Saturday, March 13, 2010

Texas textbook troubles

In my own field of work, university education, there are a great many who scoff at the idea of privatization, something that is exactly how a free society should handle all education from primary to post graduate schools. There is no excuse for government to be responsible for educating young people or anyone else for that matter. Not only is it destructive of educational impartiality to entrust schools to governments–only if there is variety can impartiality be at least approximated–but the threat of out and out indoctrination is most real when one monolithic agency, with the power to coercively collect funds for its operations and conscript its students, runs “education.”

Yes, thousands of professor and teachers want the government to be in charge but after this has been accomplished, as it has for a couple of centuries throughout America and elsewhere, there is no escaping the turf fight that takes over educational policy, especially when it comes to such courses as history, civics, and even biology and the textbooks teachers are required to use in them.

In a free and open society there will be a great variety of ways that people, even the most highly educated ones, will see the country’s history, especially when it comes to politics and economics, as well as whatever other disciplines study. Few Americans could miss the current fracas about whether, for example, the New Deal was a valuable or destructive policy of the federal government. Yes, even Prohibition, with its bloody history, has its defenders. A good many scholars and citizens in general find themselves in different camps about the civil war, so much so that there is much controversy even about whether it should have as its name “Civil War” or “The War between the States.” Innumerable other topics covered in various elementary, high school and college courses are fraught with controversies among sincere minded citizens and scholars–no one could miss the battles fought over the nature of biological evolution.

The idea that one can simply override all this with some kind of governmental policy–as it is being tried right now in Texas where there is a fight brewing among those who have their agendas concerning what should be taught to students in all sorts of subjects–is absurd. One need not be a subscriber to post-modernism–with its claim that there is no objective reality at all and the world as all in the eye of the beholder (be this in history, English literature, philosophy, or government studies)–in order to admit that there are many seriously divergent educated opinions and beliefs in what is the truth of the matter in a discipline. And in a free society the way this is supposed to be dealt with and acknowledged is by making it possible for all of them to compete in the marketplace of ideas without even a whiff of government intrusion (i.e., censorship).

No such marketplace can exist, however, if government education dominates, as it does everywhere in the country. The United States of America is practically not much different from the old Soviet Union or the current North Korea when it comes to how young people are being educated–they basically get some politically palatable stories, some banal compromises reached within the halls of government, instead of the outcome of scholarly and academic conferences where the different sides of the various controversies are presented and from which scholars return to their classrooms throughout the academic landscape and proceed to teach what they earnestly believe students should learn. What some of them will teach will dismay, even outrage, certain others; although often teachers know well and good how to give different sides a fair presentation and thus make it possible for their pupils to arrive at answers of their own.

But this cannot go on with government ordering what is to be taught and what the textbooks must contain. The wielding of political power in the field of education is no less insidious than it would be for government to run the profession of journalism, the publication of books and magazines, and so forth. None of that is acceptable in a genuine free country. Nor should government-run schools be.


Obama's New Anti-Civil Rights Civil Rights Policy

Yesterday, in Does Obama’s “Stimulus” Discriminate Against Minorities? (yes, according to the administration’s definition of discrimination), I noted (referencing this earlier post) that the liberal solution to “structural inequalities” is to regard “all employment policies or practices ... that have a disparate impact as by definition discriminatory by virtue of their disparate impact alone.” Now, according to laudatory articles today in both the Washington Post and New York Times, the Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is about to launch an all-out attack on the nation’s schools based on that warped view of “civil rights.”

In the Times, reporter Sam Dillon obviously shares OCR’s view that the nation’s schools are rife with discrimination because
[a]t the end of high school, white students are about six times as likely to be ready to pursue college-level biology courses as black students, and more than four times as likely to be ready for college algebra, department officials said. White high school graduates are more than twice as likely to have taken advanced placement calculus classes as black or Latino graduates.
Dillon notes that the OCR has been swimming against the current in its effort to enforce civil rights, undermined by its own complicity with violations during the Bush area but also by barriers put up by other opponents of civil rights, such as the Supreme Court.
As it seeks to combat discrimination in schools and universities more aggressively, the administration will be acting in an area in which some Supreme Court rulings in recent years have brought more ambiguity. Federal policy for decades had aimed at compelling school districts to end racial inequality, for instance.

But in examining longstanding desegregation efforts in the Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky., schools in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that school authorities could not seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures that take explicit account of a student’s race, a decision that seemed to reverse the thrust of four decades of federal policy.
The new OCR, in short, will not be deterred by the old, discredited view that “civil rights” recognizes the rights of individuals not to be burdened by the government based on their race, despite the Supreme Court’s continuing (if tenuous) dedication to that quaint notion.

Under its new, Obama-appointed leadership, OCR is about to step up its “compliance” efforts. This new effort, predictably, will not limit its attention to “procedures” — which I take to mean whether actual students have been treated fairly — but with results. ““Now we’ll not simply see whether there is a program in place,” Russlyn H. Ali, the new assistant secretary of education for civil rights, told the Times, “ but [we will] also examine whether that program is working effectively.”

And in Obamaland, working “effectively” means not an absence of discrimination but the presence of proportional results. Thus when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announces new enforcement action in the coming weeks, as the Post reports today, “to ensure that students have equal access to a college-prep curriculum, advanced courses, and classes in math and science,” it is quite clear that he doesn’t really mean “equal access”; he means proportional results, as confirmed in an interview Ms. Ali gave the Post.
Ali said in an interview Friday that “we are weaving equity into all that we do” and that her office would examine potential cases for evidence of discrimination through “disparate impact” against certain classes of students on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex or disability.

Ali said the department plans to initiate 38 compliance reviews this year. There were 29 initiated last year, she said, and 42 in 2008. But she said the depth of the reviews will be “much greater than in the past.”
Since school districts will do whatever is necessary in order to be in “compliance” with the new “civil rights” directives from Washington, it is inevitable that many students across the country will now be excluded from Advanced Placement courses, etc., because of their race, i.e., because other students were included because of their race.

It is thus the height (or depth) of irony that Secretary Duncan will announce this new anti-civil rights “civil rights” policy today in a speech at the Edmund Pettus bridge near Selma, Alabama, site of one of the epic confrontations during the era when civil rights meant civil rights. And it is sad that he and the worshipful reporters covering the event don’t even recognize the irony.


Hopeless mathematics teaching in Australian schools

THE Group of Eight [universities] has declared mathematics education in Australia is in crisis. A six-point rescue package for maths and related disciplines recommends better dialogue between mathematics and teaching faculties to improve the mathematical competence of teachers. At the same time, it accepts an increasing number of students will be taught secondary school mathematics at university through expensive "enabling" programs. These will require "systematic organisation" and new funding initiatives.

A groundbreaking review of the mathematics and statistics disciplines at school and university by the Go8 found "the state of the mathematical sciences and related quantitative disciplines in Australia has deteriorated to a dangerous level, and continues to deteriorate."

The review was compiled by a committee of the nation's senior mathematicians headed by former University of Sydney vice-chancellor Gavin Brown. It found that in 2003 the percentage of Australian students graduating with a major in mathematics or statistics was 0.4 per cent, compared with an OECD average of 1 per cent. Between 2001-2007 the number of mathematics major enrolments in Australian universities fell by approximately 15 per cent. In contrast from 2002 to 2006 the number of applicants to mathematics degrees in Britain increased by two-thirds.

Professor Brown told the HES yesterday an attitudinal study which found only 33 per cent of year 8 mathematics students said they enjoyed maths - compared to an international average of 54 per cent - had "frightened" him. "This finding sticks out like a sore thumb," he said. "It suggests that the subject is taught reasonably well at technical level but not at the excitement level, and it's probably because many of the teachers are being asked to teach outside their own areas of expertise. They've never been passionate about the subject."

Professor Cheryl Praeger, Winthrop Professor in the school of mathematics and statistics at the University of Western Australia, told the HES that "very bright" students were entering Go8 universities inadequately prepared for university mathematics because of the poor state of maths tuition in schools. "Many will be learning their high school maths at university," she said. "We have to provide for them." She warned Australia risked becoming a Third World country if it failed to move quickly to arrest the decline in mathematics.

The chief executive of the Australian Research Council, Margaret Sheil, said she shared the concerns of the Brown review and had made mathematics one of the targeted disciplines for the next round of the federation fellowships. But she observed that statistics, which was important for new developments in biology, health and economics, was in an even worse state. She said universities could play a leadership role in arresting the decline at school level, because "strong and vibrant mathematics departments create opportunities to train strong and vibrant mathematicians, and that spins off into teaching."

