Saturday, July 24, 2010

Christian beliefs forbidden at Augusta State University?

Late yesterday afternoon, the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Augusta State University counseling student Jennifer Keeton. Her tale has to be read to be believed. Essentially, the facts are as follows.

Jennifer is a devout Christian and holds biblically orthodox views regarding sexual morality. In the context of classroom discussions of homosexual behavior, she expressed her Christian views, and has also shared those views with her classmates outside of class. She has stated, for example, that she believes that sexual behavior is the result of personal choice rather than an inevitability arising from deterministic forces.

These thoughts have displeased the counseling department, and it has expressed that displeasure in writing:
Another equally important question that has arisen over the last two semesters is Jen’s ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations. Jen has voiced disagreement in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian “lifestyle.” She stated in one paper that she believes GLBTQ “lifestyles” to be identity confusion. This was during her enrollment in the Diversity Sensitivity course and after the presentation on GLBTQ populations....

Faculty have also received unsolicited reports from another student that [Miss Keeton] has relayed her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations, and she has tried to convince other students to support and believe her views.

To alter Jennifer’s views, the faculty imposed a “remediation plan,” that included “diversity sensitivity training,” required Jennifer to read at least ten articles in peer-reviewed journals that “pertain to improving counseling effectiveness with GLBTQ populations,” and (my personal favorite) required that she “increase exposure and interaction with gay populations,” including a suggestion that she attend the “Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.”

As she did all these things, Jennifer was required to submit a monthly two-page “reflection paper” to describe how “her study has influenced her beliefs.” Counseling faculty would then decide, based on these “reflections” and two in-person meetings, whether she should continue in the program.
Her “remediation plan” ends with the ominous warning: “Please note that failure to complete all elements of the remediation plan will result in dismissal from the Counselor Education Program.”

It’s simply stunning that state officials mandate that students change their religious beliefs. It’s egregious enough that out-of-class speech can be punished with a “remediation plan,” but to reach into a student’s very heart and soul to determine whether they’re — in essence — a good enough person to graduate? The state hasn’t just stepped over the line, it’s jumped across with both feet.

Unfortunately, as numerous other cases from the fields of education, social work, and counseling demonstrate, our public universities often see themselves high priests of the helping professions, where there is only one way to view key moral issues regarding sexuality, behavior, and identity. Yet there is room for disagreement. There is room for a Christian voice in the counseling profession.


Official British schools body warns sex lessons are leaving out marriage

Schools are teaching pupils all they need to know about the biology of sex but place little emphasis on the importance of marriage and loving relationships, Ofsted inspectors warn today.

Sex education lessons are marred by teachers’ embarrassment and a failure to discuss the possibility that you can ‘say no’ to intercourse.

One in three secondary schools is failing to provide good quality teaching in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) which includes lessons on sex, drugs and alcohol, Ofsted warns in a report.

Inspectors criticise a failure in many schools to consult parents about the content and timing of lessons despite their sensitive nature.

Some lessons used ‘inappropriate resources’ and failed to match work to pupils’ maturity, suggesting some are exposed to materials too advanced for their age.

Ofsted suggests that schools use storylines from popular TV dramas as a starting point for some lessons. Pupils may need help to ‘make sense of ’ sensitive scenes they have seen, it is claimed.


One in five sexually-active teenage girls has been pregnant by the age of 18, shocking figures revealed yesterday.

The first survey of its kind found that 83 per cent of girls have lost their virginity by this age and 18 per cent of these youngsters have been pregnant at least once.

About half chose to keep their babies and more than a third had an abortion, according to the Government survey. A further 18 per cent reported having had a miscarriage.

Incredibly, more than 1,300 18-year-old girls have been pregnant three times.

Previous research has shown that girls feel they are under increasing pressure to have sex before they are ready, partly because of sexy images projected in marketing and teen magazines.

The statistics from this latest study show more than a quarter of girls said they had not waited until the age of consent and 27 per cent of 4,298 girls questioned for the study had lost their virginity by the time they turned 16.

The data once again reignites the controversy over Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate, which is the highest in Western Europe, and Labour’s decade of failure to tackle the problem. Figures released earlier this year revealed there were more pregnancies among girls under 18 in England in 2008 than there were in 2001.

Family values campaigners have long warned that easy access to contraception and poor quality sex education which fails to encourage teenagers to say ‘no’ are fuelling the problem.

The survey shows how education plays an important role for youngsters as they are significantly less likely to have been pregnant by 18 if they did well at school and their parents have degrees. Children who live with both parents are half as likely to engage in underage sex according to the study, published by the Department for Education.

The research relied on girls answering truthfully and there is no way of verifying their responses.


Australia's Leftist government wants to bring back compulsory unionism for students

And from long experience we know that a lot of the money raised will be spent on far-Left causes that few students agree with

THE Education Minister, Simon Crean, has promised a re-elected Labor government would try again to change the law to allow universities to charge students compulsory fees to pay for sporting facilities, health clinics and other non-academic amenities.

Labor introduced legislation last year to allow universities to charge students up to $250 a year to fund services such as childcare, counselling and career guidance, but it was blocked in the Senate by the Coalition and the Family First senator, Steve Fielding.

Mr Crean told the Herald such services were ''integral to giving people the opportunity to undertake a university education'' and he called upon the Coalition to reconsider its position.

''The opposition has an ideological bent against this concept. They're called student union fees. They see union, they go ballistic,'' he said.

The proposals were aimed at restoring services lost from campuses after the Howard government outlawed compulsory student union fees in 2005, stripping an estimated $170 million a year from student services budgets.

The opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, said it would continue to oppose Labor's plans.

But the Coalition may not be able to block the legislation if, as is widely tipped, the Greens win the balance of power in the Senate. The Greens education spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said it must be a priority in the new parliament.

The president of the National Union of Students, Carla Drakeford, said after waiting for Labor to fulfil its 2007 promise, students would expect a re-elected Labor government to make the change within six months. She said the NUS would lobby the Greens to amend the legislation, to require universities to pass on some of the money to student unions.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Bright lights, bad teaching

Teachers’ unions on the big-screen

Facing thousands of worried members at the annual convention of the National Education Association on July 3, the head of the nation’s largest teachers’ union sounded a little whiny.

“Today, our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment that I have ever experienced,” said Dennis Van Roekel, the NEA’s president.

Leaving aside the bizarre suggestion that there is burgeoning anti-student sentiment in America, Roekel’s concerns are well-founded: For the first time in living memory, poor-performing teachers and the unions that protect them are under real scrutiny. So much so that even documentarians—the most liberal enclave of the most liberal institution (the entertainment-industrial complex) in American society— are now taking aim at union excesses.

Theaters across the country have seen an explosion of films that cast a critical eye on public schools and the reasons for their failures. First up was The Cartel, a look at the impact teachers’ unions have had on schools in New Jersey. Bob Bowdon’s documentary betrays its limited budget​—it’s the roughest-looking of the new releases​— but successfully drives home the fact that throwing money at the problem of our public schools will solve nothing: New Jersey has one of the highest per capita rates of spending on education in the country. Governor Chris Christie has taken this lesson to heart; he is waging a fierce battle to improve New Jersey’s failing public schools while also tamping down runaway costs.

