Saturday, March 20, 2010

What works in education reform

At lunch yesterday I met Anders Hultin, CEO of Gems Education in the UK, which is associated with the highly successful Konskapsskolan school chain in Sweden. So I was getting some good tips about what makes Sweden's school voucher system work. I thought I might pass on a few of them to the Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove MP, who wants to engineer the same supply-side revolution here. Though he probably knows it all already, but just can't say it because of political correctness.

In Sweden, the average cost of a municipal education follows the choices of parents. Even if they send their kid to a private school, that budget – about £6,500 – follows. To get the money, private schools are not allowed to charge top-up fees, and there is no academic selection. But it's easy to get a licence to enter this system, and 1,100 new schools have sprung up because of it. Most, about 800 of them (Gove please note), are profit-making. Many are small schools but in big chains (some with turnovers of £100m and more), which actually have a successful model for organising and running schools, and take that successful brand to one school after another.

Nor surprisingly, this supply-side revolution, a deregulation of the school sector, has brought plenty of new investment. In the UK it might cost £25m to set up a new school. In Sweden, it costs the state nothing, because parents, teachers, companies and others raise the money they need – and usually work out ways to do things far cheaper than the state can. And it works. the new schools have 20% better educational outcomes.

There seem to be four lessons from all of this. (1) Make it easy for new people to come in and provide education. Standards, yes, but allow people to start small, maybe renting empty office or warehouse space, rather than insisting that everything has to be built and run as the state builds and runs it. (2) Allow profit making, because that is what drives the investment and the risk-taking. (3) Don't keep subsidizing failure, but reward success. (4) Let people spread their success. That is what makes the Swedish system work: it's about knowing how to deliver education effectively, and taking that expertise far and wide.


Racist Scots

Not really surprising. The Scots have always hated the English

Edinburgh University was yesterday accused of 'anti-English' bias after discriminating against applicants from the South. Admissions rules posted on its website state that 'additional weighting' will be given to students from Scotland and the far north of England. The move aims to ensure 'local' applicants get on popular courses.

But headteachers at leading English public schools condemned the policy as 'potentially illegal and racist' and unfair to English families whose taxes support Scotland.

The move triggered suspicions that the university - whose past students include Prime Minister Gordon Brown - is trying to change the social make-up of its campus. It has traditionally been a magnet for students from aristocratic and society circles, attracting the reputation of being 'English and posh'.

One of the unhappy English headteachers is Richard Cairns, of Brighton College. He said only two out of 27 applicants to Edinburgh had so far been successful this year. Yet more than half of pupils have been given offers by other prestigious universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and University College London. They include Jo Saxby, 17, who was welcomed by Oxford, Bristol and Exeter but rejected by Edinburgh, his second-choice, without even an interview. 'You feel completely helpless,' he said. 'It feels quite unfair to feel you are not being judged on merit.'

Mr Cairns, who used to teach in Scotland, said: 'I asked around schools in the South East. They have all had the same experience. Edinburgh has opted to turn in on itself in a manner that strikes me as potentially illegal and racist.'

The university - among the top 20 in the world and a member of the Russell Group of leading UK colleges - is understood to be the only UK institution to give priority to applicants from certain areas. Its website stated: 'We want to make sure that local applicants are not prevented from studying their chosen subject.' It added 'additional weighting' will go to students who live in Scotland, Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham, Teesside, and Tyne and Wear.

Andrew Halls, head of King's College School, Wimbledon, South London, said he had been 'quite struck' by the lack of offers from the university this year. 'Edinburgh has been ruthless and, at worst, is adopting a depressingly xenophobic approach. 'They are losing a lot of very able candidates who would love to study in Scotland.'

A spokesman for the university said: 'The percentage of English entrants has risen year-on-year over the past few years. 'In 2009, 41 per cent of UK entrants were from England.'


Merit scholarships and conspiracies in restraint of trade

We spent last week visiting colleges that my son is thinking of applying to. The experience reinforced the impression I had earlier gotten from web pages—that what Harvard (and, mutatis mutandis, Vassar and ...) wants are students who decided, at age fourteen, that their highest priority for the next four years was doing whatever it would take to get into Harvard. It also raised an interesting puzzle. A number of the schools we visited claim to have very generous financial aid programs based on need, but no merit based scholarships at all. How and why?

Why the schools, collectively, would want such a policy is pretty clear. Bidding against each other for the very best students—which is what merit based scholarships amount to—is costly. From a financial standpoint, they are better off if they all refrain. From an ideological standpoint, I expect most of those involved in the process would rather spend their money on smart poor students than on very smart rich ones.

But what is in the collective interest of all is not necessarily in the private interest of each. Schools benefit by having extraordinarily good students—and even the Harvards and Vassars of the world do not have an unlimited supply of such. Brilliant students are fun to teach, which makes the school more attractive to potential faculty. They create intellectual excitement, which makes it more attractive to applicants. And, with luck, they end up with fame and/or fortune, some of which may get shared with their alma mater. If all the elite schools refrain from bidding for such they save a good deal of money, and lose only to the extent that some brilliant students who can afford Harvard decide to go to some less elite but more generous school instead—which should not be too much of a risk if the lack of generosity applies only to students whose parents can afford Harvard without financial aid. But if an individual elite school breaks ranks, it has the opportunity to push itself higher in the select company of elite schools.

The logic is very much the same as in an ordinary cartel agreement. All firms in the industry benefit by keeping output down and prices up, but each firm benefits even more if the others follow that policy while it cuts prices a little and expands output a lot.

Which raises an obvious suspicion—that what I am observing is indeed cartel pricing, that some subset of elite schools, containing schools that believe they are competing mostly against each other, have made an implicit agreement to refrain from competing for potential students who are both extraordinarily able and financially well off.

About twenty years ago, eight Ivy League schools were accused by the Justice Department of just such an arrangement—sharing information on student applicants, agreeing not to offer merit based scholarships, avoiding competition for the best students. The controversy was settled by a consent agreement, in which the schools agreed to a variety of things, including ending the annual meetings at which they, along with 15 other schools in the Northeast, discussed the financial aid applications of students that had been accepted by more than one of the schools. My observation of current financial aid policy suggests that at least some of the schools involved may have continued, or resumed, the same practices, probably in a less visible form.

Assuming that is what is going on, what are the implications–aside from the possibility of future collisions with the Justice Department? The obvious one is that wealthy schools will be a little richer, and wealthy parents of very smart kids who want to go to those schools a little poorer; off hand I don't see anything particularly bad (or good) about that.

The less obvious one is that the position of elite schools, at least the ones refusing to compete for top students, will be a little less secure. A few years ago, when my daughter was looking at colleges, one of the ones she seriously considered was Saint Olaf. One thing that struck us in the process was an email from their admissions officer, informing us that by applying a little earlier our daughter could be considered for a merit scholarship. Saint Olaf was, and is, a school a little below the level of Harvard, Vassar, and the like—and trying to work its way up.

A second thing that struck us about that particular interaction is relevant to my earlier post about the desire of elite colleges for students whose academic records all fit the same pattern—the desire for a cookie-cutter elite. The reason the admission officer gave for sending the email was that our daughter was home schooled, and Saint Olaf had found that home schooled students were sometimes very well qualified, hence potential recipients of merit scholarships.

That was very nearly the opposite of the reaction we were getting from other schools, whose attitude was that they were willing to consider home schooled students but not at all sure how to handle their applications, and would much prefer that such applicants do their best to obtain conventional credentials by taking some graded courses somewhere, anywhere, before applying. It was the admission officer at Saint Olaf who told us that what blew them away was the list our daughter included in her application of books she had read—four hundred of them.

All of which suggests that the indirect effect of the policies of the elite schools may be to open up American collegiate education to a little more competition. Which might be a good thing.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Limited apology ends defamation suit brought by far-Left professor at CUNY

Leftists can't take being mocked or criticized

An unusual defamation suit by a professor against an emeritus professor has ended -- without the $2 million payout that the plaintiff had sought, but with a statement by the lawsuit's target that the plaintiff is not a terrorist. Both sides are claiming victory in a case that raised questions about the freedom of academics to attack union leaders. But the plaintiff says that the issue is the right of faculty leaders to stand up to unrelenting personal attacks.

The suit was filed in 2007 over comments made by Sharad Karkhanis, an emeritus professor at Kingsborough Community College who publishes The Patriot Returns, an online newsletter that features regular, caustic criticism of the City University of New York's faculty union. According to the newsletter, the Professional Staff Congress, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is a poorly-run union that focuses too much on leftist politics to be effective on behalf of its members.

