Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where was the ACLU on this?

If schoolkids had been told to take part in a Catholic Mass, told that Catholicism was the one true faith and that it permitted women priests and abortion, the heavens would be ringing with Leftist outcry
A Massachusetts school district has apologized to parents after a group of schoolchildren participated in midday Muslim prayers during a field trip to a Boston-area mosque.

The incident occurred in May when a social studies class from Wellesley Middle School toured the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, one of the largest mosques in the Northeast.

Parents were told their children would be learning about the architecture of a mosque and they would be allowed to observe a prayer service. But the students wound up being given a lecture on the Prophet Muhammad, and some boys participated in a midday prayer service.

The field trip was videotaped by a parent whose child was on the trip. At one point, the video shows a spokeswoman for the mosque telling students, “You have to believe in Allah, and Allah is the one God, the only one worthy of worship, all forgiving, all merciful."

The sixth graders were also reportedly told that jihad is a personal spiritual struggle that has nothing to do with holy war, and girls on the field trip were told that Islam is pro-women.

“Islam was actually very advanced in terms of recognizing women’s rights,” an unidentified mosque spokeswoman says in the video. “At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, women were allowed to express their opinions and vote. In this country, women didn’t gain that right until less than a hundred years ago.”

Dennis Hale, a spokesman for Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which has been critical of the mosque, told Fox News Radio that the students were then instructed on how to pray during the midday service.

He said mosque officials separated the group by gender and invited male students to join traditional Muslim prayers. The video shows young boys bowing and prostrating themselves – with their heads touching the floor. At no point during the event did any school teacher or school official intervene.

On Thursday, nearly four months after the incident, the Wellesley School District sent a letter to parents apologizing for what happened.


Politically correct TOY-gun phobia among Florida school authorities

A toy gun "constitutes a weapon"??

Samuel Burgos has fond memories of his friends at school, but he only gets to see them in pictures now. The 8-year-old boy hasn't been in school for a year and will likely miss another year if the Broward County School Board has its way.

Burgos was suspended from school in November after a teacher found a toy gun in his backpack. But when the boy went to register to go back to Pembroke Pines Charter School, he was told he will be expelled for this school year, too, as part of the county's zero tolerance weapons policy.

"He made a mistake, but why the severe punishment? I don't understand that," said Magdiel Burgos, Sam's dad.

School board officials said the rules are quite clear and that the toy gun constituted a weapon. A school board report on the incident mentions that Samuel showed the toy gun to another student and it was capable of firing projectiles. That's all it takes for it to be considered a weapon.

"This is in his backpack and it's a toy. It's not a real gun. It's a toy," said Magdiel Burgos, twirling a plastic gun.

The school board said they would admit Samuel into a correctional school for problem children who have been expelled located in Hallandale Beach. The parents refused and believe their son has already paid for his mistake enough. Samuel has since been home-schooled, but his parents want him back in public school.

"I can't sit here and allow them to send my kid to a school where students have committed actual crimes," Burgos said. "He hasn't committed a crime."

Next week, the family will attend a school board meeting to try and get their son back in class as soon as possible, but that could be after Thanksgiving.

Burgos says his child has been set back emotionally and will probably have to repeat the second grade. He thinks there should be some room to determine that his child didn't bring a real gun to school. "I understand the board is concerned about schools, and as parents we are concerned, too, but they need to work with us," he said.

The school board says it's common sense to know that this kind of item can't be allowed on school campus [Really??] and that responsibility also falls on parents to know what their children have in their backpacks.


British teenagers to pass a high school exam in sex

This is all part of a trend which has seen a record rate of pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among British teenagers. So-called "education" has just encouraged sexual experimentation among increasingly younger age-groups.

Teenagers will learn how to use a condom and obtain the morning after pill as part of the first GCSE-style qualification in sex. Pupils will be able to gain the equivalent of a D grade under the new course which has been devised to raise awareness of issues surrounding relationships, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. The Government-funded qualification is being offered in nine schools and colleges for the first time this term with plans to expand it across the country.

Last night, the move sparked outrage among families’ groups who claimed it legitimised sexual promiscuity and failed to make any reference to marriage.

But Suzanne Cant, research manager at the qualifications provider NCFE, which is running the course, said: “Sexual health education should play a part in the curriculum for all young people. “The latest figures show teenage pregnancy rates are falling, but not falling at a fast enough rate to meet Government targets.

Meanwhile, annual diagnoses for sexually-transmitted diseases are already in the hundreds of thousands – and increasing all the time.

“Part of the way to tackle these issues is through education and [the] qualification offers a formal way to assess and certificate learners to help ensure the right messages are being delivered and understood.”

NCFE - which used to stand for Northern Council for Further Education - formally launched the Level 1 award in sexual health awareness this week following official accreditation by Ofqual, the exams regulator. Level 1 examinations are equivalent to low-level GCSEs graded D to G.

The course, which is aimed towards students who are not yet ready to take full GCSEs, and takes just nine hours to teach,asks pupils to give the names of male and female sexual organs, describe two examples of “risky sexual behaviour” and outline two methods of contraception “that would be suitable for a young person”.

Students, who will be encouraged to take the course between the age of 14 and 16, are taught about the age at which someone can access sexual health services “without parental consent”.

Another question asks pupils to outline “two things it’s important to remember when using a condom” and list two places where emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill, may be obtained.

A further section focuses on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Pupils are asked how HIV can be transmitted and to outline one possible consequence of not having Chlamydia treated.

Norman Wells, from the Family Education Trust, said: “In spite of its name, this new qualification is more about promoting sexual experimentation and the use of contraception by children than it is about promoting sexual health.

“The only sure way of avoiding sexually transmitted infections is to keep sexual intimacy within a faithful lifelong relationship, yet this course makes no mention of marriage or of commitment and faithfulness. “Instead, the focus is on telling pupils how to use contraceptives and how they can access them behind their parents’ backs. Schools exist to assist and support parents in the education of their children, not to undermine them in this way.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “There are hundreds of qualifications that are accredited by Ofqual for a plethora of different ages, abilities and settings. We rightly trust heads to choose what is best for their pupils."

Most students already receive sex education at secondary school, although Labour dropped plans to make lessons compulsory in primaries earlier this year as part of the Parliamentary “wash-up” before the General Election.


Friday, September 17, 2010

College Bound: The Changing Role of Parents

This week, the New York Times advised parents of incoming college freshmen to drop their kids off, “back off,” “walk away,” and “move on” so that their “students can develop independence.” In the article, parents who don’t hop in the car, return home and consider their parenting over are dismissed as “super-involved” or “over-involved” and are described as “Velcro parents,” “Helicopter parents,” or “baby-on-board parents.”

Some colleges join in the derogatory attitude toward parents, going so far as to advise limiting phone calls and text messages. Some provide not-so-subtle indications that parents are not to “meddle.” According to the New York Times, the University of Minnesota holds a separate reception for parents so that their sons and daughters can meet their roommates and negotiate dorm room space without the parents around. Grinnell College has the new students sit on one side of the gymnasium and the parents on the other with all speakers talking to the student side — a symbolic way of putting parents in their place.

These attacks against parenting are another attempt to intimidate parents into surrendering their influence to that of supposedly “superior” intellectuals and professional “educators” who know what’s best for our children. My husband and I spent years on college campuses as professors and as administrators. We saw campus life from the inside. Then, as parents of college students, we saw it from the outside as well.

Certainly, there are over-involved parents living vicariously through their kids’ experiences, but many more parents just “wash their hands” of involvement with their children when they go off to college. My judgment: far too many parents assume that their parenting role ends when college for their child begins. I do not agree that parents are superfluous. Nor do I think kids should be abandoned to flounder in a totally new environment where they are deluged with new worldviews and ideologies. Some students are suddenly cut loose from their anchors in an environment of total freedom without adequate preparation; they move out of a home where there are clear rules and expectations (which stabilize both their conduct and emotions) into a place where there are few rules or expectations for their behavior or conduct.

As I read the New York Times article, I remembered one of my favorite roles as an academic dean. I was given the privilege of giving the keynote address at the evening convocation for students and parents before freshman activities started the next day. Having recently seen our own two children off to college, I could feel the parental uncertainty. My husband and I had given a lot of thought to our new roles as parents of adult children and how to maintain the positive connection and bond of friendship we had developed during the years before our two left for college. We were not going to let our neglect tarnish or erode those bonds with our kids.

