Saturday, July 03, 2010

Educational Bias In HS Advanced Placement Government Classes

Once again, we must address ‘What Our Children Are Being Taught In Our Schools.’ This time it is in our nation’s High School Advanced Placement (AP) Government curriculum. It is quite disturbing.

We start with the following practice question from this year’s Barron’s test preparation book for the Advanced Placement (AP) Exam for “U.S. Government and Politics” taken by millions of our brightest HS students. See if you can surmise the answer.

Traditionally, the Republican Party has been viewed as favoring which of the following groups? (A) Big business; (B) The poor; (C) The middle class; (D) African-Americans; (E) Hispanics

The answer, of course, is (A). Consider the effect of teaching this to our children. First, it marginalizes the Republican Party by suggesting upwards of 80% of the electorate are NOT favored by Republicans. It makes you wonder how they ever win elections. Second, it isn’t even true, especially in the last election cycle, when large financial, pharmaceutical, and health care companies backed Obama.

But more importantly, selection (A) could have been ”Economic growth,” “Entrepreneurs,” or even “Business.” But those characterizations do not demonize business or Republicans enough. Wonder if there is a similar question tying Democrats to Big Unions or Big Government? No, there isn’t. I looked.

Reagonomics, Bad; Clintonomics, Good

To continue with the previous discussion, the Barron’s test preparation book also prepares students for the Free-Response Essay portion of the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam. On pages 345-347, the test-taker is asked to: (a.) Identify and explain one key policy of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton as it relates to economic philosophy; and (b.) Show how it was applied to economic policy.

The following are excerpts of what Barron’s illustrates as an appropriate response to the question.

It’s a lot to read and even more to swallow. (You’re lucky I’m only making you read excerpts)

Ronald Reagan’s Policies: ”Supply-siders held that an abundance of efficiently produced goods could actually stimulate demand enough to raise the entire GNP. During the 1979 campaign, Reagan construed such a theory as the solution to the lingering problem of stagflation. . . .

Yet after his election, supply-side economics did not manifest itself in a significant reduction in government expenditures, nor even an increase in government revenues. . . . [Reagan] successfully instituted a regressive income tax and lowered the capital gains tax, resulting in an expansion of the upper-income tax bracket. But an examination of the fluctuations in GNP indicated that the economy expanded decidedly unevenly, encouraging a widening distribution of personal income comparable to the 1920s. Reagan’s policies had indeed provided American firms the capital necessary to invest and develop more efficient and cost-effective goods and services. Yet unlike Japanese businesses, American firms invested little of such assets, so that the proportion of the GNP dedicated to R&D never increased.

This trend may explain precisely why a boost in incomes of the business class. . . . never increased supply and in turn failed to stimulate demand or produce massive national wealth. Firms and the wealthy used increased revenue to consume rather than to save. Productivity gradually declined, much technological innovation never hit the factory floor, and quite simply, businesses consequently did not need to hire more workers and could not afford to increase wages proportional to the amount of revenues businesses were receiving.

The decline in productivity increased the deficit and increased the wealth of the smallest portion of the economy. This wouldn’t have been quite so harmful had it not been for one other component of Reagan’s policy. . . . the systematic reduction of the government’s mechanism’s of demand. Because this reduction was not offset by an increase in demand, the middle class lost vital programs resulting in loss of wages.

The decline in prosperity of the heart of American society precipitated an electoral crisis in confidence. The middle class identified the U.S. deficit as a symbol of the manner in which government trapped them. Not only did the eight years of regressive taxation inhibit them, but they faced the prospect of having to pay back the debt at increasing levels of interest.”

Bill Clinton’s Policies: Clinton successful defined the agenda of the 1992 election. James Carville identified the principal issue. ”It’s the economy, stupid. . . . ” By the beginning of the 1990s the negative effects of Reagan’s policies manifested themselves in economic recession and massive unemployment. . . .

The Clinton camp articulated a platform that embodied a large increase in government spending. . . . He proposed an increase in education spending, a middle class tax cut (which would undoubtedly have stimulated demand but was not fiscally plausible, and was not enacted), a reduction of corporate welfare, and a general stimulus package, which the Senate never passed. Such a platform theoretically would have reduced the burden of the middle class, because [they] would not have to rely on the trickle-down generosity of the wealthy business class. And since businesses failed to invest the money that Reagan had provided them Clinton sought to stimulate innovation and productivity through labor and educational spending. . . .

Although Clinton’s fiscal policies, alongside a turn in the business cycle, succeeded in ending the recession and stimulating a new period of growth, other problems resulted in a Republican mid-term victory. But after Clinton victory on 1996, the economy remained on solid ground. The deficit was reduced by more than half. Millions of jobs were created. So James Carville’s 1992 prophecy became economic reality in 1996.

REMEMBER, the students taking this AP exam are our best and brightest, and are among those most likely to enter the fields of law and politics.


Stupid British schools trying to shelter kids from real life

Winning banned in two thirds of schools as teachers reward ALL students

Two out of three schools are rewarding all pupils on sports days to ensure that nobody feels left out, according to a survey. Teachers want to be 'inclusive' and give prizes to both winners and losers to stop anyone's feelings being hurt.

The findings come as the Government has pledged to reintroduce competitive sport into the country's primary and secondary schools. Ministers are launching a new 'School Olympics' programme to end the widespread culture of 'prizes for all'. The championships are intended to give every child an experience of hardfought competition and prevent schools from refusing to pit youngsters against each other.

However, a survey by School Stickers, a provider of rewards for primary and secondary schools, reveals the scale of the problem the new policy must overcome. It surveyed almost 300 primary and secondary schools and found that 69 per cent reward all participants in sports days. The figures are 54 per cent for secondary schools and 77 per cent for primaries. Nine per cent of all schools refuse to single out any winners at all. Extrapolated across the country, this would equate to more than 2,000 schools.

The survey also found that two per cent of schools miss out on competitive games as they have no sports days. This figure equates to almost 500 nationally.

The schools all blame the organisational burden as the reason for not holding one, rather than health and safety reasons.

Henry Shelford, chief executive of School Stickers, said: 'It is ironic that just days after the Government announces plans to reinvigorate competition in school sports, our survey reveals how many schools prefer a more "inclusive" approach.

'With England's footballers again failing at the World Cup, and the 2012 Olympics looming, the nature of sports participation in schools is firmly on the agenda. Each school is unique and needs to choose the system that works for them. 'But I feel sorry for the 500 schools where teachers and pupils want a sports day but can't. 'All miss out on a fun and stimulating day.'

The new school sports championships are designed to reverse the decline in competitive sport brought about by Left-wing councils that scorned it as 'elitist' and insisted on politically correct activities with no winners or losers.

The first championship will take place in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games. They will involve a wide range of sports including football, rugby, netball, golf, cricket, tennis, athletics, judo, gymnastics, swimming, table tennis and volleyball. Schools will compete against each other in district leagues from 2011 with winning athletes and teams qualifying for as many as 60 finals. The most talented will then be selected for national finals.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: 'We need to revive competitive sport in our schools. 'Fewer than a third of school pupils take part in regular competitive sport within schools and fewer than one in five take part in regular competition between schools.'


Phenomenal school performance by East Asian students in Australia

Despite the large handicap of coming from a different linguistic and cultural background. Effort alone cannot account for that. For an Asian to become competent in English is a huge leap. Try learning Chinese if you doubt it

CHILDREN of recent Asian migrants are dramatically outperforming students from English-speaking households to dominate the ranks of the top selective high schools.

A Herald analysis shows 42 per cent of children from non-English speaking backgrounds who sat the annual selective high school entrance test last year won a place in the elite system. Fewer than 23 per cent of students whose families speak English at home were successful.

Letters and emails were sent this week to inform 4133 year 6 students that they had won a place for next year at a selective high school. The percentage of students from migrant families entering the selective system has risen dramatically from 29 per cent in 1995 to as high as 62 per cent in 2008. The component is sharply skewed towards children from Asian-origin families.

Students whose families speak other languages comprise a little more than one-quarter of the total public school population.

