Saturday, August 27, 2011

I spent three years at Cambridge eating walnut cake, but don't let anyone tell you a degree is a waste of time

Tom Utley tells a jolly story below in his usual way but he is notably vague about the way in which university "enriched" his life. He makes it clear that it was not his studies. I suppose I must sound a dreadful swot but for me it was precisely the subjects I studied that I found enriching, with philosophy and economics being most so. I was quite active in student life but the only "extra-curricular" activity of which I have fond memories was my time in an army unit attached to the university. But many men have fond memories of their time in the army

Like so many other history graduates, I’ve found that one of the most useful phrases in the English language is: ‘Sorry, mate, not my period.’

I’ve used it countless times over the years when my sons have asked for help with their homework on the Tudors, or when arguments in the pub have turned to why exactly it was that a nation as apparently civilised as Germany turned so enthusiastically to Nazism in the Thirties. ‘You’re a historian, Tom. Tell us how it could have happened.’ ‘Sorry, mate, not my period.’

The truth (and whisper it quietly) is that I’ve long forgotten almost all the history I was taught during my three idyllic, and heavily subsidised, years at Cambridge in the early Seventies.

Indeed, I can only just recall what my period was — and I’m certainly not going to reveal it here and risk being grilled on it by my boys.

So just how much value is a university degree, in a subject as easily forgotten and with such few obvious practical applications as history?

Over the past fortnight, the question has been weighing heavily on the minds of tens of thousands of teenagers, including my youngest son (of whom more later), as their A-level results have come in and the scramble for the last remaining university places continues.

This year, the dilemma — degree or not degree? — has been thrown into sharper focus than ever by the prospect of tuition fees almost trebling to £9,000 a year from 2012.

For those who fail to find places this autumn, this will mean the truly agonising decision of whether to try again next year, when the price of a three-year course at most universities will rocket from £10,125 to £27,000, while a four-year course will cost a whopping £22,500 more at £36,000.

Rubbing the shine off a degree still further, the Office for National Statistics reports this week that one in five graduates actually earns less than the average of those who went straight into work from school with as little as a single A-level. And that figure takes no account of the many graduates who are currently unemployed or who have never worked.

Seen from another angle, of course, the ONS findings mean that four out of five graduates earn at least as much as less qualified school-leavers, while most earn considerably more.

But, at the same time, the figures do show that for a significant minority the Government’s oft-repeated claim that a degree is worth an extra £100,000 across a working life is pretty meaningless.

I think of my own eldest son, three years after he graduated from Edinburgh with a more-than-respectable 2:1 in Spanish, still working every hour God sends behind a bar in West London for little more than the minimum wage.

Or son number two, the idealist of the family, working for a charity in one of the most run-down parts of the Capital, teaching English to immigrants. If he spent three years studying for his 2:1 in English at Newcastle with a view to getting rich, he’s going a funny way about it.

But then I don’t suppose that when they made the decision to go to university, either of them gave a passing thought to the likely effect of a degree on their future earnings.

Quite right, too. For although a lucrative job may be an attractive by-product of a degree (in most cases), it isn’t really the point, is it?

Certainly, the financial value of a degree played no part at all in my calculations when I accepted Cambridge’s offer in 1972. I went partly because I was strongly attracted by the idea of postponing real life for three years — four, including my gap year — but, mostly, because I was lucky enough to have been to a school where it was simply assumed that everyone would go on to university.

Of course, the decision was very much more straightforward then than it is now, since the State was kind enough to pay my full tuition fees, together with a generous allowance for my food, drink and accommodation.

Indeed, unbelievable as it will sound to my sons’ generation, I graduated after three years with my bank account a few pounds in credit. But if you ask me now what was the point of the taxpayers’ largesse, or what they received in return for it, I’d be very hard pushed to tell you.

If I’d studied engineering, medicine or microbiology, I could probably make a convincing case that the investment was worthwhile, and that my studies had added to the gross domestic product or the general health of the nation. But history?

As I may have confessed before, a typical day for me at Cambridge would begin at about 3pm, long after the morning’s lectures were over, when I would crawl out of bed and make my way to Fitzbillies cake shop, opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum.

There, I would buy a large chocolate and walnut cake and take it back to my college, where I’d eat the whole thing. This would set me up for a stroll across the Cam to the history library, where I’d pretend to read for a while until opening time at the Eagle.

Then began hours of conviviality, which would generally end at three or four in the morning, after a Chinese takeaway, with a bottle of port in somebody else’s rooms.

Only once every seven days, on the eve of my supervision, would I have to break this shameful routine with a frantic all-night session, desperately bluffing my way through the weekly essay that was all that was required of me to keep my place.

True, throughout my working life I’ve paid many times more in tax than I received from the State during those three years.

But while it never did my job-hunting any harm to put MA (Hons) Cantab on my CV, I would be very hard pushed to claim that anything I learned at Cambridge added value to my future work.

Indeed, I’ve long been one of those irritating people — mostly graduates, I notice, since those without degrees tend to attach much greater value to them — who believe that too many young people go to universities these days, while for many of them it’s a waste of time and money.

With that thought in mind, I steeled myself for the worst last week, preparing comforting words for my youngest if he failed to get his grades. It wasn’t the end of the world, I was going to tell him. University really wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be — and it was certainly not a guaranteed passport to wealth. Just look at his two older brothers.

And yet, reader, he passed! And as soon as he broke the news that he’d achieved the grades he needed to get into Sheffield to read Spanish — and, yes, history — my heart fair burst with pride and happiness.

Suddenly, the joy of my three years at university flooded back to me. I realised that in countless intangible ways, those seemingly wasted years were the most hugely enriching time of my life — and that everything I’d been planning to tell the boy was rubbish.

To those who see a degree course as a path to making money, I would still advise caution — especially after the fees go up next year. And anyone considering some of the vaguer-sounding courses on offer, such as community development or social welfare, might do well to check the drop-out rates before starting to run up those massive loans.

But even if you forget the lot, you just can’t put a price on three or four years at a proper university, studying a proper subject such as history. And don’t believe any world-weary old fool who tells you otherwise.


Google chief says UK obsessed with 'luvvy' school subjects and calls for 'Victorian' return of science

The boss of Google last night criticised the British education system for its obsession with ‘luvvy’ subjects at the expense of science and engineering.

Dr Eric Schmidt called for a return to a ‘Victorian’ approach of bringing ‘art and science back together’ so that the UK can compete globally.

The internet giant’s executive chairman said there was a lack of students taking science and engineering in Britain and that something must be done to ‘reignite’ children’s passion for the subjects.

Giving the annual MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, he warned that the UK risks falling behind in the digital age unless it makes drastic changes.

The American tycoon said Britain was in danger of losing ground to other countries, despite being the birthplace of the TV and the computer.

‘Over the past century the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths,’ he said. ‘There’s been a drift to the humanities – engineering and science aren’t championed. ‘Even worse, both sides seem to denigrate the other – to use what I’m told is the local vernacular, you’re either a “luvvy” or a “boffin”. ‘To change that you need to start with education. We need to reignite children’s passion for science, engineering and maths.’

Dr Schmidt, who is worth more than £4billion, said: ‘I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools. First: you need to bring art and science back together. Think back to the glory days of the Victorian era. It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges.’

