Saturday, January 30, 2010

A responsible choice

Fiscal crises demand efficiency in education

In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed spending another $4 billion annually on K–12 public education. He did not mention that state, local, and federal governments already spend well over twice what they did in 1980, or that there has been no discernible improvement in student achievement during that period.

Especially in the current economic climate, the president would have been better served backing a policy with a proven record of improving achievement and saving money: school choice.

State and local budgets are in sorry shape. States came up more than $158 billion short of projected tax revenue when planning their budgets for 2010 last year, and as the economy deteriorated and tax revenue plummeted more quickly than expected, nearly $34 billion was added to the tab. Together, these shortfalls add up to the largest gap on record — 28 percent of general-fund budgets for 2010. And the near future looks even bleaker than the present.

As unemployment remains high and home prices continue to fall or stagnate, states are facing an estimated shortfall of $180 billion for 2011 and another $120 billion for 2012. Compounding the growing problems at the state and local levels, federal stimulus funds used this year and next to close shortfalls will evaporate. And most states' reserves were tapped long ago.

K–12 schooling is the biggest item on state and local budgets. Judging by the 2005–06 totals from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), state and local governments now spend well over $500 billion each year on public K–12 education. The Bush and Obama administrations have overseen a startling increase in the federal involvement in and funding of K–12 education, but the federal government provides just 9 percent of education funds, compared with 44 percent from local sources and 47 percent from states.

State governments spent 35 percent of their general funds on K–12 education in 2007, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. In contrast, Medicaid — which is continually singled out as a problematic state-budget item, even though most Medicaid funds come from the federal government — accounted for just 17 percent of general-fund expenditures. Combined, state and local governments spend 27 cents of every dollar they collect on public K–12 education system, but only 8 cents on Medicaid.

The amount we spend on education has increased dramatically and consistently over the past century, with a 25 percent increase in per-pupil expenditures, in constant dollars, between 1995 and 2005 alone. This upward trajectory shows no sign of flagging, with total state education spending increasing even during this serious recession, and amidst plummeting tax revenue, with the assistance of federal stimulus funds. The White House reports that elementary- and secondary-education spending at the state level increased from just over $228 billion in 2007–08 to $236 billion the next, leveling off at $235 billion for 2009–10.

And yet student achievement has been stagnant since the 1970s. There is little evidence that increased spending, especially at the federal level, has any impact on long-term student outcomes. Indeed, a recent, rigorous, government-sponsored study of the federal Head Start program — the Holy Grail of public programs aimed at boosting long-term student achievement — discerned no positive effect on student outcomes past the first grade.

Meanwhile, ten similar studies show decisively that school choice works. Nine of the studies found statistically significant positive impacts on at least some students. None found a negative effect. The latest results from the Washington, D.C., voucher program show that children in the program for three years read more than two grade-levels ahead of those who applied but didn't win the voucher lottery.

Even small and restricted school-choice programs save taxpayers millions a year: $32 million under an existing program in Milwaukee; $39 million in Florida; and more than $531 million in Pennsylvania. Larger programs that give all families access to vouchers could save billions of dollars every year while greatly improving education.

The evidence is staring the Obama administration in the face: States, local governments, and taxpayers can't afford not to have school choice.


Free speech on campus? Yes. A free ride? No

There should be full freedom of speech for ‘extremists’ in British universities – and also for those who want to slate or ridicule them

In our era of dumbing down, where the academy risks turning from a hotbed of Platonic debate and Truth-seeking into a conveyor belt that churns out jobsworths, it isn’t often one can agree with the words uttered by a university provost. But yesterday Malcolm Grant of University College London (UCL) made a statement that spiked can get behind. In response to claims that the ‘Pants bomber’, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, was radicalised during his spell as a student at UCL, and therefore that ‘extremist speech’ on campus should be curtailed, Grant said it is not a university’s job to ‘police’ its students’ beliefs or speech.

‘We must continue to regard students as adults’, he said. ‘Campuses should be safe homes for controversy, argument and debate.’ Hear hear. In defending the free exchange of ideas on campus, Grant is taking a stand for rigour and honesty in university life against the anti-extremist camp that wants students to be protected from ideas judged to be too ‘toxic’. One of the academics concerned about extremism says that when universities ‘tolerate on their campuses organisations which seek to radicalise, they hammer another nail in the coffin of the idea of higher education’. In fact, banning organisations on the basis that their ideas are dangerous and that students are easily brainwashed would be the real funeral pyre of higher education, turning universities into thought-policing institutions and redefining students as overgrown children.

Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian-born rich boy who allegedly tried to blow up a jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day with explosives hidden in his underpants, studied at UCL from 2005 to 2008. He was president of UCL’s Islamic Society which often held meetings to discuss (and denounce) the ‘war on terror’. He helped to organise a ‘War on Terror Week’ which included debates such as ‘Jihad or Terrorism?’. Radical Islamist preachers and members of the controversial Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir spoke at UCL while Abdulmutallab was there, and this has led some to argue that UCL, by tolerating such discussions, was ‘complicit’ in the failed Christmas Day bombing and that there should now be tighter controls on who can speak in universities.

There are many problems with the demand to curtail so-called inflammatory speech. First, it transforms the university from a place where asking questions (yes, even off-the-wall questions) is positively encouraged, where students are provided with access to Knowledge and the space in which to interrogate and doubt such Knowledge, into a place where only certain, non-extreme, vetted ideas are allowed to leak on to campus and into students’ heads. And that can, and already has, led to the exclusion not only of Isalmist rants but also of other ideas considered dangerous these days: climate change ‘denial’, alternative views of history, lecturers who are too right-wing or too left-wing. Erecting an intellectual forcefield around universities changes the whole nature of university life, turning it into a place where students are provided with nuggets of wisdom, the correct ideas and thoughts, rather than a place that nurtures a way of thinking, independent thought, the sharing of Knowledge through expertise but also through debate and interaction.

Second, filtering out ‘extremism’ infantilises students. University is meant to be an arena where boys become men and girls become women, demonstrating an ability to think, work and act independently as well as with professors and other students. The academy is built on the idea not only that its students are thirsty for Knowledge but that they are also capable of weighing it up and understanding it; that is, their minds are healthy and robust. The expulsion of ‘extremism’, by contrast, sends the message that students are fragile creatures, with minds like sponges, who might be easily swayed by some loony cleric or Holocaust denier. One reporter said of Abdulmutallab’s ‘War on Terror Week’, ‘It was brainwashing’. This is a judgement not so much on the nonsense that Abdulmutallab’s speakers were no doubt spouting but more fundamentally on students’ own ability to decipher right from wrong, Knowledge from gibberish. The censorship of so-called extremism would denigrate the very idea of the student.

And third, trying to shut up hotheaded Islamists is an extraordinary displacement activity. It is true, as spiked has argued many times, that al-Qaeda-style terrorists are more likely to be radicalised in the West than in Kabul, Kandahar or Baghdad, where the disastrous ‘war on terror’ is still focused. The evidence shows that most wannabe Muslim martyrs are middle-class, well-educated and tend to be either from Western cities or to have lived and studied in them. Often they seem more influenced by the woe-is-me politics of victimhood and identity than by Taliban-style traditionalism. Yet chasing the preachers who might possibly exacerbate such feelings is about avoidance: instead of getting to grips with what is missing in, or wrong with, Western society, to the extent that some young people are drawn towards shallow anti-Westernism and reject the ‘evils of integration’, such censorship pins the blame for social problems on a handful of men in frocks. It discourages open, honest debate; it leaves burning political issues unresolved.

For these reasons, Malcolm Grant’s comments are welcome. However, while it is sweet relief to hear a provost defend freedom of thought and speech, it is also worth asking what lies behind the idea today that ‘Colleges must let extremists speak’, as the front page of the London Evening Standard declared yesterday, reporting Grant’s comments as if they were shocking and disturbing. Because often, I fear, the ‘let the extremists speak’ argument springs not from an unflinching commitment to freedom of speech but rather from a deep-seated crisis of authority in the modern academy. It seems to me that it is not so much universities’ love of openness and rigour that leads them sometimes to tolerate extremists but rather their doubt about what is True, what is Right, what is Good, so that they provide platforms to all-comers who might have something ‘valid’ to say. It is relativism that underpins the tolerance of ‘extremists’, rather than freedom. And we should insist that having free speech on campus does not mean giving everyone a free ride. In fact it means the opposite.

