Saturday, August 28, 2010

One in four British lap dancers has a university degree

Mainly humanities (Arts) graduates, of course. What else are their degrees good for?

They are traditionally viewed as uneducated young women who are coerced into the lap dancing industry. But the first academic study on the subject has found that one in four lap dancers has a university degree and works in strip joints to boost their income.

Strippers take home an average of £232 per shift - or £48,000 a year - after paying commission and fees to the club where they work. Many are aspiring actresses, models and artists who hope to use exotic dancing as a lucrative platform for breaking into their desired industry. Unemployed new graduates – mainly with arts degrees – are also dancing because they cannot find graduate jobs.

They decided to work as strippers because it pays much better than bar work and the hours means they can still attend interviews, training days or further education courses during the day.

The research, conducted by Dr Teela Sanders and Kate Hardy from the University of Leeds, found the vast majority of women claimed to have high levels of job satisfaction. It concluded that career and economic choices were the key reasons for dancing rather than drug use or coercion. There was no evidence of trafficking in the industry, researchers found.

However, the academics claimed dancers' welfare was often disregarded because women could be in danger when alone with customers in private booths. They called for better regulations to improve dancers' safety, including the banning of private booths in clubs. Dancers are also open to financial exploitation by clubs who could impose charges and fines, the study showed.

One dancer told researchers: 'There's not enough security. I know of girls who have been raped and abused at work. 'You cannot go to the police as you are a stripper, so there's no legal standing.'

The findings come after a change in the law saw lap dancing clubs reclassified as entertainment venues, giving local authorities more power to limit the number of clubs in their area.

Dr Sanders said she had been surprised at the 'endless supply of women' wanting to be lap dancers. 'These women are incredibly body confident,' she said. 'I think there is something of a generational cultural difference.

'These young women do not buy the line that they are being exploited, because they are the ones making the money out of a three-minute dance and a bit of a chat.

'You have got to have a certain way about you to do it. They say 80 per cent of the job is talking. These women do work hard for their money – you don't just turn up and wiggle your bum.

'But there is an issue about whether these women become trapped in the job because of the money. I think people often stay longer than they want.'

All the 300 women interviewed during the year-long study had finished school and gained some qualifications. Almost 90per cent had completed a further education course, while a quarter had undergraduate degrees. Just over one in three dancers were currently in some form of education, with 14 per cent using dancing to help fund an undergraduate degree.

The researchers found arts degree graduates were most likely to turn to dancing after being unable to find other work. Others used dancing to provide a more steady and reliable income when working in more unstable arts jobs.

One dancer had been doing a law degree which included a work placement during her third year. While working, she got used to earning a good wage, decided she would struggle when she returned to university without an income, and began dancing as soon as she went back to finish her degree.


Separation of school and state

Today my wife and I met with our son’s kindergarten teacher. We are sending him to a pricey private school, but we think it is worth it. It’s not a status thing; this school really offers an environment we think will be great for our son.

It later occurred to me that sending a child to school is one of the most personal and serious decisions a family can make. For all the reasons that Americans strongly believe in separation of Church and State, they should also endorse separation of school and State.

On spiritual matters, the basic civil bargain runs like this: I promise not to use the force of law to make you (pretend to) believe in my religion, so long as you promise not to do the same to me. My freedom of conscience is very important to me, and I would never want to risk losing that in a society where the majority can enforce its religious views on the minority. I say this, even if my religious views are currently in the majority.

The same ought to hold for schooling. Even though I am a born again Christian, it would offend me if the government passed a law saying every child had to read the Bible, and go to church. But by the same token, it offends me that politicians dare to pass laws saying which biology and mathematics textbooks my child must read, and that he must go to school for a large portion of his life.

Whatever argument the modern American liberal could use to defend government intervention in schooling, could also be used to defend government intervention in religious matters. Of course it would be awful if the vast majority of parents were fools and didn’t educate their kids. But by the same token, it would be awful (in my mind) if the vast majority of parents raised their kids to believe there was no God, and that all of the universe in its majesty is really just a big coincidence.

It would be one thing if the government did a good job in the area of schooling. But of course, it fails miserably here too. That is why so many parents have embraced the homeschool movement, because it is the only way to protect their children from State-engineered propaganda.

For a superb analysis of the free market versus the government in matters of education–and note that education is different from schooling–see Murray Rothbard’s “Education: Free and Compulsory.”


"Insensitive" Australian school

An Australian primary school apologised after a student was awarded first prize at a costume party for dressing as Adolf Hitler. The school sent a letter of apology yesterday to parents after several complained about the child's Nazi-inspired getup, which included a swastika emblem, The West Australian newspaper reported.

The school's principal denied allegations that classmates had roared approval with chants of "Hitler, Hitler" explaining that youngsters had simply been calling out the name of the character they thought should win, Sky News Australia reported today..

Parents at the Catholic school also objected to several more "nasty" costumes, including a vampire outfit and a student dressed as the Grim Reaper, the newspaper said. The school, in Perth, Western Australia, has not been identified.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Britons should study foreign languages at school

The article below is an eloquent statement of the case for study of foreign languages. As it happens, languages are an enthusiasm of mine but I nonetheless doubt that the case for studying them is strong. I have some formal (but very minor) qualifications in Latin, Italian and German and I feel that the knowledge I have gained of all three has opened many gates for me. But I have a slight "gift" for languages and most people don't -- so I see no reason why most people should study them. I think that the study of foreign languages among English speakers should only be treated as an enthusiasm -- not a virtue

I suppose it's not entirely logical but I see the fate of a recent Prime Minister of Australia as instructive. Kevin Rudd's major subject of study at university was Mandarin Chinese. He basically knew nothing else. And he acquired a fluency that enabled him to speak mainly Chinese on his first state visit to China -- and having a blue-eyed blond person speak good Chinese to them certainly impressed the Chinese leadership. And any Westerner who acquires fluency in Chinese is certainly exceptional and to be admired.

Yet Australia's relationship with China did not prosper under Rudd's leadership and he was eventually booted out of office over matters in which his knowledge of Chinese did not help one bit. Had he studied Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk he would have done much better

I have corrected all the spelling mistakes below. I can understand an enthusiast for foreign languages being shaky in her own language but how did so many mistakes get past the DT copy editors?

by Cassandra Jardine

During the past week, I have felt like a dinosaur. One daughter has just achieved the A-levels that will allow her to study French and Italian at Oxford. Another is about to start A-level Spanish. The third is eager to do two languages when she enters the sixth form. Meanwhile, my 11-year-old has been at a language school in Touraine to learn some French. (Having glanced at his primary school exercise book where Au Revoir was spelled “Ovwa”, I felt he needed a spot of immersion.)

But it seems that I am one of a dwindling number of parents who think that it’s important to have even a smattering of a foreign language. The latest figures for GCSEs and A-levels show such a steep decline that German is all but kaput, and even French is heading for la merde - For the first time it has been booted from the top ten most popular subjects (replaced by Religious Studies). The number of students taking these languages at GCSE has nearly halved since 2002.

The decline in language A-levels is equally steep. Only 13,850 students took A-level French this year, a drop of more than 3 per cent in just 12 months. German has dwindled to just 5,548 candidates.

“Exotics” like Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Polish are creeping up at all levels but the overall trend is down and many university departments have closed in recent years, due to lack of demand, leaving largely the Russell Group to keep the study of modern languages alive. Just 28,500 of nearly 2 million undergraduates at British universities are studying languages. Three quarters of them are women.

The British attitude to languages is polarised. On the pushy side we have parents enrolling their two-year-olds for lessons in Mandarin. Elsewhere, languages are seen as a pointless chore and little wonder. As far as children can tell from their diet of films, music and television everyone can speak English. On this island, we rarely come across the 93 per cent of the world population that doesn’t share our language. Nor are we aware that 80 per cent of internet content comes in other languages. So what’s the point of struggling with irregular verbs, and speaking in a funny accent?

According to the Annual Language Trends Survey for 2009, just 41 per cent of comprehensive school pupils took a modern language at GCSE. It is selective and private schools that are keeping languages alive. At A-level, the 7.7 per cent of children in private schools are now so over-represented, that only 11 of 31 Cambridge colleges have a majority of language students from state schools.

The rot started long before a foreign language ceased to be compulsory at GCSE in 2004 - and has spread. Like fish stocks, levels are now so low that Mike Kelly, Professor of French at Southampton University and Director of the UK Support Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Study, says: “If the clock is ticking, we are getting close to midnight. We had hoped that the decline in modern languages had bottomed out, but it’s not getting better.

