Saturday, February 20, 2010

Education: Too Important for a Government Monopoly

The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools. But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: "Parents are voting with their feet. ... As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent." How revealing is that?

Since 1980, government spending on education, adjusted for inflation, has nearly doubled. But test scores have been flat for decades. Today we spend a stunning $11,000 a year per student -- more than $200,000 per classroom. It's not working. So when will we permit competition and choice, which works great with everything else? I'll explore those questions on my Fox Business program tomorrow night at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern time (and again Friday at 10 p.m.).

The people who test students internationally told us that two factors predict a country's educational success: Do the schools have the autonomy to experiment, and do parents have a choice?

Parents care about their kids and want them to learn and succeed -- even poor parents. Thousands line up hoping to get their kids into one of the few hundred lottery-assigned slots at Harlem Success Academy, a highly ranked charter school in New York City. Kids and parents cry when they lose.

Yet the establishment is against choice. The union demonstrated outside Harlem Success the first day of school. And President Obama killed Washington, D.C.'s voucher program.

This is typical of elitists, who believe that parents, especially poor ones, can't make good choices about their kids' education.

Is that so? Ask James Tooley about that. Tooley is a professor of education policy who spends most of every year in some of the poorest parts of Africa, India and China. For 10 years, he's studied how poor kids do in "free" government schools and -- hold on -- private schools. That's right. In the worst slums, private for-profit schools educate kids better than the government's schools do.

Tooley finds as many as six private schools in small villages. "The majority of (poor) schoolchildren are in private school, and these schools outperform government schools at a fraction of the teacher cost," he says.

Why do parents with meager resources pass up "free" government schools and sacrifice to send their children to private schools? Because, as one parent told the BBC, the private owner will do something that's virtually impossible in America's government schools: replace teachers who do not teach.

As in America, the elitist establishment in those countries scoffs at the private schools and the parents who choose them. A woman who runs government schools in Nigeria calls such parents "ignoramuses."

But that can't be true. Tooley tested kids in both kinds of schools, and the private-school students score better.

To give the establishment its best shot, consider Head Start, which politicians view as sacred. The $166 billion program is 45 years old, so it's had time to prove itself. But guess what: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently found no difference in first-grade test results between kids who went through Head Start and similar kids who didn't. President Obama has repeatedly promised to "eliminate programs that don't work," but he wants to give Head Start a billion more dollars. The White House wouldn't explain this contradiction to me.

Andrew Coulson, head of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Reform, said, "If Head Start (worked), we would expect now, after 45 years of this program, for graduation rates to have gone up; we would expect the gap between the kids of high school dropouts and the kids of college graduates to have shrunk; we would expect students to be learning more. None of that is true."

Choice works, and government monopolies don't. How much more evidence do we need?


Cookie-cutter elites required by the Ivy League

"There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow, but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. An ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language." -- (From Harvard College Admissions)

Next year my son will be applying to colleges, so we are currently collecting information about colleges he might apply to. One thing that strikes me is the degree to which the elite liberal arts colleges almost all want the same thing in their applicants —a standardized record of academic accomplishment whose production will have consumed most of the educational opportunities of four years of high school.

Consider the passage quoted above. Despite the initial disclaimer, the description of an "ideal four-year preparatory program" implies a pretty uniform picture of the ideal student. It is a picture that any reasonably intelligent and hard-working student should be able to fit —provided that he is more interested in getting into Harvard than in getting an education.

Reading? Four years of English will include lots of it, almost all selected and required by someone else —a pretty good way of persuading a student that reading is something only to be done when someone makes you do it. Science? There are, perhaps, high school age kids who are interested in every science offered by their school, or at least able to fake it. But they are less likely to make a real world contribution than the enthusiast who reads up on relativity and quantum mechanics when he is supposed to be studying Dickens —and thinks biology is icky.

Studying a language is for some people an interesting intellectual activity; speaking a foreign language can be a useful skill. But the world is full of interesting things to do and skills to learn. This particular skill is well short of essential for someone living in the middle of some three hundred million English speakers. So why make it the key to Harvard —in preference to the ability to build furniture, or write sonnets, or survive in the woods?

It is a poorly hidden secret that the reason professors give multiple choice tests is that, whatever their limitations as a tool for measuring learning, at least they are easy to grade. The attitude seems to have trickled down to the admissions officers. Make sure there is a check mark in each box. If too many applicants manage it, they can always be ranked by SAT scores. Perhaps give an extra point to an applicant who seems to actually know something outside the curriculum or care about something other than checking boxes.

If all else fails, flip a coin. Perhaps I am being unfair—I have not discussed my reaction with any admissions officers. But reading those web pages leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Australia: English teachers who don't know grammar

Grammar guide an 'education disaster'. The errors do seem to be bizarre. The author obviously knew nothing about grammar but just made it up as she went along. There is no logic or system in what she wrote -- JR

One of the world's most respected authorities on grammar has written to every school principal in Queensland, warning them of an error-strewn grammar guide distributed by the state's English Teachers Association. University of Queensland emeritus professor Rodney Huddleston says he was forced to write to schools directly because the English Teachers Association of Queensland refused to acknowledge or correct the 65 errors he had identified in its teaching guide on grammar, printed as a series of eight articles in its magazine.

In the letter, Professor Huddleston says the guide, called Grammar at the Coalface, "contains an exceptionally large number of errors -- over 60 in 15 1/2 pages of relevant text -- many of them very serious and basic, and including major misrepresentations of functional grammar". "It would be an educational disaster if teachers were to base their classes systematically and comprehensively on the Coalface Grammar," he says. "If students gave Coalface answers in tests and examinations, they would be marked wrong and generally regarded as lacking basic knowledge of grammar. "It is incontestable that it contains a great many errors, and I can see no justification for ETAQ's refusal to warn members of the dangers of using it as a teaching resource."

Professor Huddleston's view is supported by the former president of the Australian Linguistics Society, Randy LaPolla, who said Professor Huddleston was the "foremost expert on the English language and the grammar of the English language in the world".

Professor Huddleston, one of the principal authors of Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, first raised the errors in 2007 after the grammar guide appeared in the English teachers' magazine Words'Worth. As reported in The Australian in June 2008, Professor Huddleston wrote to the author, Lenore Ferguson, the magazine editor at the time, outlining the errors.

Dr Ferguson said at the time they were differences of opinion rather than errors, and the only mistakes she acknowledged were "mishaps" that had occurred in the editing process. Almost three years later, Dr Ferguson and the ETAQ still refuse to correct the guide, although the association has posted on its website until next month Professor Huddleston's critique and Dr Ferguson's response.

In her response, Dr Ferguson says the grammar guide "is now old business from a practitioner viewpoint" and "most of us have moved on". She says her intent was to provide a practical guide drawing on different types of grammar that would be useful in classrooms, but Professor Huddleston had replaced her "practical framing with a theoretical one and evaluates my articles from this superimposed perspective".

