Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why aren't right and wrong on the curriculum?

You know the problem with students? They get encouraged to think too much. Take Edward Woollard, who pleaded guilty to dropping a fire extinguisher from the top of Conservative Party headquarters during a riot in protest at education cuts. It was very fortunate, a ­complete fluke in fact, that the police officers ­gathered below did not suffer serious injury.

And Woollard is certainly bright enough to know better. He is studying politics, classics and ­philosophy at Brockenhurst College, near Southampton. So how does this happen? Here’s how.

Last week one of our boys came home with his head full of the Columbine school massacre. He’s 13. The subject was part of religious studies, which have been expanded to include modern, moral and ­philosophical issues, as well as ­matters of faith. No problem with that. We’re a secular society. It became apparent, however, that in the course of the discussion there was worrying ambiguity.

Too much mitigation, not enough condemnation. The killers had been mocked and bullied, he told us ­earnestly, they were outcasts, they had issues with the student group. And this is true. Columbine, its ­prelude and aftermath, is a vast and complex subject even now. Less complicated, though, is the simple fact that shooting people is wrong.

Yet, as ridiculous as this may sound, in the class debate perhaps not enough time had been spent emphasising the obvious. There will have been wonderfully enlightening discussions around the many issues raised by a teenage killing spree, but they needed underpinning.

Terrorists have motivations, too, but it would be truly dangerous to discuss the 9/11 attacks without first making clear that they cannot be justified.

Of course kids know that violence is wrong. But at 13 there is a lot to compute. Cause and effect is ­testing, so sometimes you have to start at the beginning. Leave that tiny grey area, and who knows what naïve logic will fill the hole?

It wasn’t so long ago, following another RE lesson, that crucifixion was advanced as a proper punishment for murderers. Nail some sense into them, as the campaign slogan might read. Mind you, anyone standing on that ticket for election round our way would probably get in.

This follows on from the recent moon landings debacle. Fake, we were informed definitively by one of our children. This one had watched a programme in school. We remained very calm as we explained that roughly 400,000 people were involved in the Apollo space programme, including ­labourers, technicians, engineers and scientists.

If the whole thing was rigged, and a face-saving video was then knocked up by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and a few spooks with a camcorder in a back lot somewhere in Florida, that is some secret that’s been kept for 40 years. By the time everyone was paid off, plus family and acquaintances, it would ­actually be cheaper to send somebody to the moon than create the lie.

The next week, the class did indeed study the many conspiracy rebuttals about the landings. By which time it was too late. Given seven days to run with the nutjob version, half the students still believed it was a hoax. Too much thinking, you see. Not enough black and white.

We’re now teaching history that doesn’t exist in the mistaken belief it promotes thought. That is how we end up with students like Edward Woollard, who cannot get to grips with the laws of gravity as applicable to a fire extinguisher and a copper’s head; students who fail to realise that random manslaughter might be a disproportionate response to ­having your grant cut.

We think we promote debate, discussion, and a better education with our modern concepts, and the aims may be sincere enough, but some of it bears more than a passing resemblance to Jerry Sadowitz’s introduction to his short-lived television series. ‘And tonight on the show that tackles the real issues,’ he said, ‘Jews and Nazis: so who’s right?’


Military men as teachers in British schools?

As everyone who has ever been to school will testify, teachers who can’t keep order in the classroom fall at the first hurdle and have precious little hope of passing on much worth knowing to their pupils.

To his credit, Education Secretary Michael Gove has grasped the extreme importance of this fact — and this is clearly what lies behind his imaginative scheme, outlined on ­Wednesday, to give veterans of the armed forces a ­fast-track into teaching.

It’s not hard to follow his reasoning. What our schools desperately need is more ­discipline, he reckons — and that’s one thing they really know about in the services.

So why not sign up a few colonels, air commodores — and perhaps the odd Regimental Sergeant Major — to knock some obedience into the ’orrible little men (and, increasingly, ‘orrible little women) who cause such ­disruption in the classroom, blighting their schoolmates’ chances of learning?

At first sight, it looked to me like an ­excellent idea. But the more I’ve thought about it since, the less sure I am. I cast my mind back to my own school days, when I was taught by quite a few veterans of the Second World War and others who had been in the forces afterwards, either as ­regulars or on national service.

Certainly, some of them were highly effective in keeping order. I’m thinking particularly of a PT teacher, an ex-paratrooper, who would punish us for wearing dirty gym shoes by ­forcing us to do sit-ups until every muscle in our bodies screamed in protest (all right, in my case that was after only about three).

For more serious offences, such as ­whispering or smirking, he would rap us on the forehead with his bare knuckles, with such force that our heads ached for hours afterwards.

I’ve often thought that he’d be behind bars if he tried that sort of thing these days — and how we all would have cheered if he’d been carted off in a Black Maria. But though I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone, it has to be said that his methods worked. As a rule, our gym shoes were dazzlingly white for his lessons and his orders were obeyed in terrified, stony-faced silence.

But I had other former servicemen as ­teachers who were little better at keeping order than I turned out to be, years later.

For example, there was one amiable old buffer of a Latin master, an ex-Royal Navy, whose lessons we regarded as an hour off from proper school. All we had to do was prompt him to recount one of his wartime reminiscences (an ­oft-repeated favourite was the occasion when he accidentally dropped a live shell between his warship and the quay where it was moored) and for the rest of the lesson we could run riot while he burbled away.

Now and then, he would break off his ­anecdote to yell for silence, but we took not a blind bit of notice. Indeed, it was because I was making so little progress under the ex-serviceman that I was moved down a stream, to be taught by one of the most effective disciplinarians in the school — who had never been in uniform.

I don’t know what it was about him. He wasn’t physically imposing in any way, he never raised his voice and he certainly never hit us. Yet we instinctively respected him — and just by lifting an eyebrow, he could do more to bring a class to order than many an officer with a lifetime’s ­experience of giving commands on the parade ground.

It all comes back to natural authority and I think this may be where Mr Gove is making his mistake. Certainly, Britain’s armed forces are a byword for discipline of a hugely impressive kind.

But this is institutional discipline, ­underpinned by a rigid chain of command, centuries of tradition, endless square-bashing — and, in the last resort, a wide range of unpleasant punishments for insubordination, from latrine cleaning to the cells.

Mr Gove’s new recruits to the classroom won’t find any of that in an inner-city ­comprehensive, where the ­institutional ­balance of power has shifted relentlessly away from the rights of teachers to impose ­discipline and towards the rights of pupils to behave exactly as they please.

On the parade ground or the battlefield, servicemen can expect the instant respect and obedience owed to their rank. But in a school, teachers have to inspire respect, by sheer force of personality, if they want to be obeyed.

Of course, some former soldiers, sailors and airmen have bags of authority, quite ­independent of their rank. But then so do many people in other walks of life, from businessmen to broadcasters and even, dare I say it, the odd politician.

Isn’t Mr Gove perhaps over-optimistic if he believes that servicemen, in their nature, must be better than civilians at enforcing discipline?

Indeed, I’ve known one or two ex-soldiers who have found civilian life hard to cope with, thrashing around like fish out of water when they’ve left the Army and all its ­certainties behind them. One of my wife’s brothers-in-law springs to mind. Fine chap. Major in the Scots Guards. Served with great distinction in Northern Ireland.

But throughout his adult life, he’d grown so used to squaddies snapping to attention and saying ‘Yes, Sir!’ that he found it ­distinctly disconcerting when he left the Army, married my wife’s sister and started having to get used to the word ‘No’. Somehow, I just can’t see the likes of him trying to control a class full of bolshie ­British schoolchildren — never noted as respecters of rank.

But we shouldn’t reject Mr Gove’s scheme out of hand. If it means there will be more male teachers to act as role models for boys in our increasingly feminised education ­system, that can only be a good thing. And the same applies if it leads to a revival of competitive school sports.

But God help any ex-servicemen-teachers who expect automatic obedience — let alone disciplinary support from the ­education system.


Michelle Rhee Revisited

These are interesting times for education reform in America today. A lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle are calling for "reform," but no one seems to know what "reform" really looks like.

The issue reached new levels of salience just a few weeks ago when "Waiting for Superman" - the new Davis Guggenheim documentary following five students and their futures in charter schools - opened to nationwide critical acclaim.

There's no question this country must have a serious debate on what reform is needed in our education system. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), U.S. students in 10th grade rank 28th in math and 22nd in science out of a total of 39 countries in proficiency.

Once the hotbed of innovation, medical and technical advancements, America is now sucking the exhaust fumes of revving machines such as India, China and other advancing nations. We are beyond arrested development. We are regressing. It's one thing to grasp this reality. It's quite another to do something about it.

That's why the departure of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in the wake of a new mayor in our nation's capital is such a major loss, both for the reform movement and the District's future.

Following the primary loss of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, it was fairly evident that Miss Rhee's head would be first in line on the chopping block. Her reform initiatives aggressively pushed overhaul over the status quo, which upset many in the education community. She was moving too fast for them to keep up, and certainly too quickly for them to cut her off.

