Saturday, October 29, 2011

Asian Americans most bullied in US schools

Asian Americans endure far more bullying at US schools than members of other ethnic groups, with teenagers of the community three times as likely to face taunts on the Internet, new data shows.

Policymakers see a range of reasons for the harassment, including language barriers faced by some Asian American students and a spike in racial abuse following the September 11, 2001 attacks against children perceived as Muslim.

"This data is absolutely unacceptable and it must change. Our children have to be able to go to school free of fear," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday during a forum at the Center for American Progress think-tank.

The research, to be released on Saturday, found that 54 percent of Asian American teenagers said they were bullied in the classroom, sharply above the 31.3 percent of whites who reported being picked on.

The figure was 38.4 percent for African Americans and 34.3 percent for Hispanics, a government researcher involved in the data analysis told AFP. He requested anonymity because the data has not been made public.

The disparity was even more striking for cyber-bullying.

Some 62 percent of Asian Americans reported online harassment once or twice a month, compared with 18.1 percent of whites. The researcher said more study was needed on why the problem is so severe among Asian Americans.

The data comes from a 2009 survey supported by the US Justice Department and Education Department which interviewed some 6,500 students from ages 12 to 18. Asian Americans are generally defined as tracing ancestry to East Asia, the Indian subcontinent or the South Pacific.

Officials plan to announce the data during an event in New York on bullying as part of President Barack Obama's White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

New Jersey parent Shehnaz Abdeljaber, who will speak at the event, said she was shocked when she saw her son's middle school yearbook in which not only classmates but also a teacher wrote comments suggesting he was a terrorist.

Abdeljaber soon learned that her son had endured similar remarks at a younger age but had kept silent. She complained to the school principal but has since pushed for workshops on bullying that involve teachers and students.

"We need a more creative approach and more interaction with the youth, empowering them to do something rather than just going through the framework of authority," she said.

The Obama administration has put a priority on fighting bullying. In March, the president joined Facebook for an online anti-bullying conference, where he warned that social media was making the problem worse for many children.

Duncan, the education secretary, warned that bullying had serious effects as it can lead to mental and physical health problems including dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Duncan also voiced concern about high rates of bullying at schools against gay and lesbians, an issue that has come into greater focus since a spate of suicides last year among gay teens who were harassed.

"We're seeing folks who somehow seem a little different from the norm bearing the brunt," Duncan said.

"We're trying to shine a huge spotlight on this," he said.

A number of Asian countries have also wrestled with bullying.

Japan stepped up measures in 2006 after at least four youngsters killed themselves in a matter of days and the education minister said he had received an anonymous letter from a bullied student who was contemplating suicide.


Record spending cuts hit British nursery schools

Children from middle-class families will be hardest hit by the most severe funding cuts to state education since records began more than 50 years ago, a report has warned.

Exam results are expected to fall as a result of the cuts, leaving future generations with lower grades and struggling to secure well-paid jobs, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Its study concluded that schools with higher numbers of children from affluent backgrounds would fare worse than those in the poorest neighbourhoods, which would receive more money under the Coalition’s plans.

The budget for renovating school buildings would fall by more than half in real terms over the next four years, while universities would see their funding cut by 40 per cent. However, the most severe impact on children’s education would be in nurseries and playgroups, as “early years” education funding is reduced by a fifth, the IFS warned.

Teachers said the report undermined promises from Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to protect the education budget from cuts. However, the Government stressed that it had been forced to make “tough decisions” and blamed Labour’s inefficiency for wasting money over the past decade.

At the Comprehensive Spending Review a year ago, ministers announced that state funding for schools would be maintained in real terms. However, official forecasts of inflation have risen sharply since. The IFS said the result would be a cut in “real terms” of 13.4 per cent across the UK between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

After the largest increases in education spending since the 1970s under the previous Labour government, the next four years would see the largest reductions in state spending on education over any four-year period since records began in 1955, the IFS said.

Its report found that in England:

* Spending on early years education and youth services, is expected to be cut by more than 20 per cent in real terms. Planned cuts to education for 16- to 19-year-olds are likely to be of a similar magnitude.

* Schools will see the smallest real-terms cut of about 1 per cent. The areas suffering most will be higher education, with a 40 per cent fall in real terms, and capital spending, which will fall by more than 50 per cent.

The schools that will be worst affected will be in the more affluent communities after the Coalition introduced a “pupil premium” to provide extra money for educating the poorest children in society.

Luke Sibieta, senior research economist at the IFS and co-author of the report, said about 30 per cent of primary schools and 40 per cent of secondary schools would see significant real-term cuts as their budgets failed to keep pace with rising costs.

“These are unquestionably the more affluent, less deprived schools,” he said. A school with only 5 per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals would receive a budget increase of just 0.5 per cent, he added.

Studies have shown a link between increased resources for schools and improvements in exam results, suggesting that the funding cuts would result in “a small fall” in grades in the future, Mr Sibieta said. “The implication we all care about is how it will matter for educational outcomes, will it matter for young people’s exam results or earnings potential?” he said.

While schools were “relatively protected”, with cuts of only about 1 per cent to their core funding, the “real challenges” would be faced by nurseries and colleges.

“The concern would be the extent to which these cuts to financial resources are translated to worse outcomes in early years and their ability to provide the same services,” said Mr Sibieta.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said the cuts would have “massive implications” for the quality of children’s education. “So much for Michael Gove saying education was protected,” she said. “It clearly is back to the future with this government.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said ministers had to take “tough decisions to reduce the deficit”. “The schools’ budget is actually increasing by £3.6 billion over the next four years,” he said. “This protects per pupil funding levels and includes the new pupil premium, which provides an extra £488 for every child on free school meals and which will rise over the next three years.

“The two-year freeze on teachers’ pay also means schools are benefiting from a lower level of inflation.”

He said the Government was right to look at the spending on school buildings because much of it was being spent on red tape and consultants.


British Universities see 40pc fall in soft subject applications

Softer university subjects such as communication studies and creative arts have seen a drop in applications of up to 40 per cent as students seek value for the controversial £9,000 tuition fee, according to figures released on Monday.

Overall applications for university courses starting in 2012 have fallen by 9 per cent but the subjects worst hit are those which students may consider would offer the least reward and which tend to be offered by the less prestigious institutions.

Applications for 'mass communication and documentation' subjects, such as media studies and PR, have been hit the hardest, falling 40.6 per cent compared to this time last year.

Education courses have also suffered, with applications dropping by 30 per cent while interest in creative arts has dropped by 27.1 per cent and business and administration studies by 26.1per cent.

By comparison, applications for Oxford or Cambridge and for any medicine, veterinary or dentistry courses, for which the deadline was October 15, are down by just 0.8 per cent.

The number of 18-year-old Oxbridge applicants is up by 1.1 per cent on last year, despite a population of 2 per cent fewer 18-year-olds this year compared to last.

Although almost every subject has witnessed a drop in applications, the more traditional university courses such as mathematics, engineering and languages have not fared quite as badly as others.

With three months to go before the final deadline, applications for mathematics and computer science are down 2.6 per cent on this time last year, for law, they are down 5.2 per cent and for linguistics and classics, down 1.7 per cent. Applications for history and philosophical studies are down 5.9 per cent and European language and literature down 10.1%.

A UCAS spokeswoman said that despite the drop, the vast majority of universities surveyed had reported an equal or increased interest in open days, suggesting that students may simply be taking more care over their applications with so much money at stake.

She said: “People want to see where their money is going. They appear to be taking a little more care when deciding and may be less likely to enrol on a course at a university they have not even visited.

“This may simply explain a delay in applying. The figures could still rise over the next three months.”

