Saturday, May 15, 2010

Despite 13 years of Labour party hot air and addled policies, Britain's State schools provide fewer opportunities for upward social mobility than ever -- and it shows

The article below uses "public-school" in the old British sense (non-government). "Comprehensives" are government-funded schools -- which are often chaotic and are usually geared to the lowest common denominator

So, if you ever doubted that you get what you pay for, take a look at the footage of David Cameron and Nick Clegg during their Downing Street rose garden love-in. Two slim, handsome, affable and articulate men in their mid-40s, quick on their feet and comfortable in the spotlight: has there ever been a better advert for a public-school education?

Indeed, watching our new Prime Minister and his Deputy chuckling in the sunshine on Wednesday, it was easy to see them in terms of public-school stereotypes.

On the right, Mr Cameron, the Old Etonian: dapper, upright, his iron ambition concealed by velvet manners. And on the left, Mr Clegg, the Westminster boy: relaxed, good-humoured, the very picture of effortless superiority.

But look again at the footage of our new masters in the rose garden and you will see not just the virtues of two first-class schools, but a damning indictment of the collapse of opportunity in modern Britain.

For as our new Government gets down to business, there is an inevitable contrast between the new Cabinet's rhetoric - austerity and hard work, pain and sacrifice - and their own life stories.

Of those men and women around the Cabinet table, a staggering 67 per cent went to top private schools, compared with just 7 per cent of the total population.

One response, trotted out by both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg during the campaign, is that none of this really matters. 'What people are interested in,' Mr Cameron maintained, 'is not where you come from but where you're going, what you've got to offer the country.'

That may be true, but while Mr Cameron's predecessors, such as Michael Howard, William Hague, John Major and Margaret Thatcher, could point to their relatively modest backgrounds as evidence of their own hard work, there is more than a little truth in the assertion that our new Prime Minister and his Deputy have had everything handed to them on a silver platter.
Margaret Thatcher

And there is a deeper story here. After all, the Prime Minister is hardly the only former public schoolboy in the new Cabinet: as he looks around the table, he sees George Osborne (St Paul's), Chris Huhne (Westminster), Jeremy Hunt (Charterhouse) and Andrew Lansley (Brentwood), as well as his Old Etonian chum Oliver Letwin.

Indeed, if it were not for the defiant presence of a few grammar and comprehensive schoolboys such as Kenneth Clarke (Nottingham High School, which years later became a public school), Vince Cable (Nunthorpe Grammar) and William Hague (Wath-upon-Dearne Comprehensive), the weekly Cabinet meeting would look disturbingly like a lunch party at the East India Club, the gentleman's club in St James's open only to former public schoolboys.

And despite its occasional flirtation with the rhetoric of class warfare, Labour is not much better. For all his faults, Gordon Brown could hardly claim a privileged background: the son of a Church of Scotland minister, he went to his local state school, Kirkcaldy High.

But Tony Blair had the best education money can buy at Scotland's most prestigious public school, Fettes. And the party's current acting leader, Harriet Harman, went to St Paul's Girls, the expensive sister school to the new Chancellor's alma mater.

Even state-educated Labour MPs belong to a very particular political class. Both David and Ed Miliband, for instance, went to North London's Haverstock Comprehensive - which, because of its catchment area, is very successful - and then Oxford University. Ed Balls went to public school and Oxford, too, as did his wife, Yvette Cooper.

Indeed, it is hard to resist the suspicion that British politics has become an exclusive club, dominated by public schoolboys, and that an old school tie and Oxbridge connections are the passport to that club.

It hardly needs saying that there is nothing wrong with a privileged education: I should know, having benefited from one myself. And at one level, it is hardly surprising that so many public-school products end up running the country. After all, parents expect a lot for £150,000 - the total cost of putting a child through a top boarding school today.

And yet, even a former public schoolboy can see that there is something wrong with a system in which a privileged political class clogs up the corridors of power, especially since research conclusively shows that social mobility has stalled since the Sixties, preventing bright children from getting the opportunities enjoyed by their parents.

In many ways, the collapse in opportunity was one of New Labour's greatest failures.

According to a study by the Sutton Trust, those born in 1970 are much less likely to earn more than their parents than those born in 1958. And while almost half of children from the richest 20 per cent of homes get a university degree, only one in ten from the poorest 20 per cent does so. 'Shamefully,' the report concluded, 'Britain remains stuck at the bottom of the international league tables when it comes to social mobility.'

Other studies have made similar-findings. Only last year, a Commons all-party panel reported that 75 per cent of judges, 70 per cent of finance directors and 45 per cent of top civil servants went to private schools. Britain was still run, the panel concluded, by a 'closed shop'.

It bears repeating that there is nothing wrong with a private education in itself: at one level, these figures show that the public schools and Oxbridge still do a terrific job.

But given that both Labour and the Tories have boasted for years about being parties of opportunity, you wonder what happened to all those bright children from modest backgrounds.

On top of that, you wonder how David Cameron and Nick Clegg can possibly understand the anxieties of their fellow countrymen as the austerity years approach, given that their own lives have been so gilded.

Can politicians who spent their teenage years joining exclusive dining clubs, working as ski instructors and appearing in Noel Coward comedies really appreciate the struggles of ordinary British youngsters when the cuts begin to bite?

For Mr Cameron, the inevitable contrast is with his Tory predecessors. John Major, for example, was born to a garden-gnome manufacturer in Brixton, left school with three O-levels, spent a short period on the dole, and worked his way up the ranks from bank clerk to Prime Minister.

Whatever faults Sir John may have had, it could hardly be said that he did not understand the common man.

Margaret Thatcher, meanwhile, was born and bred a long way from the playing fields of Eton. The daughter of a Methodist grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, she won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls, a local grammar school, where she first established a reputation for ferocious hard work.

Shamefully, critics often held her background against her: in the Eighties, the philosopher Mary Warnock mocked Mrs Thatcher's 'elocution voice' and 'neat, well-groomed clothes and hair, packaged together in a way that's not exactly vulgar, just low'.

But unlike the boarding school educated Baroness Warnock, Mrs Thatcher had worked for everything she achieved, her sheer grit and effort propelling her from Grantham to Downing Street. And her belief in the virtues of sheer effort, born of her Methodist faith and grammar-school education, lay at the heart of her political philosophy.

'I came to office with one deliberate intention,' she once said: 'To change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society, from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation.'

Yet Mrs Thatcher was only one member of a generation of talented politicians from humble backgrounds at both ends of the ideological spectrum - people such as Edward Heath (Chatham House Grammar School), Harold Wilson (Wirral Grammar), Denis Healey ( Bradford Grammar), Roy Jenkins (Abersychan County School) and Enoch Powell (King Edward's, Birmingham).

Look again at the names of those schools and you will see that these men had one thing in common: they had all attended ordinary state grammar schools.

And leafing through their life stories, what is obvious is that those schools gave them something else in common: an almost fanatical belief in the importance of hard work.

When Harold Wilson went as a scholarship boy to Oxford, the idea of joining a swanky dining club would have been utter anathema. He spent his days at his desk, working an average of 10 hours a day. He had 'always been driven by a feeling that there is something to be done and I really ought to be doing it', he said later.

And when Enoch Powell won a scholarship to Cambridge, the thought of spending his summers backpacking around Europe - the typical recreation of public schoolboys like Messrs Cameron and Clegg - would have struck him as deeply shameful.

