Saturday, February 19, 2011

Education waste: We have only ourselves to blame

There's a curious line in the summary of President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal 2012 Department of Education budget. "Now more than ever," it reads, "we cannot waste taxpayer dollars on programs that do not work." It's curious because no federal education programs appear to work, yet the Obama administration is proposing to increase Education Department spending from $64 billion to $77 billion. It's a bankrupting contradiction, but don't get angry at Obama: We only have ourselves to blame.

Educational outcomes prove that federal education involvement has practically been the definition of profligate spending.

First, elementary and secondary schooling. While real, federal per-pupil expenditures have more than doubled since the early 1970s, the scores of 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the so-called "Nation's Report Card" — have been pancake flat. We've spent tons with no educational returns to show. We have, though, got bloat such as a near doubling of school employees per-student, and opulent buildings like the half-billion-dollar Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex that opened in Los Angeles last year.

In higher education, the federal government has focused on providing financial aid to make college more affordable. The problem is, policymakers have ignored basic economics. The more Washington gives to students, the higher schools can raise their prices, wiping out the value of the aid.

In addition to being a major cause of the disease it wants to cure, Washington has fostered higher-ed failure by encouraging an increasing number of people often unready for college to pursue degrees. That's a likely reason the most recent federal assessment of adult literacy recorded big literacy drops from 1992-2003 among Americans with at least a bachelor's degree. It's also no doubt a significant factor behind only about 56 percent of students in four-year programs completing their studies in six years.

Wasting federal dollars on schools is not, importantly, exclusively a Democratic problem. Both parties have used education spending to try to signal that they "care" about Americans, especially cute little child-Americans. And while the House GOP has identified about $4.9 billion in cuts for the Education Department, that's less than 8 percent off the Department's $64 billion budget.

So how is all this the fault of the American people? Isn't the real problem that politicians lack integrity and will try to buy votes using things that sound wonderful even if they're toxic?

While it would be nice if politicians would start looking at results and stop throwing money into black holes, the fact is they're human, and, like all of us, they ultimately want what is best for themselves. For politicians that's votes, and when it comes to education Americans don't like cuts.

When presented with several federal undertakings that could be targets for deficit-reducing cuts in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, education finished second only to Social Security for protection. A full 63 percent of respondents wanted no education reductions, versus 13 percent calling for "major" cuts. In contrast, the top candidate for gutting — foreign aid — saw 11 percent of people call for no reductions and 52 percent demand major slashing.

As with most things you buy, people generally expect that spending more on education will get a better product. Moreover, the public constantly hears, especially from huge special interests like teachers' unions, that our schools have been surviving on table scraps for decades. It's no surprise, then, that average Americans — people with jobs, families, and lots of other pressing concerns that make analyzing education policy hugely cost prohibitive — recoil at the idea of taking money from schools.

But take we must, because federal money does no discernable educational good, and our nation can simply no longer afford pointless spending.

Unfortunately, there is only one way to get sustained sanity in federal policy, and it will require slow, hard work. People who know the reality of federal education spending must tell others about it as forcefully and clearly as possible. They must change the public's attitude so that what's in politicians' self-interest will also change. Ultimately, federal politicians must be rewarded not for giving away dollars in the name of education, but for leaving them in the hands of hardworking taxpayers.


US House votes to block Education Dept. rule attacking private colleges

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to block the Department of Education from pursuing the implementation of the proposed gainful employment rule that could cut-off for-profit colleges' access to federal student aid.

The Republican-controlled House voted 289-136 to a bipartisan amendment introduced by John Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "By blocking the administration's regulation, we prevented an unnecessary hurdle to important skills and training at a time when workers need every advantage to succeed in the workplace," Kline said in a statement following the House vote.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Jeff Silber said the passing of the amendment showed the broad support the industry and others have gained against the rule. However, the colleges face a tougher battle getting the amendment passed in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

Tom Harkin, head of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, has been leading the push in Congress to tighten regulation on for-profit schools. "I don't think one could declare victory yet for the industry," Sterne Agee & Leach analyst Arvind Bhatia said. "It is going to be a tough road to get this through the Senate." The Senate is expected to vote on the amendment in the week of Feb. 28, according to analyst Silber.

The proposed rule ties federal aid to colleges proving they are doing a better job of preparing students for work. Programs that fail to offer good job opportunities stand to lose federal funding -- the primary source of revenue for many colleges.

The gainful employment rule is part of a larger package of rules introduced by the Obama government aimed at making for-profit colleges more accountable for the $145 billion in federal funds they get for student aid.

The rule would restrict access to federal aid for over 2 million students at private-sector colleges and universities in the next 10 years, according to The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

For-profit colleges have been lobbying heavily over the last few months to either get the rule scrapped or at least weaken it before a final version comes out. The gainful employment proposal was delayed last year after it received a large number of comments -- about 90,000 -- calling for delaying the rule. It is expected to be finalised in early part of this year.


British school chaos

"A lack of discipline is at the root of our educational malaise"

David Starkey

I may have quite considerable experience as a history teacher – over 15 years lecturing in the subject at the London School of Economics – but I had never imagined that the next time I stepped into the classroom, I’d be doing so under circumstances quite like these.

Let me explain. Recently, Jamie Oliver approached me and asked if I’d be interested in teaching at his Dream School – a “school” staffed by celebrities and well-known experts in their field. They would try to turn around the education of a group of 16 to 18-year-olds who had resisted every attempt to be educated in the past, all in front a the cameras. Rolf Harris would teach art, Daley Thompson would tackle sports, drama lessons were to be led by Simon Callow, and I was to take the history class. Guest assistants would include Cherie Blair and the photographer Rankin.

The first thought that came to mind was that this sounded rather like “Strictly Come Teaching”. The second was that the task in hand was going to be very hard going.

All the young people had failed, for various reasons, to obtain five GCSEs at A* to C grade – some had experienced personal or health difficulties during their schooling, while others had spent time excluded from school for short periods.

You have to remember that these children – and they are children, despite what they themselves might believe – find it difficult to control their emotions. As I was to find, they are easily distracted and the smallest thing can make them fly off the handle. The violence that can be witnessed on our streets is also to be found bubbling under the surface in the classroom. An aggressive emotional incontinence pervades inside the school gate.

No wonder, then, that I felt this particular mission of Jamie’s would probably fail. But I was also aware that the fundamentals behind his Dream School were inspiring.

I am passionately committed to state education. I went to a progressive primary school in Kendal, followed by a boys’ grammar school and then Cambridge. Back then, two thirds of the students were from state schools. It is more or less the opposite case now, which is testimony to the crisis inflicted on state education, which this TV programme aimed to address.

I decided to let my heart rule. I’ve long had a high opinion of Jamie. I first met him back in 2001 at an awards ceremony where we had both won book prizes. I have to confess I did not behave well towards him. I was snobby and I couldn’t understand why a cook was getting a book prize. But Jamie went out of his way to be nice – and that impressed me. He still does. His heart is most certainly in the right place.

And so I prepared my lessons carefully. I wanted to show the class how the historical concept of honour and dying for one’s country had changed. But my first lesson was, if I am honest, a catastrophe. I decided to use props in the form of the Anglo-Saxon Hoard, which was found in the Midlands last year, to teach the class about the old aristocratic society and how the upper classes decked themselves in jewels to illustrate their status. The only problem was that we had to transport it from Birmingham to London. Sure enough, it got stuck on the M6. The students were forced to wait for two-and-a-half hours. By the time the lesson started, they were bored, irritated and edgy.