That relativism has been elevated over liberty can be seen in the fact that at the same time that more ‘extremists’ are allegedly running riot on campus, there are more and more codes of speech governing the extent to which other people can question, ridicule or mock these ‘extremists’, or even moderate religious and political speakers. At the end of last year I was invited to debate the head of the UK wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir at Queen Mary Westfield College in London. But under pressure from censorious student groups and the university’s administration, the debate was banned. It was moved to the University of Westminster a couple of weeks later, and there, both me and the representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir were informed about what we could and could not say. The university’s religious affairs liaison – a white convert to Islam – told us that before being allowed to speak we would have to read a document telling us not to insult or ridicule anyone else’s religious beliefs, political affiliations, sexual preferences and so on.

I read it, and ignored it, and later got booed for saying ‘Sharia law is inferior to Enlightenment-derived laws’. Yet this experience reveals much about the crisis of freedom in British universities. In one serious London university a debate is banned outright because the ‘extremist’ might corrupt the pathetic students, and in another serious London university the debate is allowed to go ahead but is severely governed by informal codes designed to preserve ‘respect for identities’. Such codes now exist on campuses across the UK. The extremist is allowed to speak, but no one is really allowed to say to him: ‘You’re talking bollocks, mate, and here’s why…’ Such informal rules protecting all belief systems and granting equal weight to all lifestyle choices really demonstrate what lies behind the ‘let the extremists speak’ argument: a relativistic climate in which universities doubt whether it is their job to assert Truth with a capital T over madder, weirder small-t ‘truths’, and where what looks like free speech is actually something very different.

If a student at a British university starts believing that some radical form of Islam is ‘the Truth’, it is most likely as a result of this intellectual cowardice rather than the strength of conviction of some visiting preacher. It is the climate of non-debate, of listening and nodding along to everyone, that can make things seem like the Truth by default. This creation of a relativistic mishmash of equally valid views sells students short as surely as does the outright censorship of ‘extremists’: it, too, creates a climate of conformism and question-avoidance, where the extremists are allowed to speak but only because ‘everyone must be heard and treated with respect’.

John Stuart Mill said the Truth can only be worked out through free and open debate, and ‘on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right’ (6). Absolutely. That remains the essence of freedom of thought and freedom of speech. But Mill didn’t mean creating an unsightly, unchallengeable public parade of ‘many truths’ showing us their wares – he meant a rigorous arena in which everything is sayable and in which some ideas will inevitably be defeated and sidelined by other, better ones. Just such an atmosphere should prevail in British universities, rather than the dire choice between outright censorship or a relativistic pseudo-free-for-all that they are faced with today.


Australia: Traditional educational methods get results

WHEN you are already learning Sanskrit, Latin, Spanish and putting on a Shakespearean production each year, the national literacy and numeracy tests might seem like a cinch to children at John Colet School.

Gilbert Mane, the headmaster of the independent school in Belrose, which came sixth overall in a ranking of NSW primary schools based on results from NAPLAN tests, said the students also studied philosophy and meditation.

While other schools have abandoned traditional grammar, John Colet has maintained a strict approach. Its students also learn their times tables the old-fashioned way, by rote.

"Most of our parents are more interested in character building, spiritual values, our enriched curriculum and the overall care we take to build on every individual child's strengths and abilities," Mr Mane said.

"All our children, regardless of ability, study classical languages, philosophy and perform annually in a Shakespeare play. This raises the academic level naturally without the need to hothouse the children or 'teach to the test'."

Mr Mane said the 150 students shared a love of learning and were taught by a committed and passionate teaching staff. He was pleased with the results but warned parents against using them as the only measure of success.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Alaska School Authorities: Watching a Documentary Film More Dangerous Than Having Abortion

by Phelim McAleer

Our documentary "Not Evil Just Wrong" is on tour in Alaska. The film asks if Global Warming science is really settled but perhaps more importantly focuses on the damage that proposed “solutions” will have on the poorest people on the planet. "Not Evil Just Wrong" examines the true cost of expensive energy for those who already live in poverty or fixed incomes.

One of the highlights of the Alaska tour was a visit to Colony High School in Wasilla where we screened an excerpt of the documentary and took questions from students. Sarah Palin, Wasilla’s most famous resident, did not attend but a large number of children were there and seemed interested and asked interesting questions. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth has been shown many times, in many classes at the school and the students seemed to appreciate an alternative.

However it seems that the school authorities were not so keen on the alternative. In an unprecedented move they insisted that any student who wanted to see an excerpt of Not Evil Just Wrong must have a permission slip from their parents. The school authorities put no such condition in place before screening An Inconvenient Truth even though both documentaries have the same MPAA rating.

Perhaps even more significantly, Alaska is a state where the state can arrange an abortion for a student without notifying their parents. Regardless of your opinions on abortion (or the issue of parental notification) the Alaskan authorities seem intent on sending out a clear message.

If you want to watch a documentary that challenges the liberal environmental consensus we will introduce barriers to access. If you want to have an abortion parents don’t need to know and we can probably fit it in after gym class.


Experts Say a Rewrite of Nation’s Main Education Law Will Be Hard This Year

In his State of the Union address, President Obama held out the hope of overhauling the main law outlining the federal role in public schools, a sprawling 45-year-old statute that dates to the Johnson administration. But experts say it would be a heavy lift for the administration to get the job done this year because the law has produced so much discord, there is so little time and there are so many competing priorities.

In 2001, when Congress completed the law’s most recent rewrite, the effort took a full year, and the bipartisan consensus that made that possible has long since shattered. Today there is wide agreement that the law needs an overhaul, but not on how to fix its flaws.

Since it was recast into its current form by the second Bush administration — and renamed No Child Left Behind — it has generated frequent, divisive debate, partly because it requires schools to administer far more standardized tests and because it labels schools that fail to make progress fast enough each year as “needing improvement.” That category that draws penalties and has grown to include more than 30,000 schools.

Several states sued the Bush administration over the law in the last decade, unsuccessfully. Connecticut challenged its financing provisions, saying it imposed costly demands without providing adequate financing. Arizona fought rules on the testing of immigrant students.

“Its hard to see how they can get” a rewrite done, said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, which includes about 80 groups representing teachers, superintendents, principals, school boards and others. “If there’s some bipartisan agreement about what the administration proposes, and the Republicans say, ‘We want to work together,’ then maybe. But I think its going to be tough.”

During the 2008 campaign and his first year in office, President Obama’s posture was popular with almost everyone: the law embodies worthwhile goals like narrowing the achievement gap between minority and white students, he said, but includes flawed provisions that need fixing. Once any rewrite begins in earnest, however, Mr. Obama will need to support specific changes that will be unpopular with at least some groups.

“Few subjects divide educators more intensely,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech about the law in September. In that speech, Mr. Duncan leveled some of his own criticisms of the law, including that it labeled schools as failures even when they were making real progress, and that it often inadvertently provided incentives for states to lower academic standards to avoid sanctions. He said he was eager to begin a rewrite. “This work is as urgent as it is important.” Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Obama communicated a lower sense of urgency on Wednesday, perhaps because the administration’s legislative agenda for the year is already packed. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” the president said.

While he also urged Congress not to abandon the health care overhaul, on the education law, he said only, “When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress.”

Mr. Duncan said in an interview on Thursday that key lawmakers “share our sense of urgency” about the need for an immediate rewrite, and were already pitching in. Last week Mr. Duncan and more than a dozen other administration officials met with the Democratic chairmen and ranking Republican members of the education committees in both houses of Congress to discuss the rewrite of the law, first drafted in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “We are blue-skying this thing, taking a big-picture approach, to try to coalesce the themes that are most important,” Mr. Duncan said. “It’s early, a million things could go wrong, but I’m hopeful.”

Changes in the Congressional leadership could complicate the effort. The death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who worked closely with President George W. Bush in 2001, removed a passionate believer in the law. Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who replaced Mr. Kennedy as chairman of the Senate education committee, has other priorities. He wants to continue the law’s focus on closing achievement gaps, but to include an emphasis on school nutrition and physical fitness programs. “We also need to take a new approach to things that are not working, like using the same solutions for all school problems,” Mr. Harkin said.

Some Republicans, including Representative John Kline, the Minnesotan who is the ranking minority member of the House education committee, say they want changes to the law, but are in no hurry. “He’s not interested in an arbitrary deadline,” said Alexa Marrero, Mr. Kline’s spokeswoman. “It’s a lot more important on something like this to get it right than to just get it done.”

