Saturday, May 22, 2010

$437 Million to Fund Performance-Based Compensation for American Teachers

Teachers, principals and other school personnel who agree to participate in performance-based compensation systems (PBCSs) can help their state or school district win funding under the newly opened $437 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced today.

"Schools have a lot of flexibility in how they create these programs," ED Secretary Arne Duncan said in a conference call announcing the funding availability. "They can reward individual teachers and principals or the entire school, including librarians, custodians and cafeteria workers."

PBCSs generally provide school personnel with additional money - bonuses or higher salaries - as well as professional development support for raising student achievement at the school or classroom level.

TIF started in 2006 and currently supports 33 grant sites in 18 states. For instance, the Weld County School District in Fort Lupton, Colo., established the Fort Lupton Teacher Incentive Fund in 2007. It provides school-wide bonuses to staff based on district schools' progress on state-administered math, reading and writing tests. Philadelphia launched its TIF grant program in 2006 to provide performance-based staff development and compensation systems for teachers and principals tied to student achievement growth and classroom evaluations.

(A full list of grantees and project descriptions, and other information, is maintained by the Center for Educator Compensation Reform)

Officials say funding under this latest TIF competition - dramatically expanded beyond the planned 2010 level with additional money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - will be awarded to PBCS programs that:

* Reward teachers and principals who improve student achievement using fair and transparent evaluations based on multiple measures that include student growth;

* Demonstrate a high level of local educator support and involvement;

* Plan for financial sustainability after the five-year grant ends;

* Implement PBCS as part of a "coherent and integrated strategy" for bolstering the education workforce; and

* Serve high-need schools.

From 40 to 80 TIF winners will receive grants of $5 million to $10 million each, officials said. Proposals are due July 6.

A TIF evaluation component will also be funded. TIF applicants that agree and are selected to participate in the evaluation can win another $1 million over the five-year grant period, officials said.

According to a notice of final requirements, which summarized changes from a previously released set of proposed priorities, ED adjusted the program in several ways. For instance, ED originally sought to restrict current TIF grantees from applying. ED now will give extra points to currently funded nonprofit TIF grantees who apply if they propose to work with a new group of state or local educational agencies, as long as those agencies are not TIF grantees.

In another change from the earlier notice of priorities, current TIF grantees are permitted to apply to cover new categories of staff so "current TIF grantees whose projects focus only on principals could seek TIF funding to expand their PBCSs to teachers and other personnel ... as well," officials say in the final notice of requirements, which will be published in the Federal Register May 21.

New applicants, however, will also receive extra points for that fact alone as will applicants that design programs to attract teachers to hard-to-staff subjects or specialty areas or to serve high-need students at high-need schools. Extra points will also be given to programs that use a "value-add" measure - a broader way to track student achievement beyond simply looking at test scores - to assess teacher and/or principal impact on pupils' academic growth.


Why I've left the teaching profession - by a disillusioned British teacher..

"What is the nicest leaving present a secondary school English teacher could hope for on departing from her school for a change in her career? A small thank-you card? A box of tempting chocolates? A bunch of flowers (preferably not nicked)? Or, for her mobile phone to be stolen from her deliberately unappealing and scruffy backpack? Well, as you can probably guess, it was the latter that was gifted to me in the last week of my teaching career. And despite later receiving some wonderful cards and even flowers from a rather sweet year 11 boy (definitely not nicked, I hope), it was the taste of that last bit of criminal activity that I can’t quite get out of my mouth.

I've been a teacher for just six years, so it does feel a bit premature of me to bemoan of the falling standards of young people, the dearth of the teaching profession and schools in general. However, I must admit to having seen first-hand such seriously shocking and disrespectful behaviour displayed by pupils and even some adults (senior management included), that it is hard for me to comprehend that teaching was once a respected profession. Did we really once have the right to tell a child who was being really rude to “shut-up!”?

I loved teaching, although I did find it really hard, like many others I know, to balance work and life. As an English teacher (the worst subject for marking) and a bit of an overplanner anyway I felt the weeks and months slipping by too quickly, without seeing friends or family. Sometimes I cried in the loos out of the frustration that you can work so so hard for some pupils and/or staff and yet there's always more to do and abuse to take. Often you're dealing with kids who have no understanding of anything outside their little world.

When my phone was stolen I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting much of a fuss - though I did hold out some hope that it might be found. Unlike my previous school, a brilliant but bonkers place, this school in a leafy area had a few more bob [more money], which meant decent CCTV and a possibility of catching the culprit. Sadly I was swiftly informed by management that there were actually “no cameras” covering this area - why would there be when there were 10 valuable computers nearby?

A few “trustworthy” pupils were questioned by management but “unfortunately” nothing turned up. Perhaps they could have tried the less-trustworthy ones? But that was that. Sadly I just felt it was another sign that teaching can be a woolly world, and that some schools are the kind of odd institutions which forget to look after its people on the front line, the teachers.

It is not that I hate teaching or kids at all, in fact I have really enjoyed my time and maybe one day I’ll be back. But, reflecting on my first day today at my new company, I am pleased and surprised that it did not include being verbally abused. Not at all, not once, not even in 8 hours. Of course I don’t mean to sensationalise the mental and sometimes physical torment that teachers endure daily (!) but teachers spend longer in the toilets than they should, either crying or trying to control their physical reaction to the nerves that period 2 with a group of Year 10s bring on. So, my message to parents is, please teach your children to respect their teachers, even if they seem annoying or petty or a bit panicked, because teachers are in some cases a dying breed, myself included."


Australia: Bureaucracy eats third of school-building funds

Victoria is just as bad as NSW

ONE dollar in every three spent under the Building the Education Revolution scheme is being frittered away on needless bureaucratic costs, onerous documentation requirements and expensive building materials.

A preliminary assessment by Melbourne quantity surveying firm Swift Construction of the template library and classroom building used by the Victorian Education Department says the project management system for primary schools "ensures added cost for no discernible value adding to the project".

The report also says builders are required to hire a professional photographer to document every stage of construction.

The assessment of the template building intended for Berwick Lodge Primary School, in Melbourne's southeast, was handed to the head of the federal government's BER Implementation Taskforce Brad Orgill on a visit to the school yesterday. The school hired its own project management firm and, through it, commissioned an independent quote for the project and an assessment of the value for money of the template building it is receiving.

The report by Swift Construction claims the documentation required for primary school buildings under the BER is at a level required for $50 million projects, not $3m classrooms, causing "hurt money" to be added to the costs.

While the NSW government releases estimated costs for all its BER projects, the Victorian government has been criticised for its lack of transparency, and the Education Department failed to appear before the Senate inquiry into the program earlier this week.

Principal Henry Grossek has been a vocal critic of the BER program, and was one of the first to raise concerns about waste and inflated costs.

The school received $3m in the first round of the BER and successfully opposed the state Education Department to secure approval for a library and six classrooms, rather than an unwanted gymnasium, after the intervention of federal Education

Mr Grossek said the preliminary report from Swift Construction describes the template as "an architectural wank". Given the present management structure, onerous documentation requirements and the design and materials used in the template, the firm doubts the building can be completed for $3m.

But the report says the school could save $1m and complete the building for $2m by reducing bureaucracy and documentation and simplifying the template.

"The level of documentation associated with P21 (the Primary Schools for the 21st Century building program) is more in keeping with $50m projects rather than $3m projects and is either frightening off prospective builders and subcontractors or resulting in what in the industry is referred to as 'hurt money' costs being built into quotations, leading to overpricing," the report's summary says.

