Saturday, December 31, 2011

The NYT Online Learning Smear Campaign

Last week The New York Times published what can only be described as a “hit piece” against online learning and leading virtual education provider K12 Inc. Light on evidence and heavy on word count, author Stephanie Saul levels allegations of bloated class sizes, underpaid teachers, and unsupervised learning environments.

Online learning meets a wide range of student learning needs, is customizable, and is unrestricted by geographic boundaries. But the Times’s piece overlooks these advantages, failing to interview, for example, the student with disabilities who can work at his own pace or the student in a rural state who would never have had access to AP physics or Mandarin Chinese if it weren’t for online options. Instead, Saul dismisses the benefits that virtual education holds for so many students.
The growth of for-profit online schools, one of the more overtly commercial segments of the school choice movement, is rooted in the theory that corporate efficiencies combined with the Internet can revolutionize public education, offering high quality at reduced cost.

Tom Vander Ark, a director for the International Association of K12 Online Learning, writes of the Times’s article:
The sensational barrage is against K12, the online learning provider, but it really isn’t about the company. It’s the shift from print to digital, the shift from place to service, and the emergence of the private sector as an important partner in the delivery of public education.

The backlash from the Times is not unlike that from education unions, who view online learning as a direct threat to their power. But while the Times and the National Education Association may lament the growing availability of choice in education, families are fighting for more school choice options, including online learning.

Online learning is certainly not for every student. But the principle behind it is: At its core, this is a movement about choice. And that’s why opponents have reacted so vehemently to it.

The existing public education system, practically devoid of choice for millions of American families, is the antithesis of what online learning has the potential to produce: an education tailor-made for the individual student.

Thankfully, changes in education financing (which include permitting dollars to follow children to the school of their choice) and rapidly advancing technology have made better educational options of a family’s choosing within reach. And many families have already made this choice.

The Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi writes about the opportunity online learning is providing children in National Review Online and highlights a video of Rocketship Academy, a blended learning school that leverages online learning in combination with the traditional classroom. Out of 3,000 low-income schools in California, Rocketship is the fifth-highest-performing.

Rocketship’s performance is consistent with findings released in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education. In a meta-analysis of more than 1,000 empirical studies on virtual learning, it found that “online learning has been modestly more effective, on average, than the traditional face-to-face instruction with which it has been compared.”

Every day, the customization of education is evolving as more and more online learning options proliferate and state education leaders work to free resources to help increase access for families. The shift toward online learning is a shift in the delivery of education. It’s a guarantee of access to educational opportunity and a giant leap toward providing a vast array of options for families.


The SkillForce experience

By Lord Dannatt, Chief of the British General Staff, 2006-2008.

Over the past four or five years, we have become accustomed to seeing pictures on our television screens of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines doing difficult, dangerous and often heroic things on behalf of our nation, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We may not have always agreed with what they were being asked to do but since about autumn 2007 we, as a nation, have been both vocal and generous in our support for our servicemen and women, and their families – long may this continue.

However, Service people start off in life as citizens like the rest of us – they grow up in a community; they then choose to spend time in the uniformed military ranks; and ultimately they return to the civilian community whence they came. But on their return, they are not necessarily quite the same people. The training, the experiences and the lives that they have led have had a transforming effect – for some more than others.

It is this realisation that has made SkillForce, one of the Telegraph’s Christmas appeal charities this year, the dynamic organisation that it is today. SkillForce recognises that the shy or awkward, fit or gangly young recruit coming to the barrack gate has, in nine cases out of 10, been transformed into a confident, disciplined and well-motivated young person who is prepared to do their duty, especially so if well led and inspired. SkillForce has made its main focus the export of this positive attitude from the military into civilian life.

I first came across SkillForce in its early days nearly 10 years ago when I was asked to give away the prizes at a secondary school in a small town deep in rural England. I prepared myself for a fairly modest experience. But almost immediately on arrival, I was told in glowing terms by the head teacher of the tremendous impact on the school that the SkillForce volunteers had had.

Previously, classes had been held back by disruptive students, who either had no desire or no motivation to study, to the detriment of all. The SkillForce team of ex-Service people had taken out of class those who had no apparent interest in learning and given them completely different experiences. They had been offered the chance to learn practical skills, have fun and appreciate the value of being in a team.

When reintegrated into the school their attitude to learning, while not on a par with Einstein, was nevertheless sufficiently positive that they began to acquire a basic education. This had come about thanks not to highly trained educational psychologists but because a bunch of former Regular and Territorial Service people had cross-applied the skills that they had acquired in the Armed Forces. That experience, for me, defines what SkillForce has become.

In the aftermath of the costly campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a sizeable cohort of young people who might have thought that the best part of their working lives would be in the military, but the circumstances of the battlefield have dictated otherwise.

Whether injured by physical or psychiatric wounds, they want to continue to apply what they have gained from their military experience to everyday life around them. The nature of their injuries means that further service in the Armed Forces is not an option, but they still want to contribute what they have acquired. It is this spirit that is at the heart of SkillForce. It is often said that you can take someone out of the Army (or, equally, the Navy or the Air Force) but you cannot take the Army out of them. That spirit remains.

The Government has come to understand the unique spirit that inhabits those who are serving, or who have served, in the Armed Forces. It has written that spirit into law by including the Armed Forces Covenant in the new Armed Forces Act. This has placed a specified task on many government departments to look after our Service people, their families and veterans, possibly even promoting the meeting of their needs above those of their civilian counterparts on occasions.

However, I think the Covenant also implies an invitation to those who have served, and who will now be looked after very well, to continue to contribute what they have learnt in the ranks to those around them. SkillForce is a wonderful model and example of just how to do that. What SkillForce offers will not suit everyone, but it brings a resource and a need together in a most beneficial way.

Like everything today, a programme such as this costs money – more than the Government can afford, and less than SkillForce needs to meet its ambition – but the benefits are multi-faceted and hugely deserving of support. I salute the Telegraph titles for recognising the value of what SkillForce can contribute to our society, and I thank readers for their generosity in supporting this most worthwhile cause.


British education chiefs' £500 payout to a teacher hurt restraining a pupil cost £60,000 in legal fees

Education bosses ordered to pay £500 to a teacher injured while restraining a pupil were landed with a legal bill of more than £60,000 for that single case.

This example is one of the most disturbing discovered as a Daily Mail investigation revealed a growing ‘compensation culture’ in the classroom.

Freedom of Information requests disclose that councils across England are being bombarded with claims from teachers, often for trivial injuries.

But, in many cases, the compensation payments are dwarfed by the legal fees run up by solicitors.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers, often backed by their unions, are taking on no-win, no-fee lawyers to bring even the most speculative claims.

Last night ministers were urged to clamp down on the practice amid warnings it was having a ‘chilling effect’ on schools and other public services.

Our survey suggested that councils paid out an estimated £6.7million as a result of claims by teachers last year. But for every pound paid as compensation, another £1.25 went on lawyers and legal fees.

In one of the worst cases, North Lincolnshire Council paid £500 compensation to the teacher hurt restraining a pupil, but the authority also had to pay a bill for costs of £61,464.

A spokesman said fighting the claim in court had led to a big drop in the payout because of ‘contributory negligence’ but acknowledged it had resulted in much higher legal bills.

In another case, Wirral Council, Merseyside, paid £2,000 to a member of school staff who stubbed their toe on a box but then faced a bill for costs of £14,300.

Walsall Council in the West Midlands paid £1,500 to a teacher who suffered a strain falling over at school but had to pay £14,888 in costs linked to the claim.

In Southend-on-Sea, Essex, the council sanctioned a £13,500 payout to a teacher who was assaulted by a special needs pupil yet the bill for legal costs was £75,800.

In Dorset, a school employee was awarded £1,650 after slipping on posters left on the floor. Legal costs totalled £11,000.

In March, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke unveiled proposals to reform the no-win, no-fee system. But last night, Tory MP Philip Davies said ministers may have to go further. ‘This is becoming a massive problem,’ said Mr Davies. ‘Taxpayers’ money we can ill afford is being diverted from frontline services to fund a growing army of lawyers.

‘The Government has to find a way of scaling back this compensation culture. That will require clamping down on the activities of no-win, no-fee lawyers. ‘It is quite wrong that people are able to pursue claims – some dubious at best – without any risk to themselves. ‘This problem is not limited to the education sector. It is having a chilling effect right across our public services.’

John O’Connell, research director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s particularly frustrating that lawyers are ramping up charges way above the pay-out itself.

‘Sadly there is a growing compensation culture. It’s disappointing that big payments are often made for seemingly little more than everyday accidents, wasting taxpayers’ cash and making staff paranoid about carrying out their jobs.’

In total, 130 of the 152 education authorities in England responded to a survey about cases in the last year. They revealed the total of compensation and costs was £5.8million. When estimates for the other 22 councils are factored in, the overall total of successful compensation claims and costs comes to £6.7million. There were just over 400 successful claims for compensation, with the average cost to councils of £16,600 each.

Yet of that cash, the injured teacher collected £7,300 while legal fees amounted to £9,300.

David Bott, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, accused councils of pushing up fees by refusing to settle claims earlier. ‘The remedy is for defendants to put their own house in order. They need to stop dragging their heels admitting liability and agreeing settlements,’ he said.

But Government sources said councils were right to fight unjustified or excessive claims.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Degree of frustration with cost of college

Outcry grows on soaring tuitions

As tuition costs skyrocket and graduates walk away saddled with ever-rising amounts of debt, American colleges now face a choice: Remain a part of the problem, or begin contributing to a solution.

