Saturday, January 14, 2012

Adopting Pro-Sharia Textbooks in U.S. schools

When states should step in

In 2010, Act for America compiled research from former assistant education secretary Diane Ravitch, American Textbook Council and Textbook League on how 38 public school texts handled Islam; last month, Christian Action Network launched a national campaign warning of bias.

Some 22 states and U.S. territories currently maintain central textbook “adoption” standards to either recommend or require specific textbooks for public schools. Textbook adoption originated during Reconstruction to ensure that the Civil War narrative included Confederate views in southern states.

In the last two decades, sanitized Islamic history and dogma crept into broad use in U.S. public school books thanks largely to Shabbir Mansuri; to advantage Muslims, he maximized the minority role in textbook adoption (and falsely claimed to be a USC-educated chemical engineer). In 1990, he founded the Fountain Valley, Ca. Council on Islamic Education to promote Islam in textbooks and curricula, which he calls a “bloodless” revolution inside American junior high and high school classes. Mansuri derived the idea in 1988, after seeing a textbook disparage physical aspects of Muslim prayer, he says.

Independent review agencies affirm that CIE---deceptively renamed in 2006 as Institute on Religion and Civic Values (IRCV)---powerfully influences U.S. textbooks via state standards it helped to write.

For advancing “change” in school standards and curricula, CIE can largely thank Muslim convert Susan Douglass, who for 10 years wrote CIE lesson plans, advisories, guidelines and pamphlets to softpedal Islam in public schools. Central is the Teacher's Guide to Religion in the Public Schools that this author exposed shortly after its 2003 publication, purportedly as an interfaith “First Amendment” plan.

While probably unaware of their carefully staged genesis, parents for years have vocally opposed such Islamic instructions in public schools and texts as:

In 2005, Scottsdale, Ar. schools shelved Across the Centuries, only to introduce more offensive Islamic propaganda in TCI's History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond.

In 2008, a Seminole County, Fl. school let Muslim women co-opt a “family dynamics'” talk.

A Houston middle school sent students to a class on Islam during a period reserved for phys ed.

California parents have repeatedly rejected curricula and texts (including TCI's History Alive) that sanitize Islam or teach its pillars.

In Sept. 2010, a Wellesley, Ma. school “field trip” to a Saudi-funded Roxbury mosque taught kids how to pray like Muslims.

In early 2010, Minnesota's ACLU sued St. Paul's public k-8 Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy for breaching the ban against government religious advocacy.

Massachusetts schools adopted a Notebook by Abiquiu, N.M.'s Saudi-funded AWIRG. Pushed by Harvard's Middle Eastern Studies Center, it claims Muslim explorers discovered the New World and Native Americans had Muslim names. (In 2005, the center had received $20 million from Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talaal, who later boasted he could control global TV news.)

In Sept. 2010, the Texas Board of Education endured heavy criticism after issuing a textbook resolution asking publishers to fix the “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian half-truths, selective disinformation, and false stereotypes” that riddled textbooks. The board included four pages of notes to document “pejoratives” targeting Christians and “superlatives,” Muslims---e.g. brutal conquests of Christian lands were called “migrations” of “empire builders.” Books listed Crusaders' massacres, but not the Muslim Tamerlane's 1389 Delhi murder of 100,000 prisoners or his 1401 Baghdad massacre of 90,000 Muslims.

Whether named CIE or IRCV, Islamic forces spent decades stealthily cultivating influence over our nation's public schools and curricula through “minority” channels afforded by “textbook adoption.” Other “adoption state” authorities should perhaps now add teeth to their own Texas-like counter-efforts.


'Dumbed-down' degrees: British university standards under fire as 50% more students awarded a first

The number of students awarded first-class degrees has more than doubled over the last decade. A record one in six graduates obtained the top qualification last year, prompting fresh concerns about grade inflation and the value of degrees. One expert says that degree classifications are now ‘almost meaningless’.

The trend has fuelled demands for a major overhaul of the system, with the introduction of a ‘starred first’ degree for the brightest graduates.

According to figures released yesterday by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 53,215 graduates gained firsts in 2010/11 compared with 23,700 in 2000/01. A decade ago, nine per cent of graduates gained the top classification. By 2010/11 the proportion getting firsts had risen to 15.5 per cent.

HESA also provided detailed data covering the period between 2006/7 and 2010/11, when there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of students gaining firsts. Sixty-six per cent of degrees obtained by women were firsts or 2.1s in 2010/11 compared with 61 per cent of those achieved by males.

Demands for reform of degree classification have increased over recent years amid claims that some lecturers turn a blind eye to plagiarism to help their institutions climb official league tables. University whistle-blowers have also alleged that external examiners have been ‘leaned on’ to boost grades.

Universities have been asked to adopt a new graduate ‘report card’, providing a detailed breakdown of students’ academic achievements plus information about extra-curricular activities. However, they cannot be forced to.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: ‘The inflation in degree classes is rendering them almost meaningless. ‘Employers have to look at A-level results and the university at which the degree is being obtained.’

The heads of elite universities are raking in average pay packages of almost £318,000 ahead of the tripling of tuition fees.

Many vice chancellors are enjoying salary rises when higher education has seen its funding slashed and students are being forced to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees.

Times Higher Education analysed the 2010-11 accounts for 18 of the 20 Russell Group universities. It found that they spent an average of £317,742 on their vice chancellors’ pay, benefits and pensions.

Highest paid was Oxford University’s Andrew Hamilton with a total package of £424,000. Second was David Eastwood of the University of Birmingham with £419,000, a 6.9 per cent increase on the previous year’s figure of £392,000.


Bad teachers should be sacked 'in weeks': British education bosss wants parents in classrooms to help drive up standards

Parents should help schools root out and sack failing teachers, according to the Education Secretary. Michael Gove is scrapping rules that shield incompetent staff to allow them to be dismissed within just nine weeks. In an interview with the Mail, Mr Gove said he wanted parents to ask to go into classrooms to assess how well children are being taught.

Headmasters can monitor teachers for only three hours a year and the process of sacking one takes at least 12 months. But Mr Gove is introducing a requirement for teachers to be assessed every year against simpler, sharper standards as well as scrapping more than 50 pages of ‘unnecessary’ guidance on how to deal with failing staff.

The proposals, to be unveiled today, will trigger a storm of protest from education unions. Only a handful of teachers have been struck off for incompetence over the past decade, suggesting it is all but impossible to get thrown out of the profession.

Between 2001 and 2011, just 17 of England’s 400,000 teachers were prevented from applying for another job after being judged incompetent by the General Teaching Council for England.

Mr Gove said: ‘You wouldn’t tolerate an underperforming surgeon in an operating theatre, or a underperforming midwife at your child’s birth. ‘Why is it that we tolerate underperforming teachers in the classroom? Teachers themselves know if there’s a colleague who can’t keep control or keep the interest of their class, it affects the whole school.

‘Children themselves know they are being cheated. Ultimately we owe it to our children. They are in school for 190 days a year. Every moment they spend learning is precious. If a year goes by and they are not being stretched and excited, that blights their life. ‘We have got to think of what’s in the children’s interests first.’

Mr Gove vowed to crack down on what he called the ‘dance of the lemons’, where failed teachers turn up at a new school and get a job by presenting well at an interview. ‘It is only after a term or two the head recognises they have taken on a lemon,’ he added. If you are applying for a job when you’ve been subject to capability procedures, you’ll have to say so under new legislation.

‘The single most important thing in a child’s performance is the quality of the teacher. Making sure a child spends the maximum amount of time with inspirational teachers is the most important thing.

‘The evidence is quite clear: if you’re with a bad teacher, you can go back a year; if you’re with a good teacher you can leap ahead a year.’

Mr Gove said the process to sack a teacher usually took a year or more. ‘Some individual teachers and some unions adopt a variety of dodges,’ he added. ‘They won’t attend meetings, or the teacher will be signed off with stress, which is intended to prolong the process.

‘We can’t have the union tail wagging the dog. We can’t have a situation where union representatives think it’s their job to defend someone who isn’t up to it. The whole procedure should now be telescoped into just a term – eight to nine weeks.’

