Saturday, November 06, 2010

SCOTUS debates tax credit for religious schools

Deciphering the constitutional principle that government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion’’ is almost always a guarantee of a divided Supreme Court.

And so it was again yesterday as the justices reviewed an Arizona program that lets taxpayers send part of their state taxes to organizations that provide millions of dollars in scholarships to private religious schools.

The court’s liberal members sharply questioned whether the program is just a way for the state to provide tax money to religious schools and noted that it almost certainly would be unconstitutional if the contributions came directly from the state.

Conservatives indicated that the program offers just a different version of the widely accepted practice of providing tax breaks for people who make charitable contributions.

The Obama administration weighed in on the side of Arizona and argued that taxpayers challenging the program do not have the right to bring the lawsuit. So absolute was the government on the latter point that it seemed to take the nation’s former top appellate lawyer — now Justice Elena Kagan — by surprise.

Kagan told her former deputy, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, that he was advancing a “silly and fictional’’ interpretation of the court’s past decisions on what taxpayers must prove before they can challenge a government spending decision.

For 13 years, Arizona has allowed residents to send up to $500 of what they owe the state in income taxes — $1,000 for a married couple — to a private “student tuition organization.’’

The organizations, which get about $55 million a year, provide scholarships to private schools. The organizations are allowed to limit scholarships to students at private religious schools.

Some taxpayers sued, saying the structure effectively forces parents who want the scholarships to send their children to religious schools.

Katyal told the justices that lower courts should not have let the taxpayer suit go forward. Because they did not participate in the program, he said, “not a cent, not a fraction of a cent’’ of their money went into any religious school’s coffers.

Taxpayers generally are not allowed to sue over government spending. But the court in Flast vs. Cohen in 1968 made an exception for spending alleged to violate the Establishment Clause. “Isn’t the underlying premise of Flast vs. Cohen that the Establishment Clause will be unenforceable unless we recognize taxpayer standing?’’ Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.

Katyal said no, adding that he does not think any taxpayer had the right to challenge the Arizona program. But whether the money involved is even state money is the heart of the argument.

Paul Bender, who represented residents challenging the program, said it is different from a more traditional charitable donation, where the donor receives a tax deduction. “When a taxpayer makes a charitable deduction, that charitable deduction is made from the taxpayer’s money,’’ he said. But the money at stake here is raised by the state income tax and owed to the state.

Some justices said they were not sure about such a distinction. “I must say, I have some difficulty that any money that the government doesn’t take from me is still the government’s money,’’ Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

The court already has ruled that parents may use government vouchers to send children to private secular and religious schools, and some conservative justices argued that Arizona’s program is no different.

But Bender said the difference is that with vouchers, the state gives money to parents, and they make the choice. In Arizona, he said, the money goes to the tuition organizations, some of which make it available to parents only if they send their children to religious schools.


Dumbing down in Arizona

It's all over but the post-mortems as the politicos and pundits do their endless thing after every election, analyzing and re-analyzing the entrails to explain the results and predict the future.

Despite all the hoopla as the returns poured in, a far more important, and formative, election was held here in Arkansas weeks ago -- part of a disturbing national trend. It took place on Thursday, October 14, on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Last week's midterms may determine the country's course for the next a couple of years, but this vote could shape a couple of generations.

Because in this referendum, the faculty of the university's college of arts and sciences decided to hollow out its curriculum. By a 2-to-1 vote -- 75 to 37 -- the faculty agreed with the administration to cut the core requirements for undergraduate students from 66 credit hours to only 35, or just about in half.

Why? To assure that the university will grant more degrees. Never mind whether the degree will be worth as much in the future; what counts is the degree itself, the paper credential, the sheer number of college graduates in the state, not how well they're educated. A degree is a degree, right? Who'll know the difference?

What matters isn't the quality of the education a student may receive, but the number of diplomas granted. Because the more degrees per capita, the more economic development. The statistics and graphs and pie charts and PowerPoints all say so. The more degrees, the higher per capita income. Correlation is causation!

So let's churn out more degrees and the state will prosper. This theory is also known as ignorance is bliss. There are few things more frightening, as Goethe noted, than ignorance in action. Unless it is assuring that future generations will be more ignorant still.

The news story that reported the faculty's vote noted that the university's core curriculum "is known for being thorough and extensive." Make that was known. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni may have put the University of Arkansas on its A list when it came to course requirements, along with schools like Baylor, the University of Texas and the City University of New York.

To the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fayetteville, William Schwab, the old curriculum was "bloated." And had to be cut down to size.

So now, for example, physics and biology majors may not need to have a foreign language. Why, sure. Why should students in the sciences need a foreign language any more than students in the humanities -- literature, say, or history -- need to know anything about biology?

Under the new regime, each department can designate its own required courses. The common core of courses that all students of the arts and sciences at the university once shared will be split up and dealt out among the different departments, like the spoils of war.

Jose Ortega y Gasset saw all this coming long ago -- in "The Revolt of the Masses" (1930) -- when he called it "the barbarism of specialization." The phenomenon will be well known to anyone who was ever buttonholed by some specialist so well trained in his own field that he considers his ideas about all other subjects authoritative. For example, the financier who knows how the country should be run, the politician who considers himself an intellectual, the doctor who knows everything about everything. ... The barbarian as specialist is a familiar enough type. They're everywhere.

To quote Ortega, whose words from the last century still resound so powerfully in ours, if only anyone were listening:

"The specialist 'knows' very well his own tiny corner of the universe; he is radically ignorant of all the rest. ... For previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the ignorant, those more or less the one, and those more or less the other. But your specialist cannot be brought under either of those two categories. He is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter his specialty; but neither is he ignorant because he is a 'scientist,' and 'knows' very well his own tiny portion of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line. And such in fact is the behavior of the specialist. In politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he will adopt the attitudes of primitive, ignorant man; but he will adopt them forcefully and with self-sufficiency...."

No one is more of a specialist today than the educantist who is bent on reducing the widest spheres of knowledge to his own narrow limits and obscure vocabulary. The barbarians of specialization are no longer at the gates; they're in the citadel. They're even in charge of administering it. And their will must not be defied. To quote the dean's statement after the faculty vote: "It's behind us now. We can move forward in creating a new core." No doubt a specialized one.

Yet there were members of the faculty who stood fast in defense of the old requirements. The university's mathematics department passed a resolution against this mutilation of the university's core requirements. And then there were the valiant Thirty-Seven who voted against it at this meeting of the faculty. One thinks of Cavafy's poem:

Honor to those who in their lives are committed and guard their Thermopylae. Never stirring from duty; just and upright in all their deeds, but with pity and compassion, too . . . always speaking the truth, but without rancor for those who lie. And they merit greater honor when they foresee (as many do foresee) that Ephialtes will finally appear, and in the end the Medes will go through.

Despite those who defended their academic honor to the end, the barbarians have broken through once more, as they have again and again at universities across the country that have chosen to engage not in education but deconstruction, and for whom the old standards with their height and breadth are but outdated impediments.

For these bureaucrats, the task of the new, improved university is to issue more and more degrees, and so produce more and more ranks of learned ignoramuses, certified specialists in their own tiny, cramped, isolated, thought-proof compartments, certain that they know best. If you seek them, just look in the administrative offices.


British schools given the right to fire anti-immigration teachers

Headteachers will be given new powers to sack teachers who are members of the BNP or other 'extremist' groups. The previous government ruled out banning BNP members from teaching after an independent inquiry decided it would be 'disproportionate'.

But Michael Gove, the education secretary, said he couldn't see how membership of the far-right party 'can co-exist with shaping young minds'. His decision to overturn the existing rules follows the case of a BNP activist who used a school laptop to post comments describing some immigrants as 'filth'.

Adam Walker, a teacher at a school in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, wrote on an online forum that Britain was a 'dumping ground for the filth of the third world'. But he was cleared of racial and religious intolerance by a disciplinary panel in June.

Mr Gove told The Guardian: 'I don't believe that membership of the BNP is compatible with being a teacher. 'One of the things I plan to do is to allow headteachers and governing bodies the power and confidence to be able to dismiss teachers engaging in extremist activity. 'I would extend that to membership of other groups which have an extremist tenor.'

The move was welcomed by the NASUWT teaching union. General Secrertary Chris Keates said: 'I hope this is something Michael Gove takes forward as quickly as possible. 'It is an important part of safeguarding the interests of young people.'


Friday, November 05, 2010

Arizona Civil Rights Initiative Passes; NAS Hails Victory

Yesterday Arizonans approved a ballot initiative that prohibits racial preferences in the state’s public institutions, including public colleges and universities. The Arizona Civil Rights Initiative (AzCRI), known as Proposition 107, passed with 60% of the vote.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) counts the passage of Proposition 107 as a significant victory in the fight for merit-based higher education.

