Saturday, January 22, 2011

GA: Cherokee School Board Says Yes to Graduations at Church

The Cherokee County school board voted unanimously on Thursday to keep graduations at a local megachurch in Georgia despite the threat of a lawsuit.

Some members of the board took a stand as they voted to continue holding high school graduations at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, which is led by former Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt. Three new members of the board were sworn in with a Bible at the meeting.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue if the district didn't move the ceremony to a secular venue on grounds that it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The Washington, D.C.-based civic rights organization contended that holding public high school graduations at the megachurch, which the district has used since 2005, would expose attendants to religious imagery and symbols.

Parents, high school students and community members packed the meeting to capacity. Several students spoke before the board, receiving loud cheers and applause. "To say that using a building violates one religious freedom is stretching the issue far beyond realistic boundaries," said Chase Chitwood, a high school senior.

Another student said he wanted the privilege to walk across the same stage as his sister during her graduation.

First Baptist Church can hold up to 7,000 people and costs the district $2,000 to rent. Supporters say that moving the graduation to a venue of similar capacity would dramatically increase the costs to about $40,000.

"For just one day, we should just be able to put it aside … and graduate together and let all of our family be together who has supported us," Tori Tomlinson, a senior, told the board.

New board member Robert Wofford said the issue wasn't about religion but settling on the most cost-efficient space there is for the district, according to Cherokee Tribune. "I'm not voting for a church or against a church," he said.

AU has sued two school districts in the past over the same issue. One court ruled in favor of the district; the other, against. Both cases are on appeal.

Last year, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled that holding graduation ceremonies at The First Cathedral, an evangelical megachurch in Bloomfield, Conn., is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ordered two Enfield high schools to move their events elsewhere, concluding from her visit to the church that it was "overwrought with religious symbols."

In 2009, however, a Wisconsin judge allowed Elmbrook Joint Common School District to hold ceremonies at a local church. U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert ruled that the district's decision to use Elmbrook Church as the site of its graduations did not excessively entangle church and state.

The Cherokee County school board's attorney told WSBTV that the district will read disclaimers before the start of the ceremony. He also said he and his firm will also work for free if a lawsuit is filed.


Old school teaching better for retaining knowledge

Old-fashioned teaching exercises like reciting times tables and verb conjugations are better than trendy new teaching methods, a study suggests.

Researchers believe that reciting facts shortly after learning them is better than many new-style educational methods. The "simple recall" seems to cement the knowledge "in memory" so it is more permanently embedded for use later.

Many modern teachers rely heavily on learning techniques like concept or mind mapping to help students retain the most from the texts they read, the study said. This involves drawing elaborate diagrams to represent relationship between words, ideas and tasks.

But two experiments, carried out by Dr Jeffrey Karpicke at Purdue University, Indiana, concluded that this was less effective than constant informal testing and reciting.

Dr Karpicke asked around 100 college students to recall in writing, in no particular order, as much as they could from what they had just read from science material.

Although most students expected to learn more from the mapping approach, the retrieval exercise actually worked much better to strengthen both short-term and long-term memory.

The results support the idea that retrieval is not merely scouring for and spilling out the knowledge stored in one’s mind — the act of reconstructing knowledge itself is a powerful tool that enhances learning about science.


British middle-classes 'being priced out of boarding schools'

If a kid is particularly bright and the parents are motivated, the kid will nonetheless be found an affordable place at a good private school. Even Eton has reduced rates for the brightest pupils ("King's Scholars")

Thousands of middle-class professionals have been being priced out of private boarding schools after fees rocketed five-fold in a generation, researchers claimed today. The cost of sending a child to a senior independent school has soared from around £6,000 to almost £30,000 in 25 years, it was disclosed. In the last six years alone, fees have increased by around a third at some schools, figures show, quicker than the rise in earnings.

The disclosure – in research published by the Good Schools Guide – comes despite fears over a squeeze on family finances in the recession.

Researchers warned that the rise meant many middle-income families were effectively being excluded from sending children to some of Britain’s most famous schools, which risk becoming the preserve of sons and daughters of super-rich foreign businessmen. The number of overseas enrolments at independent schools jumped by 7.4 per cent to 23,307 last year, with most pupils coming from Hong Kong, mainland China and Germany.

But independent school leaders insisted the figures were "highly misleading" and rises were in line with an increase in general education costs, including teachers’ salaries, pensions and the price of building work. They said fee rises had been much smaller in recent years as schools sought to ease the burden on parents during the economic downturn.

But Janette Wallis, a senior editor at the guide, said “Such an enormous increase in school fees in 25 years is out of sync with the rise in salaries or prices – and it shows in the families who can afford these schools now. Many professionals have been priced out of the private schools market.”