After being contacted by Professor Huddleston, Professor LaPolla, in his capacity as president of the linguistics society, wrote to Dr Ferguson in July 2008 urging her to publish corrected versions of the articles. In the letter, Professor LaPolla says his criticisms are the same as Professor Huddleston's, which were justified and not due to a different theoretical stance. Professor LaPolla told The Weekend Australian the mistakes in the grammar guide were basic errors and it was "bizarre" that school teachers in Queensland were telling Professor Huddleston he was wrong.

One of the errors cited by Professor Huddleston is "Sam's" -- as in "Sam's folder" -- being classified as a possessive pronoun, rather than the possessive form of a proper noun. Another example is the phrase "set of", as in "a set of bowls", being described as an adjective, which Professor Huddleston says is not a grammatical unit but a noun followed by a preposition.


Friday, February 19, 2010

NCLB Should Be Repealed, Not Revamped

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law by Bush in 2002, relied on financial coercion to improve state education standards and school district performance, with a focus on reading and math. This federal mandate, oddly supported by Republican lawmakers despite its obvious violation of limited government principles and states’ rights, was unnecessary and, according to some, unconstitutional.

Eight years later, the Obama administration wants to rewrite the act and pass a new law that will increase Washington’s role in the public school system and empower federal officials to address its perceived problems.

The success of private and charter schools is proof that the problem in education is the scope of government involvement itself, not the inadequacies of superintendents, principals, or teachers, as federal lawmakers would have us believe. American public schools are staffed by highly qualified individuals, many holding master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s, who know exactly what they’re doing. Their biggest obstacle to effective teaching is not lack of funding, but nose-poking bureaucrats whose educational philosophies are faulty at best, and more often intentionally injurious.

Washington has trouble enough running itself. Spending is out of control, a mountain of debt is piling up, and a majority of Congress seems not to understand the clear provisions of the Constitution regarding its own role in the nation’s affairs. How can we allow further intervention into a system that is deteriorating precisely because of said intervention? How, in good conscience, can we trust incompetent politicians to establish sound educational policies for our children?

Among the potential changes to NCLB proposed in Obama’s budget are increased teacher accountability standards, a competitive grant program for teacher recruitment and retention, competitive federal funding that would reward successful schools, and of course, tougher academic standards. The last is a vague goal voiced by every administration, while successful schools logically do not need federal “assistance.” That leaves the first two, which contradict one another.

A teacher’s job is to present information. Most students choose to learn the information, but some refuse. They attend classes because they are legally required to do so, but trudge through the system with poor grades until they are old enough to drop out. Assuming that an educator is qualified and teaches the established curriculum, why should he or she be reprimanded, or even punished financially, for the test scores of an apathetic pupil? Not only would this release students from taking personal responsibility and teach them to blame others for their own failures, it would also repel potential recruits.

What job-seeking teacher, perhaps fresh out of graduate school, would be attracted by the prospect of being held accountable for factors beyond his or her control, like student apathy or poorly devised curricula? Many might choose to work at a private school, gladly accepting a lesser salary to sidestep the bureaucratic hassle. The best way for lawmakers to assist in recruiting and retaining teachers is to get out of the classroom, and at any rate, district and state hiring practices should not be subject to federal oversight.

Obama is correct to revamp NCLB, but is mistaken about the proper action to take. Rather than use it as a foundation upon which to build an even more powerful and intrusive Department of Education, lawmakers would do better to simply repeal NCLB, pass the education issue back to the levels of government to which it belongs, and focus their attention on problems that the Constitution does authorize them to solve.

Congress has a recession, debt crisis, and ongoing war to deal with. Isn’t that enough without tackling education?


School accused of spying on students at home

Many American schools really seem to think they own the kids

A US high school has been accused of spying on students at home through webcams in their laptops. A lawsuit filed against the Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia claims laptop computers issued to students by the school came with remotely-activated webcams which it used to monitor their activities at home. The suit also alleges the school kept its ability to activate the cameras secret from students and parents when the laptops were issued.

The surveillance allegedly came to light after Harrington High School assistant principal Lindy Matsko reprimanded a student for "improper behaviour in his home". "Cited as evidence was a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff's personal laptop issued by the school district," the suit says. The boy's father then confronted Ms Matsko about the photograph and was told about the school's ability to turn the webcams on remotely, it claims.

The suit was filed on behalf of the student and his family as well as all other students and families who were affected. The Lower Merion district includes two schools with an estimated 1800 students.

It is alleged the school district, its board of directors and its superintendent violated several laws including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Civil Rights Act.


Shortchanging Our Students

Today’s college seniors lack basic knowledge of American history and institutions

Even in the depths of the Great Depression, with the economy bottomed out, Americans showed they could still think big. In just over a year, construction crews built a landmark that still stands proud, one recognized worldwide as a symbol of our country: the Empire State Building.

I recently visited the building to speak to an enthusiastic group of King’s College students about the need to return to the principles of our Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, as a new study shows, many students simply aren’t learning what makes America unique. In fact, what they are learning all too often helps divide rather than unite Americans. This study, titled “The Shaping of the American Mind,” is the latest in an annual series from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (, where I’m proud to serve as a trustee.

There’s no mystery as to why today’s college seniors lack basic knowledge of American history and institutions. Previous ISI reports revealed that schools of higher learning aren’t teaching these principles. At some elite universities the seniors know less than the freshmen. The reports also show that Americans agree colleges should teach students about our shared history and civic principles.

But does knowing the fundamental principles of “the American experiment” influence the beliefs of our citizens? That’s what this year’s report aimed to find out. ISI researchers directed 33 questions to a representative sample of roughly 2,500 Americans. Many questions were taken from U.S. naturalization exams and high-school achievement tests. The report reached some important conclusions.

For example, even though colleges aren’t teaching civic knowledge, it can be learned elsewhere: through religious institutions, patriotic organizations and books such as “We Still Hold These Truths,” by Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation.

And that leads to the report’s second finding. Civic knowledge, however learned, has a broader and more diverse influence on Americans’ thinking than college does. To cite one example, the report found that having more civic knowledge makes a person “more likely to agree that prosperity depends on entrepreneurs and free markets; but less likely to agree that the free market brings about full employment.” In other words, civic knowledge seems to make one more pragmatic but not more dogmatic. Those are traits Americans will need if we’re to pass along a better world to coming generations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the report concluded that additional civic knowledge increases a person’s belief in American ideals and institutions.

The ISI survey showed that, overall, “Sixty-three percent of Americans disagree that America corrupts otherwise good people, 61 percent of Americans disagree that America’s Founding documents are obsolete and 56 percent of Americans agree that prosperity depends upon entrepreneurs and free markets.”

It further found that people with greater civic knowledge are less likely to believe that America corrupts otherwise good people, less likely to believe that the Founding documents are irrelevant, and more likely to believe that the free enterprise system works.

As our economy works to recover from another meltdown, we need to keep thinking big. We need to help more Americans learn the basic principles of civil society. The way forward is in understanding our great shared history.