Most of the parents I addressed at those orientation sessions proved eager listeners to the following: First, your role as a parent lasts a lifetime. While your role changes dramatically at various stages in your children’s lives, it is important and significant at each stage. You have to learn to be adaptable to those changes, but it is vital that you provide the support that your children need in their college days and provide the guidance that they will ask for when you make it clear that you are still there for them and that you won’t tell them what to do or interfere with their growth into maturity and adulthood. Most of us do not want our children’s first real trip on the high wire of independence to be without a safety net. As the song says, we want to be the “wind beneath their wings.”

As I talked to the parents of incoming freshmen, I wanted them to be particularly alert to three things:

1. Your child is beginning one of the most significant and challenging stages of his or her life. Perhaps for the first time, that child is on his or her own and it is a proverbial “make-or-break” situation. (Hopefully, you have spent the previous 18 years preparing them for this day — emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually.) They need to know that you will continue to be there as a parent to provide support and/or guidance as they request it.

2. Over the four years of college or university life, students will make many of the most important decisions of their lives. Wise parents will anticipate the challenges and temptations and prepare their children with the character and arguments that they need to avoid risky and destructive behavior; loving communication and wise counsel can help your child resist temptation and make good decisions.

3. Over the next four years, your child will sit under the influence of a few professors who enjoy tearing down the moral and religious views of their students. For such profs, teaching is a game, and the intellectual seduction of their students is the conquest that makes their teaching challenging. Their agenda is to separate students from their parents, thereby, they hope, removing the influence of traditional, Judeo-Christian values. Wise parents will listen carefully and be ready to help counter such pernicious nonsense.

There is no reason for parents to accede to the condescending and patronizing attitudes of those who believe that parents are superfluous in their children’s lives once they reach college age. Of course a parent’s role must change, but the parental role is still important, and I can attest to the fact that it can be as meaningful, memorable, and significant in the college days and into adulthood as it was during all the previous stages of your child’s life. Nothing is more gratifying to a parent than to see a child become a mature adult — well-adjusted, well-educated, and well-prepared to make their own decisions.


British School breaks with tradition and orders pupils to address teachers by their first names

Not a good way to foster respect!

A school has told its pupils to break with tradition and address their teachers by their first name. Children have been told they should now informally address teachers as part of a term-long trial.

The pupils at Boughton-under-Blean and Dunkirk Primary school in Faversham, Kent have been ordered to abandon using teachers’ surnames with the title of either ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’ in front of it. Now school bosses say they hope the trial will “enhance the relationship” between the kids and their mentors.

Headteacher Hugh Greenwood, who came up with the idea, said: 'We hope the pupils really take to the concept. 'We think it makes learning a more personal experience and allows teachers to come down to the pupils level. 'Obviously we are just trying it out and if it doesn’t work we will refer back to the traditional custom.'

Now parents at the school, which has over 150 children aged five to 11, have welcomed the trial. Sally Palmer, 35, who has a seven-year-old son at the school, said: 'It’s very strange for the kids to call their teachers by their first names. 'The kids seem to love the idea.'

Another mother of a six-year-old boy at the school said: 'It think it’s a fantastic idea. 'The informality has really helped kids to relax in the classroom and focus on learning. 'My son has been coming home speaking about his teacher called Tom. 'He found it quite imposing calling her teacher Mr or Mrs so this is much better.'


Australia: An education revolution that fizzled

Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party declared the "Education Revolution" at the beginning of 2007. They said it would go through various phases, and spent a lot of treasure on it. By now we should be showing results.

The first part of the revolution was equipment. The government promised a computer on the desk of every student in years 9 to 12. But there isn't. Not even one for every two desks. You couldn't share one between three. The government got its sums wrong and didn't allocate enough money for the back-up and the installation. It illustrates why we need to improve education - ministers need better numeracy standards - and showed this would be a revolution bigger on promise than delivery.

The next phase was to roll the revolution over to buildings. The government announced it was "Building the Education Revolution" with new halls and canteens in every school whether they were wanted or not. This would be revolutionary and "save" the economy by spending about $15 billion.

The BER stimulated a lot of inventive claims for project management fees and inflated building costs. It completed some useful projects, and some useless ones - like the hall at Hastings Public School, which is too small to hold the 39 students, and the canteen at Orange Grove Public School, nice but too small to fit a pie-warmer.

That great revolutionary Josef Stalin claimed that to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs. BER delivered breakages and spillages all over the country. Whether the omelette is worth $15 billion is the question. The BER "stimulus" is still being rolled out, even though we now have an unprecedented mining boom, with interest rates rising.

Julia Gillard says the revolution delivered the My School website that gives information on how students in each school compare with national averages. And that is a good idea. But one website does not a revolution make. If the literacy and numeracy standards showed persistent improvement against historical benchmarks and improvement against other countries, that would be an achievement. If the revolution is about anything, it should be about improving results.

After three years of revolution, it was a surprise that last weekend, when the PM announced her ministry, there was no one described as an education minister. This was once her No.1 priority. Later it was clarified there would be two ministers for education - Chris Evans for tertiary and Peter Garrett for schools - a kind of duumvirate to lead the revolution.

Both men are polite and sensitive. Neither is a fire-breathing reformer. Evans was in charge of stopping the tide of asylum seekers in his last ministerial role. The fact all of the asylum facilities are overflowing gives you some idea of how effective he was and why he had to be moved. And when you talk of ministerial fire it is not effectiveness that comes to mind with Garrett, but insulation batts and house fires. He is lucky to still be a minister.

Their appointment tells us how low a priority the education revolution has become. The sooner it moves out of public consciousness the happier Gillard will be. Don't expect too many more signs to be erected proclaiming the education revolution.

After three years, our Australian revolution is starting to look a bit like Castro's. He's been going 50 years and promises improvement is just around the corner. Cubans like to humour their leader. They know the truth but they keep up the joke. Australians are best advised to do the same. We know the revolution is an expensive fizzer, but we are polite and do not remind our Comrade Leader. She will bury it in her own good time.


The policies of the Australian Green party threaten private schooling

Such policies, if implemented, would be a heavy blow in many country areas. The Green party and the ruling Labor party are now formally in partnership in the Federal government so the threat may well eventuate

BETTER resources for regional education may well be on the national agenda, but new Schools, Early Childhood and Youth Minister Peter Garrett must not allow their delivery to be thwarted by giving in to the Greens, who will deny many young Australians a choice of independent schooling.

While the formal agreement between Julia Gillard and the Greens signed on September 1 makes no mention of education or schools funding, any intrusion of the Greens stance on schools into federal government policy will certainly undermine, for regional Australia, the social and economic sustainability they claim to champion.

Recognising the vital role of the independent schools sector, Prime Minister Gillard earlier this year committed to extending the existing school funding arrangements by 12 months and the capital grants program until 2014. However, to be enacted, this is likely to need the support of the Greens in both houses, putting them at odds with their party's commitment to attack independent schools with a blunt instrument.

According to their website, key planks of the Greens' policies include reducing funding across the board to 2003-04 levels; ending the arrangement for recurrent funding to non-government schools by the end of this year at the latest; and "[ensuring] the viability and diversity of existing public schools is not endangered by the development of new private schools", essentially preventing new independent schools from being set up even if there is a desire for them.

Such ideology makes naive assumptions, in particular about regional Australia and the millions of people who live here.

Negotiations between the three regional independent MPs and the two leading parties that wished to form minority government rightly put regional Australia back in the spotlight. So often overlooked in policy debates, it is a place where more than one-quarter of Australians live, are educated and work. However, regional Australia will suffer if its independent schools are threatened, because educational opportunity and diversity will be narrowed.

Independent schools enable regional children to have access to academic, sporting, cultural, spiritual and social programs that many would otherwise not have. For some, the nearest public secondary school may be hours away, and even then only provide education to Year 10. Most regional boarding schools, often the only option for a child from rural or remote Australia, are run on slim margins, with enrolments influenced mostly by the fickle vagaries of agricultural commodity markets rather than the salary packages of corporate executives.

Already making huge sacrifices for their children, parents who may no longer be able to afford an independent alternative but want a choice for their children will be forced to move from their one-high-school towns to larger centres or the city.

Further, a narrowing of educational choice and diversity will only lessen the attraction of regions to professionals already in short supply. The critical shortage of doctors will be placed on life support, and teachers, regardless of philosophical persuasion, will be harder to find.

Independent schools hold a valued place in regional Australia, not only as economic entities in their own right, but as providers of choice in lifestyle that is so critical to the attractions of living away from the city. Consequently, a threat to independent schools driven by new sympathy for the Greens agenda will have a greater impact in regional Australia than in metropolitan areas.

All this is hardly a recipe for a vibrant, diverse and inclusive regional Australia that can help take population pressures off overcrowded cities.

