Saturday, April 10, 2010

Give every child a school-choice option

School choice has been proven to empower parents, help children excel, narrow the achievement gap among poor and minority students, and save taxpayers money. Yet teacher unions, education bureaucrats, and their patrons from the White House on down oppose any reform they cannot stifle with red tape and regulation.

But they cannot kill school choice. Against the odds, choice keeps coming back, in the unlikeliest of places.

A voucher program is one step closer to reality in President Barack Obama’s adopted home state of Illinois, despite fierce opposition from the powerful Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Senate Bill 2494 by Rev. James Meeks, a Baptist minister and independent Democrat representing Chicago’s South Side, passed the state Senate on March 25 with broad bipartisan support. The bill now awaits action from the Illinois House of Representatives. Meeks’s modest but important legislation would create a pilot school voucher program for students in failing Chicago public schools.

Meeks wanted to provide every Illinois student with a $6,000 voucher to attend the school of his or her parents’ choice. Instead, qualified elementary school students in Chicago would be eligible for a voucher. It’s a start.

When legislators object that voucher programs divert money from public education, Meeks says: “If the public schools are not doing their job, why do you want to continue to reward them with money?” Plus, a $6,000 voucher is much, much less than the average per-student outlay in the state. A statewide version of Meeks’s plan would be a huge money-saver.

Of course, that’s why the entrenched powers don’t like it—teacher unions are big donors to Democratic politicians.

Choice works where it is tried. Milwaukee’s voucher program, one of the oldest in the nation (outside of New England), has delivered impressive results over its 20-year lifespan, despite heavy regulatory burdens imposed by hostile Badger State politicians. Against the odds, Milwaukee’s voucher program has improved student performance and promoted racial desegregation. A study published in February by University of Minnesota sociologist John Robert Warren found voucher program students had a lower high school dropout rate than their public school counterparts.

And the voucher program, which serves about 21,000 students, saved taxpayers more than $30 million in fiscal year 2008, according to the School Choice Demonstration Project.

Despite such proven successes, opponents of school choice impose an impossible standard on voucher programs. Are vouchers a panacea? No. Do they immediately help every single student succeed? No. Then do away with them, critics say. Just imagine if we held all government agencies and programs to a similar standard.

As Illinois discusses a limited voucher plan, an innovative school choice program is struggling to survive in Washington, DC, thanks to the machinations of the Obama administration. The Senate on March 16 defeated, by a 55-42 vote, a bipartisan measure by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to reauthorize the $18 million District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were keen on killing the DC voucher plan from day one. Never mind that the program gives thousands of poor children—almost all black or Latino—a shot at a first-class education at a cost of only $7,500 a year. DC’s abysmal public schools spend upwards of $28,000 per student to foster mediocrity, illiteracy, and failure.

When Duncan was chief executive of Chicago’s public schools, he was all too happy to entertain requests to place the children of politicians and well-connected businessmen in the city’s most-exclusive public schools, segregated for the rich and influential and paid for with taxpayer dollars. Parents without such powerful connections were left out.

The political class has supported a broad system of “school-choice-for-me-but-not-for-thee” for decades. Kids shouldn’t be disadvantaged simply because their parents don’t have a direct line to the superintendent of schools. Meeks has a remedy for Illinois, and Lieberman is fighting nobly for kids in Washington, DC. Every American child deserves the same options.


Parents Beware: Activists in the Classroom

Parents must be extra vigilant these days in paying attention to the political movements invading today's school classrooms. On April 16, students from across the country will participate in a "Day of Silence," sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Next Friday, "hundreds of thousands" of public school students are being encouraged to take a vow of silence for the entire school day--even during instructional time.

GLSEN claims this student movement is meant to draw attention to "anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools." Of course bullying is wrong, but if students can't get together on school grounds for voluntary prayer groups, how is it acceptable for groups like GLSEN to carry out their own socio-political goals and freely spread its views of the nature and morality of homosexuality?

In response, family groups are encouraging parents to take action in helping to "de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child's school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence."

In addition, Carrie Lukas from the Independent Women's Forum wrote this week about the politics of Earth Day and the various activities schools will force students take part in to mark the April 22 holiday. Lukas warns: "Schools will take a break from normal instruction to discuss the importance of preserving the environment. That may sound like a harmless activity, but too often Earth Day becomes a platform for pushing an ideological brand of environmentalism. Parents need to pay attention and ask their children's teachers what's their plans are for Earth Day."

Just because it's Earth Day, Lukas rightly notes, schools shouldn't abandon their mission to educate students, provide facts, and encourage them to draw their own conclusions. Al Gore's doomsday prophecies shouldn't be kids' only source of information when it comes to how best to protect the environment.

Find out what your kids' schools are planning for Earth Day celebrations and encourage their teachers to give students the balanced education they deserve.


An Australian State makes a well-timed move -- enticing British students

Many bright British students are being denied university admission this year because of preferences given to students from poor backgrounds and from overseas. See here

And the climate and general environment in South Australia do undoubtedly leave Britain for dead. Australian academic standards are also high. Australian academics fare well in the number of papers that they get published in academic journals

The Government of South Australia will focus on the poor job prospects of graduates in Britain – combined with the gloomy weather – as part of a marketing drive to tempt students to universities Down Under.

It will take a roadshow around five cities in England in a bid to increase the number of students taking up degree courses at four universities in the state. This includes Adelaide, South Australia, Flinders and the soon-to-open Adelaide campus of University College London.

There are already more than 5,000 British students in Australia and the number of foreign students as a whole has soared five-fold in a decade.

It is thought that students could be tempted Down Under if existing tuition fees in Britain - up to £3,200-a-year - are significantly increased next year. An independent review is currently being carried out into fees and is widely expected to result in a dramatic hike.

Undergraduate fees in Australia vary but the majority of courses are priced at between £6,000 and £10,000 a year.

The latest move came just 24 hours it was revealed that more than a third of graduates claimed jobseekers' allowance [i.e. were unemployed] in the last year because of tough economic conditions.

Bill Muirhead, South Australia’s London-based agent general, said: “It’s survival of the fittest and with the state’s economic strength and amazing lifestyle we’re picking off the talent ourselves. “Adelaide is in a state of economic boom and to support that growth, we need to draw in the highest skill sets from across the world.

“Brits have a similar educational structure, but we have the added extras to make a degree a life changing opportunity; amazing weather, many more job opportunities and a quality of life you won’t get anywhere else in the world.”

A roadshow will target Birmingham, Bristol, London, Manchester and York next month. An advertising campaign will tell teenagers that South Australia boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year and 3,148 miles of coastline.

Students will also be told that there is far more chance of finding employment after graduation amid claims the state “survived the global financial crisis better than the rest of Australia”. [And Australia as a whole did well, with much lower unemployment than either Britain or the USA]


Friday, April 09, 2010

Last chance for school reform

D.C. schools are the worst in the nation, but they may also be ripe for big changes

American public school teachers don’t get fired. They just don’t. In New York City, hundreds of teachers spend all day in “rubber rooms” because they’re deemed too dangerous or stupid to supervise children but can’t be booted because they have union-protected tenure. In crisis-ridden California, the mildest of threats from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut back on teaching staffs led to an immediate rebuke from the White House.