Research to mark the 25th anniversary of the guide, which is published next month, shows that fees at private senior schools have increased much faster than the rise in earnings. According to data, average fees were set at between £3,600 and £6,000 a year in 1986, although parents were advised to budget for up to £7,000 when extra costs were added.

The guide says parents can now expect to pay between £27,000 and £30,000 to send teenage sons and daughters to senior boarding schools – five times as much for the top schools. When extras such as uniforms, music lessons, school outings, books and overseas holidays are added, costs can escalate as high as £33,000.

It comes despite the fact that earnings increased by less – around three-fold – over the same period.

At Westminster School, fees increased from £5,025 a year in 1986 to £21,948 in 2006 and £29,406 this year. Fees at Wycombe Abbey increased from £5,025 to £23,100 in 2006 and £29,250 last year, while those at Marlborough College rose from £5,550 to £29,310 over 25 years, the guide said. The annual cost of senior boarding at Malvern College increased from £5,400 to £29,256 over the 25 year period.

Fees at Eton went from more than £6,000 to £29,862 and at Harrow costs increased from over £6,000 to £29,670.

David Lyscom, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: "Presenting the figures in such a sensationalist way creates a highly misleading impression. "The figure over 25 years equates to an average annual increase of under seven per cent over the same period. "To put this in context, the average annual increase of the education component of the Consumer Price Index since the late 1980s is about 7.5 per cent.

"So the increase in boarding fees over the period is not extraordinary, and much of the difference represents the increased cost of meeting higher parental expectations and today's very different welfare and regulatory standards.

"Our schools offer a range of fees for families of varying means and fee assistance is widely available. Given this, and the world-class standard of education at our schools, we believe, and continued parental support confirms, that they still offer excellent value for money."


Friday, January 21, 2011

Students fail to improve their thinking, study finds

MORE than a third of students are going through university and failing to learn additional thinking skills, choosing instead to take easy subjects and enjoy the social life, according to a ground-breaking US study.

In an embarrassing finding for US universities, a study of test results on the critical, analytical and communication skills of 2300 undergraduate students found that after two years of college 45 per cent couldn't demonstrate any significant improvement. And little further was gained after four years with 36 per cent still failing to show significant improvement.

The study, by the New York-based Social Science Research Council, is based on the results of the Collegiate Learning Assessment generic skills test


Background here. An amazingly naive project. The Collegiate Learning Assessment is clearly just a type of IQ test and IQ is essentially immovable. The finding reported above could have been predicted from the slightest knowledge of IQ research. They are not measuring anything teachable. At most they show that some students become test-wise

Call for phonics in schools as scathing Ofsted report says 1 in 6 British children reach 7 without being able to spell

Bring back phonics and rigorous tests and ‘virtually all’ children will be able to read by the age of six, according to the schools watchdog. Schools can achieve the highest standards if they go back to basics regardless of whether they are from sink estates or privileged areas, Ofsted said.

Phonics – a method of teaching reading which was ditched in the Seventies in favour of techniques such as ‘look and guess’, where the child uses clues in a sentence to read unfamiliar words – are key to pupils’ progress, the report said.

It also claims the biggest barrier to pupils’ learning is their teachers, as the ‘less successful schools limited their expectations of pupils’.

Official figures show one in five children at the age of seven struggle to spell simple words, prompting renewed calls for teachers who have resisted using phonics to ditch ‘trendy’ techniques.

Phonics teaches the letter sounds and then builds up to blending these to form whole words. The technique returned to the curriculum in 2006, but some teachers have been reluctant to readopt it.

Ofsted’s report, ‘Removing barriers to literacy’, focused on 180 schools from 2008 to 2010. The best achieved their results via a ‘systematic approach to phonics’, it said, and this should be ‘central to the teaching of reading’.

It also called for ‘rigorous monitoring’ of pupils’ progress, a view likely to anger teaching unions who are fighting ministers’ plan to introduce tests for six-year-olds.


The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Children who write by hand 'learn better than those who type'

Children and students who write by hand learn better than those who type, a study has revealed.

Something is apparently lost in the brain process when switching from pen and book to computer screen and keyboard. This is because reading and writing involves a number of our senses, according to the scientists who conducted the study.

When writing by hand, the movements involved leave an imprint in the part of the brain called the sensorimotor. This process helps to help us recognise letters. Simply touching and typing on a keyboard produces a different response in the brain, which means it does not strengthen the learning mechanism in the same way.

In tests, two groups of volunteers were asked to learn an unknown alphabet. The first was taught to write the letters by hand, while the other used keyboards.

At weekly intervals their recollections of the alphabet were recorded. And those who learned the letters through reading and writing came out best.