When the Empire State Building opened, former New York Gov. Al Smith said it was “built by the brains, the brawn, the ingenuity and the muscle of mankind.” The same applies to the United States. Let’s make sure we pass the very concept of American greatness down to the next generation.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Green" Student Indoctrination in Michigan

Michigan eighth-graders are 36th in the nation in math and 33rd in reading. But legislators are making sure they excel at what matters — like greening school buses by checking their tire pressures.

In 2006, Michigan created a bipartisan “Green School” law that tasked government to recognize schools with green programs. To qualify, an institution must task its students to complete half of a list of 20 green options, including:

— Making sure their school “has adopted an endangered species animal and posted a picture of it in a main traffic area.”

— That students participate in “a planned program of energy savings, including dusting coils on cafeteria refrigerators, placing film on windows, setting hot water heaters one degree lower, seeing how plants and trees strategically placed can save energy, and checking proper inflation on bus tires and other school vehicles once a month.”

— That the school be visited by an “ecological spokesperson, a representative of the Sierra Club, an endangered animal species show, or a similar presentation.”

— That “the school has solar power presentations or experiments, such as a solar cookout.”

— That “the school has science class projects in which students do several home energy improvements, such as . . . clean coils on home refrigerators, and install draft guards for the doors.”

— That “the school's classes visit internet sites where clicking saves rainforest habitat.”

In short, a program to indoctrinate students as green missionaries spreading the green gospel in school, home, and the community. Some 500 schools now participate in the program, reports the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, with legislation pending [PDF] this year to upgrade schools to “Emerald School” status (15 tasks completed) and “Evergreen School” status for completing all 20.

Michigan is one of a handful of states with a green-school program. Call it America’s Race to the Bottom.


Christian views on health matters not allowed to be mentioned?

Brad Lopez is one of several Fresno City College instructors who teach Health Science I, which the catalog describes as a survey of "contemporary science concepts and medical information designed to promote health." Topics include sexuality, nutrition, substance abuse, physical fitness and heredity. One would reasonably expect to encounter a variety of scientific explanations and discussions in such a setting. After all, the goal of education is not merely to impart politically correct pablum but rather to help students learn to evaluate data and think for themselves.

Unfortunately for Mr. Lopez, he is also a Christian, a designation which seems to have gotten under the skin of the ACLU and two of Lopez's students. Therefore, the ACLU is calling into question his ability to express his opinions, scientific theories and interpretations. Were he a mere Marxist at an American college, it is doubtful anyone would have taken notice of his interpretation of scientific data.

The ACLU of Northern California has written a letter to the school's administration complaining that Lopez quoted the Bible as proof that human life begins at conception and that he characterized homosexuality as a mental illness. The letter claims that such teaching violates California laws protecting gays from discrimination and prohibiting religious indoctrination at public schools. The ACLU asks Fresno City College "to act immediately to ensure that all its health classes provide only accurate and unbiased information."

First, such a statement about homosexuality is certainly one of a number of scientific positions regarding the “health” of gay behavior. For example, both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association maintained such a position well into the 1970's. It is now a minority opinion but one still held nonetheless by a number of scientists. There is no such thing as “unbiased” information when it comes to assessing homosexuality. Sexual behavior is hardly comparable to the law of gravity. All scientists and thinkers interpret the data and emerging research. Shall Mr. Lopez not offer his own interpretation or should he instead ask what interpretation the ACLU would categorize as “unbiased” and “accurate”? After all, he is the teacher of the class, and that is what teachers do – share their opinions and interpretations of the data.

Jacqueline Mahaffey, 24, had Lopez as a teacher last semester, and said his personal beliefs appeared on the first day of class when he made a point of contradicting their textbook, which listed cancer as the leading cause of death. Lopez told the class that abortions kill more human beings than cancer. Of course, Mr. Lopez is technically correct although that fact seems not to hold much weight against a tidal wave of political correctness. Again, what might be “accurate and unbiased” information regarding the beginning of human life?

Most scientists (and theologians) agree that human life begins at conception. What they dispute is when a human receives a “soul.” But few scientists deviate from the idea of human life's beginning at conception.

Ms. Mahaffey said she nonetheless stayed in the class and earned an A. Lopez clearly was not inculcating religious belief, or Ms. Mahaffey's disagreements with his positions would surely have prevented her from earning an A in the course.

Evidently, in the ACLU's world, only one interpretation is welcome: An interpretation where abortion is not viewed as destroying a human life and one where homosexuality is seen as a lifestyle equivalent to any other. That is their definition of “accurate” and “unbiased;” to disagree invites censoring. And I thought universities were places for the free exchange of ideas and thought. Silly me.

It is little wonder that American college campuses contain the last vestiges of Marxism in the world. Free speech is refused, free inquiry is denied and free thinking is squelched, all in the name of political correctness. Bill Ayers would be proud. And the ACLU should be embarrassed.

Some thoughts and ideas simply cannot be explored. Feelings are more important than truth. And that is a scary place to be.


British government school rejects educational excellence in favour of Leftist ideology

Labour Party member Joanna Leapman became a governor at her children's school to make state education better for everyone. Here she explains how the system has failed and why she ended up resigning

The appointment of our new junior school head teacher in 2008 seemed too good to be true. For the last few years, I had slowly come to accept my children would never benefit from the same sort of education that I had had in a small village school. The school my three children attend, in a multiracial London neighbourhood, has its fair share of problems, and head teachers had long brushed off its below-average results with excuses of 'pupil mobility’, 'high need area’ and 'vulnerable children’. Everyone had seemed too busy dealing with discipline to give anyone a chance to shine, flourish or even enjoy their education.

In 2006, I had been elected on to the governing body which served both the infant and junior schools – but I soon felt I was banging my head against a brick wall. In our area of London, there are a fair number of middle-class families but many opt for church schools or private education instead. Yet my ideas for attracting more of these parents were ignored. I was told it was not the done thing to compete with other schools or play the same game as private schools by selling ourselves. I had eventually persuaded the infant school, which had a separate head teacher, to host open days for prospective new parents but when they turned up they received a lengthy presentation on our 'strong inclusion agenda’, meaning that we catered well for children with special needs or behaviour problems. Got a bright child? Look elsewhere.

The number of disruptive and violent children in our children’s classes was high. They were never excluded — even temporarily. And their behaviour was made worse by disruptions to their learning, such as job-shares often used to accommodate weak teachers whom the head couldn’t bring herself to get rid of.

But suddenly in 2008 we had a new head at the junior school. A former banker turned teacher, he was full of determination and spark. His language was refreshingly jargon-free and optimistic. He ripped the school budget apart, weeded out ineffective staff, came down hard on poor behaviour with temporary exclusions, reorganised the classes to put similar children together, introduced setting in Year 6, brought in excellent teachers and built a science lab.

More importantly, he gave children an enthusiasm for learning. For the first time in a long time, my eldest child, aged eight at the time, had a smile on her face. And it wasn’t just our child. Other bright children such as our daughter felt they were being challenged, not just biding their time while the teacher dealt with the difficult kids. For once, I saw children leaving the school gates enthused, excited and motivated. Even parents of the 'difficult kids’ were pleased. They told me they were happy their children were finally being dealt with, not being given a series of mixed messages by a stream of educational welfare officers, educational psychologists and behaviour specialists.