“Free choice has meant that languages are often set against subjects like art or drama, and are pushed further down the list of preferences. Languages are a long term business: you don’t get quick rewards. It takes three or four years to get to a decent level, whereas in other subjects you can have fun without long-term preparation.”

Language teaching can, indeed, be deadly boring. Pupils at state primary schools must be offered a language option, though they don’t have to take it. More than 90 per cent now do, but the teaching, in my experience, is desultory: hence my 11-year-old being parcelled off to France for a two-week confidence-boosting session before joining a private school. “I won’t be able to communicate with anyone except my one English friend,” he wailed on arrival - and this after being 'taught’ French over several years.

Even at secondary school, the approach can be stultifying. In the interests of relevance, weary teenagers practice talking about their holidays, families and hobbies year after year. For GCSE they learn fifty such answers by heart to parrot in the oral exam. A child with a good memory could pass without understanding a word of what he or she is saying.

French came alive for me when I was sent on what I tell my children was a “proper” exchange holiday. Landed in a family where no English was spoken, I had to up my game. Nowadays, for fear of causing alarm, the standard language study trip involves spending all day sightseeing with English classmates, and has almost no observable impact except on the wallet.

And yet if we continue to let modern languages decline, employers say, we would be making a grave mistake. “In today’s world English graduates without languages are at a real disadvantage.” says Anny King, French-born director of the Centre for Languages at Cambridge University. “The English think: 'I’m all right Jack, because everyone speaks English,’ but there are a lot of countries where you are lost if you only speak English.”

The EU and the UN are trawling for British people with command of foreign languages, and the jobs aren’t all in interpretation, translation and teaching. Languages are essential for research. Olympic hurdler Sally Gunnell recently bemoaned that she hadn’t a language to help her promote the 2012. “It’s also an excellent way into banking,” says David Shacklock, director of Euro London Appointments. “There’s a huge demand for German, French, and Chinese, but there are jobs out there for computer games testers in all languages. First and foremost you need a skill, but an A-level language will improve your job prospects.”

The booming third sector also needs linguists. “If languages continue to decline, it will be difficult for us to find the right people, especially if the Government cracks down on the number of non-EU people we employ,” says Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, where 80 staff speak 25 tongues. She finds that languages are not just useful in themselves, they are good for the brain. “Young people with languages have a greater mental agility - as well as a broader appreciation of the world.”

Mike Kelly (who speaks seven European languages and a smattering of Japanese) agrees. He wants to increase the range of language choices in primary schools, but isn’t fussed about which. “Once you’ve learnt one language, other than your mother tongue, it is much easier to learn another because it activates a different part of the brain. One is enough to get you over the surprise that people from other countries see the world in different ways. It’s not just about language but a sense of time and etiquette. In English we get to the point early in a conversation; in China, you build up to it. If you final words are, 'You must come to dinner,’ the Chinese think that’s the point, not a polite flourish. Monolingualism locks you into a single way of being.”

The Coalition government is committed to a curriculum reivew. The time has come for a return to compulsory language teaching at GCSE, Anny King believes, and a more “ambitious” approach involving literature. Kelly wants a voluntary - but more extensive - system of teaching and testing, making more use of the Languages Ladder system of stepped tests, like music grades. It will, he hopes, encourage those who speak languages other than English at home to realise their assets. “If we don’t,” he says, “we are dead meat on the world job market.”

Students (and parents) with Oxbridge ambitions might also note that they are missing a trick. One in two applicants for modern languages is offered a place at Oxford, while the success rate for Politics, Philosophy and Economics is just 7.6 per cent. A friend has watched three children sail into Oxford on modern languages - and on to good jobs in industry, the civil service and the arts.

Tough love, maybe, but sending a child off to learn languages seems like a good idea. When I greeted my 11-year-old off Eurostar, I asked him if he had learnt any French. “I suppose it’s not such a stupid language,” he replied. One day that child may get a job.


Teachers unions and civil rights groups block school choice for black students

Teachers unions, like the National Education Association (NEA), and many civil-rights organizations inadvertently sabotage the potential of black males by perpetuating failed educational visions. Black males will never achieve academic success until black parents are financially empowered to opt out of failed public school systems.

The American public education system is failing many groups, but none more miserably than black males. The numbers are shocking. The Schott Foundation recently reported that only 47 percent of black males graduate from high school on time, compared to 78 percent of white male students. This revelation is beyond disturbing because it exposes the fact that many public schools serve as major catalysts for the desolation of unemployment and incarceration that lies in many black boys’ future.

In many places the disparity between whites and blacks is nearly unbelievable. In Nebraska, for example, the white/black graduation gap is 83 percent compared with 40 percent and in New York 68 percent compared with 25 percent. The way urban city school districts fail black males is more disconcerting considering that black professionals are in charge. Urban districts are among the worst at graduating black males: Atlanta, 34 percent; Baltimore, 35 percent; Philadelphia, 28 percent; New York, 28 percent; Detroit, 27 percent; and St. Louis, 38 percent.

There are surely many reasons for such failure, and family breakdown must rank high among them. Schools may be powerless to transform black family life, but they should not be left off the hook for turning in a dismal performance. In a recent interview, Dr. Steve Perry, principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., repeatedly places the blame for the black achievement gap at the feet of the partnerships between the teachers unions and the NAACP, “a civil-rights relic.” The places where black students excel, says Perry, are those where students have access to choice. Sadly the NAACP and the NEA have long undermined the push for low-income black parents to exercise freedom to choose the best schools as a national norm.

For example, even with mounting evidence demonstrating that single-sex education for blacks males from low-income households represents one of the best opportunities for graduation, the NEA petitioned the Department of Education in 2004 to prevent single-sex options from becoming nationally normative, balking because “the creation of an artificial single-sex environment [will] ill prepare students for life in the real world.” What? The Eagle Academy for Young Men, a charter school in the Bronx comprised of primarily black and Latino students, the first all-male public school in New York City in 30 years, boasts a high school graduation rate of 82 percent. This summer, Chicago’s Urban Prep Charter Academy, with a 100 percent graduation rate, graduated a class of 107 black male students all of whom are attending college in the fall.

The NEA exists, it seems, only to overfund failed systems and the non-performance-based salaries of adults at the expense of black students. Nothing prepares black males for life in the real world like graduating from high school and attending college, yet the NEA consistently lobbies against parent choices that lead to black male success.

Civil-rights groups including the NAACP, the National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, recently released a joint statement objecting to the Obama administration's education reform proposal, which includes the closing schools of failing schools, increasing use of charter schools, and other commonsensical moves toward choice and accountability in education. These groups reject Obama’s so-called "extensive reliance on charter schools," expressing dismay about "the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities."

Even though there is overwhelming evidence supporting the success of charter schools for children from low-income households, the civil-rights groups resist the opportunity for parents to exercise freedom to choose those schools. Perry highlights the cost of such blindness, observing “that our nation’s urban public schools have prepared more children for poverty, the penitentiary, and premature pregnancy than they did for college.”

Even though charter schools, vouchers, and tax-credit programs reflect some progress, black parents need brand new and creative options that empower parents with absolute freedom to choose the best schools. In addition to school closings and faith-based options, “mass firings” like the ones in Washington, D.C., “home schools,” and other bold and innovative measures, are all important components of rescuing black males from the betrayal of teachers unions and civil-rights groups that refuse to acknowledge the dignity of low-income parents by blunting their right to choose what is best for their children. As long as teachers unions have influence in the black community and in institutions pledged to black empowerment, and black parents are not financially empowered to opt out of failing public schools, black males are doomed.


Australia: Universities teach knowledge but not wisdom (?)

What a lot of Stalinist crap! Who is to say what wisdom is? Some people think global warming is wisdom. I think the Bible is humanity's greatest store of wisdom. So is the Bible going to be taught to all university students? Fat chance!

Schwartz has always had grandiose and only semi-coherent ideas and has been dogged by controversy wherever he went. I would diagnose him as an egomaniac, if not a psychopath

Modern universities are neglecting the teaching of wisdom to the detriment of its students, says vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz.

In his second annual lecture last night, the vice-chancellor of Macquarie University argued that worldwide the higher education sector was focused on teaching practical skills necessary for a career, with disastrous results. The financial crisis, the parliamentary expenses scandal in Britain and the home insulation program were cited as evidence of educated leaders making choices lacking in wisdom.

Professor Schwartz said a fixation with money had led to the decline in teaching students how to think broadly. "We once were about character building but now we are about money," he said at the university's North Ryde campus.

He said university courses had become more vocational with courses in golf-course management or hairdressing-salon management alongside the traditional subjects of law and pharmacy.

Professor Schwartz used the lecture to unveil a proposal to allow final year students at Macquarie to tie together the theoretical and practical sides of what they have learnt.