The importance of hard graft had been drummed into him so completely that when another Birmingham boy invited him to come and have tea on his first day, he replied: 'Thank you very much, but I came here to work.'

Of course, there are modern equivalents, from stateeducated, self-made Cabinet ministers such as Ken Clarke, Vince Cable and William Hague, to backbenchers like David Davis, brought up on a council estate by a single mother and educated at Tooting Bec Grammar School.

Yet the fate of David Davis's old school tells a wider and more depressing story. Bec School, as it was known, was founded in 1926. But in 1970 it was merged with another local school to form a big comprehensive, and the original buildings were demolished 15 years ago.

As with so many grammar schools, its proud history of educating bright children from working-class backgrounds had not saved it from the ideological fervour of self-styled egalitarians such as Anthony Crosland, Labour's Education Secretary during the mid-Sixties.

For while Crosland himself - a classic champagne socialist - had been educated at the prestigious, fee-paying Highgate School, he could not disguise his contempt for the grammar schools that had done so much for his Cabinet colleagues.

'If it's the last thing I do,' he told his wife, 'I'm going to destroy every f****** grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland.' Only Scotland was safe: their schools, it turned out, did not come under his jurisdiction.

And Crosland was as good as his word. At their peak in the early Sixties, there were more than 1,200 grammar schools in England. Today, there are just 164, clustered in a few counties such as Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Kent.

To her eternal regret, Mrs Thatcher failed to roll back the destruction of the grammar schools during her brief spell as Education Secretary in the early Seventies. But as she later pointed out, institutions like her beloved Kesteven and Grantham Girls had been a genuine force for social mobility.

'People from my sort of background,' she famously told the Tory Party conference in 1977, 'needed grammar schools to compete with children from privileged homes like Shirley Williams and Anthony Wedgwood Benn.' Yet the brutal reality is that more than three decades on, the chances of another Margaret Thatcher, or even another Ted Heath or Harold Wilson, rising through the ranks are smaller than ever.

Outside a few enclaves, the grammar schools are gone; the ladder has been kicked away. The result is that more than ever, power belongs to an old boy network of public schoolboys and Oxford graduates.

And even as David Cameron and Nick Clegg exchange smiles like love-struck teenagers, the dream of a genuinely fluid, open society, with opportunities for all regardless of background, seems more remote than ever.


Arizona now targets biased ethnic studies

Law infuriates liberals again

Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, already under fire for approving the nation's toughest illegal immigration law, has again run afoul of liberal activists, signing a bill Wednesday that targets ethnic studies programs in schools that critics say unfairly demean white Americans.

The law, which takes effect Dec. 31, would prohibit courses that promote resentment toward one race; that are designed for students of one race; that promote ethnic solidarity "instead of treating students as individuals;" and that encourage "the overthrow of the United States government."

The proposal was the brainchild of Tom Horne, Arizona state superintendent of public instruction, who has long battled with the Tucson Unified School District over its Mexican-American studies program, contending that it promotes "ethnic chauvinism" through the use of textbooks such as "Oppressed America" and at least one guest speaker who said, "Republicans hate Latinos."

Those who contend the law promotes racism are missing the point, Mr. Horne said. "It's the opposite of racism," said the Republican, who is running for state attorney general. "We're trying to get schools to treat students as individuals and not on the basis of race."

Still, reaction to the law has been swift. No less than a United Nations human rights panel issued a statement the day before the law was signed, warning that it violated Arizona's obligation to "promote a social and cultural environment conducive to respect for ethnic and cultural diversity."

Supporters of the ethnic studies programs have argued that enrolled students perform better than their peers who don't participate in the program. Two Oregon State University researchers released a statement Tuesday saying that the law "could negatively affect students' academic achievement and reverse academic gains made over the last several years."

Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson school district, said the district's ethnic studies program conforms to the law's guidelines. "In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people," Mr. Arce told the Arizona Republic newspaper....

As for the ethnic studies law, Mr. Horne said, it does nothing to prevent schools from teaching about students' cultures. "We should learn about different heritages and languages, and I'm all for that," he said. "I'm just opposed to dividing students up and only teaching them about their own."

Among the Arizona schools that could be affected by the law are three charter schools run by Chicanos Por La Causa, a nonprofit group that bills itself as the state's largest community development corporation.

But spokeswoman Amanda Roberson said she doubted the schools would be in danger of losing funding. Schools that violate the law would lose a share of state education funds. "We don't think right now it's going to apply to us," said Ms. Roberson. "The language is very extreme - I mean, it talks about overthrowing the government - and we don't think it applies to us."

Mr. Horne has argued that the curriculum prods Hispanic students into believing they are oppressed by whites. He pointed to a 2006 talk by Hispanic activist Dolores Huerta, who told students, "Republicans hate Latinos."

He also cited the use of textbooks such as "Oppressed America," which quotes a Hispanic activist saying that Chicanos should "kill the gringo." Another textbook, he says, "The Mexican American Heritage," promotes the idea of Aztlan, the five Southwestern states that activists say should be returned to Mexican control.


Australia: New national curriculum less rigorous than existing State curriculum

The new national curriculum threatens to water down the content of some Higher School Certificate courses for NSW senior secondary school students, critics say. And they say the consultation period for the draft curriculum, which ends on July 30, is being rushed in an election year.

The highest-level courses in maths and English do not appear to extend students as much as existing courses, under the proposals for years 11 and 12.

NSW students will have to learn more about statistics in maths and the modern history of Asian countries under the draft curriculum for year 11 and 12 students. A strong focus on World War I in year 12 will be replaced with an emphasis on World War II, the Cold War and the modern history of Australia's Asia-Pacific neighbours.

Teacher associations fear many of the changes threaten the rigour of the HSC syllabus. The national curriculum specialist maths course covers only some of the more challenging areas of the extension two HSC course.

For most students studying English the focus will shift from literature to language and literacy. But a specialist literature course will be available for brighter students.

A spokeswoman for the NSW English Teachers Association, Eva Gold, said: "The problem for NSW is that all our top students, even those with an inclination towards maths and the sciences, engage in a rigorous study of literature and language. In the national curriculum, top students may not have the exposure to literature that we are used to."

The president of the Mathematical Association of NSW, Mary Coupland, said: "A lot of work needs to be done to make it anywhere near as good as what we have in NSW. I get a sense it is all being rushed."

Rob Randall, general manager curriculum for the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, said the national curriculum courses would replace equivalent courses in each state and territory.

States and territories could continue to offer extension courses, he said.

Launching the draft curriculum at North Ryde Public School, the federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, said it was "important to our sense of being one nation". "It's important to those school kids who move from one state to another during school, and around 80,000 schoolchildren [do so] each year."

The state Minister for Education, Verity Firth, said that while she recognised that having eight curriculums was unsustainable, a national curriculum posed a problem. She believed the national curriculum would not water down the high standards of NSW but raise them everywhere.


Australia: A very expensive way of providing new school buildings -- courtesy of both Federal and State governments

More abuse of "stimulus" money. Neither Leftist government involved seems even to have heard of cost control or contract supervision. Waste is normal to Leftist governments. They just don't care about it. It's not their personal money that they are wasting

PARENTS at a NSW school are furious that the cost of a new library funded under the Rudd government's Building the Education Revolution program has blown out to be almost three times the manufacturer's price.

Last year, Cattai Public School, in the Hawkesbury region north of Sydney, was told it would be given a $678,000 library and a $202,000 shade structure under the federal government's $16.2 billion schools stimulus program.