Currently in theaters is The Lottery, an alternately heartbreaking and infuriating work. Madeleine Sackler follows a quartet of students as they enter a lottery to attend a charter school in New York City. Heartbreaking are the scenes of parents who want little more than the chance for their kids to get a decent education; infuriating are the scenes of union-organized protests against charter schools (including a guest appearance from ACORN rabble-rousers), local politicians firmly in the pocket of the city’s unions railing against charter schools, and statistics underscoring how hard it is to fire terrible teachers.

Union leaders have said they are just as frustrated by lousy teachers as parents are and just as committed to getting underperforming educators out of the classroom. This would inspire laughter if it weren’t so maddening: Citing Department of Education statistics, The Lottery reports that in the 2006-07 school year only 10 of 55,000 tenured teachers were fired from New York City’s public schools at a cost of $250,000 per removal. It’s a problem we see across the nation: Whereas one in 57 doctors loses their license and one in 97 lawyers, only one in 2,500 tenured teachers is ever removed from the classroom.

That last statistic comes from Waiting for “Superman,” arguably the most important of the new releases. Directed by Davis Guggenheim—the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth—it was the Centerpiece Screening at Silverdocs, an important film festival for documentarians. Guggenheim unloads on teachers’ unions with both barrels in his film, lambasting them for protecting terrible teachers at the expense of students and for stymying efforts to improve the schoolhouses they have captured.

Like The Lottery, Waiting for “Superman” follows a group of schoolchildren vying for spots in charter schools. But Guggenheim’s work is broader and more ambitious; he tackles school districts across the country, in both urban and suburban areas.

Time and again, Guggenheim and the reformers he interviews come back to the troubling aspects of teacher tenure. Like its cousin in higher education, tenure is a guarantee of employment for life. Unlike in higher education, however, tenure is handed out to virtually every public school teacher after a short wait, typically two to three years. When layoffs occur, school districts are forced to operate on a “last hired, first fired” basis instead of deciding who to keep based on merit. The one-two combo of tenure and seniority has made it almost impossible to fire poor teachers.


Score 47% for an A: Watchdog says standards are still too low in British high school science exams

Teenagers have gained A grades in GCSE science despite scoring less than 50 per cent, the exams watchdog revealed yesterday. In a damning report, Ofqual said standards were still 'too low' in the subject and questions not difficult enough despite a warning to exam boards to toughen up their papers.

The watchdog found evidence of over-reliance on multiple choice and questions that pointed candidates towards the answer instead of testing scientific knowledge.

On some papers, 'grade boundaries were too low to ensure candidates showed a satisfactory range of knowledge and understanding'. One exam board gave a pupil a C grade GCSE despite scoring only 20 per cent and another an A after getting 47 per cent in a paper.

Too many questions placed 'low demands' on pupils and failed to provide a 'sufficient challenge' for the most able.

Ofqual reserved its harshest criticism for exams set by two boards: OCR and Edexcel. They awarded significantly higher proportions of A and C grades than other boards and statistical indicators would warrant.

But it declined to name the boards which had allowed marks of 47 per cent for an A grade and 20 per cent for a C grade.

Ofqual first warned about standards in GCSE science in March last year, stating that the courses gave 'serious cause for concern'. Boards were ordered to make changes and more challenging papers were prepared for use in September this year. But these were rejected for still being too easy, forcing exam boards to try again.

Today's report, carried out in collaboration with DCELLS, the Welsh watchdog, said: 'The findings of this investigation did not differ significantly from those found in previous investigations, thus adding further evidence that standards are currentlytoo low in GCSE science and additional science qualifications.'
Enlarge Questions.jpg

Ofqual chief executive Isabel Nisbet said: 'There is still some way to go to ensure that these important qualifications meet the high standards that Ofqual requires.'

An OCR spokesman said: ' Following Ofqual's 2008 scrutiny, like all boards, OCR made some changes to science examination papers but these did not affect the papers for the 2009 series, which were the subject of this report. 'The first series in which examination papers were issued with a revised structure was January 2010.'

An Edexcel spokesman said: 'We are committed to ensuring GCSE science remains a credible, highly recognised qualification.'

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: 'It is worrying Ofqual has found that such weaknesses remained in GCSE sciences last year. 'We want all qualifications to be as rigorous as possible and as good as any in the world.'


Australia: Young should get research grants priority

I can see some point in this. Scientists are at their most original and open-minded in their youth. After about 30 they tend to ossify mentally

AFFIRMATIVE action for young research-grant applicants is among the recommendations of a report on ways to drive international collaborative research. The report, Australia's International Research Collaboration, also calls for action to streamline the processing of visa applications from overseas academics sponsored to work here.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation, which wrote the report, was told that it could take up to a year for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to process visa applications, and some applications had been rejected. But the department defended its performance.

The report comes as Australia, which produces less than 3 per cent of the world's knowledge, moves to embed itself more deeply in the international scientific community in an increasingly globalised world.

The committee considered written submissions and evidence given in public hearings by government, academe, industry and embassies. The report identified problems facing early career scientists as some of the biggest obstacles to international collaboration.

Young scientists, up against researchers with proven track records, had trouble getting their projects funded. "Research funding has been found to have the tendency to invite further funding," the report says. "As research continues, and publication and citations increase, researchers are more likely to be successful in funding rounds, but many younger early-career researchers have found it difficult to break into the funding regime."

The report recommends allocating 10 per cent of Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council grants to early-career researchers who are first-time award winners.

Meanwhile, some "non-scientists viewed overseas travel . . . as an indulgence", the committee heard. Many scientists, especially those at the start of their careers, could not fund travel to forge links with colleagues overseas and use offshore facilities. The committee called for a small-grants scheme to support the travel expenses of early-career scientists who had won time on foreign instruments.

It also expressed concern about delays in the processing of visa applications. "The witnesses were upset that . . . dependable academics, who were coming to Australia only to work on research projects and were no risk of overstaying, had their applications rejected," the report says. Some eminent researchers and academics have refused to come back to Australia after experiencing difficulties in getting to the country in the first instance, it found.

But the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told the inquiry that cases of long delays were rare and many universities had been using the wrong visa sub-class.

The report also expresses concern about uncertainty surrounding the international science linkages program. The program, which supports scientists who have joined forces with colleagues overseas on projects, is under review, and due to wind up at the end of the financial year, the report says.

The committee recommended that the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research announce a successor program as soon as possible.

The Australian Academy of Science, which spearheaded a campaign on international collaboration, welcomed the report. The government is due to respond to the report in September.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bias and Bigotry in America's Academia

Pat Buchanan

A decade ago, activist Ron Unz conducted a study of the ethnic and religious composition of the student body at Harvard. Blacks and Hispanics, Unz found, were then being admitted to his alma mater in numbers approaching their share of the population.

And who were the most underrepresented Americans at Harvard? White Christians and ethnic Catholics. Though two-thirds of the U.S. population then, they had dropped to one-fourth of the student body.

Comes now a more scientific study from Princeton sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford to confirm that a deep bias against the white conservative and Christian young of America is pervasive at America's elite colleges and Ivy League schools.