One of the issues in the lawsuit was comments Karkhanis wrote about Susan O'Malley, an English professor at Kingsborough, who was at the time a member of the union's executive board. The comments focused on O'Malley and her push to protect the job rights of Mohammad Yousry, who was fired from CUNY and who was convicted (in a controversial case that some believe was unfair) of supporting terrorist activities and of Susan Rosenberg, a CUNY instructor who served jail time for her role in the Weather Underground. In several references, Karkhanis mocked O'Malley for her efforts on behalf of these individuals, whom he dubbed terrorists, and questioned why she was so focused on them. In comments he says are satire, he referred to O'Malley's "Queda-Camp," to her desire to "bring in all her indicted, convicted and freed-on-bail terrorist friends" to college jobs, and so forth. He wrote that she "does not worry about the 'ordinary' adjunct -- but she is worried about convicted terrorists."

The tough tone is the style of the newsletter, which calls Barbara Bowen, the president of the union, "Dear Leader," after the North Korean dictator.

As justification for seeking $2 million in damages, O'Malley said that she was being accused of being a terrorist. While she has said that her reputation was being slandered, others have said that the suit set a dangerous precedent for academic freedom in that a faculty member was being attacked in the courts for his criticism of a powerful figure (even if in this case the powerful figure was a union leader, not an administrator). One blog was formed to defend The Patriot Returns by academics who said they were staying anonymous to avoid being sued by O'Malley.

As part of the settlement, Karkhanis has issued a statement in his newsletter in which he says that he does not believe O'Malley to be a terrorist. Since Karkhanis has maintained that he never believed her to be a terrorist, but was engaged in satire, he maintains this is no defeat. The statement says: "We do not believe Professor Susan O'Malley to be a terrorist, and deeply regret if she, or any of her associates, understood us to have labeled her as such. We are sorry if anything published in The Patriot Returns has been interpreted in such a way. We do not believe that anything published in The Patriot Returns has exceeded the bounds of permissible speech, but express our profound sorrow if Dr. O'Malley sustained any damage to her reputation or suffered any emotional pain or suffering as a result of these statements."

The lawyer representing Karkhanis, Mark E. Jakubik, also published a statement in the newsletter, arguing that this is a full victory for his client. "The settlement did not involve an admission of liability or wrongdoing by Dr. Karkhanis. To the contrary, as is clearly iterated in the statement, we continue to believe that none of the material published in The Patriot Returns that was at issue in the lawsuit was defamatory or otherwise actionable for any reason. Second, there is no financial aspect to the settlement, and Dr. Karkhanis is not required to make any payment whatsoever to Dr. O'Malley or anyone else. Third, Dr. Karkhanis remains free to publish The Patriot Returns without prior restraint. In sum, we believe that, given the terms upon which Dr. Karkhanis agreed to resolve this matter, the settlement represents a significant victory for free speech and academic freedom, and The Patriot Returns will continue to stand as an unabashed defender of those values."

In an interview, O'Malley said that the case "was never about money" so that she did not view the settlement as anything but a victory. She said that she sued after being attacked for years, and after being attacked in ways that not only were personally hurtful, but that limited her ability to lobby in Albany on behalf of faculty interests. "Everywhere I would go, they would say 'Oh, you are the one being attacked all the time,'" she said.

The repeated attacks, which she said represented the thinking of conservative faculty members, were not satire, she said, because it was never clear what was satire and what was not. Further, she said that the attacks were "an attempt to silence me," so her suit was not an attack on free expression, but a defense of it. She said she was legitimately concerned about being branded a terrorist and thought her name might end up on a government no-fly list. She said that she returned to Kingsborough -- after being on leave to perform various faculty governance roles -- and found that many faculty members didn't know her, but had read about her in the newsletter.

Ultimately, O'Malley said, she hoped that the case might "create some good case law" about what can be done "when people are spreading lies" online. But she said she felt she had won a victory in that, since she sued, she hasn't been attacked in the same way. "I just wanted it quiet for a while," she said.


The soft bigotry of low expectations, blackboard jungle edition

As I noted here, the Obama administration's Department of Education has announced that it will crack down on "civil-rights infractions" in public schools, including alleged disparities in the disciplining of white and black students. The notion behind this initiative is that black students are disproportionately subjected to discipline they don't deserve.

That doesn't seem to be the case in the Philadelphia public school system, however. There, as Abigail Thernstrom and Tim Fay report, it appears that African American students frequently harass and attack Asian students without consequence.. The problem is especially pronounced at South Philadelphia High School. There, according to Thernstrom and Fay,
assaults ]by blacks on Asians]have occurred in the cafeteria line, in bathrooms, in stairwells, on school buses, and elsewhere. The incidents ran the gamut from verbal abuse, physical intimidation, blocking doorways, cutting in line ahead of Asian students in the cafeteria, use of anti-Asian racial epithets, and more serious physical abuse including shoving, kicking, and punching--sometimes at the hands of more than one assailant. Advocates have accused school officials, including school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Principal LaGreta Brown (both black) of indifference to the plight of Asian students in their charge.

On one occasion,

black students reportedly began to hunt for Asians, checking classrooms were they might be found. A group of apparently organized black students reportedly rushed the stairwells to the second floor where many Asian students were located. Security camera footage from the lunchroom showed a group of 60 to 70 students--most of them black--surging forward with a smaller faction attacking a small group of Asian students.

Another time, after the school was "locked down,"

school officials decided to have classrooms dismissed one-by-one, and contacted police to provide extra protection outside the school. The ranks of the police thinned, however, when some had to respond to another emergency, and by the time a group of Asians were heading home they were insufficiently protected. Escorted out of the school by the principal (perhaps only for a short way--another disputed fact), the Asian students spotted blacks lying in wait; they made a futile attempt to run from trouble. In the ensuing attack, one Asian student's nose was broken, and as many as 13 ended up needing treatment at the local hospital.

If the Obama administration really cared about civil rights enforcement in the context of public education, it would be acting to ensure that minority students, such as Asian-Americans, have access to a public education free of intimidation, and certainly free from violence. It would not be discouraging school officials at places like South Philadelphia High School from maintaining what little discipline may exist by threatening to launch an investigation if blacks students are disciplined in large numbers.

Unfortunately, in the view of Obama's civil rights enforcers, some races seem to be more equal than others.

JOHN adds: Anyone who seriously thinks that the big problem in our public schools is discrimination against violent African-American students has had zero contact with such schools--or, one might say, with reality--in recent decades. I doubt that even the Obama administration is that out of touch. What we're seeing here is a political payoff at the expense of students of all races, nothing more.


A spineless British council allows a State school to be taken over by aggressive Muslims

A headmistress forced from her job after a campaign by two Muslim governors to give Islam a greater presence in a state school is entitled to £400,000 damages, the Court of Appeal has ruled. Erica Connor, 57, left the New Monument primary school in Woking, Surrey, because of stress after she was accused of Islamophobia. A deputy High Court judge ruled in March last year that Surrey County Council had failed in its duty to protect her and to intervene when the actions of the governors created problems. He awarded her £407,700 damages. The council had appealed against the ruling, claiming it was not liable in law and had not acted negligently in dealing with the problem.

Lord Justice Laws, giving a ruling on Thursday, said that Mrs Connor, who was promoted to head of the school in 1998, had suffered psychiatric damage and had to stop work in 2005 and retired a year later on ill-health grounds. The school had a 80-85 per cent Muslim intake and problems began in 2003 when Paul Martin, a Muslim convert, was elected a parent governor and Mumtaz Saleem was appointed as a local education authority governor. Mr Martin started making allegations about anti-Muslim comments by members of staff, which led to an investigation by Mrs Connor. She found that all the staff denied the allegations, which she said had demoralised them. An official review also found no evidence of deliberate racism or religious bias but said the governing body had become dysfunctional. The High Court had been told Mr Martin tried to stir up disaffection in the community against the school and Mr Saleem was verbally abusive in school meetings.

Although during the first five years that Mrs Connor was in charge of the school there had been good relations with the local Muslim community and improved results, the situation changed when the two men were elected as governors. Judge John Leighton Williams ruled in the High Court that the men had an agenda to increase the role of the Muslim religion in the school and that this, combined with the authority’s failure to protect Mrs Connor, had led her to suffer serious depression.

When Mr Martin was removed from the board of governors in June 2005, he wrote a letter of complaint saying it was because he had been raising complaints of institutional racism within the school. A few days later a petition was circulated calling for Mrs Connor’s removal from the school and containing “defamatory and offensive remarks”, the appeal judges were told.

Lord Justice Laws said the High Court judge was right to find there had been negligence on the part of the council. He said it was an unusual case — “partly because of the council’s lamentable capitulation to aggression”.

Lord Justice Sedley said: “Surrey County Council found itself faced with the unenviable task of responding in an equitable fashion to an inequitable campaign designed to capture a secular state school for a particular faith which happened to be that of a majority of the families whose children attended the school.” He said the council had gone wrong by trying to compromise rather than protecting the head, the staff and the school.

“The picture that emerges from the careful and thorough [High Court] judgment is of a local education authority which had allowed itself to be intimidated by an aggressively conducted campaign to subvert the school’s legal status, a campaign which was plainly destabilising the school and placing the headteacher under intolerable pressure.”