Under his plans, the GTC is being scrapped and replaced with a body that will deal with the most serious cases of misconduct. But heads will be given more responsibility and authority to dismiss those they deem to be failing.

Mr Gove said he was astonished that contractual arrangements meant teachers could be monitored for only three hours a year. Most provocatively, he suggested parents should ask to go into classrooms – in sensible numbers – to see how their children’s learning is progressing.

‘In the Far East, they regard every classroom as an open place. If a parent wants to come to observe a lesson, they think fantastic,’ he said. ‘If another teacher wants to come in and watch a lesson, they think that’s wonderful. If a teacher knows they’re struggling, they will welcome someone coming in and saying to them afterwards how they can do it better.

‘If a parent says, I would like to come along and watch when my children are being taught, then I think teachers should not be afraid and encourage that level of commitment.’

Despite the billions poured into schools by Labour, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development think tank found that between 2000 and 2009, England fell from 7th to 25th in reading, 8th to 28th in maths, and 4th to 16th in science.

Headteachers’ leaders backed Mr Gove’s proposals. Russell Hobby, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘A streamlined approach to capability will, on the rare occasions that it is needed, help schools act more decisively in pupils’ interests and reduce the conflict that these actions can generate. ‘The vast majority of teachers are dedicated, talented professionals who do an essential job in often challenging conditions. Better performance management will celebrate this fact.’

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said ‘drop-in’ observations by heads would ensure high standards of professional performance.

But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teaching union, said: ‘This is yet another depressingly predictable announcement from a Government seemingly intent on destroying the teaching profession and state education. ‘The draconian measures announced today are totally unnecessary. There is no evidence which demonstrates that there are problems with the current system. ‘This announcement will only serve further to devastate teacher morale and endanger future recruitment to the profession and the retention of existing teachers.’


Friday, January 13, 2012

RI: Fed court orders school to remove prayer mural

A federal judge has ordered the immediate removal of a prayer mural displayed in the auditorium of a Rhode Island public high school.

Teenage atheist student Jessica Ahlquist had sued Cranston city and Cranston High School West officials, demanding they remove the banner because it promotes a religion. She calls it offensive to non-Christians.

City officials claimed the mural is a historical artifact from the school's early days and serves no religious purpose. The prayer encourages students to strive academically. It begins with the words "Our Heavenly Father" and ends with "Amen."

A senior U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday ruled in the atheist student's favor.

The student has 20 days to file counsel fees and costs. City officials will have 10 days to respond. The court will enter judgment after these issues are resolved.


Compulsory education: The slippery slope

"I believe that every child should have the opportunity, even if they don't go, to at least apply to a college," gushed Washington, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown last week.

That’s nice. What a sweet guy – thinking about kids. I believe every child ought to have opportunities too. Certainly, if a kid, after finishing high school, desires a chance to apply for admission to a college, he or she ought to have the opportunity to do so. It’s part of the American dream: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Is that what Councilman Kwame is talking about? Liberty? Freedom? Opportunity? Equality under the law?

Unfortunately, no; I’m afraid it’s the opposite. He’s talking about forcing his own personal agenda upon every young man and woman within his ambit of political power whether they like it or not. He introduced a bill to require every high school student to apply to a college or trade school even if the student has no interest or desire in attending.

The bill would establish a "mandatory workshop" to teach teenagers how to apply for aid and admission. It would then require all to apply to at least one post-secondary school before graduation, and further require that every kid take the SAT or ACT college admission tests..

Brown says he’s worried that that some D.C. students aren't going to college simply because they "don't know how to navigate the enrollment process," and he wants to make sure they all learn it whether they want to or not. He doesn’t care what they want for themselves. He just wants to exercise his power over them.

Actually, Brown has it ass backwards. These kids don’t know how to navigate the college enrollment process because they simply don’t want to go to college. It’s as simple as that. Why should they learn it? They aren’t interested in pursuing more formal education. They lack the skills and aptitude for college. They’re sick and tired of compulsory education, teachers, principals, school administrators and people who think they know better about how to lead their own lives than they do. They want their freedom!

The main reason why high school and undergraduate college education in America is quickly becoming worthless these days is because of the attitudes and statist thinking of Authorities like Councilman Kwame Brown. When every kid graduates from high school, including those who are dumber and less ambitious than a bag of marbles, a high school diploma is next to meaningless. When every kid is admitted to college, college loses its value.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that compulsory education laws in America are patently unconstitutional, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled otherwise. Incredibly, the highest court in the land has ignored the Constitution altogether and held that the state as a proper function of its police power may require school attendance – for their own good.

Forget about liberty. Forget about the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; the right to free speech; freedom of religion and personal conscience; freedom of association; due process; and the rest of the Bill of Rights – none of it matters when the Authorities want to dictate how you lead your own life.

If the Authority is looking for justification for ObamaCare and the individual mandate for every person to buy health insurance whether they want to or not, there is no better precedent than the laws mandating and upholding compulsory education.

If the state can compel the attendance of children in school, it can compel the conduct of adults to buy health insurance – or to do anything else for that matter – for their own welfare; for their own good.

And the United States Constitution may be damned.


A fifth of British primary schools at bursting point (but if you move to the country there are plenty of places)

A fifth of primary schools and a quarter of secondaries were full or had too many pupils last year, official figures show.

Statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) reveal that more than 4,000 schools across England were at or above the limit in terms of student numbers.

The figures suggest that some places are feeling the squeeze on places more than others - with Bristol and parts of London among those hardest hit.

The data shows that 3,438 primary schools (20.4 per cent) were full or had pupils in excess of school capacity as of May last year, along with 837 secondaries (25.4 per cent).

At the same time, nationally, there were 444,410 unfilled primary places, with a further 396,240 available in secondary schools - many of these are in rural areas.

The data shows that among those most affected by a lack of school places is Barking in east London. The borough has 19,615 school places, but is projected to have 26,879 primary pupils by 2015/16 - a shortfall of 7,264 places. Waltham Forest is expected to be short by 5,372 and Brent by 6,234 places. Outside the capital, Bristol is expected to have a shortfall of 6,684 primary places by 2015/16.

The DfE said it is targeting funding at the areas facing a critical shortfall to help them provide extra school places.

Today’s figures also show that according to local authority forecasts, there is expected to be an extra 454,800 pupils at primary school nationally by 2015/16, while the number of secondary-age pupils will increase by 44,210.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said: 'We’re creating thousands more places to deal with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools. 'We’re more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers - to over £4 billion in the next four years. 'We are building Free Schools and letting the most popular schools expand to meet demand from parents.'

The figures come as the West London Free School, spearheaded by writer Toby Young and which opened in September, announced plans to submit an application to open a primary school in 2013. Mr Young said that the primary would offer the same 'classical liberal education' as the existing secondary school.

If approved, the primary school will open with two reception classes in 2013 and take on more pupils each year. Mr Young said the new school would help meet the demand for places in Hammersmith and Fulham.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Charming the Cobra: Education and Race in America

Much political noise has been made about providing grants and/or loans for higher education. For minorities, these programs are seen as invitations for full participation in the American system. Many Americans believe changing the higher education equation for minorities is the only way to “level the playing field” economically for America’s minorities.

More specifically, liberals often believe solving the education conundrum is mandatory for our future. Conservatives, however, almost universally declare that the education gap can be addressed by neither federal programs or funding. They both are probably correct in this situation.

Solving America’s education gap is tantamount to our nation fighting a cobra. In cobra fighting, you have two choices. First, you can charm the cobra (typically by playing music), and prevent him from striking you today. Secondly, you can choose to attack him like Rikki Tikki Tavey, the mongoose of Rudyard Kipling fame, and solve your problem permanently. Dealing with our educational woes at the university level, while the majority of minority children are vastly unprepared for life, simply charms the cobra.

To kill the cobra of educational inequities in America, we must begin in pre-elementary school. Although we can do important work at every stage of the educational process, our problem is no one wants to wait the 20-30 years it will take to reform a system. I want to sound an alarm concerning our urgent national need to improve the education of minority students. Further, I want to advocate that resources and focus be directed primarily at charter schools.