So when 266 teachers were unceremoniously canned in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2009, the educators of America collectively slid their glasses down their noses and glared at the District of Columbia. Although 266 firings might not seem like a lot in a country that has lost 8.4 million jobs since December 2007, they could turn out to be more important to the nation’s long-term health than the $150 billion “jobs bill” legislators were debating on Capitol Hill.

D.C. is a divided town. In the heart of the capital, the federal government hums along, churning out paperwork and disillusioned interns at a steady clip. But the rest of the city is in pretty miserable shape. The District of Columbia Public Schools rank below all 50 states in national math and reading tests, squatting at the bottom of the list for years at a time. More than 40 percent of D.C. students drop out altogether. Only 9 percent of the District’s high schoolers will finish college within five years of graduation. And all this failure doesn’t come cheap: The city spends $14,699 per pupil, more than all but two states and about $5,000 more than the national average. Yet as unlikely as it seems, D.C. may prove to be the last best hope for school reform in the United States.

The District’s school system is sitting at the center of a remarkable convergence. A driven, reform-minded chancellor, endowed with extraordinary powers by the city council and mayor, arrived on the scene in 2007 just as the teachers union’s contract was about to be renegotiated. Charter schools are blossoming, with nearly a third of the city’s public school students now enrolled in nontraditional institutions. And a new presidential administration, which has been retrograde in other policy areas ripe for reform, has flirted with some of the more advanced ideas on the education front. Add an education secretary who has respectable reform credentials and a president who has two school-age children, and it’s hard to imagine a sweeter set-up.

One further advantage, paradoxically, is the city’s utter hopelessness. “D.C. schools have long been the poster child for paralyzing education dysfunction,” says Neal McCluskey, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute. “It seems like they have a complete inability to educate anyone. Educationally, if you could save this patient, you could save anyone.”

But there’s a flip side to all these advantages: If D.C. can’t fix its schools in this context, probably no one can. And the first indications from the Obama administration have been ominous: As part of an omnibus spending bill in March 2009, union-backed Democratic legislators gratuitously killed a promising pilot program for school vouchers in the District. Meanwhile, the fate of reform hangs in the balance of a long, increasingly tense standoff between superintendent Michelle Rhee and the all-powerful teachers unions over the fundamental question of hiring and firing instructors. Depending on which side blinks first, education reform in America could be a long-lost dream come true or simply a lost cause.

‘You Don’t Want Me for This Job’

Michelle Rhee was an unlikely candidate to take over the D.C. school system, let alone wind up on the covers of both Time and Newsweek. “I was like the least obvious choice,” says Rhee, whose verbal mannerisms are those of a recent college grad. The person who suggested Rhee to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty did so with a few caveats: “She’s 37 years old, she’s Korean, and she’s never run a school district.”

In fact, Rhee’s only in-school experience was two years in Baltimore as a recruit for Teach for America, a nonprofit that places new college grads in troubled inner-city and rural schools for two-year teaching stints. In 1997 she founded The New Teacher Project, another nonprofit, which brings highly qualified teachers—people who are credentialed in the subjects they teach—to public schools. She was busy running that project when Fenty called.

Rhee immediately told the D.C. mayor, “You don’t want me for this job.” With a bluntness for which she would later become famous, she explained, “If I were to take over the school district, the kinds of things that I would have to do to transform the district”—closing schools, firing teachers—“would just cause you headaches, political headaches. And that’s not what politicians want. Politicians don’t want the dirt to get kicked up. They want everyone to be happy.” Fenty swore indifference to the political ruckus, and, much to Rhee’s surprise, he has so far remained true to his word. Rhee enjoys near dictatorial powers within the system, thanks to the absence of a school board, and she has used them to the fullest possible extent. “The man has not blinked once,” she says.

Rhee has become the Great Korean Hope for school reform advocates around the nation and a lightning rod for criticism locally. D.C. publications follow her every move. Blogs are devoted exclusively to hating everything from her policy proposals to her hairstyle. Almost every move she makes draws headlines. And no wonder: Rhee’s approach goes right to the heart of a decades-long political debate about what schools really need, more money or fewer lousy teachers. On that question her position is clear: No real change is possible unless good teachers are hired and bad teachers fired.

Within months of taking office, Rhee foreshadowed the bloodbath that lay ahead by firing 30 percent of the school’s central bureaucracy. She commissioned an outside audit of school records. (Her staff is still finding rooms filled with unmarked file boxes and cabinets with no keys.) As her first year ticked away, Rhee staffed the human resources department with her own people, installed modern payroll systems, and generally tidied up the back office. Before her first school year started, she found 68 people on the books with no discernible duties, 55 teachers, three aides, and 10 assistant principals, costing a total of $5.4 million a year. She closed 25 underperforming schools (in a district that has 129) and replaced half of the system’s principals with candidates hand-selected by her personal staff and interviewed by Rhee herself.

In July 2008, Rhee revealed her opening gambit with the teachers union: She offered the teachers a whole lot of money. Under her proposal, educators would have two choices. With the first option, teachers would get a $10,000 bonus—a bribe, really—and a 20 percent raise. Nothing else would change. Benefits, rights, and privileges would remain as they were. Under the second option, teachers would receive a $10,000 bonus, a 45 percent increase in base salary, and the possibility of total earnings up to $131,000 a year through bonuses tied to student performance. In exchange, they would have to forfeit their tenure protections. To make good on her financial promises, Rhee lined up money from private donors; she has been close-mouthed about their identities, but The Washington Post has reported that likely contributors include Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael and Susan Dell.

Says Rhee: “I thought, this is brilliant. Everybody talks about how teachers don’t get paid enough; I’m going to pay teachers six-figure salaries! I’m going to pay the best teachers twice as much as they are currently making. Who could not be in favor of that? But people went ballistic.” Getting incentive pay required giving up near-absolute job security. “That,” she says, “is when the crap hit the fan.”

If Rhee has a model, it is Chicago, one of the only places in America where bad teachers can (eventually) get the heave-ho. In the Second City, failing schools can be dissolved and reconstituted. Teachers who worked at those institutions must reapply for their jobs, without seniority rights. Those who fail to get their old posts back are free to apply elsewhere in the city. If they haven’t found a placement in a year, they’re off the books. Just plain old laid off. There’s even a small merit pay program. The man who instituted this plan is Arne Duncan, who is now Obama’s secretary of education.

More here

WI: Sex ed could mean charges for teachers

A Wisconsin prosecutor is warning sex education teachers they could face charges if they follow a new state law that allows them to instruct students about proper contraceptive use.

A letter sent to five school districts by Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said the instruction could amount to contributing to the delinquency of a minor if teachers know students are sexually active. He said the districts should drop sex education until the law is repealed.