The average cost to attend a public university shot up 8.3 percent this year, while private institutions raised their prices 4.3 percent. Over the past decade, tuition rates have risen 72 percent, and universities are now taking more heat than ever from government officials, education specialists and middle-class families, all of whom think the higher-education sector hasn’t done enough to reverse the trend.

If the current trajectory continues, getting a college degree could soon become cost-prohibitive for average Americans.

“They need to do their part. Right now, they aren’t doing enough,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden said during a speech to Florida high school students this month. “Right now, there are no real incentives to dissuade colleges and universities from continuing to raise tuition. It’s not going to be easy, but there’s no excuse for complacency.”

Many aren’t surprised by the reluctance to tackle out-of-control tuition costs. Universities, along with the professors they employ, have grown accustomed to an open checkbook. Instructors at public institutions earn, on average, about $70,000 per year, yet many teach only one or two classes each semester. College presidents, often pressured to keep up with their peers, sign off on expensive new fitness centers, performing-arts facilities or top-of-the-line dining halls, options deemed more important than reducing tuition for their customers.

But the students keep coming. Since most borrow money or depend on government assistance to attend college, families have become numb to the increases. Diplomas are deemed necessary for financial success, and there’s only one place to get them.

“It’s a great product to have when everybody wants it. Colleges have had the corner on the credential market, and that has allowed colleges to do, essentially, anything they’ve wanted,” said Jeffrey Selingo, editorial director for the Chronicle of Higher Education, while speaking a Capitol Hill tuition forum earlier this month.

“The wake-up call has happened in the past couple of years. What we’re seeing now is, people are saying that a college education may be the ticket to a better life, but not at any cost,” he said. “We’re finally seeing that the sustainability of this model isn’t going to work. I think what you’re going to see over the next five or 10 years is a number of colleges start to rethink their model.”

Some schools embrace change

The rethinking process has already begun at several institutions. Several years ago, Colorado Mesa University eliminated all of its deans, saving more than $500,000 each year.

“We made the decision to do away with them. I don’t think our students are missing [deans] whatsoever,” Colorado Mesa President Tim Foster told a House subcommittee earlier this month.

Many of the professors at Colorado Mesa carry nearly twice the average teaching load, reducing the university’s number of full-time instructors. As a result, tuition has gone up by less than half the national average in recent years.

Indiana’s Grace College and Seminary now offers a three-year degree program, which requires more classes per semester for students, but can cut 25 percent off post-college debt.

Grace President Ronald Manahan, also speaking at the House hearing, said 48 percent of freshmen enrolled in the program this academic year. “We could not simply stand by and wait for help” in reducing prices, he said.


All-girl classes at university 'lead to better grades' with some saying they are more comfortable without boys in the classroom

Girls perform better at university when taught in single-sex classes, research suggests. Academics who split their students into three groups – men-only, women-only and mixed – found that the women-only class received considerably higher marks at the end of the year.

The girls in the single-sex group said they felt more comfortable and confident in classes without boys.

The pilot project was designed to build upon the findings of earlier experiments with school-age pupils that showed girls were more willing to take risks and be competitive after being taught in single-sex groups.

For the latest study, University of Essex researchers Dr Patrick Nolen and Professor Alison Booth divided 800 first-year undergraduates into three groups for introductory courses in economics.

At the end of the year, the average member of the girls-only group did 7.5 per cent better on her exams than those in the other groups.

Attendance was a major factor, as girls were much more likely to turn up for classes if they were placed in single-sex classes. On average, girls in single-sex groups attended 71 per cent of the classes, while those being taught alongside boys attended just 63 per cent.

Although single-sex classes led to better exam scores among women, there were no significant effects on their coursework marks.

Study participant Corina Musat, 20, said: ‘I think the atmosphere was more friendly and we bonded because we were all girls.’

Emilia Matei, also 20, agreed. ‘I think it was the best class I had last year. I don’t know whether it was because it was a single-sex class or whether it was the teaching,’ she said.

‘In the all-girls’ class, you didn’t have to have that much courage to go to the blackboard and answer the question.’

The academics who carried out the study warned that girls who show less confidence in the classroom may be less competitive in the job market.

Dr Nolen, of the university’s department of economics, said: ‘I would like to see policy makers think about this. We should be investigating it and intervening pre-market in the environment in which students learn.’ His summary of the project in the New Economic Journal concluded: ‘This finding is relevant to the policy debate on whether or not single-sex classes within co-ed schools could be a useful way forward.’

The study that inspired the new research involved 260 teenagers from two girls’ schools, two boys’ schools and four co-educational schools in Suffolk and Essex.

The work showed that girls who went to single-sex schools were more competitive, even when they were in a mixed- sex environment.


Boarding schools 'increasingly popular' among British sixth-formers

Rising numbers of sixth-formers are being enrolled at boarding schools as parents seek to ”acclimatise” children into being away from home before university. Figures show that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds boarding at independent and state schools in Britain has soared by a fifth in the last decade.

More schools are building additional boarding facilities and allowing children to take advantage of more flexible hotel-style arrangements to cater for rising demand.

School leaders claim that many pupils are choosing to board for the first time in the sixth-form as preparation for university – softening the blow of being away from home at 18. The Boarding Schools Association said that the experience acted as an effective “bridge” between school and higher education.

It was also suggested that families were opting for boarding because professional parents are being forced to work into the evening and weekends to make ends meet in the downturn.

Some parents are being attracted by the rise in “flexi-boarding” – more casual arrangements that allow children to stay for few nights a week without making a full-time commitment.

Richard Harman, chairman of the BSA and headmaster of fee-paying Uppingham School in Rutland, said: “It prepares youngsters for living away from home but in a structured way with an appropriate level of pastoral support and increasingly parents and the pupils themselves are seeing the benefit of that.

“At university, suddenly you are responsible for your own decisions and it can be a big jump for many people. You do get quite a high drop out rate for that reason; it is very easy for youngsters in the first year of university to get lost in the system and homesick. Boarding schools act as an effective bridge to university.”

According to figures, the number of sixth-form pupils in state boarding schools has increased from 1,102 to 1,790 over the last decade. Over the same period, teenagers admitted to the fee-paying sector have increased from 24,929 to 29,322. It represents an overall increase of 19.5 per cent to more than 31,100 in the last academic year.

The comments come despite a rise in boarding school fees in recent years, with the most elite institutions now charging as much as £30,000 for sixth-formers.

But Mr Harman said many families saw it as a worthwhile investment – making sure children maximised their A-level results and were well prepared for university.

John Newton, the headmaster of Taunton School in Somerset, said sixth-form boarding was also a “sound lifestyle choice for parents as well as pupils”.

“After years of ending work early to run children to sports clubs, ballet classes and orchestra practices, hard working parents realise that boarding is the most efficient way to educate children as roundly as possible, while liberating them to lead proper professional lives,” he said. “These days that involves flexible working, late hours and weekends.”

Louis Eastwood, 16, has just started at Wymondham College, a state boarding school in Norfolk, after previously being enrolled at a day school. “It is a really big jump to living at home with your parents to going to university,” he said. “I think boarding school is something in the middle. You have still got to do your own washing and have your independence but have the support of the school environment.

“Obviously I miss my parents and the family home but at the same time there’s more opportunities to socialise and work and there’s less temptation to just say I will do all my work on a Sunday night.”


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ariz schools' ethnic studies program ruled illegal

An administrative law judge ruled Tuesday that a Tucson school district's ethnic studies program violates state law, agreeing with the findings of Arizona's public schools chief.

Judge Lewis Kowal's ruling marked a defeat for the Tucson Unified School District, which appealed the findings issued in June by Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

Kowal's ruling, first reported by The Arizona Daily Star, said the district's Mexican-American Studies program violated state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.

The judge, who found grounds to withhold 10 percent of the district's monthly state aid until it comes into compliance, said the law permits the objective instruction about the oppression of people that may result in racial resentment or ethnic solidarity.

"However, teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political and emotionally charged manner, which is what occurred in (Mexican-American Studies) classes," Kowal wrote.

The judge said such teaching promotes activism against white people, promotes racial resentment and advocates ethnic solidarity.

Huppenthal has 30 days to accept, reject or modify the ruling. If he accepts the judge's decision, the district has about 30 days to appeal the ruling in Superior Court.

"In the end, I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation — a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District." Huppenthal said in a written statement.

Messages left for a district spokeswoman Tuesday night weren't immediately returned. In the past, district officials have said they can't afford the financial hit that Huppenthal's decision would bring.

The battle over the ethnic studies program escalated shortly after Arizona's heavily scrutinized immigration enforcement law was passed in April 2010.

The program's supporters have called challenges to the courses an attack on the state's Hispanic population, while critics say the program demonizes white people as oppressors of Hispanics.

Huppenthal ordered a review of the program when he took office in January after his predecessor, Tom Horne, said the Mexican-American Studies program violated state law and that Huppenthal would have to decide whether to withhold funding.

Huppenthal, a Republican, had voted in favor of the ethnic studies law as a state senator before becoming the state's schools chief.


How a little-heralded, old-fashioned history book about great Britons has struck a nerve

Almost ten years ago, a survey was launched to find the most significant individuals in our nation’s proud history. More than a million people took part, and, not surprisingly, the winner was Sir Winston Churchill, unquestionably the greatest statesman of the last century.

Yet for one observer, who had served in the British Army before working in the City, the results of the Great Britons poll were deeply depressing.