Let me explain. While the nation’s high school dropout rate for black and Latino students is 43 percent, in urban centers like Detroit it is as high as 80 percent. This does not mean these young people will never graduate. It simply means they do not graduate on time. Unfortunately, academic failure is only the indicator of much greater problems. High school dropouts have higher rates of unemployment, incarceration (60 percent of black male dropouts are eventually incarcerated), drug use, and violent behavior. Our struggling economy has served to exacerbate these problems: the black unemployment rate nationwide surged to 16.7 percent this fall, the highest since 1984. But for black males in their 20s who lack a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is a shocking 72 percent!

While almost everyone acknowledges these problems begin in childhood, the failure of urban public schools is an extremely touchy subject. Many teachers are quick to point out the chaotic environments poor urban students go home to every day. On the other hand, parents who cannot afford private school are frustrated with the disorderly school environments to which their children are exposed. Unfortunately, both are correct: too many inner city parents do not provide the structure and discipline their children need to succeed, but too many urban classrooms lack precisely the same things.

These are exceedingly complicated problems with multiple causes, and they will not be speedily resolved with one particular intervention. However, that does NOT mean there is nothing we can do: we must increase educational choice for urban parents, and local churches must equip those parents to prepare their children for educational success.

According to Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, “Across all [Chicago area] charter schools, the average growth rate of 3.8 scale points over those three years is 60 percent higher than the Chicago average, an average that includes selective enrollment high schools.” This means inner city children in Chicago charter schools showed more improvement than middle class children in magnet schools. Most famously, Urban Prep Academy in Chicago has achieved 100 percent college enrollment for its all-male (and almost entirely black) graduating class for two years successively.

How can we duplicate these results? Charter schools that show the most success have comprehensive behavior policies, intense coaching of teachers, longer school days and a “no excuses” approach to education. Better trained teachers are able to offer rigorous instruction as well as be better attuned to the particular needs of their students. For students from a disordered home environment, longer days not only allow for more instruction, but limit the time students are unsupervised or subjected to poor influences.

The “no-excuses” approach is vital to student success. Students of any socioeconomic status who are given excuses not to achieve will find ways to fail, but poor students lack stable parents who can cushion their fall until they determine a course of action toward a future. It is not surprising then how schools that acknowledge the obstacles many urban students face but refuse to accept them as excuses for failure are seeing their students succeed at higher rates.

I want to encourage you to advocate for charter schools in your region. Be sure your county commissioners and state representatives are clear on your opinions regarding the need for quality education from the youngest student to the postgraduate level. We can make a difference today for the future of the next generation of Americans.


Backlog of British graduates struggling to find work creates ‘jobs bottleneck’

Graduates are competing for top jobs against a ‘backlog’ of university-leavers who are still struggling to find work, a report warns today. One in three applications for this year’s graduate vacancies are from students who left higher education in 2011 or earlier.

And almost half of applicants for retail and public sector roles in 2012 are past graduates, according to the annual study from High Fliers, an independent market research company.

On average, there have been at least 48 applications per graduate vacancy, which means that tens of thousands of university-leavers face disappointment in the job market this summer.

To compound the problem, this year’s graduates have been warned that they stand ‘little or no chance’ of landing well-paid jobs with leading employers if they do not have any work experience, whatever their degree class.

The gloomy findings could further deter future students from higher education amid the prospect of spiralling levels of debt.

Figures from Ucas already show that over 23,000 fewer British students have applied for degree courses beginning this Autumn as fees are tripled to as much as £9,000-a-year.

The High Fliers’ report, The Graduate Market in 2012, examines graduate vacancies and starting salaries at 100 of the UK’s most successful employers including Procter & Gamble, Rolls-Royce, Sainsbury’s, Boots and Unilever.

It reveals that employers are expected to increase their graduate recruitment by 6.4 per cent this year. Almost half plan to employ more graduates in 2012 while over a quarter aim to maintain their intake at 2011 levels.

However, bosses have received 19 per cent more graduate job applications so far, compared to the 2010-11 recruitment round. A fifth of employers say applications have risen by more than 25 per cent. The biggest demand is for consultancy jobs which have seen a 75 per cent leap in applications. Some organisations have already closed off the application process for 2012 positions even though the termination date is usually in the summer.

The report says some employers had opened up their applications earlier which could have ‘contributed to a much higher volume of early applications from students and recent graduates’. It adds: ‘Other recruiters felt that a backlog of graduates from previous years who were still looking for work and applications from postgraduate students was contributing to their bumper crop of applicants.’

Meanwhile, a record 36 per cent of this year’s graduate vacancies are expected to be filled by applicants who have already worked for the organisation during their studies.

More than half of recruiters warned that graduates who had no previous work experience at all were ‘unlikely to be successful’ and had ‘little or no chance of receiving a job offer’ on their graduate programmes.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said the ‘backlog’ of graduates has been building up for a number of years. He said: ‘It was made much worse by the recession, but if you look at the graduate market as a whole there are somewhere between 150,000-160,000 graduate level vacancies each year. ‘This year we’re on course for about 330,000 graduates to leave university. Inevitably, in recent years, tens of thousands of people who wanted a graduate job didn’t find work.

‘Many chose to go off and do further study or go travelling. But eventually all of them will have to come back and find a job. That does cut down the number of places available for the class of 2012.’

He added: ‘In a highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience at all during their time at university have little hope of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the academic results they achieve or the university they’ve attended.’


Australia: Teachers stay with religion

SCHOOLS in Tasmania have overwhelmingly chosen to keep religious chaplains, after a change last year that meant they could also take on non-religious welfare workers.

Of 96 roles in Tasmania, 89 have been set aside for a chaplain or religious worker, four by welfare workers with three not yet determined.

Schools will apply for the next round of Federal Government-funded welfare workers by March 2.

Scripture Union Tasmania said that its chaplains were equally happy ministering to students from a non-Christian background. "The job description of the welfare worker and the chaplain is identical, down to providing spiritual support," chief executive officer Ruth Pinkerton said.

Schools can get up to $60,000 over three years for chaplain or student welfare workers.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gov. Jindal stresses education reform during inaugural ceremony

Louisiana state office holders took their oaths of office in low key events across Baton Rouge. Gov. Bobby Jindal changed up his inaugural, so it wouldn't compete with the BCS title game in New Orleans.

The old state capitol Mark Twain once described as the ugliest building on the Mississippi River was the back drop as Jindal took the oath of office for a second time as governor.

He started his inaugural address by acknowledging what he called the "elephant in the room." "I am fully aware as my kids have reminded me, that my inaugural as governor is not the most important thing that will happen in the great state of Louisiana today," said Jindal referring to the big LSU-Alabama match-up in the Superdome."

Jindal hit the high points of his first-term, including successes in ethics reform, job creation and tax cuts. But he spent most of his speech setting the stage for the next four years.

"In America, we believe every child deserves and equal opportunity to a quality education," said Jindal.

The governor is putting major emphasis on improving Louisiana's chronically poor performing schools. "Reforming and improving education should not be a partisan issue," said Jindal. "Getting kids ready to face the challenges this world has to offer, getting them prepared to succeed and triumph should not be a political matter."

While the governor has yet to release details of his education reform agenda, it will likely include controversial items such as additional charter schools, vouchers and teacher evaluations tied to student achievement.

"Education reform is critical to the state," said state Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-Lakeview. "We end up on the bottom of the list in most categories every year and that's a critical aspect we have to tackle and win." "We got to take care of all the kids in Louisiana and that's what some of the fright is," said state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.

Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin said there is already some push back from teachers unions and school districts where students are already making the grade. "One of the reasons to emphasis it today because some of these are going to be tough votes for a bunch of these legislators," said Erwin.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, Jindal headed to a special luncheon with lawmakers in downtown Baton Rouge. Then, he and his family were expected to head down to New Orleans to watch his beloved LSU Tigers in the BCS. "Geaux Tigers," said Jindal.

State legislators also took their oaths of office. John Alario of Westwego was elected senate president. Representative Charles Kleckly, a Republican from Lake Charles, was elected house speaker.