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama's Plan to Cripple Education Reforms

To date, the only area in which we have found ourselves in agreement with President Obama was over his announced intention to enforce strict and elevated education standards and move toward paying teachers based on merit. Now, Obama has retreated from his position of principle and embraced a mealy-mouthed compromise designed to placate school administrators, teachers unions and their political acolytes at the expense of educational standards.

Over the weekend, Obama announced a series of changes in the No Child Left Behind Law, most of which will weaken it and might even cripple the efforts to raise school standards. The law -- and most education terminology -- is coded with euphemisms and generalities that must be translated, so let us help to provide a codebook.

The New York Times reports that Obama's plan would "use annual tests along with other indicators" to measure achievement in the nation's schools. What are the other indicators? The Times says they include "pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate."

This proposed change will totally undermine the central principle of No Child Left Behind: that schools be judged by objective indices of student performance. By factoring in attendance rates, the changes give credit for putting warm bodies in seats. By focusing on graduation rates, they permit schools to push up their ratings by passing out good grades to incompetent students. And by looking at the "learning climate," the changes would inject subjective and vague criteria that would permit failing schools to disguise that fact.

While it is not always good to base measurements of performance only on tests of reading and math, these examination scores at least afford independent, objective indications of student ability. By permitting fudging through these new subjective or self-vindicating standards, Obama undermines the whole concept of educational reform.

The Times indicates that Obama wants to find the "5,000 chronically failing schools" while also identifying the 10,000 to 15,000 excellent ones and the 80,000 schools in between. This quota system ignores two abysmal facts: Under No Child Left Behind, one school in three was found to be failing, and there has been no appreciable increase in either reading or math scores for the past decade.

By sweeping the problem of bad schools under the rug through a numerical quota (or goal) and subjective criteria for measuring performance, Obama lets the legacy of failing public schools continue while parents are dosed with the soothing syrup of reassurance.

Obama also wants to shift the focus from forcing students to achieve proficiency at each grade level to "measuring each student's academic growth regardless of the performance level at which they started." In other words, Obama wants to allow students who cannot read, write or do math with appropriate ability to be coddled as long as they are improving. When will we learn that flexible standards that bend to accommodate those who cannot meet them do the disadvantaged no good and plenty of harm?

Two parts of the proposed reforms make sense. He would replace the emphasis on teachers' academic credentials with a focus on evaluating how their pupils are doing and would intervene in otherwise proficient schools where disadvantaged students are falling far behind the bulk of the pupil population. But these two saving graces are not enough to redeem a program designed to restore the good old days of flattering self-evaluation in education and reassuring, if phony, good news to feed to parents and the community.

Until now, Obama has stood firm on the subject of education reform, resisting efforts to cripple the Bush standards. Now he has retreated even from this position to the detriment of our children.


Fat Cat California Teachers Union Misses the Education Mark

The California Fair Political Practices Commission released a report last week detailing the fifteen most influential special interest groups in the state. Over the course of the last ten years, these fifteen groups—consisting of unions, Indian tribes, and corporations—spent over $1 billion on lobbying, candidates, ballot measures, and other political activities. In a state as large and influential as California, it’s not hard to imagine millions of dollars being expended on directing its course—especially when multiple ballot measures every election pit one interest group against another.

But among the top fifteen big spenders, one special interest group particularly stands out: the California Teachers Association (CTA). In the last decade, the CTA has spent over $200 million on lobbying and political activities—almost double what the second highest-spending lobbying group spent.

Unions have become the dominant political influence in California. At the mere hint of any threat to their power structure, the union-financed political machine fires up and intimidates all opposition. The hubris of the unions is such that during a legislative budget committee hearing last summer, one union leader threatened, “We helped get you into office and we’ve got a good memory.”

The CTA’s spending is especially noteworthy when one considers the issues it spends its members’ dues on. Most of the CTA’s 325,000 members probably assume that their dues are used only on education-related matters. But the CTA has branched out into all sorts of political battles beyond education funding.

Although it would seem logical that a teachers union would only focus on education issues, a look at the CTA web site reveals the true goal of this progressive union. According to the CTA mission statement, the union exists to “protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education.” That sounds like a perfectly ordinary goal for a teachers union.

But the mission statement goes on to explain that the union also exists to “ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society.” Ensuring “human dignity and civil rights,” as well as a “more just, equitable and democratic society” is far beyond the scope of simply lobbying for teachers’ salaries or more school supplies.

Since 2000, the CTA has spent over $38 million on lobbying the state legislature. A look at the legislation the CTA is lobbying in the current legislative session shows a focus on more than school-related matters.

The CTA is actively supporting Senate Joint Resolution 9, legislation calling upon Congress and the President to repeal the “discriminatory” Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy. It also lobbied to pass Senate Bill 572, which declares May 22 Harvey Milk Day in California, in honor of the homosexual activist from San Francisco.

Apparently universal healthcare has become a priority for the teachers union as it supported Senate Bill 1, legislation that would extend Medi-Cal coverage to illegal immigrants’ children. And the CTA isn’t just supporting, but is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 810, which would implement a single-payer government-run healthcare system in California. The CTA lobbied against a Republican-sponsored healthcare reform measure that would have provided greater competition in health insurance by allowing out-of-state carriers to sell plans in California

Even more telling than the legislation it supports, is the legislation the CTA opposes, including Senate Bill 370, which would have prevented voter fraud through voter identification requirements.

The CTA has also invested a great deal of time and money into the marriage issue. It supports Assembly Joint Resolution 19, calling on Congress and the President to repeal the “discriminatory” Defense of Marriage Act. It also lobbied on behalf of House Resolution 5 and Senate Resolution 7, which both expressed the legislature’s belief that Proposition 8 was an “improper” revision to the state constitution. In 2008, the CTA was among the biggest donors to the No on Proposition 8 campaign, pouring more than $1 million into the effort.

And if there were any doubt about the political party with whom the CTA most identifies, their $6.5 million dollar donation—the largest donation to any political party from the special interest groups—clearly signifies the union’s commitment to the Democrat Party.

Pay check protection is crucial to transforming California and diminishing the influence of unions. Union members who don’t agree with the aggressive social agenda of their unions are forced to pay dues spent on political campaigning that may violate their beliefs and standards. In the meantime, the CTA will continue to flood Sacramento with its money and influence—at the expense of those they supposedly represent.


Lazy British teacher lets boy die -- but no penalty

A boy of 11 who suffered an asthma attack at school was left dying in a corridor because a teacher was allegedly too busy to call an ambulance. Doctors believe Sam Linton could have been saved if he had received treatment sooner. Instead, he was left alone and gasping for breath because, it was claimed, his form tutor, Janet Ford, 46, refused to help him because she was in a meeting.

The teacher - who has not been suspended - allegedly told two of Sam's concerned friends to 'go away'. He was taken to hospital when his mother picked him up from school, but died hours later. Last night Sam's devastated parents, Karen and Paul Linton, launched a furious attack on staff at Offerton High School in Stockport after an inquest jury ruled their son was the victim of systemic failings and neglect. Mrs Linton, a company managing director, said she and her husband, a double glazing engineer, would take legal action against Stockport council.

She said: 'I am angry, very angry. When I arrived (at school), Sam was worse than I have ever seen him before. 'As soon as I saw him, I knew it was serious. He had a grey tinge to his skin and his mouth was blue. I had never seen him like that before in all of the 100 or so attacks he'd had. 'The fact that no one called an ambulance during the hours that Sam was suffering from a prolonged asthma attack is truly astounding and very troubling for all parents. 'When you send your child to school you believe they will be looked after and cared for.'

The inquest heard that, despite suffering from asthma all his life, Sam was a keen footballer and had a black belt in tae kwon do. On the day he died in December 2007, Sam was seen struggling for breath during the lunch hour. However, he appeared to recover, before suffering a full asthma attack in a lesson with Miss Ford at 2.15pm. After the lesson, Miss Ford telephoned the school's student services department, who were responsible for first aid, and was told to send him to them when he got his breath back and his symptoms had calmed down. She failed to do so, and went into a meeting. Sam was found at the end of the school day gasping for air on a bench by friend Paris Rafferty, who was so concerned she interrupted Miss Ford.

However, the court heard that Miss Ford told Paris to 'go away', adding: 'I know Sam is there and he will have to wait.' Instead, Paris went to find Sam's older brother, Jacque, then 13. Jacque told Miss Ford she needed to call an ambulance, but the teacher refused. Even though Sam could not walk unaided, she told Jacque to take him to the staff room and call his parents.

Mrs Linton took Sam to Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, at 5.20pm but he died two hours later in the presence of his parents. Dr Charlotte Doughty, who treated Sam, told the hearing that he may have survived had an ambulance been called earlier. She said: 'The people I have seen die from asthma attacks are the people who have delayed their attendance to hospital.'

Giving evidence, Miss Ford denied the pupils' accounts of events but admitted being 'vague' on school policy, which said an ambulance should be called if a pupil's condition did not improve within 10 minutes. ''In hindsight, I would have done things differently,' she added.