The chairman of the Go8 Chair, University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Alan Robson, welcomed the review and its recommendations, which focused on equipping primary school teachers with mathematical skills and identified the need for remedial maths courses at the tertiary level.

The Go8 has renewed its push for a new higher education policy architecture focused on targeted funding to strengthen the top research institutions and render them more internationally competitive. The Go8's executive director, Mike Gallagher, will warn a higher education congress in Sydney today against attempts to emulate research universities across the sector. He will stress the need for more cost-effective forms of higher education supply, such as teaching only institutions, amid expanding domestic enrolments.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas educators take aim at ‘left-wing’ curriculum with opt-out plans

Country and western music, the leadership of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and the work of America’s most powerful gun lobby will all have to be taught in Texas schools if conservatives prevail at a highly charged meeting of the state’s board of education. A total of 48 of the 50 states have signed up to a plan being promoted by the White House for new, higher national educational standards but Texas and Alaska have opted out, in order to keep control of what is taught in their state-funded schools.

The effects will be felt far beyond Texas, because of its dominant influence over US textbook publishing. According to one estimate, 90 per cent of all American schools use the books approved by Texan officials. Social studies texts are likely, therefore, to give new prominence to Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” and the role of Christianity in US history. With more than a thousand school districts serving 4.5 million pupils, the Texas Education Agency is the second largest body of its kind in America, after its California counterpart, and by far the biggest to be overseen by elected conservatives.

Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas Board of Education, is a Creationist who believes that the world was created 10,000 years ago and claims that history has vindicated Senator Joseph McCarthy, the instigator of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. Dr McLeroy, a dentist, will not be able to stand for re-election in November but says he intends to use his remaining time in office to leave his mark on the Texas curriculum.

An amendment he proposed in January complained that the curriculum was “rife with leftist periods and events” including President Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislation — watershed achievements for Democratic governance in the 20th century. Expected to come into force in May, the measure would require Texas high school students to be able to “describe the causes . . . of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association”. Mrs Schlafly is a prominent antifeminist, while the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think-tank that, like the gun lobby, helped to spearhead opposition to progressive reforms during President Clinton’s two terms.

Other amendments expected to be approved this week would require schools to teach the career of Stonewall Jackson, the most successful Southern field commander in the Civil War, as a study in effective leadership; to drop all mention of Ralph Nader, the consumer-rights advocate; and to assert the superiority of free enterprise over other economic systems.

The Texas Conservative Coalition said that the group was confident Dr McLeroy’s amendments would pass, thanks to the board’s eight-strong conservative majority. Any changes to Texas textbooks will stay for ten years before the next round of revisions.

Dr McLeroy, who has also said he believes that mankind and dinosaurs once cohabited on Earth, has objected to the teaching of Chinese literature in Texan schools. “You really don’t want Chinese books with a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them,” he said in 2008. “Why should you take a child’s time trying to learn a word that they’ll never use again?”


VA: Senate passes plan to expand charter schools

The Virginia Senate on Tuesday passed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's proposal designed to expand the number of the state's charter schools. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill 27 to 12. It had already won approval in the Republican-led House of Delegates.

The bill is a weakened version of the Republican governor's initial proposal, but he declared victory. "I applaud the Republicans and Democrats who came together today to help Virginia schoolchildren, especially those who are at-risk and disadvantaged, gain more educational opportunities,'' McDonnell said in a statement.

McDonnell declared charter schools a top priority in his first legislative session. He has praised President Obama for his support of charters and hopes it will help the state receive millions of dollars through the federal Race to the Top grant program. Charters are freer to experiment with schedules and curricula than regular public schools. Since Virginia began allowing charter schools 12 years ago, only three have opened. A fourth is set to open in Richmond in the fall.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg), who sponsored the bill, said the proposal would send a signal that Virginia wants to move forward on education reform. "Virginia has a past that is one that we cannot be proud of on public education, and we should never, never, never go back," Newman said.

The bill gives the state Board of Education a role in advising prospective providers on their applications before they go up for approval before local school boards, but local boards would retain ultimate authority to approve such schools.

McDonnell's office had worked behind the scenes to negotiate a compromise with groups that represent teachers, school boards and superintendents -- all initially opposed to the bill -- to return some power to the local boards and ease concerns about the state having final control over applications.

But the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus remained opposed to the bill, arguing that such schools would help only a few select children. "These bills are saying, 'Let's not educate all the children of all the people,' '' Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk) said. " 'Let's select a few people and educate them very well.' This is a very bad bill. Based on our history, we should be ashamed of ourselves to even introduce such legislation."


Kansas City votes to close nearly half its schools to cut costs

This appears to affect inner city schools rather than the suburbs

Faced with a cash crisis and decline in standards, nearly half of the schools in Kansas City, Missouri, are to close in one of the most drastic cuts inflicted on the US education system. At a meeting attended by screaming parents, the Board of Education in the city of more than 450,000 people voted by 5-4 to close 28 of the 61 schools and cut 700 out of 3,000 jobs, including 285 teachers’ posts.

School systems in the US are cutting costs and closing facilities because of the recession and deficits. The school district in Kansas City runs a $12 million (£8 million) monthly deficit.

The city received $2 billion in the 1950s to help it to desegregate its schools. With the money, it was able to build such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The motive was to stop “white flight” from the city centre to the suburbs — a phenomenon caused by the desegregation ruling.

Now, however, fewer than a third of younger children in the city are able to read at or above the standard expected for their age group.

The plan to shut the schools is designed to save money and focus on improving the others but it has caused dismay among many parents and the board members who voted against the closures. “The public education system is aiding and abetting in the economic demise of our school district,” said Sharon Sanders Brooks, a councilwoman. “It is shameful.”


British university graduates condemned to 'coffee shop jobs'

The majority of university degrees condemn graduates to menial jobs “serving coffee in Starbucks", according to a leading businessman. Good degrees from leading universities were the only qualifications with serious currency in the jobs market, it was claimed. Simon Culhane, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, said many teenagers would be better off taking a gap year before directly entering the industry of their choice.

The comments come just days after the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which represents 750 major employers, called for the Government to abolish its target to get half of all school-leavers into higher education. The group said that Labour’s “artificial” target had devalued degrees and pushed too many students onto substandard courses.

Mr Culhane said: “Today’s graduates have a tough time. “There are simply not enough jobs, which is why too many graduates are either serving coffee at Starbucks, or the equivalent, or have entered the employment market in jobs for which they are over-qualified.” He added: “Many aspiring students – and their parents – should be, and are, asking themselves if a degree is worth it.

“The answer may be politically incorrect and unwelcome, but if a key reason for an individual wanting to take a degree is to get ahead, then unless they are studying a relevant, vocational qualification at a top university and expect to obtain a 2:1 or better, they would be well advised to take a gap year and then enter the industry of their choice.”

The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment is the largest professional body for investment banking and securities. But last year, City firms hired half the number of graduates they employed in 2008 because of the economic downturn.

Despite the slump in jobs, competition for university places has already reached a record high. It is feared that almost 200,000 applicants could be turned away from courses this September after demand for places surged by a quarter.

His comments follow remarks by Lucy Neville-Rolfe, an executive director at Tesco, who said British school leavers have basic problems with literacy and numeracy and have major “attitude problems”. Mrs Neville-Rolfe, an Oxford graduate and former civil servant, said students’ attitudes to their appearance, work, authority and discipline were poor.

The 56 year-old, one of the most powerful and well paid women in British business, said despite many A Level students and university graduates not being able to read or write or understand maths, more were achieving better results.

She also attacked students who felt that it was their right to gain employment. "They (students) don't seem to understand the importance of a tidy appearance and have problems with timekeeping," she said in a speech to the Institute of Grocery Distribution's conference on skills on Wednesday. “Some seem to think that the world owes them a living. The truth is that a certain humility and an ability to work hard are important for success. “More broadly, a society where people don't feel the need to work to gain material possessions will not be a stable or successful society."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

FRC Calls on U.S. Senate to Reject Legislation Containing Federal Education Mandates

Far-reaching Bill Threatens Faith-Based Education

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4247, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. The bill's purpose is to ensure that teachers do not use physical, mechanical or chemical means of restraint against students. The bill significantly increases federal oversight of schools that receive federal funding, including many Catholic parochial schools and independent private schools, and it has been strongly opposed by the Council for American Private Education and the American Association of Christian Schools.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement about H.R. 4247:

"This bill is another example of misguided federal legislation. It increases federal paperwork and oversight to the point that there could be substantial interference with faith-based education. "Teachers generally care for their students. Should they be punished because a few teachers overstep already accepted guidelines for how teachers and students can interact? A federal mandate is unnecessary.

