Saturday, April 28, 2012

53% of New Graduates are Jobless or Underemployed

The USA Today reports graduating class of 2012 is in for a rude awakening as Half of new graduates are jobless or underemployed.
A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge.

Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs — waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example — and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.

Median wages for those with bachelor's degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.

Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor's degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade. "I don't even know what I'm looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

About 1.5 million, or 53.6%, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41%, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year. Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less. In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren't easily replaced by computers.

Useless Degrees

The USA Today talks about the "underemployed". Is that really what's going on?   Just what job does someone majoring in Political Science, English, History, Social Studies, Creative Writing, Art, etc., etc., etc., expect to get?

Arguably, graduates in those majors (and many more) should be thankful to get any job. Therefore, those who do land a job should therefore be considered fully employed, not underemployed.  In turn, this means a college education now has a negative payback for most degrees. 
Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he has received financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. "There is not much out there, it seems," he said.

There is nothing out there for many degrees which means that going to graduate school will do nothing but waste more money. Nurses are still in demand, but technology and engineering majors are crapshoots. If you can land a technology or engineering job it is likely to be high paying, but if not, the next step is retail sales.

Who Benefits From Student Aid? 

Students get no benefit from "student aid". Rather, teachers, administrators, and corrupt for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix do.

Obama wants to throw more money at education, and that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead, I propose stopping student aid programs and accrediting more online schools to lower the cost of education so that degrees do not have negative payback.
Sadly, there is a trillion dollar student loan bubble, and that debt overhang will negatively impact the economy for years to come. Let's not make the problem worse. It's time to kill the inappropriately named "student aid" program.


British Catholic schools face 'indoctrination' claims over gay marriage

The Roman Catholic Church contacted its secondary schools in England and Wales asking them to encourage pupils to back the campaign aganist gay marriage.

Church education chiefs last night defended theselves against allegations of “political indoctrination” insisting they were "proud" to promote traditional marriage.

The Catholic Education Service contacted 385 secondary schools asking them to circulate the recent letter read in parishes defending the traditional definition of marriage.

Schools were also invited to promote the petition organised by the Coalition For Marriage opposing the Government’s plans to allow homosexual couples to marry.

Last night almost 470,000 people had signed the petition, backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, the biggest active petition in Britain at present.

Last month a letter penned by the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols and the Most Reverend Peter Smith, was read at masses attended by around a million worshippers.

It defended marriage as a “natural institution” and said that redefining it would be a “profoundly radical” step.

Schools were invited to use the letter in assemblies or distribute copies to parents as well as highlighting the petition.

But a pupil at one London secondary school complained to the website PinkNews saying that they were “appalled” by the way the issue had been presented.

Secularist campaigners warned that schools which read the letter could be breaking equality laws as well as rules against promoting political causes in schools.

But Maeve McCormack, policy manger for the Catholic Education Service, said: “It was an explanation of marriage and a positive affirmation of marriage, celebrating the huge value that it brings to society – we are proud of the fact that these kinds of values are taught in our schools.”

She said that Catholic schools were free to put forward Church teaching in RE and assembly.

But Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "This is a clear breach of the authority and privilege that the Catholic Education Service has been given in schools.”

Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association, said: “the Coalition For Marriage petition is very deliberately a political document and for this reason we question whether the CES has broken the law.”


Britain's  history lessons are 'worst in West': Failing curriculum needs overhaul, says academic

History teaching in England is among the worst in the western world, a Cambridge University don has warned in a devastating report.

Youngsters are taught a ‘mis-cellany of disconnected fragments’ and examined on barely anything before 1870, he claimed, missing out on vast swathes of British, European and world history.

Professor Robert Tombs, a history fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge, said it was ‘difficult to name’ a European country that taught the subject so poorly.

In the report, released today, the professor demanded an overhaul of the subject, and published an alternative curriculum featuring 36 key events in British history that all secondary school pupils should study.

Very few current GCSE courses examine history before 1870, he said,  with more attention often paid to skills such as evaluating  sources rather than acquiring knowledge.

While coverage is broader at A-level, he said the late middle ages and most of the 18th century are hardly touched.

‘Over-specialisation on a few topics crowds out vast areas of history,’ he said. ‘Scant attention’ is paid to the British Empire, despite its far-reaching implications in global history.

By contrast, countries including France, Germany and Australia are already teaching, or moving towards, a broad chronological sweep of world and national history.

Professor Tombs also condemned ‘dismal’ marking, saying: ‘Many examiners seem to know little about the topics they mark.’

The report, published by the Politeia think-tank, comes as the Government considers major curriculum reforms.  Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced a radical shake-up of all subjects. Proposals are being drawn up for introduction in September 2014.

In his report, Professor Tombs said history education in schools had ‘little in common with real historical study’.

Pupils typically study a random array of topics including Tudor England, the native peoples of America, the Industrial Revolution in England and the Nazis.  Some study Hitler three times during their school career.

And rather than focusing on knowledge, examiners are more concerned with testing artificial historical ‘skills’ such as evaluating sources.

