Saturday, May 14, 2011

A U.S. Catholic university stands up to a lying Leftist

But not on principle -- only in self-defense

The Catholic University of America (CUA) may have thought that AFL-CIO President Emeritus John Sweeney’s May 2nd speech on campus would be non-controversial. But Sweeney, a Catholic who doesn’t hide his commitment to socialism and a progressive takeover of the Democratic Party, promised controversy from the start. He attacked conservatives, in particular Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and told the event that opponents of organized labor were out-of-step with the teachings of the church and Jesus Christ Himself. Then, however, Sweeney unloaded on the sponsors of his appearance, attacking university officials as union busters.

Perhaps Sweeney thought his comments would go unanswered, out of deference to the fact that he was a featured speaker and was showered with praise by the liberal organizers of the event as a brilliant labor organizer. But CUA officials struck back, issuing a statement basically accusing Sweeney of lying and having the statement read aloud as Sweeney sat in stunned silence.

In fact, a recording of the event turned up and demonstrates that the statement issued by CUA officials takes issue with almost everything said by the former labor boss and accuses organized labor of manipulating and abusing workers at this institution of higher learning.

The two-day conference was sponsored by Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies (IPR) and titled “120th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum: Church, Labor, and the New Things of the Modern World.”Rerum Novarum, a papal document on labor and capital, is behind much of the “social justice” teaching that animates “progressive” Catholics these days who support Obama and want to overlook his anti-Catholic record on matters such as abortion and homosexual rights.

“Earlier this year,” said Sweeney, “politicians began taking America’s anti-union, anti-worker crusade a step even further by trampling the rights of public employees and boldly trying to eliminate their unions altogether. I’m sure most of you are familiar with what happened in Wisconsin, where a newly elected conservative governor forced state as well as municipal unions to concede health care and pension benefits, and then outlawed collective bargaining.”

In order to “restore Catholic social teaching to the center of the American Church—a position it still holds in Church doctrine—and renew the partnership between the Church and labor,” Sweeney said that the organized labor movement must become “what amounts to an action arm of Catholic social teaching.” Threatening confrontation, he said, “We need the help of every Catholic leader as well as every Catholic parishioner, not just in matters of public policy, but in direct action that we from time to time must undertake.”

“But I am concerned that the Church’s support for workers and unions has become muted and even confusing,” he said.

Sweeney had said, “I’m reminded of the time not too many years ago when we scheduled a demonstration here at this university over a dispute between the workers’ union and the administration. The then-president of CUA called a certain member of the hierarchy, who then called me and asked me to cancel the demonstration in exchange for a promise to deal with our issues. I canceled the demonstration. But I never heard back from either of them…I share that little story not to disparage our esteemed leaders—my calls for help from the hierarchy have most often been answered.”

But the “esteemed leaders” and the hierarchy ordered Schneck to read a statement taking issue with almost everything Sweeney had said about them and the union problems at CUA.

Keeping in mind that CUA President John Garvey had introduced the conference and has emphasized intellect and virtue during his inaugural year at CUA, Schneck read a university statement that essentially accused Sweeney of abandoning those values:

“During his remarks about a labor issue at Catholic University that began in 1999, he implied that the then-president of the Catholic University refused to engage in a dialogue with him about the matter. In fact, the president of the university along with one of his vice presidents met face to face with Mr. Sweeney to discuss the labor issue.

“Mr. Sweeney also stated that the conflict was between the university administration and the workers union. In September 1999 approximately 130 CUA custodial and maintenance workers were involuntarily transferred from one union to a local of the Service Employees International Union. They protested their incorporation into SEIU not just through the university administration but also to the National Labor Relations Board and petitioned the latter to decertify SEIU.

The university adopted a position of neutrality over the matter of union representation, stipulating only that the workers have an opportunity to make a free choice by a secret ballot election. SEIU opposed this position, pressuring the workers to accept their forcible incorporation. Eventually when SEIU concluded that the university would not be swayed from its position, it agreed to a secret ballot election conducted by a neutral third party. The election was held on February 2, 2001, and SEIU lost.”

In an understatement, the university officials went on, “Our recollection of events differs from Mr. Sweeney’s.”

Not only were there different recollections, the controversy suggests that someone was lying—and that someone, according to CUA, was Sweeney. Significantly, Sweeney had nothing to say in response to the scathing CUA statement that was read aloud in front of him.


The Screwed Generation

Alan Caruba

June is famous for weddings and graduations. Both are filled with great expectations and both are subject to great disappointments.

Today’s college graduates are thoroughly screwed. According to Matthew Segal, the president of a non-profit membership organization called Our Time, “With 85% of college graduates moving back home and an average debt of $22,900 per student, thousands are staring at a bleak economic future.” You think?

Aren’t these the eager, besotted youngsters who, at age 18, voted for Barack Hussein Obama as if he were the Second Coming? In the words of Herman Cain, a GOP presidential contender, how did that work out?

“New college graduates,” said Segal, “are entering an economy with an almost 17% unemployment rate for Americans under the age of 30.” Despite that and other horrible statistics, Segal insists “We know there is still a bright future out there…” Oh, yeah? High unemployment. Having to move back home. Graduating with a huge debt. That’s not my definition of a bright future.

I graduated college in 1959. When I got out, what awaited all able-bodied young men was the Draft. Before I could think about utilizing my precious diploma, I had to get two years in the U.S. Army behind me and to my surprise it was some of the best post-graduate education one could imagine. And it was mandatory.

My “career” didn’t take off until I joined the staff of a weekly newspaper and, since the editor left within three months or so, I became the editor! Here again, the education I received was invaluable. All small towns and cities pretty much have to deal with the same political, educational, policing, and other issues.

I “graduated” to a daily newspaper and, after a few years concluded that there was no real money to be made. In this respect, I was way ahead of my time as the Internet would decimate newspaper circulations, decimate editorial staffs, and affect the writing craft to the point that rendered it a very bad career choice.

For those graduating from college at age seventeen or eighteen this year, it means they were born in 1990 or 1991. They were eleven or twelve years old on September 11, 2001; old enough to know that something terrible had happened, killing thousands of Americans who probably thought they were not at war with militant Islam. Since then, this generation has not known a day of peace.

For most young men, though, the option to avoid service—an all-volunteer military—had been made by Congress in 1973. So, Generation X, born 1965-1980, and Generation Y, born 1981 to 1995, and the current generation were largely spared serving in the military. You tend to pay closer attention to what is happening in the real world if it means you may have to fight a war. The miracle is that we have a million men and women in uniform who somehow absorbed the values of earlier generations.

A subject of growing contention is the way the nation’s educational system has been “dumbed down” since the 1960s or the growth of “political correctness” that thwarts addressing issues involving ethnicity, ancestry, religious faith, and gender. Nor is there much discussion of the way colleges and universities have become sausage factories squeezing parents and working students for every dollar, pushing them through, and conferring degrees that, with the exception of the professions, often have dubious value.

This new generation is very “connected” in ways earlier ones could never imagine. Facebook, MySpace, and all manner of other Internet machinery have transformed how they perceive themselves and the world. It has not, however, significantly educated them in the traditional sense of the word.

They will doff their caps and gowns and go home to mom and dad. A friend of mine graduated from Georgetown University in 1982 after working his way through. He recently calculated that it cost $232,000 to graduate today. What teenager could ever take on such a burden and why should their parents be expected to shell out the kind of money that could purchase a second home?

Today’s graduate is not likely to see any return on the money he or she pays into Social Security or Medicare. The dollars they earn will have diminished in value from those of my time or my friend’s.

It can be argued that it was no picnic for earlier generations, but they at least had a Constitution that wasn’t being ignored and dismembered.

They had, despite the occasional short-lived recession, a healthy economy, a rational national debt, and presidents who, with the exception of people like Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, didn’t see their job as plundering the public treasury for so-called “social justice” and environmental programs based on liberal pipedreams.