This is perhaps understandable. But what surprised me was the utter lack of discipline in the school. The Dream School’s head teacher was the award-winning John D’Abbro, whose New Rush Hall educational organisation specialises in working with children with behavioural and emotional difficulties. D’Abbro treated the institution rather like a caring machine, rather than an educational one.

My students felt they could do what they wanted. They shouted, gossiped and sent texts to friends. The noise was quite extraordinary. It was bedlam – like the Lord of the Flies. I am not normally scared by anything, but even I was sweating. It was an appalling experience and it gives you a sense of why things have gone so wrong in state education.

During the lesson, I had a mild altercation with one boy, Conor. It was silly and trivial, with mild insults on both sides – he commenting unfavourably on my height and I commenting on his weight. He didn’t take offence, but the school officials became agitated. I was told I must never say anything harsh to the children – even though they were trying to tear me apart. The notion that an adult is not allowed to verbally spar, to give as good as they get, is ludicrous. It is why our educational system has gone wrong. I believe young people need rules. They will respond to discipline.

I don’t blame anyone at Jamie’s school for this. To my mind, the headmaster was simply a representative of the new kind of establishment running our state schools. It is reluctant to discipline, brims over with human kindness and is sceptical about authority.

By the end of the series, I had taught five lessons on everything from jousting to religion. So did I notice a big transformation in the pupils’ attitude? The short answer is there was no miracle. A few weeks is not going to change the pattern of behaviour of someone who is so damaged. You are fighting a continuing battle. The notion you can get these pupils to do what you, the teacher, want is an alien concept.

I did try to engage them as much as I could – and had some success. About half of the class of 20 became enthusiastic about history. By the final lesson, we even talked about how you would write an essay, something they had never done before.

I have stayed in touch with a few of them, including Conor, and a girl called Danielle. I even took Danielle to Cambridge University for a tour. In a different world, she would have been the right girl for Cambridge. Instead, her reaction was somewhere between inspiration, bewilderment and frustration.

I have nothing but admiration for teachers who face these kinds of problems every day. Without wishing to sound too emotional, I also felt deeply for many of the pupils who, with the exception of one or two, were all above average in intelligence. A few others were even higher. It is tragic that they feel so disillusioned and ambivalent about their schooling.

Education might be at the centre of our political debate, but I realise now that until you have stood in front of a class and tried to teach in this kind of challenging environment, you don’t know much about the realities. The programme hasn’t necessarily offered solutions, but it has highlighted the problems we face. And it does provide incontrovertible evidence to show why a lack of discipline is at the root of our educational malaise.

I have nothing but contempt for the new-style head teachers who adopt a “happy family” approach, where everything is laid back. It has failed several generations already – and now society is paying the consequences. Jamie’s restaurants are run like military operations: why aren’t our schools?

And how could we really save the children in Jamie’s school? I would prescribe a good dollop of discipline – and a system of one-to-one mentoring. I am sure this would work wonders.

I’m glad I took part, but sadly, the whole experience has only confirmed that turning our state education system around is a bit like turning a tanker round: it’s a slow and arduous process. One can only hope that we’re not too late to start.


Friday, February 18, 2011

University to Change Policy Defining Religious Discrimination as Oppression by Christians

(Sometimes, even Leftists have to eat a little crow)

The University of California at Davis has backed away from a policy that defined religious discrimination as Christians oppressing non-Christians after more than two dozen Christian students filed a formal complaint.

The definition was listed in a document called, “The Principles of Community.” It defined “Religious/Spiritual Discrimination” as “The loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian.”

“This is radical political correctness run amok,” said David French, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. The conservative advocacy group wrote a letter on behalf of more than 25 students who objected to the policy and wanted it revised. He said it’s absurd to single out Christians as oppressors and non-Christians as the only oppressed people on campus.

Raheem Reed, an associate executive vice chancellor at UC-Davis, said he received the letter and removed the definition Wednesday afternoon. “I certainly can see how a Christian student reading that definition might feel and that’s why it was immediately disabled and taken down,” Reed told Fox News Radio. “This is not how we define religious discrimination.”

However, one student said they complained to administrators last November about the policy and nothing was done. “Christians deserve the same protections against religious discrimination as any other students on a public university campus,” French told Fox News Radio. “The idea that a university would discriminate against Christians is a very old story, unfortunately, and one that we see played out every day.”

One student, who asked not to be identified, said university officials asked her to reaffirm “The Principles of Community” last semester. She refused to do so when she realized that Christians were not protected under the policy.

“To have a non-discrimination policy that excludes the Christian faith is a cause for action,” she said. “In higher academia, one would hope that a diversity of ideas and beliefs would be appreciated. But my experience has been that this has not always been the case. There is a real fear of academic bias against the Christian faith.”

Reed said he regrets that Christian students might feel intimidated. “We want everyone to feel safe, welcomed and supportive,” he said. “Not only are we taking it down, but now we’re going to look at what kind of affirmative steps we can take to reassure those members of our campus community who may have felt somewhat threatened or intimidated by it.”

French said all of the students who complained are fearful of backlash if their identities became known. “This was amazing to actually enshrine in your non-discrimination statement – discrimination against Christians,” he said. “This is a symbol of the seeming impunity in which universities violate the law to establish a radical, secular-left agenda.” Alan Brownstein, a law professor at UC-Davis, said the campus has a generally open and tolerant view of religion.

“It’s a university campus,” he said. “There is robust debate and people will disagree on just about everything.” Brownstein, who is a nationally known constitutional scholar, said any legal challenges to the policy would depend on whether or not it’s a binding document. “Clearly, if you had an enforceable regulatory policy that said, ‘we will discipline Christians who oppress non-Christians, but we will not impose the same kind of disciplinary sanctions on non-Christians who engage in the same kind of harassing behavior against Christians,’ that would be unacceptable and subject to legal challenge.”

Reed said “The Principles of Community” is not a policy. “They are, in fact, aspirational principles we have – to try to make sure we are promoting diversity and trying to build a more inclusive campus community,” he said.

Regardless, Brownstein said it might have been more appropriate to use less-specific language in the policy. “It’s always preferable to be as general as you can when you describe these kinds of unacceptable behaviors,” he said.


Teacher suspended over vitriolic blog post

Teachers must not tell the truth about their students

A high-school English teacher in suburban Philadelphia who was suspended for a profanity-laced blog in which she called her young charges "disengaged, lazy whiners" is causing a sensation by daring to ask: why are students unmotivated - and what's wrong with calling them out?

As she fights to keep her job at Central Bucks East High School, 30-year-old Natalie Munroe says she had no interest in becoming any sort of educational icon.

Her comments and her suspension have clearly touched a nerve, with scores of online comments applauding her for taking a tough-love approach or excoriating her for verbal abuse. Media attention has rained down and backers have started a Facebook group.

"My students are out of control," Ms Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."

And in another post, Ms Munroe - who is more than eight months pregnant - quotes from the musical Bye Bye Birdie: "Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS."

She also listed some comments she wished she could post on student evaluations, including: "I hear the trash company is hiring"; "I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son"; and "Just as bad as his sibling. Don't you know how to raise kids?"

Ms Munroe did not use her full name or identify her students or school in the blog, which she started in August 2009 for friends and family. Last week, she said, students brought it to the attention of the school, which suspended her with pay.

"They get angry when you ask them to think or be creative," Ms Munroe said of her students. "The students are not being held accountable."

Ms Munroe pointed out that she also said positive things, but she acknowledges that she did write some things out of frustration - and of a feeling that many children today are being given a free pass at school and at home.

"Parents are more trying to be their kids' friends and less trying to be their parent," Ms Munroe said, also noting students' lack of patience. "They want everything right now. They want it yesterday."

