Saturday, December 11, 2010

TX: HISD board OKs creation of a school just for boys

Goal for students is a college degree

No sagging pants and grungy T-shirts will be allowed at this new Houston school. Neither will bad attitudes. And neither will girls.

This school, approved by the Houston board of trustees Thursday, will open next fall with only male students. The campus will start with sixth- and ninth-graders, who will have to apply to attend, and will grow annually to become a full middle and high school.

The boys at this new school in Houston's Fifth Ward will have to wear blazers and ties. They will take advanced courses, learn a foreign language and- the biggest expectation — go on to earn a college degree.

This will be the first all-boys school started directly by the Houston Independent School District, which last month announced plans to open an all-girls campus next year. The district has two other all-boys schools, but they are run by contractors and one is leaving HISD's umbrella to become a state charter school.

"We have to do something to save our young men of today," HISD Trustee Carol Mims Galloway said, noting that too many already have been in jail or are on track to land there.

The HISD board, at Galloway's request, postponed a vote on the all-boys school last month to allow more community meetings. Some in the historically black Fifth Ward were upset that the school would be housed at the E.O. Smith campus and would require students to apply - meaning the Smith students would be rezoned to other campuses.

Pastor Leonard Barksdale, of the Fifth Ward Missionary Baptist Church, told the school board Thursday that some community members still were upset that students would be displaced. "They want me to let you know that they really love their community and they love their schools," Barksdale said. "And some have the perception that maybe this board does not know that."

Galloway said in an interview that the entrance requirements for the all-boys school have not been set, but she plans to advocate for reserving more than 50 percent of the seats for students from northeast Houston. The school will be modeled off the nationally touted Chicago Urban Prep Academy.

Christopher Whisler, an eighth-grader at E.O. Smith, told the board he's ready to sign up. "I think the boys school is a great idea because, well, we will be able to concentrate more," he said, drawing laughter.

The number of public schools serving a single gender has exploded since 2002 thanks in part to a loosening of federal rules. Today, the United States has 95 single-gender schools and another 445 campuses that separate boys and girls for some courses, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

In addition to the all-boys schools in HISD, the charter network KIPP has an all-boys school and an all-girls campus in North Forest. The first two all-boys contract schools in HISD are Pro-Vision and the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

WALIPP, which opened 2002 and now is on the Texas Southern University campus, recently won approval to become a state charter school and to open an all-girls campus next year. Unlike HISD's new single-sex campuses, the WALIPP schools don't have entrance requirements for students, according to Cheryl Lawson, the WALIPP executive director. Her father, the Rev. William Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, founded the school.

"The boys always tell me, 'I just didn't want to come because there were no girls. But now that I'm here, I'm glad because I'm learning more,' " Cheryl Lawson said, adding that she expects the same reaction from the girls next year.


Rioting protesters in London mask the real problem facing today's British students

Universities are shoddy, state-directed and underfunded – with too little inclination for teaching

Channel 4 News on Thursday night spoke of "tens of thousands of students" protesting in Parliament Square. The only word not open to question in that phrase is "of". Demonstrators are usually wildly inaccurate about their numbers, and the media report their estimates almost uncritically.

There weren't tens of thousands – it was more like a few hundred – and we can have little idea whether those who urinated on the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, swung from the Union Flag on the Cenotaph, stove in the doors of HM Revenue and Customs or attacked the car carrying the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were enjoying what they call the "right" to higher education. Most troublemakers were wearing masks. Some of those interviewed could barely speak English.

On the same evening, BBC News cut to a reporter, Ben Brown, who was sharing his camera space with protesters who yelled, on cue, round the illegal fire they had lit. The BBC was almost literally fanning the flames. The next morning, the Today programme's attitude to the attack on the royal car was to joke about whether the vehicle was a Rolls Royce.

On Channel 4, the reporter Alex Thomson spoke of rioters "regaining Parliament Square as a place of protest for the people of this country". The mob had scored the word "No" in huge letters on the grass of the square. The protest, he opined, was "all rather British". Perhaps it was, but not in the happy way that he meant. It displayed our peculiar contemporary gift for treating nasty behaviour with collective complacency.

The constant protests in Parliament Square in recent years – sometimes violent, and always ugly and inconvenient – are not the proud property of "the people of this country". They are, in effect, an alliance between small groups of extreme, politically motivated people and the state-protected television media who always report them indulgently.

From inside the House of Commons, the Labour MP Tristram Hunt spoke of the place as being a "bubble", guarded from the anger outside. But at least MPs are elected. Really it is the square itself which has become the bubble. It is a public space, one of the most important in this country. But the authorities allow it to become a stage-set for gangs who deprive us, the public, of what is ours. On Thursday, the police did their best, but they are up against a political and media culture which thinks that letting extremists control the streets is a mark of "tolerance".

I read in another newspaper yesterday that "such stupid, graceless acts of violence do nothing to help the cause of student protest". This is correct only if such acts are punished and, where possible, prevented. They are not stupid at all, if, by performing them, their perpetrators gain a handle on the levers of power. As after the last riot, the Coalition is not serious enough about dealing with the problem.

And I do not solely mean dealing with its public-order aspects. I mean also arguing robustly for the policy. The increase in tuition fees, carried by only 21 votes, is inevitably unpopular. Its economic necessity, its educational advantages, and the fairness of its accompanying loan system have to be explained over and over again. To avoid alienating Lib Dem activists even further, the Conservatives have tended to treat the subject as if it were their junior partner's private grief, and have said little about it. The political tactic is understandable, but it has left a vacuum in the public debate, a vacuum filled by the cries of "Tory scum".

For the Coalition, despite appearances to the contrary, Thursday's events will have done good. It was moving to watch poor old Vince Cable, his nostrils uncomfortably "kettled" by his half-moon spectacles, argue his case to Parliament. He did so without relish, but honestly, as a good minister must. It was the first time in living memory that a Liberal has had to take an unpleasant measure through the Commons. It was the party's coming of age. Commentators expressed surprise yesterday morning that Liberal MPs were not at one another's throats. Of course they weren't! They had proved that they are a party of government which can – just – handle a revolt. The dissenters paraded their consciences and the ministers got their way: honour was satisfied.

But what happens next could be even harder than the struggle just ended. In the endlessly misleading debate about fairness which accompanies a period of cuts, it is not only a question of fairness between rich and poor. It is also a matter of fairness between the generations.

No one has thought more about this than the Universities Minister, David Willetts. His book The Pinch, published this year, is subtitled "How the baby boomers took their children's future – and why they should give it back." His "classic boomer", born in 1955, enjoyed much higher peak earnings, pension rights and asset values than his parents, whereas his children, now aged, say, 25, "may well have had to pay for their university education, so they started work with a large amount of student debt." "They could well have no assets," Mr Willetts goes on, "once their debts have been deducted, for another decade at least". So is Mr Willetts's current policy exactly the sort of boomer bad behaviour he attacks?

In fact, it is dire necessity. The boomer generation willed the end – the over-rapid expansion of university education. John Major disastrously decided to abolish polytechnics and pretend they were all universities instead. Successive governments failed, as was inevitable, to will the means.

It is logic, therefore, that students must pay more. But when you pay more for something, you become more aware of its deficiencies. Those borrowing between £20,000-£40,000 for their period of study will notice that many of their universities teach them little. This is not true only of the high-drop-out-rate duds – working title: The University of the South Circular – but also of some well-known ones. I have met the parents of arts students at Bristol who tell me their children have endured three years of education without a single academic knowing their name.

Next week, hundreds of thousands of students will come home for Christmas. Many of their parents, asking them about their term, will feel dissatisfied. They will hear of the lack of engagement from the dons and the shortage of well-directed, intellectually demanding education. The reason for this is that we have developed a shoddy, state-directed, underfunded system.

The answer lies not in higher state funding – which is both impossible and undesirable – but in universities that can set their own standards and students who can choose. A loans system is a necessary means to this, but if, by the next election, it isn't working, then the Coalition will be seen to have damaged the rising generation. When people believe that about a government, it cannot survive.


One in four British trainee teachers is a dunce: Thousands struggle to pass simple literacy and numeracy tests

You almost have to be dumb to want to work in a British "Comprehensive"

Almost one in four trainee teachers cannot do simple sums and a fifth have problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation, worrying figures revealed yesterday. Thousands repeatedly flunk basic numeracy and literacy tests and seek unlimited resits to pass. Critics fear the poor quality of the next generation of teachers will have a devastating impact on their pupils.

Trainees have to pass basic skills tests in literacy, numeracy and ICT (information and communication technology) before they can qualify as teachers. The pass marks are just 60 per cent.