“Once again,” noted Stephen H. Balch, chairman of the NAS, “the American people have demonstrated they understand that basic fairness and good education require individuals to be treated as individuals rather than as the representatives of artificially defined identity groups. Higher education in Arizona will be strengthened through the restoration of this principle.”

Earlier this year, NAS submitted an official argument in favor of Prop. 107 which all Arizona citizens received.

The argument called on voters to reaffirm the “basic ideal” that all men are created equal, pointing out that “It is as students that our young men and women come to full knowledge of America’s heritage of rights and freedoms. By making higher education a color- and gender-coded experience, this comprehension is undermined.”

Proposition 107 is the latest among similar initiatives which have already been approved in California, Washington, Michigan, and Nebraska.


Failing British schools to be turned into academies (charters) under new government plans aimed at tackling low attainment

Thousands of under-performing schools will be forcibly converted into independent academies in a crackdown unveiled by ministers today. Education Secretary Michael Gove urged town halls to relinquish control of persistently weak schools and hand them over to outside sponsors. Councils should identify hitlists of the worst schools in their area where 'students have been poorly served for years', he said.

If authorities fail to act, Mr Gove will use new powers to impose academy status on under-achieving schools himself.

In a speech to council chiefs today, Mr Gove revealed that schools judged 'satisfactory' by education watchdog Ofsted were in danger of being targeted - as well as those deemed to be failing. Thousands of primary and secondary schools could eventually be included in the crackdown.

The measures are certain to infuriate classroom unions who see the academies programme as an assault on state education.

The initiative, spelled out at a conference in Manchester, marks a dramatic acceleration of Mr Gove's academies revolution. The part-private schools, introduced by Labour and embraced by the Tories, are funded by the state but operate outside council control.

They are run by sponsors - private companies, church groups, charities, universities or philanthropists - who are granted powers to set the schools' curriculum, staff pay and academic calendar.

Mr Gove has already allowed schools judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted to convert into academies and benefit from the greater freedoms. They effectively sponsor themselves. And the Education Secretary has signalled that he wants all schools to eventually become academies, either through choice or coercion. Some 350 are already open in England.

Speaking to delegates at the National Conference of Directors of Children's and Adult Services in Manchester, Mr Gove said: 'I would like local authorities to consider more schools for academy status where both attainment and pupil progression are low and where schools lack the capacity to improve themselves.'

Councils should also target schools which Ofsted has branded inadequate or merely satisfactory, Mr Gove said. Ofsted considers 29 per cent of primaries to be satisfactory and three per cent inadequate, and 31 per cent of secondaries to be satisfactory, with six per cent inadequate. It means nearly a third of England's 20,000 schools are judged not to be providing a 'good' education.

Officials stressed yesterday the crackdown would only target satisfactory schools if their leadership was judged to be weak or they showed little capacity to improve.

A White Paper due to be published later this month will set out the measures that will be used to assess whether a school is under-performing. But Mr Gove said: 'These should be regarded as guidelines, not rigid criteria. 'Where schools fall outside these benchmarks but local authorities consider that schools would still benefit from the involvement of sponsors I would encourage local authorities to make proposals for the conversion of those schools [into academies].' Labour had defined under-performance too narrowly, according to Mr Gove.

The previous Government ran a similar scheme with intervention targeted at secondary schools where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gained five A* to C grades at GCSE, including the three Rs.

Mr Gove said primary schools should also be involved and added: 'Too many under-performing schools that were above the minimum threshold we inherited have not received sufficient attention and support.' Some achieved apparently respectable results but were failing to do well enough given the ability of their pupils, he warned.

Mr Gove said he would use his own powers to force academy status on weak schools if local authorities fail to intervene. Under the Coalition's Academies Act, he can make an Academy Order to force a failing school to become an academy under new leadership.

'I will be ready to use this power in the months ahead where I judge that academy status is in the best interests of an eligible school and its pupils, and where it has not been possible to reach agreement on a way ahead with the local authority or the school or both,' he told the conference.

'Of course, I would hope that I do not need to use these powers extensively as I fully expect local authorities to use their own extensive intervention powers to bring about change in poorly performing schools that are failing to improve.'


British middle class to be charged much more for their university degrees

Given the horror figures below, many families might seek loans from a non-government source. "Only dummies need apply" seems to be the weird message

The middle classes on moderate incomes will be hardest hit by the most radical shake-up of university funding for a generation, ministers admitted. Overall, three out of four university leavers will be worse off than at present following the move to allow institutions to charge up to £9,000 a year for courses.

Successful graduates will be penalised most by the introduction of variable interest rates on the loans they take out to pay the fees. A university leaver with debts of £30,000 and an annual salary of £45,000 will have to pay back about £2,160 a year for about 30 years. Someone earning £25,000 will have to pay £360 a year for the same debts because a lower interest rate will be applied.

"Middle earning graduates will pay a lot more for their degrees over their lifetimes, and that will worry people," said Ian Mulheirn of the Social Market Foundation think tank. "They will face significant debt for the first time."

The Government yesterday confirmed that middle earners would pay the price for a series of "progressive" measures to help youngsters from deprived backgrounds. To avert a rebellion by Liberal Democrat ministers over the rise in university fees, the Coalition agreed to pay for thousands of scholarships and bursaries for pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Under the new rules, maintenance grants will be available for students from low and middle-income families. For those with a household income of less than £25,000, the grant will be £3,250 a year. Smaller grants will be paid up to an income of £42,600, after which only loans will be available.

While well-off parents will be able to protect their children by paying fees up front, middle income families will suffer, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies. "It is hard to justify why students from households with incomes of £42,600 should face larger debts than all other students doing similar priced courses," said the IFS. Student groups have estimated that some graduates could be left with debts of up to £70,000 once loans for living costs are taken into account.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said: "The Government is committed to the progressive nature of the repayment system. "Our student support system is currently one of the most generous in the world. We will make it more progressive."

But critics pointed out that middle earners would pay the price for these "progressive" measures. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, admitted that the Government would not stop millionaire parents from protecting their children from paying off student loans altogether.

He even suggested that poorer students could "work on a building site for a year" in order to raise the funds to pay off their student loans up front. "In a free society you can't force people to take out a loan," he added.

Gareth Thomas, the shadow universities minister, asked Mr Willetts why the children of "teachers, police officers and engineers" were being hit when the wealthy could afford to pay off their fees up front.

"Does he recognise how unfair the system will seem to those on middle incomes who work just as hard to get their children to university," he said. "Isn't the real truth a tragedy for a whole generation of young people?"

The University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said that graduates on the national average salary would end up with tax bills nearly 20 per cent higher than those who did not go to university.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "The Coalition is introducing a learning tax that will saddle the next generation of professionals with years of lost revenue. The message this sends is that in the UK we now penalise aspiration rather than encourage it.

"Mums and dads who just want their children to have better opportunities than they did will see this for what it is – a stealth tax on learning and aspiration.”

Legislation will be put before Parliament within weeks to raise the top amount which universities can charge for tuition fees from its current level of £3,290.

In his recent review of higher education funding, Lord Browne of Madingley, the former head of BP, suggested that universities should be permitted to charge unlimited fees.

But the Government rejected this in favour of allowing universities to set a new top limit of £6,000, with elite institutions allowed to charge up to £9,000 in “exceptional circumstances”.

Following the announcement in last month’s spending review that higher education funding would be cut by nearly £3billion a year, university chiefs said that they would be put out of business unless they charge at least £7,000.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Quinnipiac U thinks it can fight racism by being racist

Under the false flag of good intentions, Leftists encourage racism -- as they always have done. Even Karl Marx was a virulent racist

An Argus volunteer sent me an article from the student newspaper The Quinnipiac Chronicle, “Lahey Wants Black Diversity Director.” The article refers to Quinnipiac University President John Lahey and describes a meeting two weeks ago of the Student Government Association in which Lahey outlined his preferences for a new hire.

According to the Chronicle, Lahey said this person should be a “high quality African-American.” Matt Busekroos, who wrote the article, told me he attended the meeting in person and recorded, but did not transcribe, what was said.

Busekroos quotes Lahey saying, “We could fill that position tomorrow if we wanted to but we very much want, now that we have a Hispanic in the case of the chief diversity officer, an African-American for that particular position.”

And, “Even though there are more diverse, different groups that the [associate director of student diversity programming] works with, we think having that person be an African-American is very important to concluding that search.”