In his lecture he praised British television as a success story but warned that ‘everything’ could still go wrong. ‘If I may be so impolite your track record isn’t great,’ he said. ‘The UK is home of so many media-related inventions.

‘You invented photography. You invented TV. You invented computers in both concept and practice. ‘It’s not widely known, but the world’s first office computer was built in 1951 by Lyon’s chain of tea shops. Yet today, none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK.’

He said British businesses needed support to become world leaders, otherwise the UK would be the place ‘where inventions are born – but not bred for long-term success’.

Dr Schmidt, 56, who studied electrical engineering at Princeton University in New Jersey, joined Google in 2001 and was chief executive of the company until earlier this year. He is the first non-broadcaster to give the landmark lecture which is dedicated to the memory of actor and producer James MacTaggart.

In the past it has been delivered by some of the biggest names in broadcasting including Jeremy Paxman, Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.

Dr Schmidt also confirmed plans to launch Google TV in the UK. British TV executives fear the arrival of Google TV, which allows viewers to get internet content on their TV screens, could hit their advertising revenue.

In his speech, Dr Schmidt apologised for not appreciating ‘other’s discomfort’ at the ‘disruption’ caused by Google’s position.


Georgia Professors Offer Courses to Illegal Immigrants

Leftists putting their money where their mouth is for once. The "American civilization" course they intend to teach should be a lulu: A festival of hate, no doubt

As college students return to campus in Georgia, a new state policy has closed the doors of the five most competitive state schools to illegal immigrants, but a group of professors has found a way to offer those students a taste of what they’ve been denied.

The five University of Georgia professors have started a program they’re calling Freedom University. They‘re offering to teach a rigorous seminar course once a week meant to mirror courses taught at the most competitive schools and aimed at students who have graduated from high school but can’t go to one of those top schools because of the new policy.

“This is not a substitute for letting these students into UGA, Georgia State or the other schools,” said Pam Voekel, a history professor at UGA and one of the program’s initiators. “It is designed for people who, right now, don’t have another option.”

The policy, adopted last fall by the university system’s Board of Regents, bars any state college or university that has rejected academically qualified applicants in the previous two years from admitting illegal immigrants. That includes five Georgia colleges and universities: the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College & State University. Illegal immigrants may still be admitted to any other state college or university, provided that they pay out-of-state tuition.

The new rule came in response to public concerns that Georgia state colleges and universities were being overrun by illegal immigrants, that taxpayers were subsidizing their education and legal residents were being displaced. A study conducted by the university system‘s Board of Regents last year found that less than 1 percent of the state’s public college students were illegal immigrants, and that students who pay out-of-state tuition more than pay for their education.

“What we’re hoping is that people in decision-making positions will reconsider the policy,” said Reinaldo Roman, another of the organizing professors. “It goes counter to our aims. We have invested enormous resources in these young people. It makes sense to give them a chance at an education.”

For now the course will simply serve to expose the students to a college environment and challenge them intellectually. It will not likely count for credit should the students be accepted at another school, but the professors said they’re seeking accreditation so credits would be transferable at some point in the future.

The five founding professors all work for UGA, but they stress that the program has no connection to the institution. UGA referred a request for comment to the Board of Regents. Regents spokesman John Millsaps said faculty members are generally free to do whatever they want with their free time as long as it doesn’t interfere with their responsibilities as employees of the university system. But he said he didn’t know about enough about the program to comment on this specific case.

Once the professors hatched their plan – which was suggested by an illegal immigrant community member who works with a lot of illegal immigrant teens – they reached out to professors at prestigious schools nationwide to sit on a national board of advisers. One of them is Pulitzer Prize winning author and MIT professor Junot Diaz, who calls policies barring illegal immigrants from state schools cruel and divisive. He said he’s ready to help Freedom University succeed.

“Whatever they ask of me. I’ll do everything and anything I can,” he wrote in an email. “This clearly is going to be a long fight.”
With professors donating their time and a local Latino community outreach center offering a space for free, the program has few costs. They’ve started an wish list asking people to donate textbooks for students and gas cards for volunteers who will drive students to and from class.

Dressed in a black fleece jacket and tan cargo shorts and carrying a black backpack during a protest rally Tuesday at UGA against the policy, 25-year-old Karl Kings looked like he could be headed to class. However, Kings says he’s an illegal immigrant who was brought to the U.S. when he was a year old from a country in Asia that he declined to identify. “Pretty much, I would be a Georgia boy except I wasn’t born here,” he said. “I grew up here my whole life.”

After graduating from high school in suburban Atlanta in 2004, he dreamed of going to college but couldn’t afford to pay out-of-state tuition. He’s gotten by doing odd jobs, but has had to turn down some more stable or challenging job offers because they required proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. He was filling out an application for Freedom University at the end of the rally this week.

The program is currently taking applications, with the first class, American Civilization I, set to start Sept. 8. The five professors will rotate teaching the seminar course on their own time at an off-campus location. All qualified applicants will likely be accepted unless there are so many applications that space constraints force them to limit admissions, said Lorgia Garcia Pena, another of the founding professors.


Friday, August 26, 2011

David Starkey's views on race disgrace the academic world, say historians

Notably, they don't say WHERE he is wrong. They just object to generalizations. But rejecting all generalizations is philosophically incoherent. It would make all discourse impossible

David Starkey has brought his profession into disrepute by voicing theories about race "that would disgrace a first-year undergraduate", according to leading academics.

More than 100 historians have signed an open letter expressing their dismay at Starkey's controversial comments on the riots during an appearance on the BBC's Newsnight programme.

They asked the BBC to stop referring to Starkey as a "historian" on anything but his specialist subject, the Tudors, claiming that he is "ill-fitted" to hold forth on other topics.

Signatories to the letter include academics from Cambridge and the London School of Economics, institutions at which Starkey once taught.

Starkey's Newsnight appearance caused outrage earlier this month when he was asked about the cause of the riots and replied: "What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs... have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion."

In a letter to the Times Higher Education magazine, the collective of 102 academics said: "His crass generalisations about black culture and white culture as oppositional, monolithic entities demonstrate a failure to grasp the subtleties of race and class that would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate.

"In fact, it appears to us that the BBC was more interested in employing him for his on-screen persona and tendency to make comments that viewers find offensive than for his skills as a historian.

"In addition to noting that a historian should argue from evidence rather than assumption, we are also disappointed by Starkey's lack of professionalism on Newsnight.

"Instead of thoughtfully responding to criticism, he simply shouted it down; instead of debating his fellow panellists from a position of knowledge, he belittled and derided them. On Newsnight, as on other appearances for the BBC, Starkey displayed some of the worst practices of an academic, practices that most of us have been working hard to change."

The letter asked why the BBC had invited Starkey to discuss the riots when his academic research and published works have nothing to do with the subject.

"In our opinion, it was a singularly poor choice," they said, adding that "the poverty of his reductionist argument... reflected his lack of understanding of the history of ordinary life in modern Britain. It was evidentially insupportable and factually wrong.

"The problem lies in the BBC's representation of Starkey's views as those of a 'historian', which implies that they have some basis in research and evidence: but as even the most basic grasp of cultural history would show, Starkey's views as presented on Newsnight have no basis in either."

