Saturday, October 09, 2010

North Dallas High School principal blocks transgender student's bid for homecoming queen

Andy Moreno says she wants to be homecoming queen, not king, at North Dallas High School. "It's something I started thinking about last year, and my friends have encouraged me," she said after school Thursday. One problem: The school's principal doesn't want a male identifying as a female reigning as queen of the homecoming court.

"The principal said, 'You are a male and males can run for king, not queen,' " said Jon Dahlander, a school district spokesman.

Dinnah Escanilla, the school's first-year principal, was unavailable for comment. Sandra Guerrero, a DISD spokeswoman, said the district has no policy on gender requirements for homecoming royalty but supports the principal. "Every principal has the discretion to make that decision, and it is a campus-based issue," she said.

Moreno, an 18-year-old senior, could still be nominated for homecoming king, Dahlander said. But the student said she doesn't want that title. "I just want a fair chance and to let the students decide, not the principal," she said during a walk near campus. "The students treat me like any other girl. Why can't the administration? "This is discrimination against my gender and sexuality," she said.

Her mother, Maria Moreno, doesn't speak English. But when asked about the situation earlier Thursday, she told an interpreter that she backs her daughter. "She said whatever she's up for, she supports," said Daisy Moreno, the student's older sister.

Andy Moreno said the homecoming bid isn't a joke and her gender identity is simply a fact of her existence. "I have felt like this my whole life," she said. "I started taking little steps when I entered high school and came out in full last year."

She said she plans to attend cosmetology school and in time have sex-change surgery. But she said, "What's between my legs doesn't define who I am."

Moreno – her lips a light pink, her hair pulled back in a ponytail – said she has sometimes worn dresses to class and never had a problem with school officials until now.

"She's new and I guess she's just trying to be strict," she said of the principal. "This isn't being strict. It's closed-minded and homophobic."

Unconventional expressions of gender on school campuses have become more common, accepted and controversial in recent years.

In September 2009, a freshman girl in Tucson who identifies herself as male was a nominee for homecoming prince. Earlier last year, a gay male student was crowned prom queen at a Los Angeles high school. School officials in Mona Shores, Mich., decided earlier this year that a female student who identifies as a male was not qualified to be homecoming king.

Last year, a biologically male student who identifies with neither the male nor female gender was crowned homecoming queen at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. A gay male student was last year's homecoming queen at George Mason University in Virginia.

And University of North Texas students rejected in 2009, in online balloting, a proposal to allow same-sex couples to run for the school's homecoming court this year.


The Leftist head-teacher who sent home the teacher who spoke out at British Conservative conference

Attacks on free speech are routine for Leftists

The head who sent home a teacher for speaking about school failures at the Tory conference was an ardent Blair supporter, it is said.

Katharine Birbalsingh had electrified the conference with a searing account of Britain’s ‘broken’ state schools. But her performance horrified the headmistress at her South London school, who is reported to have described Tony Blair as ‘the most wonderful prime minister in the world’.

And last night, in a highly unusual intervention which reflected the tensions within the educational establishment, the school issued a statement criticising Miss Birbalsingh for misrepresenting her school, insulting teachers and exploiting pupils.

Miss Birbalsingh, 37, joined St Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy only last month as deputy head. But when she returned from the Tory conference in Birmingham, she was told by the school’s executive head, Dr Irene Bishop, that she should work from home ‘while her position was reviewed’.

However, yesterday, as parents rallied round the French teacher, insisting that staff should be free to speak their minds, the school said she could return to work on Monday.

Miss Birbalsingh, who was educated at state schools before going to Oxford University, had been the surprise star of the Tory conference, earning a standing ovation. She condemned a ‘culture of excuses’ and attacked a system that is ‘broken’ because it ‘keeps poor children poor’.

The former Marxist told of her ‘devastation’ at being kept out of the classroom while she waited to hear if she had been formally suspended or sacked by Dr Bishop, who also runs St Saviour’s and St Olave’s School, in South London, which was used to launch Labour’s 2001 election campaign.

Dr Bishop reportedly described Tony Blair as ‘the most wonderful Prime Minister in the world’ after joining him on stage as he announced his bid for re-election, although she later denied having said that and admitted she feared the school had been ‘used by Labour’.


Australia: National history course 'cobbled together'

HISTORY teachers warned yesterday that the national curriculum was being "cobbled together" through a flawed process of "ad hoc" decisions.

The History Teachers Association of Australia has joined the chorus of concerns raised in recent weeks by professional and academic geographers, scientists, visual artists and principals that the rush to finish the curriculum by the end of the year is compromising the quality of courses.

HTAA president Paul Kiem told The Weekend Australian yesterday the process developed by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority was "deeply flawed" and inspired no confidence that quality courses would be produced.

"We want a course that has a pedigree and has been through a gestation period rather than something that has been cobbled together at the last moment to meet a political deadline," he said. "We want to see it got right, not just got out. We want students to emerge with a coherent view of Australian history."

The national curriculum was originally intended to provide a broad framework, setting a common core of essential knowledge for each subject that all students should learn, no matter where they attend school.

But in the process of consultation and writing, ACARA has struggled to determine the core knowledge and expanded the breadth of topics covered, prompting one insider to describe the curriculum this week as a "camel" - a horse designed by committee.

The HTAA wrote to School Education Minister Peter Garrett on September 14, asking for the deadline to be eased to allow a more considered evaluation and review of the course. A letter written in May to then education minister Julia Gillard went unanswered.

While Mr Garrett is yet to respond, he was reported last week as saying the curriculum writers might have to work later and harder to finish the courses by December, when the nation's education ministers are due to consider their approval of the first four subjects of English, maths, science and history.

The ministers were originally expected to evaluate the first four subjects next week but the deadline was extended at the request of ACARA after concerns were raised by some states.

Mr Kiem described Mr Garrett's comments as "ridiculously out of touch" and suggested he was receiving poor advice. "The process has been deeply flawed and it does nothing to inspire confidence when state governments leave it to the last moment to intervene or when the federal minister makes ill-informed comments in the media," he said.

The latest letter from the history teachers follows letters to Mr Garrett and the state and territory education ministers from the Australian Council of the Deans of Science, the Institute of Australian Geographers and geography teacher associations concerned by the direction of the national curriculum, and the speed at which it is required to be finished.

Principals in Victoria and the NSW Board of Studies were also reported last week as holding serious concerns while the Visual Arts Consortium of academics, teachers and artists described the proposed shape of the arts curriculum, which does not include the teaching of skills such as drawing, as "tokenistic participation with no education attached".

The HTAA letter to Mr Garrett says the development of the national curriculum is "operating under considerable duress" imposed by the inadequate timeline set by the federal government.

It says the association finds it difficult to endorse the curriculum when issues about implementation and teacher training remain to be addressed, while the writing of the curriculum for years 11 and 12 lacked an overall rationale and involved "a degree of ad hoc decision-making". Similar criticisms about the process were made in May by the lead writer on the history curriculum, eminent historian Stuart Macintyre.

The HTAA also warned it was being overloaded with content by lobby groups ensuring their pet topics were included.

A spokesman for Mr Garrett said the quality of the curriculum was paramount and ACARA was being given the time to do the work and get it right.

A spokesman for ACARA said it took seriously its mandate to consult widely and the HTAA had been involved extensively in this process. "This is why we are taking a few extra weeks as it finalises the first phase of the curriculum to make sure we present a document that all education authorities can endorse," he said.

Mr Kiem said yesterday the fundamental problem was that ACARA had not developed clear guidelines and criteria and the course rationale from the start, so now there was no coherent version of what the history curriculum should look like. He said it contained more content than could be taught in the time allocated to history, and, without clear guidelines about what should be removed, it was becoming more prescriptive.

For-profit colleges criticize community colleges

As community colleges take center stage today at a White House summit, a group representing for-profit colleges is taking aim at community colleges.

In a report released Monday, a marketing firm working for the Coalition for Educational Success, an advocacy group for several privately held for-profit companies, argues that community colleges engage in "unsavory recruitment practices" and offer students "poorer-than-expected academic quality, course availability, class scheduling, job placement and personal attention."