Examples of waste in the template identified by the quantity surveyor include the concrete slab costing twice what it should, unnecessary external recesses in the brick wall, stepdowns in toilets that are not needed, and nine different cladding systems when two or three would be adequate.

Mr Grossek said the report showed $1 in every $3 spent under the BER was being wasted and he called on Ms Gillard to freeze all projects yet to be tendered.


Friday, May 21, 2010

The indestructible Head Start is rife with enrollment fraud

The evidence is that it does no permanent good but parents using it apparently like the childminding. Audio clips now reveal how children are fraudulently made 'eligible'. After 45 years, will this finally kill off the useless and expensive monster?

An undercover investigation into the federal government's Head Start program has found enough enrollment abuses to generate a report to President Obama and a major damage-control effort by the agency that runs the program.

At a hearing Tuesday, members of the House Education and Labor Committee heard dramatic audio clips of fraud being taken by Government Accountability Office (GAO) agents. In one clip, a New Jersey Head Start worker handed back a $23,000 pay stub to two agents who were pretending to enroll their children in the preschool program.

"Now you see it, now you don't," the Head Start worker said. The worker's decision to ignore the $23,000 in income meant that the agents' fictitious children, who otherwise would not have counted as "poor" under government rules, were enrolled in the program, possibly to the detriment of needy children who would have been put on a waiting list.

Fraudulent enrollment is "a blatant violation of Head Start's rules. … Our administration will not stand for it," Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a letter Monday to Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat. Mr. Obama "has been briefed on GAO's investigation," she noted in her letter.

In testimony presented to the House panel Tuesday, GAO special investigations official Gregory D. Kutz said that in at least eight cases, Head Start employees "manipulated" information to admit ineligible children.

Enrollment rules were so lax, he warned, that Head Start workers could easily "doctor" enrollment applications, and families could enter the program with "bogus" documents created at home.

Out of 15 visits, there was no evidence of enrollment fraud in seven places, including two in Washington, D.C., and one in Maryland, Mr. Kutz said in his testimony.

But in Wisconsin, one Head Start worker looked at the incomes of two agents posing as a grandpa and a grandma, and "picked" one of the incomes to report. "Who won … Grandma or me?" the agent asked on the audiotape. "Grandma … because she had the lower income," the worker said, laughing.

Other abuses included admitting a family who lived outside the Head Start service area, ignoring proof of employment, and admitting extraordinarily high numbers of "homeless" children. Under new rules, homeless children are automatically eligible for Head Start.

The audio clips are available at the GAO web site,, listed under "reports and testimonies" for May 18.

The GAO also found two Head Start families who reported incomes "in excess of $110,000," and that 63 children were counted more than once to make centers appear fully enrolled.

This kind of behavior is "reprehensible and completely unacceptable," Mr. Miller said.

Carmen R. Nazario, HHS assistant secretary for the administration for children and families, told the committee that HHS would take swift action against misbehaving grantees, and was already in the process of upgrading integrity standards, reminding grantees of Head Start rules, and conducting unannounced visits to centers.

The National Head Start Association (NHSA), the trade group for grantees, said it was not privy to the details of the GAO investigation but would "do all we can" to help programs that are out of compliance.

Mr. Kutz said a complete GAO report on Head Start abuses will be issued in July.

Head Start, created 45 years ago as a "war on poverty" program, receives $7 billion a year. Last year, it received an extra $2 billion under the stimulus bill, and the Obama administration has requested another $1 billion for it for 2011.

Head Start's main purpose is to narrow the school-readiness gap by giving poor preschoolers free educational, medical, nutritional and social services. Early studies have showed that Head Start services pay off when the children start school.

But in January, a massive, 10-year study found that by the time Head Start children finish first grade, they score no better than non-Head Start children on most of 112 measures.

Head Start proponents have tried to downplay the devastating results, but the program's critics say they have heard enough happy talk about Head Start.

Mr. Obama has said he is willing to eliminate government programs "shown to be wasteful or ineffective," Heritage Foundation analysts David Muhlhausen and Dan Lips said after the Head Start Impact Study results were released. "Given that scientifically rigorous research demonstrates that Head Start is ineffective, Head Start is an ideal candidate for the budget chopping block," they said.


Slow Learners at the Ninth Circuit

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a stimulus package for the Supreme Court, which would rather not have one. The 9th Circuit, often in error but never in doubt, provides the Supreme Court with steady work: Over the last half-century, the 9th has been reversed almost 11 times per Supreme Court term, more than any other circuit court. This week, the Supreme Court should spank it again and ask: Is it too much to ask that you pay some attention to our precedents?

On Thursday at 9:30 a.m., the justices are expected to meet to decide whether to dignify the 9th's latest misadventure -- an impertinence, actually -- with a full hearing, including additional briefing and oral arguments, or whether to summarily reverse it. They should do the latter by 9:35 a.m.

The case concerns an Arizona school choice program that has been serving low- and middle-income families for 13 years. The state grants a tax credit to individuals who donate to nonprofit entities that award scholarships for children to attend private schools -- including religious schools. Yes, here we go again.

The question -- if a question that has been redundantly answered remains a real question -- is whether this violates the First Amendment proscription of any measure amounting to government "establishment of religion." The incorrigible 9th Circuit has declared Arizona's program unconstitutional, even though there is no government involvement in any parent's decision to use a scholarship at a religious school.

Surely this question was settled eight years ago in a decision that was the seventh consecutive defeat for the disgustingly determined people who are implacably opposed to any policies that enable parents who are not affluent to exercise the right of school choice that is routinely exercised by more fortunate Americans. It sometimes takes time for news of the outside world to penetrate San Francisco, where the 9th Circuit is headquartered, but surely by now that court has heard that in 2002, in a case coming from Cleveland, the Supreme Court upheld a program quite like Arizona's, but arguably more problematic.

It was created after Cleveland's school district flunked 27 -- out of 27 -- standards measuring student performance, and the state declared the district an "academic emergency." The program empowered parents to redeem publicly funded vouchers at religious as well as nonreligious private schools.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist and joined by Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas, the court held that Cleveland's program has the "valid secular purpose" of helping children who are trapped in the failing schools for which Cleveland is responsible. The court also held that the program satisfied the court's previously enunciated standard of "true private choice" because government aid goes directly to parents, who use it at their unfettered discretion.

So, Rehnquist wrote, public money "reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals." Therefore any "advancement of a religious mission" is merely "incidental" and confers "no imprimatur of state approval ... on any particular religion, or on religion generally." These standards had been developed in various prior cases.

The Supreme Court has been splitting and re-splitting constitutional hairs about this for decades, holding, for example, that it is constitutional for public funds to provide parochial school pupils with transportation to classes -- but not to field trips. To provide parochial schools with nurses, but not guidance counselors. To provide religious schools with books -- but not maps. This last split hair caused the late Sen. Pat Moynihan to wonder: What about atlases, which are books of maps?

The court has ruled that public funds can provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf child at a religious school and can provide rehabilitation assistance at a religious college. The court has held that a state can offer tax deductions to parents paying tuition to religious schools. Can the 9th Circuit see a pattern here?

Scores of thousands of children have benefited from Arizona's scholarship program, which, unlike Cleveland's, does not involve any government funds that might otherwise go to public schools. Rather, Arizona's program infuses substantial additional funds into the state's K through 12 educational offerings.