For too long, education "elites" have repeatedly bashed pioneers such as Miss Rhee for their views. When asked why they oppose them, teachers unions can't nakedly admit, "Because it disrupts the status quo[...]" or "It undermines our power." So instead, they proffer phrases that sound more benign and well-meaning. "We welcome proposals for reform," they numbly chant, "but only if they are inclusive of our ideas."

Read another way, that means if the unions aren't at the table with their thumb on the scale to guarantee outcomes, there ain't no way reform is gonna happen.

It's almost mafia-like in the school systems in the District and other struggling big cities. If you try to do things differently, Rocko and Paulie pay a visit to help you get back in line. Sadly, Michelle Rhee was politically gunned down by her opponents for standing up and saying we ought to look for a better way of teaching kids in the District.

In many respects, education policy is a backward-thinking topic in government circles today. At a time when public institutions are struggling to make ends meet and squeezing even more productivity from every resource, policymakers seem all too eager to simply throw more money at an issue that has clearly shown cash isn't the magic cure-all for advancing education excellence.

According to the Heritage Foundation, federal, state and local education spending combined exceeds $580 billion annually, roughly 4.2 percent of our nation's gross domestic product. Yet while inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has more than doubled since 1970 (more than $10,000 per student per year), academic achievement has stagnated while graduation rates have flat-lined.

Michelle Rhee understands that truism. Hers is a philosophy that will be a model, not a martyr, for education in the years and decades to come. For it's only a matter of time when the silent majority of parents and community leaders rise up and start asking the critical question of the education establishment, "Is that all I'm getting for my tax dollar [...] a child who struggles to read at a 5th grade level when they're about to graduate from high school?"

Yes, parents play a role, and we'll discuss that in another column at a later time. But for this moment in time, Miss Rhee deserves her moment in the sun - one that will mark the latest evolution of education policy in the United States.

The Obama administration understands what Miss Rhee was trying to do. Just ask the president's education secretary, Arne Duncan, who favored linking teacher evaluations to student test scores, dismissing under-performing educators in favor of teachers who were as excited as the student they taught to be in the classroom and shared the joy, and glory, of watching a child learn.

Let's be clear, Miss Rhee's efforts on behalf of education weren't isolated to that profession alone. Now more than ever, a solid education means a lifetime of solid work. Not just a job, but a career. Our future economic recovery depends on the young minds our teachers educate every day.

Further, our continued dominance as the world's only economic superpower hinges on that same foundation. If we are not properly educating the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs so they can create the next software innovations or next iPad, the Chinese are all too eager to fill that void.

As she gave her final public address as chancellor recently, Miss Rhee told reporters her future remained unclear. What is clear, however, is a reform-minded legacy the District would do well to keep in place long after her departure. The rest of the country knows it needs to head in that direction. It would be nice for the District to actually lead in something, for a change.


Friday, November 26, 2010

The Freakishness of Sociology

Mike Adams

If you want to avoid seeing your 18-year-old turn into a freak within the first year of college, it’s best to make sure he, she, or it avoids taking a course in sociology. That is especially the case if your kid plans to attend Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.

Professor Laurie Essig teaches a course at Middlebury called “The Sociology of Freakishness.” She justifies the course by saying that “American popular culture began with the freak show” and that “P.T. Barnum taught us that freaks are always made- not born.” Better not tell that to GLEAM (Gay & Lesbian Employees at Middlebury). They might argue that there’s such a thing as a “freak gene.” Next thing you know, the freaks will be entitled to their own “Freak Resource Center.”

According to Essig, a freak is “a performance or display of otherness for fun and profit.” She claims that she has designed her course in order to “explore the history of the freak in American culture as well as how our culture is still structured around the trope of the freak show.” She wants students to become “sociologists of freakishness” whose job it is “to ask what configurations of power are at play in the performance. How do gender, race, nationality, sexuality and class come into play and how are those forms of power translated into a performance of otherness that forces us to watch it over and over again?”

After I read that job description I began to worry that I might be one of those freaks they’re studying. After all, a lot of sociologists read my columns “over and over again,” seemingly “forced” to do so. Maybe, there’s a freak-watcher gene, even though “freaks are made – not born.” Maybe there’s even an intellectually consistent sociologist somewhere. Maybe the moon landing was faked. Maybe professional wrestling is real.

I want to take “The Sociology of Freakishness” if no other reason than to take in the excellent assigned readings. Among those are Catherine Dunn’s Geek Love and Rosemarie Thomson’s Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body.

There are also numerous lectures I found on the course syllabus for “The Sociology of Freakishness,” which make me want to enroll right now. For example, one lecture, scheduled for early October, requires students to read Suzan-Lori Parks’, “Venus.” Next, students ponder these profound intellectual questions: Can the freak be reclaimed as an active subject in her own enfreakment? Is that what Parks was trying to do? And why?

By mid-October, students are asked to read Lori Merish’s “Cuteness and Commodity Aesthetics,” and then watch Shirley Temple films in class. Finally, they are urged to bring to class “some contemporary examples of Children as Freaks.”

Shortly thereafter, students read Cecile Lindsay’s, “Bodybuilding: A Postmodern Freak Show,” and Cyril Siorat’s, “Beyond Modern Primitivism”, from the book Tattoo. They are then asked to “Come to class with examples of bodily freaks in our own culture- for example, tattooing, piercing, ear stretching.” They are then asked to “Think about the relationship between bodily freaks and notions of the ‘primitive.’” That’s some deep thinking to require of sociology students.

By the end of October, students read the professor’s own writing, specifically “Plasticity: On the Unexpected Uses of Plastic Surgery”. They are then asked to discuss this profound question: When is surgery “necessary” and when is it “freakish”?

In an early November class meeting, students are asked to “Think about contemporary manifestations of blackface as a genre of the freak show.” In order to provide a real balance to the class, students are then encouraged to study whiteface. In other words, they read about Michael Jackson. The reading is David D. Yuan’s, “The Celebrity Freak: Michael Jackson’s Grotesque Glory.”

Students are then asked to “Do some research on the most recent Jackson trials and Michael Jackson as a racial and sexual freak.” It is unclear whether students are asked to visit Never-land Ranch or attend a meeting of the North American Man-Boy Love Association. But, then again, calling the NAMBLA meeting a “freak show” might offend GLEAM. So many victims, so little time!

Just before Thanksgiving, students are introduced to a lecture on “YouTube, MySpace, and the importance of self-enfreakment.” They are told to find some examples in new media of freakishness. When they return from break, students get to read the professor’s own essay, “The Pleasure of Freaks.” This all takes place within a lecture titled “Does Pop Culture Need Freaks?”

I don’t know about “pop culture” but academia doesn’t need any more freaks. We just need to put bars on the professors’ windows and charge the public to peer inside their offices. Spectators should be allowed to toss them an occasional peanut or banana.

Eventually, we’ll need to pay someone to clean up the stuff that gathers in their cages. The freaks may call it scholarship. But it smells like crap to me.


British children 'ignorant of British history' because of trendy teaching

Schoolchildren are increasingly ignorant of British history as teachers scrap traditional lessons in favour of trendy “skills-based” courses, according to academics. Pupils’ grasp of the past has been undermined because schools have “steadily downgraded” the importance of historical knowledge, it was claimed.

In a letter to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, a delegation of academics and teachers today called for history to be made compulsory up to the age of 16 to reverse a “catastrophic decline” in the subject.

They also claimed that the curriculum should be rewritten to expose children to a more coherent narrative of British history.

It was suggested that at the age of 11, pupils should learn about the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, early medieval England and the Crusades. At 12, pupils should be taught about medieval life, the English conquest of Scotland and Wales, the 100 Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses, the Renaissance, the Reformation, Elizabeth I and overseas exploration.

The comments came just 24 hours after Mr Gove pledged to review the National Curriculum. An education White Paper, published on Wednesday, outlined plans to slim down the curriculum document and emphasise the key “bodies of knowledge” children should master at each key stage.

In a letter, the Better History Group said: “We share the widespread alarm at the way history has been allowed to decline in the curriculum, with increasing numbers of children receiving less history teaching than their predecessors, or even none at all.

“Our central concern is that the importance of historical knowledge has been steadily downgraded. “In particular, we believe that the teaching of British history has been allowed to deteriorate, to such an extent that substantial numbers of young people do not have that basic grasp of this country's history that they need in order to function as informed and active adult citizens.”

The group – which was originally formed to advise the Conservatives on the history curriculum in 2007 – set out a series of recommendations to improve history teaching in schools.

Currently, around two-thirds of pupils drop the subject at the age of 14. But in a report, it was claimed that history should be made compulsory up to 16 to give schoolchildren more exposure to the subject.

The report suggested that children should study all main subjects, including history, geography, religious studies, music and art, throughout secondary education. But teenagers should be able to take some at a "higher level" - part of a full GCSE course - while others contribute towards half a GCSE or are not assessed at all.