Giving their verdict of neglect, the jury listed 12 separate failings on the part of the school, ten of which 'caused or significantly contributed to' Sam's death. These included failing to put in place an adequate asthma policy or sufficiently training staff to help children with the illness. The jury was asked to consider whether Sam had been unlawfully killed, but dismissed this verdict, which means it is unlikely anyone will face a criminal prosecution.

A Stockport Council spokesman confirmed no one had been suspended following Sam's death, but added: 'We are now considering the inquest verdict and the recommendations of the coroner.'


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reaching for the SKY

South Korea focuses on quality over reducing class sizes

Within South Korea, the three most prestigious universities are Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. Collectively, they are referred to by the acronym SKY.

Graduating from a SKY university often leads to a prestigious job with a high salary --especially if the graduate is in the field of education. Opinion polls show that South Koreans view teachers as high-status professionals who make greater contributions to society than any other profession. I recently visited the SKY universities to learn why SouthKoreans feel this way.

"In Korea, we have a Confucian tradition of respecting teachers," said LimCheolil, associate professor of education at Seoul National University.

Beyond tradition, South Korea actively raises the status of teaching as a profession by doing two things. First, it makes entry to teacher training very selective. Teachers are recruited from the top 5 percent of each high-school graduate class. Second, teachers are paid generous starting salaries of 141 percent of GDP per capita, which is significantly above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 95 percent.

Making teacher training selective and paying teachers high starting salaries attracts the strongest candidates to the teaching profession,which is important because teacher quality significantly impacts student outcomes.

South Korea is able to pay teachers high starting salaries because it employs relatively fewer teachers than other nations. As a result, the student-teacher ratio in South Korea is 30:1, compared to the OECD averageof 17:1.

It's a smart tradeoff because studies show that teacher quality has significantly more impact on student outcomes than class size. Dollar fordollar, it's better to attract a small number of outstanding teachers with high starting salaries than to attract a large number of mediocre teachers with lower starting salaries --even if that means having a high student-teacher ratio.

In education-obsessed South Korea, the potential for earning a lot of money as a teacher is great. For example, 46-year-old math instructor and cram school tutor Woo Hyeong-cheol makes $4 million a year teaching Web-based classes. His salary is higher than most of the top professional baseball players in South Korea. And he's just as famous.

Teaching is more than just a high-status profession with a high starting salary in South Korea; it's also one of the most stable careers. Lee SangMin, assistant professor of education at Korea University, said: "After the economic crisis in 1997, most Koreans considered stability as the most important thing when choosing a job. Therefore, many university students pursue teaching positions in elementary, middle, and high school."

Lee Sungho H., professor of education at Yonsei University, agreed: "The most critical reason for being a teacher is job stability. Teachers are guaranteed retirement at age 62. In addition, teaching provides fringe-benefits such as summer and winter vacations, a fixed daily time schedule,and a good pension."

South Korea's high level of respect for teachers is an exemplar for other nations that want to improve student outcomes.


How the Campuses Helped Ruin California’s Economy

All across the country there were demonstrations on March 4 by students (and some faculty) against cuts in higher education funding, but inevitably attention focused on California, where the modern genre originated in 1964. I joined the University of California faculty in 1966 and so have watched a good many of them, but have never seen one less impressive that this year’s. In 1964 there was focus and clarity. This one was brain-dead. The former idealism and sense of purpose had degenerated into a self-serving demand for more money at a time when both state and university are broke, and one in eight California workers is unemployed. The elite intellectuals of the university community might have been expected to offer us insight into how this problem arose, and realistic measures for dealing with it. But all that was on offer was this: get more money and give it to us. Californians witnessing this must have wondered whether the money they were already providing was well spent where there was so little evidence of productive thought.

The content vacuum with filled with the standby language of past demonstrations, and so there was much talk of “the struggle,” and of “oppression,” and—of course—of racism. “We are all students of color now” said Berkeley’s Professor Ananya Roy, and a student proclaimed that this crisis represented “structural racism.” (Why not global warming too?) Berkeley’s Chancellor Birgeneau called the demonstrations “the best of our tradition of effective civil action.” Neither Chancellors nor demonstrations are what they used to be. The nostalgia for the good old days surfaced again in efforts to shut the campus down by blocking the entrance of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the old “shut it down” cry was somewhat misplaced when keeping it fully open was what the present demonstration was about, but then this was not an occasion when anyone seemed to have any idea of what they were trying to achieve.

One group at UCLA stumbled into the truth, though it was a truth they did not understand. At Bruin Plaza a crowd chanted “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power.” In its context this was just another slogan of a mindless day, but the reality is that those people do indeed have the power, and routinely use it in a way that makes them the author of their own troubles. Let me explain.

Unemployment in California is still rising. It just went up from 12.3 to 12.5%, nearly three points above an already bad national average. This horrendous figure is the source of California’s budget problem. The huge loss of tax revenue is compounded by greatly increased unemployment outlays. If we look at the few other states that have unemployment figures well above the national average, there are obvious explanations. Michigan is at 14.6 because employment in its major industry (automobiles) has collapsed. Nevada, at 13.0, is dependent on discretionary cash at a time when there isn’t any. But California is too big to be dominated by one industry, and its plight can only be explained by the state’s having grossly mismanaged its affairs.

In 2007 Raymond Keating formulated a Small Business Survival Index, which is a composite of various aspects of the climate for business in a particular state: business and personal taxes, regulations, mandates, and so on. In that index California ranked 49 among the 50 states. Rhode Island ranked just above California, and its unemployment rate is 12.7. At the bottom of the Index is D.C., and its unemployment rate is 12.1.

In the component parts of the SBSI index, California ranks worst of 51 (including D.C.) on top personal tax rates, worst on top capital gains tax rates, 42 on corporate taxes, 43 on health insurance mandates, 46 on electric utility costs, 47 on workman’s compensation costs, rock bottom again on state gas taxes, 45 on state and local government five year spending trends, and 47 on state and local per capita government spending. It also ranks 49 among the states on the US Economic freedom index, and it has the highest state sales tax rate too: where some states have an income tax but no sales tax, and others have a sales tax but no income tax, California has both, AND it has the highest rates in both.

In short, California is a disaster for business. The state has piled up so many taxes, regulations and mandates that businesses are leaving the state. Just this week I learned that a spare part order for my Lennox fireplace is delayed because Lennox is moving this division of its business to Tennessee. Wealthy individuals are also fleeing the state to avoid the country’s highest tax bracket. When both wealth and wealth creation leave the state, tax revenues leave with them.

How has this happened? As everyone knows by now, California has a dysfunctional legislature. Already in 2003—well before the current national crisis, and when the national unemployment rate was only 5.9%—California was bankrupt, and spending was so out of control that a Governor was recalled. The legislature enacts every politically correct whim that comes into its head, loading on one mandate and regulation after another. Cap and Trade could not pass nationally, but the California legislature proudly passed its job-killing global warming bill.

That is why the state now has a budget crisis of staggering proportions, and why university students are seeing those large fee hikes. But why is the California legislature so irresponsible, not to say goofy? Well, California is extremely rich in state university campuses: the UC and CSUC systems alone amount to 33 campuses, about a third of them mega-campuses of 30-35 thousand students, with another 10 around 20,000. The mega-campuses completely dominate the Assembly districts they are in, and their large concentrations of students and faculty skew the district electorate not just to the left, but to the devoutly politically correct but hopelessly unrealistic left. Virtually all of them routinely send Democrats to Sacramento. College towns with more modest sized campuses play their part too, but mega-campuses make their districts so one-sided that in the last election UC Berkeley’s Assembly seat had no election even though it was vacant: the Democratic nominee still ran unopposed. Where there is real competition between the parties the two sides keep each other honest and realistic, but when Assembly seats are so inevitably left that there is no contest, there is nothing to stop the side that has automatic electability from sliding into fantasy. Those districts provide the margin that allows an immature leftism that has lost contact with reality to control the state legislature and ruin the business climate of the state.

The irony here really cries out for attention: a large state university system needs a free market economy that hums along in top gear so that the revenue needed to support it can be generated. But California’s two unusually well developed state university systems provide enormous local voting power in many Assembly districts for a bitterly anti-capitalist ideology that sabotages the California economy. The campuses are shooting themselves in the foot. The power that those students and faculty chanted about is indeed theirs, and if they used it to elect sensible assemblymen and state senators their problems would be solved by the healthy business climate that would result. The votes that they actually cast are the source of their troubles.

Only one idea for solving the funding crisis was floated on March 4. It was to repeal the state’s requirement that taxes can only be raised by a two thirds vote, so that taxes can be raised yet again and more money made available to the campuses. In other words, let’s make the funding crisis even worse, by driving out of California even more wealth and wealth creating capacity, and raising the unemployment level even more. “California is not a tax-heavy state,” said Assemblyman Joe Coto, whose office is right next door to San Jose State University, which enrolls 31,000 students. And that raises the question: how much longer will the California citizenry want to support a system of higher education that keeps its legislature stuck on stupid? It’s not a question for this state alone.


