Saturday, March 12, 2011

World's top 100 universities 2011: their reputations ranked by Times Higher Education

Harvard University ranks highest in the world according to the Times Higher Education for reputation in teaching and research.
The US boasts the most reputable universities in the world according to a new global reputation ranking out today.

The list published today by the Times Higher Education, is the first of its kind looking solely at the reputations of institutions for teaching and research. Harvard comes top closely followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) beating both Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The US dominates with seven universities in the top ten and a massive 45 in the total rankings. Taking 12 of the places in the top 100, the UK is second to the US with Cambridge university beating Oxford. Imperial College, University College London (UCL), London School of Economics and Edinburgh University also make the top 50.

The rankings based on a survey of 13,388 academics over 131 countries is the largest evaluation of academic reputation and is used partly used in indicators for compiling the well-known Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The rankings also show Japan beating Canada, Australia and Germany with the flagship, University of Tokyo, at eighth place making it the only other nation apart from the US and UK to feature in the top ten.

With university fees rocketing and more applicants fighting for places, university reputation is set to be an even bigger focus for prospective students.

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, said: "In an ever more competitive global market for students, academics and university administrators a university's reputation for academic excellence is crucial."

More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Back to basics: British education boss sweeps aside 102 'woolly standards' teachers are expected to meet in bid to weed out the incompetent

TEACHING standards will be overhauled to remove incompetent teachers, Michael Gove said yesterday. In a scathing attack, the Education Secretary said the current skills required of teachers are ‘woolly, meaningless and fluffy’ concepts.

Of the 102 so-called standards, just two state the need for good ‘subject and curriculum knowledge’. Four focus on health and safety and three on a ‘commitment to co-operative learning’. Other immeasurable targets include ‘a creative and constructive approach towards innovation’.

Mr Gove, launching a review of teachers’ standards, said he would axe the myriad of current skills required and replace them with a small ‘rigorous’ core. Teachers who do not meet these standards will be axed. The move will make it far easier for heads to sack bad teachers. It will also make it harder to qualify, ensuring only the best enter the profession.

The radical move will be the first major overhaul of standards in more than two decades.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders, Mr Gove said: ‘We need to make sure those already in the classroom are continuously improving. ‘Headteachers have told me in no uncertain terms that standards are ineffective, meaningless and muddy, fluffy concepts.’

Since few of the standards are measurable, it is hard for heads to sack poor teachers on the grounds that they have failed to meet them.

Mr Gove said a ‘simple and clear set of skills’ – of which there will be fewer than ten – will ensure teachers have a thorough knowledge of their subject, good literacy and numeracy and can crack down on bad behaviour. The new standards will be imposed in September 2012.


Australia: Funding is not the cause of indigenous educational failure

But better teaching would make a difference

MY School confirms that funding is not the cause of indigenous educational failure. Take two schools in very remote Australia, 20km apart: in 2009, the indigenous school received recurrent funding of almost $33,000 a student, while the mainstream school received about $21,000 for each student.

Despite the 50 per cent additional funding, the indigenous school's Year 5 National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy reading result (typical of all of its results) was a failure rate of 92 per cent. The nearby non-indigenous school had a failure rate of 12 per cent.

These rates are representative of the higher funding but dramatically lower literacy and numeracy performance of indigenous schools.

School size is also not the reason for educational failure. Many small non-indigenous schools perform well and some of the worst performing indigenous schools have large enrolments. For example a very remote indigenous school with more than 420 students (with recurrent funding of $25,600 a student) had reading failure rates of 96 per cent in Year 5 and 89 per cent in Year 7. In 2009, only one of their students completed senior secondary school; no student was awarded a senior secondary certificate.

More than 150 indigenous schools (with more than 80 per cent indigenous students) dominate the lowest literacy and numeracy results for Australia's 9500 schools.

They are mainly in the remote homelands and townships of NT, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. Few of the students in these schools achieve the minimum NAPLAN literacy and numeracy national standards.

They leave school early, unable to read, write or count, and without the other skills necessary to get a job. Few of those who stay on through Year 12 learn enough to be able to get a job or to go on to further education.

In some 40 NT homeland learning centres, with a total enrolment of about 1000 students, classes do not even have qualified teachers five days a week. Few of their students could read the NAPLAN questions, let alone pass the tests.

Their parents receive Commonwealth Assistance for Isolated Children payments as compensation for the Territory not providing a school for these children. The continuation of these pretend schools is shameful for Australia.

Some states are responding to poor NAPLAN results. The Queensland Department of Education is a partner in Noel Pearson's Cape York Partnership academies in Aurukun, Coen and Hope Vale. These academies implement rigorous "direct education" in the classroom. This is combined with after-school cultural, sporting and other "club" activities. The Cape York Family Responsibilities Commission is supporting these schools.

While it is too early to see the results in NAPLAN tests, the academies have achieved a remarkable rise in attendance in response to improved classroom teaching.

The Northern Territory Department of Education has the worst literacy and numeracy results in Australia. Yet it continues to protect its own schools by refusing to approve qualified independent schools. The Territory receives large amounts of additional commonwealth funding, which it spends on fashionable feel-good programs that have no effect in the classroom. Until it focuses on improved classroom teaching, including phonics, the gap between its indigenous schools and mainstream Australian education will continue to widen.

Indigenous attendance continues to be a difficult issue while sub-standard schools and poor teaching methods remain in place. In remote communities, the lack of role models and the absence of jobs lead to the view that education does not matter.

The absence of jobs and decent houses leads to high mobility that is a principal cause of low school attendance.

The commonwealth is trying to improve attendance by penalising welfare recipients whose children do not attend school, but the Territory's attendance rhetoric, blaming parents for not sending their children to school, is not matched by results.

The most important contributor to low attendance is the absence of good teaching. Where effective schools operate, attendance is high. Schools such as Coen on Cape York are achieving full attendance; independent Djarragun College in Queensland and independent indigenous schools in the Territory have consistently high attendance.

The many indigenous parents in remote Australia concerned about their children's education have known for years that their children are not learning to read, write and count or acquiring the other skills they need to get a job.

Their fears have now been confirmed by the revamped My School website, although few remote indigenous parents can read it. These parents - although they are themselves the victims of the absence of schooling - know that like indigenous health and housing, throwing taxpayers' money at indigenous education is not a substitute for reform.

Whatever costs and benefits the My School website has created for mainstream schools, for indigenous education My School data are critical to fixing schools in indigenous communities.

The absence of literacy, numeracy, humanities, social and natural sciences and other life skills that mainstream schools teach, are a key contributor to the dysfunction of remote communities. A meaningful job and decent housing are the right of every Australian. They are not achievable without a mainstream education.


Friday, March 11, 2011

A true horror story for any scholar

This story is from Australia but I am confident it is happening in other advanced countries too: University libraries are throwing out old books wholesale. This is quite simply a danger to knowledge. Soon we are only going to be allowed to know what our "betters" allow us to know. Hang on to your books! I know that I have some old books which I am going to ask my son to keep after I am gone

THE University of NSW is throwing away thousands of books and scholarly journals as part of a policy that critics say is turning its library into a Starbucks.

Academics say complete journal collections, valuable books and newspapers dating to the 19th century are being thrown out to clear space for cafe-style lounges.

The Herald has obtained an internal document listing thousands of titles due to be pulled from shelves. The 138-page "weeding" list includes encyclopaedias, dictionaries, books in foreign languages and texts on psychology, politics and morality.

The policy, which until recently required librarians to remove 50,000 volumes each year, does not allow the last Australian copy of any book to be discarded. But it has opened an ideological row about the function of modern libraries as more research material becomes accessible online.

Already, thousands of books have been dumped in skips in the library basement and staff in various disciplines say they have not been given the opportunity to salvage them.

"This is a scandal. It's outrageous on a whole number of different levels," said Peter Slezak, an associate professor in the school of history and philosophy. "Anyone that has anything to do with books is distressed at this. They are extremely good books."