It also recommended that existing “skills” based lessons, in which students are taught to analyse and evaluate primary and secondary sources without learning historical facts, should be scrapped.

“The current nature of source-based assessment in examinations, both at GCSE and at A-level, bears little relation to actual historical practice or even to actual historical sources,” said the report.

“Consequently, not only are students drilled in formulaic exercises of little practical application, but an enormous amount of time is wasted preparing them for these exercises, time which could have been better spent in extending their historical knowledge.

“Since analysis of source material is, in any case, meaningless without extensive knowledge, the lack of this renders current practice in source analysis a largely pointless exercise.”


One Australian State government poised to reject 'underprepared' national curriculum

NSW is set to upset plans for a national curriculum by refusing to sign up to it at a meeting of education ministers next month. The Education Minister, Verity Firth, received advice from the NSW Board of Studies that more time was needed for consultation in response to concerns raised by stakeholders.

It is understood Ms Firth will heed the advice and is preparing to reject the curriculum, which the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority will present at the meeting on December 8.

The Herald understands the Board of Studies has responded to concerns about a lack of consultation by the authority and the overall curriculum structure, including the times allotted to teach each subject and the capacity to cater for all students.

Ms Firth's decision is a blow to the federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, as the meeting is the last chance for ministers to reach agreement before the NSW election in March.

The Coalition is widely expected to win power at the election, making the prospects of an agreement more difficult.

The federal government was counting on all education ministers signing up to the curriculum by year's end so that it could be implemented around the country by 2013.

The Board of Studies has consistently criticised drafts of the curriculum, saying it is inferior to the existing NSW curriculum.

Mr Garrett said last night that he had not seen the detail of the board's decision, but urged it to work with the curriculum authority to resolve problems. "This reform is too important to let it slide because of some minor concerns about one aspect. The Australian Curriculum will be a basic learning entitlement for all students in Australia, no matter where they live."

Barry McGaw, who chairs the authority board, said he had received mixed messages from the NSW government. He believed its stance would amount to a delay in introducing the curriculum rather than to its abandonment. "The other states are keen to sign up," he said.

A coalition of seven national principals' associations, representing public, independent and Catholic schools, issued a statement in support of a "truly national Australian curriculum".

The group, which includes the Australian Secondary Principals Association, is scheduled to meet with the curriculum authority in Sydney today to discuss the future of the proposal.

Sheree Vertigan, the president of the Secondary Principals Association, said the associations were "definitely committed to a national curriculum". "It will be really sad if one state is rejecting it," she said.

But Christine Cawsey, the president of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, said she supported a delay in the introduction of a curriculum as it was important to give stakeholders more time for consultation to improve the content.

"The Board of Studies would not recommend such a serious decision to the minister without serious consideration about what still needs to be done."

The NSW opposition spokesman on education, Adrian Piccoli, said if the curriculum was not signed off by March 26, a Coalition government would support the development of a national curriculum in principle, but it would need to be as good as the NSW curriculum. "It needs more work," he said.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Media Rush to Defend LSU “Blood Will Be on Your Hands” Prof

What do the higher ed media do when a professor is caught blustering and biased—on camera? They scramble to defend him, of course.

A few weeks ago after getting a tip from a student at Louisiana State University, Campus Reform, a web-based organization that fights political correctness in higher education, sent a cameraman into class. The course, intended for freshmen, was Astronomy 1101 “The Solar System,” and the class was devoted entirely to the discussion of global warming.

Nothing in the terse description in LSU’s course catalog indicated that the professor would focus on terrestrial politics. The course description simply says that “The Solar System” will deal with “fundamental principles of the solar system.”

This week, Campus Reform released three video excerpts from that class (part 1, part 2, part 3). The videos show the professor, Bradley E. Schaefer, denouncing students for their views on global warming. He asks the class to sit according to actions they think the government should take, ranging from “U.S. should do nothing” to “Mandatory birth control” and “Eliminate all engines.”

To students who take their seats on the right side of the room (the “U.S. should do nothing” side), Professor Schaefer scoffs: “Oh boy, that’s really good for you, at least for the next decade or two. And then you will remember having sat on that corner, because you will not want to tell your children, if they live, why you’re sitting on that corner, that you were part of the trouble, right? Do you realize that?”

He goes on, “The more you’re sitting over here, the more you’re wanting to keep your hedonistic luxury at the cost of your children.” To one student he says, “Too little, too late. Blood will be on your hands.”

Campus Reform’s videos are short, 1-3 minute clips that highlight Schaefer’s most vigorous statements. When the organization published the first installment of the series, it wrote that this “shows what happens when a professor brings his politics into the classroom.”

Campus Reform has provided one of the clearest examples ever documented of liberal bias in academe. Defenders of the status quo saw its potential for serious damage and immediately set out to discredit it.

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed published articles that essentially say: Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes? It’s not what it looks like. It was taken out of context. He yelled at liberal students too. The Chronicle article, “Video Seems to Catch Professor in a Liberal Rant, But There’s More to the Story,” paraphrases Schaefer: “He was actually challenging all of his students, both liberal and conservative, he says, and not chastising any of them for their beliefs.”

Indeed, Professor Schaefer did mock the “Eliminate all engines” segment of the class as well. He said, “The other side – they’re just as bad also.” When students asked him where he would sit, he said he didn’t know but that “I would not sit on either of the two edges. I think those are insane.”

What Schaefer doesn’t realize is that he shouldn’t be jeering at students on either side of a debate he has staged with an invitation to take positions that he believes to be extreme. When he asks students to sit according to their beliefs, then ridicules them for doing so—no matter what their politics are, he is in the wrong. As a professor, his job is not to belittle both sides equally but to instruct impartially.

At the request of the Chronicle, Campus Reform published the full, unedited, 40-minute long video of the class. It doesn’t help Schaeffer’s case. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle probably bet that most people would read their headlines, accept the notion that Campus Reform deviously and “selectively edited,” and not take the time to watch the longer version.

Those who do watch the full video will see that there’s nothing in it to exonerate Schaefer or prove that he was unfairly treated by Campus Reform. After his first round of deriding students for their views, he gives a melodramatic lecture on global warming, comprised mostly of his avowals that global warming exists and will cause untold deaths. He declares, “Global warming is real; it’s caused by humanity,” and repeatedly says, “It’s only going to get worse.”

Schaefer says “About fifteen years ago Exxon suddenly decided, ‘Oh geez, this is going to be bad for our bottom line,’ and they started pouring vast sums of money into saying, ‘Oh, global warming doesn’t exist.’ That’s completely false.”

“There is universal agreement among scientists,” he proclaims, echoing Al Gore’s “The debate is over.”

Professor Schaefer fails to mention the many respected scientists who have made public their skepticism of anthropogenic global warming. Among them is Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and finds evidence that global warming alarmism has been greatly exaggerated for political purposes.

Another is Australian geologist Ian Plimer, who writes in his book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming - The Missing Science, “Climate has always changed. It always has and always will [...] If we humans, in a fit of ego, think we can change these normal planetary processes, then we need stronger medication.” Saying “there is universal agreement among scientists” is an outright lie.

Another lie is recorded in the Chronicle, where Schaefer is quoted defending himself, “I put forth no opinions on how humanity should respond to global warming.” No opinions on how we should respond? Try:

"The solution has to come with some combination of not having as many people and not being as luxurious. So you can have a smaller population of high luxury or, you know, take your choice. If we go on as we are, you’ll have deaths in the billions, and that will solve the problem for you. That is not a good solution."

Later, a student asks about volcanoes, and Schaefer replies, “There are all sorts of natural catastrophes. This is one we made ourselves, and this is one we can control.”

At the end of the class he has the students do a group exercise and gives each section different questions for which they must present an answer to the class. The group on the right side of the room is given a piece of paper that says:

"Your professed policies have a substantial likelihood of leading to the death of a billion people or more. (A) Estimate the probability that you personally will be killed in an ugly way because of your decision? (B) What is the probability that any children of yours will die in ugly ways due to your current decision."

Die in ugly ways? This professor has decided to try to weed out anyone who disagrees with him by using scare and guilt tactics. He sustains the violent imagery through the entire class, telling students, “Blood will be on your hands,” and pooh-poohing deaths from September 11th (“3,000? Whatever.”) in light of the toll global warming would take. Toward the end of his lecture he indicts the students who prefer no new legislation on climate change:

"So, you see, the trouble here is the people on that corner [points at right side of room]. They’re wanting to do nothing. They’re wanting to let global warming take its toll. People decades from now will have deaths in the billions if we do nothing, and that will solve the problem."

Campus Reform’s video #2 points out that when the spokesman from that side stands up to share his group’s answers to the “die in ugly ways” questions, Schaefer repeatedly interrupts him. Several students ask the professor to let the spokesman talk, which Schaefer does, collapsing into a theatrical fit of laughter, holding his sides, bobbing his head, and gesturing to imply that he thinks the student is spouting idiocy.