Many of the successful students are graduates of the burgeoning network of private coaching colleges which gauge their success by their ability to secure places in the selective system and who tailor courses towards the "opportunity class" and selective exams. Coaching colleges are dominated by children of recent migrants.

"Anglo families have a different sense of what a child's life should look like and they are really concerned about narrowing a child's life down to passing the selective school entrance test," says Craig Campbell, a Sydney University academic and co-author of School Choice, a book on how parents negotiate the school market. "But they're having to change because of the competition."

High school principals, worried about losing students and prestige, are said to be pushing hard to establish selective streams in their schools, according to Associate Professor Campbell.

At James Ruse Agricultural High, the state's top selective school, an overwhelming majority of students are from families that have migrated from Asian countries.

The selective system was expanded this year with 600 more places created through the establishment of 14 partially selective high schools, where a high-achieving stream has been added to a comprehensive high school.

The students from migrant families also win up to half the opportunity class placements available for years 5 and 6 at specialised public schools. These classes are designed to provide "intellectual stimulation and an educationally enriched environment for academically gifted and talented children", says the Department of Education.

Anecdotal evidence suggests some parents avoid selective high schools because of the extent of Asian domination. The former head of the NSW selective schools unit, Bob Wingrave, recalls his surprise to hear a colleague had decided against sending his child to James Ruse "because there were too many Asians there".

"All kids who go to a selective high school will benefit from going," Mr Wingrave said. Coaching might gain students a few marks at the most.

Children from a non-English-speaking background answered more questions in the selective schools entry test than other students, he said. "The Anglo kids won't answer it if looks too hard and they are less likely to finish than the non-English-speaking background kids," Mr Wingrave said.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Education bailout added to House war bill

The Democrats apparently have a bottomless pit of money. No wonder they won't set a budget

The U.S. House approved a war-funding measure that includes $10 billion in aid to state governments to prevent thousands of teacher layoffs, after a veto threat from the White House.

Lawmakers voted 239-182 to back a plan the Obama administration threatened to veto yesterday because the state aid would be financed in part by cutting $800 million from one of the administration’s signature education initiatives. Earlier, the legislation cleared a procedural hurdle with a 215- 210 majority.

The vote sends the $80 billion package to the Senate, where Republicans have signaled they will fight to delete unrelated items added to a bill primarily designed to fund President Barack Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

The disputes not only threaten an election-year spending fight among Democrats, they also promise to delay getting the long-stalled measure to Obama’s desk until later this month.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged lawmakers earlier this month to pass the bill before leaving for their weeklong Fourth of July recess, saying the Pentagon would otherwise be forced to do “stupid things” such as taking money out of other programs to ensure adequate war funding. He said the agency may have to furlough civilian employees if the money isn’t approved by mid- August.

The House bill includes $37 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $13 billion for additional benefits to people exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, among other programs.

Separately, lawmakers failed to pass legislation extending unemployment assistance, which means 2 million Americans could see their aid interrupted by mid-July, according to the Labor Department. The House yesterday approved a bill extending the assistance, sending it to the Senate for consideration after lawmakers return to Washington on July 12.

Senate Bill

House Democrats considered passing, without change, a Senate-approved draft of the war bill omitting the teacher funding in order to get the money to the Pentagon this week. Democratic leaders opted instead to add the education funding, which led to the financing dispute with the White House.

“The administration is more than willing to work with the Congress to pursue fiscally responsible ways to finance education jobs,” a White House statement said. “It would be short-sighted to weaken funding for these reforms just as they begin to show promise.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, the lead sponsor of the legislation, said tough choices were needed to avoid adding to the deficit. “I didn’t come here to be Arne Duncan’s congressman,” said Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, referring to the secretary of Education. “Who do people think put the money into these programs in the first place? I did,” Obey said. “Welcome to Washington and welcome to hard choices.”

Additional Programs

Democrats also added $5 billion for Pell college tuition grants, $142 million in aid to fisherman and others affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and $701 million for border security. Those costs would be partially defrayed by provisions clamping down on so-called pay-to-delay payments made by brand- name pharmaceutical companies to generic-drug makers to delay lower-priced generic drugs from entering the market.

Senator Thad Cochran, the ranking Republican on the appropriations committee, said his colleagues won’t accept the House changes. Reconciling the competing drafts will delay getting a bill to Obama until “at least” late July, he said. Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the House isn’t “a rubber stamp for whatever the Senate does -- we have opinions too.”


Muslim pupils taken out of music lessons in British schools 'because Islam forbids playing an instrument'

Muslim pupils are being withdrawn from music lessons because some families believe learning an instrument is anti-Islamic. The move comes despite the subject being a compulsory part of the national curriculum.

While parents have legal rights to withdraw children from religious and sex education classes, no automatic right exists to pull them out of lessons such as music.

One education expert said up to half of Muslim pupils were withdrawn from music lessons during Ramadan. And The Muslim Council of Britain said music lessons were likely to be unacceptable to around ten per cent of the Muslim population in Britain.

However, in certain branches of Islam - such as Sufism, which is dominant in Pakistan and India - devotional music and singing is actually central to the religion.

A BBC investigation found that in one London primary school, 20 pupils were removed from rehearsals for a Christmas musical and one five-year-old girl remains permanently withdrawn from mainstream music classes.

Some Muslims believe that playing musical instruments and singing is forbidden according to Islam. At Herbert Morrison Primary in Lambeth, 29 per cent of children come from mainly Somalian Muslim families. Headmistress Eileen Ross said some parents 'don't want children to play musical instruments and they don't have music in their homes'.

One girl remains permanently withdrawn from the school's music curriculum, which consists of a government-backed project to learn instruments such as the violin. 'There's been about 18 or 22 children withdrawn from certain sessions, out of music class, but at the moment I just have one child who is withdrawn continually from the music curriculum,' Mrs Ross told the BBC. 'It's not part of their belief, they feel it detracts from their faith.' Ofsted and education experts raised concerns over the findings.

The Open University's Dr Diana Harris, an expert on music education and Muslims, said she had visited schools where half of the pupils were withdrawn from music lessons by their parents during Ramadan.

'Most of them really didn't know why they were withdrawing their children,' she told the BBC. 'The majority of them were doing it because they had just learned that it wasn't acceptable and one of the sources giving out that feeling was the Imams.'

A spokesman for Ofsted said: 'Music is an important part of any child or young person's education. Any examples of pupils being treated unequally would be a matter of significant concern.'


A third of British graduates in low-skills jobs or on the dole six months after leaving university

One in three graduates is on the dole or working in stopgap jobs such as stacking shelves or pouring pints [of beer].

The impact of the recession on graduate recruitment was laid bare in official figures showing a rise in unemployment and a reliance on jobs unlikely to justify the expense of studying. Nearly 20,000 of last year’s graduates – one in ten – were unemployed six months after leaving university – up from eight per cent in 2008.

A further 50,000 failed to land graduate-level posts and resorted to roles for which they are likely to be over-qualified, working as secretaries, waiters, bar staff and factory employees. In total, 34 per cent jobless or in non-graduate roles. Some were taking part-time jobs to help pay for further degrees.

Only 40 per cent managed to land professional or managerial jobs, with the remainder studying a higher degree full-time, working abroad or describing themselves as ‘unavailable for work’, possibly because of gap years.

The figures emerged after two days of bleak reports on the graduate job market. Yesterday experts predicted graduate unemployment could reach a quarter – a record level – amid unprecedented competition for work and looming cuts in the public sector, which employs significant numbers of graduates.

‘The impact of the proposed cuts could be sufficient to have a profound effect on the labour market for new graduates,’ said Charlie Ball, of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit. ‘It is possible that the next four years could be the toughest for new graduates ever.’

The latest study, issued by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, shows how last year’s graduates fared six months after leaving university. Out of 205,300 graduates who gave data, 8,400 were in ‘elementary’ occupations' – for example hospital porters and roadsweepers. A further 610 got jobs as machine operatives while 18,000 work in sales or customer services. And 8,100 were in ‘personal services’ including hairdressing while 13,720 were in administrative or secretarial roles.

