Saturday, August 21, 2010

Many U.S. Teacher Layoffs Stand Despite $10 Billion Fund

“[W]e can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children,” said Barack Obama on August 10th from the White House Rose Garden. That was the day the House passed another $26 billion states bailout, which included $10 billion for state education spending.

Obama insisted that the passage of the bill was urgent, and that if it was not passed, teachers would be fired. “I urge Congress to pass this proposal so that the outstanding teachers who are here today can go back to educating our children,” he declared. So urgent was it, you will recall, that Nancy Pelosi hurriedly brought the House back from August recess to pass the bill.

Well, now, the teachers are getting fired anyway. According to the New York Times, several school districts will be stockpiling the money for 2012, when more budget cuts are expected. Others are hesitant to spend the one-time bailout, because it undermines year-to-year stability in budgeting.

“We’re a little wary about hiring people if we only have money for a year, but we know that’s the intent of the bill,” said the chief financial officer of Clark County schools, Jeff Weiler. Others, like, like Lydia Ramos of the Los Angeles Unified School District, intend to use the money tackle the “herculean task [of] next year’s deficit.”

This comes amid other news that over $100 billion of infrastructure projects in the original $862 billion “stimulus” has gone unspent, as reported by the Washington Post. Although most of the original $145 billion dedicated to states was spent, which included $87 billion for Medicaid and another $53.6 billion to balance state and local budgets, the unspent moneys piling up calls into question Obama’s urgent rationale for yet more spending.

Congressional Republicans have argued for using the unspent funds to pay down the national debt, amongst other things. Instead, it appears that the financing will lay idle for the time being, while states figure out how to fix their worsening budget pictures.

One thing Obama apparently did not anticipate were states prioritizing a sustainable budget over one-time handouts.

The hoarding by state and localities of the funding also reveals that they have learned what the American people already know — that the “stimulus” is indeed a failure. It’s not a down payment, and it has not brought about immediate growth. Now we know the states know it, too.

Despite promises that the “stimulus” would lead to a V-shaped recovery, states that put off making necessary cuts to their budgets last year are now caught in a bind as revenues have failed to recover, nor are they expected to next year. This is in turn has undermined the political fortunes of state lawmakers, with Republicans expected to pick up new majorities in several state legislatures this year.

These states now face a choice: Use the money today, as the public sector unions are demanding, and risk even steeper cuts next year, or hoard the money since the law allows it to be spent as late as September 2012.

Other states, like Texas, are rejecting the money out of hand since the $10 billion fund “mandates that the governor guarantee the Legislature will provide a certain level of state funding through 2013, a funding scheme prohibited by the Texas Constitution,” according to Katherine Cesinger, Deputy Press Secretary of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Still other states have complained about the mandatory nature of the funding contained in Section 101(8) of H.R. 1586 which states that if a governor fails to apply for funding within 30 days, “the [Education] Secretary shall provide for funds allocated to that State to be distributed to another entity or other entities in the State … for support of elementary and secondary education, under such terms and conditions as the Secretary may establish.”

According to a statement issued by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s press secretary yesterday that “the Governor will apply for the education funding passed by the House today in order to ensure it is managed and distributed to local school districts by the State of New Jersey, and not the federal government.”

One has to wonder that since the federal government intended to force reluctant governors to accept the money, if it will now attempt to force states to spend the money for the upcoming school year as proposed. They’re already hijacking sovereign state decisions about whether or not to accept federal money — a clear violation of the 10th Amendment — so what’s to stop the Obama Administration from forcing states to allocate money in the precise manner it wishes?

Perhaps upon learning about the reluctant states and localities not spending the money right away, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will speedily reconvene Congress to pass billions of dollars of more spending that they must use this year. Or, maybe not.

Maybe they’ll just pretend that they “saved” the jobs, even though they didn’t.


The A-level refuseniks: 70,000 British students give up on biggest ever battle for place at university

Seventy thousand students left scrambling for university places after being disappointed in their A-level results have become 'refuseniks' and simply given up. Admissions chiefs said 'very large numbers' of applicants were planning gap years or other alternatives to escape the most intense rush for degree courses ever seen.

The thousands who have turned their backs on the system include well-qualified students who missed out on prestigious universities but are not prepared to settle for their back-up choices or clearing places which they consider inferior. They believe the courses do not warrant the effort or money. They are expected to re-apply next year, hoping a gap year will improve their prospects, while many others will apply overseas or pursue college places, job-related training or apprenticeships.

The ranks of applicants opting out are expected to swell over the coming week as sought-after places in the clearing system, which matches students to vacant courses, disappear.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service yesterday estimated that more than 150,000 applicants will end up without places this year.

Around a seventh of available clearing places were snapped up within 24 hours of hotlines opening. By yesterday morning, 4,083 of an estimated 30,000 places had been filled. But there are 190,183 candidates eligible to be considered for the remaining places, compared with 140,000 this time last year.

Universities reported that switchboards had jammed and that there had been a 'substantial increase' in parents ringing to 'interfere' on their children's behalf. Professor Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said: 'Lots of mothers have been calling up and pouring their hearts out. They are very demanding and are fighting hard for their children to get places.'

But many youngsters have already chosen to give up. Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: 'We've got about 70,000 who have rejected their offers or who have withdrawn from the system.

She said some had not used their choice of back-up options prudently in their original university application, and so had been unwilling to settle for their second choice or lower. 'It will be over 150,000 who are, for one reason or another, unplaced or who withdraw from the system, but it will be another week or so before we have got a better idea of what that number will be,' she added.

Students choosing to defer applications for a year have been warned that competition is also likely to be fierce in 2011, with this year's huge increase in applicants thought to be partly down to the thousands of students who deferred last year.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: 'They are being encouraged by ministers to re-apply next year but can be offered no assurance in return that there will be a resolution to the annual places crisis.'


A-level results: How the great university boom has defrauded Britain's students

Feeding the product of low quality schools into low quality universities achieves nothing -- except to burden the young people concerned with debt

Wakey, wakey, it’s Hangover Friday. After yesterday’s release of A-level results, thousands of young people will roll out of bed today with a tongue like a battered flip-flop and acid drops for eyeballs. The majority will have celebrated achieving the results required for university entrance. Congratulations to them. But for a very significant minority – those who fell short and cannot secure a place through clearing – last night was about drowning sorrows, making this morning’s headache doubly painful. It ought not be like this.

Over the past 20 years, there has been a cultural shift in the United Kingdom, away from vocational training in favour of higher education. It began with the Conservatives’ decision to allow polytechnics and colleges to rebrand themselves as universities, and was compounded by Labour’s target of channelling 50 per cent of school-leavers into degree courses.

Much of the enthusiasm for this recalibration of skills development was well-intentioned, albeit misguided. For the stormtroopers of social engineering, however, fiddling with educational provision and selection has been an opportunity to strike back against ambitious middle-class parents whose “crime” is to invest time and money in their children’s future. Only this week, Nick Clegg denounced school-leavers from affluent homes for taking a “disproportionate” number of degree places, implying that some form of crafty theft is involved.

The truth is rather more prosaic. In a report for the think tank Civitas, Peter Saunders, a sociology professor at Sussex University, concludes: “Children benefit if they are born to supportive parents who care about their education and make sacrifices to help their kids excel. And not everyone has parents like that.”

Yes, good parenting can overcome class barriers, but there is another ingredient that matters even more, one which very few politicians are willing to acknowledge: IQ. According to Professor Saunders: “Half of the explained variance in the occupational destinations achieved by the 1958 birth cohort was due to just one variable – how well they scored on an IQ test when they were aged 11. This is a much better predictor of their eventual fate than class... school... or any other social factor.”