The Espenshade-Radford study "draws from ... the National Study of College Experience ... gathered from eight highly competitive private colleges and universities (entering freshman SAT scores: 1360)," writes Princeton Professor Russell K. Nieli, who has summarized the findings:

Elite college admissions officers may prattle about "diversity," but what they mean is the African-American contingent on campus should be 5 percent to 7 percent, with Hispanics about as numerous. However, "an estimated 40-50 of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants," who never suffered segregation or Jim Crow.

To achieve even these percentages, however, the discrimination against white and Asian applicants, because of the color of their skin and where their ancestors came from, is astonishing.

As Nieli puts it, "Being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white ... equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1,600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310-point SAT advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points."

"To have the same chance of gaining admission as a black student with a SAT score of 1100, a Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550."

Was this what the civil rights revolution was all about -- requiring kids whose parents came from Korea, Japan or Vietnam to get a perfect SAT score of 1600 to be given equal consideration with a Jamaican or Kenyan kid who got an 1150? Is this what it means to be an Ivy League progressive?

What are the historic and moral arguments for discriminating in favor of kids from Angola and Argentina over kids whose parents came from Poland and Vietnam?

There is yet another form of bigotry prevalent among our academic elite that is a throwback to the snobbery of the WASPs of yesterday. While Ivy League recruiters prefer working-class to middle-class black kids with the same test scores, the reverse is true with white kids.

White kids from poor families who score as well as white kids from wealthy families -- think George W. Bush -- not only get no break, they seem to be the most undesirable and unwanted of all students.

Though elite schools give points to applicants for extracurricular activities, especially for leadership roles and honors, writes Nieli, if you played a lead role in Future Farmers of America, the 4-H Clubs or junior ROTC, leave it off your resume or you may just be blackballed. "Excelling in these activities is 'associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds on admissions.'"

Writes Nieli, there seems an unwritten admissions rule at America's elite schools: "Poor Whites Need Not Apply."

For admissions officers at our top private and public schools, diversity is "a code word" for particular prejudices.

For these schools are not interested in a diversity that would include "born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower- and middle-class Catholics, working class 'white ethnics,' social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children or older students just starting into college and raising children."

"Students in these categories," writes Nieli, "are often very rare at the most competitive colleges, especially the Ivy League."

"Lower-class whites prove to be all-around losers" at the elite schools. They are rarely accepted. Lower-class Hispanics and blacks are eight to 10 times more likely to get in with the same scores.

That such bigotry is pervasive in 2010 at institutions that preen about how progressive they are is disgusting. That a GOP which purports to represents Middle America, whose young are bearing the brunt of this bigotry, has remained largely silent is shameful.

Many of these elite public and private colleges and universities benefit from U.S. tax dollars through student loans and direct grants. The future flow of those tax dollars should be made contingent on Harvard and Yale ending racial practices that went out at Little Rock Central High in 1957.


Slipped standards in NY

New York State education officials acknowledged on Monday that their standardized exams had become easier to pass over the last four years and said they would recalibrate the scoring for tests taken this spring, which is almost certain to mean thousands more students will fail.

While scores spiked significantly across the state at every grade level, there were no similar gains on other measurements, including national exams, they said.

“The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” David M. Steiner, the education commissioner, said during a Board of Regents meeting in Albany. “The word ‘proficient’ should tell you something, and right now that is not the case on our state tests.”

Large jumps in the passing rates, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg trumpeted in his re-election campaign last year, led to criticism that the tests had become too easy.

The state agreed to have researchers at Harvard University analyze the scores and compare them with results on national exams and Regents tests, the subject exams that high school students are required to take for graduation. Those researchers found that students who received a passing grade on the state eighth-grade math exam, for example, had a one-in-three chance of scoring highly enough on the math Regents test in high school to be considered prepared for college math.

State math and English exams, which are given to all third through eighth graders, have historically been easier to pass than national math and English exams, which are given to a sampling of fourth and eighth graders around the United States.

But according to the Harvard researchers, the New York state exams have become even easier in comparison with the national exams: students who received the minimum score to pass the state math tests in 2007 were in the 36th percentile of all students nationally, but in 2009 they had dropped to the 19th percentile.

“That is a huge, massive difference,” Dr. Steiner said.

The tests are developed by CTB/McGraw-Hill and overseen by the State Education Department and its volunteer technical advisory group, which is made up of several testing experts.

Dr. Steiner, who became education commissioner a year ago, said that the exams had tested a narrow part of the curriculum, particularly in math, and that questions were often repeated year to year, with a few details changed, so that a student who had taken a practice test — as many teachers have their students do — were likely to do well.

“It is very likely that some of the state’s progress was illusory,” said Daniel Koretz, the Harvard testing expert who led the research. “You can have exaggerated progress over all that creates very high pass rates. It doesn’t seem logical to call those kids proficient.”

The state said it had begun to include a broader range of topics on its tests, making the questions less predictable. Dr. Steiner refused to say what the passing scores would be for the tests this year but said the numbers would be a “major shift.” Last year, 77 percent of students statewide were deemed proficient in English, up from 62 percent in 2006; 86 percent passed the math test, compared with 66 percent three years earlier. The scores this year are expected to be released at the end of the month.

The changes are likely to lower the passing rates significantly all over the state, particularly in districts and schools in large urban cities. Superintendents in Buffalo and Syracuse are criticizing the changes, saying that the move to raise the passing scores is akin to moving goalposts.

“We’ve lost sight of the purpose of the test — it’s supposed to show you’ve mastered a certain skill at a certain time,” said Daniel G. Lowengard, the superintendent in Syracuse.

“I think it’s unfair to teachers to say thank you very much, you’ve been doing this work for the last three or four years, and now that your kids are passing, all of sudden we’re going to call a B a C and call a C a D.”

But in New York City, where the scores are used for things like letter grades assigned to schools and teacher and principal bonus pay, Chancellor Joel I. Klein said he supported the changes.

“We’ve said a million times we support higher standards,” he said. “It will make all of us raise the bar.”


Australia: Now some want to dumb down doctorates

All other educational qualifications have been dumbed down so I suppose this was inevitable

THE Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies has voiced opposition to plans by the universities of Melbourne and WA to tag as doctorates their new masters-level degrees in health disciplines.

Council convenor Helene Marsh, dean of graduate research at James Cook University, said the universities' plans to badge professional masters qualifications as doctorates would "demean" the PhD.

She warned that the market for masters degree programs already suffers from wide variations in what constitutes a masters, and that the sector shouldn't let the same problem hit doctorates.

Professor Marsh said the council's opposition was in line with its guidelines that all its members had agreed to, including members from Melbourne and UWA.

The council's intervention comes just ahead of an August 2 roundtable in Sydney of vice-chancellors organised by Universities Australia to try to agree on a unified sectoral position on doctorates. It follows the Australian Qualifications Framework's decision to reject Melbourne's plans.

"The council doesn't support plans by any Australian university to give degrees which do not include the equivalent of at least two years of original research the status of a doctorate," Professor Marsh said in a letter to the HES.

"We certainly don't consider it appropriate for masters-level degrees to be badged as doctorates, irrespective of whether the degree entitles the graduate to the honorific title of Dr," she said.

The Australian Technology Network of universities has signalled its primary concern will be to protect the standing of doctorate qualifications.

"The ATN believes it is paramount for Australia to protect the stature of the doctorate to maintain our international standing of the qualifications so many people have worked hard to get," ATN chairman Ross Milbourne said in a statement to the HES.