Around 1,000 others were in skilled trades such as plumbing. Universities Minister David Willetts said: ‘Employers are continuing to recruit graduates in large numbers even though these are students who graduated at the height of the recession.

‘The job market does remain competitive for new graduates in these difficult economic times, as it does for everyone. However, a degree remains a good investment in the long-term.’


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Texas textbook controversy

Through out my years of living in Texas I have experienced much stereotyping from people outside of the state. They seem to think that we are all country bumpkins who walk around with ten gallon hats and speak with thick country accents. There are even some who think that we drive around with cow horns on the hoods of our cars. They also think of us as inbred yokels who are incapable of having any intelligent thought. Unfortunately the recent scandal over what has been written in the textbooks probably reinforced this image for those who like to turn their noses up at this state.

Recently, the conservative members of the Texas Board of Education passed revisions to the textbooks used by public schools. There are many states who are concerned that these revisions may spread into their domains, since Texas is the largest purchaser of textbooks.

I am not certain what has been written in the new textbooks. All I know is what the media has claimed and we all know how reliable the mainstream media can be. Even the local media has proven itself to be worthless.

One of these changes is the portrayal of America as a constitutional republic as opposed to a democracy. I wasn’t even aware that this concept was being disputed. I was always taught that America was a republic, a form of indirect democracy. Whenever we said the Pledge of Allegiance, the words were “to the republic for which it stands” not to the democracy for which it stands. I didn’t realize that things have changed so much since I last attended public school.

There were some changes that seem absurd, such as the exclusion of Thomas Jefferson from the Texas Curriculum’s world history standards on Enlightenment thinking. I suppose that the logic behind this was to show that the US was founded on Christian values and since Jefferson was a Deist, he didn’t quite fit the mold. I would have to agree that this change is utterly ridiculous. The idea of excluding one of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment period because he contradicted the idea of the US being a Christian country goes way beyond absurdity. Not to say that Judeo-Christian values didn’t play a part in the formation of this country. However one can not deny that there were many Deists, like Thomas Jefferson, who also influenced the formation of this nation.

There were many Hispanic activists that were upset over the absence of key Latino figures in the curriculum, such as Caesar Chavez and the Mexicans who fought on the side of Texas independence. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Chavez is being excluded since conservatives are known for their distain of union leaders. You would have thought that Chavez’s views against illegal immigration would have earned him some points among the conservatives. I do side with the Hispanics on including information about the Mexicans who fought for Texas independence. One of those men was an ancestor of mine, Jose` Antonio Navarro. He was a statesman who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Sadly most people don’t know of him or any of the other Latinos who fought for Texas.

The Democrats on the board also took issue with the curriculum standards regarding economics. One of those standards was the teaching of the rapid inflation that occurred after the abandonment of the Gold Standard. Apparently the Democrats don’t like the idea of anybody pointing out the fallacy of the money out of thin air system that replaced the Gold Standard.

The left-wingers on the board have also complained about the idea of teaching the ideologies of free market economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich A. Hayek, alongside the ideologies of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Keynes. Keynesian ideology is a form of Voodoo economics, which was responsible for prolonging the Great Depression.

We all know that Marxism has not only proven to be a total failure, but it has also led to the death of a hundred million people world wide. Considering that both of these ideologies have proven to be disastrous, I don’t see any problem with free market economics being taught in the curriculum.

There have also been some complaints about the textbooks mentioning the great conservative resurgence of the 1980’s and 90’s. These textbooks would feature organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the NRA, and the Moral Majority. To what extent I don’t know. The media claims that the new textbooks would show favorable bias towards these organizations. Since I haven’t seen the new revisions for myself I can’t really comment on them.

The media also claims that the revisions put Joe McCarthy in a favorable light. Once again I don’t know how true this is, but they seem to base this on the fact that the new books would make reference to the Venona Papers. Even though McCarthy was a paranoid drunk who helped start a series of witch hunts, it turned out that he was right about many of the high profile people that he accused of being Communists. These revelations would come after the release of the Venona Papers, which came from decoded Soviet cables.

I can’t say that I have ever been fond of McCarthy’s legacy, but it turns out that he was right about many of the people he accused. We shouldn’t ignore the facts just because we may not like a certain individual.

The board also wanted the Republican’s role in the Civil Rights movement to be mentioned, which seems fair. It seems like people have this misconception about the Civil Rights movement being a Democrat vs. Republican conflict, when it was actually a fight against Southern leaders who wanted to cling on to their archaic ways. After all, there was a higher percentage of Republicans who voted for the Civil Acts of 1964 and there were many Democrats, such as Governor Wallace of Alabama, who supported segregation.

The internment of Italian and German Americans during World War II was something else that the board wanted to mention in the textbooks. Most of the history books only make mention of the Japanese Americans who found themselves imprisoned in concentration camps. I believe that the Americans of German and Italian descent also deserve to be mentioned. According to the media, the motive behind this move is to show that the internments weren’t motivated by race. As long as they don’t try to justify one of the grossest violations of civil liberties in American history, I don’t have a problem with it.

With the exception of the exclusion of Thomas Jefferson and key Latino figures that have much historical significance, most of the changes seem with in reason. Most of the bias that I have seen in textbooks usually leans to the left. You never hear that mentioned by any of the mainstream media outlets.


Math, reading gap among Native American students

I think this shows that only the dumb ones remain on the reservations

Native American students at schools overseen by the federal Bureau of Indian Education performed significantly worse on national standardized tests in reading and math compared with those in public schools.

The National Indian Education Study released Wednesday found lags in achievement and persistent gaps among Native American students and their peers. There was also a significant disparity among Native American students depending on the type of school they attend, according to the U.S. Department of Education study.

Those in public schools, and particularly those in schools where Native American students represent less than 25 percent of the population, consistently scored higher than their peers who attend schools heavily populated by Native Americans. The most stark contrast was seen among those who attend Bureau of Indian Education schools, which were created to provide quality education to Native Americans.

The bureau oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states, a majority of which are run by tribes. They educate an estimated 44,000 students — less than 10 percent of all Native American children nationwide.

In reading, fourth grade students at Bureau of Indian Education schools scored an average of 181 on a 500 point scale on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — 25 points lower than Native Americans attending public schools. There was a 23 point gap among eighth grade students. Similar gaps were seen in math.

Poverty, less access to resources and difficulty obtaining and retaining teachers to work in tribal areas could be part of the problem, researchers said.

"If I could pinpoint it, I could bottle it and sell it and solve the problem," said Bart Stevens, deputy director of school operations for the Bureau of Indian Education. "It's one that we keep plugging at, and a lot of things that impact our students are not necessarily within our control, as with any school system."

Overall, Native American students are struggling, with more than a third scoring below the basic level in reading and math, according to the study. Those scores have remained basically unchanged since 2005.

"The fact that our American Indian and Alaska Native students have not made any progress since 2005 is alarming and cause for major concern," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The American Indians' scores were similar to those of black and Hispanic students.

Kerry Venegas of the National Indian Education Association said the challenges facing Bureau of Indian Education schools are similar to those in large, urban schools — but exacerbated. On some reservations, unemployment hovers at 70 percent and graduation rates are low.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed his dismay at the situation at a National Press Club luncheon in 2009, in which he described having visited a reservation in Montana where the dropout rate was as high as 65 percent. Teachers told him only one student had graduated from college in the past six years.

"If we can't help those Native American children be successful over the next couple of years, than I think I personally would have failed," Duncan said.

The study also included a look at the integration of Native American culture into education. Forty-three percent of fourth grade students said their teachers did integrate Native American culture and history into class.

The issue of retaining Native American culture is not lost among people like Harold Dusty Bull, 60, vice president of the National Johnson O'Malley Association, a nonprofit educational organization. He recalled how in the 1940s Native American children were sent to government boarding schools where they were stripped of their culture and language.

"It started out with bad history, and I don't think it's ever really overcome it yet," he said.


British parents 'should get grants for private schools'

Private schools are Federally subsidized in Australia, by way of example

Parents should be given grants to send their children to private school, according to an education leader. Families should be allocated a tax code each year and decide whether to use it to send their child to their local state school or top it up to pay independent school fees, it was claimed.