More than 200 years ago, Edmund Burke warned: “Those who attempt to level never equalise.” This is the lesson of Britain’s flawed education policy over the past 40 years, including the razing of grammar [selective] schools, the diminution of A-level standards, and a guerrilla war against independent schools (fought, in part, through that ghastly institution, the Charity Commission).

As even Mr Clegg admits: “There is evidence to suggest that – contrary to expectations – increased levels of attendance at university have not translated into higher levels of social mobility.”

And why might that be? Is it because all the extra capacity has been stolen by degree bandits from comfortable homes? Or is it that a qualification from some of the new universities, into which unknowing (mainly working-class) applicants are herded, is, on its own, no passport to success in a competitive jobs market?

For many ill-advised students from second-rate schools (including a few in the private sector), the conveyor belt into weak universities is a journey into debt, fuelled by the promise of a salary premium that will never be realised. In effect, they are victims of fraud.

According to the National Student Survey, the average debt of a university entrant, starting this year, will be £25,000. But, it is claimed, the average graduate will, over the course of a career, earn £100,000 gross more than former schoolfriends who could have gone to university, but chose to get a job at 18.

This figure is, at best, a guess, constructed with the sticky tape of wishful thinking. Yesterday is no guide to tomorrow, because the number of young people entering university has soared from 6-7 per cent when I went in the mid-1970s, to more than 40 per cent today. As in any market, over-supply results in falling prices.

In 2003, when the last government was softening up the system for the introduction of higher top-up fees, it cited research indicating that graduates would, over a lifetime, earn some £400,000 more than non-graduates. But a 2007 survey by Universities UK downgraded it to £160,000, and since then, according to a committee led by Lord Browne, the income boost for degree holders has been eroded to just £100,000.

Even if this is correct, an average is just that. So for every first-class physicist from Imperial College who ends up earning £200,000 as an analyst in the City, there must be an origami graduate from the University of Coketown who is suffering hard times.

Too many would-be students and their parents fail to appreciate the vast discrepancy in quality between universities, and what this means for job prospects and pay. They live the dream, only to discover after graduation that many leading employers recruit primarily from Russell Group and 1994 Group institutions, which between them account for just 39 of the UK’s 130 universities.

Most companies are not interested in being vehicles for social mobility; they simply want to hire the brightest people. In a heartbeat, they work out where to look. At the top end of the university tables, Cambridge is demanding A*AA passes at A-level for entry on just about all its courses. At the bottom end, some universities are accepting students with CC or even less.

Nine universities – Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, University College London and St Andrews – have an intake that comprises more than 30 per cent from private schools. This has nothing to do with snobbery or elitism; it’s about maintaining standards. A vice-chancellor from one of them told me that his institution was “straining” to admit more state-school candidates, but too few were able to meet the minimum requirements.

As Lord Adonis, Labour’s minister for schools 2005-08, wrote recently, instead of dreaming up schemes for a graduate tax (which will be uncollectable from foreign students and Britons who become expatriates), the Government should focus on “eradicating the long tail of seriously under-performing comprehensives”. The aim should be to improve state schools, because throttling private providers serves no purpose other than to cheer up Lord Prescott and his miserable crowd.

Nobody wants to stamp on the hopes of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of course they should be encouraged to go to university, but only if they know the true costs and likely benefits. Moreover, there is no reason for those who didn’t make the grades this week to despair.

You don’t need to be an entrepreneurial hot-shot – a Richard Branson or a Philip Green – to make it to the top without a degree. Some of the most prestigious jobs in conventional British industry are filled by those who avoided university, among them the chairmen of BAA (Sir Nigel Rudd), Vodafone (Sir John Bond), Marks & Spencer (Sir Stuart Rose), British Airways (Martin Broughton); the senior partner at Deloitte (John Connolly) and the chief executive of HSBC (Mike Geoghegan). All is not lost.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Wishy-washy Christians in education

Mike Adams

If Christianity dies in America it will not be for a lack of evidence of its truthfulness. It will be for a lack of dissemination of the evidence of its truthfulness. And the blame for the lack dissemination of that evidence will fall squarely on the shoulders of Christian men who are simply too weak and passive to deserve to be called “Christian” or “men.”

In the last few months, I have been in no less than one dozen arguments with “Christian men” who have attempted to persuade me to stop my advocacy of, and direct involvement in, litigation against public universities. This is despite the fact that the universities are seeking to curtail the rights of Christian students and professors.

Three common arguments I have heard, and my brief responses to them, follow: Argument for passivity: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek to whoever slaps us on our right cheek. How do you reconcile that with your assertion that “a lawsuit a day keeps the atheists at bay”?

Response: This one is easy. A slap on the face is a personal insult. Jesus is clearly admonishing us to ignore such personal insults; He isn’t saying we can’t aggressively call out evil. Jesus Himself aggressively called out evil as recorded later in the same Gospel (Matthew 23).

This coming year I am planning a series of legal challenges to universities that have launched “Queer Resource Centers” and “LGBTQIA Centers” on campus. The goal is not to shut the centers down but, instead, to force them to present issues in a more balanced fashion.

For example, those centers using mandatory student activity fees to bolster the case for gay marriage will be pressured (legally) to invite speakers like Frank Turek who will argue the other side of the issue. We will rely on the ten-year old Southworth case in our efforts to ensure that student fees are spent in a viewpoint neutral manner.

When I launch these challenges the “liberal” blogs will say I am secretly gay. That is the way they always respond. It’s a silly personal insult revealing nothing more than the unfortunate fact that many gays secretly hate themselves. I will simply ignore such insults and proceed with the lawsuits.

I would urge everyone – especially those who trumpet the importance of “context” - to read the entire Sermon on the Mount. When they do, they will realize that Jesus also said that those who are persecuted in His name will be richly blessed. The tallest blade of grass is the one that gets cut first. Similarly, the Christian who stands tallest is the one that gets persecuted first. Therefore, those who stand tall and do not roll over will be the first to be blessed.

Argument for passivity: In Luke 6:29, Jesus urges that one who has his coat taken from him to should also hand over his tunic. Doesn’t that suggest that we should not resist campus efforts to take away Christian rights?

Response: The coat and tunic are material things. We would do well to hand over material things to those in need. If we were more generous on the front end, people would be less inclined to steal. But religious liberty is not a material thing. It is a non-material thing that is the principal basis for this nation’s founding. It belongs to everyone and, therefore, cannot be handed over by any one individual to any other individual.

Put simply, we have a right to hand over our own tunic. But we cannot hand over someone else’s tunic as well. When we give away our rights we give away the rights of others without their consent. That is not a requirement of Christianity. It is a hallmark of cowardice.

Argument for passivity: Doesn’t the Bible tell us to abide by laws and submit to the authority of government?

Response: It sure does. And the First Amendment is the law of the land. When it is violated, we should protest by using the First Amendment. If our protests are ignored we should use civil litigation to uphold the laws that lawless secular humanists seek to destroy. The key word here is “civil.” Christians should not hurl stones in the streets. They should remain civil by filing civil suits.

The Apostle Paul tells Christians they should not sue one another. But he did not say we should not sue heathens. Let us never forget that a large proportion of what is written in the New Testament was written by Paul from inside prison. He was boldly asserting his rights as a Roman citizen. He was not cowering in the face of abject evil, as so many man-boy “Christians” are today.


3,500 British straight-A students miss out on university

Dozens of universities declared themselves full yesterday as a minister triggered fury by urging thousands of high- achieving students to settle for 'less competitive' degree courses.

Institutions filled up more quickly than ever as record-breaking A-level results allowed 388,000 applicants to claim their chosen places. Incredibly, around 3,500 students with straight A grades could be left high and dry and forced to reapply next year.

Pass rates rose for the 28th successive year despite a toughening up of the exam system, while one in 12 pupils scored the new A* super-grade. It left more than a quarter of university applicants - 187,625 - without confirmed places and facing the biggest scramble for ten years to find last-minute vacancies through the clearing system.