Democracy demands patience. In its political discourse, repetition is required because persuasion takes time. But the Supreme Court should not have to cajole lower courts into acknowledging its rulings. So far this term, the court has issued 11 summary reversals. Thursday morning it should use its 12th on the 9th Circuit, a slow learner.


More church-run schools for England

More faith schools will be opened under a sweeping reform of the education system in England, the coalition government has said. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said the new administration would allow religious organisations to run a new wave of primary and secondary schools funded at taxpayers' expense.

England already has 7,000 faith schools, the vast majority of which are Anglican and Roman Catholic.

Any expansion would be likely to lead to a growth in Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools as religious leaders push for other faiths to be more fairly represented in the state system.

David Cameron, who sends his daughter to a sought-after Church of England primary in west London, said he was a “strong supporter personally and politically” of faith schools.

But in a move seen as a concession to the Lib Dems, the coalition’s new policy blueprint says that these new schools would be expected to run “inclusive” admissions policies.

It is likely to lead to a tightening up of rules allowing schools to select pupils along religious lines, although the details are yet to be finalised.

The Lib Dems have previously called for faith schools to admit more pupils from families that refuse to support their religious ethos, as well as an end to rules that allow them to opt out of equalities legislation.

In an interview this year, Mr Cameron said: “I think that faith schools are a really important part of our education system and they often have a culture and ethos which helps to drive up standards. If anything, I would like to see faith schools grow.”

A document published on Thursday – outlining the principles of the coalition’s legislative programme – confirmed plans to allow new providers to open new schools funded by the taxpayer.

In a controversial move, any parents’ group, company, charity or teachers’ organisation will be able to run their own “free school“ to meet local demand.

It is understood that more religious groups will be encouraged to run more schools under this system. Faith schools currently make up a third of all state schools in England.

The coalition agreement also said schools would have more flexibility to alter the curriculum and run their own qualifications. It would give schools the power to offer courses such the International GCSE, which is currently banned in the state sector, despite being favoured in private schools.

The document also outlines plans to:

* Provide a “pupil premium” – extra money for schools educating children from the poorest backgrounds – funded by cuts from outside the schools’ budget

* Review Sats tests for primary school pupils

* Allow schools to pay higher salaries to good teachers, reforming the existing “rigid” national pay rules

* Introduce incentives to attract top science and mathematics graduates into teaching

* Create a new wave of technical schools that allow 14- to 19-year-olds to learn a trade alongside the basics of English, maths and science.

In the universities and skills sectors, the coalition pledged to abolish many of the quangos running further education. Extra money will be used to create more apprenticeships, internships and college places.

The government also said it would await the outcome of an independent review into tuition fees led by Lord Browne, the former head of BP.

The Lib Dems – which oppose a rise in fees – will be allowed to abstain from any Commons vote on the issue.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Starving for Attention at UC Berkeley

When some 20 UC Berkeley students announced on May 3 that they were launching a hunger strike to protest the new Arizona immigration law, they also issued a set of "demands." They demanded that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau denounce the Arizona law, rehire laid-off janitors and drop disciplinary actions against students arrested after a violent protest.

You knew how the story would end before it ended. The administration would kowtow to student activists by agreeing to meet with them and behave as if their demands merited serious consideration. Most of the activists' impossible demands would remain unmet.

Then -- as happened after 10 days -- in order to save face, both sides would agree to act as if they had accomplished something important, and then congratulate themselves for, well, preening.

And once again, the public would see UC Berkeley less as an institution of higher learning and more as a camp for the politically correct.

Start with the student demand that Birgeneau denounce the Arizona law. _Forget all that high-minded talk about the free exchange of ideas. These students hold university solons in such low regard that they felt free to demand that university leaders parrot their political beliefs.

No worries. The chancellor happily caved. "I made it widely known last week to our campus community that I was horrified by this law," Birgeneau wrote May 7.

Why push a California university toff to make a statement on an Arizona law? Hunger striker Alejandro Lara-Briséno told me, "We don't abide by these geographical divisions." Did Lara-Briséno read Arizona Senate Bill 1070? "I've read parts of it," he answered. "I'm in the middle of my academic cycle."

It's only 17 pages long. He replied, "It may be 17 pages, but I also have many academic responsibilities."

Many have lauded Lara-Briséno for his personal sacrifice. Indeed, he says he will not eat until May 20, when he visits a sister in Arizona. (I hope he changes his mind for the sake of his health.)

I would be more impressed if he had read the bill and demonstrated an understanding of federal immigration law. But after two weeks of protest, it still hasn't occurred to him that he ought to be informed about the very law he is protesting.

There is some light in this dark tale. The university did not give in to the hunger strikers' demands on student discipline. But I don't see why Birgeneau released his Arizona statement or why he agreed to meet the students. "We were concerned about their health and welfare," spokeswoman Claire Holmes explained, "and also, they raised some important issues for key members of our community." And: "It was congruent with his values to take this very seriously."

Problem: This demandfest represents the sort of behavior an institution of higher learning should not take seriously -- unless the administration wants to pay to police more of the same.

Lesson learned: You can't go wrong making childish demands and flouting the rules at UC Berkeley. Intellectual rigor not required.


British teacher cleared over glue stick ‘assault’

There is a British legal principle which says that the law does not concern itself with trivialities. One wonders how that got forgotten in the matter below

A teacher sobbed in the dock yesterday as a jury cleared her of assaulting an unruly pupil with a glue stick.

Lynda May, 54, an art teacher at a school in South Wales, was alleged to have injured the 12-year-old boy by slamming a Pritt Stick down on his thumb. She was cleared by a jury after less than three hours of deliberation.

Mrs May’s union questioned whether the case should ever have come to court. The prosecution at Swansea Crown Court is estimated to have cost at least £50,000, not including the eight months Mrs May was suspended on full pay.

Outside court David Evans, the secretary of the National Union of Teachers Wales, welcomed the verdict. He said: “The fact that Lynda has now been fully vindicated and cleared of the criminal charge is a great relief. But we need to consider whether this whole process was justified in terms of the evidence brought, the cost, the time and the expense and the personal cost to Lynda and her family in terms of anxiety and worry.”

During the three-day trial the jury heard that the boy had been reprimanded for himself slamming the glue stick down on a desk. Mrs May said that she imitated the action to demonstrate to the boy what he had done wrong, and caught his thumb by mistake. She did not find out that he was claiming to be injured until he made a formal complaint five weeks after the incident.

Before she was vindicated today Mrs May had to endure prolonged questioning by police officers and two previous court appearances.

Mr Evans added: “Of course all allegations, particularly when they are brought by children, must be investigated but it is the nature of the investigation and its processes and the fact that it should be pursued through to a crown court trial that must questioned.”

Mrs May whispered “Thank you” to Judge John Diehl when he told her: “You can leave the dock.” She then broke down in tears.

During the trial the jury heard that the pupil had a history of disruptive behaviour. Shortly before the incident he had told Mrs May “F*** off, I don’t f***ing have to” when she told him it was time to get some work done. The boy had learning and behavioural difficulties and had joined the school less than two weeks before the incident in Mrs May’s art class.

Patrick Griffiths, prosecuting, had admitted the boy was a demanding pupil. He said: “He was a child with special needs, in particular learning difficulties and behavioural problems. He can be very well behaved at times but on other occasions he is prone to have outbursts of temper. “When he has one of his outbursts he bangs his hand or fist down on the table or desk in front of him.”