Appalled that Princess Diana had somehow finished third, John Lennon seventh and the actor Michael Crawford in 17th place, Adrian Sykes decided to write a book celebrating the men and women who had really contributed to Britain’s glittering past.

Not even Mr Sykes, however, could have imagined how successful his enterprise would be. The result, Made In Britain, has not only attracted rave reviews from historians, it even has an endorsement from the most influential reader of all, the Prime Minister.

Asked what books were on his bedside table, David Cameron replied: ‘I’m reading something called Made In Britain. It’s a very nice, rather old-fashioned history book about the great figures and inventions of British history. ‘It’s just rather good — I’ve been reading bits with my children.’

There is something rather heartening in the fact that Mr Cameron has been whiling away the evening hours with such a patriotic tome. And, no doubt, Mr Sykes’s stirring accounts of the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo helped to stiffen the Prime Minister’s sinews before he stood up to France’s latest two-bit Napoleon, the preposterous Nicolas Sarkozy, at this month’s European summit.

Yet behind the success of Made In Britain — which is, as Mr Cameron admitted, a rather old-fashioned kind of book, albeit a splendidly colourful and entertaining one — there is a profoundly depressing reality.

Recent polls show that nine out of ten adults can name all David Beckham’s children, yet one in three thinks Churchill was a fictional character and one in four believes Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep out the French.

Of course, historical ignorance is as old as history itself: even the Victorians used to berate their children for not knowing the difference between Robert the Bruce and Sir Robert Walpole. And yet behind these figures lies a deeply troubling modern malaise.

A report last week by the Commons All-Party Group on History found that, more and more, history is concentrated in private schools and grammar schools, while comprehensives opt for supposedly less difficult subjects.

Last year, fewer than one in three 16-year-olds in Britain’s comprehensives were entered for GCSE history, compared with 55 per cent of grammar school pupils. And in 159 state schools, almost incredibly, not one pupil was entered for the GCSE history exam.

In the poor Knowsley area of Merseyside, for example, just 11 out of a potential 2,000 pupils took A-level history last year — and just four of them passed.

At the root of all this is the unforgivable fact that, almost alone in Europe, British youngsters can drop history before they turn 16.

As a result, modern schoolchildren are force-fed with facts about the Nazis and the U.S. Civil Rights movement, but often know little about the rise and fall of the British Empire, the origins of Parliament or major events such as the Hundred Years War.

Even many high achievers now leave school with only the vaguest knowledge of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which the our last Catholic monarch, the despotic James II, was forced off the throne and replaced by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange.

In that moment, our constitutional monarchy was born; but how many youngsters are aware of it today?

Indeed, how many know about the Great Reform Act of 1832, which outlawed the corrupt rotten boroughs and paved the way for the expansion of the franchise, the rise of women’s suffrage and the birth of our modern mass democracy?

Through no fault of their own, thousands of our children are leaving school every year ignorant of what their parents and grandparents once took for granted: the inspirational, heart-warming knowledge of what we all once recognised as our national story.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that so many modern youngsters feel rootless and alienated, adrift in a landscape they do not understand.

But the study of our nation’s past is more than mere antiquarianism. The truth is that history is the fundamental subject from which everything else flows. All that we know, all that we are, is built on the legacy of our predecessors, from the language we speak to the latest technological gadgets.

The study of the past is more than the dry recital of half- forgotten facts. It is a debate without end, offering youngsters the chance to develop their powers of deduction and to challenge the received wisdom.

And in an age of growing individualism, when greedy self-interest too often trumps social responsibility, history offers a rare chance to come together.

For contrary to the progressive doctrines fashionable since the Seventies, there is nothing reactionary or old-fashioned about teaching your own national history, or about inviting youngsters to be proud of their country’s past.

Indeed, it is baffling that so many card-carrying left- wingers, who spend so much time preaching about the values of community, are so indifferent to the one thing around which all decent British people can rally: our splendidly colourful, rousing and inspirational history.

For 13 years, New Labour, which positively gloried in its commitment to modernity and its scorn for history, spent much of its time bleating about Britishness lessons and citizenship classes. It would have done better to teach our children their own national story — the subject most likely to inculcate a real sense of community and identity.

For too long, in fact, our intellectual classes have been engaged in a gigantic cultural cringe, abasing themselves before unreadable Continental theorists and queuing up to disavow Britain’s imperial past.

Faced with this exhibition of masochistic servility, it is no wonder so many teenagers feel there is little to be proud of in our national story. Yet as Adrian Sykes’s book shows, the truth could not be more different.

Of course all nations love to think themselves important, and every country’s past is dotted with jaw-dropping landmarks, colourful characters and pulse-speeding stories.

But you merely have to scan the pages of Made In Britain to realise that for excitement, incident and sheer worldwide influence, our splendid history is second to none.

No drama, after all, can compare with the spectacle of the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I and claimant to the English throne, besieged by her rival King Stephen in Oxford Castle in the winter of 1142, only to mount a stunningly audacious overnight escape through the snow, lit only by moonlight.

Nor could any scene in a novel compete with the excitement of the future Charles II, fleeing from the victorious Roundheads after the Civil War battle of Worcester, hiding from his pursuers up an old oak tree.

No fictional character can compete with Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon warrior king who united the English people, smashed the Vikings, and spent his spare time translating books of philosophy, or with Oliver Cromwell, the great commoner who was called by God to cast out tyranny and superstition and in the process created parliamentary democracy.

Then there was Captain Cook, the eighteenth-century explorer coursing through the uncharted seas of the South Pacific, to discover the east coast of Australia, circumnavigate New Zealand and meet his death in a fight with natives on the sands of Hawaii.

And even modern history teems with unforgettably colourful characters, from Douglas Bader, the RAF air ace who won 20 dogfights despite having had both legs amputated, to Margaret Thatcher, the Grantham grocer’s daughter who defied the odds to become our first woman Prime Minister.

But there is more to the rich pageant of our national story than the great and the good.

One of Mr Sykes’s most memorable characters, for example, is the bare-knuckle boxer Tom Cribb, born near Bristol in 1781, who moved to London at the age of just 13 to work as a coal porter.

Known as the ‘Black Diamond’, Cribb won the national boxing championship in 1805 after fighting George Maddox for a staggering 76 rounds. And five years later, he became world champion after beating the American ex-slave Tom Molineaux in 35 rounds, although, in fairness, Molineaux was injured when the overexcited crowd invaded the ring.

To his credit, Mr Sykes finds room for our peerless literary and cultural heritage, from Shakespeare’s glittering verse to Dickens’s pungent social criticism. And as a real treat, there is a whole page of witticisms by my favourite Englishman of all, that supreme Tory maverick, Dr Samuel Johnson, the greatest literary figure of the 18th century.

‘The expense is damnable, the position is ridiculous and the pleasure fleeting,’ ran the great man’s view on sex — one unlikely to be shared by another colourful Johnson, today’s Mayor of London.

And in a remark that would no doubt strike horror into today’s politically correct Anglican clergy, Dr Johnson had firm views on women priests. ‘A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs,’ he observed. ‘It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’

For all the jokes, though, Mr Sykes’s book reminds us that more than any other people on earth, it is the British who have contributed most to the comfort, ingenuity and enterprise of the modern age.

Where, after, all, would modern science be without Sir Isaac Newton, the passionately religious Lincolnshire boy, whose ideas about gravity and the laws of motion, first proposed in 1687, utterly transformed humanity’s understanding of the physical world?

Where, for that matter, would we be without the extraordinary polymath Robert Hooke, who surveyed the buildings of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666, discovered the law of elasticity, built some of the first modern telescopes and virtually invented the first modern plan-form map?

Then there was Michael Faraday, the self-taught Southwark youngster who transformed Victorian technology through his discovery of the electromagnetic field, his invention of an early Bunsen burner and his discovery of the principle of induction. Not for nothing did Einstein keep a picture of Faraday on his wall, next to that of Newton.

And perhaps above all, there was Charles Darwin, the Shropshire lad whose five-year voyage to South America, the Pacific Islands and Australia on HMS Beagle fuelled his ground-breaking ideas about evolution and natural selection, smashing the old theories about life on earth and utterly revolutionizing the way millions of people made sense of their place in the world.

On top of all that, where would the world be without the seed drill, the power loom, the sewing machine, the Valentine’s card, the typewriter, the pram, the corkscrew, the postage stamp, the flushing toilet, the smallpox vaccine, or, indeed, the computer? All these things were invented in Britain — yet very few of us know it.

Yes, our national story has its fair share of crimes and misdemeanours. But the truth is that, from free trade and parliamentary democracy to the glories of the English language and the reassurance of the rule of law, British history is a jewel without compare.

‘The past is a foreign country’, wrote L. P. Hartley at the beginning of his great novel The Go-Between. ‘They do things differently there.’

But while Adrian Sykes’s book makes a wonderfully old-fashioned introduction to that vast and impossibly rich continent, it can never compensate for the pleasures of a full guided tour, led by passionate and committed teachers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has already spoken of his desire to reinstate history at the heart of the curriculum.

He must ensure that the journey back in time becomes the centrepiece of our children’s schooldays: a chance not just to tread the fields of Waterloo or the Somme, or to see Jane Austen and Isambard Kingdom Brunel at work, but to encounter an uproariously varied range of characters, to make lifelong friends, to draw lessons and parallels, and to meet humanity in the raw.

Without our history, we are nothing. It is precisely the record of our tremendous past that has inspired so many of our greatest names, including modern-day pioneers such as physicist Stephen Hawking and internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, to expand the boundaries of human achievement.