Professor Anne Mangen, a reading expert from Stavanger University in Norway, and neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay, of Marseille University, published their findings in the Advances in Haptics journal.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Christian Astronomer Settles Lawsuit Over Discrimination Claim‏

Anti-Christian bigotry

An astronomy professor who sued the University of Kentucky after claiming he lost out on a top job because of his Christian beliefs reached a settlement Tuesday with the school.

The university agreed to pay $125,000 to Martin Gaskell in exchange for dropping a federal religious discrimination suit he filed in Lexington in 2009. A trial was set for next month.

Gaskell claimed he was passed over to be director of UK’s MacAdam Student Observatory because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution.

Court records showed Gaskell was a front-runner for the job, but some professors called him “something close to a creationist” and “potentially evangelical” in interoffice e-mails to other university scientists.

“We never thought from the start that everybody at UK was some sort of anti-religious bigot,” said Frank Manion, Gaskell’s attorney. “However, what I do think this case disclosed is a kind of endemic, almost knee-jerk reaction in academia towards people, especially scientists, of a strong religious faith.”

A statement from University of Kentucky counsel Barbara Jones Tuesday said the school’s “hiring processes were and are fundamentally sound and were followed in this case.” The university does not admit any wrongdoing.

“This successful resolution precludes what would have been a lengthy trial that, ultimately, would not have served anyone’s best interests,” Jones said in the statement.

Gaskell has said he is not “creationist,” or someone who believes the Bible’s origin story puts the age of the universe at a few thousand years. He also said his views on evolution are in line with biological science.

After applying for the job in 2007, Gaskell said he learned from a friend at UK that professors had discussed his purported religious views. E-mails turned over as evidence in the case showed that university scientists wondered if Gaskell’s faith would interfere with the job, which included public outreach and education.

One astrophysics professor at UK told department chair Michael Cavagnero in an e-mail that hiring Gaskell would be a “huge public relations mistake.”

Gaskell referred questions from a reporter Tuesday to Manion, a Kentucky lawyer with the American Center for Law & Justice, which focuses on religious freedom cases

Manion said documents and e-mail communications turned over by UK in the case showed strong evidence of religious bias, including a professor who surmised that Gaskell was “potentially evangelical.”

“The fact that somebody could say that without realizing the implications, speaks volumes,” Manion said. “Because all you have to do is substitute any other label – potentially Jewish, potentially Muslim. Nobody would say that.”

Gaskell is currently working as a research fellow in the astronomy department at the University of Texas.


Victory for common sense as history and geography lessons go back to basics in British schools

History and geography lessons are to go back to basics, with children expected to learn about key figures and facts as part of an overhaul of the curriculum. Education Secretary Michael Gove, who is launching his review today, has pledged to undo Labour’s ‘profound mistakes’ and restore ‘academic rigour’ to the classroom.

He said the curriculum was not fit for purpose after Labour stripped out the need for youngsters to learn any key facts in history, geography, English and music.

In 2007, Labour cut key historical figures such as Winston Churchill from a list of figures recommended for teaching to allow teachers more flexibility. At present, the only historical figures in the entire secondary history curriculum are William Wilberforce, the architect of the abolition of the slave trade, and Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave whose autobiography helped persuade MPs to ban slavery.

The secondary geography curriculum does not mention a single country apart from the UK or any continents, rivers, oceans, mountains or cities. It does, however, mention the European Union and global warming.

And the secondary music curriculum fails to mention a single composer, musician or piece of music.

At the same time Labour made the curriculum ‘overly prescriptive’, increasing the secondary curriculum to 281 pages, compared with 52 pages in Finland – a country with world leading education standards.

Mr Gove said Labour’s attack on the curriculum had led to England ‘plummeting in international league tables and widening the gap between rich and poor’. The curriculum would be slimmed down to cover the only ‘essential knowledge’ children need, he added. The Coalition argues that there should be a core knowledge that pupils should have to take their place as ‘educated members of society’.

It means that as well as learning about key historical figures in history lessons, English classes could focus on great British writers like Dickens and Austen.

However teachers’ unions did not welcome the announcement. Chris Keates, of the NASUWT, said: ‘Teachers want another curriculum review like a hole in the head. ‘This is a pointless review when ministers have already determined that children should have a 1950s-style curriculum.’


British school science 'undermined by poor teachers and laboratories', say MPs

Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren are failing to study science to a high standard after being turned off the subject by poor teachers and unsafe laboratories, according to MPs. Just 20 per cent of pupils in England took separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics last year because of key failures in secondary education, it was claimed.

The Commons public accounts committee said reforms introduced by the last Government had led to a rise in the status of school science but warned that lessons were still dogged by “slow progress” in vital areas.