The cleanout has so upset some that library staff have rescued books destined for the bin. One former library assistant said he had taken more than 200 books. "If the book's not borrowed in the last couple of years, they throw it out," he said. "Most libraries see their function as an archive but these guys see it almost like a video store. After you've had the book five years, why keep it?"

Most shocking, he said, was the disposal of a collection of newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s. "They're getting rid of books to make space for students to sit around, have lunch and plug their laptops in. Bizarrely, they've turned the library into a kind of a Starbucks," Professor Slezak said.

A university spokeswoman said that since August library policy no longer set a target for the number of books to cull. Superseded textbooks were hard to give away, some titles were moved into storage and libraries worldwide faced the same dilemma, she said.

"The library has an ongoing program to remove print journals where online archival access is provided. Our academic community prefers to use the online versions and they use them very heavily," she said.

Dr John Golder, a visiting research fellow in theatre, feared the digitisation of libraries would prevent students stumbling across new information. "A serendipitous discovery is impossible when the book isn't there," he said.

A professor in the school of history and philosophy, David Miller, understood libraries could not preserve everything but thought consultation could be improved. "There's something profoundly wrong, and symbolically wrong, about a university destroying books," he said. "Universities are in the business of passing on knowledge and books - no matter how the use of books is shrinking - still remain a very important symbol of knowledge."


Some letters on the issue below

There were many distressing stories in the newspapers this morning, but none so immediately depressing as the story on what my university is doing to our books ("Books get the shove as university students prefer to do research online", March 8).

It is 50 years almost to the day that Ray Bradbury published his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, an allegory about book-burning and the suppression of ideas. He meant it as a warning and I don't suppose he really expected it to become fact. He would be galled and appalled to learn that it has.

That this is happening in a "place of learning" makes it doubly significant.

The UNSW library is such a depressing place these days - there are entire floors where it is hard to find a book at all. The explanations offered by UNSW that people don't want these books and that nothing for which there is no electronic copy is junked are nonsense.

I recently went searching for a 19th-century Government Gazette (for which there was no electronic version) only to be told by a distressed librarian that they had been found in a skip in the basement, along with many other irreplaceable items. At their own expense, the librarians rescued these and sent them to a library where they would be appreciated - Dili in East Timor.

What is happening to the UNSW library is just one aspect of a dumbing down of the university in the name of competition - to change it from a collegiate place of learning to (in the Vice-Chancellor's words) an "education destination".

You don't get a very good education at a university without books.

Dr Geoff Lambert Prince of Wales clinical school, University of NSW, Sydney

UNSW's book "cull" is extremely short-sighted. Research does not follow a straight line; it thrives on the kind of serendipitous discoveries that databases make impossible. When I was at university (in this century), the books I stumbled across in the library amounted to a second education. At the very least those of us who love books would have appreciated a chance to salvage what we could.

Alan Miller Hornsby [My experience was similar -- JR]

There are two aspects to UNSW's policies that if more widely adopted will have an effect on libraries and their patrons. Libraries have always operated within a spirit of co-operation and this manifests itself in the inter-library loan. This means that when a patron wishes to borrow a book not held in a library but held by another library the patron's library can borrow that book from a library which holds it.

A spoiler within this practice has arrived in the form of e-books which have licensing restrictions. The New York Times reported in March that a large US publisher owned by Rupert Murdoch will sell e-books to libraries that can be borrowed a maximum of 26 times for each title purchased. The library holding that e-book can no longer lend it out after 26 times. Does this mean the library will have to keep purchasing copies of the same title?

Many libraries also are transferring subscriptions from the hard copy of scholarly journals to online versions. The licensing of these online subscriptions restricts distribution of copies of articles within those scholarly journals to third parties, i.e. other libraries via inter-library loan. Furthermore, if a library discontinues a subscription of an online scholarly journal it no longer has any holdings of that journal.

When you purchase a printed copy of a book or scholarly journal it is yours to keep forever. Librarians need to think long and hard about the implications of discarding the hard copy.

Wendy Cousins Balgownie


DOE: 82% of public schools may “fail” this year

In testimony to Congress Wednesday, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a startling claim: This year, up to 82 percent of public schools could "fail" the government's "No Child Left Behind" standards. "No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Department of Education.

"This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed," Duncan added. "We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk." Last year, just 32 percent of schools were failing the government's rigorous testing standards.

Duncan was speaking to the House Education and Work Force Committee.

The education policies, passed by the Bush administration in 2002, set a number of highly unrealistic deadlines and requirements, and tied school funding to achieving those goals.

Critics have argued the reforms changed schools from centers of learning to testing factories, increasingly irrelevant to students and communities. Increasingly, even Republicans have come to agree that the policies are largely broken.

"The Obama administration’s proposed blueprint for reforming No Child Left Behind recognizes and rewards high-poverty schools and districts that show improvement based on progress and growth," the Department of Education said, in an advisory.

"States and districts would have to identify and intervene in schools that persistently fail to close gaps. For schools making more modest gains, states and districts would have more flexibility to determine improvement and support options."

“Our proposal will offer schools and districts much more flexibility in addressing achievement gaps, but we will impose a much tighter definition of success,” Duncan said. “Simply stated, if schools boost overall proficiency but leave one subgroup behind — that is not good enough. They need a plan that ensures that every child is being served.”


Australia: Teachers still chasing the class-size snark

CLASS sizes would be reduced to just 20 students in Prep to Year 3 under a proposal put forward by teachers to help lift literacy and numeracy standards.

The Queensland Teachers Union has warned the Bligh Government it needs to commit to smaller class sizes if it is serious about lifting student outcomes.

But the proposal conflicts with a controversial paper last year which warned reducing class sizes does little to improve the quality of education for children.

The QTU has made the latest proposal to claw back class sizes in their paper Securing Queensland's Future: A Resourcing Agenda for State Schools. The paper, which outlines a 10-year resourcing plan for state schools, suggests Prep to Year 3 class size maximums be "progressively" reduced to 20 students over five years as one of a series of "suggested initiatives". Education Queensland (EQ) currently sets a maximum class size target of 25 pupils for Prep to Year 3 , although up to 30 have been reported in Prep classrooms since 2009.

Last year, more than 10,000 Prep to Year 3 students were taught in overcrowded state school classrooms. "If the Government is really serious about improving literacy and numeracy outcomes, it should commit to a program of class size reduction, particularly in Years P-3", the QTU paper states. "Qualified teachers working with smaller classes in the early years of schooling are an effective way to achieve better student outcomes."

It says intensive student support programs and ongoing teacher professional development would also be needed for the class size reductions to work.

The paper comes less than six months after a Grattan Institute report warning reducing class sizes did little to improve the quality of education. Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen argued money was better spent on improving teacher effectiveness.

But QTU president Steve Ryan said state schools which had reduced class sizes using National Partnership funding had shown the initiative worked.

EQ director-general Julie Grantham said the QTU which has submitted its paper to the Government, had not raised the issue in any of their stakeholder meetings. She said class sizes were structured to meet targets agreed to by the QTU.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

GAO: Teacher training an education on government waste

By federal standards, comparatively little money is spent on training teachers, but the excessive duplication and overlapping programs in this sliver of the budget stands out in a new report on government waste as a testament to bureaucratic inefficiencies.

In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent $4 billion on professional development for teachers. But a report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says the money was divided among 82 different programs spread through 10 different government agencies.

Within the Department of Education itself, eight different offices administer 60 programs for teacher retraining. The GAO report suggested that evaluating the success of each is nearly impossible, because of a myriad of different criteria and manpower required to examine them would be prohibitively expensive.

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a frequent critic of intransigent bureaucracies, said these duplicative and fragmented programs are proof that the money devoted to such programs would be better funneled to individual states, and even school boards.