At the time, Parents & Citizens Association president Helena Bark raised serious concerns over those costings, as the pre-fabricated "cookie-cutter" designed library cost just $341,000 from the manufacturer.

Further, the school had 18 months earlier built a covered outdoor learning area, or COLA, twice as big as the proposed new structure for $70,000, just one third of the proposed price.

Now, not only have the school's concerns gone unanswered, but they have been told the cost of the library has blown out to $920,000 - more than the school's entire original budget - and plans for a new shade structure have been scrapped.

"We have been told we cannot have the COLA anymore because the library has gone over-budget," Ms Bark told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "We had asked for amendments to the building design because it was too small but we were told we couldn't change anything because it was all pre-designed and pre-determined by the NSW government. "But now we're told one thing has changed, and that's the price."

Ms Bark said the school's repeated requests for information regarding how the price of the prefabricated building had soared by more than one-third in the past year had been unanswered by the NSW government and the managing contractor handling the scheme, Brookfield Multiplex.

"Our unanswered question remains: how can pre-fabricated, standard government-designed buildings simply soar in price for no apparent reason?" she said.

The issue of vastly inflated prices of pre-fabricated "cookie-cutter" designed buildings delivered under the scheme is becoming a key focus of wastage under the BER.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard has attempted to explain away scores of examples of public schools receiving poor value for money under the BER compared with private schools and industry costing standards by claiming such examples do not compare "apples with apples".

However, under the BER the standard design, pre-fabricated libraries, school halls and classrooms are manufactured by the same companies that were building those identical structures before the BER.

The manufacturers traditionally deliver and fully install those buildings - at a total cost of between $400,000 and $500,000. Under the BER in NSW, managing contractors take control of the buildings and install them, typically charging about $900,000.

Those manufacturers interviewed have been outraged by the enormous prices being charged for those buildings, but say they are unable to speak out for fear of losing key contracts with the NSW government.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Illinois School Nixes Basketball Team's Trip to Arizona Over Immigration Law‏

Apartheid for Arizona?

Parents in Illinois are outraged over a move by a local high school to scrap its girls basketball team's trip to Arizona over the Grand Canyon State’s new immigration law.

The Highland Park High School varsity basketball team has been selling cookies for months to raise money for a tournament in Arizona.

Now, after winning their first conference title in 26 years, the girls are being denied the opportunity to play in the tournament due to uncertainty over how a new Arizona law that makes it a crime to be in the country illegally will be enforced -- and because the trip “would not be aligned” with the school's “beliefs and values,” Assistant Superintendent Suzan Hebson told the Chicago Tribune.

Parents said there was no vote or consultation regarding the decision, which they called confusing, especially since they say no players on the team are illegal immigrants.

“I’m not sure whose values and what values and what beliefs they’re talking about, we were just going to Arizona to play basketball and our daughters were very disappointed to find out the trip had been canceled,” Michael Evans, a father of one of the players told Fox News.

Evans said if for some reason a player was worried about her safety, she could always opt to stay home from the December tournament without forcing the entire team to do the same.

“This tournament was voluntary, so students could decide not to go if they thought they were at some sort of risk of some sort of harm to themselves, but to penalize all the other girls because of some potential risk? I don’t understand it,” he said.

Evans said he also failed to understand why the school allowed so many other trips, but not this one. “The school has sent children to China, they’ve sent children to South America, they’ve sent children to the Czech Republic, but somehow Arizona is more unsafe for them than those places,” he said. “The beliefs and values of China are apparently aligned since they approved that trip,” he added.

One player, who said she is against the Arizona law, told Fox News she didn’t see how the tournament was related. “It’s ultimately the state’s decision, no matter what I think. Not playing basketball in Arizona is not going to change anything,” she told Fox News.

But for now, Hebson says, Arizona is off limits. "We would want to ensure that all of our students had the opportunity to be included and be safe and be able to enjoy the experience," Hebson told the Tribune about the tournament. "We wouldn't necessarily be able to guarantee that."


Climbing trees and snowball fights 'should be encouraged by British schools'

Pupils are losing the ability to think for themselves after being banned from climbing trees and taking part in snowball fights, it is claimed. Graham Gorton, chairman of the Independent Schools Association, called for a return to a “common sense approach” to education to reignite children’s self-awareness and sense of adventure.

The comments come amid continuing concerns that the compensation culture and fears over so-called “stranger danger” are stopping children playing outside, undermining their long-term development.

Last year, Play England warned that the lives of children had become “much more restricted and controlled” over the last 30 years and the amount of time young people spent playing alone in local neighbourhoods had "decreased noticeably". In some cases, it was claimed that play areas were being made too safe because of "fear of litigation and a wider blame culture".

In a speech to the ISA conference in Bournemouth today, Mr Gorton said that schools should allow children to “flourish” instead of “constantly judging their development against a target driven educational system”.

“What happened to the ‘common sense’ approach to education and the bringing up of children?” he said. “At my last school the pupils were allowed, and even actively encouraged, to climb trees within the grounds of the school. “They were told which ones were the best to climb and how to climb safely, but were then ‘left to explore’ with adults close at hand but not prohibiting them from discovering their own limits and extending their climbing abilities.

"Some prospective parents would ask if there were many accidents around this pastime. The answer was a most definite ‘no’. "In the eight years that I was at the school we had one sprained ankle from a pupil who was a little too high up a tree to jump down. "When we spoke to his parents about the injury their response was, 'Well next time perhaps he’ll be a little more careful'. How refreshing."

Mr Gorton, headmaster of fee-paying Howe Green House School, Hertfordshire, added: “Through the winter months it saddened me to hear of schools not allowing pupils out at break times after a fall of snow for fear of litigation should someone be injured. "I see such behaviours as robbing children of valuable and special childhood occasions and memories which cannot be appropriate.

“At my school I send a letter out to the parents at the beginning of the winter season stating that if there should be snow then we will be out playing in it. "I state that the pupils will be well supervised but will be encouraged to build snowmen and throw snowballs on the grassy areas.”

Addressing the ISA, which represents 300 private schools, Mr Gorton said that the best schools allowed children to think for themselves, act independently and “make inspired choices”. “They built up confidence by ensuring that we felt it was okay to be wrong and to learn from our mistakes,” he said.

“As a nation we feel uplifted when we see such inspirational leaders working amongst people on the big screen and on television, so why are some afraid to allow abundant creativity to pervade our classrooms and schools?”

The comments follow claims from one expert earlier this year that parental fears over child safety meant many young people were becoming “entombed” in the home instead of being allowed out to play.

Anthony Thomas, chairman of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, a charity established last year to promote school trips, said: “You are seeing a decline in youngsters actually using parks and playgrounds. “We are becoming entombed with our homes. Part of it is about security – parents worried about youngsters – and part of it is about the inclination of youngsters themselves.”


Australia: Cheating teacher admits changing test results

Another teacher who just can't face being judged by his results

A teacher at an Adelaide primary school has been suspended after admitting to altering national literacy and numeracy test results.

Another teacher at St Leonard's Primary School at Glenelg North dobbed in the teacher when she saw year seven NAPLAN test results being altered. It is not yet clear whether the teacher will be sacked.

South Australia's Education Minister Jay Weatherill says the students will be tested again to ensure the integrity of the controversial NAPLAN testing.

"An equivalency test is available. That test will be available to be administered next week. Parents will be advised this afternoon of the incident that has occurred at the school and the fact that every effort will be made to ensure that their students, their children are not disadvantaged," he said.