Welcome to the world of faltering economies from here to Greece and back again. Welcome to outsourced jobs. Welcome to rapacious bankers making money on housing loans they knew were bad for those in search of the American Dream. Welcome to useless pat-downs every time you fly. Welcome to “reality TV” and vulgar “entertainment”.

In these and so many other ways, this new generation is thoroughly screwed.


British private schools fire a warning shot at new charity rules

Attempts to force private schools to provide more free places for poor children could have “potentially catastrophic consequences”, according to school leaders. Schools may be required to impose huge fee rises for existing parents to fund more bursaries – pricing out middle-class families and even forcing some to shut altogether, it was claimed.

The Independent Schools Council said it was an “ironic consequence” of the rules that “smaller, poorer” private schools struggle the most while rich institutions are relatively unaffected.

The comments are made in documents submitted to the High Court before an unprecedented legal challenge against guidance drawn up by the charities regulator. Next week, the ISC will present its case to a judicial review of guidelines governing schools’ charitable status that could ultimately lead to them being scrapped altogether.

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has also backed a review of the rules after admitting they created “uncertainty as to the operation of charity law in the context of fee-charging schools”.

In a document submitted to the High Court, Matthew Burgess, ISC deputy chief executive, said the guidance had “potentially major unintended consequences” for schools and parents, including pricing out middle-income families.

“Trustees must consider whether fee increases for all are required to fund bursary places for the few with the inevitable result that many families who have, not without sacrifice, managed the fees up till now will be pushed out in favour of the very rich who can afford the fees no matter how expensive and the very poor who will win the few very places subsidised by others,” he said. He added: “For many schools, this will require the trustees to embark on fee strategies which might prove not to be economically viable, with potentially catastrophic circumstances.”

Under Labour’s 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide “public benefit” to effectively remain open and hang to tax breaks worth around £120m a year to the sector.

The charities regulator issued guidance in late 2008 telling schools how they could meet the new requirement. It said they could theoretically pass the test by offering range of services, including access to swimming pools and concert halls, A-level master classes and running one of the Government’s academies.

But the document made it clear that providing more bursaries was the most straightforward way of satisfying the rules. The ISC claim this constitutes a “gross misinterpretation” of the law. The judicial review starts next Tuesday and is planned to last 10 days.

In statement submitted to the court last year, Mr Burgess said the focus on bursaries would lead to schools’ “limited resources” being concentrated on fee-subsidies, at the expense of other schemes to widen access, such as striking up partnerships with local state schools. At the most extreme end, the rules could also place the future of some schools under threat, he added.

A series of trial “tests” of the public benefit requirements saw two out of five schools fail. The two were both small preparatory schools that failed to provide enough bursaries, it emerged, although they later passed after finding more subsidised places.

“It is an ironic consequence of the commission’s approach as revealed by the public benefit reports that the richest schools have little difficulty in showing generous bursary provision: it is the smaller, poorer schools which struggle,” said Mr Burgess.

The Charity Commission has defended its guidance, insisting that schools can pass the public benefit test without providing bursaries. In a submission to the judicial review, Kenneth Dibble, one of the commission’s executive directors, insisted that it did not “wish to prescribe minimum or maximum thresholds for the amount of means-tested fee assistance that should be provided by charitable schools in general, or by any particular school.”

He added: “The commission made it clear that it was for the charities to produce plans in response to the commission's initial public benefit assessments, and that the commission did not insist that the plans, whether in relation to the provision of bursaries or otherwise, should take any particular form.”


Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Bullying Remains a Problem

Michael Milczanowski has been bulled constantly at his high school. He says: "It was ever-constant, never changing, ongoing harassment—that's all it was." We hear constantly, when some poor kid finally takes his life to end the torment, that the schools "did all they could" to end it. We are told that they try to address such issues but that they don't know about many of the cases. Kids in the schools regularly contradict the school authorities. They say that the teachers turn a blind eye to the problem. Rarely have we had such dramatic proof.

Milczanowski does not return the punches. He is not complicit in the assault in any way. His math teacher stands there watching and says a few words but otherwise does NOTHING. Milczanowski said: "I expected him to physically intervene to keep that from happening, but I guess I was wrong." The victim has dropped out of high school because he is afraid to go back.

The parents of this Texas town, as Texans are known to do, are attacking the victim. I have read dozens of hateful comments from parents saying that Milczanowski is violent. Odd that the "violent" student is the only one not trying to take punches?

As for the "poor" teacher that they are all lamenting about, well it appears he has allowed fights in his classroom before. And one of them was video taped as well. The second video is instructive. In the video the fight continues until the teacher says: "Okay, that's enough." I'm sorry, but that appears as if he allows them to punch each other until he decides they've had "enough" and only then does he step in.

With two videos of students fighting in the same classroom, with the same teacher, it is much harder to feel sorry for the teacher. This is especially true given that he seems to have a policy to allow the fighting to go on. In the Milczanowski case he stood by allowing it to happen even as the attacks pummels Michael, who does not attempt to fight back.

But we also have the problem, in this case, of a governmental school system that tends to be, of the teachers, by the teachers, for the teachers. The teacher's unions put teachers ahead of students. And the politicians allow it because the unions make sure they get re-elected and teachers, being independent thinkers, tend to follow instructions from the unions. What we have is a system where teachers get attention while students don't. Teachers' unions treat teachers the way the police treat their own: they deny wrong doing unless absolutely forced to face reality.

If this teacher had not been caught on video ignoring a bully attacking another student, I can assure you he'd still be in the classroom. As is, various bureaucrats are defending him. The assumption from government employee unions is that their members are a sacred bunch whose interests must always come first—even when they are complicit in bankrupting states like California. Politicians who dare touch the sacred band of political parasites are pummeled, much the way Milczanowski was pummeled in the government-owned, government-controlled educational prison.

The whole rotten system has to go. I stand by the reform that all funding should follow students and that the funding should be allowed to go to private school as well. We here people whining about monopolies all the time and then defending the education monopoly. The government school system is a coercive one. It exists entirely because it has the ability to force people to fund it, force parents to send their children there, and because the unions have such a powerful hold over the politicians.

We have crappy, violent schools because they don't have to be better. They have a captured audience and captured funding. Only when a blatantly awful thing happens, and can't be ignored, does it get attention. Otherwise it is business as usual. It takes a video tape of a student being assaulted in full view of a do-nothing teacher to get attention. It takes kids around the country going home and hanging themselves, or putting a bullet in their brain, before anyone pays attention. Even then the hateful types come out and blame the victims.


British educational standards steadily falling

Ofqual will announce an investigation into claims that the tests taken by hundreds of thousands of youngsters every year are too easy. The inquiry, the largest the education watchdog has carried out, is expected to cover annual rises in grades, the perceived difficulty of qualifications, the range of courses and commercial competition between exam boards.

The regulator has already been asked to look into the issue of exam resits and how tests compare with those carried out overseas. Glenys Stacey, the regulator’s new chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph that “an objective and constructive debate” on the state of the exam and qualifications system was needed. The comments come as up to 800,000 pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to start GCSE and A-level exams next week.

Last year, the number of A* and A grades awarded at GCSE increased to almost 23 per cent – the 22nd annual rise and a near tripling in the number of top marks awarded since 1988. A record 27 per cent of A-level students gained A* or As.

The year-on-year rise has prompted claims that tests are less demanding and schools are playing the system to maximise pupils’ scores.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, delivered a fresh warning on Thursday over the exams system, saying “dumbing down has got to stop”. The comment came in response to a report that suggested that up to a third of teenagers are taking worthless vocational qualifications that fail to lead to a good job or higher education.

In her first interview since taking over at Ofqual, Ms Stacey said she wanted to hold a review of exam and qualification standards. This would coincide with government plans to give the watchdog extra powers to raise the standards of qualifications next year. It is expected to start after the summer exam season.