"There are hundreds of millions of Americans that grew up without a Department of Education. And certainly, an argument can be made that they're better educated than people that have been around since 1977, when that department was created," Schatz told Fox News.

The Department of Education is working to reduce the redundancy of these programs. In the agency's annual reauthorization proposal to Congress, the Obama administration has proposed combining 38 programs for training current teachers into 11. Critics admit that's a start, but that Congress must take the lead in reigning in such profligate overlap and confusion.

A central problem in seeking efficiencies in these programs for educators is that the effectiveness of teacher retraining programs is almost impossible to measure. Each of the scores of programs has different criteria for success. To measure it, would require yet a new layer of bureaucracy.

As the GAO report says, "It is more costly to administer many separate authorized federal programs, because each program has it’s own policies, applications, award competitions , reporting requirements and in some cases, federal evaluations."


Public Education: Progressive Indoctrination Camps

Why should liberals want to change the public educational system when it is turning out the product they have been striving for years to produce?

Check out these real news headlines from the past several weeks and months about the state of public education across the country:

--"U.S. teachers tell U.N. sex is a 'spectrum' -- advocate mandatory classes to free students from 'religion'"

--"Principal orders (Ten Commandments) yanked from school lockers"

--"Teens ask for more sex ed, greater condom availability"

--"University defines Christians as 'oppressors'"

--"Why Catholic Schools Score Better Than Public Schools"

--"Teachers take charge to save ailing public schools"

--"Texas Schools' Mandatory Arabic Classes Create Firestorm"

--"District taking money, but censoring Christians?"

--"No opting out of pro-gay school propaganda"

--"District pays up for slamming student's rosary"

--"Judge cites homeschoolers for violating U.N. mandate -- Police interrogate parents, confiscate their curriculum"

--"Some say schools giving Muslims special treatment"

On Dec. 27, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote about his vision for the University of Virginia (chartered in 1819): "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

But what should happen 200 years later when our public schools and universities avoid the testing of truths? Or suppress alternative opinions because they are unpopular or politically incorrect? Or no longer tolerate opinions now considered errors or obsolete by the elite? What happens when socio-political agendas or scientific paradigms dominate academic views to the exclusion of a minority's even being mentioned?

What happens when the political and public educational pendulum swings from concern for the tyranny of sectarianism in Jefferson's day to secularism in ours? What happens when U.S. public schools become progressive indoctrination camps?

Dr. Jim Nelson Black, founder and senior analyst of Sentinel Research Associates, wrote "Freefall of the American University," which is an excellent book. In it, he documents the clear biases pervading our public academic settings. Among that lopsidedness is the intentional training of students to disdain America, freely experiment sexually, forcefully defend issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and become cultural advocates for political correctness, relativism, globalization, green agendas and tolerance for all.

One of the primary ways these educative platforms are spread is by recruiting and retaining faculty members who reflect and teach them. For example, citing the polling firm Luntz Research, Black notes that 57 percent of faculty members in our most esteemed universities are Democrats (only 3 percent are Republican), and 64 percent identify themselves as liberal (only 6 percent conservative). Moreover, 71 percent of them disagree that "news coverage of political and social issues reflects a liberal bias in the news media." They also were asked, "Who has been the best president in the past 40 years?" The No. 1 answer was Bill Clinton. (Only 4 percent said Ronald Reagan.)

This is why it is no surprise that the two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are the largest campaign contributors in the nation (giving more than the Teamsters, the National Rifle Association or any other organization) and that 90 percent of their contributions fund Democratic candidates. So do you think such funding is going to balance traditional and conservative values with liberal ones in public schools?

The impact of progressivism is being experienced by students across this land, hundreds of thousands of whom already have cried out with complaints of academic inequity. A sampling of the hundreds of student grievances from across the academic spectrum can be found on Students For Academic Freedom's website.

It is also no surprise that an average of 6,000 students every year are leaving the approximately 94,000 public schools in America. If the powers-to-be over our public schools, such as government and unions, continue to oppose conservative curricula and impose overarching liberal educational revisions and laws, public schools will continue to experience an exodus.

I fully realize there are some great conservative people on the staffs of many public schools and universities, but I know that virtually all of them would concur that a liberal bias in our academic curricula and system is overwhelmingly dominant and ubiquitous.

Is this present restrictive and one-sided educational environment that which Thomas Jefferson and other Founders intended for the future generations of America? Absolutely not! Rather than encourage freethinking, the U.S. academic system has turned Jefferson's plans for open education into our culture's system of indoctrination.

(In Part 2, I will give eight specific ways that you and I can fight progressivism in the U.S. public education system. And speaking of education, I'm encouraging readers of my culture warrior column to read my new weekly health and fitness column, "C-Force." This past week's edition is about conventional and alternative medicine, and I explain the amazing benefits of the Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev.)


British school inspectors report slide in standards at quarter of schools

Almost a quarter of schools are getting worse as tough new Government inspections expose falling standards, figures suggest. Data published by Ofsted showed 23 per cent of state schools visited over a four month period last year were given a lower overall grade than in previous inspections.

The figures suggest thousands of schools nationally may be coasting or going backwards despite billions of pounds spent by Labour attempting to turn around underperforming primaries and secondaries.

The disclosure comes just a week after the Coalition wrote to councils in England ordering them to come up with action plans designed to improve standards in local schools.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said he would not “allow underperforming schools where children are not receiving the education they deserve to carry on, unreformed”.

Failing schools could be taken out of local authority control and converted into independent academies under the leadership of a new head teacher.

According to the latest figures, some 2,000 schools in England were inspected by Ofsted during the autumn term last year.

Under a new inspection regime, the watchdog has been ordered to focus more resources on weaker schools to root out underperformance, while leaving those deemed to be outstanding. The very top schools are only inspected if concerns are raised by parents or councils.

Despite attempts to improve standards of state education, figures show 23 per cent of schools inspected between September and December received a lower judgement than previously recorded, while almost half remained the same. Some 30 per cent improved. Currently, schools are rated on a four-point scale. In all, some seven per cent of schools inspected were ranked as inadequate, 37 per cent were satisfactory, 46 per cent were good and 10 per cent were outstanding.

Since September 2009, Ofsted inspections have focused more on pupils’ results combined with observing teachers in the classroom.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Education standards in this country have stalled, with England slipping down the international league tables. “To drive up standards, we are stepping in to turn around underperforming schools and are creating more excellent schools run by teachers – not bureaucrats – through the academies and free schools programmes.

“We are also encouraging the brightest people into teaching, creating a rigorous new curriculum and giving heads back the power to instil good discipline.

“It is vital that all parents – not just the rich – are able to send their child to a good local school that is right for them.”


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Head Start: Leftists impervious to decades of evidence showing its failure

Mona Charen

My friend E.J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist for the Washington Post, is a fine man with, I feel safe in asserting, a warm heart. But he betrays in a recent column a persistent failing of the left -- imperviousness to evidence.

Describing Speaker Boehner's tactics in the budget fights with Democrats, Dionne wrote:

"Begin with the outrageous $1.1 billion, 15 percent cut from Head Start, a program that offers preschool education to roughly 965,000 poor children. According to the Center for Law and Public Policy, this would knock 218,000 kids out of Head Start and force 16,000 classrooms to close. That is an excellent way to lose the future, as Obama ought to be saying. What could be a better use of public money than helping our poorest children early in life so they might achieve more in school, and later?"

Like most liberals, Dionne is enchanted with the idea of Head Start -- the romance of a government program that would provide care, nutrition, education, and skills to impoverished preschoolers in order to erase, to the degree possible, the handicaps poverty imposes. That was the idea in 1965, when Head Start was founded. Lyndon Johnson declared, upon signing the enabling bill that "Today, we reach out to five and half million children held behind their more fortunate schoolmates by the dragging anchor of poverty." Head Start, he promised, would be their "passport" out.

It would have been worth the $166 billion taxpayers have spent on the program since 1965 if a significant portion of Head Start alumni did improve their educational outcomes and escape poverty. But that did not happen.