One of these capstone courses will be called "Practical wisdom", which the vice-chancellor nominated himself to teach. All new students will also be required to study both science and arts to broaden their education.

Dom Thurbon, a panellist for the lecture, said the premise forwarded by the vice-chancellor was an attractive but dangerous generalisation. He said the wisdom gained by a student depended on several factors such as degree choice and exposure to certain teachers.

"There is a a trend, however, towards a more instrumentalist view of education," said Mr Thurbon, the co-founder of ChangeLabs, an organisation that builds large-scale education and behaviour-change programs.

"The drive to commercially ready degrees means less time is spent on broad philosophical underpinnings of education. Ironically industry is genuinely needing people with a cross-functional expertise."


Thursday, August 26, 2010

"For profit" colleges attacked while problems with non-profits are overlooked

The American higher education community contains three separate constituencies: They are public and private non-profit institutions, and proprietary or for-profit enterprises. There has long been a polite tension between the nation’s public and private non-profit higher education institutions. Both are in competition, in one way or another, for prestige, students, faculty, and philanthropy, and at the state and federal troughs. They expend millions of their operating budgets on lobbyists to promote individual institutions and their sectors in state capitals and Washington. Their respectful squabbles are periodically noted in the higher education and public media. Both not-for-profits appear to have a common perceived enemy that prompts their public indignation. In a tacit your-enemy-is-my-enemy alliance, they share a common enemy: for-profit higher education.

The Government Accountability Office’s— “the investigative arm of Congress” —undercover investigation of for-profit recruiting practices has been predictably followed by Congressional hearings and accompanying media attention. The latter has been particularly true in higher education’s major trade presses. These loyal allies tend to consistently promote a non-profit/public agenda at the expense of the for-profits. One higher education trade paper described the investigation as uncovering the “rot” in the for-profit sector.

The whole spectacle has prompted predictable sanctimonious delight among higher education’s self-ordained elite sectors—non-profit private and publicly funded institutions and their trade group lobbyists. The findings confirm their zealot belief that any enterprise that does not share their non-profit orientation must be suspect. How else could the for-profits be steadily attracting more students in recent years? They must cheat and have been finally caught in the act— or so the non-profits want to rationalize the otherwise bad news. The College Board and National Center for Education Statistics respectively report:

The proportion of all degrees that were awarded by for-profit institutions increased from 3% to 7% between 1995-96 and 2005-06. In 1995-96, 9% of associate degrees were granted by for-profit institutions. A decade later, that proportion was 15%.

The ratio of students attending private nonprofit colleges to for-profit colleges has fallen from 3 to 1 to approximately 2 to 1.

A relatively few bad actors have actually been caught, yet the whole for-profit higher education sector is now being castigated for unscrupulously selling degree programs to naïve prospective students that lead to careers with low pay, limited employment opportunities and huge education debt. The same might be asked of the flood of attorneys and public relations grads that flood the job market each year.

A cursory examination of the program recruitment brochures published by many second-tier-and-below non-profits and publics will suggest similar questionable marketing practices. The disparity between their brochure hype and the realities presented in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Occupational Outlook Handbook is sobering. These sanctimonious not-for-profits should undergo the same undercover scrutiny. Higher education consumers deserve a level playing field.


Why does a British Conservative minister want to be a Stalinist social engineer?

Can we really believe what we are hearing? After only 100 days in power, the Tories’ David Willetts is sounding like a tired Labour minister bankrupt of ideas.

Once again it is education and social mobility that is the issue. Mr Willetts, the Coalition’s higher education minister, is right to be concerned. But he is very wrong on who to blame and what to do about it. He wants universities to promote social mobility by accepting candidates from poor backgrounds - even if their A-levels are lower than those of middle-class applicants.

But this is nonsense. It is not the universities who are at fault where this country’s lamentable failure over education and social mobility is concerned. Nor can they be expected to magically set everything right by giving a handful of young people the chance of a decent degree.

The problems are more fundamental and widespread. Our education system is a mess and every summer young people from every stratum of society are having their hopes blighted and their futures thrown away as a result. Universities are merely where the casualties of our education system hit the buffers.

Their heartbreak was summed up this week for me by two young men. One is the son of my neighbour. A bright, hard-working boy at a private school, he has just got four As at AS level.

Great, I said, but he was not happy. Two of his modules were a few marks short of 80 per cent. And in the surreal world of our educational system, he feared this would cost him a place at a good university next year.

At the other end of the spectrum is a young man I met at an inner-city state school. He has been declared academically gifted - in the top 10 per cent - under a government scheme. Surely he would be the perfect candidate for a top university. However, this summer, he is one of the 14.3 per cent of gifted pupils who failed to get five good GCSEs. He admits he is ‘bored out of my mind’ at school and is in trouble with the police.

Responsibility for the plight of these two young men lies squarely with the last government. Too many of our state schools are just not good enough and no amount of social engineering - squeezing out bright, middle-class teenagers to fit impoverished youngsters into our universities - is going to put it right.

Labour refused to address the real causes of education failure: too much government interference, poor heads and teachers who are just not up to the job.

Of course, no Labour minister was going to tackle bad teaching, even in the cause of social mobility. Why? Because they preferred to see the children of the poorest families fail year after year rather than take on the powerful teaching unions.

This was coupled to Labour’s determination to turn schools into a PR department of government. The first priority of schools was to make the government look good - education took second place as students were pushed into taking easier and easier exams and got better and better grades.

Now, just when we hoped for a change, here is more of the same. Instead of pointing out the problems and offering solutions to the state of education in this country, David Willetts is taking Labour’s easy way out and ordering around our universities, demanding that they indulge in social engineering.

He should take note of the remarks made this week by Dr John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Dr Dunford said the best GCSE candidates in state schools aren’t being given the chance to excel, not through any lack of social mobility, but because of government exam league tables. The league tables focus on the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grades. This means schools concentrate on getting C grades rather than stretching the brightest pupils. Dr Dunford described the situation as ‘one of the perverse incentives’ of the tables.

This is just one example of schools valuing their place in the league tables over the interests of their pupils. In order to meet government targets, schools are preventing able students from studying ‘difficult’ subjects, such as science and languages. But it is these traditional subjects that top universities want and why private school pupils appear to be favoured.

Private school pupils make up just 7 per cent of the school population, but get 37 per cent of A grades in chemistry. This is not for lack of gifted chemist students in the state sector — I met a number when I was researching my report on education. It is because too many state schools encourage students to take the vocational equivalent of a GCSE, which has double the league table value of a GCSE despite having no written examination.

As Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, said: ‘We know the school’s brightest students are on track to get As, but in subject combinations that essentially rule them out.’

This has had devastating consequences for poor students. They have to trust their schools to have their best interests at heart. But too often this is just not the case. It is a pity David Willetts is not taking their side.

Dilemma: Sir Richard Sykes, former rector of Imperial College, London, sums up the dilemma this presents the best universities: ‘The belief is that there are thousands of kids out there who come from poorer backgrounds that are geniuses - there may be, but we can’t take them at 18 if they’ve not been educated.’

Instead of addressing this situation, in a wonderful piece of perverse logic worthy of his Labour predecessors, David Willetts is attacking the one part of our education system that is working - universities.

Our top universities enjoy an international reputation. They are swamped by applications at home and abroad. In the real world, any company in those fortunate circumstances would expand. Instead, what is happening?

The Government has stopped good universities expanding in the way they want — by taking on the best students — and has created the present chaotic system.

Universities are turning away pupils with straight As, like my neighbour’s son, because the Government fines them £3,700 for every student that they recruit above ‘centrally planned quotas’.

And it is here that you have to pinch yourself. Centrally planned quotas? Are we living in Stalinist Russia with David Willetts as the Chief Commissar? Well, for the purposes of higher education, we are.

To understand the absurdity of the situation, apply the same concept to Tesco. You can just imagine Commissar Willetts addressing the supermarket’s management. ‘Your sales of cornflakes has doubled this month? Cut the supply by half or we will fine you for every extra packet you sell.’

But it gets even more perverse. Universities may be turning away British school leavers in their droves, but non-EU students get a different reception. They are warmly welcomed and, indeed, wooed. The reason is simple. Universities can charge foreign students £10,000 a year. They get less than a third of that for each British student.

Foreign students contribute £3 billion a year to universities — and this is vital when the Government is imposing funding cuts of at least a quarter. So desperate are universities for funding that they offer places to foreign, fee-paying students with results that are up to two grades lower than the hard-working son of my neighbour.

As a lecturer at Sheffield University remarked: ‘Yes, it’s a funny situation, but that’s how it is. It’s Government policy.’