Educational equity for regional Australia means having equal access to the full breadth of school choices - government, Catholic and independent - and certainty of government funding arrangements is critical for maintaining this.

Depriving regional Australians of such opportunities will only increase social inequity, not help overcome it.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

A solution that is neat, plausible, and wrong

When I was pursuing my teacher certification, nearly all of my education classes stressed that teachers should teach to different learning styles. The most prominent theory of learning styles is the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which says that there are nine different kinds of intelligence, including the traditional lingual and logical-mathematical, as well as musical, inter and intrapersonal, and existential, and that people learn best when information is presented to them via their strongest intelligences.

It’s an interesting theory that’s relatively simple to grasp, and it’s not terribly difficult to craft a curriculum around the ideas. Unfortunately, there’s not really any empirical data to show that it — or any of the other learning-style theories — are true. A review of the available literature on learning styles from 2008 found no evidence to support learning-style theories and some evidence that contradicted them. From the study’s abstract:
Our review of the literature disclosed ample evidence that children and adults will, if asked, express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them. There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information.

However, we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis.

We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such research needs to be performed appropriately.

So, why does a completely unproven theory dominate teacher training? Part of the answer is that education, like most industries, is subject to fads that seem fascinating and obvious at the time but later prove to be ineffective. However, I think that the government’s near monopoly on schools contributes to the problem.

Because education is dominated by one entity, it is extremely static; therefore, while it may be very difficult for a renegade idea to take hold, once it has been ensconced as revealed truth, it will remain in curricula long after it is proven false.

I don’t know for certain that a more competitive education industry would be less susceptible to incorrect theories, but at the very least it would allow for innovators to come in and demonstrate new and possibly superior methods of teaching. Some will be better and some will be worse, but it is only through that kind of trial and error that we can advance — not by clinging to unproven dogmas.


Merit Pay: A Start toward Making Sure Teachers Follow Their Job Descriptions

Howls of protest are coming from Los Angeles teachers whose evaluations on their effectiveness in raising student test scores have been published in the Los Angeles Times. But that is to be expected, for teachers are among the very few professions who feel that they can write their own job descriptions and evaluations. The statement of one teacher, that she was proud to have ranked “’less effective,’” because that showed that she chose to “’teach to the emotional and academic needs’” of her students was quite telling.

Since when did teachers’ bosses (the citizens) ask them to teach to students’ “emotional needs”? And how are “academic needs” apart from what students can demonstrate on tests: that they have acquired a body of knowledge and set of skills? But teachers have rewritten their own job descriptions under the cloak of “professionalism.”

Furthermore, the emotional needs get mixed up with the “academic needs,” so that teaching becomes a part of manipulating students’ feelings under the cover of “critical thinking.” Not surprisingly, once they are led in a certain direction by emotional pressure, students’ opinions match those of their teachers, now known as “facilitators.”

I saw such arrogance displayed when I spent two long days with social studies teachers at the National Council for the Social Studies annual meeting in Atlanta last November. A theme repeated over and over was how to impart “social justice” lessons in the classroom while officially meeting state mandates. Not once did I hear anyone voice a concern with raising test scores or teaching history and civics objectively to students.

We are told that teachers work very hard, but what was expected of them as demonstrated in a workshop called “TCI strategies on the question, ‘How did change and conflict shape the American West?’” didn’t seem all that difficult.

Following the dominant mantra that the teacher should be “the guide on the side,” rather than the “sage on the stage,” the teacher conducting the demonstration hit the play button on the stereo so eleventh-grade students could listen to the song “Home on the Range” and then speculate in their little groups about the “feelings” of various victims and victimizers.

Another workshop was led by a “shadow senator” from the District of Columbia and an “activist.” They told teachers how to get K-12 students involved with lobbying and street protest for D.C. statehood. You can read my full report here.

But this is the kind of thing that teachers learn in education schools at the undergraduate and graduate level. It was displayed by an education professor from Clayton State University, who responded to a local test-altering scandal in an op-ed, in which she questioned the importance of knowing such things as the dates of the Civil War.

As I learned from perusing her and other education professors’ syllabi, teacher education students are expected not to know the subject matter they are teaching but to think and feel “deeply.” The class requirements consisted largely of journal entries, “response” papers, and “deep” discussions in the classroom.

What most of us would see as a topic for discussion over a couple of margaritas is the basis for certification and then the advanced degrees that catapult teachers into higher salary brackets. The other way to get a pay raise is to just stay on a job that is protected fiercely by the union. Nice work if you can get it.

Merit pay alone will not right a topsy-turvy system. As in politics, we need more citizen activism. There needs to be much more oversight of curricula. Teachers themselves should be tested on the subjects they teach, for studies show that their knowledge translates into student success. We should take advantage of technology—not the attention-inhibiting, expensive razzle-dazzle “learning” programs—but cameras in the classroom. In addition to being able to view classrooms on tape, citizens should be invited to sit in on classes and evaluate.

Teachers unions will object loudly, citing such concerns as privacy, the First Amendment, “professional standards,” etc. But other employees know that even their email correspondence on the job is subject to scrutiny by employers and that their raises are based on performance. Why should it be any different for teachers?


A Tory government that panders to the Left

Britain has RINO types too

Middle-class families could go to the back of the queue under explosive plans to tear up the schools admissions code.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is proposing to allow academies and a new generation of 'free schools' to select pupils on the basis of their family finances, with the poorest being given priority.

They would be allowed to discriminate in favour of pupils who qualify for free school meals - those whose household income, including benefits, is below £16,000 per year.

It is hoped that this would bring a halt to 'selection by mortgage' in areas where admissions are determined chiefly by the distance between home and school, meaning parents who can afford to buy a home nearby gain an advantage.

But it is likely to trigger a backlash from Right-wing conservative MPs and the party's traditional middle-class supporters, who are already angry that the coalition Government has ruled out any return to selection by ability.

Academies already take a higher proportion of children on free school meals than the national average, partly because under the previous Labour government they were set up in areas of social disadvantage.

However, charities including Barnardo's argue that fewer pupils from poor homes get into England's best schools because their parents are often less able to navigate the admission system.

Mr Gove's proposal will be seen as an attempt to appease Liberal Democrat members of the coalition, who have pushed existing plans to boost funding for underprivileged children. The Education Secretary believes the change, which will require legislation, will provide a vital boost for social mobility.

Sources close to Mr Gove stressed that any change would not be 'prescriptive', and schools would simply be permitted to admit children entitled to free school meals in preference to others if they wished to do so.

Mr Gove envisages the introduction of new 'free schools', run by charities, business, or even groups of parents, which specialise in admitting disadvantaged children and get more taxpayers' cash for doing so.

A source close to the Education Secretary said: 'This could actually help middle-class families, because at the moment there are parts of the country where the schools are totally useless and children who are struggling are causing discipline issues and other problems.

'The central aim of the Government's education policy is making opportunity more equal. We have one of the most segregated and stratified education systems in the world and social mobility went backwards under Labour. 'We want to emulate the success of charter schools in America which explicitly target their attention on poorer children.'

But Margaret Morrissey, founder of the parents' lobby group Parents Outloud, warned that the rule change smacked of social engineering and would be seen as 'unacceptable' by many. She said it was becoming ever more difficult for children to get into their preferred schools, even if they had siblings already there.

'Parents who work hard and do everything they should do will get shunted to the bottom of the list,' she said. 'If the Government thinks this is the fair and decent thing to do, it isn't. This assumes every family on free school meals needs help and support, which is patronising. Not many people can pay tens of thousands of pounds to buy houses in catchment areas, and fewer and fewer people are in a position to do so.'

Some grammar schools have already indicated they wish to see the admissions code relaxed to allow them to take into account the social background of applicants. But Robert Mccartney, chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, warned such a move would lead to more discrimination.

He called on the coalition to allow more schools to select pupils by ability as the fairest admissions method, saying: 'I fervently believe that a working-class child in Britain in 2010 should have exactly the same opportunity I had in 1948 to go to grammar school. Everyone accepts selection was the greatest engine of social mobility.

'The conservatives are rowing back on education. They are playing the socio-economic card which is disguising the real defects in our system. 'This policy would be discrimination of a kind. Children from whatever background with a good result on a selective test would be discriminated against.'

But Dr Lee Elliot Major, director of research at the Sutton Trust, an education charity set up to promote social mobility, said: 'We think this is a good idea. It's good for social mobility if you can have balanced intakes. 'All of our studies show the top-performing schools are unrepresentative of their local communities.'