As any number of studies have demonstrated over the years, the effects of Head Start are modest to nugatory. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom chronicled the failure in "No Excuses." One study found that Head Start students were slightly more likely to be immunized than others -- a good thing of course, but a) not primarily what the program was sold as, and b) achievable far more cheaply through other programs like Medicaid. A 1969 study found that any gains participants displayed faded away in the early grades. By third grade, Head Start graduates were indistinguishable from their non-participating classmates. Rather than scrap the program, President Nixon (a sheep in wolf's clothing where domestic policy was concerned) concluded that, "Head Start ... must begin earlier in life, and last longer, to achieve lasting benefits."

Later surveys showed similarly dismal results. By 1987, even the program's founder, Yale psychologist Edward F. Zigler, declined to claim educational benefits for the program. But as the Thernstroms concluded, "Everyone could agree that poverty was hard on blameless children, so any federal effort purporting to help them was difficult to attack without seeming mean-spirited."

That remains true, as witness Mr. Dionne.

A just-released study by the Department of Health and Human Services delivers incredibly harsh news about Head Start. A large, nationwide survey of 4,600 preschoolers who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start (experimental group) or no program (control group) were studied on 114 different measures ranging from academic skills to social-emotional development, to health status. The study found no statistically relevant effects from the Head Start program by the end of first grade.

If a study falls in the forest and the major news organizations fail to report it, does it make a sound? Hardly a whimper. A few conservative websites like Heritage, CATO, and the Independent Women's Forum noted the results, but elsewhere, all was silence.

Or, not silence actually, complete denial. President Obama had boosted funding for Head Start from $6.8 billion in 2008 to $9.2 billion in 2009. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan support even greater "investments" in the failed program in the future. Study? What study?

According to Douglas Besharov of the University of Maryland, it costs $22,600 annually to keep a child in a year-round Head Start program. Typical preschools run about $9,500. But the price simply doesn't matter. The lack of results doesn't matter. The only thing that seems to matter is that liberals are able to preen about their compassion -- oh, yes, and condemn anyone not impervious to evidence as heartless.


Ga.: Kids not allowed to sound off about teachers

Even while at home

Two Douglas County students were suspended and one student was expelled after a negative Facebook posting about a teacher.

Twelve-year-old Alejandra Sosa said she regretted posting a Facebook status calling one of her teachers at Chapel Hill Middle School a pedophile. The comment got the honor roll student suspended for 10 days and she is now facing expulsion. "I was just expressing myself on Facebook, because like I said I was mad that day because of what he [did]. So, I mean I had no intentions of ruining his reputation," said Sosa.

"I shouldn't have done it," said student William Lambert, III. "Because I could have still been at school, like right now, if I never had commented on the post." Lambert, a seventh grader, was also suspended for calling the same teacher a rapist.

The honor student's father said he didn't condone the comment but believes that what's done in the privacy of one's home should not be the subject of disciplinary action at school. "Because it is a privacy issue. When you're at home on your computer, a lot of people say a lot of things on Facebook, about a lot of people, including our president, including senators, governors. [I think] the school should write the rules of Facebook into their policy before they try to take rules out of context," said Lambert's father, William Lambert, Jr.

A third child was expelled for posting that the same teacher is bipolar. The student's mother asked not to be identified but said she believed the school's punishment did not fit the crime. "She made a disrespectful comment, however she is 12-years-old and she didn’t even get a chance to apologize for it before its done and over, you're out of school," said the parent.

At least two of the families said they plan to hire attorneys and fight the disciplinary charges in a school tribunal.

A social networking expert said the case should serve as a lesson for students and parents alike. "When you go home, yes it is your private environment but the school can actually say we would expect you to have nice behavior, be kind to others, not be a cyber bully, not be a bully in general. But it doesn't mean they can enforce it because we're coming into free speech territory here," said social networking expert Ben Halpert.

Douglas County School officials said the three students violated the disciplinary code and they could not comment on the case due to an impending tribunal.


Liberal Ideology Will Not Make Your Campus Safer

Mike Adams

On Thursday, March 3, 2011, President James D. Spaniolo sent a letter to the “Students, Faculty, and Staff” of the University of Texas – Arlington (UTA). Some are criticizing the letter as an inappropriate use of state property to influence pending legislation. But it is far worse than that. It is an ideologically-driven missive that could get some “Students, Faculty, and Staff” at UTA seriously injured or killed.

The letter begins innocently enough with Spaniolo simply noting that “The Texas Legislature is currently considering several bills that (he knows) many of you are following with great interest and an increasing level of concern and alarm—legislation that could allow concealed handguns on college campuses across Texas.”

By the beginning of the second paragraph, Spaniolo, who does not have a PhD (or, apparently, any record of scholarly research whatsoever) states his opinion on the legislation: “I have followed very closely the disparate views that have been expressed on this issue, and I am keenly aware of and sensitive to the arguments in favor of this legislation. But I have concluded that allowing concealed handguns on campus would not make UT Arlington—or any college campus—a safer place.”

It is unsurprising that Spaniolo comes down on the wrong side of this issue with an opinion that is not informed by scholarship. The president of the university has only five publications (this century) listed on his resume. They are all non-scholarly city newspaper opinion pieces with titles like “U.S., Cuba Must Start Anew.”

Yet without any visible expertise in this important and well-researched area he says the following: “As president of UT Arlington, my top priority must always be to do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. I firmly believe—as does virtually everyone in leadership positions at colleges and universities and in law enforcement—that allowing concealed handguns on campus would significantly increase the potential for members of our community to be injured or killed.”

This last paragraph suffers from two severe deficiencies:

First, it claims (without supporting evidence) that virtually everyone in law enforcement believes “that allowing concealed handguns on campus would significantly increase the potential for members of our community to be injured or killed.” Spaniolo provides no references – not one, but zero - for this bold assertion. I hereby publicly challenge him to do so. Note that I do not issue a challenge with regard to his assertion concerning “virtually everyone in leadership positions at colleges and universities” and their opposition to the pending legislation. I do not care what people in “leadership positions at colleges and universities” believe about guns. They are not an ideologically neutral population. Nor are they, as a group, specially qualified to make a judgment on the issue of concealed weapons. Police officers are different.

Second, it is his frank admission that his position is based on what he “firmly believe(s).” Of course, “firm belief” simply means “strong feeling” in this context. But public policy should not be made on the basis of “strong feelings.” It should be made on the basis of empirical evidence. And, to date, the empirical evidence supports those who assert that concealed weapon permits (CCWs) reduce violent crime, rather than increasing violent crime.

To date, there are sixteen refereed publication, which demonstrate that CCWs decrease violent crime. There are ten refereed publication that say they make no difference in violent crime rates. There are zero refereed publications demonstrating that CCWs increase violent crime.

But President Spaniolo hasn’t looked at the empirical research. He’s looked to the following sources (quoting from his letter):

1) “UT Arlington’s Student Congress adopted a resolution—by a vote of 36 to 6—against the proposed concealed-carry bills that have been introduced in the Legislature. Student Congress also sponsored a well-attended campus forum on the issue last week.”

2) “UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa sent a letter to Governor Rick Perry last week strongly expressing the concerns of the many constituents of the UT System institutions.”

3) “The Texas Council of Student Services Vice Presidents, which comprises 46 public institutions across the state, has expressed in a letter to legislators the serious concerns its members have on this issue. Frank Lamas, vice president for student affairs at UT Arlington, serves as chair-elect of this group.”

Students – even members of the UTA Student Congress - cannot be looked to as expert sources on this topic. Neither does the UT System Chancellor nor the Texas Council of Student Services Vice Presidents have the needed expertise. The problem should be addressed by citing peer-reviewed research by the criminologists and economists who have studied the costs and benefits of CCW legislation.