“We do a lot of work here to maintain standards on all the key qualifications; across the board on subject matters and subject levels,” she said. “But still there is a public concern over standards and a feeling that things aren’t what they used to be.

“Well, I would like to understand that better and actually bring some evidence to the debate as well. I want an objective and constructive debate.

“We need to be firm and fair and we really want to focus on the big ticket items; things people are truly concerned about and where regulatory action could actually make a difference to public confidence.”

The exams system has faced repeated criticism in recent years over claims of a fall in the standard of questions and the content of courses. Research by Durham University has suggested that A-levels — the gold standard exam taken by some 250,000 teenagers each year — are two grades easier than they were 20 years ago.

Concerns over standards have been fuelled by the new Government. Mr Gove has already criticised the number of resits taken by pupils, warning that it risks devaluing the exams system.

He asked Ofqual to conduct a separate inquiry into the issue as well as analysing the value of vocational qualifications and setting a benchmark for English exams against those elsewhere in the world.

The latest inquiry will look into the standard of exams and qualifications over time alongside other issues, such as the commercial competition between exam boards and the use of modular GCSEs – breaking qualifications down into bite-sized units that students can retake to boost their scores.

Ms Stacey, who joined Ofqual in March from Standards for England, the local government watchdog, said: “When I listen to what others tell me about their concerns about standards, I hear common themes coming through; concerns about resits, modularisation, concerns about the commercial behaviours of awarding organisations, concerns about the range and nature of qualifications.

“As a regulator, we need to understand to what extent there is a real issue about standards and we need to do that in the interests of young people going forward. I don’t take a predetermined view, but these concerns are expressed sufficiently frequently by a wide range of interested people – employers, higher education, parents and Government – so let’s have a look.”

Ms Stacey, who was head of Animal Health, the farming regulator, and has led the Criminal Cases Review Commission and Greater Manchester Magistrates Court Committee, acknowledged concerns over competition between exam boards.

Several private companies and charities sell qualifications to schools and colleges. Many also provide supplementary text books and run courses in how to maximise results. Last year, Mick Waters, a former director of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, admitted that the system was “almost corrupt”.

Thousands of teenagers will be encouraged to leave school at 14 to enrol in colleges under a government overhaul of vocational qualifications. The Coalition said more children should transfer to further education colleges to benefit from decent practical training. The recommendation was made in a report by Alison Wolf, the professor of public sector management at King’s College London.

The report included a recommendation to require pupils to study English and maths up to the age of 18 if they fail to gain a decent GCSE in the subjects at 16.


Australian study shows that the success of a child is linked to father's education

No surprise to anyone who follows genetics research. It's all IQ and IQ is genetically transmitted. Government "support" will do little.

A Smith Family study has linked a father's education level to the professional success of his children. The report - titled Unequal Opportunities: Life Chances for Children in the Lucky Country - compares the lives and backgrounds of 13,000 university graduates aged 30 to 45.

It found those who had a university educated father were more likely to hold a degree themselves, have a professional job and earn around $300 more a week than those without an academic dad.

Among those people whose fathers did not go on to higher education, only 30 per cent had achieved a degree, compared to 65 per cent for those whose fathers did get a degree.

"If you think about a parent who had a limited education their understanding of career paths available to their kid would be much more limited," the charity's Wendy Field said. "For families on income support the difference is really, really stark.

"For kids it can mean that they make choices in their life that really protect their families from any additional financial stress and it can also mean that they just don't have access to a whole lot of opportunities."

The Smith Family says the report is disheartening and shows Australia has a way to go before its lucky status can be justified.

In 2008, after the Bradley Review into higher education, the Government adopted a target of increasing the number of university students from poor families to 20 per cent. The latest report shows that the current level is hovering around 15 per cent.

Last week Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced new funding measures to help achieve the 20 per cent goal. Low income families will receive an extra $10,000 a year to encourage their teenage children to stay at school or in training.

Ms Field says it is a welcome first step. "It'll be interesting to see how that translates into take-ups," she said. "And it'll also be interesting to see what supports are available to help those kids to stay at university, because it's so much more difficult for kids whose parents are not in a position to support them financially."


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Degree? You may be better off with a McDonald's job: British school leavers told to 'ignore snobbery' and join fast food chain

University is the wrong choice for many youngsters – and a ‘McJob’ is a better option, according to the boss of McDonald’s. While studying for a degree may be the right path to take for some people, it can be a disaster for others, Jill McDonald said yesterday.

The fast-food chain’s chief executive called for an end to education ‘snobbery’, stressing that no one should feel forced to go to university.

More than half of her executive team even started work flipping burgers, she said.

A ‘McJob’ is considered a low-paid, dead-end work, but the firm says this impression is unfair and misleading. Of its 85,000-strong British workforce, around 16,000 are studying for a qualification organised by the company.

Options range from an NVQ in Maths and English – which is the equivalent of a GCSE – to a foundation degree in hospitality.

Speaking at the Institute of Directors annual conference in East London, Mrs McDonald said: ‘We need to acknowledge that the road many young people take today may not be the one we took in the past. ‘We need to remove the snobbery that does down workplace learning. ‘For many put off by high fees, this could and should be the route they take.’

The 46-year-old, who is married with two young children and coincidentally shares the surname of her employer, said she is ‘definitely’ not saying that people should not go to university.

In fact, she has a first-class degree in business studies from the University of Brighton.

‘I am definitely not saying that people shouldn’t go to university if they have the opportunity to do so, but I do believe it might not be the right route for everyone,’ she added. ‘Universities are getting more competitive and expensive, but if that is someone’s preferred option, that’s great. ‘Work-based training can be a fine option for young people to consider.’

Her comments come as the Coalition has come under fire for plans to allow fees for UK undergraduates of up to £9,000 a year. Students’ tuition fees are paid by the Government in the first instance, with graduates paying back the loan when they earn more than £21,000.

Britain is grappling with a youth unemployment problem among 16 and 17-year-olds, according to official figures. Nearly 40 per cent of this age group are unemployed, which means nearly 220,000 are desperately searching for a job.

McDonald’s is one of the largest employers of people under the age 21. Every week, around 200 of its workers get an NVQ. This is free, and the fast-food chain provides them with text books and access to a computer. They typically study during their lunch break, or before or after their shifts.

Meanwhile, research published today shows that many graduates are ending up in menial jobs such as waitressing. A shocking 42 per cent of this summer’s graduates will be ‘under-employed’ in a job for which a degree is not needed, according to the Centre for Economic and Business Research. It found students doing law, history, philosophy and languages will fare the worst, with more than 50 per cent finding they are under-employed.


Small-minded Connecticut school

Normal people like to see romance -- but not this sour headmistress

A TEENAGER has been barred from attending his senior prom after posting an oversize message to the front of his high school asking his classmate to go with him.

James Tate, an 18-year-old senior at Shelton High School, and two friends posted a 12-inch (30cm) tall cardboard letters outside the school's main entrance last Thursday night so students would see the message in the morning, said.

The letters read: "Sonali Rodrigues, Will you go to the prom with me? HMU -Tate." HMU means "hit me up," or "call me."

The target of Tate's affection - Rodrigues - said yes, but the Advanced Placement student and his two friends have been given one-day in-house suspensions by the headmaster and barred from the prom.

"I was telling her for the longest time that I was going to go with her, but, you know, I was waiting for a special time, special way to ask her," Tate told FOX CT. "And then I did that, and this is what happened."

Repeated calls to Shelton High School Headmaster Beth Smith were not returned today, but Tate told The Connecticut Post he had been informed the posting constituted trespassing and posed a safety risk.

The city's mayor, Mark Lauretti, has jumped to Tate's defence, saying he is unsure that the "punishment fits the crime." "This may very well be a situation that needs a second look," he said.

"Part of the problem in today's world is that we make policies or recommendations without common sense or flexibility built in and we lose sight of the big picture. This may be one of those situations."