The position is for an “associate director of student diversity programming.” The title alone should give us pause. Student diversity programming? Besides sounding like a creepy effort to “program” students, it’s a title that needs some explaining. The responsibilities of the position are listed on the university’s website:

* Provides leadership and direction in the development, coordination, and support of student programs that promote diversity and cultural awareness

* Advise the Campus Multicultural Programming Board

* Liaison to campus multicultural student organizations

* Coordinate the ALANA-I mentor program

* Serve as a resource for all students and staff in the area of diversity awareness

ALANA-I stands for Asian, Latino, African, Native American, and international, and the mentor program is supposed to help “new students of color and international students” adapt to college life. No rationale is provided for segmenting minority students off into their own programs, nor is it clear why the associate director of student diversity programming could not be Asian, Native American, or of European origin. Latino, it appears, is already covered by Diane Ariza who was recently hired as the chief diversity officer.

For many college administrators, the ideal university is a giant support system for the chief diversity officer (see “What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Actually Do?”), and this position is intended to augment that network. Is an associate director of student diversity programming really necessary? Is funding that position a good investment of families’ tuition dollars and donors’ gifts? From the job description, it appears to be one of those posts used to extend the politically correct kingdom and to divvy students up by identity group.

I know of one woman (another Argus volunteer) at a large university in the South who has been pigeonholed into “diversity” roles specifically because of her race. She sought to escape the toxic environment of racial labeling by changing departments, but was told by her supervisor that there would be some difficulty “finding a black woman to replace you.” She recalled, “There I was,just one person sitting there, but she was seeing a group.” That’s the mistake Quinnipiac is making—failing to see the individual person.

University officials did not deny the declarations by President Lahey quoted in the Chronicle, and Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell emailed me the same “diversity” boilerplate she sent Busekroos. She wrote, “We are taking steps to increase diversity among the staff, particularly at the most senior levels. There are several recently created positions that should enable us to make further strides in this area.”

Quinnipiac, it appears, has shamelessly built racial preferences into its hiring. And it may not be just for this position. The Chronicle suggests that Ariza may have been selected because she is Hispanic: “On Tuesday, Ariza told the Chronicle she wants to believe she was hired ‘not because I was Latina, but that I was the most skilled.’ ‘And if I happen to be Latina,’ she said, ‘then good for everybody.’”

But racial preferences aren’t good for everybody. What if the candidate happens to be white? Clearly President Lahey is holding out, waiting to fill the position with a person of a particular race, and refusing to consider others.

This stands in open violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. What emboldened the president of a prestigious university to flagrantly flout the law?

We saw a similar case of indiscretion a few weeks ago at Brooklyn College, where a faculty member urged other faculty by email to “correct the lily-white imbalances” on the dean’s search committees. In that case, the faculty member let her guard down because she felt safe to do so—because academe has incubated an atmosphere in which on-the-sly racial preferences and quiet evasions of the law have become comfortable. That’s why President Lahey expected a warm reception to his endeavors to hire only an African-American, and it’s why Vice President Bushnell backed him up.


Some efforts being made to ensure that teachers can teach

Standing at the edge of a pond surrounded by her class of fourth-graders, Jasmine Zeppa filled a bucket with brown water and lectured her pupils on the science of observing and recording data. Many of the children seemed more interested in nearby geese, a passing jogger and the crunchy leaves underfoot.

Zeppa's own professor from St. Catherine University stood nearby and recorded video of it all.

"I think it went as well as it possibly could have, given her experience," the professor, Susan Gibbs Goetz, said. Her snap review: The 25-year-old Zeppa could have done a better job holding the students' attention, but did well building on past lessons.

Zeppa is among the first class of aspiring teachers who are getting ready for new, more demanding requirements to receive their teacher license. A new licensing system is being tested in 19 states that includes filming student teachers in their classroom and evaluating the video, also candidates must show they can prepare a lesson, tailor it to different levels of students and present it effectively.

Most states only require that would-be teachers pass their class work and a written test. Supporters of the new system say the Teacher Performance Assessment program is a significant improvement, while others are a little more cautious in their praise, warning that it's not guaranteed it will lead to more successful teachers.

The assessments also place responsibility for grading the would-be teachers with teams of outside evaluators who have no stake in the result. Currently, the teachers-in-training are evaluated by their colleges, which want their students to get their teaching licenses.

"It's a big shift that the whole country is going through," said Misty Sato, a University of Minnesota education professor who is helping adapt the assessments for Minnesota. "It's going from 'What has your candidate experienced?' to what your candidate can do."

Minnesota is scheduled to be the first state to adopt the new system when it implements it in 2012. Four other states —Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington — plan to implement it within five years. Fourteen more states are running pilots.

The teacher assessment program is a joint project by a consortium made up of Stanford University, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Sharon P. Robinson, president of the AACTE, an umbrella group for schools that specialize in training teachers, said the assessment will mean better teachers — and ultimately more successful students.

The assessment was developed at Stanford's Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity. Ray Pecheone, the center's executive director, said more than 12,000 teaching candidates have gone through it in four years of testing in California.

California and Arizona are the only states that currently require performance testing to license teachers. Two of California's three different performance tests use video review. The third California test and the one in Arizona requires evaluators to sit in the classrooms and observe the teachers-in-training.

Pecheone said once more states adopt the program the consortium plans to track the performance of teachers who did well on the assessment to see if their students performed better on standardized tests than those of other teachers. He said the specifics of the follow-up study haven't been decided, but he said it would make extensive use of sampling.

Karen Balmer, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Teaching, said the assessments will mean more accountability for teaching colleges. For the first time, she said, her agency will have independent data that shows how well those schools are preparing students. Those that consistently produce low-performing graduates could be ordered by the state to improve their programs.

Balmer said the student teachers will pay some of the cost of the new program — probably around the $70 they now pay for the written test in Minnesota. At least initially, students will take both tests, but Balmer said the state may consider dropping the written test in the future.

Students that bomb the assessments would likely be required to retake them. If they do not test again, some teachers could still get a Minnesota teaching license if their college determines there were special circumstances — such as if the student was ill — and recommends licensure, Balmer said.

Tom Dooher, president of the Minnesota's teachers' union said the group supported it because of its emphasis on developing real-world teaching skills. "This is what education reform should look like, for practitioners by practitioners," he said.

Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the program.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the nonpartisan National Council on Teacher Quality, said she would support any test that could predict who will be a good teacher, but she's not sure performance assessments are it. Too often, she said, the passing scores on such assessments are set so low that nearly everyone passes and the weakest teachers aren't held back.

"The track record of these kinds of assessments actually being able to separate wheat from chaff is not so persuasive," Jacobs said.


British Liberal Party leader faces student leader's anger at £9,000 cap on tuition fees

Nick Clegg faced the wrath of students today after his pre-election promise to end tuition fees was brutally exposed by a coalition plan to hike them as high as £9,000-a-year.

Furious student leaders met with the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss the Government announcement which revealed an almost three-fold increase in the current £3,290-a-year limit for the cost of courses.

Mr Clegg, who earlier appeared stony-faced in the House of Commons when Universities Minister David Willetts told MPs of the changes, was accused of a plot to 'blow up education' by one students' union leader.

The changes - which will come into effect in 2012 will see the fee threshold moved to £6,000 with some institutions able to charge £9,000 in 'exceptional circumstances'. This is a three-fold increase on the current limit of £3,290-a-year and means fees for a three-year course could hit £27,000. Students could face total debts of £40,000 once living costs are included.

The universities wanting to charge more than £6,000 will be subject to 'fair access conditions' and have to show they are improving access for disadvantaged students.

The Lib Dems fought the election promising to scrap tuition fees and have succeeded in blocking plans to allow elite universities to charge unlimited amounts.

Labour leader Ed Miliband accused the Government of 'destroying trust in politics' by breaking various pledges, including on university funding. He claimed it was a 'Government of broken promises' on fees, VAT and child benefit. 'That is what they meant by Broken Britain,' he said at PMQs. 'The Prime Minister used to say he wanted to restore trust. All he is doing, day by day, is destroying trust in politics.'

Mr Cameron retorted that Labour had 'completely broken their word' on the Browne report on university funding, which the previous government had commissioned.

He insisted Lib Dem ministers had 'all taken, frankly, some courageous and difficult decisions.' 'I think every single person in this House of Commons wants strong universities that are well funded, that have greater independence and we want to make sure that people from the poorest homes can go to the best universities in our country,' he said.

'That is what the proposals are going to achieve. They grew from a decision made by the last government to set up the Browne report and what a pity that opportunism has overtaken principle.'

Mr Willetts earlier told the Commons that the Government wanted to see universities offering scholarships to targeted students, making their first year free.