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to Constitutional Basics in Education

In the mid 1960s, education policy took a wrong turn, away from America’s founding principles. That was when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a part of his War on Poverty, created the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). It was the first major federal foray into local schools.

But the Constitution doesn’t provide for a federal role in education, and public schools had traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

What’s more, Washington’s intervention seemed to bring out the worst in education governance: State officials became the middlemen to administer federal funding and bureaucratic bloat followed. Staff at state education agencies doubled in the five years after ESEA became law.

In 1965, ESEA was about 30 pages long. Today ESEA is known as No Child Left Behind, and its prescriptions for American schools run on for almost 600 pages. After multiple reauthorizations, the law has accumulated program after program to intervene in everything from English as a second language to after-school care. Meanwhile, federal education spending has tripled, while student achievement has generally stagnated.

How can we steer a course back toward our founding principles in education? The first step is to send dollars and decision-making authority out of Washington and back to states, localities, and ultimately, parents.

That’s why Heritage analysts have developed an education policy proposal that would allow states to consolidate funding from dozens of federal education programs–cutting bureaucracy by eliminating multiple program applications–and direct the funding toward local education priorities. Members of Congress have adopted the plan as the conservative alternative to No Child Left Behind, known as “A-PLUS.”

A critical element of the plan is its shift in accountability. In most education policy discussions, accountability means answering up the bureaucratic chain of command to Washington. But real accountability answers to parents and other taxpayers. Real accountability provides transparency for expenditures and academic results, showing parents their children’s progress and taxpayers their return on investment.

To continue in this path of reform, state and local policy should allow money to follow students to the educational setting of their parents’ choice. Freeing parents to shape their children’s education according to their needs in a setting that supports the family’s character-forming role will not only take American education back to the Founders’ ideals. It will also equip us for the future far better than the centralized factory model of education of decades past.


Indians and Chinese do best in the British school system

Pupils from ethnic minorities match or outshine white British children in exams at age 16 despite lagging behind at five, a study shows today. School league tables may encourage teachers to pay greater attention to pupils from black and Asian backgrounds, the research found.

It also suggested that peer pressure may influence how well different groups work at their studies.

The researchers, from University College London, said the achievement of ethnic minority pupils was an ‘amazing success story’. Many struggle with English when they start school but they catch up with their white British counterparts or even overtake them as their language skills improve.

The study also found that league tables give teachers an incentive to focus on pupils on the borderline between D and C grades at GCSE, because the system rewards schools for ensuring pupils achieve at least five passes at grade C or above.

Black and Asian pupils are more likely than white British pupils to form part of this borderline group, and may therefore benefit from greater attention. For the study, published today in the Economic Journal, researchers analysed exam results for nearly 500,000 pupils.

They found that, at the ages of three and five, white British children outperformed their ethnic minority counterparts in tests of vocabulary and making patterns. At seven, in English and maths tests, all ethnic minority groups with the exception of Chinese pupils were behind white British youngsters.

But by the end of compulsory schooling, when youngsters take GCSEs, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black pupils from outside the Caribbean had caught up with their white British classmates, while Indian and Chinese pupils had overtaken them.

Only black Caribbean pupils remained slightly behind white British youngsters. The study found that improvements in language skills as ethnic minority pupils move through school was the biggest reason for closing the gap.

Among Indians, the share of native English speakers was just one in five, the study said.

But it also suggested that ethnic minority parents choose better secondary than primary schools, perhaps because they become more adept at negotiating the school admissions system.

Professor Christian Dustmann, one of the study’s authors and director of the Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration, called for further research into the effects of pupil peer groups on attainment. ‘We don’t really understand the dynamics of peer groups within a school, and how within a school individuals sort into different groups,’ he said.


I knew my girl wasn't dyslexic - So I took her out of class and brought her up to speed myself, says British mother

A disrupted classroom environment was the problem

Lesha Chaplin-park, 36, a PR consultant from Stafford, refused to accept her daughter Georgia, now ten, was dyslexic when her school blamed the fact she had fallen behind on the condition. Lesha home-schooled Georgia instead, and after one year she was back at school and top of the class. Lesha says:

Teachers were all too quick to stick a label on my daughter and put her in a box. Was it for extra funding, or just so they didn't have to address the problem directly? all I know is that when I was told Georgia was dyslexic, I knew she wasn't - and I've been proved right.

Georgia was eight when her school decided she had dyslexia. she had never been great with her spelling, but her problems stemmed from the fact that she was in a class with a couple of naughty boys who demanded all the teacher's attention, and, being a quiet kid, she simply got left behind.

Her confidence took a knock and she got to the point where she'd rather not bother at all than get things wrong.

Towards the end of Year 2, the class teacher took me to one side and said Georgia wasn't quite up to speed and they would keep an eye on her. They assured me that if there was a problem they would pick it up the following year, and started talking about all the extra help available for her dyslexia. But as far as I was concerned, she didn't have dyslexia.

Then they sent home a glowing report at the end of Year 3, in which no problems were mentioned at all. I started to lose faith in the school and the mixed messages they were sending out.

As far as I was concerned, she didn't have dyslexia...I started to lose faith in the school and the mixed messages they were sending out. When I was at school, I remember children with learning difficulties being disruptive in class and doing anything they could to be thrown out of the classroom rather than have to read in front of other pupils and be shown up.

It seemed as if teachers were so anxious not to let that happen these days that they would stick labels on children - they were dyslexic, autistic or had aDhD - it felt like political correctness gone mad.

When they approached my ex-husband separately and spelled out Georgia's supposed problems again, that sealed for me. I decided I had three options: I could send Georgia back after the holidays and hope for the best, try to find her new school, or take her out of class for year and bring her up to speed myself. I went for the latter option and decided to go with the home tutoring.

It wasn't an easy decision, but I was four months pregnant with my son Luca, who's now 20 months old, and I work freelance from home, so I was in position at least to try.

I was assessed by my local home education division within the council and was surprised to discover I had to spend only 45 minutes a day teaching Georgia to give her the same level of attention as a full day in a class of 35 pupils.

I made sure she was up and ready for 9am every day, and I did everything could to make her education come alive.

For example, when we studied the Great Fire of London, I took her to Pudding Lane, where it had started, and then she had to write it up afterwards.

When she made a lot of spelling mistakes, I would put her work in the bin, send her away with a dictionary and tell her to bring it back to me only when it was her absolute best. I had time to do that rather than a teacher who would just tell her to do better next time. With my one-to-one tuition, I could drive it home that she had to do her best to succeed.

It worked, and Georgia regained her confidence. she's started at middle school now, having being out of the classroom for whole year. She's in all the top sets and it was realised she isn't dyslexic at all. I'm thrilled I had the opportunity to home-school my daughter, but I think schools have to look differently at children who are struggling and not be so quick to stick them in a box.


"Green" insanity over fruit-bat invasion of Australian school

There are millions of these creatures so there is no way that they are "endangered" -- and what is wrong with chasing them away?

Fed-up teachers at a northern NSW school claim they are being told to stop ringing the school bell, not hold sport days and plan different class times so they do not upset an influx of 20,000 flying foxes.

Staff at Maclean High School say their school has been taken over by the noisy animals and are so upset that they plan to hold a stop-work meeting on Friday. They say bat droppings, which students then spread throughout classrooms, have made the school a health and safety risk.

Maclean High teacher and NSW Teachers Federation representative John Ambrose said the foul smell and screeching by the bats forced teachers to close windows - making classrooms "unbearable" and learning difficult.

"The kids are put off ... and the smell is just repulsive," he said. "The smell is, particularly in wet weather, just foul and the car park and carpets are just splattered with droppings and, let me tell you, they are not steam cleaned every day; they are cleaned once a year."

But attempts to move the bats have so far been unsuccessful. The NSW Department of Education, which removed bats 10 years ago, needs a licence and federal government approval to remove them.

Mr Ambrose said the federal government had since spent about $30,000 to form a committee [How useless can you get?] to advise the school on how to approach the problem.

He said the initial recommendations, which are yet to be formally accepted, tell the school "to work around the bats". "They want us to timetable our classes differently, they don't want us to do sporting events, they don't want us to ring our bell, they want us to minimise our voices so we don't disturb the bats," he said.

"And I understand all DET [Department of Education and Training] can do, and they have been great, is put a sprinkler in a tree. "But this is the health and wellbeing of students at risk here." He said students previously walked out of classrooms in a stop-work organised by the school's parent committee.

An Education Department spokesman said it was "working hard to resolve the flying foxes issue". "We have installed air-conditioners in classrooms and built covered walkways to help protect students and staff," he said.

