Saturday, March 26, 2011

TN: House approves longer tenure waiting period

The state House of Representatives approved Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to lengthen the waiting period for teacher tenure by two years and to create a procedure for taking away tenure for low-performing teachers.

The House voted 65-32 in favor of Haslam's reforms, setting aside Democrats' argument that lawmakers should hold off reforms until new evaluation standards for teachers are finalized.

A state task force has been working on those standards for about a year and is scheduled to deliver them this summer. "This (Tenure) is something that has been broken for a long time," said state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who presented the bill.

The state Senate has already approved the reforms, which would make teachers wait five years to qualify for tenure and require that they rate in the top two of five categories for two years in a row before receiving tenure.

Teachers could lose their tenure if they later rate in the bottom two categories for two consecutive years.


The empty rhetoric of school “reform”

It’s getting really hard to look at the distorted rhetoric of today’s debate about public schools and NOT see it in the same whorish light as other political discussions of the day. Just as we’re being stoked with down-is-up claims that tax cuts balance government budgets and giving more money to rich people creates jobs, much of what we hear in the conversation about our nation’s schools reflects the same sort of pretzeled logic where words are turned on their heads and factual evidence is thrown to the wind.

“A set of stock phrases, sound bites, and buzzwords has come to dominate the public discourse on education,” Sean Cavanagh recently observed in the professional trade newspaper Education Week. And although all involved in the debate about our nation’s schools purport to be pushing what’s best for “the children,” it’s hard to believe – after disassembling all the verbiage being thrown around – that something much more cynical isn’t afoot.

Take the term “reform,” for instance. As Cavanagh explains, the word is “summoned reflexively, it often seems, by elected officials and advocates who speak a shared, accepted language.”

And those who consider themselves to be the “reformers,” tend to portray themselves as battling a “status quo” that is often identified with teachers’ unions or just “the education establishment.” “The rhetoric,” Cavanagh explains, “tends to divide the world in two: between those who favor ‘reform’ and those who don't.”

“References to ‘reform’ and ‘status quo’ fill policy papers churned out by advocacy groups and opinion pieces from newspaper editorial boards,” Cavanagh elaborates, “as well as the remarks of forceful and charismatic advocates, such as former District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.”

Arrayed under the reformist banner is an agreed-upon policy agenda that tends to include expanding charter schools, evaluating schools and teachers based on high-stakes test scores, standardizing curriculum, recruiting nontraditional teachers, and sanctioning and closing schools that don’t meet specific performance benchmarks.

But what’s immediately puzzling about this self-proclaimed “reform” movement is that the policies it seeks to enforce have been, since the last time Federal education policy was revised, the law of the land. And they have been for the past ten years since the passage of that legislation, known as No Child Left Behind.

Furthermore, this nation’s leaders, arguably the most powerful people in the world, in the cockpits of control in Washington DC and state capitals and legislatures – from President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to state governors such as Chris Christie and Scott Walker – have donned this mantle of being “reformists” battling the “establishment.”

And topping it all off, one of the richest men in the world as well as an array of extremely wealthy foundations have also taken up the brave “reform” cause. So rather than being an "anti-establishment" crowd, reformists, for all intent and purpose, seem to be the establishment.

And who is the “Goliath” that these upstart “Davids” want to take on? It appears to be a bunch of little people who happen to disagree with them. And they appear to have some good reasons.

Many of the ideas that are on the reformists agenda – ideas that have been the law of the land for a decade at least – don’t seem to be panning out too well. As veteran education journalist Ron Wolk recently commented, all these “years of unprecedented effort and enormous expenditures has not improved student performance, reduced the dropout rate, or closed the achievement gap.”

Charter schools, for instance, don’t appear to do any better – and in fact may do worse – than public schools in increasing student achievement. Paying teachers more money if they happen to increase student test scores may actually hurt student achievement. And teachers who come from alternative pathways to the classroom don’t seem to stay around for very long

People at the levers of power in DC and elsewhere continue to maintain that “reforms” are going to take more time. But people who have their ears closest to the ground are skeptical. Although it’s widely reported that classroom teachers are less than pleased with the testing and targets enforced not only in NCLB but also the Obama-Duncan Blueprint, school board members as well don’t share the interests of the “reformists.” In fact, a recent survey of the local officials elected to direct our community schools found very little enthusiasm for the most popular top-down mandates.
Forty percent of the school board members surveyed attached little or no importance to recruiting nontraditional teachers, and more than 50 percent felt that way about increasing within-district school choice. The report also found that 60 percent said the same about a year-round school calendar, and more than 80 percent put little stock in the creation of new charter schools to promote student achievement....

Nearly 90 percent of the school board members surveyed also said that student success needs to be broadened to include more factors than academic achievement.

And it’s not just teachers and school board members who are wondering whether “everything” that we claim to know about education reform is really wrong.

Last week’s first-ever International Summit on Teaching, convened in New York City, got the attention of Linda Darling-Hammond and many others because it “showed perhaps more clearly than ever that the United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations.”

As Darling-Hammond observed, in nations such as Finland and Singapore, that lead the world in international comparisons of student achievement, there is “no teacher-bashing, no discussion of removing collective bargaining rights, no proposals for reducing preparation for teaching, no discussion of closing schools or firing bad teachers, and no proposals for ranking teachers based on their students’ test scores.”

Echoing this very theme – that current education policies in the US are horribly out of step with countries that lead the world in achievement – a new study released this week enumerated (pdf) the best educational practices from around the world, only one of which – high standards – appears on the national agenda coming from DC.

The most glaring difference was on the issue of how our country treats educators. While our country seems preoccupied with how we can pay them less, leading countries expend “substantial amounts of time and money to nurture and develop the talents and leadership abilities of teachers and principals”. Nevertheless, despite all the evidence otherwise, the reformist agenda for educational policy rolls along unquestioned in the media.

But whether or not you agree with the message of school reform, it’s time to hold these messengers to higher standards. Anyone who cares about public schools or who attempts to report on them needs to make these powerful proponents of questionable policies come out from behind the empty rhetoric of school reform. Anyone making pronouncements on education that prove to be based on questionable claims needs to be questioned about their real intentions. And “being for the kids” doesn’t count.


Curriculum for British pre-schoolers cut back

A controversial “nappy [diaper] curriculum” for under-fives will be radically overhauled after a Government review concluded almost half of children were starting school lacking basic social and language skills.

The compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage – that requires children to hit a series of 117 targets – will be dramatically stripped back amid fears it promotes a “tick-box” culture in nurseries and pre-schools.

In a damning indictment of one of Labour’s flagship education reforms, a report will say that teachers and childminders are currently spending too much time filling in forms instead of improving children’s early development.

According to figures, some 44 per cent of pupils in England currently start compulsory education without the basic social, communication and language skills needed to make a success of school.