The cap on tuition fees will almost triple for those starting degree courses next September, rising from £3,375 to £9,000.

Unions representing university students and lecturers blamed the Government's higher education policies for deterring applicants.

Toni Pearce, vice president of the National Union of Students, said: "The indication is that the confusion caused by the Government's botched reforms is causing young people to, at the very least, hesitate before applying to university.

"Ministers must stop tinkering around the edges of their shambolic reforms, listen to students, teachers and universities, and completely overhaul their white paper before temporary chaos turns into permanent damage to our education system."

Sally Hunt, general secretary for the University and College Union, which represents more than 120,000 academic staff, said: "The Government's fee policies have been a complete mess from day one.

"First, the Government promised that fees of more than £6,000 a year would be the exception rather than the rule, but budgeted for an average fee of £7,500.

"As everyone predicted, the average fee was far higher than that and, even more predictably, the number of students applying to university has dropped."

But David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister, insisted that it was too early in the applications cycle for data to reveal underlying trends.

He added: “Going to university depends on ability, not the ability to pay. Most new students will not pay upfront, there will be more financial support for those from poorer families, and everyone will make lower loan repayments than they do now once they are in well-paid jobs."


Friday, October 28, 2011

Teacher‘s Union Offered Grant to Create ’Activists’ Out Of 1st & 2nd Graders

The National Education Association (NEA), the largest labor union in the country, offered a $5,000 Learning and Leadership Grant to two Wisconsin teachers who intended to use the funds to “help first and second grade students” become “activists.”

The description of the grant for teachers Andrea Burmesch and Tara Krueger of Muskego Elementary read:
Ms. Burmesch and a team of colleagues will develop a critical literacy inquiry based unit of study to help their first and second grade students understand the role that power plays in their lives. The teachers will learn how visual literacy and technology, particularly website and podcast development, can be used by students to create activist messages that make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others. The students will create their messages around issues important to their lives.

The grant description is no longer available on the NEA Foundation website as Muskego-Norway Superintendent declined to accept the grant given its dubious language and intent. The following is a screenshot of the grant information while it was still available on NEA’s site:

Muskego Patch adds:
Muskego-Norway Superintendent Joe Schroeder responded to an inquiry from Belling, and immediately “upon inspection, I found a description of the grant that, while rooted in the development of critical thinkers and positive community members, was described with some very concerning language.”

Schroeder said he had specific concerns over “helping first and second grade students ‘understand the role that power plays in their lives’ in effort to ‘create activist messages’ is language that, especially under the umbrella of a national union’s grant foundation, can understandably raise concern.”
Click here to find out more!

He explained that those involved in the grant application process were spoken to, and Schroeder believed them “to be people of integrity who have a sincere interest in developing critical thinkers and positive, contributing members of our school and the larger community who were simply seeking additional funds in their service to students.”

Schroeder asserts that the teachers’ intent and meaning of “activism” differed from the obvious interpretation.

“I also told them that I believe the language of the grant description, especially within the context of a national union’s grant foundation, understandably can cloud their original intent. Upon review, they now understand that,” Schroeder added.

“To date, we have not collected one cent of this NEA grant — and will not do so. I have contacted the NEA office that we are declining the grant and, therefore, are requesting that they remove our approved grant from their website,” he said.

But if a glance at the NEA’s “Activist’s Library” is any indication, this is not the last time we will see attempts from the union to indoctrinate children and turn them into “activists.” The following books, including one from none other than Saul Alinsky, are listed on NEA’s site:

Rules for Radicals
Saul Alinsky, Vintage Books, 1989

The classic book about organizing people, written by one of America’s foremost organizers.

Organize for Social Change
Midwest Academy Manual for Activists
Third Edition, Kim Bobo et al, Seven Locks Press, 2001

This is one of the best books about collective action and putting the screws to decision-makers. It’s about winning battles.

Building More Effective Unions
Paul Clark, Cornell University Press, 2000

Penn State Professor of Labor Studies Paul Clark applies the latest in behavioral sciences research to creating more effective unions. His insights are both astute and highly practical.

The Trajectory of Change: Activist Strategies for Social Change
Michael Albert, SouThend Press, 2002

Z Magazine’s Michael Albert has assembled a collection of thoughtful articles on ways to overcome various obstacles to social change.

Roots to Power: A Manual for Grassroots Organizing
Lee Staples, Praeger, 1984

This is a good nuts and bolts guide to organizing. It is especially good on recruiting, developing action plans, executing them, and dealing with counterattacks.

Taking Action: Working Together for Positive Change in Your Community
Elizabeth Amer, Self Counsel Press, 1992

Written by a Toronto community activist, this book is easy to read, full of examples, and sprinkled with how-to-advice.

Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders
Si Kahn, McGraw Hill, 1981, Revised 1991

This book is well organized. You can find relevant material for your situation without reading the whole book.

Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth
Derrick Bell, Bloomsbury, 2002

A gem of a book that delves into the question of “Why become an activist?” It is both thought-provoking and energizing.

Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time
Paul Rogat Loeb, St. Martins Press, 1999

Provides solace for the activist‘s soul and juice for the activist’s battery


Mistakes by British examiners fuel rise in number of teens being given extra marks for High School exams

The number of teenagers receiving extra marks in their A-levels and GCSEs rose this summer, fuelled by the mistakes in exam papers, figures show. The mistakes ranged from wrong answers in a multiple choice paper to impossible questions and printing errors.

Around 372,300 requests were made for 'special consideration', up 13 per cent on 2010, says exams watchdog Ofqual. Almost of all these - 354,200 in total - were approved.

Pupils can be awarded up to an extra 5 per cent of the maximum mark for a paper depending on their special circumstances. The maximum 5 per cent is usually awarded in 'exceptional cases', for example, if a candidate recently suffered the death of a close family member.

But around 2 per cent of the marks available can be awarded to a candidate who suffered a minor illness, such as a headache, on the day of the exam.

A separate report from the watchdog, also released yesterday, shows teenagers were caught cheating more than 3,600 times this summer. The most common offence was smuggling banned items, such as mobile phones, calculators, dictionaries or study guides, into the exam hall. The second most common type of offence was plagiarism, failure to acknowledge sources, copying or collusion, the report found.

In half of cases (51 per cent) students lost marks, and in nearly a fifth of cases (19 per cent) pupils lost the chance to gain a qualification. In almost a third of cases (30 per cent) candidates were issued with a warning. In total, 3,678 penalties were issued to candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the June 2011 exam series, down 11 per cent on last year.

Ofqual said the series of blunders in this summer's GCSE and A-level exams also accounted for part of the rise in special consideration requests.

It has been suggested that around 100,000 students were affected by around 12 mistakes in GCSE, AS and A-level papers set by five exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey said: 'The figures show an increase in applications for special considerations. 'We know that the exam paper errors account for some of this increase because special considerations were part of the redress arrangements put in place by the awarding organisations.

'We do wish now to explore further with the awarding organisations the details behind this year's figures, particularly the relationship with the exam paper errors. 'Our inquiry is ongoing and we will publish a final report before the end of the year.'

Ministers have also announced plans to give Ofqual the powers to fine exam boards that make mistakes.

Toni Pearce, National Union of Students (NUS) vice-president for further education, said: 'The large number of exam errors in the summer were unacceptable and these figures begin to show the huge disruption they caused.

'Young people should be able to sit exams confident that they will be a true test of their ability and exam boards must make sure that real improvements are made in time for next year's exams.

'The anxiety and uncertainty caused by knowing that someone else's mistake may have had a detrimental effect on a young person's exam performance is unacceptable and we look forward to the results of Ofqual's scrutiny of this year's failures.'