British schools that dared to liberate their pupils

Charles Moore reviews The Grammar School: A Secret History

"Sapere aude” (“Dare to be wise”) is the motto of Manchester Grammar School. It is emblematic of the grammar-school tradition, for several reasons. The first is that it is old: it appears on the coat of arms of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, who founded the school to help the poor boys of Lancashire in 1515. The grammar-school phenomenon is as old as the public-school one. One could argue that public schools began as a mere subset of grammar schools.

The second is that the motto is in Latin. Latin was the mainstay of grammar schools — it is Latin grammar from which they take their name, which shows that their commitment to learning lay at their root. The third is that the school has a motto at all. Comprehensives tend to eschew mottoes, especially Latin ones, as being pompous, elitist, out-of-date. It was of the essence of grammar schools, as this programme eloquently showed, that they tried to inculcate high ideals. Mottoes do this succinctly.

Finally, the words of the motto express a particular spirit. The concept of wisdom depends on some high, ancient and demanding exterior standard. It is not about self-fulfilment (though it may bring self-fulfilment in its train), but about something beyond self. To tell people to “dare” to be wise is to imply that the search for wisdom requires courage and involves difficulty.

It does, and it did so particularly for all those children, a quarter of the pupils in the first half of the 20th century - including the future prime ministers Edward Heath and Margaret Roberts (Thatcher) — whose parents could not afford to send them to grammar schools without state or county scholarships. For them to “dare to be wise” was also to dare to rise beyond the social sphere in which they had grown up. In most cases, this was done not in despite of their parents’ wishes, but in accordance with them. Across the generations there was a culture, to use a Victorian word, of improvement.

Although this programme (the first of two) pointed out the shortcomings of grammar schools, the thrust of its message, conveyed through the mouths of men and women, now old, who attended them before 1950, was overwhelmingly positive. Even when they described hardships and stresses — exams on which so much depended, homework done in the bathroom because it was the only warm place in the house away from the noise of the gramophone — they did so with a dignity and articulacy which showed that they had been well educated.

One of the most attractive was a very old man called Geoffrey Stone, who won his place at Manchester Grammar in 1929. He put on his old mortar-board to show what it had been like to be a prefect. He had been kept on at the school by bursaries after his father had lost his job. At the end of his war service, he was offered a job in the Foreign Office. This was a rare achievement for a man of his background at that time. Mr Stone considered the situation, however, and decided, selflessly, that this would not be the best use of his talents. He became a teacher, and eventually, the headmaster of a grammar school in Derbyshire. Mr Stone “dared to be wise”, even when it might have been against his own interests.

Yes, some of the curriculum was boring. Much of the life was austere and the discipline petty. Some of the teaching theories were rigid. (It was amusing, in this respect, to note that the title sequence, in which a modern girl in grammar-school uniform writes at an old-fashioned desk, was inauthentic. She was writing left-handed and upside down, habits which, in those days, would almost certainly have been harshly knocked out of her.)

But every former pupil – whether famous and successful, like Sir David Attenborough and Lady (Joan) Bakewell, or entirely unknown; whether happy at school or not — was, visibly, the better for it. A man called Jim Humphries had to leave his grammar school at 14 to get a job which would pay the family rent. On his last day, he hurried out of his last lesson at 12.35, and was working at the factory in Stoke by 2pm. As he looked back, he showed no bitterness, just pleasure at having had the chance to learn.

In fact, what all shared was a respect for what it means to learn things. Joan Bakewell picked up the longing to go to Cambridge simply by getting hold of a picture book about it and seeing the beauty of a place devoted to learning (she got in). One of the worst features of a bad education is that, by purporting to centre on the child, it narrows his or her horizon. It fails to explain how much more interesting the world can be if only you find out more about it. People who say that Shakespeare or Latin or theoretical physics are “irrelevant” to “deprived” children are the people who perpetuate that deprivation. Most of the ex-pupils on this programme gave thanks for teachers who never took that view, but captured their imagination — no, not captured it, liberated it.

Part Two (which runs on Thursday) will show what happened in the 1960s when, as the programme itself put it, grammar schools were phased out by “the very people who had benefited from them most”. I am not sure this is quite fair. Those most scornful of grammar schools tended to be those, like Labour’s Anthony Crosland, with expensive public-school educations. But whoever was guilty, the crime was enormous. Only now can we see the full extent of the damage.


The new academies are a revolutionary force in British education

There has not been such a radical restructuring since the spread of comprehensive schools 50 years ago

A revolution in British schools is happening under our noses. As Michael Gove announced last week, there are now 1,529 academies, compared with only 200 when the Coalition came to power. Not since the spread of comprehensive schools, 50 years ago, has there been such a radical restructuring.

The academy programme was the brainchild of Tony Blair and his minister, Andrew Adonis. Academies seek to emulate the independence of private schools: they are self-governing and independent of local government, which is one reason why local authorities, unions, and the Left in general have not welcomed their rapid growth. But unlike independent schools, they charge no fees, and receive funding direct from central government. The Government aims for all remaining secondary schools to become academies, and many primary schools too.

Sponsorship by outside bodies is a feature of academies, whether by private individuals such as Sir David Garrard, or organisations, such as Ark. Ten years ago, independent schools were given the option to sponsor academies, either as sole sponsors, as with Dulwich College, Canford School in Dorset and Wellington College, or as a joint sponsor, as with Marlborough and Benenden. For several years, when I was head of Brighton College, I had an unsuccessful fight with the local authority to let the school start an academy there. After I moved to Wellington I was overjoyed that the governors were so supportive of the idea, and an opportunity became available to us in Wiltshire. Hence the birth of Wellington Academy.

Not all academies have been successful; the academy movement has its critics, and not only on the Left. When David Cameron entered the fray last autumn and asked all independent schools to sponsor academies, his comments were greeted with howls of protest from a surprising number of independent school heads.

Last week, David Laws, the former Cabinet minister, joined the critics, and said it was not the job of private schools to deliver state education. Quite right, said one independent school head, who said her parents “thank her for standing up for their rights”.

This sort of reaction saddens me. Sponsoring academies is exactly what independent schools should be doing. Yes, many schools are suffering in the current economic climate, as are parents, many of whom struggle to find the fees, and are already paying through their taxes for others to attend state schools.

But sponsoring an academy gives the independent school, its teachers and pupils, far more than it takes away. It allows the children to share part of their lives with others from very different backgrounds, and teachers to learn about what is happening in the state sector, which in vital respects is now ahead of the independent sector. It does not cost the independent school a penny. Not a single parent at Wellington College has objected to Wellington Academy, and many have praised the opportunities it has given their children.

Independent schools were often founded with a religious or moral purpose. That purpose now dictates, I believe, that we should bring state schools into our own orbits. The independent sector is a great British success story. We need to share what we have if we are to become a more harmonious and united nation.

What we need from independent school heads and governors is courage and moral leadership. We need exactly the same from our political leaders, who for many years have failed sufficiently to articulate a moral agenda, or to provide by personal example the authority that the country needs. Our independent sector, as well as our political leadership, needs bigger hearts and imaginations if we are to break down the barriers that have so bedevilled Britain in the past.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A defense of studies in the arts and humanities

Virginia Postrel says below that even courses in the arts and humanities can lead to a job and that only about 12% of tertiary students do such courses anyway. I think she sees that those are rather weak defenses so she trots out the old chestnut that such courses teach you how to think critically. I don't think there is good evidence for that. All the research on transfer of training that I have seen shows that transfer is either weak or rare.

Curiously she says: "My biggest regret isn’t that I didn’t learn Fortran, but that I didn’t study Dante". I didn't study Dante either (though I read a fair bit of Petrach in the original Italian) but I did learn and greatly enjoy writing FORTRAN. And of all the things I studied I think that had the biggest transfer. Programming in FORTRAN requires relentless logic, precision and consistency. And those are very constructive and generalizable habits and abilities indeed.

The only humanities subject I know that offers transferrable skills is Latin. The next most transferable skills I got were from learning Latin. Latin also teaches how to think and write in a clear and orderly way. It's the FORTRAN of the ancient world, if you like.

But in the end, why do you need to go to university to study arts and humanities subjects? Anybody who loves high culture -- as I do -- can find it in lots of places. I can (and sometimes do) recite from memory a couple of hundred lines of Chaucer in the correct Middle English pronunciation. But I didn't learn that in any course. I learnt it off a gramophone record. I learnt it because I enjoyed it. And if you don't enjoy such things you are wasting your time studying them -- JR

There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits.