In a report published today, the cross-party group said there were not enough new teachers with “strong subject knowledge” in science and maths entering the profession.

The Department for Education is currently falling short of targets to ensure that at least a quarter of science teachers have a degree in physics and almost all mathematics lessons are taught by specialist maths teachers, the report warned.

MPs also said there was evidence that science facilities were “unsatisfactory and even unsafe” in up to a quarter of secondary schools but the Government has abandoned targets for improving crumbing laboratories.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “There has been an impressive increase in the availability and take up of GCSE triple science; and, at the same time, attainment in maths, biology, chemistry and physics at this level has improved. “But the picture is far from rosy. Many pupils are still not offered triple science as an option, and those living in areas of high deprivation are most likely to be missing out.”

She added: “We need a coherent national approach to ensure that the key success factors – such as GCSE triple science, specialist teachers, good quality science facilities, good careers advice and programmes to increase take-up and achievement – are available throughout the country, especially in the most disadvantaged communities.”

The report – “Educating the Next Generation of Scientists” – said the number of teenagers in England taking separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics had increased by 150 per cent between 2004 and 2009.

More students are also opting to take A-level chemistry and physics in the sixth-form.

But the report warned that many pupils who could benefit from rigorous courses in the subject were “still missing out”.

Only 20 per cent of pupils took GCSEs in all three sciences last summer, MPs said. Almost a third of secondary schools – usually in poor areas – failed to even offer pupils the option of taking separate sciences, meaning they were far less likely to study them beyond the age of 16.

The report also warned that pupils were let down by poor advice about science and maths-based carers in some schools.

MPs recommended that ministers order an audit of schools to plug gaps in the number of secondaries failing to offer separate science GCSEs and consider fresh measures to increase the number of students opting to train as science and maths teachers.

Despite a cut in the amount of money set aside for school buildings, the committee also said an urgent review of science facilities should be carried out to update unsafe labs.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

30,000 British schoolkids branded as bigots

More than 10,000 primary school pupils in a single year have been labelled racist or homophobic over minor squabbles. Even toddlers in nursery classes are being penalised for so-called hate crimes such as using the words ‘white trash’ or ‘gaylord’.

Schools are forced to report their language to education authorities, which keep a register of incidents. This leads to at least 30,000 primary and secondary pupils per year being effectively classed as bigots because of anti-bullying rules.

The school can also keep the pupil’s name and ‘offence’ on file. The record can be passed from primaries to secondaries or when a pupil moves between schools at the request of the new head.

And if schools are asked for a pupil reference by a future employer or a university, the record could be used as the basis for it, meaning the pettiest of incidents has the potential to blight a child for life.

Figures for the year 2008-9 were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club. They show 29,659 racist incidents reported by schools to local education authorities in England and Wales. Of these, 10,436 were at primary schools and 41 at nursery schools.

Birmingham City Council had the highest number of any authority, with 1,607 racist incidents, compared with only two each in the Vale of Glamorgan and Hartlepool.

In the majority of cases, the ‘racist’ spats involved mere name-calling. Yet in 51 cases police became involved, with Hertfordshire schools turning to officers for help in 38 incidents, according to the Manifesto Club report which will be published shortly.

A spotlight on just 15 LEAs discovered 341 homophobic incidents logged by schools in 2008-9, including 120 at primaries. A staggering 112 such incidents were reported in Barnet, North London.

At one primary, teachers filled out an incident form after three Year Four pupils, aged eight or nine, told a classmate he was ‘gay’ and could not play with them.

The Manifesto Club report’s author, Adrian Hart, said: ‘I feel that childhood itself is under attack. It’s absolutely the case that these policies misunderstand children quite profoundly. ‘Racist incident reporting generates the illusion of a problem with racism in Britain’s schools by trawling the everyday world of playground banter, teasing, childish insults – the sort of things that every teacher knows happens out there in the playground.’

Schools were required by the Labour government in 2002 to monitor and report all racist incidents to their local authority after the introduction of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act in 2000. Teachers must name the alleged perpetrator and victim and spell out the incident and the punishment. Local authority records show the type of incident but not the name of the child involved.

LEAs are expected to monitor the number of incidents, look for patterns and plan measures to tackle any perceived problems. Heads who send in ‘nil’ returns are criticised for ‘under-reporting’. In March 2007, the Commons Education Select Committee called for schools to record all types of bullying, including homophobic and disability-related. LEAs also began demanding that schools report their homophobia data, alongside racist incidents, although not all do so.

Labour had also planned to make reporting ‘hate taunting’ statutory for every school but the policy is under review by the Coalition.