'Mickey Mouse' courses to be axed from British league tables

Thousands of so-called “Mickey Mouse” courses are being cut from school league tables under a government drive to restore rigour to the education system.

Currently about 7,000 vocational qualifications are counted in official school performance tables, a fact that has led to head teachers allegedly entering pupils for “soft” courses to boost their school’s position in the highly competitive rankings. Ministers have published “strict new rules” designed to ensure that only the most rigorous vocational qualifications can be counted in league tables in future.

Over the past decade, courses in cake decoration and hairdressing were allowed to be counted as “equivalent” to certain A-levels and GCSEs in official school tables. Labour education ministers insisted that vocational qualifications should be seen as of equal value to academic education, but critics argued that too many schools were choosing easier courses to boost their position in the league tables.

Under the current system, some vocational courses are worth multiple GCSEs, with a level 2 BTEC in “horse care” deemed to be equivalent to four GCSEs at grade C or higher. In future the number of vocational courses that will count towards a school’s league table result will fall to “a few hundred”.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “No pupil should be preparing for a vocational qualification simply to boost the school’s GCSE or equivalent score in the performance tables.

“These reforms will lead to a boost in the quality of vocational qualifications being taken and will enhance the opportunities for young people to progress.”

The number of qualifications judged to be eligible for inclusion in league tables has risen from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 last year.

Under the new rules, pupils will still be able to take existing vocational “equivalent” courses if they think they are the right option for their careers.

However, only those qualifications that meet the Department for Education’s new rules will be counted in official league tables ranking schools on their exam results from 2014.

In order to pass the test, vocational courses must offer pupils “proven progression” to a range of further study options, rather than sending teenagers into a dead end.

All courses must take up as much study time as at least one GCSE, and they will have to categorise results using a GCSE-style grading system of A* to G. This will exclude a range of qualifications that are short courses and offer simple pass or fail results. Ministers will publish the full list of courses approved for use in league tables early next year.

A government source said there had been a 3,800 per cent increase in the number of non-academic qualifications awarded to pupils since 2004.

“Under Labour, millions of children were pushed into non-academic qualifications that were of little value,” he said. “The Government is raising standards for all by allowing only the very best qualifications in the league tables and increasing the number of children doing the academic subjects that parents and universities value most.”


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why allow kids to be hostage to government monopoly?

For years, American education from kindergarten through high school has been a virtual government monopoly.

Conventional wisdom is that government must run the schools. But government monopolies don't do anything well. They fail because they have no real competition. Yet competition is what gives us better phones, movies, cars -- everything that's good.

If governments produced cars, we'd have terrible cars. Actually, governments once did produce cars. The Soviet bloc puts its best engineers to work and came up with the Yugo, the Volga and the Trabant.

The Trabant was the best -- the pride of the Eastern Bloc. It was produced by actual German engineers -- known for their brilliance. Yet even the Trabant was a terrible car. Drivers had to put the oil and gas in separately and then shake the car to mix them. Trabants broke down and spewed pollution.

When government runs things, consumers suffer.

Our school system is like the Trabant. Economist Milton Friedman understood this before the rest of us did. In 1955, he proposed school vouchers. His plan didn't call for separating school and state -- unfortunately -- but instead sought a second-best fix: Give a voucher to the family, and let it choose which school -- government-run or private -- their child will attend.

Schools would compete for that voucher money. Today, it would be worth $13,000 per child. (That's what America spends per public school student today.) Competition would then improve all schools.

Friedman's idea was ignored for decades, but now there are voucher experiments in many states.

Do vouchers work? You bet they do. Just ask the low-income kids in Washington, D.C., who have participated in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The U.S. Department of Education found that the voucher kids read better than their government-school counterparts.

So what did the politicians do? Expand the program? No. Two years ago, President Obama killed it. Why? "The president has concerns about ... talking large amounts of funding out of the system," then-press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Voucher families protested. One voucher student, Ronald Holassie, said, "President Barack Obama, you say that getting an education is a key to success, but why do you sit there and let my education and others be taken away?"

The program was reauthorized only after John Boehner became Speaker of the House and insisted on it.

Holassie was a guest on my Fox Business show last week. He says the difference between a government school and his private school was dramatic. "In the public school system when I was in there, (there were) lots of fights. There were shootings, stabbings, and it was really unsafe -- drugs."

The Opportunity Scholarship didn't offer the full $20,000 that the district squanders on its public schools. It was worth just $7,000, but that was enough to get Ronald into a Catholic school.

"I was actually challenged academically," he said. "I remember when I was in the public school system, my teacher left in the middle of the year. I remember doing crossword puzzles and stuff like that. We weren't actually learning."

He says most of his government-school teachers acted like they didn't care. His mother, who's from Trinidad, was going to send him back to that country for an education because the schools there are better than American schools. "She wasn't going to continue to just let this system fail me." But he got the voucher and a good education, and now he's in college.

Despite the data showing that voucher kids are ahead in reading, the biggest teachers union in America, the NEA claims: "The D.C. voucher program has been a failure. It's yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement."

Holassie asks: "How is it a failure when the public school system is failing students? I don't understand that."

I don't understand it either. Vouchers aren't a perfect solution, but they are better than leaving every student a prisoner of a government monopoly. District government schools have only a 49 percent graduation rate. Ninety-one percent of the voucher students graduate.

Why would the union call that a failure? Because vouchers allow parents to make choices, and many parents would chose non-union, non-government-run schools. The school establishment can't abide this. Too much money and power are at stake.


British university students increasingly seeking second degrees to compete for top jobs

One degree is no longer enough to secure the best-paid jobs, according to research. Growing numbers of university students are staying on after their bachelors’ degrees to complete postgraduate masters and doctorate courses, said the study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

Employers are increasingly seeking more highly qualified staff and typically pay workers with postgraduate courses 13 per cent more than those with first degrees only, the research found.

Last week figures showed that universities were facing their largest fall in applications for 30 years after a rise in tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year.

The study findings will add to concerns that increasing numbers of prospective students may decide that a university degree is not worth the investment. Workers with degrees have traditionally been paid better than those without. But the research from Prof Stephen Machin of University College London and Joanne Lindley from the University of Surrey found a significant gap opening between employees with one degree and those with higher qualifications.

“Employers are increasingly demanding postgraduates,” the researchers said, adding that postgraduates have “significantly strengthened their relative wage position”. In 1996, postgraduates were typically paid 6 per cent more than workers with first degrees only, but by 2009, this earnings “gap” had widened to 13 per cent.

More than a third of graduates now have a postgraduate qualification, with 37 per cent of graduates possessing a further degree in 2009, compared with 30 per cent in 1996. According to research, those with postgraduate degrees are on average carrying out jobs that involve significantly more complex tasks than people with just one degree.

“In key skills areas, the levels are significantly higher for postgraduates,” said the report. “For example, postgraduates have higher numeracy levels (especially advanced numeracy), higher levels of analysing complex problems and more specialist knowledge or understanding.”

Postgraduates have also benefited most from the increased demand for workers with computer skills over the past 15 years. “Postgraduate and college-only [first degree] workers both report high levels of computer usage, but using computers to perform complex tasks is markedly higher among the postgraduate group,” the study said. “The principal beneficiaries of the computer revolution have not been all graduates, but those with postgraduate qualifications.”


Australia: Religious education counters religious prejudice

Probably true in general but maybe not if Islam is taught honestly

Religions must be properly taught in state schools as part of the curriculum because people who never come across religion are far more likely to be prejudiced against it.

I came across that interesting and plausible assertion this week because teaching religion in state schools was back in the news when the Anglican church in Melbourne voted down a call for a multi-faith-based general religious education (GRE).