"On any objective view of the professional obligations of a teacher, this behaviour is utterly unacceptable. I think any teacher would understand that, even this teacher I think must be fully aware of the consequences of the action.

"This teacher has been stood down from duty and the disciplinary process will now take its course."


Thursday, May 13, 2010

California school officials investigate alleged oral sex act in classroom

There are some standards in Californian schools? Only when something gets publicity

A US teacher is accused of ignoring two students engaged in a sex act in the middle of a packed classroom. KTLA said the incident at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard, California, took place in the middle of a packed classroom while other students watched a film.

An eighth-grade boy and a seventh-grade girl were reportedly involved.

Students allegedly filmed the act on their mobile phones and also took photos. The teacher who reportedly ignored the incident has been placed on paid administration leave while investigations take place.

The two students at the centre of the controversy are still attending the school.

A parent, Sylvia Ramirez, who also works at the school cafeteria, said she had seen a video of the act. "It sickens me," she said. "This is serious, very serious, and they didn't take it seriously. I don't recall signing school documents that told me I was going to sign up for a live sex show in the classroom."

Assistant Superintendent Sean Goldman said school officials were tipped off about the alleged encounter, which took place in early April, when they were investigating a parent’s complaint about a bullying issue.


Catholic school won't admit lesbians' son

A Catholic school that stands up for Catholic teachings! Rather rare

A ROMAN Catholic school in Massachusetts has withdrawn its acceptance of an eight-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was "in discord" with church teachings, according to one of the boy's mothers.

It's at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a US Catholic school because of their parents' sexual orientation, with the other instance in Colorado.

The Massachusetts woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she planned to send the boy to St Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the (northern)autumn.

But she said she learned her son's acceptance was rescinded during a conference call on Tuesday with principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, Father James Rafferty.

"I'm accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman," the mother said. "But I didn't expect it against my child."

Father Rafferty said her relationship "was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church", which holds marriage is only between a man and woman, the woman said.

Father Rafferty and Ms Duggan did not respond to requests for comment.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said it learned about the school's decision yesterday. He said the archdiocese is now in "consultation with the pastor and principal to gather more information". Mr Donilon said the archdiocese does not have a policy prohibiting the children of same-sex couples from attending its schools.


Student Group Disbanded After Blacks-Only Field Trip

The Michigan school district investigating whether an elementary school field trip that excluded white students was illegal has disbanded the black-students-only academic support group that participated in the outing two weeks ago. “We have essentially put it on hold while we wait for the final determination on the investigation into possible violation of the State's Proposal 2,” Ann Arbor School District spokeswoman Liz Margolis told

Thirty members of the Dicken Elementary School’s AA Lunch Bunch, a support group designed to bridge the gap in test scores between white and black students, were taken on a field trip two weeks ago to meet Alec Gallimore, an African-American rocket scientist who is an aerospace engineering professor and propulsion lab director at the University of Michigan.

The school principal, Mike Madison, who is black, helped organize the trip, saying he hoped to encourage the students to pursue a career in the sciences. Hoping to quell rising tensions over the black-students-only outing, Madison sent a lengthy letter home to parents in which he explained the reasoning behind the trip.

He admitted, however, that it could have been “approached and arranged in a better way.” “The intent of our field trip was not to segregate or exclude students, as has been reported, but rather to address the societal issues, roadblocks and challenges that our African-American children will face as they pursue a successful academic education here in our community,” Madison wrote.

But instead of quashing tensions, the letter fueled a week of controversy and an onslaught of parental complaints that culminated late last week in the school district’s launch of an investigation into whether the field trip violated Proposal 2, a new state law that bans racial favoritism in public schools.

The investigation is ongoing, and the Lunch Break will be out to lunch until it's wrapped up. “It is likely this lunch program will be reworked to serve more students who are not testing at proficient or above on the state assessment tests,” said Margolis, who last week told that the principal's motives were not in question.

“Except for the final advice from our legal on the Proposal 2 issue and working with the school parents, staff and students on some further conversations and plans around the school's assessment, there is nothing else to decide.”


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Harvard Way of Life

Let's not forget that Harvard was solidly pro-Nazi in the 1930s. They are just as far outside the American mainstream today

She's more likely than not to win confirmation to the Supreme Court. Thus, the really big question about Elena Kagan is blunter: How and when does the United States as a whole get out from under the sway of an alien enterprise such as her university, Harvard?

That the Kagan nomination positions one more Harvard graduate to tighten the Harvard-Yale vise on the court no more than reintroduces the consideration that Harvard isn't notably fond of the American Main Street. Out of Harvard, on a nonstop basis, pour some of America's worst ideas, such as that government has all the answers, old moralities have to go, and racism and sexism infest America -- though not Harvard, you better believe it! -- from top to bottom.

The old chestnut of a Harvard joke turns out to have merit: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much. It's because he -- and these days, she as well -- doesn't need to be told the rest of us are wrong about many things.

Back to Kagan, whose Harvard career underscores with splotches of crimson paint the Harvard community's intellectual and emotional remoteness from America.

Among other topics, the Kagan confirmation hearings will also bring to mind her and her university's long and deep resistance to allowing U.S. military recruiters on campus. Let us think that one through. The dean of the Harvard Law School is against affording her country's government a facility to meet with potential leaders of the very forces pledged to guarantee her country's freedoms. True, by the time she became law school dean, the Bush administration had threatened to take away Harvard's federal money if it persisted in resisting recruiters. Kagan submitted reluctantly to the new order. "I abhor the military's discriminatory policy," she said.

That was the matter in a nutshell: the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule respecting gay and lesbian personnel. The policy violated Harvardian sensibilities. The military shouldn't judge its own policies for maintaining discipline -- not when Harvard could do the job better. Dean Kagan agreed in essence. Senators will certainly quiz her on this point at the confirmation hearings.

Anyway, here was -- is -- characteristic Harvard know-it-allness at work. Harvard knows what's good for us: thereby saving common folk the time it takes to make up their own minds. That Harvard takes an advanced view on the gay rights question doesn't surprise. Not Harvard's viewpoint alone, but that of pretty much the whole Northeast, is that enlightened people, many of them residing in faculty and magazine offices, have settled the question in our behalf.

Where once the great unwashed thought legitimate sexual relationships were those involving partners of the opposite sex, all that old stuff has been declared null and void, not to mention rural and out-of-date.

Here's what's really interesting with respect to "don't ask, don't tell": The big question, for Harvard, wasn't how Harvard can help the military meet its professed needs. No, it was why doesn't the military acknowledge that, look here, when Harvard talks, America listens? Or sure better!

The military might or might not have judged aright of its position on how well gay and straight soldiers function at close quarters. Was it for Harvard (other liberal universities, it must be pointed out, made the same judgment) to demand that issues of military effectiveness and public safety give way to the single, burning imperative of sexual preference rights? At Harvard it was fine. Nothing else seems to have mattered.

Red State and Blue State America: you can call them smears on the map, yet they embody large realities. The two Americas are seriously at odds: "Reds" perpetually put off by the perpetual condescension of "Blues" unwilling to entertain the backward viewpoints of outsiders. Comes now yet another "Blue," headed for the highest bench in the land -- a wonderful vantage point for putting down the preoccupations of Americans screwy enough to believe not every Great Idea was born in 1965.

Can we hardly wait?


Low High School standards entrenched in America

To cite a cliché, the more things change the more they remain the same. This applies to many areas of life, but arguably it is the essence of educational reform.

