Saturday, September 04, 2010

The importance of history

Back in the classroom after a year-long sabbatical, I’m realizing how much I missed the direct interaction with students. For me, nothing compares to those moments when the light of understanding comes on in my students or when they face a challenge to things long taken for granted. Their faces almost proclaim that they are seeing the world in a fundamentally different way. One of the most powerful ways we can elicit those reactions — and call into question the largely statist worldview they bring to college — is to challenge what they think they know about history. There may be no more important thing for classical liberals to do than to offer counter-narratives to standard historical stories.

I’m doing this in two different classes this semester. The more historical of the two is a senior seminar on the Great Depression, which I’m teaching for the second time. (The syllabus is here). We started the class last week by walking through what I like to call the “High School History” version of the Great Depression. This is the version in which laissez-faire capitalism caused the stock market crash and Herbert Hoover stood around doing nothing (committed lover of laissez-faire that he was), allowing the crash to become a depression. Of course this version also tells us that FDR and the New Deal saved us from utter chaos and that our entry into World War II finally pulled us out of the Depression.

The students nod quietly as I repeat this narrative, only to look a little shocked when I then say, “Every piece of that story is wrong and we’re going to explore why over the course of the semester.”

In the world of liberal arts we like to talk about throwing students out of their comfort zones. That feeling of disequilibrium is the first step toward learning. And it’s one of the most powerful moments one can have in the classroom. But it’s also crucial for helping anyone, not just students, understand the classical-liberal framework.

Understanding the Present

Getting a better understanding of the history, especially of major events like the Great Depression, is so important because historical narratives and interpretations fuel our understanding of current events and how to respond to them. Just think of the ways in which the High School History version of the Great Depression has informed the national discussion of the current recession. If one really believes that story, it’s a small step to applying the same narrative to today’s situation and to believing that capitalism failed and more government is the answer.

The other course is comparative economics. We started by talking about how the West grew rich (and reading Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdzell’s wonderful book by that name). In the opening chapter, Rosenberg and Birdzell offer nine different commonly believed reasons the West grew rich, including three that are staples of the contemporary college curriculum: exploitation, colonialism/imperialism, and slavery.

My students who have studied First-Third World relationships in other courses nod their heads quietly until I start to explore the counterevidence Rosenberg and Birdzell offer. It’s hard to argue exploitation, they point out, when the real wages of labor have steadily risen over the last 200 years and capitalists have more or less willingly paid them. As for the other two, they offer examples of western countries that were colonial powers but did not get rich and other countries that had no colonies but did get rich. As for slavery, they make the same point: Some slave societies did not get rich, and some rich countries did not have slaves. The bottom line of their first chapter is that none of these “standard” explanations seem reliable. They argue instead that it was the unique institutions of the West (private property, limited government, freedom of thought and exchange) that generated our prosperity.

This unmasking of history is not just powerful in the college classroom; it should be one of the key ways we classical liberals make our arguments and try to persuade anyone of our views. Arguing theory is fine, but many who disagree with us often trot out historical examples they believe undermine the theory. Those examples are usually wrong, but to show it, classical liberals must have a good command of history and be prepared to offer a different narrative of the event in question. I submit that at the bottom of most disagreements with classical liberalism lies a bad reading of history.

If we want to change people’s minds, we’re going to have to start by challenging their reading of history. Learning that history is among the most important things classical liberals can do.


Scary back to school future in California

Scary news from California's Contra Costa County — school officials there have reportedly decided to track some preschoolers with RFID chips, thanks to a federal grant supplying the funding.

According to a story from the Associated Press, the students will wear a jersey at school that has the RFID tag attached. The tag will track the children's movements and collect other data, like if the child has eaten or not. According to a Contra Costa County official, this is a cost-savings move, as teachers used to have to manually keep track of a child's attendance and meal schedule.

But of course, an RFID chip allows for far more than that minimal record-keeping. Instead, it provides the potential for nearly constant monitoring of a child's physical location. If readings are taken often enough, you could create an extraordinarily detailed portrait of a child's school day — one that's easy to imagine being misused, particularly as the chips substitute for direct adult monitoring and judgment.

If RFID records show a child moving around a lot, could she be tagged as hyper-active? If he doesn't move around a lot, could he get a reputation for laziness? How long will this data and the conclusions rightly or wrongly drawn from it be stored in these children's school records? Can parents opt-out of this invasive tracking? How many other federal grants are underwriting programs like these?

These are questions that desperately need answers. California is in the middle of a terrible budget crunch, but the solution is not federally funded surveillance of children who are too young to understand the implications.


No room at British schools for many of the 2010 baby boomers

As thousands more are taught in makeshift class rooms

Hundreds of children have no primary school place with term already started as the recent baby boom triggers an admissions crisis. Thousands of other children are having to be taught in makeshift classrooms because of the overspill, which has been further increased by a recession-fuelled exodus from fee-paying private schools.

Councils in many parts of the country, including London and Birmingham, say applications for places are still being received. Yet even some parents who applied in good time have yet to be allocated a school for their child.

Brent, in North West London, for example, has 210 four-year-olds still without a reception class place but only 24 vacancies in schools. The council is preparing to offer places in children's centres if necessary.

Between them, councils including Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Merton, Havering, Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham - all in London - as well as Kingston-upon-Thames in Greater London and Birmingham have hundreds of pupils yet to be placed: many of them late applicants.

Meanwhile officials in Newham, South East London, are considering putting four classes in a church hall following a sharp rise in children seeking places this year.

Hundreds of other schools across the country are using temporary prefabricated buildings on their own sites to accommodate additional pupils or are starting to construct permanent new classrooms.

In Hampshire, a school known for its eco-credentials, St Bede's Primary, in Winchester, is seeking to concrete over a pond to accommodate a temporary classroom to cope with soaring pupil numbers. Meanwhile, in Brighton, temporary classrooms are being purchased at a cost of £125,000 each.

In Leicestershire, Lady Jane Grey Primary, in Groby, gained emergency planning consent for a temporary classroom on its site. Head Michael Fitzgerald said: 'The school is facing a very difficult situation - there isn't a spare cupboard in the building.'

Leeds is increasing capacity at 16 primaries from this month while in Bristol, six schools are gaining 22 temporary classrooms. Birmingham is expanding nine schools to create an extra 330 places this month. It will need an additional 3,000 by 2020.

In many areas, schools have agreed to accept 'bulge' classes - an extra reception class which continues through the school. They are meant to be a one-off but some schools have already taken them for two or three years running.

The Coalition has acknowledged the shortage of primary places is now 'critical' and claims the previous Labour government failed to make adequate preparations for the extra pupils despite warnings. More than 1,000 primary schools have closed since 1999 amid accusations some areas have taken a 'short term' view of likely demand.

Education Secretary Michael Gove plans to move cash from frozen secondary school building projects into providing primary places.

But the Mail's survey of local education authorities reveals that many schools need huge sums of money to meet future demand. A spokesman for Kingston warned it would need as much as £70million.

Official figures show the number of babies born in 2006 - and now starting school - was the highest since 1993, with birth rates expected to continue to rise at least until 2018.