Members of the jury were told that Mrs May had been assaulted several times in her 30-year teaching career but had never made a formal complaint. They were shown photographs of her badly bruised upper arm after she had been repeatedly bitten by an angry pupil in 2007.

Mr Evans said that an increasing number of teachers were facing the possible ruination of their careers because of false allegations by pupils. “Although Lynda has won this court case, we must never forget she is a victim. Lynda is not the only teacher who has faced or is facing such procedures,” he said.

“The vast majority of cases where allegations of this nature are brought get dismissed without further process. It is the very few that come this far. Fortunately, common sense has finally prevailed. “Lynda has asked me to particularly acknowledge the unwavering support she has had from her husband, family, friends and past pupils.”

Asked if she would return to the classroom, Mrs May replied: “I need a rest, I think I deserve it.”


Australia: NSW school heater madness finally winding down?

They can only be used safely if the windows are wide open -- which means that almost all the heat escapes immediately, without warming the classroom! Only a government could be so stupid.

Coutts-Trotter is also the man most responsible for the vast waste of "stimulus" money in NSW schools. Coutts-Trotter should trot off into the sunset ASAP

The NSW government is being accused of a cover-up after refusing to release test results it admitted showed "health effects" from unflued gas heaters on children in public schools.

It insisted fumes from the heaters did not pose "major health dangers". But the Asthma Foundation of NSW attacked the government's "vague comments" and said the results of an unreleased study should be made public urgently in the interests of tens of thousands of students and parents.

"Existing scientific studies do not support the thesis that these heaters are safe to operate in NSW classrooms," said the Asthma Foundation's chief executive, Greg Smith.

The report the government is holding is understood to show significant correlation between the unflued heaters and respiratory illness in children. The heaters are banned in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, and in most developed countries, but 51,000 of them are used in NSW schools.

Draft findings from the government-commissioned report, which measured the health of students in 20 NSW schools, were presented to the NSW Education Department in March.

Some test results were emailed to researchers and public servants involved in the study, but they were followed immediately by another email asking them to delete the results.

It was not until a memo outlining the findings was considered by the NSW cabinet last week that the department quietly ordered a halt to the installation of 2500 new unflued gas heaters under the Building the Education Revolution program. The schools will now be fitted with heaters that are safer but in some cases at least twice as expensive.

The report, undertaken by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research last winter, may be tabled in Parliament today after the upper house passed a NSW Greens motion calling for its release.

The director-general of the Education Department, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said he would not authorise the release of the report until it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal, even though the results the government had seen were enough to put the installation of new heaters on hold.

"What we had hoped was that the process of peer-review would be complete by now," Mr Coutts-Trotter said. The department's advice is that the heaters are safe as long as classroom doors and windows are left open, he said.

He said the results he had seen pointed to "health effects but not major health dangers".

The Asthma Foundation said the Woolcock study was paid for by taxpayers and the findings should be released now.

The NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, also said it should be made public. "It is overwhelmingly in the public interest that this report is in the public domain."


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bigoted and offensive Missouri High School teacher

There’s nothing wrong with the fact Debra Blessman kept secret from her students the name of the film she would require them to watch and analyze during finals week at Francis Howell High School. Today, however, the teacher might be wishing she had not kept her superiors in the St. Charles, Mo., school district in the dark about her plans to base final exams on the Michael Moore film, “Sicko“, a trailer for which appears below.

Judging by the unedited plot summary below which Blessman distributed to students in her Senior Literature and Composition class, one might assume Blessman kept school district administrators in the dark about the controversial 2007 documentary on health care because she knew they might find the film objectionable:

In this documentary, the director/writer Michael Moore exposes the dysfunctional North American health care system, oriented to huge profits and not for their mission of saving lives. Further, he shows the corruption in the political system, with members of government and congress “bought” by the corporations and the situation of the average American citizens, including those that volunteered to work in the rescue mission of the September 11th. Then he travels to Canada, Great Britain and France to compare their systems showing their hospital, doctors, staffs and patients. Last but not least, he shows that the prisoners in Guantanamo have better medical treatment than the common people in USA, and he ends getting free treatment to the Americans that participate along the documentary in Cuba.

Apparently, however, Blessman did not expect any of her students to raise objections about the film. But one did.

On the morning of May 11, soon after learning about the film’s selection as the basis for the final exam in Blessman’s class, 18-year-old senior Celeste Finkenbine went straight to one of the school’s principals to raise her objections. Why? Because, based on her experiences with Blessman this semester and during a class three years earlier, Finkenbine didn’t think she would get very far pleading her case with the teacher she describes as a liberal. More on that later.

Unlike the vast majority of her classmates, Finkenbine is a politically-active conservative who spends many Saturday afternoons attending anti-socialism rallies at the intersection of Highways K and N in nearby O’Fallon, Mo. When she’s not in school or holding a sign on a street corner, you’re likely to find her working at a local nursing home in preparation for what she hopes will be a career as a geriatric physician.

Through a contact at the K and N Patriots, the group that holds the weekly rallies, I learned about Finkenbine’s objections to the film and, specifically, to being required to watch and analyze it as part of an assignment worth 50 percent of her total semester grade for the class. The video below is based on two recent interviews, one of which took place in the dining room of their St. Charles home, the other at a rally Saturday.

Finkenbine cited one primary reason behind her unwillingness to bring up points that back up Moore’s contentions. “My biggest issue with it is my principal said I can argue the conservative viewpoint, but that’s something that I have background with, that I’ve researched myself.

“Every other student in that class was only given the liberal viewpoint of it, and that’s exactly what teachers aren’t supposed to do, is lean toward one side or the other.”

When I contacted Dr. Renee Shuster, superintendent of the Francis Howell School District, she admitted the movie is not part of any district curriculum and that the teacher did not follow the process for having the film approved in advance. She also said that Finkenbine had been offered an alternative assignment that involves reading and analyzing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 7,000-word essay, “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Does Finkenbine fear any repercussions for standing up for her conservative ideals?

“I’m hoping that, no matter what assignment I do, I can still get an ‘A’ on it. If I did feel like I was graded unfairly, it wouldn’t stop there.”

It’s somewhat ironic that Finkenbine’s alternative assignment relates to Dr. King, because it was during a recent class discussion that King’s name came up and, according to Finkenbine, her teacher laid her liberal cards out on the table.

Finkenbine said that, after she compared her participation in Tea Party rallies with the civil disobedience in which Dr. King participated, Blessman responded to her by saying, “Well, we all know you’re a ‘teabagger.’”

Afterward, Finkenbine recalled, the teacher started laughing and everyone in the class started laughing about Blessman’s use of the derogatory term, prompting the student to think, “Wow! Did she really just say that?”

Having heard this account of life in Blessman’s classroom, I contacted Dr. Shuster again.

In addition to wanting to find out how district officials would deal with the teacher for using a film that was not approved in advance, I wanted to know how they would address Finkenbine’s allegation that the teacher called her a “teabagger” in front of the class.

Schuster responded by e-mail, saying, “We would address this through the teacher evaluation process which hopefully leads to improvement but can lead to termination.”

Unfortunately, it appears all of the other students in Blessman’s class ended up having to watch and analyze”Sicko”.


Affirmative action plan for top British universities

Under the new government, the plan is likely to remain a recommendation only

Teenagers applying to top universities face school and family background checks in a new drive to break the middle-class dominance of higher education.

Admissions staff will be handed a 'basket' of details on each applicant to consider alongside exam results - including social class and education levels in their local neighbourhood.