Recently the ACT, an independent organization that provides assessment, research and program management in broad areas of education, issued a statement on the “essentials for college and career readiness.”

What it found is precisely what evaluators of education in the United States have been saying for decades. Despite an enormous per capita national expenditure for education, exceeded only by Switzerland, “high school learning standards are still not sufficiently aligned with postsecondary expectations.”

Across the curriculum, college instructors and high school teachers differ on the level of preparation for college assignments with many more high school teachers than college instructors reporting that graduates are prepared. At the same time, while college math and science instructors agree that reading is one of the most important skills needed for success in this century, “overwhelming majorities of them report spending little or no time teaching reading strategies in their courses.”

Apparently findings indicate that students are shortchanged in high school and post secondary courses, despite the fact many high school teachers believe their students are adequately prepared for higher education study. There is simply a huge disparity between skill level and performance expectations.

To address this concern the ACT contends high school standards should focus on fewer – but essential – college and career readiness conditions and a rigorous core curriculum should be mandated for all high school graduates. These are sensible recommendations that have been advocated for at least half a century. The key question is why haven’t these recommendations been put into practice if everyone – or almost everyone – knows what should be done.

There are several factors that account for this state of affairs. One, student readiness is not related to faculty compensation. In fact, merit pay, which could be related to readiness, is consistently opposed by the teachers’ union. Second, relatively little time is spent on “hard subjects” such as math and science. The curriculum is, to some degree, a mirror on national social conditions. If there are fatalities on our highways, driver education is encouraged. When rates of illegitimacy rise, sex education is emphasized. As rates of drug abuse assail us, drug education is introduced. And, of course, political correctness is a time consuming theme that crosses all disciplines, even the sciences.

There are, in most high schools, pep rallies prior to the Friday night football game. There are announcements of various kinds during the school day and, of course, the required weekly assembly program.

In addition, distractions prevail. Texting is the nemesis of concentration. There are video games, e-mails, Facebook, sororities, fraternities, parties, television programs that trump serious study. It is also the case that high school teachers are among the most marginal students in their college classes. Although there are superb teachers, the profession lacks the status and prestige that accompany other professions.

Last, perhaps most noteworthy, is the nation’s dysfunctional social life. Divorce, illegitimacy and various forms of social deviancy have disrupted home life so that mom at the kitchen table with cookies and milk at 3 pm is as rare as two dollar bills. Mom is probably working; no one is there to guide Johnny and Mary when they return from school except Oprah Winfrey. Homework is for autodidacts and, most teachers do not count on homework assignments, a bygone vestige of education in another era.

The “Leave It To Beaver” family is interred and with it have gone attention to student performance. Parents may retain expectations for their children, but the conditions necessary to achieve these goals are lacking. Now schools do not concentrate on subjects that matter, distractions make learning a chore and the mediating social structures that aided educational attainment are in trouble.

Clearly the ACT should be commended for pointing out what should be done to improve educational performance, but I’ve heard all the claims before. Until there is recognition of what ails us, there will be many more reports in our future, but little progress in student attainment.


School reform in Britain: The model for the revolution

Fraser Nelson is spot on. No matter what is given up in the negotiations between the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats, Michael Gove’s school reforms are too important to be subject to political compromise. Fraser Nelson has championed this policy for a while now. In fact, for a good introduction to what is at stake, take a look at this excellent article from 2008.

There are going to be tough times ahead. Needs must when the devil drives; there is no getting around the fact that there are going to be substantial cuts in government expenditure. The Conservative Party, with or without the Lib Dems, are going to have to play the villains.

This is of course familiar territory, they had to pick up the pieces when the Labour Party last drove the country into the ground. Thatcher managed to (re)empower people through various means, most notably through offering the ‘right-to-buy’ for council tenants, but as with all governments, the momentum of reform slowed down and she had a penchant for centralising power, that was being abused, without dispersing it back to the people. In consequence, the Conservative Party have been caricatured as a party only of slash and burn.

Forced once again to sort out the mess left by Labour's mismanagement and profligacy, if the Conservative Party is to avoid being tarred with the same brush they need, unlike Thatcher, to also offer an alternative contemporaneous narrative. Rhetorical guff like ‘the big society’ just won’t cut the mustard.

School reform could and should form the key-stone of this narrative. Assuming it is done properly, Sweden’s success can be replicated in the UK. They will also need to be radical on health, welfare and pension reforms. In all cases, they should allow taxpayers more choice and focus any exemptions/ welfare/ top-ups/ exemptions at only the most vulnerable.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

La.: Teacher sues over right to flunk her students

Sheila Goudeau, by all accounts, was a good teacher. In fact, she was the only nationally certified teacher at Riveroaks Elementary School, and she was a nominee for teacher of the year. But that didn’t qualify her to grade her students, according to a suit she has filed against the East Baton Rouge, La., school and its administrators.

According to the civil rights suit filed in federal court in Baton Rouge, Goudeau was asked to teach fourth grade last year by the school’s principal, Shilonda Shamlin, in order to help raise grades and have students prepare for the state mandated Louisiana Educational Assessment Test (LEAP), which all students in the state must pass to move on to the next grade.

After she took the job, the suit alleges, Shamlin ordered that no student was to get a failing grade and that teachers were not to record any grade lower than a "D."

Goudeau’s attorney, Craig Sterling Watson, said the suit doesn’t specify why Shamlin gave the orders, and he said Goudeau still doesn't know. He said Goudeau complied with the orders and didn’t fail students, but she complained about the orders and filed a grievance with the school district. At that point, the suit claims, Goudeau was monitored, harassed and disparaged in front of her students. She has since transferred to another elementary school in the district.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for Goudeau's severe and extreme mental pain, suffering, and anguish; physical pain, suffering and anguish; loss of sleep; loss of quality of lifestyle; loss of reputation and standing in the community; humiliation and embarrassment; medical expenses; counseling; wages; and loss of earning capacity from the principal, the school district, and current and former school superintendents of the district.

Principal Shamlin did not reply to repeated requests for comment. Domione Rutledge, general counsel for East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, said the school district couldn’t speak about the allegations “because it still hadn’t been served with the papers.”

Lawsuits like the one Goudeau filed are rare, said Perry A Zirkel, a professor in education and law at Lehigh University says. He explained that while courts generally agree that a teacher's right to grade is protected by the First Amendment, they also find that administrators have the same right and can change grades as they like. “So the teacher wins the right to give a D and the school has the right to change it to an A,” he said.

But the suit has already served one purpose. It brought about a wave of criticism aimed at the principal and school administrators and showed that the school staff was bitterly divided. When a story about the lawsuit appeared in The Advocate, a Baton Rouge daily, a chorus of complaints charged that Shamlin ruled the school with a heavy hand and demanded regimentation of studies and classrooms.

“It's a crippling work environment at Riveroaks and the school's reputation is well-known throughout the parish," wrote an anonymous poster to the newspaper's website. "Just consider the teacher turnover at the school. There is almost an entire new staff hired each year. This year won't be any different.”

But another responded, "Mrs. Shamlin has done more to improve the quality of education at Riveroaks in the last four years than any other principal. Ask any parent that has had more than one child there over the years. She cares about the students and has high standards for them and the teachers."

The case is unlikely to go to trial for some time, Watson said.


British teachers hate being assessed too

They know that exam results give some idea of how good their teaching is

Tens of thousands of primary children missed Key Stage 2 tests yesterday as head teachers took direct action and refused to hand out papers.