Latest projections suggest that primary school pupil numbers will rise by more than 500,000 in just eight years to 4,526,000, reaching their highest level since the 1970s.

The equivalent of more than 2,000 extra primary schools will be needed to cope, at a time of severe public spending cuts.

While classes for children in the first two years of school are limited in law to 30, teaching groups for older primary pupils could balloon as staff are diverted to teach the new influx of pupils.

In the meantime, pupils caught up in the crisis face being taught in overcrowded classes or travelling miles to their nearest school, and being split from siblings.

In Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, mothers had to mount a campaign to win an extra reception class at a popular school after being offered schools up to five miles away.


Friday, September 03, 2010

For profit’s growing market share — market segmentation

In my last rant, I briefly mentioned the for-profit higher education sector’s enrollment growth at the expense of mainstream nonprofit and public education sectors in recent years. The references cited were not public relations’ hype from the for-profit sector’s lobbyists. The sources were the College Board and the National Center for Education Statistics— two of the higher education community’s most reliable objective data sources.

Loss of market share means loss of tuition revenue at time when it has become harder to rely upon federal and state largess. The non-profit establishment’s consternation over market share loss is understandable. Their response is not. The private non-profit and public higher education cabal with its mainstream higher education press allies have been gloating over the ethically suspect recruitment practices revealed by the GAO’s undercover secret shopper investigation. While some of the for-profit sector’s growth may be linked to questionable recruiting practices, this is also true for some of the not-for-profit institutions. The counterproductive character assassination of for-profit colleges in Congress and mainstream higher education press we are now witnessing, only serves to divert public attention from the from the more likely underlying cause of this growing shift in market preference.

The vast majority of the students electing to enroll in for-profit higher education institutions are not the gullible mass of willing victims that the non-profit higher education partisans imply. Rather they are perceptive consumers, who know what they want in educational programs and are willing to pay for the services and conveniences. Too often their needs are unrecognized at nearby public and non-profit privates.

My economist hero, Thomas Sowell has long noted that traditional higher education institutions are managed for the benefit of the administrators and faculty and not the students. Their programs are too often conceived and delivered for the convenience of the provider institution’s employees and not its customers.

College students are no longer that homogeneous cohort of 18 to 22 year olds pursuing their post-secondary education fulltime. The post-secondary market is heterogeneous. For example, data from the 2005 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) shows that a student at a U.S. institution of higher education is as likely to be in her 30s, taking care of dependents and working full-time as she is to be 19, in a sorority, getting financial assistance from the parental unit, and taking 15 credit hours a semester. More recent CCSSE report MAKING CONNECTIONS: Dimensions of Student Engagement states, “Most community college students are enrolled part-time. Many students, even full-time students, work nearly full-time. Thus, many community college students take classes at night and online.”

The American ideal of a post-secondary education for every citizen who may benefit must be pursued with imagination and flexibly. The for-profits have gotten right. Give them credit for serving student needs that have been too often ignored by the mainstream higher education.


Musician teaches where teachers fail

MAKING grammar fun is the ambition of Adelaide musician Shaun McNicholas, whose Apostrophe Song has become an internet sensation. Mr McNicholas wrote the Apostrophe Song when he was involved in teaching professional English and was amazed to see the film-clip race up the charts once it was posted on the internet by English writer and comedian Stephen Fry. Thousands of people have now watched the catchy song on YouTube.

Mr McNicholas now hopes to sell the accompanying iPhone application which he developed with Adelaide's Enabled Solutions. "It is a helpful and fun little tool to help people use grammar correctly," he said. The application enables people to check the rules for using apostrophes instantly.

Mr McNicholas said he was encouraging students and teachers to write their own versions of the song, which he would post on his website, He is also developing other grammar programs on subject-verb agreement, the semicolon and parts of speech.


Quarter of British primary schools have no male teachers: Fears over vanishing role models as trend worsens

More than a quarter of primary schools do not have a single male teacher, following a long- term decline in their numbers, official figures reveal today. Staff rooms at 4,700 primaries are solely populated by women - 150 more than last year.

And just one man under the age of 25 works in a state-run nursery anywhere in England, the statistics show. The trend has triggered warnings that rising numbers of boys are having little or no contact with an adult male before they reach secondary school.

And with the number of male secondary school teachers also dwindling, some could go through their entire education without being taught by a man. The figures also fuel fears of rising misbehaviour among disaffected teenage boys whose lives lack male authority figures.

Statistics released today by the General Teaching Council show that only 125,361 of 502,562 registered teachers are men - just 25 per cent - with the vast majority working in secondary schools and further education.

Two decades ago, men made up four in ten teachers. In primary schools, in 2009/10, male teachers made up just 12.5 per cent of staff, compared with 13 per cent the previous year. Some 4,700 primaries in England - 28 per cent - have no male teacher or head teacher, up from 27 per cent in 2008/09. Six secondaries have no male teachers.

The decline is thought to be linked to the attractions of other graduate jobs as well as fears over allegations of inappropriate behaviour and society's 'paranoia' concerning paedophiles.

The recession is eventually expected to lead to an increase in the number of men applying to become teachers. But experts warned that men also faced barriers to being accepted on teacher training courses - possibly because most recruiters are women.

Professor John Howson, a recruitment expert and director of Education Data Surveys, warned: 'Colleges are converting fewer male applicants into people on courses than for women.' He added that there are still elements in society which do not 'fully appreciate that men can look after younger children'.

'We probably hit a level of paranoia about four or five years ago - the question is whether we are doing enough to overcome it. 'I'm even more concerned that we are haemorrhaging men in secondary schools. We are losing men at a faster rate at secondary level than primary. 'Where do the boys' male role models come from?' he asked.

The GTC figures also show that only 44 men work in state nurseries, with just one - Jamie Wilson, 23, of Merseyside - in the under-25 age bracket.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

America's educators are holding America back

Not so much the teachers as those who teach the teachers and those who represent the teachers

No matter which societal problem we place under the microscope, the search for a solution… or the absence thereof… always takes us back to what it is that our people know and understand. It all comes back to the public schools, teachers unions, colleges and universities.

When people cannot properly read, write, and speak the English language, they are unable to take full advantage of the freedoms that are available to them. When people are inadequately schooled in mathematics and the sciences, they are unable to participate in the advancement of science and technology and it will be difficult for them to find a niche in a highly technological world. When people fail to understand the lessons of history, they are unable to make the political judgments necessary to avoid the mistakes of the past. When people have inadequate knowledge of politics and the workings of government, they are unable to make the political decisions necessary to advance the cause of freedom. And when people have an inadequate grasp of basic economics they are unable to properly assess the impact of taxes, savings, profits, and investments.

In all of these areas of physical and intellectual endeavor, our public education system is by far our greatest failing.

In an August 11, 2010 article for, titled “The Left’s Special-Interest Human Shields,” columnist Michelle Malkin gives us a clue as to why our public education system is the greatest failure among all our public institutions. Clearly, what has always been an important, necessary, and highly respected profession, has been transformed into just another cesspool of leftist union activism, just another mindless, lemming-like subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

Malkin’s attitude toward schoolteachers is not unlike that of most Americans. She says, “I have nothing against public-school teachers. My mother was one. My children are taught by some of the best in the nation. And over the years, I’ve reported on valiant battles between rank-and-file educators in government schools and their fat, bloated union leaders, who’ve transformed their professional organizations into wholly owned Democratic subsidiaries. My opposition to the so-called “Edujobs” bill stems not from meanness but from compassion for millions of dues-paying school employees being used as special-interest human shields.”