As one with a Master’s degree in public policy, President Spaniolo should know where to look for information that credibly informs public policy. But he does not. Instead, he intentionally seeks information from both biased and uninformed sources, which do nothing but reinforce his strong feelings on an admittedly emotional topic.

President Spaniolo ends his letter to the UTA community with this chillingly misleading paragraph: “We are fortunate to be a part of a vibrant campus community where debate and dialogue are part of the fabric of intellectual exchange. We must ensure that our campus is a safe place for pursuing and advancing an education. Allowing concealed handguns on our campus would be antithetical to our mission.”

His suggestion is that the presence of guns would close down rational debate in an otherwise free and open marketplace of ideas. But that isn’t so. Concealed guns will never shut down debate at UTA. Instead, administrators who conceal research will prevent debate, dialogue, and informed intellectual exchange. And no one should have a license to do that.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Where they teach you how to be thick

The writer below says that state education in Britain has consistently encouraged working-class children to accept their lot in life. He has some interesting history but ignores several problems: Such as the virtual abolition of discipline and IQ differences

As loudly as the middle classes moan about the state school system, it is the working class that has been let down. Middle-class children do very well out of state education. It is the middle-class children who pass the exams, and get the college places. They go on to get good, well-paid jobs, too. Working-class children, however, do worse than they ever have.

Studies for the Sutton Trust found that social mobility in Britain started to go backwards from 1970 onwards – those born after 1970 will earn no more than their mums and dads. Since 1973 wages have fallen as a share of Britain’s wealth, from 65 per cent to 55 per cent.

Since the 1960s there have been big reforms in schools and colleges:

* Comprehensive schools were brought in, in 1969.

* The school leaving age was raised from 14 to 16.

* The share of those going on to colleges and universities was boosted from 8.4 per cent in 1970 to more than a third today

These reforms were supposed to help working-class people. Instead the working class has lost out. Wages have not kept up with growth. Working-class people are doing no better than their mums and dads before them.

You might argue that the schools did not make the class divide – and you would be right. But schools have not done anything to fix the class divide, either. All those years of education reform have done nothing for working-class people.

The state education system has let down the working class. It has not helped people to better themselves. Instead it churns out school-leavers who are more divided along class lines than ever before. For working-class children, state education is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.

The origins of state education

When Robert Owen opened the Hall of Science in Manchester, a committee of churchmen and mill owners was set up to put down ‘that hideous form of infidelity which assumes the name of socialism’. The good burghers of Manchester founded their own school to rival Owen’s. Soon after, the Hall of Science was set on fire.

The attack on the Hall of Science was just the beginning of the ruling-class attack on working-class schools. Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, a baronet, was made Britain’s first secretary of education in 1839 – it was his job to set up a state education system in Britain.

Kay-Shuttleworth’s principal motivation in 1839 was a fear of the growing, and independent, working-class movement: ‘We confess that we cannot contemplate with unconcern the vast physical force which is now moved by men so ignorant and so unprincipled as the Chartist leaders.’

The mill owners and landlords did not like parting with their money, but Kay-Shuttleworth told them schools would ‘promote the security of property and the maintenance of the public order’. Spending a little money on schools now would save them their whole fortune, said the first minister of education, ‘Only by experience and education can the workmen be induced to leave undisturbed the controls of commercial enterprises in the hands of the capitalists.’ Ever since then, the whole point of state schools has been to curb the threat of the working class.

Forster go to school

The first law to say that you could be forced to go to school – compulsory education – was passed in 1870. It was the idea of William E Forster: ‘We had this fearful state of things – a large portion of the nation growing up in our large towns without education, and ready to become members of the dangerous classes.’

Forster’s backer, MP Charles Buxton, made it clear at whom the act was aimed: ‘No feeling of tenderness for the parents would deter him for one minute from adopting compulsion. Society was suffering grievously from their shameful apathy with regard to the education of their children.’ (House of Commons, 12 March 1869)

Forster forced mums and dads to hand over their children to the vicars and priests who ran the church schools – who duly beat the word of God into their backsides – from the age of eight to 13. Later on Forster would force Irishmen to obey British rule under the so-called ‘Coercion Act’.

The 1944 Act and a Brave New World of tripartite education

Tasked with setting up schools for children aged 11 to 15, Labour education minister Ellen Wilkinson told local authorities to ‘think in terms of three types’ of state school (Circular No 73, 12 December 1945). The three sorts of schools were: grammar schools for clever boys and girls; technical schools for practical children (only a few were built); and, last of all, new ‘modern’ schools for working-class children ‘whose future employment will not demand any measure of technical skill or knowledge’ (Ministry of Education, 1945). ‘Not everyone wants an academic education’, Wilkinson said: ‘After all, coal has to be mined and fields ploughed.’

Wilkinson was on the far left of the Labour Party. But just what ‘left wing’ meant was changing. In Churchill’s war cabinet Labour ministers got into the habit of pushing people from pillar to post. The ‘tripartite’ education system seems a bit stiff-necked today; it treated boys and girls like cogs in a machine. But that was pretty much in keeping with the way that ministers bossed workers around in the war.

The ‘Blackboard Jungle’ scare

The upwardly-climbing liked grammar schools. Ellen Wilkinson’s Ardwick Grammar School helped her out of the working class and into Manchester University. Another Labour minister, Roy Jenkins, went to Oxford after Abersychan County Grammar – not bad for a miner’s son. Shopkeeper’s daughter and later Tory education minister Margaret Thatcher went to Kesteven and Grantham Girls School before going to Oxford.

But three-quarters of children did not go to grammar schools. An exam at age eleven – the ‘Eleven Plus’ – sorted children out into the grammar school winners and the secondary modern school losers. It was called ‘selection’. That meant a lot of unhappy children, and unhappy parents.

Before long, the better-off began to get scared of what was going on in secondary modern schools. Newspapers ran scare stories about crime and violence in ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ (taken from the title of a New York school novel and film).

‘A 15-year-old boy draws a knife on a master who is chastising him then waits for the teacher with a studded belt outside – forcing him to ask for police protection.’ This lurid tale was part of a big ‘Blackboard Jungle’ spread in the Sunday Graphic, 12 July 1959. The News Chronicle editor backed up such scare stories, saying, ‘until the black spots in secondary schools are cleaned up they will continue to taint the whole’ (in a letter to The Schoolmaster, 23 September 1955).

Secondary modern teachers wrote racy novels, like ER Braithwaite’s tale of hopeless youngsters stirred by a young Guiana-born teacher, To Sir, With Love. It was published in 1959 and made into a film with Sidney Poitier eight years later. Another was Edward Blishen’s The Roaring Boys – a Schoolmaster’s Agony. The blurb read: ‘They came from the backstreets and slums of London’s east end. They were the roaring boys. Teenage delinquents living for kicks. Young tearaways full of searing hate and fury.’

Class war

It was fear of the young tearaways that put an end to school selection and the tripartite system. It was fear of the class war getting out of hand. In a speech in 1966, Labour minister Tony Crosland owned up to a ‘deeply felt’ and ‘controversial’ view that ‘separate schools exacerbate social division’ and ‘the eleven plus divides overwhelmingly according to social class’.

Crosland did not want to start a class war. He wanted to stop one. He promised he would not ‘argue the point in terms of equality’; he would argue it ‘in terms of a sense of cohesion’. ‘We only have to consider our industrial relations’, he warned, ‘to see the depth of social division’. ‘But so long as we choose to educate our children in separate camps’, he warned, ‘for so long will our schools exacerbate rather than diminish social divisions’.

The rise of the meritocracy?

Crosland’s fears of class war were outlined by the social scientist Michael Young, the collator of the 1945 Labour Party manifesto in which Labour promised to build new secondary schools. In 1958 he wrote The Rise of the Meritocracy, a darkly comic fable set in the year 2033, which tries to guess at what will happen to a country that selects its children according to their ‘eleven plus’ scores – what he called ‘a meritocracy’.