Ms Munroe has hired a lawyer, who said that she had the right to post her thoughts on the blog and that it's a free speech issue.


British government uneasy that universities will do what the government says they may do

The Coalition is threatening to cut higher education funding to stop universities imposing blanket £9,000 tuition fees. In a direct warning to vice-chancellors, it was claimed the Government would be forced to slash university budgets to cover the increased cost of student loans. David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said serious pressure would be placed on the public purse if institutions attempted to “cluster” fees at the maximum possible level.

The comments come just days after Imperial College London became the first university to formally declare that it wanted to charge a flat rate of £9,000 for degree courses.

Oxford and Cambridge are considering a similar move and it is feared other leading universities will follow suit to maintain teaching standards. Student leaders have also warned that less prestigious institutions will attempt to impose the highest possible fees.

Under higher education reforms, the cap on tuition fees in England is being raised from £3,290 this year to £9,000 in 2012. Universities that want to charge more than £6,000 will be expected to invest more money in bursaries and outreach programmes to attract the poorest students. Financial modelling carried out by the Treasury suggested that universities would charge average fees of £7,500 next year.

In a speech to vice-chancellors on Thursday, Mr Willetts said: “I want to be frank with you: we will all face a problem if the sector tries to cluster at the maximum possible level.”

Under the reforms, students pay nothing while they study as the Treasury provides loans to cover the cost of tuition fees. Only after graduates have started earning £21,000 a year will they begin to repay the loans.

But speaking at Nottingham University, Mr Willetts said the student finance bill would be inflated to unsustainable levels if too many universities charged £9,000 fees – forcing the Government to make cuts elsewhere.

“We set the maximum level at £9,000 because we think there are some circumstances where fees of this level could be justified,” he said. “If graduate contributions end up higher than £7,500, we would reluctantly be forced to find savings from elsewhere in [higher education].”

Mr Willetts also accused universities of “rushing” to impose higher fees even though the extra cash was often not needed. At many universities, the most common courses cost £7,000 a year to run, he said. “Making an assumption of a £9,000 charge and working backwards is the wrong place to start,” he said. He added: “Some universities are rushing to £9,000 without thinking about the impact on students.”

The comments came as the Government published a report setting out plans requiring each university to draw up “student charters”. For the first time, institutions will be expected to give students written guarantees on issues such as support and feedback from tutors, the number of lectures and tutorials and standards of accommodation. Documents – expected to be around two pages long – are expected to give students clearly defined “rights” in exchange for a hike in tuition fees.

The report – by Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, and Prof Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University – said charters would also “help prospective students to get a ‘feel’ for the institution”.

Mr Willetts said: “Students have a right to know how they will learn, how they will be supported and what they need to do themselves to reach their potential. “At a time of significant change in higher education, students have increased expectations of their university experience. I want a system where students have real choice and universities respond to what students need.”

In his speech, Mr Willetts also denied that the Government was requiring each university to admit "quotas" of students from poor backgrounds. A letter last week to the Office for Fair Access from Mr Willetts and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said universities should "broaden access" if they want to charge fees higher than £6,000. Universities can also make lower grade offers to students from poor-performing schools who have the "potential" to perform well.

But he said: "Our letter does not introduce quotas – not one iota of a quota, in fact. That is not what Vince or I envisage at all. Not only would quotas be undesirable – they would be illegal."


Thursday, February 17, 2011

U. Cal. academics: Jews bad; Muslims good

One hundred faculty members at UC Irvine signed a letter last week asking Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to drop the charges against 11 Muslim students, 8 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside, who last year disrupted a speech on campus by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. On February 4, the DA's office announced that it was charging each student with "one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of disturbance of a meeting."

According to the District Attorney, the students planned the disruption several days in advance. At the event, on Feb. 10, 2010, the first student to stand up and interrupt Oren's speech allegedly said, "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not free speech." Another defendant allegedly said, "Michael Oren you are a war criminal," while another said, "You sir are an accomplice to genocide."

"This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI," Rackauckas said in a statement announcing the charges. "These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution."

In their letter, the faculty members countered that the students have already been sufficiently disciplined by the university. In addition to individual punishments, the Muslim Student Union was suspended from being a student organization for an academic quarter. [A whole quarter!]

"The use of the criminal justice system will be detrimental to our campus as it inherently will be divisive and risk undoing the healing process which has occurred over the last year," the letter reads. "It also sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against non-violent protests on campus."

The letter's signatories include five deans and 14 Chancellor's Professors and Distinguished Professors.

In an interview with TPM, Susan Schroeder, the DA's chief of staff, emphasized that the students are not being prosecuted for protesting. "Protesting is legal," she said.

Schroeder called the students' actions "an organized effort, days prior to the event, to shut down the speech." As a result, Schroeder said, the students deprived the speaker and the audience of their first amendment rights, "and that's against the law." As examples of what the students could have done to protest the speech without breaking the law, Schroeder suggested they could have handed out leaflets, worn t-shirts or asked hostile questions during a Q & A section.

Schroeder also pointed out that the UC Irvine police made the arrests the night of Oren's speech, and brought the case to the DA's office. As a result, the office had a duty to evaluate whether the law was broken. "We just want people to accept responsibility for what they did," she said.

That said, Schroeder also suggested that the consequences of not prosecuting were grave. "If we don't enforce this law we're basically looking at anarchy and chaos," Schroeder said. "It doesn't matter, if we had a bunch of black students who shut down a bunch of Klu Klux Klan members at a place or vice versa."

Schroeder said the DA's office has not been in contact with the Embassy of Israel about the charges. When asked about the faculty letter, she said, "we cant allow public opinion to decide how we enforce the law." ...

The students are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on March 11.


Some great examples of free college education

Would you like your college education to be free? Sure, who wouldn't? Well, the people of Tunisia and Egypt are learning that whenever the government supplies something, it is never really "free."

In Tunisia, "free" university education is guaranteed to anyone who passes the government's exams at the end of high school. Largely as a result of this, the number of Tunisians who graduated college more than tripled in the last ten years. This may sound like a good thing, but it has produced a glut of graduates.

Fifty-Seven percent of young Tunisians entering the labor market are college educated. This is while only 30 percent of Americans earn a college degree by the time they are 27. Recent Tunisian college grads have an unemployment rate approximately three times higher than the national average of 15 percent. This is up ninefold from 1994.

The reason for this is not necessarily because having a college education hinders people in getting a job, but because so many college grads are entering the labor market at a time when there are few jobs.

Additionally, government domination of the educational system discourages economic growth. The Tunisian Ministry of Education decides what major students will have. Students are not allowed to change fields during their course of study. This control reduces the type of expertise necessary to create successful businesses.

The Tunisian educational system is also enormously expensive. Of Tunisia's GDP, 7.2 percent is spent on education, more than any European or North American country beside Denmark and Iceland, which also spends 7.2 percent of its GDP on education. Tunisia's educational results, however, appear to be horrible. A 2002 UNESCO report puts its graduation rate at about 30 percent.

Having such a large number of unemployed youths can be dangerous. As George Mason University sociologist Jack A. Goldstone notes, "Educated youth have been in the vanguard of rebellions against authority certainly since the French Revolution and in some cases even earlier."

In fact, the Tunisian protests began after a recent graduate killed himself because government authorities confiscated his fruit stand when they discovered he did not have an "official" permit. The BBC reported that most of the early protesters were unemployed recent graduates.

Like Tunisia, Egypt also has a massive youth-unemployment problem. Unsurprisingly, it also has a system of "free" college education.