The mockery, of course, does far more to discredit the integrity of the teacher than the opinions of the students. But the most chilling moment in the class wasn’t included in the shorter Campus Reform videos. It’s what the group on the other side of the room has to say.

The young woman speaking for her section reads the question, “Would you personally aim to have no more than 2 children?” Out of about 50 students, 45 said yes, she reports. “So I think that’s a pretty good number, and if, I mean, if the whole country decided to do that it would make a big impact.”

Forty-five students make a verbal pledge not to have more than two children. And they hope the whole country will do the same. If these students are in earnest, they have drunk the Kool-Aid. If they are bluffing, Schaefer was successful in his intimidation tactics. He is so bold as to guide students to limit the size of their future families—and they readily go along in the direction he nudges them.

As for the students over on the right side of the room, Schaefer continues to denounce them as unethical and foolish: “Screwing with the science is WRONG. You’re an ostrich putting your head in the sand.” After the spokesman says, “We personally don’t believe that we will be killed due to our current position because—” Schaefer cuts him off, shouting, “Remember that you gave that answer, okay? You’re going to be accountable for this!”

What about Professor Schaefer? Will he be held accountable? Not likely. The LSU department chair told the Chronicle he did not think any action would be taken to punish or even reprimand Schaeffer. He did say that he would take seriously any student complaints if he hears any.

But why wait to hear from students, who may not complain if they want to preserve their grades, when all the evidence is in? The footage from this class is a smoking gun, and LSU is too deeply invested in maintaining the politically correct system to take responsibility and do the right thing.

Cary Nelson, of course, defended Professor Schaefer. The president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Nelson believes that academic freedom is essentially a professor’s ability to say whatever he wants in the classroom. He told Inside Higher Ed that:

"academic freedom and completely honest communication in the classroom requires a certain degree of privacy for all the people there, that they need to be able to be frank, that they need to express their emotions honestly, that the classroom is not a stage, that it’s not designed to be a public performance".

Perhaps Nelson should communicate this directly with Schaefer, who used his authority to put on what amounted to a big performance.

What is truly amazing about this story is the ease with which Schaefer’s defenders can turn a blind eye to his totally unprofessional behavior and point the blame at the messengers. In this way, it resembles the episode at Wesleyan University in which students and faculty were enraged by an affirmative action bake sale because it was “offensive,” but they failed to see the inherent offensiveness of racial preferences portrayed by the bake sale. Once again, blame is shifted to those holding up the mirror.

A year ago “Climategate” exposed the secret steps researchers at East Anglia University had taken to suppress views that did not support climate change orthodoxy. Hundreds of emails came to the surface, undeniable evidence of a conspiracy propping up the supposed “scientific consensus.” Then, as now, the guilty party exonerated itself simply by playing the martyr and repeating declarations of its own innocence.

So what, ideally, should LSU do to assure students, their parents, and the public that Astronomy 1101 isn’t just an occasion for Professor Schaefer to rant about global warming and attempt to humiliate students who disagree with him? How can this be handled without violating the principle of academic freedom? Well, first of all, the University needs to recognize that students have academic freedom too – freedom to be taught by scholars who do not engage in propagandistic bombast, but instead provide a conscientious account of the relevant facts – in this case, about “The Solar System.” The AAUP laid this out definitively in its 1915 Declaration of Principles:

"The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language".

Professor Schaefer appears to have violated these principles as vividly as it might be possible to do. He deserves, at the least, a suspension from teaching until such time as he shows himself ready to teach in a manner appropriate to his position.


Strange schools decision by NYC Mayor Bloomberg

Mayor Bloomberg doesn't mind picking a fight. But after nine years in office, he should have learned to pick his battles. He has famously tried - and failed - to build a West Side football stadium, charge tolls into lower Manhattan and turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a huge shopping center.

There was no shame in those losses, though. No matter what you thought of them, they were legitimate ideas with solid backing that deserved a hearing.

Trying to put a magazine executive in charge of the city schools is a different story. Bloomberg may have been the only person in New York who didn't see a downside in naming Cathie Black to be schools chancellor.

"He was thinking about an out-of-the-box candidate who would carry on Joel Klein's legacy and be sort of a maverick," said consultant George Arzt, a longtime student of New York mayors. "I'm sure in his mind he thinks that this is right for the city," Arzt said. "But there were no other candidates interviewed - and it showed."

Even Black's supporters knew a boarding-school mom with a corporate résumé would be a tough sell, no matter how strong a manager she is. Bloomberg's inner circle could have told him that - had he bothered to tell them about Black before he made up his mind. "He went into this by himself, and in fact it was revealed that the emperor had no clothes," said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio.

The mayor's team could have quietly reached out to state Education Commissioner David Steiner to see how he would react, or to at least give him an early heads-up. Instead, the aides who get paid to build support for his controversial ideas - like lifting the charter school cap or extending term limits - were playing defense from the start.

Public school parents understood the problem of a boss with no experience, and 62% of them told a Quinnipiac University poll they didn't want Black. Bloomberg thinks he knows better - but six of eight experts on the state education commissioner's panel agreed with the parents.

Three years ago, the mayor said, "I have always joked that [the difference between] having the courage of your convictions and being pigheaded is in the results." The results are in. As he looks to salvage Black's nomination, he should look in the mirror, too.


How Britain can we make its teachers better

Ofsted’s damning report on teaching standards is no surprise, but with imagination and courage, it’s a problem we can solve, says Katharine Birbalsingh

The White Paper on education to be published today contains some bold proposals from Michael Gove, such as allowing heads more time to observe teachers at work and giving them more freedom to increase good teachers’ salaries. These will be greeted with open arms by some and rejected by others with contempt.

I do not know why there should be dissent. We should not be surprised by Ofsted’s claim that teaching standards are not good enough in half of secondary schools and more than two-fifths of primaries. Anyone who has been a teacher will recognise the constant frustration caused by colleagues who simply cannot teach. But we are uneasy about criticising them. In schools, the “prizes for all” culture doesn’t just exist for children: it’s the lie of the land for teachers, too.

Everyone knows who the struggling teachers are – head teachers know, the other staff know, pupils know, even most of the parents know. But such is the culture in our schools that no one dares to utter a word. By all means complain in the staff room about how Mr Lazy leaves every day at 4pm and never does any marking; or about how Miss Incompetent cannot even get her children to sit down in their chairs, yet is unwilling or unable to take advice. But tell anyone in charge? No.

In fact, if anyone in charge were to insist on higher standards from these individuals, fellow teachers would be likely to gather in hordes to address their union rep and insist that one of the pack was being victimised. Some schools are so unionised that the poor head cannot take on individual teachers because he doesn’t have the stomach for it.

One might argue that failing teachers should be given support. Of course they should; and some do very well with it and improve. But what of those who have had support for two or three years without changing – what then? I cannot understand why, in the public sector, one must have a job for life, no matter how dreadful one is.

But the unions have a one-size-fits-all policy. Whoever you are, however woeful you are, the unions will defend you. They are powerful and they are encouraged by a culture in our schools that is endemic and all-pervasive. If one dares to dissent, one is seen as a traitor.

Office staff, learning mentors and teaching assistants are also contaminated by an environment in which all are deemed to be equal no matter what they do, and in which the good are rarely rewarded. This is why only truly extraordinary head teachers have the backbone to take on the unions and win. It can be done, but only with exceptional will and determination.

The problem with Michael Gove’s reforms is that as well as requiring head teachers to be robust enough to implement them, they also require the young, talented teacher, just out of university, to have enough backbone not to mind being scorned by his colleagues. For that’s what is likely to happen if you pay them more for being good at their jobs. After all, teachers, like pupils, want to be liked, and they want to have friends in the workplace.

The question people outside teaching often ask is: why hire bad teachers in the first place? Clearly, no one sets out to do this. But it can be very difficult to pick the perfect plum. You can have an applicant teach a lesson, jump through the hoops at interview, and, at senior level, give them in-tray exercises, data analysis tests and so on. But mistakes are made. Sometimes the best teachers perform badly at interview and the worst can put on an excellent performance.

Add to this the fact that a previous head, unable to get rid of a teacher because of union protection, instead chooses to “encourage” the teacher to move on, and provides him with a stunning reference. Good interview performance with an excellent reference? Of course they’ll get the job. Except that six weeks in, it becomes obvious that the phrase “they just need to settle in” no longer applies. Gradually, it becomes apparent that you have hired a dud, and because of the culture of schools, nothing can be done about it.

But in some schools, the hiring of teachers can be an even worse ordeal. Some inner-city head teachers cannot get a single applicant for certain jobs and they are simply forced to take what they can find. Why? Teachers, thankfully, are now paid good salaries, and there is lots of funding in our most challenged schools. But teachers don’t go into the profession because they want to earn loads of cash.