Pupils are also forced to study obscure topics in ‘absurdly arcane’ detail, he said.  Pupils taking an Edexcel GCSE unit on international relations, for example, need to know about Hungary’s internal politics between 1953 and 1956, as well as ‘scores of other topics’.

‘It would be difficult to name a European country that teaches history in such a manner, one which can leave the majority of school-leavers in the dark about the unfolding story of their past,’ Professor Tombs said.  ‘Our present compulsory curriculum lags behind other countries in its neglect of swathes of European history.’


Friday, April 27, 2012

"Are we subsidizing student debt too generously?"

It is not fashionable to say this but both political parties have suffered a lapse of logic and Economics 101 when it comes to student debt. Recently, Mitt Romney joined President Obama in calling for additional subsidies for student-loan borrowers.

I went to two critics of the current craze for federal subsidies and extension of student loans, Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation, and Hans Bader, senior attorney and counsel for special projects at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Why am I subsidizing student loans for Harvard kids?

BURKE: Exactly. The burden - and risk - is passed along to taxpayers, including the three-quarters of Americans who don't hold a college degree (and likely earn less than those who do hold a degree). Taxpayers will be on the hook for $6 billion if the rates are kept low.

BADER: I have no idea why. It never made sense to me even when I was at Harvard. Harvard has a huge endowment, and just hoards it. It's not mostly for the students. As the Dean of Harvard Law School publicly said then, students are merely "incidental."

Don't federal subsidies drive up the price of tuition?

BURKE: Keeping interest rates artificially low will fail to drive down college costs in the long run. Colleges will once again be able to increase costs, and students with easy access to low-interest loans will once again be able to pay. The Obama administration has significantly increased federal involvement in the student loan industry, effectively nationalizing student lending through language buried in Obamacare, by continuing to increase federal subsidies, and by "forgiving" student loans altogether after 20 years on the backs of taxpayers. But these policies only exacerbate the college cost crisis, continuing a vicious cycle whereby college costs rise in tandem with ever-increasing federal subsidies.

BADER: Yes, federal subsidies do drive up tuition. It's Econ 101: basic economics dictates that conclusion. Cato Institute education expert Neal McCluskey links to 4 studies so concluding at this link. Andrew Gillen persuasively argues that subsidies drive up tuition in a study available at this link. Gillen's study is discussed at this link. Government loan ceilings are higher for law students than for undergrads, and, surprise, surprise, law school tuition and student debt are much higher there. The more taxpayer-backed student loans available, the higher the tuition rises, and the more crippling students' debt upon graduation. Even the liberal law professor Brian Tamanaha was driven to observe that "This financial insanity will not stop until significant changes are made to the federal student loan program." As a story in the ABA Journal noted, "Law students . . . are treated generously as future professionals and able to borrow, with virtually no cap, significantly more money than undergrads. . . For several decades, most higher education loans were made by private lenders with the federal government providing guarantees against loss - and, in some cases, interest rate subsidies." Now, students routinely graduate from law school with well over $100,000 in debt - an average of $165,000 at John Marshall in Chicago.

Why are colleges allowed to keep tax-exempt status while sitting on mounds of endowment money?

BURKE: It's an interesting question, particularly when one considers the increase in non-instructional staff at universities over the years. The Goldwater Institute found that administrative positions at colleges increased 39 percent since 1993. But ever-increasing federal subsidies give colleges little incentive to cut costs. If the administration wanted to drive down college costs, they could consider reforms that would encourage savings-based - instead of debt-based - college financing, and ending the witch hunt against the for-profit higher education sector.

BADER: Logically, I can't explain why colleges are allowed to [keep] tax exempt status while sitting on mounds of endowment money. Private charities usually have to spend a certain percentage each year. Why not wealthy colleges? They are accumulating extravagant wealth due to preferential tax treatment in a way that reminds me of the Medieval Church, which ended up controlling much of the land due to its favored, tax-free status (which later kings - even some Catholic rulers - ended up confiscating in large part later in the Renaissance and Enlightenment). But if you tried to limit their tax-free hoard, they would send high-paid lobbyists to fight you, and claim you were stealing from the children and America's future.

Bader went on to explain: "Sometimes, financial aid increases lead directly to tuition increases. The federal government imposed the 90-10 rule, which forced low-cost for-profit educational institutions to raise their tuition to comply with a new federal regulation requiring them to charge enough over federal financial aid so that at least 10 percent of education costs don't come from financial aid. Corinthian College had diploma programs in health care and other fields that can be completed in a year or less. Until 2011, many of those programs had a total cost of about $15,000, which meant that federal grants and loans could cover nearly 100 percent of their cost. In response to the Education Department's rule, the college raised tuition to comply with the 90/10 rule. The net result of the government's rule, as Corinthian College notes, was to "create a perverse, no-win `Catch-22' that could prevent low-income students from attending college," by encouraging such colleges to raise tuition to outstrip rising financial aid by more than ten percent.