The latest figures from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) reveal that in 2008/9 33,517 trainees passed their numeracy and literacy tests.

Some 77.7 per cent passed their numeracy test first time; 9.5 per cent (3,190) made two attempts and 12.8 per cent (4,298) – or one in eight – had at least three attempts. In literacy, 80 per cent (26,814) passed first time; 11.6 per cent (3,892) had two attempts and 8.4 per cent had at least three.

The figures do not detail how many times trainees resit the tests beyond three. However one is reported to have taken the tests 27 times before achieving the pass rate.

Standards were far higher five years ago when would-be teachers sailed through their tests without relying on retakes. For example, of the 32,717 trainees who passed their numeracy test in the academic year 2003/4, a respectable 83.6 per cent did so first time.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the tests are not ‘rocket science’. He said: ‘It’s a very basic assessment so it’s very worrying that so many would-be teachers are not competent in basic literacy and numeracy. ‘The fact they seem to be getting worse is especially concerning. If a teacher cannot tell what is appropriate or what is a mistake in maths, then how are young people going to learn?

‘The Government is right to crack down here as we are just perpetuating the poor use of language and lack of skills in maths if we allow people who cannot handle words and numbers into the classroom.’

The skills tests were introduced by Labour amid concerns that teacher training did not guarantee a thorough enough grounding in literacy, numeracy and comprehension. Passing the numeracy test has been a requirement of Qualified Teacher Status since 2000. Passing tests in literacy and ICT were made compulsory the following year.

Students currently sit the online tests in the final year of their teacher training. They were originally allowed only four or five attempts to pass the tests. But Labour scrapped the rule in 2001 and gave trainees unlimited resits.

The numeracy test lasts 48 minutes and contains 12 mental arithmetic questions to be completed without the aid of a calculator. Candidates are allowed to use pen and paper.

There are also longer questions involving interpreting statistical information and working out basic percentages and ratios.

The 45-minute literacy test is in four parts – spelling, grammar, punctuation and comprehension.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Dropout rate for Calif. black students hits 37%

Thus greatly limiting their options for legal economic activity

More than a third of California's African American public high school students dropped out before graduation day, a startling number and one that's on the rise, according to 2009 data released Tuesday.

The 37 percent African American dropout rate, up three percentage points from the prior year, was far above that of any other ethnic subgroup. Hispanic students had the second highest rate at 27 percent.

Locally, San Francisco cautiously celebrated a 9 percent overall dropout rate, a stark contrast to Oakland's 40 percent, numbers still under review for accuracy.

The statewide statistics highlight a pervasive achievement gap in test scores and graduation rates that persists despite focused efforts to boost the academic performance of black, Hispanic and low-income students, state education officials said.

Overall, 22 percent of state students dropped out of high school, according to the new data, up from 19 percent the year before.

The numbers are more than a year old. They were released several months later than usual because of problems ramping up a new system that can follow individual students' progress in California public schools, even if they move, said state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell.

"We now have a data system that allows us to track students more accurately and have honest conversations about how to improve graduation rates and reduce dropouts among all subgroups of students," O'Connell said.

O'Connell blamed the increase on state budget cuts, which have resulted in larger class sizes, fewer art and music classes, cuts to sports, fewer counselors and less access to career/technical courses - all programs that can help keep struggling or at-risk students in school.

In addition, drastic cuts to summer school have prevented students from catching up on credits during the break, meaning they can't graduate on time and too often give up. "Clearly the dropout rates in California are too high, unacceptable and absolutely must be addressed," O'Connell said.

Some good news

The higher dropout rate was the bad news Tuesday, but there was also good news - the state's graduation rate is also up, O'Connell said.

While that might sound contradictory, the two statistics aren't completely interconnected, given a fluctuating third group of students, which includes those who move out of state, die, go to jail or take the GED test before graduating.

In 2009, 70.1 percent of those who started high school in the state graduated, up from 68.5 percent the year before. Hispanic students saw the biggest gain in diplomas, with 60 percent graduating, a nearly five-percentage-point increase.

While O'Connell said the state dropout and graduation numbers are reliable, localized data are still under review for accuracy at the district level, given the new system.

High Oakland rate

In Oakland, for example, the dropout rate hit a whopping 40 percent in 2009, a number that has fluctuated wildly the past few years, up from 28 percent in 2008 and 36 percent in 2007.

While there is concern about the fluctuations, "these numbers are a little bit closer to what we've been hearing anecdotally," said Troy Flint, a district spokesman. "The percentage is not as important as realizing this is probably the most critical problem facing the district."

The district is focusing on internship programs and coursework that meets student interests, as well as offering the core curriculum, Flint said. "We're trying to be more creative about making it more interesting for kids," he said.

San Francisco's trend

In San Francisco, district officials were pleased with a 9 percent dropout rate, down from 18 percent the year before, and 20 percent in 2007.

Even if the exact numbers are off a bit, the trend seems clear, said Gentle Blythe, district spokeswoman. "It shows that the work we've been doing over the last few years to decrease truancy and increase (daily) attendance has had an effect on these numbers," she said.

The district has a partnership with the district attorney's office to compel attendance, as well as online courses and limited summer school specifically for students behind in credits.

"We know that being in school on a regular basis is a precursor to school success," Blythe said. "The more school students miss, the more likely they are to drop out and become discouraged."


Poor British white boys 'more likely to struggle at primary school

White kids could be more traumatized by the violent atmosphere that characterizes British "sink" schools

Half of poor white boys leave primary school without a decent grasp of English and mathematics, damning figures show. White British boys from the most deprived families perform worse at the age of 11 than any other group, it was disclosed. They are around 50 per cent less likely to start secondary education with an acceptable standard of the three-Rs than other pupils.

Poor children from black African, black Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani families all performed better than their white British classmates, figures show. This means thousands of children struggle to write complex sentences, spell accurately or use basic percentages and fractions after seven years of education.

The disclosure – in figures published by the Department for Education – prompted claims that Labour had “let down” young people from the most deprived backgrounds. It comes just days after a major report showed Britain had plummeted in international league tables charting standards of reading, maths and science in secondary schools over the last decade.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said: "These figures reveal that our education system is letting down half of all 10 and 11-year-old boys who qualify for free school meals. “It is not acceptable that at the end of primary school these children are still not reaching the standard in English and maths they need to flourish at secondary school.

“After seven years of primary school children need to be fluent in these basic skills which is why the Government is putting such an emphasis on improving pupils’ reading ability in the first years of primary school.

"We want to raise academic standards for all young people and to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds, so starkly demonstrated by today’s figures.”

According to figures, 73.5 per cent of all 11-year-olds reached the standard expected for their age group in Sats tests taken this summer, compared with 72 per cent a year earlier.

Data shows white British boys eligible for free meals – the Government’s standard measure of deprivation – were the worst performing group, other than those from gipsy and traveller backgrounds. Only 50.1 per cent of these children – 11,375 – hit targets in both English and maths.

This compared with 68 per cent of poor Indian boys and 66 per cent of those from Chinese families. Some 53.5 per cent of poor boys from black Caribbean backgrounds – traditionally among the worst performing pupils – hit national targets in the three-Rs, it was disclosed.

Among girls, poor white British pupils were also the worst performing group. Some 56.7 per cent achieved good results in England and maths – 6.6 percentage points higher than boys.

Around a quarter of primary schools – 4,000 in total – did not take part in the tests this year following boycotts by two teaching unions, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers.


Australia: New national curriculum will raise the bar in Queensland schools (?)

Good if it's true, but colour me skeptical

STUDENTS are facing a "more demanding" curriculum that not only goes back to the basics but also raises the bar in literacy and mathematics, Australia's curriculum head says.

But experts warn standards under the new Australian curriculum may be too high for some of the state's youngest and more marginalised students.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chair Professor Barry McGaw said the national curriculum, released this week, placed a heavier emphasis on grammar in the early years, which would now be taught more systematically in Queensland.

He said the Australian curriculum would stretch top-performing students "by being more demanding, by raising the requirements in maths, by putting more literature into the primary school" and "by being more explicit about literacy".

Prof McGaw also warned that Queensland's Year 7 teachers would need more professional development to implement the new curriculum than some of their peers interstate, where Year 7 was in secondary school and taught by specialist teachers with access to specialist facilities.

In Prep, a higher level of knowledge will also be required in some areas by Queensland students.

The four to six-year-olds will be expected "to read short, predictable texts aloud with some fluency and accuracy" and count to and from 20 from any starting point.

QUT School of Early Childhood Professor Donna Berthelsen said reading could be a problem for those marginalised children who did not have particularly advanced literacy skills.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said it had always been understood the developmental range in four to six-year-olds was quite extensive, with some able to read and others not.