In The Rise of the Meritocracy the upper-class owes its standing to intelligence, not money or land. But they have made an awful mistake. The lower orders, domestic servants and the ‘Technicians Party’ rise up in revolt against the cruel meritocracy. Half a million copies of The Rise of the Meritocracy were sold worldwide. The case for the comprehensive school, and against selection, was won. It was won because while the ruling class were too scared of what would happen to the working class if they were shut up in no-hope schools, the middle class were too embarrassed to say out loud what they secretly thought: that their sons and daughters deserved better than the rest. (Michael Young is Toby Young’s dad.)

School choice

Even though comprehensive schools became the norm, the professional classes were never really happy about it. Right-wing university lecturer GH Bantock was outraged at the idea that ‘the future doctor, dustman, admiral and cabin-boy must be taught together in the same mixed-ability class’. Instead of calling for a return to the eleven plus and selection, critics called for different kinds of schools and for school choice.

What they meant was that some schools could be made more ‘academic’ and that they could ‘choose’ to send their kids there.

The Labour Party leaders do not send their children to comprehensive schools. Tony Blair sent his children to the London Oratory – a grant-maintained school. So did New Labour stalwart Harriet Harman. Alastair Campbell, Blair’s press secretary, is one of few who does send his sons to a comprehensive school: William Ellis in Camden. It was Campbell who coined the phrase ‘bog standard comp’.

More here

Australia: How the Left hate the Brethren

What the report below omits to say is that the Federal government has part-funded church schools since the days of Bob Menzies. Church schools of all denominations ALWAYS get private as well as government funding. So many parents send their kids to private schools in Australia that they represent a significant voting bloc that no government can ignore -- as Mark Latham found out to his cost. So the report below is not news at all.

The furore is just another Leftist attack on a very conservative group. Although it is doubtful that anybody takes much notice of them, the leaders of the mainstream churches almost always come out in support of the Labor party at election time. The Brethren are a rare group that actually funds advertisements supporting the conservatives. And hell hath no fury like a Leftist scorned

A RELIGIOUS school run by the secretive Exclusive Brethren religion was granted more than $9 million in government funding despite getting $15 million from "other private sources", the MySchool 2.0 website reveals.

The government handout was based on it being rated one of the most disadvantaged schools in the nation, equivalent to an impoverished Aboriginal mission school. Yet despite its government classification as a "category 12" school, with private funding it is able to spend more than $20,000 a year on each student. The average for a state school is about $10,000 per student.

It runs MET (Meadowbank Education Trust) School, based at Oatlands near West Ryde, but is, in fact, 18 schools spread throughout the state as far as Albury and Condobolin.

"This is a complete, total abuse of the funding system," NSW Greens MP John Kaye said. "It's very hard to argue that these schools are impoverished when they're getting $15 million from private sources."

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said the school's arrangements highlighted the flaws in the federal funding system. "Like all private schools, this school is funded regardless of its income or wealth," Mr Gavrielatos said. "As a result it has almost double the average income per student of a public school."

The school, which had no input over its rating, failed to return calls over the funding issue yesterday.


Clumsy fakery of test results in Australia

THE "gobsmacking" NAPLAN score of one disadvantaged Melbourne primary school, detailed on the My School website, has raised fresh questions about whether schools are manipulating the literacy and numeracy tests to gain an unfair advantage.

Education consultant and NAPLAN expert Philip Holmes-Smith said of the result achieved by Dallas Primary School in Broadmeadows that he had "never seen anything like it". "In statistics I never say it's impossible because there is probably a 0.0004 per cent chance it would happen," Mr Holmes-Smith said.

A growing number of principals and academics believe that schools face so much pressure to perform well in NAPLAN (National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy) that manipulation will result.

In the United States city of Atlanta, 109 educators faced scrutiny or sanctions after an investigation found test-related cheating at 58 public schools. Funding decisions there are made on test results. Similar problems have been found elsewhere in the US and in Britain.

The federal government, under its National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy, will begin allocating large reward payments to schools based on their improvements in NAPLAN.

In the 2010 test last May, only 74 per cent of Dallas Primary students sat the test; 20 per cent were "withdrawn" and 7 per cent "absent". The national average attendance was 96 per cent.

Former education department bureaucrat John Nelson said the Dallas results were "gobsmacking". Despite a large migrant population and low socio-economic status, year 3 students were reading, spelling and understanding grammar and punctuation at significantly higher levels than the national average for year 5 students. In grammar and punctuation, the school's year 3 students outstripped its year 5 students, by a score of 596 to 522.

The students' improvement from year 3 in 2008 to year 5 in 2010 was enormous, putting year 5 students at near year 8 levels.

Dallas principal Valerie Karaitiana has in the past attributed her school's success to its specialist programs, but would not respond to questions on Friday. Northern region director Wayne Craig has, in private forums, used Dallas as an example to other principals of what can be achieved, but he refused on Friday to defend its performance. A departmental investigation of the school has found nothing wrong.

Other Victorian principals are suspicious. Doug Conway, principal of the western suburban Kings Park Primary School, believes the "lowest-performing kids were told to stay at home". "If you did that at my school, the low SES, high non-English-speaking background children, we'd get a colossal spike," he said. "I think the pressure on schools has led some schools to have lower participation rates than they should have." Terry Condon, Roxburgh Rise Primary principal, called Dallas "one of the most miraculous schools in the state".

Schools Minister Martin Dixon said he was concerned about Victoria's low participation rate in the NAPLAN tests, but was not aware of problems with any individual school.

Mr Holmes-Smith, a consultant at School Research Evaluation and Measurement Services, pointed out that Dallas's score for writing was much lower than for spelling and grammar. "Writing is the most authentic assessment because the children actually have to write something," he said. The other tests are multiple choice.

Mr Nelson, who quit his Education Department job because he thought a departmental investigation into Dallas was "a whitewash", asked: "What did they do that took a kid in Broadmeadows from the bottom 10th or 20th percentile and put them in the top percentile? Whatever they did needs to be copied by everybody, so why hasn't it? Why didn't they celebrate their methods?"


Monday, March 07, 2011

Losing the Brains Race

America is spending more money on education while producing worse outcomes

In November the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its Program for International Student Assessment scores, measuring educational achievement in 65 countries. The results are depressingly familiar: While students in many developed nations have been learning more and more over time, American 15-year-olds are stuck in the middle of the pack in many fundamental areas, including reading and math. Yet the United States is near the top in education spending.

Using the OECD data, Figure 1 compares K–12 education expenditures per pupil in each of the world’s major industrial powers. As you can see, with the exception of Switzerland, the U.S. spends the most in the world on education, an average of $91,700 per student in the nine years between the ages of 6 and 15. But the results do not correlate: For instance, we spend one-third more per student than Finland, which consistently ranks near the top in science, reading, and math.

Naturally, the OECD’s report has sparked calls for more spending. Speaking at Forsyth Technical Community College in North Carolina at the beginning of December, President Barack Obama said the federal government should spend more on improving achievement in math and science, much as Washington did in response to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch a half-century ago.

But throwing more money at poorly performing schools has not moved the needle on performance. During the last 40 years, the federal government has spent $1.8 trillion on education, and spending per pupil in the U.S. has tripled in real terms. Government at all levels spent an average of $149,000 on the 13-year education of a high school senior who graduated in 2009, compared to $50,000 (in 2009 dollars) for a 1970 graduate.

Despite the dramatic increase in spending, there has been no notable change in student outcomes. Using data provided by Andrew Coulson, an education policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, Figure 2 shows National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in reading, math, and science, along with per pupil spending. The only trend line with a pulse is the amount of spending.

More spending usually means more teachers. Last year Obama not only used stimulus funds to preserve education jobs but called for “10,000 new teachers.” Yet as Figure 3 shows, the number of students per teacher in U.S. public schools fell from 17.4 in 1990 to 15.7 in 2007.