Bankers do banking for money. Doctors practise medicine to save lives. And teachers teach because they like children and their subjects; they love to inspire. If our classrooms are chaotic and all common sense has left our school grounds, teachers don’t want to be the last ones left standing. Instead they flock to the private sector, or to the better state schools.

Some leave the country altogether and teach in Africa, despite there being no money for salaries, buildings, interactive whiteboards or even textbooks. Yet those children manage to sit the O-level papers that still exist outside Britain, and which would have our state-educated children quivering in their boots because they are so difficult.

What we need are bright, capable people in teaching who love children and enjoy inspiring them. I do like Michael Gove’s idea of only funding teacher-training for those with a minimum of a 2.2 degree. While it is true that a PhD will not make anyone into a better teacher, I don’t think I have ever met an excellent teacher with a third-class degree. Teaching is extremely hard work if you want to do it well. A third normally suggests a penchant for laziness, and is therefore a neon sign to heads saying here is someone likely to laze around the staff room complaining, and unlikely ever to stay past 4pm.

What the best teachers hate most is being lumped in with the lazy ones. Sure, the kids know they’re great, and that is something. But like pupils, teachers want to be rewarded when they do well. And if everyone is always rewarded for everything they do, no matter what it is, all rewards become meaningless. A gold star only means something when the powers that be are also happy to use the stars that are silver and bronze, and in some cases, not hand out stars at all.

Last week I caused something of a stir when I told the Commons Education Select Committee that I wanted to work in a profession held in such high regard that when I did something well, someone would say well done; and when I did something badly, and consistently so, I should feel a sense of fear for my position. I also said that if members of senior teams were not doing their jobs properly, they should be fired.

Many of us in teaching want standards to be rigorous, not just for the pupils, but for the teachers, too. I know that a lot of teachers agree with me. They just can’t say it out loud.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chaos continues at Central Falls High in Rhode Island

Nutty "no discipline" policies ensure it

Things aren’t going well at Central Falls High, the Rhode Island school that became famous early this year when all of the teachers were fired and President Obama praised the “accountability” move.

He didn’t say anything when an agreement was reached between Central Falls Schools District Superintendent Fran Gallo and the teachers union to rehire all the teachers and replace the principal with two co-principals as part of a state-mandated “turnaround” strategy because of a history of low standardized test scores and a high dropout rate.

Fast forward to now, a few months into the new school administration. Teachers and others report discipline, attendance and morale problems that have left the 840-student school seriously troubled in Rhode Island’s poorest city.

About half a dozen teachers have been out on extended medical leave -- including an Advanced Placement English class -- and the administration has had trouble covering the classes, with officials frequently getting on the loudspeaker to ask teachers to volunteer their time. (Gallo had said earlier this year that she got more than 700 applications for teaching jobs at Central Falls; you'd think she might have a pool to choose from to fill the open spots.)

A new disciplinary program that stressed leniency has failed to rein in dozens of students who caused serious disruptions; kids who come to school or class late, or who have even threatened teachers, received minimal or no punishment, said a number of teachers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Some teachers have reported being assaulted by students.

Teachers have made hundreds of referrals of students for disciplinary measures, but, some teachers said, the administration does little if anything in the way of punishment.

After first denying any problem, school officials have said part of the program would be reviewed. This admission occurred after a meeting with the Central Falls police chief, Capt. Col. Joseph Moran III, who is also head of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association....

Rhode Island’s acclaimed education commissioner, Deborah Gist, told me she had visited the school recently and found the students to be well-behaved and "wanting to learn" but some teachers not prepared to teach their classes.

When I asked about the discipline issue, citing the police chief, she responded that the chief had grown up in Central Falls with some of the teachers and was very close to them. Moran, who attended Central Falls and sent his children there, said the discipline problems about which teachers have complained are real.

Police have arrested a handful of students and at least two teachers have filed assault charges against students, yet school officials just inexplicably removed the police officer that had been assigned to the high school and send her to a middle school, the local station WRNI reported.

Teachers said that the co-principals are not responsive to their problems, and take a more active role in making sure students are behaving when top schools officials visit.

George McLaughlin, who had been a longtime counselor at Central Falls until this year, when he moved, said: “I get at least two calls per week from teachers still at CFHS asking for advice in how to deal with stress, danger (the kids are completely out of control--teachers and students are being attacked verbally and even physically, regularly) and persecution.”


A plan to tackle extremism in British classrooms

Thank God, or, if you prefer, Allah, that in Michael Gove, we have a Secretary of State for Education who will not continue his predecessor Ed Balls’s policy of pretending that faith schools are all the same. They are not.

Some of them turn out well-educated, well-rounded young people who will strengthen our society; others strive to keep the minds of their charges closed by isolating them from people or ideas that might challenge them. Non-believers queue to get their children into high-performing Anglican or Roman Catholic schools because they have no fear they will be indoctrinated. There are few of them breaking down the doors of fundamentalist Muslim academies or establishments run by extreme Protestant evangelists.

In a sensible world, rather than concentrating on bullying mainstream Christian schools to preach secular values, the Department for Education would be keeping a beady eye on schools that encourage intolerance and worse.

With the UK under constant threat from Islamist violence, one might think extra effort would have been put into scrutinising schools suspected of producing extremists. One would be wrong. The establishment is obsessed with fairness and terrified of allegations of racism, so little is done to protect children from being taught to hate the society they are growing up in. Under Mr Balls’s stewardship, it became possible for a school of under 199 pupils to be inspected by just one person, who can be of the school’s own faith.

It has been left largely to journalists and to think tanks like Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion to study and expose radicalisation in schools and universities.

Last night, Panorama’s John Ware revealed that 5,000 children in more than 40 Saudi Students’ Schools and Clubs in the UK were being taught anti-Semitism, homophobia and other tenets of sharia. Michael Gove promises that his department will extend its remit to ensure it can stamp out such teachings in part-time schools. Mr Gove is the author of Celsius 7/7, a brilliant analysis of how the perverted totalitarian ideology that is Islamism developed out of “a great, historical faith” that has brought spiritual nourishment to billions. Asked to define extremism, he has explained that "you know it when you see it”.


British education boss sweeps away trendy teaching to focus on traditional subjects

Traditional academic subjects will be put back at the centre of ­learning under radical government plans to be unveiled today. Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Daily Mail he plans to tear up the schools league table system so success in old-fashioned subjects such as science, history or foreign languages is the chief measure of achievement.

The reform is the centrepiece of a wide-ranging education White Paper which aims to toughen school discipline and free teachers from bureaucracy. From January, schools will be judged on pupils’ success in a so-called ‘English Baccalaureate’ made up of English; maths; a science; history or geography; and a modern or ancient language.

Currently, only 16 per cent of students get a grade C or above in all five subjects. But Mr Gove believes the ­focus on the ‘English Bac’ up to the age of 16 will halt the drift to softer subjects at GCSE. ‘We must make sure our children are studying the subjects that really stretch the mind and prepare them for a more competitive world,’ he said.

Labour gave non-academic qualifications – including certificates in ‘sports leadership’ – parity with traditional ­subjects in league tables in 2004. The move helped fuel a catastrophic fall in the number of children taking academic courses as schools pushed weaker pupils into other qualifications, regardless of educational value, to ‘milk’ as many league table points as possible. The latest figures show there has been a astonishing 3,000 per cent rise in the number of pupils doing non-academic qualifications since then.

Mr Gove is expected to unveil further proposals for a major shake-up of the school curriculum within days. Children will study literary classics, ­British prime ministers, historical battles, ‘our island story’ and key scientific concepts, while the curriculum will be drastically simplified and issued to parents so they can hold schools to account.

Further measures include a return to one-off public exams taken at the end of courses instead of tests in ‘bite-size’ modules.

Meanwhile a drive to strengthen classroom discipline will give heads greater powers to restrain violent pupils, search youngsters for mobile phones and put them in detention.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New NAEP data out -- but "fudged"

White-Black math gaps getting worse. And even national educators don’t depict the situation properly!

The National Assessment of Educational Progress just released new data in the web on the testing of the nation’s students in reading and mathematics in 2009. Among other things, the release has this very clear statement from the National Assessment Governing Board about the real desired level of student performance.

That is a very good statement. It agrees very well with data that shows grade 8 NAEP reading and math proficiency rates compare remarkably well to the percentages of students who are on track for college and careers according to EXPLORE test results from Kentucky.

However, the information in the web also includes more, such as this disturbing graph, cut and pasted from one of the web pages with the title added (highlighted in green - title was off screen when the screen shot was taken). Tech Note: Screen shot taken Nobember 20, 2010, of “National Results, 5 of 9, Tab “National Results Grades 4 & 8,” from here.

Note that this says in 2009 only 42 percent of the whites were "Proficient" and only 15 percent of blacks were, for a gap of 27 points. Back in 1990, the gap was only 13 points.

The graph also has the understatement of the century, claiming that the gaps, “have not been reduced.” I guess not. They have GROWN dramatically!

But, there is an even BIGGER problem with this graph. It IGNORES all the additional students who scored better than “Proficient,” at the level NAEP calls “Advanced.” That’s the wrong way to present the data on gaps.