"Further, if Congress is so concerned with the well-being of students, why did it shut down the Washington, D.C. school choice program, which gave underprivileged students the ability to attend successful private schools instead of failing union-run public schools in the District?

"If Congress is concerned about student safety, it should begin by removing 'Safe Schools Czar' Kevin Jennings from office, not adding to his federal oversight of education. Kevin Jennings, as the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), played an integral role in promoting homosexuality in public schools. His history demonstrates disregard for our obligations to safeguard the health and well-being of the student population. He is unfit for the post to which he's been assigned, and he should be removed at once."


The University of Notre Shame

by Mike Adams

It’s understandable that student newspapers at public universities are left-leaning. The advisors of the papers are usually left-leaning and they often have a left-leaning administration leaning on them. So their coverage of issues like abortion and homosexuality is often skewed. But private religious universities once provided a safe haven for those who wished to express views not approved by the immoral minority. It’s tough to comprehend the extent to which they have fallen prey to political correctness in recent years.

The Observer, the student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame, has shown that our nation’s Catholic universities no longer provide an escape from the politically correct orthodoxy running rampant on our nation’s public campuses. And the paper has shown a remarkable contempt for intellectual honesty – not to mention the Ninth Commandment.

The Observer declined to print a column that defends Church teachings on homosexual activity, which was written by Charles Rice - a Notre Dame Professor of Law. Rice has written a regular column with the Observer for nearly two decades.

At 996 words, Professor Rice’s column is a little long. At first, Observer Editor Matt Gamber used the column’s length as an excuse for non-publication. The excuse sounded credible but, after doing a little research, I’ve concluded that his excuse is an outright lie.

When Barack Obama came to speak at Notre Dame, Professor Rice wrote an 1172-word column, which harshly criticized his appearance as at odds with the school’s principles. Note to Matt Gamber: An 1172-word column is longer than a 996-word column. That much is as clear and obvious as the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.

But, now, Matt Gamber is saying that the subject matter of homosexuality could best by handled by printing opposing views on the subject. But why must a student newspaper at a Catholic university censor Professor Rice in the absence of some “opposing viewpoint”? And what are the implications of this new policy?

* If Professor Rice decides to write a column opposing polygamy, will the Observer withhold its publication until someone submits a pro-polygamy column?

* If Professor Rice decides to write a column opposing incest, will the Observer withhold its publication until someone submits a pro-incest column?

* If Professor Rice decides to write a column opposing adultery, will the Observer withhold its publication until someone submits a pro-adultery column?

* Finally, if Professor Rice decides to write another column opposing abortion, will the Observer withhold its publication until someone submits a pro-abortion column?

The answers to my four hypothetical questions follow: No, no, no, and no. And the reason for the pattern is simple: The Observer carves out a special “opposing viewpoint” exception for homosexuality because the Observer is intensely homophobic. And the reason for the intense homophobia manifested by Matt Gamber and the Observer is also simple: Homosexuals are less tolerant of criticism than any other portion of the American population, including feminists and Muslims.

But the consequences of homosexual intolerance are not as simple. They are twofold: 1) Homosexual intolerance tends to result in the suppression of contrary views, and 2) Such intolerance tends to make others fearful of talking to homosexuals. In other words, homosexual intolerance actually promotes homophobia.

The present situation at Notre Dame is damaging to both sides of the debate. The Observer should allow Professor Rice to present his views (as unthinkable as it may seem to present the views of the Catholic Church at a Catholic university). Then, they may decide whether the views of the opposition warrant publication.

I believe the other side should be presented after Professor Rice’s column is printed if someone at Notre Dame actually thinks the Holy Bible is unclear on the issue. If they do, the Notre Dame community will wind up with a greater appreciation of the truth via its juxtaposition with falsity.

But the prior restraint of the views of Professor Rice is not defensible. While not a technical violation of the First Amendment – Notre Dame is a private school - it is an assault on both Catholicism and common sense. And it leaves many Catholics wondering whether there is any safe haven in this land that once placed religious liberty above political correctness.


Hamburgerology comes to Britain

Maccas is now handing out High School diplomas

Work experience for many teenagers involves making endless cups of tea or opening mountains of post, with no more reward than a week off school. But they will get the equivalent of a GCSE if doing a placement at McDonald’s from today, in recognition of their newly found skills.

The fast food multinational has for years been the butt of jokes about providing dead-end jobs flipping burgers and mopping floors. Yet it now has power to award its own qualifications, which include a diploma in shift management equal to an A level. It takes on 10,000 apprentices a year, thought to be more than any other company in Britain, and trains them in hospitality skills, and basic English and maths.

Now teenagers successfully completing a ten-day work experience placement, plus a lesson in school either side, will be awarded a BTEC level 2 in work skills accredited by Edexcel, one of the country’s biggest exam boards. This is the equivalent of a GCSE at grade B or C, and the first time a national qualification has been given for work experience. Academics said this devalued GCSEs, but praised the company for offering proper work placements during the recession. About a million young people are currently not in education, employment or training, and there are fears this could affect the job prospects of a generation.

The work experience is not guaranteed: pupils aged 14 upwards will have to fill out an online application form and submit themselves to interview by their local branch. Those who succeed will spend ten days being mentored by a “buddy”, working with them in every area of the restaurant. While not left in sole charge of cooking burgers, they will help for example by “preparing lettuce”, and will get to operate the drive-through window and handle money. They must also complete a work book, and attend an induction on safety, hygiene and food nutrition, and will have an “exit” interview at the end of the placement.

David Fairhurst, who is head of human resources at McDonald’s, did work experience — “many years ago” — at his grandfather’s store in Wigan. He said: “I learnt a lot of things, such as attention to detail and how to get along with colleagues when you were the boss’s grandson. Yes we will turn people down [for work experience], absolutely. We’re looking for people who’ve got the attitude to serve customers. “The students have a role to play in taking work experience more seriously than has been the case before. We have strict guidelines on supervision, every day they will have a buddy working alongside them.

“They will serve at drive-through windows, operate the till, prepare drinks from machines, and help to clear tables. It’s a big step for young people, it takes confidence to deal with customers. “We not just trying to recruit these people, we’re exposing them to the work of work, as we don’t want a lost generation of young people with no experience of the workplace.”

Mr Fairhurst defended the qualification from criticism, saying: “They’re with us for 80 hours, and do two lessons before and afterwards at school. In academic terms, 80 hours is enough for a Btec certificate — it’s a lot of time in terms of school.” He added: “The vast proportion of young people are disappointed about what they’re asked to do on work experience, either making tea or it’s unstructured or the company is surprised to see them turn up and don’t know what to do with them.”

A survey published today by Populus, for McDonald’s, found that more than half of young people believe there are not enough quality work placements available. One in five who had completed work experience felt their host employer had not planned for them well enough.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: “The positive view of this is it might make work experience better for young people participating, but it’s absurd trying to value it in the terms of a GCSE. “Essentially, it’s what the experience does for young people’s future lives that matters. Schools and awarding bodies are being pushed into a situation of issuing qualifications for everything.

“There isn’t enough work experience to go round, and some schools have to resort to simulated work experience, or work-related experience such as writing about work. “Having ten days somewhere is a step forward, but making it equivalent to a GCSE is devaluing qualifications of that level, and could colour the way people view GCSEs in general.”


Australia: Education Dept. gives bullying bureaucrat a free ride

A PRIMARY school principal in Brisbane's southeast is under investigation for bullying, after Education Queensland appointed him despite him being shifted from two other schools following similar complaints. Teachers passed a no-confidence motion against a principal in the Redlands area at the beginning of the school term, which was soon after his deputy walked out.

Education Queensland has confirmed an investigation is underway.

The principal was also disciplined after an incident in a previous school where he allegedly raised his hand to strike a female staff member. Following his removal, The Courier-Mail understands he was placed in head office at Education Queensland before he was sent to the Redlands school, where he's remained for at least six years.

It comes only days after Premier Anna Bligh backed a national Say No to Bullying day, but yesterday Education Minister Geoff Wilson refused to comment on the department's decision to appoint a principal with a history of bullying. "Staffing issues at individual schools are dealt with by the Department of Education and Training," he said in a statement. "I expect them to investigate all cases thoroughly and to adhere to all processes and protocols when doing so."

