsory worship has always been a nonsense. Schools have long wanted the government to take on the bishops in the House of Lords and change the law. School assemblies are a valuable way to reinforce the ethos of the school. They often contain the spiritual element that is missing in many children's lives but having a law which imposes Christian collective worship is nonsense."

Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, said: "Requiring children to worship, as our law does, is a breach of their human rights. In many schools, children from other creeds and none are in the majority and the proportion is rising. Enforced Christian Collective worship has therefore gone beyond being an embarrassment to becoming a needless source of conflict."

Bordesley Green Girls' Specialist and Enterprise School, in Birmingham, was granted a determination in 2004 which allows it to hold a daily act of worship which is Islamic in character. Nearly all the pupils at the smaller than average secondary are from minority ethnic groups, the vast majority are Muslim.

Girls at the school, rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, receive a five minute broadcast each morning from the public address system in the head teacher's office. The broadcasts include readings from the Koran and presentations on moral, religious and ethical issues from the pupils themselves. The scripts are agreed in advance by the head teacher. In one broadcast for instance, girls discussed bullying: "Please Allah, we should not bully as this is not following the prophet's way of life," said one. Clare Considine, the head teacher, said: "We have a system in school which works really well and which has the full support of parents."

Massachusetts School Bans Covered Faces, CAIR Complains, School Caves

(Boston, Massachusetts) The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services has banned face coverings by students and employees. Reportedly, the ban protects students and employees from being attacked.

In response, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that the policy has a "a disproportionate impact on the religious rights of Muslim employees.”

Then the school caved. The ban no longer applies to religious face coverings.