David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said those on the lowest incomes should be given more money than the richest. He called for independent schools to be seen as an "integral part of education provision", putting them on par with private health care.

Ministers are desperate to create a more diverse education sector in England and have invited parents' groups and teachers to open their own “free schools” funded at taxpayers’ expense. But they are unlikely to directly fund private schools amid fears it will leave them open to accusations of “elitism”.

Commenting on the plan, Mr Hanson said: "This proposal not only extends provision and draws upon public sector expertise, but very importantly would for the first time provide a truly level playing field and therefore dramatically increase social mobility. “In a nutshell, all parents would be able to choose any type of school for their child."

The IAPS, which represents 600 private prep schools, suggested that all parents should have “personal educational grant”, which would be “tapered”, with the poorest receiving the most.

Mr Hanson said the poorest could have a grant of £6,000 and the richest would get just £1,000. All families would then be required to pay – through the Inland Revenue – for their child's schooling. He said the grant could be topped up to pay for a private education, adding: “It should be redeemable in any chosen local authority or private, independent or voluntary school."

Mr Hanson said that parents are already paying for education through their taxes, but this was not made explicitly clear.

Mr Hanson's comments will resurrect the debate about "education vouchers". The Tories announced plans for a "school passport" in 2003 - a voucher-style scheme that would allow parents to "spend" the amount allocated to them on the school of their choice. But the money could not be used in part payment of private school fees. The proposals were dropped shortly after the 2005 General Election.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We have no intention to introduce anything like the proposal put forward by the Independent Association of Prep Schools. "We are committed to investing more in the education of the poorest, and that is why the new pupil premium is at the heart of this coalition Government's plans for schools.

"Additional money from outside the existing schools budget will be made available to ensure that those teaching the children most in need get the resources to deliver smaller class sizes, more one-to-one or small group tuition, longer school days and more extracurricular activities."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers union, said: "The IAPS clearly either hasn’t read or understood the Coalition Government’s guidance on the establishment of free schools. “Instead of IAPS inventing its own barmy idea, it can simply advise its members to use the one already thought up by the Coalition Government.

“Any independent school failing to make ends meet can now have its bank account under-written by the taxpayer and parents can send their children to the school at no additional cost.”


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Supreme Court: Calif. university’s policy upheld, but school still barred from targeting Christian group

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 Monday to uphold an unusual university policy that forces student groups to allow outsiders who disagree with their beliefs to become leaders and voting members. The court confined its opinion to the unique policy and did not address whether nondiscrimination policies in general, which are typical on public university campuses, may require this. The court concluded that public universities may override a religious student group’s right to determine its leadership only if it denies that right to all student groups.

Attorneys with the Christian Legal Society and Alliance Defense Fund represented a student chapter of CLS at California’s Hastings College of the Law in the lawsuit, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The suit was filed in 2004 after the law school refused to recognize the chapter because the group requires all of its officers and voting members to agree with its basic Christian beliefs.

“All college students, including religious students, should have the right to form groups around shared beliefs without being banished from campus,” said Kim Colby, senior counsel at the CLS Center for Law & Religious Freedom. “Today’s ruling, however, will have limited impact. We are not aware of any other public university that has the exact same policy as Hastings.”

“The conflict still exists. This decision doesn’t settle the core constitutional issue of whether nondiscrimination policies in general can force religious student groups to allow non-believers to lead their groups,” explained ADF Senior Legal Counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “Long-term, the decision puts other student groups across the country at risk, and we will continue to fight for their constitutional rights. The Hastings policy actually requires CLS to allow atheists to lead its Bible studies and the College Democrats to accept the election of Republican officers in order for the groups to be recognized on campus. We agree with Justice Alito in his dissent that the court should have rejected this as absurd.”

The law school’s acting dean went so far as to state in a PBS interview in April that a black student organization must admit white supremacists.

“We believe we will ultimately prevail in this case,” McConnell said. “The record will show that Hastings law school applied its policy in a discriminatory way--excluding CLS from campus but not other groups who limit leadership and voting membership in a similar way. The Supreme Court did not rule that public universities can apply different rules to religious groups than they apply to political, cultural, or other student groups.”

In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Brushing aside inconvenient precedent, the Court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups…. I can only hope that this decision will turn out to be an aberration.”

Twenty-two friend-of-the-court briefs from a broad and diverse array of nearly 100 parties were filed with the Supreme Court in support of the CLS chapter, including a brief filed by 14 state attorneys general. Lead counsel Michael W. McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argued before the court on April 19 on behalf of the CLS chapter.


Lowering teacher wages and requirements to increase teaching

Teachers often complain that they are underpaid and/or overworked. It is the purpose of this article to explore this question and expose its myth. In fact, it is the conclusion of this article that teachers are overpaid and overly qualified. Furthermore, it is this articles’ presumption that lowered barriers of educational entry would not only decrease teaching salaries but would also increase teaching capability.

Currently, the average teacher maintains five years of education coupled with a semester of student-teacher training. In addition teachers must continue their training efforts (be it through college classes, workshops, lectures or book readings) in order to maintain their teacher licensure. Let us now imagine a replacement teacher with less required educational barriers of entry so that we may compare and contrast them to the existing teacher.

To form a successful teaching lesson (one that is characterized by student learning and information retainment) takes a compilation of experience, training and preparation time (of which experience is most significant followed by preparation and training). Of the following mentioned, our replacement teacher falls short in one category: training.

It may be contested by many that a degree in education also contributes toward experience. Yet, for those who have had the luxury of watching a newly inexperienced educator fresh out of his or her program for the first time in the classroom can attest, education degrees offer little in terms of experience.

Therefore, the differences between our replacement teacher and our current teacher are merely a matter of training. How much more of an impact does five years of education have on lesson plans? The answer of course depends on what values you place on experience, training and preparation time for lesson impact. If you operate under the notion that 60 percent of lesson planning comes by way of actual teaching experience, while training and preparation time is split between 40 percent, then there may not be much to gain by increasing another year of education.......

Finally, as it has been show above, public school teachers work 25% fewer hours less per week and commute, on average, 26 hours less per year than other comparable professionals. Furthermore, it has been presented above that teachers may in fact be overqualified given the nature of their work and the variables that shape learning (notably experience and preparation time). Given this, it is within all likelihood that individuals of lesser education may well work year-round for the same pay (thus increasing hours worked by 25%) or work the same hours for 25% less in salary. Furthermore, given that the supply of potential teachers would increase as barriers of entry decrease, it is also within all likelihood that increased competition would translate into increased learning via teacher productivity.

Alas, undoubtedly I will (again) receive some hate mail from my various readers who wish to tell me how they detest opinions like mine. They actually use these 1,500 words to paint a depiction of an evil individual who doesn’t care for his students, his coworkers or his subject. But, this is far from the case! I care for them more than I care for my paycheck and more than I care for your admiration or friendship.

Much more HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Credentialism reaches its absurd conclusion in Britain

An average of 45 students are now vying for every graduate position. So for 44 out of 45 applicants, their degree is useless in getting them where they want to go

Up to 270 students are competing for every graduate job amid a desperate scramble for the most sought-after positions, according to research. The number of applications has soared by 15 per cent compared with two years ago when the recession struck, it was disclosed.

Competition is being fuelled by record numbers of students leaving university this year combined with a substantial backlog of graduates left without decent jobs in the economic downturn.

According to figures, 270 students are competing for every graduate job in the consumer goods industry this year. Researchers said marketing posts in companies such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Mars and L’Oreal were among the “most sought after destinations” for students desperate to climb the careers ladder.

More than 100 students have applied for every job in the media this year and around 75 applications have been made to finance and investment banking positions.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, which carried out the survey, said there was little evidence of a public backlash against the banking industry. Graduates starting jobs in the City [the financial district] were also much more likely to receive a bumper starting salary, it was disclosed, with basic pay rising by 10 per cent to £42,000. “If anyone was expecting moral outrage and shying away from the banks then it hasn’t happened,” said Mr Birchall. “People are still very, very keen on working in the City.”