"We have made application to the state and Commonwealth agencies for the further removal of some trees and tree limbs which could harbour flying foxes near the school. We are awaiting the outcome of this application. "The department has been advised of the potential for a stop-work meeting. However, this is yet to be confirmed by staff at the school. We have not been formally advised of a stop-work meeting."


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Islamist Propaganda in the K-12 Classrom

A highly disturbing phenomenon is rising in our public school system today with hardly a peep of protest from parents and from our society at large: students are being force-fed a curious and bizarre narrative that presents Islam in a glowing — and historically mangled — light, while Western civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition are demonized and smeared. The latest example can be found in New York’s statewide high school Regents exam where students will find points deducted from their grade if they don't obediently regurgitate the Party-Line given to them. [1]

Some of the test's questions are based on specific readings from A World History: A Cultural Approach by Daniel Roselle, including this troublesome lesson: "Wherever they went, the Moslems brought with them their love of art, beauty and learning. From about the eighth to the eleventh century, their culture was superior in many ways to that of western [sic] Christendom." Elsewhere, students learn from Roselle how, under Christian rule, "idols, temples and other material evidences of paganism [were] destroyed." The text also marvels at how, after being conquered by Muslims, the Spanish city of Cordoba’s "streets were solidly paved," unlike in Paris, and lamps were set up. At the same time, the author makes pains to point out, "there was not a single public lamp in London!"

The lesson for impressionable children taking this exam is clear: Islam is historically tolerant, progressive, and admirable, whereas modern extremism has more in common with Christianity. Islamic scholar Andrew Bostom described [2] the teaching as a "grotesque distortion of historical reality," leaving students ignorant of how "the jihad ravages…wreaked havoc--massacre, pillage, enslavement, and deportation--upon culturally more advanced civilizations."

The exam also includes a reading from John Esposito, a Muslim Brotherhood apologist [3] who appeared as a witness for the defense in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation [4] (HLF) in 2008. The HLF was shut down for being a Brotherhood-constructed front to finance Hamas. He's even promoted the extremist Brotherhood theologian, Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi. [5] He also co-authored a book with Azzam Tamimi, who has said, [6] "Do not call them suicide bombers, call them shuhada [martyrs]…[The Israelis] have guns, we have the human bomb. We love death, they love life."

The particular question based on Esposito's writing asked students about Islam’s expansion into Africa. A “correct” answer did not involve anything about forced conversion or aggression. In fact, this historical fact is considered incorrect by the exam’s standards. Answers such as: "merchants were agents of Islamization; [Islam was spread] by religious leaders forcing their views on isolated societies; [and] there was conflict between traditional priests and Muslim men of religion" are all unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the New York State exam isn't a fluke case that can be ignored. There are numerous cases where school textbooks are biased in favor of Islam over Christianity. For example, [7] in one 2008 book titled Global History and Geography: The Growth of Civilization, the core belief of Christianity is summarized as, "…his [Jesus'] apostles claimed that they had seen and talked with him. They believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and had risen from the dead, or been resurrected." On Islam, it says simply "Muhammad was the messenger of Allah."

In another 2008 textbook titled World History, it is written that "After the death of Jesus, his followers proclaimed that he had risen from death and had appeared to him. They believed Jesus to be the Messiah (anointed one)…" When that same book discusses Islam, it states "The revelations of Allah (God) to Muhammad are written down in the Quran, or holy book of Islam."

In a third textbook from 2007 titled The Western Heritage, the basis for the New Testatment is that "[t]he authors of the Gospels believed Jesus was the son of God…" But the text sounds more certain of the Koran's credibility, stating "[Muhammad] began to receive revelations from the angel Gabriel, who recited God's word to him at irregular intervals."

Gilbert T. Stewall, director of the American Textbook Council, reviewed ten junior and high school textbooks over two years and concluded [8] in 2008 that popular textbooks did not mention that the 9/11 terrorists considered themselves Muslims or that jihad and Shariah law have violent and oppressive applications. The textbooks even advocated policy, diagnosing terrorism as a symptom of poverty, ignorance, and anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Stewall also found that Islam's doctrines received significantly more attention than Christianity, and its “scientific” and “cultural” achievements are praised while Christian transgressions, such as anti-Semitism, are explored at length. One book calls [9] the Crusades "religious wars launched against Muslims by European Christians" but characterizes the Islamic offensives as the "building" of an empire. Another text says non-Muslims converted to Islam because they "were attracted by Islam's message of equality and hope for salvation" without even mentioning forced conversion.

Another study [10] of 28 textbooks by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research found 500 faulty passages being used to teach students. The researchers found a heavy bias against Israel and a promotion of the school of thought that U.S. support for the country is the root cause of terrorism. One of the authors said they found an inclination to be "disrespectful towards Christianity, and rather than represent Islam in an objective way, [the passages] tend to glorify it."

Robert Spencer of told FrontPage that this latest case is part of a pattern caused by "multiculturalist ethos, which in theory posits that all cultures are equal, but in practice holds all non-Western cultures superior to Judeo-Christian culture."

"The producers of this material are embarrassed by Western culture, which they've been conditioned to believe is responsible for all the evils in the world. Islam is non-Western and even actively anti-Western, and so it is above reproach," Spencer said.

Thus, we see how the admirable desire to promote religious tolerance when put into the hands of the Left clearly crosses into a promotion of Islam and a degradation of Judeo-Christian tradition and culture. And so, in many cases, this also extends beyond teaching from a biased textbook.

In May, a 14-year-old student at a Roman Catholic school in the United Kingdom was given [11] an unexcused absence on her record after her mother refused to let her join a class trip to a mosque where she'd be forced to dress as a Muslim. When the school was unable to provide supervision for her daughter, the mother kept her home and complained to school officials. In a letter addressed to the mother, the school head said the trip was "as compulsory as a geography field trip."

"It's like they are saying she is playing truant for not wearing a head scarf. If the trip had been without the leggings and the headscarf, that would have been fine but I wasn't having my daughter dressed in the Muslim way," the mother said. The school refused to back down and left the unexcused absence on the girl's record. One can only imagine the furor that would have erupted had it been a Muslim student being forced to attend a synagogue or church.

Spencer warns that the biased teaching has implications not only for students' education, but also for the country's security.

"Whole generations of students are being taught to despise their own culture and civilizational heritage. Why, then, should they bother to defend it?" he asked.

The authors of these textbooks and the schools that continue to use them after being informed of their content are making a conscious decision to promote a glowing image of Islam at the expense of historical accuracy and fairness. The texts defame the Judea-Christian tradition for the sake of promoting cultural relativism and advancing leftist policy viewpoints about the causes of Islamic terrorism. And that's not education; it’s indoctrination.


Up to 750,000 'special needs' pupils in Britain are just badly taught

Schools have wrongly labelled as many as 750,000 children as having special needs to cover up poor teaching, a damning report warns today. They are diagnosing conditions such as 'behavioural , emotional and social problems' to massage unfavourable league table ratings, according to inspectors.

They found that 1.7million pupils in England were classed as having special educational needs in January, just over one in five. But, declares Ofsted, almost half of these have simply been poorly taught. In some schools, a 'culture of excuses' means that pupils making slow progress are automatically classed as having special needs.

In other cases, pupils have ended up with learning or behavioural problems after being failed by poor literacy and numeracy teaching early in their school career.

Inspectors also visited a school where pupils were categorised as having special needs simply because their fathers were away fighting in Afghanistan.

Inspectors found that some local authorities appear to offer incentives to give such labels to children as some types of educational need bring in extra funds.

Exam results are also adjusted to take account of the number of pupils with special needs. This can have a 'positive influence' on their league table rankings, Ofsted found.

Schools are, meanwhile, under pressure from 'articulate middle-class parents' who lobby for such diagnoses to ensure extra support for their children, such as personal tuition and extra time in exams.

'The term "special educational needs" is used too widely,' said the report. 'Around half the schools and early years provision visited used low attainment and relatively slow progress as their principal indicators. 'Inspectors saw schools that identified pupils as having special needs when, in fact, their needs were no different from most other pupils. 'They were under-achieving but this was sometimes simply because teaching was not good enough and expectations of pupil were too low.

'A conclusion that may be drawn is that some pupils are being wrongly identified as having special needs and that relatively expensive additional provision is being used to make up for poor teaching and pastoral support.'
Christine Gilbert

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector of schools, said: 'Schools are identifying children and young people as having special needs when they need essentially better teaching and better pastoral support.' In contrast, parents of children with the greatest needs or disabilities must endure the troublesome 'statementing' process. Statements are legal documents outlining the support to which children are entitled. But Ofsted found that, even when parents succeed in obtaining one, there was no guarantee of appropriate or good provision.