Chester E. Finn, Jr., an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, wrote in a blog post on Thursday: “One can only wish them well, but reworking this monstrously complex statute is apt to prove almost as challenging as health care.” “The odds of getting a full-dress reauthorization done between now and August are very, very slender,” Mr. Finn said in an interview.


Britain: It is not elitist to nurture gifted pupils

When it comes to education, the Government persists in looking through the wrong end of the telescope – and with an ill-fitting, short-sighted lens

Its latest blunder is to close the national programme for the gifted and talented. We are told that the money saved will be used to support gifted young people who come from deprived backgrounds. The Government hopes this will lead to an increase in social mobility. That is a fine aim. Many of us, my family included, have worked hard to achieve it.

I have no argument with financial support for disadvantaged young people; my concern is whether there is to be any money set aside for the other gifted students. The decision to abandon this programme sits awkwardly with Schools Minister, Vernon Coaker’s determination ‘that each and every child gets a world-class education, regardless of their background’.

Whatever their home circumstances, gifted children need to be fed more than the standard school diet. If we do not help every one of them to flourish, not only their futures but our country’s prospects will be diminished.

Gordon Brown, speaking to the Fabian Society recently, repeated the undeniable importance of education in providing ‘the rungs on the ladder of social mobility’. He spelt out plans for widening educational opportunity. Excellent. But there was no mention of how the Government plans to support all those with exceptional ability. Its claim elsewhere that provision for all gifted students will be covered effectively through the new Pupil and Parent Guarantees, outlined in the latest Schools White Paper, is far from reassuring. Requiring schools to put their plans for gifted students in writing is no answer at all without sufficient resourcing.

In the same speech, appealing to the middle classes and promoting aspirations of ‘owning a bigger house, taking a holiday abroad, buying a new car or starting a small business’ the Prime Minister struck a jarring note. The vast majority of parents want their children to be stretched, and raised to the highest levels of which they are capable. That desire is classless, and applies to the gifted child as much as any other. Parental aspirations for their children are greater than any desire for a new car or a fleeting foreign trip.

The abandonment of this particular educational programme reveals that Brown’s appeal to the middle class is hollow, his definition of aspiration faulty, and his dedication to maximising the potential of all gifted children questionable.

What can schools do? I have no doubt that they will continue to do their utmost. I have never met a good teacher or head who was not dedicated to bringing the best out of every pupil. However, the demands on maintained schools to respond to countless different imperatives and an endless stream of new initiatives are already enormous.

At the Girls’ Schools Association conference last November, Liz Allen, the inspirational headmistress of the maintained Newstead Wood School for Girls, spelt out the needs of the gifted in the state sector and the barriers faced in helping them to achieve. Her concerns are shared by Teach First and by Ofsted. The emphasis on the achievement of five A* - C grades in maintained schools focuses on those on the C/D borderline, rather than those at the upper end who have the potential to go further. In the independent sector, we know that bright students relish the ‘hard’ subjects, like sciences and modern languages.

Independent schools have long engaged with the issue of supporting the gifted, not only by the quality of education they provide and the attention they pay to challenging the most able, but through bursaries for bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, there are long-standing arrangements to share expertise and work in collaboration with maintained schools. Many of our schools are involved in joint activities such as master-classes, preparation for Oxbridge entry, Saturday schools, mentoring, science days, summer schools or projects that range from ‘The Thames and Shakespeare’ to Model United Nations and management training exercises.

Underlying this latest Government decision I sense a fear of the charge of elitism. This is not an attitude we find, say, in sport: how very odd it would be for Manchester United to scout anything but the best young talent. No, it seems to apply only to brain power. The country needs world-class brains, dare I say it, even more than world-class footballers. We must do all we can to nurture them, wherever we find them.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

German homeschoolers granted political asylum in US

A German couple who fled to America so they could homeschool their children have been granted political asylum by a US immigration judge. The decision, announced Tuesday in Memphis, clears the way for Uwe Romeike, his wife and five children to stay in Tennessee, where they have been living since 2008.

German state constitutions require children to attend public or private schools, and parents can face fines or prison time if they do not comply.

Mr Romeike, an evangelical Christian, said he believes the German curriculum is "against Christian values".

Mike Donnelly, a lawyer with the Home School Legal Defence Association advocacy group, said he hoped the ruling will influence public opinion in Germany.


'Gay' plan for bathrooms called 'moral insanity'

'Activists demanding private mental delusions be accepted as public policy'

A Christian organization in Maine is asking its constituents to protest a state proposal that would give boys who call themselves girls full access to girls' restrooms, locker rooms and cheerleading squads.

The Christian Civic League of Maine said in a statement the "latest demand by the homosexual lobby is quite intolerable, having sunk to the level of an impossible absurdity." "Gay activists are now demanding that young girls believe and publicly acknowledge that a biological boy in their locker room is, in fact, a girl," the group said. "Gay activists are now demanding that their own private mental delusions about sex be accepted as public policy. By issuing this demand, radical homosexual activists are asking all of us to participate in a form of collective moral insanity, a mass delusion spread by the homosexual lobby and their misguided – and perhaps malevolent – enablers in Augusta," the group said.

The proposals were developed on behalf of homosexual interests after a conflict developed in one school. The Bangor Daily News reported a fifth-grade boy at Asa Adams School had been given permission to use the girls' restroom. He then was subjected to "harassment," according to the Maine Human Rights Commission. The school tried to reach a compromise by designating a special restroom for the boy, instead of allowing him to continue to use the girls' restroom. But the move brought a determination of discrimination from the state agency.

The Maine Human Rights Commission proposed a set of guidelines that would require schools "to allow young children to have access to facilities of the opposite sex. Under the proposed guidelines, boys who self-identify as female will have access to girls' sports teams and cheerleading squads, girls' bathrooms, and girls' locker rooms."

The Christian Civic League of Maine said it is "appalled by the latest outrage by radical homosexual activists." "Less than two weeks after Bruce LaVallee-Davidson was convicted of shooting South Portland resident, Fred Wilson, after a night of homosexual debauchery, gay activists have disclosed new state guidelines requiring schools to allow young children to have access to facilities of the opposite sex," the organization said.

"In arriving at the proposed guidelines, the MHRC consulted with homosexual lobbyists, the Maine Office of the Attorney General, and principals and superintendents during a closed-door meeting on December 15, 2009. The MHRC will take up the guidelines again on March 1st, and has promised that hearings on the matter will be open to the public. Although the recommendations are offered to public schools, colleges, and other educational institutions in the form of 'guidelines,' schools which violate the 'guidelines' will be brought before the commission, and may be subject to further legal action," the family organization warned.

The organization said all Maine parents should attend the hearings and meetings "and voice their strong opposition to the proposed guidelines." "Further, the League calls on all citizens to protect their vulnerable children from the homosexual lobby and their enablers in Augusta by contacting their state legislators and stating their firm opposition to these proposed Maine Human Rights Commission 'guidelines,'" the group said.

This is not the first time the argument has arisen. WND previously reported when the city council of Tampa, Fla., voted unanimously to include "gender identity and expression" as a protected class under the city's human rights ordinance, leading some to fear the council has opened the city's public bathroom doors to sexual predators masquerading as protected transsexuals.

A statement from the American Family Association explained, "Tampa Police arrested Robert Johnson in February 2008 for hanging out in the locker room–restroom area at Lifestyle Fitness and watching women in an undressed state. The City of Tampa's 'gender identity' ordinance could provide a legal defense to future cases like this if the accused claims that his gender is female."

WND also reported on a similar plan adopted by fiat in Montgomery County, Md., in which opponents feared the law would open up women's locker rooms to men who say they are women. The issue also has come up in Colorado, where Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a plan that effectively strikes gender-specific restrooms in the state. And city officials in Kalamazoo, Mich., only weeks after adopting a "perceived gender" bias plan have abandoned it in the face of massive public opposition.


The social class effect on education now clear in Australia too

Leftism leads to some odd outcomes. To avoid making poor schools look bad, the Australian government classifies schools on a social class basis. Schools in wealthy areas are compared with other schools in wealthy areas and poor schools are compared with poor schools. And hey presto! It doesn't matter much whether the school is a government one or a private one. Schools drawing on wealthy areas all do well, with only random differences between them. Once again we find that social class is by far the biggest influence on educational outcomes. Why? Rich kids tend to be smarter and kids from wealthy areas also tend to be better behaved. There are not many disruptive ferals or "minorities" in wealthy areas. Note that Australia's Leftist Prime minister sends his kid to a private school. Leftist politicians do the same the word over, despite it being against their ideology. "Equality" is only for "the masses". Some pigs are more equal than others, as Orwell said

PUBLIC schools in wealthy areas are outperforming some of the nation's most expensive and prestigious private schools in reading and writing, according to the Rudd government's controversial new My School website. But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's old school, Nambour High in Queensland is struggling, with Year 9 results below the average of all schools national literacy test results across Australia in writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy.