The report crystallizes arguments from the for-profit sector that community colleges — perceived as the Obama administration's preferred set of institutions to offer work force training — are ill-equipped to serve the students they already enroll and would struggle in taking on larger enrollments. The document's release just ahead of today's summit is intended to tarnish the event's luster and the praise for community colleges that will come from President Obama and others, and it emerges amid the for-profit sector's aggressive lobbying, advertising and rallying against the U.S. Department of Education's proposed regulations on "gainful employment" and a Senate panel's investigation of the sector.

"Community colleges play a vital role in the American economy," said Jean Norris, managing partner of Norton Norris, the firm that produced the report. "However, they are not the only choice. Community colleges have some systemic issues that really need to be addressed and the singular focus on the problems of the career colleges is a waste of time and money and forgets the institutions that serve a much larger number of students."

For one part of the report, Norton Norris sent "secret shoppers" to meet with admissions officers at 15 community colleges and found that none would provide graduation rates, even when asked. In the report, these findings are likened to those identified by the Government Accountability Office on undercover visits to for-profit colleges, where investigators were told they didn't have to repay loans and encouraged to lie on financial aid forms. The firm also surveyed current for-profit college students who had been enrolled at community colleges, asking them to compare their satisfaction levels at the two different kinds of institution. In all but one category — price — the for-profit colleges came out on top.

David S. Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research at the American Association of Community College, characterized the report as "garbage" and said it was yet another attempt by the for-profit sector to fight scrutiny from the Obama administration and those on Capitol Hill. "It probably makes sense as a sort of PR strategy to try to run us down and sort of boost themselves," he said.

Norris insisted that it was not her aim to attack community colleges, but rather to "highlight issues beyond the career college sector that are the same ones the career college sector is being attacked for."

At last week's Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing questioning for-profit colleges' student outcomes and student debt, Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) accused the committee's chair, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), of examining the sector without looking at how it fits into the broader landscape of U.S. colleges and universities. "I agree there is clearly a problem in higher education — now you'll notice I didn't limit that comment to for-profit schools," Enzi said. "It's naïve to think these problems are limited to just the for-profit sector. We've been looking at this in a vacuum."

While researchers said that some of the report's findings could be accurate, the study itself is of questionable value.

"We can't call this research," said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "The for-profits are under attack and this report is being paid for by for-profits. We need to be asking many of these questions, but a report like this one isn't providing meaningful answers."

In the report's introduction, Norton Norris concedes a string of flaws with the report. The sample surveyed for the study "was one of convenience and may not represent all student experiences," the report said. The students given a chance to respond to the survey were ones who withdrew or graduated from a nonprofit college before enrolling at a for-profit, admittedly meaning that "bias may be present" among respondents. The response rate was 10%. And the survey was "custom-designed and thereby not previously proven valid and reliable."

Thomas R. Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, said he saw the report as "a tactic" for for-profit institutions in their battle against greater regulation. "Certainly from [for-profit colleges'] perspective it would be reasonable to try to put out an argument that says there are many problems with community colleges."

Nonetheless, Bailey said, some of its findings are true. "Community colleges have low resources, the counselor-to-student ratio is extremely low. It's not surprising that students are not very well-informed about their options at community colleges. But, again, I don't think we can look at this as a reliable document."


Deputy head who dared attack the British government school system is sent home from school

A teacher who laid bare the chaos in the state education system has been ordered out of the classroom by her school. Katharine Birbalsingh is facing disciplinary action for daring to speak out at the Conservative Party conference this week about the shambles in state secondaries.

The Daily Mail understands that Miss Birbalsingh, 37, was made to work from home after other senior staff at her London academy feared her speech on Tuesday created too much negative publicity. Miss Birbalsingh said she was ‘devastated’ at being kept out of the classroom while she waits to hear if she is formally suspended or sacked.

The former Marxist – who was state-educated before going to Oxford University – voted Tory for the first time in this year’s general election.

A French teacher and deputy head at St Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy in Camberwell, South London, she was the surprise star at the Tory conference. She revealed how bad behaviour and lack of discipline in schools ‘blinded by Leftist ideology’ stopped staff from teaching children.

Her intervention against a ‘broken’ system which ‘keeps poor children poor’ earned her a standing ovation. She took up her latest job a month ago and said last night that her criticisms were not aimed at her new school. But staff felt that she had damaged the school’s reputation – an accusation that she denies.

Miss Birbalsingh said yesterday: ‘I’m devastated by this. ‘My whole life is about helping children fulfil their potential, particularly those in less privileged areas, and I love my school. ‘All I wanted to do was to highlight the barriers that stand in the way of improving education in Britain. ‘I just want this issue to be resolved and to get back to teaching again.’

However, Miss Birbalsingh did not blame the school for over-reacting. ‘It is not the school or the head’s fault,’ she added. ‘They are shackled by the system which bans teachers from having freedom of speech.

‘In my conference speech, I was not attacking my school directly – I have only been there for a few weeks. ‘I was emphasising my ten years plus of experience in classrooms.’ She added: ‘I feel awful. I have been forced to choose between keeping my school happy on the one hand and my principles on the other. ‘I shouldn’t be torn in that kind of way.’

Miss Birbalsingh was asked to ‘work from home’ for the rest of the week when she arrived at school on her return from the conference in Birmingham.

Her fate will be decided by executive head Irene Bishop and the school’s board of governors and sponsors. Last night no one from the school could be reached for comment. As an academy, the school is free from local authority or government control. But Miss Birbalsingh has the backing of education secretary, Michael Gove, who asked her to speak at the conference.

A source close to Mr Gove said: ‘Katharine gave an inspiring speech which was one of the highlights of the conference. She’s clearly passionate about raising standards for all, committed to her school and just wants to do the best by the children. ‘Let’s hope the situation will be resolved as soon as possible.’

In her rousing speech, Miss Birbalsingh said many of the changes necessary to improve schools required ‘Right-wing thinking’.


One in six pupils are behind in three Rs when they leave British grade schools

One in six children are effectively going backwards at primary school, new figures revealed today. Almost 100,000 youngsters achieved worse results in the three Rs at 11 than in comparable tests at age seven.

The figures suggest many pupils are simply left ‘coasting’ in large numbers of primary schools. Boys are more likely to fall behind in English and girls in maths.

Today's Department of Education statistics are, however, an improvement on last year's figures.

However ministers admitted it was a ‘very real concern’ that one in six youngsters was failing to make the expected progress in the basics between the ages of seven and 11.
Nick Gibb

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: 'We need to ensure that those who are doing well when they are seven are stretched to their full potential'

They said six-year-olds would sit a short reading test to identify problems earlier under Coalition plans to boost English standards.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘Thousands of children are condemned to struggle at secondary school and beyond unless they get the fundamentals of reading, writing and maths right at an early age. ‘We also need to ensure that those who are doing well when they are seven are stretched to their full potential.’

The figures chart the progress made by tens of thousands of pupils after sitting SATs tests in English and maths at age seven. Youngsters who achieve ‘level two’ at age seven are considered to have made satisfactory progress at primary school if they go on to gain a ‘level four’ grade in SATs at 11. ‘Level four’ signifies that by the time they start secondary school, they can grasp the point of a story, write extended sentences using commas and add, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads.

Today’s figures show that 16 per cent of youngsters failed to make the expected two levels of progress in English and 17 per cent in maths. This was an improvement on last year’s 18 per cent in English and 19 per cent in maths. But the stats suggest that nearly 100,000 youngsters are still failing to fulfil the potential they showed at seven.

Usually nearly 600,000 youngsters take SATs but this year just 385,000 did so because two teaching unions boycotted the tests in May.

In English, 18 per cent of boys failed to progress at the rate expected, against 14 per cent of girls. Last year the gender gap was just three percentage points. Meanwhile, 18 per cent of girls failed to fulfil the potential they showed at seven in maths, against 17 per cent of boys. However girls, who were two points behind last year, appear to be catching up.

Coalition measures aimed at boosting attainment include greater prominence in the curriculum for synthetic phonics, the back-to-basics reading scheme that first involves learning the letter sounds of the alphabet and then blending them together.