Research by the Mail indicates that more than 20 universities - including Bristol, Birmingham, Warwick, Exeter, Bournemouth and Leeds Metropolitan - have effectively put up 'closed' signs, while a further 18 have just a handful of places left.

Half as many courses were being advertised in clearing this year compared to 2009 - 18,500 down from 32,000, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said.

With universities under threat of hefty fines for exceeding strict recruitment targets and applications up 10 per cent on last year, some 150,000 applicants are expected to miss out altogether. While nearly 48,000 students found courses through clearing last year, the number this year is expected to be closer to 30,000.

Universities Minister David Willetts, who has predicted that 3,500 candidates with three As will be left without places, drew a storm of criticism after suggesting that well-qualified applicants faced with rejection should lower their expectations. He told them 'I am sorry', and added that one option would be to 'look at applying for slightly less competitive universities for next year'.

But Sally Hunt, a university union boss, said: 'I am astounded that the Government's insulting response to the university crisis is simply to advise some people to temper their ambition. After years of being inspired to aim higher the coalition government is actually telling students to aim lower.'

The row erupted as A-level students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland celebrated yet another crop of record-breaking performances. The inexorable rise in results continued despite the introduction of open-ended essay-style questions aimed at restoring the credibility of the 'gold standard' exam. Candidates were also expected to study fewer units but in more depth.

While 8.1 per cent of exams - one in 12 - were awarded the new elite A* grade, for students scoring 90 per cent in their final exams, the proportion of A grades rose for the 13th straight year to 27 per cent - up 0.3 per cent. The pass rate covering A to E grades, meanwhile, rose to 97.6 per cent. It means only one in 42 exams were failed.

John Dunford, representing secondary school and college principals, said: 'No question, those examinations have been harder and yet the results have been maintained and indeed slightly improved.'


Benedikt Scheffer has discovered that good grades are not enough to secure a university place. Ben Scheffer achieved three A*s and three As yesterday but does not have an offer from a single university.

The 18-year- old student at Brighton College had applied to study economics at Oxford, London School of Economics, University College London, Bristol and Warwick. The teenager, who lives with his family in Munster, Germany, was turned down by all the institutions despite being predicted to get two A*s and three As.

Ben had already achieved an A in German A-level during his lower sixth studies at the independent school. Yesterday, he went on to get As in chemistry and further maths and A*s in maths, physics and economics.

He said: 'I'm really pleased with my results but don't understand why I didn't get a place. The system is wrong when so many are missing out. There just aren't enough places.'

Ben plans to take a gap year before reapplying next year. His headmaster, Richard Cairns, said his case showed the ' vagaries' of the admissions system and the need for an overhaul.


Australia: The collapse of school discipline again

Parents threaten legal action to remove primary school 'bully'

PARENTS of a six-year-old boy may take legal action to remove an alleged bully who has been tormenting their son in class.

Taner, a pupil at Roxburgh Homestead school, in Melbourne, has allegedly been kicked, punched, ridiculed and verbally abused by a classmate for several months.

But Taner's parents, Sue and Cane, yesterday accused the school of failing to protect him even though staff had admitted the perpetrator was "fixated" on their son and a psychologist had recommended he be moved.

Sue, who asked that the family's surname not be published, said Taner had become so distressed by the bullying that he was admitted to hospital after vomiting and complaining of stomach cramps and breathing problems. "He said, 'Mum, I can't go to school. Every time I go he's just going to hit me and hurt me all the time'," she said. "He's been kicking him in the legs, punching him in the arms. He's having nightmares, he's extremely distraught."

Taner, who is being kept at home, said the attacks made him sad and he hadn't learnt much this year. "He hits me every school day. I say, 'Stop it, I don't like it', I give him one warning and then a second or last warning and then he hits me," he said.

Sue said the Roxburgh Park school had promised to deal with the issue, but the attacks had continued. It is believed the alleged bully has autism.

Taner's parents want the other boy removed from the class, but so far the school has offered only to transfer Taner. A child psychologist has recommended that Taner remain in his class, but an Education Department student wellbeing officer has told the parents the alleged bully will not be moved.

When told that the parents were considering legal action, the officer allegedly said: "I'll see you in court." It is believed this has been disputed.

Cane said the school had admitted the alleged bully's fixation on his son, but the family felt let down by the school and the department. "We are the victims but we are being made to feel like we're the guilty party," he said.

Roxburgh Homestead principal Barb Adam said the school had been dealing with the issue and wanted to continue talking with both families to resolve it. "There have been mechanisms that have been put in place to support both students," she said. "We're really confident we can resolve this issue but because it appears to have become a legal matter it would be inappropriate for the school to comment further."

The department confirmed it was investigating the matter. "We're working with both families to resolve the issue," a spokesman said. "No bullying is tolerated in our schools." [Except when it is!]

Parents Victoria spokeswoman Elaine Crowle said there was rarely a win-win situation in these matters. "The child and the parents deserve to feel supported by the school and we would always encourage parents to try and have it handled by the school," she said.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Too many middle class students at university, says British Liberal leader

Upbringing blamed. Must not mention the role of IQ or genetics. Brains help you to get rich and you pass on your higher IQ to your children genetically -- so kids from affluent backgrounds are more likely to be born smart and thus do well in education. There will ALWAYS be a class gap in educational achievement and ignoring that is pissing into the wind

Nick Clegg attacked middle class dominance of university places yesterday, denouncing what he called 'educational apartheid' on the eve of the A-level results.

The privately educated Deputy Prime Minister revived memories of Labour's war on the middle class by complaining that the huge increase in the number going to university has done nothing to improve social mobility.

Mr Clegg used a speech on improving the life chances of the poor to point out that the vast majority of new university entrants have been students from affluent homes. The LibDem leader, who says he benefited from a 'very lucky upbringing' and education at the exclusive Westminster public school and Cambridge University, said that 'a disproportionate number of university students come from the middle and upper classes'.

With up to 160,000 pupils, who get their A-Level results today, expected to fail to win a university place, Mr Clegg suggested that the vast expansion of university spaces over the last 20 years may not have been a good thing. The number of students attending university has gone from 15 per cent of school leavers at the start of the 1990s to 40 per cent now. At one stage, Labour's target was for 50 per cent of all 18-year-olds to attend university.

But Mr Clegg said: 'There is evidence that - contrary to expectations - increased levels of attendance at university have not translated into higher levels of social mobility. 'This is why I feel so passionately that we need to attack the educational apartheid that currently exists between vocational and academic learning.'

His comments were reminiscent of Gordon Brown's outspoken attack on Oxford University after it rejected straight-A comprehensive school pupil Laura Spence ten years ago. The then Chancellor's comments backfired when it turned out that the admissions department in question had an impeccable record of admitting talented students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Mr Clegg used a speech to the think tank Centre Forum to blame middle class dominance of the universities and 'closed professions' such as medicine, the law, politics and the media for a decline in social mobility under Labour.

But the Deputy Prime Minister did admit that he might not be where he is today without such a privileged upbringing. He said 'the evidence is absolutely overwhelming' that the circumstances of your birth determine your opportunities in life.

Mr Clegg said that good parenting is more important than poverty in determining life chances. He suggested government should look at encouraging parents to help their children with their education. 'Parents are in the frontline when it comes to creating a fairer society, in the way that they raise their children,' he said.

'According to one study, the amount of interest shown by a parent in their child's education is four times more important than socioeconomic background in explaining education outcomes at age 16.

'This is not an area where the state can simply pull a lever or two and put things right. These are also potentially perilous waters for politicians. But at the same time we must not remain silent on what is an enormously important issue. 'Parents hold the fortunes of the children they bring into this world in their hands.'