For the first time, the national literacy and numeracy tests of nearly 10,000 public and private schools are available for parents to compare online and the results are in many cases surprising. The website, which has been criticised by some teachers and principals, went live at 1am this morning and has experienced some technical problems. Education Minister Julia Gillard said today the technical difficulties reflected the fact that parents were “voting with their fingertips” to log on and check their school at 3am, 4am and 5am. “What that means is around the country parents were hungry for this information,” she said. “The site is experiencing huge demand. Obviously people are very enthusiastic to jump on the My School website and to have a look at their local school. So if people try again, obviously we're trying to space demand during the day.”

The deputy prime minister said while she had the greatest respect for teachers she was determined not to buckle in the face of teachers' unions threats to disrupt NAPLAN tests this year in a protest against the site. “The AEU has called this one wrong,” she said.

The website uses complex methodology to compare statistically similar schools to reveal some private schools are "coasting" by performing above the average of all schools but in some cases below the performance of similar schools. For example Geelong Grammar's Toorak campus in Victoria, which charges nearly $30,000-a-year in Year 12 fees and was once attended by Prince Charles, performed substantially below the average of similar Year 3 schools in spelling. It was also below the average of similar schools in reading, grammar and numeracy.

A comparison with other similar schools claims Year 3 students results at Geelong Grammar were "substantially below" the performance of similar public schools at Camberwell Primary in Melbourne, Castle Cove Primary in NSW, Epping North Public School in Sydney and Stirling East Public School in Adelaide. By comparison, students at the James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, a selective public school for the "gifted" performed substantially above the average of similar schools and all schools in Australia across all measures.

In WA, girls at the Presbyterian Ladies College at Peppermint Grove, where fees can top $18,000-a-year, were below the average of similar schools in Year 5 reading, spelling and grammar and substantially below average in Year 5 and Year 7 numeracy. However, the school remained above the average of all schools across Australia.

At the Cranbrook School in NSW, where media heir James Packer once attended, students were below the average of similar schools in Year 9 results for reading, writing, spelling and grammar. However they were substantially above the average across all schools in Australia.

In Adelaide, students attending the prestigious Prince Alfred College, which educated cricketing greats the Chappell brothers, Year 3 and Year 5 results were below the average of similar schools in reading. Year 5 test results were also below the average of similar schools in writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation.

At St Peters College boys school in Adelaide, which boasts of "three Nobel laureates, forty one Rhodes scholars and eight state premiers", results were below the average of similar schools in writing, spelling and grammar for Year 3 NAPLAN results. By Year 5 results had improved with students outperforming all schools but still close to the average of similar well-heeled schools.

In the ACT, Radford College, a private school Mr Rudd's son Marcus attends, students outperformed similar schools in reading, writing, grammar and numeracy. Tony Abbott's old school St Ignatius Riverview at Lane Cove in NSW, students performed substantially above the average of all schools but below the average of similar schools in Year 9 results for writing and grammar.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama wants more wasteful spending on education

High rates of spending do NOT improve education -- witness D.C., Detroit etc. -- but the emptyhead still thinks it sounds good to throw good money after bad. As long as he is wasting money, he is happy. If he really cared about getting kids educated, he would be pushing for a reversion to the much more effective methods of the past

President Obama will propose a major increase in funding for elementary and secondary education for the coming year in Wednesday's State of the Union address, one of the few areas that would grow in an otherwise austere federal budget, officials said. The proposal to raise federal education spending by as much as $4 billion in the next fiscal year was described by administration officials Tuesday night as the start of an effort to revamp the No Child Left Behind law enacted under President George W. Bush. Obama will highlight his school reform agenda Wednesday in the address.

The funding would include a $1.35 billion increase in Obama's "Race to the Top" competitive grants for school reform. It would also set aside $1 billion to finance an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the budget proposal before its release next week.

Administration officials said they could not provide a direct comparison to current elementary and secondary education spending levels for No Child Left Behind, but they said federal education spending would rise overall by 6.2 percent.

The 2002 law mandated a huge expansion of standardized testing to measure progress toward closing student achievement gaps -- and imposed sanctions on schools that fall short. That concept has become ingrained in public education, but many experts say the law is overly punitive and ripe for revision. White House and Education Department officials last week convened key Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to begin developing a road map for revising the law. "It was a very good meeting," said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), one of the participants. "It couldn't have been more bipartisan."

The $1 billion fund would be held out as a carrot for a successful legislative conclusion. One top aide to the president described it as an "incentive necessary to implement the kinds of reforms that we believe are necessary."

Obama has encouraged efforts by states to raise school standards and improve testing. Aides said that in his State of the Union speech, the president will make a forceful call for broad reforms of the way school performance is measured and rewarded.

Obama is expected to propose the consolidation of federal education programs. The budget he submits next week will collapse 38 K-12 programs into 11 and eliminate six programs, senior White House aides said.

In higher education, Obama will urge the passage of legislation that would change student lending, eliminating a program that relies on private banks to make federally guaranteed loans. Instead, the government would become the direct lender for all federal student loans. That shift, according to congressional budget analysts, would net the government close to $80 billion over 10 years -- a conclusion sharply disputed by the lending industry. The House passed such legislation in September, but it has been delayed in the Senate.

Obama's budget will propose using [mythical] savings from the student loan overhaul to expand higher-education grants and community college funding, among other programs.

Senior White House aides said the increase in education funding fits into a broader effort by the administration to focus scarce resources on the nation's long-term economic health.

Obama has signaled that he wants tougher academic standards but more flexibility for schools to reach them. His administration has pushed for innovations such as public charter schools, teacher performance pay and stronger data systems to track student growth from pre-kindergarten all the way to college. To jump-start his agenda, the stimulus enacted last year funneled nearly $100 billion into education -- an unprecedented increase meant to help prevent layoffs and spur reform.


British seven-year-olds taught politically correct sexual attitudes

Seven-year-olds will be taught to oppose sexist and homophobic bullying in schools. A shake-up of sex education will also see children learning to ' recognise and challenge stereotypes'. The guidelines on 'promoting equality, inclusion and acceptance of diversity' are a key part of Labour's push to spread sex education to more children. Ministers have ordered that all primary schools should run sex education lessons because of a failure to hit a target of halving the number of teenage pregnancies.

The Government also wants to make sex classes compulsory for 15-year-olds. Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, launched the guidelines yesterday, saying they would help young people 'understand the importance of marriage and other stable relationships'. They would also equip children to cope with television, the internet, films and magazines which persuade them toward having early sex, he said.

But parenting groups accused Mr Balls of social engineering, saying that lecturing about sexism or homophobia was not required when tackling bad behaviour by children.

The draft guidelines sent out yesterday say that children should be told from the age of five about the difference between bodies of boys and girls. They should also learn ways of keeping safe. Among questions children in their first terms in school will discuss to help them avoid abuse is: 'What is the difference between good touch and bad touch?'

Teaching on diversity will become more specific for pupils from the age of seven. The guidelines said: 'Many people still face unacceptable prejudice and discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or what they look like, and intolerance towards difference needs to be challenged. 'Sex and relationships education is an opportunity to explore the different views that children and young people hold, guided by a welltrained teacher.'

Labour introduced rules in 2000 saying that school sex education should support stable relationships and marriage. Mr Balls said: 'We want to give young people the facts so they can stay safe and healthy. 'We also want young people to understand the importance of marriage and other stable relationships - these are the bedrock of family life, the best way to bring up children and the kind of relationships we want young people to develop as they get older.'

But Norman Wells of Family and Youth Concern said: 'This guidance will confirm the fears of many parents that compulfromsory sex education will be used to indoctrinate their children into thinking that there are no moral absolutes when it comes to sexual expression. 'The vast majority of parents don't want their children's schools to present positive images of homosexuality under the guide of combating homophobic bullying. 'Nor do they want teachers to deny the differences between men and women in the name of addressing sexist bullying. 'It is not necessary to engage in social engineering in order to deal firmly with harsh or unkind words and actions, regardless of what motivates them.'

Mr Balls used the phrase social engineering this month to describe Tory pledges of tax support for married couples.