Mr Gibb added: ‘Getting the basics right at the start of primary school is vital which is why we are putting synthetic phonics at the heart of teaching children to read. ‘We are introducing a short reading test for six-year-olds and we are committed to driving up standards of numeracy at primary school, and doubling the number of highly skilled graduate teachers in our schools, including in primary schools for the first time.’

But Vernon Coaker, shadow schools minister, said: ‘I cannot understand why the government is trying to spin these figures by doing down the achievements of children and the hard work of their teachers.’


Thursday, October 07, 2010

TX: School District Seeks to Bankrupt Disabled Student's Family

Dreams brought Kenneth Chibuogwu to America and in time determination brought many of those aspirations within reach. "I worked hard. I came to this country with nothing," says Kenneth.

It is a country this father and husband have deeply embraced, along with its core convictions. "If you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything," he says.

And what could be more worthy of battle than his first born son, Chapuka, "Chuka" for short a child who will spend each and every day of his life challenged with autism? "This child was a gift from God," insists Kenneth.

Guaranteed by federal law a "free and appropriate education" for their son, Kenneth and wife Neka hoped the Alief School District would prove an able partner in helping Chukka reach his potential.

It didn't happen. "When I went there I saw things no mother would want to see," says Neka her visits to Chuka's middle school. "My wife went to observe, found him squashed in the corner and nobody cared," says Kenneth.

"There was nothing I could do but cry because I was so shocked that such a thing could go on in this country," added Neka of the repeated conferences with Alief administrators ending in stalemate.

In Texas when parents and educators can't agree on whether a school district is giving a disabled student all that the law demands the state offers a procedure called "due process" where a sort of education judge listens to all the evidence and decides the issue.

In May of 2007, using much of their life savings, Chuka's parents filed their case. Instead of seeking compromise, Alief launched a full-blown legal counterattack alleging the case was "improper" and that the Chibuogwus "harassed" district employees during meetings. "Nobody in this household harassed the school district. I feel that they harassed us," insists Neka.

"These people had been railroaded, these people had been maligned," says special education advocate Jimmy Kilpatrick who represented Chuka and his parents. Drained and discouraged, Kenneth and Eka dropped their due process case and Chuka never returned to class.

The conflict could have ended there, but Alief Superintendent Louis Stoerner and then board president Sarah Winkler had other plans. The District sued the economically distressed parents of a special needs child for every penny of the district's legal expenses, an amount, at the time approaching $170,000 dollars and now estimated at close to a quarter million. "What I feel is that they are trying to bully me for asking for a chance for my son's life," says Kenneth.

Alief taxpayer and watch dog Bob Hermann sees the lawsuit as senseless and mean spirited. "I don't know why we would spend taxpayers money to try and punish somebody who doesn't have the money and are probably going to win at the end of the day anyway," says Hermann.

Those who represent special needs families suspect a larger more sinister scheme. "What they are trying to do is send a chill down parent's spine about advocating for their children," says Louis Geigerman, president of the Texas Organization of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates.

"Lets set some examples, lets hang a few of them at high noon right out here in the middle of the town square and show you what we do to people who want to advocate for their children," adds Kilpatrick.

"If I don't fight them, you know they are going to do it to other parents," says Kenneth Chibuogwu. This past April after three long and expensive years of legal warfare a federal judge here in Houston issued his ruling. Alief I.S.D. was wrong and had no right under the law to collect legal expenses from Chuka's parents.

Instead of accepting the ruling, superintendent Stoerner and apparently the Alief School board have chosen to risk even more taxpayer dollars and appeal the ruling to the 5th Circuit.

At a board meeting, by phone and by e-mail Fox 26 news has repeatedly asked the Alief decision makers "Why" and have yet to receive an answer. A district spokeswoman promised comment after the appeals court rules.

"We've almost lost everything trying to keep this up," says Neka. "What basically there are trying to do is run me and my family on to the street," says Kenneth

While school expenses are generally available for public inspection Alief has attempted to block our opens records request.

FOX 26 News has however obtained invoices which show the district's taxpayers have compensated Erik Nikols and his Law firm Rogers, Morris and Grover as much as $12,000 in a single month for waging the three-and-a-half year courthouse campaign against the Chibuougwu's. The meter, presumably, is still running.

"I know a lot of people have gained from this, a lot of people have been enriched by this," says Neka.

As for Chuka, he's now fourteen, attends no school and for five years hasn't received a single minute of the free and appropriate public education that is his right. Their child, his parents insist, has been thoroughly left behind.


British head teacher shocks pupils by eating spider

He has been recognised as one of the country’s leading head teachers whose methods have helped achieve enviable results at his schools. Indeed such is Aydin Onac’s reputation that he was even awarded a £40,000 golden hello when he took over at one London secondary. But his latest methods may prove a little difficult to stomach, after he stunned pupils at his new school by eating a tarantula in front of a packed assembly.

Recreating the sort of stunt usually seen on reality show, I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here, Mr Onac ate the baked spider, in order to raise money for a new sports and drama centre at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington, Kent.

While some of his pupils delighted at seeing his discomfort during the ordeal, others were said to be upset, and at least one parent complained that it set a bad example to youngsters.

Mr Onac only took over at the highly rated St Olave’s school last month, after resigning from his previous post as head of the Fortismere School in Muswell Hill in London. When he joined Fortismere School in 2006 he became the first head teacher in the country to receive a £40,000 signing on bonus. But despite some initial opposition, he oversaw a significant rise in exam results, with the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs rising from 64 to 73 per cent in just three years.

Just weeks into his new job in Orpington however his unconventional approach to running a school has threatened to divide opinion. Mr Onac, whose school serves more than 900 boys aged between 11 and 18, said he came up with the idea of eating a poisonous spider as a way of raising sponsorship money for a new sports and drama complex.

He explained: “It wasn’t until I opened the container and saw how big it was that I started to feel very nervous. “When all the students came into the great hall and I realised what I had let myself in for, and that there was no way out, then I really started to panic.” He added: “It tasted quite salty, and a little bit like burnt chicken. It felt crunchy and very dry in the mouth, like eating those very dry cheese biscuits, so it was difficult to swallow. “As I was eating it I was thinking about the quickest route to the cloakroom and whether I would still be alive by break-time.”

The spider was sourced from Cambodia, where they are farmed and eaten by locals as a delicacy, and Mr Onac has insisted its importation complied with British and EU guidelines. The spider are usually deep fried and the cooking process negates the effects of any toxins the spider carries.

But while he has insisted the stunt was ethically sound, not everybody connected with the school is in agreement. One parent, who did not wish to be named, said: “It's all very well raising money, but why does he have to behave as if he's taking part in I'm A Celebrity? “Head teachers, especially ones of his calibre, should not be copying people like Jordan or Joe Swash and eating exotic animals. “I don't care if it is responsibly sourced, if children get the wrong idea then they'll think it's OK to go around eating spiders.”

Another parent said: “I know that these spiders are farmed in Cambodia and considered a delicacy there, but we're not in Cambodia, we're in Orpington and in Orpington we don't do things like this."

But a member of the teaching staff said they were full of admiration for Mr Onac’s actions. He said: “It was a sight that I for one never thought we would see in the great hall. We all thought he was incredibly brave.”


Some reasons why Latin continues to fascinate

Comment from Britain

The power of Roman history, literature and myth is so great that it will always go on being reinvented. And that reinvention didn't just start in the Thirties with I, Claudius.

Because classics was the staple diet of British and European education from around 1100AD until about 1900, it was classical thought that provided the majority of storylines in Western European literature, as well as much of the subject matter in Renaissance art and architecture. Throw in Christianity – largely disseminated through Europe in Greek and Latin – and you see how the writing mind of the Western world was, until recently, a classical mind.

Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare that he had "small Latin and less Greek", but the point was that even a man of humble origins brought up in rural Warwickshire knew a little of both – pretty unlikely these days.

Shakespeare was only one of the great European writers – including Dryden, Pope, Milton, Dante and Samuel Johnson – to use classical stories as their raw material, refashioned in new and brilliant, and pretty fast and loose, ways.