In a recent column for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute lauded the Chinese government’s policy of cutting financing for any educational program for which 60 percent of graduates can’t find work within two years. His assumption is that, because of government education subsidies, the U.S. is full of liberal-arts programs that couldn’t meet that test.

“Too many aspiring young museum curators can’t find jobs?” he writes. “The pragmatic Chinese solution is to cut public subsidies used to train museum curators. The free market solution is that only the rich would be indulgent enough to buy their kids an education that left them economically dependent on Mommy and Daddy after graduation.” But, alas, the U.S. has no such correction mechanism, so “unemployable college graduates pile up as fast as unsold electric cars.”

Bill Gross, the founder of the world’s largest bond fund, Pacific Investment Management Co., has put forth a less free- market (and less coherently argued) version of the same viewpoint. “Philosophy, sociology and liberal arts agendas will no longer suffice,” he declared. “Skill-based education is a must, as is science and math.”

There are many problems with this simplistic prescription, but the most basic is that it ignores what American college students actually study.

Punching-Bag Disciplines

Take Frezza’s punching bag, the effete would-be museum curator. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that no such student exists.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, humanities majors account for about 12 percent of recent graduates, and art history majors are so rare they’re lost in the noise. They account for less than 0.2 percent of working adults with college degrees, a number that is probably about right for recent graduates, too. Yet somehow art history has become the go-to example for people bemoaning the state of higher education.

A longtime acquaintance perfectly captured the dominant Internet memes in an e-mail he sent me after my last column, which was on rising tuitions. “Many people that go to college lack the smarts and/or the tenacity to benefit in any real sense,” he wrote. “Many of these people would be much better off becoming plumbers -- including financially. (No shame in that, who’re you gonna call when your pipes freeze in the middle of the night? An M.A. in Italian art?)”

While government subsidies may indeed distort the choice to go to college in the first place, it’s simply not the case that students are blissfully ignoring the job market in choosing majors. Contrary to what critics imagine, most Americans in fact go to college for what they believe to be “skill-based education.”

A quarter of them study business, by far the most popular field, and 16 percent major in one of the so-called Stem (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Throw in economics, and you have nearly half of all graduates studying the only subjects such contemptuous pundits recognize as respectable.

The rest, however, aren’t sitting around discussing Aristotle and Foucault.

Most are studying things that sound like job preparation, including all sorts of subjects related to health and education. Even the degree with the highest rate of unemployment -- architecture, whose 13.9 percent jobless rate reflects the current construction bust -- is a pre-professional major.

Diversity of Jobs

The students who come out of school without jobs aren’t, for the most part, starry-eyed liberal arts majors but rather people who thought a degree in business, graphic design or nursing was a practical, job-oriented credential. Even the latest target of Internet mockery, a young woman the New York Times recently described as studying for a master’s in communication with hopes of doing public relations for a nonprofit, is in what she perceives as a job-training program.

The higher-education system does have real problems, including rising tuition prices that may not pay off in higher earnings. But those problems won’t be solved by assuming that if American students would just stop studying stupid subjects like philosophy and art history and buckle down and major in petroleum engineering (the highest-paid major), the economy would flourish and everyone would have lucrative careers.

That message not only ignores what students actually study. It also disregards the diversity and dynamism of the economy, in good times as well as bad.

Chemists Struggle Too

The commentators excoriating today’s students for studying the wrong subjects are pursuing certainty where none exists. Like the health fanatics convinced that every case of cancer must be caused by smoking or a bad diet, they want to believe that good people, people like them, will always have good jobs and that today’s unemployed college grads are suffering because they were self-indulgent or stupid. But plenty of organic chemists can testify that the mere fact that you pursued a technical career that was practical two or three decades ago doesn’t mean you have job security today.

I was lucky to graduate from high school in the late 1970s, when the best research said that going to college was an economically losing proposition. You would be better off just getting a job out of high school -- or so it appeared at the time. Such studies are always backward-looking.

I thus entered college to pursue learning for its own sake. As an English major determined not to be a lawyer, I also made sure I graduated with not one but two practical trades --neither learned in the college classroom. At the depths of the previous worst recession since the Great Depression, I had no problem getting a job as a rookie journalist and, as an emergency backup, I knew I could always fall back on my excellent typing skills. Three decades later, nobody needs typists, and journalists are almost as obsolete.

The skills that still matter are the habits of mind I honed in the classroom: how to analyze texts carefully, how to craft and evaluate arguments, and how to apply microeconomic reasoning, along with basic literacy in accounting and statistics. My biggest regret isn’t that I didn’t learn Fortran, but that I didn’t study Dante.

The most valuable skill anyone can learn in college is how to learn efficiently -- how to figure out what you don’t know and build on what you do know to adapt to new situations and new problems. Liberal-arts advocates like this argument, but it applies to any field. In the three decades since we graduated, my college friend David Bernstein has gone from computing the speed at which signals travel through silicon chips to being an entrepreneur whose work includes specifying, designing and developing a consumer-oriented smart-phone app.

Learning to Learn

When he was an undergraduate, he wrote in an e-mail, his professors “stressed that they weren’t there to teach us a soon-to-be obsolete skill or two about a specific language or operating system ... but rather the foundations of the field, for example: characteristics of languages and operating systems, how one deals with complex projects and works with others, what is actually computable, the analysis of algorithms, and the mathematical and theoretical foundations of the field, to pick just a few among many. That education has held me in good stead and I’ve often pitied the folks who try to compete during a lifetime of constant technological change without it.” Whether you learn how to learn is more a question of how fundamental and rigorous your education is than of what specific subject you study.

The argument that public policy should herd students into Stem fields is as wrong-headed as the notion that industrial policy should drive investment into manufacturing or “green” industries. It’s just the old technocratic central planning impulse in a new guise. It misses the complexity and diversity of occupations in a modern economy, forgets the dispersed knowledge of aptitudes, preferences and job requirements that makes labor markets work, and ignores the profound uncertainty about what skills will be valuable not just next year but decades in the future.

Pundits are entitled to their hypotheses, of course, and if they’re footing the bill they can experiment on their children. But they shouldn’t try to use the rest of the population as lab mice.


First new British selective school in 50 years on the way: Tory council takes advantage of official rule changes

The first new grammar school for 50 years could soon be opening its doors thanks to changes introduced by Education Secretary Michael Gove. Tory-controlled Kent County Council wants to set up the school in response to demands for more selective places in the Sevenoaks area of the county.

Mr Gove’s rules do not allow for the creation of entirely new grammar schools, but they do enable existing selective schools to set up satellite sites to cater for extra demand in areas of rising population. Kent is one of the few areas in the country to retain a state selective system, but Sevenoaks does not have one of its own.

More than 1,000 pupils who have passed the 11-plus have to travel to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and even Folkestone – 50 miles away – to attend a state grammar. The situation will get worse because of a large growth in the number of school-age children over the next few years.

A petition demanding a new grammar has now garnered 1,300 signatures. The only Sevenoaks alternatives are a private grammar school, although this costs £17,388 a year, and a non-selective state academy school.

Campaigning parent Caroline Watson said: ‘It’s ludicrous you have to put your child through the tests with no guarantee of a place and even then if they get one, they have to travel 12 or 15 miles every day.’

Her son Patrick, 11, has to travel ten miles to Tunbridge Wells Grammar School. ‘It is a wonderful school, but he has been taken away from his friendship groups and has to travel nearly an hour each way by bus,’ she said. ‘My hope is by the time my daughter Emily is 11 she will be able to walk to a school in Sevenoaks.’

Derry Wiltshire, head of the local Amherst primary school, said: ‘The popularity of Kent grammars means that Sevenoaks children compete for places with children in comprehensive systems as far away as Brighton, Eastbourne or London.’

Councillor Mike Whiting, Kent’s education spokesman, said he would meet the headmasters of the county’s selective schools this week to discuss which would be willing to open an annexe, which could cater for 120 pupils a year.

Michael Fallon, a former education minister and Tory MP for Sevenoaks, said: ‘This is not an ideological issue. Kent has a duty to provide enough secondary places.’