Southworth also argued that teaching contraceptive use encourages sexual behavior among children, which equates to sexual assault because minors can't legally have sex in Wisconsin. "Depending on the specific facts of a case ... this encouragement and advocacy could lead to criminal charges," Southworth, a Republican, wrote to districts in his county.

The law's chief author, state Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, dismissed the March 24 letter as a scare tactic. "It's beyond ridiculous," Grigsby said Tuesday. "It's irresponsible to portray this act in the way he is."

Southworth said in a Tuesday e-mail to The Associated Press that he "merely provided a legal opinion to my school districts about the impact of the new mandate." "It was the Legislature that acted irresponsibly," he wrote.

Wisconsin school districts aren't required to teach sex education. But the new law, which took effect March 11, lays out requirements for those that do, including teaching the benefits of abstinence, criminal penalties for having underage sex and the benefits and proper use of contraceptives.

Supporters, including groups representing nurses, health departments and the state teacher's union, maintain the law will help reduce teen pregnancies. Conservative opponents counter schools should focus on abstinence.

Southworth's letter said law would convert sex education classes "into a radical program that sexualizes our children as early as kindergarten. This, in turn, will lead to more child sexual assaults."

Southworth complained that language prohibiting biased instruction makes it impossible to teach that sexual promiscuity is wrong. He also said a clause allowing volunteer health care providers to teach sex education could open the door to Planned Parenthood employees marketing sexually oriented products to students.

Planned Parenthood doesn't go into schools unless a school asks, said Chris Taylor, public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. Taylor said the law is designed to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies. "The real issue here is you have a district attorney who says teachers will be prosecuted," she said.

Southworth's letter is "a friendly warning," said Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, which registered to lobby against the law. "He's simply doing his duty as district attorney," Sande said.

New Lisbon Superintendent Tom Andres said his district, which was among those that received Southworth's letter, is seeking legal advice about the law. While the school board will make the ultimate decision, Andres said he believes his schools should teach according to the law if parents approve.

"We're in a moral dilemma," Andres said. "We know our kids need correct, right information. We have to know what that is and teach it in such a manner that doesn't promote sexual assault or bullying."


A political test for British teachers?

It might be defensible if members of extreme Leftist groups were banned too -- and there are plenty of those among British teachers

Members of the British National Party should be banned from the classroom, a teaching union heard today. The BNP is already barred from working as prison officers and the same should be the case for teaching, it was claimed.

Activists from the National Union of Teachers said that membership of the BNP and far right organisations posed a threat to community relations. [And preaching class-hatred does not??]

The comments follow the publication of a Government review that said there was no justification for banning teachers from joining extremist organisations. Maurice Smith, the former chief inspector of schools, said banning BNP members from teaching would be using a "very large sledgehammer to crack a very small nut".

But addressing the NUT annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday, some activists called for an all-out ban.

Jason Hill, a teacher from Stoke-on-Trent said: “In prisons, prison officers are not allowed to be members of the BNP, in schools there in no bar on teachers being members of the BNP, there is no bar on school governors, there is no bar on councillors involved in education.

He added: “What we are arguing for in this amendment is that we in the education service be brought into the same position as the prison service and that members of the BNP, that we argue to government, that members of the BNP should be barred from this position.”

Jean Roberts, a delegate from Hammersmith and Fulham in west London, said she was opposed to the views of the BNP, and insisted that any teacher who promoted racist views in the classroom should be barred from the profession.

But she added: “I don’t believe the NUT should call on the state to bar teachers from joining a presently legal political party. “They would rapidly move on to others who are more of a threat to them.

“To remove such a basic civil right, the right of association, something trade unionists find especially precious, is in my view a grossly disproportionate response, but more importantly it gives the BNP a credibility it does not deserve.”

A motion to the conference called for united action to oppose the BNP and other groups such as the English Defence League, while an amendment to the resolution demanded an all-out ban. The union failed to vote on either after running out of time.

Paul Golding, BNP communications officer said: “It’s a dangerous road to go down, once you start banning based on political beliefs where does it end? Isn’t that the sort of thing always lambasted by democratic politicians, banning people based on political beliefs?”


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Traditional schools aren’t working — let’s move learning online

We already work online, play online, and shop online. Why isn't school online?

Deep within America's collective consciousness, there is a little red schoolhouse. Inside, obedient children sit in rows, eagerly absorbing lessons as a kind, wise teacher writes on the blackboard. Shiny apples are offered as tokens of respect and gratitude.

The reality of American education is often quite different. Beige classrooms are filled with note-passers and texters, who casually ignore teachers struggling to make it to the end of the 50-minute period. Smart kids are bored, and slower kids are left behind. Anxiety about standardized tests is high, and scores are consistently low. National surveys find that parents despair over the quality of education in the United States—and they're right to, as test results confirm again and again.

But just as most Americans disapprove of congressional shenanigans while harboring some affection for their own representative, parents tend to say that their child's teacher is pretty good. Most people have mixed feelings about their own school days, but our national romance with teachers is deep and long-standing. Which is why the idea of kids staring at computers instead of teachers makes parents and politicians extremely nervous.

However, it's time to take online education seriously—because we've tried everything else. Education Secretary Arne Duncan debuted his Blueprint for Reform this month to mixed reviews, joining at least 30 years' worth of government officials who have promised that this time, honest, they're going to fix education. Even the reforms promoted by the much-ballyhooed federal Race to the Top funds, which are supposed to encourage innovative educational practices, offer mostly marginal changes to the status quo. In an early March speech on technology in education, Duncan touted $500 million in new federal spending over 10 years to develop post-secondary online courses—an area of online education already thriving without federal assistance—thus arriving at the dance 15 years late and an awful lot more than a dollar short.

Since the Internet hit the big time in the mid-1990s, Amazon and eBay have changed the way we shop, Google has revolutionized the way we find information, Facebook has superseded other ways to keep track of friends and iTunes has altered how we consume music. But kids remain stuck in analog schools. Part of the reason online education hasn't taken off is that powerful forces such as teachers unions—which prefer to keep students in traditional classrooms under the supervision of their members—are aligned against it.

So children continue to learn from blackboards and books—the kind made of dead trees! no hyperlinks!—rather than getting lessons the way they consume virtually all other information: online. Putting reading materials and lecture notes on the Internet, like many teachers do today, is just the first step; it's like when, in the early days of movies, filmmakers pointed a camera at a stage play. Kids are still stuck watching those old-style movies, when they could be enjoying the learning equivalent of "Avatar" in 3-D. Thousands of ninth-grade English teachers are cobbling together yet another lecture on the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's day, when YouTube is overflowing with accessible, multimedia presentations from experts on Elizabethan theater construction, not to mention a very nice illustrated series on the Kennedy Center's ArtsEdge site.

In the 2010 annual letter from his foundation—the biggest in the United States, with a $33 billion endowment—Bill Gates listed online education as one of his top priorities and rattled his pocket change in the direction of reform. He wrote: "Online learning can be more than lectures. Another element involves presenting information in an interactive form, which can be used to find out what a student knows and doesn't know."