We have tried spending more money and putting more teachers in classrooms for more than a generation, with no observable improvements to anything except the schools’ bottom lines. Why? Because of the lack of competition in the K–12 education system. Schooling in the United States is still based largely on residency; students remain tied to the neighborhood school regardless of how bad its performance may be. Federal spending on education (which amounted to 8.3 percent of total public education spending in 2007) is funneled to students through the institutions to which they are tied, largely regardless of student performance. With no need to convince students and parents to stay, schools in most districts lack the incentive to serve student needs or differentiate their product. To make matters worse, this lack of competition continues at the school level, where teacher hiring and firing decisions are stubbornly divorced from student performance, tied instead to funding levels and tenure.

If reform is to be defined by something other than the amount of money flushed down the toilet, it is time to reverse the flow of power from the top (administrators, school districts, teachers unions, governments) to the bottom (students, their parents, and taxpayers who want their money spent wisely). A first step in that direction is to change our teacher labor market practices in terms of both hiring and firing. On the hiring end, there are too many restrictions on who can become a teacher. On the firing end, we need to restore the relationship between job retention and job performance. Lisa Snell, director of education at the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit organization that publishes this magazine and does public policy research), points out in an email one recent example of how bad a school’s labor practices can be: “L.A. Unified School District laid off hundreds of its top teachers and replaced them with lower-performing teachers with seniority.”

In long-suffering California, a bipartisan coalition is supporting a new response to such irrational practices: the “parent trigger,” which allows fed-up parents whose children are in a consistently underperforming school to quickly change the school’s leadership. By signing a petition, parents can force reorganization of a school’s management or conversion into a charter school. In December parents of students at Compton Unified School District’s McKinley Elementary School did just that.

A parent trigger is not a panacea, but it introduces an element of choice (and hence competition) into a monopoly that has been shortchanging its customers and benefactors for decades. Wealthy people already exercise school choice, either by sending their kids to private schools or by choosing where to live based on school districts. The parent trigger gives less fortunate parents a similar and much less expensive tool. Along with the growth of online education and the charter school movement, these lurches in the direction of consumer choice are heartening and long overdue.

SOURCE (See the original for graphics)

Teachers' Unions 101: "A" is for "Agitation"

If public school teachers spent more time teaching in classrooms and less time community-organizing in political war rooms, maybe taxpayers wouldn't feel as ripped off as they do. Before the Big Labor bosses start complaining about "teacher-bashing," let's be clear: An increasing number of rank-and-file teachers feel exactly the same way.

Retired New York teacher Vinne Cusimano, who was required to pay forced union dues in order to work, wrote me this week after receiving the March 2011 edition of his union's monthly publication. The cover of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) magazine reads: "Defend What Matters! Educate. Collaborate. AGITATE." Inside the pamphlet, NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi rails against "malicious politicians" in Wisconsin and elsewhere proposing "extreme anti-union" budget cuts. He urges his members to join "advocacy" efforts to "maintain critical resources" and lectures about the need to "value education over ideology and greed."

Cusimano, who taught for four decades in the Empire State, fired back at Ianuzzi in an open letter:

"As a member for over 40 years, I have never been so disappointed at the stand you are taking to call members to 'AGITATE!' We are trying to tamp down the rhetoric and you are outward(ly) inciting agitation. How dare you! You are supposed to be for the students/teachers. ... How can you support 'EDUCATE,' 'COLLABORATE,' and then encourage agitation?"

More to the point, what business does Iannuzzi -- a fat-cat union official who rakes in nearly $300,000 a year (plus a $100,000 pension) while his organization's net assets are more than $117 million in the red -- have lecturing anyone else about "ideology and greed"? Instead of imposing fiscal discipline on NYSUT, Iannuzzi and his cronies have gone on a spending spree -- dumping nearly $10.5 million into left-wing Democratic politics this past year alone. The NYSUT boasts a lobbying staff of 500, a 200,000-square-foot palace in Albany and a $213 million operating budget -- paid for through compulsory union dues of about $300 a year from some 600,000 members.

"Agitation," of course, is a full-time job for teachers' union officials in New York and across the country. As the New York Post reported exclusively this week, the city Department of Education compensates some 1,500 teachers for their union activities and also subsidizes other teachers who take their places in the classroom: "It's a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung -- at full pay -- to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers."

The UFT soldiers "collect top pay and fringe benefits, but work just one class period a day." Nice non-work if you can get it.

NYSUT, by the way, is the parent of the double-dipping UFT, which itself rakes in $126 million in member dues -- but only reimburses the city less than $1 million out of the $9 million it costs to take teachers out of the classroom to serve at the altar of Big Labor. UFT is also a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which spent nearly $2 million on the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. (In return, you may recall, the Obama administration granted the UFT one of its coveted health care Waivers for Favors last year -- exempting the behemoth union in a sweetheart deal from the federal mandate's costly rules on phasing out annual health coverage limits.)

The forced-dues racket is big business for teachers' unions crying poor. In Ohio, the state's education association siphoned nearly $23 million from rank-and-file school workers to fatten up its union staff. The Ohio Education Association donated more than $1.6 million to Democratic campaigns last year and tossed off five-figure checks each to union and progressive allies in Oregon, Colorado and Policy Matters Ohio, a left-wing think tank funded by radical billionaire George Soros.

At the federal level, the National Education Association squandered $13 million in teachers' dues on every pet liberal cause and crony from the AFL-CIO ($150,000) and AFSCME ($90,000), to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate ($200,000), Media Matters for America ($100,000) and the White House brigade at Health Care for America Now! ($450,000).

The goals of the teachers' union machine are not academic excellence, professional development and fairness. As former NEA official John Lloyd explained it: "You cannot possibly understand NEA without understanding Saul Alinsky. If you want to understand NEA, go to the library and get 'Rules for Radicals.'"

The goals are student indoctrination, social upheaval and perpetual agitation in pursuit of bigger government and spending without restraint. No wonder the signature "solidarity" color of the teachers' union protests this month is red.


Britain needs more overalls and fewer suits

The plans put forward last week by Michael Gove for “university technical colleges”, seem eminently sensible. The colleges, backed by businesses, would teach skills such as bricklaying, plumbing and engineering to pupils aged 14 and above, at the same time as more traditional subjects.

Some critics have warned of a system designed to funnel working-class children into non-academic learning. This is an absurdly snobbish way of looking at things. Now that the jobs market is increasingly flooded with graduates waving degrees of questionable quality, those with a verifiable practical qualification will be more sought after than ever.

At present, a trained plumber or master builder can still command a handsome salary, even though many other positions are highly uncertain. People joke about “cowboy builders” largely because the trade has been infiltrated by the inexperienced and unscrupulous – a problem that would be reduced by widespread training.

Yet how curious it is that, before the meltdown, society revered besuited conmen who built rotten markets on toxic debt much more than those with the talent to construct a solid home.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Bill Gates fires arrows at the sacred cows of America's Education System

Good to have him onside

Speaking at the 2011 TED Conference (Technology, Education, Design), Gates sharply criticized states for the waste in American education. "The guys at Enron never would have done this! I mean this is so blatant, so extreme that, is anybody paying attention to what these guys do?" Gates said.

The 55-year-old multi-billionaire has made it a mission to find the money to make schools and teachers better.

"State budgets are a critical topic because here's where we make the real tradeoffs," he said. "If we make the wrong choice education won't be funded the right way."

Gates said many states, in their efforts to close their budget deficits, are making the wrong choices, cutting education. "The bottom line is we need to care about state budgets because they're critical for our kids and our future."

Gates' theory: Identify and develop teachers, then reward excellence in the field.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he and his wife started, is studying and videotaping teachers in seven urban school districts. The goal is to determine exactly what teaching methods work, and which don't.

In the meantime, Gates challenged some long-held assumptions about education. He said the U.S. spends $50 billion a year on automatic salary increases for teachers based on seniority, but, according to Gates, "Seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement."