Those with the severest needs - 2.7 per cent of all primary and secondary pupils - have written statements. This is down slightly from 3 per cent in 2003. But the proportion of all pupils classed as having special needs without statements rose from 14 per cent in 2003 to 18.2 per cent this year.

As many as half of these, or approximately 750,000, 'would not be identified as having special educational needs if schools focused on improving teaching and learning for all, with individual goals for improvement,' Ofsted suggested.

Pupils from poor backgrounds or who regularly play truant or who were disruptive were more likely to be given the label. In one case, 14 and 15-year-olds who were 'demotivated' about taking their GCSEs were put on the special needs register so the school could justify bringing in 'mentors' to help them.

Janet Thompson, an Ofsted inspector and the report's author, said: 'Too much is being identified as being additional and different, rather than "this is the group of youngsters we are providing education for and this is the wide range of needs that we can meet".

'We did find examples of young people identified as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties who, if you unpicked the reasons for that, were actually around inability to read and write.'



Three current articles below

NSW High School students think their education is irrelevant

HSC students in New South Wales have slammed the English curriculum, saying it isn't relevant to their lives and should no longer be compulsory. They want the course to give more emphasis to grammar and spelling and help prepare them for their working life.

Pupils who sat last year's HSC complained to the Board of Studies about the advanced English test and also the maths exams, saying they were too difficult.

About one in six students surveyed after last year's HSC said the exams were not a fair test and 18 per cent believed there were too many assessment tasks. An exit poll of 3300 students found the number who believed the HSC exams were a fair test fell three percentage points on 2008 to 69 per cent.

This year's HSC candidates said teachers were thoroughly preparing them for the exams but even the highest level English courses could be made more relevant to their future working lives.

Daniel Taha, of Delany College at Granville in Sydney's west, who will sit the exam this year, said he had difficulty in understanding the relevance of some texts to life. "There isn't an emphasis on grammar," Daniel, 17, said. "There's a big focus on content and so many students can end up losing the fundamentals.

"My teachers are really good at revising those fundamentals and also seeing that we are using vocabulary relevant to the advanced course." His classmate Marian Prasad, 17, also questioned the relevance of some material in English Advanced, and said it was more beneficial to students intending to study literature at tertiary level. "I would like to see more on communication so that we can be articulate in the workplace," she said.

The poll results reveal students' feelings about the strengths and weaknesses of the HSC as about 70,000 prepare to sit their final school exams next month.

Complaints were received about the Studies of Religion paper which had to be stopped for an hour at one school over concerns it contained questions not based on the syllabus. Two-thirds of the students who sat the exam later said it had not been a fair test.

Some students at a Sydney school began crying over an unexpected question they believed had not been covered during their course of study. Officials ordered a break of an hour while the students composed themselves. After the exam, 100 complaints were made to the Board of Studies.

A report prepared by the board after the exit survey said about 480 students made "generally positive" comments about their HSC experience, while 160 were negative. Less than half of the candidates said the Mathematics paper was a fair test.


Mass exodus of experienced teachers in South Australia

And probably similar elsewhere. Schools today are a much less pleasant working environment than they once were

NEARLY a third of the state's public school teachers aged 45-plus will retire within five years, raising concerns schools will face grave staff shortages, particularly in country areas.

The University of Adelaide's Career Intentions Survey of more than 3000 public teachers aged 45 and over, found high schools would be hardest hit. Nearly 38 per cent of secondary teachers who responded to the survey said they planned to leave by 2015. The teachers union said serious staff shortages in rural areas already existed and that extensive recruitment programs needed to be put in place to keep teaching graduates from leaving the state.

The 2010 annual report by the Teachers Registration Board found there are 15,948 registered teachers aged 45-60, however, not all may be in teaching positions. The national average retirement age of teachers is 58.

Australian Education Union SA branch vice president David Smith said the large number of retiring teachers would add to the severe relief teacher shortages in regional areas such as Port Augusta and in subject specialist roles such as maths, science and technology.

Mr Smith cited the changes to the South Australian Certificate of Education and the national curriculum as a contributor to older educators wanting to leave the workforce early.

An AEU survey last week showed 84 per cent of educators believed the new SACE reforms would cause "excessive workloads". The report by the university's Australian Institute of Social Research also found:

MORE than half of the teachers aged over 55 intend to retire within five years.

RETIREMENT of preschool teachers and junior primary teachers is expected to peak in ten years.

TWO-THIRDS indicated an interest in casual employment after retirement.

There are 311 full time teaching students who started full-time studies this year at the University of Adelaide, 2807 full-time teaching students at UniSA and 612 at Flinders.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill said the department's teacher recruitment strategy, which was announced last month, was aimed at attracting enthusiastic young people into the profession.


A great Australian asset: East Asians

Australia gives them the opportunity to realize their potential.

The claim below that the students concerned do well because they are "middle class" may have some truth but not much. The Vietnamese in particular are the children of desperate "boat people" refugees from Communist terror

The best performing school in the state, James Ruse Agricultural High School, is also the selective school with the most students from a migrant background. New figures obtained under freedom of information laws show that 95.2 per cent of students list a language background other than English in their entry application. Only 41 students from an English-speaking background are studying at the school - an average of seven in each year.

Children of migrants fill almost 80 per cent of the places offered at the state's top 10 selective high schools, which are all ranked in the top 20 HSC performers. On average only 20 per cent (or 320 students each year) are from an English-speaking background.

The dominant cultural group is Chinese, with the most applicants and the highest success rate in the entry test. Last year, 2361 applicants were from a Chinese background and 1242 were successful.

The second most represented group was Vietnamese followed by Korean. In total, 3912 students were awarded a selective school place last year, with 5516 applicants from a non-English speaking background - 42 per cent (1828) of whom were successful.

The co-director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell, said the successful students largely represented middle- to upper-middle-class families from Asia who put a heavy emphasis on education and professional achievement.

He said selective schools were not providing assistance to the vast majority of families. "In NSW we are entrenching advantage within one particular ethnic group. If the NSW government was serious about equal opportunity, it would put some geographical boundaries to ensure better access to [top] schools."

A specialist in schools systems from the University of Melbourne, Richard Teese, said that the pooling of high achievers in selective and private school systems had raised the performance bar beyond the reach of students in mainstream schools. "When you pool resources like that you multiply their impact and you give the students who have access to that distinctive advantages over everybody else," Professor Teese said.

"You are setting up a situation in which you [create] extremes of advantage and extremes of disadvantage. If you took those students out of those hot-house environments they would still do well. But by combining their resources you multiply their advantage. It is a zero-sum game: some win, but others must lose."


Monday, September 13, 2010

Relationship Between Religious Practice and Education

Available research compiled by the Family Research Council demonstrates that religious practice in the home has a significant positive effect on a child's level of academic achievement.

According to Religious Practice and Educational Attainment, a synthesis paper produced by Family Research Council Senior Fellow and Director of the Marriage & Religion Research Institute (MARRI) Dr. Pat Fagan, "Education is widely recognized as the way to maintain the well-being of those born into the middle class. It is also a powerful tool to raise individuals out of poverty. If religious practice were to have a significantly positive role in education, then the practice of religion would have profound implications for world economies and societies." The paper details both the direct and the indirect effects of religion in the home on educational accomplishment.

Religious practice directly affects a student's ability to perform. Students involved in religious activities have higher GPAs by 14.4 percent than those not involved, and spend more time on their homework. Additionally, religion is one of few readily accessible institutions for lower-income families, making its effect on children's academic success particularly significant. Religious activity remains important in higher education, where over 75 percent of students who become more religious during their college years perform above average.

Student success is also affected indirectly by religion, through the various "pathways" that Fagan details in this paper. The pathways include both internal, personal dynamics and external, communal networks.

On a personal level, religious practice assists in internalizing norms that encourage academic attainment, in developing work habits and high personal expectations of achievement, and in reducing behavioral risks.

The paper also details the external pathways through which religious practice at home enhances scholastic performance, one being that internalized norms that encourage achievement are taught and reinforced through family interaction. The company of religious peers encourages academic focus while discouraging risky behavior. Churches and religious schools offer community and solidarity, supplementing sometimes-sparse student resources and offering mentorship. Planned religious extracurricular activities have the added benefit of eliminating unstructured "hanging out," which, in abundance, is correlated with poor academic performance.


The War on Academic Achievement

Judged by all the billions of dollars now flowing into "education reform," it appears that Washington, and especially the Obama administration, is obsessed with improving academic achievement (see, for example, here). The billions are certainly real enough, but the intent is just the opposite.