The church's synod (parliament) rejected it (204-167) not because they think it is a bad idea but to support and encourage the existing system of special religious instruction (SRI), taught by volunteers.

I blogged on religion in schools earlier this year, when it became a fresh issue in April. The reason I am revisiting it is because I was interested in the claim in my first sentence, above.

John Baldock, the minister at East Malvern, made it in moving the call for GRE that was eventually defeated. He said the reason a secular version teaching all faiths (though endorsing none), taught as part of the curriculum by trained teachers, is so necessary is that it promotes tolerance and understanding.

He said: “This is important. British and European studies show that children with some education about religion are more tolerant than those without it. Studying religion helps develop inclusive attitudes and promotes a climate of respect. Starkly put, without education about different faiths, conflict and disharmony are more likely.”

Therefore, paradoxically, the less religious Australian society becomes, the more important religious education will be.

Baldock told the synod: “The recent Mapping Social Cohesion report alerts us to how those who know least stereotype most; how those who know little about religion hold the most negative views towards groups other than their own.”

(I add an important qualification: such education would help prevent not only anti-religion bigotry, but bigotry by adherents of one religion against those of another or none.)

And of course, religion is not disappearing any time soon, despite the predictions and hopes of many over the past few decades. Around the world, its numbers and influence are rising. Surely it is better to know something of what other people believe than not.

GRE in the state curriculum would mean every student getting a basic grasp of the history, beliefs and practices of the major world religions, including Christianity. Now, only half the students get SRI.

Baldock also noted the role of religion in influencing people’s attitudes to ethics and philosophy, law and politics, gender relations, plus its impact on health and social services, and the challenge of religiously motivated violence and terrorism.

He said: “While I reject many of the criticisms levelled at SRI, I agree that religion is too important to leave to optional classes taught to students by volunteer teachers.”

SRI is almost entirely Christian, though Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Baha’is also teach in state schools. The reason the Anglicans rejected Baldock’s proposal was to support Access Ministries, which provides 96 per cent of SRI and has come under strong attack.

Access chairman Bishop Stephen Hale says there has been a campaign against Access in which The Age and The Sunday Age have played a part, and that the debate has sometimes been quite personal and unpleasant.

Yet even though state and federal inquiries found no evidence of volunteers proselytising children, I am certain some have abused their role. There is too much anecdotal evidence of some seeking to convert children and, worse, suggesting their families will go to hell if they don’t go to church.

The Anglicans favouring GRE - which only became possible via a change to the state Education Act in 2006 – argue it should operate alongside the voluntary SRI. That should remain, along with better provision for those who take no part.

This is simple common sense, unarguably right - though as far as the adverb is concerned, I am sure I will be proved wrong. But I will say this: my experience on this blog and elsewhere leads me to give that opening sentence serious credence.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stably wasteful: Why new tech won’t gut higher education

If the human capital model of education were true, educators should be worried. Modern information technology makes it possible to teach skills for a fraction of the traditional cost. If imparting skills were the main function of schooling, higher education will soon, as Arnold suggests, go the way of Borders.

Unfortunately for the world, but fortunately for me, the human capital model is greatly overrated. Education is not primarily about teaching concrete skills. It's a stably wasteful way to sort people according to their intelligence, conscientiousness, conformity, etc.

So what happens when an innovator claims to have a cheaper, easier substitute for traditional education? The lazy and the weird gravitate to Cheap Easy U like moths to the flame. As a result, employers correctly infer that graduates of Cheap Easy U are sub-par - and Cheap Easy U captures, at best, a niche market. A sustainable business model, perhaps - but no real threat to the Expensive Painful Universities that blanket the land.

If our education system is going to improve, our salvation won't be low-cost alternatives to what we've got. Our salvation will be education budgets so austere that middle class kids can no longer afford to finish four-year degrees - and therefore no longer need four-year degrees to convince employers to give them a chance.

P.S. Two years ago Alex Tabarrok expressed similar hopes/fears about the ability of technology to gut higher education. I replied:

"If [you] were right, then videotape would have put college professors out of business thirty years ago!"

Then I offered Alex a bet:

"I bet at even odds that 10 years from now, the fraction of American 18-24 year-olds enrolled in traditional four-year colleges will be no more than 10% (not 10 percentage-points!) lower than it is today."

As far as I remember, Alex didn't take the bait. How about you, Arnold?


The Media and 'Bullying'

Thomas Sowell

Back in the 1920s, the intelligentsia on both sides of the Atlantic were loudly protesting the execution of political radicals Sacco and Vanzetti, after what they claimed was an unfair trial. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote to his young leftist friend Harold Laski, pointing out that there were "a thousand-fold worse cases" involving black defendants, "but the world does not worry over them."

Holmes said: "I cannot but ask myself why this so much greater interest in red than black."

To put it bluntly, it was a question of whose ox was gored. That is, what groups were in vogue at the moment among the intelligentsia. Blacks clearly were not.

The current media and political crusade against "bullying" in schools seems likewise to be based on what groups are in vogue at the moment. For years, there have been local newspaper stories about black kids in schools in New York and Philadelphia beating up Asian classmates, some beaten so badly as to require medical treatment.

But the national media hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. Asian Americans are not in vogue today, just as blacks were not in vogue in the 1920s.

Meanwhile, the media are focused on bullying directed against youngsters who are homosexual. Gays are in vogue.

Most of the stories about the bullying of gays in schools are about words directed against them, not about their suffering the violence that has long been directed against Asian youngsters or about the failure of the authorities to do anything serious to stop black kids from beating up Asian kids.

Where youngsters are victims of violence, whether for being gay or whatever, that is where the authorities need to step in. No decent person wants to see kids hounded, whether by words or deeds, and whether the kids are gay, Asian or whatever.

But there is still a difference between words and deeds -- and it is a difference we do not need to let ourselves be stampeded into ignoring. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech -- and, like any other freedom, it can be abused.

If we are going to take away every Constitutional right that has been abused by somebody, we are going to end up with no Constitutional rights.

Already, on too many college campuses, there are vaguely worded speech codes that can punish students for words that may hurt somebody's feelings -- but only the feelings of groups that are in vogue.

Women can say anything they want to men, or blacks to whites, with impunity. But strong words in the other direction can bring down on students the wrath of the campus thought police -- as well as punishments that can extend to suspension or expulsion.

Is this what we want in our public schools?

The school authorities can ignore the beating up of Asian kids but homosexual organizations have enough political clout that they cannot be ignored. Moreover, there are enough avowed homosexuals among journalists that they have their own National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association -- so continuing media publicity will ensure that the authorities will have to "do something."

But political pressures to "do something" have been behind many counterproductive and even dangerous policies.

A grand jury report about bullying in the schools of San Mateo County, California, brought all sorts of expressions of concern from school authorities -- but no definition of "bullying" nor any specifics about just what they plan to do about it.

Meanwhile, a law has been passed in California that mandates teaching about the achievements of gays in the public schools. Whether this will do anything to stop either verbal or physical abuse of gay kids is very doubtful.

But it will advance the agenda of homosexual organizations and can turn homosexuality into yet another of the subjects on which words on only one side are permitted. Our schools are already too lacking in the basics of education to squander even more time on propaganda for politically correct causes that are in vogue. We do not need to create special privileges in the name of equal rights.


Australia: Teaching in schools with a criminal record

TEACHERS are being allowed to work despite being found guilty of assault, drink driving and drug possession.

The information, obtained through a Freedom of Information request from Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, also showed two approved applicants were dismissed following allegations of unprofessional conduct.

The Teachers Registration Board response revealed that between August 12, 2010, and September 5, 2011, 42 applicants made a declaration relating to questions about fitness and propriety.