In Egypt, enrollment in tertiary education increased from 14 percent in 1990 to approximately 35 percent in 2005. Yet this has not helped the unemployment rate among recent grads. The national Egyptian unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, comparable to the United States, but the unemployment rate for people between the ages of 15 and 29 is 87.2 percent. College graduates, largely because of their age, have a ten times higher unemployment rate than for those who did not attend college.

The Egyptian government also rigidly controls the educational system, just like in Tunisia. A centralized government committee controls decisions regarding curriculum, program development, and deployment of faculty and staff for institutions of higher learning across the entire country. Private universities were only legalized in 1992, and enrollment is very small.

In Egypt, educational expenditures were 3.7 percent of GDP in 2007. By most accounts the Egyptian education system is underfunded. Its educational standards were called "abysmal" by the Economist. Fewer than half of all students graduate, and many universities are viewed as diploma mills.

Although the Egyptian government may have avoided some of the economic costs of "free" higher education that the Tunisian government has incurred, it has not avoided the social costs.

We, in America, might not be as far away from the problems of Tunisia and Egypt as some may be inclined to think.

From 1997 to 2007, full-time enrollment in US tertiary education increased 34 percent. The average college student graduates with $24,000 in debt, a 40 percent real increase from 1997. In 2008, only 57 percent of students enrolled in a four year college graduated within six years. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 52 percent. The underemployed as a group may be as large as the unemployed in America. For example, in 1970 only 3 percent of mail carriers had a bachelor's degree, while today the number is 12 percent.

Although our case may not be as extreme as that of Tunisia or Egypt, we are headed in the same direction. And just like in Tunisia and Egypt, our education bubble is fueled by governmental policy.

Government accreditation laws keep potential institutions of higher education out of the market, which allows the institutions already in the market to raise their prices. Accreditation institutions can also force institutions of higher education to make changes that increase costs. For instance, the American Bar Association forced the University of Colorado Law School to increase the number of electrical outlets in the library and to construct an instructional court room, which the university claimed caused them to increase tuition.

Government aid also helps institutions of higher education inflate prices. For instance, although the cost of higher education in real dollars increased by 68 percent between 1986 and 2006, when increased government aid is accounted for the real cost to the student increased by only 29 percent. The ceiling of how much students are able to pay is artificially raised, allowing the colleges to charge more.

Also, if a student defaults on a loan backed by the government, which is by far the most common kind of loan, the lender does not bear the loss, the government does. This obviously encourages the lenders to lend more freely than they otherwise would. Enormous losses have been socialized. There is currently $730 billion of outstanding student-loan debt, and the overwhelming majority of losses will be borne by the government if it is not repaid. Only 40 percent of all student debt is being actively repaid.

There are more causes to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt than just the higher-education bubble, but the effect it has had cannot be ignored. We could be bringing ourselves dangerously close to the point when all the people of our country have to learn, one way or another, that nothing the government provides is ever free.


Want to get your child into a decent British school? Prepare for war

What the horror of government schools leads to

Between now and the first week of March, there will be much dodging and much gloating at the school gates. The great 11-plus showdown is entering its denouement.

From today, letters go out from grammar and private schools to say whose progeny has won the race for the most prestigious places. There’s no doubt that in the multiple choice of life, the first big test for many comes if their parents decide to try to push them into a selective school at the age of 11.

This year, it is more brutal than ever. Recession has driven more middle-class parents towards the few remaining grammar schools, and those willing to pay want to pay only for the best. Anywhere there are pockets of middle-class parents with even a nod to Tiger Mother-ish tendencies becomes a bloody battlefield.

Military strategies include coaching, styling, the setting up of fake hobbies, playing obscure musical instruments, rehearsing interview techniques and even taking fake exams in big halls.

Many schools now boast a ten-to-one ratio of applicants to places. And the more competitive the entry process, the ‘cockier the attitude of the school’, says an Essex mother, who bemoans the fact that some have started asking pretentious ‘Oxbridge-type questions’ of would-be pupils.

She recalls her ten-year-old daughter’s experience at the hands of ‘two men in tweedy jackets acting like they were in Dead Poets’ Society, with their feet up on the desk’, asking her whether she would rather live on a hill or in a valley, then staring out of the window while she struggled to reply.

Schools would counter that in an age of coaching, only a really left-field question can discover a child’s true self. That’s just what worries the parents.

‘My son Alex was asked which three people he’d have at his fantasy dinner party,’ says Liz Leonard, a Wandsworth mother. ‘By the time he told me he’d answered [teenage pop star] Justin Bieber and someone who plays for Arsenal, I’d given up hope. I’d given him three practice interviews myself, but you can’t prepare for everything.’

The tortuous process kicks off with registration, for which private schools collect an average fee of about £100. (Bear in mind most parents will register for at least four schools.)

‘The worst application form we got was four sides of A4, about three of which were for Frank’s “achievements”. I’m not sure I could fill that, and I’m a grown-up,’ says one Cambridge parent.

‘We ended up exaggerating hideously. A passing interest in stars had to be turned into a passion for astronomy, meaning we had to buy books, a telescope and talk about it all the time before the interview.’

Needless to say, many middle-class parents are making their children’s lives hell over the whole thing. By now, coaching will have been under way for months, and in some cases years. ‘Two years of Saturday mornings’ seems to be an 11-plus catchphrase. Even some expensive private preparatory schools now advise parents to hire home tutors.

At state primaries it is now accepted wisdom that all but the genius children of teachers need coaching to get into a grammar or a competitive private school. And even the coaches are selective — they’ll take on only the most promising pupils so they can claim a 100 per cent success rate, the Cambridge mother says. ‘We had a lovely guy,’ she adds. ‘But we are talking about 20 sessions of maths at £40 a pop.’

Not that many parents admit to coaching. It’s become common practice at the school gates to deny it, let alone share recommendations.

The exams themselves are arduous. Each school has four papers: maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning — each of about an hour’s duration. So a ten-year-old whose parents have applied to four private schools might face 16 hours of exams.

They won’t necessarily be that formulaic, either — canny schools have started commissioning their own papers. But you can prepare for the scary seating arrangements. ‘We paid £65 to have a practice exam in a hall with other children so that Alex wouldn’t feel daunted by the sight of 250 rival candidates sitting in alphabetic rows and being barked at with a megaphone,’ says Liz Leonard.

‘Some schools make a real effort, assigning elder children to look after young ones, and giving them doughnuts and things. But others are just intimidating,’ adds another parent. ‘At one school, my daughter vomited with nerves and cried when she came out because she thought she’d let us down. I felt so guilty.’

Then another harsh moment — the call to interview. Or, worse, no call. ‘One mother whose son didn’t get an interview at her first-choice school hasn’t dropped him off at his primary since,’ says a fellow parent. ‘Her husband has to. She can’t face it.’

Many schools interview the parents, too, meaning they have to decide not just what the child should wear, but what they’re going to wear. ‘We put Alex in his school uniform so he could wear his Form Captain badge,’ says one mother. ‘They’re not going to know it’s not current.’

But beware: the interviewers can be ruthless. ‘Alex was asked what his parents did, and which school did he really want to go to,’ the mother adds. ‘They always ask that when the parents are out of earshot.’

This is where those niche interests come into their own. If your offspring is not a maths whizz, they’d better be a hotshot at the tuba. And remember, no school with an organ will turn down a child who can play one.

Former Government Inspector of Schools Chris Woodhead says: ‘It’s parents who create the stress. And the cause of it is unrealistic expectations. ‘It is the most difficult thing to be realistic about your own child’s ability, personality and talents, but you don’t want them to scrape in somewhere where they won’t be happy.’