Institutions charging over the £6,000 threshold would face sanctions if they did not do enough for poorer pupils, with a proportion of their extra income diverted into outreach activities.

The Minister insisted the proposals were a 'good deal for universities and for students'.

'These proposals offer a thriving future for universities, with extra freedoms and less bureaucracy, and they ensure value for money and real choice for learners,' he said.

Today's plans will see students begin to repay their loans at 9 per cent of their income at a real rate of interest when they earn £21,000 - up from £15,000.

Outstanding loans will be written off after 30 years but those who want to pay off theirs early will be hit with a financial penalty in a victory for the Lib Dems.

Tory ministers were thought to oppose moves that would hit middle-class parents who help their children but the concession was made to their coalition partners.

Mr Willetts said: 'The Government is committed to the progressive nature of the repayment system.

'It is therefore important that those on the highest incomes post graduation are not able unfairly to buy themselves out of this progressive system by paying off their loans early.

'We will consult on potential early repayment mechanisms - similar to those paid by people who pre-pay their mortgages. These mechanisms would need to ensure that graduates on modest incomes who strive to pay off their loans early through regular payments are not penalised.'


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

MA: Charter students double in a decade

The number of children in Massachusetts charter schools has more than doubled over the past decade as parents, worried about the quality of their children’s education, have increasingly sought alternatives to traditional public schools.

Charter school enrollment climbed to 27,484 this year, up from 12,518 in 2000, according to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Globe examined enrollment trends in more than 380 school districts across the state.

“I was ready to leave the city," said Bill Choukas of Dorchester, recalling his unhappiness with the public schools when his son John was assigned to a kindergarten in a neighborhood he considered unsafe. Then his oldest child was accepted into a charter school, and his view began to change.

Now he has three children at Boston Collegiate Charter and one at Neighborhood House Charter, both in Dorchester. He loves the discipline, the uniforms, and what he sees as a good education.

Choukas is following in the footsteps of many other parents, even as some school officials and teachers unions complain that charter schools drain tax dollars from other public schools and that charter schools push out less capable students.

“What upsets my members the most is when people say charter schools are doing a better job," said Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

The schools pull a different demographic of parent and student, he added. “Charter schools, whether intentionally or not, pull away the most motivated students and parents," and that removes role models in the traditional schools, he said.

The charter schools deny those assertions. “What affluent parents always had, now everyday parents have: choice, choice, choice," said Kevin Andrews, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association and headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester.

Driving the whole movement are parents who are “tired of sending their kids to terrible schools," he said.

As the number of Massachusetts students in charter schools has doubled over the last decade, the number of schools has also grown. It stands at 63, up from 40 a decade ago, part of a national phenomenon. The number of students in charters across the country has nearly tripled over the past 10 years, to nearly 1.7 million children, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Dennis Shirley, a professor at the Boston College Lynch School of Education, described it as a push-pull situation: Parents are disenchanted with public schools while at the same time they are attracted by the test scores they see at a number of high-achieving charter schools.

Beth Toma moved her two girls to South Shore Charter School in Norwell after her older daughter had a “horrendous experience" with a Weymouth elementary school teacher.

“That was the turning point," said Toma, who helps runs the school library. Weymouth schools were much cooler to having parents volunteer in the classroom, she said, while at the charter she has helped run reading discussions.

Amanda, her older daughter, decided to return to Weymouth High because the larger school offered more in the way of sports and club activities. However, Faith, a seventh-grader, “loves the school."

Charter schools are public schools, funded with public tax dollars, which operate under fewer regulatory restrictions and are usually independent of school districts. Most do not have teachers unions. Admittance may be determined by lottery. Many supporters see charter schools as laboratories for educational innovation.

About 10 charter schools in Massachusetts have fewer than 200 students, and only five have more than 1,000, including the largest, Sabis International in Springfield, with about 1,600.

The growth in charter schools is set against a backdrop of changing enrollments throughout the state’s public schools.

Statewide, about 170 school districts have more children than a decade ago, while more than 200 districts have lost students, state enrollment figures show.

Overall, there are 960,000 public school students, including the charter school students. But charter school students now make up a larger percentage of the statewide enrollment total — about 2.8 percent of that total — than they did 10 years ago.

Charter schools have been operating in Massachusetts since the mid-1990s, and many of the schools boast high MCAS scores and college entrance rates, but are still controversial with some school officials and public teachers unions. A major concern is financial; when students leave for a charter, state education dollars go with them, and that can have a substantial impact. For example, Boston expects to lose about $50 million next year.

The state has used various funding formulas to compensate public schools. A new formula this year reimburses public schools for several years for the students they have lost to charter schools.

The change in reimbursement was part of a major education law signed by Governor Deval Patrick this year that could also allow doubling the number of charter schools in the state’s lowest-performing districts.

The new reimbursement formula has quieted debate, officials said, but there is still dissent. “You can’t make up that money, even though the state does provide a gradual adjustment," said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Nevertheless, parents are still flocking to charters. Thomas Connors of Hyde Park has had two daughters at the Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter in Hyde Park, and both have done well. He likes the progress reports that parents get every two weeks on everything from homework to class participation.

“People are really seeking options for quality education for their children and they increasingly see charter schools as a good option," said Susan Thompson, executive director of the Academy of the Pacific Rim, which has grown from 185 students in 2000 to nearly 500.

The school year at the academy is 190 days — 10 days longer than the state requirement — and the day for middle-schoolers lasts from 7:45 to 4:15 p.m. Classes in Mandarin start in seventh grade, and 16 or 17 children each year go to an exchange school in China, some staying for three months.

If there is still antagonism between public schools and charters, there are also signs that they can work together. The Neighborhood House Charter and the Boston public schools system have a partnership, in which Neighborhood House teachers work with teachers from the Harbor Middle School on math instruction.

“The goal is to learn successful practices, wherever they are," said Carol Johnson, Boston school superintendent.


British Universities to be forced to meet quota of underprivileged students

Universities will be forced to meet a quota of students from less well off backgrounds or face being stripped of hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding. Elite institutions including Oxford and Cambridge are to be ordered to increase the number of pupils they accept from state schools by around 300 a year.

More youngsters from less well off regions and from low-income families will also have to be taken on, along with increased levels of ethnic minority students.

Those who fail to meet “benchmarks” set by the Office for Fair Access will forfeit up to a third of the funding they receive in the form of higher tuition fees to be paid by students from 2012. The money would be used to fund schemes designed to recruit more teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Top universities are expected to resist the plans, to be outlined by David Willetts, the Universities Minister, in a Commons statement today.

They were drawn up during hours of wrangling between the Coalition partners amid fears that up to half of the Liberal Democrat MPs could rebel against the decision to nearly treble tuition fees from their current level of £3,290. All of the party’s 57 MPs signed a pledge before the general election to scrap tuition fees altogether.

However, after last month’s announcement that the higher education budget would be slashed by nearly £3 billion as part of the Government’s austerity drive, universities warned that they would not be able to compete internationally without being able to charge significantly higher fees. A review of higher education led by Lord Browne of Madingley, the former head of BP, suggested that the charging cap be scrapped altogether.

Mr Willetts is expected to reject this, and set a new ceiling of between £6,000 and £9,000.

Some universities, including most of the former polytechnics, are likely to charge less £6,000, allowing them to compete for students who do not want to be saddled with major debts. Any institution charging more than £6,000 will have to abide by the quotas which are already set annually by the Office for Fair Access, but which the elite universities in particular often fail to meet.

Last year, Oxford, which has an overall student population of more than 20,000, was ordered to take an extra 270 state school pupils every year for five years – an increase of 4.25 per cent. However, numbers actually fell by 1.5 per cent. Out of an intake of 3,200 pupils in 2009, 1,456 were from state schools and only one was from a black Caribbean background

Universities will be free to decide how to improve participation levels, for example by holding more open days for sixth formers from state schools, or by introducing mentoring schemes. Those who miss their targets will be stripped of a proportion of their funding, and will be required by law to use the money to fund outreach schemes.

In the past, the heads of the elite universities have resisted political pressure to institute “social engineering” in higher education, saying that problem is caused by failures in the system at primary school age.

But a source said: “The Government is allowing universities to charge significantly higher fees – in return, we hope that they appreciate their responsibility to improve social mobility. “The universities are not being given a licence to charge whatever they want. “We want to ensure that the doors to every university are open to children from low income backgrounds wherever they come from.”

Universities will be required to meet benchmarks relating to the numbers of students they accept from three separate groups – relating to low income areas of the country, schools with below average numbers of pupils going on to higher education, and those from deprived families.