The national curriculum achievement standards are still to be finalised, with ministers and the authority agreeing to continue to work on them before signing off on a final version next year.

A Queensland Studies Authority spokesman said the Australian and Queensland curriculums for the Prep year were fairly closely aligned, with expectations of what children should know and be able to do being very similar.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Dubious education at UNC

Mike Adams

The Associated Press recently ran an article that should firmly establish the UNC system as the most ridiculous system of hire (pun intended) education in the United States of America. The article begins, in typical liberal fashion, by lauding a confused individual as a heroine when clearly he is not even a she.

According to the AP, “Nicole” actually spent over $100,000 on an attempted transition from male to female, including flying to, of all places, Thailand, for sexual reassignment surgery. (Please, no dirty Bangkok jokes.) After spending at whopping $20,000 on facial hair removal Nicole still had a problem: His voice still gave him away as a male (because he was and still is a male).

This alleged victim had to endure callers referring to him as "sir" when he answered the phone. It offended him badly because he wants to be referred to as ma’am – at least until he moves to California and is elected to the United States Senate. By then, he’ll be offended by ma’am, too – especially if it comes from one of those annoying military types.

So what was Nicole to do in order to find a “solution” to the “problem” of people correctly identifying his actual God-given gender? Well, even though he’s not an obese black woman (see my last column for details), he found a “solution” to the “problem” at UNCG, which ought to stand for the University of North Carolina at Gomorrah.

Despite the deep budget crisis, North Carolina taxpayers pay UNCG speech pathologists to teach transgender people how to speak like the people of the sex they are trying unsuccessfully to become. Does that make sense? Of course it doesn’t. We’re talking about UNC-Gomorrah.

The AP quoted the 57 year old man named Nicole as saying "To me, there's nothing worse than seeing someone dressed as a woman, a beautiful woman … then she opens her mouth and she sounds like a sailor. It's very off-putting for people." I agree. In fact, I feel the same way every time I watch The Vagina Monologues.

Nicole took eight private classes at UNCG where he learned to redirect his voice through the front of his mouth instead of his throat or chest so that he sounds more like a woman – although, clearly, he is not. Each semester, speech pathologists at the UNCG School of Health and Human Performance take time off from addressing legitimate problems in order to teach about eight or so transgender people.

The classes for transgender people - those who want to live as the gender they weren't assigned by God - teach a number of valuable lessons. For example, they teach that women use more adjectives, and gesture more with their hands and use their face more to express feelings. This is all so profound, isn’t it? I suppose that women who want to become men are taught the importance of breaking wind in public and coming home late for dinner.

Dean Hopper explained to the AP the importance of teaching men who want to be women to say girlie things when looking at art: "And women will say, 'that's a beautiful picture, I see a bubbling stream ...' they’ll really elaborate. Men will just say, 'I see a house and a car.' And then women add, 'it's just a fabulous-looking house.'"

At UNC-Gomorrah, transgender voice training students get handouts that compare male directions to those given by females. These intellectual giants inform the transgender students that women use landmarks, while men use a compass when they give directions. A landmark intellectual breakthrough, isn’t it?

Dean Hopper shares more of her intellectual genius by showing how women might give directions: “When you get to the red house with the blue shutters, take a right, go three miles. You'll go past the store, you'll see a cornfield. You'll see a beautiful fire station. It's new, you know, they just built it last week. Then you turn left."

Dean Hopper adds that men might give directions like this: "Go west three miles, take a left at this road, go four miles, take a right." Hopper fails to provide directions to the office of a UNCG Dean who doesn’t sound like a complete jackass.

But Dean Hopper does give some great advice if you are not exactly an old, rugged cross-dresser: "One thing we recommend, if you've never worn heels, probably your 40s and 50s are not a good time to start. You can get cute shoes that are flat. So why be awkward and start doing that? Especially if you're large and have big bones, heels aren't for you."

"I never really thought of myself as a strong person," Nicole told AP reporter Martha Waggoner. He added, "But now that I look back on what I've gone through, I think I'm a very strong person and a very courageous person for just standing up for myself and saying this is who I am and I have a right to be happy."

The present state of higher education is the future state of our culture. Its promise is that every man has a right to be happy by becoming whatever he wants to become regardless of what he is. If we just put our faith in the gods of diversity they will deliver us from ourselves. And we won’t be mistaken for men any longer.


Victory for common sense: British parents should be free to take pictures of their children's nativity play

Schools that ban parents from taking pictures of their children ­acting in Nativity plays do not have the law on their side, the Government’s privacy watchdog declared yesterday.

Parents should stand up to headmasters hiding behind the 'myth' that there are privacy laws against relatives taking photos or film footage of school events, the Information Commissioner said.

A string of schools have prevented parents from taking pictures of their children in plays, on sports day or at other events, often citing the Data Protection Act as justification. But the Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who is responsible for implementing the Act, said parents should 'stand ready to challenge any schools or councils that say "Bah, Humbug" to a bit of festive fun'.

'Armed with our guidance, parents should feel free to snap away this Christmas,' he said. 'Having a child perform at a school play or a festive concert is a very proud moment for parents and is understandably a memory that many want to capture on camera.

'It is disappointing to hear that the myth that such photos are forbidden by the Data Protection Act still prevails in some schools. 'A common sense approach is needed – clearly, photographs simply taken for a family album are exempt from data protection laws.'

Last month the Daily Mail revealed one headmistress who banned parents from taking pictures in school and even blacks out pupils' faces in the school yearbook.

Vicky Parsey, headmistress of Applecroft primary school in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, has imposed the rules for fear that children’s faces will be superimposed on obscene internet images.

Critics said the 'absurd' rules branded all parents potential paedophiles, creating a 'climate of fear'. But the commissioner's guidance – sent to education authorities nationwide – says: 'The Data Protection Act is unlikely to apply in most situations where photographs are taken by parents in schools.

'The Act does apply when photographs of children are taken for official use by a school or college such as for issuing identification passes.

'In the other small number of instances where the Data Protection Act does apply, if the photographer obtains permission from the parent or individual to take a photograph, then this will usually be enough to ensure compliance.'


Smart kids being ignored in Australia -- with the inevitable result

And given the now demonstrated truth of smart fraction theory, that's pretty bad for Australia. The national well-being would be better served by treating them exceptionally attentively.

Most very bright students will do well regardless of the system, however. My educational development was retarded rather than assisted by the environment into which I grew up but I still sailed through the system without a care. I even taught myself (successfully) the last two years of the High School curriculum!

THE number of high achievers is shrinking because all the attention goes to the weak.

THE results of the Program for International Student Assessment every three years are highly anticipated in education circles and are dissected for years afterwards.

Unfortunately, the 2009 report released this week has been cause for dismay. Australia was one of very few countries to have a significant decline in its average reading and mathematical literacy scores. This decline is attributed largely to a reduction in the proportion of students performing at the highest proficiency levels.

It is important to bear in mind that country comparisons need be considered with some caution. Comparing city-states such as Hong Kong and Singapore with a country that has a widely dispersed population like Australia has obvious problems. It might be more defensible to compare these cities with Sydney or the ACT. However, even putting aside the international rankings, the fact remains that Australia has failed to meet its own previous standards.

The bad news about our PISA performance should not come as a shock. Australia's relatively low representation at the top of the academic spectrum was evident in PISA 2006. Shamefully, it was not taken seriously at the time.

The PISA report does not offer any explanation for Australia's shrinking pool of bright sparks. It rejects the argument that there has been a focus on students at the low end of the academic range at the expense of students at the top, apparently on the basis that there has been no change in the proportion of low achievers. Logic suggests this does not mean that there has not been increased attention paid to these students, just that it hasn't worked. In my view, education policy over the past decade has leaned heavily towards alleviating the effect of social disadvantage and lifting the performance of low achievers. These are important aims. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that not only have low achievers not benefited, high achievers have suffered.

In all countries participating in PISA there is a positive relationship between socioeconomic status and literacy performance, to varying degrees. The strength of this relationship in Australia has reduced from PISA 2000 to PISA 2009. In 2000, Australia was described as a high-quality, low-equity country. By 2006, Australia was no longer judged to be a low-equity country and in the 2009 results released yesterday, Australia is now slightly better than the international average in terms of the impact of socioeconomic background on literacy.

Nonetheless, a socioeconomic literacy gap was still evident in PISA 2009, particularly among students with the lowest literacy performance. Only 5 per cent of children in the highest socioeconomic quartile scored in the Level 1 literacy bands, compared with 24 per cent of children in the lowest socioeconomic quartile.

But there is more to the relationship between social background and school performance than meets the eye, and our understanding of this relationship has profound implications for policy.