Elite universities will be expected to consider giving students from working-class homes or 'low-performing' schools a head start in the admissions race of up to two grades at A-level.

Coveted colleges: Universities such as Oxford will be expected to give students from poorer backgrounds a head start in the application process

They also face being forced to set targets for increasing their intake of students from under-represented groups - and report progress publicly.

But the scheme, unveiled today, prompted warnings that bright pupils from good schools or middle-class homes could be 'penalised' for doing well and lose out on sought-after places.

Details emerged after an analysis showed how the social class gap at university has widened since the mid-1990s.

Students from the richest 20 per cent of families are seven times more likely to go to elite universities than the most disadvantaged 40 per cent.

Plans to give academically selective universities a range of 'contextual data' on each applicant emerged in a report by Sir Martin Harris, head of the Office for Fair Access watchdog, dubbed OfToff.

He revealed that the Russell Group of 20 elite universities has agreed a draft of a so-called 'basket' of 10 'contextual' statistics on each candidate.

Sir Martin was commissioned last year by then Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to draw up proposals for widening access to leading universities.

In his report today, Sir Martin said that improving students' attainment and aspirations from an early age was crucial to raising the number of working-class pupils studying at the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Durham.

He said bright students who are unlikely to go to university should be identified by the age of 14 and encouraged to go to summer schools and take part in activities that shake them from their 'social comfort zone'.

Sir Martin also called on universities to consider lowering entry requirements for candidates with less-than-stellar results who can demonstrate they have the 'potential' to succeed at university.

A study by Bristol University over three years concluded that students admitted on this basis would 'typically be as successful as their peers', said Sir Martin.

He also pointed the finger at league tables which encourage schools to play 'safe' by avoiding difficult subjects - which tend to be those sought after by universities.

Sir Martin denied the initiatives outlined in his report amounted to 'social engineering' or implied a dilution of academic standards.

But leading heads warned that universities were being forced to compensate for the failings of the education system.

Dr Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's School, London, said: 'It would be an extraordinary world where we penalise pupils for being too successful.'

He added: 'The crucial point is these schemes tackle the symptoms not the cause. They give schools carte blanche to go on under-achieving and lets them off the hook.'

Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, welcomed the 'very valuable' report.

'I look forward to discussing it in more detail with Sir Martin Harris. It provides a useful set of recommendations that I hope universities will consider carefully,' he said.


Entrepreneurship in education

The UK is getting a healthy dose of much-needed innovation as a number of schools take on lessons from the research of Professor Sugata Mitra. SOLE (Self-Organised Learning Environment) is a truly radical experiment that takes the pedagog out of pedagogy, relying instead upon children’s natural curiosity.

The hole-in the-wall experiments have been a phenomenon in India, across the developing world and now in Gateshead. It originates from when Professor Mitra decided to knock a hole in the wall of Delhi office, install a computer, hook it up to the internet and observe. As Professor Mitra explains, “Groups of Indian children were able to organise their own lessons using a single computer through unsupervised access to the world wide web.”

Now children living in some of the most deprived areas of the UK are benefiting: “When I tried a similar approach in Gateshead it worked even better, for the simple reason that English is their native language, so they don’t need to struggle to overcome that barrier before they can begin to learn from the web.” Mitra is a model entrepreneur. Before entering this exciting world where education and technology meet, he started the database publishing industry (particularly the Yellow Page industry) in India and Bangladesh. That he is also applying the skills to the UK, as Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, is to be celebrated.

Professor Mitra’s findings show how children socialising around technology can have impressive results. There exists an unhelpful disagreement between those that are wedded to the ideals of a liberal or progressive education. Instead, we should be focussed on what works. The entrepreneurs who are working towards the spread of this technology are heralding an exciting future, in which many of the poorest and most neglected have access to the same raw information as those of the most privileged. And instead of learning on by rote, children engage and teach each other as part of a community of learners. We need more innovation of this type.

Sadly though, such entrepreneurship is the exception, rather than the rule. This will be the case until state schools are unburdened of their stultifying regulation, re-oriented through the profit motive towards success and are bring greater competition to bear on public and private schools.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Black Professor: Ethnic Studies "Never" Teaches Ethnic Solidarity

Newsflash for the either ignorant or deceitful Marc Lamont Hill, professor of--what else-- African American Studies at Columbia University, and is--according to his website--"one of the leading hip-hop generation intellectuals in the country." Wow! That's quite a feat considering the competition. But I digress.

If Marc Lamont Hill (can we please cut the three name thing) thinks these ethnic studies classes do not teach--in general--ethnic solidarity, victimhood, anti-Americanism, pro-leftism, etc., then I challenge you, the reader, to go to your nearest college and sit-in on a Woman's Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies, Environment Studies--anything that ends with "studies" class, and see if this separatist teaching method is universal or simply taught among the "outliers" and "rogue" elements, as Professor Hill says: "I've never seen that to be the case."

I attended college in Minnesota, New York, and California, and on every campus, there was a plethora of self-segregated graduations. Why? Who organized them? Where did this mentality come from? If you don't believe me, I challenge you to go or call your nearest university and ask them--considering that it's graduation time--when and where the Latino graduation will be held. While you are there, take a walk through the Chicano Studies, African American Studies, or Woman's Studies departments and faculty hallways and observe the "art" on the walls; listen to the conversations among the students and their professors. The mural painted by the Chicano Studies students at my California University consisted of a gang of "brown people" carrying an American flag upside down and a Fox News reporter with fangs that were dripping blood. This was three years ago--and it's still there despite calls for its removal.

I could go on with an example after example, but I am so sure that the separatist/ethnic solidarity method is taught and advertised daily on American campuses, that I want you to see it for yourself. Go to the website of any college in the country and look at the class listings and their descriptions under the "studies" section. The results of your "field trip" may shock you, but you will quickly learn to exercise more "tolerance" if you want to get an "education" without bringing trouble into your life.

BTW: Any college degree that ends with the word "studies" is an absolute joke and should be treated as such. Same goes for self-segregated graduation ceremonies.


Fired RI teachers see the light

A school district that gained the support of President Barack Obama for promoting accountability after it fired all its teachers from a struggling school announced on Sunday it had reached an agreement with the union to return the current staffers to their jobs.

The two sides said a transformation plan for Central Falls High School for the coming school year would allow the roughly 87 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other staffers who were to lose their jobs at the end of this year to return without having to reapply. More than 700 people had already applied for the positions.

The agreement calls for a longer school day, more after-school tutoring and other changes.

"What this means is that they have come to an agreement about a reform effort and that will change the quality" of the education program at Central Falls, said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who applauded both sides for working together.

The board of trustees overseeing the school system in Central Falls, one of the poorest communities in the state, voted in February to fire the staff of one of the state's worst-performing schools. The school was under a mandate from the state to make improvements, and it opted for the mass firings after a breakdown in talks with teachers about other reforms that would have required more work, some without extra pay.

Obama, during a national address on education in March, said the firings were an example of the need for accountability over student performance.

"So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution," Obama said. "We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show any sign of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."

He continued: "And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests _ 7 percent."

Details of the agreement were to be released following a ratification vote by Central Falls teachers at a meeting Monday. The union and district had been working with a mediator since March.

"Both the school district and the union agree that while this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, the negotiations resulted in a newfound appreciation for shared responsibility, and a solid commitment to bring lasting solutions that will improve teaching and learning at Central Falls High School," said a joint statement from the union and the district.