Within a year, the junior school’s SAT results had turned round. With a 17 per cent increase in maths results, it was ranked the fourth most improved primary in Croydon. The authority’s own inspectors had moved it from a 'notice to improve’ school to 'good’ in just two terms of his headship.

And the head’s new projects and ideas were just flowing in. Now a specialist science school, we had a school house system named after Galileo, Newton and Darwin, with children competing to sit on top table at lunch. Enlisting a local inventor, pupils pitched their ideas to join a mini Dragon’s Den club and became the only school to take inventions to the Inventors’ Fair in Alexandra Palace last year. The best scientists in the school were treated to an astronomy day at University College London. And money was coming in left, right and centre too. The head knew how to draw up a bid and attracted sponsorships for a variety of projects including a new amphitheatre in the school grounds. And there was talk of a deal with a coffee shop to put in a quiet area for staff and parents.

He just did things. When he needed a classroom, he found a disused area and created one. Storage areas and medical rooms were not being used, so he brought in a builder during the holidays to knock them through. He even sold an unused kiln on eBay for school funds.

Parents at neighbouring schools pulled their children out and put them into ours, some even moved from private prep schools. Suddenly we were full, with a waiting list. The school was on a fast track to being outstanding. And at last, as a senior governor, my work with the new head was starting to make a difference.

It was in stark contrast to our sister infant school, whose head teacher – like many others – went along with the institutionalised box-ticking and consultation exercises that are squeezing the creativity and excellence out of our public services. Several highly disruptive and violent children were still in the school in the name of 'inclusion’ and had contributed to the resignation of a couple of excellent teachers. Many classes were being run by supply teachers or job-shares, as teachers took time out to train or help out at a nearby struggling school, as part of some new Government strategy.

The needs of higher ability pupils were never a priority in the infant school. The Government’s Gifted and Talented scheme was set up to address this but were never fully implemented. Under the scheme, the top 10 per cent of children are supposed to be identified, tracked and specially catered for in every lesson. But the infant school’s most able pupils attend a 10-week course run by a teaching assistant and are then taken off it to give the less able a chance. Run properly, a good Gifted and Talented programme should keep the more academic children challenged and enthusiastic about school but many teachers don’t believe in it, and now, it seems the Government is following their lead. As The Sunday Telegraph revealed last month, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) intends to scrap the scheme entirely.

So, when our governing body took the decision last year to merge both our infant and junior schools under one head teacher, and both head teachers competed for the job, some of us parents assumed there could only be one winner. This new superhead should have just walked into the job, right? Wrong.

Instead the governing body chose the head teacher who had been at the infant school for 14 years but had not worked with junior schoolchildren since at least 1995, predating the introduction of SATs. Our chance of becoming something very special had just been snatched away. The superhead will be out of a job this summer – after just two years in the post.

Here was fresh life being breathed into a stale education system weighed down by paperwork, statistics, targets and policies. But the governors, and ultimately the local authority, who had to verify the appointment, didn’t want it.

But I had seen it coming. Other governors didn’t like his ideas because they were not in keeping with “the way things are done in education”; his confidence and determination for excellence was put down as 'arrogance’; and they were angry that things such as the House System had happened without endless weeks of consultation with every parent and 'stakeholder’.

Instead they were happy to congratulate the infant head teacher for signing off policies, involvement in Government initiatives, producing the right graphs, analysing the performance of every minority group and gaining an Inclusion Charter Mark – an enormous box-ticking project that was a pat on the back for accommodating difficult kids at the expense of other children. This new logo that can be added to our headed paper is just one of a number of awards that have become part of the culture, including Healthy Schools Award, Arts Mark, Investors in People, Sports Award, Basic Skills Award and the Eco-schools Green Flag. All of these take teachers away from the business of teaching – not to mention the misdirection of DCSF resources....

During my time as chair of the personnel committee, I was astonished at the lack of commitment to tackling poor teaching standards and practice. The calibre of candidates at interviews was very low. Four candidates applying for a deputy headship had two A-levels between them. The people running our schools should at least be reasonably bright, not people who have cobbled together Mickey Mouse GCSE passes in textiles and media studies and then took conversion courses at the local college. David Cameron was on to something when he announced last month that Tory policy would not allow graduates with a Third to enter the profession. Many primary schools are lucky to attract graduates at all.

My case is not unique. Throughout the system we see new targets being pushed instead of the actual job of teaching. The inclusion agenda has turned many of our state schools into places preoccupied with the needs of difficult and disruptive kids. Teaching has become second-place, with many senior teachers seeing themselves as social workers. Heads are even fined in some areas for excluding troublemakers.

I’m a Labour Party member who became a school governor because I had a firm belief in state education and was determined to do my bit to make it better for everyone. But the system has let me down. Some of our local head teachers are hell-bent on pushing inclusion but have their own children in private schools. They seem happy to accept state schools as sink schools which should not be catering for the middle classes.

But the ones who suffer most are the bright kids from working-class families who can’t afford to move or go private. They are the ones left behind, along with those heads who accept mediocrity instead of pushing for excellence.

More here

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clever! Sydney University (Australia) dumbs down its image

A Latin motto is dignified and a mark of interest in scholarship but U. Syd would rather be "modern". They claim to be aiming at making themselves stand out but in fact have just joined the common herd. It is a long time since I graduated from U. Syd but if I were a recent graduate I might well feel that my degree had been devalued -- that I had graduated from an ordinary university rather than a distinguished one. But I guess that the Left who dominate academe these days despise all traditions -- even a tradition of high scholarship. Perhaps they suspect -- probably rightly -- that they are not up to the standard of their predecessors

After 150 years the University of Sydney has abandoned its status quo, dropping the Latin motto from its redesigned coat of arms and logo. Students and scholars have turned to the new technology of social networking to launch a campaign calling for the reinstatement of the Latin inscription.

The university spent almost $750,000 on the research and redesign that axed the motto: "sidere mens eadem mutato" - a reference to Sydney following the traditions of universities in the northern hemisphere. A further $500,000 was spent replacing marketing material such as banners and street signage, the university said.

The motto - most commonly translated as "the constellation is changed, the disposition is the same" - has been part of the university's coat of arms since 1857. As a first-time astronaut, Greg Chamitoff, a former university staff member, even took a patch of the crest into space on the shuttle Discovery in 2008.

Marian Theobald, the university's external relations executive director, said market research, overseen by the Chicago-based firm Lipman Hearne, had found the university relied too heavily on its sandstone heritage and something "bolder, more energetic and more modern" was needed. "The opinion of thousands of students, academics, alumni, donors and business groups was canvassed, and we discovered the university was struggling to differentiate itself from other elite Australian institutions, in the domestic and international market place," she said. "We needed to engage better with the outside world. The removal of the Latin motto during the joint design work by Lipman Hearne and the Australian firm Moon Design was purely practical. It's hard to reproduce and read online. It was impossible to read when reduced in size. "The motto will still be used by the university and will be maintained for more formal purposes, such as on testamurs."