In the latest study, researchers surveyed 16,000 final year students and analysed the recruitment patterns of 100 leading companies. In a sign of the economic recovery, figures show that companies are actually increasing the number of graduate vacancies available this year. The number of jobs is up by almost 18 per cent to 16,288 in 2010 following two years of decline during the recession.

But the report warned that the rise “simply restores recruitment to roughly where it was in 2006”.

According to figures, a shortage of graduate jobs over the last two years has fuelled demand for well-paid positions in 2010. Overall, the number of applicants has increased by seven per cent in the last 12 months, with demand soaring by 15 per cent compared with 2008.

An average of 45 students are now vying for every graduate position, rising six times higher for jobs in the consumer goods industry, it was revealed.

Mr Birchall said: “Many of these jobs are in marketing which is one of the most sought-after destinations for students. “They pay very well, the training has been developed, in some cases, over three decades and they are seen as one of the springboards to fast-track management within these organisations.”

The sheer demand for graduate jobs means the “vast majority” of companies have already closed off applications for this year, researchers said.

In a further disclosure, it emerged that salaries at Britain’s leading employers have “increased significantly” over the last six months. The average starting pay for graduates increased by £2,000 – or seven per cent – to £29,000. In investment banking, average starting salaries soared by 10 per cent to £42,000.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ban on inflated grades in Texas

Students in Texas must get the grades they earn and not an inflated score on report cards under a new state law that bans minimum grade policies, a judge decided Monday in a ruling that backed arguments from state education officials.

Eleven school districts sued Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott over his interpretation of the law, which he said should apply to class assignments and report cards. The districts, most of them in the Houston area, said it should only apply to classroom assignments.

Some districts have long had policies that establish minimum grades of 50, 60 or even 70. That means if a student failed and earned a zero, his or her grade would be automatically brought up to the minimum score.

The schools contend that not allowing students a grade below 50, for example, gives them room to improve and eventually receive course credit, since one low score could bring down the overall average. Otherwise, they argue, failing students would be more inclined to drop out.

State district Judge Gisela Triana-Doyal ruled that the law, which took effect last year, applied to both assignments and overall grades on report cards.

"She said we were interpreting the law correctly," Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said. "We've always said the legislative intent was clear, this law was supposed to apply to all grades, including report card grades. The judge today agreed with that."

The lawsuit argued that minimum grade policies help improving students. For example, if a student were to earn a 30, but then 74, 74, 73, 75 and 74 on report cards throughout the year, the only way the student would pass is if the 30 was increased to a 50.

"You do have situations where the student makes a really low grade and decides to turn things around and work hard," Mesquite Schools Superintendent Linda Henrie told the Dallas Morning News before the ruling. "If that average is too low, it's an impossible situation."

Henrie said districts would prefer to be able to set their own policies.


Tough Texas school Superintendent

Houston's new school Superintendent Terry Grier didn't flinch as 750 teachers packed a meeting in February to protest a policy that puts their jobs at risk if student test scores don't rise enough. The teachers booed as more than two dozen parents and business leaders voiced support for the hard-line approach. In the world of public education, job security traditionally is a given.

At the time, Grier had been leading HISD for six months, and while the school board drove the policy, he said he backed it "110 percent." Grier became the hero or the villain, depending on who's telling the story. "I didn't hear me getting booed," Grier joked with reporters after the board vote. "In my job, you get as old as I am … you do what's right for children. I don't expect everyone to agree with what I do or what the board advocates."

To Grier's supporters, his thick skin, independence and kids-come-first mantra are proving a successful recipe for shaking up the status quo in Texas' largest district.

But his rapid rollout of reforms in his first school year — including ousting staff, shutting down the regional offices, removing razor-wire fencing around campuses and ordering schools to serve students breakfast at their classroom desks - has cut short the happy honeymoon with teachers, principals and parents skeptical of hasty decisions.

"Terry's first 10 months have shown him to be all about children and results," said HISD board member Paula Harris. "Through this process, he's definitely ruffled the feathers of adults. "I have told Terry and other people have told him that we're nice here in the south," she said. "We say things nice. And I don't think that's a skill he has or he cares to have."

Grier, while more charismatic than his predecessor, Abelardo Saavedra, speaks bluntly about the problems he sees in the district. While most HISD schools aren't failing under Texas' rating system, Grier, a North Carolina native, has focused instead on the national Stanford test and on the dismal college graduation rates among HISD students. Grier, like his teachers, ultimately will be judged on whether his ideas improve those statistics.

"How do you celebrate when 70,000 kids (out of 200,000) cannot read on grade level?'" Grier said. "How do you sugarcoat that?"

Such frank talk appeals to the business community. "He isn't trying to succeed by setting the bar low," said Larry Kellner, the vice chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership and former chief executive of Continental Airlines.

'Gestapo tactics'

But Grier's decision to close the powerful regional offices and his "Apollo 20" school improvement plan - which forced 160 teachers and principals out of their jobs - have shaken morale.

Principals generally keep quiet during their monthly meetings with the superintendent, though some have begun speaking out, which Grier says he encourages.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, a Democrat who has blasted the new superintendent since day one, said Grier rules with "Gestapo tactics."

"Principals are scared," Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons said, before adding that the fear isn't all bad for the district. "We've been complacent for a long time, and I think a little tension causes people to really be more productive."

Grier, the first outsider to run HISD in 15 years, has brought in consultants and auditors, costing more than $386,000, to help with facilities, communications, special education, literacy curriculum and grant writing for magnet programs.

The 60-year-old Grier has stumbled some in assembling his new leadership team - with his new chief of high schools abruptly resigning this month - and the district has lost five principals to the popular charter school network KIPP, which Grier himself has praised. "You always hate to lose good principals," Grier said, "but some of the principals that left for KIPP had a track record of being successful principals and some did not."

Mary Nesbitt, the vice president of Parents for Public Schools, criticizes Grier's strategy as "fire, aim, ready." As examples, she says, the district is seeking a grant to fund new magnet programs without first evaluating its current ones. Grier also announced he wanted to sever ties with Community Education Partners but then backed down after the for-profit discipline program received a good external evaluation and had majority board support.

"For many parents the jury is still out, but we are increasingly cautious and concerned that changes are happening for change sake," Nesbitt said.

Caronetta Jones, a member of the Superintendent's Parent Advisory Committee, said she was frustrated after Grier missed two meetings but appreciated that he ordered his staff to prevent future scheduling conflicts. "He is very personable, and I like that," said Jones, the president of HISD's Council of PTAs.

Course, college credits

Perhaps Grier's biggest triumph, or at least the easiest to measure, is his first effort to improve the graduation rate. His $4 million initiative to hire graduation coaches and to put mobile computer labs in most high schools - a feat his staff accomplished in only three months - has helped nearly 700 seniors recover 944 course credits.

In addition, HISD officials estimate that students took as many as 5,000 more Advanced Placement exams under Grier's push to pay for all those enrolled in the classes to sit for the test, which can count for college credit.

State Rep. Harold Dutton, upset over Grier's investigation of former Key Middle School Principal Mable Caleb, a popular leader in northeast Houston, said HISD needs leaders who are more in touch with local communities. He is considering reintroducing a bill that would split HISD into four subdistricts with their own superintendents.

Dutton did, however, offer a hint of praise for Grier, noting that he has been more open than Saavedra to communicating. "Dr. Grier at least gave me his cell phone number," he said.


As Britain swelters in the soaring heat, school head bans sun cream for children saying 'hats are enough'

What's gone wrong in the head of this petty dictator?

A school has banned young children from applying sun cream during the heat wave, angering parents and health experts. The policy risks putting children's health at risk, according to cancer experts and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

The primary school has told parents it is sufficient to apply sun cream before their children go to school. It says that it has also provided shady areas in the school grounds and is advising children to wear sun hats.

One of the parents at the school in Wales is considering taking legal action to ensure her daughters can take sun cream to school. Claire Quince's daughters Bronte, seven, and Erin, five, are fair-skinned and have a skin condition which means they are particularly sensitive to the sun. The mother of three, 39, a fashion design student, has lived in Australia where she says the effects of sun exposure are taken very seriously.