Looking into the faces of the teachers at your local public elementary school or high school… the “micro” view of public education… is not the same as taking a “macro” view of the teaching profession. Malkin quotes the DC-based Labor Union Report as saying that, in 2009, the National Education Association (NEA) “raked in a whopping $355,334,165 in ‘dues and agency fees’ from (mostly) teachers around the country.” And although the NEA spent close to $11 million more than it took in, it did not short-change the political parasites who rely on it for their sustenance. The NEA still found it possible to pour $50 million into “political activities and lobbying” for exclusively left-wing and partisan Democratic causes and candidates.

So, if excellence in education is not the first priority of the teachers union, what do they see as their top priority? The NEA’s retiring top lawyer, Bob Chanin, spoke to delegates at the NEA annual meeting in July. He made no bones about what is the union’s top priority. He said:
“Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees. . . .

“This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

Talk about upside-down priorities. As Barack Obama’s personal hero, Saul Alinsky, has said, teacher organizers must commit to a “singleness of purpose.” Not serving the needs of parents and children, but serving the “ability to build a (political) power base.” That they have done.

The Democratic Party is comprised of (in order of importance) teachers unions (NEA and AFT), trial lawyers, public employee unions, blue collar unions (AFL-CIO), radical environmentalists, minorities (blacks and Hispanics), service employee unions (SEIU), organized street agitators (ACORN), radical feminists, gays, lesbians, and the gender-confused community.

Yet, in spite of the fact that public school teachers are now ranked as the most politically powerful special interest in the nation, and in spite of the fact that we as a nation spend more on public education per pupil than any other industrialized nation, we find that among high school students in the 30 richest nations, U.S. students rank 17th in their knowledge of the sciences and 24th in their knowledge of mathematics. Clearly, our public education system is failing to prepare our children to compete in a highly technological world. It is our weakest link. It is the anchor on our Ship of State.


Charter Schools Rise in Katrina’s Wake

Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than just buildings. Left with scarce resources and personnel, local government in New Orleans became weak and ineffective in the aftermath of the flooding. Five years later, the rebuilding of New Orleans is far from complete, but reformers can point to at least one major accomplishment: a new school system built around charter schools and parental choice.

As a recent Newsweek article explains in some detail, Louisiana established the Recovery School District (RSD) to replace the old school system in New Orleans. Eschewing centralized control, RSD officials created a plethora of charter schools throughout the city, offering far more choices to parents than they had pre-Katrina.

Charter schools receive public funding but are allowed to operate without the regulatory burden faced by ordinary public schools. They have more leeway to experiment with different teaching methods, curriculum content, disciplinary procedures, and levels of parental involvement. If enrollment is any indication, New Orleans parents appreciate the choices. Over 60 percent of the city’s students attended a charter school last year.

A rigorous evaluation of charter school impacts has yet to be conducted in New Orleans, but a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education gives us a good idea of how charter schools perform nationally. To ensure a fair evaluation, the report’s authors used a natural experiment: They compared students who attended oversubscribed charter schools through a lottery with students who lost the lottery and were denied entrance. (This method is the “gold standard” for school evaluation.)

The results are unambiguous. By large margins, parents are more satisfied with charter schools—and with the academic and social development of their children who attend—than are public school parents. For example, charter schools were rated “excellent” by 85 percent of parents, while non-charter schools received the “excellent” rating by just 37 percent of parents.

The people of New Orleans are the latest to benefit from an extensive system of charter schools, but it should not take a natural disaster to make that option available. As more states and localities nationwide adopt school choice, the more satisfied parents will be.


British teachers’ fear of discipline holds back their pupils

A change in schools' culture is needed if bad behaviour is to be eradicated

Today, we publish the disturbing story of David Roy, a science teacher in a comprehensive in Blackpool who was sacked after he tried to impose a modicum of discipline in his classroom. An industrial tribunal has now ruled that he was unfairly dismissed and he has won compensation from the school that sacked him. But the whole charade should never have happened to begin with.

That it did so is an indictment of the terrible state into which some schools have fallen. The head teacher who believed that it was her duty to sack Mr Roy did so without hearing his version of what had happened. She accepted, with little further investigation, the allegations made by three children, who claimed they had been shouted at, or grabbed, or in some way maltreated. In following such an unfair procedure, she was doing no more than complying with what many within the state system seem to believe is “best practice”: uncritically accepting charges made by pupils and assuming the teacher’s guilt.

The result is, effectively, a charter for bad behaviour. On average, secondary school teachers lose 50 minutes of teaching time each day because of unruly and aggressive pupils, who feel they have a licence to misbehave without the threat of sanctions. This lack of discipline does not just hurt those pupils who want to learn: those who are most damaged by it are the disruptive pupils themselves. As their unacceptable behaviour is not curtailed, they never learn the elementary social skills essential for succeeding in life, never mind anything that could be described as academic knowledge. The chaos caused by this failure to impose discipline has blighted, and continues to blight, the prospects of thousands of children.

Pupils need to be in an environment where the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour is clear and unambiguous, and where the consequences for crossing the boundary are instant and undesirable. This problem cannot be fixed by legislation, for it is not so much the result of teachers not being legally permitted to discipline pupils – they are – but rather a collective failure of judgment on the part of some elements in the teaching profession.

What is required is not a change in the law but a change in the culture, one that gives teachers the benefit of the doubt and restores their authority within the classroom. This is starting to happen, as some of the new academies demonstrate – but not fast enough. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is right to have high hopes of his new schools. But he also needs to find a way to erase the deep‑seated hostility to discipline that still holds sway in so much of Britain’s education system.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Leftist educators as "true believers"

Teachers College Maintains The Planet

A beautiful example of true belief in action crossed my desk recently from the alumni magazine of my own alma mater, Columbia University. Written by the director of Columbia’s Institute for Learning Technologies, a bureau at Teachers College, this mailing informed graduates that the education division now regarded itself as bound by "a contract with posterity." Something in the tone warned me against dismissing this as customary institutional gas. Seconds later I learned, with some shock, that Teachers College felt obligated to take a commanding role in "maintaining the planet." The next extension of this strange idea was even more pointed. Teachers College now interpreted its mandate, I was told, as one compelling it "to distribute itself all over the world and to teach every day, 24 hours a day."

To gain perspective, try to imagine the University of Berlin undertaking to distribute itself among the fifty American states, to be present in this foreign land twenty-four hours a day, swimming in the minds of Mormon children in Utah and Baptist children in Georgia. Any university intending to become global like some nanny creature spawned in Bacon’s ghastly utopia, New Atlantis, is no longer simply in the business of education. Columbia Teachers College had become an aggressive evangelist by its own announcement, an institution of true belief selling an unfathomable doctrine. I held its declaration in my hand for a while after I read it. Thinking.