Mr Lauretti said Tate and his family have deep "roots" in the community, with his father serving on a city commission and his mother on the city's historical society. "They're very involved," he said. "I would hope that higher priorities are given to higher offences. I'm not sure what the crime is here; we're talking about something that happened at night."

Shelton Police Department Lieutenant Robert Kozlowsky told that the incident was not handled by authorities. "That wasn't a police matter," he said, adding that no complaints had been received in connection to the incident. "It's something we could go to [reports of trespassing], but we weren't involved in that."

Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Department of Education, said local school officials "do have the authority" to investigate the incident and to determine what is a "fair and appropriate" disciplinary action.

"At the same time, a student does have the right to appeal and to request reconsideration," Mr Murphy said. "But attending the prom is a privilege. Students should understand that. Students are expected to follow the rules to take part in an extracurricular activity."


Australia: More bungling from the NSW Education Dept. over school heaters

In a bureaucracy, nobody gives a damn

AFTER decades of insisting unflued gas heaters were safe, the NSW Department of Education has installed flued heaters at Blackheath Public School - but the school had already installed reverse-cycle airconditioning.

Parents are angry the department did not reimburse the $44,000 parents helped raise to install the units a year ago.

Richard Kalina, who has campaigned against unflued gas heating and whose daughter attends Blackheath Public School, said the decision was an "appalling waste" of resources. "Blackheath now has two sets of heating," he said.

A Greens NSW MP, John Kaye, said the school found itself "in the ridiculous position of having two heating systems". But Hazelbrook Primary School, in the lower Blue Mountains, had missed out on flued heaters. "The sensible option would be to remove the flued units from Blackheath and take them down the road to Hazelbrook.

"The Labor government should never have let the situation reach the level of desperation that caused parents to resort to using their own money to buy a safe heater solution."

A spokesman for the department said the flued heaters, installed last week, were more cost-effective to operate than reverse-cycle airconditioning.

He said when the school raised the possibility of installing airconditioning in early 2009, the department recommended this be delayed until the outcome of the Woolcock Institute report on the use of unflued gas heaters in schools was known.

The report, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found respiratory illness was higher in classrooms with the heaters and levels of nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde were "substantially increased" when they were on.

"The airconditioning was installed in April 2010, before the mid-2010 announcement, after the report's release, of flued gas heating for the 100 coldest schools, including Blackheath," the spokesman said. "While the school will not be reimbursed for installing airconditioning, this equipment can be used for cooling during the summer months."

Teaching Googlish vs. English in Indonesia

(Jakarta, Indonesia) A systemic glitch has been exposed in the Indonesian educational system regarding the nationwide effort to teach the English language to the country's boys and girls.
Unfortunately, the quality of many English teachers and textbooks is gravely worrying.

Aside from containing grammatical and punctuation errors, some English textbooks produced in Indonesia are even created with, well, Google Translate.
Yes, it appears that Indonesian instructional material is merely cranked into an online translator with the result transcribed into a textbook for distribution and use by thousands of students.

"Googlish" is being taught even though online translators have generally been recognized as less than accurate. In fact, it's hardly arguable that online translators, Google and others, occasionally put out absolute gibberish.

Nevertheless, this is a situation where students are being taught material which likely will have to be unlearned at some point if English language competency is to be achieved.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The 'Education' Mantra

Thomas Sowell

One of the sad and dangerous signs of our times is how many people are enthralled by words, without bothering to look at the realities behind those words. One of those words that many people seldom look behind is "education." But education can cover anything from courses on nuclear physics to courses on baton twirling.

Unfortunately, an increasing proportion of American education, whether in the schools or in the colleges and universities, is closer to the baton twirling end of the spectrum than toward the nuclear physics end. Even reputable colleges are increasingly teaching things that students should have learned in high school.

We don't have a backlog of serious students trying to take serious courses. If you look at the fields in which American students specialize in colleges and universities, those fields are heavily weighted toward the soft end of the spectrum.

When it comes to postgraduate study in tough fields like math and science, you often find foreign students at American universities receiving more of such degrees than do Americans.

A recent headline in the Chronicle of Higher Education said: "Master's in English: Will Mow Lawns." It featured a man with that degree who has gone into the landscaping business because there is no great demand for people with Master's degrees in English.

Too many of the people coming out of even our most prestigious academic institutions graduate with neither the skills to be economically productive nor the intellectual development to make them discerning citizens and voters.

Students can graduate from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, without ever learning anything about science, mathematics, economics or anything else that would make them either a productive contributor to the economy or an informed voter who can see through political rhetoric.

On the contrary, people with such "education" are often more susceptible to demagoguery than the population at large. Nor is this a situation peculiar to America. In countries around the world, people with degrees in soft subjects have been sources of political unrest, instability and even mass violence.

Nor is this a new phenomenon. A scholarly history of 19th century Prague referred to "the well-educated but underemployed" Czech young men who promoted ethnic polarization there-- a polarization that not only continued, but escalated, in the 20th century to produce bitter tragedies for both Czechs and Germans.

In other central European countries, between the two World Wars a rising class of newly educated young people bitterly resented having to compete with better qualified Jews in the universities and with Jews already established in business and the professions. Anti-Semitic policies and violence were the result.

It was much the same story in Asia, where successful minorities like the Chinese in Malaysia were resented by newly educated Malays without either the educational or business skills to compete with them. These Malaysians demanded-- and got-- heavily discriminatory laws and policies against the Chinese.

Similar situations developed at various times in Nigeria, Romania, Sri Lanka, Hungary and India, among other places.

Many Third World countries have turned out so many people with diplomas, but without meaningful skills, that "the educated unemployed" became a cliche among people who study such countries. This has not only become a personal problem for those individuals who have been educated, or half-educated, without acquiring any ability to fulfill their rising expectations, it has become a major economic and political problem for these countries.

Such people have proven to be ideal targets for demagogues promoting polarization and strife. We in the United States are still in the early stages of that process. But you need only visit campuses where whole departments feature soft courses preaching a sense of victimhood and resentment, and see the consequences in racial and ethnic polarization on campus.

There are too many other soft courses that allow students to spend years in college without becoming educated in any real sense.

We don't need more government "investment" to produce more of such "education." Lofty words like "investment" should not blind us to the ugly reality of political porkbarrel spending.


No National Curriculum, Thanks

The good old American inclination to wave a magic wand and say to an urgent problem, "Begone!" is on display in the fast-emerging movement for a national K-12 curriculum.

Ah, you didn't know there was such a movement, far less that it was emerging. Here's the lowdown. Various analysts representing mostly the education establishment are pressing for a so-called "common curriculum" -- one that would supposedly engage the minds of all American students, aligning their performance with the latest thinking as to what's needed.

All but six states (including Texas) have fallen into bed with an effort -- supported by the U.S. Education Department and led by the National Governors Association and state educational officials -- to shape a core curriculum "robust and relevant to the real world." A couple of weeks ago, the Pearson Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said they were developing a complete online curriculum for math and English/language arts courses.

The Albert Shanker Institute, named for the late, widely respected head of the American Federation of Teachers, wants a "coherent, sequential set of guidelines in the core academic disciplines, specifying the knowledge and skills" expected of all students.

Every new movement worth its salt, if that's not the wrong gastronomic image for our health-obsessed century, in due course faces organized dissent. Which honor the common curriculum movement received this week in the form of a manifesto, "Closing the Door on Innovation: Why One National Curriculum is Bad for America" that is signed by numerous notables of a generally rightward bent.

The debate can commence and not a moment too soon. The idea of a "common curriculum" is one of those notions we fall into occasionally, supposing that what sounds good and feels good must somehow or other be really, really good. We identify "good," we decree it and that should be it.