Among the signatories are Paul Gilroy, professor of social theory at the London School of Economics; Steven Fielding, professor of political history of at the University of Nottingham; Richard Grayson, professor of 20th century history at Goldsmith's, University of London; and Tim Whitmarsh, professor of ancient literatures at the University of Oxford.


Bloomberg lays off lots of teachers from "no compromise" union

Looks like they goofed. A lesson for others?

Nearly 780 employees of the New York City Education Department will lose their jobs by October, in the largest layoff at a single agency since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office in 2002.

The layoffs are a direct consequence of budget cuts to schools, which have occurred in each of the last four years, forcing principals to make tough decisions about what and whom to do without. Most of the burden will be shouldered by one labor union, District Council 37, which represents 95 percent of the workers who will be let go.

School aides were saved from layoffs last year by federal money, but 438 — about 5 percent of their ranks — will now lose their jobs. Some 82 parent coordinators, about 6 percent of the total, will also lose their jobs, essentially severing the main link between parents and administrators at dozens of schools.

The budget cuts have also cost 2,186 teachers their full-time, fixed assignments at city schools. Teachers were spared from layoffs, however, because of an agreement brokered in June between the Bloomberg administration and their union, which offered small concessions in exchange for job security for its 200,000 members, including 75,000 teachers.

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Marc La Vorgna, placed the blame for the layoffs squarely on District Council 37 and the other six unions whose members will also be let go. “The unions involved would not agree to any real savings that could have saved these jobs,” he said in a statement.

Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, countered with a statement in a tone decidedly different from the aggressive stance she adopted during budget negotiations. At that time, she accused the mayor of proposing layoffs even though the city had money to avoid them, a claim his aides repeatedly denied.

On Tuesday, Ms. Roberts focused instead on highlighting the “important role” of the workers designated for layoffs, and asked whether the personnel cuts would disproportionately affect schools “in high-needs areas that are already in a bare-bones situation.”


Shocker! Teacher takes pictures of girls on the school playground!

And that's pornography??

A former Maine middle school teacher is no longer facing child pornography charges. But prosecutors say that if they receive more evidence they could still present the case against 55-year-old Christopher Brown of Monmouth to a grand jury.

Brown appeared Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court. After the judge determined no complaint had been filed she vacated his bail and Brown left the court.

District Attorney Evert Fowle says the lack of a complaint Tuesday has no bearing on whether charges will be filed in the future.

But Brown's attorney, Michael Whipple, told the Kennebec Journal it reflects his position that there was no criminal conduct.

Brown was arrested in June after a school official reported students found photos on a classroom computer of girls on the school playground.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Build New, Don’t Reform Old

When I wrote my two part critique of the Gates Foundation strategy, one of our frequent comment-writers, GGW, asked: “What would you do if asked by Gates how to better donate his (and Warren Buffett’s) billions?”

Here is a brief answer to that question: Philanthropists with billions of dollars to devote to education reform should build new institutions and stop trying to fix old ones.

In general, existing institutions don’t want to be fixed. There are reasons why current public schools operate as they do and the people who benefit from that will resist any effort to change it. Those who benefit from status quo arrangements also tend to be better positioned than reformers to repel attempts by outsiders to make significant changes. The history of education reform is littered with failed efforts by philanthropists.

Instead, private donors have had much better success addressing problems by building new institutions. And competition from newly built institutions can have a greater positive impact on existing institutions than trying to reform them directly.

Let’s consider one of the greatest accomplishments in American education philanthropy. In the late 19th century, America’s leading universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) were badly in need of reform. They were still operated primarily as religious seminaries and not as modern, scientific institutions. Rather than trying to reform them directly, major philanthropists built new universities modeled after German scientific institutions. John D. Rockefeller and Marshall Field helped found the University of Chicago. Leland Stanford built Stanford University. A group of private donors built Johns Hopkins. Cornelius Vanderbilt founded Vanderbilt. All of these universities imitated German universities with their emphasis on the scientific method and research and were enormously successful at it. Eventually Harvard, Yale, and Princeton recognized the competitive threat from these German-modeled upstarts and made their own transition from a seminary-focus to a scientific focus.

The reform of the U.S. higher education system did not come from a government mandate or “incentives.” It did not happen by philanthropists giving money directly to the leading universities of the time to convince them to change their ways. It happened by philanthropists building new institutions to compete with the old ones.

The same could be done for K-12 education. Matt Ladner has written a series of posts on “The Way of the Future.” He, along with Terry Moe, Clay Christensen, Paul Peterson, and others, envision large numbers of hybrid virtual schools offering higher quality customized education at dramatically lower costs. Students would attend school buildings, but the bulk of their instruction would be delivered by interactive software. The school would need significantly fewer staff, who would concentrate mostly on assisting students with the technology and managing behavior.

Obviously, this kind of school would not be good for everybody. But it could appeal to large numbers of students and be offered at such a low cost that it could be affordable even to low-income families without needing public subsidy or adoption by the public school system.

Gates or someone else with billions to devote to education could build a national chain of these virtual hybrid schools to compete with existing public and private schools. It’s true that Gates is already investing in the development and refinement of the virtual hybrid school model, but a complete commitment to building new rather than reforming old would give him the potential to do what Rockefeller, Stanford, and others did to higher education. Virtual hybrid schools could be the disruptive technology, as Christensen calls it, to produce real reform in education.

Another benefit of the “building new” strategy for philanthropists is that it avoids the Emperor’s New Clothes problem, where philanthropists are encouraged to pursue flawed strategies to reform existing institutions because everyone is afraid to criticize the wealthy donor from whose largess they benefit. With the “build new” strategy there is ultimately a market test of the wisdom of the strategy. If the new institutions are not better, people won’t choose them. If the University of Chicago had been a flawed model, it wouldn’t have attracted enrollment and would have failed to apply competitive pressure to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Similarly, if the virtual hybrid school is a bad model, then it won’t attract students and compete with existing public and private schools.

Edison Schools is an example of a “build new” strategy that failed the market test. They failed to develop technologies or other efficiencies to bring down the costs of operating private schools. And their revised strategy of operating public schools under contract with public school districts was flawed by an underestimation of the political resistance they would face and their inability to control costs or quality within the public system.

But we also have successful examples of the “build new” strategy adopted by philanthropists. In addition to the string of scientific universities built in the latter half of the 19th century, we also have the example of Andrew Carnegie and public libraries. Carnegie helped promote literacy and cultural knowledge by supporting the construction of hundreds of new libraries around the country. He didn’t try to reform existing book-sellers, he just built new. Another example (outside of education) can be seen in John D. Rockefeller’s role in the development of a national park system. Rockefeller privately acquired large chunks of what are now the Acadia, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone national parks. Rockefeller didn’t try to reform the operations of the existing Interior Department. Instead, he effectively privately built nature reserves and then donated them to the U.S. to become national parks.

Of course, this “build new” strategy has limited potential for smaller-scale philanthropy. But for the very wealthy, like Gates, the path to making a significant and lasting difference is to build new rather than reform old. The lasting benefits of what Rockefeller did in higher education and national parks and Carnegie did with libraries are still noticeable today. If Gates and others with billions to devote to education continue to focus on reforming the old rather than building new, I fear their efforts will soon be forgotten after the Emperor’s New Clothes adulation fades when they stop having large sums to give.