Mr Clegg is to run a Government campaign to improve social mobility to try to persuade voters that the coalition 'is about much more than cuts'. He also confirmed the appointment of former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Milburn as a 'social mobility tsar', reporting to Parliament on whether the Government is helping the less well off get on in life.


Graduating no longer guarantees a promising career

Comment from Wales

The results are in and the clearing process is well under way. As A-level students up and down the country plan their next step into higher education, record numbers face a desperate scramble for university places. But with spiralling costs and unprecedented competition, Gareth Evans asks whether the stresses and strains are really worth it?

TODAY marks the dawn of a new era for thousands of students across Wales, but what happens next is by no means certain. Record numbers are expected to be disappointed and could need to look elsewhere. Fortunately, scoring a degree is not the only key to being successful. Music mogul Simon Cowell left school with no qualifications and Sir Richard Branson ducked out at 16 to launch a magazine. A limited education has done neither particularly badly, and starting work in your teens has never been so appealing.

University vice-chancellors are this year expecting fewer places, despite a UK Government pledge to increase numbers by 10,000.

Society is changing at an alarming pace and higher education is undoubtedly the 21st century norm. But the phenomenal rise in demand, triggered by a debated rise in standards, is in danger of bringing the system to an abrupt halt. The number of students predicted to lose out this year could be as high as 200,000 following an increase in applications of more than 11%.

Knuckling down and working hard no longer guarantees progress, as it might have done 30 years ago. The reality is that highly-motivated and qualified learners are now commonplace and still struggling to find work years after graduating.

A university degree, in all its different guises, is not as saleable as it once was – and anything less than a 2:1 is regularly frowned upon.

Those lucky enough to progress into higher education are met with a wealth of options, from the traditional to the outright bizarre. There is literally something for everyone in institutions the length and breadth of the land. Selection is crucial and the likelihood of future employment must be weighed against short-term credibility and enjoyment.

Some qualifications, so narrow and niche, confine their reader to incredibly limited opportunities. There are only so many forensic experts and sports scientists in the world and vacancies are scarce.

But university is as much about social mobility and “finding oneself” as it is classroom learning. The pressures of settling down in a new town or city cannot be underestimated as young learners evolve into young adults in a little under three years. But is a crash-course in life skills and the headache of a highly-competitive jobs market really worth the predicted £25,000 debt?

According to the results of this week’s Push Student Debt survey, UK undergraduates now owe on average £5,600 for each year of study. Fees have gone up, the cost of living has spiralled and the “bank of mum and dad” is running dry after the recession. Average debt for students at university in Wales is, at £6,411, considerably greater than anywhere else.

UK Universities Minister David Willetts provided hope this week, declaring: “Graduates on average have better employment prospects and can expect to earn at least £100,000 net of tax, more than non-graduates across their working lives.”

But, as defiant NUS Wales president Katie Dalton has warned: “The governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay need to ensure that they are taking action to provide young people with education, employment and training opportunities and do not relegate a generation of young people to the dole queue.”

The conundrum is clear for all to see and the plethora of recent university-fuelled press coverage has thrown up few surprises.

Government plans to scrap the fixed retirement age has not helped, with new workers hindered by older staff wanting to stay in employment beyond their 65th year.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) this year saw a 63% rise in applications from the over-25s. Chief executive Mary Curnock Cook told the Western Mail: “More young people are doing well in their studies and, faced with a difficult job market, older applicants feel that they need better qualifications.”

Thousands of school-leavers facing disappointment in this week’s clearing crisis are preparing themselves for a stressful scramble.

But studying part-time or at home is a viable option, with the Open University in Wales reporting a 45% increase in 18 to 24-year-olds choosing from its range of 600 qualifications. Traditionally the domain of the mature student, the OU is attracting a new generation of learners warned away from the bright lights of live-in university.

Last week, the principal of a Cambridge college said the academic gap between school and university was widening, partly because the attention spans of students had been shortened by “bite-sized” A-levels.

A major international study is due to be launched by England’s exams watchdog Ofqual to check whether the country’s A-levels are as testing as their global equivalents.

Just when you thought the outlook could not get any bleaker, research published this week revealed the risk of a teenager dropping out of school, training and work has risen by 40% since the start of the recession. Just over 9% of young people with Level 3 qualifications, which include A-levels, were classed as NEET – not in education, employment or training – in the second quarter of 2010, up from 6.4% in the first quarter of 2008.

But the analysis of the Labour Force Survey, conducted by the ippr think-tank and the Private Equity Foundation, revealed young people who left school with no qualifications were the most at risk of dropping out of education and work.

Lisa Harker, co-director of the ippr, said: “While it is true that those with A-levels and degrees have seen their risk of becoming NEET increase the fastest, they remain much better protected than young people who have no qualifications, and they are likely to do better when the economy recovers.”


GA: Parents applaud Governor Sonny Perdue for his crackdown on test-cheating

Teachers and school officials at the minimum condoned it by their inaction, and may also have been actively involved

Like many parents in Atlanta, Governor Sonny Perdue has had enough. In a surprise statement today, the governor said that he’s cracking down on alleged CRCT cheating and the state Board of Education. So much so that Governor Perdue has appointed a special investigator with subpoena powers to get to the bottom of the CRCT cheating issue. "If the results warrant, they also will be forwarded to law enforcement for possible criminal investigation," the governor told the Board of Education.

He also said that it’s a sad day because the Board of Education was unable to clear up the CRCT mess on its own. "I know you share my deep disappointment with the results. To this day, we still have not gotten to the bottom of what was revealed in the 2009 CRCT results," Perdue told the board.

Once excessive erasures were discovered, the individual school systems were allowed the opportunity to look into the issues. According to Governor Perdue, the individual investigations were “woefully inadequate, both in scope and depth.” The head of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement reported major problems with the investigations, stating that the staff at six of the schools targeted with cheating problems wouldn’t cooperate with the investigation.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Atlanta schools spokesman Keith Bromery said, "APS welcomes the Governor’s call for a special investigator to look into this matter, and the district will fully cooperate with all aspects of that investigation."

What? Why are the school systems so ready to “cooperate fully” when they did not do so in the first place? If they had, Governor Perdue would never had to launch a separate investigation. Jeers to you, school officials. And cheers to you, Governor Sonny Perdue. Parents in Atlanta applaud your efforts to stand up to the systems that refuse to get to the bottom of the on-going matter.

Cheating should not be tolerated on any level at any time, but especially as it relates to our children and the annual Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. It seems that cheating issues have been reported the last few years, and it’s time for it to stop. Good for you, Sonny Perdue. You have the support of parents.

The same can’t be said of Atlanta Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall. Although she has accepted full responsibility for the cheating scandal and calls it “a painful chapter in our history,” her actions don’t reflect her words. It may be a little too late for Beverly Hall to save face with parents and school administrators. Is it time for Hall to step down and bring in a fresh new face to move forward in a new direction? This parent certainly thinks so.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Promiscuous sex not good for student grades

There is good news for parents who worry that their teenagers’ sex lives are affecting their school performance: A provocative study has found that teens in committed relationships do no better or worse in school than those who do not have sex.

The same is not true for teens who hook up. Researchers found that those who have casual flings get lower grades and have more school-related problems compared with those who abstain.

The findings, presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Sociological Association in Atlanta, challenge to some extent assumptions that sexually active teens tend to do less well in school.

It is not so much whether a teen has sex that determines academic success, the researchers say, but the type of sexual relationship he or she is engaged in. Teens in serious relationships may find social and emotional support in their sex partners, reducing their anxiety and stress levels in life and in school.

“This should give some comfort to parents who may be concerned that their teenage son or daughter is dating,’’ said sociologist Peggy Giordano of Bowling Green State University, who had no role in the research. Teen sex is “not going to derail their educational trajectories,’’ she said.