Rhetoric aside, the Obama administration, like Bush II's before it, is profoundly opposed to brainpower. Our "commitment" to academic excellence is a cruel joke -- we love stupidity and hate smart kids. Tellingly, not even "conservatives" who bemoan America's educational decline will admit this awkward reality -- they, too, are passengers on this reform gravy train heading to the bottom.

Consider a small item that appeared in a blog regarding the Jacob Javits Talented and Education Act, an Act whose title suggests helping young Einsteins and junior Keplers become America's future scientists and engineers. The program has always been financially uncertain, even occasionally canceled, and the current plan was to roll its $7.5-million annual appropriation into the Institute for Education Sciences, where no guarantee exists that the funds would go for high achievers.

Still, it might be argued that since super-smart kids are few in number and hardly require lavish facilities, even $7.5 million would help. This is a truly embarrassing lie that sheds enormous light on how Washington regards America's brainpower.

First, compare the proposed $7.5 million to the $11.5 billion that the national government spent in fiscal 2010 for disabled school-aged children. Given this staggering ratio, a visiting Martian might conclude that American schools consisted of a huge mass of disabled youngsters and an infinitesimal handful of smart ones. If we include all the other multi-billion-dollar programs targeting the least able, e.g., Head Start ($7.23 billion in 2010) and Title 1 ($13 billion that is now part of No Child Left Behind), one would never guess that the intellectually gifted actually exist (by definition 5% of all students). Imagine if a private firm embraced this grossly upside-down investment strategy. Our overseas rivals are probably convulsing with laughter.

Second, the Javits program, title aside, is not targeting smart kids -- just the reverse. It attempts to uncover gifted children among minorities conspicuously absent in traditional, test-driven gifted programs. This uplift-the-bottom mission is explicit:

"The major emphasis of the program is on serving students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, particularly economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient (LEP), and disabled students, to help reduce the serious gap in achievement among certain groups of students at the highest levels of achievement."

This needle-in-a-haystack commitment is taken seriously, though evidence of any successes is scarce or nonexistent. In 2006, for example, Page, AZ received $340,000 for "Buried Treasure," a project that sought to uncover gifted children equally across the school district's demography -- i.e., gifted quotas. Meanwhile, Denver, CO got $123,000 for "Take Five," which involves coordinating efforts among multiple government agencies and university faculty to increase the number of gifted children from low-income and/or minority groups. Iowa educators received $319,000 to help the "twice exceptional child" -- that is, the youngster who is both intellectually talented and learning disabled. Countless similar grants to uncover disadvantaged students who might be gifted have been awarded to schools in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Texas, and Wyoming.

Third, not content to deprive smart kids of federal money, Washington, beginning with George W. Bush but continuing with Obama, is forcing states to starve their already puny gifted programs. This is accomplished not by outright prohibitions on helping smart kids; that would be too obvious.

Rather, Washington's mega-billion-dollar bribes coerce states to uplift the bottom, including closing racial gaps, if they want to keep the money flowing, and since Washington provides no financial incentives to help brainy kids, gifted programs are cannibalized (documented here). So putting Young Einstein back into Math 1 is perfectly rational for cash-starved school districts. The only losers are the poor (and probably white or Asian) parents of intellectually talented kids, a constituency with no heft in today's political battles.

This carnage began with Bush's No Child Left Behind and continues unabated. In 2002, Michigan aid for the gifted fell from $4 million a year to $250,000. In Illinois, funding collapsed from $19 million per year to zero, while New York also dropped to zero from $14 million. Oregon's commitment likewise dropped to zero after years of funding. In Connecticut, one in four school districts abandoned gifted programs altogether. In Missouri, the state subsidy for gifted went from 75% to 58% of local outlays. By 2006, eight states offered nothing, while another six states spend less than $500,000 -- not even a pittance in today's educational world.

Finally, the education establishment loathes programs for the gifted (see, for example, here). These classes are uniformly attacked as elitist, exclusionary, racially segregated, and, oddly, subverting the education of less talented students -- as if education were a zero-sum game, so if a smart student advances, a less able student necessarily falls behind. Many professional educators even dispute the very idea of some people being smarter than others.

Others flat-out lie. Carolyn Callahan, who heads up the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, claims that blacks and Hispanics are excluded from gifted programs since they lack adequate pre-schooling and decent nutrition (somebody should tell her about Head Start, food stamps, and subsidized school meals).

Even erstwhile champions of gifted education embrace the egalitarian fantasy. Del Siegle, the president of the National Association for Gifted Children, called for modifying No Child Left Behind at the group's national convention so as to provide more help for minority gifted children. If we include ACLU lawsuits attacking gifted programs for their lack of diversity, it's a miracle that any still exist.

What permits the U.S. to maintain its current intellectual edge is that it imports brains almost as heavily as it imports oil. Visit any top research university (or Silicon Valley) and observe students in the hard sciences who are disproportionally Asian, Russian, or Indian immigrants, or the children of those recently arrived (for example, see here).

In 2006, 35% of all Ph.D.s went to foreign-born researchers, but non-citizens earned 43% of the doctorates in science and engineering and 70% of the Ph.D.s in electrical, civil, and industrial/mechanical engineering. In other engineering fields plus math, computer science, and physics, the figure was "only" 50%. Among university science and engineering faculty, 19% are born overseas; in engineering, this figure was a little more than a third. The Kaufman Foundation tracks this "foreign" contribution to American industry, and it is indisputable that we survive thanks to imported brains (here).

Like foreign oil, this cannot last. China and Japan now try to keep top scientific talent home, and our European rivals, Australia and New Zealand, are actively recruiting those who once automatically came to the U.S. In a decade or so, the homegrown talent may have to suffice, and all the wages of neglect will come due. Will today's low achievers save us in 2030? Perhaps only a miracle, such as civil strife in China, will restore the flow of brains, much as German refugees in the late 1930s reinvigorated American science.

To invoke an old cliché, with friends of academic excellence like Bush II and Obama, who needs enemies?


British schools must be braver with the children

Spending a childhood wrapped in cotton wool is no preparation for adult life, argues Toby Young

When I think of some of the things I got up to as child, I shudder with horror. At the age of 12, for instance, I decided it would be fun to take a sailing boat out into the Atlantic. It was fun, too, until the boat capsized. Then there was the time, aged 14, that I "borrowed" the 400cc motorcycle belonging to my sister's boyfriend. As the needle of the speedometer passed 100 mph, I remember thinking that I should probably be wearing a helmet.

When Michael Gove called for a return to a "Dangerous Book for Boys" culture in England's schools I don't suppose he had joy-riding in mind. But these sorts of adventures undoubtedly proved valuable experiences on the road to maturity. According to the Education Secretary, risk-averse teachers and litigious parents have led to children being brought up in an over-protective environment. "We need to change our bubble-wrapped culture," he said yesterday.

So is the Health and Safety Executive going to be added to the flames in the bonfire of the quangocrats? Unfortunately not. But Lord Young of Graffham has been asked to review health and safety legislation to see if it can be made less restrictive. One suggestion is that claimants in compensation cases would need to prove reckless endangerment instead of just negligence in order to receive a payout.

At the moment, the amount of red tape teachers have to wade through in preparation for a school trip of any kind is ludicrous. A ghastly official document entitled "Standards for LEAs in Overseeing Educational Visits" includes 93 rules and regulations covering everything from "non-licensable adventure activities" to "having a plan B pre-assessed in case Plan A has become too hazardous".

Then there's the fact that "educational-visits co-ordinators" are obliged not to discriminate against disabled pupils when arranging trips. The Disability Rights Commission has produced no fewer than two codes of practice relating to this. (Are two enough? Why not 20? Can't be too careful about this sort of thing.)

In light of this, perhaps it's not surprising that the last official "school trip" my seven-year-old daughter went on was to the local branch of Pizza Express. I'm not making that up. Happily, no one choked to death on a slice of quattro formaggi.

One of the most powerful arguments against this degree of caution is that it leaves children unable to assess risk and that, in turn, leads to reckless behaviour. According to Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist who advises the British Toy & Hobby Association, a completely safe childhood is actually more dangerous than one containing its fair share of bumps and scrapes.

"Children who have all elements of danger removed from their lives grow up to think they are invincible," she says. "This doesn't just affect the accidents they might have when riding a bike or exploring a river, but it has a knock-on effect in terms of drug culture and gang violence." I'm not entirely convinced by this. It amounts to saying that the reason children shouldn't be cocooned in cotton wool is because it's less risky than exposing them to danger.