For too long, generations of British children have been denied the opportunity to enjoy the richest heritage of any nation on earth. Cheated of their birthright, they have been starved of the sheer intellectual pleasure that only history brings.

Putting Adrian Sykes’s labour of love in every teenager’s hands would be a fine start. But the task of inspiring our nation’s youngsters should not be left to retired City executives, no matter how enjoyable the results.
Mr Gove must take inspiration from the days when every child, rich and poor alike, grew up with a deep love of Britain’s magnificent history. In this respect, at least, it is time we turned back the clock.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Continued Assault on For Profit Education

For profit education has been demonized over the past couple of years by the Obama administration. In the past few weeks, I have seen that attack take a different turn. In front of the Chicago Economic Club, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said we need to make a larger investment in community colleges.

The larger investment in community college education is not really an investment in education at all. It’s a carefully planned attack against for profit colleges veiled in the “invest more in human capital” vein. For a free market fiscal conservative, it’s a sticky tightrope to walk when you criticize their rationale.

Amid a myriad of problems in American education, there are two that potentially can be answered by community colleges. One, as Erik Hurst correctly analyzed, there is a mismatch right now in our economy between the skills of the labor force and the needs of the business world. It is one of the contributions to our high unemployment rate. Second, the amount of debt that our college graduates assume to get their degree hampers their ability to take risk and work once they graduate. By the way, this has a corollary with government debt and the US too.

Community colleges can be a great solution to the crippling amount of student debt that we are seeing as the cost of education spirals higher. For a variety of reasons, I went to a community college for two years before finishing my degree in the College of Business at Illinois. I graduated debt free, and it made a huge difference in my career. Because I didn’t have to burn through money paying off loans, I was able to take a lot of risk early in my life that helped me later on. Using a community college for your first two years can be a great, economical way to get a college education.

However, that’s not the target market for the Democrats. They are targeting the unskilled labor force that is unemployed. The idea is to retrain them and get them employed into jobs that the private market needs. It’s a noble goal, the real question is should government be behind the satisfaction of that goal? Maybe it’s a deeper question that that. Why haven’t the community colleges already responded to the forces in the market to tailor their curriculums to the needs of the market?

For profit colleges (FPC) have an entirely different set of forces that determine what courses and degree paths they offer. If they don’t offer degrees that allow their students to quickly monetize their investment, they go out of business. FPC’s must respond quickly to market changes by designing and implementing new programs so they can compete with all other forms of education.

After speaking with a person from a for profit college, I found that their thinking was very similar to a start up. They put out a product, and then keep iterating it based on feedback from students and employers. FPC’s are forced to be on the cutting edge of changes in the market because both sides of their supply and demand equation expect it. FPC’s aren’t unionized with legacy teachers unions. They can be run far more efficiently than community colleges.

When you invest in human capital, it’s an investment for life. All of the certifications and degrees you get throughout your life travel with you from job to job. That’s why private employers have found that it is a more efficient use of capital to decrease the amount of tuition reimbursement employees get for outside education. If they do reimburse, they tie it to time of future employment so the company gets a return on investment.

The employee does have opportunity costs. They have to put in the time and effort to get the certification or degree. But the benefit to them is they can take that shingle and get a better job somewhere other than where they are working today. They might be able to raise their wages in their current situation by pitting one employer against another if their degree is valuable enough.

In many cases, tuition reimbursement is creating grade inflation too. If colleges know that students will not get paid for classes they take when receiving a low grade, colleges have an incentive to give higher grades to keep revenue coming in from employers. Lower grades put more economic responsibility on the student, and too many low grades will hurt the supply chain of students coming in from private company tuition reimbursement programs. Grade inflation can affect both community colleges and FPC’s similarly.

Are FPC’s perfect? Not a chance. They have their own problems. But at least when they have problems they can go out of business. That’s not the case for community colleges.

I don’t think the goal of the Democrats is to create a better match between the market and community colleges. The real goal is to increase government spending on teachers unions that populate the community college campus, and to increase the unionized administrative jobs that will be created to support the increased spending at community colleges. It’s also to take unskilled labor and retrain them so they are prepared to take unionized jobs in emerging industries like home healthcare. Having a high unemployment rate along with a poorly trained workforce just gives them a convenient excuse to advocate for higher spending. They are simply trying to expand their base.


British parents driven to desperation in trying to find a safe school for their kids

An increasing number of parents are lying to secure places for their children at the most sought-after schools, figures reveal.

Over the past five years, more than 700 children are believed to have had their school places withdrawn after false information was submitted on application forms.

In the past year alone, some 420 parents are suspected of cheating the application process to ensure their children get into the best primary and secondary schools, a rise of 13 per cent on last year.

Falsehoods include claiming children have been baptised to get them into faith schools and using the addresses of friends or relatives within catchment areas.

Many parents are said to feel driven to ‘desperate lengths’. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘The assumption that parents need to shop around to find the best school has led parents into getting very anxious about admissions. ‘They are now more likely to go to fairly desperate lengths to get children into a particular school.’

The findings – the result of a freedom of information request to local education authorities in England - come amid fierce competition for school places. In the past year, almost one in six children failed to get into their first choice of secondary school. One in 20 children missed out on at least three schools listed on their applications.

Some schools, including independent academies, now receive as many as 11 applications for each place. Primary schools are also under pressure.

According to data from 93 councils, 421 suspected fraudulent applications were detected this year, which is a rise of almost 13 per cent when compared with the estimated 373 cases from last year. Since 2007, 738 places were withdrawn after false information was entered on application forms. In Birmingham, places were withdrawn on 67 occasions, while in Slough it was 63, Staffordshire, 21, and Kent, 18.

But in an example of the differing way councils deal with cheating, 20 authorities said they had never removed places even when parents were found to have lied. Newham, in East London, said it relied on schools themselves to check all parental information.

However, many local authorities – including Hertfordshire, North Somerset and Reading – randomly cross check around 10 per cent of applications against their council tax files. In over-subscribed schools, some authorities carry out checks on all applications, making unannounced home visits in some cases and setting up hotlines.

Demand for sought-after school places has also driven up house prices, with parents paying premiums of £77,000 to buy homes in catchment areas.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘Parents have found themselves increasingly frustrated by the lack of good school places. We are ending this unfair rationing. ‘Our radical education reforms and our capital investment will mean there are more good schools, and more good school places, for parents.’


When British parents move heaven and earth

So, 420 parents have been cheating on their schools’ application forms, according to The Daily Telegraph’s front page report yesterday. Desperate mummies and daddies have been caught lying about their address and church attendance in order to get their children into the best state schools.

Well, wouldn’t you? A bad state school condemns children to think seven sevens are 68, that T.S Eliot wrote Wuthering Heights and knives are part of the school uniform. Who can blame those enterprising parents who adopt Granny’s address as their own because she happens to live in the catchment area of a top state primary? Good parents will move heaven and earth (and home, too) to ensure their children get a good – and free – education. Property prices reflect this: when we moved to our present house, we were told that about 10 per cent of the steep price we were paying was due to the Chelsea Academy being built down the road. Once Ofsted rated it “excellent”, the estate agent assured us, the price would go up another 20 per cent; parents calculate that a mortgage costs less than the £30,000 per child per year needed for a public school education.

God, like certain neighbourhoods, is also experiencing a surge in popularity among parents of school-age children. Faith schools have once again topped the league tables; they not only got the best academic results in the state sector, they also came first in achieving the greatest improvement. No wonder atheists and agnostics suddenly find religion. Hypocrites? You bet – and I’d do the same in their shoes. A child’s future is worth a Mass.

The secularist intelligentsia, however, is choking on the confidence trick some parents play as they file into church each Sunday. I once clashed with the humanists’ high priestess, Polly Toynbee, on Newsnight over this issue. Even when the choice was between a sink school and putting in an appearance at the 10 o’clock children’s service once a week, La Toynbee was unyielding. Better compromise a child’s prospects than her own dogma. Thank goodness, for our children’s sake, that so many parents disagree with her.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crony college capitalism

Besides studying Saul Alinsky, President Obama has apparently studied Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theorist who urged his fellow Marxists to go into education, the better to turn regular schools into training grounds for future radicals. Since its earliest days, the Obama regime has been concerned with extending its power in the realm of college education, giving economic rewards to college teachers and students, who are overwhelmingly Obama supporters.

Indeed, a recent piece in the New York Times suggests that Obama’s reelection campaign strategy now explicitly recognizes that it has to give up the white working class, except the tiny 7% that is unionized, hence able to contribute largely to the campaign. The working class was once a mainstay of the Democratic Party coalition. The new Democratic Party will consist of statist-inclined college educated groups such as professors, teachers, school and college administrators, therapists, lawyers, librarians, social workers, artists and designers, and their numerous dependents, along with key ethnic minorities.

You can see this calculation at play in Obama’s recent decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. The decision cost tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs, but it mightily pleased the environmental lobby, disproportionately college educated folks of statist mindset.

The tactics the Regime is using to corrupt higher education policy for its own benefit are the same it has used elsewhere: identify cronies, expand the size and scope of federal subsidies to them, and expand the size and scope of regulation to attack the cronies’ competitors. More succinctly, the Regime’s crony capitalist game in higher education is — as it is everywhere else — one of rewarding supporters and attacking their (and hence its) enemies.