La Trobe University vice-chancellor Paul Johnson said he is "agnostic" on the issue, but he noted that while the Melbourne and UWA plans are supported by US practice, they are out of step with the Bologna process in Europe.

Professor Johnson said the key problem in the debate over different masters-level qualifications was that the sector lacked agreed exit capabilities against which to measure qualifications.

"If we could all agree clear indications of exit capabilities we wouldn't be having this current stoush," he said.

Professor Marsh said original and significant research is the "fundamental defining characteristic" of doctoral degrees.

"The council doesn't accept that a doctorate can be earned solely or substantially on the basis of coursework. "Indeed, the council believes that coursework within a doctorate should be for research education, whether this is directed towards making a significant contribution to knowledge for the discipline or to professional practice."


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Small-minded and ineffectual Wisconsin school

Police called to arrest kid over free lunch disagreement

Milwaukee police have dropped a theft citation against a 15-year-old accused of stealing a chicken nugget meal from his school cafeteria.

Police Chief David Banaszynski said the case against Adam Hernandez, who was handcuffed, photographed and fingerprinted after Shorewood High School officials accused him of stealing the lunch, was dropped with the agreement of the school principal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday.

"It shouldn't have gone this far. There are other means and methods to handle this kind of situation," Banaszynski said.

Hernandez, who had been scheduled to go to trial Tuesday, said he did not steal the food, but it was given to him by a friend enrolled in the free lunch program.


The celebrity tattoos that have sparked a Latin craze among British schoolchildren

Celebrity Latin tattoos may be fuelling a revival of the ancient language in schools, it emerged today. Pupils are increasingly demanding to study the subject, according to an exam board, as tattooed celebrities such as David Beckham and Angelina Jolie enhance Latin's profile.

The OCR exam board today launched a new Latin qualification aimed at teenagers as secondary schools increasingly offer the subject, either during the curriculum or after-hours.

But examiners urged pupils not to emulate model Danielle Lloyd, whose Latin tattoo is riddled with errors. While Beckham and Jolie's Latin inscriptions are grammatically correct, Lloyd's is meaningless, they said. Her tattoo, 'Quis attero mihi tantum planto mihi validus', which is etched on to her shoulder, is intended to translate as 'To diminish me will only make me stronger'. But experts say the words in fact translate into something more akin to 'Who I wear away for me only for me strong'.

Beckham, on the other hand, gets full marks for his two Latin tattoos. The footballer has 'Ut Amem Et Foveam' (meaning 'So that I love and cherish') inscribed on his left forearm and 'Perfectio In Spiritu' (meaning 'Perfection in spirit') on his right.

Meanwhile Jolie chose 'Quod me nutrit me destruit', which means 'What nourishes me also destroys me'.

Other celebrities embracing the trend include actor Colin Farrell, who has 'Carpe Diem' or 'Seize the day' inscribed on his left forearm.

The OCR exam board said schools and youngsters were aware of the continuing influence of Latin and had expressed an interest in a qualification to recognise basic achievement in the subject.

The new 'Entry Level Certificate in Latin' is a qualification in its own right or could be taken as a precursor to a GCSE or A-level in Latin. It is likely to be taken by 13 to 17-year-olds.

It follows a surge in the number of secondary schools offering Latin over the past decade. Surveys suggest that one in five secondaries now teaches the subject, including several hundred comprehensives. A computer-based Latin course backed by Cambridge University is said to have made it easier for schools to offer Latin. The team behind the project say schools are held back by a lack of access to Latin, rather than a lack of interest in it.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and a long-standing advocate of Latin, said: 'I'm delighted that OCR are introducing the first ever Entry Level Qualification in Latin. 'It proves how much demand there is for this great subject and will provide the perfect platform for the next generation of classicists.'

Students will be introduced to the Latin language, including a list of 100 Latin words. They will also study aspects of Roman culture.

OCR said the continuing influence of Latin in day-to-day life could be seen in baby naming. It said three of the four top girls' names have Latin origins - Olivia (from Latin 'Oliva' meaning Olive), Emily (from the Latin 'Aemilianus', a Latin family name) and the Grace (from Latin 'Gratia', meaning goodwill or kindness).

Paul Dodd, qualifications manager for languages and literature at OCR, said: 'Latin vocabulary has had a rich and lasting influence on English, as well as being the foundation for modern day Spanish, French and Italian. 'Latin language and culture have played a major part in shaping our own intellectual, literary, artistic and political traditions.

'Many schools already teach Latin alongside other subjects but have no way of formally recognising their learners' achievements below GCSE. 'Our new Entry Level qualification provides a good bridge to further attainment as well as providing a way of recognising the skills learned.'


Australia: ALL schoolchildren "require opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate sex and sexuality exploration"??

We all know by now that early-age sex education has coincided with an increase in juvenile sexual activity but this would seem to positively encourage it

QUEENSLAND teachers have been told that all children "require opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate sex and sexuality exploration".

A professional development series run by Education Queensland and Queensland Health, designed to help teachers cope with the growing problem, also questioned whether parents should be told about some incidents because of the distress it caused.

Child welfare group Bravehearts and the State Opposition claimed the information was "frightening" and "concerning" and came at a time of exponential growth in young children acting sexually towards their peers.

Former Education Queensland student services executive director Leith Sterling acknowledged some sexualised behaviour policies had been unclear and said Education Queensland was considering "embedding" protective behaviours in the curriculum.

Teachers were told experimental sexual play was normal but if a child could not be easily diverted, or had used aggression, it was a problem.

Prep children masturbating in class was considered to be developmentally appropriate given there was no concerning context. An example of two Prep children mutually taking part in the act prompted one health professional to ask teachers whether it was worth telling parents, if the children could be diverted from the activity.

The session was run last year with Education Queensland initially refusing to provide public access to it. Information was released only after a Right to Information application.

The department's policies have since come under question after it was revealed year one and two boys had allegedly performed sex acts on young girls at one state school which had 18 allegations of sexualised behaviour among pupils last year – 11 of them reported to police last year.

Education Queensland director-general Lyn McKenzie said there were systems in place to help staff deal with the issue and engage with parents on any incident where student welfare was a concern.

An Education Queensland spokesman said the claim that "all children require opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate sex and sexuality exploration" was not the department's policy and "expert" opinion only.

But Bravehearts executive director Hetty Johnston said she found the statement frightening as the number of reported incidents was "growing exponentially".


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MUSLIM country Bans Full Face Veils in Universities

Syria's education minister has issued a decree banning women on university campuses from wearing veils that cover their faces. The decision appears to be drawing fire from some quarters and praise from others.

Syrian Minister of Higher Education Ghaith Barakat says the decision to ban women wearing the "niqab" from entering university campuses was taken "at the request of a number of parents." Those parents, he said, do not want their children to be educated in an "environment of extremism."

The minister's decree follows a decision last month to dismiss 1200 Syrian school teachers who wear the face veil in class. Education officials, at the time, stressed that Syria was a "secular society," and that extremism is "unacceptable."

Al-Arabiya TV quoted an education ministry official, who argued the niqab was "against academic principles" as well as "campus regulations." He also called the practice an "ideological invasion." Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party denounced niqab-wearing at a recent conference.