The coaching craze, he adds, ‘in the case of grammar schools, is the inevitable consequence of demand exceeding supply. It would be solved by David Cameron discovering his Conservative convictions and creating some more’.

But on a positive note, human nature has a delightful habit of seeing the upside of things unlikely to work out. Says Liz Leonard of the school where her son name-dropped Justin Bieber as his ideal dinner party guest: ‘I don’t want him to go there anyway. The other parents I met were far too pushy.’


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Education cuts needed; excessive spending has spawned waste, fueled deficits

Education expert Neal McCluskey earlier lamented the failure of House Republicans to propose meaningful cuts in education spending:

“despite the fact that the ivory tower is soaking in putrid, taxpayer-funded waste. Quite simply, the federal government pours hundreds of billions of dollars into our ivy-ensconced institutions every year, but what that has largely produced is atrociously low graduation rates; at-best dubious amounts of learning for those who do graduate; ever-fancier facilities; and rampant tuition inflation that renders a higher education no more affordable to students but keeps colleges fat and happy.”

Shortly thereafter, in an effort to trim the deficit, House Republicans came out with some additional cuts, proposing the elimination of some wasteful education programs.

If the GOP is reluctant to make cuts, Obama is a lot worse: he earlier sought to double education spending, and Obama’s recent State of the Union called for more increases in education spending (and other wasteful boondoggles at taxpayer expense), even though students often learn little in college.

Half “the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college,” according to a study cited in USA Today. “36% showed little change” even after four years.

Although education spending has exploded, students “spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.” “32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

States spend hundreds of millions of dollars operating colleges that are worthless diploma mills, yet manage to graduate almost no one – like Chicago State, “which has just a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate.”

College degrees are delivering less and less, even as students graduate massively in debt. Law schools deceptively claim that virtually all their graduates get jobs. But they inflate their jobs figures by treating as success stories even students who end up working in low-paying non-legal jobs like “waiting tables at Applebees,” “stocking aisles at Home Depot,” or babysitting — or in part-time temporary jobs. And they sometimes hide joblessness by “losing track” of easy-to-locate nearby graduates who are jobless.

“’Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,’ says William Henderson of Indiana University, one of many exasperated law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to overhaul the way law schools assess themselves.”

America already produces so many more liberal-arts graduates than it needs that 5,057 janitors have Ph.D’s or other advanced degrees. People who went to college due to rising college attendance rates mostly ended up in low-skilled jobs, even as their tuitions soared to pay for growing educational bureaucracies. Education spending in America is huge compared to most countries.


The quirks of Oxford and Cambridge

Oxford and Cambridge are unlike any other university in the country, with a number of rituals, traditions and quirks that stretch back centuries

One on one tutorials

No other universities in the country are able to provide one-on-one teaching in the way that Oxbridge does. Students' individual sessions in tutors' (Oxford) and supervisors' (Cambridge) studies are regarded by academics as the most important type of teaching.

Collegiate system

Oxford and Cambridge are not unique in their division into colleges -Durham is among the others - but they are the only ones where teaching is centred in the college. Each college has its own independent academic staff and depending on their subjects students receive a significant amount of their teaching in-house.

Boat race

Yes, other universities have boat races – No, none of them is on the same scale. The annual event between the two universities is known across the world, attracts thousands of viewers and is screened live on television.


"Blues" are awarded to students who play for the university at the highest level in any sport, the term coming from the colours the teams wear. Other universities have similar awards, such as Palatinates at Durham and Purples at the University of London, but it was Oxford and Cambridge who started the tradition in the 19th century.


Subfusc is a mode of full academic dress worn by students to sit exams and attend university ceremonies such as matriculation at Oxford. Generally it consists of a suit, white shirt and bow tie for men, and a black skirt or trousers with a white blouse for women.

Graduation in Latin

Parts of the graduation ceremony take place in Latin, including statements where degrees are officially conferred on graduates. This tradition has remained despite the majority of students no longer speaking the dead language.

University police

Until 2003, both Oxford and Cambridge had their own private police forces, who were responsible for discipline within the university. The force at Oxford was abolished in 2003 but the Cambridge University Constabulary remains.

Strange interview questions

While many universities now interview applicants, none has a reputation quite like Oxford or Cambridge for intimidating prospective students by asking bizarre and seemingly irrelevant questions such as "tell me about a banana".

Unusual sports

Oxford and Cambridge are some of the only universities in Britain that offer students the opportunity to take part in virtually-extinct sports such as fives, which was developed at public schools such as Eton, and real tennis.


Australian teachers tied up in red tape

THE just-released National Professional Standards for Teachers, detailing the characteristics of successful teachers and what constitutes quality teaching, apparently, is at the "leading edge of international practice" and is "fundamental to improving educational outcomes for young people".

How do we know? Because Tony Mackay, the chairman of the body responsible for the teaching standards, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, told us so (The Australian, February 10).

In the cliches much loved by Australia's educrats, Mackay boasts that the standards "make explicit the elements of high-quality, effective teaching in 21st century schools", will ensure that "good teachers" become "great teachers" and that the new standards will "enable teachers to constantly strive for excellence".

Mackay also claims the new standards are not about "simple measurement or ticking a box" and that the "standards unambiguously define what is expected of the new teacher and a more experienced teacher".

Not so. The seven standards and accompanying 37 focus areas and 148 descriptors, much like a corporate-inspired, performance management model for staff appraisal, impose a bureaucratic, time consuming and checklist mentality.

The result? Teachers wanting certification or promotion, instead of focusing their time and energy on being effective and inspirational classroom teachers, will have to spend most of their time collecting reams of evidence, attending fruitless in-service programs and genuflecting to education fads such as personalised learning, open classrooms and treating children as knowledge navigators.

Descriptors requiring graduate teachers to "include a range of teaching strategies in teaching", and "Demonstrate the capacity to organise classroom activities and provide clear directions" and "Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers" are also vague and generalised.

Most of the descriptors in the AITSL document are motherhood statements reinforcing progressive educational orthodoxy, and the reader searches in vain for any mention of the need for teachers to be judged on how effective they are in raising standards and improving students' results. While testing and examinations should never be the sole measure to judge teachers, students, parents and the wider community have every right to expect that an important aspect of any teacher's employment is to get students to succeed in their studies.

Worse still, the new national standards document, approved by all Australian education ministers last December, fails to detail what evidence will be used to prove that teachers have met the various standards or to ensure that the assessment regime for teachers is rigorous and credible.

The fact that little thought has been given to what evidence will be used to demonstrate whether teachers are effective or not is made worse by the reality that teacher promotion, at least for the first eight to nine years across the different states and territories, appears to be automatic.

Under the present situation, as noted in an Australian Council for Educational Research paper titled Research on Performance Pay for Teachers, "it is rare for increments to be withheld" and it "is difficult to find systematically gathered evidence about underperforming teachers in most school systems".

Much of the Rudd/Gillard inspired education revolution is imported from Britain and the underlying rationale is for increased government intervention and control via bureaucracies and quangos. Copying Britain is understandable given Tony Mackay's involvement with prime minister Tony Blair's favourite think tank Demos and the fact that Tom Bentley, now a senior adviser to Julia Gillard and also with her when she was minister for education, was also involved with Demos as director.

State and territory schools, both government and non-government, are being forced to abide by the dictates of Canberra and ALP-appointed education apparatchiks whether we are talking about the Building the Education Revolution infrastructure program, the national curriculum, national testing or the My School website.

The establishment of AITSL and publication of the National Professional Standards for Teachers are no exception.