Last year, nearly half of high school students reported having had sexual intercourse, and 14 percent have had four or more partners, according to a federal survey released this summer.

For the study, sociologist Bill McCarthy of the University of California, Davis, and University of Minnesota sociologist Eric Grodsky analyzed surveys and transcripts from the largest national follow-up study of teens that began during the 1994-95 academic year. The researchers said not much has changed in the past decade in terms of attitudes toward teen sex.


Back to School? Bring Your Own Toilet Paper

Big bureaucracy to support. Kids and parents come second to clerks and "administrators"

When Emily Cooper headed off to first grade in Moody, Ala., last week, she was prepared with all the stuff on her elementary school's must-bring list: two double rolls of paper towels, three packages of Clorox wipes, three boxes of baby wipes, two boxes of garbage bags, liquid soap, Kleenex and Ziplocs.

"The first time I saw it, my mouth hit the floor," Emily's mother, Kristin Cooper, said of the list, which also included perennials like glue sticks, scissors and crayons. Schools across the country are beginning the new school year with shrinking budgets and outsize demands for basic supplies. And while many parents are wincing at picking up the bill, retailers are rushing to cash in by expanding the back-to-school category like never before.

Now some back-to-school aisles are almost becoming janitorial-supply destinations as multipacks of paper towels, cleaning spray and hand sanitizer are crammed alongside pens, notepads and backpacks...


University crackdown on British High School exam resits

What a mess British university entrance is!

Leading universities are introducing rules to regulate A-level resits as record numbers of teenagers rejected from degree courses prepare to take exams again. Many institutions are imposing “bans” on resits for some courses or demanding that students who take tests a second time score higher marks.

Just days before the publication of A-level results, Cambridge said new grades obtained after re-taking an entire year would only be considered in “compelling mitigating circumstances”. Oxford said students had to make a “very compelling case” to explain why they failed to perform to the required standard first time.

Others including Birmingham, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Surrey and University College London said students may need to achieve better grades than the standard entry level in some subjects when exams are taken a second time.

A spokesman for Leeds said: “In some cases we look for better grades from those students who are taking re-sits to reflect the fact that these students are usually taking only one or two exams, compared with their peers who are sitting three or four full A-levels at once.”

The disclosure comes amid a rise in the number of people expected to re-sit their A-levels this year after missing out on preferred university places.

Yesterday, the Council for Independent Education, which represents many colleges specialising in A-level resit courses, said the number of website enquiries were up by two-thirds compared with last year.

More students are expected to miss out on their preferred university place after applications soared by 12 per cent as more teenagers push for higher education in the recession. An extra 68,000 students are competing for places, figures show, with demand swelled by some 57,000 people reapplying after failing to win university places last year.

It is believed between 30 and 50 per cent of pupils re-take some papers. But as competition for degree places grow, some universities are now devising policies to regulate re-takes.

Birmingham said that – for most subjects – it was happy to make offers to candidates re-sitting A-levels but they “may occasionally be one grade higher” than the standard offer. Some subjects including law, dentistry and medicine would not consider candidates taking resits, the university said.

Sheffield said full A-level resits were not accepted in medicine degrees, while UCL insisted that students taking law or medicine needed to “achieve the grade requirements in one sitting”.

Edinburgh said resits for medicine and veterinary medicine were only considered in special circumstances and in other subjects offers will be “above the minimum stated entry requirements.”

Reading said it accepted resits but would “prefer students to have taken exams together, to demonstrate their ability to cope with a reasonable workload in one go”.

Schools warned universities against imposing new rules on resits. Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents top independent schools, said: “In the past, this practice was quite sporadic but this evidence suggests it is becoming more systematic. "If universities are going to set new requirements there should be a lead time of at least the two year duration of an A level course."

James Wardrobe, from the Council for Independent Further Education, said: “The advice that I would strongly give to any student thinking of re-taking A-levels is that they ring up specific admissions departments and ask what their policy is on re-takes.”


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Arne Duncan Gets a Failing Grade This Time

One of the few bright spots in the Obama Administration has been its efforts regarding public education, an arena in which the federal government has become far too invasive. Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have taken on ever so slightly some of the education bureaucracy – a startling development, considering that the education unions threw $50 million or more at Obama’s campaign and those of other Democrats. Obama had made some statements about challenging the educational establishment in The Audacity of Hope, but somehow it seemed like empty campaign rhetoric. So amidst this glint of optimism, it was profoundly disappointing to hear that Duncan laid a giant egg in his recent statements about the length of the school year.

At first glance, Duncan’s comments to the National Press Club were appealing. The Secretary spoke candidly about how the country has to get serious about education. He joked about kids going to school 13 months a year, but also thoughtfully observed that we must introduce significant reforms into a public education system that, after all, originated over a century ago when America had an agrarian economy. He said “In all seriousness, I think schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and 11-12 months of the year.” Continuing this theme, he added “This is not just more of the same. There would be a whole variety of after-school programs. Obviously academics would be at the heart of that, but you top it off with dancing, art, drama, music, yearbook, and robotics, activities for older siblings and parents, and ESL classes.” He also pointed that, where students attend school for 25-30 days more than we do, the countries are beating us. Considering the source, this tough talk was unexpected.

Then reality set in, and it should be obvious that there are two very compelling reasons that this proposal is so far off base. Yes, there are other countries whose children attend school for longer periods, and this needs to be considered as part of our educational reforms. We must also keep in mind that curriculums are more complicated today. The most sophisticated math taught in the high schools of forty years ago is now taught in 7th or 8th grade, and this increased complexity is reflected in the hard sciences, such as physics and chemistry.

Mr. Duncan’s proposal does not confront the crux of the problem with today’s system. For many generations, Americans were taught in this “agrarian economy” system and actually received an education. They could read, write, add, and subtract. They read classic literature, could speak a foreign language, and knew history, especially American history. The students graduating today can do almost none of this, and adding 25-30 days to the school calendar will not change that fact.

Last year, a friend of mine told me about one of his new employees, a recent graduate of a major university. He was appalled by how poorly the young man wrote a simple business letter. A year later, my friend still reviews all of his outgoing correspondence. This may seem like one person in a large society, but that would not be the case. This corroborates the observations of almost everyone in my generation, who are horrified by the inability of so many young Americans to write and communicate -- not to mention their near non-existent knowledge of history or geography.

Contrast this with a recent viewing of a video of the Rat Pack. In 1966, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. performed for a charity event in St. Louis. Near the end of the show, Sammy pleads “Can we just do this song?” Immediately – and obviously unrehearsed – Frank and Dino jump in from different sides of the stage, turn to Davis, and say “It’s ‘May we?’ Sammy, ‘May we?’” These two palookas, neither of whom completed a full year of high school, knew proper English 45 years ago. Today, many high school graduates can barely form a sentence, let alone know whether it is proper English.

It isn’t for lack of resources. We have been pouring billions into the school system with very disappointing results, and we are repeatedly being misled as to how much money is spent. Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute analyzed the expenditures of school districts across the country and found they routinely omitted health and pension costs for teachers, capital budgets for the schools, and a myriad of other necessary expenditures. In fact, the real costs per pupil are 50% to 150% higher than the average cost claimed by the districts. For example, the stated per-pupil cost for L. A. Unified is $10,053 when it is really $25,208. In Beverly Hills, they say that they spend $11,205 per student, but actually pay out $20,751.

More money and more time will not cure the problem that has been created by a system not aimed to serve the customer – the child and the parents of the child. Until Mr. Duncan reforms the system to serve the need of the customers – not those of the employees or bureaucrats – he could have the kids sleeping at the school and their education will not improve.