The teacher with the longest list of charges was found guilty of property offences and minor drug offences in the late 1970s and early 1980s, followed by social security fraud/overpayment (1997), minor possession of cannabis (1998) and theft (2004).

Mr Brokenshire said the Government had to ensure "very careful analysis" of teachers to ensure high standards.

"There especially needs to be proper scrutiny and analysis when they come from interstate because if they have had a problem that could be the reason for the move," he said.

Teachers Registration Board of South Australia registrar Wendy Hastings said when an applicant indicated they had to make a declaration about fitness and propriety further inquiries were conducted.

"We're not talking about major robberies, serious assault or sexual abuse and in some cases they happened five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago," she said.

The information provided by the board stated one applicant was dismissed following allegations of unprofessional conduct and that with another teacher "regulatory authority is currently assessing the matter".

Ms Hastings said at the time of lodgement, the applicant was registered in another state.

"Appropriate checks were made ... with that state, which responded indicating there were no matters currently before the regulatory authority," she said.

In the other case, the applicant had successfully appealed his dismissal and was reinstated by his employer. After reinstatement the board granted provisional registration and a serious reprimand was issued. [A serious reprimand! Wow! That must have hurt!]


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Senate bill Would Further Undermine Due Process on Campus


Historically, most colleges used a “clear and convincing” evidence standard in student and faculty discipline cases, to safeguard due process. As Nicholas Trott Long noted in 1985 in the Journal of College and University Law, “Courts, universities, and student defendants all seem to agree that the appropriate standard of proof in student disciplinary cases is one of ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.” (Long, The Standard of Proof in Student Disciplinary Cases, 12 J.C. & U.L. 71 (1985)).

But in recent years, this due process safeguard has come under attack, most prominently in a legally-flawed April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter from the head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Russlynn Ali, who has demanded that colleges dilute the presumption of innocence in sexual harassment and assault cases by instead using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard that defines as guilty people who are as little as 50.001 percent likely to have committed the offense. I explained earlier why this demand was legally baseless, and not supported by either the Title IX statute or federal court rulings dealing with sexual harassment. (I was once a staff attorney at the Office for Civil Rights (OCR))

Now, the Senate draft bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (by Sen. Leahy’s Office) has inexplicably sought to expand the assault on due process. The draft VAWA bill would give OCR the power to set the “standard of proof” not only in harassment and rape cases, but also in other kinds of cases like “domestic violence,” “stalking,” and inappropriate behavior in dating relationships. It would do this even though OCR has jurisdiction (and expertise) only in certain kinds of discrimination cases (like sex discrimination and sexual harassment), not things like domestic violence.

It really is strange for a bill to delegate to a federal agency the power to lower due process protections and standards of proof to be used against private individuals. I have never seen any bill like this before, and it may be unprecedented. Giving OCR this power raises the danger that it could some day demand an even lower standard of proof like “reasonable grounds” or “probable cause” that would require discipline even where the accused is probably innocent as long as there is some possibility of guilt, effectively creating a presumption of guilt. It also sets a precedent for future legislation forcing institutions to lower the standard of proof in other kinds of cases that could lead to the firing of employees or explusion of students. It is also strange to delegate to an agency like OCR that administers one statute (Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination and harassment) the ability to dictate the standard of proof for an entirely different statute that it doesn’t even administer (VAWA, dealing with domestic violence and violence against women).

One irony in the Senate bill is that while it would give OCR the power set whatever standard it chooses, OCR’s recent “Dear Colleague” letter itself implies that OCR lacks the power to redefine the burden of proof, by claiming that its “preponderance of the evidence” standard is the one commanded by federal appellate court rulings in discrimination cases — not the product of any administrative discretion on its part.

The draft VAWA reauthorization bill states on page 69 that colleges shall “apply the standard of proof recommended by the most recent Guidance issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights,” which issues guidance such as “Dear Colleague” letters on the federal sex discrimination law, Title IX. That is, colleges shall use for domestic violence cases under VAWA whatever standard the Office for Civil Rights decides to use for sexual harassment cases under a totally different statute, Title IX. (Such “guidance” is not a formal rule, is not accompanied by safeguards like notice-and-comment, and cannot be found in compilations of laws and regulations available to the public like the Code of Federal Regulations.)

OCR’s recent “guidance” is embarrassingly faulty, relying on inapposite cases. OCR currently claims that a “preponderance” standard must be used by colleges in student discipline for sexual harassment and rape, because the courts, in handling discrimination cases, find employers and schools liable for discrimination based on a “preponderance” standard. (For example, if the company president fires an employee, the employee only needs to prove that the firing was based on sex by a preponderance of the evidence — not beyond a reasonable doubt — to successfully sue the company for sex discrimination.)

But that “preponderance” standard is the test for when an institution is liable for its own discrimination (and discrimination by its agents), not when a student is guilty. Harassment by students (or even faculty) does not automatically constitute discrimination by the institution. As the Supreme Court’s Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District decision makes clear, there is no strict liability under Title IX for sexual harassment. A school is deemed guilty of discrimination under Title IX based on sexual harassment committed by a student or teacher only when it is “deliberately indifferent” to the sexual harassment, and the harassment is “severe and pervasive” enough to deprive the victimized student of access to an education.

So the mere fact that an accused student is ever-so-slightly more likely than not to have engaged in harassment — that is, may have committed harassment under a “preponderance” of the evidence standard — does not show that the school was negligent, much less “deliberately indifferent,” if it failed to expel him in the face of evidence that was not clear and convincing, but rather closely-matched. That is made clear by cases like Doe v. Dallas Independent School District (2000), which rejected liability against a school district that, in good faith, failed to credit the victim’s contested allegations (even though they later turned out to be true); and cases like Knabe v. Boury Corp. (1997), which rejected liability against an employer that refused to discipline an employee for harassment, even though the court assumed he was guilty for purposes of summary judgment, because of the absence of clear, corroborating evidence of his guilt.

Since “harassment” by an individual only legally becomes “discrimination” by an institution when it responds culpably and inappropriately to allegations of harassment — not just when it gives the accused a presumption of innocence — the fact that institutions are liable for discrimination under a preponderance standard does not in any way call into question the longstanding tradition of using a “clear and convincing” evidence standard in college discipline cases (a tradition reflected in collective bargaining agreements, which may be why OCR’s recent guidance has drawn fire from the American Association of University Professors).

OCR’s demand that colleges use a “preponderance” standard has been criticized by many civil libertarians and journalists, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE); former Massachusetts ACLU leader Harvey Silverglate, in The Wall Street Journal; former ACLU Board member Wendy Kaminer; conservative syndicated columnists Michael Barone and Mona Charen; libertarian columnist Jacob Sullum; and columnist Jennifer Braceras in the Boston Globe. Lawyer Robert Smith of LeClairRyan argued that OCR’s position contravened federal law. Attorney Harvey Silverglate notes that under pressure from the Education Department, colleges are already finding students guilty of sexual harassment and rape based on very meager evidence, such as when police have previously concluded that the accuser made a false claim of rape.

Other things in OCR’s April 4 “Dear Colleague” letter have also proved controversial, such as its legally-unfounded claim that accused students should not be allowed to cross-examine their accuser, and its suggestion that schools should have to investigate (and perhaps punish) students based on anonymous allegations.