So, is it worth getting a degree? One in five British graduates is earning less than a school leaver

One in five graduates earns less than a person who left school with as little as one A-level. The official figures raise doubts that thousands of students have wasted their time with ‘useless’ degrees.

On average, the Office for National Statistics says that a person with a degree or higher academic qualification, such as a PhD, earns £16.10 an hour. By comparison, a person who got at least one A level, or an equivalent qualification, typically earns £10 an hour. But 20 per cent of graduates earn less than £10 an hour, the amount they would have earned without a degree.

The figure could be even worse in reality because the ONS did not include graduates who are unemployed or who have never worked.

The study also said the proportion of graduates doing low-skilled, badly-paid work has quadrupled to 2.3 per cent since 1993. Many of these end up doing jobs which require little or no training such as hotel porter, postman, cleaner or catering assistant.

Business groups have repeatedly warned that employers are turning their backs on graduates. A recent report from the British Chambers of Commerce said too many graduates have ‘fairly useless degrees in non-serious subjects’.

Phil McCabe from the Forum of Private Business said: ‘The value of a degree is dwindling.’

Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate, a website for job-seeking graduates, said many are devastated by the salaries they are offered. She said: ‘Finally, the figures from the ONS back up what our graduates have been saying – that they are just not getting the quality of job that they thought their degree would lead to.

‘One politics and economics graduate told me a massive career low was when he got a day’s trial at a pound shop – and did not get the job. ‘People say that a graduate typically earns £26,000, but this doesn’t reflect the reality. Many of them are just scraping the barrel.’

One anonymous contributor to a student website wrote: ‘If I could have my time back, I wouldn’t have gone to university. ‘I graduated last year and work in a friend’s café for £6 an hour.’

A separate report, published yesterday, asked more than 4,000 people whether they would recommend a young person to go to university. Just 29 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 said they would ‘actively encourage’ it, according to the poll commissioned by the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning.

A spokesman for the Department for Business insisted that university is not an expensive waste of time for many people. She said: ‘Our studies show that graduates earn, on average, around £100,000 more across their working lives, as well as having other benefits such as greater rates of employment and improved health status.’


History ditched by 70% of British pupils as 159 schools fail to enter single student

History is disappearing from state schools, with just 30 per cent of pupils taking it at GCSE. Alarming figures reveal 159 state schools have ditched the subject and did not enter a single student for GCSE history last year. State schools taught the subject to just 30 per cent of their pupils, compared with 48 per cent – almost half – of private pupils.

History experts blamed the demise on schools dissuading pupils from taking the ‘hard’ subject in a drive to improve league table results.

Paula Kitching, of the Historical Association, said: ‘This is a great concern. Young people will know little of the country or society they live in. Schools want good, fast results and don’t want to challenge pupils.’ She added that pupils typically get around 45 minutes of history a week before the age of 14, leaving them ‘unprepared and uninspired’ to do the subject at GCSE.

The 30 per cent figure fell from 36 per cent in 1997. In 1997, 169,298 pupils were entered for GCSE history, compared with 155,982 last year.

There is also great disparity between parts of England. In deprived Knowsley, near Liverpool, just 16.8 per cent of pupils were entered for history, compared with 45.4 per cent in Richmond upon Thames.

Historian Chris Skidmore MP, who obtained the figures under a parliamentary question, said: ‘We need a concerted drive to get history back into schools.’

The Coalition has pledged to encourage more schools to teach history by including the subject in its performance measure the EBacc – English, maths, two sciences a modern language and geography or history.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

10 Red Bull Facts Every College Student Should Know

Red Bull is a staple on college campuses. When you’re running short on time, but still have lots of work to complete, chances are, you’re going to supercharge your energy with coffee or an energy drink like Red Bull. But although this drink is approved for sale in the US, the long term effects of its use are not known. Even short term effects are not fully understood, but just one can has the potential to alter your health, albeit temporarily.

There are plenty of rumors and accusations swirling around against Red Bull — even those so extreme they claim the active ingredient in Red Bull is a Vietnam-era Department of Defense chemical. Of course, not everything is true, but much of Red Bull’s bad rap does stem from actual events, research, and even deaths. Read on to find out 10 things you should know before you pick up your next can of Red Bull.

Red Bull may have triggered a fatal heart condition

After drinking four cans of Red Bull and various other caffeinated drinks, 21-year-old student Chloe Leach fell to the floor in a nightclub and died at the scene. She died of a rare heart condition, which may have been triggered by the excessive amount of caffeine she consumed. She had no illegal drugs in her system, and according to her mom, was typically careful in her caffeine consumption, only drinking Red Bull occasionally. This rare case is not likely to happen to most college students, but it does serve as a cautionary tale not to drink an excessive amount of energy drinks. It was unknown at the time of her death that a large amount of caffeine could trigger her heart condition.

Red Bull Cola once contained cocaine

In April and June 2009, batches of Red Bull Cola were found to contain cocaine, sparking bans from Taiwan and most states in Germany. However, this scary fact is made less scary when you note that it was between 0.1-0.3 micrograms per litre. Even with a low tolerance per can, a person would have to consume 2 million cans at once before becoming seriously ill from cocaine in the drink. Red Bull uses the extract of coca leaves for flavoring, but insists that they’re only used after removing the cocaine alkaloid, which, according to Bolivian coca growers, is completely unnecessary for safety. Some may recall that Coca-Cola’s original formula included coca leaves.

Red Bull contains lots of sodium

Most people realize that Red Bull has lots of harmful sugars. But sodium may not be as obvious, and although there’s a sugar-free Red Bull option, there’s not yet one with a low sodium option. In one small can, Red Bull packs 9% of your sodium for the day. Have more than one, and you’re nearing 20%. Although sodium is good for those working out, students downing Red Bulls to power through late nights probably aren’t sweating enough to need sodium replacement from a drink. The CDC reports that 90% of the people in the US get too much sodium, raising our risk of high blood pressure, and in turn, our risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.

Mixing Red Bull with alcohol can be dangerous and deadly

Red Bull cocktails can lead to impulsive, risky behavior, according to a study at Northern Kentucky University. Those who mix alcohol and Red Bull may feel more awake and alert, not really aware of their level of intoxication. You may drink more than you normally would, and make poor decisions as a result. A pre-mixed alcoholic energy drink, Four Loko, was banned after several hospitalizations and even college student deaths of those who drank the concoction to become "wide awake drunk."

Red Bull raises your risk for heart attack and stroke

After drinking just one can of Red Bull, your risk for heart attack or stroke rises, even in young people. An Australian study found that Red Bull makes blood "sticky," with abnormal blood systems similar to patients with cardiovascular disease. Researchers caution against drinking Red Bull for those that may be suffering from stress or high blood pressure. Researcher Scott Willoughby recommends, "if you have any predisposition to cardiovascular disease, I’d think twice about drinking it."

Red Bull has been linked to kidney failure

In Sweden, Red Bull was investigated in the deaths of three young people believed to have consumed the drink. Two of them used Red Bull as a mixer, which is commonly believed to be dangerous, but one of them drank several Red Bulls after a hard workout and died of kidney failure. This prompted officials in Greece to recommend that the drink not be consumed after strenuous exercise, and France, Denmark, and Norway only allow Red Bull to be sold in pharmacies. Although there is no conclusive evidence, scientists do have their suspicions that Red Bull in large amounts can harm your kidneys, and clearly, officials have acted to reduce the risk if it is in fact true.