Almost four-in-10 boys and a fifth of girls are unable to hold a pencil or write legible letters by the age of five, while almost half of all children struggle to concentrate or pay attention.

Next week’s review – led by Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the charity Action for Children – will call for a dramatic reduction in the number of targets children are expected to meet following claims they prevent toddlers from developing naturally. Under-fives could be measured against just 17 criteria compared with the existing 117.

Childminders, nurseries and playschools will no longer be forced to rate children on their ability to dress independently, manage personal hygiene, use modern technology and understand other cultures, it is expected to say.

Staff will be asked to focus on a small number of core subjects, such as improving children’s speaking and listening skills, basic literacy and promoting social interaction.

Much of the existing paperwork early years teachers are forced to fill in will be axed and they will also be required to do more to identify children struggling the most early on, particularly those from poor backgrounds.

A Coalition source said: “We know that teachers and early years practitioners are spending too long ticking boxes and filling in forms. “This means that they don’t have enough time to focus on the basics a child needs to prepare them to learn effectively in the first year at school. Basics like being able to make friends, listen effectively and hold a pencil.

“The evidence is clear that children who are behind at five are much more likely to still be behind at the age of seven. “We need an early years framework that supports what parents already do with their children at home – playing and helping children develop, but also sets children up for the challenges they’ll face at school.”

The Early Years Foundation Stage has been a compulsory requirement for all nurseries, pre-schools and childminders since 2008.

Currently, children must hit a series of targets before they start full-time education. This includes counting up to 10, reciting the alphabet, writing their own name and simple words and forming sentences using basic punctuation.

It also covers personal development, requiring children to “dress and undress independently and manage their own personal hygiene”, as well as understanding that “people have different needs, views cultures and beliefs that need to be treated with respect”.

The curriculum has been criticised for pushing children too far at a young age, undermining the amount of time they spend playing.

Helen Clegg, head teacher of high-performing Shiremoor primary school, North Tyneside, told the Telegraph: “The EYFS has got completely out of hand and can have a negative effect on children. Teachers, particularly new teachers, spend too much time ticking boxes and assessing the children, rather than helping them learn.”


Friday, March 25, 2011

Phonics: British chidren to identify 'non-words' in new reading test

I at first thought that the use of non-words was absurd but I can now see the point. It reminds me of an amusing episode in my own childhood when I was in grade 2. The class was asked to close their books and recite the story we had been reading. I was the only one who could not. Much to the surprise of the other pupils, I was praised for that. I was the only one who had actually been reading. The others were memorizing. The non-words mentioned below would check on that -- JR

All children will be subjected to a reading test at the age of six, it was announced today, despite huge opposition from teachers. Ministers are pressing ahead with a trial of a new-style phonics test designed to identify pupils lagging behind after a year of compulsory education.

Children in English state schools will be asked to read a list of 40 words as part of an informal assessment administered by teachers. The test will include a number of made-up words such as “koob” or “zort” in a move designed to ensure pupils can decode unfamiliar words using phonics – the system that breaks down words into individual sounds.

But the move has been criticised by the UK Literacy Association who claim non-words will leave children confused. Almost two thirds of respondents to an official Government consultation also opposed the decision.

Unions have criticised the tests, insisting the focus on phonics will straightjacket teachers and prevent them employing different methods to improve reading standards.

But ministers insisted they would press on with the assessments after a small-scale trial in 16 primary schools. A larger pilot project will be introduced in 300 schools this summer before a national roll-out in 2012.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said: “Learning to read is a fundamental part of a child’s education. “The new check will ensure that children who need extra help are given the support they need to enable them to enjoy a lifetime’s love of reading.” He added: “Almost all pupils and teachers in the pre-trialling thought the test materials were appropriate.

“The 270 pupils involved did not find the non-words confusing, and so the phonics check will contain some non-words. They are already used in many schools and are the fairest way to assess phonic decoding. “Non-words show which children have the knowledge to read any new word, rather than pupils who have already developed a wide vocabulary or a good sight memory.”


Huge new layer of bureaucracy prompted by errors in Virginia school textbooks

And guess who will be paying for it? Those who buy the textbooks. This will just jack up their price. Dumb

The Board of Education today withdrew its approval of the first editions of two elementary history textbooks published by Five Ponds Press. The books, “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” a grade-4 Virginia studies text, and “Our America to 1865,” a grade-5 United States history book, were found by a panel of historians last fall to include significant factual errors.

The board also approved a revised textbook review and adoption process that requires publishers to provide documentation that their textbooks have been reviewed by qualified experts for factual accuracy before they are submitted to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) for review and the board for inclusion on the list of state-approved textbooks.

The revised process, which was proposed last month by Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright, requires publishers to submit with every book a list of authors and their qualifications and provide proof that at least three experts in the subject matter vouch for the text’s accuracy.

The new process also requires publishers to submit a corrective action plan to VDOE within 30 days if errors in a book are found. Once the corrective action plan is approved by the superintendent of public instruction – or by the board in cases of significant errors – publishers would implement the plan at their own expense.

The Board of Education also directed, in the event that Five Ponds Press submits corrected second editions of “Our Virginia: Past and Present” and “Our America to 1865” for review and approval, that the revised books be considered under the new state approval process.

The two Five Ponds books — along with grades K-3 history and social science textbooks from the Connecticut-based publisher — were originally approved by the board in March 2010. A review of the publisher’s K-3 books requested by the board in January also identified errors.

“The errors in these books do not rise to the level of those found in the fourth-grade and fifth-grade textbooks,” said Wright. “I am confident that the process approved by the board today will ensure that the inaccuracies are addressed promptly by the publisher and that students in schools using these books continue to receive accurate instruction.”

Regarding the K-3 books, the board accepted a recommendation from Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright that Five Ponds Press be required to submit a corrective action plan to address the errors.


Education Spending Has a Simple Solution

Phyllis Schlafly

As the new Republican House majority wrestles with ways to cut our unsustainable budget deficit, Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet. On March 14, he said, "We cannot cut education."
But why not? If we are going to cut programs that are proven to have failed to achieve their goals, federal spending on education should be at the top of the list.

Federal spending on public schools (which is only a small percentage of their school budgets) was given specific goals in the 2002 law called "No Child Left Behind," the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It required states to set targets to have all students proficient in reading and math by 2014, to meet an annual benchmark of progress toward this goal and in particular to demonstrate a closing or narrowing of the gap between higher-income and minority students.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threw a cannonball into the education debate this month by admitting that 82 percent of public schools could be labeled "failing" under No Child Left Behind specifications. His solution is to stop calling them "failing," extend the target date for student proficiency to 2020 and, of course, to appropriate more money to failed programs.

For years, education spokesmen have opined that kids should be able to read by the fourth grade. Good for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is now calling for the reading goal to be third grade -- and this goal is also being advocated by the Indiana and New Mexico governors.