The other flaw with Mr. Duncan’s suggestion is that it smells of the nanny state. Let’s have the kids at school 12 hours a day, 12 months a year, under the supervision of government/union employees – so they can be further indoctrinated by the state and barely see their parents. The parents can watch them in plays and wrestling matches, but will only see them at home in their beds. Why don’t we dispense with parents and just have breeders, and then have the state care for the children?

In the past, Mr. Duncan has seemed like someone willing to confront the true problems of our school systems – systems that have been administered by Democrats for over fifty years in every major metropolitan area, and consistently run into the ground with the help of their union buddies. Until he assaults the real villains in this debacle, he should not start romanticizing about a utopian future where the state controls our children from nursery school.


Who'd be an 18-year-old today? My generation's lies have wrecked their dreams

Comment on the low educational standards and credentialism in Britain today

What happens when a regime decides to brainwash a population, making them believe the most pernicious lies? With luck, the people eventually rebel and scream 'No!' - but not before much misery has been endured.

Let's not delude ourselves that lies are only told in totalitarian states. We're telling them right now to the very people who are this country's future: our young adults. When will they rise up and shout defiance - rejecting all the lies they have been told by successive governments?

I'd like to think it might happen sooner rather than later. That is, if today's 18-year-olds are not beaten down by gloom over the bad hand they've been dealt. They've been told for years that they must go to university - so there they are, competing desperately for fewer places than ever on the basis of A-level grades which have been systematically inflated.

As the Mail reported yesterday, that means thousands of those who receive three A grades - supposedly the highest level of achievement - must hope to sneak into what Tory minister David Willetts euphemistically calls 'less competitive' institutions.

Those who do secure a precious place then face crippling student debt. To cap it all, there's an uncertain job market for graduates - as well as for everyone else.

Never mind the longer-term worries about getting together the money to buy a house and save enough to start a family, or even - heaven forbid - build up a nest egg for their retirement.

All this lies in wait for our school leavers, while the world bombards them with demanding junk culture and plenty of worries, but little guidance or inspiration. Worst of all, no one teaches them how to cope with the real world.

Who would be an 18-year-old in 2010? My generation was so much luckier. On my bookshelf is a paperback of the selected poems of the Russian activist Yevgeny Yevtushenko, with the year I bought it written inside - 1969.

As a mini- skirted student, I approvingly ticked the famous poem Lies, which begins: 'Telling lies to the young is wrong.' Today I find myself rather embarrassed by that knowing tick because I knew so little - I was a complacent part of that very generation which has let this one down so badly. 'We never had it so good - but we have handed on so much that is bad to young people who deserve better.

When I first read Yevtushenko's poem, nobody had ever lied to me. My small, girls' grammar school gave me a challenging, academic education. As a student at University College London, I benefited from one- on- one tutorials, a generous local authority grant and an almost cast-iron guarantee of work.

Oh, but we found much to complain about. From the exam system, to the Vietnam war, to the capitalism on which the very prosperity of the West was founded - it was all up for noisy protest. We chanted 'We shall fight and we shall win' about a war on the other side of the world, in which no British soldiers were getting killed - as they are today.

No wonder young people today sometimes look at all the ' summer of love' posturing and think: 'How ridiculous.' Really, they ought to be angry - because that posturing has an ongoing effect on their lives.

I've often looked back with nostalgia at all that was good in the values of my generation - an idealism that sincerely wanted to make the world a better place. But Yevtushenko writes 'Forgive no error you recognise/ it will repeat itself, increase' - which is why I am not going to make excuses for what we got so wrong, the way our ideals folded in on themselves to create downright lies about what was possible.

Yes, there is a world recession, but that cannot explain away the mess these young people have inherited. How can it be separated from changes that have happened in the past 30 years - since we privileged baby-boomers took control?

One problem is those laissez-faire attitudes to education which have their roots in the radicalism of the Sixties, and go on betraying today's hopeful young. Another is the liberal-left mentality which refused to teach spelling, grammar or mathematics in case it created inequalities.

This was finally given the ultimate badge of respectability by Tony Blair when he declared ten years ago, with colossal vanity, that 50 per cent of young people should go into higher education.

Imagine if he had decreed that half of young people should excel (to competitive level) at a sport of their choice - and to do so, they would receive the intensive training to 'follow their dream' (as the absurd modern phrase puts it).

The reality of varying levels of natural ability would have quickly scotched that nonsense . Instead, the one- size-fits-all mantra did great harm to young people who should be celebrated for richly varied talents and skills, which need to be harnessed in different ways.

Everybody across the political spectrum told the young to aim high, aim for a degree - even if that meant creating ludicrous 'qualifications' which couldn't possibly lead to paid employment. With this went a criminal neglect of those most in need of attention - the working-class child who needs to be stretched.

Who was 'assisted' by the gradual erosion of standards? A teaching profession (I'm sorry to say) grown too attached to child-centred shibboleths and not enough to the red pen of constructive criticism. Who was served by grade inflation?

Head teachers, infected by the 'target' mentality of New Labour, whose empire-building vanity was fed by 20 hapless pupils going off to study Mickey Mouse courses - rather than one lad finding a rare apprenticeship in an honourable trade.

Universities expanded without resources, which meant they needed to sting far more foreign students for fees, and the numbers game meant that the recent generations of students lacked real attention from their tutors. When my own son dropped out, nobody noticed. My daughter (doing an English degree at Warwick) had far less teaching than I had.

We have sold out the young by telling them that aiming high is the same thing as becoming a student. Wouldn't it be better to encourage many of these desperate A-level students to learn a skill - or enter a job through the menial back door? Plenty of high-fliers began by making the tea.

Why does everything from carpentry to nursing now require high- flown paper qualifications? The Cathedral at Chartres was build by people with no City & Guilds or B.Techs - or lengthy architecture degrees, either. Florence Nightingale did not think she had to have a degree in nursing to save lives.

Missing out on university is only a real loss if you have an absolute passion for an academic subject worthy of study. This is the truth which young people should grasp - and celebrate.

Let them rebel against the one-size-fits-all pressure and think outside that particular box. Let them realise that none of this is their fault. Let them be valued as individuals, not numbers.

As for we who are older - it's time we agreed with Yevtushenko that instead of offering our children the lie of impossible dreams, we should be honest and 'Say obstacles exist they must encounter/Sorrow happens, hardship happens'. And if we don't? Then (in the poet's words) 'our pupils will not forgive in us what we forgave.'


Australia: Difficult school gets a capable principal for once -- so the bureaucrats fire her

They should have stood up for her but were too gutless

SUSPENSIONS have almost tripled and truancy has doubled at Coober Pedy Area School since the ousting of principal Sue Burtenshaw. Figures obtained by The Advertiser, have shown an alarming decline in student attendance, with almost half the school's 230 pupils not attending on a regular basis.

In 2009, 31 students were suspended under Ms Burtenshaw, who was removed from her role this year following complaints over her tough stance on students and treatment of parents. But under the leadership of interim principals this year, behaviour has "swung out of control" with 86 students suspended and three excluded while only half-way into the school year.

Figures show that in May and June, student absences ranged between 86 to 124 students a day, compared to 36 to 66 students at the same time last year under Ms Burtenshaw.

Coober Pedy Area School assistant principal Kym Taylor has chosen to speak out on the issue, saying the school is in a "state of chaos" following the departure of Ms Burtenshaw, who joined the school in 2008 after the school had employed seven principals in nine years. "The school is in a state of chaos with kids not coming to school, children not staying in class and running in and out of classrooms, and swearing at teachers," Ms Taylor said.

"What we are doing is creating a generation of children at risk here. "We had policies in place, but because the policies were implemented by Sue and some people didn't like (them), there is now nothing in place."

After a six-month investigation into alleged misconduct, Education Department chief executive Chris Robinson announced last month that it was in "the best interests of the students, staff, community and Ms Burtenshaw that a new principal be appointed to Coober Pedy Area School".

But Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said he found it "extraordinary" that a principal who was able to improve attendance, reduce suspensions and improve NAPLAN results was removed from the school in the "interest of the students".

Education Minister Jay Weatherill said: "We now have a principal appointed for the rest of 2010 and are working to ensure there is a permanent principal appointed as soon as possible to start next year."

Ms Burtenshaw has appealed the decision.


Monday, August 16, 2010

MA: Surge in charter school requests

Law relaxed expansion limit

The state this year has seen a surge in applications for new charter schools, most targeted for the neediest urban districts, following the passage of legislation last winter that loosened longstanding limitations on their expansion.

By the Aug. 2 deadline, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had received 42 applications, the most in more than a decade, and three times as many as last year, when it received 14.

Twenty of the schools are targeted for Boston and eight for Springfield, both cities where low-income families have long clamored for better educational options.

Proponents of charter schools laud them for their freedom to deviate from union and district requirements and embrace innovative teaching.

“We challenged the charter school community to help us meet the needs of students stuck in the achievement gap, and they have responded with a record level of interest,’’ Governor Deval Patrick said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with the best charter operators and the best in-district innovators to raise the level of performance of all our kids.’’

Opponents of charter schools, which include many school districts, say they worry that an increasing number of such schools will drain vital dollars away from traditional public schools and create a divided system in which select students attend charter schools and students with special needs fill the traditional schools.

“If this is not done carefully, it will have a very negative impact on the state,’’ said Ed Doherty, assistant president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts. “We worry that we’re creating a system for the haves and have-nots. . . . The other [concern] is they basically drain money from traditional public schools.’’

Students who leave a public school district to attend a charter school — an independent public school that operates free of district oversight — take with them a slice of state aid that would have gone to the local district. This can amount to as much as $15,000 per student.

This academic year, there will be 63 charter schools in the state, or about 3.5 percent of the 1,831 public schools in Massachusetts.

Patrick and state lawmakers pushed through legislation earlier this year that doubled the number of charter school seats in districts with low MCAS scores as part of an effort to compete for $4.3 billion in federal dollars made available by President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which has sought to prod states to overhaul their public schools.

The spike in proposals represents the highest number of applications the state has received since 1997, when it lifted the cap that districts could spend on charter schools to 9 percent of their budgets. The law passed in January allows underperforming districts to increase their spending on charter schools to 12 percent of their budgets this academic year and then by 1 percent each year, until 2016, when they would reach the limit of 18 percent.Continued...

Some supporters of charter schools argue that the Patrick administration hasn’t moved quickly enough to boost the number of these institutions, noting that about 26,000 children are now on waiting lists, as many as are enrolled in such schools. They add that the state has only approved the opening of six charter schools in the past four years.

“How could this be a success for this governor?’’ said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker. “We want to see a charter school process devoid of politics, and we want to see access increase to address the increasing demand.’’

Patrick once resisted lifting a cap on charter schools but last year submitted legislation calling for their expansion and aggressively lobbied for its passage.

Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Education, said the administration has proved its commitment to increasing charter schools with the new legislation and noted that the paucity of new schools reflects how most districts, especially those in big cities, had already reached their budget limits.

“Schools couldn’t open there because there was no room to do so,’’ he said. “We proposed lifting the cap to meet the growing demand. . . . It’s worth noting that the previous administrations all tried unsuccessfully to raise the charter school cap, while we were able to double it in the districts where student need is greatest.’’

He added: “We don’t want to open schools for the sake of opening schools; we want to see high-quality schools opened.’’

The applications the state received this month are the start of a six-month process. Over the next month, school officials will vet the proposals and winnow the number of applicants. Those with the most appealing plans will be invited to make more lengthy proposals.

State education officials will review the final applications, seek public comment, and award new charters in February. Last year, the state reduced its 14 proposals for charter schools to seven. Only one was approved.

The directors of charter schools said they hope the odds will improve this year. Rebecca Cass, executive director of Excel Academy Charter School in East Boston, which opened in 2003 and now has 210 junior high school students, has sought to build four new charter schools, one in Chelsea and three in Boston. “We hope the new law allows us to meet the demand,’’ she said.

Alan Safran, executive director of the MATCH school, which runs a high school in Kenmore Square and a middle school in Jamaica Plain, has proposed a new school in Boston for 700 nonnative English-speaking students. “We see ourselves as working with the Boston public schools, not against them,’’ he said. “This should be a cooperative effort. We want to learn from their work, and we want them to learn from our work.’’


Cheat Sheet on Academia

Currently, the FBI director is scratching his head trying to figure out how many agents cheated on their agency exams. All of us might ponder where this drive to take what was once deemed an unacceptable shortcut comes from.

“Eighty percent of high school students admit to cheating,” Caroline Crocker of the American Institute for Technology and Science Education said at a Capitol Hill press conference on July 28, 2010. Another study found that “70 percent of students at Duke cheated,” Dr. Crocker said at the news briefing, which was sponsored by the Traditional Values Coalition.

A cell biologist by training, Dr. Crocker has seen this deterioration in standards up close and personal at universities she has been affiliated with. “I found that cheating by pre-med students was being winked at at George Mason University [GMU] and Creighton and now I see it when I tutor,” she said.

Nor is the practice confined to one side of the podium in lecture halls. “I’ve seen medical slides in medical school that come from Wikipedia,” she averred.

She personally will not stand for it, a policy that has cost her professionally. A student she caught cheating at GMU accused her of teaching creationism. Although Dr. Crocker can produce students to rebut the claim, guess who got asked to leave GMU’s Fairfax, Virginia campus. For posing “questions about evolution” at George Mason, she was “banned from lecturing.”

“She has two letters from the provost complimenting her for the high student ratings she received before the Darwin lecture,” we noted in 2007.” She has a few letters and e-mails from students who heard the lecture on Darwin and attested to her fairness in presenting the often-times contentious material.”

“They switched my 3-year contract to a one-year contract,” she stated in her recent appearance in the Capitol. When she took legal action, the school hired away the law firm that her attorney worked for.

Dr. Crocker is the author of Free To Think: Why Scientific Integrity Matters. Full disclosure: I wrote a jacket blurb for the book.

We first covered Dr. Crocker’s travails three years ago. “Want tenure?” I wrote. “Learn to love Charles Darwin.”

“Want to keep your tenure? Work his name into your license plates. Want to keep your job? Never, never cast aspersions upon academia’s favorite butterfly expert.”


Get the government out of British University education

I'm beginning to wonder whether any government programme or regulation actually helps the deserving groups that it is advertised as helping. Too often, I think, they help rather well-paid administrators, anti- poverty lobbyists, special interest groups and the friends of politicians.

Take higher education. It is heavily subsidised by taxpayers because it is supposed to help the whole country. But does it? By far the greatest beneficiaries are students themselves. The association of university heads has calculated that, over a lifetime, graduates earn £160,000 more than non-graduates. But graduates leave university with an average debt of just £23,000. That's a pretty spectacular return on investment.

Gordon Brown used to spend much of his available spleen, which was considerable, on chiding the universities for taking too many students from well-off families, and too many with a public school education. Try as he might, with all kinds of financial bullying and incentives, he just couldn't make it any different. So it's a double imbalance; not only do we subsidise universities that raise the incomes of their graduates well beyond the benefit to anyone else, but those students also come from better off backgrounds too. The young person who leaves school to become a bricklayer in Bootle pays higher taxes to send Old Etonians to Oxford to become Prime Minister.

If the universities were privatised, this would change in short order. For a start they would probably introduce, like the private University of Buckingham, snappy two-year degrees that kept down the cost and made student loans less daunting. If they charged those who could afford it realistic fees, and used the money for bursaries to gifted but poorer students, it would do more to open up opportunity, increase access, and spread benefit through the whole country than what we do today.