More than half of final British High School exams sat at private schools are graded A

More than half of A-level examinations sat at independent schools are graded A, new figures indicate.

They also show the extent to which fee-paying and selective schools dominate the best grades at A level, and the extent to which intensive coaching can help students to achieve top marks.

The figures, from Cambridge Assessment, one of the main examination boards, were released as a survey showed that pupils from independent schools were expected to do exceptionally well in achieving the new A* grade at A level this summer. A survey of A-level marks at 20 schools, conducted by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of leading independent schools, found that between almost a third and two thirds of students were expected to achieve A* grades. Half of students sitting A levels in further mathematics at several of the most selective independent schools, for example, had already achieved high enough marks to guarantee A* grades.

Students who sat maths Alevel modules in January, and who received their marks late last week, will be awarded A* grades if they achieved at least 90 per cent in each of their A2 modules. They must also have scored at least 80 per cent overall, including at AS level.

The Cambridge figures also showed that more than one in eight A-level candidates now achieve three A grades. Yet of this group, more than a quarter went to grammar schools — which teach fewer than one in ten of the school population. At the same time, more than a third of students achieving straight A grades were from independent schools, which educate just 13 per cent.

The Cambridge figures showed that, overall, the number of A-level candidates awarded an A grade rose by about one percentage point every year between 2006 and 2009. There was a corresponding increase in B grades, and a fall in papers graded C, D, E or U.

At City of London School for Boys, 67 per cent of students sitting further maths have already achieved an A* grade in maths. A similar proportion did so at Magdalen College School, Oxford, while between 60 and 65 per cent did so at Manchester Grammar School, whose High Master, Christopher Ray, conducted the survey.

Candidates studying further maths are likely to be among the brightest candidates. The figures suggest students from leading independent schools will continue to win disproportionate numbers of places at the most selective universities.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Free Speech on Campus, Depending on Who’s Speaking

In what is yet more evidence that universities have become, at least where campus free speech is concerned, as Harvard’s wise Abigail Thernstrom has described them, “islands of repression in a sea of freedom,” the University Of California, San Diego has been undergoing collective apoplexy over some incendiary racial slurs made by students involved in an off-campus fraternity party and in a subsequent broadcast from the school’s radio station. The discovery of a noose and a roughly-fashioned Ku Klux Klan hood on campus only helped stoke tensions and inflame rage at the perceived racism.

Coinciding with celebrations for Black History Month, the February 15th ghetto-themed party was advertised on Facebook as the “Compton Cookout,” with the suggested dress involving over-sized T-shirts, gold chains, and other stereotypical wear of “thuggish” black men; women were advised to dress like “ghetto chicks” and be ostentatious, boorish, and combative. More outrage was added to the evolving controversy when days later Kris Gregorian, editor of satirical student publication the Koala, with a long history of insulting minority groups, impoliticly suggested on the school’s TV station that members of UCSD’s Black Student Union who loudly protested the party’s theme were “ungrateful niggers.”

Though black, Hispanic, Muslim and many white students and administrators immediately leveled blame at white fraternity members, Koala writers, and other purported racists lurking on campus, it turns out that a comedian with the improbable (not to mention derogatory) stage name of Jiggaboo Jones, an African-American himself, had actually orchestrated the party for some 250 people as part of a promotional event, something he had done at other West Coast locations. But the damage had been done, and self-righteous members of the UCSD campus stampeded on one another to profess their outrage, indignation, and shock at the loutish behavior of and “state of emergency” created by a small group of students involved at a private party held off-campus.

Members of the Black Student Union wasted no time in drafting a 6-page memo for school officials (who eagerly embraced them), in which they itemized a veritable encyclopedia of demands by which, it was felt, the racist climate could be modified, with the “aim to move the university past hurtful incidents and improve the campus climate by enhancing diversity on the campus, in the curriculum and throughout the UC San Diego community.” Cries of “institutionalized racism” and a “toxic environment” at UCSD were heard. Because the BSU felt that African-Americans were being “racially demoralized,” those demands included, among others, establishing ethnic studies programs, a “rewrite the Student Code of Conduct,” presumably meaning a speech code that would proscribe certain speech deemed inappropriate by the code’s creators, and, ominously, a mandatory “diversity sensitivity requirement for every undergraduate student.”

While calling for further investigation into the specific incidents that had sparked the outrage, and promising to identify and punish the perpetrators, embarrassed school officials also met with angry minority students, promised to increase efforts at diversity, pledged more minority faculty hiring and student enrollment, set up psychological counseling facilities, met with community leaders and state officials, and even flew in Berkeley’s law school dean, Christopher Edley, to help arbitrate the situation. The president of the University’s Associated Students also took the breathtakingly audacious step, with the apparent approval of school officials, of not only closing down the student TV station but freezing funding for all 33 on-campus student publications, not just the offensive Koala. The danger of racist expression meant that all expression would be curtailed—at least until a way could be found to defund the offending publication and TV station.

For Tara Sweeney, senior program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a Pennsylvania-based advocacy group that defends campus speech controversies and has contacted the UCSD administration in the past and in relation to these events, the constitutional issue is very clear: Publishing or otherwise expressing “a parody, no matter how objectionable to some, is in no way tantamount to ‘harassment.’”

The hypocrisy of campus speech control is also evident at UC San Diego, since the extent to which officials will tolerate errant speech apparently depends on which group is uttering it. When white frat boys, with an evident dearth of social tact, make fun of black people—a clearly protected, “under-represented,” campus victim group―no one on campus seems to have had the slightest difficulty in denouncing the vile expressions as blatant racism—indeed, as essential hate speech that might well be criminally punishable. School administrators have not come to the defense of the Koala or its editor with the argument that the views expressed, though vile, were protected, not unlawful, speech; they also have not publicly announced, as they did in 1995 regarding another student publication, that university officials should not and can not be in the business of censoring student-run publications.

Voz Fronteriza, a UCSD Chicano-oriented student publication published by MEChA, self-described as “shamelessly leftist” and intended “to advance anti-imperialist movements and/or any struggle for the self-determination of oppressed/exploited people throughout the world,” in 1995 grotesquely cheered after the death of a Latino Immigration and Naturalization Service officer; even worse, the publication urged the murder of other Latino officials, deemed by the thoughtful editors to be “race traitors.” Interestingly, when those outrageous sentiments came to light, UCSD’s Vice Chancellor Joseph W. Watson was adamant that Voz Fronteriza, despite the odious nature of its content and the potentially “hurtful” language, had the “right to publish their views without adverse administrative action,” since, he correctly pointed out, “student newspapers are protected by the first amendment of the U.S. constitution.” Watson was even more emphatic and direct, issuing a statement that UCSD, in fact, was “legally prohibited from censuring the content of student publications,” something it apparently has forgotten since.

Nor have UCSD officials sought to suppress or even condemn other inflammatory on-campus speech when it comes from other protected minority groups. Amir-Abdel Malik-Ali, for instance, the black former Nation of Islam member, convert to Islam, and cheerleader for Hamas and Hezbollah, who has been a ubiquitous, poisonous presence on the UC Irvine campus, has also appeared at UC San Diego as a guest of the Muslim Student Association. Malik-Ali never hesitates to vilify and defame Israel, Zionists, Jewish power, and Jews themselves as he weaves incoherent, hallucinatory conspiracies about the Middle East and the West. In a February 2004 speech Malik-Ali “implied that Zionism is a mixture of ‘chosen people-ness [sic] and white supremacy’; that the Iraqi war is in the process of ‘Israelization’; that the Zionists had the ‘Congress, the media and the FBI in their back pocket.’”

Malik-Ali used a February 2005 event to proclaim that “Zionism is a mixture, a fusion of the concept of white supremacy and the chosen people . . . You will have to hear more about the Holocaust when you accuse them of their Nazi behavior,” he warned, after railing against Zionist control of the press, media, and political decisions of the American government.

Speaking from a podium with a banner reading “Israel, the 4th Reich” in May 2006, Malik-Ali referred to Jews as “new Nazis” and “a bunch of straight-up punks.” “The truth of the matter is your days are numbered,” he admonished Jews everywhere. At other of Malik-Ali’s incendiary lectures, displays and posters regularly depict the Israeli flag splattered in blood and the Star of David shown to be equating a swastika, punctuated with numerous hysterical references to a “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “Zionism = racism,” and the oft-repeated blood libel against Jews that “Israelis murder children.”