Australia: Tell off deficient teachers, says Federal education boss

Julia seems to be a lot more conservative than her pre-ministerial record suggested

TEACHERS identified as underperformers by the Government's new school rating system should expect to be roused at by disgruntled parents, the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, says. The My School website, to be launched on Thursday, will allow parents to compare schools and will have enough data to pinpoint specific subject areas of underperformance, potentially identifying the responsible teachers.

Following a briefing on the website yesterday, Ms Gillard told the Herald the Government welcomed the fact that the website would empower parents to badger school staff to lift standards. "We would expect parents to have robust conversations with teachers and principals," she said. Ms Gillard said teachers were already trained to deal with complaints on parent-teacher nights. Now, parents would be armed with even more information with which to complain. "This should put pressure on people," Ms Gillard said.

The Australian Education Union is fiercely opposed to the website, saying it will lead to the publication of league tables and cause schools and students to be stigmatised.

Ms Gillard pointed to more than $2 billion that has been earmarked towards addressing disadvantaged schools, improving teaching standards and lifting literacy and numeracy standards. "We're going to shine a light on some schools that need a helping hand and we are ready to work in partnership with those schools with new money and new programs," she said.

The website will publish a range of information, including national test results, student and staff numbers, and attendance rates for each of the nation's almost 10,000 schools. Each school will be graded using a colour-coded system on its national tests performance in the areas of reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Each school will be compared with about 60 other schools that cater to "statistically similar" student populations, according to a specially developed Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage. Each school will also be compared against the national average. The website will be updated each September based on results of tests conducted in May.

Ms Gillard accepted that, especially with smaller schools, it would be easy to identify the teachers responsible for subjects for which the school had been poorly marked.

The Australian Education Union, which represents more than 180,000 teachers in government primary and secondary schools, has threatened to boycott this year's national literacy and numeracy tests in protest. The union's federal secretary, Angelo Gavrielatos, said his main concern was for underperforming students who could be just as easily identified as their teachers. "They know full well there will be damage caused to students," he said.

He noted that a set of protocols for school data collection and reporting devised in June by the education ministers omitted from protocols of only a year earlier an ethical principle to guard against harming members of the community. The principle says: "This could occur where the privacy of individuals would be compromised or where the reputation of an institution or group of people would be damaged through the publication of misleading information or stereotyping." Mr Gavrielatos said by "omitting this principle, education ministers conceded that there will be 'harm' to individuals and schools as a result of the creation and publication of league tables".

Barry McGaw, who is chairman of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which created the My School website, said schools in wealthy communities that were performing below expectations would be exposed. Mr McGaw said it would show which schools in affluent areas were "coasting".

Academic racism still flourishing

Over thirty years ago the University of California got into big trouble because its medical school at the Davis campus
had two admissions programs for the entering class of 100 students - the regular admissions program and the special admissions program....

The 1973 and 1974 application forms, respectively, asked candidates whether they wished to be considered as “economically and/or educationally disadvantaged” applicants and members of a “minority group” (blacks, Chicanos, Asians, American Indians).... Special candidates ... did not have to meet the 2.5 grade point cutoff and were not ranked against candidates in the general admissions process.

The liberal California Supreme Court found that this procedure violated the Equal Protection Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed about the dual track procedure, although it lamentably did allow the camel’s nose of “diversity” as a rationale for racial discrimination (when all other things are equal, etc.) under the tent.

The University of Massachusetts apparently has a short memory. Inside Higher Ed reports this morning:
"The University of Massachusetts, seeking to increase the diversity of its medical school, plans today to finalize a program to set aside 12 slots in its 125-seat medical school classes for members of certain groups who will be admitted to an undergraduate program at a UMass campus, followed by medical school admission, The Boston Globe reported. To be eligible for one of the slots, candidates will need to be either black, Latino, or come from certain Southeast Asian and other groups, or (regardless of ethnic or racial background) come from a low-income family or be a first-generation college student.

What’s The Problem? As is typical with programs of preferential admission, the UMass program seems designed to solve two problems, one of them cosmetic and the other a lack of sufficient “diversity.”

Cosmetically, the UMass medical school has been enduring the hardship of not looking like Massachusetts, and not producing doctors that sufficiently match the demographic profile of the state. The Boston Globe reports that:
"Five percent of doctors in Massachusetts are black or Hispanic, whereas 16 percent of Bay State residents belong to those groups.... Now, blacks and Hispanics make up 7 percent of UMass Medical School students, but account for 27 percent of UMass Boston undergraduates, and 8 to 12 percent of students at the other [UMass] campuses".

The article did not explain exactly why Massachusetts need its population of doctors to match the racial and ethnic profile of its general population, or why that need is so compelling as to justify racially preferential admissions. Well, that’s not completely accurate. The old standby “diversity” rationale was hauled out. Anthony Garro, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UMass Dartmouth, the non-diverse medial students also “stand to gain from a more diverse class” because, he claimed, “[d]ifferent cultures ... handle the issues surrounding illness and deal in different ways, points that are difficult to teach in the classroom.”

Really? That would be news to all the sociology, anthropology, and history professors who teach courses on cultural difference. (Indeed, sometimes it seems as though they teach courses on nothing else.) Are all “Hispanic” attitudes the same? Do Mexican-Americans have the same cultural attitudes as Puerto Ricans-Americans and Cuban-Americans? Is there no concern that each of these sub-groups be adequately “represented”? In any event, it does not seem necessary to have different admissions standards for Hispanic medical school applicants so that the non-Hispanic students can learn about Hispanic approaches to sickness and dying. But then, most “diversity” arguments don’t make much sense when you examine them closely.

“Role Models”? According Jack Wilson, the UMass president, “a key barrier to recruiting more minority physicians, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is the lack of role models.”

You hear this a lot, as in virtually every defense of preferential treatment based on race or ethnicity, but is it really true? Oh, forget true, which might be too exacting a standard. How about: is there even any credible evidence that it’s true? Are there really large numbers of blacks and Hispanics today who don’t know that they can become doctors if they meet the same admissions and performance requirement expected of all medical students? At some point shouldn’t those who assert the “role model” justification for racial discrimination have to provide at least some evidence that a significant number of highly capable blacks and Hispanics who are not doctors would have become doctors if only they’d had black and Hispanic “role models”?

Oddly, a large portion of the Boston Globe article discusses Jessica Zina, “a Portuguese-American in her first year at UMass Medical School, [who] is the type of student the new state program hopes to attract.” Zina is fluent in Portuguese, her father is a construction worker, and her mother a worker in a Hasbro factory, neither of them high school graduates. And yet, despite the absence of any “role models,” Zina “dreamed of becoming a pediatrician since high school.” Her path to medical school was not straight, but she didn’t need a special program designed to produce “role models” to get there.

In fact, the reason Zina did not attent UMass for college was not because it lacked a special admissions program for her.
Although she said she had never considered attending UMass for her bachelor’s degree because if its lackluster reputation, the Medical Scholars Program would have persuaded her to apply. “I would automatically want to join something like that,” Zina said. “To be that much closer to medical school would really be an advantage. That would be golden.”

I’m sure it would. Of course such a deal would be “golden” for anyone, not just blacks or Hispanics — unless, that is, there’s intrinsic to the culture of “African-Americans, Hispanics, certain Southeast Asians, and Cape Verdeans, Brazilians, and other Portuguese speakers” that makes them uniquely qualified to appreciate and benefit from preferential admissions treatment, a guaranteed summer research opportunity, and targeted financial aid.


College defends prof who mocked Christians

Seeks restoration of policy under which student told 'ask God for grade'

A California college is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to restore a policy at the center of a case in which a professor berated a Christian student with the suggestion, "Ask God what your grade is." The Los Angeles Community College District, the nation's largest community college system, filed the appeal of a lower-court decision in favor of student Jonathan Lopez, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund.

As WND reported, Lopez, a student at Los Angeles City College, was delivering a speech on his Christian faith in speech class when professor John Matteson interrupted him, called him a "fascist b----rd" for mentioning a moral conviction against homosexual marriage. The professor later told the student to "ask God what your grade is." Matteson also warned on his evaluation of Lopez's speech, "Proselytizing is inappropriate in public school," and later threatened to have the student expelled.

The subsequent lawsuit by the ADF targeted the school for the professor's comments but also sought removal of a campus sexual harassment and speech policy that court documents explained "systematically prohibits and punishes political and religious speech by students that is outside the campus political mainstream."

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge George H. King determined the campus policy was "unconstitutionally overbroad" and ordered it to be stricken from the college's website. The college then told the judge it wanted him to reconsider the case, to which the judge responded, "Defendants do not get a mulligan simply because they chose to retain new counsel." The appeal by the college district to the 9th Circuit followed.