Red Bull can slow water absorption

Although Red Bull "vitalizes body and mind," it’s not good for exercise, and can keep you from absorbing water due to high levels of caffeine and sugar. Most people already don’t get enough water, especially while consuming Red Bull and other types of drinks. Drinking a Red Bull instead of water could further exacerbate a water deficiency. Red Bull’s representative Kim Peterson shares that the drink is definitely "not a ‘thirst quencher’ or fluid replenishment drink." So if you’re going to drink Red Bull, be sure to keep an eye on your water intake as well.

Red Bull can cause behavior problems

A Catholic high school in Britain had to ban Red Bull after several students exhibited changed behavior, and not for the better. Students became hyperactive, noisier, stopped responding to instructions, and began arriving to school later than they should. Although college students may be responsible enough to avoid such negative actions after drinking Red Bull, there’s no guarantee the drink won’t make you more impetuous and irresponsible.

Drinking too much Red Bull can make your heart stop

After drinking a large amount of Red Bull (approximately eight cans in five hours) a motocross competitor, Matthew Penbross, collapsed in 2007. His heart had stopped, and he needed defibrillation to be revived. At 28 years old and in "peak condition," his only other risk factor for a heart attack was smoking. He regularly drank four Red Bulls each day instead of eating, although labels warn against drinking more than two cans a day. The cardiologist who treated Penbross believes that "excessive consumption of energy drinks had precipitated the heart attack." Excessive consumption of Red Bull certainly seems to be dangerous, and should be avoided even on an occasional basis.
Caffeine intoxication can happen, and it’s scary

Red Bull packs a serious punch of caffeine, and too much can cause serious health problems. There is such a thing as caffeine intoxication, which can include tremors, anxiety, restlessness, rapid heartbeats, and sometimes even death. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University believe that Red Bull and other high-caffeine energy drinks should carry warning labels to alert users to their levels of caffeine content.


Florida teacher who punched student returns to classroom

An art teacher who punched an unruly high school student last spring is back in the classroom - but at a different school.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that 64-year-old Sandra Hadsock was present on the first day of school Monday to teach art to elementary students at a school in Spring Hill, north of Tampa.

She agreed to the move as part of a deal to keep her job.

Hadsock was arrested in May after punching a male student who called her a vulgar name and then advanced on her. The incident was caught on a student's cellphone video camera.

But prosecutors declined to press charges, saying the video didn't provide conclusive evidence that the veteran teacher wasn't acting in self-defense.


Britain thrashing about on student funding

Restricting enrolments at top quality universities and encouraging more enrolments at cheap universities seems very destructive

Institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College could be stripped of undergraduate places next year in a move that effectively penalises universities charging the most for degree courses.

Manchester and Leeds – the biggest universities in the elite Russell Group – face losing up to 300 students each, while Sheffield Hallam, in Nick Clegg’s constituency, could be stripped of 450. The disclosure is made as part of Labour research into radical reforms to higher education funding in 2012.

From next year, 20,000 places are removed from all universities before being “auctioned off” to institutions that charge the lowest tuition fees.

Gareth Thomas, Labour’s shadow universities minister, said: “These figures confirm that places at high quality internationally renowned universities for the brightest and best students are set to be axed in order to fund a race to the bottom.”

The Government currently controls how many students each university can recruit. Numbers are capped because of the cost to the taxpayer of providing undergraduates with means-tested grants and upfront student loans to cover tuition and living expenses.

From 2012, English universities can charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees – almost three times the current rate. Figures show the average fee will stand at £8,393.

But to minimise the student loans bill, ministers are determined to ensure that most universities charge far less. In a controversial move, it has proposed creating a “flexible margin” of around 20,000 places to reward the cheapest universities. This would be created by stripping student numbers from each university on a pro-rata basis and awarding them to institutions that charge less than £7,500.

But this means many universities – particularly those charging close to the maximum amount – could be badly hit.

An analysis using data from the House of Commons library shows how many student places each one will lose on a pro-rota basis.

The Russell Group, which represents 16 English universities, faces collectively losing up to 2,300 places. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and the London School of Economics could lose 50 students each. A further 2,100 could go at institutions belonging to the 1994 Group, which represents smaller research universities such as Durham, Lancaster and York.

But the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills criticised the analysis, which they said failed to take other reforms into account. This includes plans to allow the best universities to recruit unlimited numbers of students who get the best A-level results – at least two As and a B – potentially recouping places lost under the "flexible margin" system.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MA: State may seek “No Child” waiver

Massachusetts may join a growing number of states in revolting against an unpopular provision of a federal education law that has caused thousands of schools nationwide, including more than half the schools in Massachusetts, to be designated as in need of improvement.

The schools, nearly 1,000 in Massachusetts, have repeatedly stumbled in boosting state standardized test scores fast enough to fulfill what many educators consider to be an elusive and unrealistic requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act: that all students, regardless of a learning disability, lack of motivation, or any other academic barrier, will demonstrate proficiency - a solid command of grade-level material - on state exams by 2014.

It is a particularly high bar for Massachusetts, whose statewide standards for student attainment are among the toughest in the country. And the consequences of falling short are serious - including the possibility of the state taking over underperforming schools.

Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in an interview last week that Massachusetts is giving serious consideration to filing for a waiver from the 100 percent proficiency rule, under a new program announced this month by the Obama administration.

“For me, the reason filing a waiver makes sense for Massachusetts is that [the rule] no longer does a good job of differentiating our strongest performers from our weakest performers,’’ Chester said. “We have many schools in the Commonwealth at this point that are failing the federal requirements but are not failing schools.’’

But in a state with a reputation for having some of the highest academic standards in the country, the possibility of abandoning the 100 percent proficiency rule is drawing sharp criticism from some education advocates.

A waiver could thwart state efforts to galvanize more school districts to develop innovative approaches to accelerate student achievement, said Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and a former state board education chairman.

“The state with the best-performing students in the country shouldn’t need a waiver from a high expectation regulation,’’ Anderson said. “I don’t think Massachusetts should apply for a waiver to reduce expectations on what we expect kids to achieve.’’

The waivers have sparked heated debate in Washington, with many members of Congress arguing that the Obama administration has no legal right to waive the requirement. Administration officials contend that they do, as they deride the George W. Bush-era law for exaggerating the number of potentially failing schools and thereby preventing school districts from devoting their limited resources to the schools actually in greatest need.

More here

Being near a good school is top priority for one in three British homebuyers

More than a third of prospective homebuyers with young children say moving to an area with a good school is their top priority, research shows.

Moving into the catchment area of a good school was the top priority for 37pc of prospective buyers with a child aged 10 or under, according to a study for Santander Mortgages.

Many were willing to pay an extra £12,000 to secure the home – and school – of their choice. The average house price premium for moving to a good catchment area was £5,663. One in four of those with a child aged 11 to 17 named proximity to a good school as a major concern.

Homebuyers in the West Midlands were most concerned about moving into a good catchment area, the survey found, with 26pc citing it as a main priority, double the percentage concerned about the issue the last time they bought a home.

In the North East only 6pc of buyers showed a particular interest in the catchment area the last time they purchased a home, but 16pc of people planning to buy a property in the region now considered it a main priority.