In other words, it’s fine to sell those scarce packets of cornflakes to India or China, but don’t let anyone from Britain get their hands on one.

We have seen the effect of 13 disastrous years of Labour on our education system. We had hoped for something better from the Conservatives. Education Secretary Michael Gove is promising an imaginative and radical overhaul of our schools. Why not the same for our universities?


Australian students asked to plan lethal 'terror attack'

The teacher must be some sort of Leftist nut

Western Australia's Education Department chief has apologised after a high school teacher set students an assignment to plan a terrorist attack to kill innocent people.

The society and environment teacher at the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Community High School asked Year 10 students to pretend they were a terrorist planning a chemical or biological attack on "an unsuspecting Australian community". "Your goal is to kill the MOST innocent civilians in order to get your message across," the assignment read. The students had to explain their choice of victims and decide the best time and place to release their weapon.

The assignment was withdrawn and the teacher counselled following a complaint made to the school after one 15-year-old student refused to do it, saying she was horrified and disgusted.

Education Department Director-General Sharyn O'Neill on Wednesday said the teacher had exercised "poor judgement" and was remorseful. She said the teacher, who has been teaching for three years, was "well intentioned" and her heart was "in it for the kids".

Ms O'Neill said her "deepest sympathy" was with families of victims of terrorism who may have been offended by the assignment. "We are very sorry for the pain and discomfort that this situation has caused," she said. "Certainly no ill was meant by this assessment task. I'm incredibly disappointed with the assessment item that was set by the teacher. "I think it was inappropriate, it was insensitive and rightly, people are upset. "This is not what we expect of professional educators."

School principal Terry Martino said he had the assignment withdrawn as soon as he was aware of its content, and he had talked to the teacher. "This is one mistake by a hardworking, keen young teacher who is highly regarded by staff, students and community," he told the West Australian.

Education Minister Liz Constable said she was pleased Mr Martino acted quickly to ensure the assignment was withdrawn and the teacher was counselled. "It was certainly an inappropriate method of exploring the issue of conflict and had the potential to offend and disturb parents and impressionable students," she said. "Schools take the education and teaching of these issues very seriously but this must be done in an appropriate way."

State School Teachers Union president Anne Gisborne said Mr Martino had taken the "appropriate" action under the circumstances. "I don't know the motivation behind the program... in hindsight the teacher is probably wishing they hadn't done this." Ms Gisborne said the objectives of the assignment could have been achieved in a more sensitive manner.

The issue ran hot on talkback radio in Perth on Wednesday with one caller saying he had a son fighting in Afghanistan who he thought would not appreciate the assignment. Another caller told Fairfax Radio the teacher should be jailed for giving the students the assignment.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CA: New school to open with price tag of $578 million

A glimpse of why California is financially struggling. It's only taxpayer's money so who cares about getting value for it?

Next month’s opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will be auspicious for a reason other than its both storied and infamous history as the former Ambassador Hotel, where the Democratic presidential contender was assassinated in 1968.

With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever.

The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has raised eyebrows across the country as the crème de la crème of “Taj Mahal’’ schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting architectural panache and deluxe amenities. “There’s no more of the old, windowless cinder block schools of the ’70s where kids felt, ‘Oh, back to jail,’ ’’ said Joe Agron, editor in chief of American School & University, a school construction journal. “Districts want a showpiece for the community, a really impressive environment for learning.’’

Not everyone is similarly enthusiastic. “New buildings are nice, but when they’re run by the same people who’ve given us a 50 percent dropout rate, they’re a big waste of taxpayer money,’’ said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution who sits on the California Board of Education. “Parents aren’t fooled.’’

At Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, the features include fine art murals and a marble memorial depicting the complex’s namesake, a manicured public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool, and preservation of pieces of the original hotel.

Partly by circumstance and partly by design, the Los Angeles Unified School District has emerged as the mogul of Taj Mahals.

The complex follows on the heels of two other Los Angeles schools among the nation’s costliest — the $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, which opened in 2008, and the $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School that debuted in 2009.

The pricey schools have been built during a sensitive period for the nation’s second-largest school system: Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, and the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall, and some schools persistently rank among the nation’s lowest-performing.

Los Angeles is not alone, however, in building big. Some of the most expensive schools are found in low-performing districts — New York City has a $235 million campus; New Brunswick, N.J., opened a $185 million high school in January.

Nationwide, dozens of schools have surpassed $100 million with amenities including atriums, orchestra-pit auditoriums, food courts, even bamboo nooks. The extravagance has led some to wonder where the line should be drawn and whether more money should be spent on teachers.

“Architects and builders love this stuff, but there’s a little bit of a lack of discipline here,’’ said Mary Filardo, executive director of 21st Century School Fund in Washington, D.C., which promotes urban school construction.

Some specialists say it’s not all flourish and that children learn better in more pleasant surroundings.


The weird fashion for bashing faith schools

Comment from Britain: Far from being factories of conformism, many faith schools turn out youngsters with high levels of BS immunity.

As someone who attended faith schools from the ages of four to 18 - and also a faith nursery, faith youth clubs, faith swimming lessons, faith teenybopper discos, faith football matches and faith outings to the seaside - I find the commentariat’s fear of these institutions fascinating. Nothing freaks out today’s privately educated ragers against religion quite as much as a school where the teachers talk to the children about God. They need to calm down, because the real secret about faith schools, the hidden truth, is that they more often produce intellectual sceptics than mental slaves.

Some people look upon faith schools as alien institutions, the churners-out of brain-raped youngsters who will hate homos and want to strangle single mums. ‘[W]e have no idea what children are being taught in those classrooms’, says Catherine Bennett, providing Observer readers with their weekly satisfying shudder at the thought of how the other half live.

These schools ‘brainwash impressionable children’, the New Statesman has warned, quoting that old Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man’, as evidence. Now Richard Dawkins, like a bull in a Padre Pio bookshop, has caused the Bimonthly New Atheist Controversy - it’s like they have a contract with the papers - by saying faith schools should not be given ‘a free pass to do religious education in their own way’ and must be prevented from ‘indoctrinating’ children. He was promoting his scary-sounding Channel 4 show, Faith School Menace?.

There are at least three problems with this sport of Hate The Faith School. First there’s the insulting idea that the kids are being brainwashed. Are the social circles of the liberal, atheistic, PC classes really so narrow that they have never met anyone who attended a CofE, Jewish, Muslim or Catholic school? They mustn’t have, because if they had they would know that the idea that faith-school children have their minds turned to mush by all-powerful priests, rabbis and imams is hilarious.

Take my school. (Warning: anecdotal evidence ahead.) A convent-based school in a rundown part of north-west London, administered by Dominican sisters who saw it as their duty to beat – sometimes literally – us Catholic boys and girls into shape, it was fairly full-on, religious-wise. We prayed before lessons, read the bible, raised money for black babies, had a chapel. (I say chapel. It was more of a glorified shed, which, being made of wood, got damaged in the great storm of 1987.)

But were we Pope-fearin’ Stepford kids? Far from it. Me and a friend beheaded a statue of St Vincent de Paul. The school Bibles were awash with cartoon penises sticking out of Jesus of Nazareth’s smock and speech bubbles above the apostles’ heads saying ‘I am gay’. In flagrant defiance of priestly teachings, a legend scrawled on the walls of the boys’ toilet said: ‘Wanking is evil / Evil is a sin / Sins are forgiven / So get stuck in.’ In their own little way, those four lines pose a serious theological challenge to the many contradictions of the Catholic faith.

What the faith-school fearers forget is that, yes, 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds are wet behind the ears and sometimes dumb, but they also don’t believe everything they are told. They are developing a sceptical streak, which in 13-year-old boys might express itself crudely in the agonising cry ‘What do you mean I can’t masturbate?!’, but which nonetheless speaks to an inner questioning of supposed big truths.

When a teen is told that everything from bodily pleasure to playground arguments to wanting to be super-wealthy is sinful, he will instinctively recognise a contradiction between his desires and what is expected of him. This often leads, not to brainwashing, but to an instinct to ‘kick against the pricks’ (to quote Acts, chapter 9, verse 5). As Patrick West has argued, it’s a myth that faith schools are ‘factories for producing unquestioning, God-fearing drones’.

Indeed, in my experience, people who have been to faith schools often have a natural scepticism towards spiritual crackpots. Perhaps all those years ingesting, considering and often rejecting religious education strengthens our bullshit immune system.

Everyone I know who attended a Catholic school is now an atheist, an agnostic, a lapsed Catholic or a pretend Catholic (someone who attends Mass only so that his or her child will get into a Catholic school, hilariously giving rise to fake-faith schools).