It's not just the usual suspects – Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus – that were borrowed from the ancient world. The fountain of classical tales was so powerful that even a play such as The Comedy of Errors was rooted in a – now obscure – Roman comedy, The Twin Brothers by Plautus.

The predominant influence of the classical world on English writers has only recently been extinguished. P G Wodehouse won a senior classical scholarship to Dulwich College in 1897, and packed his books with Latin references. In The Girl on the Boat (1922), Wodehouse gives a Latin lesson that wouldn't disgrace the most fastidious of classics masters: "Nothing is more curious than the myriad ways in which the reaction from an unfortunate love affair manifests itself in various men…

"Archilochum, for instance, according to the Roman writer, proprio rabies armavit iambo. It is no good pretending out of politeness that you know what that means, so I will translate.

"Rabies – his grouch – armavit – armed – Archilochum – Armilochus – iambo – with the iambic – proprio – his own invention."

"In other words, when the poet Archilochus was handed his hat by the lady of his affections, he consoled himself by going off and writing satirical verse about her in a new metre, which he had thought up immediately after leaving the house."

Wodehouse, as ever, hits the nail on the proverbial. Whether you're talking about men who have been chucked, like Archilochus, weak men (Claudius), debauched men (Caligula) or powerful men (Julius Caesar), the Romans got there first, and gave modern writers an archetype to play with.

It's no wonder that the head of MI5 also said that he had seen lots of security chiefs like Sulla (a Roman general known for his cunning), in despotic regimes across the world. Republican and Imperial Rome was seething with characters jockeying for position in the ancient city's complex military and political hierarchies.

So, want a parallel for Louise Shackleton, David Miliband's wife, incensed at her brother-in-law's decision to enter the Labour leadership race? Well, you could do worse than Livia, the ambitious power behind several imperial thrones; Augustus's third wife, mother to Tiberius, grandmother to Claudius, great-great grandmother to Nero.

Margaret Thatcher has often been compared to the British rebel queen Boadicea. And David Cameron could be any one of a dozen confident emperors, born to the purple (the colour of the toga worn by emperors, consuls and generals). Throw in the power of myth – mostly, admittedly, Greek myth, adapted by the Romans – and you can see how classical tales are so easily revived, and so memorable, particularly to the minds of children.

The battles between the gods, the Trojan horse, the endless wanderings of Odysseus, the hell of King Midas turning everything he touches to gold, the 12 Labours of Hercules… Ancient myths are beautifully structured stories. They follow peaks and troughs, just like the plot arcs of the Hollywood scriptwriter ruthlessly trained in the art of story-telling.

It means classical stories jump effortlessly from papyrus to cinema screen. And it also means that those stories have kept on jumping to cinema screens, even as the study of classics has declined in recent years (although the number of state schools doing Latin has doubled in the past decade).

Roman history and literature can survive the unthinking attacks of former education secretaries Ed Balls ("Very few businesses are asking for Latin") and Charles Clarke ("Education for education's sake is a bit dodgy"). Everyone gets Rome, because the Romans got everywhere.

Roman history is far enough in the past that you can play around with it for your own modern purposes; you can recycle it into good or trashy stuff without straining the original sources too much. But it's also recent enough that you can see the direct Roman influence on so many things – on our politics, architecture, literature and, most of all, the English language – while still being astounded by the savagery that accompanied all that civilisation.

Tell a child about lions tearing bleeding chunks out of gladiator slaves, and you've got them hooked on Rome for life. They don't need to know the pluperfect subjunctive second person plural of amo to appreciate the thrills of the Colosseum. Nice, though, if they can learn that, too.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

'Superman’ tackles public education in America

Would you want to live in a country where the most accessible route to learning -- the public education system -- is failing its students? A country where, according to the nonprofit research organization Editorial Projects in Education, three out of every 10 high school students won't earn a diploma?

Sounds like a regressive nation, right? Well, it's where you live: the grand ole U.S.. And Davis Guggenheim, the director of the Academy Award-winning global warming warning An Inconvenient Truth, isn't afraid to talk about it.

His latest documentary, Waiting for ‘Superman,' presents a stirring chronicle of the lives of five public school kids to more intimately reveal the American education system's chronic missteps, setbacks and disadvantages.

"Ultimately, I said, if I don't do it, who will?" Guggenheim said of the decision to take on the controversial topic. "That's when the rubber hits the road. It's easy to be angry at the man," he said. "But when you actually have to discover stuff that's really uncomfortable and still write it, even if it's unpopular, that's a real tough journalistic choice."

At a time when the country's economy is still recuperating from a devastating downturn, picking apart the underwhelming rank of its education system is increasingly important. Many education advocates from both major political parties believe graduation rates affect employment rates positively: increased graduation makes for a more employable workforce, and vice versa.

Math scores of fourth-grade students in the U.S. ranked 11th worldwide, according to a 2007 study by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which is associated with the National Center for Education Statistics and globally facilitated by the International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement. Countries ahead of the U.S. include Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Singapore and Hong Kong (first place). Eighth-grade students in the U.S. fared slightly better, ranking ninth.

In science, fourth-grade pupils landed in the eighth spot, slightly behind England and only 39 points above the international average. Singapore, the top-ranking nation, is in the lead, with almost 50 points more than the U.S. and a total of 87 notches above the average. Among eighth-grade students, scores placed the U.S. in the 11th slot.

‘Superman' does more than nudge at viewers' emotions. The portrayals of earnest yet underprivileged youths grip the heartstrings with an iron fist, and yank repeatedly-hard. It's difficult to not be moved by Daisy, the L.A. fifth-grader intent on success, or Anthony, a child in the same grade, living with his grandmother after losing his father to drugs. And Bianca, the adorable Harlem kindergartner, whose mother cannot afford to maintain her enrollment in parochial school, is also quite the tearjerker. To make emotional matters even more unstable, all of these students and their families gamble their educational hopes in a lottery, where random winners gain entrance to high-performing charter schools.

Guggenheim features several charter schools with high success rates: the KIPP schools (a network of national college-preparatory schools focused on enrolling disadvantaged students), YES Prep Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools (California-based) and Harlem Children's Zone (Harlem-centric). All of them, some of which boast astounding numbers like 100 percent acceptance rates of high school seniors entering four-year colleges, are free and open to the public-but only if your number is drawn in a lottery, which is, by law, a random ordeal.

Though some criticized the documentary for relying too heavily on charters as a solution (one that's clearly not available to all youth) to the country's educational woes, Guggenheim said that he wanted to express that the methods of charters should be considered an ideal model for public schools.

"You can use [those high-performing charters] as an incubator for what works. Take those ideas and put them in mainstream schools," Guggenheim said. "It's really easy. Great teachers, high standards focusing on a pathway to college and longer school days. I know that's unpopular, longer hours and longer days. But the point is, it's not a mystery what works.".

The complexities of incorporating charter school practices into public schools, however, are vast. In particular, ‘Superman´ points to teachers unions as an obstacle.

"I'm a liberal, so I believe in unions. I really believe. I'm a member of a really good union; I believe unions are really important. To realize when you really dig in that they have been a real obstacle to real change…that really put me at a crossroads," he said.

The film points to tenure, a union-driven plus for teachers, professors and other instructors that protects them from being fired for personal or political reasons, as a well-meaning endeavor that's backfiring in a harsh way. The film positions tenure as a scapegoat for sub-par and even completely reckless teachers, as firing a public school teacher who's earned tenure is costly, time-consuming and, as a result, an unlikely possibility.

Guggenheim's documentary also calls out the Democratic Party as the largest beneficiary of funding from teachers unions, but a stagnant contributor to progressive change.

"When you look at some of the culprits to [the education system's problems], finding out that my own party, the Democratic Party, which stands for protecting the little guy, has been mostly quiet on this issue because it gets so much money not to do it…blew my mind," he said.

But the documentary opens with Guggenheim driving past an allegedly failing public school as he takes his own children to private school. Guggenheim admitted some hypocrisy in his decision to opt for private learning.