Over the last decade, a number of studies, including PISA, have shown that socioeconomic variables are stronger at the school-level than the individual level. That is, the mean socioeconomic status of a student's school has a larger impact on their achievement than their own socioeconomic status.

These findings have been accompanied by research looking at the ways ways in which school-level socioeconomic status might affect the academic achievement of students. Gary Marks's research in this area has led him to argue that the academic context or "climate" of the school is more important than the socioeconomic status of the students themselves.

The association between socioeconomic variables and literacy is not inevitable -- there are high-performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as low-performing students from advantaged backgrounds -- and it is mediated by other factors, such as quality of instruction and school climate. Marks says: "there is no deterministic relationship between socioeconomic background and low achievement". There is good reason to believe that the entrenched literacy gap can be substantially reduced.

The problem remains in finding a way to target resources without creating a new form of disadvantage. Geoff Masters, chief of the Australian Council for Education Research, once said that any student whose needs are not being met is disadvantaged. It seems that at the moment, our high-ability students fall into this category.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

University: Dump Christian beliefs on homosexuality, or else;
Demands student get re-educated, attend 'pride' event

Augusta State University graduate student Jen Keeton alleges school officials demand she be re-educated in morality, giving her the choice of giving up her Christian beliefs on homosexuality or being expelled from the school's counseling program. But now, after months of battling the university in court, a pair of free-speech organizations have joined her in the fight.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the National Association of Scholars have filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, asserting it a violation of the First Amendment for the Georgia university's officials to require Keeton's beliefs be "influenced" by remedial sensitivity training or face expulsion.

According to a complaint filed against the school earlier this year, school officials demanded Keeton, 24, go through a "remediation" program after she asserted homosexuality is a behavioral choice, not a "state of being" as a professor said.

Specifically, the remediation program was to include "sensitivity training" on homosexual issues, additional outside study on literature promoting homosexuality and the plan that she attend a "gay pride parade" and report on it.

"Besides violating Keeton's own First Amendment rights," writes University of California Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh in the brief, "the university's retaliation also sent a powerful message to other students: If you express views like Keeton's, prepare to suffer the same consequences – prepare to incur many hours of extra obligations, and to put yourself at risk of expulsion."

Keeton's original lawsuit, filed by attorneys working with the Alliance Defense Fund, asserted the school cannot violate the Constitution by demanding that a person's beliefs be changed.

University "faculty have promised to expel Miss Keeton from the graduate Counselor Education program, not because of poor academic showing or demonstrated deficiencies in clinical performance, but simply because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical convictions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity," the law firm explained.

Keeton's own e-mail response to the faculty members who allegedly were pressuring her to adopt a pro-homosexual belief system defines the dispute.

"At times you said that I must alter my beliefs because they are unethical. ... Other times you said that I can keep my beliefs so long as they are only personal and I don't believe that anyone else should believe like me. But that is just another way of saying that I must alter my beliefs, because my beliefs are about absolute truth. ... In order to finish the counseling program you are requiring me to alter my objective beliefs and also to commit now that if I ever may have a client who wants me to affirm their decision to have an abortion or engage in gay, lesbian or transgender behavior, I will do that. I can't alter my biblical beliefs, and I will not affirm the morality of those behaviors in a counseling situation," she wrote.

According to court documents, Keeton faces the "remediation" requirement because she supposedly (1) "voiced disagreement in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian 'lifestyle,'" (2) "stated in one paper that she believes GLBTQ 'lifestyles' to be identity confusion," (3) "relayed [to another student] her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations" and (4) "tried to convince other students to support and believe her views."

School authorities cited the American Counseling Association's code of ethics and said students would be required to adopt its provisions to obtain a degree in counseling.

Faculty members, therefore, had demanded Keeton "attend at least three workshops … which emphasize … diversity training sensitive toward working with GLBTQ populations." They also wanted her to "develop" her knowledge of homosexuality by reading 10 articles and increasing her exposure to homosexuals and lesbians by attending "the Gay Pride Parade."

"Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform," said ADF Senior Counsel David French. "Abandoning one's own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree. This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop. Jennifer's only crime was to have the beliefs that she does."

He added that a public university student "shouldn't be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that's exactly what's happening here."

Keeton's original request for an injunction preventing Augusta State from expelling her over refusal to comply with the remediation program was denied in August by U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall. "[T]his is not a case pitting Christianity against homosexuality," Hall wrote in his opinion. "Matters of educational policy should be left to educators, and it is not the proper role of federal judges to second guess an educator's professional judgment."

He added, "Whether I would have imposed the remediation plan, or what I would have included in the plan itself, is not the question, for the Supreme Court instructs that educators, not federal judges, are the ones that choose among pedagogical approaches."

The FIRE and NAS friend-of-the-court brief explains, however, "A university does have great latitude in deciding what all of its students in a particular program or course must learn. But it does not have such latitude in imposing special curricular burdens on students who express certain views, whether anti-homosexuality, anti-war, pro-gun rights, anti-religious, or whatever else."

The brief concludes, "Unless the district court's decision is reversed, it threatens to become a road map for other public universities that want to restrict a wide range of speech (not at all limited to anti-homosexuality speech) by a wide range of students (not at all limited to counseling students)."


Travesty of Britain's 'stagnating' schools: In a damning indictment of Labour, OECD condemns British education which is now inferior to Estonia's

Britain has plummeted down worldwide education rankings in the last decade, according to definitive figures which shame Labour’s record on schools. Despite doubled spending since 2000, the education of teenagers has ‘stagnated at best’.

The verdict is a damning indictment of Tony Blair’s mantra that his three top priorities in government were ‘education, education, education’. Britain has now fallen behind such relatively poor nations as Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic in reading, maths and science.

Although spending has risen from £35.8billion to £71billion, the education of teenagers has failed to register any improvement and in some areas has deteriorated rapidly.

In stunning proof that taxpayers did not get value for money, the UK slipped from eighth to 28th in maths, from seventh to 25th in reading and from fourth to 16th in science over the same period. Poland now ranks ten places ahead of the UK in reading and is three ahead in maths.

Even more disturbingly, the study found that a fifth of 15-year-old Britons are ‘functionally illiterate’, which ‘significantly reduces their chances of success in later life’.

The figures were released yesterday by the highly respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which compared the standards of 15-year-olds in 65 developed countries.

British children’s poor reading skills are said to be partly because they spend too much time on computers rather than reading books, but are also a tragic reflection of the education they have received.

Nor has it helped that the UK has a relatively low proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. And having some of the world’s ‘best-educated’ parents has not improved the standards of Britain’s children – raising serious questions about the effective role of parents in UK schools.

The study was based on two-hour tests of 500,000 15-year-old schoolchildren by the OECD. Some 65 countries were listed in this year’s rankings compared with 54 three years ago.

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD said overall scores achieved by UK pupils were ‘stagnant at best, or marginally lower, whereas many other countries have seen quite significant improvements’.

The UK, despite being the eighth-biggest spender per pupil on education, with an average of £8,892 a year at secondary level, performed below the international average in maths, only just above in reading and slightly better in science.

The Far East had strong performers with the region of Shanghai-China coming top in all three subjects and Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan all ranking high.

Finland, which places strong emphasis on teacher quality, was ranked highest European nation.

The study comes a week after Education Secretary Michael Gove detailed his plans for schools reform in a White Paper. He seeks to overhaul the curriculum, make exams tougher, give schools more autonomy and improve teaching standards.

The Coalition seized on the OECD’s results as proof that Labour had failed in education. Mr Gove said an increase in spending under the last government was ‘tied up in bureaucracy and didn’t go to the front line’. He added: ‘Today’s report underlines the urgent need to reform our school system. We need to learn from the best performing countries. Other regions and nations have succeeded in closing the gap and in raising attainment for all students at the same time.’

The minister stressed the importance of using nations such as Poland, Singapore and Finland as ‘our inspiration’. But he admitted that the size of the task was ‘daunting’ and, like Gordon Brown before him, refused to set a target for UK performance in the next international survey, in 2012.

Sir Terry Leahy, head of Tesco, has frequently attacked the education system saying school leavers do not have the basic skills needed for jobs.

And yesterday business leaders expressed horror at the figures showing a fifth of 15-year-olds failed to gain even the minimum standard expected for their age in literacy and maths. Susan Anderson, of the CBI, said: ‘It is increasingly clear that the UK is a long way behind its key competitors in education.’

The UK’s dire record on reading was blamed, in part, on the overuse of computers. In the UK 54 per cent of pupils never go to the library. This compares with the OECD average of 34 per cent.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said teenagers spend too much time communicating through email or online chat. ‘We cannot allow our youngsters to neglect the basic hobby of picking up a book and reading it simply for the enjoyment of it.’