But opponents of selection criticised the plans. Michael Pyke, of the Campaign for State Education, said: ‘Parents in Sevenoaks should be campaigning for an end to selection so their children can go to a local school. ‘The ones signing the petition are the ones who think their children will benefit by getting grammar places. What about the ones who don’t?

‘They should bear in mind that Kent does not do as well as comparable authorities such as Cheshire, which is totally comprehensive.’

Another group, which includes a local priest, is trying to set up a Christian comprehensive in the town under Mr Gove’s free schools initiative.


Military-style cadet forces to be introduced in all British High schools

Military-style cadet forces are to be introduced in every secondary school in Britain, it emerged today. Education Secretary Michael Gove believes the Combined Cadet Force could bring a major improvement in standards of classroom discipline.

Today more than 200 independent schools, but only around 60 state, have CCF units, according to the Ministry of Defence, which sponsors the organisation.

Teenagers, aged 13 to 18, learn drill and are trained to fire weapons. Among its famous former members is Prince Harry, who was the most senior cadet in Eton's 140-strong volunteer force.

Mr Gove told the Sunday Express that the CCF would 'build patriotism' in the country’s troubled youngsters, giving them skills to succeed later in life. He recently attended a cadet awards ceremony at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he met a 17-year-old Afro-Caribbean who had joined the CCF. He said:'I met this amazing guy who told me how it had transformed his life. He was just the perfect advertisement for what it can do.

Mr Gove has asked the Childrens Minister Tim Loughton and the MoD to 'roll it out' at all schools

More than 300,000 pupils are suspended each year for violence and bad behaviour and police are called to violent incidents more than 40 times each day.

Mr Gove's move was backed by one of his senior advisers, Schools Commissioner Dr Elizabeth Sidwell, who is leading the expansion of the Government’s academy schools programme. She said that many extra-curricular activities like the CCF, debating societies and music tuition should no longer be the 'province of the middle classes'.

Dr Sidwell told the Sunday Telegraph: 'These wonderful extra-curriculum elements did originate in the independent sector but for a number of years they have been there in City Technology Colleges, strong comprehensives and grammars. 'Good state schools have these things. We must not say we can’t afford it, we'll find a way.'

In other proposals, she signalled schools could face much tougher academic targets, with 80 per cent of children in state primaries and secondaries expected to reach required scores in exams and tests. It would mean far more schools being classed as inadequate and subject to intervention from the Department of Education.

Meanwhile, Mr Gove wants children to learn history in class and be fluent in English. He said: 'It’s important that the sorts of activities that build the sense of togetherness, whether it be sport or the combined cadet force or orchestras and choirs, are encouraged in schools and help people feel part of one country.'


Monday, January 09, 2012

Bush/Kennedy education law's promise falls short after 10 years

The No Child Left Behind education law was cast as a symbol of possibility, offering the promise of improved schools for the nation's poor and minority children and better prepared students in a competitive world.

Yet after a decade on the books, President George W. Bush's most hyped domestic accomplishment has become a symbol to many of federal overreach and Congress' inability to fix something that's clearly flawed.

The law forced schools to confront the uncomfortable reality that many kids simply weren't learning, but it's primarily known for its emphasis on standardized tests and the labeling of thousands of schools as "failures."

Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of the day Bush signed it into law in Hamilton, Ohio. By his side were the leaders of the education committees in Congress, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. The bipartisanship that made the achievement possible in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks is long gone.

The same Senate committee approved a revamped education bill last year, but deep-rooted partisanship stalled the measure in the full Congress. In this election year, there appears little political will for compromise despite widespread agreement that changes are needed.

Critics say the law carries rigid and unrealistic expectations that put too much of an emphasis on tests for reading and math at the expense of a more well-rounded education.

Frustrated by the congressional inaction, President Barack Obama told states last fall they could seek a waiver around unpopular proficiency requirements in exchange for actions his administration favors. A vast majority of states have said they will go that route, seen as a temporary fix until lawmakers do act.

Like Obama, Republican presidential candidates have criticized the law. One, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, even saying he regrets voting for it.

"If you called a rally to keep No Child Left Behind as it is, not a single person would show up," said Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Denver's former school superintendent.

The view was drastically different 10 years ago, when Bush took what was an uncommon stance for a conservative in seeking an aggressive federal role in forcing states and districts to tackle abysmal achievement gaps in schools.

He was able to get fellow Republicans such as Boehner, the current House speaker, and Democratic leaders on education such as Kennedy, who died in 2009, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to join him. The mandate was that all students read and perform math on grade level by 2014.

"No longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance. No longer is it acceptable to keep results from parents," Bush said when he signed the legislation. "We're never going to give up on a school that's performing poorly; that when we find poor performance, a school will be given time and incentives and resources to correct their problems."

The law requires annual testing. Districts must keep and publish data showing how subgroups of students perform. Schools that don't meet requirements for two years or longer face increasingly tough consequences, from busing children to higher performing schools to offering tutoring and replacing staff.

The test results were eye-opening, recalled Miller, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

"People were stunned because they were always led to believe that things were going fine in this particular school. And the fact of the matter was, for huge numbers of students that was not the case," Miller said. "That led to a lot of anger, disappointment. That led to embarrassment. In many instances, the schools were being held out as exceeding in their mission, when it fact they were failing many, many of the children in those schools."

Under the law, watching movies and assigning irrelevant or no homework was no longer acceptable because suddenly someone was paying attention, said Charles Barone, a former aide to Miller who is director of federal policy with Democrats for Education Reform.

In low-performing urban schools, where teachers and principals once might have thrown up their hands and not known what to do, there was a new attitude along the lines of "we might not know what to do, but we've got to do something," said Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Both spoke at a recent forum on the law at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

But many teachers and principals started to believe they were being judged on factors out of their control and in ways that were unfair.

Jennifer Ochoa, an eighth-grade literacy teacher in New York who works with low-performing students, said the law has hurt morale among educators as well as students, who feel they have to do well on a standardized test or are failures, no matter how much progress they make.


Do as I say, not as I do

The British Labour party opposes private education but a prominent Labour politician sent her son to a private school. It reminds me of Barbara Castle in the Wilson Labour government. She said it was obscene to carve your way to a hospital bed with a chequebook but when her son got sick she sent him to a private hospital -- under an assumed name

The black Labour MP accused of racism after claiming that white people ‘love to divide and rule’ sent her son to be privately educated – in a former British colony.

Diane Abbott caused outrage last week after she used Twitter to comment on the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, saying: ‘White people love playing divide and rule. We should not play their game,’ and referring to ‘tactics as old as colonialism’.

Now it has been revealed that when Left-winger Ms Abbott’s son was 16, she shunned the British education system in favour of sending him to a fee-paying school in Ghana, a country run by the British as the Gold Coast Colony between 1874 and 1957.

James Abbott, now 20, was sent to study in the sixth form of the £6,000-a-year SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Tema, Ghana, which boasts facilities such as a ‘near-Olympic-sized pool’ and declares that its students ‘graduate with an internationally recognised baccalaureate and are then able to study at almost any university in the world’. It worked for Mr Abbott – he is now a student at Cambridge University.

The college, established in 1990, also says in its promotional literature that it ‘seeks to focus pupils’ attention on the development of Africa in order to instil a sense of social responsibility and commitment to the continent’.

Ms Abbott was humiliated last week when her party leader, Ed Miliband, rang her while she was being interviewed on television and ordered her to retract her comments.

‘Divide and rule’ was a central strategy of British imperial policy, under which different ethnic groups – including those in Ghana – were encouraged to use up their energies fighting among themselves, rather than plotting to overthrow their colonial masters.

It is not the first time Ms Abbott’s decisions over her son’s schooling have raised eyebrows.

When she was running for the Labour leadership in 2010 she was attacked for sending James to the £13,000-a-year City of London School, despite her party’s opposition to private education.

She explained: ‘I knew what could happen if my son went to the wrong school and got in with the wrong crowd. ‘They are subjected to peer pressure and when that happens it’s very hard for a mother to save her son. Once a black boy is lost to the world of gangs it’s very hard to get them back.’ She added, in an interview with BBC pundit Andrew Neil: ‘West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children.’