Obama wants to put more money into the notoriously useless program called Head Start, and he increased its annual funding in 2009 by nearly $3 billion. U.S. taxpayers have given Head Start $166 billion of taxpayers' money since 1965 despite many studies proving that it was mostly wasted, did not give poor kids a head start and any gains made while kids were in Head Start disappeared within a couple of years.

Since conservatives famously lost the battle to prevent federal spending on local public schools (which they view as unconstitutional) a half century ago, Congress has year after year increased appropriations. In recent years, Congress identified two primary purposes: to raise student achievement and to narrow the gap between high- and low-income students and between minority and white students.

We the federal taxpayers have spent roughly $2 trillion on these efforts since 1965. It's reasonable to ask, did we get our money's worth?

If we look at the class that graduated from the public schools in 2009, we find that we spent over $151,000 per student to bring him from the first to the 12th grade. That's nearly three times as much as we spent on the graduating class of 1970.

Despite that massive spending, overall achievement has stagnated or declined. The gaps between minority and white students are unchanged in science and only slightly narrowed in reading and math.

We have precious little to show for the $2 trillion in federal education spending over the past half-century, and Andrew J. Coulson of CATO has the charts to prove it. It now costs three times as much to provide essentially the same education as we provided in 1970.

Even this bad news fails to give the big picture because, as productivity was falling in public schools, it was rising everywhere else. Nearly all the products and services most of us buy have gotten better, more affordable or both over the past two generations.

The fact that there is no education improvement even while spending has skyrocketed is a disaster unparalleled in any other field. In addition to the waste, this gigantic spending slowed our economic growth by taxing trillions of dollars out of the productive sector of the economy and squandering it on worthless programs.

Knowing that learning to read is fundamental to education, the public-school lobby is yelping about proposed cuts in grants for literacy programs. Yes, literacy should be job number one, but after all these years why do we have to go to the unnecessary expense of passing out money to find a good reading program?

Children should be taught to read in the first grade by an authentic phonics system in which they learn the sounds and syllables of the English language and how to put them together to read words of more than one syllable. There is nothing expensive or mysterious about this basic task.

Instead of wasting more federal money on grant-writers and grant-readers, tell local districts to award a bonus to first-grade teachers based on how many kids they actually teach to read. Let the teacher select the phonics system she thinks will help her win the bonus.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rigor Please

Mike Adams

For some time, I have made a habit of asking students their major (and minor) immediately after they ask me a silly question. This is necessary because I teach two basic studies courses per semester – both populated by students from across the spectrum of academic disciplines. I have found (consistently) that nearly all inane questions and comments come from students in just a handful of academic majors.

In the past, I’ve gotten myself in hot water for suggesting that the African American Center, LGBTQIA Center, Women’s Center, and El Centro Hispano be shut down in order to ease our current state budget crisis. But, today, I propose that we go further by eliminating all academic majors and minors ending with the word “studies.”

This is not meant to be prejudicial – although, having little else to do, the Arrogant American Centers will try to make it so. Let it be known that I propose eliminating more than just Arrogant American and Hyphenated American Studies. I also want to do away with Communication Studies, Environmental Studies, Liberal Studies, Women’s Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Studies. And I want the cuts to be implemented across our sixteen-campus system.

The data I plan to use to support my proposal is not scientific. If it were, the proponents of the various “studies” programs would not understand it. So I rely principally on an unscientifically gathered collection of stupid questions I have recently heard from students in the Fill-in-the-Blank Studies era of higher education. These student comments demonstrate that their “studies” professors are truly making a difference in their lives and in the dominant “society”:

* At a local grill, the waitress, a UNCW “studies” major, asked "Would you like a sweet tea or a beer?" to which I responded "The latter." She then asked, "Which one is that?" I responded by asking her "Well, why don't you just guess? You have a fifty-fifty shot at getting it right." She responded by saying "I'm not in the mood to think."

* Just two days before an exam I gave my students a review session. I told them they could ask any question as long as they did not ask me what to “focus on.” I explained that asking what to “focus on” was the same as asking “What is going to be on the test?”

First question: “What should we focus on in chapter three?”

When I refused to answer, the response was “There’s just so much to read. Where is our study guide?” (For the record, study guides are most often found in classes ending with the word “studies.” That is why “studies” students so often demand them. It’s an addiction).

* Another student wrote to tell me she was going to be missing the next class. Her question was: “Will we be talking about anything important?” It’s a fair question. Few of the professors in her major talk about anything important.

My response: No response. I simply deleted the email.

* I walked into class the other day and told students to stop emailing me with questions that were already answered in the course syllabus – noting that since it was over one month into the class it was simply embarrassing for them to have not read the syllabus. I argued that taking a class without reading the course syllabus was like taking a job without reading the employment contract.

Later in the class a “studies” major asked “How many tests will we have this semester?” My response: “Read your syllabus.” (Note: She asked the same question during the next class meeting apparently having forgotten that she already asked the question).

* I recently asked this simple question of a product of one of our fine and academically rigorous “studies” programs: “Did you re-take the GRE? The answer: “No. I haven't re-took it yet.”

* Here’s another brilliant question from someone who should be majoring in Inappropriate Communication Studies: “We only have two minutes before class begins. Do I have enough time to go to the restroom?” My response: “I don’t know. I guess that depends on whether you plan to go #1 or #2.”

* Student: “Can we have a study guide for the next test?

Me: “What is your major?”

Student: “Communication Studies.”

Me: “Is this a Communication Studies class?”

Student: “No.”

Me: “Well, there’s your answer.”

* This question came from a student who ought to be majoring in Entitlement Studies: “Can I take the test earlier in the day - like around ten o’clock?”

My response: “Yes, I plan to offer thirty different administrations of the test – one for each of my students according to his or her personal needs.”

Student: “Are you serious?”

Me: “No.”

* A new Entitlement Studies major would be fitting for the “studies” student who asked this question: “Could you spell that guy’s name – the one who came up with the theory you just mentioned?”

My response: “Sure. R-O-B-E-R-T.”

Her response: “Could you spell his last name, too?”

My response: “Sure. R-E-A-D—Y-O-U-R—B-O-O-K.”

Her response: “Is his name going to be on the test?”

* And, finally, here’s a great question from a student who has been trained by the finest minds on the Fill-in-the-Blank Studies faculty: “What is a propensity?”

My response: “It is a habit, predisposition, or inclination. For example, people who choose majors or minors ending with the word ‘studies’ have a propensity to ask idiotic questions. But they do not have a propensity to use the dictionary.” (OK, I didn’t actually say that but I thought of it later and I can pretend I said it because it’s my column).

Of course, not all of the stupid questions I get are from students majoring or minoring in Something-or-Another Studies. But they do dominate the field of stupidity in a way that reflects poorly on their respective majors and the university. That is the reason why we need to take a Darwinian approach by getting rid of these departments and forcing these students to attempt to survive in a real academic discipline.