Let’s make that crystal clear. Here is a graph I assembled today using data downloaded from the NAEP Data Explorer. This graph includes ALL students who scored at or above NAEP Proficient on NAEP grade 4 math.

Now we see the real black-white grade 4 math performance gap is 50 minus 15, or 35 points, 8 points higher (about 30 percent worse) than the 27 point difference web page graph owns up to!

The difference is that virtually no blacks score “Advanced,” while about 8 percent of the whites do.

Using the ‘right stuff,’ the gap back in 1990 was only one point higher than the misleading impression created by the NAEP’s graph in the web.

Anyway, the basic message stays the same. The gaps are not only very bad – they are getting worse. So, here are some questions:

Why do educators in Kentucky continue to try to fool us by citing numbers for NAEP “Basic” as though this is a suitable performance target when our own testing data from EXPLORE and even the people who run the NAEP testing program say NO, It ISN’T!

And, why did national educators get their gap depiction wrong, too? Was it just a statistical error, or something more?

Common educators – Let’s stop the spin – NOW! The gaps are VERY serious, and they are getting WORSE! And, our kids deserve to have the situation portrayed accurately.


Tens of thousands of foreign students to be barred from Britain in bid to cut immigration numbers

Tens of thousands of foreign students will be barred from studying at private colleges to help slash immigration and curb the growing abuse of the system, the Home Secretary will signal today. Theresa May will launch a review of student visas amid concerns that almost half the migrants who come to study in the UK each year are not on degree courses but a range of lesser qualifications such as A-levels and even GCSEs.

Mrs May will question whether they are the "brightest and the best" that the country wants and will make them a key target for cutting numbers after pledging to protect those wanting to study degrees. It comes as separate figures revealed there has been a 40 per cent rise in the number of bogus colleges, most of which offer non-degree or language courses.

The Home Secretary will announce the review as she unveils what the annual cap on migrant workers will be next year. Along with other measures, the cap is expected to limit numbers arriving to around 40,000 and is the first move to meet David Cameron's pledge of bringing overall net migration down from 196,000 to the "tens of thousands".

Yesterday Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, appeared to be concerned about plans to restrict students after he was pictured clutching notes outside 10 Downing Street.

Mr Cable has been the Cabinet's most vocal critic of the various measures to cut immigration and the notes seemed to echo previous concerns that curbing students would damage the country's reputation in the world.

They also appeared to remind colleagues that foreign students bring income to universities and colleges and that changing rules that allow students to look for work after their degree was wrong.

The Government's chief immigration adviser warned last week that any cut in foreign workers will only have a limited impact and that the number of students from outside the EU will have to be halved if the target is to be met.

Ministers have been under pressure from university leaders and some Cabinet members who fear that restrictions on student numbers will damage the UK's reputation as a world-leading centre for education, as well as cutting the lucrative funds brought in by foreign students.

However, around 130,000 foreign students who came in the year to March were not here to study degrees, almost half the near 280,000 non-EU students who arrived. Of those, more than 90,000 attended a private college to study anything from GCSEs to vocational qualifications. Thousands more attended language schools. The rest either attended established further education colleges or schools.


British teachers to bring back old-fashioned reading tests

Six-year-olds will be tested on their ability to read words such as ‘cat’, ‘zoo’, and ‘pride’ as part of a return to traditional teaching.

Ministers yesterday gave details of back-to-basics plans to run reading tests after one year of formal schooling. The ten-minute ‘informal tests’ will be based on phonics – where pupils learn the sounds of letters and groups of letters before putting them together.

It is a move away from ‘trendy’ teaching methods which have been blamed on the decline of youngsters’ grasp of the 3Rs.

At present, pupils in England are assessed in Year 2 by their teachers in English, maths and science. Around one in six seven-year-olds and one in five 11-year-olds fail to reach the levels expected of their age group in reading, according to official statistics.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: ‘We are determined to raise literacy standards in our schools, especially of those not achieving the expected level.’ He said it would be ‘impossible’ for schools to drill pupils to pass the new test.

Some teachers are unconvinced by the move. Martin Johnson, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘There is a huge consensus that reading is best taught using a mixture of methods, but the Government ignores the evidence in favour of its outdated hobby-horses.’


Monday, November 22, 2010

Teachers Unions Not Representative of Teachers’ Changing Views

Education and education reform are hot topics in today’s headlines. Movies like Waiting for “Superman” have put the problems with American education center stage. Everyone seems to be aware that the crisis in public education is growing. Despite record level spending, students from 16 countries are outperforming their American counterparts. To top it all off, 50 percent of teachers in the classroom today will be retiring in the next ten years. This is not the recipe for a well-educated public.

Unfortunately, teachers largely have been pushed aside as education reformers determine how to help America’s students catch up with the rest of the world. Teachers can thank the teacher union leadership for being excluded from the education reform decisions. While American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten claims that teachers are being “scapegoated” for the nationwide lack of student achievement, administrators, parents, policymakers, and business leaders are working together to develop innovative strategies to help America’s students catch up with countries like Finland and South Korea.

Ms. Weingarten and her allies at the National Education Association have an arsenal of sound bites that are nothing more than double talk. It’s as if they are saying “we are part of the solution but only if you do it our way.” So who can blame policy makers for tuning out the unions when their prescription for improving public education is more money and less accountability?

The unions have done a masterful job at branding teachers and their unions as essentially the same. This could not be further from the truth. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of teachers who are not members of the teacher unions and do not support the unions or their positions.

There is hope for teachers, however. An alternative to the teachers unions called the Association of American Educators is a non-partisan, non-union professional association for educators. This summer the organization randomly surveyed its members from all fifty states to understand the changing sentiments of teachers relating to education reform. The findings show that teachers are indeed warming to reforms - a shocking blow to union-held stances relating to accountability, tenure and compensation.

For instance, the unions generally oppose using student test scores for teacher evaluations even when using a value-added system, which takes into account important student characteristics like special education services, free and reduced lunch status, and other factors out of a teacher’s control. Although our survey finds teachers do not want to be evaluated solely on student test scores, 80 percent of those surveyed supported using a value-added assessment when student test scores are part of teacher evaluation. In fact, AAE members believed that student test scores ranked near the top in evaluating teacher effectiveness, second to only administrative/ faculty review. Notably, years in the system ranked dead last among quantifiers of teacher effectiveness.

With regard to tenure, teachers unions promote it as a crucial means of protection for teachers to be able to perform their jobs. However, AAE’s survey shows that teachers have a different opinion. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed responded that tenure is not necessary for an educator to properly perform his or her job effectively, and the vast majority of respondents – 80 percent – asserted that achieving tenure does not indicate an effective teacher.

Also debunked in the survey is the myth that all teachers believe that they should have a job for life. Seventy-three percent supported a Colorado policy that strips tenure if a teacher is deemed ineffective for two consecutive years. Further, seventy percent disagreed with the statement “Last hired, first fired.”

When it comes to compensation, unions hold the line for a rigid, structured pay scale. AAE teachers showed that 79 percent of them supported educators being paid more to teach in high-needs schools and 80 percent agreed with paying teachers for taking on more responsibilities and additional roles at their schools.

It is this kind of data that demonstrates that teachers unions are out of step with their membership base. In fact, those teachers who think their unions are properly handling their interests have a false sense of security. Thousands of teachers have already left the union and have joined non-union, professional associations that offer many of the benefits they need without the union baggage. The growth of these organizations is the greatest hope that one day the unions will be forced to listen to their members rather than the other way around.


Charters give education in New Orleans a fresh start

When Hurricane Katrina struck five years ago, it displaced families and destroyed schools. And the storm unwittingly provided a chance to reinvent public education in a failing school district. So was launched the nation's biggest charter school experiment.Today, 70 percent of New Orleans public school students attend a charter school. No other city comes close. (Dallas' rate is 10 percent and growing.) So educators, lawmakers and researchers are watching for results.

One early lesson: The relative freedom of charter schools – they're independently run and exempt from many state education laws – appears to have been key to an overall boost in student performance in New Orleans. But the charter school setup alone did not guarantee success. The best ones have strong leaders, capable teachers and a relentless focus on learning. In other words, freedom in the right hands works.

The results in New Orleans are of high interest to Texas, where the number of charter schools has exploded over the last decade despite state limits on charters. There is talk that the Legislature may raise the cap this session, as many parents, high-dollar education donors and even Hollywood filmmakers embrace the concept.

The New Orleans school system once ranked among the country's worst. And one of the worst schools was Sophie B. Wright Middle. Wright chronically bore the state's lowest rating, academically unacceptable. Just a handful of students passed state exams. Kids got into fights and skipped class. Today, Wright carries a two-star rating out of five, around the state average. Fights are down. Attendance is up.