The precedent the college seeks has attracted the attention of other free-speech advocates, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, which battles college speech restrictions nationwide. FIRE has filed a brief in the case arguing the community college's policy "contradicts both decades of legal precedent and the guidance of the federal Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights." The brief contends if the district police is permitted, "it would gravely endanger the free speech rights of LACCD students and exacerbate the free speech crisis on America's college campuses."

"By continuing to defend an indefensible and unconstitutional speech code with this appeal, LACCD has proven not only that it does not care about its students' First Amendment rights, but that it doesn't care about wasting taxpayer dollars to argue against the Bill of Rights in court," said Will Creeley, FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy. "FIRE is confident that the Ninth Circuit will recognize the impermissible flaws in LACCD's policy and reject this misguided appeal."

The policy the school wants affirmed banishes "generalized sexist statements" as well as "actions and behavior that convey insulting, intrusive or degrading attitudes/comments about women or men."

"Despite over two decades of federal jurisprudence finding policies precisely like LACCD's unconstitutional, LACCD is shamefully attempting to deny its students the First Amendment rights to which they are legally entitled," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "FIRE's brief explains why the Ninth Circuit must affirm the district court's decision and make LACCD's sexual harassment policy the latest addition to an unbroken string of unconstitutional codes struck down in federal court."

Judge King granted a preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of the policy because of its First Amendment violations. He then refused to grant the college's motion for reconsideration, calling the college arguments "scattershot and disjointed."

Lopez had quoted Romans 10:9, "Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

He told ADF, "Colleges are supposed to be safe for free speech and the discussion of many ideas. What has happened to me is an assault on my constitutional rights. A victory in this case will guarantee that every student who attends the school now and in the future is allowed to freely express their beliefs, religious or otherwise, without fear."

ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David Hacker said at that time if the school cared about free speech rights of students, "they should not desire to pursue enforcement of such a bad policy."

Lopez was participating in a class assignment to give a speech on "any topic" from six to eight minutes. "During the November, 24, 2008 class, Mr. Lopez delivered an informative speech on God and the ways in which Mr. Lopez has seen God act both in his life and in the lives of others through miracles," ADF said. "In the middle of the speech, he addressed the issues of God and morality; thus, he referred to the dictionary definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman and also read a passage from the Bible discussing marriage."

Those comments led to the outburst from the professor, who canceled the remaining class period and mocked Lopez's faith on his grading review.

"By regulating speech on the basis of its content, no matter how 'disparaging' or 'sexist,' LACCD proposes to appoint itself (or complaining students) the judge of what speech shall be allowed on campus," FIRE official said in the brief. "Such a result cannot be squared with the Supreme Court's pronouncement, issued 'time and again,'" that content discrimination isn't allowed.

It also argued that the college's citation of the state education code wasn't valid. "The rights enshrined in our nation's Constitution, including the guarantees of the First Amendment, are the highest law of the land, and they cannot be superseded by state statute or regulation," the brief argued.


British government pulls the plug on "gifted and talented" academy

The moronic old "all men are equal" dogma rises to dominance once again

The Government has abandoned a flagship policy to provide vital support to the brightest schoolchildren. The national academy for gifted and talented pupils, a central element in Tony Blair's drive to make state schools attractive to middle class parents, is to be scrapped next month. Since it was created in 2002, the academy has provided support, master classes and summer schools for more than 200,000 children and training for thousands of teachers in how to identify and support able pupils.

The U-turn will see much of the academy's £20 million funding targeted instead on deprived teenagers as part of the Government's bid to improve social mobility and get more poor students into top universities.

Critics accused the Government of failing pupils and parents of bright children and said the move was "anti-intellectual". When it was launched, David Miliband, the then schools minister, described the academy as being as radical a reform as the creation of the Open University in the 1960s. The scheme was designed to ensure that the brightest pupils reach their full potential, giving them the kind of help normally only provided by the private sector. But now almost every plank of the scheme is to be dismantled.

* Separate funding for out-of-school master classes, workshops and summer schools will be withdrawn.

* The national gifted and talented register, a database of able pupils identified by their schools, will be abolished.

* The post of director of gifted and talented education at the Department for Children, Schools and Families has disappeared.

* Schools, many of which are ambivalent about giving extra help to gifted pupils because they consider it elitist, will be expected to improve provision for gifted children but with no ring-fenced funding.

* No out-of-school help will be given to high achieving primary schoolchildren

The changes follow Alan Milburn's report on social mobility which said that gifted children should no longer be identified and that a new programme should be "open to all pupils who could benefit from help in "communication skills, IT and developing the right attitude", while providing "bright disadvantaged students" with new opportunities.

Experts said last night that frustrated parents with talented children had been let down by the Government. "From the parents perspective, we are extremely worried about what is happening," said Denise Yates, chief executive of the charity the National Association for Gifted Children. "We are worried that out-of-school provision is going to disappear. There are schools that believe in specific support for gifted and talented children but unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum, there are some schools who don't. "The national focus on gifted and talented children will be lost and there is nothing in the new plan for primary age children." ...

Deborah Eyre, the former director of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) and professor of education at Warwick University, said: "The policy direction has changed substantially. "It looks more like a social mobility programme that doesn't have much to do with gifted and talented. It looks intellectually incoherent and in some respects, anti-intellectual....

Professor Eyre said Labour's attempt to reassure middle-class parents that the state sector could perform as well as independent schools had been jettisoned. "There was a policy position that in a developed country we should be ambitious about education above and beyond the private sector. "There was a sense that if you were a middle class parent and your child was very bright, they would be safe in the state sector. "I don't think that ambition is there now. There is a much stronger priority on making sure that all children achieve minimum standards and very little attention is given to ensuring we get a very high performing system."

Although gifted and talented pupils are supposed to be at the heart of Labour's education policy, Heather Williams, from Poole, in Dorset, had to battle to get support for her son Matthew, five. "I knew Matthew was different because when I was doing sums with his older sister in the bath, she might not get it right but the number would come out of Matthew's mouth. He was about two," said Mrs Williams, a chartered accountant.

But when Mrs Williams initially spoke to Matthew's primary schoolteacher about his ability, she didn't get very far. "Her reaction was very negative," she said. After pushing the point and mentioning it at every parents evening, Matthew was eventually set extra work. But it was intermittent and not challenging enough.

In desperation, Mrs Williams took Matthew to see child psychologist Peter Congdon, who runs the Gifted Children's Information Centre, in Solihull and paid £360 for an assessment. "The conclusion was that the child was "super-bright – brighter than we even expected". The report got things moving. At school, Matthew has been put on the top table in the year above for maths. "He's loving it," said Mrs Williams. "The excitement I saw when he was younger, and he used to ask for three sums before he went to sleep, has come back. I'm really happy with what the school are doing now."

A lack of action is the norm in the school system, said Mrs Williams. "I recently visited a middle school and when I asked what they did for gifted and talented, the teacher said "I hate those words". "But all parents are asking for is that the child has the school work that is suitable for them.

More here

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tennessee works to stem college dropout crisis

Getting students into college isn't the problem in Tennessee. It's keeping them there. Of every 100 college freshmen in this state, only 45 will have degrees by the time they turn 26, and the longer the wait for a diploma, the longer the odds that it's going to happen at all.

The governor and legislature passed an ambitious plan to improve the graduation rate in a state with one of the most lackluster educational attainment rates in the nation. The idea is to eliminate as many barriers to graduation as possible — from course credits that don't transfer, to university-level remedial classes that could be taught for less money, and with less stress, at a community college.

But the fact is, most Tennessee colleges and universities have been working for years to improve their graduation rates, only to find that there are no quick fixes to the problems that can come between a student and a degree.

There's nothing the legislation can do about the fact that tuition goes up every year in Tennessee, or that many students here are first-generation college students, or that the real-life pressures of families and jobs can pull older students out of the classroom for good.

At Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Caleb Hendricks sat at a lunchroom table with three classmates, sharing one textbook among them. Two weeks into the semester, one of them finally had enough money to spring for the book. "The biggest problem (with higher education) is paying for it," said Hendricks, a freshman working toward a degree in management information systems.

After high school, he worked for a few years before deciding that a job at Home Depot might be nice for now, but it wasn't what he wanted for his life's career. The halls and classrooms at Vol State are crowded with students like Hendricks who are enrolling in college in record numbers as the economy pushes people out of a job and back to school.