A senior Liberal Democrat source said that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was confident that his MPs would be won round by the plans, amid reports that as many as 30 had been considering rebelling. The source added: “No one is suggesting that this won’t be easy but what we have been able to do to ensure that low income students are not adversely affected is so significant that we are expecting far more abstentions than votes against.”

Mr Willetts is also expected to announce that graduates will be required to repay student loans on their tuition fees at a rate which will be set at three percentage points above inflation.

A study by the National Union of Students yesterday found that nearly eight out of 10 young people would be put off going to university if fees were raised to £10,000. Aaron Porter, the president of the NUS, said: "Tripling tuition fees would mean thousands of students being put off going to university with students who do go forced to take the bullet for university heads more concerned with lining their pockets than improving education."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College union, added: "England faces the frightening prospect of becoming the most expensive country in the world in which to study at a public university.”


British government declares war on degrees without prospects as university fees are set to hit £9,000 a year

Ministers today declare war on pointless degrees as they prepare to allow universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 a year. Universities Minister David Willetts has vowed to weed out poor quality courses which do little or nothing to improve students’ job prospects.

He wants to rate degrees by the employment rates and salaries of graduates, handing parents and prospective students a mass of information with which to judge their value.

Mr Willetts told the Daily Mail he also wants the best degrees to be given ‘kite marks’ by professional associations as an indication that they are rated highly by employers. Weaker courses would be forced to improve or wither on the vine.

The move comes in tandem with a hugely controversial increase in the cap on university fees, which will be announced to MPs today after last-minute wrangling between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

Rumours were swirling around Westminster that at least one junior Lib Dem member of the government would resign in protest. The Lib Dems, who fought the election promising to scrap tuition fees, have succeeded in blocking plans to allow elite universities to charge unlimited amounts. Instead they will be able to levy fees of up to £9,000 a year, a three-fold increase on the current limit £3,290 a year, from 2012.

Fees for a three-year course could total £27,000 and students could find themselves saddled with £40,000 debts once living costs are included.

Those universities that want to charge more than £6,000 will be subject to ‘fair access conditions’ and will have to demonstrate they are improving access for disadvantaged students, leaving the Government open to charges of social engineering.

The issue of redemption penalties for those who want to pay off loans early is thought to be unresolved. The Lib Dems favour a large penalty to prevent students who go into well-paid jobs benefiting by paying off their debts in a lump sum, but Tory ministers are thought to oppose moves that would hit middle-class parents who help their children.

With graduate unemployment at its highest level in nearly two decades, Mr Willetts said it was vital that parents and students were given better information about whether courses were good value for money in terms of employment rates and salaries.

He also plans to make university admissions body Ucas provide clear information on the standard of teaching, library and IT facilities, weekly contact hours with lecturers, and the cost of halls of residence.

Mr Willetts said: ‘This will give students and their parents the information they really need and value, about everything from the amount of time they’re actually going to get taught to what their job chances and salaries are likely to be. ‘At last, students will be able to see the courses that can get the jobs they aspire to and those that do not perform well.’

Increasing numbers of students have opted for fashionable new courses at the expense of traditional subjects over the last decade. But more than 21,000 who graduated last year were still without work six months later, and 55,000 ended up in stop-gap jobs such as bar work.

Today ministers are expected to announce a public consultation, led by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, into their proposed ‘information revolution’ in the university sector.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Outrage at banning spelling tests

Lazy teachers don't want to teach

The documentary “Waiting for Superman,” is yet another call for K-12 school reform aimed at closing the gap between academic achievers and non-achievers and promoting what an assistant superintendent in my school district once oxymoronically labeled “mass excellence.”

The problem is that school reformers are not really serious about raising the bar. After all, they continue to dumb-down education – adopting the slogan from the Chris Farley movie Tommy Boy, “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Lower the Standard” – while claiming to be smarting up. How one can do higher-order thinking in math, social studies, or any other discipline while clueless about lower-order knowledge and skills remains a mystery to those of us who are not in tune with the latest best practices in K-12.

The latest example of dumbing-down while pretending to be smarting up is the trend toward eliminating spelling tests. The evidence I report here comes from a couple local school districts in the St. Louis area. (Stay tuned for this development in your own district if it has not already occurred.) In a September 18 St Louis Post-Dispatch article by Aisha Sultan, “Coming to the Defense of Spelling Tests,” the writer notes that two of the largest, best school districts in Missouri – Parkway and Rockwood – “have completely phased out spelling tests from their elementary school language arts curricula.”

Asked by astounded parents how this could be so, the Parkway coordinator for elementary communication arts replied that “we were developing a lot of Friday morning spellers.” Likewise, the Rockwood coordinator said “we’re really trying to work on self-regulation,” that is, getting children to develop their own strategies for becoming good spellers.

The districts say they will continue to teach lessons about spelling and may even hold students accountable for spelling certain words correctly, but spelling is a skill that will be embedded in student writing routines. The bottom line is that educators say spelling tests are not authentic assessments.

On the surface this sounds reasonable, but let’s understand what is actually going on:

1. Many kids cannot spell (due to dyslexia, or laziness because they do not read, or because they are just plain stupid, or whatever), and it is true that no amount of spelling tests are going to get them to spell. But many kids can spell or at least could spell, and spelling tests undoubtedly work to help many of the latter through the important function they perform in terms of drill, reinforcement, and motivation to learn to spell.

It certainly worked for me in my own schooling! Am I alone? Any number of experts have pointed out the utility of drill and practice as a pedagogical method, most recently those cited in the September 19th New York Times Sunday Magazine article “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

However, given the reigning orthodoxy in K-12, since some kids cannot do well on spelling tests, then no kids should be allowed to take spelling tests. It is about self-esteem, avoiding failure, some learning styles (e.g., inability to memorize) not being served by such tests, etc., but is rationalized as “inauthentic assessment” in the pretentious jargon of the profession.

I do not give a darn about authentic/schmentic assessment. Use whatever assessments you want, but at the end of the day I want to see progress. Show me that “authentic” assessments do anything to improve spelling. You can bet that the educators behind this fad will not be able to demonstrate such. I spoke to a Parkway high school English teacher who shared my skepticism. So the question remains, what harm do spelling tests do that they need to be banned?

This is just another case of K-12 progressive educators devaluing the basics, putting down spelling tests (because in truth they don’t care if kids can spell) just as they put down computation skills (because they don’t care if kids have automaticity with math facts), rationalizing all the while that schools should focus on developing (sniff, sniff) “higher order skills.”

Part of this is ego on the part of K-8 educators – they now consider it beneath them as “professionals” to get their hands dirty administering spelling tests (and multiplication table exercises) – but mostly it is something more damning: it is not so much that the reformers don’t care about these skills but rather they do not have enough faith in kids to succeed at mastering them. The dark secret the reformers will not admit is that the basics are hard and they have thrown in the towel on things like spelling.

This is what is going on in Parkway and Rockwood, and throughout much of the country. The banning of spelling tests is a metaphor for a much larger phenomenon. The bottom – the lowest achievers – are now setting the standard and defining school routines.

At the same time, the reformers claim every kid is a potential genius – Superman – even if they cannot spell “its” vs. “it’s,” “their” vs. “there,” or “Superman” vs. “Souperman.” In our pursuit of mass excellence, we continue to throw the baby out with the bathwater, abandoning traditional if imperfect practices in favor of new unproven ones. Meanwhile, it takes a layperson to point out what PLCs (“professional learning communities”) seem unable to grasp – in the words of the Post-Dispatch writer and parent, “killing the weekly spelling test is more likely to worsen the problem than improve it.”


Most British parents find school admissions stressful

Getting your kid into a safe school can be a nightmare in Britain

Parents believe England's school admissions system is an unfair and confusing process, with many admitting they will go to any lengths to secure a favoured place for their child, a poll suggests today.

Six in 10 parents (60 per cent) say they found it, or are finding it stressful not knowing if their youngster will get a place at their preferred school. And nearly one in four (24 per cent) admit they feel the whole application procedure is confusing and overwhelming.

The poll, conducted by the parenting website Netmums, comes as parents across England submit their secondary school application forms. The deadline for many areas was yesterday.

The findings show that parents are concerned about the choice of school in their area, with over half (53 per cent) saying there is a big difference between their preferred school and the others in their area - enough for them to feel it really mattered, or matters which one they get a place at.

A breakdown reveals this is true of parents of children of all ages, with 56 per cent of parents with children of secondary school saying there was a difference, along with 57 per cent of those with pre-schoolers and 54 per cent of those with primary age youngsters.

More than four in 10 (44 per cent) of all the parents questioned said their child was worried they would be split up from their friends, while a similar proportion (39 per cent) found it difficult to understand why they might not get a place in the school they wanted to go to.