The OECD said immigration played a factor in the UK’s low ranking. Some 10.6 per cent of students are from an immigrant background – the 14th-highest proportion in the list.

The findings showed that the UK’s score for reading was 494, just above the OECD average of 493. For maths skills, the score was 492 – slightly beneath the international average of 496 – as pupils were outperformed by those in Slovakia and Slovenia. In science the UK achieved a result of 514 – higher than the 501 average score but still a disappointment.

According to the OECD, scores gained by Scotland were marginally above those in the rest of the UK, while Wales performed worst in the three disciplines.

Eastern Bloc countries have put Britain to shame by overtaking them since the end of Communist rule


Australia: School building program rip-offs revealed by auditor

Peter Achterstraat tells it like it is

The NSW government accepted building contracts for school programs under the Building the Education Revolution that were inflated and did not meet the preferences of local communities, an audit has found.

The federal government's major program for schools has come under renewed criticism for its high costs in a report released today by the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat.

A detailed study of spending at 1270 primary schools found the government accepted building contracts that were $188 million higher than their own costings, according to the report.
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"Irrespective of time constraints, the Department [of Education] should not approve estimated construction costs that are substantially higher than the department's own assessments," Mr Achterstraat said.

"They should investigate significant variances, negotiate with the managing contractors and set the estimated costs based on their own assessment, not the managing contractor's assessment."

Mr Achterstraat said he examined nine schools closely, and found eight had costs between 2 and 40 per cent higher than an independent surveyor's estimate.

Of a further 68 schools surveyed, just 40 per cent thought the project was value for money, he said.

"The department strictly adhered to the Australian government's guidelines and their own standards, which meant some schools got a library when they wanted a hall," Mr Achterstraat said.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Do international test comparisons make sense?

The article below is typical of Leftist focus on groups rather than on those pesky individuals. It endeavours to downplay poor average performances by American students in international comparisons by pointing out that America has a large and strong elite class. And, as we know from smart fraction theory, that is what matters most to a nation's prosperity.

That is a cop-out however, that ignores the individual. Why are so many individual students doing badly? It is they for whom concern may be warranted, not the USA as a whole. Individuals matter

Tomorrow we will learn the latest results from the Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA and promoted as the most comprehensive study to test and compare student performance internationally.

Each time PISA, or other international test results are released, there is angst in the United States because American students aren’t ranked as high as Japan and Finland and Singapore and South Korea and a bunch of other countries.

Experts are quoted about how the United States is going to slip into oblivion if we can’t get these scores up, and other experts are quoted as saying that we have to speed up specific school reforms (the current ones in vogue involved high-stakes standardized testing, expanding charter schools, etc.) so that we can reclaim our rightful place at the top of these test result lists.

Expect to hear all of that this week and more.

So before all the hullabalo starts, it is a good time to look back at what the late, great social scientist Gerald Bracey wrote about international comparisons. Bracey was director of research, evaluation and testing for the Virginia Department of Education from 1977 to 1986, as well as a trained psychogist who was the leading critic of how today’s tests measure success. He authored numerous articles and books, including "Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered."

Below are two separate writings, one a blogpost he wrote for The Washington Post blog x = why? and the other from his last Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. The report was jointly published in 2009, shortly after Bracey passed away, by the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado. The whole report is worth rereading, but here’s part of what Bracey wrote on international comparisons of student test scores:
....Many critics cite the performance of American students on international comparisons of mathematics and science. The most often used comparison comes from rankings on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Most recently (2006), American students ranked 24th of 30 OECD nations in mathematics and 17th of 30 in science. Errors in the test booklets prevented the reporting scores for American students in reading.

It should be noted that these rankings are determined by nations’ average scores. Some researchers have suggested, however, that average score comparisons are not useful: even presuming that the tests have some meaning for future accomplishment, average students are not likely to be the leaders in fields of mathematics and science.

Those roles are more likely to fall to those scoring well. A publication from OECD itself observes that if one examines the number of highest-scoring students in science, the United States has 25% of all high-scoring students in the world (at least in “the world” as defined by the 58 nations taking part in the assessment—the 30 OECD nations and 28 “partner” countries). Among nations with high average scores, Japan accounted for 13% of the highest scorers, Korea 5%, Taipei 3%, Finland 1%, and Hong Kong 1%. Singapore did not participate.

The picture emerging from this highest-scorer comparison is far different than that suggested by the frequently cited national average comparisons; it is a picture that suggests many American schools are actually doing very well indeed.

Of course, the U.S. is much larger than these other countries and should be expected to produce larger numbers of successful students. But it is only when we look beyond the mean and consider the distribution of students and schools that we see the true picture. Students attending American schools run the gamut from excellent to poor. Well-resourced schools serving wealthy neighborhoods are showing excellent results. Poorly resourced schools serving low-income communities of color do far worse. --

The second Bracey writing is from a blog that Post reporter Michael Chandler wrote while she was spending a year retaking high school math. In December 2008 she asked Bracey to write about the results of the just relased 2007 TIMMS test. Here’s what he wrote:
So the U. S. is not #1 in mathematics or science testing. So what?

So, very little.

First, comparing nations on average scores is a pretty silly idea. It’s like ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash. Not much link to reality. What is likely much more important is how many high performers you have. On both TIMSS math and science, the U. S. has a much higher proportion of "advanced" scorers than the international median although the proportion is much smaller than in Asian nations.

This was not true on PISA, another international comparison that tests 15-year-olds. Only 1.5% of American students scored at the highest level compared to top performing New Zealand at 4% and second place Finland at 3.9%.

Yet the proportion of Americans at the highest level meant that 70,000 kids scored there compared to about 2,000 for New Zealand and Sweden. No one else even came close--Japan was second with about 33,000 top performers. These are the people who might end up creating leading edge technology in the future. Who cares if Singapore, with about the same population as the Washington Metro Area, and Hong Kong, with about twice that number, score high?

There aren’t many people there. (And, as journalist Fareed Zakariya found out, the Singapore kids fade as they become adults. More about that in a moment). The bad news is that the U. S., on PISA anyway, had many more students scoring at the lowest levels; these kids likely can’t compete for the good jobs in the country.

Second, test scores, at least average test scores, don’t seem to be related to anything important to a national economy. Japan’s kids have always done well, but the economy sank into the Pacific in 1990 and has never recovered.

The two Swiss-based organizations that rank nations on global competitiveness, the Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum, both rank the U. S. #1 and have for a number of years. The WEF examines 12 "pillars of competitiveness," only one of which is education. We do OK there, but we shine on innovation. Innovation is the only quality of competitiveness that does not show at some point diminishing returns. Building bigger and faster airplanes can only improve productivity so much.

Innovation has no such limits. When Zakariya asked the Singapore Minister of Education why his high-flying students faded in after-school years, the Minister cited creativity, ambition, and a willingness to challenge existing knowledge, all of which he thought American excelled in. But, as Bob Sternberg of Tufts University [he is now provost of Oklahoma State University] has pointed out, our obsession with standardized testing has produced one of the best instruments in the nation’s history for stifling creativity.

But really, does the fate of the nation rest on how well 9- and 13-year-olds bubble in answer sheets? I don’t think so. Neither does British economist, S. J. Prais. We look at the test scores and worry about the nation’s economic performance. Prais looks at the economic performance and worries about the validity of the test scores: "That the United States, the world’s top economic performing country, was found to have school attainments that are only middling casts fundamental doubts about the value and approach of these [international assessments]."

Third, even if comparisons of average test scores were a meaningful exercise, it only looks at one dimension--the supply side. Predictably, the results gave rise to calls for more spending on science instruction. This ignores the fact that we have more scientists and engineers than we can absorb. In one study, Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University and Harold Salzman of the Urban Institute found that we mint three new engineers for every new job (this is from permanent residents and citizens, not foreigners).

More disturbing was the attrition rate. While educators fret over losing 50% of teachers in 5 years (and well they should), Lowell and Salzman found that engineering loses 65% in two years. Why? Low pay, lousy working conditions, little chance for advancement. American schools of engineering are dominated by foreigners because only people from third world nations can view our jobs as attractive. In fact, long-time science writer, Dan Greenberg, invented a new position for those emerging with Ph.D.’s: post-doc emeritus.

Schools are doing a great job on the supply side. Business and industry are doing a lousy job on the demand side. The oil industry, responding to increased demand for oil exploration raised the entry-level salaries for petroleum engineers by 30-60%. The number of students lining up to be petroleum engineers has doubled and enrollment at Texas Tech has increased sixfold.