"If we're going to fix the schools, all the adults have to clean up their act. Starting with me-I pulled my kids out of public school and I sent them to private school. People like me have to recommit to helping their local school," Guggenheim said.

He explained that most educational funding is generated and delegated at the state level, and that "the real change has to happen in the state capitols," and encouraged political participation.

"For those students in your college, you're the ones who made it," he said. "When you see this movie, it should feel really, really unfair that there are many kids [who] don't have the opportunity that you guys have. That are just as bright, that want just as many things, but were not given a great education. And that sense of unfairness, I think, should inspire people to get more involved."


Ex-Marxist head wants to axe bad British teachers and drive out the unions

A deputy headmistress delivered a damning indictment on state schools yesterday, saying she hoped education reforms would smash teaching unions. In the most passionate moment yet at the Tory autumn conference, Katharine Birbalsingh attacked a state system which she said was ‘broken as it keeps poor children poor’.

The former Marxist confessed she had voted Tory for the first time at the general election, saying that teachers were too ‘blinded by leftist ideology’ and refused to admit they were failing children.

After a decade of teaching in state schools, the 37-year-old Oxford graduate plans to publish a book exposing the ‘chaos’ in the system. Miss Birbalsingh later told the Mail she hoped the Coalition push for free schools – which will be able to set their own pay and conditions – would reduce the influence of unions.

Her intervention came as Education Secretary Michael Gove pledged to give heads more powers to discipline children and put teachers back in charge.

During a fringe event, Miss Birbalsingh laid bare the failures of state schools, where, far too often, teachers were expected to be social workers as well. She said: ‘In schools and in society, we need high expectations, of everyone, even if you’re black, or live on a council estate – why can’t they sit exams at the end of the year? ‘We need to instil competition amongst the kids and help build their motivation by ensuring they’re not given everything and that they are held to account for what they do.

‘We have a situation where standards have been so dumbed down that even the children know it. ‘When I give them past exam papers to do from 1998, they groan and beg for a 2005 or 6 paper, because they know it’ll be easier.’

She added: ‘Exclusion quotas bind our headteachers, league tables have all of us pursuing targets and grades. Instead of teaching properly ... the ordinary child … is lost in a sea of bureaucracy handed down from the well meaning.’

Ranking children by ability was viewed as poisonous by teachers, she said, which meant that pupils ‘live in darkness, without any idea of how they compare to those around them, let alone to those who are educated in the private sector’.

She added: ‘Black underachievement is due in part to the chaos of our classrooms, and in part, to the accusation of racism. ‘If you keep telling teachers that they’re racist for trying to discipline black boys, and if you keep telling heads that they’re racist for trying to exclude black boys, in the end, the schools stop reprimanding these children. ‘Black children underachieve because of what the well-meaning liberal does to him.’

Miss Birbalsingh, who has just started as a deputy head teacher at St Michaels and All Angels Academy in South London, said the biggest problem in the system was the destruction of behavioural and academic standards.

‘I don’t think ordinary parents have any idea about what goes on in their schools. But it is totally and utterly chaotic. Teachers spend most of their time telling children to sit down or stop disrupting the class rather than teaching.’

Miss Birbalsingh said there was a conspiracy of silence in staffrooms because teachers were too afraid of being branded as failures if they admitted how bad the true picture was. ‘League tables tell you nothing about how good a school really is, just how good the school is at playing the system and picking the easier exams,’ she said. ‘I’d like to see bad teachers getting fired and heads given the powers to discipline children.’

The daughter of immigrant parents from the Caribbean, Miss Birbalsingh said she remained ‘on the fence’ over free schools as she was worried that unqualified people would run them. But she added: ‘I suspect the rationale for free schools is to get the unions out. If they achieve that, it will be worth it because the unions are keeping bad teachers and bad support staff from being fired.’

At conference yesterday, Mr Gove announced that head teachers will be given powers to punish students who misbehave on the way to and from school. ‘At the moment heads are prevented from dealing with their pupils if they run wild in a shopping mall or behave anti-socially in town centres,’ he said. ‘So we will change the rules to send one clear and consistent message. Heads will have the freedom they need to keep pupils in line - any time, any place, anywhere.

‘We have to stop treating adults like children and children like adults. Under this Government we will ensure that the balance of power in the classroom changes – and teachers are back in charge.’

History, grammar and spelling will return to the heart of the school curriculum, Michael Gove vowed yesterday. Warning against the ‘trashing of our past’ and poor standards of English, the Education Secretary said children were leaving school without knowing their nation’s history or being able to communicate properly.

He said he ‘couldn’t live’ with himself if he stopped ‘pressing, pushing, fighting’ to give every child the chance to succeed. ‘It is every child’s right to be taught how to communicate clearly,’ he said, as he attacked the way that the ‘basic building blocks of English have been demolished’. Mr Gove added: ‘Thousands of children leave school unable to compose a proper sentence, ignorant of basic grammar, incapable of writing a clear and accurate letter.’

Examiners will take account of spelling, punctuation and grammar when marking tests, he said.

He spoke of the need to go back to traditional subjects of maths and science. ‘We urgently need to ensure our children study rigorous disciplines instead of pseudo-subjects. Otherwise we will be left behind,’ he said.

He attacked the piecemeal approach to history, where children are given a mix of topics at primary, ‘a cursory run through Henry VIII, and Hitler at secondary’ before giving up the subject at 14. He has asked historian Simon Schama to advise on putting British history at the heart of the curriculum.

Mr Gove also called for tougher school discipline standards, but said he drew the line at hitting children.

Christine Blower, of the National Union of Teachers, said children ‘are being failed through the testing and assessment regime’. ‘It leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test,’ she said.


LOL! Plants boost grades


Plants in the classroom have been credited with helping Queensland school-children achieve huge improvement in their grades. New research to be presented to a “Plants at Work” conference in Brisbane this week shows plants have the power to boost student performance in maths and spelling by up to 14 per cent.

The conference will also hear how plants in hospitals are helping patients get out up to two days earlier. Other research includes a study showing indoor plants improve performance and productivity in adult workers with stress and negativity at work -- cut by up to 40 per cent for staff surrounded by plants.

The news of plants’ psychological benefits for workers comes as the State Government recently moved to remove plants from several of its department offices in Brisbane to save money.

“Our research has shown that plants can benefit body, mind and spirit," University of Technology Sydney adjunct professor Margaret Burchett said. Prof Burchett conducted a study in 15 Year 6 and 7 classrooms in three independent schools late last year.

More than 200 students were tested with standard maths and spelling exams before plant placements and retested after six weeks of plant presence or absence. “In two schools, there were 10 to 14 per cent improvements in scores in spelling and maths tests in those classes which had plants in their rooms,” she said.

Prof Burchett said some of the improvements could have come about because of plants’ ability to cut pollution. “International research has shown that plants can significantly improve indoor air quality in buildings with or without airconditioning by reducing levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds.”

Hire plants have been removed from offices of the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation and the Department of Public Works as a cost-cutting measure this year.

DEEDl’s Michael Jones said they recognised the value of having plants in the workplace, “but we also need to exercise financial responsibility". “The cost of hiring and maintaining plants in departmental offices in Brisbane’s CBD was equivalent to 1.5 full- time staff members,” he said,

The report above by Suellen Hinde appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 3 October 2010

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Six soundbites for educational freedom

Here are some soundbite-sized answers to six of the most common education questions and some references:

1) How would the poor be educated in a libertarian society, when all schools are private?

In a libertarian society, the poor would not have to pay school taxes through their rent. This money could be used to send their children to private schools, which cost half as much as public ones, and would be even more economical without today’s government regulation.

Today, the poor are forced into ghetto schools because their parents seldom have enough money to pay both property taxes and tuition. Because attendance is compulsory, troublemakers disrupt classes and learning is difficult.

Traditionally, the poor have been the strongest champions of choice programs, which force educators to teach well or go out of business. In Harlem, school choice increased the number of children reading at their grade level from 15% to 64%. (1) Such dramatic results show that the poor can learn when given a choice.

2) Private schools work great for the average student, but how about the difficult ones?