A decision in Egypt last year to forbid women government employees from wearing the niqab created a storm of protest. The late head of al-Azhar University, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Tantawi caused a controversy when he urged students at a girls' school to remove their niqabs.

Analyst Peter Harling of the Crisis Group in Damascus says Syria is caught in a bind between its own secular tradition and the Islamic fundamentalism of some of its allies:

"I think there is a fundamental contradiction in Syria's posture," Harling said. "Syria on one side is a secular country, or at least the regime at the helm is deeply structurally secular, and very attached to that particular identity. I think it is the last secular bulwark in the region, so to speak, on the one side. On the other, Syria is very much part of regional trends, which it tends to foster, through its support for militant groups, which most often embrace an Islamist outlook."

He also said there is a deeply felt feeling in Syria that it is time to act against the more extreme forms of Islam in the country, before it is too late."

Syria's minority Alawite sect, which loosely governs the country, is more Western-oriented and less traditionally Islamic than the dominant Sunni sect. But many of Syria's regional allies, including Iran, Lebanon's Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas movement have militant Islamic tendencies.

Maral Haidostian, who is Armenian and was brought up in Syria, points out the country's many minorities probably support the ban the niqab, while conservative Muslims might object to the measure:

"For women, maybe it is positive in my point of view," Haidostian said. "But, according to Muslim women, I do not know. I think for liberal women it is positive, but for the (conservative Muslim) community, maybe this is going to be difficult to accept. I do not know if (their) parents are going to allow the ladies-the women-to go to universities without covering themselves. This might backfire for the ladies."

The number of Syrian women wearing Islamic attire has grown dramatically in recent decades. Many observers argue the practice has spread due to the many Syrians who have lived and worked in conservative Islamic Gulf States


MA: Towns turn to school mergers

Under growing pressure from state officials, small public school systems across Massachusetts are discussing potential mergers, defying the state’s staunch tradition of local schools and hometown identity in a quest for greater financial stability.

For the first time in nearly a decade, several towns recently joined ranks to create new regional districts, linking Ayer and Shirley, Berkley and Somerset, and three vocational schools north of Boston.

From a host of small Berkshire towns to Chatham and Harwich on Cape Cod, another three dozen districts are considering teaming up with their neighbors or expanding existing unions. Even Hull and Cohasset, Thanksgiving Day rivals with a decided class divide, are courting.

“It can work,’’ said Marianne Harte, a school board member in Hull, which has also made overtures to Hingham about merging schools amid financial troubles. “And this is where things are headed.’’

But many towns are deeply conflicted over the idea, uneasy with the prospect of relinquishing local control, particularly on tax and budget issues, and fond of their schools the way they are. Many parents blanch at the idea of sending their children out of town for school, while older residents feel nostalgia for their alma maters.

“People don’t want to lose their identity,’’ said Susan Palmer-Howes, chairwoman of the school board in Hopedale, which amid financial woes has begun formal discussions on joining the Mendon-Upton public schools. “Hopedale is the old-fashioned utopian society, where everybody knows everybody. People worry that will change.’’

Governor Deval Patrick’s administration has pushed small districts to consolidate or regionalize over the past two years, believing that larger districts are decidedly more cost-efficient. More than one-third of the state’s school districts have fewer than 1,500 students, and sharing costs could save tens of millions while offering students a wider range of classes and programs, educators say.

“Educationally, you get a better product for the money you’re spending,’’ said John McCarthy, superintendent of the Freetown-Lakeville public schools, which are exploring whether to regionalize at the elementary school level. “Right now, we have a Grade 5-only school that’s half empty and other classes with 30 kids. It doesn’t make much sense.’’

Statewide, just over 1 in 4 communities belong to a regional school district.

Some districts are looking into regionalization on their own accord, hoping it will provide long-term stability. But most are bending to pressure from the state, which since 2008 has more generously reimbursed districts that merge for school construction and renovation costs, like a dowry for an arranged marriage.

“That’s absolutely been the motivation,’’ said Loxi Calmes, the superintendent in Lunenburg, which is exploring a potential merger with the North Middlesex Regional School District after dropping out of lengthy discussions with Ayer and Shirley. “We were told in very specific terms we needed to investigate this.’’Continued...

Even in budget crunches, financial incentives don’t easily wash away longstanding traditions. In the mergers approved this spring, negotiations were often tense and painstaking, delayed by myriad complexities and reluctance to change.

In a state divided into 351 communities and even more school districts, with a fervent belief in local governance and distrust of centralized control, regional districts are often a tough sell.

“It’s not easy to get past the local autonomy issue,’’ said George Frost, superintendent of schools in Ayer, a small town 35 miles northwest of Boston. “It’s an ingrained concept. But the state has been very clear in pushing us in this direction.’’

Supporters point to extremely small districts as the most cost-inefficient, as well as the simplest to combine. But residents usually like the smaller schools, and note that regional school districts often wage divisive budget fights.

This spring, for example, voters in tiny Wales, with just 150 students, rejected a proposed merger with Holland, about 5 miles away.

“Local control is still the way,’’ said Daniel Durgin, superintendent of the Tantasqua Regional School District, a five-town, grade 7-12 system that includes Holland and Wales. While he favors extending the regional approach to elementary schools as well, he doesn’t see much support for it.

In Somerset and Berkley, residents waged an intense back-and-forth over officially regionalizing the high school to land more generous state reimbursement, even though Berkley students have attended Somerset schools for a generation on an informal basis.

“It’s the same arrangement we’ve had for 25 years,’’ said Kim Forbes, a leading proponent. “We thought it was a no-brainer. I never expected to be booed and called names.’’

There has been talk of fully merging the districts, Forbes said, and combining the high school seemed like a sensible first step, a route followed by a number of districts.

Patricia Haddad, a state representative from Somerset and the assistant majority whip, said Massachusetts has almost 400 superintendents, counting charter and vocational schools. Maryland, by contrast, has just 32 districts statewide.

“That’s crazy,’’ she said of the Massachusetts figure. Consolidating schools would sharply reduce administration and school building costs, Haddad said.

But many communities worry they will wind up paying more than their share for regional schools, particularly when merging with less affluent towns.

Others question the premise that combining small schools saves money at all. Nicholas Young, the superintendent in Hadley and an outspoken critic of regionalization, said smaller schools are often highly efficient and are better off sharing some services with other schools, such as transportation and supplies, while maintaining their overall independence.

“We have this business mindset that bigger is better, but it costs far less to build small schools,’’ Young said. “There’s not a stitch of evidence you save money through consolidation. It sounds good politically, but it has been proven not to work.’’

A study last year from the state Education Department found that districts with fewer than 1,500 students spent about $1,000 more per student than districts with between 1,500 and 3,000 students, a range that educators call a sweet spot. Larger districts spend more per student, researchers found.

Declining revenues and enrollments, the study found, could destabilize some small districts.

Supporters say collaborative programs among school systems show the benefits of regionalization, and suggest that schools are increasingly willing to trade autonomy for savings.

“Everything has to be put on the table, because we have no money, and none’s coming in,’’ said Marianne Harte, the school board member from Hull. “The state is just dangling a carrot to get a stubborn mule moving.’’