Let me underline what you just heard. Picture some U.N. thought police dragging reluctant Serbs to a loudspeaker to listen to Teachers College rant. Most of us have no frame of reference in which to fit such a picture. Narcosis in the face of true belief is a principal reason the disease progressed so far through the medium of forced schooling without provoking much major opposition. Only after a million homeschooling families and an equal number of religiously oriented private-school families emerged from their sleep to reclaim their children from the government in the 1970s and 1980s, in direct response to an epoch of flagrant social experimentation in government schools, did true belief find ruts in its road.

Columbia, where I took an undergraduate degree, is the last agency I would want maintaining my planet. For decades it was a major New York slumlord indifferent to maintaining its own neighborhood, a territory much smaller than the globe. Columbia has been a legendary bad neighbor to the community for the forty years I’ve lived near my alma mater. So much for its qualifications as Planetary Guardian. Its second boast is even more ominous – I mean that goal of intervening in mental life "all over the world," teaching "every day, 24 hours a day." Teaching what? Shouldn’t we ask? Our trouble in recognizing true belief is that it wears a reasonable face in modern times.

A Lofty, Somewhat Inhuman Vision

Take a case reported by the Public Agenda Foundation which produced the first-ever survey of educational views held by teachers college professors. To their surprise, the authors discovered that the majority of nine hundred randomly selected professors of education interviewed did not regard a teacher’s struggle to maintain an orderly classroom or to cope with disruptive students as major problems! The education faculty was generally unwilling to attend to these matters seriously in their work, believing that widespread alarm among parents stemming from worry that graduates couldn’t spell, couldn’t count accurately, couldn’t sustain attention, couldn’t write grammatically (or write at all) was only caused by views of life "outmoded and mistaken."

While 92 percent of the public thinks basic reading, writing, and math competency is "absolutely essential" (according to an earlier study by Public Agenda), education professors did not agree. In the matter of mental arithmetic, which a large majority of ordinary people, including some schoolteachers, consider very important, about 60 percent of education professors think cheap calculators make that goal obsolete.

The word passion appears more than once in the report from which these data are drawn, as in the following passage:
"Education professors speak with passionate idealism about their own, sometimes lofty, vision of education and the mission of teacher education programs. The passion translates into ambitious and highly-evolved expectations for future teachers, expectations that often differ dramatically from those of parents and teachers now in the classroom. "The soul of a teacher is what should be passed on from teacher to teacher," a Boston professor said with some intensity. "You have to have that soul to be a good teacher."

It’s not my intention at this moment to recruit you to one or another side of this debate, but only to hold you by the back of the neck as Uncle Bud (who you’ll meet up ahead) once held mine and point out that this vehicle has no brake pedal – ordinary parents and students have no way to escape this passion. Twist and turn as they might, they will be subject to any erotic curiosity inspired love arouses. In the harem of true belief, there is scant refuge from the sultan’s lusty gaze.

Rain Forest Algebra

In the summer of 1997, a Democratic senator stood on the floor of the Senate denouncing the spread of what he called "wacko algebra"; one widely distributed math text referred to in that speech did not ask a question requiring algebraic knowledge until page 107. What replaced the boredom of symbolic calculation were discussions of the role of zoos in community life, or excursions to visit the fascinating Dogon tribe of West Africa. Whatever your own personal attitude toward "rain forest algebra," as it was snidely labeled, you would be hard-pressed not to admit one thing: its problems are almost computation-free. Whether you find the mathematical side of social issues relevant or not isn’t in question. Your attention should be fixed on the existence of minds, nominally in charge of number enlightenment for your children, which consider a private agenda more important than numbers.

One week last spring, the entire math homework in fifth grade at middle-class P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan consisted of two questions:
1. Historians estimate that when Columbus landed on what is now the island of Hati [this is the spelling in the question] there were 250,000 people living there. In two years this number had dropped to 125,000. What fraction of the people who had been living in Hati when Columbus arrived remained? Why do you think the Arawaks died?

2. In 1515 there were only 50,000 Arawaks left alive. In 1550 there were 500. If the same number of people died each year, approximately how many people would have died each year? In 1550 what percentage of the original population was left alive? How do you feel about this?

Tom Loveless, professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has no doubt that National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards have deliberately de-emphasized math skills, and he knows precisely how it was done. But like other vigorous dissenters who have tried to arrest the elimination of critical intellect in children, he adduces no motive for the awesome project which has worked so well up to now. Loveless believes that the "real reform project has begun: writing standards that declare the mathematics children will learn." He may be right, but I am not so sanguine.

Much more HERE

Foreign language study in British schools

The BBC asked “Should British pupils give up studying French?” However, the key issue isn’t whether or not children should be learning French, but the fact that schools are encouraging children to take easier subjects so that the school scores well on the league tables. Crucially this is not always to the advantage of the children, especially if they plan to apply to elite universities.

Independent schools tend not to do this because their reputation requires that they take greater interest in their pupils. In contrast, many state schools are taking the easy way out. Without radical reform of the education system, the government will only be able to choose between the blunt tools of either compulsion or league tables. Both have undesirable unintended consequences.

Others in the article echo my point. For example, the language learning expert Paul Noble states that "the core reason is because pupils know French is difficult to pass, and difficult to get something out of it”, while Michel Monsauret, attache for education at the French Embassy in London, points out that subjects such as religious studies are on the increase because they are perceived to be easier. Mr Monsauret correctly states that “languages are taught more extensively at private schools in the UK, and their pupils go on to dominate places at Oxbridge and the other best universities."

Predictably the National University of Teachers (NUT) is appalled: “The policy drift on modern foreign languages is unforgivable”. Children, according to the NUT, aren’t adequately equipped for life in a global society. A bit rich coming from an organization set up to protect the interests of teachers even when against the benefits to parents and children; an organization that is the biggest impediment to reform. Asking the NUT what is best for children is like asking a turkey what should be eaten at Christmas – the goose will always be cooked.

Whether one’s child should be taught French, German, Cantonese or Chamicuro should be solely that of the parents. Of course, they will be limited by what is being offered, which is an argument for a dynamic and competitive system – one driven by the free market, not bureaucratic oversight. That learning a language involves no literature shows how bankrupt the teaching is many of our schools. As such, the lamentations of Aida Edemariam and others are frankly irrelevant.

The teaching of French – or lack of it – is symbolic of the wider failure of bureaucratic control of the education.


British schoolboys 'being held back by women teachers' as gender stereotypes are reinforced in the classroom

Women teachers are holding back boys by reprimanding them for typically male behaviour, according to a study out today. They are reinforcing stereotypes that boys are ‘silly’ in class, refuse to ‘sit nicely like the girls’ and are more likely to indulge in ‘schoolboy pranks’.

Women teachers may also unwittingly perpetuate low expectations of boys’ academic achievement and encourage girls to work harder by letting them think they are cleverer.

Schools should avoid dividing pupils into ability groups because the practice often results in girls dominating the higher-achieving tables, concluded the Kent University research.

The study of primary schools in the county suggests that under-performance among boys in most national exams could be linked to lower expectations.

The research mainly implicates women teachers, since nearly 90 per cent of primary school teachers are female. It warned that school staff find boys’ play, such as wielding toy guns, ‘particularly challenging and difficult’. Boys are punished and urged to conform to a more feminine style of play instead of being taught how to play responsibly with their preferred toys.