Start with the rewards for the cronies. One of the Regime’s major “educational” initiatives was its socialization of the student loan industry, which happened just two years ago. A troika of key Regime players — Obama, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) — ended private funding of government-backed student loans (the most common student loans), under the theory that the private lenders (read: banks) were greedy, i.e., only after profits, and not truly interested in helping students achieve a decent education. Government, of course, is run by people incapable of greed, and motivated entirely by their concern for others.

The scheme included the usual outrageous accounting trick. Sympathetic congressmen claimed that by nationalizing student loans, they would “save” $87 billion over 11 years. In the same way, nationalizing GM and Chrysler has “saved” billions, and Obamacare will “save” even more. At the time, the CBO had dutifully scored the savings at $87 billion, but the Director of the CBO, Douglas Elmendorf, had signaled Congress (in a letter to Senator Judd Gregg) that the scoring did not reflect the risk that defaults could be higher than projected. But the Regime pushed its phantom “savings” with a straight face. It even used them to write down part of the costs of Obamacare and justify an expansion of educational Pell Grants (about which more below).

A posteriori experience from the student loan nationalization confirms what a priori economic reasoning would naturally suggest: the government generally runs things less efficiently than the private sector does. The Department of Education now reports that the default rate on student loans has surged by about one-fourth, from 7% in 2008 to 8.8% in 2009. Worse, because of another government accounting trick, these figures are deceptively low. The government loan program has options that allow some students to pay less that they really owe (these options are euphemistically called “income contingent” and “income based” repayment plans).

Besides rewarding its likely supporters with student loans, the Regime moved to expand the Pell Grant program — to double its funding, in fact. And it is resisting the efforts by the Republicans in the House of Representatives to rein in the program by requiring that recipients have a high school diploma or GED(!).

As a consequence of these policies, and the fact that in deciding who gets student loans the government doesn’t bother looking at the students’ assets or credit histories, the aggregate amount of college student debt has risen dramatically — up by 25% over the past three years, a time, please note, during which Americans generally reduced their personal debt load by 9%. Student debt now exceeds total consumer credit card debt. It now tops $1 trillion.

Of course, the Regime has revealed a solution for the problem it helped so much to create. It proposes to roll forward a law that helps college students mitigate and even get out of their student loan debts. Under current law, students must make monthly payments of 15% of discretionary income, with the balance of their loans forgiven after 25 years. (“Forgiven” means, of course, that the taxpayer eats the remaining cost of a college degree that mainly benefits the degree holder personally.) A law passed by Congress in 2010 and scheduled to take effect in 2014 will drop payments to 10%, with the balance of the loan forgiven after 20 years. Obama now wants this to take effect starting next year — which just happens to be his re-election year.

This is all on top of an existing program that allows students who enter “public service” (read: students who go to work for government or other nonprofit agencies — both areas in which employees tend overwhelmingly to vote Democrat) to have their loans forgiven after only 10 years. All of these “forgiveness” programs are projected to cost the treasury $575 million a year — quite unforgiving for the taxpayer.

Moreover, Obama is now proposing that students be able to combine their older (pre-Regime-takeover), federally-backed private loans together with the new government loans under a new lower interest as well as under the new rules.

All this is obviously aimed at buying the votes of all college students, but especially appealing to the ones whose degrees — say, in social studies, humanities, ethnic studies, women’s studies, and so on — make it likely they won’t earn high enough salaries to pay off the loans in 20 years....

Much more here

British crackdown on bad teachers branded a failure as figures reveal just four a week are being fired

Only four incompetent teachers are being sacked a week, despite David Cameron’s pledge to crack down on poor standards. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 154 teachers at primary and secondary schools in 82 council areas were dismissed in the past 18 months.

If the pattern is repeated across the 448,000 teachers employed by all of England’s 152 councils, that works out at some 200 a year, or four a week.

The figure is far fewer than the 15,000 incompetent teachers that former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead has estimated exist. The FOI answers revealed that of the 740 teachers subject to complaint in the past 18 months, 154 were sacked, 174 resigned, 132 cases are unresolved and the rest stayed in post or retired. Some had received a written warning.

After the election the Coalition promised to tackle the scourge of bad teachers, and the Education Act streamlines procedures for dismissing them.

But Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said not enough was being done. ‘Too many poor teachers remain in their jobs year after year after year,’ he said. ‘They do harm. We owe it to the children to intervene effectively.

‘At present, it’s nearly impossible to prove a teacher is bad. On top of this, powerful unions fight on behalf of teachers.’

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that while the dismissal rate was low, teachers accused of poor standards are being ‘managed out of the classroom’ in other ways.


Australia: Negligent government college kills girl

And then does a coverup

A coroner has described a New South Wales TAFE report on the death of a student in a horse fall as being "not worth the paper it was written on".

Deputy state coroner Sharon Freund said jillaroo [cowgirl] student Sarah Waugh died from head and neck injuries after falling from a bolting horse that was unsuitable for a beginner.

In March 2009 the 18-year-old from Newcastle was learning to ride as part of a TAFE jillaroo course at Dubbo in the NSW central west.

The coroner criticised TAFE for not being thorough enough in assessing horses used for beginner riders and said the ex-racehorse Dargo had been obtained for use just days after running in a race.

Ms Waugh fell from the horse after it bolted in a paddock and she was unable to stop it.

The coroner said TAFE staff gave conflicting evidence at an inquest and that the teacher supervising Ms Waugh had little formal experience in teaching beginners how to ride.
Sarah Waugh in her Jillaroo gear, just days before she was killed falling from a horse in 2009. Photo: Sarah Waugh's parents hope her death becomes a legacy to help improve safety. (ABC)

Ms Freund said the TAFE investigation and report on the death was inadequate.

"That investigation and subsequent report failed to uncover or identify any failure of any workplace practices or procedures," she said. "The investigation and subsequent report was essentially not worth the paper it was written on."

Outside Glebe Coroners Court, Ms Waugh's father Mark welcomed the findings. "We feel relieved... relieved that the truth is finally out there. It's been a long process for us," he said.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Yes, NCLB Was a Failure

The following article from a Leftist source is probably right to claim that NCLB has achieved little but it is notable that he offers no alternative. Is he happy with the abysmal status quo? Not very "progressive"!

First, not everyone agrees that NCLB was a failure. Just last week, as reported in the education trade newspaper Education Week, the conservative Fordham Institute issued a study claiming that NCLB should be credited for having boosted math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress -- especially in the state of Texas, an early adopter of "accountability". The study concludes that the problem with America's public schools is not that NCLB has been a failure, but that it was only good enough to provide a temporary "shock" to our educational system, and another one is sorely needed.

The study's author, Mark Schneider, likens NCLB to the meteor strike that may have wiped out the dinosaurs and cleared the ecosystem for the rise of mammals -- no, I am not making this up -- and contends that the doctrine created a positive new "equilibrium." What's necessary now, he contends, is for "another meteor" to "come crashing into the school ecosystem."

The expected results for this apocalyptic wish? Another "uptick in math scores" -- if we're "lucky." And what if we're not . . . ?
Hyperbole aside (please), this effort to cherry pick data in order to draw a grand conclusion about the state of America's public schools wouldn't be so bad if it didn't overlook an overwhelming context of other information.

NCLB In Context

The "overwhelming context" is that although NCLB may -- or may not have (correlation is not causation) -- helped produce higher scores in math, there's very good reason to conclude that any "uptick" in math scores was likely at the expense of teaching a great many other subjects.

A recent national survey of 1,001 public school teachers found that an overwhelming majority -- two-thirds -- said that study of art, science, and social studies was "getting crowded out of the school day." From an article in Education Week about the survey:
Nearly all of the teachers who see time for English and math pushing other subjects aside say the main reason is state tests. In fact, 60 percent say their school is devoting more time in recent years to test-taking skills. And, the extra time for English and math is not simply for struggling students, but affects all students, conclude 77 percent of respondents.

Furthermore, now that nearly half of the public schools in America have been deemed "failing," according to NCLB standards, even though everyone agrees the standards for failing are "defective," most states are jumping through all kinds of hoops in order to get around what is still the law of the land. What results, of course, is time, energy, and resources going toward anything but the crucial matter at hand: real teaching and learning.

It's The Data, Stupid

The premise of NCLB was that by tracking "the data" produced by standardized tests, we could set our students free of "failed" schools. Instead, it's "the data" that appear to be failing us. In recent days, two articles from major news outlets illustrate the failure all too well.

First, Michael Winerip from The New York Times recounts the "scientific" exactitude of tracking school performance in New York over the past decade. Mocking the "finely calibrated" academic standards used by the state, Winerip traced the bizarre ups and downs of education assessments, in which student scores meander from "dismal" to "record levels," back to "ridiculously inflated," then to "statistically significant declines," without any particular rhyme or reason. And all the while edu-crats and politicians assure the public, over and over, that everything is "going in the right direction."

Then, over at Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits points us to a new study by policy analysts at Mathematica that blasts NCLB's reliance on "raw test data" as being "extremely misleading."

The analysts at Mathematica reasoned that NCLB's reliance on test data made it a flawed policy from the get-go because you can't "compare this year's fifth graders with last year's," and you can't use the results of a test "to measure short-term impacts of policies or schools," because you're measuring different groups of students. So differences in scores between two cohorts -- say, fourth graders one year and fourth graders the next year -- are more indicative of the differences in the students themselves as opposed to the quality of schooling they've experienced. And the results from these year-to-year snapshots that NCLB relied on generally led to "false impressions of growth or loss."