As usual in these comparisons, Americans in low-poverty schools look very good, even in mathematics. They would be ranked third in the 4th grade (among 36 nations) 6th in the 8th grade (among 47 nations). This is important because while other developed nations have poor children, the U. S. has a much higher proportion and a much weaker safety net. When UNICEF studied poverty in 22 wealthy nations, the U. S. ranked 21st.


Poor British children 'fall behind classmates after two years of school'

The elephant in the room -- IQ -- is being ignored, of course. Rich kids come from brighter families and IQ is both hereditary and the best single predictor of educational success. And differences in IQ do tend to widen with age. Dumb kids peak earlier. See "The chimpanzee effect"

Children from poor families are falling up to eight months behind richer classmates after just two years of school, according to research. Despite billions spent attempting to boost social mobility under Labour, academics found the gap between rich and poor pupils widened throughout early education.

The study – based on a major analysis of children born in the first two years of the millennium – suggested that social class remained the biggest barrier to success at school.

Academics said the number of books in the home, parental qualifications, regular mealtimes and bedtimes, the state of housing and the quality of early childcare all had an impact on children’s education.

But Dr Alice Sullivan, senior lecturer at the University of London’s Institute of Education, who led the research, said Government policies designed to improve parenting skills were not enough to address chronic under-performance among deprived pupils.

She suggested that welfare reforms – including access to housing and jobs – would have a bigger impact on school standards. “Our research shows that while parenting is important, a policy focus on parenting alone is insufficient to tackle the impacts of social inequalities on children,” she said. “Redistributive economic policies may be more effective than policies directly addressing parenting practices.”

As part of the latest study, academics tracked the performance of more than 11,000 seven-year-olds in reading and maths. They also analysed teachers’ assessments of children’s abilities in other subjects such as speaking and listening, writing, science, maths, PE and creative arts.

The report – part of the Millennium Cohort Study, an on-going analysis of children across the UK born between 2000 and 2002 – compared education standards with pupils’ family backgrounds.

It found the children of parents in professional and managerial jobs were around eight months ahead of those with parents who were long-term unemployed.

The study found this gap had widened over the last two years. A similar test carried out when pupils started school aged five found that the gap was just four months – half as wide.

The conclusions come despite a sharp rise in funding under the last Government to address chronic underperformance among children born into the poorest households. In recent years, children have been given more access to free childcare and billions has been spent on a generation of Sure Start children’s centres in deprived communities.

The study found that a stable home environment and good parenting had an impact on children’s early education, but this was not enough to explain the differences.


Australia: Still problems with national schools curriculum says NSW State Government

THE New South Wales Government says it will refuse to roll out a substandard national schools curriculum. Federal, state and territory education ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss the content of the curriculum, which was meant to be rolled out around the country in 2011.

NSW Education Minister Verity Firth today said that she was not going to compromise on quality. "The advice that I have from the NSW Board of Studies ... is that the draft curriculum in its current form is not ready," she told ABC Radio. "I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to take the advice of my board about quality and I think that's the responsible thing to do."

Ms Firth said the states had until 2013 to implement the national curriculum anyway. "Tomorrow's meeting was never going to be the be-all-and-end-all, the absolute sign off of a finished and perfect curriculum," she said.

There were still three main problems with the document, she said.

Ms Firth said more consultation with teachers on the syllabus was needed, while the structure of the curriculum needed to balance the amount of content with the time available to study it.

A new syllabus must also cater for all students, from those with learning difficulties to gifted and talented, she said. "There needs to be a broad spectrum in the curriculum, especially from special needs teachers there is a sense that there really isn't."


Monday, December 06, 2010

Arne Duncan sees the light

For about two years now, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been co-opting much of the GOP playbook on education. They support charter schools. They endorse merit pay. They decry teacher tenure and seniority. On alternate Thursdays, they bracingly challenge the teacher unions.

But on one key issue—spending—they have acted like traditional borrow-and-spend Democrats, only more so. The 2009 stimulus bill included over $100 billion for schools, most of it designed to simply save teachers’ positions. A 2010 “edujobs” bill showered another $10 billion in bailout bucks on K-12 systems to forestall hard choices. And Duncan’s insistence last summer that school districts had already cut “through, you know, fat, through flesh, and into bone,” only served to pull the rug out from under those state and local leaders inclined to swing the budget ax, by making their tough medicine seem mean-spirited—and unnecessary.

Well. We’re not sure if the Secretary of Education had a conversion experience, had a secret plan to woo the ed establishment and then hit it with tough love, or is simply reading the Tea Party leaves, but what a difference a couple months can make! The week before Thanksgiving, Secretary Duncan sang the praises of productivity in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute titled “The New Normal: Doing More With Less.”

It was a humdinger. Duncan opened: “For the next several years, preschool, K-12, and postsecondary educators are likely to face the challenge of doing more with less… [This] can, and should be, embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements… It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”

We couldn’t agree more. Throughout the federal spending spree of the past two years, we’ve worried about the pernicious effects of dumping so much cash on our already-bloated schools. All this did, we argued, was prop up an unsustainable system whose revenues grew by one-third since 1995, thanks to the dot-com bubble and then the housing bubble. After three generations of steady growth in per pupil spending, education is going to have to face its day of reckoning and schools are going to have to start spending dollars smarter.

Duncan’s was a speech unlike any we have heard from a U.S. Secretary of Education-Republican or Democrat. He said resources are limited, embraced the need to make tough choices, urged states and districts to contemplate boosting some class sizes and consolidating schools, and didn’t spend much time trying to throw bones to the status quo.

Duncan called for wide-ranging reforms in the name of cost-effectiveness. He said, “The legacy of the factory model of schooling is that tens of billions of dollars are tied up in unproductive use of time and technology, in underused school buildings, in antiquated compensation systems, and in inefficient school finance systems.”

He rightly argued that schooling had to abandon the notion that reform is always bought and paid for with new dollars and argued that it’s essential to think of technology as a “force multiplier” rather than a pleasing add-on.

His to-do list was comprehensive and spot on. He said, “Rethinking policies around seat-time requirements, class size, compensating teachers based on their educational credentials, the use of technology in the classroom, inequitable school financing, the over placement of students in special education—almost all of these potentially transformative productivity gains are primarily state and local issues that have to be grappled with.”

In one speech, this (Democratic) Secretary of Education came out swinging against last hired, first fired, seniority-based pay raises, smaller class sizes, seat time, pay bonuses for master’s degrees, and over-bloated special education budgets. Which means he declared war on the teachers unions, parents groups, education schools, and special education lobby. Not a bad day’s work!

To be sure, Duncan has control over almost none of this. Still, this is classic bully-pulpit stuff, and we expect it will resonate big-time in state capitols all over the country. When the unions start busing in kids, parents, and teachers to rally against increases in class size or pay freezes, expect a lot of Republican governors to start quoting their good friend Arne Duncan.


The climate of fear that has poisoned British schools

Ousted teacher exposes the tyranny of liberalism that has betrayed a generation of children:

By Katharine Birbalsingh

I am the teacher who spoke at the Conservative Party Conference and then found herself out of a job. Some might argue that had I criticised the education system at a National Union of ­Teachers conference, I would have been cheered on by the delegates.

Had I blamed our broken education system on lack of funds, institutional racism or the challenge of private education, I would have been the darling of the Left and all would have been well. It was the fact that I sided with the Right that has turned me into a mortal enemy.

But we are all in pursuit of the same utopia, aren’t we? We want every child to have the best possible education, to feel safe and happy, to reach for the top, and for schools to provide environments where this is possible.

Or do we? It is interesting that teachers come up to me in the street, voicing their support, agreeing with everything I’ve said, yet refuse to tell me their names because they are scared to speak out ‘given the current climate’. By ‘the current climate’ they are pointing to Leftist ideology that insists private-style education for a comprehensive intake of students is simply a contradiction in terms.

The Left has a stranglehold over teachers and gives them little ­freedom to think outside their ideological box. For a long time, I have been a victim of that ideology.

The other day, I had tea with a friend to bring her up to date with the details of my personal drama. She is originally from Calcutta, married to a very liberal Scot and has two children. I begin, as I always do these days, defending my actions. I try to explain my reasons for voting Conservative, why it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person, why I believe Right-wing thinking is what we need in schools. My friend leans forward. 'Well, you know, Katharine, I never told you, but I voted Conservative, too.’

Such is the state of political freedom in this country. We may believe we all have freedom of speech, but when we diverge from the pack, we don’t tell even our closest friends.

Peer pressure is not only the main force that keeps children in gangs, walking as if they’re constipated, speaking as if they’ve never read a book and permanently playing on their portable video-game machines; it is also the principal reason most adults vote the same way from the day we were born until the day we die. Political persuasion is tribal and no one is ever meant to change their minds.