Supporters and opponents alike acknowledge that the logistics involved in merging school systems are daunting and costs can be prohibitive. From building leases to employee contracts to administrative functions, school leaders say they have to build new systems almost from scratch.

“You have to start from the ground floor,’’ Frost said. “It’s incredibly complex.’’

In contrast, residents often want to keep things simple. Even communities with regional high schools are hesitant to do so in the younger grades. In fast-changing times, the idea of losing the neighborhood elementary school, or have it be subject to the whim of voters in the next town, is disquieting.

“It’s something that many people feel uneasy about,’’ Calmes, the Lunenburg superintendent, said. “We’re used to having this town center. When we built a new primary school that was a mile away, that was unsettling to folks.’’


British charter schools (Academies) 'failing to teach traditional subjects'

Academies are shunning traditional subjects such as English and History in favour of less challenging qualifications in an effort to drive up results, a think tank has claimed.

Figures disclosed in parliament revealed that the proportion of academy students taking GCSEs in courses including English Literature, history and individual sciences are outstripped by those at maintained schools.

In foreign languages and geography, entries from academies were more than a third lower than the average for maintained schools.

Opponents said the figures showed academies had abandoned non-compulsory academic subjects in favour of less challenging GCSEs and equivalent qualifications to boost their performance in league tables.

Academies, which are not subject to freedom of information laws, have faced calls to be more open over the curriculum they offer and the pay of staff.

The figures, based on exams taken last summer, came to light following a question in Parliament by Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent central, and research by Civitas.

It follows data showing that academy pupils are awarded twice as many A* to C grades in non-GCSE qualifications as maintained schools, but two thirds as many of the equivalent GCSE grades.

Anastasia de Waal, Director of Education at Civitas, said: "Academies are supposed to be improving not impoverishing education, so to find that the proportion of academy students doing core academic subjects is much lower than average makes a mockery out of the notion that academies are exemplary.

"Withdrawing academic GCSEs and replacing them with weak substitutes has been great for academies’ league table position but hugely detrimental to the already often limited opportunities available to the young people they serve."

In academies, just 21 per cent of pupils took a GCSE exam in history and 17 per cent in geography last year, compared with 30 per cent and 26 per cent respectively in maintained schools.

Academies entered just eight per cent of pupils for individual exams in physics and nine per cent in chemistry and biology, compared with 12 per cent for each of the three subjects in maintained schools.

The biggest difference was in foreign languages, where just 26 per cent of academy pupils were entered for a GCSE compared with 41 per cent in all maintained schools.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union, said: "There is nothing wrong with academies devising a curriculum which will get the children to school and get them wanting to learn.

"But the difficulty is when the qualifications are a spurious equivalent to a GCSE, which are widely used to push up the GCSE results of academies to show that they are getting much better results than state schools."

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "The fact is that Academies are working - academies have been over three times more likely to be rated outstanding by Ofsted than other state schools, since their new tougher inspection regime was introduced, while half as many Academies are judged inadequate.

“Ministers are clear that young people should be entered for the qualifications that are in their best interests rather than being entered for exams simply to boost the league table position of the school."


Monday, July 19, 2010

TX: Daycare took six-year-olds to R film

I would suffer no regret if some Leftist teachers were shot

A Texas day care center is facing a state probe over allegations that it took a group of 6-year-olds to see a raunchy R-rated movie in Waco in July.

Young Expressions Childcare in the Waco suburb of Bellmead, Texas, is under investigation by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, a spokesman for the agency confirmed to Fox News Radio. "We will investigate it thoroughly," said spokesman Patrick Crimmins.

The children were allegedly taken by day care workers to Waco's Starplex Cinema last week to see "Death at a Funeral," a bawdy 2010 comedy that was far too gross even for most movie critics.

The Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an R rating for foul language and foul humor — and that barely scratches the surface of a movie that features corpse wrestling, psychedelic drug use, explosive diarrhea and a man's homosexual affair with a midget.

"Too much profanity, too much," said one woman walking out of the movie who told Waco's News 10 the film was inappropriate for children.

The children were originally supposed to see the film "Marmaduke," but the show was sold out. A spokesman for the movie theater told Fox News Radio they were shocked and couldn't understand why the kids were brought to the R-rated film instead.

A man purporting to be the co-owner of the business said that the employee involved in the incident has been "reprimanded," but refused to answer any questions.


The best way to teach reading and writing must be settled once and for all

The imimitable Boris Johnson is being surprisingly diplomatic about the desirability of phonics. Does Mayoralty do that to you?

His Greek below is of course impeccable but I have corrected his German

Lurking in the childhood of anyone ambitious there is always the memory of some humiliation that sets them on the path of self-improvement. Show me a billionaire, and I will show you someone who was beaten up for his lunch money. Many is the megalomaniac who first had to overcome a case of acne or puppy fat or being forced by his mother to wear a flowery tie to a friend's birthday party. You want to know my moment of childhood shame? Shall I tell you when I decided that I was going to have to sharpen up my act to survive?

I must have been about six, and my younger sister must have been about four or five, and we were sitting on a sunny river bank being taught to read by my grandmother. We were reading alternate sentences aloud when my grandmother announced – as my sister Rachel has never ceased to remind me – that the girl was reading better than the boy. Yes, in spite of the 15-month gap between us, she was somehow deciphering the words more easily than I was. I cannot tell you how much it costs me, even now, to report this buried shame. I blushed. I fumed. Beaten! By my kid sister!

As the antelope wakes every morning and knows that he must outrun the lion, so I wake every day and know that I must somehow scamper to keep ahead of Rachel, all-powerful editor of The Lady and authoress of what is currently the number two best-seller in France. I remember the pain and horror at being left behind in the reading stakes, because it is an emotion that is all too common in children in our schools today. Unlike the village schools of Somerset 40 years ago, it seems that our methods of dealing with the problem are painfully inadequate. Over a third of London primary school children reach the age of 11 without being able properly to read and write, and 20 per cent are still having serious difficulties by the time they leave secondary school.

This is a source of huge economic inefficiency, but in every case of illiteracy we are also talking of a grievous personal handicap. If you cannot read properly, you are more likely to suffer from low self-confidence – and if you suffer from low self-confidence, you are far more likely to turn to crime.

That is why I commend an excellent pamphlet by Miriam Gross, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, in which she examines some of the difficulties with improving literacy in London. She takes aim at some familiar targets of conservative wrath: child-centred learning, by which children are invited to "discover" the meaning of the printed page before them, rather than being taught; the hostility to academic selection that has bedevilled the teaching establishment; the lack of discipline in some schools; the time wasted in considering the "emotional well-being" of the child, rather than good old instruction in reading and writing.

Some of these complaints will no doubt infuriate many hard-working teachers, and some educationalists will be outraged at what they will present as a traditionalist and downright reactionary approach. At the heart of Miriam Gross's argument is the story of one of the greatest Kulturkaempfe of the last century. It is like the dispute between the Big-Enders and the Little-Enders, or the war that raged between those who thought Christ was homoiousios and those who thought he was homoousios in his relation with God the Father – except that this argument matters. [That argument mattered too -- in Byzantine times -- JR]

Ask yourself what happens when your powerful Daily Telegraph-reader eye skitters effortlessly through this article. What cognitive processes are going on in your head? With incredible speed you are decoding clutches of letters into sounds, in order to identify the words; and those words are being virtually simultaneously converted into sense; and the reason you can do this so fast is that hard-wired into your reading brain is an understanding of how the alphabet generates the 44 sounds of the English language; and the best way to reach that instinctive understanding of how letters make sounds is a system known as synthetic phonics.