Right now, other than the venerable pop quiz, teachers have very few tools to gauge just how many students are grasping a concept in real time and reshape the curriculum to meet their needs.

How do we know online education will work? Well, for one thing, it already does. Full-time virtual charter schools are operating in dozens of states. The Florida Virtual School, which offers for-credit online classes to any child enrolled in the state system, has 100,000 students. Teachers are available by phone or e-mail from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. The state cuts a funding check to the school only when students demonstrate that they have mastered the material, whether it takes them two months or two years. The program is one of the largest in the country. Kids who enroll in Advanced Placement courses—39 percent of whom are minority students—score an average of 3.05 out of 5, compared with a state average of 2.49 for public school students.

In his book on online education, "Disrupting Class," Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen estimates that half of all high school courses in the United States will be consumed over the Internet by 2019. But we have a long way to go to reach 50 percent. Seventeen percent of high school students nationwide took an online course for school last year; another 12 percent took a class for self-study. Many of these students, along with younger kids taking online classes, might be considered homeschooled, though that very concept is changing as they sign up with virtual schools connected to state systems.

Few people have a clear picture of what online education really looks like, which is one reason so many people are reluctant to consider what it has to offer. Learning online won't turn America into a nation of home-schooled nerds, sitting in their basements, keyboards clacking. And it doesn't mean handing your kids over to Rosie the Robot from "The Jetsons" for the day.

Moving lesson planning and delivery online can provide students with more supervision, not less, says Michael Horn, one of the co-authors of "Disrupting Class." It would free teachers, Horn says, "to do hand-holding and mentoring, something which is pretty much impossible in the current model." After all, where is it written that the babysitter, disciplinarian, lecturer and evaluator must all be the same person? Or even that they all have to be in the same building?

Some online learning models eliminate human interaction, but the vast majority do not. Instead, they connect students and teachers via polls, video, chat, text and good old-fashioned phone calls. The Virtual Virginia program focuses on offering Advanced Placement classes to every student in the state, bringing college-level courses to rural districts and inner-city Richmond, where high-level instruction is difficult to get. Rocketship Education, in San Jose, Calif., brings at-risk elementary students together in a safe, cheap, modular space along with a small staff and hands their studies over to online curriculum for part of each day.

Online education has already become a boon for kids with special needs, the students least served by the traditional system. Education entrepreneur Tom Vander Ark launched Internet Academy, the first online K-12 establishment, in 1995 in part to serve kids with unorthodox education requirements, from serious athletes to children with health problems or learning disabilities.

One of the most successful areas of online education so far is helping kids who have fallen off the educational grid. Companies such as AdvancePath Academics scoop up students classified as unrecoverable by traditional schools and help them complete their education. Some dropout-recovery programs can be found in shopping malls and gyms.

More here

British teaching unions need to calm down and wise up

High dress standards improve behaviour — as good schools know

It’s that time of year again. Stony-faced belligerence, implausible allegations, wild sabre rattling, howls of pent-up anguish, cries of defiance searching for a target; yes, it’s the teaching unions’ conference season.

I like and admire teachers. I encourage my children to respect them. Granted, they have a tendency to grumble, to talk shop. Some can be prone to unworldliness, lacking insight into the world beyond the classroom.

But none of us is perfect. I think teaching a truly noble calling, among society’s most important. My parents, now retired, were schoolteachers. This is why I lament the public relations disaster inflicted annually on the profession — and state education — by the teaching unions’ conferences.

News bulletins are full of strike threats on any pretext, intemperate attacks on politicians, inspectors, examiners, bullying heads. Teachers come across as government-baiting, parent-hating, child-fearing lunatics spoiling for a fight, gathered only to agree how and when.

I know they come to let off steam, that they get carried away with conference rhetoric. Yet they don’t seem to grasp that the world is watching, and is aghast at what it sees.

This unmitigated folly must stop. Teachers I meet are not remotely like the tub-thumping conference militants. They must rescue the reputation of their profession from this annual charade. Here are five ways to do it.

• Move the conferences: the end of term is ridiculous — teachers are exhausted, snappy and at their worst. They should be in bed, certainly nowhere near a podium. Why not meet at the end of a holiday, when they have rested and calmed down?

• Merge the unions: having three is crazy, producing silly competitive behaviour and weakening teachers’ influence as ministers divide and rule. A single union would dilute the influence of the Trotskyites.

• Debate things of interest to parents: why wall-to-wall motions on workload, discrimination, pay? Why not discuss pedagogy, supported by research, expert speakers and classroom insights?

• Smarten up: jeans and Cuba Solidarity T-shirts won’t do, nor will sweatshirts, fleeces and rumpled woolies. High standards of dress improve behaviour — as we often hear from successful schools.

• Cheer up: teaching is a great job, with 71 per cent satisfied with their work, according to a YouGov survey for the National Union of Teachers, the bolshiest of the lot. So why is its conference a rage-fest? Where’s the joy, the pride, the professionalism?

All this would transform perceptions of teaching and rescue Easter from classroom militancy. Any takers?


British Conservatives kill off compulsory child sex education law

Plans for compulsory sex education in schools have been dropped in the pre-election “wash up” after being blocked by the Tories. The controversial measure would have ensured every 15-year-old had at least one year of sex education lessons. It was part of Ed Balls’ Children, Schools and Families Bill, but was shelved today in the last-minute rush to get legislation through before the election.

Mr Balls, the Schools Secretary, described the move as a “significant setback” which would deny many young people a balanced education.

But the Conservatives claimed it as a victory for the freedom of parents to withdraw their children from such lessons. They also blocked new rules that would have provided greater protection for children educated at home. At the moment Britain has among the most liberal laws in the developed world and does not require parents to register or be inspected.

Khyra Ishaq, the seven-year-old girl who starved to death at the hands of her mother and stepfather in Birmingham, was supposedly being home educated by them.

A report commissioned by the Government, which recommended a compulsory national registration scheme for home educating families, caused uproar among the vocal home-schooling lobby last year as an infringement of their rights. They won Tory support. Michael Gove, Mr Balls’ counterpart, said today the plans were “draconian”, and has ensured they are left out of the Bill.

In a letter to Mr Gove, Mr Balls said the Tories were putting the wellbeing of young people at risk, and voiced “deep regret” that key measures of the Bill were not supported.

“It is our very clear intention to ensure that all the measures you have rejected are included in a new bill in the first session of the new Parliament,” he said. “I am especially disappointed that, despite our conversation, you could not agree to make personal, social and health education statutory in all state-funded schools.

“There is widespread agreement that this is essential to prepare young people for adult life, and our reforms would ensure that all children receive at least one year of compulsory sex and relationship education.”


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sex Education Contributes to Delinquency

(Juneau County, Wisconsin) Here's a case where the law is at odds with progressive sexual attitudes in schools.
A district attorney is telling Juneau County schools to abandon their sex education courses, saying a new curriculum law could lead to criminal charges against teachers for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

Starting in the fall, the new law requires schools that have sex education programs to tell students how to use condoms and other contraceptives. Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said such education encourages sex among children, which is illegal, and could lead to charges against teachers.