Gates also questions spending $15 billion a year on salary bumps for teachers who get advanced degrees. "Such raises have almost no impact on achievement," he said.

The head of the nation's largest teachers union vehemently disagreed. "I was a math teacher for 23 years," said Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association. "I can guarantee you that what I took as part of my masters degree program in mathematics made a difference to me as a teacher."

Gates challenged the notion that smaller class sizes are better. He proposed that the best teachers actually take on more students. He said skilled teachers ought to be paid more to take on five or six more kids per class, so more children can benefit from what those teachers are doing right.


Free the Children, Cut the Budget: States have no business running schools

Pundits like David Brooks of the New York Times lament that the deficit-cutting mood supposedly sweeping the United States is myopically targeting education in favor of more powerful constituencies. “If you look across the country, you see education financing getting sliced — often in the most thoughtless and destructive ways,” Brooks writes. “The future has no union.” In Washington, he adds, early-childhood programs might be slashed, and

Many governors of both parties are diverting money from schools in thoughtless and self-destructive ways. Hawaii decided to cut the number of days in the school year. Of all the ways to cut education, why on earth would you reduce student time in the classroom?

Texas is taking the meat cleaver approach. School financing will be cut by at least 13.5 percent, around $3.5 billion. About 85,000 new students arrive in Texas every year. There will be no additional resources to accommodate them.

To Brooks’s relief, the Obama administration has at least one voice of sanity:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a superb speech in November called the New Normal. He observed that this era of austerity should be an occasion to increase productivity and cut the things that are ineffective.

As though a bureaucrat’s bromides about increasing productivity and reducing ineffectiveness stands a chance of righting what’s wrong with education. We’ve had quite a lot of that over the years, with little to show for it. Education budgets went up; the quality of education did not.


There’s a reason for that: bureaucracy. That’s the antonym of “competitive entrepreneurial undertaking.” If we’re truly in a budget-cutting mood and wish to breathe life into education at the same time, we should de-bureaucratize schools by putting them entirely into the entrepreneurial arena: the marketplace.

I do not mean vouchers or charter schools. At best they operate according to a constricted model of competition tended by education bureaucrats and legislative bodies. The central flaw in these “reforms” is taxpayer financing. As long as the money comes through government, demands will be made for schools to be accountable to government rather than parents and students, setting limits to competition. Tax financing also reduces individual responsibility, while limiting — because of the double payment — most people’s ability to break out of the system altogether.

Moreover, financing learning through the compulsion of taxation is perverse. Education should be a consensual relationship among parents, children, and (when necessary) formal teachers. I’m fond of Isabel Paterson’s questions to teachers in her book The God of the Machine: “Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you or pay you for teaching them? Why do you have to extort your fees and collect your pupils by compulsion?”

What’s Really Radical?

No school taxes and no compulsory attendance. Sounds radical, but what’s really radical is the State’s asserting the power of parens patriae over children and forcing everyone to pay for the outrage. As education historian E. G. West noted, it did not take laws to achieve virtually universal education in the nineteenth century (among the free population). But it did take laws to give us schools that function like indoctrination centers, preaching the glory of government while preparing children to be quiescent taxpaying citizens who will take their place in industry, the bureaucracy, or the military. Today the goal is to train the personnel necessary to assure America’s status as the undisputed leader of the global economy, as though the world marketplace were a race among nations.

My references to competition, entrepreneurship, and markets do not imply that education should be provided by for-profit firms only or even predominantly. A freed education market would include nonprofits, co-ops, extended homeschooling, and things no one has thought of yet. The key is to liberate all participants from the heavy hand of bureaucracy. No authority should interpose itself between aspiring providers competing with one another and consumers of education services. Only then will the “discovery procedure” that F. A. Hayek identified with competition be fully ignited.

What about the Poor?

That’s the inevitable question. The irony is that poor children in this society have been treated disgracefully by government school authorities. It is sheer chutzpah for advocates of “public education” to say they worry about the poor after having inflicted and/or tolerated such abuse for so long.

The poor would stand a much better chance in a freed education environment. If some of the most destitute places on earth manage to have private for-profit schools for poor children, then so can the United States, especially if the shackles were removed. Of course, there would be far fewer poor people in a freed society.

Will School be separated from State any time soon? Unlikely. The public-school industry, including the unions and all the vendors selling things to school districts, is big, rich, and powerful. The education-industrial complex surely rivals the military-industrial complex in its capacity to consume tax revenues.

But if for no other reason, the dismal fiscal condition of the states makes this a good time to talk about separation. It certainly won’t happen if nobody ever mentions it.

How would we go about it? I’ve long thought the best way would be simply to turn each school over to the people who work in it. Let them run the schools and compete independently of government without tax revenues. An alternative would be to turn the schools over to the parents if they want them. Just get them away from the bureaucracy.

Brooks is right. Education is important – far too important to leave to politicians and bureaucrats.


The cheating epidemic at Britain's universities

A cheating epidemic is sweeping universities with thousands of students caught plagiarising, trying to bribe lecturers and buying essays from the internet. A survey of more than 80 universities has revealed that academic misconduct is soaring at institutions across the country.

More than 17,000 incidents of cheating were recorded by universities in the 2009-10 academic year – up at least 50 per cent in four years.

But the true figure will be far higher because many were only able to provide details of the most serious cases and let lecturers deal with less serious offences.

Only a handful of students were expelled for their misdemeanours among those universities which disclosed how cheats were punished.

Most of the incidents were plagiarism in essays and other coursework, but others examples include:

* Three cases categorised as "impersonation" by Derby University and three at Coventry, along with 10 "uses of unauthorised technology"

* Kent University reported at least one case where a student attempted to "influence a teacher or examiner improperly".

* At the University of East Anglia students submitted pieces of work which contained identical errors, while others completed reports which were "almost identical to that of another student", a spokesman said, while one was caught copying sections from the Wikipedia website.

* A student sitting an exam at the University of the West of Scotland was caught with notes stored in an MP3 player.

* A Bradford University undergraduate completed work at home, smuggled it into an examination then claimed it had been written during the test.

* The University of Central Lancashire, at Preston, reported students had been caught using a "listening and/or communications device" during examinations.

* Keele undergraduates sitting exams were found to have concealed notes in the lavatory, stored on a mobile telephone and written on tissues while two students were found guilty of "falsifying a mentor's signature on practice assessment documents to gain academic benefit".

Many institutions reported students buying coursework from internet-based essay-writing companies. Dozens of websites offering the services are available on the web, providing bespoke essays for fees of £150 and upwards. Some offer "guaranteed first class honours" essays at extra cost and many "guarantee confidentiality and privacy" – hinting that the essays can be used to cheat.

In one website offering "creative, unique, original, credible" essays, a testimonial from a previous customer says: "I am very satisfied with my order because I got the expected result." There are even sites which offer express services, while many claim the work is written by people with postgraduate qualifications.

Nottingham Trent discovered examples of bespoke essays, and Newcastle reported three cases of essays being purchased from a third party. Two students bought work at Salford and cases were also reported at East London University, Greenwich and London South Bank, which uncovered three incidents.

Professor Geoffrey Alderman, from the University of Buckingham, who is a long-standing critic of falling standards in higher education, said: "I think it is a pretty depressing picture. "It is worrying that students now resort to cheating on such a widespread scale and that the punishments on the whole are not robust enough. "In my book it should be 'two strikes and you're out'.

"Although universities are perhaps better than they were at detecting certain types of cheating, such as plagiarism, when I talk to colleagues across the sector there is a view that cheating has increased."

Professor Alderman said the style of teaching and assessment now used at some institutions was partly to blame for the rise in academic dishonesty. "There has been a move away from unseen written examinations and most university degree courses are now assessed through term papers, which makes it more tempting to commit plagiarism," he said.

"I advocate a return to the situation where it is impossible to pass a degree unit without achieving a minimum score in an unseen written test."