Education Queensland did not respond to concerns the department was aware of the principal's record when they appointed him at his current school. 'The department can only act if a formal complaint is made. Staff are encouraged to contact their executive director to do so," Human Resources assistant director Craig Allen said. "The performance management process is in place to ensure all staff are treated justly and fairly in the workplace." Mr Allen said bullying was not tolerated.

The Courier-Mail believes the schools' executive director Paula Anderson has been contacted about the matter. The investigation started yesterday.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

If Schools Discriminate Against Blacks, Do They Discriminate In Favor Of Asians?

Asians get "disproportionate" results too

In the post immediately below I discussed the Obama Dept. of Education’s view that lower minority graduation rates and lower participation in advanced placement courses, etc., reflect a pervasive problem of civil rights violations in our nation’s schools.

In that regard, however, consider the penetrating question asked by George Leef:
American colleges and universities are delighted to have minority students. They’re usually specially recruited and often given favorable treatment by the administration and professors. Some minority students work hard, perform very well, and graduate with honors. So why is it that graduation rates for minority students tend to be low? Is it because schools haven’t learned how to teach them? I don’t think so. The explanation is that on the whole, those students enter college with far lower basic academic skills (which can seldom be overcome just with a remedial course or two) and less academic engagement.

If you doubt that, ask yourself if the very high graduation rate among Asian students is because schools are “good at teaching them,” or because those students generally have high skills and motivation as they enter college....
Good question. If the “underrepresentation” of some minorities in advanced school courses and programs means the schools are discriminating against them, does the “overrepresentation” of Asians mean the schools are discriminating in favor of them?

Isn’t it posible, that is, that students and their families might be more responsible for how students perform than their schools?


High educational standards best achieved by parent power

MASSACHUSETTS AND RHODE ISLAND were two of the 16 finalists named this week in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" competition for a share of $4.3 billion in education "stimulus" funds. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the finalists on Thursday; those that made the cut have agreed to embrace policies favored by the administration, such as higher caps on charter schools and tying teachers' raises to performance.

Central to the administration's approach to education is its drive for uniform national standards in reading and mathematics. The White House announced last month that it intends to "require all states to adopt and certify that they have college- and career-ready standards . . . as a condition of qualifying for Title I funding." Duncan has reserved $350 million to assist states that consent to common curriculum standards; those that don't will be barred from seeking Race to the Top grants.

The argument for national standards seems straightforward. The No Child Left Behind law enacted in 2002 required the states to establish their own academic standards, but most of them -- under pressure from teachers' unions and school administrators' associations -- set the bar quite low. In a 2006 report, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation concluded that most states' standards were "mediocre-to-bad . . . They are generally vague, politicized, and awash in wrongheaded fads and nostrums. With a few exceptions, states have been incapable (or unwilling) to set clear, coherent standards." The only way around the states' aversion to high standards, the Obama administration and others have concluded, is to impose uniform national standards, using the federal purse as leverage.

But if the goal is to have more American students get a successful education, it is far from clear that imposing a single set of benchmarks from above is the best strategy for getting there.

For one thing, the political resistance to rigorous academic standards that has been so effective at the state level is likely to be effective at the national level. The teachers' unions and administrators' organizations that oppose higher performance mandates are at least as influential on Capitol Hill as they are in the statehouses. The Cato Institute's Neal McCluskey points out that the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the Council of Chief State School Officers all make their national headquarters in Washington, DC. Whether in the states or in Washington, McCluskey writes, "the political system is stacked against high standards and tough accountability."

Moreover, the very nature of American society -- a nation of 300 million that comprises a multitude of ethnic, religious, social, and ideological traditions -- argues against the imposition from above of one-size-fits-all education standards. There is no uniform answer to the question of what parents want most from their children's education. "The greater the diversity of the people falling under a single schooling authority," McCluskey observes, "the greater the conflict, the less coherent the curriculum, and the worse the outcomes."

Anyone who called for legislation to establish mandatory national standards for television programming or restaurant menus would be laughed at: No one thinks the government is competent to decide what shows they can watch on TV or what they can order for dinner when they eat out. Is it any less risible to think that government knows best when it comes to your children's education?

Rather than centralizing even more government authority over education, genuine reform would move in the opposite direction. It is parents -- not local, state, or federal officials -- who should control education dollars. School and state should be separated, with schools being funded on the basis of their ability to attract students and teach them well. The primary responsibility for children's education should be vested in the same people who bear the primary responsibility for their feeding, housing, and religious instruction: their mothers and fathers.

More government control is not the cure for what ails American schools. The empowerment of parents is. No teachers' union, no school board, no secretary of education, and no president will ever love your children, or care about their schooling, as much as you do. In education as in so much else, high standards are important -- far too important to hand off to the government.


Russia's super-rich take advantage of recession to storm Britain's private schools

Note that the article below adheres in part to the old British practice of calling private schools "public" schools

While recession-hit Brits are forced to scrimp to send their children to private school, Russia’s super-rich are cashing in on the chance of an elite education. Louise Carpenter meets a woman who is grooming the offspring of oligarchs for England's upper classrooms.

She tells me that at first, when she turned up at the school gates, the other parents were wary: she looked too expensively pulled together, too exotic (the cheekbones are an immediate giveaway), but more than anything, she looked and sounded very Russian, and like a very, very rich Russian at that.

She sighs: 'I look like a damn model, which doesn't help me at all. The perception is always wrong. I am a very grounded person – and I don't even wear make-up. For the past 10 years, I have worked 16 hours a day as an international property broker. I am a single mother and I've worked in Moscow and Manhattan and I was very, very successful, so successful that in the end I set up my own company. I sleep only six hours a night and I start work very early every morning. Everything I have I have earned through hard work. My generation of Russians had to. There was no inherited wealth.'

In the next few years, if Dina Karpova's business plans come to fruition, there will be many more like her at the gates of our best public schools. While recession-hit British families remortgage their homes, sell off the family silver and consign themselves to five years of staycations to ensure their children can be privately educated, Karpova is helping her rich Russian business contacts move in on the British market.

Russian children pitching up at public schools is a growing phenomenon. Harrow, Westminster, Winchester, Shrewsbury, St Mary's Ascot – these are just some of the institutions in the sights of Karpova and her team. Where once a school's foreign 'quota' might have been filled mostly by children from China, South Korea and the Emirates, registrars are now seeing an increase in inquiries from Russians.

Karpova herself is a lesson in how a new generation of motivated Russians got rich. The daughter of two government nuclear physicists, brought up in a closed city, she trained as an aerospace engineer, specialising in life-support systems in space. She narrowly missed becoming one of a few female Russian astronauts because of her height. 'I'd love to go back into that field,' she says. The decision to go into property broking – a profession that has made her very rich – was made only because the fall of the communist regime destroyed the scientific fields for which she was trained.

Ten years on, with the advent of the global financial and property crisis, she is reinventing herself again. Jaded by the declining quality (by her standards) of Russian schools and universities, no sooner had she moved to London than the calls started coming in from Russian business contacts, many of them oligarchs, although that is not a term Karpova likes to use. ('How many oligarchs are left any more? I think the idea of an oligarch is kind of shaky now.')

Whoever her clients are, they are still very rich and their questions were the same: Which schools are the best? How can we get our children in? What is the procedure? "I said to my assistant, 'I haven't got time for all of this," ' Karpova remembers. 'And she said, "Why don't you start a website?" and what with the property market collapsing anyway, it just went from there."

Given that even the most well-adjusted British child is prone to griping about boarding school food, crammed dormitories, lack of privacy and compulsory chapel, it seems extraordinary to think of pampered Russian children living in such cheek-by-jowl conditions.

But according to Karpova, that is precisely the point: 'The education system in England is incomparable with what you find in other countries, Russia included. You have had hundreds of years of perfecting that system. It was based on when Britain was a colonial superpower and the message was, 'The world is yours!' I do think the spirit goes back to this time when English public [private] schools were trying to create world leaders to rule the colonies. It is not about wealth, it is about the spirit of taking part, of having a broad all-round outlook.'

Russians, she says, love our crumbly old buildings with history behind them. It reminds them of the long-gone tsarist lifestyle, a heritage they are now looking to reclaim. Karpova stops short of saying it, but the implication is clear: if you want to create a world leader, send your child to the kind of school with a history of creating them. And what will happen to them afterwards, I ask. "Well, I hope they will go back to Russia," she says. "I want them to give something back to my country. I hope my son will go back. We owe it to our country, if not to ourselves."