The new law "promotes the sexualization - and sexual assault - of our children," Southworth wrote in a March 24 letter to officials in five school districts. He urged the districts to suspend their sex education programs and transfer their curriculum on anatomy to a science course.

"Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender," he wrote. "It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks."
It will be interesting to follow this case. Both sides have legitimate arguments but the law, obviously, has the upper hand. I suspect it will end up in court real soon.

Banning prayer in schools hurts public morality

I got the most pleasant of surprises at a funeral. The service had reached the point where an Old Testament passage had to be read. The one selected was the 23rd Psalm. As the woman reading it pronounced each word, I found myself following along. I didn't remember each and every sentence, but I remembered most of it.

I said along with the woman as she read, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

As the reading concluded, I sat in the pew and asked myself, "How did I remember that after all these years?"

My first memory of the 23rd Psalm is not from hearing it in a church, but in school. I distinctly remember hearing a Miss Pemberton in my kindergarten class. The year must have been 1956, maybe 1957. The 23rd Psalm was the Scripture reading of choice for most days; somehow, the repeated readings must have been ingrained in me.

Sitting in that pew earlier this year, I marveled at how I was able to remember the passage, and I pondered this question:

What harm did the reading of all those passages of the 23rd Psalm do to me? The answer is none at all. But one day past Easter in the year 2010, all of us -- even the ones who don't consider ourselves very religious -- might ask ourselves what harm has come from the 1962 Supreme Court decision that banned prayer and Scripture reading from the nation's public schools.

Now before you dismiss me as some born-again nut job on a religious rant, some clarification is in order. I'm a Roman Catholic, but not a very good one. I haven't been to confession in years and I attend Mass only sparingly. But I've listened to black senior citizens for years who swear that America went to hell in a handbasket once God or any mention of God was kicked out of public schools, with condoms being let in a short time later.

Ordinarily I would dismiss such talk as typical "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" (after the fact, therefore because of the fact) reasoning. This line of thinking is often flawed, but I believe the elders may be onto something this time.

They're not the only ones who've noticed. In late 2007, a group of black men traveled from Baltimore to Philadelphia to hear the lame-duck mayor and police commissioner of that city talk. Both cities were trying to solve frighteningly high homicide numbers, with the victims mainly being young black men.

Both the then-mayor and then-police commissioner told the group that they'd been hearing from black Philadelphians that maybe the time had come to allow prayer and Scripture reading back in public schools. And these were two Democrats speaking, mind you. It's amazing what a high body count will do.

Those elderly black folks remember what America's black communities were like back in the days when we had school prayer. Yes, there was segregation. But there was also some kind of moral center.

Never would there have been a situation where a young mother could murder her 1-month-old son, bury him in a park, and some members of the community threaten the father for reporting the mother to police. That's exactly what happened to the father of the late Rajahnthon Haynie in Baltimore last month. There were actually people out to get the father for "snitching" on the mother.

It doesn't quite sound like a generation inculcated with values of "goodness and mercy," does it?


The Wall of Hate

by Mike Adams

This week, April 5th through 8th, my university is doing something really neat. A bunch of organizations – including the NAACP, PRIDE, and the Black Student Union – are sponsoring a “Breaking Down Hate” week. Since the planned events only run Monday through Thursday it isn’t really a “week”. Despite the preponderance of white people on our campus there doesn’t seem to be enough hate to keep the anti-hate people busy all the way through Friday.

The printed flier for the “Breaking Down Hate” almost-week talks about a thing called the “Wall of Hate,” which has been a part of our campus diversity movement for three years. The flier invites students to “share insensitive, intolerant, and hateful words that (they) feel should no longer be accepted in (the campus) community with the WALL OF HATE.” After students write down the words, they spray paint over them as a symbol of the eradication of hate.

I’ve made fun of the wall of hate in the past. But I’m not making fun of it anymore. That’s just hateful. This year, I’m going to the “wall of hate” all four days of “Breaking Down Hate” almost-week. In fact, I’m going twice each day to write down a hateful word. My “Great Eight Words of Hate” are listed below. Each is followed by the reason why I chose to write each word before covering it with spray paint:

Colored. Few people realize that the “C” in “NAACP” stands for “colored.” Where I come from, the term “colored” is racially insensitive and hateful. Therefore, I think anyone who uses that term is a hater. In fact, I think the NAACP is potentially a hate group in need of a close second look by the IRS. I’m even considering writing the Southern Poverty Law Center to put them on notice of another potential hate group.

PRIDE. I read somewhere that pride cometh before a fall. And this group – People Recognizing Individual Differences Exist (PRIDE) – is a very proud bunch. They think it’s a great idea that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental illness (many years ago). But they celebrated the victory by coining the term “homophobia.” This was meant to say that everyone who disagrees with them on the issue of homosexuality has a phobia, or irrational fear. Could it be that PRIDE has an irrational fear of intellectual diversity? Why can’t they just recognize that individual differences of opinion about homosexuality exist?

Black. I really don’t like the term “black.” It’s so antiquated. Someday it will be considered as hateful as “colored.” I prefer the term “African American.” And I think the Black Student Union should change its name to something not only more sensitive but more accurate. Personally, I prefer the Union of African Students for Segregation (U-ASS). In my view, if you need to segregate yourself on the basic of race U are an ASS. And you are probably a racist.

Hate. I really hate the word “hate.” Whenever I hear that word it is coming from someone who is full of hate. For example, I was greeted by a thirty-foot sign last year at UMass (The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which is not to be confused with U-ASS). When I asked who made the sign – which spelled my name with a “Z” – I was told it was the “Coalition Against Hate.” I rest my case. And I propose a coalition of un-bathed communists who are so stoned they can’t spell “Adams.”

Gay. Let’s just use the term “sodomite.” They are way too angry to be called “gay.” Plus, I’d like to be able to once again use the term “gay” without having people think about sodomy. For example, “Writing down a word and then immediately spray-painting over it? That’s gay!”

Choice. When I hear the word “choice” I know some feminist is about to kill a baby so she can increase her sex partners without decreasing her income. So I choose not to hear that word anymore.

Communism. The communists killed over 100,000,000 people in the 20th Century. That’s a big number. In fact, it’s 1/15,000 as big as this year’s federal budget deficit measured in dollars. So let’s replace this word with something else like “Social Justice.”

Tenure. Tenure is a really ugly word. After professors get it they aren’t as nice and spend most of their time sitting around and thinking of things to do, which are not related to the reason they were hired in the first place. Like writing down “hateful” words, spray painting over them, and calling it “progress.”


Pre-election turnaround by the Leftist government: British teachers 'should use force to control violent pupils'

Teachers should use force to break up fights, stop pupils wrecking classrooms and prevent children disrupting sporting events, according to the Government. Guidance issued to schools in England warns them against having “no contact” policies, despite fears staff can be sued for restraining children.

It said the use of physical force was vital to keep order in lessons and stop the most unruly pupils running amok.