Bonny Hartley, the study’s lead author, said: ‘By seven or eight years old, children of both genders believe that boys are less focused, able, and successful than girls – and think that adults endorse this stereotype. There are signs that these expectations have the potential to become self-fulfilling in influencing
children’s actual conduct and achievement.’

Girls as young as four think they are cleverer, try harder and are better behaved than equivalent boys, her study found. By the age of seven and eight, boys also believe that their female classmates are more likely have these qualities.

For the study, 238 children aged four to ten were presented with a series of scenarios such as ‘this child is really clever’ and ‘this child always finishes their work’. They were then asked to point to a picture of a boy or a girl to say which they thought was being talked about.

The findings show that from the first year of school girls said their sex was more likely to record better conduct and achievement. From the age of eight, boys were also more likely to say that girls had better performance, motivation and effort, self-control and conduct.

In the second part of the study – being presented today at the British Educational Research Association annual conference at Warwick University – the children were asked if adults believed boys or girls were cleverer and better behaved.

From an early age, girls believe grown-ups think girls have better conduct and achievement. Boys develop the same beliefs around the age of eight.

The study drew no distinction between the beliefs and classroom practices of male and female teachers. Further research by the same team will consider the specific gender stereotypes held by teachers.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Allow private firms to run British State schools, says regulator

Private companies should be allowed to take over the running of state schools, the outgoing chairman of Ofsted has said. Zenna Atkins praised the Government's free schools policy, which allows parents and charities to run state schools, but urged ministers to go further by extending that right to profitmaking firms.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Miss Atkins, who has left her job to run the British arm of GEMS Education, an independent schools chain, said that state schools could also improve exam results and save money by learning new techniques from the private sector.

It came as figures from the Department for Education showed that academies, many of which have corporate sponsors, improved their performance at three times the national average in last week's GCSE results.

Academies, which the Coalition plan to expand greatly in number, reported a seven per cent increase in the number of pupils gaining five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, compared with the national average of 2.5 per cent.

Miss Atkins said: "At the moment the constraining factor is the fact that academies, free schools and schools that are state funded need to be run by charitable trusts or by the state itself and I think there is an opportunity to expand and look at the role that the private sector can play.

"Currently the private sector, if you're running a school, has to set up a charitable vehicle to do that and that seems to be an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. "A lot of countries are trying to open up the market so that increasing numbers of schools operators can get involved in the delivery of schools.

"At the moment in the UK that is being opened up with quite a progressive policy by Michael Gove (the Education Secretary) and his team but I think that doesn't necessarily need to stop with the charitable sector."

Miss Atkins said the Coalition's free schools, which will be free from local authority control, would benefit from the help of private companies. "It's a daunting thing for a group of parents and they will need support and assistance in doing that," she said.

"The Government can offer a lot of practical guidance and support going through the process. They don't offer the practical guidance and support in how you actually run the school. "I think parents are looking for a greater degree of support in that."

She added: "Schools tend not to be run in a businesslike fashion. And that is everything from the management information to basic systems, processes, back office."

Using better systems could help more children pass exams with improved grades, she said, and finances in the education sector could also benefit from corporate expertise.

She insisted that new school premises could be constructed from existing funds despite Mr Gove's decision to scrap 715 projects in the building programme which was known as Building Schools for the Future. "I think it's perfectly possible within existing funding formulas to run schools more efficiently. Therefore, you can afford to service capital and you can afford the school that you aspired to get while Building Schools for the Future existed," she said.

Miss Atkins also insisted she was unaware of the phenomenon of parents who opportunistically begin attending church in order to win places for their children at oversubscribed church-run schools. The practice has even led the Church of England to introduce a system to evaluate how often parents worship, to help prioritise admissions.

Asked if she had a view on the trend, Miss Atkins said: "As far as I'm aware Ofsted haven't got any subject matter that shows that has happened. "You are probably better qualified about it than I am."

Her remarks come despite evidence from different denominations about parents joining congregations in a bid to secure school places.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the then Archbishop of Westminster and leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, told this newspaper in 2008 that he did not condemn parents who misrepresented their religion. "I wouldn't want to judge parents who pretend to have a faith to get their children into school," he said. "They'd do anything for the good of their children."

In 2007, the numbers of families doing so led the Church of England to set out three tiers which describe a prospective parent's relationship with the sponsoring church.

Families who worshipped twice a month would be regarded as "at the heart of the church" and therefore their children may be more likely to be awarded priority places. Less frequent worship would lead to an applicant being regarded as "attached to the church" or "known to the church", the guidance said.


34 Ways a Teacher CAN Get Fired

The LA Times recently published a detailed expose of how ridiculously difficult it is to fire a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The article documents countless horrifying offenses that won’t get a tenured teacher booted. I couldn’t help but wonder what will leave a public school teacher unemployed.

Since, there have been so few examples in LA (less than 1 in 1,000 tenured teachers get the axe in LAUSD), I had to broaden my search to the nation, so here’s a less-than-comprehensive list of things that will leave your local indoctrinator polishing his or her resume.

* Let students go joyriding in your car.
* Put on The Laramie Project.
* Give your students a suggestive, but actually clean, four-letter word quiz. It doesn’t matter if you’re teacher of the year.
* Work weekends in a bikini, on a fishing boat.
* Explain what bad words mean to your ESL students.
* Use MySpace…er, to talk about “getting any” with your students.
* Call your students “filthy animals who belonged in a f***ing zoo.” Nice.
* Randomly try to beat the crap out of a student.
* Have your third grade students give you massages.
* Be a wizard. Oh wait, make that, perform a thirty second magic trick with a toothpick. Yeah, that’s right.
* Duct tape your student’s mouth shut. Oh, did I mention she was a special needs student. Classy.
* Maintain academic standards and fail the damn students that are failing.
* Have the wrong views about homosexuality.
* Be in an x-rated movie. More than a decade ago.
* Add “nonviolently” to a state-mandated loyalty oath. You might call this the “be a believing Quaker” case.
* Take your students to an art museum, without ensuring that all the fig leaves have been reattached.
* Demand your student pull down her pants and reveal her menses.
* Be married to a really ugly man. Oh, and go on the Howard Stern Show, mostly nekkid.
* Pose for Playboy (you had to see this one coming).
* Take your students to a gay strip bar. Why exactly a female teacher would take four female students to a male strip bar is…unclear.
* Prevent a cop from roughing up one of your students.
* Tie your student to a chair with a bed sheet. Your TWO-YEAR-OLD student.
* Protest your government’s actions. In Russia, anyway.
* Refuse to remove your bible from class. Those allegations about burning crosses into students’ arms are totally false. Totally.
* Watch porn at school. No, flimsy excuses won’t save you: “I wanted to make sure the kids couldn’t see it!”
* Question the administration’s gaming of the public funding system.
* Be a woman. [Note: this isn't a public school, but it's too ludicrous not to mention.]
* Teach about magical penis theft.
* Give your student a graphic novel that’s, well, too graphic. Particularly if you’re a man, and she’s a 14-year old girl.
* Be an obnoxious vegan.
* Be a painter…who just so happens to paint using his naked buttocks. Ah, modern art.
* Tell your students to “give into their boyfriends’ requests for sex.” Female empowerment!
* Throw eggs with your students, and promote drag racing.
* And, of course, have a 17 yeard old lover…who was kinda one of your students.