It is well known that the top schools operate a 10 to 15 per cent 'foreign' policy and that there are agents all over the world attempting to place the children of rich families whose applications are, as Karpova says, 'lumped in this pile'.

Whether a Russian child would be given a place otherwise intended for a British child is a hazy area. Karpova is adamant that the leading schools such as Westminster – there is currently only one other Russian boy there – can afford to stick to their marginal foreign quota. The other less prestigious schools are much more receptive to filling up with anybody who can pay the fees, even if they can't speak much English.

Paradoxically, these are precisely the schools that Karpova is sniffy about. "A child that I haven't been able to prepare, who will not make it to the top schools, will probably end up at a school surrounded by eastern Europeans and other Russians and Asians, and they won't get an experience of British culture at all. I think it is OK and fair that foreign kids have to perform better than their British counterparts, because that is why we come here."

Karpova, in Russia at least, has a head start. Her clever idea has been to recruit a British educational consultant called Charles Bonas, who runs a London-based 'super-tutor' and mentoring agency. His work is with children based in Britain, many with foreign parents, but also with many very wealthy English families preparing for rigorous entrance tests. As a result, Bonas knows the admissions process and cultures of all the leading schools inside out.

Nevertheless, how on earth are Russian children who barely speak English when they arrive able to be propelled to the top of the pile? This is the question a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary, The Russians Are Coming, attempts to answer – although it does so only partly successfully, due to what Karpova says is the inherent problem of her clients' privacy and their fear that their children will appear to have been 'over-tutored' and thus undeserving of a place.

Karpova is shown in the film in all her splendour, being immensely diligent and gentle with the children. She clearly has, as she says herself gesticulating madly with her hands, "a brain out here". At one point, we see her striding about in elbow-length patent gloves, hair flying, a head-turning combination for any public school headmaster.

We see her with 11-year-old stepbrothers Natan and Vassili and their father, a Russian billionaire businessman referred to only as 'Boris', during a tour of Stowe. Who is Boris, I ask Karpova. "Can't comment," she says. Is he an oligarch? "Can't comment. Can't say anything about him. The problem with what I do is that publicly my clients always want to put space between me and them. We have to be very careful."

There is a knock on the door and in putters Charles Bonas. In contrast to Karpova's exoticism, Bonas appears to have walked off the set of Jeeves and Wooster. He is small, balding and well-spoken, with an education at Harrow and Oriel College, Oxford; Karpova could not wish for a more authentic specimen of the English public school system to sell to her billionaires. It immediately becomes clear that Bonas lives in the house too. Perhaps they are a very unlikely couple? Karpova shakes her head violently. "No, no!" she asserts. "Charles is guardian to my son. He stays here when I am abroad."

This year, Karpova has about 10 children going through "the process". (Bonas snaps at me when I call it 'grooming'.) They will either be children coming over for the last two years of prep school – 'always the best way of doing it,' Karpova says – or applying for their main (secondary) school. It's a rough 60/40 ratio of boys to girls. Each child is carefully monitored by Bonas and his tutors. There are about 100 of these – teachers, writers, poets, scientists, post-graduates, doctors – 'anybody with a huge amount to offer a child'.

Many Russian children need extra tuition, provided by Bonas and this team, especially in English and in critical thinking, which Bonas says is peculiar to the English system. Some need weekly tuition, others will have a crash course in the holidays, every day, all day. (Prices for mentoring start at £600 a term and basic tuition rates are £50 an hour.)

Whatever the ability of the child, Karpova and Bonas are constantly evaluating progress throughout the term and researching appropriate future schools. 'It is a very, very hard job to go back to the parents when the school is saying, "He's perfect, he's fantastic" and we're seeing that actually he's not that perfect, and when in two years he's got to go and compete with the cream of the crop if his maths is not that great,' Karpova says.

They get to grips with the curriculum, they go to parents' evenings, they liaise between parents and teachers, they study past papers. They explain to the Russians the academic standing of a school such as, say, Harrow and they try to explain the merits of single-sex education for girls, unheard of in Russia. ('No luck yet in getting that across,' Karpova says.) And if Karpova gets to know a child very well and thinks they are being channelled into the wrong school, she speaks up.

'I had one extremely wealthy client who had a very artistic child. He was desperate for the child to study business but I explained there was no interest there. The man said, "How much will it take for you to do as I say?" and at that stage I pulled out. I want the children to be happy.'

A big part of their job is working out the subtle differences between the schools, and then matching the right school to the right child. 'I'll take Charles's opinion of a school,' Karpova explains, 'but I'll also take the opinion of at least three other people. It drives him insane.'

'That's a very communist approach,' Bonas says. 'Where the Russians score is that apart from those who want to be near Heathrow, their applications can cover a wide geographic area, whereas English families think in terms of an hour's drive. Our schools are centres of excellence. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for a child to talk his or her way into somewhere. If you haven't got a really good report from your prep-school headmaster or mistress, if you haven't done particularly well in the pre-tests, and you haven't got other things to offer, such as sport, music, drama, you are not going to get in.'

While Natan and Vassili come over very well on film – they are very game in trying to speak English to the headmaster of Stowe – there is an unfortunate sequence in which they are taken to a stately home in Dorset. This is part of a wider English Mentors programme, to which Bonas contributes, intended to help integrate foreign children into society instead of just leaving them in completely alien boarding schools like lambs to the slaughter. Academic prowess is all very well, Bonas says, but if a child hasn't got the confidence to speak up in an interview or shake a headmaster's hand with pride, he will not win the place.

The film shows a process of 'social integration' that Karpova endorses (which the Russian families also pay for). In Dorset, the brothers are instructed how to shoot and play polo. They have never ridden before, and eye the ponies nervously as Karpova tells them, 'If you play polo you will become… how shall I put it?… part of high society.' It is a toe-curling moment. The boys are then given guns, and also shown how to make a bed with hospital corners. The albeit well-meaning intention of social integration gives the film an unfortunate subtext: that in reality, however good our schools are, the new rich Russians, so at pains not to be seen as 'nouveau', are just as taken with the idea of their children hobnobbing with the aristocracy.

Surely, I say to Bonas, no head teacher will give a hoot about children boasting those sort of skills. They are completely irrelevant to an application. 'Not at all!' he says quickly. 'I can see that it might look a bit contrived, but the boys love history and they loved the house with all its old books. It is so important that a child from abroad fits into a school. Basically head teachers are looking for confident children who will get a lot out of boarding, and I say to the children we look after, "I will be just as happy when I hear you've had your first Sunday lunch with an English family as I will when you get your first academic success." It's about giving them life skills and confidence. It never ceases to amaze me how brave these children are.'

But what about the parents? 'Look,' Bonas says, 'a lot of these Russian clients aren't particularly socially conscious at all. Certainly the family on the film couldn't be more disinterested in social advancement. For other families, would it help if they looked down an intake list and saw a viscount's son there? Perhaps a bit, but not much. Teaching them basic manners, etiquette, deportment – we're not trying to turn these children into little lords. It is actually just giving them the sort of ground rules and life skills that every­body needs.'

Karpova is keen to clarify what the Russian families want. 'When I say they want to mix with "the best of British families", I mean the best in their field, whatever that is,' she says. 'Wealth has nothing to do with it, it is the culture.'

Despite her 10 years in the west, Karpova is still very Russian. It is there in everything she says, in the way she blatantly identifies power in talent and beauty. It is a refreshing change to the unspoken codes of the English, although she says that she is slowly learning those too. 'You English are so polite,' she says, 'and so humble. You don't see that humbleness in Russia at all. Not at all!'

In the film, we see her son, Ivan, fluent in English, become impatient with her because she does not understand the word 'oar' (he is an avid rower at Westminster and she does not understand that either). 'Darling, not all of us had the privilege of being educated at Westminster,' she tells him by way of defence.

I ask her about the cultural divide the success of her business will create between Russian parents and their children. She pauses. 'It is very interesting. But what happens is that the child pushes the family to learn more, to understand the culture more. It is a struggle but I believe it is very important that children do not lose touch with their families.'

Karpova will not tell me her age, but my guess would be mid-thirties. She became pregnant and married very young, while at college, left the father before the birth of her son (he went on to become a very wealthy businessman), divorced and married again – this time an American – only to divorce him too. When Ivan tried to track down his father, they found out that he had disappeared five years ago and that his family now presumed him dead. Suicide? I ask. Karpova shrugs. Murder? She shrugs.