Surely, the best way of tackling the culture of health and safety in schools is not to appeal to parents' risk aversion but to challenge it. I want my children to grow up to be confident, happy adults, not cautious little wet noodles who daren't say boo to a goose. That means venturing a little further afield on school trips than the nearest fast-food restaurant.

I'm hardly alone in this. A survey of over 2,000 parents of primary school children commissioned by Play England found that three-quarters of them thought schools were too concerned with health and safety. We need to dismantle the whole edifice of mollycoddling rules and regulations so our children are free to play proper, old-fashioned games even if they involve risk of injury. How can we expect them to stick up for what they believe in as adults if they're not allowed to play British Bulldog in the playground?

Of course, Michael Gove won't find this easy, not least because Britain is no longer a sovereign state. Many of the "elf and safety" rules are enforced by the European Union rather than the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For instance, article two of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights states: "No person shall be denied the right to an education." That may make it possible for the parent of a wheelchair-bound child to sue a school that organises an activity he or she can't participate in, depending on how broadly the word "education" is interpreted.

Nevertheless, we need to do as much as we can. As things stand, the absurd over-protectiveness of our schools is in danger of creating a nation of milksops.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

A great speech

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie does it again. I almost felt sorry (almost) for Marie Corfield, an elementary school teacher who stood up at a question-and-answer session with the governor and demanded to know how his reforms would help teachers since his budget cuts had resulted in so many lay-offs among the selfless pedagogues that populate New Jersey’s public schools. “We have some of the best schools in the country,” quoth la Corfield, “and you have done nothing but lambaste us.”

Pardon us while we dab away the tears.

When the governor began to respond, Ms. Corfield rolled her eyes and acted like one of her pupils taunting a classmate. That was when Gov. Christie delivered one of his classic put-downs. “If you want to put on a show then just sit down. But if you want to have a respectful discussion then let me answer your question.”

Yikes. That alone was worth the price of admission but what followed is a script that anyone who cares about the tsunami of public debt that is poised to wash over America should hearken to carefully. Christie didn’t “lambaste” teachers, he said, he lambasted the teachers’ union, especially its leaders. Why were so many teachers laid off in New Jersey? Because when the governor called upon teachers to take a one-year pay freeze and contribute 1.5% — one-and a half percent! — of their salaries to the cost of their health care (full-family medical, dental, and vision coverage, by the way), the union leaders said: “No way. Not a penny.” Result: nearly a billion-dollar shortfall in the budget, which necessitated scads of layoffs. (Had Gov. Christie’s proposal been accepted, the state would have saved more than $700,000,000.) “So who’s really to blame?” he asked: the governor or the intransigent teachers unions?

“We have to get realistic about telling people the truth,” Christie said, a sentiment that is gaining currency all across the country — not, of course, among the political class that actually governs us: no, Christie is a rare exception in that cohort, but among the vast majority of ordinary American that imperative is more and more the order of the day.

Here’s the clip. Do watch to the end. The governor’s response when Ms Corfield comes back to complain about his “tone” is not to be missed. (Remember when a union official sent around an email suggesting people pray for the governor’s death?)


Academic psychopaths

("Sociopath" is the euphemism for "psychopath". It's very misleading. They are usually very skilled socially. It's their mentation that is defective: Lack of empathy, lack of foresight, indifference to suffering in others, feelings of personal grandiosity etc.)

It was 9/11 that finally convinced me that those who rule the academy are sociopaths.

When around 2:00 p.m. I finally pulled away from revising and checked my email, I learned that the University of Georgia had sent everybody home at noon. When I called the campus for a scheduled appointment I was told that we had been attacked.

War, I thought. Pearl Harbor.

But no such thing to my colleagues who immediately flooded the discussion listserv with political analyses about U.S. imperialism and calls for support of some Afghan women’s revolutionary group. A graduate student whose relatives were hurt at the Pentagon pleaded with the radicals to hold off on the political analyses. The predictable missives about the First Amendment flew forth as well as insults directed at the poor woman. A colleague told me about spending an entire class period explaining to freshmen that the Crusades were the reason they “hate us.” Bright yellow announcements of forums on “Understanding Islam” popped up on campus, as they did all over the country.

As Americans jumped to their deaths from burning skyscrapers, the academics, like Ward Churchill, in their ivory towers, began penning analyses of “chickens coming home to roost.”

Others were a little more subtle and presented the event as “spectacle,” as a kind of aesthetic display of the downfall of Western imperialism. The Twin Towers were huge phallic symbols, displays of “masculinist” arrogance.

The privileged professors continue to present the event this way as I learned at the last conference of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, where “Critical Plenary Speaker” Professor Anne McClintock called the U.S. a “paranoid empire.” To McClintock [PDF], writing from the safety of her own ivory tower in Madison, Wisconsin, “the 9/11 attacks came as a dazzling solution, both to the enemy deficit and the problem of legitimacy. . . .”

Now thanks to a generation groomed to hate America we have voted in an America-hating president. Nine years later, on land where body parts of victims are still being found, we’ve got an imam wanting to build a super mosque funded by terrorist-linked groups. The president supports him.

The free-speech advocates are nowhere to be found to defend a minister who wants to burn Korans in protest.

The yellow posters dotting Park Hall were symbols of what was to come.

We continue to teach about the Holocaust, but fail to mention the large percentage of educated “intellectuals” who ran the show.

So I was intrigued last weekend during the Decatur book festival (where booths for communists and peace-loving Muslims had multiplied) by an author of a book on that topic. He named names, crimes, and academic degrees. But he linked this development to the persecution of “liberals.”

I asked the author if he knew anything about the intellectuals’ reactions to 9/11. He did not. I don’t think it’s a stretch of an analogy to link those in white coats who did practice runs for gassing Jews on handicapped children with the sociopaths who think of Americans leaping to their deaths as an “aesthetic” experience or of fear as being “paranoid.”

The psychological literature shows a link between overindulged children with narcissism and sociopathy later in life. The tenured radicals are aging children whose privilege insulates them from the struggles and realities of everyday life. These are people who do not have to run into burning and exploding buildings.

The reaction to 9/11 could have been predicted. The pampered professors have been acting this way for decades.

They “organize” communities they have no stake in. They call police “pigs” because they don’t need them to stop the drug pushers, thieves, and rapists around them. They inspire riots because they don’t have to live in the ruined neighborhoods. They can favor affirmative action because they’re the ones doing the hiring. They never have to live with the consequences of their own “solutions.”

These are the people who populate the Obama administration. Can anybody else see a historical parallel?


History under threat: British pupils receive just 38 hours of lessons at secondary school

History is 'disappearing' from state secondary schools because head teachers no longer value the subject, a survey has found. Teenagers are receiving as few as 38 history lessons during their entire secondary education as schools downgrade the subject in favour of trendy 'themed' teaching.

Hundreds of schools no longer teach history as a stand alone subject to 11 and 12-year-olds, instead offering 'integrated' topic-based humanities or social science courses, according to research by the Historical Association.

The trend emerged ahead of an expected blueprint from Education Secretary Michael Gove for boosting traditional subjects such as history. He will launch a review of the curriculum later this year with a view to ensuring children leave school with core knowledge, including British and world history.

And he will also flesh out plans for a new English Baccalaureate, which will be awarded to pupils who gain five good GCSEs in English, maths, one science, one humanities subject and one language.

But the Historical Association study, based on returns from 600 teachers, found that heads increasingly fail to see history as worthwhile. One history teacher at a comprehensive said: 'We are disappearing. Integrated humanities is the way our senior management team wants to go, and they see us as awkward, backward obstacles if we suggest subjects like history are valuable in their own right.'

Another warned: 'The history department is feeling that we shall disappear into a mix of 'thinking skills' and 'vocational pathways' which do not seem to recognise the contribution that history can make to developing young learners.'

Growing numbers of secondaries are compressing three years' of history study into just two years, usually during pupils' second year. The practice was uncovered in 10 per cent of secondaries in 2010 - up from five per cent last year.

Since growing numbers of schools are offering generic humanities or social science courses for the first of these two years, some teenagers are receiving just 38 hours of distinct history lessons a year, taught by a specialist. Some 31 per cent of schools - and 55 per cent of flagship academies - merged history with other subjects to form generic humanities courses in 2010. A year earlier, the figure was 28 per cent.

In some schools, children are banned from taking history GCSEs in case they fail and damage the school's league table position.

Dr Richard Harris, the chair of the Historical Association's secondary education committee who led the study, told the Times Educational Supplement: 'The Government must make a decision about what children are entitled to do - we think this should be at least three years of history teaching by a specialist.'