There's much good, obviously, in urging high educational standards. The setting of standards, nonetheless, is generally best left to the people closest to "the people" -- who know what can be done and what "done" actually looks like in practice. A nation of 300 million-plus is more diverse than the nation that engaged the old blue-backed spellers and assigned aspiring pupils to declaim, "Sail on! Sail on and on!" What's right for New York (whatever New York may think!) isn't necessarily right for Rockwall, Texas.

Moreover, the idea of a national curriculum implies no higher duty than to develop and promulgate it. All students shall read and do math up to X-standard of performance? You could put it that way. The No Child Left Behind Act certainly decrees as much, and, lo, it ain't happening. Facts and circumstances have a logic that planners never seem to anticipate.

The facts and circumstances chiefly on display in education don't relate to money. Some of our worst school systems (e.g. Washington, D.C.'s) spend the most money per pupil. Money doesn't heal the social dysfunctions that are at the heart of America's educational slump.

The United States has the kind of educational systems that modern Americans seem most to desire: not the worst possible but not the best possible, either. Sort of in-between: The logical product of a culture so attuned to the demands of absolute equality as to shrink from sorting out sheep from goats, academically speaking. Modern America doesn't want you to fail. If you do, you can start over. If that doesn't work, we'll lower the standards. Anything for success -- real or fake!

American schools will become good the minute American culture finally decides it wants good schools, which isn't the same as deciding to commission a national curriculum. Instead, it's the same as forming a commitment at home and in the community and at the office and in the shop: first to expect and then to enforce a high level of student achievement. Overseers of the public good who think the job gets done by simply commanding high performance are: well, let's be nice. These folk need the summer off.


No Food for You! Kids Denied Breakfast for Wearing Wrong Shoes to Grade School‏

Rule-defying black kids are undoubtedly a problem but giving a written warning first would have been much wiser

Chicago Public Schools is apologizing to a Chicago mother and her two young sons, ages 5 and 6, after they were denied breakfast because they came to schools wearing the wrong kind of shoes.
CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports.

The Nicholson brothers only grab a quick snack before heading to class because they qualify for a full free breakfast at Adam Powell Grade School. It’s something they look forward to every day, and it hurt when they were recently turned away.

They were wearing black athletic shoes. The boys told their mom that the assistant principal, Angela Peagler wouldn’t let them eat because their shoes didn’t fit the school uniform, which calls for a regular black dress shoe.

“I felt sad. We’re always supposed to have breakfast,” first-grader Noah Nicholson says. Noah and his brother Niko, who is in kindergarten, went to class hungry and didn’t eat until lunch.

“It hasn’t been a problem all this time and all of a sudden they can’t have breakfast because of their shoes,” Kahlia Edwards, the boys’ mother, says. Edwards says the boys have been wearing the shoes all year and administrators never complained. She’s confused.

The boy’s great aunt is livid. “I don’t care if they had on orange shoes, they were in line to eat,” Robin Price says. “I’m not going to feed you because you have the wrong shoes? Shoes? No, no.”

CBS 2 tried to ask both the assistant principal and Principal Derek Jordan to explain what happened. They wouldn’t. However, a manager at the CPS regional office spoke with reporter Tucker.

Area 17 Management Support Director Darryl Earl says Peagler told him she thought the boys had returned to the breakfast but he acknowledged she was wrong. “Regardless of what shoes they were wearing, obviously the children should have been allowed the opportunity to merge into breakfast,” he says.

Monday afternoon, the principal and the assistant principal apologized to the boys and their mother. They went on to explain that they were reacting to an increase in students violating the school dress code. The principal even offered to buy the boys new black shoes.

But here’s the kicker: The school’s dress code does not say the shoes have to be black dress shoes. The boys’ mother says the principal obviously needs to make the rules clearer


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Home education in Britain is unrestricted and works well

Education in Britain is a mess. The complaints roll in. The children are taught less than their grandparents were, but are more pressured by tests and the meeting of other arbitrary targets. They play truant. They are bullied-around 20 children every year commit suicide because of this. They take too many drugs and have too much sex. They are force-fed political correctness. For the past month, the politicians have been issuing competing promises to sort out the mess-as if they had not made it in the first place.

We can be sure of one thing: nothing will improve. Of course, if you can move to the right catchment area, or join the right religion, your children may get a semi-decent education. If you have the money, you can go private and get them a good education. For everyone else, though, it is a matter of what the Prime Minister, with uncharacteristic honesty, calls the “bog standard comprehensive.”

Or is that it? The answer is no. There is an alternative.

The law on education in Britain is clear. Parents have a legal duty to educate their children, but no duty to send them to school. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 reads: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable: (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special education needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” The meaning of this is that you can educate your children at home.

Until quite recently, home education was a common alternative to school. Noel Coward, for example, was educated almost wholly at home, briefly attending the Chapel Royal Choir School. Agatha Christie had no formal schooling before the age of 16. She later wrote that her mother believed “the best way to bring up girls was to let them run wild as much as possible; to give them food, fresh air and not to force their minds in any way”. C.S. Lewis had only two years of formal schooling as a child-part of this at Wynyard School in Watford-a place he later called “Belsen”.

By the middle of the last century, home education seems largely to have died out. Recently-partly because of the collapse of standards in the state sector, and partly following the American example, where the home schooling movement is huge-there has been a revival of interest. No one knows how many children in England are being educated a home. The estimates range between 84,000 and 150,000. The only agreement is that the numbers are growing fast. They include children who have been bullied or otherwise harmed at school, the children of the devoutly religious, and the children of parents who simply do not like what formal schooling has to offer. They are from all social, educational, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

One reason why we cannot know the numbers is because the law is so astonishingly liberal. You do not have to seek permission from the Local Education Authority to educate “otherwise”; nor inform the Local Education Authority that you have children of school age; nor have regular contact with the Local Education Authority; nor have premises equipped to any specified standard; nor have any teaching or other educational qualifications of your own; nor cover any specific syllabus; nor have any fixed timetable; nor prepare lesson plans of any kind; nor observe normal school hours or terms; nor give formal lessons; nor allow your children to mix with others.

The only requirement is that children receive a “suitable” education. In a landmark decision from 1981, this is defined “one such as to prepare the children in life for modern civilised society, and to enable them to achieve their full potential”. And that is it. You can sit your children down in a room full of books and maps and reproduce a school at home. Or you can tell them Bible stories as they help make bread. Or you can let them run about, picking up whatever learning takes their fancy. There are no controls.

You might suppose that children not committed to the care of professional teachers would become illiterate barbarians. There is no evidence at all that they do. Indeed, what evidence there is shows that children educated at home do significantly better. In 2002, Dr Paula Rothermel of Durham University published the largest study ever made in the United Kingdom. She found that 64 per cent of such children scored over 75 per cent in standard tests, as opposed to only 5.1 children nationally. Other achievement levels were far above the national average. She found that “home educated children were socially adept and without behavioural problems. Overall, the home educated children demonstrated high levels of attainment and good social skills”.

She also notes that the children of working class, poorly-educated parents were doing better than middle class children. While five and six year old children from middle class backgrounds scored only 55.2 per cent in the test, they scored 71 per cent.

Of course, just because it appears to work is no reason for the authorities to approve of it. The law remains unchanged in England. But there is pressure for change. We can be sure the teachers hate anything that shows them in a comparatively poor light. In June this year, one of the main teaching unions heard calls for regulation. Apparently children educated at home were “the only group… who have no consistent level of monitoring or inspection yet are the only group taught in the main by those with no qualifications”. One can almost hear the nervous shuffling of bottoms.

If this were not enough, we live in an age where the authorities just cannot let anything alone. During the ten years to the beginning of October 2004, the phrase “completely unregulated” occurs 153 times in the British newspaper press. In all cases, unless used satirically, the phrase is part of a condemnation of some activity. We are told that the advertising of food to children, residential lettings agents, funeral directors, rock climbing, alleged communication with the dead, salons and tanning shops, contracts for extended warranties on home appliances, and anything to do with the Internet-that these are all “almost completely unregulated” or just “completely unregulated”, and that the authorities had better do something about the fact.