The university will have a better student body after the Fill-in-the-Blank Studies students have all flunked out. The patrons of the local grill will also have more dedicated waitresses. Freed from the rigors of college life the latter might eventually be moved to think. That is, if the mood should suddenly strike them.


Why Britain's maths teachers are among the worst in the world

Maths teachers in England are among the most poorly trained in the developed world, a report revealed yesterday. And it found that the average maths specialists in our secondary schools are inferior mathematicians to those teaching primary pupils in Japan.

The research saw England languishing second from the bottom of an international league table which included China, Russia and Hungary. Only the Czech Republic was ranked lower.

Not only are our teachers ill-qualified but many drop out of teaching within five years, which is the point at which they reach their potential in the classroom.

Maths teachers in English primary schools need only a C grade at GCSE in the subject, while many teaching at the same level in Japan have a maths degree. In England's secondary schools, a maths teacher must be educated to degree level in a maths-based subject.

The study tracked 200 trainee teachers in nine countries. As qualifications are not directly comparable, they were tested on their ability at maths with questions such as 'What is the value of 25 (or two to the power of five)'. The answer is 32.

Researchers said English youngsters 'lack mathematical progress compared to our economic competitors' and put this down, in part, to ill-qualified teachers.

They have called for staff to be barred from teaching maths in primary schools if they have less than a B grade in the subject at GCSE. And they want all secondary teachers to have a maths degree and to continue to study, while teaching, for a masters.

The report, by Plymouth University's Centre for Better Teaching, said: 'The lack of progress is not helped by having, in the primary sector, many teachers who are not as well qualified in mathematics as those in other countries, whilst in the secondary sector, we suffer from a very transient workforce.'

The Plymouth research follows a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development which found England had tumbled from eighth place in 2000, to 28th place last year in international league tables for maths.

Tony McAleavy, of the Plymouth centre, said: 'Teaching needs to become a respected profession in this country, on a par with the law and medicine, and then we will attract more able people.'

Professor Celia Hoyles, of the Institute of Education, said there was a need to 'find ways to improve primary maths teachers' competence and confidence in maths'.

An Education Department spokesman said the Government wanted to attract better quality maths graduates by offering a fast-track route and raising the bar for entry into training to a 2:2 degree to receive funding.


Australia: Student stabs teacher in class at Darwin School

This is where the Leftist hatred of discipline has got us

A RELIEF teacher was taken to hospital after a 14-year-old Darwin student allegedly stabbed him a number of times in front of his class. The 60-year-old Nightcliff Middle School teacher was taken to Royal Darwin Hospital about midday after a classroom altercation ended in the boy allegedly pulling a knife, the NT News said.

It is understood the relief teacher's name is Michael Bell, and that he was in his first week at the school. School management was tight-lipped - principal Sarah May refused to talk about it.

But the NT education union boss Matthew Cranitch is concerned and says it reflects an increase in behavioural problems across Northern Territory schools.

A number of Nightcliff Middle School sources said the student had heated words with Mr Bell during class, then went back to his desk and pulled the knife. Police said the boy punched Mr Bell in the face before stabbing him in the arm and once in the leg.

Sources said the boy had a history of "concerning" behaviour at Nightcliff Middle School.

One upset parent said the kid "lost the plot" in front of the class. "It all happened pretty much in front of their faces," she said. "The kid was attempting to stab the teacher in the stomach but got him in the arm instead." "It isn't the first incident that he's been involved in ... he's apparently smashed windows and thrown chairs around the room before."

It's understood Mr Bell received stitches for his wounds at hospital.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Washington Invents an Anti-Bullying Law

By Hans Bader (a former Education Department lawyer)

There’s no federal law against bullying or homophobia. So the Department of Education recently decided to invent one. On October 26, it sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the nation’s school districts arguing that many forms of homophobia and bullying violate federal laws against sexual harassment and discrimination. But those laws only ban discrimination based on sex or race – not sexual orientation, or bullying in general.

The letter from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights twisted those laws, interpreting them so broadly as to cover not only bullying, but also a vast range of constitutionally protected speech, as well as conduct that the Supreme Court has held does not constitute harassment. In so doing, it menaced academic freedom and student privacy rights, and thumbed its nose at the federal courts.

The letter successfully left the false impression that federal law already bans bullying and anti-gay harassment. For example, a sympathetic news story reported that “the Department of Education issued guidance to all school officials in October 2010, reminding them that federal law requires schools to take action against bullying—including . . . sexual harassment of LGBT students.”

The letter was part of a high-profile Obama Administration campaign against bullying, that recently culminated in “a high-visibility conference on bullying prevention March 10, with the president and first lady” and the introduction by Administration allies of “several LGBT-inclusive bills designed to address bullying of students.”

But in reality, there is no federal ban on bullying, and no federal statute prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination. Bills banning anti-gay discrimination, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, have yet to pass Congress. Existing sexual harassment laws generally do not cover harassment aimed at gays based on their sexual orientation, as opposed to their gender – even if such harassment is sexual in nature.

As the Supreme Court emphasized in its 1998 Oncale decision, “workplace harassment” is not illegal sexual harassment “merely because the words used have sexual content”; instead, victims “must always prove that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually constituted discrimination ‘because of’” a victim’s “sex,” such that “members of one sex are” treated worse than “the other sex.” Thus, federal courts have usually dismissed sexual harassment lawsuits brought by gay employees over bullying and foul language, in cases like Higgins v. New Balance (1999).

Harassment is legally defined even more narrowly in schools than workplaces. In the workplace, harassment need only be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile environment in order to be illegal. A single, severe physical act can occasionally be enough for a lawsuit.

But in the school context, harassment is defined more narrowly by the Supreme Court’s 1999 Davis decision: it must be “severe” and “pervasive”: to be illegal, sexual harassment must be "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school since “schools are unlike the adult workplace” and “children may regularly interact in a manner that would be unacceptable among adults.” Moreover, the requirement of both severity and pervasiveness means that a lawsuit cannot be based solely on a “single instance” of “severe” peer harassment.

The Education Department’s letter, from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, flouts the Supreme Court’s harassment definition, claiming that “Harassment does not have to . . . involve repeated incidents” to be actionable, but rather need only be “severe, pervasive, or persistent” enough to detract from a student’s educational benefits or activities. The letter goes out of its way to emphasize that harassment includes speech, such as “graphic and written statements” and on the “Internet.”

The letter falsely implies that anti-gay harassment is generally discrimination based on sex. It cites as an example of illegal “gender-based harassment” a case in which “a gay high school student was called names (including anti-gay slurs and sexual comments) both to his face and on social networking sites.” This is exactly what most federal appeals courts have said does not constitute gender-based harassment. It is not clear whether this case is merely a hypothetical example, or – more disturbingly -- a finding by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in an actual case. The letter says that “each of these hypothetical examples contains elements taken from actual cases.”