And what is true of universities is probably true of other government programmes. If you really want to help the people you say you want to help, rather than well-off people and public-sector administrators, the market can probably help you do it far more effectively than some public sector programme.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

“No Christianity Please, We’re Academics”

That’s the title of an essay Wheaton College Professor Timothy Larsen published recently on Insider Higher Ed. In the essay, Professor Larsen recounts the story of a public university student who repeatedly encountered professors hostile to Christianity. For example, an English professor reduced the student’s grade because he quoted C.S. Lewis, reasoning that it was inappropriate to quote “a pastor.” (Of course, Lewis was not a pastor but was a professor – of English — at Cambridge.)

Larsen also recounted one of his own experiences. Yale University Press publishes a series called “Rethinking the Western Tradition” that reprints influential texts along with original essays. Larsen proposed a volume on T.S. Elliot’s The Idea of a Christian Society. The editorial committee rejected his proposal, despite acknowledging that the proposal was well-crafted and had identified excellent scholars (including an outspoken atheist) to write the essays. That they rejected the proposal is not the point; instead, the comments members of the editorial committee made to justify their rejection of the proposal illustrated their irrational antipathy towards all things Christian.

Larsen (correctly) observed that the hostility he and his student experienced appears to be widespread. Those of us at ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom — and our clients — can certainly concur. At the conclusion of his essay, Larsen asserted that “scholars ought to be concerned that Christians often report that the academy is a hostile environment.” He called for an effort to systematically examine this apparent problem and propose appropriate remedies. However, he conceded his pessimism about “the academy being willing even to investigate the possibility of discrimination against Christians, let alone attempt to eradicate it.”

A principal purpose of ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom is change the academic culture by confronting the sort of anti-Christian animus Professor Larsen describes in his essay. Such hostility is always wrong, and frequently illegal. We share Larsen’s pessimism that the academy will eradicate the problem on its own. If you experience such animus, let us know. We stand ready to help protect academic freedom and restore the civility and respect that is all too often missing from the academic environment.


Un American American History Courses

Arizona's new law that requires the police to ask people to show ID, which was just knocked out by a supremacist judge, may not be the most controversial Arizona law about illegal aliens. Gov. Jan Brewer signed another law this year that bans schools from teaching classes designed to promote solidarity among students of a particular ethnic group.

This law bans classes that "promote the overthrow of the United States government" or "promote resentment toward a race or class of people" because schools should treat all pupils as individual Americans. The issue arose because the Tucson School District offers courses in Mexican-American studies (known locally as Raza Studies) that focus on that particular group and its influence.

The law doesn't prohibit these classes so long as they are open to all students and don't promote ethnic resentment or solidarity. However, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, says the basic theme of the Mexican-American studies program is that Latino students "were and continue to be victims of a racist American society driven by the interests of middle- and upper-class whites."

Among the goals listed for the Mexican-American Studies are "social justice" and "Latino Critical Race Pedagogy." Pictures of the classroom showed the walls decorated with "heroes," such as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Tucson also offers courses especially for African-American and Native-American students. These classes obviously divide the student population by race, a practice we thought was not supposed to be tolerated anymore.

Greta Van Susteren interviewed former Tucson high school teacher, John A. Ward, who was removed from teaching the class for Mexican Americans and reassigned because he questioned the curriculum. For raising concerns, Ward was called a racist. And since he is of Mexican heritage, Ward was also called a vendido (Spanish for sellout).

The state of Arizona requires students to take a course in American history in order to graduate, but Ward said the course was actually not about American history at all. He said it focused solely on the history of the Aztec people, which is the group to which Mexican-American activists ascribe their lineage.

Others who have looked at the books used in these courses say they refer to Americans as "Anglos" or "Euroamericans" rather than as "Americans." The books do not recognize the United States as a country, but claim Arizona is part of "Aztlan, Mexico" (even though the Aztecs never lived in what is now the United States).

The Mexican version of history is not the only foreign propaganda masquerading as American history in public school courses and textbooks.
Five chapters promoting Islam were inserted in a world history textbook that is authorized and recommended for seventh-grade students by the state of California.

This world history textbook, called "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond," gives the history and beliefs of Islam lengthy and favorable treatment far above and beyond what is given to every other religion, according to Stephen Schwartz in The Weekly Standard (Aug. 9, 2010).

The textbook uses what he calls a "sanitized vocabulary" to conceal Muslim practices that are criminal in the United States. These include forced marriage, forced divorce, marriage to children, polygamy and punishments imposed by Sharia law, such as public beheadings, amputations, cruel floggings and stonings.

Muhammad is the only person in this world history textbook who rates an entire chapter. Jesus gets only one sentence, and the contrast between the treatment of Islam and Christianity is shocking.

The book gives an entirely positive account of Muhammad's teachings, saying, for example, "He preached tolerance for Christians and Jews as fellow worshipers of the one true God." It says nothing about Jesus' teachings, but it does describe examples of Christian persecution of non-Christians.

This textbook tells students that the first year in the Muslim calendar is "the year of Muhammad's hijrah" (his escape from Mecca to Medina in the year 622). The book doesn't say from what event our Christian calendar dates, instead replacing A.D. with the trendy term "C.E." (Common Era).

William J. Bennetta, editor of The Textbook Letter, published a detailed analysis of this book's distortions, which he calls "pseudohistory." Bennetta documents how it was influenced by a Muslim pressure group, the Council on Islamic Education (CIE), which boasts of successfully "collaborating" with "K-12 publishers" to present a benign view of Islam to impressionable American schoolchildren.

Parents should check out how American history is taught, and NOT taught, in their children's schools. Is Islamic or Mexican propaganda masquerading as "American history"?


Red tape on British school expulsions 'to be axed'

Rules forcing schools to share badly behaved pupils could be scrapped, it emerged today. The Coalition said the requirement for schools to admit an unruly pupil for every one expelled would be reviewed amid fears it eroded head teachers’ powers to maintain discipline.

Other rules forcing schools to record all “significant incidents” in which teachers use force to restrain violent children could also be axed. The move forms part of Government plans to cut red tape and give heads more control over their own schools.

It comes just weeks after the Coalition announced a raft of new powers to crackdown on bad behaviour, including scrapping the required 24 hours notice on detentions and allowing teachers to search pupils for any banned item.

But the move has been criticised by one teaching union which said it could lead to an escalation of classroom disruption, bullying, gang-related violence and truancy.

Under rules due to be introduced next month, all schools are supposed to join “behaviour partnerships” – groups of local state secondaries that share resources to combat indiscipline.

The move – enshrined in an education Bill passed by Labour – requires schools to operate “one out-one in” expulsion policies. It was designed to ensure that all schools shared the worst-behaved pupils and unruly children were not concentrated in one place.

The legislation also forced schools to meet new truancy targets and record all incidents in which teachers physically restrain pupils. The measures have now been frozen subject to a review by the Coalition. They could be scrapped altogether.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Most schools already record incidences of use of force without these regulations and all schools are working to improve behaviour and attendance. “We are looking at whether imposing a legal requirement to do this would be an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. “This is about putting our trust back in front line professionals. We have already committed to strengthening the guidance and if necessary legislation around the use of force to give teachers the confidence to use these powers.”

But the NASUWT union said the move would undermine standards of behaviour as schools refuse to cooperate on discipline issues.

Chris Keates, general secretary, said: “The Coalition Government’s decision to roll back on changes designed to tackle poor pupil behaviour and truancy could prevent many schools from developing effective and sustainable solutions to these problems.

“Pupil behaviour problems often require schools to work together with the police and with other agencies to develop preventative and remedial strategies. “There is a real danger that revoking the requirement for behaviour partnerships risks increased classroom disruption, bullying, gang-related violence and truancy. This will cost the taxpayer more in dealing with increased antisocial behaviour.”