Ms Theobald said suggestions that between $5 million and $13 million had been spent on the branding project were ridiculous. Costs had been kept to a minimum by allowing supplies of old stationery stock, publications and merchandise to exhaust naturally.

Emily Matters, president of the Classical Language Teachers Association, said the removal was hugely disappointing. "I think this goes against everything what universities stand for where one generation hands over its culture to the next," she said.

Anthony Alexander, president of the Classical Association of NSW, who also teaches Greek and Latin at the University of Sydney, said the deletion was far from a dumbing down of the university or a denigration of Latin. "What matters is what we teach, what we actually do in the classrooms," he said. "I don't think it compromises Latin, which is stronger than ever."

Elly Howse, president of the University of Sydney Students' Representative Council, said rebranding or a new logo was a failed approach at modernising the university's image. "The money should have been spent on teaching and learning facilities," she said.

A Facebook page titled "Bring back the old USYD crest" calls for reinstatement of the Latin motto, saying the new design was better suited to a primary school.

The University of NSW, meanwhile, said it had no intention of removing its Latin motto, "manu et mente" (with hand and mind) from its coat of arms.

The university adopted its new logo and the styling of its coat of arms with a soft launch in mid-January. The coat of arms mantling and the shape of the escutcheon (shield) have changed and the motto scroll is removed. The mane and fur of the lion have been changed, along with the number of lines in the open book and the coloration.


U.S. schools are doing their intended job

I sometimes grow weary listening to people complaining that the government schools are doing a terrible job. I have many objections to this horrid system, but I must give it credit for accomplishing its actual – but unstated – purpose, namely, to dumb-down the minds of people so as to make them unquestioning and obedient vassals of the established order. There is nothing so disruptive to the status quo as a society of self-directed, independent-minded people both capable of and insistent on informed, analytical thought. It has been the purpose of government schools to assure that such conditions do not arise; to continue to produce a society of capable workers but who, nonetheless, have passive and contented minds.

The contrast between systems of learning that focus on helping students become epistemologically independent and competent, and the government schools, is often difficult to make other than by anecdotal examples. When I was in the eighth-grade in a government school, we were required to study Latin. That revelation, standing by itself, conveys little to a listener. Only occasionally am I able to find some past curricular evidence with which to compare modern school offerings.

Thanks to the Internet, however, I have rediscovered an interesting item that helps make my point. It is an eighth grade exam that students in Salina, Kansas, were required to pass in order to advance to high school (i.e., the ninth grade). The exam was given in 1895, and consists of the following subject areas and questions.

"Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.

2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.

3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.

4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.

5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.

6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.

7–10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts. per bu, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?

4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.

6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.

7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?

8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.

9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?

10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.

2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.

3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.

4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.

5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.

6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.

7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?

8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?

2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?

3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?

4. Give four substitutes for caret "u."

5. Give two rules for spelling words with final "e." Name two exceptions under each rule.

6. Give two rules of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.

7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.

8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.

9. Use the following correctly in sentences: Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?

2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?

3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?

4. Describe the mountains of N.A.

5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.

6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.

7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.

8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?

9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.

10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.

1. Where are the saliva, gastric juice, and bile secreted? What is the use of each in digestion?

2. How does nutrition reach the circulation?

3. What is the function of the liver? Of the kidneys?

4. How would you stop the flow of blood from an artery in the case of laceration?

5. Give some general directions that you think would be beneficial to preserve the human body in a state of health."

If you have any eighth-grade children in government schools, you might consider taking this set of questions to your next parent-teacher conference and ask if the students are learning at a substantive level that would allow them to provide intelligent answers. If you feel even more courageous, you might ask the teacher whether he/she is capable of giving the kinds of responses once expected of thirteen year-olds in Kansas. You will probably be told that the subject matter of this earlier test is peculiar to the time and place in which it was given; and that nineteenth-century teenagers would likely be unable to name the first winner on the "American Idol" program, or to write a sentence that includes the phrase "fer sure, dude", or to locate the site (sight? cite?) of Neverland Ranch!


Unionized Rhode Island Teachers Refuse To Work 25 Minutes More Per Day, So Town Fires All Of Them

I hope the town sticks to its guns. Far too many teachers are overpaid prima donnas

A school superintendent in Rhode Island is trying to fix an abysmally bad school system. Her plan calls for teachers at a local high school to work 25 minutes longer per day, each lunch with students once in a while, and help with tutoring.

The teachers' union has refused to accept these apparently onerous demands. The teachers at the high school make $70,000-$78,000, as compared to a median income in the town of $22,000. This exemplifies a nationwide trend in which public sector workers make far more than their private-sector counterparts (with better benefits).

The school superintendent has responded to the union's stubbornness by firing every teacher and administrator at the school. A sign of things to come?


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

U.S. public schools face cash crunch as “stimulus” scam winds down

Since many private schools get by on half as much money per pupil, a way out of the problem is in principle available

The nation's public schools are falling under severe financial stress as states slash education spending and drain federal stimulus money that staved off deep classroom cuts and widespread job losses. School districts have already suffered big budget cuts since the recession began two years ago, but experts say the cash crunch will get a lot worse as states run out of stimulus dollars.

The result in many hard-hit districts: more teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, smaller paychecks, fewer electives and extracurricular activities, and decimated summer school programs.

The situation is particularly ugly in California, where school districts are preparing for mass layoffs and swelling class sizes as the state grapples with another massive budget shortfall.

The crisis concerns parents like Michelle Parker in San Francisco, where the school district is preparing to lay off hundreds of school employees and raise class sizes because it faces a $113 million budget deficit over next two years. "I'm worried they're not going to have the quality education that's going to make them competitive in a global society," said Parker, who has three kids in district elementary schools.

Around the country, state governments are cutting money for schools as they grapple with huge budget gaps triggered by high unemployment, sluggish retail sales and falling real estate prices. A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 41 states face midyear budget shortfalls totaling $35 billion. "The states are facing a dismal financial picture," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy.

The Obama administration's $787 billion federal stimulus package provided roughly $100 billion for education, including $54 billion to stabilize state budgets. In October the White House said the stimulus created or saved 250,000 education jobs.

But many states have used most of their stimulus money, leaving little to cushion budget cuts in the coming fiscal year. Experts say the looming cuts could weaken the nation's public schools, worsen unemployment, undermine President Obama's education goals and widen the achievement gap between students in rich and poor districts.

Wealthier communities are filling school budget gaps with local tax increases and aggressive fundraising, but could worsen inequality and undermine the larger system for paying for public schools, said John Rogers, who heads the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.

In Michigan, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate, school districts lost 2 percent of their state money this year and could lose another 4 percent next year because of a projected government shortfall of $1.6 billion. Most of more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money is gone. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed an incentive program to entice about 39,000 public school employees to retire, but that plan has been criticized by the state's largest teachers union.