Private schools can specialize to help students at any level. One private institution specializes in students who are about to drop out and boasts an 85% graduation rate. (2) Not bad, considering that none of these students were likely to graduate otherwise!

3) If attendance weren’t mandatory, very few children would go to school.

History suggests otherwise. In the early 1800s, a survey in Boston found that 90% of the school-age children were enrolled, even though attendance was not compulsory and public schooling was not widespread. (3) At that time, the U.S. was considered the most literate nation in the world! We learned more when we weren’t forced to do so!

4) If education isn’t compulsory, children whose parents don’t care about education won’t go to school. They’ll grow up to be hoodlums, so society will end up paying in the long run.

The most significant factor in a student’s success is the home atmosphere. If the parents aren’t supportive, chances are that their children would only disrupt the classroom and learn next to nothing if they were forced to attend. Why penalize the students who want to learn?

5) As a public school teacher, I’m much better paid than I would be in a private school and I like it that way.

Instead of being limited to union-scale wages, teachers in a libertarian society will have unlimited potential. The teachers could own and operate the schools they work in, rather than being just employees. Because education in a libertarian society would utilize the latest technology for routine lectures, teachers could spend their time teaching. Teachers who excel could help design teaching videos and computer programs for their school, state, or nation and receive the royalties, of course!

6) Public schools aren’t perfect, but private ones aren’t that much better!

If private schools aren’t that great, why are public school teachers twice as likely as other parents to send their children to one?

SOURCE. (See the original for references)

What education needs

Not more government

As an antidote to the blather masquerading on MSNBC this week as serious discussion of education, I prescribe the wisdom of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the English classical-liberal political philosopher, scientist, and religious Dissenter. In An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty (1768), Priestley argued for a free and spontaneous education environment. For him education must be left to free individuals precisely because no one can know in advance — or once and for all — what forms of pedagogy are best. (The chapter is titled “In what manner an authoritative code of education would affect political and civil liberty.”)

In the manner of F. A. Hayek, Priestley’s writing on education emphasized the trial-and-error nature of discovery — the need for competitive experimentation from many quarters, indeed, for “unbounded liberty, and even caprice.” What a great phrase!

Here’s what he says:

“[O]f all arts [including education], those stand the fairest chance of being brought to perfection, in which there is opportunity of making the most experiments and trials, and in which there are the greatest number and variety of persons employed in making them.… The reason is, that the operations of the human mind are slow; a number of false hypotheses and conclusions always precede the right one; and in every art, manual or liberal, a number of awkward attempts are made, before we are able to execute any thing which will bear to be shown as a master-piece in its kind; so that to establish the methods and processes of any art, before it have arrived to a state of perfection (of which no man can be a judge) is to fix it in its infancy, to perpetuate every thing that is inconvenient and awkward in it, and to cut off its future growth and improvement. And to establish the methods and processes of any art when it has arrived to perfection is superfluous. It will then recommend and establish itself.

“Now I appeal to any person whether any plan of education, which has yet been put in execution in this kingdom, be so perfect as that the establishing of it by authority would not obstruct the great ends of education; or even whether the united genius of man could, at present, form so perfect a plan. Every man who is experienced in the business of education well knows, that the art is in its infancy; but advancing, it is hoped, apace to a state of manhood. In this condition, it requires the aid of every circumstance favourable to its natural growth, and dreads nothing so much as being confined and cramped by the unseasonable hand of power. To put it (in its present imperfect state) into the hands of the civil magistrate, in order to fix the mode of it, would be like fixing the dress of a child, and forbidding its cloaths ever to be made wider or larger.”

Uncertain Future

Priestley is making what should be an elementary point. No matter how far advanced the methods of education are (and who would say they are advanced at all?), no one knows what might be discovered tomorrow or who might discover it. To the extent a coercive bureaucracy controls education we cut ourselves off from tomorrow’s discoveries, since we have no idea who may come up with them or how. Bureaucracies are protectionist and ultimately conservative in the sense that they are not eager to encourage boat-rockers. We find the opposite conditions in a freed market in which anyone may to take a shot at launching a new idea on a large scale or small — and consumers (parents in this case) are free to try it or ignore it.

In a word, what government deprives education of is entrepreneurship, and by implication, competition.

“I may add, in this place,” Priestley wrote, “that, if we argue from the analogy of education to other arts which are most similar to it, we can never expect to see human nature, about which it is employed, brought to perfection, but in consequence of indulging unbounded liberty, and even caprice in conducting it” (emphasis added). He went on:

“From new, and seemingly irregular methods of education, perhaps something extraordinary and uncommonly great may spring. At least there would be a fair chance for such productions; and if something odd and excentric should, now and then, arise from this unbounded liberty of education, the various business of human life may afford proper spheres for such excentric geniuses.

“Education, taken in its most extensive sense, is properly that which makes the man. One method of education, therefore, would only produce one kind of men; but the great excellence of human nature consists in the variety of which it is capable. Instead, then, of endeavouring, by uniform and fixed systems of education, to keep mankind always the same, let us give free scope to every thing which may bid fair for introducing more variety among us.

As if it weren’t already clear, Priestley was no friend of government regulation of education:

“I wish it could not be said, that the business of education is already under too many legal restraints. Let these be removed, and a few more fair experiments made of the different methods of conducting it, before the legislature think proper to interfere any more with it; and by that time, it is hoped, they will see no reason to interfere at all. The business would be conducted to much better purpose, even in favour of their own views, if those views were just and honourable, than it would be under any arbitrary regulations whatever.”

In other words: Laissez faire!


Grammar for graduates: British building society [Thrift] hires teacher to improve recruits' written English

Bosses at a building society are so concerned about workers’ written English that they are giving them grammar lessons, it has emerged. The Leeds Building Society realised it had a problem when senior executives looked at internal reports produced by recent graduates and couldn’t understand them.

Managers feared that badly written letters would irritate its customers – many of whom are part of a generation well-schooled in the three Rs. If staff could misplace a comma in a letter, they might also misplace a figure, they worried.

And so, the 135-year-old firm, one of Britain’s oldest financial institutions, has recruited a retired A-level English teacher to give staff a proper grounding in traditional grammar and punctuation.

Staff of all ages have joined the classes, which cover punctuation, parts of speech, sentences, paragraph construction and concise writing, the building society said. It denied standards had slipped, but one manager said: ‘The executives could not understand the reports being sent to them.’

Kim Rebecchi, sales and marketing director, said: ‘We felt that, while the standard of formal English within the society was strong, our employees are from very varied and diverse educational backgrounds, as well as being from many different age groups.

‘This means that, while style and quality are good and broadly the same, there are some areas for improvement and we particularly wanted to create a more formal and consistent approach to our writing, focusing on clarity and brevity.’

Four sessions have been laid on for 20 staff by a teacher in Leeds. Mrs Rebecchi added that the sessions had proved ‘thought-provoking’ and sparked ‘healthy debate’.

The building society, founded in 1875, is among growing numbers of firms offering training in the three Rs to recruits from school and college. About one in five employers run some form of remedial training, according to the CBI.

Even teaching assistants at a primary school in Havant, near Portsmouth, are to be given English lessons, it has emerged, after criticism from inspectors. Ofsted warned their poor grammar and use of slang set a bad example to pupils at Trosnant Junior School.

Meanwhile, a series of industry bosses have questioned the calibre of jobseekers. Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco’s chief executive, has warned that standards were ‘still woefully low in too many schools’ and Sir Stuart Rose, Marks & Spencer’s boss, said too many school-leavers ‘cannot do reading... cannot do arithmetic... cannot do writing’. Sir Michael Rake, BT’s chairman, said education standards were a ‘disgrace’ after receiving applications from ‘illiterate’ school-leavers.

Critics claim teachers and lecturers fail to correct rigorously students’ slips. They also say exams and syllabuses don’t put enough emphasis on standards of English.

Last year, separate research found that British students have a worse grasp of English than many from overseas. A study at Imperial College London found British undergraduates made three times more grammatical and spelling errors than counterparts from Singapore, China and Indonesia, who count English as their second language.