If it actually found a school district guilty of harassment over this, then the Education Department has flagrantly disregarded court rulings, not just about what harassment is, but about how officials are supposed to respond to harassment.

Much more HERE

I Found My Thrill Blowing Up McGill

Mike Adams

The irony is never ending in higher education these days. College administrators are so steeped in the ideology of political correctness that they fail to miss an opportunity to help make their opponents’ argument for them. Such was the case after a Jihadist recently Tweeted death threats at a campus screening of Indoctrinate-U.

Students at McGill University in Montreal are outraged at the politically correct response of Morton J. Mendelson - the Deputy Provost of Student Life & Learning at McGill. And they should be outraged by his cowardice.

For those who aren’t aware, Indoctrinate-U. is a documentary by my old friend Evan Coyne Maloney. The film exposes the liberal bias and politically correct nature of universities. During its showing, a Muslim student in the audience produced a series of violent messages on Twitter. Here are some examples:
“I should have brought an M16.”

“I’m watching a Zionist/Conservative propaganda film at a secret Zionist convention, in case anyone’s confused.”

“This experience has hardened me into a soldier for freedom and truth. These savages will not rule me. They will not win.”

“My blood is boiling. I want to shoot everyone in this room.”

Ok f---k it, I’m going to destroy the Jew-WASP consortium.”

(Note to Media: I have screen shots of all of these Tweets if anyone is interested).

In typical Muslim Jihadist fashion, Haaris Khan, the author of the Jihadist Tweets is retreating from his statements. He has since apologized and said that his Tweets were “taken out of context.” He says he owns no weapons and has never fired a gun. He also said his sister-in-law is Jewish. He stopped short of saying that when he needs a good doctor he always looks for one with a Jewish name.

Earlier in the year, Haaris Khan published a bizarre opinion piece condemning a newly founded student newspaper with conservative leanings called the Prince Arthur Herald. Quite naturally, he published the condemnation in the traditionally liberal leaning McGill Daily. In the piece, he makes it clear that he supported the paper when it was initially proposed. But, then, after reading a few issues he withdrew that support because the paper had proven to be “pro-Israel.”

In the piece, he lectures the conservative paper saying “Being provocative is one thing – being thuggish is another.” He goes on to say that journalists need to “stick to principles of fairness, justice, responsibility, and prudence.”

Obviously, Kahn is an imprudent and irresponsible thug incapable of judging his own behavior objectively. How about the university administration’s capacity for objectivity? What kind of judgment do they make of Haaris Kahn after his violent anti-Semitic campus outburst? Judge for yourself after reading the response of Deputy Provost Mendelson:
“Given the article in this week’s Tribune and other media reports about a McGill student’s posts to Twitter that contained disturbing and threatening messages, I want to reassure the McGill community that the University takes such incidents extremely seriously.

In all such cases, we report the incident to Montreal police, who investigate and determine whether further action is needed. In addition, the University quickly refers the matter to the appropriate disciplinary officer, who determines if a student needs to be excluded from campus in order to protect others and who can also pursue disciplinary action. In addition, we have a threat-assessment team that reviews such cases in a timely fashion.

We are aware that some who learned of the messages were very concerned about their safety, and understandably so. We have tried to reassure them. There have been suggestions that the University should have issued a broader alert to the community about the messages. But we must avoid causing needless panic or delivering ‘false alarms’ that could lead to complacency in the event of real threats in the future.

McGill took a number of actions in this case, many of them behind the scenes – not simply to satisfy the demands of Quebec’s privacy law, but because we want some of our responses to remain confidential to shield them from the eyes of those who could cause harm.

Please rest assured: If the tweeted messages were deemed to pose a real threat, we would have taken very different action.

What we have ended up dealing with is a downside of social media – the ability of an individual to disseminate inappropriate or threatening messages to a global audience with the click of a mouse or a send button. All members of our community should be responsible in using the Internet and social media. There can be serious consequences for irresponsible use.

For information on McGill’s procedures about how to deal with violent, threatening or worrisome student behavior, please visit here.

At the end of the investigation, Mendelson said this to the Canadian media, “We have come to the conclusion that the messages don’t constitute a threat to the community”. No doubt, this tepid and disingenuous response was motivated by a desire to protect Muslims as a group from “unfair” stereotyping. In other words, the university wished to advance the view that these remarks were motivated by individual, not group, pathology. Ironically, they do so by treating Kahn as a member of a protected group, rather than an individual.

The conservatives and libertarians who sponsored the showing of Indoctrinate U. could not have choreographed this better. In the end, they have shown – on film and in reality – that liberal bias and political correctness rule the day in the postmodern era of higher education.


Bungling British education bureaucrats

Education bosses shamed as recruitment advert for MATHS teachers shows equation... with the WRONG answer

A TV advert to recruit teachers was ridiculed today after a 15-year-old schoolboy spotted that a maths question has the wrong answer. Chris Coombs, 15, noticed the mistake in the 30-second government-funded advert, which is regularly shown on Channel 4 and ITV.

The clip shows a teacher writing '(g2)7 = g?' on a whiteboard and later 'solving' it with the answer 'g2 x g7'. But the correct answer for the algebraic equation is g14 - or g2 x g2 x g2 x g2 x g2 x g2 x g2.

Year 10 pupil Chris, who attends the John Cabot Academy in Bristol, criticised the advert and called for it to be amended as soon as possible. He said: 'I was disappointed to notice that the mathematical calculation is inaccurate. 'The workings the teacher is writing on the interactive whiteboard would not answer the question correctly. 'I believe this should be amended as the advertisement in question is attempting to recruit potential teachers.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools created the advert using a real teacher and class. Several questions, pupil's discussions, workings and answers were filmed and cut together to give an overall impression of a class.

But producers claimed the scene shown is of the teacher deliberately demonstrating an incorrect answer. She later went on to explain the correct workings and answer, but this was not shown in the short clip, they claim.

Simon Nutt, from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), which made the advert, said: 'Our TV adverts use highly-qualified teachers with their real-life classes. 'We make every effort to capture the spirit of the lesson in the final footage but there are inevitably some scenes that have to be cut down or cut together which may mean we cannot show the full details of a question, answer or comment.'

Chris, who lives in Bristol with his mother Sue, father David and sister Laura, said the advert caught his eye because of his interest in maths. He said: 'I want to pursue a career in mathematics in one way or another - but not as a maths teacher.'


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

VA: Middle schoolers suspended for oregano possession

A harmless prank gets a vicious response from kid-haters

A few Virginia parents would probably like to know what local school administrators are smoking.

Seventh-grader Adam Grass and three other students at Hickory Middle School in Chesapeake, Va., were suspended last week after being caught with what teachers initially thought was a bag of marijuana but turned out to be a stash of oregano, The Virginian-Pilot reports.