I’m sure there are many more but this sampling should reveal that it’s not completely impossible for a teacher to be fired.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

History wars set to break out again in Australia

THE new national school curriculum could be delayed under a Coalition government, which would review it and address ideological concerns it has about some history topics.

The Coalition's education policy broadly supports Labor's moves towards a nationally consistent curriculum, due to be introduced next year, but it accuses Labor of politicising the draft curriculum in history.

The policy is critical of the absence of references to the Magna Carta and the Westminster parliamentary system, which underpin Australia's legal and political systems. It is critical of students being taught about the "day-to-day activities of trade unions and the history of the Australian Labor Party".

School teachers have complained that the history and English curriculums have been politicised by governments.

The Howard government commissioned a Monash University historian, Tony Taylor, to draft a new Australian history curriculum, but sidelined its recommendations. The conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey and the political commentator Gerard Henderson were later appointed to rewrite the curriculum.

Associate Professor Taylor acted as a consultant in the drafting of the new history curriculum introduced under the current Labor government, and said a "huge amount of work" had gone into it. "In the history area, the sequence of drafts have been devoid of ideological overtone," he said. "From a professional point of view, it would be inexplicable if any new government decided to go back to square one."

NSW English and maths teacher organisations are unhappy with the draft national curriculum, saying they favour the existing NSW Board of Studies curriculum. Eva Gold, a spokeswoman for the NSW English Teachers Association, said teachers would be relieved if the national curriculum was scrapped.

"Teachers in NSW would be greatly relieved to teach the NSW curriculum rather than the national curriculum," she said. "Our members are not happy at all with the K to 10 [kindergarten to year 10] curriculum."


Monday, August 30, 2010

British teacher fired for imposing discipline wins employment tribunal

A schoolgirl simulated a sex act in class – and the teacher who disciplined her was fired by a bitchy headmistress. Now he has been vindicated.

It must rate as one of the more vulgar and indecorous moments of misconduct witnessed in a British classroom. During a science lesson with a class of bottom-set 13-year-olds at Collegiate High School in Blackpool, one girl, a known troublemaker, threw herself into the lap of a startled girl sitting nearby and began simulating a lewd sex act.

Her teacher, David Roy, was horrified. When the youngster finally stood up, she wandered around the classroom, disrupting the lesson. Eventually she slumped down upon a table, turning her back on her teacher.

Mr Roy was not prepared to talk to the girl’s back. Nor was he willing to let her disrupt the class. “So I moved the table, which was big and heavy, and in a dramatic gesture — what I would call an exaggerated fashion — she fell off,” he explains.

To Mr Roy’s frustration the lesson was ruined. “I felt sorry for the other pupils who just wanted to learn,” he says wearily. “She was a troublemaker, I knew that.”

Just how much of a troublemaker she was, Mr Roy — a mild-mannered and measured man who says he would never countenance physically abusing a pupil — would find out in the year ahead.

Though the teaching assistant who witnessed the girl’s antics later described the incident as “the worst classroom behaviour” she had ever seen, the girl lodged a complaint. Police and social services became involved and both concluded there was nothing to investigate.

When the school’s deputy head looked into the episode, which happened in September 2008, he exonerated Mr Roy of any wrongdoing. And there the matter may have rested. Instead, it would become the first salvo in campaign that ultimately cost the science master his job.

To Mr Roy’s disbelief, after two more alleged incidents, involving his disciplining of unruly pupils, he was dismissed. In spite of the fact that it was deemed he had no case to answer over the original girl’s complaint, school staff used it as a reason to sack him.

As part of the head’s investigation she did not ask the former Army officer for his version of the later incidents, but relied mainly on the word of the students involved.

She did seek the views of teachers who witnessed parts of the confrontations, but so “abused” the statements that the teachers willingly appeared as witnesses for Mr Roy when he took the school to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal. One, Allyson England, said she had been “primed” by the head teacher and a human resources officer from Blackpool council to answer questions to support their argument.

Nine days ago, a very different conclusion was reached by an employment tribunal in Manchester. Mr Roy, described as a “model teacher” by colleagues, was awarded £63,000 after winning his case. To his relief he walked out of the tribunal without a blemish on his professional reputation.

Mr Roy’s case was extreme. His supporters say that his dismissal was a moral outrage and that he was the victim of appalling injustice. But it is also the tip of the iceberg.

According to critics, today’s teachers are so bound by the rule books that there are few disciplinary methods left available to them other than to suspend pupils. Government figures show that some of the country’s most unruly children have missed the equivalent of a school term after being suspended more than 20 times in the same year. Incredibly, 1,430 pupils were sent home for bad behaviour at least 10 times in an academic year — and many 20 times.

As Nick Seaton, the chairman for the Campaign for Real Education points out, suspension is the only tool teachers still possess. “In lots of schools it is the only effective punishment left. Instead of teachers being the authority, the pupils have control. Teachers have gradually lost their authority so their only option is exclusion.”

The current situation, the critics say, is a legacy of Labour’s insistence that teaching should be “child-centred”, that pupils should dictate the pace of learning and that their voices should be listened to above all others. The result has been a spate of dismissals of talented teachers. In many cases the teacher under investigation is not even consulted.


British children's grasp of the 3Rs at its worst in a decade: One in five struggling to spell at age seven

Children’s grasp of the three Rs after two years of school is at its worst for a decade, official figures suggested yesterday. One in five seven-year-olds - nearly 105,000 pupils - failed to reach the writing standards expected of their age this spring, struggling to use capital letters and spell single-syllable words.

One in six, or about 84,000, failed to reach expected standards in reading and nearly one in ten - 58,700 - failed to make the grade in maths.

Boys trailed girls in every tested subject, while performance by bright pupils dipped on last year.

Despite record investment in early education by the Labour government, pupils’ average scores in reading, writing and maths combined has fallen from 15.5 points in 2000 to 15.3 this year.

The Coalition responded by pledging a stronger focus on traditional teaching methods, including the back-to-basics ‘synthetic phonics’ approach to reading.

Ministers are planning a new reading test for six-year-olds to identify struggling pupils earlier. Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘In spite of the hard work of teachers and pupils, there are still too many seven-year-olds not reaching the expected level.

‘We need to make sure that government gives schools the support they need to get the basics right. A solid foundation in reading, writing, maths and science in the early years of education is crucial to a child’s success in later life.’

Yesterday’s results are based on ‘key stage one’ assessments of 553,000 seven-year-olds by teachers in English primary schools after formal SATs were scrapped. A sample of the assessments is cross-checked to ensure consistency across the country. They cover speaking and listening, reading, writing, maths and science.

Some 15 per cent of children failed to meet the expected national curriculum ‘level two’ in reading. It means they struggle to read simple passages or express opinions about stories.

Meanwhile 19 per cent fell short of ‘level two’ in writing. This level requires youngsters to be able to use past and present tenses, vary their sentence structures, spell common words correctly and use full stops and capital letters.