But tellingly, no officials in the UC system have tripped over themselves to denounce Malik-Ali’s venomous speech and shut down those organizations which sponsored it and those publications that reported about it. They did not set up counseling sessions for Jewish students who might have been “intimidated,” “harassed,” or made to feel “unsafe” on campus as a result of hearing that they were the new Nazis, that the Jewish state was the chief impediment to world peace, that Jews control the media and Washington, and that Jews, who are committing genocide on the innocent, long-oppressed Palestinians, deserve to be murdered. Campus leaders did not reach out to civic leaders and other external stakeholders to help heal the wounds that this hate speech may have caused within the Jewish student body, nor did they bring in high-profile experts who could moderate between Muslim student groups and Jewish students made to bear these oppressive attacks on their religion and people. Mandatory “sensitivity” classes were not set up so that non-Jewish students could be forced to have positive attitudes towards Israel and Jews. And Jewish students did not submit a list of demands for on-campus Jewish art galleries, Israel studies programs, more Jewish faculty, special accommodations in recruiting and applications, or campus-apologies and repentance for spewing forth hateful, insulting, and odious speech.

None of this took place precisely because campuses today have a startling double standard when it comes to who may say what about whom. Either because they are feckless or want to coddle perceived protected student minority groups in the name of diversity, university administrations are morally inconsistent when taking a stand against what they consider “hate speech,” believing, mistakenly, that only harsh expression against victim groups needs to be moderated. When other groups―whites, Christians, Republicans, heterosexuals, Jews, for example―are the object of offensive speech, no protection is deemed to be necessary.

So while campus free speech is enshrined as one of the university’s chief principles, experience shows us that it rarely occurs as free speech for everyone, only for a few. But if we want speech to be truly free, to paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., then we have to embrace not only speech with which we agree, but also that speech with which we disagree, that speech that we hate.


“Reagan test” exposes current textbooks’ flaws

If you want to know just what your kids are learning from their history books, all you have to do is apply the "Reagan test," says Professor Larry Schweikart. As the Texas textbook battle continues to simmer, Schweikart says the first thing he does to determine whether a book is politically slanted is to go to any section discussing President Ronald Reagan. What you'll find there, he says, will tell you everything you need to know, he says.

Schweikart says the majority of books he’s examined credit former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev with ending the Cold War, and not Reagan. That's “a joke,” Schweikart says. “I lived through the Reagan years, I remember.” “The reason why textbooks get to where they are is because this is the world view of (a) the people who write the text books, (b) people who edit the text books, and (c) people who publish them,” the history professor says.

Schweikart says the textbooks' authors bring an inherently liberal viewpoint to their work. “They all tend to come from New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia,” giving them a “drastically” different viewpoint from the rest of America, he says.

Aside from bias, there are factual errors as well. One book -- Call to Freedom: Beginnings to 1877 (Holt, 2003) -- states on pages 53-54 that Christopher Columbus was "the first European explorer to land in the Americas." But Norseman Leif Ericson actually arrived hundreds of years earlier – a fact that is stated on page 18 of the same book.

How about the Louisiana Purchase in 1803? The same textbook says that the Louisiana Purchase extended America to the Mississippi River, when it actually expanded all the way to the Rocky Mountains.

Another text, The American Nation: Beginnings Through 1877 (Prentice, 2003), states that the city of New Orleans was settled by the French in the 1600s. But didn’t actually happen until 1718.

With this in mind, parents may be inspired to start digging into their own children’s books to see what’s inside. And experts say that's a great idea. Gilbert T. Sewall, Director of the American Textbook Council, says: “The facts are often used to create an interpretation or reality that simply is at the very least controversial and may be dead wrong.”

Dr. Frank Wang, one-time president of Saxon Publishing, says there are serious “quality control” problems. Wang cautions that many books are thrown together on a tight schedule by a group of freelance writers, leaving them with little time or pride of authorship. He’s spotted errors touching on everything from the Statue of Liberty to the Korean War.

Sewall is also aware of the mistakes. “The problem with textbooks," he says, "is missing information, or distorted information.”


This lunacy about Latin makes me want to weep with rage

How can we understand our world unless we understand the ancient world first, asks Boris Johnson. I am a much more amateur Latinist than Mayor Johnson but I share his feelings about the importance and utility of Latin. Just for starters, it is a must for any lover of classical music. To understand what is being said in the wonderful "Stabat Mater" by Pergolesi is to double one's enjoyment of an already great work -- JR

Being an even-tempered fellow, and given that we have already put up with so much nonsense from the Labour Government, I find there are very few ministerial pronouncements that make me wild with anger. We have learnt to be phlegmatic about the mistakes of a government that has banned 4,300 courses of human conduct, plunged this country into the deepest recession in memory, and so skewed the economy that 70 per cent of the Newcastle workforce is in the pay of the state. But there are times when a minister says something so maddening, so death-defyingly stupid, that I am glad not to be in the same room in case I should reach out, grab his tie, and end what is left of my political career with one almighty head-butt.

Such were my feelings on reading Mr Ed Balls on the subject of teaching Latin in schools. Speaking on the radio, Spheroids dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils. Head teachers often took him to see the benefits of dance, or technology, or sport, said this intergalactic ass, and continued: "No one has ever taken me to a Latin lesson to make the same point. Very few parents are pushing for it, very few pupils want to study it."

It is nothing short of a disaster that this man is still nominally in charge of education, science, scholarship and learning in this country. He is in danger of undoing the excellent work of his predecessor, Andrew Adonis, and he is just wrong. Of course he doesn't get taken round many Latin classes in the state sector. That is because only 15 per cent of maintained schools offer the subject, against 60 per cent of fee-paying schools. But to say that "very few" want to study the subject, to say that there is no demand for Latin – it makes me want to weep with rage. The demand is huge and it is growing, and I don't just mean that the public is fascinated with the ancient world – though that is obviously true, and demonstrated, for instance, by the success of Robert Harris's Cicero novels.

There is a hunger for the language itself and, thanks to the efforts of a small number of organisations and volunteers, Latin is fighting its way back on to the curriculum. The Cambridge Classics Project did a 2008 study that found that no fewer than 500 secondary schools had started teaching Latin in the past eight years. That is a fantastic thing. Those schools deserve support.

What do they get? The tragic and wilful ignorance of the Secretary of State – and in the face of such wrong-headedness it is hard to know where to begin. I suppose it is too much to hope that Balls would accept the argument from utility – passionately though I believe it to be true. Latin and Greek are great intellectual disciplines, forcing young minds to think in a logical and analytical way. They allow you to surprise your family and delight your friends by deciphering inscriptions.

They are also a giant universal spanner for other languages. Suppose your kid scrapes her knee on holiday in Italy. You are much more likely to administer the right first aid if you know that caldo means hot rather than cold – as you will, if you know Latin. Suppose you are captured by cannibals in the Mato Grosso, and you find a scrap of Portuguese newspaper in your hut revealing that there is about to be an eclipse; and suppose that by successfully prophesying this event you convince your captors that you are a god and secure your release – I reckon you would be thankful for your Latin, eh?

And even if you reject any such practical advantages (and, experto crede, they are huge), I don't care, because they are not the point. The reason we should boost the study of Latin and Greek is that they are the key to a phenomenal and unsurpassed treasury of literature and history and philosophy, and we cannot possibly understand our modern world unless we understand the ancient world that made us all.

If Ed Balls is still unconvinced, then let me make one final point, and remind him that in his supposed anti-elitism he is being viciously elitist. Like me, Ed Balls was lucky to be educated at a wonderful fee-paying school where they taught us Latin. For the past 30 years children from such schools have dominated the study of classics at university. They have a ladder up to follow great courses, under brilliant men and women, at some of the best universities in the world – and to go on to good jobs. How mad, how infamous, that a Labour minister – a Labour minister – should seek to kick that ladder away for children less privileged than him.

Ed Balls should remember that some of the greatest socialists of the past 100 years were classicists, from Denis Healey to Geoffrey de Ste Croix, the formidable Marxist historian and author of The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. What would Ste Croix have made of a government that actively tried to restrict the study of a great and profitable discipline to the bourgeoisie? He would have denounced it as an act of class war, and he would have been right.

It is thanks to the efforts of hundreds of dedicated teachers and volunteers that the tide is now turning. This Government places insane obstacles in the path of all who want to teach Latin in the maintained sector. Labour refuses to recognise Latin as a language for Ofsted purposes, and even though 60 Latin teachers are retiring every year, the Government will find funding for only 27 teachers a year to graduate with a PGCE enabling them to teach classics. That is 27 for the entire country.

In spite of these restrictions, and in spite of all the snootiness of Ed Balls, the enthusiasts are winning. For the first time in decades there are now – in absolute numbers – more state schools than private schools that teach Latin. Ed Balls should be proud of that achievement. He should celebrate it, and encourage it in the name – if nothing else – of social justice.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Obama to Boost Civil Rights Enforcement in Schools

Trying to get blacks into advanced classes on the basis of their skin color! That's crazy enough. Crazier is the idea that they are going to stop black kids from dropping out. The kids concerned know they can't handle the lessons. What is going to change their opinion about that? Is Obama going to pay them to sit in class?