Work experience now essential for most British graduate jobs

More than 45 students are expected to compete for each graduate job this year amid record demand for the most sought-after positions, according to research.

At least half of Britain’s biggest employers are reporting a surge in the number of applications being submitted for skilled jobs, it was disclosed.

The study warned that competition is now so fierce that many companies are refusing to consider graduates – even the very brightest – unless they have completed relevant work experience.

An estimated third of this year’s vacancies will be filled by applicants who have already worked for the employer as an undergraduate.

The disclosure will fuel fears that degree results and A-level grades alone are no longer enough to satisfy prospective employers.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, which carried out the study, said: “The class of 2011 will be disappointed to hear that graduate recruitment has yet to return to the pre-recession levels seen in 2007, especially as there are an estimated 50,000 extra graduates leaving university in 2011 compared with four years ago.

“Today’s report includes the stark warning that in this highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience during their time at university have little or no chance of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the university they’ve attended or the academic results they achieve.”

Researchers surveyed 100 leading graduate employers, including the Civil Service, KPMG, Marks & Spencer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Tesco and Vodafone.

It found that the number of graduate jobs will increase by 9.4 per cent in 2011 compared with 2010, when 15,563 students took up positions. But the survey warned that recruitment levels were still far short of job numbers offered in 2007 – before the recession hit.

As record numbers of students prepare to graduate from university this year, most organisations reported a rise in applications for skilled jobs.

Despite the recession, the average graduate salary will be set at £29,000 this year. Average pay at investment banks will rocket by 10 per cent in 2011, with new employees being offered basic packages of up to £50,000.

Outside the City, the biggest salaries are being offered by the supermarket chain Aldi which pays trainee area managers a first year salary of £40,000.


NE: Bill would let teachers carry guns in schools

A Nebraska lawmaker has introduced a bill to allow school administrators, teachers and security staff to carry concealed handguns in schools.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial introduced the bill two weeks after a 17-year-old killed his vice principal and shot his principal before killing himself.

Christensen says he has always opposed a ban on handguns in schools, but he had no plans to introduce his bill until the shootings on Jan. 5.

He says many schools don't even let security officers carry guns, leaving students and school employees "helpless in the face of a shooter."

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 42 states and the District of Columbia have banned guns in schools, but it could not say whether any states allow them.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A reformed university

Mike Adams

Concerned parents looking to send their kids to a college free from repressive speech codes can now add another option to their list. Last semester, the University of Virginia (UVA) eliminated the last of a series of policies that unconstitutionally restricted the free speech of students and faculty members. Two-thirds of the nation's colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech. But now, UVA is an exception to the rule having fully reformed four speech codes over the course of the last year.

President Teresa Sullivan should be commended for overseeing these important changes, which guarantee the First Amendment rights of students and faculty members at the University of Virginia. Within just three months of taking office, President Sullivan has overseen the transformation of UVA from a school that earned FIRE's worst “red light” rating for restricting protected speech to their highest “green light” rating. But there is another UVA administrator who deserves even higher praise than President Sullivan.

FIRE began working with UVA administrator Dean Allen Groves in April 2010 after Adam Kissel gave a lecture on free speech that was hosted by two UVA student groups - Students for Individual Liberty and Liberty Coalition. Shortly thereafter, Dean Groves received a letter from FIRE, which provided detailed objections to UVA’s then-existing speech codes. UVA student Virginia Robinson happened to be interning for FIRE in the summer of 2010. Thus, she was able to help UVA reform its speech codes.

First, Dean Groves reformed UVA's “Just Report it" so-called bias reporting system. He made sure students were aware that protected speech will not be "subject to University disciplinary action or formal investigation" even if it is reported.

Next, Assistant Vice President for Information Security, Policy, and Records Shirley Payne removed unconstitutional language from a policy prohibiting Internet messages that "vilify" others and mailing list messages that are "inappropriate." Removing such overly broad and vague language helped remove a possible chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

Finally, with the help of Dean Groves, UVA's Women's Center confirmed that it had removed two policies with unconstitutional examples of "sexual harassment" from its website. Some examples stated that "jokes of a sexual nature," "teasing," and even mere "innuendo" constituted sexual harassment. The policies further suggested that simple flirting could be sexual harassment if it was not "wanted and mutual," and that if a person felt "disrespected," their experience "could indicate sexual harassment."

This is all good news as UVA joins its fellow Virginia public institution The College of William & Mary (W&M) in an elite group of just 13 “green light” schools in America.

Now that Virginia’s two leading public universities have led the way FIRE is turning its attention to three more Virginia public universities that currently have "red light" ratings. Hopefully, they will follow suit. If not, suits could follow. I wrote in my last column about the increasing likelihood that college administrators will be faced with paying personal monetary damages. It is sad that such threats are even necessary. There is much to be gained by voluntarily abandoning these oppressive policies.