Meanwhile, it is often the trendily and liberally educated who later in life most feverishly embrace New Ageism, Buddhism Lite or end-of-the-world environmentalism. Suckers. Some of us had done that whole finding God and losing Him again by the time we were halfway through puberty.

The second problem with the fashion for bashing faith schools is that it is seriously, properly illiberal. The idea, expressed by Dawkins and others, that educating a child in a religious faith is a form of ‘emotional abuse’ is really an attack on the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit.

In an Oxford Amnesty lecture popular amongst New Atheists, one militant secularist argues that children ‘have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas’. An alarmingly intolerant campaign run by the British Humanist Association seeks to bring faith schools to an end, in the name of children’s freedom of belief.

This is an Orwellian use of the language of ‘freedom’, for it is really an attack on adults’ freedom of association, on parents’ freedom to get together with whomever they please in order to share ideas and find the education system they feel is right for their children.

As Hannah Arendt, a far more profound thinker than today’s New Atheists, argued in the late 1950s: ‘To force parents to send their children to [a certain] school against their will means to deprive them of rights which clearly belong to them in all free societies - the private right over their children and the social right to free association.’ Campaigning for the government to shrink the faith element in faith schools would force some parents into precisely this scenario.

And thirdly, in answer to Catherine Bennett’s hair-tearing question about what on earth is taught in faith schools, the fact is they increasingly teach much of the same nonsense as ‘normal’ schools. Catholic schools, for example, teach far less of that anti-sex, pro-God stuff and much more of ‘mankind’s a rotter for wrecking the environment, multiculturalism rules, the key lesson of the Holocaust is “don’t bully Johnny”, you shouldn’t eat chips’, and so on and so on.

My old school recently won a Friends of the Earth award for being super-green by sticking a solar panel on the roof and getting the children to recycle their rubbish. Not surprisingly, none of the brave warriors against faith schools has a word to say about children being ‘indoctrinated’ in the meek, fearful, self-loathing pieties of the liberal zeitgeist. I just hope the kids one day do to their recycling bins what I did to St Vincent de Paul.


Absurd British middle-school exam: So easy a five-year-old has passed and a seven-year-old got an A star

A five-year-old girl today became the youngest child to pass a GCSE amid concern that tests have become too easy and that pupils are being pressured into taking exams too early. Pupils achieved record GCSE results this year, with more than a fifth obtaining top grades - nearly three times the number two decades ago.

However, despite the soaring number of A and A*s, teenagers now face being squeezed out of college courses by an increasing number of university rejects.

Today's results show the proportion of pupils achieving the top two grades has exceeded 22 per cent following year-on-year increases since the exam was introduced in 1988. And 70 per cent of teenagers gained at least a C grade - up two percentage points from last year.

Dee Alli from Southwark set the record for a five-year-old by getting a C in maths. She said: 'I treat maths as a game so I don't think of it as an exam. I find maths very easy.' Dee said she was inspired to take the exam by her friend Paula Imafidon, who with her twin Peter got the highest-ever grade in a Cambridge advanced maths exam at the age of nine. When asked whether she would like to do any more maths exams she said: 'I want to be a princess that lives in a big house so I can count my money.'

Seven-year-old Oscar Selby was celebrating after he became the youngest to achieve an A*. Oscar, from Epsom, Surrey, is believed to be the youngest to score the top grade in a GCSE.

He spent four hours every Saturday for nine months studying for the course through Hertfordshire-based Ryde Teaching.

But experts raised new fears that children are under too much pressure. Professor Alan Smithers said schools wanted to push pupils to pass while some parents were competing with each other over results. 'Our education system has become too dominated by exams,' he said.

While teenagers have been warned that as hundreds of thousands of A-Level students set to miss out on a university place, many will return to sixth form or college - meaning fewer places for pupils.

And pupils face increasing pressure as more universities are now selecting candidates on their GCSE results as competition for higher education places becomes tougher.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: 'While celebrating individual success and welcoming the fact that there has been an enormous take-up of GCSEs in the individual sciences, we believe that more needs to be done to close the attainment gap between those from the poorest and wealthiest backgrounds.'

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: 'These are the best ever results but the worst ever outcomes now exist for young people. 'These fantastic results stand in stark contrast to some of the worst ever employment and training prospects for young people and the reality of rising youth unemployment as a result of the coalition Government's austerity programme.'

This year's GCSE exam pass-rate increased for the 23rd year in a row, however the number of entries has fallen again to 5.37million compared with 5.47million in 2009. After a drop in the number on English entries being awarded a C last year to 62.7 per cent, the pass-rate has risen this summer to almost two-thirds.

Despite the rise in passes, school leavers face being squeezed out of further education this year as college places go to older pupils who have failed to get into university.

However, more pupils are expected to fall into the 'neet' - not in education, employment or training category - as college places are snapped up by A-Level students who are set to miss out on a university place.

Many will return to sixth form to resit exams, take more A-Levels or to turn to qualifications like BTec and HNDs. And colleges will be keen to take on these higher-achieving older students to boost performance indicators, the lecturers' union warned, reducing the number of places available to 16-year-olds.

More than a quarter of students who applied for university still have no place, figures released yesterday revealed.

Dan Taubman, further education policy officer at the UCU, told the Guardian: ‘Schools and colleges are to a large extent judged to be a success or failure on their exam results. That’s a big incentive not to take kids who have just failed. ‘It’s just like the universities – they can be more selective, and the kids without are not going to get in.’

One assessment expert has warned that the exam questions have become increasingly 'predictable' and compared the relentless rise in results to currency inflation.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, suggested highly tailored teaching and 'built-in inflation' were responsible for the consistent rises in results. 'The questions themselves are becoming much more predictable; they are highly structured and teachers are increasingly familiar with them,' he said. 'Exams just seem to have the same built-in inflation that our currency has.'


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Texans turn to home schooling

The first day of school will be different for the Blane family this year. Parents Eric and Melissa won’t have to pack their children’s lunches or send them to the bus stop this morning.

The Blanes of Montgomery County have joined a growing number of Texans forgoing public and private schools, deciding to home school their 11-year-old son, Cory, and their 8-year-old daughter, Madison. “It’s a desire we have to be the ones who are teaching them and motivating them,” said Melissa Blane, who will be the children’s primary teacher. “We’ll be starting bright and early.”

Melissa Blane plans to kick off her school year today to coincide with the return of roughly 4.5 million students to Texas public schools. Since 2007, state lawmakers have forbade school districts from holding classes before the fourth Monday in August.

Tina Robertson, a mom who runs New Beginnings, a support group for parents new to home schooling, lovingly chuckles when they follow the traditional start date. “Guess how much I care about August 23rd?” she asked the parents gathered for a meeting Friday night at a bookstore in The Woodlands. Robertson doesn’t care at all. She plans to take her own three children, whom she has taught since kindergarten, to the park today. She said she teaches them year-round. “Home schooling is a lifestyle,” Robertson said. “The line between learning and living gets blurred — and it should.”

Over the past five years, the number of Texans opting to home school has grown about 20 percent to an estimated 120,000 families and 300,000 children, according to the Texas Home School Coalition. “The economy does have an impact on folks,” said Tim Lambert, president of the coalition. “We saw families last year who had their kids in a private school, times were tough and they couldn’t afford to do that anymore, but they didn’t want to put them in a public school.”

The most recent survey of parents by the National Center for Education Statistics found that families primarily opted to home school because they wanted to provide religious or moral lessons to their children. Other top reasons include parental concerns about safety, peer pressure and the academic instruction at traditional schools.

Parents in Texas are not required to register with any agency or to get their curriculum approved. Legal rulings have upheld that parents simply are supposed to have a curriculum that teaches reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship.

The Blanes said they wanted to start home schooling several years ago, but they were worried that Melissa wouldn’t have time to teach while also helping Eric with the family light-fixture business. Finally, Melissa Blane said, they decided to “pray and rely on the Lord.”

Her home office will do double-duty as a classroom, with computers, a desk and a bulletin board on the door. The children can read in their bunk beds if they choose, but they will have to change out of their pajamas and do their hair every morning.

Their son is excited, Melissa Blane said, while their daughter is concerned about missing her classmates. “She’ll still have time for friends,” the mother said, adding that their schedule will include field trips with other families who home school.

The Rangel family of Houston also plans to try home schooling this year, with their 3-year-old daughter, Sophia. She’s too young for pre-kindergarten, but mom, Angela, wants to give her an early start and to test whether home schooling works well for the family.

“Since I went to private school my whole life, I really had wanted her to go to private school,” Angela Rangel said. “I have looked into it, and the one that I like, there’s a waiting list, and it’s very pricey. It kind of depends on where we are income-wise. My husband and I are leaning more toward home schooling.”