I grew up in a very Left-leaning family and went to a state school. Fresh out of Oxford, where I read the magazine Marxism Today, I began teaching, firm in the belief that racist, white teachers were responsible for black under­achievement. I thought that state schools had no money and that the poor (both black and white) were left to languish.

I wanted what was best for the underprivileged. So I decided to teach only in the inner city. Not much has changed, except that I no longer read Marxist magazines and I have stopped dabbling with the Socialist Workers Party.

Why? Because my experiences in teaching have taught me that it is not lack of money or prejudice that keep my children poor, although clearly money is useful and prejudice is to be found everywhere.

Over time, I came to realise how mistaken I had been in my understanding of the education system. I remember taking a white colleague to Diane Abbott’s Black Child ­conference, aimed at tackling ‘educational underachievement in black communities’. It was Saturday ­morning and so dedicated was he, even after 20 superb years in the classroom, that he followed me there, always ­willing to learn from new experiences.

As the speakers expounded on the inner racism in the teaching profession, on the fear white teachers have of their black pupils, I will never ­forget the sense of shame that consumed me. Why? Because not only were the speakers talking utter nonsense, but I knew how much this teacher had done for black boys over the years, and here was I, dragging him out of his bed on a Saturday morning so that he could be called a racist just for being white and for being a teacher.

For years, I soldiered on in the classroom, working hard to change the minds of children who were paralysed by a sense of victimhood.

They found it impossible to believe that I had chosen to be their teacher, that I wanted to be there, that I loved being around them. Eventually, like any good teacher, I won them over by using all the tricks of the trade, from gold stars to phone calls at home with positive comments, to holding breakfast clubs in the early morning when I would spend my own money on croissants. My students felt grateful. Like me, other teachers give their life to the job, and we ‘succeed’ despite the shackles of the system.

The regular dumbing-down of our examination system is obvious to any teacher who is paying attention and who has been in the game for some time.

The refusal to allow children to fail at anything is endemic in a school culture that always looks after self-esteem and misses the crucial point, which is that children’s self-esteem depends on achieving real success. If we never encourage them to ­challenge themselves by risking ­failure, self-esteem will never come.

I started to climb the professional teaching ladder, rising to positions of middle and senior management. There, too, I succeeded, but often only by fighting against people’s innate liberalism. Indeed, I would sometimes find myself arguing with my own deeply embedded liberalism: ‘Take pity on the boy. Don’t punish him. It isn’t his fault he didn’t do his homework; just look at his home situation.’ Or: ‘Why ask them to do their ties to the top or tuck in their shirts? What does any of that have to do with learning?’

I had become indoctrinated by all the trendy nonsense dictating that if children are not behaving in your classroom, it is because you have been standing in front of them for more than five minutes trying to teach them. If only you had sat them in groups with you as facilitator, rather than teacher at the front, then you’d have the safe environment conducive to learning that we all seek.

The basic ideology is that if there is chaos in the classroom, it is the ­teacher’s fault. Children are not held responsible for their actions. Senior management fails to establish systems that support teachers and punish pupils for not doing their homework, whatever their home situation.

I argued constantly with my ­colleagues and bosses. Often I won and, almost as if they were inextricably linked, as the innate liberalism within people waned, the department or the school would improve.

In every instance, I could see for myself that a move away from liberalism was a step in the right direction, a step that brought calm out of chaos, learning in place of trendiness, and success instead of failure. At first, I had no idea that my natural inclinations were ‘Right-wing’. I just argued for what I knew would work to improve schools.

But, in 2007, I began to blog anonymously about my experiences and people unknown to me from around the country, and indeed the world, would comment on my thoughts. The Left-wingers insisted I was bitter and twisted, that I hated children and was clearly disillusioned, while the Right-wingers tended to support my natural inclinations.

Writing my blog was a kind of ­therapy and I never sought to publicise it. I loved writing it because it allowed me to vent my frustrations. What I didn’t know at the time was that it did far more than that: my blog and its respondents taught me that my thinking was Right-wing.

Eventually, the 2010 election came. While Labour’s education manifesto had a tone which reminded me of the ‘all must have prizes’ culture I had come to despise, the Conservatives were promising to abolish the 24-hour rule for detention (one ­cannot give a lengthy detention without 24 hours’ notice to parents). So I did the unthinkable: I voted Conservative and never told a soul.

Why did I choose to stand at the Conservative Party Conference and announce to the world that I voted Conservative? Because October 5, 2010, was the day I threw off the weight of the Leftist ideology that had weighed me down for so long and shouted: ‘Free at last! Free at last!’

The law says we have the freedom to think as we please; social ­conformity says we do not. For more than a decade I have been fighting for my freedom and I have finally taken it back.

Back at the cafe, my Calcutta friend and I laugh at the absurdity of ­neither of us feeling comfortable enough to tell the other that we voted Conservative. She turns to me and says: ‘But just because I voted Conservative this time does not mean I will do so in the next election. These politicians need to earn my vote.’

And she’s absolutely right. That’s why the recent reforms announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove were so exciting. Finally, here is a politician who genuinely cares about education, who has listened to what critics of the existing system have had to say and who has reacted with a set of ­common-sense proposals that I naively thought no one could take issue with.

But almost before he’d sat down in the House of Commons, Labour MPs were accusing him of promoting a ‘two-tier education system’. But that, in fact, is exactly what we have now and what these reforms are trying to address.

Mr Gove’s proposals represent several steps in the right direction. I particularly warm to the changes that will increase the power of teachers - abolishing the need to give 24 hours’ notice of a detention, giving them the right to search bags and restrain violent pupils.

But it’s the way they offer the prospect of bringing state schools - or certain parts of the state school sector - more into line with fee-paying private schools that is most exciting.

Middle-class parents, perhaps ­university-educated themselves, know how the university system works and - whether their children are state or privately educated - can help ensure their children choose appropriately rigorous academic subjects when it comes to GCSEs.

But those children at state schools, with working-class parents who have little or no knowledge of further education, don’t get that sort of help. They need to be guided towards the right subjects, something which the current system definitely does not do.

After all, what carefree 14-year-old, considering their GCSE options, isn’t going to choose something soft like media studies or PE over a tough subject such as ­physics, or plump for the four GCSE passes that information and communications technology offers over the one that German does?

We have a system that offers too much choice without enough ­direction. Universities and employers are crying out for young people with a good command of the basics, which is why Mr Gove’s proposal to concentrate on five core subjects - English, maths, a science, history or geography and a foreign language - is such a sensible one. These are precisely the subjects you need to get a decent start in life.

I’m keeping an open mind about Mr Gove’s headline-grabbing Troops to Teachers programme; let’s see how it goes. And I certainly applaud his ­initiatives to improve the standard of teachers - better aptitude tests, more stringent degree requirements - although I think he may need to go further if the new powers that heads now have to get rid of the small minority of under-performing teachers are actually going to be used.

Lazy or incompetent teachers are not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, they can have a devastating impact on young lives, too. They must be moved on, not just for the sake of the children, but for their own sakes, too. Just because they haven’t excelled at teaching doesn’t mean they won’t excel at something else.

What schools are crying out for are teachers who can inspire but also control an unruly class, teachers who can effectively impart the basics to everyone but who can also help the more able achieve their highest potential. They’ve certainly been a long time coming, but Mr Gove’s reforms are certainly a very good start.


Birthday cake row led to British headteacher's firing

Incredibly trivial minds in a British school system. Thin skins and nastiness to one-another is very British. It's why the expression "jobsworth" is unknown outside Britain. It refers to a person who uses any excuse to refuse a service to others -- even though the "jobsworth" is paid to provide that service. And when it comes to social-class-based contempt for others ....... ! Britain is a very miserable and unhappy country

A row over an uneaten slice of birthday cake triggered a disciplinary case which cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.

When Diane Hill took over as head teacher of Devonport High School for Girls it was near bottom of the grammar school league table. Within months she had begun a massive programme to turn around an institution that many parents believed had become "lazy". But little did she know that the biggest challenge for her would be the delicate nature of the staff.

When a slice of birthday cake was left for the head teacher in her in-tray by an office worker, she failed to eat the gift. The member of staff took offence and lodged a complaint with school governors. The head teacher was also said to have failed to commiserate after the death of a staff member's dog.

She was further accused, wrongly, of confiscating a kettle from the staff room during a row over unwashed crockery. Another complaint to governors centred on Miss Hill's failure to ask a colleague about her mother's health.

In yet another incident, cleaners and dinner ladies at the Plymouth school complained they had been excluded from a "secret Santa" present-buying list – and when Miss Hill investigated the matter, she was accused of intimidating the person who had compiled the list.