Under the deal, teachers will need to recommit to their jobs and interview with the new principal. Other changes aimed at increasing student achievement include: a new evaluation system designed to inform teaching and learning, and targeted and embedded professional development.

Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo said she was pleased to be welcoming the staff back. She said that among the changes would be the reassignment of the high school principal and assistant principal to the middle school.

Central Falls Teachers Union President Jane Sessums said there had always been agreement that the sides wanted what was best for the students and that significant changes were needed.

"Working together, we and the district have arrived at a solid, forward-looking agreement that provides supports for our students and the tools our teachers need to help them succeed," Sessums said.

Senior Valerie Florez, who is set to graduate next month, said rehiring the teachers was a good idea. "It's not the teachers' fault that students don't want to learn," she said.

Florez said she used to be one of those students who didn't want to learn, skipping class and failing to do assignments, but her teachers helped her turn around.

Jonathan Beltran, a 19-year-old freshman at Roger Williams University who graduated Central Falls High School last year, had helped organize rallies and protests in support of the teachers. Beltran, who hopes one day to return to Central Falls as a math teacher, said he was happy about the agreement.

"I love the teachers at Central Falls," he said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I want to work side by side with them."

Antony Restrepo, who has two stepdaughters at the school, said he wanted to see improvements if all the teachers are to be rehired. But he said he wasn't sure that the problems were entirely the staff's fault.

"They just want to be in the streets," he said of some students.


A maze of mad allowances in British education

As it currently stands, anyone entering full-time higher education can receive financial support from the government in the form of Tuition Fee funding and Maintenance Loans, as well as the option of a means-tested grant. Additionally, if you have any form of disability or learning disorder, you are eligible for Disabled Student’s Allowance, which is available regardless of family income, and doesn’t have to be paid back.

Being dyslexic, my friend was delighted to discover that he was eligible for up to £5,161 worth of ‘specialist equipment’, and so applied for DSA. His experience is a prime example of inefficient and wasteful government.

After a needs assessment in September and the promise of a shiny new laptop, processing the case took over eight months. Nevertheless, the ‘essential’ technological support eventually arrived- in the form of a MacBook Pro, a printer and voice-recognition software. However, the delivery also included (amongst much more) a scanner, USB hub, a backpack, an ink allowance, and, strangely enough, an AA battery charger. Call me insensitive, but I simply cannot understand the necessity of all these items for a dyslexic university student.

My expressions of disapproval led to accusations of bitterness and jealousy. In fact, I was shocked that such items should be provided by the government, regardless of income- and without even being asking for. The response I received from my friend was, “But I’ve done nothing wrong- they’re free”. However, the gadgets weren’t free. They had been paid for by other people’s money –confiscated through taxation. They were funded with money that would have been put to better use were it allowed to stay in the individuals’ pockets, rather than paying for backpacks for dyslexics.

The country is saddled with a huge government deficit, and spending pressures are beginning to emerge: The Russell Group has warned that current higher education funding is unsustainable. Meanwhile, the Coalition government is keen to make savings through ‘efficiencies’ and will be unwilling to touch frontline services. However, the DSA appears to be something that could be seriously revised, without seriously disadvantaging the disabled in University.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Many American public schools are so bad that even some on the Left are beginning to see the need for parental choice of schools

THE STORIED ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE, one of the nation's oldest civil-rights organizations, is fervent -- very fervent -- about the separation of church and state. It devotes an elaborate page to the subject on its web site. It files friend-of-the-court briefs when church/state issues come before the federal or state judiciary. Whether the controversy is over school prayer, religious displays in public, or the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, ADL argues with much passion for keeping the "wall of separation" between government and religion as high and impenetrable as possible. "The more government and religion become entangled," it has often warned, "the more threatening the environment becomes for each."

No surprise, then, that ADL takes a hard line against school-choice voucher programs, which give parents the wherewithal to rescue their children from failing public schools and enroll them in private schools instead. Since those private schools are often church-affiliated, ADL contended in an amicus brief the last time the Supreme Court took up the issue, vouchers have the unconstitutional effect of directing "government funding to religious schools for religious purposes."

That case was Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, a landmark decided in 2002, in which the Supreme Court disagreed with ADL. As long as vouchers enable parents to "exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious," the majority ruled, nothing about them offends the Constitution.

But ADL's opposition hasn't softened. When the Senate was poised earlier this year to vote on funding school vouchers for the District of Columbia, ADL signed a letter calling for the program be killed. "Instead of sending federal money to private schools," it urged, "money should instead be invested in the public schools." In a five-part essay posted online, ADL claims that "vouchers pose a serious threat to values that are vital to the health of American democracy" and "threaten to undermine our system of public education."

Needless to say, the ADL position, widely shared on the left, has plenty of critics on the right, including your humble servant. From the conservative editorialists at The Wall Street Journal to the libertarian litigators at the Institute for Justice, supporters of vouchers have frequently excoriated those who oppose them -- especially teachers unions and the politicians who genuflect to them -- for their willingness to keep poor kids trapped in wretched schools.

But while there may be nothing extraordinary about conservatives or libertarians embracing school choice, it takes real grit for liberals or Democrats do so. Especially when they do so from within ADL.

Three months ago, the executive committee of ADL's Philadelphia chapter voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution endorsing vouchers. Now it is urging the entire organization to follow suit.

"We believe school choice to be an urgent civil rights issue," the committee argued in a brief being circulated among ADL's 30 regional offices. Despite decades of increased spending on K-12 education, "the evidence that our public education system is failing to educate our children is staggering." ADL should reverse its longtime position "as a moral imperative," the Philadelphia leadership urges, and "issue a resolution in favor of school choice."

Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams, bucking the teachers unions, is an outspoken champion of vouchers.
As it happens, the ADL regional board's isn't the only liberal voice in Philadelphia calling for greatly expanded school choice. State Senator Anthony Williams, a black Democrat and a candidate in Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary this week, is the founder of a charter school, a champion of vouchers, and an ardent believer in the power of competition to improve the quality of education. His position puts him sharply at odds with the state's largest teachers' union, which opposes choice and has endorsed his main opponent. But Williams -- like the local ADL leadership -- sees school choice as the great civil-rights battle of the day.

"Anybody who was for Brown v. Board of Education -- it baffles me that they would be against vouchers," Williams told me last week. "Brown condemned schools that were separate and unequal. Well, that's exactly what we're back to now -- schools that are segregated by income, by ZIP Code, by race."

Of the 20,000 children who annually enter Philadelphia kindergartens, Williams notes, almost half will drop out before finishing high school -- and fewer than 2,000 will go to college. The way to fix the dreadful public schools that produce these results isn't to shower them with more money, he says. It is to empower parents to pull their kids out and enroll them in better schools elsewhere.

Williams may not win Tuesday's primary. Philly's ADL chapter may not persuade the national board to follow its lead. But in swimming against the tide, both have set examples that will inspire others. Educational inequality persists. But thanks to some gutsy Philadelphia liberals, it has just lost a little more ground.


British School-leavers and graduates are lacking basic skills, says survey

School-leavers and even graduates lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, according to a survey of big employers published today.

More companies are having to provide remedial training to new staff, who cannot write clear instructions, do simple maths, or solve problems. Even those with degrees are failing to impress: one in seven firms said that graduates’ reading and writing skills were inadequate, and one in ten said that they had poor numeracy.