What changed? Five years ago, Wright became a charter school with its own governing board. Principal Sharon Clark said that autonomy has made all the difference. "You are given the ability to really work with your community and your parents and make decisions that really benefit kids," said Clark, a 43-year-old New Orleans native who came to Wright in 2001. Under the old school system, superintendents came and went along with their pet reading or math programs. Teachers ran short on textbooks and basic supplies.

Wright was one of the few city schools to become a charter before Hurricane Katrina. And it was among the first to reopen after, in January 2006. Clark said she can make swift decisions like never before. She holds up a list of requests from her teachers. One wanted a digital projector, another needed workbooks. Yet another teacher asked for a smaller fifth-period class. Everything teachers asked for, they got within 30 days, Clark said.

As a charter, Wright was able to buy its own school buses, which saved money. And Clark could decide to put middle-schoolers in single-sex classrooms ("fewer distractions," she explains) and do away with D letter grades (to push students to work harder for a C rather than fail).

Wright also enjoys the freedom to not try new things. Of all the reading programs to cycle through under the old school system, Wright instructors preferred one called Success For All, so they kept it.

Some schools or districts favor a lock-step team approach, with teachers teaching the same thing the same way, to ensure consistency. Not at Wright. "Teachers just know that they have to teach," Clark said. "We give you anything and everything you need – the rest is up to you."

Another charter school, New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy – nicknamed Sci Academy – opened two years ago. Benjamin Marcovitz, Sci Academy's 31-year-old principal, said the charter structure makes it easier to customize to student needs. Two weeks into the first school year, instructors realized that most freshmen read only at a fifth-grade level. Over one frenzied weekend, the staff overhauled the English curriculum. Out went novels like Lord of the Flies. In came an extra class on writing and grammar.

Charter schools also have more power to hire and fire teachers. When promising candidates apply to Sci Academy, Marcovitz observes them teaching. He makes suggestions and returns a week later to observe again. It's a lengthy recruiting process, often six to eight weeks. Marcovitz said the most successful teachers work 12 hours a day, six days a week the first year. Teachers post their phone numbers in their classrooms and take calls from students as late as 9:30 p.m.

Sci Academy staff members are mostly in their 20s or early 30s, with degrees from Yale, Harvard, UC-Berkeley and other top universities. Many are veterans of Teach For America, a national program that recruits promising college graduates to teach in poor communities. "We get teachers who buy into this model, who really believe that kids can come in way behind grade level and that they can achieve college success," said Morgan Carter, the school's chief growth officer.

Junior Alexandra Harris said the teachers push students even when they don't want to be pushed. "And they're going to always be there," she said. "Whatever the teachers do, they do it for a reason, for you to succeed."

Before Hurricane Katrina, more than 60 percent of New Orleans public schools were rated unacceptable. After Katrina hit, the state placed the worst campuses into a state system, the Recovery School District. Many of those schools became charters.

The charter schools are doing better on average – state figures show that 13 percent of them rated unacceptable this spring, compared with 65 percent of the Recovery district's traditional schools.

That doesn't mean charter schools are inherently better than traditional schools, experts say. "The truth is there are good charter schools and there are bad charter schools, and there are good traditionally operated schools and ones that are failing," said Shannon Jones Couhig, executive director of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, a Tulane University think tank.

Cowen experts say that for many reasons, comparing performance of Recovery charter schools with traditional campuses can be misleading. For instance, many charters formed after Katrina and therefore got to start from scratch.

They also say the autonomy that charters foster does not guarantee success. "It takes strong leadership. It takes somebody who's been in education, who knows what has worked in the past," said Joy Askin, a curriculum coordinator at Sophie B. Wright. "It's not always about, 'Let's just pour a lot of new stuff into the school.' "


Muslim children in Britain being taught Sharia

Children in Britain are being taught brutal Sharia law punishments, including how to hack off a criminal’s hand or foot.

So-called ‘weekend schools’ for Muslim pupils as young as six also teach that the penalty for gay sex is execution and that ‘Zionists’ are plotting to take over the world for the Jews.

One set textbook challenges youngsters to list the ‘reprehensible’ qualities of Jews. Another for six-year-olds asks them to answer what happens to someone who dies who is not a believer in Islam. The answer being looked for is ‘hellfire’.

A BBC Panorama investigation, to be screened tonight, identified a network of more than 40 weekend schools teaching around 5,000 children, from age six to 18.

The schools – which offer the hardline Saudi National Curriculum – are run under the umbrella of ‘Saudi Students Clubs and Schools in the UK and Ireland’.

They are not state-funded, and do not use Government buildings. They are able to exploit a loophole which means weekend schools are not inspected by Ofsted.

Last night, experts at the Policy Exchange think-tank warned that similar extremists could seek to exploit the Government’s policy of giving greater freedoms from state control to free schools and academies. They call for the establishment of a due diligence unit to check whether those applying to open the schools have an extremist background. Current checks are largely limited to fraud, criminal convictions and funding.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who is believed to be supportive of the idea, said he would not tolerate anti-Semitism and homophobia in English schools.

The Panorama investigation identified a book for 15-year-olds being used in the classes which teaches about Sharia law and its punishments. It says: ‘For thieves their hands will be cut off for a first offence, and their foot for a subsequent offence.’

There are diagrams showing children where cuts must be made. One passage says: ‘The specified punishment of the thief is cutting off his right hand at the wrist. Then it is cauterised to prevent him from bleeding to death.’

For acts of ‘sodomy’, children are told that the penalty is death and it states a difference of opinion whether this should be done by stoning, or burning with fire, or throwing over a cliff.

Panorama alleges that a building used for one of the schools, in Ealing, West London, is owned by the Saudi government.

Mr Gove told the programme: ‘I have no desire or wish to intervene in the decisions that the Saudi government makes in its own education system. ‘But I’m clear that we cannot have anti-Semitic material of any kind being used in English schools. Ofsted are doing some work in this area. ‘They’ll be reporting to me shortly about how we can ensure that part-time provision is better registered and better inspected in the future.’

The text books for 15-year-olds revive the so-called ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, which teach that Zionists want to establish world domination for Jews. The Saudi text books instruct pupils: ‘The Jews have tried to deny them (the Protocols) but there are many proofs of their veracity and their origin among the elders of Zion.’

The text books say the ‘main goal’ of the ‘Zionist movement’ is ‘for the Jews to have control over the world and its resources’ which, the book allege, Zionists seek to achieve partly by ‘inciting rancour and rivalry among the great powers so that they fight one another.’

Mr Gove said anyone who cites the Protocols of Zion is ‘indulging in one of the oldest and foulest anti Semitic smears that, that we know of’.

In a written response to the findings, the Saudi ambassador said the schools had nothing to do with the Saudi embassy. It stated: ‘Any tutoring activities that may have taken place among any other group of Muslims in the United Kingdom are absolutely individual to that group and not affiliated to or endorsed by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.’

Referring to the lesson that tasks children to list the ‘reprehensible qualities of the Jews’, in a letter to the BBC, the Saudi ambassador said it was ‘dangerously deceptive and misleading to address such texts and discuss them out of their overall historical, cultural and linguistic contexts’.

Panorama separately claimed some Muslim private schools have expressed extreme sentiments on their school websites. These include: ‘We need to defend our children from the forces of evil’, and ‘our children are exposed to a culture that is in opposition to almost everything Islam stands for’.

Policy Exchange says Britain’s faith and other schools are increasingly vulnerable to extremist influences. It claims in a report that the Department for Education, Ofsted, education authorities and schools are ‘not equipped’ to meet such challenges. Current checks for extremism are described as ‘piecemeal’.

The report adds: ‘The Government’s policy of opening up the education system to new academies and free schools programmes could be exploited unless urgent measures are taken to counter extremist influence.’


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another "new" mathematics for American schools

Odd that standards of mathematical literacy have gone steadily downhill as time-proven methods are abandoned. "New" methods of teaching mathematics are just a way of making education professors feel important and clever. They are in fact neither. Only a third-rater would be an education professor these days

Pay attention to what our children are being taught. Not even simple arithmetic is safe from progressive stupidity.

We moved here in June of 2005, with the first of our four children entering kindergarten in 2007. Like many other conservatives who have been caught sleeping at philosophy's wheel, we stupidly assumed that those persons running the local school district would hold values roughly in line with our own. We could not have been more wrong.

By now our second child has entered kindergarten, and having done our homework, we have since learned that our school board is ideologically homogeneous, far-left, and directly tied to both Gettysburg College and the local chapter of Democracy for America. A relational diagram of the whole matter would use up an entire box of chalk.

Midway through the previous century, the United States had the best public schools in the world; now it ranks near the bottom of developed nations (not because of any conservative initiatives) despite massive infusions of federal cash. Cognizant of this fact, my wife and I have taken a highly proactive approach to the proper education of our children, often broaching various subject matter with them well before the school does. This yielded good results up until my 8-year-old daughter began second-grade arithmetic.