The document said that schools did not need parents’ permission before employing force or searching pupils for banned items such as weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen property.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, presented the guidelines at the NASUWT annual conference in Birmingham on Monday. It will be seen as an attempt to present Labour as the guardians of traditional discipline in schools. The move follows recommendations last week that headteachers should take parents of unruly pupils to court if they repreatedly fail to keep children in line.

But the Conservatives insisted the Government had eroded teachers’ powers to enforce good behaviour since 1997, suggesting as many as half of schools now had some form of “no contact” policy.

Mr Balls said: "Teachers have the powers they need to manage bad behaviour but I am aware that many fear retribution if they were to forcibly remove an unruly pupil. This guidance aims to stop teachers being afraid of using the powers they have when necessary.

"Myths that schools should have 'no contact policies', that teachers shouldn't be able to protect and defend themselves and others, will be dispelled by this new guidance which makes clear that in some situations, teachers have the powers and protection to use force."

The guidance provides teachers with a list of situations where physical force may be necessary. This includes when pupils are:

* *Attacking a teacher or classmate

* *Fighting and causing risk of injury to themselves or others

* *Committing – or on the verge of committing – deliberate damage to property

* *At risk of injury through “rough play” or misusing dangerous materials

* *Attempting to leave class or school at unauthorised times

* *Persistently misbehaving in a way that disrupts sporting events, school trips or lessons.

Teachers are told to first “engage the pupil in a calm and measured tone”, making it clear that behaviour is unacceptable.

It said “reasonable” physical force should be used as a last resort to control escalating bad behaviour.

Teachers should be trained in retraining techniques and adapt them to individual situations, the guidance said.

But it warned schools against employing certain moves that presented an “unacceptable risk” of injury, including the “nose distraction technique”, which involves a sharp jab under the nose, and the “double basket hold”, where pupils' arms are held across their chest.

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said; ““Ed Balls is wrong to say we don’t have a discipline problem in our schools – over 1,000 pupils a day are being excluded for assault and abuse.

“A key reason for this is teachers are afraid to tackle violence and disruption in the classroom – one study found that over half of schools now have some form of ‘no touch’ policy that prevents teachers from restraining troublemakers.

“Republishing existing guidance is not going to solve this problem.”


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Post Racial "affirmative action"?

Perhaps it was unfair to expect that the election of Barack Obama would “bend the curve” on hundreds of years of racial attitudes and the politics that developed around those attitudes. Then again, for a man that entered office with a promise to calm the seas and heal the sick doing “post racial” should have been a piece of cake.

Moreover, with all the talk of “hope and change” it was not outrageous to imagine that there might be some positive change in the tone surrounding discussions of race. Certainly it was not unreasonable to imagine that at the very least this President- who was going to win back the worlds respect -- would not stoke the fires of racial enmity here at home. Well, as my mother used to say: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Instead of bringing Americans together, this President is proving to be the most divisive and racially polarizing president in recent memory. And France still isn’t all that crazy about us....

Now comes news that the Obama Justice department has filed an amicus brief supporting a return to the use of racial preferences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Following the 1996 decision in Hopwood v Texas the University of Texas was forced to find race-neutral means to increase the enrollment of minority students on its campus. The school began granting automatic admissions for students graduating in the top 10% of their high school senior class.

In 2003 the Supreme Court in Grutter v Bollinger held that some use of race is permissible only if race neutral methods fail and then they must be narrowly tailored. The University of Texas chose to hold onto the top 10% program and return to the use of race preferences for students falling outside that percentage.

In 2008 Abigail Fisher, the lead plaintiff in Fisher v University of Texas, graduated in the top 12% of her high school class and was denied admission to the university. Her lawyers argue that the race-neutral 10% plan has been successful and therefore any use of race preferences oversteps the dictates prescribed by the Supreme Court and is unlawful.

What is of particular interest is that the administration has gone beyond simply filing a brief in support of existing law. The President has extended the argument beyond what The University of Texas applies and the Supreme Court envisioned in Grutter and endorses the use of racial preferences in all "educational institutions"---K-12, undergraduate, and graduate. As Roger Clegg, president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity points out, “The Supreme Court has never found there to be a compelling interest in the former instance---nor, for example, in post-doctorates for chemistry---and it is aggressive and wrong to argue that, because the Court found there to be compelling educational benefits in diversity at the University of Michigan law school, therefore any educational institution can make that claim.”

In the battle against discrimination Obama seeks to take us backward. This administration does not envision an America moving away from preferences, but a nation of increased preferences based on race! Just as unfounded cries of racism lead to an increase in racial enmity, racial preferences create racial hostility.


British teachers threaten industrial action (walkout) to keep troublemakers out of class

Long overdue

School teachers have threatened industrial action to keep dozens of “unteachable” children out of the classroom, The Daily Telegraph has learnt. Staff across England and Wales have refused to teach troublemakers after they were allowed to remain in school despite brandishing knives, attacking staff and disrupting lessons.

In most cases, teachers threaten to take legal action after attempts to expel yobs were overturned by governors or independent appeals panels. Dossiers published by the two biggest classroom unions show staff refused to teach pupils on 37 occasions over a 12 month period.

In one case, a 12-year-old boy was permanently barred from a school in Essex for carrying a knife, but was allowed back into lessons by an appeals panel. Members of the National Union of Teachers balloted for industrial action – refusing to teach – and he was eventually moved to another school.

A seven-year-old in East Sussex was expelled for assaulting a member of staff – the latest in a string of “violent and dangerous behaviour” reported by teachers – but governors refused to ratify the decision.

Staff at a Gloucestershire school threatened to walk out after an 11-year-old accused of “intimidating” pupils with a butter knife was allowed to remain in school by the governing body.

The NASUWT union refused to teach a 14-year-old boy after he sexually assaulted a classroom assistant and attacked a teacher. Governors overturned the head’s attempt to expel the pupil.

Union leaders said the cases constituted a “deeply worrying” assault on teachers’ authority.

It comes as Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, prepares to outline new rules on Monday giving teachers more power to physically restrain violent pupils.

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: “If a child has really crossed the line, it is very difficult to accommodate them back in school as it is seen as a challenge to the whole institution. “This is a serious problem because it undermines the authority of a school and potentially harms the education of other children.”

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: “Governors seem to be taking the line of least resistance to placate the minority of parents rather than to protect the majority of pupils and their staff. “If governors do not back headteachers' professional judgment in these matters then staff and school leaders cannot manage behaviour with confidence.”

The issue represents the latest in a series of concerns over teachers being undermined. At the weekend, unions warned that pupils were regularly being allowed to rate their own teachers in the classroom and interview staff applying for jobs.

In one case, it was claimed children at a school in Kent had been handed iPhones to enable them to pass instant judgments on teachers' performance to senior staff.

A head's decision to expel pupils is reviewed by governors at each school. If the decision is upheld, children and parents can also appeal to an independent panel formed by the local council. The Conservatives have promised to scrap appeals panels which they claim undermine the authority of schools.

The NUT’s latest annual report – published at its annual conference in Liverpool – show that members refused to teach children on 28 occasions in 2008.