Dr Bernard Lamb, who did the research, said: ‘We need to raise the very poor standards of English of the home students by more demanding syllabuses and exams, more explicit teaching and examining of English (including grammar, spelling and punctuation), and by consistent and constructive correction of errors.’


Monday, October 04, 2010

“Superman” versus “‘The Blob”

Nobody is indispensable, and Superman lives only in comic books. The nation’s public education system won’t be reformed through more top-down mandates, vain attempts to nationalize the schools, or cheap sloganeering.

Lasting school reform requires the education dollar following the child, eliminating the bureaucratic “middle man,” and restoring accountability at the parental level. Above all, it means giving families real choices. You don’t need to be a brainiac to figure that out.

The arrival of Waiting for “Superman,” a new documentary from the maker of An Inconvenient Truth, and the likely fate of one of the film’s main subjects should help persuade parents, teachers, and others concerned about the dismal state of U.S. public education that one person really can’t make a difference.

Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, DC public school system, is one of the heroes of Davis Guggenheim’s film, seen waging a solitary battle against the powerful, reactionary Washington Teachers Union. The film ends with a question as to whether Rhee will prevail.

Odds are she will soon add “former-“ to her job title. On September 14 the District of Columbia’s voters turned out incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the city’s Democratic primary. The repudiation of Fenty was essentially a repudiation of Rhee.

Hired in 2007 by the pro-reform mayor, the outspoken and hard-driving Rhee gained national prominence a year later when she appeared on the cover of Time standing in front of a blackboard with a broom in her hand. The message: This dynamic young administrator would clean up the corrupt, violent, hidebound DC public school system.

The education “blob”—the bureaucracy, the unions, and their kept politicians—had other plans.

Fact is, Rhee accomplished relatively little in her tenure as chancellor. The District of Columbia still spends more than $20,000 per pupil per year for poor test scores, violent schools, and a dropout rate below 50 percent.

Rhee’s signature accomplishment was to negotiate a new contract with the union. Teachers traded away some job protections in exchange for pay increases and the promise of performance bonuses. The union consented to a new teacher evaluation system, which went into effect earlier this year. In July, Rhee announced she would fire 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor ratings under the new system.

Rhee’s triumph took more than two-and-a-half years to achieve—and the union said it would challenge every one of the firings. Plus, the contract comes up for renewal in 2012. With Rhee’s departure all but assured and the new mayor, Vincent Gray, a beneficiary of union largesse, it isn’t hard to imagine how long her hard-fought reforms will last.

Rhee’s story should serve as a reminder to reformers that public opinion is important, and people want to know that proposed reforms are in their interest. Rhee, however, famously said, “Collaboration and consensus-building are quite frankly overrated, in my mind.” With “consensus-building” in public education usually meaning rolling over for the unions, she’s right. But Rhee never made a good case for her reforms to the constituency that matters most: Parents.

Ironically, the teachers union—which exists not to serve the interests of parents or students but instead to protect the salaries and benefits of dues-paying members— exploited perceptions of Rhee’s management style as top-down and imperious, to rally parents against her.

Rhee’s likely ouster shows the perils of placing the mantle of change in the hands of one person, however capable. Her charisma earned her plenty of fans among reformers—and the lasting enmity of the education establishment. Their money brought down the mayor who appointed her.

It doesn’t matter that Rhee was right. She became a lightning rod, a tragic hero of reform.

Fixing the nation’s failing schools isn’t a matter of personalities. It requires electing people willing to dismantle the existing public education monopoly, decentralize authority, and give parents and students the freedom to escape a failing school system. Instead of funding bureaucrats and union bosses, we should be funding kids.


Several British Muslim schools forcing EVERY pupil to wear the veil - and regulators approve

At least three Muslim faith schools are forcing girls as young as 11 to wear face-covering veils with the blessing of Ofsted inspectors, it emerged yesterday. One of the schools insists that fees are paid in cash and warns parents against speaking to the local education authority.

All three schools have been approved by education watchdog Ofsted, which inspects private faith schools to ensure they prepare pupils for life in modern Britain and 'promote tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions'.

The schools' dress codes yesterday provoked anger among mainsteam Muslims, who warned that pupils were in danger of being 'brainwashed'.

The three schools causing concern were Madani Girls' School in Tower Hamlets, east London, Jamea Al Kauthar, in Lancaster and Jameah Girls' Academy in Leicester. All three are independent, fee-paying, single-sex schools catering for girls aged 11 to 18.

They insist that when girls are travelling to and from school they wear the niqab, a face veil leaving the eyes exposed, or the head-to-toe burka, which covers the eyes with a mesh screen.

School uniform rules listed on Madani's website have been removed but an earlier version, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, said: 'The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing. Outside the school, this comprises of the black Burka and Niqab.'

The admission application form warns that girls will be 'appropriately punished' for failing to wear the correct uniform.

Madani, which charges fees of £1,900-a-year, also says on its website: 'All payments should be made in cash. We do not accept cheques.' Its school rules state: 'If parents are approached by the Education Department regarding their child's education, they should not disclose any information without discussing it with the committee.'

Ofsted's 2008 assessment gives the school a 'satisfactory' rating and makes no mention of the uniform code or warning to parents.

The 260-pupil school was at the centre of a separate row in 2008 when Conservative councillors accused Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets Council of subsidising Madani school by allowing the school to buy its premises for £320,000 below market value.

The council sold the Victorian building to Madani's trustees for £1.33 million even though a valuation at the time said it was worth £1.65 million. Tower Hamlets said the agreed price of £1.33million was market value in 2004 and the sale was delayed to allow the school to raise funds.

At Jamea Al Kauthar - rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted earlier this year - rules which appear on its website state: 'Black Jubbah [smock-like outer garment] and dopatta [shawl] is compulsory as well as purdah [veil] when leaving and returning to Jamea. Scarves are strictly not permitted.'

The website also lists a wide range of banned items, including family photographs, and warns: 'Students must not cut their hair, nor remove hair from between their eyebrows. Doing so will lead to suspention (sic).'

Jameah Girls' Academy, which charges £1,750 a year for primary-age pupils and £1,850 for secondary, was rated 'good' by Ofsted in 2007. It states in its rules: 'Uniform, as set out in the pupil/parent handbook, which comprises of headscarf and habaya for all pupils, and niqab for girls attending the secondary years, to be worn during journeys to and from The Academy.'

Critics claimed the policies could damage relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Ed Husain, co-director of Quilliam, the counter-extremist think-tank, said: 'It is absurd that schools are enforcing this outdated ritual – one that which sends out a damaging message that Muslims do not want to fully partake in British society.

'The enforcing of the niqab on young girls is not a mainstream Islamic practice – either in Britain or in most Muslim-majority countries. 'It is a desert practice which belongs to another century and another world.'

Independent schools will be able to apply to become state-funded 'free schools' under the Coalition's education policy, although faith schools will be required to offer a quota of places to pupils of other religions first.

Mr Husain added: 'Although it is not the government's job to dictate how its citizens dress, it should nonetheless ensure that such schools are not bankrolled or subsidised by the British taxpayer.'

Dr Taj Hargey, an imam and chairman of the Muslim Educational Trust of Oxford, said: 'This is very disturbing and sets a dangerous precedent. 'It means that Muslim children are being brainwashed into thinking they must segregate and separate themselves from mainstream society.'

Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP who has attempted to bring in a Private Members' Bill to ban wearing of the burka in public, said: 'It is very sad in 21st century Britain that three schools are effectively forcing girls as young as 11 to hide their faces.

'How on earth are these young ladies going to grow up as part of a fully integrated society if they are made to regard themselves as objects at such a young age?'


British school STAFF to be given English lessons so their bad habits don't hamper pupils

Primary school staff are to be given English lessons because Ofsted inspectors believe their accents, poor grammar and use of slang set pupils a bad example.

Two teaching assistants at Trosnant Junior School in Havant, near Portsmouth, were heavily criticised in a report for their weak grasp of written and spoken English. Now, a consultant has been drafted in to teach staff to use ‘the Queen’s English in the classroom’.