Then there is the ideological agenda. Schooling is only partly about teaching children to read and write and do basic sums. It is mainly about teaching them to think and do as the Establishment desires. When the Establishment was broadly conservative, children were taught how sweet and fitting it was to die for the country: would ten million young men have marched semi willingly to their death in the Great War without the prior conditioning of state education?

Nowadays, the Establishment is almost solidly of the left. Children now are taught how guilty they must feel if they happen to be white or male or middle class, and how they must accept the anti-western, anti-rational, anti-Enlightenment values of political correctness. And this is even thought a basic human right. In its own draft bill of rights, the National Council for Civil Liberties asserts the “right to an education that prepares them… to respect diversity and human rights”.

Given this fact, the Establishment sees home education as a challenge to its ideological hegemony. The academic literature is filled with denunciations of “neoliberals, neoconservatives, and authoritarian populists” who seek to frustrate the noble efforts of teachers. Home education is seen as an example of “individualized behaviour” that “threatens to undermine the quality of public education”.

There has been no concerted attack in England There are ugly stories to be found in the newspapers. It seems that some authorities are trying to conflate home schooling with truancy. Individual officials have been accused of threatening parents known to be educating their children at home-saying that their children would be put on the “at-risk” register. There is one story of a school that informed a mother that it was illegal for her to take one child out of school following the suicide of another who had been bullied there. But none of this yet reflects official policy.

There has, however, been an official attempt in Scotland to make home education less easy for parents. In 2002, the Scottish Executive, proposed that local authorities should be able to use details from the United Kingdom Census, from birth registers, from medical records, and from other confidential sources, to identify those children being educated at home. These proposals were bitterly fought by the home education movement-not just in Scotland, but also in the United Kingdom as a whole, and also from America. The law remains unchanged, but the proposals have not gone away.

But, for the moment, home education is perfectly legal in Britain. It is expensive: at least one parent must be at home at least some of the time to look after things. On the other hand, it can be brilliantly successful. So if you are really think your children are not getting the best at school, stop looking to the politicians. They either have no idea how to make things better, or are planning how to make them still worse. Do it yourself-and almost certainly do it better.


Catholic schools in Britain

The Catholic church was Britain's original education provider and still offers high-quality learning to 800,000 pupils of many faiths

It is a key part of the church's mission to offer good quality education as part of our contribution to society as a whole. Catholic schools are always happy to welcome children from all backgrounds whose parents seek a Catholic education for them, where there are sufficient places to meet this demand. In cases of oversubscription, priority is given to Catholic pupils.

The Catholic church was the original provider of education in this country. From the Middle Ages onwards, the church took responsibility for teaching children. Central to this work has always been our dedication to providing education for the poorest in society. Following Catholic emancipation in the 19th century, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales prioritised the building of schools before the building of churches. Then, as now, the church's commitment to education was strong.

As time went on of course the church ceased to be the only provider of schools in this country as state-funded education for all became available. So why have we continued to be involved? We consider education to be crucially important as a means of forming the whole person intellectually, morally and socially and we want to help to give children as good a start in life as we can. Catholic schools strive to offer children a well-rounded education, providing them with a moral basis from which they are free to make their own decisions.

And we all know that Catholic schools have long been a success story. Ofsted rate them more highly in terms of their overall effectiveness than other schools nationally, and they also achieve higher examination results. Of course, the immeasurable benefit of a Catholic education is that students are encouraged to engage with the wider community and to make a positive contribution to society as a whole.

The current government, like previous governments, recognises the value that a Catholic education offers young people, which is why the state continues to fund many of the costs associated with Catholic schools. But the Catholic church doesn't just expect handouts. We own the land on which most of our schools are built. This is no small financial contribution, and it has been made over a long period of time: it is an arrangement that has been in place since the 1944 Education Act when Catholic schools became partners with the state in the provision of education. The financial contribution made by the church comes from Catholics up and down the country, who not only pay their taxes, but who also give generously to the church, thus helping to fund Catholic schools.

Catholic schools are inclusive. Our schools are more ethnically diverse than schools nationally (26% of students in Catholic secondary schools come from ethnic groups other than the "White British" category, compared to only 21% of students in secondary schools nationally). Recently published data also showed that Catholic schools have a higher proportion of students from the most deprived areas compared to schools nationally. Catholic schools are rated more highly by Ofsted when it comes to their commitment to community cohesion than other schools are. Visit your local Catholic school and you're unlikely to find it full of middle-class children with pushy parents.

Central to this is the Catholic ethos and distinctive nature of our schools. This is maintained, in part, by Catholic children having priority in cases of over subscription, defined by local bishops according to local circumstances. Steps are taken to ensure that the system meets the needs of genuine applicants rather than those parents who might try to "play the system". Interestingly, in England around a quarter of pupils in Catholic schools are not Catholics and in Wales the figure is a third.

As Baroness Warsi recognised in a recent speech, the provision of education is a major part of the Catholic church's contribution to British society, part of a centuries-old tradition. We are proud to offer a well-rounded, high-quality education to almost 800,000 pupils and students in England and Wales: Catholics, members of other faiths and none.


Blended approach extends reach of business degrees

The lines between face-to-face teaching and traditional online learning are blurring

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago the most adventurous business schools were experimenting with e-readers РKindles Рto replace paper case studies and textbooks, and Facebook to boost student recruitment. Today, e-readers are passé; Facebook ubiquitous.

As tablet devices such as the iPad replace e-readers for both degree and non-degree learning, personalised electronic textbooks replace their paper counterparts, and web-based seminars – webinars – replace the classroom experience, technology is moving beyond its role in student support and becoming an intrinsic element of the pedagogy.

The lines between traditional face-to-face teaching and traditional distance learning programmes are blurring and “blended learning”, combining virtual with face-to-face teaching, is the latest buzz phrase.

One of the biggest developments over the past year has been the launch of high quality – and expensive – blended degree programmes. Earlier this month Brown University in the US, one of just two Ivy League universities not to have a business school, launched an Executive MBA programme with Spain’s IE Business School.

Half of the EMBA – an “Executive MBA” for senior working managers – will be taught face-to-face, the other half online, says David Bach, dean of programmes at IE. He is an avid supporter of using asynchronous communications to improve quality of participation on these senior programmes.

“Everybody participates, even the shy people. You think twice as hard about writing something as you do about saying it in the classroom.” As a result, a 90-minute classroom exchange can become a three-day threaded discussion, he says.

The 15-month Brown programme will cost $95,000, more expensive than many full-time programmes, but Prof Bach defends the cost. “This is the Starbucks model, not the Walmart model. You don’t economise on faculty. Blended programmes are as expensive as on-campus programmes and they will become more expensive.”

Prof Bach believes people will be prepared to pay for the convenience of blended programmes. But other benefits to this technology include the ability of participants to select the way of studying that suits them.

Recognition that advanced technology can help students learn more effectively is spreading at the very top schools, those not usually associated with e-learning. And it is being regarded as enriching the on-campus experience.

At the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, Karl Ulrich, vice-dean of the school’s innovation initiative, believes that blended learning – or connected learning as Wharton calls it – can respond better to different learning styles.

“You can provide different ways to deliver a module. Our current learning technology is one-size-fits-all. I think we can be more respectful of student’s learning styles,” he says.

But connected learning can also help the school extend its reach. “What I’d like to do is to have students in internships take courses over the summer. If you can separate time and place, we can get our people out into the world a bit more.”

Recognition of different learning styles will be one of the selling points of MBA@UNC, the blended learning programme to be launched in July by the Kenan-Flagler school at the University of North Carolina.

Like the IE/Brown programme, MBA@UNC is targeted at the top end of the market, priced at $89,000 for the two years including books, student fees, and food and accommodation for four weekend immersions.