Both graduates and school-leavers were also criticised for their sloppy time-keeping, ignorance of basic customer service and lack of self-discipline.

The report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said: “There is understandable frustration among business that they continue having to pick up the pieces to support those who left full-time education with weaknesses in the basic skills they will need in their working lives.”

It conducted a survey of senior executives at 694 companies, which between them employ more than 2.4 million people, or one in 12 of the workforce. Seven in ten companies said that action was needed to improve the employability of school-leavers, and this should be the top education priority of the new Government. Almost two-thirds of employers said that standards of numeracy and literacy should be tackled.

There were also weaknesses in the “soft skills” of graduates and school-leavers, such as time management or working in a team. “These personal competencies are not simply ‘nice to have’ but are a core factor in business success in a competitive market place,” the report said.

“General educational standards — including basic skills of literacy and numeracy — have long been concerns for employers. “Employers’ particular concerns over numeracy and literacy inevitably vary but there is broad agreement about how shortcomings in basic skills affect employees’ ability to perform everyday tasks.

“They can hinder employees in being able to draw out information effectively from basic texts, compose coherent written communications or work through basic arithmetic and percentages, such as working out a discounted price.”

The report added: “Only half of young people currently leave school having achieved the benchmark of an A* to C grade in English and maths GCSE. “And although this is the standard for which schools and students should aspire, it is not necessarily an accurate proxy for basic numeracy and literacy.

“But the large number of young people falling well below this measure is perpetuating the basic skills deficit among major sections of the UK workforce.”

The CBI found that 18 per cent of firms had invested in remedial training for workers in literacy and numeracy, up from 15 per cent in 2008. Its report added: “Employers do not expect schools, colleges and universities to produce ‘job-ready’ young people — they recognise it is their responsibility. But at the very least, young people must enter the labour market literate, numerate and employable.”

Of graduates, the report said that a quarter of companies were dissatisfied with their problem-solving skills and a similar number were unimpressed by their self-management. A fifth said that graduates had limited careers awareness. Job applications from young people were too often “slapdash, containing spelling mistakes, omissions and errors”.

Half of companies are not confident that they will be able to fill graduate-level posts in the next few years and a third are concerned about finding the right candidates for intermediate jobs [A-level equivalent].

Even though the previous Government strove to increase the number of young people taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects, firms said that there was still a shortage. “It is of significant concern that despite lower recruitment and more applicants for each position, over two fifths of employers still struggle to find the Stem talent they need.”

Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, said: “As we move further into recovery and businesses plan for growth, the demand for people with high-quality skills and qualifications will intensify.

“In the future people with qualifications in science and maths will be particularly sought after, and firms say it is already hard to find people with the right technical or engineering skills. The new Government must make encouraging more young people to study science-related subjects a top priority.”

Employers rated business studies and maths A levels highest and sociology and psychology lowest.


Education without innovation?

I recently traveled to Singapore to research their national education system. During my visit, I stopped by the campuses of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the National Institute of Education (NIE)—Singapore's only teacher-training institute—to talk to professors, administrators, and students.

According to the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings 2009, both universities rank in the global top 100. NUS is ranked 30th in the world. NIE is an autonomous institute of Nanyang Technological University, which is ranked 73rd in the world.

Singapore students are among the best in the world at math according to the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). First administered in 1995, the TIMMS has assessed the science and math performance of fourth- and eighth-grade students from several countries every four years.

In 1995, 1999, and 2003, Singapore students in both grades were in first place in math. In 2007, Singapore fourth graders were in second place and eighth graders were in third place. Fifty-nine countries participate in the 2007 TIMSS.

The math textbooks and workbooks used in Singapore have produced the best results in the world. Titled "Primary Mathematics," but often referred to as "Singapore Math," the book series is based on the national math curriculum of Singapore.

The focus of Singapore Math is on depth, rather than breadth; a few important concepts are covered in great depth so that students can master them. In contrast, the focus of the math curriculum in the U.S. is on breadth.

Singapore Math differs from the way math has been traditionally taught in the U.S. in several ways. Instead of teaching students how to apply formulas, Singapore Math teaches students different ways to solve problems. Rather than using paper and pencil, problems are often solved mentally. Rote memorization is replaced with understanding the "why" behind each concept. Concepts are taught once, not repeated year after year. Worksheets have no instructions so that students learn concepts in school rather than at home.

Because of the success of Singapore Math, many schools and homeschool parents in the U.S. have adopted the method.

Even with all their success in math, Singaporean educators are not content with their education system. Three years ago, the "Washington Post" published an article titled "Asian Educators Looking to Loudon for an Edge." The article was about educators from Singapore who visited classrooms in the U.S. to learn how to teach students to think more creatively. Apparently, the U.S. is admired by Singaporeans for its ability to produce scientific and technological innovations.

Even though American students do not score nearly as well as Singaporean students in math, they tend to be more innovative. The latter skill is more important than the former in our increasingly globalized world where moving up the value chain means transforming from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy to an innovation-based economy.

This is not to say that knowledge in math is not important, because it is. However, knowledge alone is not enough. It must be combined with the ability to apply knowledge in new ways. Applying knowledge in new ways is how innovation occurs, and innovation is critical to any nation's economic and national security.

Perhaps American students tend to be more innovative than Singaporean students because the societies in which they live are different. Americans enjoy much more freedom of thought than Singaporeans, and freedom of thought engenders a state of mind conducive to innovation.

Education systems do not operate in a vacuum; they are influenced by the societies they serve. In Singapore, freedom of thought is discouraged by the limitations posed on freedom of expression. For example, the Singaporean government severely restricts public speeches and censors the media.

If Singaporean educators want to learn how to teach students to think more creatively so the nation can increase its ability to produce scientific and technological innovations, then it would be useful for them to look beyond the classroom.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Languages crisis is threatening a generation of British state school pupils

Only a narrow body of water separates Britain from many important countries that do not speak English -- so some familiarity with at least one of those languages would seem important -- both for business and for travel.

It was once important culturally too but, sadly, culture is "out" these days and there are very few English people who will ever have the pleasure of (say) enjoying Schubert Lieder in the original German.

"Wer reitet so spaet durch Nacht und Wind?/Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind./Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,/Er fasst ihn sicher, er haelt ihn warm". ....

A terrible loss

A generation of state school children risks being left monolingual because of a looming crisis in language teaching. Labour’s efforts to entice children into choosing to study languages by switching from compulsory GCSEs to primary school classes have failed, experts say.

The number of teenagers taking a modern language has fallen by a third since that was scrapped as a GCSE requirement in 2004. Three quarters of schools no longer require pupils to take exams at 16 in French, German or Spanish.

Instead the focus changed to fostering a love of languages in primary school, so pupils would supposedly choose to study them at secondary level. But because the teaching of languages at primary school is patchy and variable, secondary teachers have to start from scratch at 11.

Researchers have told The Times that children who already know the language are repeating basic work, becoming bored and resentful, and dropping languages at 14 when they make GCSE choices.

They blame incoherence in language teaching, and claim that none of the main political parties will address the problem.

Universities suggest that the issue is starting to have an impact on their recruitment of state school pupils, and they are trying to address the situation with summer schools and language masterclasses.

Employers have also voiced concerns, and the trend has worrying implications for the future production of enough language teachers, who will be in increasing demand when teaching a foreign language becomes compulsory at primary school next year.

Academics say that British children are getting the worst deal in Europe. Sylvia Jaworska, a lecturer in German at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “For foreign languages not to be obligatory is uniquely British. Every secondary school in Europe ensures that pupils study at least one foreign language up to 18 years old.