The Ofsted inspectors claimed the assistants’ strong accents and use of slang were hampering children’s learning. Their report said: ‘Adults do not always demonstrate grammatical accuracy in speaking and writing.’ It cited the phrase ‘I likes football’ as an example, and gave the school 12 months to improve.

Headmaster Jim Hartley admitted there was a problem with the use of regional dialect, known as ‘Pompey slang’, in the classroom. He said: ‘This is not denigrating the Pompey accent or dialect – we are all proud of where we come from. ‘I accept however that bad grammar is not acceptable in the classroom, which is why we have taken the inspectors’ criticisms constructively.’

Kathryn Cooke, 43, whose eight-year-old son Ryan goes to the school, said: ‘The Pompey accent is not far off being Cockney. It is very common and very lazy. You would hope they would tone it down while in the classroom.’

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘Youngsters cannot be expected to improve their English if they are set a bad example by the adults who are supposed to be teaching them.’

A building society has introduced grammar lessons for staff after senior executives found recent graduates could not write properly. Leeds Building Society has recruited a retired teacher to introduce a ‘more formal and consistent approach’ to writing.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

School Reform Rainmakers

John Walton had the right idea for education donors

It was a banner September for education philanthropy. Last week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah Winfrey's TV show to announce his $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey, public schools. And this Wednesday the Charter School Growth Fund launched a new $160 million fund that will finance the expansion of high-performing charter networks across the U.S.

Since 1970, average per-pupil expenditures after inflation have more than doubled, yet test scores have remained flat. Today the Newark public school system spends some $22,000 per student, or more than twice the U.S. average, and the high school graduation rate is only 50%. Adding private money to this system would be a dreadful waste. So what excites us about these new donations is not the money per se but the reform agenda to which the dollars are tethered.

Mr. Zuckerberg is entrusting his donation to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a strong advocate of vouchers and school choice, as is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The Newark teachers contract expired over the summer, and Mr. Booker has spoken favorably of the recently negotiated teacher contract in Washington, D.C., where schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee used private donations as leverage to enact reforms that tie teacher pay to student progress.

The new Charter School Growth initiative is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund and others. It will largely bypass the politicians and directly finance the growth of charter school networks, such as KIPP and the Harlem Success Academy, that have a record of accomplishment serving students that traditional public schools have consistently failed.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein recently wrote that "this year, at the Harlem Success Academy, a charter school in New York City, 88% of the students passed the state's reading test and 95% passed the math test, while comparable schools have pass rates of 35% in reading and 45% in math."

The late John Walton's reform strategy was to concentrate charters and vouchers in certain areas until an alternative school system is essentially in place. The goal is to create an educational market for the urban poor. Instead of neighborhood schools taking enrollment for granted, they should have to compete for students, with parents able to make choices based on what's best for their children.

More than 400,000 kids in the U.S. are on charter wait lists, and their parents will welcome this effort to replicate and expand the most successful charter school models. Like Walton and his fellow education philanthropists, they realize that it's not how much you spend but how you spend it.


Abolish the Federal Education Dept. and no-one would notice

But a lot of money would be saved

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the U.S. Department of Education is a 30-year experiment in insanity that needs to end.

For more than 200 years, the federal government respected the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution by not interfering with those most capable of ensuring children receive a good education – parents, teachers, and local schools.

During those years, our nation won two world wars, put a man on the moon and became a global superpower. Yet, in 1979, politicians in Washington who were eager to placate special interests cast aside the Constitution and created a federal Department of Education as a political favor to the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher union.

While its existence may seem non-controversial today, the department’s creation was incredibly contentious at the time, and even opposed by publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post.

They were right to be worried. Since 1965, the federal government has invested over $2 trillion in American education. The payoff? Stagnant test scores, abysmal graduation rates, and piles of debt.

Continuing down this path is the definition of insanity, yet that is precisely what the unions and their patrons in Congress continue to push for.

Consider the following facts:

* Per pupil spending at the K-12 level, after accounting for inflation, has more than doubled since 1970, yet outcomes have not improved. Since 1970, long-term scores in reading, math and science have remained completely flat.

* The U.S. Department of Education budget has grown from $14 billion to $107 billion this fiscal year – not including the nearly $120 billion dollars in public debt the agency will issue to supply federal students loans this year.

* The workforce of educators has increased from 22.3 pupils per teacher in 1970 to 15.7 in 2005 – a 30 percent decrease in the number of students per teacher – with no discernible benefit.

* Increased federal “investments” in higher education have worsened college costs and affordability. Despite the tens of billions of dollars in federal student aid made available each year, college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 through 2007 – almost triple the rise in median family income.

* College graduation rates also remain abysmal. The six year graduation rate – two years following an on-time graduation of four years for bachelor’s degree programs – averaged only 55.9 percent nationally. The three year graduation rate –a full year after an on-time graduation of two years for Associates degrees – averaged only 27.5 percent nationally.

* In 2000, the House Education and Workforce Committee reported that there were more than 760 education-related programs spread across 39 federal agencies costing taxpayers $120 billion per year.

Parents were promised no child would be left behind by increased federal involvement in education. Yet, there is little evidence the dramatic interference in the classroom by Washington politicians and bureaucrats during recent decades has done anything to improve student scores or enhance their education.

In fact, government’s increased role and the obscene amount of power accumulated by teachers unions has made even a discussion about reform almost impossible. Even though the unions and big government have failed catastrophically, somehow it is those who dare question the wisdom of expanding the federal government’s role in the classroom who are denigrated as undermining our children’s education.

The time has come to end what President Ronald Reagan once called “President Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle.” Our founders understood that is foolishness to think politicians and bureaucrats in Washington – many of whom have never taught in the classroom a day in their lives – know what is best for students in the diverse cities, cultures and regions across America.

They never have and never will.

With our national debt at $13.5 trillion – $43,000 per man, woman and child – and climbing, we no longer have the option of indulging in the failed spend-our-way-to-success education policies of recent years. Plus, the rest of the world isn’t going to stop advancing while politicians in Washington pander to unions and demagogue reformers as being anti-education.

The American people are demanding a serious debate about education because they know our system is broken. The time has come for bold solutions that begin with getting Washington out of the way. Only then can we hope to implement the reforms that all of our children deserve.


British government scraps the 'no touching' rule for teachers in bid to let them assert more authority

‘No touch’ rules that discourage teachers from restraining or comforting children are to be scrapped, the Education Secretary said last night. Michael Gove also signalled the coalition was pushing ahead with controversial plans to give teachers a right to anonymity when faced by allegations from pupils.

‘At the moment if you want to become au fait with what this department thinks on how to keep order in class you have to read the equivalent of War and Peace,’ he said. ‘There are about 500 pages of guidance on discipline and another 500 pages on bullying. We will clarify and shrink that.

‘Teachers worry that if they assert a degree of discipline, one determined maverick pupil will say “I know my rights” and so teachers become reticent about asserting themselves.

‘There are a number of schools that have “no touch” policies and we are going to make clear this rule does not apply. I don’t believe you should be able to hit children. ‘But I do believe that teachers need to know they can physically restrain children, they can interpose themselves between two children that may be causing trouble, and they can remove them from the classroom.

‘The important thing is that teachers know they are in control, and this department and the justice system will back them.’

Insisting that teachers should be able to console victims of bullying, he made light-hearted reference to the David Cameron hug-a-hoodie story, joking: ‘Teachers should not have to think youths have to wear hoodies before they can comfort them.’

Mr Gove promised to give teachers a general right to search children for any items that are banned under a school’s rules.

At present, the list was too restrictive and a legal minefield, he added. He also vowed to speed up the timetable by which allegations against teachers have to be investigated, or dropped.

Just before the general election, the Labour government clarified guidance to say that teachers were allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ when dealing with troublesome pupils.

However, Ed Balls, who was Children’s Secretary under Gordon Brown, insisted it was a ‘myth’ that some schools employed no-contact policies.

Mr Gove said he wanted voluntary groups and city academies to take over units for excluded children, which are currently run by councils. He said the units were the ‘weak link in the chain’ and also promised that the pupil premium for schools taking poor children would survive the cutbacks.