Many of these new students have been out of high school too long to qualify for HOPE scholarships, and many earn too much money at their day jobs to qualify for financial aid. Those end up going to school part time, or at night, or dropping out for a few semesters to earn extra money for tuition.

Going to school part time takes time. And the longer it takes to graduate, the more likely it is that life will get in the way and derail a student's college plans permanently. "I've had students bring their little kids to classes because they couldn't get child care," said Leonard Assante, chairman of the Department of Communication at Volunteer State.

Volunteer State casts a wide net to try to keep students in class — from teachers like Assante, willing to let a class double as an emergency day-care center, to intensive advising sessions for at-risk students and peer-to-peer tutoring for students who don't respond to traditional remedial classes. "If a student has a point of contact, they have a much better chance of staying in school," Assante said.

Community college redo

Gov. Phil Bredesen's emphasis remains on colleges, universities and degrees. He wants to lure more high-tech industries to Tennessee. High-tech industries want highly skilled workers.

According to 2008 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with a bachelor's degree earn $26,000 more than those with just a high school diploma. Nationwide, just 29 percent of adults age 25 and older have a four-year degree or higher. In Tennessee, the rate is just 21 percent.

When Bredesen's legislation passed last week goes into effect, Tennessee's community colleges — where graduation rates have dipped as low as 5 percent at some schools — will get a dramatic overhaul. All 13 community colleges in the state will begin teaching identical core courses, with teachers working off identical syllabuses, in the hope of producing students who can transfer their credits to any other school in the state system.

Right now, more than half the students who start college in Tennessee need remedial course work, repeating the same math, reading and writing courses they took in high school. Universities will get out of the business of remedial education.

Instead, students who need remedial course work will be steered into community college, where classes are smaller and tuition is half the price of university courses. Universities, meanwhile, will be able to free their professors and resources to focus on more advanced courses.

This sounds fine in theory to the community colleges, where more than 60 percent of students already take remedial coursework, and the schools have spent years fine-tuning their outreach efforts. But Tennessee is in the middle of a budget crisis, and it will cost money to provide the teaching staff, equipment and classroom space to handle the thousands of new students who will be diverted into the two-year schools...

More here

The £100 billion schools scandal in Britain

The British Labour Party has doubled spending on schools since 1997. But critics say this tidal wave of money has achieved little

For Richard and Jan Brearley, from Lichfield in Staffordshire, the choice was clear: they had to employ a private maths tutor. Their daughters weren’t falling behind their classmates, but the girls’ comprehensive school was failing to provide the teaching they needed. Celia, 14, and Esther, 17, now receive an hour’s tuition a week, costing £15 each, to compensate for the shortcomings at their school.

Their father, Richard, 57, a homeopath, said: “In maths, Celia in particular has suffered from bad teaching, but the tutor can show her the things in private she doesn’t understand and have them clarified.”

The Brearleys are far from exceptional. Last weekend it emerged that private tuition is one of the few industries to have boomed during the recession. Some agencies report a doubling in business — largely fuelled by parents who are disenchanted with the quality of education provided by their local state schools.

This should not be happening — certainly if the picture painted by the official figures told the whole story. Earlier this month Ed Balls, the schools secretary, published figures for GCSEs that suggested more than a decade of unstinting improvement under Labour. More than 600,000 more pupils than in 1997 were leaving school with five GCSEs at grades A*-C, considered the basic level of qualifications. Grades in both GCSEs and A-levels have also risen consistently under Labour. “The entire system has shifted up a level and we are determined to keep it shifting,” said Vernon Coaker, Balls’s deputy.

As public spending cuts begin to bite in the face of the downturn, Balls has been one of the few ministers to keep his budget intact so far — indeed, few ministries have benefited as much as Balls’s since Labour came to power. In real terms, spending on schools has almost doubled to more than £42 billion a year since 1997. By some measures, Labour has provided a cumulative total of more than £100 billion extra to schools.

However, many within the educational establishment dispute ministers’ rosy picture of the system. On Friday, Barnaby Lenon, the head master of Harrow, launched a broadside against the quality of GCSEs and A-levels. “Let us not deceive our children, and especially children from poorer homes, with worthless qualifications so that they become like the citizens of Weimar Germany or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, carrying their certificates around in a wheelbarrow, or produce people like those in the first round of The X Factor who tell us they want to be the next Britney Spears but can’t sing a note,” he said.

Education is set to be one of the most bitter battlegrounds of the election campaign, with Balls fighting off claims by Michael Gove, his Tory shadow, that Labour has failed the poor and presided over a dumbed-down education system.

Amid all the claims and counter-claims, what are children, parents and taxpayers getting now from the extra billions that the government has ploughed into our schools? At the heart of Tony Blair’s mantra of “education, education, education” was the pledge to bring decent schooling to sink comprehensives. New schools sprang up across the country and complaints about rotting roofs and leaking lavatories were replaced by accusations that too much was being spent on shiny new designer buildings, such as Norman Foster’s £46.4m Thomas Deacon academy in Peterborough. Hundreds of millions of pounds have also been poured into computers and, more controversially, into management consultancy firms, who were paid £61m in fees in 2008 alone.

To keep teachers in the profession and attract new ones, salaries were increased sharply — the average of about £32,000 is 20% higher than in 1997, even allowing for inflation. Labour insist that the results justify the money spent. Earlier this month ministers boasted that 50.7% of state school pupils had gained at least five GCSEs — including English and maths — at grade C or above. A-level grades have shown a similarly relentless rise, with 26.7% of papers awarded an A grade last year.

The government and the teaching profession insist the rise in grades shows that teaching is better and pupils are working harder. It is the claim that has been made annually by parties of both stripes since the seemingly inexorable rise in grades began in the 1980s.

Experts, however, argue that, while there has been progress, grades are easier to achieve than they once were. Robert Coe, reader in education at Durham University, tracks the value of grades by comparing pupils’ results with their performance in a series of tests whose difficulty is kept constant from year to year. “The grades have gone up, but the amount you have to do to get each grade has clearly gone down,” said Coe. “At Alevel the story is of a steady slide, about a tenth of a grade a year over the past 20 years in terms of what you get for what you do.” In simple terms, those who received a B in 1997 would now be awarded an A.

More here

British expert says parents must be given more data to compare schools

Comments by Sir Cyril Taylor:

PARENTS and the public need to be given far greater access to basic data about schools if they are to be able to judge their performance, hold them to account and drive them to improve. While the government has proposed that civil servants or Ofsted draw up an annual “report card” to judge every English school, I believe the approach of giving a single grade for performance is mistaken.

Schools should instead be legally required to publish a wide range of indicators, ranging from staff turnover to truancy rates. This would enable parents to assess a school’s performance and make an informed choice of school for their child.

After discussions with those drawing up Conservative education policy, I am confident that, if they win the general election, they will require schools to publish almost all this information. This is just a selection of the data schools should be required to publish:

* For secondary schools, all GCSE and A-level results. Not only should the raw score — the proportion of pupils obtaining at least five A*-C grades at GCSE, including maths and English — be published but also Professor David Jesson’s “value-added” measure, which compares the measured by their primary test results of pupils entering the school with their GCSE grades. Crucially, results should be published for the past three years to indicate what progress is being made.

* Average daily attendance. Computer-based swipe cards should routinely be used to record attendance and truancy. Most good schools achieve a 95% attendance rate, but at some as few as half of pupils attend regularly.

* Turnover of staff and vacancies. If a school has a high turnover or high vacancy rate, this may indicate that all is not well.

* The proportion of pupils who stay on in full-time education at age 16.

* The proportion of pupils who gain entry to university.

* The numbers of excluded children.

* The ratio of applications to places in the previous year. Popular schools are usually good schools.

Sceptics might say that some schools would supply inaccurate data. However, Ofsted could be required to check the data periodically to ensure it is accurate. Transparency and accountability are vital to ensure all children can attend a good school.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

New York Races to the Bottom

Unconscionable. Shameful. Deplorable. Despicable. Those are just a few adjectives that come to mind to describe the New York State Legislature's failure to pass commonsense education reforms that would have qualified New York for a share of the federal government's $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative. As a result, New York taxpayers have probably lost out on some $700 million in federal education funding, and the state has missed a golden opportunity to improve the educational prospects of its neediest schoolchildren.