“Here in the UK, languages are viewed as difficult subjects. Worryingly, some secondary schools don’t push students to take them, because they think it might affect their league table results.”

This was echoed by the Sutton Trust, a charity that tackles educational inequality. Lee Elliot Major, its director of research and policy, said: “They [state schools] focus on English and maths and vocational subjects to get better results, but it’s not necessarily what’s best for children.”

Dr Jaworska’s students are working with a local primary school in East London to interest them in languages. She said that the number of German language teachers had decreased by 300 in the past five years. “If fewer modern foreign language GCSEs are taken, we worry that ultimately our student intake will drop,” she added. “Our hope is to encourage school pupils to take up languages and then, as graduates, to become language teachers.”

Some prestigious universities require candidates to have a language GCSE, no matter what degree they are taking. Others that are striving to widen participation to pupils from varied backgrounds say that the decline in languages at state schools could hamper this.

The independent schools sector accounted for 15 per cent of all A-level entries in 2008-09, but its pupils took 34 per cent of the modern foreign language exams, and made up almost half of those achieving an A grade.

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: “Knowledge of modern foreign languages is vital to the UK. The Russell Group and the wider higher education sector have been affected in recent years by changes in demand for language degrees and courses, resulting in part from changes to language provision in the school sector.

“In particular, we are concerned about the relatively low proportion of students who take modern foreign languages at A level within the state school sector.”

The CBI has said that more than a third of British businesses hire people for their language skills, but that they are increasingly forced to recruit from overseas to meet this need.


AA Shocker: More Blacks In College — But Fewer Graduate!

There are two basic problems with Affirmative action, the first is that people that shouldn’t be going to college are getting in, second, those that should be going are getting into higher ranked colleges than their grades would indicate, making them much more likely to drop out
More Blacks Go to College, But Graduation Lags

President Obama delivered the commencement address today at Virginia’s Hampton University—his first as president to a predominantly African-American school. Fifty-five percent of African-American high school seniors go on to college these days, compared to 45 percent in 1970.

But graduation day is another story, as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports. *snip*

Since 2004, American universities have used a six-year standard to measure graduation rates; but even with the extended time, African-Americans still lag in obtaining degrees. Only 43 percent of African-Americans who enter college graduate—20 percent lower than the rate for whites. And for black men its more alarming, with only 36 percent who enter finishing college. *snip*

Hampton currently graduates 55 percent of its students within six-years. That’s better than most universities, but significantly lower than schools like Harvard (95 percent) and Yale (94 percent.). *snip*

But at predominately black universities where the concentration of first generation and low-income students is high, the challenge can be daunting. Seventy percent of students who drop out cite lack of finances Twenty percent of incoming students have to take remedial classes But, historically black colleges still produce 25 percent of the nation’s black graduates.

This isn’t the first time we’ve run across this phenomenon

And sure enough, the enrollment and graduation data from the more than 6,700 postsecondary institutions that enroll just under 20 million students and that participate in Title IV student financial aid programs is indeed broken down by race, ethnicity, and sex, right there in plain view in Table 5 on p. 15. The data are not pretty. Graduation rates for both public and private 4-year institutions:

– Asians/Pacific Islander: 66.1%

– Whites: 59.3%

– Hispanic or Latino: 46.5%

– Black or African American: 38.9%

The numbers for black men were even more depressing, falling to 31% at public institutions.

More depressing reality
What place does affirmative action have in this system? In 2007–2008, 12,152 Blacks took the LSAT. Their average score was 142.15 and the standard deviation 8.4. In a normal distribution only one in a thousand scores three SDs above the mean. Three SDs over the Black average is 167.35. We’ll round up to 168. Only a little over one in a thousand Blacks who take the LSAT each year scores that high, or 16 of them in 2007–2008. *snip*

Since in 2007–2008 there were only 16 Blacks nationwide who scored at 168 or above, that’s the number of Blacks that should’ve entered the top six schools. *snip*

So there are about 10 undeserving Blacks at the top six law schools for every one deserving case. This puts things in perspective for people who say that they oppose affirmative action because it stigmatizes African-Americans. Is it more rational to care more about the feelings of one Black out of 11 who gets where he is based on merit than the 10 Whites and Asians who lose their spot to a beneficiary of the system? Only if the self-esteem of one Black is worth more than the livelihoods of 10 non-NAMs!

Affirmative action is the nearest thing to pure evil I’ve ever seen. Not only doesn’t it do what it purports to do but, it poisons the water in any direction you look.


Monopolies + Public Schools = Failing Students

Out of all American high school seniors, only 35 percent are proficient readers and only 23 percent are proficient in math. This is according to The Cartel, a movie released this year exposing how throwing money at America’s education system is not helping anyone — least of all the students.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that about $1.1 trillion is being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2009-2010. This amount includes federal, state and local funds as well as private donations.

Despite that dollar amount and the fact that spending on America’s education has increased 100 percent since 1971, graduation rates and test scores have flat-lined or even decreased over the years. Obviously money isn’t the cure.

How does a country that spends far more than an average of $9,000 per student, give rise to such a poor education system?

It is because the public school system in America is a monopoly. There is no competition and no incentive to better itself. Parents don’t often have a choice of which school their child attends unless they have an option of a charter school, can afford a private school or are able to enroll in a voucher program. And, depending on which state you live in, you may not have an option at all.

This is a bad deal for everyone involved — well, almost everyone. There is one group that greatly benefits from this monopoly, and that is the teachers unions. With competition between schools eliminated, some teachers that are members of a union enjoy a nice paying job, regardless of the performance of students and overall rating of the school depending on the school district and state laws.

In many states, it’s the teachers unions that rule over the majority, even swaying the votes of the politicians.

“Unions give a lot of money to candidates and teachers are politically active,” says Don Todd, who currently serves as Senior Research Director of Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and was the chief union oversight officer at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2001-2009. “That’s why they get what they want.”

Not only do these unions have a voice as the majority, they also make it nearly impossible to get rid of a bad teacher.

In one particular situation in New York, it took six years of litigation before they were able to fire a teacher who sent a sexually-oriented email to a 16-year-old student. Maybe worse, this teacher still got paid more than $300,000 even though he wasn’t teaching anymore during the firing process. The payment was required. It was in the contract. How is this right on any level?

In this kind of environment, it is no wonder America’s students as a whole are suffering in public schools.

“In the long run they will lose,” says Todd about the teachers unions’ self-interest battles. “Everyone I know wants what’s best for their children and they aren’t going to give up on that.”

Every parent wants their child to succeed and do well. Unfortunately many students get lost in the system and fall behind.

In an evaluation conducted in 2006 by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15-year-olds from 30 different countries were tested and measured by their understanding of basic science skills. The U.S. didn’t measure up very well — it ranked 21st, with a score well below average.

For a country that prides itself on innovation and technology, it is shameful that future generations may lack the skills needed to keep up with the rest of the world.

The aim of various state laws and teachers unions’ contracts is backwards. And it has been this way for too long.

Albert Shanker, once President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was quoted as saying, “When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Something is very wrong here. When asked to comment, the AFT and National Education Association (NEA) did not return phone calls.

It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their children receive the education they need and deserve. “People judge the system by personal experience,” says Todd. “It’s a minority population that gets the short shrift and as long as they continue to vote for people that give them this short shrift, they are going to keep getting it.”