The two programmes are also both limiting the size of their inaugural intake, to 50 for the UNC programme and 24 for the IE Brown EMBA. Although technology has solved the problem of linking students across distance – 12 nationalities are represented in IE’s first cohort of 24 students – it has not enabled business schools to produce quality programmes at scale.

But that may be changing. At Ashridge in the UK, a blended learning master's degree launched in April 2010 is proving that online delivery can result in geographical reach and scaleability, says Roger Delves, director of the programme.

He gives the example of a video lecture he recorded for the current class that could be used for participants on future programmes – there are four intakes each year. In a face-to-face environment, he would have to repeatedly teach the same class.

“The biggest breakthrough [in technology] has been around increased bandwidth,” he says. “People can download materials quickly and the programme works seamlessly.”

By reducing costs, Ashridge has been able to attract participants from countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, says Mr Delves. “This is an attractive product for people in developing countries because the costs are much lower [than on-campus programmes].”

Mr Delves says Ashridge has been particularly successful with this model because of the years of experience it has in developing online modules through its Virtual Learning Resource Centre – recently renamed Virtual Ashridge.

Elsewhere, the latest web technology is breathing new life into established programmes. At Queen’s School of Business in Canada, which has been running a videoconferencing-based EMBA programme for a decade, improvements in web technology have enabled the school to extend its reach, says Michael Darling, programme director of one of the three videoconferencing programmes taught at the school.

Increased bandwidth means students can view the synchronous video lectures from their desktops, eliminating the need to travel to a videoconferencing “boardroom”. Students from Bermuda to British Columbia are participating in the same virtual learning EMBA team.

The UK’s Open University is an established player in delivering programmes at a distance, and it is embracing the latest technology.

Martin Bean, its vice-chancellor, believes the ideal scenario is for students to consume content and undergo a comprehension assessment at a distance and then use the face-to-face meetings with tutors and professors to actively engage in discussion.

He thinks this is particularly appropriate in business education. “I think the real value of a business school is the community of learning.”

Prof Bean says the demand for management education is growing to such an extent that online and blended learning will be increasingly popular globally. “The world simply can’t build enough brick-and-mortar institutions to meet demand.”

And, he believes its popularity will grow as the technology becomes more personal. “The technology is coming our way; it’s now a lot more social, which works well with education.”

That said, the success of blended learning – “supported open learning” as the OU calls it – will always depend on the quality of the teaching, he says.

For the OU, where fewer than 10 per cent of the 265,000 enrolled students live outside the UK, using technology to spearhead expansion overseas is a priority.

It has had some success, though, with podcasting, through iTunes University. Some 89 per cent of the 31m downloads of OU material on iTunes has come from outside the UK, says Prof Bean. “It’s an amazing base of informal learning.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Indiana vouchers only a small step forward

A regulatory mountain being dropped on participating private schools

An expansive new voucher program, signed into Indiana law today, has been widely praised as a momentous victory for school choice and Gov. Mitch Daniels on the brink of his long-awaited presidential campaign announcement. In reality, the voucher program is a tactical victory for highly constrained choice won at the price of a broad strategic defeat for educational freedom.

To see why, consider the bill's regulations. Most people would agree there are some topics about which every child in this country should learn. Historical documents, for instance, that are vital for understanding our shared American heritage: the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, and Chief Seattle's 1852 letter to the United States government.

Chief Seattle was a great leader of native Americans in the Northwest, and this moving letter lays out the vast gulf between how his people and the "white" man viewed the land, not as a commodity to be bought and sold but a part of themselves, a sacred trust. Chief Seattle's letter is also a modern fabrication sprung from the pen of a screenwriter for a 1972 film about ecology.

And in Indiana, it is a legally protected historical document that public, and now voucher-accepting private schools, are required to have on hand for academic use by students.

The apocryphal Chief Seattle letter is merely an illustration of the dangers and absurdities of state-controlled curriculum. Private voucher schools will not only be forced to make this fabrication available to students, they are also prohibited from lowering a student's grade, if he should, for example, cite the letter as a primary source in the course of his school work.

Unfortunately, this is just the peak of the regulatory mountain being dropped on participating private schools. The legislation will greatly expand state regulation of and authority over participating private schools. It will force them to annually administer the Indiana Statewide Testing for Progress examination (ISTEP), and submit both ISTEP and other progress and performance data to the state. It will require the state to track and evaluate private schools according to state standards, and to align consequences with their performances. It establishes a lottery admissions requirement for over-subscribed schools that could interfere with their ability to determine admissions procedures and the character of the school.

Finally, it establishes extensive and detailed new curriculum and pedagogical requirements for participating private schools, including some requirements that are not currently a part of state accreditation. For instance, private schools must "provide good citizenship instruction that stresses the nature and importance of," among other items, "respecting authority," "respecting the property of others," respecting the student's parents and home," "respecting the student's self," and "respecting the rights of others to have their own views and religious beliefs."

What does this mean for religious private schools teaching that one can only be saved by belief in Jesus Christ? Would a school wherein a teacher discusses the recent federal healthcare legislation violate the provision mandating respect for authority should she criticize the law, or perhaps violate a respect for property if she speaks favorably of the individual insurance mandate in that law?

Currently, less than 40 percent of all known private schools in Indiana are accredited by the state. The majority of private schools, in other words, are subject to very few restrictions on educational freedom.

Because participating schools will have a significant financial advantage over non-participating schools, lightly regulated schools will face increasing financial pressure to participate. Over time, many of those who refuse to submit to state control will be driven out of business by competition from the highly regulated, but voucher-funded schools.

In other words, the voucher program will not only expand state control over and homogenize participating schools by requiring adherence to a single state-designed test, evaluation, and curriculum, it will also cut into the market for non-accredited schools. The likely effect is a serious loss of education freedom and diversity of options in the medium-term and a near-total loss in the long term.

The voucher law places private schools under the supervision of the state Department of Education, making them accountable to career bureaucrats and political appointees for performance on government standards and curriculum. It is an authorization and framework of accountability to the state, rather than to parents and taxpayers directly. This is a strategic victory for opponents of educational freedom; all that's required is a downhill push for tighter control.

In our efforts to expand educational choice across the country, we can't lose sight of what makes that choice valuable; educational freedom and the diversity of choices it allows to develop. School choice is meaningless if all the choices are the same.


Half of British firms give courses in the 3Rs to teenage recruits

Almost half of companies are holding remedial courses in the three Rs for their recruits, a survey shows. Businesses are being forced into the drastic measures because youngsters leave school without a proper grasp of the basics. They are struggling with tasks such as calculating percentages, working out change or composing coherent memos. Teenagers also fall short in terms of team-working, problem-solving, dealing with customers and showing a positive attitude.

The survey, which was carried out by the Confederation of British Industry and qualifications body Education Development International, covered 566 employers with 2.2million workers between them. Forty-two per cent of firms were not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers while 35 per cent were concerned about numeracy standards. Sixty-five per cent see a desperate need to raise standards of literacy and numeracy among 14- to 19-year-olds.

To address these weaknesses in basic skills, 44 per cent of employers have been forced to invest in remedial training.

A fifth have provided training in literacy, numeracy or information technology. Some firms provided courses in all three areas. John Cridland, CBI director general, said: ‘It’s alarming that a significant number of employers have concerns about the basic skills of school and college leavers.

‘Companies do not expect “job ready” young people, but having a solid foundation in basic skills such as literacy and numeracy is fundamental for work. ‘Employability skills are crucial to making the smooth transition from education to the workplace.’

Last year over 300,000 teenagers failed to achieve a grade C in maths GCSE.

A Department for Education spokesman said the recruitment of specialist maths teachers was part of a package to restore rigour to GCSE and A level teaching.


David Cameron under pressure to ensure that religious education is at the heart of the secondary school curriculum

In Britain??

David Cameron is facing calls to revise exam league tables to ensure that religious education is at the heart of the secondary school curriculum. A campaign to include RE in the new English baccalaureate has won the support of 110,000 people, including faith leaders and 100 MPs.