Rangel spent the weekend converting an apartment attached to their home into a classroom. One corner houses the library; posters about colors and shapes line the walls; and supply boxes with crayons and glue sit on top of a small table with two red chairs.

She doesn’t expect the school day to last more than an hour and a half, beginning with a Bible lesson and working up to learning to read. Rangel plans to begin class at 8:30 a.m. today.


Final High School exam results: Yet again, the education system has failed Britain’s teenagers

Soggy-minded adults are responsible for an educational culture that flinches from all forms of grading or selection

Year after year, we fail the test. And it’s a test not only of intellect and memory, but of nerve, of honesty, and of will. As the A-level results are published and the nation’s teenagers rejoice, their elders lower their eyes in the shameful knowledge that, once again, they have let down the young.

Make no mistake: the annual controversy about grade inflation is about the failure of adults, not of pupils. Which is why Michael Gove’s declared determination to do something about this debauched educational currency is – potentially – one of the best reasons to support the Coalition.

This year’s debacle has two aspects, intimately related. The first is that more than 8 per cent of candidates received the new A* grade: to achieve this, they had to get more than 90 per cent in their final year examination. This means that already, in its launch year, the proportion of candidates gaining the new elite grade is the same as those awarded an A – the previous highest grade – in 1965.

In other words, A* is the new A. If the system is left to itself, the new super-grade’s value will diminish steadily in the years to come, compelling the introduction of an A**, an A***, an A****… well, you get the picture.

Second, there is a grievous mismatch between the demand for university places and the supply of teenagers looking for them. More than 180,000 were scrambling for last-minute places this weekend, many considering the option of pursuing higher education abroad. A measure of disappointment, of course, is intrinsic to the system. Competition for places at university is just that: a competition. And, by definition, not everybody will succeed.

More worrying is the impact that grade inflation is having on the fairness of the selective process. When 27 per cent of all A-level candidates gain an A or A* and the overall pass rate rises for the 28th year, how are universities supposed to distinguish between applicants?

The case of Ben Scheffer, the Brighton College schoolboy who could not find a university place in spite of A* grades in maths, economics and physics, and As in further maths, chemistry and German, is an extreme example of a common phenomenon. So many applicants to university have the highest grades that it becomes impossible for institutions to distinguish between them.

Like citizens of the Weimar Republic pushing wheelbarrows full of marks to buy a loaf of bread, today’s school-leavers are forced to sit ever greater numbers of A‑levels to distinguish themselves from the crowd – and even then have no guarantee of securing a university place.

I disagree profoundly with those who say that teenagers today have it easy. When I was a sixth former, we were only expected to take three A-levels, and that struck me as plenty. A quarter-century later, it is perfectly common for 18-year-olds to take seven or even more: a monstrous amount of work with which to fill your sixth-form days, with no certainty of a college place at the end of it.

Teenagers know perfectly well (or at least intuit) that the A-level “gold standard” disappeared long ago and make the best of a wrecked system to distinguish themselves by any means necessary. The Baby Boomers and Generation X don’t know how lucky they are. This generation is infinitely more resourceful and stoical than its immediate predecessors.

To give Mr Gove due credit, he has been urging root-and-branch reform of A-levels (and classroom assessments in general) since becoming Shadow Schools Secretary in July 2007. In Opposition, he appointed Sir Richard Sykes, the former rector of Imperial College, to investigate our system of tests and qualifications – an inquiry which concluded in March that “the usefulness of the system has been eroded by the politicisation of assessment outcomes” and “universities’ loss of confidence in A-levels as a certificate of readiness for university study”.

Now, in office, Mr Gove is conducting his own review, much influenced by the best sections of Sir Richard’s report: AS-levels (the first half of A-levels) are set to be abolished, as are the infantile “modular” courses that have afflicted Western civilisation for far too long. Universities will be closely involved in the overhaul of A-levels, and – one hopes – will play a much greater part in their future administration and the maintenance of this particular academic currency.

As the Sykes Report argued, behind the debasement of the A-level “gold standard” lies politicisation – not only in the direct sense that politicians always want to announce good news and increased tractor production, but in the subtler respect that political culture pollutes all systems of calibration and measurement. In the case of A-levels, an insidious “group-think’’ intervened and tore the currency to shreds.

Part of the contamination was caused by New Labour’s obsession with targets and central control – an obsession that led to the A-level scandal of 2002, in which the then Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, clashed in public with Sir William Stubbs, the chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, over a grading fiasco (the resulting Tomlinson Report was all but ignored by the Blair administration).

Deeper still is the horror of academic selection that is enshrined in the comprehensive school system, but leaks into the nation’s education at every tier. Tony Crosland’s war on the grammar schools did not just destroy the principal engine of social mobility in this country’s history. It encouraged a fear of educational competition generally, and an unstated belief that all must have prizes.

The 11‑plus [exam taken at age 11 to assess eligibility for selective schooling] is spoken of like polio, a scourge upon the young that has been wiped out by the march of progress. We inhabit a culture in which it is apparently acceptable for children’s educational future to be determined by catchment area, but not by academic criteria. Infantile as it is, there is still a collective flinch from all forms of grading or selection. How much easier for soggy-minded adults for all children to get As at A-level – or, in due course, A*s.

As in so many aspects of its programme, the Coalition’s task here is cultural before it is administrative. It has to introduce afresh the idea that if all have prizes, none do. And that if ever-increasing numbers of candidates get the highest A-level grades, the university application process will become nothing more than a lottery, an arbitrary process of selection between candidates with straight As for a limited number of places. This may be a bitter pill, but it is not teenagers who are reluctant to swallow it. The pupils are not the problem. It is time for the adults to start acting like grown-ups.


Australian Muslims Push for Islamic ‘Perspective’ in School Curriculum

Recently the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and the University of Melbourne’s Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies issued a booklet, “Learning From One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools,” which maintains that “every Australian school student would be taught positive aspects about Islam and Muslims — and that Australia is a racist country.”

Presumably every Australian child should be taught about the fabled past of Islam and imagine the worst of Australia in order to avoid the challenges Islam poses to this peacefully integrated nation.

The report contends that there is a “degree of prejudice and ignorance about Islam and Muslims,” conditions that Australian students should oppose as they embrace diversity as the standard of civic duty. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden are mentioned as famous names synonymous with traditional Islamic ideas, but there isn’t any reference to terrorism.

The truly remarkable dimension of this report is that a largely immigrant community, comprising a small minority, is demanding that classes be taught from its perspective rather than the perspective of the nation to which most chose to come. Australia is demonized as racist while the real challenges posed by Islam are overlooked. Moreover, it is precisely the communal values and institutions in Australia that made it a worthy destination for immigrants in the first place.

Most tellingly, Australia’s so called “racist impulses” were fomented by radical Islamists responsible for the death of 100 Australians in Bali and terrorist plots in Australia itself in which at least twenty people have been jailed.

According to the report, “most Muslims are outspoken in their criticism of terrorism regardless of the perpetrator. This is because Islam only allows for a just war. … From their perspective, the enemies of Islam are the terrorists and they are the warriors of the faith.” In addition, the authors of this booklet contend that “morally, Australia is not a good place to rear children,” citing as evidence drugs and illicit relations. They argue that these conditions militate against integration. It is also an argument employed for their own system of law, sharia.

What this adds up to is a minority intent on changing the environment in which it finds itself rather than seeking an accommodation with the prevailing norms. It seems to me the authors of the report have failed to address several obvious questions: If Australia is an undesirable place to raise children, why emigrate there in the first place? If sharia is the legal code you prefer, why not move to a nation where this code is in place? Why should the Australian school system comply with the requests of this Muslim minority?

It seems to me imprudent that the demands in the booklet are made at all. Suppose a Jewish minority in Iran argued that Talmudic law should be introduced across the board for this group. By any reasonable standard this request would be rejected. There simply is no reason for the Australian government to balkanize itself and, in the process, legitimate a minority hostile to law, custom, and tradition.

That integration of minorities may tolerate a degree of loyalty and affection for the “old country” is understandable. But there isn’t any justification for altering the school curriculum in the adopted nation. If anything is the case, Muslim students will be handicapped if, by virtue of a diversity standard, they learn about Islam but remain ignorant about the nation in which they reside.

Moreover, since Western nations have made an effort to welcome Islamic immigrants through programs that engender understanding, it seems to me reciprocity is warranted. But is it possible to promote women’s rights in Saudi Arabia? Or does the school curriculum in Pakistan include a history of constitutional provisions? Do Syrian schools incorporate the history of the Kurdish minority into their school curriculum?