'We had a letter from the acting head saying sun cream will not be applied by teachers and will not be allowed in school,' she said. 'My daughters are able to put it on themselves and have been brought up to put it on. I want the maximum protection for them.

'The school is putting children at risk. I've rung four other schools in the area and they all allow children to bring suncream in, or compromise on the application process.'

The school involved, Ysgol Bro Sannan in Aberbargoed, in South Wales, has refused to comment on the matter. Mrs Quince's stance was supported by Julie Barratt, director of the CIEH in Wales, who said: 'There is a concern about teachers not being willing to touch children because of being accused on inappropriate behaviour. But the point is that children can apply the cream themselves and the teachers can supervise.

'There is plenty of evidence that a severe episode of sunburn in childhood means you are more likely to see skin cancer as an adult. 'It is no good suggesting children stay in the shade. We are supposed to be encouraging them to run about and take exercise.' She added: 'The effectiveness of suncream starts to diminish after two hours. Consequently, it is just not good enough to tell a parent to put it on before they go to school.'

Caroline Cerny of Cancer Research UK said: 'Our recommendation to schools is to allow children to bring in their own suncream and supervise its application. But we recognise that this can be difficult.'

A spokesman for the local authority Caerphilly Council said: 'Guidance has been provided [to schools] on sun protection. In this particular case the school has provided shaded areas, purchased suncare hats for all pupils and advised parents to apply a high-factor suncream before children attend school.' The council said the school is reconsidering its policy.

The controversy came as weathermen said the heat wave could continue for another week. Weather forecaster Gareth Harvey said temperatures would drop slightly compared to yesterday, with rain predicted for tonight. He said: 'It looks as though it's going to stay very warm into next week, especially across the south-eastern quarter of the UK.

The warning came as much of Britain was on course for another hot week. Yesterday saw temperatures rise to 82.6f (28.1c) at Heathrow - down on the weekend's peak of 87.6f (30.9c) at Gravesend, Kent. It was so hot yesterday that some roads began to melt.

However, the wall-to-wall sunshine of the last couple of days is expected to be replaced with occasional light showers and cloud elsewhere in the UK.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Loss of a common standard affects education and the republic

America was founded as a nation of different peoples held together by the idea of Democracy and the primacy of the Common Good.

In an age when Congress itself is paralyzed by partisan interests, let us celebrate the Fourth of July by revisiting the democratic ideals on which the country was founded. And let’s remember that our Founding Fathers believed that the only force that would maintain their intrinsically precarious democracy was education — common knowledge and skills taught in Common Schools.

Toward the beginning of his latest book, “The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools,” E.D. Hirsch Jr. recounts the famous story of Benjamin Franklin leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787. A woman asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Even in the 18th century, immigrants poured into our then-new nation, so the Founders’ challenge was to design and teach a practical, community-first faith that could encompass all of what Hirsch calls the “tribes,” separated by religion, language, cultural habits or nations of origin. Tribes are naturally self-interested. So to prevent any one set of partisan interests from becoming powerful enough to dictate to others, democracy needed, says Hirsch, “a special new brand of citizens who, unlike the citizens of Rome and other failed republics, would subordinate their local interests to the common good.”

The Founders were not concerned that students become technically proficient or job-ready. Common knowledge and skills would include spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic and American history — knowledge and skills that would fit them for their public life as a future citizen.

A half-century later, in a speech titled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” Abraham Lincoln expressed the idea this way:

“Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.”

Democracy’s common laws were to be a secular religion, able to hold together the disparate religions, among other human differences.

In the 1880s, the newly composed Pledge of Allegiance to the flag replaced chapel as the morning ritual in public schools.

Hirsch, also the author of the bestseller “Cultural Literacy,” notes that at the beginning of the 20th century, American education began to lose its way. A needless, destructive split separated the common curriculum from a “child-centered” education that nourished a love of learning. These are not mutually exclusive at all. Modern technology and techniques can make any learning exciting, including the history and skills our forefathers hoped would teach children an allegiance to their larger community. But over the 20th century, specific content slipped slowly from the curriculum, leaving little common knowledge.

Back in the 1950s, baby boomers (like me) learned the happy story of the Thanksgiving feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Indians. Good teachers beefed up the lesson with interesting details, timelines and pictures to guide us to the historical period, the religious reasons the Pilgrims made the dangerous journey, and the place on the map where they landed (far away from my hometown). The story only became nuanced later in our schooling.

Hirsch observes that in the 1980s, people began to draw away from our commonality and into constituencies — gender, race, religious and national origins. While culturally important, Hirsch calls the era of ROOTS the “neo-tribalism,” that eventually grew into the shrill partisanship now dominating modern public discourse. Cynicism grew like mold around the pie-in-the-sky ideal of the common good.

Ideologues became offended by the Thanksgiving story, because it omitted the admittedly serious downside to the Native Americans of the coming of the white man. Educators became fearful of offending any group. But no parent wanted their small child subjected to an Indian-oppression story at holiday time. So Thanksgiving morphed into a generic food event with no historical content at all.

The simple Thanksgiving story isn’t a lie; it just isn’t the whole story, as we know history unfolded. But it is a foundational myth, as Hirsch says, “to achieve commonality of language and knowledge and a shared loyalty to the public good.”

By scrubbing the curriculum of anything that does not meet political correctness, we fail to teach our children about the democratic faith. And by doing so, we invite them to take our freedom and heritage for granted. American children need to understand that cultivating the common good allows each of us to thrive as a unique, even eccentric individual.

Hirsch says, “Students need to leave school with a good understanding of the civic principles under which the United States operates and with an emotional commitment to making this political experiment continue to work.”

By all means, help the students become job-ready. But let it be secondary. Schools and public officials, like labor and management, would do well to model and teach the mutual benefits of holding the entire community’s common welfare as the primary value.

It’s the American way, or should be.


History and geography 'diminishing' in British schools, says head

Subjects such as English, history and geography are being marginalised as schools ditch academic rigour in favour of “accessibility”, according to a leading headmistress. Key swathes of the traditional curriculum are being lost in state schools to make lessons more appealing to bored pupils, it is claimed.

Bernice McCabe, head of fee-paying North London Collegiate School, says subject content has been stripped from history classes and geography has been transformed into a “vehicle” for pursuing a political agenda, increasingly focusing on issues such as citizenship, sustainability and climate change.

The comments will be made in a speech today to the Prince’s Teaching Institute, a charity established by the Prince of Wales to help teachers rediscover their passion for subjects.

Mrs McCabe, the charity’s director, has been critical of reforms to the education system in recent years, claiming that schools have been forced to focus on social issues such as obesity, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and bullying at the expense of proper subject teaching.

Addressing teachers at the charity’s summer school in Cambridge, she will say that the trend has led to a decline in the number of children studying vital subjects as schools struggle to "reconcile academic rigour with accessibility".

“English literature, history and geography are of fundamental importance and should be at the centre of every child’s educational experience, as the means whereby they acquire a fuller understanding of themselves and of their place in the world,” she says.

“My greatest worry, which I am sure many of you share, is that a diminishing number of children in our schools are now getting the benefit of studying them in any depth.”

She says that more than a quarter of teenagers now fail to study English literature at GCSE “and the number is rising”. Compulsory history and geography syllabuses are often “compressed” into the first two years of secondary school, she says, and “no more than a third of the cohort carry on with either subject to GCSE”.

The charity’s summer school – an annual conference promoting high standards of secondary teaching – will focus on the three subject areas this year.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is due to address the event on Tuesday. The Coalition has already pledged to review the National Curriculum to set out the subject content children will be expected to master at each key stage of education.

Speaking earlier this year, Mr Gove said that most parents supported a “traditional education” in which children learned the “kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11 [and] modern foreign languages”.

Mrs McCabe will use her speech today to say that history “has suffered more than most from attempts to make it more relevant and less boring”.

She adds: “Geography has no difficulty in establishing its credentials of relevance to the modern world and its challenges, since that is its field. “The educational problem is that it has been increasingly treated just as a vehicle for pursuing different agenda – citizenship, sustainability, and climate change for instance – rather than as an academic discipline in its own right.”