Nearly one in four parents (24 per cent) did not think their local admissions system was fair, with one in six (15 per cent) saying all areas should be moved to a "lottery system". Under this process children's names are effectively picked out of a hat and allocated schools.

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of Netmums, said: "Applying for a secondary school is both terrifying and stressful - as a parent you know that this decision will impact on not only your child's education but also on their friendship circle, social life, extra curricular activities and sense of self."

The poll found that the distance from school process is still most commonly used to allocate places, but not everyone is in favour of it. More than one in four (26 per cent) of the parents polled said they felt this method is unfair because it can cause house prices to rise in the area, which would leave only better-off families able to afford it.

But the process of selecting pupils based on ability, used by many grammar schools, is also unpopular, with a third (34 per cent) saying it is wrong that some state schools use entrance exams, because children that are privately tutored have a better chance.

The survey also asked parents the lengths they are willing to go to in order to obtain a place at a good school. Nearly six in 10 (57 per cent) said they would be willing to move house, while nearly half (43 per cent) simply said they would do "whatever it takes".

Just under one in 10 (9 per cent) said they would lie about where they live, over one in five (22 per cent) said they would go to church just to get their child into a good school, and over one in 10 (11 per cent) said they would give a cash donation to their preferred school to increase the chance of their child being accepted.

Parents of younger children are more likely to go to any lengths with 43 per cent of those with pre-schoolers and 44 per cent of those with primary age children saying they will do whatever it takes, compared to 39 per cent of those with secondary age youngsters.

If their child does not get a preferred place, more than one in four parents (27 per cent) said they would fight the decision "all the way", while almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) said they would appeal. Just one in five (21 per cent) said they would accept the decision.

Ms Freegard added: "It is possible to affect the outcome of the often-convoluted admissions process by moving house and/or by paying for home tutors to school your child through exams. Unfortunately this means the system often favours middle class parents, leaving others without those means at their disposal feeling powerless and sidelined."

The poll questioned 1,565 parents in October.


Britain: School bullying coverup now before a tribunal

Carol Hill, 61, who dragged four boys away from Chloe David, seven, after discovering they had tied her to a chain-link fence and whipped her with a skipping rope was sacked after disclosing the event to the girl's mother.

Deborah Crabb, headmistress at Great Tey Primary School, Colchester, Essex, wrote to Claire and Scott David claiming their daughter had been 'hurt in a skipping rope incident'.

Carol, who was suspended for breaching pupil confidentiality after she told Claire how the injuries occurred, claims she was made a 'scapegoat' and sacked as part of a 'cover up'.

She appeared at an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, today where she alleged unfair dismissal against the school. Before the hearing Carol said: 'I just want my job back because I haven’t done anything wrong. I love the job and I love the school.'

Headmistress Mrs Crabb sent a letter to Chloe’s parents Claire, 29, and Scott, 33, a steel worker, from Chappell, Essex, explaining she had been hurt in an ‘incident’. But Carol told Claire the details of the bullying and abuse later the same day at Beaver Scouts where they volunteered together.

Carol, who earned £6.20-an-hour as a dinner lady, was called into Mrs Crabb’s office a week after the incident and suspended for breaching confidentiality.

She was dismissed from her post for gross misconduct in September 2009 after she appeared before a disciplinary hearing chaired by a panel of three governors. An internal appeal against the dismissal was thrown out in November 2009 despite former education minister Ed Balls writing a letter demanding an investigation.

Carol has lost over a stone in weight since her dismissal and is suffering from stress induced high blood pressure.

She claims unfair dismissal because her rights have been infringed under article 10 of the European Convention, the right to freedom of expression. Carol also claims she wasn’t given sufficient notice before her dismissal.

Mrs Crabb told the tribunal that the school has received 80 hate mail letters, 150 emails and 'numerous' phone calls following the incident. She said: 'I remember seeing the school secretary literally shaking when one email was received from an unknown sender.'


Monday, November 01, 2010

Feds blink in standoff with Christian colleges

Religious schools now expecting to be protected from political influence of Education Department

The federal government apparently has blinked in a standoff with private Christian colleges over a proposal that would bring the schools under the regulation of the political powers in their states.

Colorado Christian University President Bill Armstrong has told WND that the rules proposed by the Education Department are the "greatest threat to academic freedom in our lifetime."

Obama's Department of Education – where Secretary Arne Duncan appointed a longtime homosexual activist who was part of the violent Act Up organization to head his "safe schools" office – has recommended that all colleges be required to have a state license. Critics say the license could enable the government to have a say in curriculum, graduation requirements and other issues.

An analysis by Shapri D. LoMaglio of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities said the feds wanted to require colleges to "have a document of state approval … to operate an educational program."

Joining Armstrong in his alarm over the plans were former Colorado state Sen. Hank Brown, who has served as president of the University of Colorado system, as well as prominent columnists Cal Thomas and Jay Ambrose.

Now Armstrong has confirmed for WND that the new rules have been published. But there were dozens of changes in the nearly 900 pages of fine print that appear to provide for an exemption for religious colleges from the government oversight.

"The rules published today contain 82 changes from the original proposal, including 'concessions' to colleges and universities, adopted in response to adverse congressional and public comment," he said in an e-mail. "Schools will be able to continue using their own definition of 'credit hour' when awarding academic credit and 'religious and tribal institutions' will be exempted from state oversight … according to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education," he said.

Armstrong told WND he's not ready to declare victory until he has an opportunity to analyze the hundreds of pages of new instructions. But it appears that the plans will offer the relief that private, and especially Christian schools, would need.

He had raised concerns about political influence on school operations as significant as classroom instruction. For example, a pro-abortion state official theoretically could have required a Christian school to teach "safe sex" to continue operating. Or the government could have demanded that the theory of evolution be taught as fact.

"The religious exemption could be of tremendous significance to Colorado Christian University and other faith-based schools. But it's too soon to 'declare victory' because, as always, 'the devil is in the details.' It will take a while to sift through this massive document and understand exactly what has happened. However, one thing is sure – more control over students, faculty, staff and the nation’s colleges and universities. What a pity!" Armstrong said.

"Fortunately, the rule is 'final' in name only. Congress retains power to overturn the department's action, if it wishes to do so. In recent weeks, I have spoken to three members of the Senate Committee which has jurisdiction over the Department of Education, along with Senate and House staffers. They're as upset as we are about what's going on," he said.

According to the Chronicle, the Education Department experienced "heavy pressure" from colleges on some of the issues at stake.

Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, told the Chronicle that is seems the federal agency "tried to address some of the concerns that have been raised." He, too, however, noted that colleges are reserving judgment pending the examination of the hundreds of thousands of words. "Everybody in D.C. knows that the devil is in the details," he told the Chronicle. "They haven't provided any."

School officials earlier said colleges already have to qualify to operate by meeting the requirements of the various relatively independent education councils.

Thomas, in a column for Tribune Media Services, warned the rules could have had a major impact. "If imposing outside agendas – from textbook content to course selection – is supposedly bad when conservatives do it (mostly in reaction to the liberal assault on any ideas that conflict with theirs), why is it not equally onerous when liberals push for state control and the dictation of course content at private colleges and universities?" Thomas questioned.

Further, Ambrose, a longtime editor with Scripps Howard News Service, said the proposal's possible impacts "are enormous, including a frightening assault on academic freedom as crucial decisions are transferred from faculty and administrators to bureaucrats and legislative bosses who just might use weapons of mass authority to demolish instruction of a kind they don't like."

"What strikes me (and Armstrong, too) is that the move is more of the same," Ambrose continued. "The Obama administration does not much trust liberty. If something out there sneezes, regulate it. Surround it with endless pages of rules, blankets and blankets of rules, enough rules to smother the slightest hope of autonomy. Do more if necessary. Take over things. Take over health care. Take over the auto industry. Take over financial institutions. Government knows all. Government should do all. Government, we praise thee!"


Britain's top government schools will now be allowed to expand

The best state schools will be allowed to expand to meet demand for pupil places for the first time, it can be disclosed. Under plans being drawn up by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, primary and secondary schools will be freed from limits imposed by councils and be able to take on more students. Top-performing schools will be allowed to accept a greater number of students, and gain tens of thousands of pounds extra funding.

Successful schools are likely to get bigger, as more pupils flood in, while poor-performing schools could see numbers decline sharply and be forced to close. Complex admissions procedures will also be simplified to make them less bureaucratic and easier to understand for parents.

The news came as applications closed for places at secondary schools for next September in many parts of England and Wales. Tens of thousands of children are likely to miss out on their first-choice school because the best are oversubscribed. An estimated 100,000 children did not get into their first-choice school last year.