With all the security issues attached to working with billionaires, it can't have been an easy film to make. Karpova certainly does not need the publicity. She tells me she met the documentary's director through a mutual friend: 'I have these enticing things about me,' she explains almost with a sigh. 'The way I look, the way everybody thinks I'm a rocket scientist, the way I was in the Russian Olympic biathlon team for skiing… I did this film because I'm fed up with Russian women always being portrayed as hookers or money-grabbers. There are a lot of us who are very beautiful and very clever and very hard-working with it.'


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Va. Attorney General: Colleges Can't Ban Discrimination against homosexuals‏

Virginia's attorney general has advised the state's public colleges that they don't have the authority to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, saying only the General Assembly has that power.

The letter sent by Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli to state college presidents and other officials Thursday drew swift criticism from Democrats and gay rights activists.

Cuccinelli said the legislature has repeatedly refused to exercise its authority. As recently as Tuesday, a subcommittee killed legislation that would have banned job discrimination against gay state employees. "It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification, as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly," Cuccinelli wrote.

The Republican advised college governing boards to "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law."

Jon Blair, chief executive officer of the gay rights group Equality Virginia, said Cuccinelli's "radical actions are putting Virginia at risk of losing both top students and faculty, and discouraging prospective ones from coming here."

C. Richard Cranwell, state Democratic Party chairman, said Virginia's colleges and universities were more than capable of setting policies that work for them "without meddling from Ken Cuccinelli."

The attorney general said his letter merely stated Virginia law, which prohibits discrimination because of "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability," but makes no mention of sexual orientation. Cuccinelli said the criticism was coming from people who have been frustrated in their attempts to change the law. "None of them suggest our reading of the law is wrong. It's people who don't like the policy speaking up because it's their opportunity to go on the attack," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg said colleges are bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

A spokesman for the Family Foundation of Virginia, which has opposed expanding state anti-discrimination policies to protect gays, said the criticism of Cuccinelli's action is unwarranted. "My understanding is all he's done is essentially ask the universities to follow the law," spokesman Chris Freund said. "It's a little perplexing to see people respond the way they have."

Virginia's last two Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, signed executive orders barring state agencies from discriminating in hiring, promotions or firing based on sexual orientation. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who took office in January, removed protections based on sexual orientation from his anti-discrimination order. As attorney general in 2006, McDonnell said Kaine exceeded his constitutional authority by extending protections to gays.


American schools turning to a four-day week

At great inconvenience to many parents and with no clear idea of its impact on learning

A small but growing number of school districts across the country are moving to a four-day week, in a shift they hope will help close gaping budget holes and stave off teacher layoffs, but that critics fear could hurt students' education. State legislators and local school boards are giving administrators greater flexibility to set their academic calendars, making the four-day slate possible. But education experts say little research exists to show the impact of shortened weeks on learning. The missed hours are typically made up by lengthening remaining school days.

Of the nearly 15,000-plus districts nationwide, more than 100 in at least 17 states currently use the four-day system, according to data culled from the Education Commission of the States. Dozens of other districts are contemplating making the change in the next year—a shift that is apt to create new challenges for working parents as well as thousands of school employees.

The heightened interest in an abbreviated school week comes as the Obama administration prepares to plow $4.35 billion in extra federal funds into underperforming schools. The administration has been advocating for a stronger school system in a bid to make the U.S. more academically competitive on a global basis.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education said in an email that she couldn't comment on four-day weeks in specific districts. But "generally, we are concerned about financial constraints leading to a reduction in learning time."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was critical of the shift. "The budgetary pressure makes doing more reform more difficult," she said in a statement.

Some schools, meanwhile, say they are turning to the four-day schedule as a last resort. In North Branch, Minn., school Superintendent Deb Henton said her 3,500-student district, facing a $1.3 million deficit, is simply out of options. "We've repeatedly asked our residents to pay higher taxes, cut some of our staff, and we may even close one of our schools," she said. "What else can you really do?" Despite a "lot of opposition" from parents, she said, the district is set to adopt a four-day week for next school year.

A new law in Georgia allows schools a choice between a 180-day school year "or the equivalent." Hawaii officials last October introduced 17 mandatory "Furlough Fridays" for state public schools. In Minnesota and Iowa, districts are drafting proposals for their state boards of education in hopes of implementing four-day schedules next school year. In the rural Peach County, Ga., district, a four-day week this school year helped school officials save more than $200,000 last semester, trimming costs for custodial and cafeteria workers and bus drivers as well as transportation expenses and utilities, said system spokeswoman Sara Mason.

The district is on track to save 39 teaching positions and $400,000 by the end of the school year, helping to narrow a $1 million shortfall in the district's $30 million annual budget. "The savings so far have been phenomenal," said Ms. Mason, adding that she has fielded calls from officials at a dozen other Georgia schools considering making the switch.

Teachers who still work the same number of hours over four days, instead of five, generally don't see a reduction in salary. But staff who can't make up the lost time, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, are often hard-hit, losing as much as 20% of their pay.

The four-day school week isn't new. But until recently, it has been used mostly by small, rural districts. A few rural Colorado school districts implemented four-day calendars in the 1980s for financial reasons, and now about a third of the state's 178 districts operate on a four-day calendar. The system is currently most prevalent in Western states, where districts with four-day weeks in some cases comprise a quarter of the schools.

Four-day weeks have been in place for decades in states like New Mexico, Idaho and Wyoming and initially came about as states were looking to combat growing energy prices. Last week, Pueblo School District 70 in Colorado said it would adopt the schedule next school year for its roughly 8,000 students.

The shift has drawn scrutiny from some education and parents groups who say the shorter week hurts students academically and complicates child-care efforts. "There's no way a switch like that wouldn't negatively affect teaching and learning," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which is discouraging schools in the state from exploring four-day weeks.

Monte Thompson, superintendent of Gore Public Schools in Oklahoma, where the system is in its first year, said teachers have to do a "dog and pony show to keep kids' attention" for the extra hour and 40 minutes spent in class from Tuesday to Friday. "I get why schools have moved toward this, but I don't think finances justify hurting the kids educationally," said Mr. Thompson, who became the superintendent after the system was implemented. He said Gore schools are saving about $35,000 with the change, but will revert back to five days in the next school year.

The schedules have struck a nerve with some working parents who have had to revamp child-care plans. Christina Long, a mother of three girls who attend North Branch, Minn., schools, said she will also have to rethink her career plans in light of next year's academic calendar. "I'd always said I would go back to full-time once my youngest was in school," said Ms. Long, who works part-time around her youngest daughter's school schedule. "Next year was supposed to be that year, but now I don't know what I can do job-wise with that four-day schedule."

In Georgia's Peach County, the community has stepped up to assist parents who've been put in a bind by the Tuesday to Friday school schedule. Two different Boys and Girls Club sites and a church are offering affordable child care and tutoring, respectively, on Mondays for between $10 and $15....


British university targets have 'devalued' degrees

Labour’s drive to boost the number of teenagers going on to university has “driven down standards” of higher education, according to Britain’s biggest employers. In a stinging pre-election attack, the Association of Graduate Recruiters said the “artificial” growth in undergraduates had created problems for organisations who can no longer differentiate between courses. It also warned that targets designed to increase the number of students from poor backgrounds risked being met at the expense of maintaining high academic standards.

The group – which represents 750 public and private sector organisations including Tesco, PricewaterhouseCoopers, BP, the Crown Prosecution Service and even the Cabinet Office – called on the Government to scrap its long-standing commitment to get at least half of people into university by their 30th birthday.

Business leaders said the goal – first set a decade ago – should be abolished to allow universities to focus on “quality not quantity”. They also called on institutions to give students lessons in basic skills amid fears that too many graduates lack customer awareness, teamwork skills or the ability to communicate with colleagues.

The comments come amid growing controversy over university admissions. In the last decade, the Government has encouraged more school-leavers to strive for higher education. Tens of millions of pounds has been spent on roadshows and publicity campaigns to tempt more sixth-formers into applying and universities have been given benchmarks to raise the number of students recruited from state schools and deprived backgrounds. Almost 400,000 more students are in university this year compared with 1997.

But a sharp increase in the number of applications in 2010 – combined with a freeze on places due to public spending cuts – risks leaving hundreds of thousands without a course this September.

The AGR said that Government’s “artificial” target to raise student numbers had failed to serve the needs of teenagers or British industry. In a report, billed as a pre-election manifesto, the AGR said: “The introduction of a target to get 50 per cent of all under-30s into higher education by 2010 has driven down standards, devalued the currency of a degree and damaged the quality of the student university experience. “Growing numbers of students are studying degree courses which lack rigour in below-average institutions.