Like Dean Groves of UVA, other administrators around the nation can attend a FIRE lecture if one is scheduled at their school. If that doesn’t happen this semester or even this year they can simply read FIRE's pamphlet on Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies. The pamphlet contains all the information that is needed to comply with the law. And FIRE is more than willing to assist if any questions or complications should arise. After administrators make the necessary changes they are sure to receive much praise for their efforts. Just ask UVA’s President Sullivan and Dean Groves. I am just one of many who have taken the time to praise them publicly. Better yet, the alums who hear of these changes will be far more likely to open up their wallets and make much needed donations.

The time has come for administrators to turn a potential legal liability into a fund-raising asset by reforming speech codes now. Taking a stand against politically correct censorship is always the right thing to do. And with donations down, it could become a political masterstroke.


New Film Documents Unions' Destruction of Public Education

"Kids Aren't Cars" is a new short film series set for release February 1st. Using examples from the Midwest, it documents the impact organized labor has had on the American education system, creating a one-size-fits-all assembly line model that leaves students behind and treats teachers equally, stifling innovation and improvement.

Our government education system has been spending more and more each year, yet the results have been the same. While unions demand higher spending - which of course ends up in the pockets of their members - money is not fixing the problem.

Those that have been in the trenches gave shocking interviews - stories of money grabs by adults while children are left behind.

An executive director of a literacy clinic in Detroit - where high school graduates go to learn how to read - compared the actions of the school board to the Ku Klux Klan. "If they were sitting up there in Klan robes," she said, no one would be tolerating what is going on, but the effect is the same. [Eight of the 9 school board members are black.]

We tell the story of two Indiana teachers recognized state-wide for their impact on students, only to be fired literally the next day because they lacked seniority of their co-workers.

Numerous leaders sound the alarm, but do elected leaders have the courage to stand up to the all-powerful teachers' unions? The tide seems to be turning, but the need is dire. The United States continues to slip globally [pdf], with student achievement lagging behind Iceland and Hungary.

In short, it's because our public school system is designed to benefits adults, at the expense of children. The focus has been on spending - which invariably ends up in pay, health benefits and retirement for the employees.

"Kids Aren't Cars" is an unflinching look at the state of public education in America and what can be done about it.


British Labour Party's failed initiative on private schools as just one-third of independents report interest

Parents have snubbed Labour’s attempt to give poorer pupils bursaries to top private schools, a report reveals today. Just one-third of independent prep schools have seen a ‘reasonable’ level of interest in bursary places from prospective parents – despite legislation forcing schools to offer them.

Private schools say it meant they were forced to waste valuable resources complying with red-tape in a ‘failed bid at social engineering’. Headmasters believe the measure was a ‘cheap political trick’ and ‘an attack on private schools’. They want the legislation axed or relaxed so they can be given the freedom to benefit the public in the way they see fit.

David Hansom, of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said: ‘These results show that the provision of 100 per cent bursaries is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for the Charity Commission and the demand from parents simply is not there.’

Independent schools are run as charities and must show they provide ‘public benefit’ to maintain their charity status. Charity Commission legislation, which came into force in September 2010, set out rules prescribing how schools should make places available to poorer pupils, ushering a shift from scholarships to means-tested bursaries.

It forced many to hire extra staff to deal with the red tape involved in complying as any school failing to meet the requirements risks losing its charitable tax breaks. And less well-off independents were forced to pass on the cost of bursaries to fee-paying parents, which has in turn made them even further out of reach for many.

A survey by the Independent Schools Council, which represents private schools, shows that just 33 per cent of schools thought interest in their bursaries was good or better.

Russell Hobby, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was too early to judge whether the new measures were a success and added that many parents will be put off by the additional costs of sending their children to a private school.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Detroit and Decay

The city may abandon half its schools to pay union benefits

Detroit was once America's fourth largest city, though today large sections of its inner core are abandoned to the elements, and monuments like Michigan Central Station are returning to dust. Another emblem of civic decline is a plan to desert nearly half of Detroit's public schools so that it can afford to fulfill its teachers union contract.

The school district is facing a $327 million deficit and has already closed 59 schools over the last two years to avoid paying maintenance, utility and operating costs. Under a worst-case scenario released this week by Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager appointed by the state to resolve the Detroit education fisc, the district will close another 70 of its remaining 142 schools to save $31.3 million through 2013.

"Additional savings of approximately $12.4 million can be achieved from school closures if the District simply abandons the closed buildings," the proposal explains, purging costs like boarding up buildings, storage and security patrols.