A report published today by the admissions watchdog said hundreds of families were complaining over schools’ admissions rules. Ian Craig, the adjudicator who runs the complaints process, said there were nearly 400 objections to admissions decisions last year.

The new plans to allow the best schools to take more pupils will form part of an education White Paper to be published later this month. Normally, the number of pupils that state schools can take is set by local authorities and can be exceeded only in exceptional circumstances. However, there is concern in Whitehall that councils are limiting the success and size of popular schools to stop them draining pupils from inferior schools nearby.

Under the new plans, top schools will be to be allowed to convert to academy status so they can scrap their fixed admission numbers and take more pupils, as long as there is physical room for them. This will earn the schools tens of thousands of pounds of extra funding and, say ministers, allow more children to benefit from a good education.

Mr Gove hopes the move will force councils to address quickly why poorer schools are failing. However, it could cause tension with Liberal Democrats if poorer-performing schools suffer. “The key problem is that there aren’t enough good school places,” a government source said. “That’s why we’re letting schools expand to meet demand. Good schools will grow, while those that aren’t performing will have to improve.”

Mr Gove wants to simplify the 86-page admissions code, which was toughened up under Labour to stop parents lying about their address or church attendance to secure places for their children. Officials say it can be made simpler without being watered down.


Australia: A secretive and dishonest education bureaucracy

The NSW Board of Studies risks becoming a law unto itself. Unwilling to take full responsibility for errors, such as last week's mistake in a history exam, it seeks to shoot the messenger. Taking its lead from the state government, the Board has a history of trying to dodge blame and discredit its critics.

The Board dismissed an error it made in an ancient history paper by saying it would have little impact on students. The error related to a multiple choice question worth “only” one mark. As any HSC student will tell you, every mark is crucial when competing for a university place. The error also related to another question worth seven marks - something the Board was slow to acknowledge.

Many teachers and academics are reluctant to publicly criticise the Board, fearing a backlash.

Teachers employed to mark HSC papers at the end of the year make no secret of the generous boost this work provides in their pay packets. The Board consults academics.

Last year, the NSW Ombudsman slammed the Board. The Board was forced to release raw HSC results it spent thousands of dollars trying to keep secret, after the Ombudsman criticised its lack of transparency in how exam results are scaled.

The Ombudsman’s final report was scathing, uncovering a culture of secrecy within the Office of the Board of Studies. It said the Board, under its previous manager, had treated a former HSC student as "the enemy", using "'a defensive and overly fastidious tone and approach" in the crossfire of letters to the student.

The extreme, and often questionable, lengths the Board took to protect the integrity of the HSC marking process from public scrutiny was well documented. The Board advised the student that three sets of documents he requested either did not exist or could not be produced when in fact they did exist and could be produced.
The Board gave the student the false impression that a decision had been reviewed by two different officers, when the same person had reviewed the decision twice.

By the time the Ombudsman’s Office had completed its investigation the Board had spent $51,000 on legal costs.

The Board is well motivated when it comes to ferociously protecting students from any anxiety during the HSC exams. But its protectiveness over students and the integrity of the HSC itself, is being used as a shield against all criticism.

After a report of an HSC timetable glitch – which resulted in students sitting the same examination on two different days - the Board was up in arms during a previous year. The reason being, that the report may have upset students sitting the exams. The timetable had raised legitimate concerns from teachers about the potential for cheating. The Board’s outrage also followed the reporting of a politically volatile Work Choices question in an exam paper. The Board wanted to distance itself from any political controversy in the lead up to the 2007 federal election.

The Board of Studies needs to lose its glass jaw. The Ombudsman’s report made it clear that it should focus more on transparency and less on trying to silence its critics.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why graduates lean to the Green/Left

Comments below from a conservative student in Australia. What he says applies perhaps even more so to Britain and the USA.

Australia has a "Green" party that regularly gets seats in the Senate -- as the Australian Senate is elected by European-style proportional representation. They also recently won one seat in the lower house

Some have attributed the increasing levels of support for the Greens to centrist policies adopted by the Labor Party on climate change, refugees and gay marriage that offend its progressive base. Others argue the rising Greens vote is due to a failure by the main parties and the media to apply appropriate scrutiny to Greens policies, which they say are far more radical than many realise.

Former finance minister Lindsay Tanner, whose seat of Melbourne was lost to the Greens' Adam Bandt, has a different view. In his 2009 John Button Memorial Lecture, Tanner attributed the rise of the Greens to the expansion of higher education.

"Voting behaviour is increasingly defined as much by education as by income level. The Greens are, first and last, a product of higher education. Greens voters are overwhelmingly people with a tertiary education . . . 20 years ago this group was modest in size and overwhelmingly Labor in adherence. Now their numbers are growing rapidly and many support the Greens," he said.

Tanner went on to say this growing group had a "profound commitment to multiculturalism, gender equity and higher learning" and that this was a product of their education.

There is some empirical evidence to support Tanner's thesis. Data from the 2007 Australian Election Study, collected by the Australian National University, showed voters with higher education qualifications were much likelier than the general population to identify with the Greens.

In the overall population, the study found just 5.8 per cent of voters identified with the Greens. But among those with a bachelor's degree, that rose to 11.1 per cent, and 12.9 per cent among those with postgraduate qualifications. Postgraduates also were twice as likely to state they "strongly liked" the Greens.

The study also asked participants to rank themselves on a left-right matrix. Among the general population, about one-third of respondents identified with the broad Right, while 27.7 per cent identified with the broad Left. Yet significantly more people with university-level education self-identified as left-wing, including 42.4 per cent of people with a bachelor's degree and 44.6 per cent of postgraduate qualification holders.

So, what explains the higher levels of support for the Greens? It should not necessarily follow that more education equates to more left-wing views. After all, what does a bachelor of engineering, science or commerce teach students about gay marriage or refugees?

It is a damning indictment of the higher education system that Tanner, from the left faction of the ALP, admits our universities are churning out increasing numbers of Greens voters. It is no coincidence the institutions that churn out these graduates are dominated by left-wing academics.

There are limited studies of academic bias in Australian universities, and most of the evidence to support the notion of widespread bias is anecdotal, but that does not mean it is not a problem.

In 2008 the Senate inquired into the issue and, despite the overwhelming majority of individual submissions reporting instances of academic bias, the Labor-Greens majority on the committee dismissed the idea that bias was a problem in Australian universities.

The Liberal minority report, however, argued the evidence presented at the hearings by students and representative organisations suggested it was a problem. Students complained they were treated as pariahs if they expressed centre-right views and felt excluded and vilified because of their politics.

Studies in the US make it clear that academe is almost exclusively dominated by the Left. One, published by The New York Times in 2004, showed registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in humanities departments seven to one.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne during the past five years, I've witnessed and been subject to multiple instances of academic bias. One of the worst examples was presented to the Senate inquiry in 2008.

An introductory politics subject, Contemporary Ideologies and Movements, devoted one week to liberalism and conservatism. For the following 11 weeks, it examined different variants of socialism and green ideology as well as feminist and lesbian political movements.

Worse, the required reading on liberalism was not John Stuart Mill or Friedrich Hayek but an expose on the social lives of Young Liberals published in The Monthly magazine. Following the inquiry the subject was abolished and replaced with a subject that, in the words of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, would have a broader focus and include readings from Milton Friedman.

Critics note few conservatives aspire to careers in academe, preferring to enter the private sector in search of higher earnings. They argue it is only from self-selection that university faculties tilt left, not sinister design.

That may be true, but many conservatives are discouraged from seeking careers in universities because faculties appear monolithic and unwelcoming for those on the Centre-Right. And it does not absolve universities from their responsibility to teach in a non-partisan manner.

Having left-wing views or political affiliations does not automatically make an academic biased. Excellent teachers are able to put their own views aside and present a balanced appraisal of contentious issues. But many professors are not able to put their politics aside, and the lack of intellectual pluralism at many universities means academics work and socialise mostly among those who share their left-wing views.

Of course, academic bias has a more immediate effect than its capacity to skew the electorate: on the quality of education students receive. For this reason alone, it deserves much greater public scrutiny.


Great education available outside the mainstream

Home schooling and private and selective schools give kids the best chance at learning, says Christopher Pearson, writing from Australia

Julia Gillard [Australian PM] often tells us that Labor proposes to give every young Australian a great education. The phrase is a mantra, of course, but I wonder if there is anything remotely approaching a consensus about what constitutes a great education.