Mr Neil hit back by demanding: ‘So black mums love their kids more than white mums, do they?’ Ms Abbott responded: ‘I have said everything I am going to say about where I send my son to school.’

James Abbott himself once defended the decision, insisting that his mother was only following his own wishes.

‘She’s not a hypocrite, she just put what I wanted first instead of what people thought,’ he said, adding that he had wanted to go private rather than attend one of the comprehensives in Ms Abbott’s Hackney constituency. ‘It’s a good school. The facilities, the resources and the teachers seem better than the state school,’ he said.

Community leaders complain that black pupils are frequently failed by the state system. Nearly three-quarters of black boys in London leave school without managing to achieve five GCSE passes at grade C.

When James took his GCSEs at the City of London School four years ago, he earned 11 A* grades.

Ms Abbott married James’s father, architect Richard Thompson, in 1991, but they divorced two years later.


Australia: Bad grades prompt surge in university death threats

Australia gets a lot of its overseas students from Malaysia, some of whom are Muslim. Note that ethnicity is carefully not mentioned below

UNIVERSITY lecturers are getting death threats from international students who have received bad grades. Victoria Police are investigating one case at a state campus after an email was sent to a lecturer stating: "I will kill u and your family."

It is understood the email was sent from a student who was given a low mark at the end of last semester and warned the lecturer to expect an attack on university grounds.

Four staff members from three Victorian universities told the Sunday Herald Sun threats against tertiary staff by international students were becoming more common. Cars had been defaced with graffiti, teachers' houses vandalised and staff physically intimidated and stalked by students.

One source said universities were reluctant to act on threats because international students were full fee-paying "cash cows". They are required to pay fees in advance and usually spend between $14,000 and $35,000 a year for a bachelor of arts and more for other degrees such as medicine, according to Australian Government estimates.

More than 151,000 international students were enrolled in different degrees at universities in Victoria last year.

Clinical psychologist Lisa Warren said she dealt with up to 15 cases involving university staff last year. Dr Warren said the majority of the threats were made by email or on social networking sites by international and local students.

In the incident being probed by police, the emailer wrote: "Why did u give the f---ing low marks? I will kill u and your family next year 2012. "I promise i will kill u excluding any cost, believe me."

The victim, who did not want to be named, told the Sunday Herald Sun he was shocked and afraid the threat would be carried out. "I have colleagues in the rooms next to me and if someone was to come in waving a gun it is a threat against all of us," he said.

Police have contacted the Immigration Department about the threat, the victim said.

Dr Warren said in severe cases victims of threats could be traumatised for life. "Most of the time it is just a blunt and ineffective way of communication, but anything that suggests the student has personal information, such as where the victim's house is or where their child goes to school, is worrying," Dr Warren said.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

High Stakes Testing: A Personal History

With the latest international testing results coming out, the eyes of the world have turned in admiration to Finland as it continues its dominance in educational standings. While many review the results and strategize what parts of the unique education system might be adapted to improve things here at home, others are more interested in parsing words, sharpening the axes they grind in town meetings and union halls. The golden chalice for many of this type is the lack of high stakes testing in Finland.

Since the time that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law, it’s become a given for many teachers that high stakes testing sprang up spontaneously from the ether solely to torment hard-working teachers. For youngsters in the classroom now, it’s an easy sell, if the teachers try to make it. Most of them have never been in a school system without some kind of painful test regimen. A look back reveals a far different chain of cause and effect.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies as I did, I saw a lot of changes in the education system. Forced integration came to our town when I was in sixth grade. Affirmative action, in the form of racial preferences, was close behind. Into tenth grade, there was no mandatory graduation testing that I recall in my area, and only one required course, Americanism vs. Communism.

Late that year, things began to happen. I seem to recall a large number of news stories addressing the issue of “Functional Literacy.” People were graduating high from high school without the skills of reading or basic math. Estimates ran as high as ten percent for adults that could read nothing at all, and twenty percent that read so poorly they were virtually unemployable.

In 1978, I was part of the first class in my school to take the Florida Functional Literacy Test. I don’t remember many of the details. There was some vocabulary, basic math. I took it, passed it, and forgot it.

The test would be described in today’s terms as a “high stakes” test. Those who could not pass it were to be issued a certificate of attendance in lieu of a high school diploma. The purpose of the test, however, was diagnostic, not punitive. Those failing the first attempt would be shifted from their regular English requirement to a class that emphasized basic skills in math and reading. It was the sort of thing that could never be done today in most places, parents and teachers scared to death about the self-esteem of their precious little ones. As if it was possible to maintain self-esteem when you can neither read nor do basic sums…

There were at least two more opportunities for the students to retake the test later in the year and pass after sufficient progress. Most people did pass. A few did not. And that’s the first time that I recall the education system completely abandon its responsibility on a large scale. The requirement for passing the test for a diploma was cancelled. All students were graduated on the basis of their course work.

There were all kinds of arguments about whether or not cancelling the requirement was the correct thing to do, even as the arguments persist today. One fact that could not be argued against, however, was that the school system had lost its credibility as professional educators. It was apparent to all, not least to the children, that political considerations were now more important than the teaching of children.

Testing continued to expand, but the diagnostic focus shifted. Emphasis moved away from how best to improve children’s learning to blaming those who appeared to do better. Tests where minorities scored lower were labeled racist, never addressing whether the tests actually measured skills vital to the child’s success. Gender differences were declared proof of discrimination. And through all of this, school districts continued to develop more elaborate tests only to grant waivers in many cases when the inconvenient results appeared.

I do not blame teachers solely for the loss in credibility. They were under incredible pressure in many cases by parents and administrators to declare that children were succeeding, regardless of how true it might have been. I do blame them for their part in resisting any type of accountability measures that would have allowed the identification and firing of incompetents, for letting the professional standards drop so low that our schools of education are the last refuge of the underperforming college student. And I blame them for protecting themselves above the children by establishing a system of unions that makes it virtually impossible for millions of children to escape failing schools.

I never remember taking a course where the instructor “taught to the test.” It wasn’t needed. They taught the curriculum. Most passed. Some failed. While inconvenient, failure was also an opportunity. It was a chance to shift into courses that were appropriate. Far from being a pit of failure, vocational training was a program where many that did not have the desire or aptitude for college to succeed in school and life.

High stakes testing was never the cause of the problems in education. It is the result of years of problems that should have been addressed, but were not, or were not addressed adequately. The test results are the symptom. Parents and teachers across the nation are aware of the problem. The question is whether or not the nation will summon the dedication to solve it.
Why choose less?

A recent story in the WSJ caught my eye, since it bears on a topic that is of much practical importance but hasn’t been much investigated. The issue is: why do college students choose the majors they choose?

As I have reported elsewhere, there is now a detailed economic study about what students of various college majors earn later in life. Not surprisingly, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors do better financially than, say, humanities majors. But this study only confirmed what was widely understood all along. It’s not as if students (and parents) hadn’t already understood the disparity of incomes, ranked by major.

But this recent WSJ piece reports that students are picking the easier majors, even though they know that those majors offer lower financial payoffs. It tells the tale of one young Chinese American who enrolled at Carnegie Mellon as an electrical and computer engineering major, only to switch to a major in psychology and policy management (whatever the hell that is!). Psych majors average about $38,000 a year less than computer engineering grads. She explained her decision by saying, “My ability level was just not there.”

The authors raise the issue of whether the continuing bad economy will persuade more students to major in the STEM subjects. But the trend hasn’t been good in that regard. From 2001 to 2009, while the number of college grads increased by 29%, the number of engineering grads only increased by 19%, and those with computer science degrees actually dropped 14%.

In fact, the full stats are even grimmer. As the estimable Sol Stern has recently noted, over the last 50 years, technological innovation was responsible for over half of all American economic growth. However, bachelor’s degrees in engineering (awarded to American students, not foreign nationals) peaked in 1985 and have dropped ever since. We are now down 23% from that peak. Only 6% of American college students major in engineering, compared with 12% in Europe and Israel, not to mention the 20% level in Japan and South Korea. We are near the bottom of the industrialized world when it comes to the percentage of college grads with STEM degrees.