The federal Department of Education wants to intensify its civil rights enforcement efforts in schools around the country, including a deeper look at issues ranging from programs for immigrant students learning English to equal access to college preparatory courses.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was to speak Monday in Alabama to outline the department's goals. Duncan was there to commemorate the 45th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" — the day in 1965 when several hundred civil rights protesters were beaten by state troopers on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge during a voting rights march.

"Despite how far we've come as a country over the last 45 years, we know there are still ongoing barriers to equal educational opportunity in this country," Duncan told reporters before his speech.

The department is expecting to conduct 38 compliance reviews around 40 different issues this year, said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department. "For us, this is very much about working to meet the president's goal, that by 2020 we will regain our status in the world as the number one producer of college graduates," Ali told The Associated Press.

Although the investigations have been conducted before, the department's Office of Civil Rights is looking to do more complicated and broad reviews that will look not just at whether procedures are in place, but at the impact district practices have on students of one race or another, and if student needs are being met.

In his prepared remarks, Duncan highlights several jarring inequities: At the end of high school, white students are about six times more likely to be college-ready in biology than black students, and more than four times as likely to be prepared for college algebra. Other statistics he will highlight in Selma:

— A quarter of all students drop out before their graduation, and half of those come from 12 percent of the nation's high schools. Those roughly 2,000 schools produce a majority of the dropouts among black and Latino students.

— Black students without disabilities are more than three times as likely to be expelled as white students, and those with disabilities more than twice as likely to be expelled or suspended — numbers which Duncan says testify to racial gaps that are "hard to explain away by reference to the usual suspects."

— Students from low-income families who graduate from high school scoring in the top testing quartile are no more likely to attend college than the lowest-scoring students from wealthy families.

"This is the civil rights issue of our generation," Duncan said, adding that the Office of Civil Rights has not been as vigilant as it should have been in the past decade.

In addition to the reviews, the department will also be sending guidance letters to all districts and post-secondary institutions receiving federal funding. Ali said the topics cover everything from food allergies to law enforcement procedures for victims of sexual violence and equitable education spending.

The Education Department will work with districts and states to find a voluntary resolution if a violation is found. In extreme cases, Ali said funds could be withheld or ended.

Duncan's visit sparked some controversy among some black politicians who were upset that the Education secretary picked Robert E. Lee High School — a school named after the Confederate general and where its principal at the time had opposed King and the 1965 voting rights march — to hold his news conference. Democratic Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery had objected, but Duncan refused to move to another location. Agency officials said that the school is now majority black and that its current principal was 2 years old at the time of the march.

Instead, Duncan added a school to his visit — Martin Luther King Elementary School — and met with fifth-graders there. He also met with Holmes and another black lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Thad McClammy of Montgomery. The education secretary did not comment on their discussion, but Holmes said he explained to Duncan that it "wouldn't be right" to visit only Lee and not a school in a predominantly black neighborhood.

McClammy said Duncan asked why Alabama legislators oppose charter schools — a measure by Republican Gov. Bob Riley to create charter schools was killed recently in House and Senate committees. McClammy said he told Duncan, an advocate of charter schools, that more assurance is needed that such schools will be available to all and not become private schools for whites.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, said he has seen more collaboration and communication with civil rights organizations under the Obama administration, along with a renewed focus on ensuring the civil rights tenets of No Child Left Behind are being enforced, among other measures. "They have been very deliberate about enforcing our nation's civil rights laws in the area of education," he said.

Others said they are still waiting for stepped up enforcement to take place. "We haven't seen anything yet," said Raul Gonzalez, director of legislative affairs of the National Council of La Raza. "But I can tell you there's a lot of hope in the civil rights community that we are going to get some really good enforcement around a variety of issues, including education."


Group Work = Group Think

Collaboration, or working in groups, is a favorite pedagogical strategy of hung-over graduate teaching assistants, soviet indoctrinators, educators with advanced degrees, and social studies teachers too dumb to do anything else. Unfortunately, by what I saw at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference here in Atlanta, most social studies teachers are either wicked indoctrinators or too dumb to know that they are carrying out the wishes of the Dr. Evils in education, i.e., those with Ed.D.s who are administrators, curriculum devisers, and education professors.

Teachers seem to love “group work.” It gives them a sense of power over children and allows them to catch up on Facebook or their nails. I have college students coming to class expecting to spend class time sitting in little groups to discuss their “feelings.” Today, students don’t expect to learn—especially from a teacher or professor.

Instead, they expect to “do” as in “doing social studies” as I learned by spending two days at the social studies educators’ annual conference. To demonstrate one way social studies is “done” in Georgia a class of eleventh-graders was marched on stage and divided into little groups. The song “Home on the Range” was played for them and they were asked to answer questions about the “feelings” this song evoked in them, and then in various victims and victimizers associated with the settling of the American West—miners and mine owners, blacks and whites, Native Americans and whites. The young scholars then proceeded to collaborate, and believing themselves “critical thinkers,” came up with the correct answers! Of course, the bright, young geniuses knew that Native Americans would feel “sad” or “angry.”

Glenn Beck should have been at this conference. He would have been able to add a lot to his special last Friday.

While much has been said about politically correct material, little attention has been paid to such emotionally coercive teaching strategies. I saw how it is applied to middle school students as a teacher shared teaching tips for getting tykes to sympathize with illegal immigrants. She used the adult-level propaganda piece Enrique’s Journey in her class to discuss drug abuse, domestic violence, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. It’s a book that has appeared on reading lists for some of the best private schools in Atlanta—including Christian high schools.

Over the years I’ve seen college students’ ability to reason, analyze, and weigh evidence deteriorate. But this is to be expected when they barely have a minute to themselves, when their material is selected to promote a political agenda, when their teachers bombard them with games and electronic gimmicks, and then put them into groups where the ring leader will cajole them into adopting the correct attitudes. I’ve found college students afraid to think outside the box of “tolerance” and “diversity.”

Educators use group work because it lends itself to promoting “social justice.” The most threatening thing to a teacher would be a teenager who had read the documents of the founders and the documents they had read, going back to the ancients. First, the teacher in all likelihood is too dumb to understand such documents as the Federalist Papers. He has in all likelihood not been required to read them in education school. Instead, he has been required to take classes in emotionally crippling teaching strategies. (There is a reason that the Dr. Evil-educators in North Carolina wanted to eliminate the teaching of American history before 1877 in high school.)

They have to start with the malleable Americans—young children. So see all those kids “doing” social studies? They’re not “engaged” or having fun. They’re doing the bidding of Dr. Evils, who are using them as subjects to take over the world.


French students invade UK universities to get better deal

UNIVERSITIES are facing a Gallic invasion as French students abandon their own institutions for degrees in Britain. More than 13,000 full-time students from France — enough to fill an entire university — have enrolled on British courses. They now make up the largest group of overseas students after the Chinese, with 3,194 freshers accepted on undergraduate courses last September.

The attraction of life across the Channel has been partly driven by dissatisfaction with standards at France’s state universities. However, it appears that England’s “study now, pay later” student loan system for tuition fees has also encouraged take-up. The UK is now the most popular foreign destination for French students, followed by Belgium and the United States. Numbers have risen each year since the introduction in 2006 of tuition fees that do not have to be repaid until after graduation. Last autumn’s intake was up by 18% on the previous year.

Some of the most ambitious students are using prestigious institutions in Britain, such as University College London, Oxford, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics, as a back door into France’s highly selective and independent grandes écoles. “Instead of paying for two years of prépa to prepare for the tough entrance exams to the grandes écoles, some students do a three-year degree in Britain and apply for the small number of places we have for first degree holders,” said Christine Escafit of the Grenoble Institute of Technology. “It takes a year longer but they do not have to reach the same high level to get in, as prépa is very competitive.”

British university courses that include a year at a grande école are also a draw for French students. David Chreng, 20, a Parisian studying chemistry at Imperial College, will spend the final year of his four-year degree at one of France’s leading grandes écoles. “By the end of the year I will obtain a diploma from Polytechnique Paris and a prestigious degree from Imperial,” he said.

The influx of French students at Imperial has had a typically Gallic cultural impact, with regular wine and cheese tasting sessions and organised bakery trips.

In total 8,770 undergraduates from France are studying in Britain and 4,320 postgraduate students. A further 4,000 students are on exchange courses.The University of Kent in Canterbury — one of the closest British institutions to French shores — is particularly popular, with 265 French students enrolling there last year, 165 on politics courses.

Funding issues weigh heavily on some scholars’ minds. Students from Britain and the rest of the European Union can borrow the £3,225 annual tuition fee and do not have to repay it until the April after graduation or until their earnings reach £15,000, whichever is later. Other EU countries have refused to collect repayments through their tax systems. However, court orders for non-payment can be enforced in other member states if the defaulters can be traced by the Student Loans Company.

Roxanne Jourdain, 18, a chemistry student at Imperial who comes from a village in the French Alps, said British universities often had greater international recognition than their French counterparts. “I don’t think it is any more expensive to go to the UK,” she added. “Tuition here is £3,000 a year but the fees at a private prépa are similar and the most prestigious grandes écoles can cost up to £7,000 a year.”