Some 11 per cent failed to make the grade in maths, meaning they struggle to count to 100, and a similar proportion in science.

Mr Gibb highlighted an ‘unacceptable’ gap in attainment between rich and poorer areas. He promised extra funds for teaching deprived pupils.

GCSEs taken by hundreds of thousands of pupils this summer were too easy, according to the qualifications watchdog. Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of Ofqual, told the Times Educational Supplement that the general GCSE science and additional science exams represented a ‘collective falling short of the standards that young people and teachers have a right to expect’.

Teenagers passed 60.9 per cent of science GCSEs and 64.7 per cent of additional science papers at grade C or above this summer.


The Power of Choice

Newsweek ran a good article on “New Orleans’ Charter-School Revolution” yesterday, and it shows the possibilities of a very open charter school system:
In most public school systems in America, students attend the school for which their neighborhood is zoned. But in the five years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has created a school system unlike any other in the country. “We used Katrina as an opportunity to build—not rebuild, but build—a new school system,” says Paul Vallas, the outgoing superintendent of the Recovery School District, which, authorized by the state to turn around failing schools, took over most of New Orleans’s schools after the storm. Last year more than 60 percent of the city’s students attended charter schools; this year nine additional schools switched to a charter model, so that number will be higher. Vallas calls this new paradigm an “overwhelmingly publicly funded, predominantly privately run school system.”

In 2005 Orleans Parish was the second-worst-performing school district in the state, and in some schools 30 percent of seniors dropped out over the course of the year. In 2003 one high-school valedictorian failed the math portion of the state exit exam five times and could not graduate. Things were different at the charters: at New Orleans Charter Middle School, which in 1998 became the city’s first charter school, parents would put their head in their hands and cry if their child’s name didn’t come up in the admissions lottery.

In New Orleans today, students and educators have unprecedented leeway to mold educational experiences. Students can apply to and, if accepted, choose to attend any of the [...] 46 charter schools or 23 “traditional” schools. The vast majority of schools have open-enrollment policies that allow any student to attend, regardless of past academic success. (Schools with more applicants than spots hold lotteries.) The prevalence of charters means that in most of the city’s schools, educators can choose how their schools are run. Even in traditional schools, principals have unusual autonomy over the hiring—and firing—of teachers, since the city’s teachers’ union lost its collective-bargaining rights.

So far, the experiment appears to be working. Before Katrina, two thirds of students were attending schools deemed failing by state standards, notes Leslie Jacobs, a New Orleans education-reform advocate; in the 2010–11 academic year, she says, it will be less than one third. “The fact that we haven’t gotten everything right yet shouldn’t take away from the fact that we’re getting a whole lot more right,” she says. New Orleans schools are still performing below the state average on achievement tests, but according to Jacobs’s analysis of state data, the gap between New Orleans and the rest of the state has basically been cut in half.

Obviously, that’s far from perfect, but it’s more improvement than the city saw under the old regime. I also think that the teacher union’s loss of collective bargaining rights is a big reason that charters schools have the chance to succeed in New Orleans. Public school teacher unions typically act as a special interest groups hell-bent on stopping any kind of competition to the public school model, so they lobby for laws restricting options like vouchers, education tax credits, and charter schools. Missouri, for instance, has fairly strict rules on charters requiring them to have an academic sponsor and restricting their operations to the cities of Saint Louis and Kansas City.

Still, students in Missouri’s charter schools can be expected to outperform their public school counterparts over time, according to a study by Standford University’s Center for Research on Education, which my colleague Josh Smith blogged about last year. If Missouri offered an even more welcoming environment to charter schools — by, say, letting them operate anywhere in the state — we might be able to come closer to matching the impressive gains of the New Orleans’ schools. At the very least, the research shows that charter schools can replicate the academic accomplishments of public schools at a much lower cost, which is still a net benefit over the status quo.

Again, the evidence shows that schools are like most other institutions in that they perform best when their stakeholders have alternatives and choose which establishment to patronize.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Myth of Equality

Pat Buchanan

In 21st century America, institutional racism and sexism remain great twin evils to be eradicated on our long journey to the wonderful world where, at last, all are equal.

What are we to make, then, of a profession that rewards workers with fame and fortune, yet discriminates ruthlessly against women; an institution where Hispanics and Asians, 20 percent of the U.S. population, are neither sought after nor widely seen.

In this profession, white males, a third of the population, retain a third of the jobs. But black males, 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, have 67 percent of the coveted positions -- 10 times their fair share.

We are talking of the NFL.

In figures reported by columnist Walter Williams, not only are black males 77 percent of the National Basketball Association, they are 67 percent of the players in the NFL.

Yet no one objects that women are not permitted to compete in the NFL. Nor do many object to the paucity of Asian and Mexicans, or the over-representation of blacks, even as white males dominate the National Hockey League and the PGA.

When it comes to sports -- high school, collegiate or professional -- Americans are intolerant of lectures about diversity and inclusiveness. They want the best -- the best in the NFL, the best in the NBA, the best at Augusta, the best at Wimbledon, the best in the Olympics, the best in the All-Star Game, the World Series, the Super Bowl.

When it comes to artistic ability, musical ability, acting ability, athletic ability, Americans accept the reality of inequality. We are not all born equal, other than in our God-given and constitutional rights.

We are not all equally gifted. There are prodigies like pianist Van Cliburn, chess wizard Bobby Fischer, actress Shirley Temple. Every kid halfway through first grade knows who can spell and sing and who cannot, and who is bright and talented and athletic, and who is not.

What most Americans seek is a level playing field on which all compete equally, for what we ultimately seek is excellence, not equality.

Why, then, cannot our elites accept that, be it by nature, nurture, attitude or aptitude, we are not all equal in academic ability?

What raises this issue is the anguish evident in New York over the latest state test scores of public school students, which reveal that the ballyhooed progress in closing the racial achievement gap never happened.

That gap approached closure only by lowering the pass-fail score and by using similar tests, year-after-year, so teachers could prepare the kids to take them.

After a new, tougher state test was used in 2010, where 51 correct answers, not 37, meant achieving the desired grade, the old gaps between Hispanics, blacks, whites and Asians reappeared as wide as they were when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city schools chief Joel Klein set out to close them.

"We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever," blared Bloomberg in 2009, in the euphoria of what The New York Times now calls "the test score bubble."

"Among the students in the city's third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 83 recent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent of whites and Asians."

Appalling, when one considers New York City usually ranks first or second in the nation in per-pupil expenditures.

Nor has George W. Bush's vaunted No Child Left Behind program fared better. Results of national tests conducted in 2009 make New York students look like the Whiz Kids.

"Forty-nine percent of white students and 17 percent of black students showed proficiency on the fourth-grade English test, up from 45 percent of white students and 14 percent of black students in 2003."

One in six African-American fourth-grade kids is making the grade.

How many scores of billions did this pathetic gain cost us?

Since 1965, America has invested trillions in education with a primary goal of equalizing test scores among the races and genders. Measured by U.S. test scores, it has been a waste -- an immense transfer of wealth from private citizens to an education industry that has grown bloated while failing us again and again.