Despite preparing themselves all year for the tests, formerly known as Sats, 10 and 11-year-old children across England learnt yesterday that they had been cancelled. They were due to start with reading tests while writing, spelling and maths papers were due later this week. However, the tests remained sealed, boxed and locked away in many schools, where heads and teachers took unprecedented action after a year of sabre-rattling.

They claim that pressure to teach to the tests narrows the Year 6 curriculum, and puts undue stress on children, teachers and head teachers whose careers depend on the results, which are used to judge the school’s performance.

Ed Balls, still in place as Schools Secretary, recently raised the stakes by telling governing bodies and local authorities they had a duty to try to ensure the tests went ahead, and suggesting they could suspend heads who failed to comply.

Yet the boycott, organised by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT), went ahead in more than half of schools in some areas.

In Hartlepool, all 31 schools took action, as did about three quarters of schools in Calderdale. Other areas involved in the boycott include Manchester, Reading, Stoke-on-Trent, Norfolk and several London boroughs.

In Barnsley, West Yorkshire, about three fifths of schools refused to administer the tests. At Athersley South Primary School, children cheered when it was confirmed at 9am that their tests would not be taking place.

The art room had been prepared, with rows of tables and a pencil and wooden ruler for every child. Vibrant art work and colourful pottery were covered with black paper or tablecloths, as pupils are not supposed to sit the tests in an atmosphere that could inspire or distract them, the head teacher Steve Iredale said.

“We had to sterilise the room, which makes it quite scary for the children,” Mr Iredale said. “I will offer the unopened packet of tests back on Friday when Parcelforce come to collect the papers. If they won’t take them, they will gather dust in the store cupboard.”

Mr Iredale, an executive member of the NAHT, told the children that they might not sit the tests, and wrote to all parents explaining why. He claims to have received 100 per cent support.

His school assesses all children’s progress, with local officials acting as external monitors, and will provide information on what academic stage each pupil has reached to the local authority and the Government.

This, Mr Iredale says, is more accurate than the Key Stage tests, because a school’s results can be skewed by one clever child being off sick or having a bad day. “You live or die by a set of good or bad results,” he said.

His Year 6 children were instead immersed in drawing pictures and designing a woodland garden for the school grounds.

One girl said of the tests: “If you’re doing a writing test you have to do a detailed plan before you write anything, you have to use an introduction, paragraphs and a conclusion. It’s a lot of pressure and because of that you might get a lower mark because you’re feeling nervous.”

Her classmate said: “My dad didn’t like it because I used to go home and ask him things like what the biggest mountain in the world is. All I’ve been saying this year is what level I’m at. We haven’t done much geography this year. I liked doing geography and history especially learning about the Second World War.”

Teachers complain that, not only is most of the last year of school geared toward the tests in May, but also that the last two months of term are wasted as children’s behaviour and concentration wanes afterwards.

Mr Iredale said heads would be keeping up the pressure on whoever comes to power, to ensure the tests were abandoned. “This isn’t over,” he said. “We need to know very quickly what is happening for next year.” He said head teachers felt frustrated. “This isn’t a militant group of people — we are school leaders: conservative with a small c, but we’ve been driven to this.”

The tests are normally taken by about 600,000 children each year. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said enough schools had taken action to scupper the primary school league tables drawn up from the test results, which was a key aim of the campaign.

“There are reports from many areas that a significant majority of primary school pupils will not be sitting Key Stage 2 tests this week. I am delighted that so many schools have taken the brave step of taking part in the boycott, despite the many pressures not to.”


Australia: Surveyor rejects 'insane' school building costs

THE nation's most respected construction costs surveyor will exclude the "insane" cost of school buildings delivered under the $16.2 billion schools stimulus program from its cost calculations because they would distort its data.

The principal of Rawlinsons in Australia, Paul McEvoy, said the group, which publishes the renowned industry costing guide Rawlinsons Construction Handbook, would discard the high cost of buildings delivered under the scheme as "anomalous".

As revealed by The Weekend Australian, state governments are charging public schools as much as $5800 a square metre for basic school halls being erected across the nation -- more than three times the amount Rawlinsons reports those buildings should cost.

"We produce this handbook each year and we have people undertaking cost research all year round to ensure its accuracy," Mr McEvoy said. "We discard anomalous projects where it looks like something is erroneous. We would never say it is going to cost $5000 (per sq m) to build a school hall. "We have so many examples of projects where buildings are consistent with our cost estimates; we would simply not use this (scheme) information."

Mr McEvoy said level-one or two primary school buildings typically cost between $1300 per sq m and $1400 per sq m to build, plus "professional services" fees of no more than 12 per cent.

Those costings allowed for contingencies for cost overruns and the full cost of preliminaries, substructure, superstructure, finishes, fittings, and services such as plumbing, electrical, fire and mechanical.

Mr McEvoy said he had no idea why school halls and libraries in NSW were being delivered at $5400 per sq m and $5800 per sq m respectively. "I can offer no explanation for such a high figure," he said."Insanity comes in many forms".

Education Minister Julia Gillard has been unable to explain why public schools are being charged so much for buildings under the BER, except to claim media reports were not comparing "apples with apples". "I often find when these figures are used in the newspapers there isn't a clear apples-to-apples accounting," Mr Gillard told Sydney radio host Alan Jones this week.

The high cost of buildings delivered to public schools under the BER has caused anger among school principals, with buildings delivered by state governments twice as likely to be viewed as poor value for money compared with those delivered independently.

The Australian National Audit Office's report into the schools stimulus, released on Wednesday, found 82 per cent of schools that were self-managing projects -- almost exclusively private schools -- believed they had received value for money compared with 40 per cent for other schools. Private schools have been obtaining buildings within industry standard costings, delivering them for far better value for money than their public peers.

The International Grammar School in the Sydney suburb of Ultimo is building an architect-designed four-level building, complete with arts and crafts centre, library and rooftop deck -- for $3.9 million. That equates to $2785 per sq m for the multi-level complex, less than half the cost by area of the modest school halls being given to public schools.

The Mount Evelyn Christian School in Melbourne's west is building a 1600sq m architect-designed hall to house two basketball courts, a rock climbing wall and a stage, for $2.27m. That equates to $1420 a square metre.

Mr McEvoy said CBD banks were among the most expensive type of buildings covered by Rawlinsons, and cost $5030 per sq m.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Harvard Law has fallen into the hands of intellectual Fascists. Free enquiry is dead

Their feminist dean has all the respect for facts and logic that one expects from a committed feminist

Late last month, controversy erupted at Harvard Law School after a private email written in November was leaked to the law school community. In it, a third year student, clarifying her views after a dinner conversation with two close friends, explained to them that she wanted to understand the science and research on whether intelligence may have a genetic component and whether African Americans may be “less intelligent on a genetic level.”

Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow promptly responded by issuing a statement condemning the email and reminding students and faculty that the right to free speech comes with responsibilities. Unfortunately, the dean also reinforced the most common and serious prejudice at American universities today, which targets those who think, or who merely wish to examine critically, nonconforming or disfavored thoughts.

Dean Minow’s statement, moreover, failed to honor the scholar’s duty to restate accurately a view one is criticizing. According to Minow, the student’s email “suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.” That’s an incendiary revision.