A few of the math worksheets she brought home initially confounded us, making use of "number stories," where math problems were presented in pyramids or in bidirectional horizontal rows. This week, she was informed at school that her parents had taught her math "the old way" and that it was "confusing and a step behind." (I have politely conveyed to the school, in writing, of my extreme displeasure with having my authority challenged.)

As it turns out, our school district is using a controversial math curriculum called Everyday Mathematics, also known as "Reform Math." EM, as Everyday Mathematics is referred to by teachers, was developed by the University of Chicago, and according to their website, it is in use by about three million students nationwide.

What becomes immediately clear is that several extra steps are now necessary to accomplish simple beeline computations. More steps will result in more errors -- only an idiot would claim otherwise. Eventually, EM students are taught four ways to add, five ways to subtract, four ways to multiply, and two ways to divide (traditional long division has been eschewed completely). Rote memorization is de-emphasized, and calculators (as well as estimating) are introduced in grade two.

Here is the basic rationale behind EM, directly from the University of Chicago website: "Research has shown that teaching the standard U.S. algorithms fails with large numbers of children, and that alternative algorithms are often easier for children to understand and learn. For this reason, Everyday Mathematics introduces children to a variety of alternative procedures in addition to the customary algorithms".

Links to or excerpts of said research are not provided -- we are to simply take these statements as fact. EM further claims to "make mathematics accessible to all students" by:
Incorporating individual, partner, and small group activities that make it possible for teachers to provide individualized feedback and assistance.

Encouraging risk-taking by establishing a learning environment that respects multiple problem solving strategies.

Building in multiple exposures to concepts and skills and providing frequent opportunities for review and practice.

Here is what the creators of EM have to say about calculators:
Based on research that has shown calculator use can enhance cognitive gains in the areas of number sense, conceptual development and visualization, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends the integration of calculators into mathematics programs for all grade levels.

Number sense? While there is such a thing (according to Wikipedia), its definition points more to the use of an abacus (which every grade school classroom should have) than a calculator. That researchers or professional educators could make a statement so meaningless and inconclusive is mortifying.

Naturally, progressives will arrogantly foist this garbage upon their favorite groups of imaginary downtrodden.

Few things could more useless than a system of math instruction concocted by developmental psychologists, and serious questions must be raised about the real effects (and intent) of EM. Human beings have been performing simple math since hunter-gatherers realized they had digits and things that needed to be counted.

Only a starry-eyed progressive fool would attempt improvement upon methods of simple addition and subtraction, which were used by Franklin, Edison, and Einstein. After a dozen hazy summers, perhaps my children will be the only graduates here in Adams County who are able to figure out how many bushels of fruit can be had from twenty thousand acres of trees.


Some promising new policies for British schools announced

Two truly radical initiatives were announced by the Government last week that made less of an impact on public discourse than they deserved. Almost lost to view amid the jubilation over The Wedding, and the spectacular vindication of the Eurosceptic cause, these proposals could have as tumultuous an effect on Britain’s future as any political reforms in the past half-century.

The first had such a brief spell in the limelight – before being swept away in a tide of engagement-ring photos – that it may yet have escaped the notice of most of the population. This was Michael Gove’s statement that all schools will be able to apply for academy [charter] status if they affiliate themselves with a school that has been judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted.

The implications of this seemingly small step are at least as significant as the new emphasis on grammar and spelling to be promised in the White Paper. While initially only outstanding schools could become academies and thus be liberated from local education authority control, now any school will be able to do so provided that it is prepared to join with another that has proved itself to be successful and – most important – competently led.

At a stroke, this permits good schools, and good head teachers, to extend their influence over poorer ones. It makes a reality of what every government has hoped to achieve in education: spreading “best practice” throughout the system, pulling the standards of under-performing schools up to the level of better ones by allowing the best to become active mentors to the others.

In logistical (and political) terms, it will avoid what might have been a damaging effect of the free schools policy. Instead of poor schools having to be seen to fail, in a long, painful process of losing student numbers through parental choice and thus losing funding – with their gradual decline becoming a source of national shame and local outcry – those schools that might have died a lingering death may now save themselves by being adopted by a successful one.

No one can pretend that this solution will be unproblematic. Will the outstanding school actually take over the less good one? Will this oblige it to absorb disruptive pupils or incompetent staff? Or alternatively, might the association be so nominal that it will have little effect on the standards of the poorer school?

But coupled with Mr Gove’s other neglected pronouncement – that education funding is to be handed direct to schools, thus avoiding the overweening political influence of local education authorities – this measure just might help to achieve a stunning improvement in the quality of state education. Of course, such school affiliations will require the sincere desire to improve on the one hand, and a genuine commitment to offer guidance on the other, but these will be the responsibility of heads and teachers: the Gove mechanisms are offering as great an opportunity for national educational improvement as any politician could humanly manage.

Remarkably consistent with this move toward self-reliance and mutual assistance among schools was the second of last week’s policy launches: what has become known, inevitably, as the “John Lewis” model for restructuring public services. Offering an invitation – and even a small pot of start-up money – to public sector staff willing to take over and run the hospital, job centre or whatever in which they are employed, is a move of stunning political bravery.

Not that the concept is all that original in itself. (It has an ancestor, after all, in the co-operative movement.) Labour actually put a tentative, under-publicised toe in the water of mutualism as a formula for more productive and efficient public services, but it lacked the conviction to present the idea with anything like the gusto and evangelical commitment with which Francis Maude is now selling the Tory version.

The basic theory is simple and incontrovertible: staff who are what John Lewis calls “partners” in the enterprise – who share ownership of it and benefit directly when it is doing well – have a stake in its efficiency, productiveness and popularity with clients of a kind that no time-serving employee is likely to possess. This would also have the effect of “localising” the service and making it more responsive: staff who knew and understood the needs of their own community would be free to adapt their approach to suit those specific requirements, rather than simply carrying out impersonal diktats passed down from central government. (This is a consistent government objective: the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, wants to devolve planning power from politicians down to real people in real neighbourhoods.)

Again, there are some obvious risks which the Government, in spite of its eagerness to be un-prescriptive – to go for bottom-up suggestions rather than top-down formulae – will have to guard against. When an earlier Conservative government ordered councils to disband their direct labour forces and take competitive bids for contracted work instead, too many of them simply permitted their labour gangs to form “companies” whose tenders for council contracts were, mysteriously, always successful. So the same old people ended up doing the same old jobs with as little enthusiasm as ever.

If employees are to bid to become owners and managers of a service-providing business, then they must, like the staff of John Lewis, be exposed to real competition in something like a real marketplace. Otherwise, this whole venture will end up as nothing but a species of producer capture. But mention the words “market” and “competition” and you bring a sneer to the lips of Labour/trade union axe-grinders. How can anything as crass as the principles of retailing be applied to areas such as health and social services? Getting access to chemotherapy isn’t like buying cereal, they breathe piously.

Except that, in the terms which we are discussing, it might be better if it was: why shouldn’t medical treatment and social care involve more informed choice and more respect for individual preferences? This is not about “privatisation”. It is about creating an analogous kind of power to the one people are accustomed to exercising as consumers.

There is a theme here. From its welfare and education reforms to a revolution in the running of public services, the Government has a Big Idea which involves personal freedom within the bounds of community responsibility. This is worthy of all the attention we can give it.


British teachers given a few new powers to discipline pupils

Teachers will be given new powers to discipline pupils as part of a government plan to restore order in classrooms. An education white paper being published next week will give school staff the right to confiscate mobile phones, iPods, MP3 players and other electronic gadgets. For the first time, teachers will be able to search pupils for any item they believe troublemakers can use to cause disruption during lessons.

The move follows a series of incidents in which pupils have taken photos and videos of teachers then uploaded compromising images on to the internet. Last year, Peter Harvey, a science teacher, attacked a 14-year-old boy after being goaded by students who covertly filmed the episode on a camera phone.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, warned that the balance of power in schools had shifted in recent years, with teachers “living in fear of breaking the rules while troublemaking students felt the law was on their side”. The reforms, which are designed to tackle bad behaviour, will give staff the power to search pupils for any item, including legal highs, pornography, cigarettes and fireworks.

Previously, teachers could only frisk pupils’ clothes and search bags without consent for weapons, drugs, alcohol and stolen goods. The white paper will also set out plans to:

* Simplify rules on the use of physical force, giving teachers more powers to remove disruptive children from the classroom without fear of legal action;

* Protect teachers from false and malicious allegations made by pupils and parents, giving them anonymity until a case reaches court;

* Give head teachers the power to expel pupils from school without the decision being overturned by an independent appeals panel;

* Allow teachers to impose “same day” detentions, scrapping rules that require schools to give parents a 24-hour warning;

* Introduce rules giving head teachers the ability to punish pupils for bad behaviour outside school.

Mr Gove said teachers “had to be respected again”. “Under the last Government’s approach to discipline, heads and teachers lived in fear of breaking the rules while troublemaking students felt the law was on their side,” he said. “We have to stop treating adults like children and children like adults. “We will ensure that the balance of power in the classroom changes and teachers are back in charge.”