Being something of a traditionalist, when I hear those words my mind turns to the sort of elite schooling that Eton offers its boys and Geelong Grammar provides for both sexes. Although I would have hated being a boarder myself, I'm now inclining to the view that many - perhaps even most - adolescents benefit from longish spells away from the comforts and distractions of family life, in an ordered existence concentrated on study.

Schools like these offer the best of several worlds. Because they cater for grandees and rich people, many of whose children aren't especially bright, they're a model of flexibility in encouraging the extracurricular and sporting interests of pupils who aren't academically inclined. At the same time, they give everyone a good grounding in the basics and attend assiduously to anyone displaying any scholarly inclinations.

At the opposite end of the scale is private tuition at home. The days when rich people in Australia thought nothing of hiring a full-time tutor to teach their children are almost gone, except in the case of invalids and infant prodigies.

However, there is a thriving home-schooling movement, delivering most of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost and producing more than its share of outstanding students.

It was born of a warranted mistrust of the ideological baggage of the state system and, increasingly, of the Catholic parochial and independent systems.

Parents tend to rely on unfashionable textbooks that teach you how to parse a sentence, to construct a paragraph and to mount an argument in 500 words. They do not pander to the fads for dumbed-down literary studies but offer English as we once knew it.

Similarly, the maths and science books are usually at least 20 years old and quaintly insistent on the difference between a right answer and a wrong one. Because the parents learned from similar texts, they find them relatively easy to teach from.

Home-schooling parents enjoy an unenviable reputation in official educational circles as a current equivalent to the American Amish. In my experience this is seldom warranted because most of them believe in the value of a rigorous education that will let their offspring think for themselves and free them from enslavement to the zeitgeist.

Home-schooling parents include blue-collar social conservatives and middle-class people who set great store in education. Quite a lot are disenchanted former teachers who tend to pool their expertise and hold group tutorials for students in their area. This has the added advantages of getting the kids out of the house and into the company of their age-mates.

Retired Latin, French and music teachers can earn a modest supplement to the pension, instructing small groups of highly motivated youngsters. Old maths teachers are also much sought-after.

I should declare an interest here. I've found teaching English and history to individual home-schoolers one of the most rewarding experiences of recent years.

In between what many would regard as the two extremes, another example of an education that could plausibly be called great is the kind provided by NSW's James Ruse Agricultural High School. It's a selective co-ed school with a catchment area including a lot of poorer suburbs. Nonetheless, in exams its students regularly outperform every other secondary school, public or private, in the state and they excel in the arts and sport as well.

By virtue of its dedicated staff and track record of academic performance, James Ruse has broken down what's probably the biggest barrier to equality of opportunity in schooling. It has overcome the habitual under-valuing of education by generations of working-class Australian parents.

There are a few groups that have been notable exceptions to that rule: the Lutherans and the remnants of the old-fashioned Presbyterian and Methodist cultures (which maintain a strong ethos of self-help) and the Jews, known from the earliest times as "the people of the book".

Among the crucial reasons for the inequality of educational outcomes in Australia - which Gillard often conflates with the separate question of educational opportunity - is that middle-class parents tend to value schooling highly and reward good results.

The fact their children are over-represented in the professions is less a function of the advantages of their class than because those are the careers to which they and their families have historically aspired and so many of them are over-achievers.

Considering the three models of an excellent education canvassed here and the shape of a consensus that might emerge on the subject, there are a few points that can be made.

The successes of home-schooling suggest it's the quality of teaching and parental support, rather than the amount of money expended, that is critical.

In contrast, vast amounts of public funding underpinned the fad for "whole word" reading programs in primary schools that have wasted years of everyone's time and left many thousands of younger Australians functionally illiterate.

All three models assume that schooling should be a demanding exercise as well as a rewarding one and that this applies to the slow learners and the disengaged as much as the gifted and the keen.

Unless schools expect the best their pupils can achieve, they'll seldom see it and the young may never get a good grounding in the basics, let alone find out what they're capable of doing.

The surest way to avoid institutional dumbing-down is by streaming all students according to ability, as measured by IQ tests and annual exams.

However, it's well documented that the British model of an all-important 11 Plus hurdle has discriminated against late developers and bright kids from backgrounds of complex disadvantage, so there needs to be periodic opportunities to change stream.

Not everyone belongs in the top streams and not everyone belongs in their local secondary school. Selective schools with competitive entry may offend the politically correct pieties of the teachers unions, which say they want every school to be a centre of excellence.

But in the meantime, until that happy day dawns, selective schools are the best chance of a great education for students in the public system. They are the leaven in the lump.

There should be more of them and they should encourage their youngsters in academic competition as fierce as the kind we take for granted in sport.


New grammar (selective) schools could be built in Britain after all

Grammar schools could soon be given the green light to expand under the Government's flagship education reforms. Michael Gove, the education secretary, has signalled to campaigners that existing grammars will be able to create more places but also, crucially, could be given permission to build new premises and start "satellite" schools.

The move is a significant shift for David Cameron who controversially ruled out building new grammar schools before the election. The Prime Minister has repeatedly said there will be no expansion of selective education in the state sector.

But ministers now accept that Mr Gove's free schools policy – allowing parents and teachers to start their own establishments – has "let the genie out of the bottle".

A senior Government source said that where there was increasing demand from parents in areas of population growth, existing grammars would be able to expand places.

One option being considered is to allow existing grammars to build new premises and expand into additional sites. In this way, they might set up and run "satellite" schools that are also selective.

The move is bound to increase tensions in the coalition as the Liberal Democrats oppose grammar schools and vowed in their manifesto to oppose the setting up of new ones.

However, after a growing campaign by Tory MPs, Mr Gove last week signalled a possible u-turn at a packed reception held by the Friends Of Grammar Schools group at the House of Commons.

He told the meeting that his foot was "hovering over the pedal" of allowing parents more access to selective education. MPs present, including Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, seized on Mr Gove's remarks.

Dozens of MPs, teachers and governors attended the meeting, including Katharine Birbalsingh, the teacher who was suspended from her job after describing Britain's education system as "fundamentally broken".

Speaking at the gathering, Mr Brady, who resigned from the front bench in 2007 over Mr Cameron's policy on grammar schools, applauded the Government for pushing ahead with free schools and more academies but asked Mr Gove to go further with the expansion of selective education where parents wanted it.

Mr Gove said: "My foot is hovering over the pedal. I'll have to see what my co-driver Nick Clegg has to say."

Last night Mr Brady said: "I was hugely encouraged by what Michael Gove had to say. There is enormous demand for selective education.

"The new government's commitment to extending parental choice, allowing parents to set up new schools where they want them and to enhance local decision-making, is extremely welcome.

"I hope that all parties who believe in localism will accept that they should not be standing in the way where parents, schools or local authorities want to offer more choice of academically selective schools."

There are 164 grammar schools in England but the demand for places far outstrips capacity and competition is becoming ever fiercer. In a ruling last week, the schools adjudicator backed three "super-selective" grammars which admit only those children with the very highest 11 Plus scores, sometimes from outside the county.

The decision of the adjudicator to back the head teachers using such strict admission criteria was seen as a major victory for selection. Many areas are demanding more grammar schools be built to cope with rising demand.

In Kent, the county with the largest remaining concentration of grammars, this year's 11 Plus results, published last week, show that the number of children from outside the area, mostly from London and East Sussex, who passed the test rose by 16 per cent this year as parents nearby scramble to get their children admitted.

Support for grammars remains strong in the Conservative Party. Over 50 MPs attended the meeting last week including Michael Fallon, the Conservative deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, and many MPs from the new intake.

Frank Field, the former Labour welfare secretary who is conducting a social justice review for Mr Cameron, was also present.

The Prime Minister has been under growing pressure to change his mind on the issue since May 2007 when he ditched his party's traditional support for selective education, declaring: "It is delusional to think that a policy of expanding a number of grammar schools is a good idea." He said then that a pledge to build more grammar schools "would be an electoral albatross. Labour want to hang it round our neck."

The Sunday Telegraph led the way in campaigning to overturn the decision. The row threatened to engulf Mr Cameron at the time, with some even describing it as his "clause four moment".

But Tory MPs say the game has been changed by legislation allowing parents, charities and businesses to set up new schools – similar to systems in the US and Sweden – which was passed in the summer. "It would be very odd if we were saying to parents 'you can set up any kind of school you want so long as it's not like a grammar school'", said one Tory insider.

As part of the first wave of the free schools programme, Mr Gove said he expected 16 new schools to open by September 2011.

However he faces an uphill battle to convince Liberal Democrat members of the coalition opposed to selection to back grammars. The party was explicit in its opposition to selection in its manifesto, although the issue was not mentioned in the coalition agreement.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said last night: “There are no plans to increase selection.”