The research suggested that women were much more concerned about moving into a good catchment area than men – they were willing to pay a £7,300 premium, compared with £4,450 for men.

Phil Cliff, a director of Santander Mortgages, said: "People are increasingly concerned about the value of a good education, and in some areas of the country there is a significant amount of competition for places at sought-after schools.

"This has led to many parents trying to move to a particular area deliberately to improve their child's chances of getting into their desired school. Some in-demand property features such as being located within the catchment area of a good school can increase the property value considerably."


School's milk crates fall foul of Britain's health and safety police

For 15 years, a set of disused milk crates had been providing children at an Oxfordshire school with old-fashioned fun. But that was before the health and safety zealots caught sight of them.

Now the 25 crates, which have been used as props for countless games involving ships, cars, dens and castles, have been taken away over fears that pupils could be injured on them.

"In all the time we have had the crates, we have not had a single child hurt themselves," said Anne Bardsley, a teacher at Wychwood Primary school, who described the decision to remove them as "outrageous".

The crates, once donated by a friendly milkman, were seized by Dairy Crest during a routine delivery.

Lyndsey Anderson, from the company, apologised for any distress. "Whilst we understand their disappointment at losing something they had come to view as playground equipment, it remains a fact that milk crates are not toys and current health and safety guidelines require that they should not be used as such," she said.

Mrs Bardsley explained that the pupils were always supervised while playing with the crates and that they helped creative learning. "The children absolutely loved them," she added.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Anti-Americanism Disguised as Ethnic Studies in Tucson Schools

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is in a contentious fight with the state of Arizona over its controversial Mexican-American Studies program. A state law went into effect in Arizona on January 1, 2011, banning the teaching of ethnic studies in K-12 schools. It was prompted by an investigation into TUSD’s ethnic studies curriculum by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne when he was State Superintendent of Schools.

The program is known as “raza studies,” which means race studies, championed by organizations like the far left organization National Council of La Raza. The course does not simply teach Latino youth about their heritage, it goes well beyond that. The textbooks teach Latino youth that they are mistreated by America, training them to become radical anti-American activists. Textbooks include “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Occupied America.” Another text "gloats over the difficulties our country is having at enforcing its immigration laws." Benjamin Franklin is vilified as a racist. White people are referred to as “gringos” and “oppressors” of Latino people. “Privilege” is described as related to a person’s ethnicity.

At a TUSD school board meeting on May 10, one upset mother read excerpts from the textbook “An Epic Poem,” including,

My land is lost and stolen, My culture has been raped….we have to destroy capitalism…overthrow a government that has committed abuses….to the bloodsuckers, the parasites, the vampires who are the capitalists of the world: The schools are tools of the power structure that blind and sentence our youth to a life of confusion, and hypocrisy, one that preaches assimilation and practices institutional racism.

Under the new state law, which was drafted by Horne, schools will lose 10% of their state education funding if they are not in compliance. The law bans teaching that advocates overthrowing the U.S. government, returning portions of the U.S. to Mexico, promoting resentment towards a race, and advocating for one race.

In January, during the last days of his term as State Superintendent of Schools, Horne found Tucson’s schools in violation of all four provisions of the law. Arizona’s new Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal ordered an audit of the program earlier this year. 11 teachers and the director of the Mexican-American Studies Department refused to work with the auditors. Instead, they sued the state alleging the law is unconstitutional.

The audit was a failure, only analyzing 9 out of a possible 180 lesson units, or 5%, not enough to make any sort of objective analysis. The auditors gave the teachers advance notice of classroom observation, and allowed them to handpick students for the focus group. Nevertheless, Huppenthal found the program in violation of state law and gave the district 60 days to comply or lose funding. The program may also violate Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, which passed last year banning preferential treatment or discrimination based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The TUSD school board is split over the program. However, at a hearing on Friday, TUSD Governing Board President Mark Stegeman and member Michael Hicks relayed their concerns about the program. Hicks said the program is not in compliance with state law, and Stegeman said the behavior observed in the course is almost cult like.

School board meetings discussing the program have been raucous, with students chaining themselves to board members’ chairs, which prevented one meeting from taking place, and the removal of several people from another meeting.

Former history teacher John Ward, who is Hispanic, is speaking out against the program. He taught Mexican-American studies for TUSD several years ago until it became radicalized. He objected to teaching an American History class which gave students American History credit for learning the history of the Aztecs, without teaching any American History. He was told to sit in the back of the classroom while an ethnic studies proponent without a teaching degree actually taught the class. Due to his objections, he was removed from teaching the class.

TUSD’s test scores are among the lowest in the state. Contrary to the claims of ethnic studies proponents, students who take ethnic studies classes perform worse academically than other students. A school board member asked the district’s statistician to compare those students’ academic success to others. The statistician found that students who take ethnic studies are less likely to pass the state’s AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test than others. Clearly, the district would be better off transferring its efforts into improving academic scores.

The students are being used by a handful of radical adult activists with an agenda, who are employing classic Alinsky tactics to force through their extremist agenda. They cannot win through legitimate elections and democratic processes, so they resort to intimidation. District superintendent John Pedicone wrote an op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star exposing that adults were behind the students’ disruption at a board meeting, “Students have been exploited and are being used as pawns to serve a political agenda that threatens this district and our community.” In addition to filing bullying lawsuits, proponents have also sent threatening letters to various government officials.

It has been shown that students become angry and resentful after being taught this kind of propaganda. One high school student said she did not know she was oppressed until she was told so in one of these programs. The people of Arizona voted almost 60% in favor of Proposition 107 which banned ethnic preferences and discrimination. It would be an affront to the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., who used civil disobedience to defeat discrimination, if a handful of radical activists successfully use not-so-civil disobedience to bring discrimination back.


How the British Labour Party let a generation down with easy High School courses

The number of pupils studying core GCSEs more than halved under Labour, creating an under-skilled generation, figures have revealed. Experts said the decision to introduce a raft of easy GCSE-equivalent qualifications had led to dumbed-down teenagers deprived of key skills for survival in the workplace.

Only 22 per cent of youngsters - 152,000 - took GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, a humanity and a language last year. This is a reduction from 50 per cent - 293,000 - in 1997 when the last Labour Government took power.

Instead of rigorous subjects such as physics, tens of thousands sat soft subjects such as a Certificate in Personal Effectiveness, which includes a module on how to claim the dole. Ministers have now called for pupils to sit the EBacc, a new qualification based on the old O-levels which focuses on traditional subjects.

Tory MP Damian Hinds said: ‘These figures show categorically how, over 13 years, the last Labour government undermined the life chances of a generation by steering them away from the subjects that employers value most.’ He said students need a ‘core of recognised key academic subjects’ to ‘compete in an increasingly global marketplace with their counterparts from countries like China and India’.

The figures, revealed today, emerge as around 750,000 children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to receive a bumper crop of GCSE results on Thursday. It is predicted that nearly one in four could be awarded at least an A grade and one in 12 exams could score a coveted A*. Last summer, the pass rate rose for the 23rd year in a row, with 69.1 per cent of entries achieving at least a C grade.