What the student actually wrote is that she couldn’t “rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” Then, in the very next sentence, she entertained the possibility that there is no genetic variation in intelligence between the races: “I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances.” The student went on to speculate that “cultural differences” are probably “the most important sources of disparate test scores.” And the student elaborated at length an argument from Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy that in the student’s judgment deftly showed, despite the absence of “quantifiable data,” that racial disparities for violent crimes were rooted in culture. In sum, the student clearly expressed the desire to set aside conclusions of the heart, and instead examine the scientific data and consider reasoned analysis concerning the genetic basis of intelligence.

Minow’s rewriting of the after-dinner email, however, turned the student’s competing hypotheses and interest in the scientific evidence into a crude racist claim about people’s relative moral worth. Unless, perhaps, Dean Minow assumes that interest in some empirical propositions is inherently racist. Or was it the dean’s even more illiberal and antidemocratic assumption that human moral worth is a function of IQ that justified her condemnation of the student?

Furthermore, the dean implicitly encouraged members of the law school community to regard the student as a pariah when she added that “circulation of one student’s comment does not reflect the views of the school or the overwhelming majority of the members of this community.”

While devoting the longest paragraph of her brief statement to praising the Black Law Students Association for the way it handled “the hurt” caused by the email, Minow did not counterbalance her distancing of the law school from the email’s student author by offering even a hint of reproach for the gross violation of the student’s privacy involved in distributing the email, or a word of caution about the difficulties in interpreting private comments that become fodder for public controversy.

In a statement posted on their website, the Harvard Black Law Students Association echoed Minow’s misrepresentation of the student’s views, further contending that the student’s characterization of African Americans as genetically inferior to white people was “racially inflammatory,” “deplorable,” and “offensive.”

By this time, as Dean Minow noted in her statement, the student had already issued an unequivocal apology: “I am deeply sorry for the pain caused by my email. I never intended to cause any harm, and I am heartbroken and devastated by the harm that has ensued. I would give anything to take it back.”

This saga has followed the same dispiriting trajectory as that of the Lawrence Summers affair. In 2005, the then president of Harvard University spoke at a private off-the-record seminar organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research to explore why women, who had made great strides throughout most of higher education, remained significantly underrepresented in sciences and engineering. One of the hypotheses that Summers considered—which he hedged with caveats while insisting that more research was needed—was that fewer women than men were born with the extremely high levels of abstract theoretical intelligence that graduate study of science and engineering requires. Although he explicitly rejected it is as the chief factor, Summers’s tentative discussion proved too much for MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins. She set off a national controversy by walking out of the meeting, informing the Boston Globe that if she hadn’t, “I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up,” and suggesting that Summers had argued that women were genetically inferior to men.

The controversy presented Summers with an opportunity to instruct Harvard and the larger public about the university’s proper mission. He might have begun by pointing out that he had participated in the meeting because of his devotion to equal treatment for women and had argued that the most important factor explaining women’s underrepresentation in the sciences is probably that many young women with the requisite intellectual gifts rationally choose to go into law, business, or medicine, which allows them to establish careers and begin families in much less time than in the sciences. And he should have concentrated on arguing that it is the special task of the university to expose a range of hypotheses, including unpopular ones, to rigorous analysis.

Instead, Summers issued one groveling apology after another, endorsing his critics’ view that his remarks were false and insensitive. This was to no avail. He lost a no-confidence vote in the faculty of arts and sciences and within a year was ousted from Harvard’s presidency.

It is not to be expected that a third-year law student, publicly accused by her dean of making hurtful, racist comments, would step up to defend herself in light of the university’s proper mission. But it is to be lamented that Dean Minow, who sought to turn the controversy into a teachable moment, taught the wrong lesson.

For Minow, the lesson is that members of the university community must learn to be more sensitive. For fear of offending each other and causing hurt, students and faculty must not mention, even in private correspondence, a proposition that “resonates with old and hurtful misconceptions,” even if the proposition itself—concerning the biological basis of intelligence—can be proven false through empirical investigation. This, though, is an intellectually stultifying obligation. In a complicated world, everything resonates with everything.

Contrary to Dean Minow, our students and faculty need to learn to be less sensitive. Instead, they need to develop the virtues of toleration and intellectual humility. The cultivation of sensitivity sharpens antennae for hurtful words and ideas, and encourages complaining whenever they sting. In contrast, toleration, particularly at universities, means suffering with equanimity the expression of disagreeable, even odious, opinions, provided that they are subject to reasoned analysis. The cultivation of humility fosters respect for others and their opinions and a willingness to follow logic, evidence, and experience—to consider that one might be wrong and to find in others’ errors the occasion for improving one’s own understanding.

The question of race and IQ is explosive. It has an ugly history, and it has been tied to cruel injustice. But the nefarious use of opinions about the biological basis of intelligence is no reason to denounce a student who advocates submitting competing claims to systematic inquiry.

In her statement to the Harvard Law School community, Dean Minow ought to have proclaimed that free speech on campus is very broad, that it is rooted in the freedom and equality of all human beings, and that its purpose is to protect the robust examination of ideas, including controversial ones, in order that the truth may emerge. She ought to have reminded students and faculty who cherish free inquiry that it is their responsibility to confront views that they deplore with better evidence and stronger arguments.

If Dean Minow’s principle that hurtful opinions must go unspoken and unexamined were taken seriously and applied impartially, then law schools and universities would be obliged to close down the dispassionate investigation of an enormous range of important public issues, from the morality, law, and politics of abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage to the causes of the financial crisis; from the efficiency and justice of health care reform to the rules governing the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of enemy combatants; from Middle East politics to immigration.

And that’s no way to run a law school or a university.


Powerline has an incisive summary of the matter

Plan to shut alleged philosophy course condemned by British academics

Good riddance to Marxist rubbish

Plans to shut one of the world’s leading university philosophy courses have sparked outrage among academics. Professors claimed that a decision to phase out teaching of the subject at Middlesex University would seriously undermine future research into the humanities.

The move has already led to a 12,000-strong petition and a “sit in” protest by students at the university’s north London campus.

The decision comes amid widespread cuts announced at higher education institutions across the UK after it was revealed university budgets would be slashed by almost £500 million next year.

The University and College Union estimate that more than 15,000 jobs – the majority academic posts – could disappear in the next few years.

Cutbacks are being made at institutions including King’s College London, Westminster, Leeds, Sheffield Hallam, Hull, Cumbria, Wolverhampton and the University of the West of England.

Middlesex has decided to close its philosophy teaching programme, insisting that the number of BA students has hit “unsustainably low” numbers, at 12 a year.

But some of the world’s leading philosophers have said that the move is of “national and international concern”. In a letter to Times Higher Education magazine, it was claimed that the decision would threaten subjects such as critical theory, aesthetics, Marxism and psychoanalysis. [Philosophical rubbish, in other words]

The letter – signed by more than 20 academics – said: “Middlesex is widely recognised as one of the most important centres for the study of modern European philosophy anywhere in the English-speaking world.”


Obama blames computer games for educational failures

How pathetic can you get?

President Barack Obama told college graduates on Sunday the era of the iPod and the Xbox has not always been good for the cause of a strong education.

Obama made the point in a commencement speech to more than 1,000 graduates and thousands of their family and friends gathered on the football field at Hampton University, a historically black college in southeastern Virginia.

Obama said today's college graduates are coming of age at a time of great difficulty for the United States. They face a tough economy for jobs, two wars and a 24/7 media environment not always dedicated to the truth, he said.

Added to the mix are the distractions offered by popular electronic devices that entertain millions of Americans. "With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said. "All of this is not only putting new pressures on you. It is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy," Obama said.