That is the system that rescued me after the appalling verdict of my grandmother. I remember going to primary school and sitting cross-legged as the class learned C-A-T, and how each sound helped to make up a word, and after a while I had cracked it; and I find it unbelievable that so many children are not given the opportunity to learn by this simple and effective means.

It was about 100 years ago that the split began, and some educationalists began to argue that phonics was too dogmatic, too authoritarian. It was demoralising for children who couldn't spell out every word in their heads, they said. Perhaps they should be encouraged just to recognise the words – and so was born the system of "whole word recognition", intended partly to bolster those who found phonics a strain.

And yet the result, say the phonics proponents, is that children are not being given the basic all-purpose deciphering tools they need. That is why literacy has declined in the past 50 years, they claim, and that is why we face a skills shortage caused very largely by the inability of one million working Londoners to read and write.

Are they right? It is time to end this culture war, and to try to settle once and for all, in the minds of the teachers, whether synthetic phonics is the complete answer or not? We have in Nick Gibb, the admirable new schools minister, one of the world's great militants for synthetic phonics. Indeed, you can have a meeting with Nick on almost any subject, and I can guarantee he will have mentioned it within five minutes. I am almost 100 per cent sure he is right.

And yet I have also met London kids on Reading Recovery programmes who are obviously benefiting hugely from a mixture of phonics and word recognition. It is surely time for the Government to organise a competition, a shoot-out between the two methods, to see which is the most effective for children of all abilities.

And don't tell me children are averse to competition. Look at me and my sister.


One in five British school leavers can't read: Trendy teaching is 'still harming pupils' learning'

One in five school-leavers struggles to read and write because teachers are shunning traditional classroom methods in favour of trendy 'child-led' lessons, a report warns today.

Discredited teaching techniques that encourage children to just find things out for themselves rather than being taught are 'alive and kicking' in primary schools, the research claims.

Teachers are encouraged to avoid pointing out mistakes for fear of 'crushing creativity' or 'undermining confidence', and to give pupils a choice of tasks to undertake in class.

But the approach, typical of the 1960s and 1970s, is 'neither stimulating nor challenging' and is continuing to damage children's reading skills despite attempts by successive governments to introduce more structured teaching methods, according to the Centre for Policy Studies.

The report by Miriam Gross, a literary editor and volunteer teacher, warns that large sections of the education establishment have ignored attempts to put traditional 'synthetic phonics' at the heart of reading lessons.

The technique involves children learning the 44 sounds of the English language and how they can be blended together to form words.

But many teachers condemn it as 'prescriptive' and 'boring'. Instead schools continue to use other, more 'fun', techniques, including encouraging children simply to memorise whole words and guess at harder ones.

The report, commissioned by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, highlights that more than a third of children who leave the capital's state primaries at 11 still have difficulties with reading, while one in five teenagers leave secondary school unable to read or write with confidence.

A separate study, by experts at Sheffield University, has found that 17 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds across the country are functionally illiterate, meaning they can understand only the simplest text.

'This is less than the functional literacy needed to partake fully in employment, family life and citizenship and to enjoy reading for its own sake,' the authors said.

Today's report warns that 'progressive' education theories still persist in many schools, damaging the prospects of thousands of children. Teaching of mixed ability classes is widespread, competition discouraged and mistakes of grammar, punctuation and spelling are too often left uncorrected.

Teachers are encouraged not to interrupt-children while they are speaking or to pressure them into learning topics they don't like. Unlike in other European countries, children are allowed to write in 'street' slang - and teachers fail to point out how it differs from correct English usage for fear of stifling 'self-expression'.

'The child-led approach is frequently neither stimulating nor challenging. Very young children simply haven't got the tools or the knowledge to benefit from it or to make sensible choices,' the report said.

At the same time, too much attention in primary schools is devoted to 'circle time', where children sit in a circle discussing emotions and family relationships.

The report said: 'The great majority of children, at any rate under the age of eight or nine, are neither ready for nor interested in discussions about emotions, backgrounds and relationships.'

The study highlights examples of schools which have achieved outstanding results by shunning the 'do it yourself' approach and embracing more structured and rigorous teaching regimes.

The low literacy levels cannot be attributed to immigration, the report said, adding that children who don't speak English at home are often the most keen to learn.

The report recommends a new Booker prize-style literacy competition for primary schools to drive up standards. Schools would be independently assessed for their reading teaching and the best given a cash award.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Harvard Wimps Out on Testing

To oppose “results-based accountability” in education is close to a taboo nowadays, a position so antithetical to the spirit of the age that few dare mention it. Let us, therefore, declare ourselves shocked and saddened that Harvard University, in so many ways a pacesetter in education, is embracing that very position.

Starting in September, courses in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) will no longer routinely require final exams. For most of Harvard’s existence, any professor wishing to forgo the practice of final exams required formal approval by the entire faculty. At least since the 1940s, professors have been required to submit a form to opt out of giving a final exam. But in fall 2010, professors will need to file a specific request to opt in. The dean of undergraduate education, Jay M. Harris, is already predicting that Harvard will reduce the academic calendar by a day or two in response to the eased testing burden.

Moreover, general exams — requiring seniors to demonstrate mastery of the fundamental knowledge of their major — are given in fewer and fewer departments. Even Harvard’s new General Education courses will abjure finals. We are left wondering: Without exams to prove it, how can students be sure that they are “generally educated” when they graduate? How can the institution itself be sure? Or doesn’t it care?

Some will say that other student work products — term papers, especially, but increasingly multimedia projects, too — are better gauges of learning than cumulative exams. Associate Dean Stephanie H. Kenen recently stated: “The literature on learning shows that hands-on activities can help some students learn and integrate the material better.”

In reality, however, the decline of testing at Harvard has little to do with any “literature on learning.” When we attended college there, four decades apart, some of our most fruitful learning experiences occurred in preparing for, and actually taking, final exams. They forced us to sharpen our thoughts and solidify our knowledge, whether it was by connecting the dots between Andy Warhol and Joseph Stalin for Louis Menand in 2006, or making sense of a year’s worth of American social history per Oscar Handlin in 1964. Term papers were essential, too — let us make no mistake. But they were easier to fudge with obscure research, borrowed insights, and artful prose. It was finals that forced us to think, to synthesize, to study, and to learn.

What’s really happening, we sense, is that Harvard is yielding to education’s most primitive temptation: lowering standards and waiving measurements for the sake of convenience. It certainly isn’t the only university to succumb, but given Harvard’s reputation as a trendsetter, we should expect better. Just imagine: Students will be delighted to forgo finals, and instructors will be thrilled not to have to create or grade them. Everybody finishes the semester earlier. (The last few weeks of class don’t really count when that material won’t be tested!) Yet Harvard’s leaders may eventually have to acknowledge that, with fewer test results, they will know less and less about what students are or are not learning within their hallowed gates.