Student unrest and lecturers’ strikes over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposed reforms of French higher education are also fuelling the flight across the Channel. Students at the Sorbonne missed four months of lectures last year because of demonstrations against Sarkozy’s plan to allow the overcrowded and underfunded state universities to seek private finance.

The unrest was a deciding factor for Victor de Buisson, 19, from Lyons, who is studying computing at Imperial. He said: “I just got fed up with the French system. Striking is a big problem. In the Sorbonne last year they decided to make students take the exams without being taught properly. Friends of mine who go there hate it. In France it’s nothing to do with thinking — it’s about cramming facts into your brain.”

Chreng predicts more French students will seek a British higher education as word spreads about the opportunities, especially the links between universities and industry and the chance to do summer internships. “I found it challenging to go abroad, study in another language and have to build a new life in London,” he said. “But I do not regret my decision.”


Sunday, March 14, 2010

TX adopts more conservative social studies standards

The Texas State Board of Education agreed to new social studies standards on Friday after the far-right faction wielded its power to shape the lessons that will be taught to millions of students on American history, the U.S. free enterprise system, religion and other topics. In a vote of 10-5, the board preliminarily adopted the new curriculum after days of charged debate marked by race and politics. In dozens of smaller votes passed over the three days, the ultra-conservatives who dominate the board nixed all but a few efforts to recognize the diversity of race and religion in Texas.

Decisions by the board -- long led by the social conservatives who have advocated ideas such as teaching more about the weaknesses of evolutionary theory -- affects textbook content nationwide because Texas is one of publishers' biggest clients. As part of the new curriculum, the elected board -- made up of lawyers, a dentist and a weekly newspaper publisher among others -- rejected an attempt to ensure that children learn why the U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom. But, it agreed to strengthen nods to Christianity by adding references to "laws of nature and nature's God" to a section in U.S. history that requires students to explain major political ideas. They also agreed to strike the word "democratic" in references to the form of U.S. government, opting instead to call it a "constitutional republic."

In addition to learning the Bill of Rights, the board specified a reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms in a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class and agreed to require economics students to "analyze the decline of the U.S. dollar including abandonment of the gold standard."

Conservatives beat back multiple attempts to include hip-hop as an example of a significant cultural movement that already includes country music. "We have been about conservatism versus liberalism," said Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas, explaining her vote against the standards. "We have manipulated strands to insert what we want it to be in the document, regardless as to whether or not it's appropriate."

Republican Terri Leo, a member of the powerful Christian conservative voting bloc, called the standards "world class" and "exceptional."

Over the past three days, the board also argued over how historic periods should be classified (still B.C. and A.D., rather than B.C.E. and C.E.); whether or not students should be required to explain the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on global politics (they will); and whether former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir should be required learning (she will). Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

A day earlier, longtime board member Mary Helen Berlanga accused her colleagues of "whitewashing" the standards and walked out of the panel's meeting in frustration. Berlanga voted against the standards on Friday. Berlanga also bristled when the board approved an amendment that deletes a requirement that sociology students "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society."

The three-day meeting that began Wednesday was the first since voters in last week's Republican primary handed defeats to two veteran conservatives, including former board chairman Don McLeroy, who lost to a moderate GOP lobbyist. Two other conservatives -- a Republican and a Democrat -- did not seek re-election. All four terms end in January. McLeroy, a 10-year board veteran, has been one of the most prolific and polarizing members. The devout Christian conservative has been adamant on several issues, including that the Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers are important to studying American history.

In Texas alone, the board's decisions will set guideposts for teaching history and social studies to some 4.8 million K-12 students during the next 10 years. In almost six hours of public testimony on Wednesday, the board heard repeated pleas that the Christian heritage of the U.S. be reflected in the new standards as well as other requests that students learn more Hispanic examples of prominent historic figures.


British private schools attack Government interference

Independent schools will launch an attack this week on Government interference in how they are run and what they teach. The Independent Schools Council has drawn up a manifesto demanding that the party that wins the election strips away the unprecedented layers of regulation that have been imposed on the sector. It will say that the independence of schools is being worn away by Government interference, threatening their successful running and undermining the characteristics of private education that parents value.

At its annual conference next week it will call for Contactpoint, Labour's database of all children in England, to be scrapped; the controversial new vetting and barring scheme, which regulates who is deemed to be suitable to work with children, to be slimmed down; and school inspections to be streamlined. "Our excellent results are down to our independence and our ability to do things differently," said David Lyscom, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC). "But over the last few years we have seen that independence whittled away in all sorts of areas.

"The irony is that while promoting the idea of 'independence', the current Government has operated in the opposite direction. "We share the concerns of the state sector that layer upon layer of regulation has been added. These layers conflict and overlap and make the running of a school very, very difficult." As The Sunday Telegraph revealed in December, the deluge of new regulations dictates to schools everything from the height of site walls to the specific wording of school policies, to what has to be taught to toddlers in private school nurseries.

The ISC will also criticise the Charity Commission's interpretation of the new law which requires schools to prove they provide a public benefit if they are to continue to benefit from lucrative charitable tax breaks. Its rulings have concentrated on private schools' provision of bursaries for the poor and little else. "What the Charity Commission is trying to do is tell schools how to run themselves in terms of how many bursaries they have to offer and whether they are 100 per cent or not," said Mr Lyscom.

Claims from the left that private school elitism is undermining social mobility in the UK will also be challenged. "The whole debate on social mobility is based on a false premise – that only 7 per cent of children go to independent schools," said Mr Lyscom. "Even that figure means a lot of families but our research shows that 14 per cent of adults have had part of their education in the independent sector. "This is a big and significant minority that cannot be dismissed as rich kids in posh schools. We have 1,250 schools that range from the big-name institutions to very small local schools that charge £5,000 a year. "We have been very successful at giving individual children, whatever their background, an excellent start in life, equipping them with the right sort of skills to get them good results, get them to university and on to life. It is not about privilege."

Drawn up by the eight associations that make up the ISC, the manifesto is the first produced by fee-paying schools. It comes as the Conservatives promised that the state sector would be allowed to mirror independents by setting up "state prep schools". The "free school" policy, which encourages parents, voluntary organisations and groups to establish their own state-funded schools, would move away from the uniformity of primary and secondary schools teaching fixed age ranges. Instead, "state prep schools" catering for children from seven to 13, for instance, would be allowed to be set up.

Michael Gove, the shadow children's secretary, said: "In the private sector they keep children at prep schools until the age of 13 before they move to secondary. "As a result, they have a particularly tailored form of specialised teaching in an intimate environment which allows these children to soar. "Why shouldn't we have state preps that allow children to stay in such an environment until they reach the age of 13? "If it is right in the private sector, why wouldn't it be right in the state sector? We will give parents that choice and teachers that opportunity to innovate."

The Tories have already said they would instruct the Charity Commission to adopt a broader vision of what constitutes public benefit, including partnerships with state schools.


Australia: Old-style teacher investigated for challenging the self-esteem gospel

A TEACHER accused of verbally abusing students by telling one he should die believes he is being punished because modern kids are too sensitive. Former Doncaster Secondary College teacher Edward Wolf, who has 40 years' experience in education, said when he moved from an Altona school to the Doncaster school, he believed the children had an air of "self-entitlement" and the student and parent population was like "Footscray with money".

Mr Wolf, who is facing misconduct charges before a Victorian Institute of Teaching disciplinary panel, said he used firm words with unruly students who disrupted class or left the classroom without permission. He denied telling misbehaving Year 10 pupils they were "idiots", but admitted telling one troublesome boy to "shut the f--k up" and another that "just because your dad wanted to get his rocks off, I have to deal with you".

Mr Wolf admitted kicking a student's table from under her feet because she refused to take them down from the desk when her dress and raised legs were "immodest". He also admitted telling a boy named Dyson, who refused to stop banging on a wall during class, to "do what your name says - die, son".

"Considering what they have said to me and other teachers, I don't see them as that sensitive," Mr Wolf said. "If you give it, you should be able to take it. Teachers only have words as a means to work with students and if those words are efficacious, then in that context I consider them appropriate."

Mr Wolf, 61, who wants to retain his teaching registration, said he now realised there was an emotional impact to his strong language. "I am aware that students are now very much more sensitive than they have (been) in the past," he said.

Several alleged incidents of coarse or highly personal language occurred from 1998 to 2008. The panel heard this week that Mr Wolf became angry when a group of Year 10 students left his class without permission in 2008. One male student, now 18, said Mr Wolf started abusing him and two other students when they returned to the room, but the boys knew they had mucked up. "Personally, I did not take it to heart, it was just a teacher lashing out. In one ear, out the other," one student told the hearing. Another said: "We were very rowdy, we were hard to control. We, one time, took it too far and Mr Wolf snapped."

The VIT panel will hand down its findings on a date to be set.