Attempts to expel children were overturned by governors 10 times and by an independent panel on nine occasions. In other cases, the union suggested that headteachers themselves failed to take a firm line against troublemakers. The situation was usually resolved without taking formal action, normally with a “managed move” to another school.

Figures published by the NASUWT show nine children were the subject of a ballot for industrial action in 12 months. Five were expelled by heads only to be reinstated by governing bodies.

On one occasion, the NASUWT said a five-year-old boy threatened to stab a member of staff with a pair of scissors and threw chairs in his reception class.

Incidents reported by the NUT included a 10-year-old expelled from a school in Manchester for a “serious assault” on another pupil, only to be reinstated by an appeals panel.

In another case, teachers at a Cardiff comprehensive threatened to walk out after a 15-year-old was expelled for making false allegations against a colleague, but was allowed back into school following an independent appeal.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “We are absolutely clear that heads should not hesitate to permanently exclude the worst-behaved pupil, when other sanctions have failed. "The vast majority of exclusions don't even go to appeal and where they do, it's clear independent panels are backing heads taking tough action.

"It's difficult to argue that schools are being undermined when just 60 out of over 8,000 pupils permanently excluded in 2007/08 were reinstated to their original schools following appeal - with the proportion halving in the last six years.

"No appeal will make a substantial difference where heads have gone through the proper process. No exclusions should be overturned purely on technicalities and we've told panels that no pupil expelled for violence should ever win an appeal, without very robust reasons.

"We make no apology for having independent appeals panels. Heads associations and our chief behaviour expert, Sir Alan Steer, are clear that heads would end up being dragged through the courts, if parents weren't given a fair right of appeal."


A tribute to many years of "look and see" literacy education in Australia

Phonics was abandoned decades ago -- in a typical act of Leftist destructiveness -- but very recently seems to have staged a partial comeback

An astonishing four million Australian workers [Note: the total Australian population is around 22 million, of whom roughly half would be workers -- so the percentage involved here is enormous] have poor language, literacy and numeracy skills and cannot understand the meaning of some everyday words.

And their inability to following basic instructions and warnings is causing a safety and productivity nightmare. Most are in labour-intensive and low-level service jobs.

Among the terms that are too difficult for some workers are "hearing protection" and "personal protective equipment is required", according to a report by Skills Australia for the Rudd Government.

The words that many do not understand include: immediately, authorised, procedure, deliberate, isolation, mandatory, recommended, experience, required and optional.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout told the Herald Sun 46 per cent of workers had substandard literacy skills and 53 per cent had numeracy below the expected benchmark.

"It's really worrying when people can't read or write," Ms Ridout said. "It contributes to workplace safety problems. You've got to have a lot of pictures to promote safety and it contributes to inefficient practices and mistakes. That means time is wasted and work has to be repeated."

Ms Ridout, a board member of Skills Australia, said some workers could not read and understand standard operating procedures, which led to incorrect use of machinery. They could not read drawings and were drilling the wrong-sized holes or cutting steel incorrectly.

"These people are not able to function successfully in a modern workforce," she said. "But it is not just the workers. One company found a supervisor couldn't read or write properly and got a big shock," she said.

Ms Ridout called on the Government to introduce a national adult literacy and numeracy scheme in next month's Budget to provide resources and teaching support. "This problem is caused by bad education," she said. "These people haven't been picked up when they've fallen."

Other terms that were too difficult for some workers included sheeted material, company policies, gross misconduct and disciplinary action.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has nominated improving productivity as a crucial plank towards coping with the pressures of an ageing population. Ms Ridout said poor workplace literacy and numeracy was a roadblock to that goal.

The Government recently provided $50 million to create more training places for businesses to increase skills that are in high demand.

But Ms Ridout said it did not help workers who had trouble with the basics. "We can't lift skills if some workers don't have the basic skills to build on," she said. "All these people should be given a chance to participate but if they can't read and write and add up, it's going to be very tough for them."


Monday, April 05, 2010

Vouchers Do Not Harm Public Schools

Opponents of school choice worry that public schools will suffer when competition is introduced. They cite the diversion of money away from public schools and the “creaming” of the best students into private schools, leaving the neediest children even worse off than before. But how realistic is this scenario?

A new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis marshals powerful evidence that school voucher programs do not hurt students who remain in public schools, and they may even help.

From 1998 to 2008, the Edgewood Voucher Program (EVP) offered private school tuition support to all families in the Edgewood school district, which is located in a low-income section of San Antonio, Texas. Since EVP was privately funded, no government money was diverted from public schools. However, large numbers of students did leave the public schools for private ones. EVP serves as a case study, therefore, on whether public school students suffer when some of their peers transfer away.

The answer is a firm “no.” Test scores and graduation rates went up in the Edgewood school district during the course of EVP. Whether these gains were directly caused by EVP is difficult to ascertain, since vouchers were open to all comers rather than subject to a randomized lottery that would have provided the “gold standard” experiment.

Nonetheless, the empirical debate is over whether EVP’s effect on public schools was zero or positive. When the progress of Edgewood public schools is compared to similar districts that had no voucher program, the data do not plausibly support any negative effect of EVP.

With school choice increasingly looking like a “no lose” proposition for private and public school students alike, will the Obama administration take notice?


Britain: Children running the schools?

Pupil 'spies' are attempting to rid schools of strict teachers by sabotaging their promotions and snitching on their lessons, it has been claimed. They are being allowed to rate members of staff through observing their teaching, filling in anonymous questionnaires and even sitting on interview panels.

The Government has put greater emphasis on schools allowing the 'voice' of youngsters to be heard in recent years. In Ofsted forms, school heads need to illustrate how the views of pupils are taken into account. From September, headteachers will have a legal duty to consult pupils on major changes to school policy.

Now teachers say that increased pupil power means youngsters 'seem to be running schools' and feel no guilt about 'putting the boot in'.

Some pupils are complaining about strict teachers and ruining their chances of internal promotion by sitting on interview panels. They are also using their positions on these panels to humiliate staff by asking silly questions such as: 'If you could be on Britain's Got Talent, what would your talent be?' Headteachers stress that pupils only make recommendations on interview panels and their views are useful.

But the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers has warned of widespread abuse following a survey of more than 200 members. At its annual conference in Birmingham today, teachers will call for ballots of industrial action to stop 'inappropriate use' of the 'student voice'.

One teacher told how he was 'culled' from the interview process for a new job because the pupils on the panel thought he was 'too strict'. The teacher said: 'I felt upset that two out of three of the adults liked me enough but that the pupils had that much sway.'

Another claimed: 'Before you know it, students are choosing to keep "easy-going" teachers who let them do as they like and getting rid of the more strict ones.'

Other teachers complained about the unprofessional questions that pupils ask on the interview panel. They included: Can you sing your favourite song? What fancy dress character would you dress up in to go to school and why? What rewards/trips would you provide for pupils?