Contrary to OCR’s arguments, the fact that harassment occurred by a “preponderance” of the evidence is not a reason to hold the school liable, or force it to expel a student in the face of equivocal evidence. As a federal appeals court noted, “a good faith investigation of alleged harassment may satisfy the ‘prompt and adequate’ response standard, even if the investigation turns up no evidence of harassment…. Such an employer may avoid liability even if a jury later concludes that in fact harassment occurred,” (See Harris v. L & L Wings, 132 F.3d 978, 984 (4th Cir. 1998)). As another appeals court noted, “an employer, in order to avoid liability for the discriminatory conduct of an employee, does not have to necessarily discipline or terminate the offending employee.” (See Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 414 (3d Cir. 1997).)

For example, a court held that an employer did not have to discipline an accused employee where the evidence did not convincingly prove the existence of harassment, citing the absence of a corroborating witness. (See Knabe v. Boury Corporation, 114 F.3d 407 (3rd Cir. 1997).) That employer escaped liability despite requiring more than a close case for discipline, as a preponderance of evidence would mandate. A corroborating witness is not needed to show proof under a mere preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.

Similarly, in another case, a court rejected an attempt to hold an employer liable for harassment because it failed to discipline a harasser where it was genuinely unclear at the time whether he was guilty: “It would be unreasonable, and callous toward [the accused harasser’s] rights, for the law to require Wal-Mart to discipline [him] for events he denies, of which Wal-Mart could not find evidence.” (See Adler v. Wal-Mart, 144 F.3d 664 (10th Cir. 1998).) Thus, it can be perfectly reasonable, and thus legal, to give the accused a firm presumption of innocence, especially where the accused has no previous history of harassment.


Parent furor at bawdy sex ed: City’s eye opening lessons

A New York City education will now cover readin’, ’ritin’ -- and rubbers.

Sex ed, which becomes mandatory in city middle and high schools next year, is meant to stem unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among teens. But parents may be shocked by parts of the Department of Education’s “recommended” curriculum.
Workbooks reviewed by The Post include the following assignments:

* High-school students go to stores and jot down condom brands, prices and features such as lubrication.

* Teens research a route from school to a clinic that provides birth control and STD tests, and write down its confidentiality policy.

* Kids ages 11 and 12 sort “risk cards” to rate the safety of various activities, including “intercourse using a condom and an oil-based lubricant,’’ mutual masturbation, French kissing, oral sex and anal sex.

* Teens are referred to resources such as Columbia University’s Web site Go Ask Alice, which explores topics like “doggie-style” and other positions, “sadomasochistic sex play,” phone sex, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.
Told of the subjects her son could learn about, one Manhattan middle-school mom said, “They seem pretty outrageous.”

Shino Tanikawa, a SoHo mother of two daughters, including a high-school junior, also was taken aback. “I didn’t know how much detail they would get,” she said. But she added that many city kids learn about hanky-panky on their own.

Starting in the spring, the DOE will require one semester of sex ed in sixth or seventh grades and one in ninth or 10th. It says schools can pick any curriculum but recommends the widely used HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk programs and trains teachers to use them.

The curriculum “stresses that abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy and STD/HIV,” the DOE said.

Lessons include role playing on resisting sexual advances and advice on “negotiating condom use” with a partner.

The DOE says parents have the right to exclude their kids from lessons on “methods of prevention.” “Kids are being told to either abstain or use condoms -- that both are responsible, healthy choices,” said child and adolescent psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, author of “You’re Teaching My Child What?” The DOE “relies on latex,” she said.

But Grossman argues that the books minimize the dangers that pregnancy can still occur with condom use, and that viruses such as herpes and HPV live on body parts not covered by a condom.


What IS going on in Britain's mosque schools? Beatings, humiliation and lessons in hating Britain

The punishment is almost medieval in its cruelty. Victims are forced to crouch down and hold their ears with their arms threaded under their legs. Beatings are often administered at the same time.

This brutal practice has its own name: the Hen, so called because those forced into the excruciatingly painful squatting position are said to resemble a chicken.

It is the kind of shockingly degrading treatment you might expect to feature in an expose of torture techniques, like say, the use of waterboarding (simulated drowning) on terrorism suspects. You’d be wrong, though.

In fact, the Hen is used to discipline children, many under the age of ten, at British madrassas, the after-school Islamic religious classes invariably attached to mosques.

We have been told of one little girl who was forced to stay crouched and contorted in front of her class for an hour.

‘It’s a particularly unpleasant and painful punishment,’ said Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, a founder of the Muslim Institute think-tank, and one of the few Muslim voices in the country to speak out about the abuse of youngsters at madrassas.

The harrowing stories now emerging from such establishments are all too familiar to detectives in Lancashire, where there are 15 madrassas in Accrington alone. They have received at least 37 separate allegations against local Islamic teachers or hafizes, ‘holy men’ who have memorised the Koran by heart.

Among them is a girl who says she was hit and kicked in the leg and face, causing bruising. The victim’s age? Just six.

Then there’s the eight-year-old boy who was punched in the back several times for making a mistake in his studies, or the boy, also eight, who had his head pulled back by the hair for not praying loud enough, or the nine-year-old forced into the ‘Hen position’ before being punched on the back and slapped in the face for not learning his Koranic lines and talking in class.

These are just some of the incidents which have recently been investigated. Yet, so far, not one of the perpetrators has been brought to justice or even reprimanded. Nor are they likely to be. Why? Well, at least some parents, it appears, were pressurised into withdrawing complaints by their own community where the clerical hierarchy are afforded great deference.

Indeed, more than 400 such allegations of physical abuse have been made to local authorities in the UK over the past three years, but there have been only two successful prosecutions.

It’s a shameful indictment of the modern British justice system and one has to wonder if political correctness means the authorities are reluctant to vigorously investigate such crimes for fear of being labelled racist.

The true scale of the scandal is unknown. Many families, it is suspected, are reluctant even to report the ill-treatment of their sons or daughters for fear of upsetting their fellow Muslims. Such fears are more than justified. In some cases, parents have been intimidated and threatened for going to the police. So the brutal treatment meted out to Muslim children continues; in silence.

The plight of many students inside Britain’s madrassas — and the implications for wider society — was highlighted by the respected File On 4 programme on Radio 4 this week, and follows a Dispatches investigation on Channel 4 in February, which not only captured beatings on hidden cameras, but also pupils being taught hatred for the British way of life, which they were told is influenced by Satan.

Anyone with ‘less than a fistful of beard’ must be avoided ‘the same way you stay away from a serpent or a snake’, some children were instructed. Non-Muslims were referred to as the ‘infidel’.

In other words, religious apartheid and social segregation is being taught to a growing number of Muslim youngsters in our towns and cities; an agenda, it seems, increasingly being reinforced by beatings and brutality.

So how much influence do madrassas hold over impressionable young Muslims? The statistics are compelling.

There are now believed to be around 3,500 madrassas in Britain although such is the demand for them that new ones are springing up all the time, not only in mosques but also in living rooms, garages, and even in abandoned pubs. Some have only a handful of pupils; others several hundred. Overall, up to 250,000 children, aged between four and 14, attend madrassas, all dutifully attired in Islamic dress; girls in headscarves, boys in skull caps.

In a typical daily scene, students hunch over wooden benches, rocking backwards and forwards as they learn the Koran by rote in Arabic, as a man with a long, dark beard dressed in traditional shalwar kameez — tunic and trousers — sits at the head of the class or paces up and down.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Senate Panel Approves Bill That Rewrites Education Law

Legislation rewriting the No Child Left Behind education law finally gained traction this week, and the Senate Democrat whose committee passed the bill said on Friday that progress became possible because lawmakers were irritated by the Obama administration’s offering states waivers to the law’s key provisions.

“Some of us on both sides of the aisle were upset with them coming out with the waiver package that they did, so that spurred us on,” Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who heads the Senate education committee, said in an interview. “It gave us a sense of urgency.”