“This does not help young people’s life chances or represent a good financial investment. It also creates problems for graduate employers who can no longer be sure what the value of certain degree courses and institutions is. “The focus must shift back to quality rather than quantity, while the offering must adapt to meet the needs of a wider range of backgrounds and abilities.”

Since 1997, the overall number of 18- to 30-year-olds with a degree has increased marginally to just over four-in-10. But a study earlier this year from the Government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England showed a sharp rise in the proportion of teenagers going straight into university from school or college. Some 30 per cent of 18- and 19-year-olds went on to higher education in the mid-1990s compared with 36 per cent by 2010 – an increase of a fifth.

AGR members – which also include BAE Systems, the Bank of England, Goldman Sachs, the National Audit Office, Network Rail and the Royal Mail – collectively recruit 30,000 graduates a year. Its study – “Talent, Opportunity, Prosperity” – backed proposals from universities to introduce a “report card” to give students a detailed list of their achievements alongside raw degree classifications. The existing system of first, second and third-class degrees fails to give employers a realistic picture of graduates’ abilities, it said.

It also called for the gradual phasing out of the cap on tuition fees to allow universities to charge what they like by 2020. Families should be encouraged to save for higher education through a national savings scheme, the AGR said. The study suggested that safeguards should be put in place to encourage students from poor backgrounds to apply but insisted that university admissions should be judged on merit.

This follows concerns from private school leaders that institutions are being put under pressure to make lower grade offers to sixth-formers from poor-performing state schools. Carl Gilleard, AGR chief executive, said: “Yes, we want to see as many young people as possible progress to higher education, but, crucially, only on the basis of academic ability and achievement. Yes, we must widen participation - but not indiscriminately.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The economy needs more - not less - highly skilled young people. "We have never suggested that 50 per cent of the population should go directly from school to a conventional three-year degree. Many of these people will already be in the workforce, which is why we set out the need for more flexible modes of study. "Our universities have maintained a world-class reputation for excellence at a time of rapid expansion and we continue to have high levels of graduate employability and consistently high employer and student satisfaction.

"The Government has commissioned an independent review of higher education funding and student finance chaired by Lord Browne. The panel is currently gathering evidence and we will not pre-empt the findings of the review."

David Willetts, the Conservative shadow skills secretary, said: “This is a useful report. I completely agree with the attack on the artificial 50 per cent target. People should go to university when they believe they have the ability to benefit from it – not to meet some top-down target set by Labour ministers.”

But student leaders branded the conclusions “offensive”. Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: “The AGR does not seem to appreciate how much its own members benefit from our higher education system. “It is in the long term interest of our economy that the number of highly skilled graduates entering our workforce continues to increase.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won’t get there with less graduates.” [The general secretary of the University and College Union doesn't know the difference between "less" and "fewer"? She has revealed more than she intended, it would seem]


Monday, March 08, 2010

A corrupt system

An email from Scherie Gaitor of below

I find it to be highly interesting in that you highlight the philosophical corruption of the education systems within the Western world. I come from a long line of educators. My grandmother was a teacher who had her own preschool. My aunt and mother are educators, who unfortunately have lost their jobs. My mother, trained as a high school business teacher was laid off last year. The school was ran (or not ran) by an incompetent principal who was arrested for beating his girlfriend. No, he was not fired, in fact he kept his job and pretended like nothing ever happened. By the way, this whole event was covered in the local newspaper.

My mother had to deal with unruly students. Her authority, as well as other teachers at this school was undermined by the domestic abuser principal. But, the superintendent of the school district got a $35,000 bonus!! Even though he retired from another school district, somewhere in Ohio from what my mother told me. For the record, this superintendent did nothing regarding the incompetent, woman beating principal. My mother told me that none of the students respected him, although he tried to present himself as being "cool". He was regularly referred to as the "wife beater".

I wanted to direct your attention to an article about the Detroit Public School System. I have to say that when I read this article, I thought it was a joke. The school board president is a functioning illiterate. Link here

My mother's job search has been unsuccessful. She wanted to be a teacher because she thought she could impart knowledge. The corruption runs deep throughout the school systems in the United States. I believe it's inherent in government schooling. I don't think my mother understands this. She is still a supporter of public education. She lost her job because she lacked seniority. The certification process is a big joke. For the record, my mother already has a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She wasted two years and thousands of dollars in loans. Yet a man like Otis Mathis, who can't even write English is a school board president?

I apologize for this long email. I just had to get it off my chest. I'm 32 years old and I am concerned for the future of the U.S. and for the West in general. We have lost the real meaning of Western culture. We all benefit from the trappings of Western society. But how in HELL can we maintain it if the intellectual framework has been deliberately destroyed. Are we following in the foot steps of Ancient Rome? I'm still trying to answer that question.

Simptums of D-Troit Publik Edjecashun

Here's a new slogan for Detroit public schools: get an education or you'll end up like, well... like the president of the city school board [above].

It's bad enough Detroit's schools are currently graduating a pathetic 1 out of every 4 students. But now, the Detroit News is wondering what kind of example the public school board's leadership is setting when it sends out emails like this one:
Do DPS control the Foundation or outside group? If an outside group control the foundation, then what is DPS Board row with selection of is director? Our we mixing DPS and None DPS row's, and who is the watch dog?

And this one sent to supporters just a few days ago:
If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats.

The author of these emails is DPS board president Otis Mathis, a life-long resident of Detroit and public secondary school and higher-ed graduate. Mathis acknowledges he's a "horrible writer," but shouldn't a lack of basic skills like writing disqualify someone to lead the city's board of education?
In another city, these revelations might be grounds for disqualification. But Mathis is liked and defended by many of his peers, who cite his collegiality, lack of defensiveness and leadership as more important than his writing skills.

I'm sure Mr. Mathis is a likeable guy. However, his is just one of many cases in the public sector where standards have been thrown out the window. Why is it consistently ok for quality standards--the same standards demanded by the private sector--to be ignored in public positions?

Would a publication like Townhall (or any other that took itself seriously) ever hire me if I actually wrote in language like that of the title of this post? Why then would it be ok for the public education system to--a system the nation regularly relies on to EDUCATE our children?

And shouldn't the president of the board set some kind of personal standard for public education? It'd be like having a manufacturer who has no basic knowledge of his company's products. Public or private sector: we need to demand standards of quality!


Villaraigosa shocked at celebration of O.J. Simpson, RuPaul, Dennis Rodman at L.A. Black History Month

I doubt that the teachers intended to make a mockery of black history month -- though they did, of course. I suspect that it was the work of far-Leftist teachers who really do think that O.J. Simpson and the others are good role models

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed shock over allegations that three teachers at a South Los Angeles elementary school encouraged students to celebrate O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman and RuPaul during Black History Month. The teachers have been suspended as the L.A. Unified School district investigates. According to officials, children at Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School were carrying pictures of the men at a parade Friday on the school playground.

"I am shocked and outraged by the actions of these teachers at Wadsworth Elementary School," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "These teachers undermined the school's well-intentioned celebration, and they did so at the expense of elementary school students. Their actions were not only cynical, but did a terrible disservice to the students, their families and all of the teachers who work hard on a daily basis to build trust and a productive learning environment."

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said Supt. Ramon C. Cortines learned about the incident Tuesday and had the teachers, who are white, pulled from their classrooms for the duration of an investigation. The suspension is without pay for the first three days. "The superintendent believes there are better choices," Pollard-Terry said. Other students were carrying pictures of President Obama and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The teachers have not been identified and could not be reached for comment. District officials did not provide specific details about what the teachers did, saying the investigation was still ongoing. Some community leaders aren't satisfied with the suspensions and are calling for the dismissal of the instructors, who teach first, second and fourth graders. "I just can't fathom what these teachers were thinking of except to make a mockery of African American history," said Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

L.C. "Chris" Strudwick-Turner of the Los Angeles Urban League likened the episode to a series of racially provocative incidents at UC San Diego, where a Feb. 15 off-campus party mocked Black History Month. "These kinds of things build on each other," she said. "When something like that happens in [San Diego] and there is no immediate consequence, that emboldens others. That's why I was glad that LAUSD took them out of the classroom right away."

[Updated at 1:38 p.m.: Pollard-Terry said Simpson appeared on the approved list of Black History Month figures, which dates back to 1985. But the names of Rodman and RuPaul, among others, were added in pencil when teachers were selecting which prominent African Americans their classes would honor in the parade. The school principal did not see the list, which Cortines called a lack of oversight, said Pollard-Terry.]