In Washington state, school districts that lost $1.7 billion in state money over the past two years are bracing for another round of cuts as lawmakers try to plug a $2.8 billion state deficit. Seattle Public Schools, the state's largest district, plans to lay off nonunion staff, freeze hiring, create more efficient bus routes and increase class sizes further to close an expected budget shortfall of $24 million.

In Florida, public schools are being squeezed by state budget cuts and an unexpected increase in student enrollment, including an influx of Haitian students in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake. Districts have been coping by closing schools during breaks, cutting energy costs and changing transportation routes, but the next round of cuts is expected to hit classrooms. "We're at a point now where you just can't stretch that rubber band any further," said Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

More here

British High School league tables 'skewed by vocational courses'

Secondary schools are dramatically inflating their positions in league tables by entering more pupils for practical courses, despite fears they lack quality, it has been claimed. New figures show that results for 16-year-olds taking vocational qualifications has improved twice as fast as those for pupils only studying GCSEs. The disclosure – in data published following a Parliamentary question by the Liberal Democrats – prompted claims that pupils were taking “easier” courses just to boost rankings.

Some vocational qualifications in subjects such as computing and travel and tourism are worth the same as four GCSEs, despite taking half the time to teach. Last month, it emerged that the number of pupils taking a course in information and communication technology (ICT) had soared six-fold in just two years, despite being branded of “doubtful value” by Ofsted. The watchdog found that qualifications – such as the OCR National in ICT – were “often less demanding” than other mainstream exams.

David Laws, the Lib Dem schools spokesman, said: “These new figures raise some serious concerns about the real causes of the increase in take-up of some qualifications. “The Lib Dems are passionate about enabling more students to access vocational courses, but we should not be encouraging schools to push pupils towards certain qualifications simply to improve their school’s league table position.”

The Tories have pledged to remove vocational qualifications from GCSE league tables to stop schools attempting to manipulate official rankings. Mr Laws rejected the move, but added: “It must now be time for a fundamental review of the equivalence of different qualifications to remove the present perverse incentives.”

Official league tables show the number of pupils gaining five GCSEs graded A* to C. It also counts “equivalent” qualifications – such as BTECs and GNVQs – which are converted into GCSE points to give a comparable score. According to figures, some 45.1 per cent of pupils who took GCSEs in 1997 gained five good grades – the same as the number taking GCSEs and equivalent courses. A year later, 46.2 per cent of GCSE pupils gained five good grades, but when equivalents were added the score increased to 46.3 per cent.

According to official data, the gap between raw GCSE results and those including other qualifications has widened ever since. By 2009, some 57.5 per cent of GCSE pupils gained five A* to C grades, but it jumped to 69.7 per cent when equivalents were added. It means the pass rate with practical courses has increased twice as fast as the score without.

Last month, the headmaster of Harrow warned that poor children were being deceived into taking “worthless qualifications” that failed to prepare them for the world of work. Allowing teenagers to apply for jobs armed with “soft” GCSEs and A-levels was the same as allowing an X-Factor contestant to believe she could be the next Britney Spears when she could not sing, it was claimed. Barnaby Lenon warned that the drive to arm pupils will growing numbers of specially-tailored qualifications was simply “dumbing down” the education system.


Australia: Failed trainee teachers 'allowed to graduate'

It shows how desperate the system is to get warm bodies into failing government schools

TRAINEE teachers who fail their teaching rounds in schools are being allowed to graduate and take charge of classrooms, according to the Victorian Principals Association. Primary school principals have accused universities responsible for teacher training of ignoring their advice that some trainee teachers are unfit to graduate.

University students studying to become school teachers must complete part of their coursework in teaching rounds at schools to gain practical experience and put theory into practice. But Gabrielle Leigh, president of the VPA, which represents principals from private and public primary schools, has told The Age school leaders are angry about the incidence of universities rejecting their school's assessment of a trainee teacher's performance.

"If there's a situation where the school feels the student teacher is not ready to teach, a lot of the time the university tutor will overturn the school's recommendation," said Ms Leigh. "The institution says the person is fit to teach, they graduate and then they come into schools. There are enough instances of this happening for us to be concerned about it."

The association has written a position paper on teacher quality, prompted by a groundswell of concern from its members about the training system's flaws.

Ms Leigh said previous federal government funding cuts to universities had also weakened education faculty tutors' ability to oversee the teaching rounds of trainees. "We get a very limited service from most universities," she said. "In the past a tutor might have come out twice to see how a trainee was going. Now you might get one flying visit, if that."

Victorian Institute of Teaching chief executive officer Andrew Ius urged the association to give him details of cases where school reports on unfit trainees had been rejected. The institute is responsible for accrediting teacher-training courses and registering teachers. "I'm disappointed we have not heard from the VPA because the issue is something we would be very concerned about," he said.

The Victorian Council of Deans of Education, which represents universities that provide teacher training, rejected the principals' criticisms. Its president, Annette Gough, said she did not know of any cases where school decisions had been overturned without a university consulting the school. Under university protocols, students who fail a teaching round are given a second chance to repeat the round at another school. Those who fail two rounds are liable to be suspended for a year and have to reapply to finish their course. "We greatly value supervising teachers' opinions," Professor Gough said.

"A student could fail one round but end up graduating because they've passed other rounds at other schools." However, she said the teaching-round component of teacher training was in crisis because successive federal governments had failed to provide enough funds to universities to cover the cost. Universities were battling to find classroom teachers to supervise trainees. Only 25 per cent of teachers in government schools, 12 per cent in Catholic and 10 per cent in independent schools were willing to do the job, according to the council's research.

SF School Board Passes Gay Support Program

(San Francisco, California) Last week, the San Francisco School Board unanimously approved substantial increases in funding for gay and lesbian instructional services, despite massive revenue shortfalls.
The resolution calls for adding a district position to manage "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning" youth issues. It also requires the district to keep tabs on harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and distribute educational packets every year to parents encouraging them to discuss sexuality, gender identity and safety with their children.

The measure, sponsored by the city's Youth Commission and Human Rights Commission and the district's Student Advisory Council, requires district staff to seek outside funding to cover the costs, but guarantees at least a half-time position and other services regardless.

About 13 percent of San Francisco's middle school students and 11 percent of high school students self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to a district survey.

Despite San Francisco's reputation as a gay-friendly city, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students more frequently experience harassment and are more likely to consider suicide, district officials said during the meeting.

In addition, 43 percent of those middle schools students - 430 children - said they didn't go to school because they didn't feel safe compared with 11 percent of heterosexual students.

"It's the data that's driving my decision," said board member Norman Yee, his voice filling with emotion as he wiped away tears.
Heh. Tax dollars tearfully working.

Goldie Hawn Buddhist Educational Charity

(UK) This report caught my attention.
Goldie Hawn, the Hollywood actress who runs an educational charity with Buddhist values, is in talks with the Conservative party about its plans for independent state-funded schools.

The 64-year-old Private Benjamin star, who describes herself as a Jewish Buddhist, met Dominic Cummings, the chief of staff for Michael Gove, the Shadow schools secretary.