Mr. Harkin’s committee voted 15 to 7 on Thursday to approve a bill that would greatly reduce Washington’s role in overseeing public schools. It was co-sponsored by Senator Michael B. Enzi, the Wyoming Republican who is the committee’s ranking minority member. Mr. Harkin called it “a good compromise bill” that would have bipartisan support in the full Senate.

But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who had long criticized Congress for failing to rewrite the law, on Friday criticized the Harkin-Enzi bill, saying it compromises too much, particularly on teacher evaluations and student-achievement goals. “There are huge — significant problems with the current draft,” he said. “Though there are some things in this that I consider positive, others are quite concerning.”

The movement in the Senate came less than a month after Mr. Duncan and President Obama announced they would waive the school-accountability provisions for states that promise to follow their school improvement agenda, citing Congressional inaction as the prime motivation. Forty-one states have told the Department of Education that they intend to seek the waivers.

The Harkin-Enzi bill is the first No Child rewrite to gain committee approval since Congress began trying to overhaul the 2002 law four years ago. It would continue to require states to test students in grades 3 through 8 annually in reading and math, but would eliminate most provisions in the law that put the federal Department of Education in the position of supervising the performance of the nation’s 100,000 public schools. The department would continue to closely oversee how states manage their worst-performing schools.

Though the waivers were aimed at releasing states from the mandate that schools be deemed failures if all their students were not proficient in reading and math by 2014, administration officials said Friday that Harkin-Enzi’s most serious weaknesses were that it would not require states to set any student achievement targets, and that a requirement that schools evaluate teachers based on student test scores and other methods had been dropped.

Civil rights and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the legislation would so thoroughly eviscerate the federal role in school accountability that they could not support it. But powerful groups representing superintendents, principals, teachers and school boards said they were delighted.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators. “The current law is so toxic, and they’ve had a hard time in Congress for a long while coalescing on how to fix it.”

Earlier this fall, Mr. Hunter said he had given up hope for Congressional action any time soon. On Friday, he said there were good possibilities that the Harkin-Enzi bill would gain Senate approval, and that Republicans in the House might gain approval for their own package of bills overhauling various portions of the law — all before the presidential primaries make further progress a remote possibility.

Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Fordham Institute, a Washington research group, who has also been skeptical on chances for a No Child rewrite, said he now saw a 50-50 chance that Congress could pass a bill before the presidential election.

“It still could be derailed, but you can see the contours of a bill now that would pass both chambers,” Mr. Petrilli said.

Charles Barone, a director of Democrats for Education Reform, said that senators of both parties seemed so eager to trim back Washington’s role in public schools that many were turning their backs on half a century of federal commitment to improving educational opportunities for poor children.

“Right now, they seem pretty determined to get a bill passed before Duncan can issue any waivers,” Mr. Barone said.


Half of girls at famous British private school now come from abroad

Half of pupils at one of Britain's most prestigious girl schools are now foreign, its head-teacher has disclosed, as she admitted pupils now learn Mandarin Chinese in order to speak to international boarders.

Some “lovely” parents who wish to send their daughters to Roedean School, in Brighton, East Sussex, get the “shock of their life” when told how many students were born overseas, said Frances King.

The school, which charges more than £30,000 a year for senior boarders, has faced dwindling admissions in recent years as the recession hit domestic demand and attitudes towards single-sex schools changed.

Mrs King, 51, became the world-renowned independent school’s headmistress three years ago to deal with the "challenge" of repositioning the school, which educates girls aged from 11 to 18.

Since then the school has recruited heavily for more overseas students, especially from the Far East, with half of the school's pupils now foreign, with the rest British.

Recently the school, established in the late 1800s, has just made lessons in Mandarin Chinese compulsory "for all year nines who don't yet speak it” because officials want to “make sure our local girls understand our international students”.

But the Oxford-educated head-teacher, admitted some middle-class parents from “Kensington and Wiltshire” only enrol their children in order to “do the social-climbing bit”.

Occasionally some of these “misfit” parents “can’t really cope with the reality of the school”, she admitted on Sunday. “They want to do the social-climbing bit. They want to enter into a world that never was,” she told the Sunday Times Magazine. “It's a misty-eyed look to the past when everything was just 'great'. But it wasn't at all.

"Fifty years ago boarding schools were horrific places. The fagging, the beating, cold water, leaking windows. That's why I'm very transparent with my parents who sit on my sofa, because once in a while I will have the 'misfits'.”

She continued: “You can tell when they walk in the room. They come straight out of Kensington and Wiltshire or wherever, and they have not caught up with how we are different from what they thought we were. “The danger is, Roedean has this name people think they know – an all-white, jollyhockey-sticks school. And these lovely parents from Wiltshire walk down the corridor and have the shock of their life.

“My students come from Brighton, from Hong Kong, from Nigeria, France, Wisconsin (in America) and (some parents) can't really cope with the reality of the school. Our intake is around 50 per cent international, 50 per cent British."

According to its latest figures, the number of enrolled students has fallen by more than half in recent years, from a peak of about 800 to its current levels of 375.

About 15 per cent of its sixth form go on to study at either Oxford or Cambridge universities. “Roedean has been forced to be more original. I knew its reputation and I was up for a challenge,” Mrs King said.

“One shouldn't be alarmed that the world is changing. I see our USP as holding onto the past, but ensuring we educate girls for a career in any country in the world. This is the future. “Your job is going to be in Melbourne, New York, Cambodia or Geneva, and you need to feel comfortable with people from all over."

She said the school was in solid financial shape after it sold the St Mary's Hall senior school site to the local hospital for £10m and its junior school to Brighton College for an undisclosed sum.

After it bought the school in 2009, a row over its new fees forced many parents to move their children to the state sector.


Australian State School bans tiggy (tag) in playground

A QUEENSLAND primary school has banned popular chasing games Tiggy and Red Rover from the playground. New Farm State School, in Brisbane's inner north, outlawed the popular lunchtime activities because of injury fears. Students have instead been told to play safer games like chess and snakes and ladders.

NFSS principal Virginia O'Neill has outlined the "temporary" ban to parents and students, saying it is necessary to protect students from "Prep to Year 7".

The move has been roundly criticised as "safety madness" and another case of cotton wool kids.

Ms O'Neill says the chasing games have left first aid staff working overtime with frequent accidents and disputes. Instead, pupils could play boardgames or could take part in organised sports such as soccer and netball.

Townsville's Belgian Gardens State School sparked outrage in 2008 after pupils were banned from doing unsupervised cartwheels. It later emerged that some parents had lodged lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries they claimed their children had suffered at school.

Psychologist Karen Brooks said games were crucial to a child's development and physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. "Games like Tiggy and Red Rover teach kids about co-operation, teamwork and risk taking," Dr Brooks said. "It's a way of accomplishing and achieving in their own peer group in a generally safe way where adults aren't involved. To ban it is just so ridiculous."

She added: "We're talking about an obesity crisis and here we are preventing them doing what kids naturally do."

Schools were likely being forced into extreme measures because of pressure from parents to prevent accidents, Dr Brooks said. "Schools are just protecting themselves. This reaction is indicative of society as a whole and it's gone crazy."

Weight loss expert and former teacher Sally Symonds said the dangers of stopping children from playing outweighed the dangers of allowing them to play. "Given the rates of obesity, it's certainly not a great way to go," said Ms Symonds, author of 50 Steps to Lose 50kg ... and Keep It Off.

"For kids, play is a really vital way of encouraging people to see activity as part of normal life."