What the Australian Muslim minority wants is what Australia can not grant: capitulation to a state within a state. A separate Muslim school system or one that emphasizes the unique aspects of Muslim life would be a first step toward the dissolution of Australia. No wonder there is pushback. Who would expect anything else?


Monday, August 23, 2010

Tea Party Crasher Quits teaching job Before Getting the Ax

He needed to go, the man was a bit much to keep as a teacher. The Oregon teacher who declared his mission to “dismantle and demolish” the Tea Party movement resigned before getting the ax, a school spokeswoman told “He resigned earlier this week, on Monday,” Maureen Wheeler of the Beaverton School District said. “He resigned in lieu of termination.”

Wheeler said Levin learned the results of the district’s investigation and resigned. She would not comment on those investigative results.

Conestoga Middle School media lab teacher Jason Levin became national news back in April when he announced his intention to bring down the Tea Party on his “Crash the Tea Party” website and in media interviews.

The now-ex Conestoga Middle School media lab teacher said in April that he would seek to embarrass Tea Partiers by attending their rallies dressed as Adolf Hitler, carrying signs bearing racist, sexist and anti-gay epithets and acting as offensively as possible -- anything short of throwing punches.

In a post on his now defunct website, Levin once called on his supporters to collect the Social Security numbers—among other personal identifying information—about as many Tea Party supporters as possible at rallies taking place across the country on Tax Day.

"Some other thoughts are to ask people at the rally to sign a petition renouncing socialism. See just how much info you can get from these folks (name address, DOB, Social Security #). The more data we can mine from the Tea Partiers, the more mayhem we can cause with it!!!!" he wrote.

In an April interview with Talking Points Memo, Levin said of his plans, "Our goal is that whenever a Tea Partier says 'Barack Obama was not born in America,' we're going be right there next to them saying, 'Yeah, in fact he wasn't born on Earth! He's an alien!'"

Complaints from around the nation flooded the school district’s office and Levin was suspended in April as the school district investigated whether he had used school time or resources to engage in political activism. The state’s licensing board also launched its own investigation.

On Friday, the Oregonian reported that the teacher’s state licensing board is still conducting their own investigation into Levin.


Why British graduates are losing jobs to immigrants

British workers are too poorly educated to rival immigrants for jobs, a report warned yesterday. Employers believe that standards are declining fast among graduates and school leavers and want migrants to fill jobs instead, it said.

One in five firms have recruited migrant workers this summer and a similar number will do so during the autumn. A third of the immigrant staff will be brought in from outside Europe, according to the study.

Managers believe that British candidates do not have the skills to match migrants and that the readiness of Britons for work is getting worse year by year. [It can get worse?]

Four out of ten employers think literacy and numeracy among British graduates and school leavers has worsened over the past five years. Fewer than one in ten believe these basic skills have improved, the report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and accountants KPMG also said.

A third think that business acumen has fallen off among British candidates and more than a third think their personal skills are worse now than five years ago.

The Labour Market Outlook report said that demand for immigrant workers is rising in line with improvements in the economy. But author Gerwyn Davies warned that multinational companies will shift jobs abroad if they cannot get qualified staff in Britain. He said that the proposed migration cap, which is due next year, comes at a time when many employers are still struggling to fill skilled vacancies despite the high unemployment rate. The resulting shortfall of skilled candidates following the cap could damage British companies, according to Mr Davies.

He said: 'The training of local or British workers to fill skilled jobs currently occupied by migrant workers will not happen overnight. If a cap is to be introduced, it has to be gradually phased in to avoid harming UK competitiveness.'

But Immigration Minister Damian Green said: 'Businesses are going to have to reduce their reliance on migrant workers as this has done nothing to help the millions of unemployed.'

Numbers of skilled workers coming in from outside Europe this year were cut by five per cent in June as an 'interim measure' before the overall cap comes into effect next year. The Tories had pledged to bring annual net immigration down to 'tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands'.

Mr Green added: 'We are consulting with business on how the limit should work in practice and will operate the limit in a way that continues to meet the needs of UK business.' Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the Migrationwatch think-tank, said: 'For every skilled worker imported, that is a British worker not trained.

'Employers should stop complaining and start training. 'If we make it easy for employers to take skills off the shelf from abroad they have no incentive to train British workers.' The CIPD/KPMG report was based on the views of 600 companies. It found that 42 per cent of employers thought the literacy levels of graduates have declined over five years while only six per cent thought they had improved. Their rating of the performance of school leavers was similar.

Only six per cent of bosses thought that graduate numeracy had improved, while 35 per cent thought it had declined. For school leavers, eight per cent saw improvement but 43 per cent saw a decline in numeracy.

Nearly half of firms said it was hard to fill vacancies. About a fifth of jobs in engineering, IT, and accountancy were being taken by immigrants. Some 37 per cent of migrants taking jobs come from outside Europe, the study found.


Australia: Schoolchildren 'wrongly diagnosed'

The medicalization of behaviour marches on. We we will all be in some diagnostic category eventually. I wonder what I will be labelled with? "Senile hostility" perhaps?

DOCTORS are being pressured to diagnose children with behaviour disorders to get them extra assistance in schools, labelling many with diseases they probably don't have, researchers warn.

South-western and western Sydney have become hot spots for children, especially boys, being given diagnoses of behaviour disorder and emotional disturbance. The children are then enrolled in special schools and support classes, according to research soon to be published by Macquarie University academics.

Macquarie University researcher Linda Graham said three separate studies pointed to "pressures on paediatricians to inflate diagnoses so kids get support in class".

The research shows enrolments for "behaviour disorder" rose in NSW special schools by 254 per cent between 1997 and 2007, while kids with physical, hearing and visual disabilities fell 60 per cent over that period.

In support classes in regular NSW primary schools, emotionally disturbed diagnoses rose 139 per cent, while in support classes in regular NSW high schools, autism diagnoses grew by 280 per cent, emotional disturbance increased by 348 per cent, and behaviour disorder by 585 per cent during the same period.

Behavioural disorder diagnoses sharply rose from 2002, when NSW began building special schools for children with behavioural problems.

Children are "being diagnosed with things they don't have", Dr Graham, a fellow with the Centre for Research into Social Inclusion, said. . South-western Sydney, which accounts for 17.5 per cent of total enrolments in NSW government schools, has 26.5 per cent of enrolments in special schools and support classes, while western Sydney accounts for 13.7 per cent of total school enrolments but 17.8 per cent of enrolments in special schools and support classes.

Northern Sydney, with 11.5 per cent of school enrolments, has only 5.7 per cent of children in special schools and support classes.

Australian Medical Association paediatrics spokesman Choong-Siew Yong said he was not surprised at the disparity: parents in wealthier suburbs could afford non-government assistance for struggling children.

Dr Yong said sometimes schools will tell parents their child's behaviour "matches other kids with particular problems" and recommend they take the child to see a paediatrician to seek a diagnosis and therefore see if the child is eligible for special education funding assistance.

But Dr Yong said only a very small number of parents come looking for a particular diagnosis for their child and that paediatricians were "not placed under undue pressure". "I don't think people are lying and ripping off the system," Dr Yong said.

While parents are increasingly clamouring for greater funding for assistance, the researchers have shown special education costs rose from 7.2 per cent in 1997 of NSW government school recurrent payments to 12.8 per cent in 2007.

NSW Teachers Federation deputy president Gary Zadkovich said there was "no clear outcome" in the debate over whether too many children are being diagnosed or overmedicated. "I can say unequivocally more students are presenting in Australian schools with special education needs just because of developments in medical science," he said.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

L.A. Unified presses union on test scores

The district wants new labor contracts to include 'value-added' data as part of teacher evaluations

The Los Angeles Unified School District will ask labor unions to adopt a new approach to teacher evaluations that would judge instructors partly by their ability to raise students' test scores — a sudden and fundamental change in how the nation's second-largest district assesses its educators.

The teachers union has for years staunchly resisted using student test data in instructors' reviews.

The district's actions come in response to a Times article on teacher effectiveness. The article was based on an analysis, called "value-added," which measures teachers by analyzing their students' performance on standardized tests. The approach has been embraced by education reformers as a way to bring objectivity to teacher evaluations.

John Deasy, the recently appointed deputy superintendent, sent a memo to the Board of Education on Friday afternoon spelling out the district's value-added plans. He said he hopes that labor negotiations can be completed before The Times publishes a database containing the names and value-added rankings of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers. In the meantime, the district plans to use that data internally to help identify teachers who need extra training.

The Times plans to publish the database later this month. The newspaper has provided the opportunity for teachers to view their scores and comment on them prior to publication. So far, more than 1,200 teachers have received their scores.