Steven Wasko, a spokesman for Mr. Bobb, said that urban property sales have been difficult, in part because until recently the state board of education banned transactions with "competing educational institutions" like charter schools. Once buildings are deserted, even if the doors and windows are welded shut with protective metal covers, scavengers break in and dismantle them for copper wire, pipes and so on.


Long delay in marking British High school exams to end -- maybe

Sixth formers will no longer have to wait for their results before learning if they have secured a place at university under a shake-up of the examination system. Ministers want to move the timing of final school examinations and push the autumn university term back.

A government White Paper, to be published in the spring, will propose that university places would be granted based on actual results. [Revolutionary!] The deadline to the University and College Admissions Service, which falls tonight, would be moved back about six months.

Meanwhile the start of the university year would be delayed to until January under the reforms being drawn up by ministers. The reforms would not be introduced for at least two years to allow smooth transition.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said the current system needed to be “re-engineered”. “Instead of speculative applications based on possible A-Level grades everyone is dealing on how (a pupil) performs,” he told The Times. “It would involve some change in the time at which people do their exams. “Exam boards would have to move more rapidly and the process of people getting the application into Ucas would have to change.”

Under current systems, students receive conditional offers in the spring, which are not confirmed until A-Level grades are published in late August.

Mr Willetts said the proposals would be “floated” in the White Paper that would be published sometime in the spring.

Universities will likely be against the plans due to the high level of uncertainty they already face.


More British Students turning to two-year university degrees

More students are turning to two-year university degrees in the economic downturn, figures show. The number of undergraduates gaining “foundation” degrees soared by almost a third last year, it was revealed. Figures showed 24,865 students completed a short degree course in 2010 compared with 18,850 in 2009 and just 9,275 five years ago.

The disclosure suggests that students are increasingly seeing foundation degrees – which take two years to complete and combine academic study with work-based tuition – as a cheaper alternative to traditional undergraduate courses. Many students also favour them because they can often lead directly to a job.

It follows claims from David Willets, the Universities Minister, that growing numbers of young people should seek alternatives to traditional three-year degrees. Setting out a vision of higher education under the Coalition Government, he called for more part-time courses, foundation degrees and courses with business placements. In a speech, he said: “There is more to university than Club 18-30 – going away from home for three years when you are 18."

According to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, foundation degrees increased far more quickly last year than any other mode of study.

The number of students graduating with a foundation degree soared by 32 per cent, while conventional undergraduate degrees increased by five per cent and taught postgraduates rose by 11 per cent.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

UC Berkeley Chancellor Links Tucson Shooting to Immigration

About what you expect of UCB but still dishonest and irresponsible. Intellectual standards? Nil

Striking up controversy while commenting on last weekend’s shooting, a University of California Berkeley chancellor sent an e-mail linking the Tucson shooting to Arizona’s war on undocumented immigration, and the downfall of the DREAM Act.

In the e-mail sent Monday, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, he stated he was angered by a “climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech in tolerated.” [So he does some hate speech of his own, directed at Arizonans? Accusing them of complicity in mass murder?]

The chancellor also gave his opinion on why the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner , could have been motivated to kill those six people and injure another thirteen.

“I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons,” [Whoa boy! It's illegal immigrants who are affected, not "persons" in general] said the e-mail, referring to Arizona’s law that gives local police officers the authority to enforce federal immigration law, by asking anyone appearing to be an undocumented immigrant for proof of their immigration status during a traffic stop.

The comments in the e-mail were picked up by news sources immediately, as this kind of blunt opinion on a matter like this is rather rare occurrence from a university leader.

Birgeneau added that Saturday’s shooting was caused by the “same mean-spirited xenophobia [that] played a major role in the defeat of the DREAM Act by legislators in Washington, [which left] many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country.”

["mean-spirited xenophobia". Would calling people that be contributing to the climate of hate by any chance? "Xenophobia" means neurotic fear of foreigners so he is calling Arizonans and conservatives mentally ill. How does that contribute to calming down the debate? His words sound to me like the "anger, hatred and bigotry" that Sheriff Dupnik was talking about. Birgeneau certainly seems to be doing his best to create a climate of hostility -- JR]

While UC Berkeley has a tradition of supporting student activism, college officials are rarely this vocal, and Birgeneau’s e-mail has caused an uproar, with some going as far as demanding his removal.

Holmes says response from the students has been minimal as they are still on winter break.


North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple wants to see results from higher education funding

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple is advocating a new approach to higher education funding that has seen mixed results in other states. But Dalrymple and higher education leaders say North Dakota should be able to avoid mistakes other states have made by adopting the new approach slowly and getting input from the campuses.