The Decline of American History in Public Schools

A few weeks ago, several friends and I braved the impending rainstorm and went to the National Book Festival on the Washington Mall. The purpose of attending -- besides the obvious reason of wanting to stand in the company of Hollywood actors, renowned historians and poet laureates -- was to hear David McCullough speak. As one of the nation’s most prolific writers, and author of numerous biographies including John Adams and Truman -- David McCullough is also one of only a handful of Americans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

While there was always an interest, it wasn’t until I read his seminal work 1776 that I developed a genuine appreciation for American history. This short book, which exemplifies his unrivaled ability to present dense subject matter into riveting and lucid prose -- should be required reading in public schools as an authoritative text on George Washington and his generals during the most significant year of the American Revolution.

Yet, after arriving at the crowded venue, and expecting to hear a scholarly lecture on his latest book – The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris -- I was surprised to hear him speak about the condition of U.S. public schools, and in particular how students lack a basic understanding of American history. Incidentally, the reason people were often thrilled to read his books, he said, was because they had never learned about these important subjects in school.

Nonetheless, after investigating what I imagined to be an exaggerated contention, I was appalled by what I discovered:
Apparently U.S. students are unfamiliar with the famous paraphrased aphorism, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s because a new report shows that students anywhere from high school to fourth grade are solely lacking in their knowledge of American history.

Results from the 2010 gold standard of testing, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 13 percent of the nation’s high school seniors showed proficiency in their knowledge of American history, and only 18 percent of eighth grades and 22 percent of fourth graders scoring as well.

These statistics, of course, should concern parents, teachers and local communities across the country. But, at the end of the day, shouldn’t every American care?

We study our own history, at least in part, to commemorate and remember all of those who gave their lives to preserve the liberties and freedoms we cherish as Americans. To forget the suffering of Washington and his army at Valley Forge, the determination of the soldiers at Normandy, or the courage of the passengers aboard Flight 93 would be an affront to their legacy and reflect the narcissism and ingratitude of our own people.

Furthermore, by reducing the importance of U.S. history in public schools, we deprive American children of an opportunity to learn about their heritage. And in so doing, we fail these students by neglecting to adequately educate them. The study of history -- and particularly American history – cultivates an understanding and appreciation for the ideals the nation was founded upon. Thomas Jefferson, for example, believed deeply than an educated citizenry was essential to the preservation of the American experiment. After all, how can one expect posterity to preserve American democratic principles if they cannot define what they are?

The notion that American history -- a once a valued subject -- is no longer a priority in public schools is profoundly disconcerting. The denigration of history, in my view, will have dire ramifications as children grow up ignorant and unaware of the essential beliefs which have guided our nation for nearly three centuries.

An undereducated and disengaged public, however, is only the beginning. As David McCullough suggests, a firm understanding of history is paramount to the success and effectiveness of our political leaders:
“All of our best presidents -- without exception -- have been presidents who’ve had a sense of history. Who’ve read history, in some cases who wrote history -- who cared about history and biography. The only obvious two who never went to college would be Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, and both of them read history, in particular, all the time.”

In other words, if the youngest generations of Americans lack a basic understanding of the past, what kind of nation will we be in ten, twenty or even a hundred years from now? What kind of leaders will we produce?

The purpose of the U.S. education system -- and the reason it was established -- is primarily to provide students with the requisite knowledge and skills to live more successful lives. Yet, when we perpetually fail to teach American history in schools, we inevitably weaken the nation because our children grow up without any real sense of a national identity.

And that, in the end, is ultimately what the Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to establish.


Silence is golden: how keeping quiet in the classroom can boost results

Silence in the classroom can boost children’s exam results, improve their self-esteem and cut down on bad behaviour, according to new research. Encouraging pupils to keep noise to a minimum has substantial benefits and should become a valuable component of all children’s education, it is claimed.

Dr Helen Lees, from Stirling University’s school of education, said that “enforced silence” was seen as a punishment and often acted to suppress children’s natural ability.

But she said that teaching children about the benefits of “strong silence” – deliberate stillness that gives them the opportunity to focus and reflect in a stress-free environment – can have a significant effect on pupils’ concentration and behaviour.

The conclusions are made in a new book – Silence in Schools – to be published next year. It is the latest in a string of research to establish a link between the classroom environment and pupils’ academic ability.

A study almost a decade ago by South Bank University and the Institute of Education in London found that children’s exam results were cut by as much as a third if they taught in noisy classrooms.

Teaching unions have also called for limits of 26C to be put on classroom temperatures amid claims that staff and pupils struggle to work in hot conditions and some educationalists claim that too much clutter on classroom walls can lead to children becoming distracted.

Dr Lees said: “There is no educational reason why silent practices in some way should not be an integral part of a child’s education. “In fact, when we take various strands of research on school settings and put them together, what we see is that education without silence does not make much sense. “In areas of better learning outcomes, better interpersonal relationships, better self-esteem and wellbeing measures, silence in a person’s life and an individual’s education is shown throughout the relevant research literature to be a benefit.”

Dozens of schools across Britain already introduce periods of meditation and “reflective silence” into the timetable.

Kevin Hogston, head of Sheringdale Primary, south London, has just introduced a minute’s silence at the start of twice-weekly assemblies in which children are taught breathing techniques and encouraged to reflect. The school plans to roll it out into classrooms every day.

It follows a successful trial at his former school, Latchmere Primary in Kingston-upon-Thames, which also set up a “blue room” where children can spend an hour a week learning meditation and relaxation techniques.

Mr Hogston said: “The background was that at my old school children were having immense trouble going to sleep at night because of things like a lack of exercise, poor diet and exposure to TVs and video games so they came to school tired and unable to work. Teaching them relaxation techniques and some basic meditation had a great effect on them; attendance went up, results went up and they were fresher and more alert at school.”

Dr Lees is due to outline her research at a conference – Just This Day – at London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church on November 23.


Australia: Ditch the national curriculum

Barry Maley

While preparations continue for the implementation of a uniform, nationwide Australian School Curriculum, some states like NSW are wisely delaying the process. At the same time the draft curriculum, particularly in the humanities subjects of history and English, has been severely criticised as devoid of essential content, ideologically skewed, and absurdly politically correct. Just as important is the weak case for uniformity and centralisation in the first place.

We are told that lack of uniformity between the states is a problem for employers and for children who move from one state to another, but there is scant evidence that this is a serious problem justifying the loss of potential for experimentation and competition for excellence in a non-uniform system.

More importantly, the claim that a national curriculum will produce better educational results deserves scrutiny. It is probably true that the less than satisfactory condition of state schooling owes much to its extreme bureaucratisation and capture by interest groups, especially the teacher unions. But why should we not expect the same, on a national scale, from a large federal bureaucracy and the even more sharply focussed and more extensive power of the same interest groups? If established, how much more difficult it would be to reform a national system if it failed and how much greater the damage if it did?

And what is the evidence for the claim that centralised national systems produce better outcomes?

The International Student Assessment program and the International Mathematics and Science Study assess student performance from countries that have, and countries that do not have, national curricula and standards. The results and statistics are extensive and detailed. The summary outcome is, on one hand, that Australian Students have been outperformed by students from countries with national standards. On the other hand, Australian students have outperformed students from some other countries that also have national standards.

Moreover, many of the lowest performing students come from countries with national standards. If this sort of analysis is confined to OECD countries, a similar pattern holds. The great majority of countries assessed had national standards, but their results did not show that their students regularly outperformed Australian students, and many performed worse. Canadian students, from a country without national standards, do well on international assessments.

To put it briefly, these international assessments show no significant relationship between national standards and curricula and better student outcomes. This, along with the dangers of a loss of variety and innovation with the disappearance of a working states system and the manifest deficiencies of the draft curriculum, justifies abandoning the project before more waste is incurred.