Deasy said he had contacted the leadership of both United Teachers Los Angeles and the administrators union, and that he believed negotiations could be successful and swift.

Reached by cellphone, United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy refused to respond to a reporter's questions.

UTLA spokeswoman Marla Eby said Duffy was busy preparing for a speech to 800 union leaders Friday night at the union's annual leadership conference in Palm Springs.

Administrators union head Judith Perez said in an interview that opening formal negotiations hasn't been discussed but that she is aware of Deasy's proposal and would be willing to sit down and hear about it.

Sources said Deasy had a series of meetings with city business leaders, district officials and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who urged Duffy to reconsider his stance.

In an interview, Deasy said, referring to the union, that he has "reason to believe that the leadership is desirous of finding a way to significantly improve evaluations and finding a … way forward that doesn't embarrass teachers."

"The district is available this evening to begin these talks," he said. "We look forward to making decisions about value-added analysis with teachers and school leaders; not to teachers and school leaders," he wrote in his memo.

The Times reported that Los Angeles Unified has long had the ability to use value-added analysis but has never done so. District leadership has largely shied away from it because of inertia and fear of the teachers union.

In California, officials have pledged to make value-added analysis at least 30% of teacher evaluations by 2013 in response to the requirements of the Obama administration's competitive Race to the Top grant program. Union leadership declined to sign an agreement to abide by that plan.

In an interview last week, Duffy criticized value-added analysis because it depends on standardized test scores that he considers flawed. He said that he wasn't opposed to principals using it confidentially to give teachers feedback, but that it had no place in a formal evaluation. Value-added will "lead us down a road to destroy public education," he said.

But other teachers unions throughout the country have agreed to use value-added as one of several measures to evaluate instructors.

In a meeting with the Times earlier this week, Weingarten said she has negotiated 54 contracts with local unions and their school districts that include some form of value-added analysis. She also said parents have a right to know if their child's teacher received a satisfactory review.

Weingarten announced in January that her union would seek to revamp teachers evaluations. She said value-added accounts for 10% to 30% of teachers' performance reviews and it is one of multiple measures to evaluate teachers. In New York City, for example, 20% of a teachers evaluation is based on a value-added rating, she said. "Teacher evaluation has been broken for years," Weingarten said. She said the current system is ineffective; most principals make brief, pre-announced visits to classrooms and merely fill out a checklist.


High School exams are a mess, says top British headmaster

Britain's examinations system is a "complete mess" and A-levels need major reform to allow the brightest students to flourish, a leading educationalist has warned. Dr Martin Stephen, the head of St Paul's School, London, said the new A* grade was nothing more than "statistical trickery" which will only serve to stifle "creativity, imagination and the willingness to take a risk".

He spoke out after last week's A level results produced the 28th successive increase in the overall pass rate, with 8.1 per cent of results being graded at A* - more than had been expected.

Writing for The Telegraph, Dr Stephen said: "The frightening truth is that if we are to rescue our ailing examination system, all we have to do is put the clock back.

"We need to recognise that the top 15 per cent of the ability band are both a priceless asset to the nation and a special-needs category who require specialist teaching. For all their faults, the old grammar schools did recognise this. "We need an extra tier at A-level, with material that can stretch and yet set free the most able, and is marked by those who understand what it is all about."

Dr Stephen continued: "Our examination system is a complete mess, and the new A* A-level grade - awarded for the first time this year - has done nothing to clear it up. The A* is the right idea, but dreadfully executed."

Figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications showed that the overall pass rate rose to 97.6 per cent, with 27 per cent of papers graded at least an A, compared with 26.7 per cent a year earlier. The number of A grades awarded is more than triple that of the early 1980s.

Dr Stephen, high master at the 500-year-old school in south-west London where basic fees are £5,800 a term, said the A* had been misconceived and insisted that standards should be set by universities and not by civil servants.

"It's madness to invent a new grade without basing it on testing new material, and the A* is simply statistical trickery, giving the new top grade to those who score over 90 per cent in their three modules," he said. "It means that a candidate could get 100 per cent in one module, 89 per cent in another, and be denied the A*. This means candidates and teachers will suffer.

"The huge pressure not to drop a mark will mean we demote creativity, imagination and the willingness to take a risk. It does not reward those capable of brilliance, but simply rewards those who make the least mistakes."

He proposed that candidates with A* potential should sit an additional advanced paper, or write a 2,000 word essay on an original topic with a viva to guard against plagiarism.

"One of the greatest ironies of the A-level is that our universities exercise virtually no influence over the exam that is meant to decide their entry," he said. "We must reinsert universities back in to the management structure of the A-level. If nothing else, this would address the problem of exam boards that have moved from an academic to a commercial agenda."

Exam boards told schools they had made their papers more "accessible" - which Dr Stephen said was a euphemism for "easier" - because they were under pressure to increase their market share of candidates sitting each subject.

A-level marking schemes restrict the most able students because they leave no scope to express original thought, he said. "I well remember a very bright student who got an E grade on his Shakespeare paper. "He had answered the question 'Is Hamlet mad?' by arguing that far from being mad, he was the only sane person in the play. It was the rest of us who were mad. "Brilliant idea, but not one the examiner was allowed to give credit for because it stepped outside the narrow boundaries of the mark scheme."

Dr Stephen went on: "We have turned the word 'elite' into a swear word, denying the fact that all the world's leading universities are an elite. "In the past, that elite discovered the double helix and invented the internet. In the future, it is only that elite that will find the answer to global warming and a cure for cancer.

"We will not get an effective A-level until we tell those responsible for it that it is okay to give the exam a fast lane, and for it to be used as a means of identifying the most able."

Last week, John Schmitt, head of English at Charterhouse, criticised the A-level as an "increasingly meaningless" exam which "no longer discriminate between the able and the outstanding". He advocated the use of alternative systems such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of qualifications regulator Ofqual, said: “You can be confident that those who have been awarded an A* have achieved it consistently and have been marked fairly. "Other ideas for the A* are a legitimate and important debate. “We would welcome high-level public and academic input into A-levels.”

On the allegation that marking regimes stifle the brightest students, she said: “This year the criteria for marking the A2 papers were particularly aimed at allowing creativity and originality.”

Miss Nisbet urged Dr Stephen to come forward with any evidence he had that exam boards had made papers easier for commercial reasons.


Australia: Vocational colleges to offer degrees

More attempted verbal magic that will just downgrade all degrees. Will it get to the point where you get a Ph.D. for being able to read and write? That's the direction of travel

TAFE institutes are to offer bachelor degrees and could compete with universities for students under a bold plan aimed at combating skills shortages.

The government-owned institutes want funding from next year to offer degrees in areas such as accounting, community services, finances and information technology.

In February next year, TAFE's Sydney Institute will begin offering a bachelor of design through its Enmore Design Centre. More bachelor degrees are expected to be offered by TAFE's Northern Institute and Western Institute in 2012.

NSW TAFE was last month accredited by the state government, under national guidelines, to become a higher-income education provider, allowing it to follow Victoria's TAFE, which is already offering a limited number of degrees.

The head of TAFE in NSW, Pam Christie, said she was reluctant to name specific degrees because the board had yet to approve those that would go ahead.

TAFE wanted to extend opportunities to all communities to gain the sorts of degrees industry was demanding, she said. "We're not trying to compete with universities; we're trying to build relationships with them," she said.

This would include associate degrees offered in conjunction with universities across many of TAFE NSW's 10 institutes and 130 campuses, as well as bachelor degrees.

TAFE bosses in Victoria say enrolments so far are small, and their ability to offer a wider range of degrees to more students is being stymied by a biased funding system that means TAFE students pay more for their degrees than university students - the federal government subsidises only university degrees.

TAFEs say they have also been approached by industry to provide degrees in areas such as optometry, psychology, dentistry, project management, architectural design, technology, social work and aviation.

The head of TAFE Directors Australia, Martin Riordan, said TAFE degrees would give poor and regional students better access to higher education. "Many students in TAFE are from low socio-economic areas and are motivated to go beyond a diploma and do a degree," Mr Riordan said. "This is a way to help them get the degrees they deserve."

He said the plan would also help the federal government achieve its goal to increase the number of people aged 25 to 34 with a degree, from about 32 per cent now to 40 per cent by 2025.

Universities Australia boss Glenn Withers said it would be difficult to ensure the quality of a TAFE degree and the sector's fragile international reputation could be damaged.

"We've already suffered enough from problems with colleges collapsing and international student issues," Dr Withers said. "While we support the idea of TAFEs offering degrees to address skill shortages … the quality-assurance mechanisms just aren't good enough yet."