British Education standards are a 'disgrace', claims BT boss

A BT boss has condemned education standards as a 'disgrace' after receiving thousands of applications from 'illiterate' school-leavers. Sir Michael Rake, chairman of the telecoms giant, said the firm had received 26,000 applications for 170 places on its apprenticeship scheme starting this autumn.

But 6,000 - nearly a quarter - were not even worthy of consideration. 'They were unable to complete the form because they could not spell, put it together or read properly - completely illiterate,' said Sir Michael. 'It's a disgrace. The politicians have a huge amount to answer for over the past 50 to 60 years.'

Sir Michael, who is also chairman of easyJet, was speaking ahead of a 'festival of education' being staged at Wellington College next weekend. He was educated there and is on the public school's board of governors. 'We have some of the best schools in the world and some of the worst,' he said. 'Those basic skills are still a massive problem.'

He is the latest in a string of industry bosses to lament British education in recent months. Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco's chief executive, said standards were 'still woefully low in to many schools' and that companies were 'often left to pick up the pieces'.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco's director of corporate and legal affairs and one of the most powerful women in British business, condemned a lack of discipline at school as she complained that growing numbers of British school-leavers have 'attitude problems' and believe the world 'owes them a living'.

Meanwhile Sir Stuart Rose, the Marks and Spencer boss, said too many school-leavers 'cannot to reading..cannot do arithmetic ..cannot do writing'.

In the latest intervention, Sir Michael, in an interview with the Sunday Times, attacked an 'obsession' with pushing more school-leavers to university. 'If you look at Scotland, it has the highest graduation rate [in the UK], but lower productivity than northeast England,' he said.

'There is a very interesting question about whether university degrees turn into productivity. 'Too many people are going into the wrong courses....many universities are just desperate to fill places and get their grants.'

Sir Mike said school-leavers were increasingly choosing apprenticeships over university. 'A lot of their friends are finding themselves coming out of university or college with a degree that may not be very useful from a practical point of view, with a big debt and no job,' he said. 'The realisation that an apprenticeship could be a better option than university for many people reminded us starkly of this huge literacy problem. 'We have people who want them but don't have the basic skills to do them. It's really disturbing.'


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Secular Israeli court attacks freedom of religion in the name of anti-discrimination

Persecutes strictly Orthodox Jews of European origin over separate religious schooling for their children

What could the High Court have been hoping to achieve by ordering 43 parents from Emmanuel jailed for contempt of court for sending their children to a hassidic school in Bnei Brak, after it had banned a separate hassidic track within the Beit Ya’acov school in Emmanuel?

All the court succeeded in doing was unifying the diverse haredi community by striking directly at the very heart of haredi life – the right of parents to transmit the Torah to the children, according to their convictions. Even a neighbor who regularly stops me to air his criticisms of the haredi leadership was gung-ho for last week’s Jerusalem protest rally.

The prayer gathering on Thursday drew a crowd estimated at 100,000 or more, and was the antithesis of a series of demonstrations involving a few hundred demonstrators, primarily drawn from Mea She’arim, over the past year. The broader haredi community looked on the latter with horror when they turned violent. Last week’s gathering, called by a broad cross-section of rabbinical authorities, was, by contrast, completely peaceful.

BESIDES UNIFYING the diverse haredi community, a second unintended consequence of the court’s sentencing of the parents to jail was to reinforce the most conservative elements in the haredi community. A community that feels besieged will draw the wagons tighter. At a time when many in the haredi community seek greater economic integration into the broader society, the court unwittingly gave credence to those who suspect the government of seeking to destroy haredi society, and dealt a setback to those who do not believe that relations between haredim and non-haredim are a zero-sum game.

The court foolishly chose to enter a power struggle it could not win. For haredim raised on stories of Jews throughout history who gave up their lives rather than betray their beliefs, the relatively minor “martyrdom” of two weeks in jail is little deterrent. By sentencing mothers and fathers of large families to jail, Justice Edmond Levy cast himself in the role of Antiochus trying to force each of Hannah’s seven sons to bow down to him.

Sunday’s report that he asked the attorney-general to launch a criminal investigation of haredi MKs for their criticism of the court demonstrates the degree to which he has been maddened by the desire to prevail, no matter how Pyrrhic the victory.

The court’s contempt order was not only strategically counterproductive, but legally dubious. Contempt orders normally apply only to the parties to a case. The parents were not parties to the original suit against the Education Ministry and Hinuch Atzma’i. Nor did the court’s original order direct them to do anything.

So what did the court gain from its efforts? In less than two weeks, the school year ends and the parents will be freed. And the court has already indicated that next year the Slonimer Hassidim will be allowed to establish their own fully independent school in Emmanuel or bus their children to Bnei Brak. Ironically, the ones most hurt by the court’s order are the Sephardi girls currently enrolled in the hassidic track. If no hassidic school is established next year in Emmanuel, they may be forced to return to the general Beit Ya’acov school, where a number of them have complained of being bullied for acting “too Ashkenazi” – i.e. too observant.

FROM THE BEGINNING, the dispute over the two tracks in the Emmanuel Beit Ya’acov – hassidic and general – has been falsely portrayed as a case of blatant ethnic discrimination.

It would not be surprising if there were few Sephardi girls in the hassidic track – there were, after all, few Sephardim in the areas of Eastern Europe from which Slonimer Hassidim hail – but, in fact, over a quarter of the girls in the hassidic track are of Sephardi origin.

Advocate Mordechai Bas, who was appointed by the Education Ministry to evaluate the school, found that while the split of the school was administratively improper, “it was not done with the intention of discriminating against students because of their ethnic background.”

“No parent who wanted or wants to register their daughters in the new school, and who was or is prepared to meet the conditions for doing so, has been refused,” Bas determined.

One might think that the religious restrictions in the hassidic track are too strict. (My daughter, for instance, would not have been accepted.) In the Internet age, however, when one student exposed to pornographic material can affect an entire class, the trend in all haredi schools has been toward greater protections.

And one might support a more inclusive approach, such as that of the Klausenberger Hassidim in Netanya, whose school system includes a very large percentage of Sephardi girls from the orphanage founded by the late Klausenberger Rebbe. But there are dozens of government-supported hassidic girls’ schools in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak made up primarily of students drawn from one hassidic court or another. (Ironically, when other hassidic groups broke away from the general Jerusalem Beit Ya’acov system in 1989, Slonimer Hassidim remained behind with the “Lithuanians” and Sephardim.)

The court has explicitly recognized the right of Beit Ya’acov schools to determine criteria of religious conduct. The only thing different in Emmanuel is that the hassidic track shared the same building with the general track.

The High Court did not question the finding that no parent seeking admission to the hassidic track had been turned away. Rather, Justice Levy summarily concluded that the underrepresentation of Sephardim in the hassidic track demonstrates ipso facto discriminatory intent. By that standard, the High Court is the most discriminatory institution in the country.

Levy is the only one of the 14 permanent members of the current court of Sephardi origin, a consistent pattern since 1948. Former court president Aharon Barak once told a group of journalists that it would be impossible to increase Sephardi representation on the court without diluting its quality. Yet that remark was largely covered up by the media.

AFTER THE court, the most overwhelmingly Ashkenazi institution in the country is broadcast journalism. Yet the media have been quick to hurl the racism label at Slonimer Hassidim. I listened to radio interviews in which the interviewer simply ignored hassidic parents when they cited the significant number of Sephardim in the hassidic track, and returned, without pause, to badgering them about why they discriminated against Sephardim.

The AP report of last week’s demonstrations reflected the Israeli media in willfully ignoring the undisputed fact that no Sephardi parent had been discriminated against: “Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at a girls’ school in the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel don’t want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim.”

Last Friday’s front-page headline in The Jerusalem Post described the hassidic track in Emmanuel as a “segregated” school – a characterization about as accurate as the frequent characterization of Israel as an “apartheid state.”

Indeed there are numerous parallels between the recent media treatment of haredim and the world media’s treatment of Israel – something perhaps worth pondering.