The figures showing the sharp decline in core subjects - revealed in response to a parliamentary question - followed a massive increase in non-academic qualification awarded since 2004. Some 115,000 non-academic subjects were taken in school in 2004 - and this soared to 575,000 in 2010. Most of these were taken at the age of 16 and included BTECs in subjects such as ICT, which is equivalent to four separate GCSEs.

An independent review by Professor Alison Wolf, of King’s College London, found that 350,000 young people each year are pushed into courses with ‘little to no labour market value’. She said schools have ‘deliberately steered’ pupils away from the more difficult core subjects to improve their league table rankings.

Official figures show that while only 22 per cent of pupils took five EBacc subjects, fewer than one in six achieved them last year. The EBacc measure was included for the first time in the league tables in January this year. It is thought that next year its effect will be seen in results, bringing a halt to the year-on-year rise of pass rates.

Union leaders are against the EBacc. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it would do more harm than good. She added: ‘The pressure on schools and teachers of the league tables has already led to too much teaching focusing on getting pupils through exams.

‘The Government’s intention to devalue and limit vocational qualifications in league tables will tie schools’ hands and push many people into qualifications that don’t allow them to develop their talents and excel.’


Islamic school racket: Australian Federation of Islamic Councils siphons off taxpayer money meant for education

THE nation's peak Muslim body is extracting millions of dollars in rent and fees from a successful Islamic school in Sydney that draws most of its funding from taxpayers.

Documents reveal the Malek Fahd Islamic School paid the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils $5.2 million last year alone, an amount equal to one-third of the school's educational funding from the federal and state governments.

An investigation by The Australian has uncovered millions of dollars in funds charged to the school, including unexplained "management fees".

The school has also been charged $2.59m in back rent after AFIC retrospectively altered a lease agreement in 2009. Last year, it paid $3.15m in "management fees" to AFIC, which included $2.2m in "management fees back charge".

AFIC, also known as Muslims Australia, has not explained how the fees are being spent by the organisation, despite detailed questions from The Australian.

Malek Fahd, in Greenacre in Sydney's west, received $15.7m in educational funding from the commonwealth and NSW governments last year, accounting for 74 per cent of its overall income.

According to the school's financial statement, it received a total of $19.6m in government funding last year, with the figure boosted by cash from the federal government's Building the Education Revolution program.

The school of about 2000 students is widely considered a success story for Islamic education in Australia, rating 15th in NSW HSC system ratings last year and in the top 10 in 2007.

The school is listed as independent and is a separate legal entity from its landowner and founder AFIC. Government funds are given directly to the school, not to AFIC.

Both are not-for-profit organisations, with the school entitled to a range of tax concessions as a charitable institution.

In 2008, a lease was signed between the school and AFIC that set annual rent for the Greenacre property at $1.3m, but documents reveal that in 2009 the lease was changed to increase the rent to $1.5m a year. The agreement was backdated to January 2004, resulting in a one-off payment of $2.59m going to AFIC.

According to the school's last financial report, another deal saw the school hand over a lump sum of $2.2m in backdated management fees to AFIC, with another $959,800 handed over for management costs in that year.

Neither the school nor AFIC can explain what the management fees are charged for.

AFIC president Ikebal Patel, who has held the role since 2007, is also the chairman of directors of the school. He was briefly removed from the position of AFIC president by the AFIC congress in 2008, but was reinstated after a complex federal court challenge to the legitimacy of the vote.

When asked by The Australian how he explained the fees being charged to the school and where and how AFIC was spending the funds, Mr Patel said: "The financial statement is out there. If you want to discuss anything else I'm happy, but I'm not going to discuss any of this."

Mr Patel has not replied to questions in writing about how the large fees were justified or where the money was being spent.

Mr Patel would also not answer questions as to how much he or other members of the AFIC executive were personally drawing in income or any other payment from AFIC funds.

Intaj Ali, the school's principal, told The Australian that "all questions about the school's finances should be directed to the school's director, Ikebal Patel".

However, it is understood that Dr Ali - a respected educator who has been principal since the school's inception in 1990 - is privately furious over the manner in which AFIC has been using the school's funds.

Senior figures at the school and in the Islamic community are angry the school is being denied its funds to reinvest into the school, which has large classes and generally caters to students of non-English speaking backgrounds and of lower socioeconomic groups. The school receives proportionately larger government funding for this reason.

The Greenacre school site was purchased by AFIC in 1989 for about $2.2m with funds from the Saudi royal family. The school, which charges fees of about $1200 a year, has been responsible for funding the construction of its own buildings.

Along with Mr Patel as chairman of directors of the Malek Fahd, the school's board also has several other AFIC executives. These include AFIC vice-president Hafez Kassem, treasurer Mohamed Masood and assistant AFIC treasurer Ashraf Usman Ali.

Neither the commonwealth nor the NSW education department has provided comment on the matter, but The Australian understands the school's funding issue has been brought to the attention of NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's office.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Texas Schools and crooked Leftist statistics

The canard about Texas school failure came up back in February when the innumerate and statistically incompetent New York Times columnist Paul Krugman tried to argue that low levels of public spending in Texas resulted in poor educational outcomes.

"Compassion aside, you have to wonder — and many business people in Texas do — how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education."

This was shortly after the brouhaha over public-sector unions — which mostly means teacher unions — in Wisconsin. The Economist chimed in with a snide comparison:

"Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:

South Carolina — 50th
North Carolina — 49th
Georgia — 48th
Texas — 47th
Virginia — 44th

If you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country."

The whole Krugman/Economist thesis was decisively exploded by blogger Iowahawk in a March 2nd post. Iowahawk pointed out what everyone acquainted with psychometric or educational statistics knows: that the only meaningful population comparisons are those that have been disaggregated by race and ethnicity.

In fact, the lion’s share of state-to-state variance in test scores is accounted for by differences in ethnic composition. Minority students — regardless of state residence — tend to score lower than white students on standardized tests, and the higher the proportion of minority students in a state the lower its overall test scores tend to be … Whatever combination of reasons, the gap exists, and it’s mathematical sophistry to compare the combined average test scores in a state like Wisconsin (4% black, 4% Hispanic) with a state like Texas (12% black, 30% Hispanic).

Iowahawk went on to perform the necessary disaggregation, showing that:

"White students in Texas perform better than white students in Wisconsin, black students in Texas perform better than black students in Wisconsin, Hispanic students in Texas perform better than Hispanic students in Wisconsin. In 18 separate ethnicity-controlled comparisons, the only one where Wisconsin students performed better than their peers in Texas was 4th grade science for Hispanic students (statistically insignificant), and this was reversed by 8th grade. Further, Texas students exceeded the national average for their ethnic cohort in all 18 comparisons; Wisconsinites were below the national average in 8, above average in 8.

Iowahawk got a huge email bag from that post. He responded with a follow-up on March 5th, from which:

"After controlling for ethnicity, compared to the running-dog Gang of Five non-collective bargaining states (TX, VA, SC, NC, GA), Wisconsin is a (1) middling performer for white students; (2) below middling for Hispanic students, and (3) an absolute disaster for black students."

If I were Rick Perry I’d have Iowahawk’s analysis displayed on billboards on state highways.


Sex education returns to classrooms of New York

For the first time in nearly two decades, students in New York City's public middle and high schools will be required to take sex education classes this year, with a curriculum that includes how to use a condom and discussions on the appropriate age for sexual activity.