Unfortunately for the disciplined boys, now facing expulsion, there isn't much of a difference between Italian herbs and Mary Jane, at least in the state's eyes. According to school board member Christie Craig, Virginia has a zero-tolerance policy against "imitation controlled substances."

Adam is a straight-A student and National Junior Honor Society candidate, achievements his father, Patrick Grass, doesn't want to see go up in smoke all because of a childhood prank. "I know times have changed, and you can't do [just] anything in schools anymore," Grass said. "But I think there needs to be a certain amount of common sense applied to their policies."

The elder Grass also explains that his son was merely holding onto the oregano for a friend, meaning he's really just an innocent spice trafficker. "So he was in possession of it for maybe 30 seconds," Grass said.

Seeking legal council, the Grass family turned to the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, which specializes in defending people who believe their human rights and civil liberties have been violated.

The organization's president and founder, John Whitehead, calls the oregano bust yet another case of an overenforced zero-tolerance policy.

"If you're a good student and you have some oregano, they kick you out of school," said Whitehead, who sent a letter on Friday asking the school to reverse its decision. "And it means you can't go to the [college] you wanted to, because of oregano."


What's the Constitution? Don't bother asking 70% of Americans

Alarming number of U.S. citizens don't know basic facts about their own country. But if non-Hispanic whites only had been asked, the result could have been different

First Christina Aguilera forgot the words to the national anthem. Now it has emerged that 70 per cent of Americans do not know what the Constitution is, and six per cent don't even know when Independence Day falls.

Newsweek recently gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship test and found that their knowledge of the history and running of their own country was seriously lacking. Although the majority passed, more than a third - 38 per cent - failed, and some of the basic questions surrounding citizenship were answered incorrectly.

The U.S. citizenship test is administered to all immigrants applying for citizenship. It is comprised of 100 questions across five categories - American government, systems of government, rights and responsibilities, American history and integrated civics.

Newsweek found that there were huge discrepancies in the kinds of civic knowledge Americans collectively possess. A mark of 60 per cent was needed to pass.

The questions that Americans could not answer went from the more challenging - how many justices are in the Supreme Court? (63 per cent did not know) To the most basic - who is the Vice President of America? (29 per cent did not know)


Q. What happened at the Constitutional Convention?

A. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.

Q. Who did the United States fight in World War II?

A. Japan, Germany and Italy.

Q. What did Martin Luther King Jnr do?

A. Fought for civil rights and equality for all Americans.

Q. Circle Independence Day on the calendar.

A. July 4.

An alarming number of Americans did not know basic information about the Constitution, namely that it was the supreme law of the land, that it was set up at the Constitutional Convention and that the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.

Newsweek reported that civil ignorance is nothing new. Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators for as long as they have existed.

And their ignorance is only highlighted by the knowledge of their European peers. In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs.

Europe came out on top. Around three quarters of British, Finnish and Danish people could, for example, identify the Taliban but just over a half of Americans could, despite the fact they led the charge in Afghanistan.

Many blame it on the complexity of the U.S. political system. Michael Schudson, author of The Good Citizen, said: 'Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote. You know you’re going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more.'

Others blame it on economic inequality in the U.S. as the top 400 households have more money than the bottom 60 per cent combined.

NYU socioloist Dalton Conley told Newsweek: 'It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.'


Children 'should read 50 books a year', says British education boss

I used to read 3 times that when I was a kid -- JR

Children as young as 11 should be expected to read 50 books a year as part of a national drive to improve literacy standards, according to Michael Gove.

The Education Secretary said pupils should complete the equivalent of almost a novel a week because the academic demands placed on English schoolchildren have been “too low for too long”.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said the vast majority of teenagers read just one or two books as part of their GCSEs, normally including John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Mr Gove said all schools should “raise the bar” by requiring pupils to read large numbers of whole books at the end of primary school and throughout secondary education.

It follows the publication of a report in December showing that reading standards among British teenagers had slumped from 17th to 25th in a major international league table.

His latest comments came after a tour of high-performing “charter schools” – state-funded institutions that are run free of Government interference – in the United States.

One primary in a hugely deprived area of Harlem, New York, set pupils a “50 book challenge” over the course of a year and children also competed to read all seven Harry Potter books in the quickest possible time.

The Infinity School is currently ranked higher than any other in the city, even though more than 80 per cent of its mainly African American and Hispanic pupils are from poor families eligible for free and reduced lunches. It is among almost 100 schools run by the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a charity established by two teachers in the mid-90s.

Speaking in the US, Mr Gove said: “KIPP have far higher expectations of their students than we have had. We, the Coalition Government, have attempted to raise the bar but, I think, haven’t been ambitious enough. “Recently, I asked to see what students were reading at GCSE and I discovered that something like 80 or 90 per cent were just reading one or two novels and overwhelmingly it was the case that it included Of Mice and Men.

“Here, kids at the end of primary school are being expected to read 50 books a year. I think we should, as a nation, be saying that our children should be reading 50 books a year, not just one or two for GCSE.”

A recently launched review of the National Curriculum is expected to specify the key authors children should study at each key stage of their education.

As an interim measure, Mr Gove said he wanted to ask leading children’s authors to set out the 50 books each child should learn. The results will then be posted on the Department for Education website, with schools urged to issue the 50 book challenge to pupils.

Mr Gove suggested that authors to be studied by pupils of all ages should include JK Rowling, CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, Kenneth Grahame, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alan Garner and Ursula Le Guin.

He added: “One of the biggest problems in the English state education system is that only a minority can follow an academic education and that only a minority can go to university. Quite wrong. “Our expectations have been too low for too long.

“The aspiration for someone to read 50 books a year isn’t from a school in the poshest part of Manhattan where they are all going to have bound copies of CS Lewis, this is a school where 83 per cent of the kids are on the equivalent of free school meals, but they still expect them to read 50 books a year.”


Monday, March 21, 2011

10 Famous People Who Were Expelled From School

If you've got real talent and individual ambition, school might not be the best avenue to success for you. In fact, these businessmen, artists, scientists and actors were so bored with school that they were expelled, but they still made it to the top of their industries. We're not advocating that you talk back to your professors or party in the same reckless ways, but if you're discouraged by your classes, remember that misfits like you do have a place in the world.

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Though he died just before his 30th birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley is still regarded as one of the most profound lyric and Romantic poets in literary history. Born to a privileged political family, Shelley attended Eton College, where he experimented with heretical and sometimes risque poetry. Shelley went to Oxford after Eton, but was expelled for his scandalous writing, particularly a pamphlet called "The Necessity of Atheism." Shelley refused to apologize for the pamphlet and was not allowed to return to school.