Nevertheless in 2012, the Obama administration's Race to the Top -- a competition that has states vie for federal funds by promising to implement reforms championed by the Education Department -- will, in fact, extend NCLB’s obsession with "year-to-year snapshots." By requiring that teacher evaluation be in part measured by the scores students get on exams, the intent of NCLB remains unwaivering.

The Coming Data-Based "Dropout Crisis"

As long as this illusion of "scientific precision" continues to guide education policy, we’ll keep chasing after these flawed "impressions of growth or loss." In fact, quite likely the first of these data-based chimeras to pop-up on the radar in 2012 will be a new "crisis" over dropout rates. Again, the crisis will be based on "the data," and again, "the data" will be completely misleading.

As US News and World Report revealed last week, "the official national graduation rates will likely dip between 5 percent and 10 percent next year." How do we know this?

Because "new federal rules that mandate states to report [high schooll graduation rates uniformly will go into effect for the class of 2012," most states will have to change the way they report graduation rates. For many of these states, it will mean lower graduation totals at the end of each year, even if the same percentage of high schoolers still earn diplomas.

The report explains: "Under current federal laws, states are allowed to lump in students who complete special education programs, night school, the GED, and virtual high school programs along with those who earn a traditional high school diploma." But after removing these students from federal allowances, graduation rates will definitely fall.

"That doesn't mean schools are doing anything differently or are graduating fewer students than in past years," the report observes. But nevertheless, whether you agree with the new federal mandates or not, "the data" will show a "dropout crisis."

Caution Signs In Order

This is not to say that data can't be an important element for guiding public policy. But there are currently too many gung-ho data devotees exhorting us onward when we desperately need some caution signs.

Few, for instance, have considered what it could mean to have these warehouses of our children's academic information potentially in the hands of profiteers. Need a mailing list of "failing students" anyone?

This week, the blog NYC Public School Parents connected the dots among reports from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times to reveal that student data from New York are being outsourced to a corporation run by Bill Gates and operated by a business owned by Rupert Murdoch.

A chilling excerpt from the documents obtained by the blogger makes it all too clear what the commercial intentions are for this project:
In addition to making instructional data more manageable and useful, this open-license technology, provisionally called the Shared Learning Infrastructure (SLI), will also support a large market for vendors of learning materials and application developers.

"In other words, companies will be making more money off student's test scores," the blogger concludes.

Back To School?

Whether you agree or not that the current data obsession guiding education policy is more about making schools better or making money, the lesson from 2011 is that, either way, there are few benefits to our nation's children and youth.

What NCLB represented more than anything was a really bad way of thinking about public policy. Established on the notion that something as complex as a school system, overseeing something as ill-defined as "learning," can be evaluated and governed by specific and isolated "data outputs," NCLB was doomed to failure from the start.

But even as NCLB lays in ruins, there's every indication that lessons have not been learned and we're continuing down the same policy rat hole as before.

Every good teacher knows that one of the most valuable things you can impart to students is the ability to learn from mistakes. If they're right, we have a whole lot of policy leaders who need to go back to school.


The Affirmative-Action Myth

Jeff Jacoby

IF RACIAL PREFERENCES in higher education were good for racial minorities in higher education, we surely would have seen the definitive evidence of it by now. Instead, a widening shelf of empirical research suggests that the opposite is true -- that affirmative action in academia is not advancing minority achievement but impeding it.

More than 30 years ago, in the case of University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court gave colleges and universities a green light to admit applicants on the basis of race if their reason for doing so was to secure the blessings of a "diverse" student body. Many educators and policymakers concluded that lowering academic standards for black and Hispanic candidates – though awkward and controversial -- was a worthwhile tradeoff, since it would increase the number of minorities with advanced degrees and prestigious careers. Build racial diversity into each freshman class, it was widely believed, and more diversity among graduate students, academics, and professionals would ensue.

But it hasn't worked that way.

In a report published last year, the US Commission on Civil Rights explored why black and Hispanic students who enroll in college intending to major in science, technology, engineering, or math -- the so-called STEM fields -- are far less likely than other students to follow through on those intentions.

The problem isn't lack of interest. Incoming minority freshmen actually start out more attracted than their white counterparts to the goal of a science or engineering degree. Nor is racism to blame. The Commission found that discrimination "was not a substantial factor" in the rate at which black and Hispanic students give up on science and math majors. Yet the bottom line is disheartening: Even after decades of affirmative action, blacks (relative to their share of the overall population) are only 36 percent as likely as whites to earn a bachelor's degree in a STEM discipline -- and only 15 percent as likely to make it all the way to a science-related PhD.

And it's not only in science and math that the supposed beneficiaries of racial preferences fall behind.

According to research by UCLA economist and law professor Richard Sander, more than 51 percent of black students at elite law schools finish their first year in the bottom 10 percent of their class. Black students fail or drop out of law school at more than twice the rate of white students (19.3 percent vs. 8.2 percent). And while 78 percent of white law school graduates pass the bar exam on their first attempt, only 45 percent of black graduates do.

The inability of racial preferences to vault more minority students into high scholastic achievement shouldn't come as a surprise. When an elite institution relaxes its usual standards to admit more blacks and Hispanics, it all but guarantees that those academically weaker students will have trouble keeping up with their better-prepared white and Asian classmates. Minorities who might have flourished in a science or engineering program at a middle-tier state college are apt to find themselves overwhelmed by the pace at which genetics or computer architecture is taught in the Ivy League. Many decide to switch to an easier major. Others drop out altogether.

This is the cruelty of affirmative-action "mismatch" -- the dynamic by which racial preferences steer minorities to schools where they are underqualified and therefore less likely to succeed. Absent such preferences, black and Hispanic students would attend universities for which their credentials better suited them. Many would earn higher grades or degrees in more prestigious and challenging fields; more would go on to graduate school and careers in academia or the professions. If it weren't for race-based admissions policies, in other words, underrepresented minorities wouldn't be so underrepresented.

Racial preferences, says University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, have backfired. She is one of three members of the Civil Rights Commission urging the Supreme Court to recognize the damage it unleashed when it allowed racial "diversity" to trump the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Skin color was always an ill-contrived proxy for diversity of experiences and beliefs. What more than 30 years of race-based admissions have made clear, Heriot argues, is that "even with the best motives in the world, race-based admissions do far more harm than good." Especially to the students they are intended to help.


British teachers who branded their primary school pupils 'thick and inbred' during Facebook conversations 'quit' their jobs after parent's outrage

Maybe what the teachers said among themselves was a bit too close to the truth

Two teachers who branded their pupils 'thick and inbred' on Facebook have quit their jobs after parents expressed outrage, it was revealed today. Former head Debbie Johnson and teacher Nyanza Roberts left Westcott Primary School following an investigation, Hull City Council confirmed.

Mary Wallace, the chair of governors, said in a letter to parents, that the two had 'decided to relinquish their posts'.

Print-outs of the Facebook comments were posted on fencing near the primary School and word quickly spread among the 250 pupils. One said: 'No wonder everyone is thick... inbreeding must damage brain development.' Another referred to seeing pupils queuing in a discount store.

The online exchange, allegedly between teachers at the school, prompted anger among parents.

In a letter to parents, Ms Wallace said: 'Further to my last letter in which I promised to keep you updated with any developments at the school I write to inform you the investigation into the Facebook matter which affected a number of staff within the school has now been concluded. The details will remain confidential for legal reasons.

'However, I am able to inform you Ms Johnson and Miss Roberts have decided to relinquish their posts at Westcott Primary School from December 2011 and will pursue other opportunities.

'For the other members of staff involved in this matter, this has now been concluded under the school's disciplinary procedure. Again, no details can be given for legal reasons.

'I can assure you that the children's education and welfare continue to lie at the heart of everything we do and the school is running smoothly under the leadership of Mr Roe, the deputy headteacher who will take over as acting headteacher until a new headteacher is recruited.

'All classes are being covered by qualified teaching staff and everyone is working hard to ensure that the children's education and well-being are not affected in any way.'

The Facebook conversation is said to have taken place on a Saturday, when the school was closed, and begins with teacher Stuart Clark writing that he is ‘fed up of bumping into children in town’.

Later Nyanza Roberts makes a reference to an area of the town and adds: ‘No wonder everyone is thick… inbreeding must damage brain development.’

Head Debbie Johnson responds: ‘You’re really on one today mrs…!!Xx’

Miss Roberts replies: ‘Haha I’m actually in a good mood!! If anyone reading this is offended, then get a grip!!’

Another teacher, Jane Johnson, then interjects: ‘Massive queue of Westcott year 5/6 kids in poundland!X’

Parents were furious. Emma Bywood, 30, who has two children at the school, said: ‘My son came home on Monday and I had to explain to him what inbred meant. ‘I’m fuming. If he wasn’t in Year 6, I would be taking him out of the school. But he is starting his Sats exams after Christmas.’

Beckie White, 33, who has a nine-year-old daughter at the school, said: ‘I know it’s Facebook and it’s out of school hours, but they have a responsibility. ‘They know these things might be seen by people and, of course, parents will be hacked off. There should at least be an apology.’

Another mother commented: ‘I’m disgusted and disappointed. I feel let down by the people who are supposed to be role models for our children. ‘I have lost confidence and respect for the teachers at the school. I have doubts about keeping my child at the school.’

Miss Johnson earlier insisted the comments had been taken ‘out of context’ and implied they did not refer to the children.

A council spokeswoman said: 'We are continuing to support the school and will now focus on moving forward to ensure that children get the best possible standards of education. For legal reasons we are not able to go into any more detail.'