Perhaps it is time to abandon the goal of educational equality as utopian -- i.e., unattainable -- and to focus, as we do in sports and art, on excellence.

Teach all kids to the limit of their ability, while recognizing that all are not equal in their ability to read, write, learn, compute or debate, any more than they are equally able to play in a band or excel on a ball field. For an indeterminate future, Mexican kids are not going to match Asian kids in math.

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize this world as it is, not as what we would wish it to be.


British High School exama are 'so boring' says top school's head who wants a tougher exam for her students

A school where pupils passed 51 per cent of A-levels with A* grades may abandon the 'methodical' exam in favour of a rival qualification. Cynthia Hall, head of £29,250-a-year all-girls boarding school Wycombe Abbey, warned that pupils risk being penalised for showing originality and intelligence in their A-levels.

She said her school - which tops the national league tables for A* grades - was 'keeping an eye' on the rival Cambridge Pre-U exam, brought in two years ago to encourage more in-depth studies.

Earlier this week Gary Lineker blamed the Pre-U for the failure of his son George, a pupil at Charterhouse, to get into university. The TV presenter said it 'seemed to have been marked much harder' than A-level papers.

But Mrs Hall said her school was considering the Pre-U to stretch her high-achieving pupils. 'We are interested in something that provides stimulus and challenge,' she added. She said reforms to A-levels ten years ago, which broke up courses into bite-size chunks, meant pupils faced exams after just two terms of sixth-form study.

The Pre-U, in contrast, involves all exams being taken at the end of a two-year course. 'One of the things it gives is the opportunity to restore to the lower-sixth that opportunity to research,' she said. 'We're going to keep an eye on the Pre-U. We want to see what teething troubles there are,' she added.

Mrs Hall said A-levels offered limited opportunities for pupils to show 'originality and creativity'. She also claimed some of the marking was 'inadequate'. Mrs Hall added: 'You have got some markers who are not really subject specialists and are not able to recognise more individual work.

'From time to time, you look at an answer which is clearly very intelligent but the specialist knowledge of the marker is not adequate to understand.' Pupils were advised not to 'take risks' in the exam room, she added.

Her remarks came as the head of Charterhouse, the Reverend John Witheridge, made an outspoken attack on A-levels. In what was seen as a riposte to Mr Lineker, he defended his switch to the Pre-U.

'Here are syllabuses that engage and stretch sixth-formers. They require deep delving, rigorous research and wider reading,' he said, writing in the Spectator. 'Pupils are encouraged to take intellectual risks by developing their own ideas and arguments, and are rewarded for academic flair. 'All this will ring bells with those us who sat A-levels 30 or 40 years ago, but not with those who sat today's A-levels, with their "accessible", prescriptive and frankly boring curricula.'

The results for more than 400 independent schools, published today, show that fee-paying pupils passed 18.17 per cent of A-levels at A* this year - more than double the national average of 8.1 per cent. Some 2,108 pupils gained at least three A* grades. Boys were slightly more likely than girls to achieve a hat-trick of A*s.

Some 1,485 pupils at 43 schools took the International Baccalaureate, while 552 pupils at 23 schools took the Pre-U in at least one subject.

More than 80 schools including Eton refused to allow their results to be used in league tables, claiming the lists damage education.

Magdalen College School, in Oxford, topped the Mail's table after gaining the most top A*, A and B grades overall - 99.38 per cent. Its head, Dr Tim Hands, insisted most schools still favoured A-levels but said there had been 'change after change' and now a period of 'consolidation' was needed.


Politically correct British politicians lose sight of what makes a "good" school

It's heavily influenced by the quality of the kids attending it. If you let in a lot of dumb and unruly kids, educational standards go down to cope with them and the school soon ceases to be a "good" one. "Banding" will just degrade ALL schools

Middle-class parents would be unable to guarantee their children places at the best state schools by buying houses nearby under admissions rules backed by the Schools Secretary.

The Coalition is planning to allow hundreds of secondary schools to control their own entry policies and Michael Gove warmly praised the system, which allocates places according to academic ability and reserves many places for children with the weakest performance.

“Fair-banding” admissions schemes are often seen as a way of breaking the middle-class dominance in the best-performing state secondaries since they prevent affluent parents from monopolising places by paying a premium to live in their catchment areas.

Banding generally means that 11 year-olds applying for school places sit an IQ-based “attainment test” and are then divided into seven or nine ability groups. The same number of children from each ability group are then given places at the school.

Advocates say that reserving some places for children with the lowest scores ensures that children from poorer homes are more likely to get places at the best schools. Critics say it unfairly discriminates against children with the best results.

The Conservatives have not previously spoken out in favour of the practice, but Mr Gove told the BBC that fair banding had “a role to play” and could make schools “truly socially comprehensive”. It prevented better-off parents boosting their children’s chances by buying homes near better schools.

“You can make sure that if your school is located in an area which may well be relatively privileged, by dint of house prices and background and so on, that you are spreading the load academically,” he said.

There is no official record of how many schools use fair banding, but a Daily Telegraph survey last year identified at least 22 local authority areas where the rules were in place.

The Schools Department estimates that only around 100 local authority-controlled secondary schools in England admit students on a fair-banding basis.

But almost half the 200 academies currently operating, which set their own admissions policies, are estimated to use some sort of fair-banding policy.

Mr Gove has claimed that hundreds of schools are considering opting out of council control under his plan to allow all schools to become academies. If that prediction is accurate, there could be a dramatic expansion in the use of banding policies.

Mr Gove praised schools including Dunraven School and Mossbourne Academy, in south and east London respectively, as high-performing schools that use banding.

Dunraven school in the south London borough of Lambeth introduced fair banding in 1992. It puts children in five different bands and gives priority to those children who are in care or in foster care.

David Boyle, the school principal, said results had improved dramatically since the system was introduced. The number of GCSEs at grade C or above had increased from 30 per cent in 1992 to 82 per cent this year.

He said that Dunraven was now more aspirational. “Our mission is to try to ensure a service for the whole community,” he added.

A source close to Mr Gove said: “We are not telling any school to use fair banding nor are we telling them not to. We want all parents to be able to send their children to a good school. That’s why we are expanding the number of academies.”

Some experts say the schools with the greatest incentive to adopt banding are those in the poorest areas, because they often struggle to attract brighter children.

But supporters of the policy say all schools can benefit from becoming more socially and academically inclusive.

The charity Barnardo’s this week called for the widespread use of fair banding. But David Green, the director of the think tank Civitas, described it as “a kind of social engineering based on animosity to middle-class parents.”

Prof Stephen Gorard from Birmingham University warned that Mr Gove’s voluntary approach to admissions had risks. “If banding is implemented partially and voluntarily, it sounds like the outcome will be all pain and no gain.”

John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers said banding was right in principle, but should be implemented uniformly. “Banding only works if you do it in a geographical area,” he added. “If every school has its own admissions policy and sets its own banding system, you’re going to get real unevenness.”

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, attacked fair banding as an unfair policy that denied places to the brightest. He added: “I’m not saying we shouldn’t help the worse-off, but it I don’t think the best way to do that is to disadvantage the better-off.”