William Randolph Hearst: Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was one of the most influential and successful men in the country in the late 19th and early 20th century, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and starting the largest newspaper and magazine company in the entire world, and which still exists today, publishing notable titles such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Marie Claire, Esquire, Seventeen and Harper's Bazaar. Born to millionaires, Hearst attended Harvard but was expelled after gifting his professors with chamber pots that had their names painted on the inside.

Albert Einstein: Still considered one of the greatest thinkers and scientists in world history, Albert Einstein had a troubling school life. While he was successful in his early education, Einstein was expelled from high school for being rebellious, and was not accepted into Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology on his first try, and failed the entrance exam. After getting his high school diploma at a different school, Einstein returned to FIT and was admitted.

Salvador Dali: Always an individualist, artist Salvador Dali was expelled from the Academy of Art in Madrid, which he attended after high school. Disenchanted with many of his professors — who did not challenge Dali enough — Dali was expelled after "disturbing the peace" and criticizing one professor in particular. He said that none of his professors were even qualified to grade him on his exams, and Dali subsequently moved to Paris.

Richard Mellon Scaife: Another wealthy newspaper publisher who was expelled from school is Richard Mellon Scaife, who owns the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and frequently funds right-wing causes and campaigns. The influential businessman was kicked out of Yale for his rambunctious, drunken behavior at a party — he rolled a beer keg down some stairs and inadvertently broke another student's leg.

R. Buckminster Fuller: Scientist and author — Fuller published over 30 books — designed a car in 1933 that could go 120 miles an hour on half the gas of a standard car. He was expelled twice from Harvard for partying with a vaudeville troupe and then again for "irresponsibility and lack of interest." By his early 30s, he was bankrupt and turned to drinking after his daughter died, but was saved by a job designing the interior of his favorite cafe in New York City. He was paid in food.

Ted Turner: Media magnate Ted Turner was famously ridiculed by his father when he entered into college, choosing to major in Classics. His father wrote him, saying that he was so disappointed, he "almost puked." Turner was ultimately expelled from Brown for being caught in a dorm room with a girl, and he took over his father's billboard business after he committed suicide.

Humphrey Bogart: As one of the most iconic actors of all time, Humphrey Bogart is still the epitome of old Hollywood class and cool. But before The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and The African Queen, Bogart was a privileged young man who got kicked out of school and joined the Merchant Marine. He first attended Trinity School in New York City, and then Phillips Academy in Massachusetts to help him get into Yale. Bogart was expelled from Phillips, though, joined the Marines and ended up managing a stage company and performing in shows himself.

Cary Grant: Leading man Cary Grant started his career as a goofy but charming comedian in screwball comedies, but he ended up rivaling Bogart for the most debonair guy in Hollywood. Still a legend, Grant was a jokester in his school days, too, and was even expelled from the Fairfield Grammar School for climbing a wall into the girls' bathrooms with a friend. It was his second time to leave the school — earlier, he ran away to join a comedy troupe but his father dragged him back. After expulsion, he joined the troupe again, and was eventually chosen to go to America to perform on Broadway.

Robert Frost: American poet Robert Frost honored the New England countryside — and nature in general — in a modern, philosophical way that's widely accessible and appreciated. He started writing poetry as a young man and attended both Dartmouth and Harvard, though it's rumored that he was expelled from the former for giving a prank haircut to another boy. Supposedly he was kicked out as a zero-tolerance policy on hazing.


British schools should be ranked by number of pupils getting degrees?

Schools could be ranked by the number of pupils gaining university degrees under Coalition plans to drive up education standards

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, published plans which would see many work-related qualifications scrapped in favour of a new system in which employers play a much greater role. New-style league tables are to be created showing how many children at each state secondary go on to graduate with an honours degree.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the move would encourage schools to make pupils “university-ready” and ensure they are given decent advice to pick the correct courses.

The move comes as part of a wider overhaul of the way state schools in England are measured. It comes just weeks after an independent review claimed more than a quarter of children were currently pushed onto worthless college courses that add little or nothing to their long-term careers. According to figures, around a third of students at some universities also drop out of courses after less than year.

Mr Gove’s comments were made during a fact-finding visit to New York last week to tour high-performing “charter schools” – state funded institutions free of Government control. He praised one chain, the Harlem Children’s Zone, a community project that tracks children’s health, education and welfare from birth to their early 20s.

New York’s education department is considering adding pupils’ future university and employment data to its own “report card” issued to each school every year. “It has absolute merit,” said Mr Gove. “I know some people might say, how can I be held accountable for what happens in an institution over which I have no control?

“But, if you have educated someone to the age of 18 sufficiently well, and if you give them the right guidance so they make the right choices, then the chances are that they will find the right courses and succeed.”


What planet is Dr. Hyphen on?

Self-defense is bad for you??? And the fact that the kid concerned is feeling the opposite of what Dr Hyphen predicts is no problem, apparently. It is Dr. Hyphen and his ilk who are the real problem. It is their sickly policies that encourage bullying

JUDGING from his face, you could not possibly guess at the trauma of these past eight years. He has a child's eyes; a broad smile, filled out by the gaps between his teeth.

But this is the same boy, 16, who last week retaliated as a schoolyard bully punched at his face; who hurled the smaller boy into the ground, and in doing so became an internet phenomenon. He had been picked on since year two, he said, but he had finally cracked.

The teasing was fairly basic: other children calling him "fatty", telling him to lose weight, tripping him, slapping at the back of his head. At one point, he was pelted with waterbombs. At another he was duct-taped to a pole. "They put duct tape over my eyes first, dropped me down and then duct-taped me to a pole."

At his worst, about a year ago, he said he contemplated suicide. "I just started putting myself down, putting myself down to that level. And then all the crap just kept on piling on."

Michael Carr-Gregg, an adolescent psychologist and founding member of the National Centre Against Bullying, called the interview reprehensible. "All this is going to do is put more focus on this kid. I can't see this as a positive - he'll just be further victimised and his life made more difficult," Dr Carr-Gregg, who is also the Queensland government's adviser on bullying, said. "Should this kid deteriorate and possibly harm himself, doesn't that sit squarely on the shoulders of Channel Nine?" [What a twit!]

The boy, who this website has chosen not to name, said the support he received online had made him feel "pretty good". He did not regret lashing out, even after being suspended. "All I wanted was it just to stop. So … I just did it."

His father thought similarly. "I don't condone the violence - it was a horrific thing to see, two boys fighting in a schoolyard and it ending like that. It is nothing to be proud of, but I'm glad that he stood up for himself."


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wisconsin: Parents deserve real choices

Voucher school accountability, as the Editorial Board defines it, would result from these private schools being compelled to administer the same standardized tests that the government requires of its schools ("Fix the flaw first," March 8).

Given that testing drives curriculum, that means that the voucher schools should closely resemble the public schools in what they teach daily.