Yet there is an alternative. Instead of enforcing a one size-fits-all command and control model, give schools the autonomy and flexibility to design and implement their own approaches to teacher certification and evaluation.

While the Australian Education Union, given its self-interest, opposes giving schools the power to hire, fire and reward teachers, there is increasing evidence that such policies lead to stronger outcomes.

Such freedom explains why Catholic and independent schools, even after adjusting for the socioeconomic profile of students, do so well academically.

Significantly, the British Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, is adopting such an approach in order to rectify the mistakes of the Blair years.

In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, Gove repeated his promise to abolish quangos such as the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the basis that: "There are too many quangos that take up a school's time without leading to any real benefits to standards.

"Teachers tell us that they have to spend hours outside the classroom going to meetings and filling in forms because of bureaucratic requirements. It takes time away from the core purpose of improving learning".


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vouchers for Indiana?

Indiana lawmakers will start the debate Tuesday on the most controversial plank of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education platform: a plan to use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools.

Republican lawmakers who control the House and Senate have been successful so far in their efforts to shepherd Daniels' education proposals through the legislative process despite objections from many teachers, education unions and minority Democrats. But the voucher bill, which will be debated in the House education committee Tuesday, seems to be raising the most questions.

Opponents are criticizing the proposals' basic principle -- shifting public money to private schools -- and some lawmakers have more practical concerns that supporters hope to address by amending the bill Tuesday.

"I think there are more questions about this bill among lawmakers than some of the other (education) proposals," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis who is one of the bill's sponsors.

One of those is exactly who should qualify for a voucher, which supporters including Bosma have dubbed "school choice scholarships."

Under the plan, money that would typically go to a public school for educating a child would be given to an eligible parent to use at a private school instead. The state won't give parents the entire amount that would have gone to the public school, however, which could mean the state could save money through the program. Only students currently in public schools would be eligible.

The bill uses a sliding scale that gives the most needy families larger vouchers worth 90 percent of the per-student amount that the student's public school receives. For example, if the state now gives about $6,000 to a public school district for a child's education, it could offer low-income families vouchers worth 90 percent of that, or $5,400. The family could use that toward private school tuition, while the state would keep the remaining $600.

Under the proposal, families that qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program -- those making about $40,000 a year for a family of four -- would be eligible for a 90 percent voucher. However, the sliding scale provides 25 percent vouchers -- worth about $1,500 in the example situation -- for families of four making more than $100,000 a year.

Bosma said supporters hope to tweak the bill to tighten eligibility requirements to focus on lower-income families.

Daniels says it's a matter of justice that low-income students should have the same choice to attend private schools as wealthier families. He and other advocates say Indiana could lead the nation by creating a wide-reaching statewide voucher program.

"We intend to become the first state of full and true choice by saying to every low- and middle-income Hoosier family, 'If you think a non-government school is the right one for your child, you're as entitled to that option as any wealthy family; here's a voucher, go sign up.'" Daniels said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

Public school teachers have denounced the voucher proposal, saying it is part of Daniels' agenda to erode public education. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education held a news conference Monday saying taxpayer money shouldn't be directed to private schools, which can deny admission to certain students and don't have to follow the same accountability rules as public schools.

"By providing vouchers for private schools, we are diverting public tax money to private schools," said Joel Hand, the group's executive director. "That is not taxpayer-friendly to our Hoosier citizens and it is not good policy."


Streamlining education in Connecticut

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s announcement this week that he intends to streamline the state’s higher education administrative functions is welcome news.

We have on several occasions called for such actions, in particular regarding the state university system’s top heavy administration, questioning the necessity of the duplication of administrative functions from a central office staff to four separate administrative staffs at each of the four universities.

The governor’s proposal, however, goes much further, recommending the consolidation of the Connecticut State University System, community colleges and the Board of Governors for Higher Education under a single Board of Regents for Higher Education reporting to a single chief executive officer.

We fully support this move, believing that it will produce cost savings through the elimination of duplication of services, and provide greater efficiencies of our higher education systems that in the long run will be a benefit for students and taxpayers.

Also this week, Malloy announced he intends to fully fund the state Education Cost Sharing grant in his proposed budget to be presented Wednesday to the General Assembly. That, too, is welcome news because those ECS funds are crucial for local communities struggling to balance their budgets and maintain the highest quality education possible for elementary and secondary school students.

Granted, fully funding the ECS grants will only result in communities receiving the same level of state aid they received last year, making for another tough budget year for towns. But to accomplish that, the governor will have to replace $270 million in federal stimulus funds, and the governor has not disclosed from where those funds will come.


Royal Society condemns British High School exams as 'not fit for purpose', and calls for European baccalaureates

Only 3 per cent of students leave university with a degree in maths or pure science, a report shows. Of last year’s 300,000 graduates, just 10,000 studied chemistry, physics, biology or maths, according to the Royal Society. The celebrated research institution also said that one in six secondary schools had not entered a single candidate for A-level physics.

It said the A-level system was unfit for purpose and should be scrapped in favour of European-style baccalaureates. That would see teenagers studying six or more core subjects, including science and maths.

Education Secretary Michael Gove recently introduced a measure into school performance tables to encourage the study of what are seen as more rigorous subjects. The move is aimed at stopping Britain tumbling further down international league tables for science and maths.

And it would bring the state system into line with many private schools which have already adopted the six-subject International Baccalaureate.

Most students study three A-levels but under the IB they would take six courses including a language, a science, maths and a social science.

Followed by 900,000 students in 140 countries, the IB is widely respected by universities and studied in many top private schools. The Royal Society believes it would ensure students are qualified to do a university degree in a STEM subject: science, technology, engineering or maths. Employers complain of a major shortage of such graduates.

The Royal Society report says: ‘Given that higher education institutions tend to want STEM undergraduates to have taken more than one science subject (excluding mathematics), and that many students would welcome being able to take a wider range and number of subjects at A-level, it is clear that A-levels are not fit for purpose.’

The authors say England is lagging behind the rest of the UK. Students in Scotland already take five highers and both Scotland and Wales are looking at Baccalaureate-style qualifications for science and languages for post-16 education.

The report blamed England’s woeful science and maths provision on a shortage of specialist teachers.

Schools are also failing to warn pupils away from picking subjects at A-level that are unsuitable for science and maths degrees.

Dame Athene Donald, a physics professor who is chairman of the Royal Society’s education committee, said: ‘At a time of economic uncertainty, when science and scientists can play a key role in revitalising the UK’s financial outlook, it is deeply worrying to find that numbers of A-level science students are at such low levels.’

Schools minister Nick Gibb endorsed the report’s findings, saying: ‘We echo the concerns of the Royal Society about the need to improve the teaching and take-up of science and mathematics in our schools. ‘The UK continues to fall down international league tables and we now languish at 27th in the world for maths, and 16th for science – falling 19 and 14 places respectively in under ten years.’

However Mark Dawe, of exam board OCR, said A-levels offered choice, flexibility and excellent preparation for university. ‘They also leave curriculum space for other forms of enrichment and development,’ he added.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Education cost top problem for local government

State and local governments face financial difficulties in 2011 and 2012 more severe than they have seen in generations. Pessimists predict major municipal or even state bankruptcies. Optimists insist that, while serious budget problems will increase rather than ease, governments will skirt default by sharply increasing taxes and cutting deeply into services.

Unfortunately, while the threat of increasing Medicaid costs has received significant attention, politicians, analysts, the media and the public seem largely to have missed the $600 billion elephant in the statehouse.

The key structural problem in state and local finances is education, not health care. And a fundamental shift in our K-12 investment strategy is the only way to avoid defaulting on the promise of a public education.