Friends of Miss Hill say that the flurry of trivial accusations stemmed, in fact, from resentment among a small group of staff that the new head teacher was changing the established way of doing things – or in some cases by personal dislike of her.

Yet after hearing the litany of complaints, the school's governors decided to suspend the head on full pay, leading to a full-on war of allegations and counter-allegations. The local authority, Plymouth city council, then launched a full investigation which ultimately led to Miss Hill's dismissal.

Now she has been awarded undisclosed damages after the city council agreed an out-of-court settlement just before an employment tribunal was due to take place.

The total cost to taxpayers of the payout, the investigation, and other costs arising from the case is understood to exceed £300,000.

A parent at the school, Fiona Kerr, said: "We have lost the most fantastic head teacher, and for what? A few people's hurt feelings. It's disgraceful. "The school had become lazy. Other schools had improved immensely and Devonport had stood still. Diane was a great loss."

Miss Hill's friends say that the case raises important questions about the powers of school governors and about reforms proposed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, which would hand them even more control.

The former head teacher is bound by a confidentiality clause which prevents her from talking about what happened at the school. But a friend speaking on her behalf said Miss Hill was concerned that other heads could suffer similar treatment – and may be left even more isolated by the Government's plans.

The friend said: "The outcome of this whole sorry incident is that they have potentially destroyed Diane's career. "She had a 25-year unblemished record and that has been taken away from her. "The education authority found no misconduct and no incompetence after the investigation. It begs the question – why did they dismiss her?

"Her case should act as a warning to others, particularly since governing bodies are now being given more power and independence by the Government."

The final report by city council education officials made numerous comments about the head teacher's frosty relationship with staff, but nowhere did it claim there had been serious incompetence or misconduct on her part.

The birthday cake incident stands out as the most extraordinary complaint in Miss Hill's case – particularly because the 48-year-old has dietary requirements which mean she cannot eat cake. "She is allergic to milk. This was a sponge cake with cream in the middle," said her friend, who declined to be named. "It would be funny if it were not so serious. I don't think there was a single allegation that amounted to anything substantial." .....

Despite the decision to pay damages to Miss Hill, which her friends regards a vindication of her case, the head teacher's opponents remain unrepentant.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Is America's college debt bubble ready to explode?

It should

Hans Bader

College tuition has skyrocketed much more than housing did during the housing bubble, in percentage terms. 100 colleges charge $50,000 or more a year, compared to just 5 in 2008-09. College tuition has surged along with federal financial-aid spending, which indirectly rewards colleges for increasing tuition. College financial-aid policies punish thrifty families, so that “parents who scrimp and save to come up with the tuition are in effect subsidizing the others."

“University administrators are the equivalent of subprime mortgage brokers,” notes Facebook investor Peter Thiel, “selling you a story that you should go into debt massively, that it’s not a consumption decision, it’s an investment decision. Actually, no, it’s a bad consumption decision. Most colleges are four-year parties,” he says, an assessment shared by prominent law professor Glenn Reynolds.

My wife is French. She spent twice as much time in class at her second-tier French university as I did in my flagship American university (the University of Virginia), and more time studying, too (even though I was studious by American standards, and as a result, later went on to attend Harvard Law School). France spends less per student on higher education than we do, to produce a more literate and knowledgeable citizenry.

Vast amounts of money are spent by American colleges on useless administrators and politically-correct indoctrination. For many people, college no longer pays off as an investment.

Much of college “education” is a waste of time. I learned more practical law in six weeks of studying for the bar exam and a couple summers of working for law firms than I did in three years of law school. I spent much of my time at Harvard Law School watching “Married With Children” or arguing with classmates about politics, rather than studying (much of what I did study was useless). Even students who were high on drugs had no difficulty graduating.

(Higher education is no guarantee of even basic literacy. When I worked at the Department of Education handling administrative appeals, I was dismayed by the poor writing skills of the graduate students who lodged complaints against their universities).

I used to work for a polling firm, and found that people with a couple years of college were frequently factually dumber about the world around them, and more politically-correct, than people who had not attended college at all, in their responses to public-opinion surveys. An electrician with no college degree is far more likely to know who his Congressman is and to understand the economy than some liberal-arts college dropout.

When law schools claim almost all of their graduates find jobs, what they don’t tell you is that they include low-paying, part-time and temporary jobs in non-legal fields in making that claim. Sending excessive numbers of people to college results in even unskilled jobs being performed by people with college degrees.


Anger as British schools drop Christian assemblies in favour of multi-faith sessions or 'moments of reflection'

Such assemblies once offered moral guidance

Christians have criticised the growing number of schools which have dropped their traditional assemblies in favour of multi-faith sessions or ‘moments of reflection’ which include children staring at rocks, meditating or discussing the news.

More than 140 primary and secondary schools across Britain have won the right to opt out of the legal requirement to provide a daily act of worship which is ‘broadly Christian’ in character.

Several hold Islamic assemblies with readings from the Koran, while others hold sessions giving weeksequal prominence to all faiths and sometimes incorporate events such as Black History Month and Chinese New Year.

The disclosure that so many schools have ditched the Christian service has upset traditionalists. Mike Judge, of The Christian Institute, said: ‘It is part of an attempt to airbrush Christianity from public life. Of course it is important to be sensitive to other faiths but I think all children should be made aware of our Christian heritage. It is as much part of our island story as 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.

‘A lot of Muslim parents don’t mind their children learning about the nature of Christianity. I think it’s a question of other people being offended on their behalf.’

Schools which no longer feel a Christian assembly is relevant to their pupils can seek permission to opt out from their local authority Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), which is made up of council representatives and local faith representatives.

Schools must provide an alternative form of worship. The highest number of opt-outs, which are also known as determinations, are in areas where there are a large number of ethnic minority residents.

Bradford, West Yorkshire, which has a large Muslim community, has the highest number of opt-outs at 47. In 40 of these schools pupils attend one assembly a week which is devoted to Islam and four other sessions which have a multi-faith approach. In the other seven schools there are five multi-faith sessions.

An increasing number of schools in London are also changing the nature of their assemblies. In the past five years 37 schools in the London borough of Brent have made successful applications to their local SACRE committees.

In Ealing, where 12 schools have opt-outs, one school head proposed introducing a ‘thought spot’ with children reflecting on a single object on a table such as
a candle, a rock or an artefact.


British Labour party's failure on schools exposed: Billions spent, but standards plunge to a new low

If you base your policies on wrong theories, you will not get the results you expect

Britain plummeted down the world education league under Labour, despite the millions poured into schools. A major international study will reveal next week that in less than a decade our schools have nosedived in rankings of teenagers’ performance in reading, maths and science.

Previous studies have shown how the UK slid 16 places in maths between 2000 and 2006 and ten places in science and reading, leaving our schools trailing smaller nations such as Estonia and Liechtenstein.

Education experts are predicting that the latest snapshot of school standards, which is being published on Tuesday, will fail to show an improvement. There are claims our place in the tables – based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in 64 nations – could be worse than in 2006.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development created its Programme for International Student Assessment in 2000. In that year, Britain came seventh in reading, eighth in maths and fourth in science. Three years later our schools were ranked 11th, 18th and 12th respectively.

By 2006, Britain had fallen further, to 17th, 24th and 14th. Education Secretary Michael Gove has used previous international studies to attack Labour’s record. He is likely to renew his assault when the latest findings are published next week.

The findings will cause renewed concern that extra resources ploughed into schools since 2000 have been swallowed up in red tape and ill-conceived initiatives. Tony Blair’s mantra when he came to power in 1997 was education, education, education. But a recent analysis suggested that schools’ productivity – taxpayers’ value for money – slumped by 6.7 per cent between 2000 and 2009. Over the same period, education spending nearly doubled from £35.8billion to £71billion.

One of the architects of Labour’s numeracy strategy – designed to raise maths standards in primary schools – said he believes next week’s international study ‘won’t be good for England’, although it would continue to be ahead of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Professor David Reynolds told the Times Educational Supplement: ‘Little has happened that would have changed what was a downward trajectory in England’s performance.’

The professor, now an education academic at Plymouth University, said 15-year-olds who took the latest OECD tests would have benefited from Labour’s multi-billion pound initiatives aimed at boosting performance in the three Rs. But he added: ‘I don’t believe the strategies necessarily had the kind of legs that one might have expected.’

Professor Reynolds admitted efforts to improve patchy maths knowledge among teachers had come ‘a wee bit late’.

Other critics say next week’s rankings will also cast fresh doubt on year-on-year increases in GCSE and A-level grades.

Ministers want to introduce a set of school league tables to help parents judge standards for five-year-olds in school reception and nursery classes. At present they are assessed on 13 subjects, but these are only published at national and local authority level.