She said the three teachers were believed to have suggested at least some of those names for the list.

The district dispatched a human relations and ethnic diversity team Wednesday to help the school prepare lessons that are "more appropriate for Black History Month," she added.

Strudwick-Turner said the Los Angeles Urban League has been told by people who attended the parade Friday that the teachers had been asked to instruct their classes on a notable African American and that they had selected Simpson, Rodman and RuPaul.

The mayor said in his statement that he hopes the situation will be resolved. "I urge the Los Angeles United School District to take swift and appropriate action with respect to the teachers involved. We cannot stand for such myopic behavior by those whom we entrust to teach and inspire the next generation," he said.


More class size nonsense in Britain

With good discipline even class sizes of 60 can be satisfactory -- except perhaps for the very young. See here and here and here and here and here

Thousands of primary school children are being taught in supersized classes of more than 40 pupils, according to figures. At least 210 state school teachers were regularly leading lessons of at least 41 children last year, it was disclosed. In addition, around one-in-eight children in England are in classes of more than 30, despite fears pupils struggle for attention in huge lessons.

Opposition MPs seized on the disclosure, saying that Labour had failed to keep a promise made in 1997 to significantly cut class sizes. It follows figures published last year that showed the UK had some of the biggest lessons in the developed world. Only six other countries place under-11s in larger groups, it was revealed. Pupils in eastern European nations such as Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Russia were among those enjoying smaller classes.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: "It's shocking that there are thousands of young children being taught in these huge classes. "Massive classes are difficult for teachers to control and children who are struggling can lose out on the extra help they need."

Michael Gove, the Conservative shadow schools secretary, said: “Parents want schools built on a human scale where heads know the names of their children. “The Government has been going in the wrong direction.”

Labour introduced legislation in 1997 making it illegal for under-sevens to be taught in large classes. According to the latest figures, some 460,000 under-11s in England – one-in-eight – were taught in groups of more than 30 last year. Some 10,070 were in classes of at least 41 pupils, it was revealed. The worst area was Manchester, where 1,367 were in huge lessons, while 1,267 were affected in Stoke-on-Trent. Hertfordshire, Hull and the London borough of Merton also had hundreds of children in large classes.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Over the last 10 years we have massively increased the number of adults teaching children. “Over 98 per cent of infant classes are under the statutory limit and the average size is 26.2. “We expect local authorities and schools to take their legal responsibility to limit class sizes very seriously. There can be no excuses for any infant class that is unlawfully over the legal limit.”


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Middle school student suspended for REJECTING pill

And these brainless loons are the ones teaching kids!

The parents of a Kentuckiana seventh grade student say their young daughter was suspended from school for doing exactly what she's been taught to do for years - to just say no to drugs. The girl did not bring the prescription drug to her Jeffersonville, IN school, nor did she take it, but she admits that she touched it and in Greater Clark County Schools that is drug possession.

Rachael Greer said it happened on Feb. 23 during fifth period gym class at River Valley Middle School when a girl walked into the locker room with a bag of pills. "She was talking to another girl and me about them and she put one in my hand and I was like, ‘I don't want this,' so I put it back in the bag and I went to gym class," said Rachael.

The pills were the prescription ADHD drug, Adderall. Patty Greer, Rachael's mother, said she and her husband are proud of their daughter for turning down drugs, just like she's been taught for years by DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instructors at school. "I'm proud her conscience kicked in and she said, ‘No, I'm not taking this. Here you can have it back,'" Patty Greer said.

But just saying no didn't end the trouble for Rachael. During the next period, an assistant principal came and took Rachael out of class. It turned out the girl who originally had the pills and a few other students got caught. That's when the assistant principal gave Rachael a decision. "We're suspending you for five days because it was in your hand," said Rachael.

After hearing the news, Patty Greer went to school officials. "He said she wrote it down on a witness statement and she had told the truth, he said she was very, very honest and he said he was sorry he had to do it but it was school policy," said Patty Greer.

According to Greater Clark County Schools district policy, even a touch equals drug possession and a one week suspension. "The fact of the matter is, there were drugs on school campus and it was handled, so there was a violation of our policy," said Martin Bell, COO of Greater Clark County Schools.

We wanted to know what would have happened if Rachael had told a teacher right away. Bell said the punishment would not have been any different. District officials say if they're not strict about drug policies no one will take them seriously.

"That's not a good policy," said Patty Greer. "We're teaching our kids if you say no to drugs you're going to get punished, it's not right."

Greater Clark County School district officials would not tell us how many other students were involved, but they did tell us there were other suspensions and some students were moved to an alternative school.


Britain to fire some of its most eminent professors

PLANS by two leading universities to dismiss renowned academics to implement Lord Mandelson’s spending cuts have sparked worldwide protests by thousands of scholars. King’s College London has caused the greatest outrage with a proposal to sack David Ganz, Britain’s only professor of palaeography and one of the world’s most eminent experts in ancient handwriting. Thousands of academics — led by professors from the American universities Harvard and Stanford — have signed petitions and joined Facebook groups to save Ganz and his department.

At the University of Sussex, plans to shed 115 jobs, including cutbacks in languages, history and science, have sparked student occupations of a campus building and international anger led by Princeton.

King’s and Sussex have announced the deepest cuts so far to cope with the £1 billion reduction in higher education funding announced by Mandelson, the first secretary of state. Last month, Mandelson attacked his university critics, saying lecturers “think they have a right to be set in aspic”.

By this weekend, the Facebook group campaigning to save Ganz had attracted 6,273 members, while a separate petition had 7,493 signatures. The Daily Princetonian newspaper wrote: “Faculty members [at King’s] will be let go not because they have ceased to research or teach effectively, but because their fields ... don’t spin money. “Similar measures are under way at another once excellent institution, Sussex.”

Protesters against Ganz’s proposed redundancy include Jeffrey Hamburger, professor of German art and culture at Harvard. He called the plan “nothing short of a disaster”.

Two senior researchers in computational linguistics, Shalom Lappin and Wilfried Meyer-Viol, are among 125 King’s staff told they are likely to lose their jobs. Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, said of the plan: “To give the boot to a scholar like Lappin is an act of madness.”

At Sussex, the 115 staff scheduled to lose their jobs include Naomi Tadmor, a senior history lecturer. The university told her of her fate while she was in Israel for her mother’s funeral. Sussex is to stop teaching English history from before 1700 and all pre-1900 European history. Other courses facing the axe include undergraduate degrees in foreign languages.

Sussex said: “We have a strategy of growth, seeking additional income from non-public funds and making targeted savings in areas that have the largest gap between income and spending.”

King’s said: “This is not a bunch of management consultants parachuted in, this is the heads of schools and their teams coming up with proposals — and they are academics.”

Ganz declined to comment on his future, but said: “It would be a brave parent who would send a child to university in the reign of Mandelson.”


Australia: Row over barbecue as primary school opts to offer halal sausages

A ROW over sausages has a school community sizzling amid competing claims of bigotry and animal cruelty. What was supposed to be a welcome-back barbecue for students at Coburg West Primary School has turned into a debate over the Islamic halal method of preparing meat.

Members of the school's Parents and Friends Association believed they were being inclusive when they ordered halal-only sausages for last month's barbie. But some parents thought it was political correctness gone mad to offer only halal meat.

Parent Diane Rees said yesterday that she was outraged when told by the PFA that "we have to buy halal because we have some Muslim children in the school". "I said to the principal, 'I think you're discriminating against the majority of the school and appeasing the minority by only serving halal,' " she said. "It's not fair on my children that they can't eat at the school."

Ms Rees said she wasn't anti-Muslim - her concern was over the way animals were killed under the halal method, which involves a knife cut to the jugular veins and carotid arteries in the neck. "They take two long minutes to die and I think that's bloody cruel," she said.

But Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said research showed that, done properly, halal was a quick and humane slaughter of animals. "I think they are using the issue of some halal sausages at a barbecue, for God's sake, to bring out their own xenophobic bigotry," he said. "It was very thoughtful of the parents and friends association to try to cater for Muslims. I think they (the critics) need to get real and get a life on this one."

School principal David Kilmartin, who has been in the job for only a month, said halal-only barbecues were not school policy and the PFA had been told to provide a choice of meat in the future. "I don't think it was done with any malice. I'm assuming there would have been requests from Muslim families to have halal meat," he said.