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Leiden university rankings

You can see them for yourself here. You will note that the top rankings are overwhelmingly dominated by American universities.

Leiden university ranks other universities in the following way:
The Leiden Ranking 2011/2012 is based on publications in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database in the period 2005-2009. Only publications in the sciences and the social sciences are included. Publications in the arts and humanities are excluded because in these domains the bibliometric indicators of the Leiden Ranking do not have sufficient accuracy. Furthermore, only publications of the Web of Science document types article, letter, and review are considered in the Leiden Ranking.

Impact indicators

The Leiden Ranking offers the following indicators of the scientific impact of a university:

Mean citation score (MCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university.

Mean normalized citation score (MNCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university, normalized for field differences, publication year, and document type. An MNCS value of two for instance means that the publications of a university have been cited twice above world average.

Proportion top 10% publications (PPtop 10%). The proportion of the publications of a university that, compared with other similar publications, belong to the top 10% most frequently cited.

Publications are considered similar if they were published in the same field and the same publication year and if they have the same document type.

Citations are counted until the end of 2010 in the above indicators. Author self citations are excluded. The PPtop 10% indicator is more stable than the MNCS indicator, and we therefore regard the PPtop 10% indicator as the most important impact indicator of the Leiden Ranking.

In other words it looks at how often papers coming out of a given university are cited in other papers.

That rather explains the American dominance. There are a LOT of American universities (around 7,000 on some counts -- depending on what you define as a university). So what we are seeing is that all those American researchers mostly cite papers by other Americans. There are many reasons why that might be so with the excellence of the cited paper being only one of the reasons.

Being personally acquainted (via conferences etc.) with other people working in your field is another obvious reason. I know from my own experience during my research career that the heaviest use of my papers mostly came from people I knew personally from conferences.

So although the Leiden rankings are the most objective of the rankings available they are really only useful in ranking American universities. As rankings of universities worldwide they are essentially useless.

It is therefore all the more to the credit of the occasional non-American university that crept into the list. The highest ranking Australian university was the ANU, ranked 114th. The ANU was of course designed from the beginning as a research-heavy university so that is not unexpected.

The University of Melbourne came 163rd ,the University of Queensland (my alma mater) was 170th but the University of Sydney was 290th.

Most other rankings of world universities place Australian universities much higher.

School Superintendent Receiving Death Threats Over Santa Order

Serves him right for being such a misery

A Massachusetts school superintendent who banned Santa Claus from visiting classrooms has received death threats, despite quickly reversing his position, the Boston Globe reported.

Richard Langlois, superintendent of Saugus Public Schools, canceled the longstanding tradition of local firefighters dressing like Santa and visiting schools Monday, saying it conflicted with school policy banning the celebration of religious holidays. According to Boston ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, firefighters have organized the visits and coloring book giveaways for the last 49 years.

Outrage ensued, prompting Langlois to reverse the order the same day, clearing the way for the local Kris Kringles to visit the children.

Despite the reversal, Langlois has received threats, a school committee member told the Globe. “It’s a shame that an incident like this should blow up the way it has,” member Joseph Malone told the newspaper, adding that he believes police are investigating the threats. “Death threats — that’s just appalling.”

According to WCVB, Langlois contacted police after receiving one death threat in the mail. Investigators did not disclose to the station what the card said, but forensic tests were being conducted to try to determine where it came from.


Extremist Teachings Remain in Saudi Textbooks Despite Kingdom's Claims of Reform

Despite Saudi Arabia's promises to clean up textbooks in the kingdom, recent editions continue to raise alarms in the West over jihadist language.

The recent editions were obtained by the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C., and the translations were first provided to Fox News.

“This is where terrorism starts, in the education system.” Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, told Fox News. Al-Ahmed, a Saudi national, said the textbooks, made and paid for by the Saudi government, were smuggled out of the kingdom through confidential sources.

In a textbook for 10th-graders, printed for the 2010-2011 academic year, al-Ahmed said teenagers are taught barbaric practices. “They show students how to cut (the) hand and the feet of a thief,” he said. In another textbook, for ninth-graders, the students are taught the annihilation of the Jewish people is imperative. One text reads in part: “The hour (of judgment) will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. ... There is a Jew behind me come and kill him.”

According to the textbook translations provided to Fox News, women are described as weak and irresponsible. And al-Ahmed said the textbooks call for homosexuals to be put to death "because they pose a danger at society, as the Saudi school books teaches.”

Al-Ahmed say the textbooks are both a Saudi and an American problem. “If you teach 6 million children in these important years of their lives, if you install that in their brain, no wonder we have so many Saudi suicide bombers.”

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there was an intense focus on Saudi Arabia and its educational teachings because almost all of the attackers were from the kingdom. In 2006, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki al-Faisal told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relationships that the Saudi king was determined to eradicate this ideology of hate.

“In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah recognizes that above all else education is the key, and he has put forth a program of reforms in this area," al-Faisal said. "In recent years, the kingdom has reviewed all of its education practices and materials and has removed any element that is inconsistent with the needs of a modern education. Not only have we eliminated what is objectionable from old textbooks that were in our system, we have also implemented a comprehensive internal revision and modernization plan. “

But the new textbooks, most from the 2010-2011 academic year, show the hateful speech remains.

In Atlanta earlier this month, the Saudi minister responsible for the textbooks talked about the importance of education for woman. Asked by Fox News about the textbooks, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah Al-Saud said, “I always say to people, please come. Come, try to see us. But come without a preconceived idea. ... Especially when you want to raise the future, no one is going to introduce violence. Violence is absolutely against - I think this is, I don't know who put in those ideas.”

When Fox News offered to show the quotes to the minister, he said, “there are many quotes” and walked away.

Fox News also asked the Saudi Embassy in Washington D.C., for comment on the textbooks and the translations, but there was no immediate response.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Denmark: Schools drop Christmas traditions out of consideration for Muslim students

Schools are increasingly changing Christmas tradition in order to take into account a growing number of bilingual children.

At the Klostervænget school in Copenhagen, the school administration changed a few verses in the 'A Child is Born in Bethlehem' hymn sung by the children because they thought it would be preaching too much to the bilingual children.

At Møllevang school in Aarhus the school administration asked a music teacher to choose hymns that took into account the Muslim students, after students in a 3rd grade class and their parents protested that the children were expected to sing "Here come your little ones, Jesus".

At the Nørrevang school in Slagelse, the school administration canceled the Christmas ceremony in church, since the priest insisted on saying the Lord's prayer, and the school administration thought it would insult some of the students.

These examples show that various schools with many students of immigrant background are changing the way Christmas is celebrated. The schools feel they're in a dilemma between Christian traditions and taking into account the fact that increasing numbers of students are Muslim.

"By us it's important that all children have the same rights and obligations. Nobody should feel excluded, and therefore we won't go into a church with some of the children. Instead we're having the Christmas celebration at school," says Tom Schultz, principal of the Nørrevang school in Slagelse.

Anders Balle, head of the principal's union, asks principals to be pragmatic. "We shouldn't let go of the cultural part of Christmas, but they shouldn't be preaching either." He says students should be allowed not to participate in events in churches.

Education Minister Christine Antorini (S) doesn't want to intervene if schools decide to drop hymns. "But I think there's a fine balance that parents can ask that their children be exempt from religious events that are not part of the curriculum."


Teachers Union President Deems Education Too Complex for Tax-Paying Rubes

It’s so reassuring to have the intellectual elites in our nation’s teachers unions, like Sandy Hughes of Tennessee, looking out for us rubes.

Hughes, a local union president, is pitching the idea that school board membership be limited to people who “have worked in the education field,” because the issues at hand are “so complex” and too complicated for average citizens.

In other words, all will be well if taxpayers just get out of the way and let the wise and wonderful union folks run our schools, no questions asked. All we have to do is keep paying the taxes, then mind our own business.

This is a perfect example of the snobbery and arrogance that is so pervasive in the public education establishment.

A stay-at-home mom that wants to be on the board? Sorry. Business owners who know how to control labor costs and balance budgets? They don’t have the right skill set, according to Hughes. Public education is too "complex" for them.

Hughes didn’t happen to mention the 80% graduation rate in her county, the 52% of 3-8 graders who aren't proficient in reading or the 62% who aren't proficient in math. Perhaps she thinks those statistics are acceptable, and the public school accept them, too.

There's another issue at play here. Most communities throughout the nation elect school board members. Teachers unions throughout the nation provide millions of dollars in campaign contributions to get their hand-picked candidates elected, then lo and behold, they negotiate juicy, expensive contracts with their pet board members.

Union leaders have clearly thought this through. Some have actually produced How-To manuals, such as the Michigan Education Association’s “Electing Your Employer – It’s as easy as 1-2-3!” In it, the union details every step necessary to elect union-friendly school board members.

The only problem is that, with a board full of union supporters, nobody is looking out for the interests of students and taxpayers. But of course, people who aren’t dedicated to the union agenda have no business on school boards, according to Hughes. We obviously don’t understand the process. It’s all too “complex” for us.


Fewer black students at Oxford and Cambridge

Oxbridge recruits from a high IQ pool. Very few blacks would be in that pool

The number of black students being awarded places at Oxford and Cambridge dropped even lower last year, according to newly released figures.

Fewer than one in 100 students beginning courses at Britain's two oldest universities in 2010 were black, including just 20 of the 2,617 British students accepted to Oxford, a fall from 27 in 2009.

The number of new black students at Cambridge dropped to 16 among an intake of 2,624, compared with 25 the previous year, admissions data show.