Not so long ago, Harvard was striding toward transparency and accountability. In 2006, under the leadership of interim president Derek Bok (no slouch himself as an education reformer and critic), the university participated in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). The CLA is intended to measure the kinds of skills and thinking at the core of an arts-and-sciences curriculum and, by comparing the scores of seniors and freshmen, to gauge a university’s “value added.” One of us, a senior at the time, even volunteered to participate. It was a rare chance to put the old joke to the test: “Why is Harvard such a great repository of knowledge? Because students enter with so much and leave with so little.”

Sadly, Harvard’s CLA results were never shared with participants, as had been promised, much less with the outside world. The flickering light of results-based accountability at Harvard was thus dimmed — by whom and why, we can only guess. (The authors contacted the office of the president last Friday to corroborate this account of the CLA at Harvard. As of Wednesday, July 14, officials were not able to either confirm or deny it.)

Granted, testing is complicated. How to assess a semester’s worth of learning in 180 minutes? How to probe what one has learned during three years as a history major? How, simultaneously, to measure the accumulation of knowledge and the development of analytical skills and effective expression? How to distill course themes into challenging essay questions or problem sets, and how to grade them fairly?

But avoiding tough methodological challenges isn’t in Harvard’s mission statement. In matters of education policy — including many earlier rounds of assessment, such as the SAT and Advanced Placement exams — Harvard has long been a pioneer. Other universities look to it for guidance. Why not with end-of-course assessments, too? Harvard’s Graduate School of Education is full of testing experts, and its psychology department is stacked with heavyweights. Its mathematicians, computer scientists, and statisticians are competent to sample the populations, crunch the numbers, etc. Couldn’t they help the university develop suitable guidelines, templates, and prototypes for measuring what its students learn? Would it be too much to ask them to actually develop better tests? Maybe even to share them with the world?

Harvard might fruitfully take a cue from K–12 education. Here we’re seeing slow but steady progress toward intelligent assessment and fair accountability. The primary/secondary-education community is approaching consensus on content standards for math and English language arts. Consortia of states are undertaking the development of “next-generation” assessment systems. The Obama administration has taken stock of No Child Left Behind and offered a new blueprint for giving schools and districts more flexibility to reach higher performance standards. None of this has been easy, and countless political headaches would have been avoided by simply jettisoning results-based accountability. Plenty of teachers would have been pleased, too. But most K–12 policymakers know better: Were it not for the dreaded tests, we would not be able to learn from our educational successes, or to direct attention to our most persistent failures.

Harvard doubtless assumes that no formal measures of learning are needed to demonstrate its educational value to students. Just peek inside Lamont Library late on a weeknight and behold the heaps of books, index cards, and coffee mugs. Listen to the keyboard clatter of great term papers in the making. Well, we studied in Lamont — one of us quite recently — and we have a secret to share: There is a difference between effort and learning, between putting in the time and coming out with something worthwhile. For every undergraduate writing the next Great American Novel, another student is frustrated, confused, and stressed by ambiguous expectations from instructors. Harvard would be greatly aided in its struggles with mediocre instruction by better tests aligned with clearer expectations — not by giving up on exams altogether.

Harvard is blessed with talented students — it can pick and choose among America’s finest — and that doubtless encourages it to pay scant attention to how much they actually learn during their undergraduate years in Cambridge. University leaders also understand that public accountability can be humbling. Arrogance and pandering are more convenient. They just don’t get us any closer to veritas.


Maryland planning mandatory "environmental" indoctrination in High Schools

Top state officials in Maryland are promoting a plan that would make the study of environmental education a requirement for all students to graduate from the state’s public high schools.

The proposal, which will be made available for public comment beginning today, is set for final consideration by the state board of education in the fall. If adopted, it would represent the first time a state has added a high school graduation requirement focused on environmental literacy, according to Donald R. Baugh, the vice president for education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Annapolis, Md., that has been a strong champion of the measure.

“This is one step toward what we hope will be a stronger, more comprehensive effort in Maryland” to provide environmental education, said Mr. Baugh. “What we really like about the high school graduation [requirement is that] it’s for all students, it is a systemic solution.”

Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, said the proposal—which still is subject to change before being taken up by the state board—enjoys widespread support among local superintendents in Maryland, and also is backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

She emphasized that the proposal would not mandate that students take a particular course, but instead would call on school districts to ensure that environmental literacy is “threaded through” the curriculum. “I think it has much more importance because it isn’t just, ‘Take one course, and that’s all you have to do,’” Ms. Grasmick said in an interview.

The Maryland initiative comes as advocates for environmental education are continuing a push to enact new federal legislation to advance the issue. Their goal is for companion bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, which would authorize $500 million over five years for environmental education, to be included in the overdue reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Mr. Baugh said.
Districts Have Leeway

The new Maryland proposal stems from the work of a task force created by Gov. O’Malley, a Democrat. The task force, called the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature, was co-chaired by Ms. Grasmick and John R. Griffin, the secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. In April 2009, the panel issued a final report and recommendations to the governor, including the call for a new graduation requirement on environmental literacy.

However, the task force had actually recommended requiring that all high school students take a specific course on environmental literacy, while the proposal moving forward calls for the topic to be “infused” into current curricular offerings.

To be sure, observers say, environmental education is nothing new in Maryland, and many schools have long included environmental literacy in the curriculum.

In fact, this would not be the state’s first mandate pegged to environmental education. The Maryland education code in 1989 was first amended to require a “comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program of environmental education within current curricular offerings at least once in the early, middle, and high school learning years.”

But Mr. Baugh, from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that implementation has never reached all schools, especially following the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the ESEA, with its emphasis on improving student achievement in reading and mathematics.

He also argues that the earlier measure required local systems simply to include environmental education within their instructional programs, but did not stipulate that all students must participate.

“A requirement tied to the ability for students to graduate high school will apply to all Maryland students, and carries greater weight and significance,” he said.

He added that the proposed new requirement also “provides much greater guidance regarding appropriate high school instruction and requires school systems to provide professional development for teachers to assist them in meeting the requirement.”

At the same time, Mr. Baugh said the proposal gives districts considerable leeway in how they choose to bring environmental education into classrooms.

Kevin M. Maxwell, the superintendent of the 75,500-student Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said he welcomes the proposed requirement. “We have an obligation to make sure that we equip our next generation with the tools they’re going to need ... to, quite frankly, clean up the messes that we’ve made,” he said, “and to make sure the Earth is a sustainable home for the people who inhabit it.”


Teacher conduct hearings to triple after complaints about British teachers rise 800 per cent

Complaints about teachers rose 800 per cent last year, with record numbers being charged. Regulators will have to triple the number of hearings they hold in order to deal with the rising volume of misconduct cases they have to examine.

The number of Initial Conduct Referrals (ICRS) made against teachers by parents, other teachers and members of the public rose to 151 in the year to April, following just 16 in the previous 12 months.

The increase last year was put down to the publicity surrounding child protection issues following the death of Baby Peter. In the three months since April there have been a further 35 ICRs.

The General Teaching Council for England (GTC) – which Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has pledged to shut down – currently has a record 136 cases waiting to be heard.

Alan Meyrick, GTC registrar, told the Times Educational Supplement: "In the past there have been 170 hearings every year, now we want to hold three times that volume. There's a need for us to run something closer to 500 a year."