Returning now to the WSJ article: it notes that one problem is the perceived disparity in difficulty between STEM courses and those in the humanities and social sciences. Ms. Zhou found that she went from earning C’s and B’s in engineering to A’s in psychology. There is nothing new here, of course. Students have noticed for decades how much easier it is to score much higher grades for much less work in non-STEM majors. Science and math majors average three hours more per week in study time. That difference may seem trivial, but students are increasingly less inclined to work. The article notes that the average time students spend studying has dropped by half since 1960.

It also notes, with evident approval, the efforts of some STEM departments to stem attrition by “modifying” their classes to make them — what? more palatable? — to students from other majors. In his class for liberal arts majors, one computer science prof cut down on the theory component in favor of practical programming. Now 85% of the students pass. What his pass rate was before this, the story doesn’t say. Presumably lots, lots lower.

Whether any of this constitutes dumbing down the subject, the story also doesn’t say.

It is also silent about what to my mind are the biggest issues here.

First, to what degree are humanities, social science, education, and other non-STEM departments inflating grades to attract students, or — given the pervasiveness of leftist thought in those departments — out of a loopy egalitarianism? Grade inflation, no less than monetary inflation, is a profound pricing problem.

Hayek and Kirzner urged us to understand pricing as a language. In a free market, if something fetches a low price, it tells the producer not to produce so much of it. I think that grading is pricing. If a student has to work and winds up with low grades, the grades are telling him that he may need to work still harder, or find another major. The STEM instructors are just doing their jobs and telling the truth to students.

But if (as I suspect) the grading standard has been inflated by many non-STEM professors, they are doing something immoral: they are lying to students about their real abilities. If I give A’s to all my philosophy students, I’m telling them that they are excellent at a subject, when most are not. I may encourage them to pursue a career when they shouldn’t, or — more to the point — not pursue a career they should.

Second, to what extent is this problem another example of the dismal failure of America’s public K-12 educational system — a failure that ramifies into the post-secondary educational system? I have suggested elsewhere that part of the reason many employers look to hire college grads for jobs that really require only a high school education is that a high school diploma from most urban public school districts no longer means a thing in terms of basic educational competence.

If students are switching to easier subjects, might that not be because so many of even the most technically talented young people were so badly instructed in math and science during K-12 that they face extra challenges learning the introductory college-level material? Similarly, if these students were never forced to work diligently in grade school or high school, might this not be the reason why they flee majors that require hard work, and in fact are studying less than ever before in college?

All of this is as disquieting as it is ignored by the mainstream media.


Poor teachers 'will slip through the net' under British reforms

Hundreds of poor teachers are likely to be allowed to remain in the classroom under Government plans to scrap the profession’s official regulator, it is feared.

Many cases of incompetence or misconduct will never be put before an official hearing because of proposals to devolve more responsibility for staff discipline to individual schools, experts warned.

New figures suggest the majority of the 323 cases referred to the General Teaching Council for England since August alone will not be considered under the new system.

Head teachers’ leaders told the Times Educational Supplement that the reforms were flawed and would make it harder for schools to deal with poor-performing staff.

But the Government warned that the existing system was already failing because only a tiny number of incompetent teachers have been struck off in the last decade.

The comments came as a Government adviser claimed on Thursday that the education system “shouldn’t worry so much” about getting rid of poor teachers.

Dylan Wiliam, emeritus professor of education at London University’s Institute of Education and a member of the Government expert panel reviewing the National Curriculum, said a small number of underperforming teachers did not have a major impact on results and sacking them was often “quite difficult”.

Addressing the North of England Education Conference in Leeds, he added: “Rather than starting a witch hunt for the least effective practitioners in our schools, saying ‘you're a good teacher and you're a bad teacher’ and rather than trying to work out who the best teachers are and pay them more money, I think we should create a culture of continuous improvement in every school.”

Teachers can be hauled before the GTC for serious disciplinary and misconduct issues, including criminal convictions, alongside cases of professional incompetence.

According to figures, some 211 teachers have been struck off for misconduct since 2001 but just 17 have been officially barred for incompetence. Hundreds more have been subjected to other sanctions such as formal warnings, suspensions or retraining.

Government insiders have criticised the performance of the regulator, claiming it is overly bureaucratic and fails to hold teachers to account.

In March, it will be axed alongside a series of other education quangos as part of a cross-Whitehall plan to cut red tape. Its duties will be taken over by a new body – the Teaching Agency.

Under the new system, schools will be expected to deal with more disciplinary issues themselves, with the agency only considering the most serious misconduct allegations, including sexual offences and other criminal convictions.

According to the TES, a majority of the 323 cases passed from schools to the GTC since August have not been deemed serious enough for transfer to the Teaching Agency. It raises concerns that many future cases of staff incompetence will slip through the net.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There could be potentially dozens of cases referred by heads which now go no further. “Either a case is serious enough to justify referral or it’s not, and if it’s not taken forward, that’s a problem. If you introduce uncertainty, heads will wonder if they should make referrals, especially because of the stress and difficulty it causes.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “No teacher whose standards fall below an acceptable level will go unpunished. "All serious cases of misconduct that could lead to teachers being barred will be transferred to the new Teaching Agency if the GTCE does not have time to conclude them. "Where appropriate, all other cases will have been dealt with at a local level.

“The existing system does not work – it constantly gets bogged down in the bureaucracy of minor cases instead of dealing quickly with the most serious referrals.

“The new system will ensure that serious cases are dealt with much more quickly by giving heads greater freedom to deal with incompetent teachers themselves. We’re bringing in clear, new standards for all teachers and there will be a new list of teachers barred from the profession available to employers and the public.”


Rules on infant class sizes 'should be axed'

Limits on class size in general are misconceived but in the case of infant classes there IS some evidence that smaller classes are helpful

Ministers are coming under pressure to reform laws banning large classes for infants amid fears over “unprecedented” demand for primary school places.

Councils in London are circulating a letter urging the Department for Education to consider “raising the ceiling” on maximum class sizes for five- to seven-year-olds.

Since 1998, schools have been banned from placing the youngest pupils in lessons bigger than 30 amid concerns they struggle for attention in large groups.

But the letter – originally sent by Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton Council – calls for ministers allow schools to run classes of 32 pupils. The move comes amid mounting pressure on primary schools in some major cities including London, Birmingham and Bristol.

It is claimed that rising birth-rate combined with an influx of migrants in some areas have places significant pressure on schools – leaving some infants without a reception place at all.

Figures published last year showed almost 20,000 youngsters are now being educated in “supersized” primaries of at least 800 pupils – a rise of 43 per cent in just 12 months.

Niall Bolger, Sutton chief executive, said the council had already been forced to spend £7m to create additional classes for pupils starting school in September 2012 and feared further investment would be needed in coming years. “All London Boroughs are facing unprecedented demand for additional primary school places,” the letter said. “Sutton has been expanding primary schools for a number of years and so all easy options to meet demand has been exhausted.”

He added: “We do not wish to eliminate all parameters for class size, but we consider 32 to be a pragmatic compromise between educational viability and financial prudency.”

Regulations introduced by Labour when it came to power in the 90s ban schools from placing children in classes of 30 or more. Large lessons are only permitted in exceptional circumstances and such arrangements are supposed to be temporary.

According to official estimates, some 550,000 extra primary school pupils will enter the system by 2018. It equates to an additional 2,000 primary schools.

But any attempt to increase class sizes is likely to be strongly resisted by the Coalition amid concerns it prove hugely unpopular with parents. It is already investing £4bn in areas with the tightest squeeze on places.

A DfE spokesman said: “The law remains clear that it is illegal for infant classes to exceed 30 pupils – no parent would want their child taught in a huge class. “We’re dealing with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools – doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers to over £4billion in the next four years.

"We are building free schools in areas where there are place shortages and letting good schools to expand without limits to meet demand from parents.”

Councillor Peter Walker, Merton Council's cabinet member for education, condemned any attempt to increase classes. "I strongly urge those with responsibility for education in London to oppose this regrettable initiative," he said. "Increasing class sizes in our schools at this time is short sighted, will threaten school standards, is unfair to our children and will endanger our economic prospects.”