Dalrymple recommends in his budget $5 million for higher education that would be allocated based on how campuses perform on certain measures. He gives examples of performance measures, such as increasing the number of students who graduate on time or the number of students who transfer from two-year to four-year campuses.

Dalrymple wants to work with the state Board of Higher Education to establish a Commission on Higher Education to adopt those performance measures and implement the new approach.

North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani, who has a Ph.D. in higher education finance, said Dalrymple has wisely suggested taking a first step rather than trying to overhaul the funding model all at once. “Performance funding is a model that keeps being introduced and has yet to take off completely,” Bresciani said.

One unintended consequence of performance funding is that universities can sometimes “game it,” Bresciani said. “If you want to make it that 90 percent of your students have to graduate in four years, watch grade inflation just take off,” Bresciani said.

Dalrymple said a critical part of his recommendation is to involve campus leaders in establishing the performance measures to find measurements that can’t be abused. Other states have erred by not getting input from the colleges and universities, Dalrymple said. “They have jumped into some things without engaging the input of the campuses sufficiently,” Dalrymple said.

Chancellor Bill Goetz said a major difference between what Dalrymple proposes and what other states have done is that North Dakota would use performance funding as only a portion of higher education funding. “The difference is we would be looking at some very specific areas,” Goetz said. “We would not be building our entire system finance plan around incentive funding.”

Dalrymple said he proposes to start with $5 million, and over time the incentive funding could become a larger portion of higher education funding.

Goetz said it also will be important to make sure all 11 campuses are treated fairly. “What makes this work is being sensitive to each individual institution,” Goetz said. “So you are truly focused on the institution versus looking at this quantitatively at all 11 institutions.”

Legislators will begin hearing the higher education budget request this week.


British teacher pursues seven-year battle to return to classroom after being acquitted of sexual assault

A teacher falsely accused of groping school girls is to launch a final bid to clear his name after a seven-year battle in which the allegations on his police record have prevented him from getting another job.

Robert King, 45, was acquitted of sexually assaulting four girls following a criminal trial but was subsequently fired from his job and lost an appeal in which he claimed unfair dismissal. He has since been unable to teach as the allegations appear on enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, casting a permanent veil of suspicion.

The experience has left him battling depression and has cost him £154,000, including his home.

Due to his lack of financial resources, Mr King will represent himself when he appears before the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London on Monday in a bid to win the right to lodge an appeal against Sheffield City Council’s decision to uphold his dismissal.

He said: “When I was acquitted of the charges, I left the court with my head held high. “But these malicious allegations have stopped me from doing a job I love. “I can’t afford to give up on it now. I’ve lost everything already and I’ve nothing more to lose. “These matters are critically important for teaching as a whole, not just myself.”

The science teacher was suspended from Handsworth Grange Community Sports College in Sheffield, where he had worked for two years, in May 2004 after four girls alleged that he had touched them inappropriately.

Mr King, who gave up a 15-year career with the Postal Service to retrain as a teacher, claimed he was the victim of a “witch hunt” by friends of a boy whom he had been instrumental in excluding.

He appeared at Sheffield Crown Court in October 2005 and was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and two charges of sexual activity with a child. Despite the jury’s verdict, school governors formally dismissed him in May 2006.

Among the reasons given for his dismissal were that he played snooker and bowls in the school's catchment area while suspended and used "industrial language" in the classroom, including the phrase "shut the book up", when trying to attract pupils' attention. One student reported him for using the word "rubber" instead of eraser in class, which she claimed had a sexual connotation.

A year later, Mr King lost his unfair dismissal case at an employment tribunal when Sheffield City Council successfully argued that there had been a "breakdown in trust and confidence" as well as citing other matters.

The false sexual allegations remain on the council's "dismissal register" as well as on Mr King’s CRB certificate, ensuring that he has since failed to get work with local teaching agencies. He has also been forced to give up the 2,000 hours a year voluntary work he did with the Red Cross and local Army and Air Cadets.

Diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, he has not worked since and has only recently felt capable of pursuing the matter.

If his appeal is allowed, Mr King will argue that a conflict of law prevented the employment tribunal from allowing him to return to work as it was awaiting the result of a government safeguarding inquiry, which could have barred him from working with children.

The Children’s Safeguarding Operations Unit confirmed in 2008 that the Secretary of State, then Ed Balls, had decided not to take any action preventing him from working with children under Section 142 of the Education Act, widely known as List 99.

Mr King said: "The tribunal decision was both perverse and statutorily unfair as they did not have the ability to return me to work.” He will also challenge Sheffield City Council's decision to put him on the "dismissal register" and South Yorkshire Police's disclosure of the allegations on his CRB certificate.