If parents wanted their children to be in state-homogenized schools, wouldn't they just settle for the nearest public school and its $13,229 per-child subsidy instead of clamoring for a $6,442 voucher enabling them to transfer to a private school even while realizing they might have to fork over extra money from their own pockets to fully cover tuition and fees?

The point of school choice is for parents to have actual choices other than the conventional government-issue model.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to remove the cap on voucher schools would strengthen accountability by making both public and private schools more attentive to the needs and wishes of parents, as opposed to bureaucrats.


A small Latin revival in England

The Dragon is a private co-educational boarding and day school in Oxford with a long and prestigious history. As with many British private schools, Latin is taught there. Some of the pupils from the Dragon now help pupils from a taxpayer-funded church school to learn Latin too

Visit the after-school Latin club at SS Philip and James’s C of E primary school in Oxford, Phil and Jim for short, and the first thing that strikes you is how quiet it is. Not that there’s any shortage of teachers; in fact, there are four. It’s just that Mary, Alex, Nicholas and Will aren’t adults but Year 6 children from the Dragon School, an independent preparatory a short minibus ride away.

And, rare as it is even to find Latin on offer in a state primary (primus, first) school, it’s the fact that this club is run by children for children that makes it so unusual, especially given their ages. At just 10 and 11, the teachers are scarcely older than their pupils.

Latin, as any fool knows, isn’t a subject for the faint-hearted, what with its declensions and all that. But the free schools debate has put the language squarely back on the educational agenda (agenda, things which must be done).

The Oxford experiment, by putting the children in charge, has overturned every classics clich√© in the book; but it’s worked. About 200 children from the two schools have been club students or teachers so far, and several Phil and Jim graduates (gradus, step) have gone on to excel in the subject at secondary school.

It isn’t a completely adult-free zone. Dragon teacher Peter Norton tops and tails the 50-minute sessions with games of Latin charades and bingo, both hugely popular, together with short films about life in Roman times.

But the in-depth coaching is all down to the Dragons and they take their duties very seriously. One girl even came up with her own teaching aid, a working balsa wood model of a Roman taxi meter, operated with marbles.

This afternoon, 11-year old Nicholas is helping Harry, 10, to find the Latin origin of some English words. Harry has already cracked “dominant” (dominus) and “nautical” (nauta) but is finding “exclamation” more of a puzzle. “Is it clamo?” he asks. “Maybe,” replies Nicholas cautiously, clearly primed not to give away too much.

The other three Dragons, small groups of children clustered around them, are poring over a crossword – English clues with Latin answers – before moving on to the subtleties of translating “Poeta dicit quis epistolam mittit?” and other similarly challenging sentences.

Alex, 11, leans right across the table in his eagerness to help nine-year-old Grace puzzle out the Latin for “they run”. “You know curro,” he says. “Take the 'o’ off, then put on the ending.”

Nearby, two more 10-year olds, Issy and Pema, are working with Mary, who is just a few months older. Issy solves her final clue. Beaming with pride, Mary draws a “well done” smiley face on the work. “I keep forgetting the double letters,” says Pema, sounding a tad doleful. “It’s a tricky one,” Mary consoles her, turning to help.

Originally the brainwave of a Phil and Jim teacher with a child at the Dragon, where Latin lessons begin in Year 5, the club has been going for over four years.

Both schools gain from working together. “The children from the Dragon are so enthusiastic,” says Irene Conway, Phil and Jim’s head teacher. “Our children welcome them into their school and let them take charge. There’s no jealousy or bad feeling.”

Perhaps that’s partly why the club is so popular with Dragon pupils. It is by invitation only and despite the huge range of after-school activities on offer, it’s widely seen as something rather special. “It’s fun because it’s different,” Will says.

Before they’re let loose on their students, the would-be teachers work on their classroom technique. Being good at Latin is a given. Perhaps more elusively, they also need a winning way with words.

Some are born to it. Others, say Peter Norton, take a little longer to find out what works. “They learn to communicate (munus, gift, so 'to share’) ideas – and to rephrase them if they don’t get through the first time.”

The hardest part, agree the Dragons, is knowing the answer but not blurting it out, instead mastering the teacher’s art of holding back and helping their pupils work it out for themselves.

But the effort is worth it. When children teach other children they can reach out to them in a way that no adult, however kindly and inspiring, can match. It can be far easier to believe that you can master a tricky point of grammar when somebody your own age is helping you. “You explain something as you would to a friend and if they don’t understand, they say,” Will says.

Not surprisingly, the young Dragon teachers are in growing demand. A second branch of the club has just started up at another local primary school. It’s enough to gladden the heart of anyone concerned about declining levels of classics teaching.

And when it comes to conclusive (cludere, to close) proof that being the same age, or size, as your students is no barrier to being a good Latin teacher, the clincher is the children’s relish for the subject. All want to carry on with it after they leave Phil and Jim. And if you ask what they’ve most enjoyed about the club, few are in any doubt. “Everything,” they answer.


Parents asked to rate British schools

Parents will be able to direct inspectors to failing schools via a new website to be set up by the education watchdog. Positive or negative feedback from parents in response to a set of 10 multiple choice questions will help Ofsted decide which schools to inspect.

The new website, to be launched in September, will be linked to schools' homepages and could publish some of the feedback by showing parents' overall rates of satisfaction for individual schools.

Exact details on how the website will work have not been decided, but it is likely parents will be able to give feedback using only an email address as identification.

It comes as part of a new inspection framework that puts failing schools under greater scrutiny and aims to speed up the rate of improvement where it is needed. In contrast there will be no more routine inspections of outstanding schools, with inspectors only to be called in if serious concerns are raised.

The changes, aimed at gearing inspections towards the government's education policy, will be put forward in a consultation document to be launched on Monday.

Currently only four per cent of all secondary schools rated "outstanding" overall have been given the top grade in the teaching and learning category by inspectors. Under the new system inspectors will spend more time in classrooms and take closer note of young children's reading ability, while cutting back on the number of grades and judgements they make.

In particular the new inspections will focus on four key areas; pupils' achievement, the quality of teaching, the standard of leadership and management and pupils' behaviour and safety.

They will be tested in pilot inspections of 10 schools before the Easter break, with a wider trial to follow in May and June. The new framework will then be officially sent out to schools in September.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, said it was "quite rare" to follow up on complaints from parents by launching an inspection, but said: "If they're telling us things that really worry us, even if our assessments are fine, we will go in and inspect."

She accepted there was "nothing to stop" schools asking parents to go online and give them a high rating, but added: "This is not a scientific model, it is an impressionistic picture ... it only helps us ask questions, it does not give us answers."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the Nasuwt teachers' union, said: "To hold schools to account on the basis of chat room and internet gossip trivialises public accountability and the work of schools. "Such a system would be open to abuse and manipulation and would therefore be an inappropriate and unreliable mechanism for triggering something as serious as inspection."