The new mandate is part of a strategy the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has announced to improve the lives of African and Latin American teenagers. City statistics show that these teenagers are more likely than their white counterparts to have unplanned pregnancies and contract sexually transmitted diseases.

"It's something that applies to all boys and all girls," the deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda Gibbs, said.
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"But, when we look at the biggest disadvantages that kids in our city face, it is blacks and Latinos that are most affected by the consequences of early sexual behaviour and unprotected sex."

The change will bring a measure of cohesion to a system of programs largely chosen by school principals.

It will also involve New York in the roiling national debate about how much students should be taught about sex.

Nationwide between 2006 and 2008, one-in-four teenagers learnt about abstinence without receiving any instruction in schools about contraceptive methods, an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health found.

As of January, 20 states and the District of Columbia mandated sex and HIV education in schools. An additional 12 states, including New York, required HIV education only, a policy paper published by the institute said. New York City's new mandate goes beyond the state's requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. It calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade and again in 9th or 10th grade.

The New York sex education program is part of a raft of public health efforts introduced by Mr Bloomberg's administration - including the push to reduce the intake of salt and sugary sodas - which has been criticised as interventionist. It is also unique because the city does not usually tell schools what to teach.

"We have a responsibility to provide a variety of options to support our students, and sex education is one of them," the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Dennis Walcott, said.

Parents can have their children opt out of the lessons on birth control methods.

City officials said that while there would be frank discussions with students as young as 11 on topics like anatomy, puberty, pregnancy and the risks of unprotected sex, the focus was to persuade them to wait until they are older to experiment.

But, while knowing many teenagers are sexually active, the administration wants to teach them safe sex to reduce pregnancy, disease and dropouts.

Classes will include a mixture of lectures, perhaps using statistics to show that while middle school students might brag about having sex not many actually do; group discussions about why teenagers resist using condoms; and role-playing exercises that might include techniques to fend off unwanted advances.

New York high schools have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years but, in the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them and why, going into areas some schools have never ventured before.


Britain has launched a revolution in its university system -- says Matthew d'Ancona

The ritual argument about the difficulty of A-levels strikes me as both rude and pointless. It’s hard to imagine anything more offensive or crass to those celebrating their results than telling them noisily that the currency has been debauched and devalued.

The fact is: they don’t have to be told any of this. Their conduct – the brightest teenagers taking six or seven A-levels to mark themselves out as the best – shows that they know the score, perfectly well aware that pass rates don’t improve for 29 years in a row if standards are stable. Today’s smartest sixth formers pursue A* grades with the same zeal that their forebears sought the old-fashioned A. They do whatever is necessary to distinguish themselves, with much greater ingenuity and industry than was necessary in the past.

It cannot be said too often: the row about grade inflation is a row about the failures of past policy-makers, not a critique of today’s teenagers. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is committed to an overhaul of A-levels, following a review of the examination commissioned by the Tories in Opposition and led by Sir Richard Sykes, a former rector of Imperial College London. The themes of the forthcoming reform are encouraging – fewer “modules”, more traditional written tests, the probable withering on the vine of the AS level, new exam boards – but the timetable is not yet settled. I would be pleasantly surprised if the poor, ailing A-level is healed in the lifetime of this Parliament.

Which is not to say that the pace of change in education has stalled. Quite the opposite, in fact: as we trot biliously through the traditional arguments of A-level and GCSE fortnight (“This boy has 36 As at A-level, and yet can’t even get a place at Simon Cowell University”, etc, etc), we risk missing the bigger, fizzing picture. As the aftershock of the August riots continues to pulse through the nation, it is easy to forget the violent mayhem in Westminster last November in protest at the prospective rise in university tuition fees. Inexcusable as those earlier riots were, they at least had a measure of political content: the changes against which the protesters bellowed are indeed revolutionary. In this context, the chaos in university clearing last week symbolised the death throes of the old, or, if you are of an optimistic cast of mind, the birth pangs of the new.

Many of those scrambling for a place last week were desperate to slip under the wire to avoid the new system, which will be implemented in the academic year 2012-13 and lift the annual ceiling for undergraduate fees from £3,500 to £9,000 pa. At present, 60 per cent of university funding is public, and 40 per cent private; those percentages will now be reversed. This represents a transformation, not only in higher education finance but in what, since Cardinal Newman, we have called “the Idea of a University”. It completes a shift that has its distant origins in the introduction of student loans in 1990 and, more decisively, in Tony Blair’s Teaching and Higher Education Act of 1998, which introduced fees of £1,000 pa and began the phasing out of maintenance grants.

It has taken more than 20 years, but the deeply entrenched assumption that a university education was an immutable entitlement which taxpayers (graduates or not) were required to subsidise in full has been replaced by the recognition that it is a privilege, positional good and lifetime advantage that ought to be paid for (in large part) by the beneficiary himself. The corollary is that universities will have to raise their game as teaching institutions if they wish to attract funding, and – an important change – publish details of the A-level subjects taken by successful applicants. As long as the fees they can charge are capped, Britain will not have the unfettered higher-education marketplace that it needs to compete globally. But the trajectory is clear.

One of the most significant proposals in the Higher Education White Paper published in June was that universities should be able to admit as many students as they wish with two As and a B at A-level (or better). In effect, this quietly grants the Russell Group – the top 20 universities – something close to market flexibility. “That’s a radical change,” according to one senior source. “It amounts to the quiet introduction of a higher education voucher.”

Co-payment by the consumer; the rudiments of a university marketplace; a discreetly introduced voucher system – so far, so Conservative. But this is not a Conservative Government; it is a Coalition held together by Sellotape and exhaustion. Although many Tories wish that the expansion of higher education could be halted, the Prime Minister and David Willetts, the Universities Minister, are not among them. Both men share the Lib Dems’ belief that campuses can be engines of social mobility and aspiration. For this reason, the new system will be progressive in every sense that matters. No graduate will pay a penny back until he earns £21,000 or more. Less affluent students will benefit from the new National Scholarship Programme, a fund championed by Nick Clegg that will give successful applicants at least £3,000 to offset the annual costs.

But there is still tension between the Coalition partners over the precise extent to which government should twist arms, pull levers and risk confrontation to force universities to admit applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. All 123 higher education institutions in England are planning to charge more than £6,000 – a decision that automatically makes them subject to much more stringent “access agreements”. Tory ministers are foursquare behind any measures that make universities look at the potential of candidates as well as their achievements. There is no quarrel over the need to get more state pupils into higher education.

The argument concerns means, not ends. Clegg is up for a fight with the vice-chancellors, and has said as much in private. Denied electoral reform at Westminster as his legacy, he demands measurable results on social mobility, especially in the composition of university admissions. The Lib Dems want everything short of formal quotas, which are illegal under the 2005 Higher Education Act. They believe that no progress will be made unless the Coalition bares its teeth. Their Conservative partners fret that the Coalition needs its remaining teeth intact for all the other battles that lie ahead.

Unexpectedly, universities have become the laboratory of this Government’s social ambitions. But these individual ambitions are not necessarily consistent. Is the higher education system to become an ever more independent marketplace of free institutions? Or a great Heath Robinson machine for social engineering? It cannot be both. This is the unanswered question that lurks beneath this year’s university clearing bedlam. Clearing for what, exactly?