When the Obama administration announced the criteria for its Race to the Top grants competition last summer, it seemed that the education-reform movement had reached a tipping point. Here was a Democratic administration backing cutting-edge reforms like rigorous academic standards, data-driven instruction, performance pay for teachers, and the takeover of struggling schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made it clear that states that inhibited the growth of charter schools or prohibited the use of students' test scores when evaluating teachers would be deemed ineligible for Race to the Top grants.

Most states responded by embracing the tenets of Race to the Top. Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Massachusetts passed charter-friendly laws that lifted caps on the number of charters and allowed public money to be used for their construction. California, Indiana, and Wisconsin scrapped laws that barred the use of student test scores in teacher assessments. Just two states still have such data firewalls: Nevada and New York.

And late last year, it looked as though New York would join the wave of Race to the Top-inspired reform sweeping the country. In December, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the state's education commissioner, proposed a broad framework for Race to the Top reforms. Then Governor David Paterson initiated the legislative action needed to put those reforms into place. Paterson's proposed bill would have eliminated the state's cap on charter schools, presently set at 200; let the state finance charter-school capital funding; encouraged the Board of Regents to take control of persistently low-performing schools; and immediately rescinded the law, already set to expire on July 1, that prohibits using student performance as a criterion for evaluating teachers before they receive lifetime tenure.

Just days before the January 19 Race to the Top application deadline, however, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, doing the bidding of the state's powerful teachers' unions, submitted what must be one of the most cynical pieces of legislation in Albany's long history of deceitful and corrupt politics. Silver's bill, which mirrored proposals put forth earlier in the month by the New York State United Teachers and New York City's United Federation of Teachers, would have raised the charter cap from 200 to 400. But several "poison pills" inserted into the legislation would effectively kill the state's charter schools. The bill would have imposed some half a dozen onerous new restrictions on charter schools, including making it nearly impossible for them to share buildings with traditional public schools, as two-thirds of New York City's charters do now. It would also have removed the power to grant charters from the New York City schools chancellor and the board of trustees of! the State University of New York--which together granted 29 of last year's 31 charters--and instead given controlling authority to approve any future charters to the Board of Regents, whose members are appointed by the Legislature. And the bill would have subjected charters to a restrictive new request-for-proposals process that predetermined the schools' size and location. "This bill, masquerading as a charter cap lift, instead would have shackled chartering beyond recognition," said Peter Murphy of the New York Charter Schools Association. "The teachers' unions narrowly missed terminating charters, practically speaking."

The state senate's majority conference leader, John Sampson, introduced identical legislation there, and it looked as though this fraud of an education-reform bill might pass until two Democratic senators, Craig Johnson from Long Island and Ruben Diaz, Sr. from the Bronx, joined Senate Republicans led by Dean Skelos and blocked the bill from coming to the floor for a vote. In the end, Albany's dysfunction prevailed and nothing was done. So while New York was among the 40 states to submit Race to the Top applications by the deadline this past Tuesday (another round of funding will take place later this year), it's doubtful that the state will receive any funding. Indeed, it shouldn't, if Race to the Top is to live up to its name.

While it's clear that the teachers' unions fear competition from the mostly nonunionized charters, it was stunning nonetheless to see such a brazen power play--especially since New York's charters are unquestionably succeeding.

More here

British government hypocrite won't send his kid to one of his own government schools

Avowed atheist (of Jewish background) David Miliband sends son to Church of England school

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has secured a highly coveted place for his eldest child at a Church of England school – even though he is an avowed atheist. Mr Miliband’s wife, Louise, started attending a church attached to the school two years before their five-year-old son gained his place.

The school is nearly two miles from the couple’s home, but its grades and Ofsted reports are only marginally better than a primary school just 80 yards from their front door.

The Milibands’ adopted son won a place at the school despite his father’s public assertion that he does not believe in God. It is understood that Mrs Miliband was brought up a Lutheran in the United States. However, the couple are following a growing trend among the middle classes to choose faith schools over other local primaries. It is understood they considered, but rejected, the possibility of their son attending the non-faith Primrose Hill Primary just yards from their £1.5million house in Primrose Hill, North London.

The local school’s recent Ofsted inspection was only slightly less favourable than that of the school their child now attends, which was described as ‘exceptional’.

Father Graeme Rowlands, the chairman of governors at the CofE school, said Mrs Miliband had regularly attended his church over the past two years. He admitted that he rarely saw Mr Miliband, whose atheism stems from his Left-wing secular upbringing. He is the son of Ralph Miliband, a Jewish immigrant and celebrated Marxist sociologist.

There is no suggestion that the Milibands broke any rules in securing a place for their child. However, Mrs Miliband’s decision to attend the church came some five years after she moved into the area. Yesterday Father Rowlands was unable to name the church where Mrs Miliband, a concert violinist, previously worshipped. He said: ‘I am sure I did know, but I can’t remember.’

Last night, Cecile de Toro Arias, a parent-governor at Primrose Hill Primary, said: ‘I know Mr Miliband did consider Primrose Hill school. He attended a winter festival in 2008 and did a tour of the school. He was with his wife and child. ‘He was very nice. At the time we wanted him to come but it is probably for the best that he didn’t, what with all the security involved. ‘Perhaps he decided to go with the other school because it is smaller, with more discipline. We don’t feel snubbed. It is probably for the best.’

Faith schools dominated last month’s league table of the best primaries in England. About two-thirds of the schools with ‘perfect’ SATs results were Anglican, Roman Catholic or Jewish schools, despite their making up only a third of schools nationally.

Critics claim that faith schools perform better because they cherry-pick the best pupils from a wide area.

Mr Miliband’s son started attending the CofE school in September. In its ‘outstanding’ Ofsted report, inspectors found no areas in need of improvement and described the school as ‘exceptional’. Primrose Hill Primary also received an ‘outstanding’ grade in its most recent Ofsted report, but inspectors criticised its attendance record.

According to the Ofsted results, the CofE school fared better in English, with 100 per cent of students gaining level four or above. In comparison, 95 per cent of Primrose Hill pupils achieved the same level. In maths, 96 per cent of pupils at the Milibands’ chosen school gained level four or above, compared with an almost identical 95 per cent at Primrose Hill. But the latter has a higher percentage of pupils with learning difficulties.

Local Liberal Democrat councillor Jo Shaw, who is deputy chairman of the board of governors at Primrose Hill Primary, said: ‘It’s disappointing when parents don’t choose to send their children to our school, especially when they live so close. ‘It’s a very good school. It achieved an outstanding Ofsted report. It’s a microcosm of Camden because the kids are so diverse. They’re incredibly well behaved.’

A statement from the Church school said: ‘In line with all state schools, initial priority is given to all 'looked-after' children [children in care]. As a voluntary-aided school, priority is then given to children who, with their parents, are committed members of the Church and regular worshippers. 'Mrs Miliband had been a practising member of the congregation in this parish for over a year prior to her application for a place at the school and still attends regularly.’

The Milibands have adopted two sons, one in 2004 and one three years later. Both were adopted in the US, where Mrs Miliband enjoys dual citizenship. In a Mail on Sunday survey conducted when Tony Blair converted to Catholicism shortly after leaving Downing Street, Mr Miliband was one of just two Cabinet Ministers who said categorically that they did not believe in God. The other was Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

A Foreign Office spokesman refused to comment.


Australia: Obstructive teachers could face fines

National website My School will be launched this week, giving parents unprecedented access to student results for every school in the nation. Saying it was "a major tool for transforming education in this country", Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday said she was determined the site would succeed. She said it would help identify the most advantaged and disadvantaged students and the country's richest and poorest schools.

But - with teachers threatening to boycott the national literacy and numeracy tests, the results of which are posted on the site - Ms Gillard said she had sent a stern warning the Rudd Government would take whatever action necessary to ensure the site contained as much information as possible. "I've pointed out that, under our workplace relations laws, if you take unprotected industrial action our law provides for the complainant to be penalised," she said. "I've said I won't rule anything in or out to ensure that national testing is done and done well."

Parents logging on to the website - to be launched on Thursday - will access information on student-teacher ratios, attendance rates, reading, writing and maths results for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 for the past two years plus results for national literacy, numeracy tests as well as Year 12 exams. Every primary and secondary school will have its own page, showing the number of boys, girls and indigenous students enrolled.

Ms Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the site would also measure wealth, with a socio-economic rating system for comparisons. "If you compare schools that are teaching similar kids around the country and you see that kids from one school are doing twice as good as the others, it's not the kid's fault - it's what's going on in the school," she said. Ms Gillard said it would be the first time parents and teachers could access so much information about their school. "I think it will spark a lot of conversation between parents and teachers ... it's going to drive better engagement and interest in their children's education."