Is the haredi community free of all taint of ethnic prejudice? Of course not. There are yeshivot, for instance, where a Sephardi applicant from an impeccable haredi home will need to be better than his Ashkenazi counterpart to be accepted – a point noted critically by numerous haredi commentators last week.

But Emmanuel was not a reflection of that prejudice. And unless one believes, as some do, that it does not matter that Muhammad al-Dura was not shot by Israeli bullets because other Palestinian children may have been, it is an injustice to report the dispute in Emmanuel that way.


Wealthier CA cities ready to pay more to preserve school standards


To help protect their schools from California's unrelenting budget crisis, some communities are voting to pay more property taxes to preserve teacher jobs, smaller class sizes and electives such as art and music.

So far this year, more than 20 districts have held elections for school parcel taxes, which are levied on individual parcels of property, and at least 16 have approved them. More districts are trying to place such measures on the ballot later this year.

But the tax measures, which require a two-thirds majority to pass, are mostly winning approval in smaller, wealthier districts, according to education experts, raising worries about growing inequality between schools in rich and poor communities.

"It's a story of widening disparity," said John Rogers, who heads the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. "Across the state, the pain is felt everywhere, but because of the unequal distribution of wealth, some areas are able to respond."

Some California lawmakers and education advocates are pushing legislation that would lower the percentage of the vote needed to pass a school parcel tax to 55 percent.

The two-thirds threshold was just out of reach for Alameda, a San Francisco Bay area city that failed to pass a school parcel tax Tuesday even though nearly 66 percent of voters approved it.

Hundreds of volunteers staffed phone banks and knocked on doors to campaign for Measure E, which would have given the city some of California's highest school taxes, with homeowners paying $659 annually. But it was fiercely opposed by commercial property owners who would pay up to $9,500 per parcel each year.

"Measure E won. It just didn't pass," said John Knox White, a parent with two children in Alameda schools. "Where else do we say that one-third of voters should have veto power over a huge majority? That's not representative democracy."

Now the 9,500-student school district is moving ahead with a plan to increase class sizes, cut adult education, eliminate its gifted student program, shorten the school year and lay off dozens of teachers and guidance counselors. Several neighborhood schools could be closed next year.

"The kind of impact it's going to have on students and incoming students is going to be immense," said Maya Robles-Wong, an incoming senior at Alameda High School. "I'm more worried for my sister and future generations of Alameda High School students."

Robles-Wong and Alameda Unified School District are among the plaintiffs in a high-profile lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's school finance system. They allege the system leads to unequal learning opportunities and doesn't provide enough money for students to meet the state's rigorous academic standards.

Education advocates, meanwhile, are urging Congress to provide another round of emergency money for schools, warning that up to 300,000 teachers could lose their jobs as federal stimulus funds dry up.

"I'm desperately worried about the loss of teacher jobs as we go into the fall," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told teachers at a meeting in Marin County Friday. "We have to take action now."

By voting to raise local property taxes at the district level, some locales are reversing a 30-year-old trend in which states took the more prominent role in education funding, said Kim Rueben, an economist with the Urban Center's Tax Policy Center. But Rueben also noted the resulting disparity: "Some places will be more able to pass these taxes than others."

Between 2001 and June 2009, 83 of California's 980 school districts approved parcel taxes, but most of those districts have less than 10,000 students and serve fewer low-income children than the average district, according to Edsource, an education research group.

The wealthy Bay Area suburb of Piedmont, which has some of California's top public schools, has passed parcel taxes seven times in the past 25 years, including two last year. Homeowners in the 2,550-student district pay more than $2,000 in school parcel taxes each year.

By contrast, Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest with nearly 700,000 students, failed to pass a modest $100 per parcel tax in June. The district is laying off thousands of teachers and other school employees as it grapples with a massive budget deficit.

Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction, wants to reduce the threshold to pass school parcel taxes from 66.7 percent to 55 percent, which would allow more communities to secure extra money for schools and reduce inequality among districts.

"We should provide the mechanism for districts to have a legitimate shot" at passing school parcel taxes, O'Connell said. "Think about how many school districts don't even try to pass a parcel tax because they don't think they can get the two-thirds vote."

But taxpayer advocates say there should be a high bar to raise property taxes, especially at a time when many homeowners are struggling financially.

"The two-thirds threshold forces the proponents of the tax make a good argument about why the tax is needed," said David Kline, a spokesman for the California Taxpayers Association. "It gives more protection to the homeowners who will ultimately be paying a higher property tax for many years to come."


An independent school makes an attempt to revive history teaching in Britain

If it were not so poignant, it would be hilarious. Ignorance of British history among British schoolchildren has now reached the point that, in a recent survey of young people, one in six thought Oliver Cromwell had led England to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson’s column might as well not have been erected. History doesn’t relate who those surveyed thought had won the Civil War. Henry the Fifth? Gladstone? W G Grace?

Great tranches of British history are ignored in schools, squeezed out of the curriculum by the events of the 20th century. When my daughters were doing history for GCSE, they knew more about the Nazis than the Nazis did. But ask them about earlier British history and they struggled.

David Cameron, in a fine phrase, has railed against the “tapas” approach to the teaching of history: bite-sized chunks, largely unrelated to each other. The Government will have its work cut out if it is to reverse an alarming trend. The percentage of pupils opting to take a history GCSE fell from 35 per cent to 31 per cent during the Labour years. Something meatier than tapas is needed. But what?

At one leading independent school, Brighton College, they think they have found the answer. In September 2009, the school introduced a non-examined Story of Our Land course for pupils in years 7 and 8, before the GCSE syllabus kicks in. More than three hours of teaching a week are devoted to the new course, which is an ambitious synthesis of history, geography and religion, tracing the development of the British Isles from the pre-Christian era to the present day.

"For too long, the teaching of history in schools was coloured by anti-imperialist thinking, embarrassment about battles England had won or countries it had colonised," explains Simon Smith, Second Master at the school. "The syllabus became too compartmentalised as a result. Pupils lost sight of the bigger picture. Teach children about the Anglo-Saxons, say, and they are fascinated. But how many of them are taught that far back?"

For Smith, it makes sense to teach history sequentially, rather than dipping into it at random, because young minds cope best with a simple narrative structure. "When I was at school, we were taught the Kings and Queens of England by rote. Willie Willie Harry Stee, Harry Dick John Harry Three, et cetera. That was useful, but limiting. We got the scaffolding, but not the cladding. I hope our new course does more to put historical events in their proper context."

Among 11 and 12 year-olds, the course has been a hit, particularly the classes dealing with early British history. Long before pupils get to the Battle of Hastings, they have learnt about prehistoric Britain, the emergence of the Celtic races, the Roman invasion and the coming of Christianity. "The kids cannot seem to get enough of Caractacus, St Alban, and Kings Alfred, Guthrum and Cnut," says deputy headmistress Jo-Anne Riley, who has been responsible for structuring the Story of Our Land course. "I have also been able to push forward the idea of strong medieval women like Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine alongside Thomas Becket."

Where old-style history teaching placed too much emphasis on facts – which monarch followed which, the dates of major battles – the Brighton College course attempts a more holistic approach. Thus the geographical shaping of Britain – how towns and villages were settled and the impact of agriculture on the land – is studied alongside the changing nature of faith, with paganism being overtaken by Christianity which, in turn, has been overtaken by the religious pluralism of the 21st century.

As the different pieces of the jigsaw begin to fall into place, pupils will be able to see that our modern democracy does not date from the 1832 Great Reform Act, but has roots stretching back hundreds of years.

The course is so ambitious in scope that, inevitably, there is a danger that less bright pupils will struggle to assimilate so much material. But better, surely, to be too ambitious than not ambitious enough. Brighton College has thrown down the gauntlet to other schools, who despair of turning out children with more than the most sketchy knowledge of British history.

"Once children see the big picture, they are able to make connections between the world they see around them and historical patterns that have repeated themselves over time," Smith says.

He believes that the course will help children to be proud of their country. "We are a mongrel race. We were invaded many times. We imported far more from others, in terms of religion and culture, than we ever exported. And it is those rich multicultural roots that make this country so special." [That's a bit absurd but it's good spin in an era of political correctness]