The statistics come months after David Cameron branded the universities' ethnic admissions figures as "disgraceful", incorrectly claiming that just one British black student had been accepted by Oxford in 2009.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the incoming head of Ofsted, told the Sunday Times it was the role of schools to press more black pupils to apply for places at Britain's most prestigious academic institutions. He said: "The statistics clearly show that [state] schools aren't doing enough to encourage black and ethnic minority students to apply to the top universities."

Oxford said it had accepted 32 black students in 2011, an increase from last year, and said white pupils were more than twice as likely as black pupils to score three As at A-level.

Cambridge said 15 per cent of students at the university last year were from ethnic minorities, compared with five per cent in 1989.


Friday, December 23, 2011

TN bill would force failing eighth-graders to stay behind

A state lawmaker wants Tennessee schools to stop promoting eighth-graders to the ninth grade when they are not academically ready.

Teachers acknowledge that the practice — called social promotion — is fairly common, but state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed a bill that would force teachers to retain eighth-grade students who have failing grades at the end of the year or do not demonstrate basic skills in one or more subjects of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.

If the law had been in effect this year, at least 8,000 Tennessee eighth-graders would have been held back because that’s how many scored below the basic level in reading on the state exams they took in the spring of this year.

State Board of Education Executive Director Gary Nixon supports the proposal, but other teachers and school administrators fear it could lead to a higher dropout rate among embarrassed teenagers. “One reason we don’t retain is because of the research showing what happens when they get retained. … All the kids know, and hopelessness is the bigger issue,’’ said H.G. Hill Middle School Principal Connie Gwinn, an educator of 31 years.

Under Kelsey’s plan, students with disabilities would be exempt. All other students would have the opportunity to attend summer school, elevate their grades and go on to high school with their classmates in the fall. Opponents of the bill insist schools would need more money to fund additional intervention programs in the summer.

But Kelsey said something has to be done because too many students are coming out of high school without basic reading, math or other skills. “This will help our graduation rate and ensure students who enter ninth grade will succeed there,” he said. “Unfortunately, we set many of them up for failure right now.”

Roughly 20,000 Tennessee students in grades 4-8 score below basic each year but get promoted anyway, and find themselves unsuccessful in high school, the lawmaker said.

Kelsey said this bill is a natural progression in education reform. In 2010, legislators enacted a law requiring TCAPs to count for up to 25 percent of a student’s final grade. Earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to make third grade a gateway year, meaning that in 2012 students in the third grade must score “basic’’ or above in reading to enter the fourth grade.

Every spring, students in grades 3-8 are tested on grade-level reading, math, social studies and science on the TCAP. Depending on how many questions they answer correctly, they land in one of the following levels: below basic grade level, basic, proficient or advanced. In reading, for example, eighth-graders answer about 50 reading questions. Those answering about 85 percent correctly are considered advanced; those answering 41 percent or fewer are “below basic.”

Tennessee has joined Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, and the Chicago and New York City school districts in implementing certain gateway grades for promotion.

Kelsey is confident this latest proposal will be adopted. The state board of education favors ending social promotion for third and eighth grades. “The state board is supportive of assuring students who are promoted have the skills to be successful in the next grade,” Nixon said.

Teachers and school administrators agree that retaining students in younger grades is more beneficial to the student. “The majority of our retentions are in kindergarten,” said Yvonne Smith, elementary supervisor for Wilson County Schools. “The earlier you can catch a child and find out what they are lacking, takes less time to get them caught up ... plus from a social aspect, it’s not as hard on them.” It may take 30 minutes of intervention per day in kindergarten, versus four hours per day for struggling fourth-graders, she said.

Wilson County school board member Vikki Adkins said retaining students would lead to overcrowding at the eighth-grade level because the failing students would join the new eighth-graders coming into the school. “It may mean a lot of portables in middle schools,” Adkins said. “I would be opposed to any legislation like this.”

Metro Associate Superintendent for High Schools Jay Steele said he’s not in favor of the bill because students fall behind for different reasons and should not all be retained.

“There is no reason a 17-year-old child should be in an eighth-grade classroom, so that’s where I think flexibility has to be built in so that a district can decide on a case-by-case basis what’s best for the child,” Steele said.

Metro Schools had already planned its own intervention program for over-aged middle school students more than a year ago, but the $1.5 million initiative has yet to begin. Currently, about 750 ninth- and 10th-graders older than their classmates are still struggling and not expected to earn enough class credits to graduate with their peers.

To support his argument, Kelsey points to a study done at the University of Colorado that analyzed Florida’s social promotion policy. Marcus Winters measured third-graders who failed state exams by a few points and were retained, put in summer school and then paired with high-quality teachers. He compared them with third-graders who barely passed exams and were not retained. Winters said he found a large increase in math and reading scores of the students retained.

“The long-term effect that we are most interested in, we can’t see yet, because our students aren’t old enough, like high school graduation rates and whether they go to college or how they do in the labor market,” Winters said. Research on ending social promotion in sixth through eighth grades is virtually nonexistent or has shown no real effect, he said.

A Chicago study found its dropout rates didn’t change after the system stopped social promotion.

In Georgia, which has gateway grades in third, fifth and eighth grades, school districts ignored the law and promoted failing kids anyway.

Bellevue Middle School grandparent Tonia Mattison said the system is flawed all around. Her grandson, a fifth-grader, lives with her and performs at the basic level on exams, but she pays for private tutoring.

She said eighth-graders should not be penalized because their parents or teachers never intervened. “Denying them at that age level is not something that just started at eighth grade. If there is a problem, isn’t it a problem to rectify at an earlier age?”


Class war as British universities seek to break 'middle-class monopoly'

Students applying to university will have checks made on their school and family background under a move to create a more diverse student population.

Two thirds of universities will use data covering students’ social class, parental education or school performance next year to give the most disadvantaged candidates a better chance of getting on to degree courses, reports the Daily Telegraph.

For the first time next year, they will be required to set targets for the number of disadvantaged students being admitted in a move that coincides with a sharp rise in tuition fees. It represents an escalation of the current rules that merely require institutions to generate more applications.

Figures suggest that more than 20,000 students at almost 100 universities are already admitted to degree courses each year using contextual data and this number could rise in 2012 and beyond. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted that it was 'valid and appropriate' to use this information to pick out applicants with 'potential'.

Private schools will be alarmed at the move as this scheme risks penalising academic pupils from top performing schools.

In the latest study, researchers surveyed almost 100 universities on their use of contextual information. The report, by the organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, which advises universities on admissions policies, found that 41.5 per cent of institutions used this data to admit students in autumn 2011.

But it said that almost 63 per cent of universities 'indicated that they plan to use it in the future', including for next year’s admissions when tuition fees will rise from £3,000 to a maximum of £9,000 a year.

The survey suggested that universities aligned to the elite Russell Group, which represents Oxford, Cambridge and other leading institutions were 'more likely to be using contextual data' than other institutions.

Almost 23 per cent of universities said they were planning to make 'lower offers' to some candidates from poor backgrounds — potentially awarding them places with worse A-level grades than students from top schools. This was up from 18 per cent in 2011.


Australia: A good school culture can have powerful effects

Religious schools generally have an advantage in that respect. And, being private, they don't have to put up with disruptive students

A SCHOOL in Melbourne's east founded on the principles of Christian Science has outperformed selective-entry government school Melbourne High in this year's VCE results.

Melbourne High has dropped off the list of top three schools for the first time since figures were made publicly available in 2003, outflanked by Mac.Robertson Girls High, Huntingtower School and Loreto Mandeville Hall.

Huntingtower School in Mount Waverley, an independent school based on the teachings of Christian Science, has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the rankings. In 2003, 15 per cent of its subject scores were 40 or above, and it was outperformed by 63 schools. This year Huntingtower School placed second, with 36.6 per cent of subject scores 40 or above. VCE subjects are marked out of 50, with a study score of 30 the average, and more than 40 considered an excellent result.

Huntingtower principal Sholto Bowen said the school encouraged its students to support one another rather than compete against each other.

"We are creating a sense they are all part of a team and not trying to beat [one another]. We are not trying to actually beat other schools," Mr Bowen said. "Every student knows it's their responsibility to help every other student when they are feeling stressed or under pressure. I don't think we do anything that couldn't be done by anyone - we are just creating that culture of kindness and understanding and support."

Mr Bowen said the school believed that every child expressed the infinite intelligence of God. "We want them to get the idea they have no limits," he said.

Christian Science is derived from the writings of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, and the Bible. No doctrinal instruction in religion is given at Huntingtower and all faiths are welcomed.

The school's website says that while Christian Science is perhaps best known for its emphasis on healing by spiritual means, the wishes of parents of Huntingtower students for medical attention for their children is respected at all times.

Kahli Joyce, one of 57 VCE students at Huntingtower, attributes the school's success to a strong network between students and teachers.

"It was not only about the academic side of things, we also took time out to bond as a year level," said Kahli, who hopes to study biomedicine at Melbourne University.

Year 12 students attended a weekend retreat early in the year, where they discussed team and individual goals, and wrote positive affirmations about every student.

"Throughout the year we were always together as a year level, and in the common room we would take time out to find out how everyone was going. That really helped give us a positive learning environment."

Meanwhile, Jewish schools also performed extremely well, with Bialik College, Yeshivah College and Mount Scopus Memorial College all in the top 10. The top Jewish schools were Bialik College in Hawthorn and Yeshivah College in St Kilda East, which both had 33.3 per cent of study scores 40 or above.