They discussed the possibility of her charity, which runs schools in America and Canada, opening a state-funded facility in the UK.

The Hawn Foundation teaches the Buddhist technique of "mindfulness training", which emphasises social and emotional progress over academic testing and the use of simple breathing exercises to boost learning power.
It seems that Goldie Hawn's primary philosophy on education is to teach children to understand their emotions. Reading, writing and arithmetic are secondary considerations, apparently.

I question Hawn's philosophy. Understanding one's emotions sounds good but I contend the quality hardly makes one employable. In fact, I'd suggest most employers aren't in the least bit interested in whether a worker understands his/her emotions.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Children of the British poor a year behind when they start school, study says

Children from poor families are already a year behind in vocabulary tests when they start school, according to research published today. It reveals the full impact of upbringing and home life on attainment [Utter rubbish. It is another confirmation of the amply documented fact that the average IQ is lower among the poor. A smart kid from a poor background usually doesn't stay poor. He usually moves into the middle class one way or another -- and then his kids mostly stay outside the ranks of the poor too], and how those from troubled or impoverished homes can fall behind at a young age. Many never catch up with better-off classmates and become stuck in a cycle of underachievement.

The report, by the Sutton Trust, highlights the importance of activities such as bedtime stories and taking children to museums and libraries. In isolation, these appear to have a bigger impact on progress than wealth.

It shows that home environment has an overwhelming influence on children’s academic achievement and raises questions in the build-up to the general election about whether social mobility has declined under Labour. [It certainly has some influence but genetics is the main influence. I come from a poor background but I was reading Homer in my teens and have never looked back --JR]

Researchers from the trust, a charity that aims to cut inequality in education, said that politicians had oversimplified the problem by using phrases such as “Broken Britain”, and polarising the argument of whether poverty or parenting was the root cause.

They tracked the performance of more than 12,000 five-year-olds, and found that the poorest fifth were almost a year behind pupils from middle-income families and 16 months behind those from rich backgrounds when they started school.

The report said: “Parenting style, for example rules about bedtimes and factors like parental reading and trips to museums and galleries, contribute up to half of the explained cognitive gap between the lowest and middleincome families.”

Forty-five per cent of children from the poorest backgrounds were read to every day at age 3, compared with 78 per cent from the richest families. When all other factors were equal, those read to daily had a vocabulary two months ahead of peers. Children taken to the library regularly were 2.5 months ahead, as were those who had regular bedtimes. Parenting and home environment were responsible for almost half of the gap in achievement, the report said. Material possessions such as internet access, cars and good living conditions, or lack of them, caused about 30 per cent of the difference. Maternal and child health accounted for about 10 per cent, and whether the mother was employed and the type of childcare was responsible for the other 10 per cent. [No mention about how much each of those factors was influenced by IQ]

However, there was an overlap between wealth and home life. A third of children from the most impoverished homes were born to parents without a good GCSE, and the parents of two thirds had split up by the time the child was aged 5.

The report said: “In some poor households, good parenting can still overcome these limitations and lead to high-achieving children.”

It recommended setting up children’s centres to offer effective parenting programmes. It also said that the funding intended to pay for free nursery places for all three and four-year-olds should be diverted to provide 25 hours of nursery education for all two to four-year-olds from the most disadvantaged families.

Lee Elliot Major, research director at the trust, said: “We suspect parenting is an even bigger factor than the statistics show. Good parenting trumps adversity in terms of poverty, but at the same time poverty is a big factor in this. There’s a political debate; David Cameron was quoted as saying it’s warmth not wealth that matters in parenting. But sometimes these are nuanced issues that get politicised and polarised to parenting vs poverty, which is an oversimplification.”

Michael Gove, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, accused the school system of failing the most deprived children. According to analysis by the Tories, only 45 children on free school meals get into Oxford or Cambridge each year, but an average of 82 pupils a year went to Oxbridge from one leading independent school, Westminster.


Australia: No mathematics teacher in a NSW government High School? Due to lack of money says schools boss

So a teacher is replaced by a website. It's not money that is needed. It's a congenial working environment. Teaching was once seen as a noble profession. With today's chaotic schools, capable people avoid a teaching career. Some previous imbecilic comments from the pig's Trotter here (3rd article down)

NEW South Wales schools are doing all they can to attract maths teachers but are competing with higher-paying employers for a small pool of talent, a senior education official says.

The comments come after revelations that HSC students at Davidson High School in Sydney's north were being forced to teach themselves maths online because of a teacher shortage. The students have been without a qualified 2-unit maths teacher for the first month of year 12, following the retirement of a teacher last year.

NSW Department of Education and Training director-general Michael Coutts-Trotter says Davidson High School is searching for a permanent teacher and an interim teacher will be sent to the school tomorrow.

Mr Coutts-Trotter says he understands the frustration of parents and students, but the school has done all it can to support the students and to try to find a suitable permanent teacher. "They've begun the HSC year with a whole lot of undesirable changes, but the school has done everything it possibly can to support the people in that class," Mr Coutts-Trotter told Fairfax Radio Network.

"Nationally in the last 15 years people are taking fewer challenging maths and science subjects through their schooling, and as a result there is a shrinking pool of people of real ability in maths and science to take up teaching positions. "We're also competing for their skills against the finance sector particularly."

Mr Coutts-Trotter said about $7 million a year was being spent on scholarships, retraining and a range of inducements to encourage more people to train as teachers.


Stigma, Gay Philosophers, And Christian Colleges

Maybe I am missing something here but it seems to me that the American Philosophical Association is making it MORE difficult for homosexuals to get jobs at Christian colleges. In the current job market, the college should have a big range of choice among potential philosophy teachers and should be able to find one that suits it just fine -- JR

Inside Higher Ed reports this morning that Calvin College, a “distinctively Christian” liberal arts college, has become the first institution to run afoul of a new rule adopted by the American Philosophical Association “requiring any college that violates any part of the association's anti-bias policy to have job listings with the association flagged.” The rule was adopted last year because of the opposition of many philosophers to “having their association list jobs from institutions that do not hire gay professors.”
One aim of the policy, proponents said, was to then be able to lobby colleges to change their policies. Some philosophers are now trying to do just that with a petition urging the college to accept gay professors. “One might puzzle over a form of Christianity that is committed to the inequality of people, and in particular of job applicants for positions in philosophy. More disturbing, however, is the stigma Calvin College feels entitled to place upon those who are doubly exposed: as lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgendered in a society that has yet to accept them, and as people seeking jobs during difficult economic times.

I don’t want to address the substance of this issue here. For what it’s worth (about what you paid for it), I don’t believe employers should discriminate against gay applicants, and I also believe religious institutions deserve broad exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and regulations that violate their religious beliefs.

But I do want to address two petition points quoted above, one of which I question as a matter of fact and the other strikes me as just whiningly silly.