Wearing a colorful ceremonial robe, Obama stressed the importance of a good education to adapt to what he called "a period of breathtaking change."

Obama, the United States' first African-American president, said black students face more difficult headwinds than others and are typically outperformed by their white classmates.

He urged the Hampton graduates to be role models and mentors to younger people to teach them the importance of education and personal responsibility.

Obama also said an education can help people sift through the many voices "clamoring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio" and help them find the truth. "Let's face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I've had some experience with that myself," said Obama.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

The North Dakota degree factory

Not the best way to gain respect for your degrees

North Dakota State University will set another record this spring for the number of doctoral degrees awarded. NDSU anticipates presenting 46 doctoral degrees this week, a 53 percent increase over the 30 degrees awarded at last spring’s graduation.

A recent survey shows that North Dakota leads the nation for growth in graduate degree production. North Dakota increased doctoral degree production by 226 percent between 1998 and 2008, compared to 25 percent nationally, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

Dave Wittrock, dean of NDSU’s Graduate School, said the large increase is in part due to the limited number of doctoral programs available in North Dakota in 1998. Since that time, NDSU has added 26 doctoral programs. “We did not have as many opportunities within the state for students to get doctoral degrees,” Wittrock said.

However, the survey also affirms that universities in North Dakota have been successful in enhancing their missions. In all, NDSU will award about 252 graduate and professional degrees this spring.

Wittrock anticipates that graduate education will continue to increase at NDSU. “Graduate education needs to be an important part of where we move in the future,” he said.

The University of North Dakota estimates it will award 104 doctoral degrees for this academic year.

UND family medicine

The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences tops a list of medical schools that have a high percentage of students entering family medicine.

The American Academy of Family Physicians recognized UND and nine other schools that graduated the greatest percentage of students who choose family medicine during a three-year period. UND had 20.4 percent of graduates entering family medicine.

The University of South Dakota ranked third with 16.9 percent, and the University of Minnesota ranked sixth with 16.3 percent.


The End of a Good Run for Chicago School Choice Bill

In a disappointing turn of events, the Illinois House has rejected a school voucher bill that would have enabled up to 30,000 children to escape the underperforming Chicago public schools to attend a private school of their choice. But the story here – that a monumental school choice program was introduced by a Democratic Senator, passed through the Democrat-controlled Senate, out of the House Education Committee on a 10-1 vote, and seriously considered in the Democrat-controlled House, is something the Democrats who currently control the House and Senate in Washington should take note of.

The Chicago Tribune reports this morning: "A measure to let students in Chicago’s worst-performing and most-overcrowded elementary schools use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools was defeated in the Illinois House on Wednesday, giving teachers unions a major victory."

The landmark legislation would have made Chicago Public Schools the site of what experts said would be the nation’s largest voucher program. Up to 30,000 of the district’s 400,000 students could have left the weak schools they now attend, setting up competition for public schools.

For school choice advocates nationally, the prospect of a voucher program in Illinois was electrifying, made all the more so by the fact that it is home to national office-holders who have blocked the door for educational opportunity in the Nation’s Capitol: President Obama, Senator Durbin, and Secretary Duncan. The irony was palpable.

The school choice proposal was introduced in the Senate by Rev. Senator James Meeks, a Democrat. The proposal passed the Senate back in March, and proceeded through the House education committee with 10 committee members to 1 voting in favor of the bill.

Yesterday’s vote in the House was the last stop before heading to Governor Pat Quinn’s desk for approval. The voucher program would have enabled up to 30,000 elementary children in Chicago’s worst performing public schools to escape to a private school of their choice.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 37 out of the 48 schools that make up the lowest 10 percent of performers (those schools in which children would be eligible for vouchers) have been under federal and state sanctions for at least 9 successive years. Students in severely overcrowded schools (numbering approximately 20) would have also been eligible to receive a voucher under the new school choice program. Like similarly-structured programs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., parents would have received a voucher (for approximately $4,000 in Chicago) and would have been responsible for the balance of what remains in private school tuition.

The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized favorably about the school choice bill, writing: "One argument is that vouchers siphon off better students from public schools, leaving the educational environment poorer. This is truly a bankrupt notion — the idea that the kids are there to service the schools. No, the schools are supposed to serve the children and when they fail to do that, Meeks rightly demands the state afford parents the opportunity of choice — something the middle class enjoys by virtue of moving to suburbs with good schools or reaching into their pockets for private education."

It is indeed a “bankrupt notion” to believe that children are at the mercy of the public school system. Unfortunately, it still seems to have currency with the Obama administration. That school choice should not just be available to those who can afford to pay private school tuition on top of the taxes they pay for public school, as Obama did in choosing to send his children to private school. Or as Senator Durbin – who crafted the original language to kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – did when he enrolled his children in parochial school. Or as Education Secretary Duncan did when he purchased a home in Northern Virginia to avoid sending his child to D.C. Public Schools.

When asked in an interview with Science about where his daughter attends school and how that decision was made, Duncan stated: "She goes to Arlington [Virginia] public schools. That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor. That was the most important thing to me. My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn’t want to try to save the country’s children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children’s education."

Yet, the Education Secretary, certain members of Congress, and President Obama – despite exercising school choice for their own children – have allowed the lights to dim on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. A program that has improved academic achievement, kept children safe and has the support of more than 70 percent of District residents. A program that at $7,500 per scholarship is half the per-pupil expenditures in the D.C. Public School System.

Who would have imagined that the land of Durbin, Duncan and Obama would have been on the threshold of enacting one of the largest voucher programs in the country? While yesterday’s decision in Illinois delivers a blow to the hopes of families trapped in underperforming public schools, it sends a strong signal to school choice proponents that the fight is well worth it and gaining ground – in the Windy City and across the country.


British government price controls and regulations driving childcare centres out of business at a great rate

The number of childcare places has plummeted since the start of the year, according to official figures. Some 11,000 places have been lost as hundreds of nurseries and registered childminders are forced out of business.

Data from Ofsted suggested that a sharp drop in numbers over the last two years has continued into 2010, raising doubts over a Labour pledge to expand free childcare and offer parents greater flexibility.

Critics have blamed the recession combined with a rise in the number of regulations aimed at early years care.

A new funding formula to address the concerns of private, voluntary and independent sector nurseries – caring for the majority of children – was due to be introduced last month. But it was delayed for a year after state-run nurseries warned it could divert funds away, leaving them facing budget cuts or closure.

The Conservatives have pledged to allow private nurseries to charge top-up fees amid claims they are already being shut at the rate of almost 1,000 a year, but this has been heavily criticised by Gordon Brown who claimed it would hit low-income families.

According to new figures, the number of nurseries registered with Ofsted dropped by 248 in the three months to the end of March. Some 2,603 childminders have also been forced out of business.

In all, 11,288 childcare places have been removed, although it represents a small proportion of the 1.3m total nationally. Some 56,881 childminders remain in England and numbers have been falling year on year since the late 90s. Government figures show the number of registered childminders in England has now dropped from 102,600 in 1996.

Critics have blamed the Government’s Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory “curriculum” taught by all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders.

Under rules, which were introduced in September 2008, children are expected to meet a series of 69 targets focusing on literacy, numeracy, social development and problem-solving by their fifth birthday.

Childminders, who look after very young children in their own homes for as little as £3 an hour, must now draw up plans of what activities they will carry out with those in their care, monitor their progress in meeting the goals and write reports when they go on to nursery.