The proportion of resources devoted to education has ballooned over the past two decades. Education spending as a share of tax revenue jumped 90% from 1992 to 2011 at the state level and 73% at the local level. This means governments have few options in responding to our current fiscal crisis.

In 2011, state and local governments will spend 46 cents out of every tax dollar they raise on public K-12 education. Medicaid/ CHIP spending pales in comparison at just 17 cents of every tax dollar. Public education, in other words, consumes a shocking 2 1/2 times the resources devoted to Medicaid at the height of recession-driven health care increases.

Spending Surge

Add in payments needed to meet the approximately $800 billion in underfunded commitments to teacher pension plans over the next 30 years and K-12 education gobbles up 50% of all state and local tax revenue.

Compounding the problem, a massive surge in federal education spending (the "stimulus") will recede this year while the recession drags on. Troubled local governments and school districts will call for more state aid to fill their budget gaps, but it's unlikely states will be willing or able to rescue distressed municipalities as they have in the past. States face a huge reduction in the federal share of Medicaid funding while enrollment in the program expands.

If there is a spike in municipal bankruptcies in 2011 and 2012, a primary cause will be the massive costs public schooling was already imposing when the Great Recession hit.

We face a situation analogous to that of a large number of American families who have been struggling with unsustainable budgets: a house payment that was excessive even at the best of times, the loss of income when a spouse becomes unemployed and rising health care costs.

When a budget doesn't come close to adding up, the biggest expenditure usually has to give. That has meant foreclosure for many homeowners; and it means a serious restructuring of K-12 education spending for public officials. State and local governments need immediate relief from the financial demands of public schooling, and a long-term solution to the system's profligacy.

Teacher pension plans should be based on defined contributions rather than defined benefits to alleviate growing and unsustainable commitments. Public school employees must share a substantial portion of their own health-care costs. And school district finances must be made more transparent so waste can be identified and eliminated.

Tax Credits

While these measures would lessen the immediate pain, they would do nothing to reverse the system's propensity for increasing real spending over time. Inflation-adjusted expenditures per student have more than doubled to around $12,000 over the last three decades, about 50% more than the typical private school spends. The extra resources have delivered no increase in student achievement by the end of high school.

Nine states have begun using education tax credits to encourage more private spending in lieu of government funds we simply do not have. Unlike vouchers, tax credit programs encourage individuals and businesses to invest their own funds, rather than government money, in K-12 education.

Like all private-school choice programs, these tax credits save large sums — more than $500 million a year in Pennsylvania, up to $180 million in Arizona, and potentially billions of dollars over the first five years for many states if they adopt a broad-based education tax credit program. They are also a proven way to increase academic achievement in public schools.

Citizens and businesses want to invest directly in the effort to educate the public, and we should encourage them to do so through K-12 education tax credits. Given our state and local financial outlook, we have no promising alternative.


An Epic Failure: Detroit Public Schools

Few school districts in America rival the dire condition of Detroit Public Schools: staggering dropout rates, functionally-illiterate high school graduates, a dysfunctional school board and a sea of red ink.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb has been trying to fix the city’s public schools which are historically awful. At times, it seems that he is the only one trying to fix a school system that is failing its students.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers has consistently called for Bobb’s removal. The radical socialist group, By Any Means Necessary, makes every effort to stir up racial division and strife. One of BAMN’s leaders was nearly elected president of the teachers union, which shows how radical the union has become.

While making of this film series, we met a recent graduate of Detroit Public Schools who couldn't read. Sadly, he blamed himself. But we know that a whole lot of adults are to blame, too. There were dozens of teachers and administrators who moved him down the assembly line, and were happy to hand him a worthless diploma after he reached the end of the line. All the while, the adults collected their paychecks, enjoyed their generous benefit packages and took comfort knowing that tenure would keep them secure in their jobs.

Detroit’s education system perpetuates the cycle of misery that has gripped the city for years.

After watching these films, ask yourself if America can continue being a great nation when many of its schools and communities are rotting from within.


Pupils must not be forced to eat halal Church tells schools

The Church of England has told its schools to ensure they are serving non-halal food after concerns that a number are only providing meat slaughtered according to Islamic law. The official guidance was issued after Church members complained that the use of halal meat was effectively ‘spreading sharia law’ across Britain.

The Church’s financial arm has also come under pressure to withdraw its investments – worth millions of pounds – in supermarkets that do not clearly label halal food. The moves follow disclosures by The Mail on Sunday last year that halal products were widespread in schools, hospitals, pubs and sporting venues but members of the public were not informed.

More than 10,000 Christians, many of whom have reservations about eating meat from animals that are bled to death while an Islamic prayer is recited, have signed a petition calling for proper labelling. Animal rights campaigners have also expressed anger because animals are often not stunned before their throats are cut with a sharp knife.

Alison Ruoff, a long-standing member of the Church’s ‘parliament’, the General Synod, said: ‘The Church is only just waking up to this. We have been pathetic and mealy-mouthed but we should be really concerned about this. ‘There is a lot of fear about upsetting Muslims but as a Christian you have to stand up for Christian values. Because we are unwittingly eating halal meat, we are spreading the practice of sharia law.’

An influential official body representing both Muslim and Christian leaders also said non-Muslims should not be compelled to eat halal meat. The Christian Muslim Forum, set up by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams four years ago, said there were concerns about ‘some public authorities which provide only halal products in schools and other institutions’. It said in a statement: ‘We urge all food outlets, catering organisations and public authorities to label halal food properly, for the benefit of both non-Muslim and Muslim consumers.’

John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford and chair of the Board of Education, which runs more than 4,000 Church schools, told the General Synod in London last week that guidance had been sent across the country. The guidance said if halal meat was served in schools it should not be the only option and suppliers should be changed.

Mrs Ruoff has challenged the Church Commissioners, who manage the Church’s £4 billion assets, to sell its shares in supermarkets that did not clearly label halal food.

The Rev Patrick Sookhdeo, an Anglican cleric who runs the international Barnabas Fund charity for Christians facing persecution, said some extremist Muslims viewed the growing use of halal food as part of their efforts to ‘impose’ sharia law on the West.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

California wants lesbians as mandatory 'role' models

Family advocates call plan 'worst school sexual indoctrination ever'

Lawmakers in the state of California are proposing a law that would require schools to portray lesbians, homosexuals, transsexuals and those who have chosen other alternative sexual lifestyles as positive role models to children in all public schools there.

"SB 48: The worst school sexual indoctrination ever" is how officials with the Campaign for Children and Families describe the proposal, SB 48, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Leno.

Openly homosexual, Leno boasts on his website of founding a business with his "life partner, Douglas Jackson," who later died of AIDS complications.

That description as "worst" is considerable, considering the Campaign for Children and Families was a key player in the battle in the state in 2007 and 2008 over a variety of laws that now forbid any "adverse" portrayal of those alternative sexual choices in school, class, curriculum and by teachers.

On its website, the organization explains the plan by "homosexual activist" Leno "would require all students in social studies class to admire 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender' role models.

"The Democrat state legislators pushing this radical bill want to recruit boys and girls to support the homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda, personally and publicly," the organization's Action Alert explains.

"They want them to become 'LGBTIQ' activists [and] help trample religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, business-owner rights, private property rights, the Boy Scouts, and everything else you hold dear."

Equality California, an organization that advocates for homosexuality, said others sponsoring the plan include Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego; Assembly member Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Assembly member Toni Atkins, D-San Diego; Assembly member Rich Gordon, D-San Mateo; and Assembly member Ricardo Lara, D-East Los Angeles.