First, the questionable fact: I wonder if the “stigma” Calvin College allegedly inflicts on gays by refusing to hire them is actually greater in our society and culture at large (not to mention among the opinion-shaping elites) than the “stigma” suffered, especially in academic circles, by “distinctively Christian” institutions and individuals. Clearly representatives of Calvin College and similar institutions would be no more welcome at meetings of the American Philosophical Society or other assemblies of culture-producing citizens (despite the “diversity” they would provide to such gatherings) than gay professors are at Calvin or than blacks were at Bob Jones University when its tax exemption was revoked.

Now the whiningly silly: I’m sorry philosophers are having trouble finding jobs, but I don’t think their difficulty imposes any additional duty to be nice to them on Calvin College, nor does it make them “doubly exposed.” All those “seeking jobs during difficult economic times” are equally “exposed,” and that exposure is no worse, no different, for philosophy applicants (even gay philosophy applicants) than for anyone else.

Do philosophers really want to argue that since gay philosophy applicants are “doubly exposed” they deserve special, preferential treatment? Oh wait, don’t answer that....


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dishonest British exam marks betray kids

Grades are so inflated that real ability can only be guessed at. I am not entirely sympathetic with the kid below, though. Why would he want to study English? He can read all the poems and novels he likes on his own and where is it going to get him anyway? English was by far my best subject but I did not major in it as I could not see the point of wasting a university education on it. My worst subject was always mathematics but I ended up teaching statistics for most of my university teaching career. Reality is often far from the ideal but it pays to recognize it

A new A-level grade intended to help universities pick the most able applicants risks falling victim to the grade inflation it was meant to solve. Candidates are being rejected by universities despite being predicted to score at least three A*s in their A-levels this summer, when the grade is awarded for the first time.

With about one in eight A-level candidates now scoring straight As and thousands rejected each year by Oxford and Cambridge alone, it had been hoped that the A* would identify the academic elite. Figures released last week showed applications to degree courses were up by 23% on last year and the A* has increased the pressure on pupils.

Among those who have been turned down is Robert Kehoe, 18, a grammar school pupil from Lincolnshire, who says he has been rejected by Cambridge and three other universities despite being predicted to win three A*s and an A. To gain an A*, candidates must achieve an average of 80% in exams across their two years of A-level study and 90% in exams in the second year.

Only a handful of universities include A*s in their offers — most successful applicants to Cambridge are told they must gain at least one of the grades this summer. The university is understood to have made its first three A*s offer within the past few days.

Research by the university suggests that even three A*s may not set candidates apart from the crowd. Cambridge analysed the A-level marks scored by present undergraduates and found that 45% of science students and a quarter of those in arts subjects would have gained three or more A* grades. At least 70% of science students and 55% of those in the arts would have merited at least two A*s.

Tutors believe this is likely to be an underestimate of the numbers who will obtain the grades this summer.

“We are told by teachers that students are working much harder than they used to when they knew they were on target for an A grade,” said Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge.

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College school in Oxford, who co-chairs the main independent schools universities committee, said his school had been advised by Cambridge that applicants to study medicine might need A*s across all their subjects to stand out. He added that Cambridge was being “commendably open and helpful”, in contrast to other universities which had said they would not even acknowledge the A*, potentially magnifying the injustice to pupils. “Students should be aware that admissions systems are heading for a dishonourable and confusing meltdown,” Hands warned.

Kehoe is a pupil at Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Horncastle. His application to read English has been rejected by Christ’s College, Cambridge, by two other colleges at the same university and by Durham, Warwick and University College London. In addition to his predicted A-level A*s, he obtained 10 A*s at GCSE. Kehoe does not know how much better he is expected to do. “I was determined not to lose hope and felt gently reassured by my four As at ASlevel,” he said. “Unfortunately, at present, my Ucas form serves only to depress me.” He is now hoping for success from his remaining university choice, Leeds.

The universities that rejected Kehoe would not comment on his case this weekend, but all said that entry to their English courses was highly competitive. This meant that many candidates with impressive academic credentials had to be turned away. University College London said it had received 1,500 applicants and interviewed 300 for just 70 places. “There are some very good people who fall by the wayside,” it said.


British Mathematics teachers fail primary level test

If you were good at mathematics, why would you want to teach in a British school? To get better teachers you need a more civilized school environment, for starters. Many schools are now so dysfunctional that you would have to be a dummy to work there

Primary school maths teachers are failing to attain the standard of arithmetic expected of 11-year-olds, new research has claimed. Only 20% of the teachers tested for a Channel 4 television documentary were able to work out that the solution to 4+2x5 is 14, not 30 — multiplication takes priority over addition.

The results have led to renewed calls from business leaders for the government to improve standards of maths teaching — last year, more than 20% of pupils left primary school without reaching the expected level of maths in their Sats tests. Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury, tells tomorrow’s edition of Dispatches: “Any system that only succeeds 80% of the time in terms of achieving its basic result needs changing. If we saw that in our business we would be working out how we close that gap. “I don’t think it is about inherent skill. I genuinely don’t believe that many, if any, of our youngsters need to be left in a position of not having basic skills in maths.”

His comments follow those last year by Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, who attacked “woefully low” standards in schools which leave private sector companies to “pick up the pieces”; and Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks & Spencer, who said many school-leavers were “not fit for work”.

For its programme Kids Don’t Count, Dispatches used a test devised by Richard Dunne, a maths consultant and former Exeter University academic. The test comprised 27 straightforward questions, most of which, according to Dunne, were of the standard required of an 11-year-old. On average, the teachers answered just 45% of the questions correctly. Only a third knew that 1.4 divided by 0.1 is 14. Currently, primary school teachers in England need only C grades in GCSE maths to be admitted on to teacher training courses.

Dunne said the tests showed that teachers “know so little maths that they cannot be conveying mathematics to their children”. However, Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, denied the claims of poor standards. He said: “The fact is that 100,000 more 11-year-olds are reaching level 4 in maths compared with 1997 because of record investment, great teaching and a strong focus on the basics for all pupils.”

Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King’s College London, said she was “horrified” by the Channel 4 findings and that teacher training was to blame. “Our obsession with generic teaching skills has crowded out time in which we could be making sure that [teachers] have the basic knowledge,” said Wolf. “I don’t think you can teach maths if you can’t do it either.”


Imprisoning kids

by John Stossel

Obama's newest "deficit-conscious" budget calls for a 9% increase in federal education spending. Instead of dumping the money on our flailing public K-12 system, he should try something that actually works. Today's Wall Street Journal suggests that he look at the voucher program in Milwaukee:
In 2008 the graduation rate for voucher students was 77% versus 65% for the nonvoucher students, though the latter receives $14,000 per pupil in taxpayer support, or more than double the $6,400 per pupil that voucher students receive in public funding.

I don't consider graduation rates the best comparative measure. Schools may graduate kids who are uneducated and unprepared. But other studies of voucher programs find that voucher kids' test scores rise. That's a better measure.

It's unlikely that the president will support vouchers. In Washington D.C., Obama killed the Opportunity Scholarship program even though it raised test scores while spending half as much money as government schools spent. The unions give to Democrats, and the unions don't want competition to their public school monopoly.

Unless we allow parents more choice, we effectively imprison kids. I will do a show on that soon. Suggestions invited.