Before last year’s election, Mr Cameron said any petition with more than 100,000 signatures would be eligible for debate in the House of Commons. The RE. ACT campaign is calling on the Prime Minister to honour his pre-election pledge and allow MPs to discuss revising the school reforms.

The Coalition’s new English baccalaureate was introduced in an attempt to address years of “dumbing down” in which pupils have been able to opt for so-called soft courses at the expense of traditional academic subjects. In order to pass the baccalaureate, all pupils are expected to score A* to C grades in the five core subjects of English, mathematics, science, languages and humanities.

However, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said RE should be included and called for the Commons to debate the plan. “We have serious concerns that the English Baccalaureate does not include RE in the core of selected academic subjects,” he said. “Many testify to RE being the only space on the curriculum where they can explore their own beliefs and values and engage with people of faith in that exploration. “There is a real problem with religious literacy in society and RE is a crucial gift to us.”

Others backing the RE. ACT campaign include the leaders of Sikh, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Hindu organisations.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Is education the next bubble?

Higher learning is just an overpriced, speculative investment that typically rewards graduates with dismal career prospects, says billionaire Peter Thiel

Billionaire libertarian businessman Peter Thiel, the founder and former CEO of PayPal, is perhaps best known as the venture capitalist who gave Facebook the angel investment it needed to really get started. But, increasingly, he's getting attention for his controversial views on higher learning.

Last year, he launched the Thiel fellowship, which gives grants as large as $100,000 to 20 tech entrepreneurs who drop out of college by age 20 to pursue their own ideas. Then, in a National Review interview earlier this year, Thiel said that higher education is a "bubble in the classic sense," because education is "overpriced," something people have "an intense belief in," and an investment that's unlikely, in the majority of cases, to have a positive return. He made the point again last week at TechCrunch.

Given the "financial disaster" of student loan debt surpassing credit card debt, does Thiel have a point?

No, education isn't about returns on an investment: The concept of the education bubble is based on horrifying, false logic, says Freddie deBoer at L'Hote. "To see an education, college or otherwise, as merely a way to increase the amount of money you make is a terrible corruption and fundamentally unsustainable." Increasing earning potential was never meant to be the sole purpose of education, and if it's reduced to that, we're all in trouble.

Well, college is overpriced: College has gotten too expensive, with state governments cutting aid to public universities, says E.D. Kain in Forbes. But let's not abandon institutions of higher learning. If needed, we should raise taxes to make public universities more affordable. "Yes, education costs money. But that money should not fall squarely on the heads of middle class kids who are forced to take out tens of thousands in debt just to attend school."

And grad school is a particularly poor investment: College is still a good decision for most young Americans, but I can't say the same about grad school, says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. Grad school has become a socially acceptable way to drink beer, read, and go into massive debt in your 20s. "Upper-middle-class Americans tend to overvalue the non-financial benefits of grad school." Thiel's wrong about a lot. But at least he's "challenging the cultural assumptions that cause a lot of people to make bad life decisions."


Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth Out of Public Education?

If you find an investment no longer meets your needs, you quit investing in it and find a worthy substitution. That is exactly what is happening within the public school system. Taxpayers are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their return on their public school education investment, so they are finding other solutions.

A recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 72 percent of taxpayers say they are not getting their money’s worth from public schools. How much money are they referring to? Well, the nation as a whole spends about $9,000 per student on the public education system. Of course that number varies state by state.

But what’s more interesting from the poll is that only one in three voters thought that sending more money towards the education system would aid student performance. The rest of the poll takers were either unsure or disagreed altogether that money was the answer to the problems within the public school system.

There are many reasons why parents and taxpayers in general are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the system. States are trimming back spending, and all programs that receive state funding are subject to the cutbacks. Those taxpayers and parents who don’t think enough is spent on education currently are worried students’ performance will take a hit if less money is devoted to the system.

But the majority of taxpayers in the poll say spending isn’t the issue, so what is fueling their dissatisfaction? “One reason is that voting Americans remember how much better education was when they were in the system and how it cost much less,” says Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in California. “There is a mentality that education money is being used for things that do not give a good return on investment.”

As dissatisfaction grows within the public education system, so do more opportunities. And with new opportunities available, the status quo no longer suffices. This has led to many states now offering charter schools or voucher programs for students to attend private schools. Also, the number of parents who opt to home school their children continues to grow as well.

“Students should come first in the education system,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “Parents deserve options when deciding where their child should attend school.”

School choice leads to competition in the marketplace and children often reap the positive benefits.

In 2009, about six million students were enrolled in a private school, which is about 11 percent of all U.S. students. Students enrolled in private schools consistently score well above the national average in every academic area. They are also more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree by their mid-20s, according to research done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

There are many advantages to a charter school as well. There are more than 5,400 charter schools serving more than 1.7 million children across the country. And that number is growing. For the 2010-2011 school year, 465 new charter schools opened in 40 states and Washington, D.C.

Charter schools have more freedom from the many regulations of public schools. They allow students and teachers more authority to make decisions. Instead of being accountable to rules and regulations like public schools, charter schools are focused on the students and academic achievement and upholding their charter.

Another option for parents who want full control over their child’s education is to home school them. Today, about 2 million students are homeschooled, and the population continues to grow at a rate of 5 to 12 percent each year, according to a report by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., President of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI).

Many factors are involved when the decision to home school a child is made. Academic concerns and religious motivation are the top reasons for homeschooling, says Nathan Mehrens, currently a Counsel for Americans for Limited Government and previously a legal and legislative assistant for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Another key reason for parents choosing homeschooling is concern over unspecified current problems within some public schools.

As parents now have more options than ever as to how to educate their children and as states continue to evaluate their budgets, it is important to compare education spending in the past and its connections to academic performance.

Research by The Heritage Foundation finds that increased spending on education has not led to better student performance:
“Since 1985, inflation-adjusted federal spending on K-12 education has increased 138 percent. Since the 1960s, real per-pupil federal education expenditures have more than tripled. Meanwhile, academic achievement has languished. Since the 1970s, math achievement has increased slightly, reading achievement has stagnated, and graduation rates have remained at about 73 percent nationally.”

And it looks like more taxpayers are finding those results consistent with their own children’s academic success rates.

Dissatisfaction within the public school system allows states to reevaluate spending, increase competition and boost a child’s academic performance levels. All good things for the many states that are struggling to stay afloat in these hard economic times.

As taxpayers reassess their priorities and investments, the federal, state and local governments should do the same. Reexamining the public education system would be welcomed change to both students and taxpayers.


'Unruly' British school suspends its headteacher after 70 teachers went on strike

A headteacher has been suspended after her staff went on strike, claiming that she would not help them crack down on unruly pupils.

Seventy teachers brandished placards and picketed the gates at Darwen Vale High School in Darwen, Lancashire, on April 7. They were angered by an alleged ‘lack of backing’ from head Hilary Torpey, 52, when they had to confront wild pupils.

Pupils frequently challenge teachers to fights, push and shove them in the corridors and classrooms and are constantly swearing and insulting them. But teachers said that when they take the matters to the headteacher she often sides with the pupils instead of staff.

Complaints were also made about pupils having filmed teachers on mobile phones and posted clips online. They claim that when teachers have confiscated the phones, they have been returned by the school’s management - leaving them ‘totally undermined’.

The strike followed an announcement by Education Secretary Michael Gove of a new crackdown on ill-discipline in class.

Now governors have suspended Ms Torpey. A statement – with spelling mistakes – was issued by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council on behalf of governors’ chairman Don Heatlie-Jackson, saying that there would be ‘a full and proper investigation’.

Simon Jones, of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘Intense negotiations have been taking place with senior local authority officers and the chairman of governors.

'Considerable progress has been made towards agreeing strategies that should lead to the resolution of this dispute.’