The survey also found some bizarre reasons why pupils voted against teachers on interview panels. One teacher took a snowboard along to impress a group of five to seven-year-olds as part of the interview but failed to get the job. The youngsters preferred two other applicants who brought in balloons and a didgeridoo. Another teacher lost out for supposedly looking like 'Humpty Dumpty'; another because he didn't allow the pupils to email him at home.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: 'Children are not small adults. They are in schools to learn, not to teach or manage the school.'


Student arrested over desk doodle to sue

No school discipline so police have to be used -- in a gross misuse of authority and resources

A 12-year-old New York schoolgirl who was arrested and handcuffed for doodling on her classroom desk is suing police for US$1 million, the New York Daily News reported. Lawyers for Alexa Gonzalez claim police used excessive force and violated her rights in the February incident at Junior High School 190 in the Queens neighbourhood.

Alexa's mother, Moraima Camacho, told the newspaper the schoolgirl scribbled "I love my friends Abby and Faith" - in washable green ink when teachers pounced on her and dragged her to the dean's office.

Police were called and officers cuffed and arrested the girl. At the police station she was handcuffed to a pole for more than two hours, according to the lawsuit against the police and education departments.

Miss Gonzalez said she broke down as she was led out of the school in handcuffs. "I started crying, like, a lot," Gonzalez told the New York Daily News. "I made two little doodles... It could be easily erased. To put handcuffs on me is unnecessary."

New York City officials have agreed better judgement should have been used by the arresting officers but could not be reached immediately for comment.

"The whole situation has been a nightmare," Camacho said.

Alexa was also was suspended from the school when an offending item - Wite-Out - was found in her pockets, but the suspension was later lifted.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Opposition to tough education reforms in Florida

Teachers who don't get results will be fired -- as employees in any other field would be

Sweeping education changes including a plan to end tenure for teachers and enact merit pay may have won approval in the Florida Senate, but it hasn't won lead sponsor Sen. John Thrasher points with educators and school advocates in his home county. The word "frustrating" comes up a lot when talking to people about the education changes.

Two weeks ago Senate Bill 6 whipped through the Senate. This week a similar House bill is set for debate on Monday and passage is expected.

However, Thrasher didn't campaign on the school issue, hold town meetings or talk with St. Johns County school board officials, teacher unions or education advocate groups to get input on the issue and that's left many feeling blind sided. It's also a surprise for a county whose schools are ranked first in the state and whose school leader was named superintendent of the year.

Thrasher has said anyone who wanted to have input got the chance. Others disagree. "This was never discussed with the superintendent, the staff or anyone on the school board," said St. Johns County School Board chair Bill Mignon, who sees the bill as one that will "pit teachers against the school board."

Like others Mignon finds the bill "political" and worries what it will mean for public education and local control. "I think the biggest frustration I and others educators face is that we weren't part of the plan; we were never asked to provide any input. It's almost like we didn't have the ability to make rational decisions," he said. "But we're the ones in the trenches, the people who have to make this work."

St. Johns County School Superintendent Joe Joyner said Thrasher never contacted him. "I think there is some room for discussion about merit-based pay, but I'm more talking in terms of enhancement as opposed to making it 50 percent of a teacher's pay," he said. Like others he has a number of questions about the bill and what the long term costs and effects including fairness and assessments will be.

District 1 school board member Bev Slough, former head of the state school board association, echoes those concerns. Thrasher, she said, "talked to nobody locally." Among the problems is that the bill "effectively does away with collective bargaining" and "really strips local control."

While she doesn't like the bill or what it will do, she will be "real surprised" if it doesn't clear the House because "there is so much pressure from House leadership to pass it."

But, Slough said, grassroots efforts have made a difference in the past. Teachers statewide turned out for rallies on Friday, waving protest signs and seeking to increase public awareness. The Florida Education Association is rallying efforts statewide to take the fight to Tallahassee for hearings on Monday.

Debby Etheredge, president of the St. Johns Education Association, wasn't consulted about the bills, but she's hearing plenty from local teachers who are concerned about what the evaluations and tests will mean. "It's not really based on what the teacher is doing, it's based on what the children are doing," she said.

The plan means more tests and more pressure, she said. "(Some students) have enough on them, they're about to explode," she said.

Teachers argue time in school is just part of what is involved in children learning. There is also the home life. Broken homes, family arguments and financial pressures all can contribute to potential learning problems. There's also the question of whether a family considers education important and how supportive it is.

Leadership in the Florida Legislature has made the bills a priority. In an interview last month, Thrasher said the issue didn't just come out of nowhere as many have said. It was brought up in last year's session, but didn't get anywhere. In October of last year, it was among the items Florida legislative leaders decided they wanted passed, he said.

More here

British politicians warn over ‘shocking decline’ of school trips

Pupils have increasingly been denied the chance to visit museums, galleries, theatres and the countryside in recent years, it was claimed. In a damning report, the Commons schools select committee warned that the likelihood of children enjoying any green space at all had “halved in a generation”. One expert told MPs that the drop – combined with parental fears over child safety – meant many young people were becoming “entombed” in the home instead of being allowed out to play.

The conclusions were made despite a Government drive to increase the number of school trips. Recently, ministers have issued new guidance to teachers attempting to cut health and safety red tape as well as launching a kite mark to accredit organisations hosting school parties.

But MPs insisted that the measures had failed to increase the take-up – suggesting that a sharp drop reported five years ago had continued. In a document published on Thursday, they said that each pupil should have an entitlement to at least one school trip every term.

Barry Sheerman, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: "The steep decline in the amount of time children are spending outside is shocking. “Research has shown that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space has halved in a generation. "It is vital for the Government to make a commitment to a serious funding increase to ensure that all children have opportunities to visit the wealth of museums and galleries, and the natural environment of the English countryside, which are at our disposal. “

MPs quoted a recent survey by the Countryside Alliance that showed only around half of six- to 15-year-olds go on a trip to the countryside with their school. This has been coupled with a more general decline in the amount of time that children spend outside, the committee said.

Other research by Natural England has found that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space at all has halved in a generation. Almost two-thirds of children played indoors at home more often than any other place, it found.

MPs cited a number of reasons for the decline in school trips. The report said that that funding to support education outside the classroom had been “derisory”. Since 2005, just £4.5 million has been allocated, including £2.5m on a single residential initiative, it was claimed. By comparison, MPs found that £40m has been spent on one scheme to boost the amount of singing in schools.

The report also said that teachers' fears over “health and safety litigation, making them reluctant to offer trips and visits, have not been effectively addressed”.

In a further conclusion, the study said that teacher training continued to pay “scant attention” to giving new staff members the skills and confidence to lead outings.

MPs also blamed rules that effectively barred heads from asking teachers to cover for absent staff. Schools are supposed to pay for supply teachers instead of ordering existing staff members to step in when colleagues are leading trips. The move was introduced in September to ease teachers’ workloads.

But the select committee was told that many schools are simply cancelling outings altogether instead of raiding stretched budgets to pay for supply staff.

Attractions and study centres reported a “significant reduction” in the number of bookings following changes to teachers’ contracts imposed last year.