On his state website, Leno expressed his worry: "Most textbooks don't include any historical information about the LGBT movement, which has great significance to both California and U.S. history.

"Our collective silence on this issue perpetuates negative stereotypes of LGBT people and leads to increased bullying of young people. We can't simultaneously tell youth that it's OK to be yourself and live an honest, open life when we aren't even teaching students about historical LGBT figures or the LGBT equal rights movement," he said.

He said it is confirmed that where schools promote homosexual lifestyles, those who exhibit that lifestyle "are treated more fairly by their teachers and peers."

But the Campaign for Children and Families, which teaches people to stand up for "what's right in God's sight" and encourages them to challenge "liberal forces" and "impact the next generation," is promoting a campaign to have state residents contact state officials with their own concerns

The message warns that if the plan becomes law, "children as young as kindergarten will be taught to admire homosexuality, same-sex 'marriages,' bisexuality, and transsexuality.'"

"Children will be enticed into political activism in support of everything pushed by 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning' political groups, as the bill requires 'particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.'"

Further, it would require that "teachers will be made to positively portray homosexuality, same-sex 'marriages,' bisexuality, and transsexuality … because to be silent opens them up to the charge of 'reflecting adversely.'"

"This is radical, in-your-face sexual indoctrination that parents genuinely don't want and children certainly don't need," the statement says.

The California Legislative Counsel's commentary on the plan affirms it would "require instruction in social sciences to also include a study of the role and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans … to the development of California and the United States."

It also would require "alternative and charter schools" to "take notice of the provisions of this bill."

The law itself requires that schools teach "particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society."

The Campaign for Children and Families, run by executive Randy Thomasson, notes that it would demand that schools boards select textbooks and other materials that actively promote homosexuality, because to be silent "opens them up to charges of 'reflecting adversely.'"

It also notes parents would not be able to exempt their children from the mandatory teaching.

Thomasson told WND that this is the next progression following a multitude of earlier laws adopted in California that serve the dual purpose of cracking down on traditional families and promoting the "alternatives."

"The California public schools are no longer safe places for boys and girls morally," he told WND. "This new bill, SB 48, reflects the desire of the Democrat state legislators to recruit boys and girls to support the homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda both personally and publicly."

Under the law, he said, "textbooks, teachers and school boards will be forced to promote homosexuality, same-sex 'marriage,' bisexuality, transsexuality, sex change operations, cross dressing as positive role models." "Pushing this slop bucket in the face of impressionable kids is disgusting to most people," he said.

It was just two years ago when the Campaign launched the Rescue Your Child effort to encourage parents to withdraw their children from public schools because of such indoctrination.

That followed work by the legislature and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to establish Senate Bill 777 and Assembly Bill 392 as law. Those institutionalized the promotion of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and other alternative lifestyle choices by banning any "adverse" references in schools.

At the time, officials said SB 777 "functionally requires public school instructional materials and school-sponsored activities to positively portray cross-dressing, sex-change operations, homosexual 'marriages,' and all aspects of homosexuality and bisexuality, including so-called 'gay history.'"

The second bill, AB 394, "requires public schools to distribute controversial material to teachers, students, and parents which promotes transsexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality, all under the guise of 'anti-harassment' training."

Those laws ban in any school texts, events, class or activities any discriminatory bias against those who have chosen alternative sexual lifestyles, according to Meredith Turney, legislative liaison for Capitol Resource Institute.

But there are no similar protections for students with traditional or conservative lifestyles and beliefs. Offenders will face the wrath of the state Department of Education, up to and including lawsuits.

California also has mandated that public schools honor Harvey Milk – a homosexual activist and reported sexual predator, as well as an advocate for Jim Jones, leader of the massacred hundreds in Jonestown, Guyana. led a statewide battle against "Harvey Milk Day" before California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the S.B. 572.

The bill designates May 22 – Milk's birthday – a date of "special significance" and encourages all California public schools to "conduct suitable commemorative exercises … remembering the life of Harvey Milk and recognizing his accomplishments as well as the contributions he made to this state."


Choices -- not discrimination -- determine women scientists' success, researchers say

It's an incendiary topic in academia -- the pervasive belief that women are underrepresented in science, math and engineering fields because they face sex discrimination in the interviewing, hiring, and grant and manuscript review processes. In a study published Feb. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cornell social scientists say it's just not true.

It's not discrimination in these areas, but rather, differences in resources attributable to career and family-related choices that set women back in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, say Stephen J. Ceci, the H.L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, and Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, both in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

The "substantial resources" universities expend to sponsor gender-sensitivity training and interviewing workshops would be better spent on addressing the real causes of women's underrepresentation, Ceci and Williams say, through creative problem-solving and policy changes that respond to differing "biological and social realities" of the sexes.

The researchers analyzed the scientific literature in which women and men competed for publications, grants or jobs in these fields. They found no systematic evidence of sex discrimination in interviewing, hiring, reviewing or funding when men and women with similar resources -- such as teaching loads and research support -- were compared.

"We hear often that men have a better chance of getting their work accepted or funded, or of getting jobs, because they're men," Williams said. "Universities expend money and time trying to combat this rampant alleged discrimination against women in the hope that by doing so universities will see the numbers of women STEM scientists increase dramatically over coming years."

The data show that women scientists are confronted with choices, beginning at or before adolescence, that influence their career trajectories and success. Women who prioritize families and have children sometimes make "lifestyle choices" that lead them to take positions, such as adjunct or part-time appointments or jobs at two-year colleges, offering fewer resources and chances to move up in the ranks.

These women, however, are not held back by sex discrimination in hiring or in how their scholarly work is evaluated. Men with comparably low levels of research resources fare equivalently to their female peers. Although women disproportionately hold such low-resource positions, this is not because they had their grants and manuscripts rejected or were denied positions at research-intensive universities due to their gender.

Also, females beginning before adolescence often prefer careers focusing on people, rather than things, aspiring to be physicians, biologists and veterinarians rather than physicists, engineers and computer scientists. Efforts to interest young girls in these math-heavy fields are intended to ensure girls do not opt out of inorganic fields because of misinformation or stereotypes.

Also, fertility decisions are key because the tenure system has strong disincentives for women to have children -- a factor in why more women in academia are childless than men. Implementation of "flexible options" to enhance work-family balance may help to increase the numbers of women in STEM fields, the researchers say.

As long as women make the choice and "are satisfied with the outcomes, then we have no problem," they write in the paper. "However, to the extent that these choices are constrained by biology and/or society, and women are dissatisfied with the outcomes, or women's talent is not actualized, then we most emphatically have a problem."

The solution will only be possible if society focuses on changing the women's non-optimal choices and addressing unique challenges faced by female STEM scientists with children, the researchers say.


Swedish 8th graders assigned sexual essays

Parents of students in a Swedish eighth grade class said they were shocked and outraged to learn their children had been instructed to write sexual essays.

The parents said the class of mostly 14-year-olds at the Kastanje school in Tomelilla were instructed as part of a Swedish lesson to write a half-page essay with "passion," detailing their past sexual encounters or sexual fantasies, The Local reported Wednesday.

"Just the thought that a teacher would sit and ask about their sexual fantasies makes me sick," a parent told the Ystads Allehanda newspaper on condition of anonymity. "Can they really do this? As a parent, it doesn't feel right and it irritates me that we're talking about a graded assignment in a Swedish-language lesson."

A teacher at the school said the assignment was part of a joint lesson the Swedish language department planned with the biology, and sex and well being departments. The teacher said the assignment will be reviewed next year.