In sum, Bader finds that President Obama has "harmed America's students, not only by perpetuating financial aid policies that drive up tuition" but also by encouraging students to seek degrees that don't make them employable "even though a credit rating agency, Moody's, is now warning student borrowers that college may not be worth the money for some majors. Meanwhile, he says, the administration is "seeking to cut back on useful vocational training needed for in-demand, high-paid blue collar jobs, such as the skilled workers who factories need before they can expand and hire more unskilled workers (among whom unemployment is very high)." His analysis on that topic is here.

Not unlike with health care, if someone else is paying the bill (in part), you're going to overspend. But more important, rather than searching for nonexistent illegal oil speculation, how about an investigation of tuition-gouging and a re-examination of guilty institutions' tax-exempt status? If Harvard is sitting atop an endowment of $32 billion, why is it charging students more than $50,000 a year?


Indoctrination 101: Chicago School Teaching Students How To Protest

Jones College Prep – a Chicago Public Schools “selective enrollment” school – recently held “Social Justice Week” in March, a collection of events geared towards turning students into activists.

According to a flyer on the school’s website:  “Social Justice Week was created to promote community advancement through dialogue and community service based activism. Moreover, we hope to unify the voice of various JCP and community organizations in which to facilitate collaboration for the betterment of the community at large and promote a unified human rights advancement initiative.”

The school is, according to U.S. News & World Report, a Top 100 high school in the country. It’s one of the best of the best – the cream of the crop.  Demographically, Jones College Prep is pretty balanced. Statistics from 2007-2008 show black enrollment is 23.4%, white enrollment is 29.5% and Hispanic enrollment is 33.7%.

Yet the school’s focus appears to be bent on radicalizing the students through political activities devised by adult employees, reports exclusively.

On Wednesday of Social Justice Week, Black Star Project, a Chicago-based community organizing group, was brought into the school to teach students about “non-violent” protesting. Led by Phillip Jackson, former “Chief of Education” under former Mayor Richard Daley, the discussion was focused on students fighting back against gun crime.

Black Star Project, according to its website, is funded by Open Society Foundations (i.e. George Soros), Best Buy, ING and Toyota Motor Sales, among others.

But Jackson apparently had no interest in discussing the issue of gun ownership with students and allowing them to come to their own conclusions. When one student disagreed with Jackson’s premise on the topic, her opinion was dismissed. The agenda is not to teach students how to think, but rather what to think.

Jackson's co-presenter, Camille Williams of the Peace in the Hood movement, made several inflammatory statements about gun ownership and the National Rifle Association. She claimed the NRA is indifferent to gun violence. She also asserted she has received emails from the NRA and/or its members claiming she is "going to hell" for her advocacy and "these porch monkeys deserved to die," referring to the students. contacted Jackson regarding these emails, wishing to make them public. We received no response.

Students simply thinking about issues is obviously not enough for Jackson. He strongly encouraged them to develop forms of non-violent protesting. “I’m not telling you to do it, but if you were going to,” he said, leading the proverbial horse to the water.

"I'm just saying," he said on several occasions.

Jackson then offered the idea of creating a graveyard on the school lawn of headstones featuring the names of Chicago residents killed with guns.

It sounds as though Mr. Jackson was simply using the opportunity to recruit volunteers for his political mission. And that sounds more like indoctrination that education.

Do the parents of Jones College Prep students understand what’s going on? What about school leaders?


More pupils in Britain's private schools despite fees hike

Parents are being forced to pay almost £13,800-a-year to put children through private school following a rise in the cost of independent education, it emerged today.

Average fees increased by 4.5 per cent this year, figures show, adding another £600 to the bill for each pupil. The average price of boarding topped £26,000 for the first time, it emerged.

Over the last decade, the cost of independent schooling has now soared by more than 75 per cent – or £6,000 – far out-stripping the rise in earnings over the same period.

The disclosure – in data published by the Independent Schools Council – comes just days after the former headmaster of one of Britain’s top schools claimed that fee-paying education was increasingly becoming the preserve of the “super-rich”.

Martin Stephen, the ex-High Master of St Paul’s, said independent schools were now as “socially exclusive” as they were in the Victorian era.

But the ISC insisted that the latest figures showed continuing strong demand from parents.

According to organisation’s annual census, fee rises at schools this year were among the smallest levied since the early 90s, with schools spending record sums on means-tested bursaries for poor students.

The overall number of pupils in private education also increased for the first time in three years.

But a comparison of schools on a year-by-year basis shows a small drop in the number of British students, suggesting the overall increase in admissions is being driven by demand from foreign families. [China]

Barnaby Lenon, the ISC chairman and former headmaster of Harrow, insisted schools “should be very proud of the results”.

“At a time of recession, when very many parents are struggling financially, it is clear that finding fees for their children’s education remains a priority for very large numbers,” he said.

The ISC said that some 1,209 schools completed its annual census in both 2011 and 2012. Among these schools, the overall number of pupils increased by 0.1 per cent to 504,949.

But among British students alone, the number of pupils in like-for-like schools dropped by 0.1 per cent to 479,009 in 2012.

Figures also showed:

 *  Eleven schools belonging to the ISC shut in the last 12 months, following 14 closures a year earlier;

 *  The number of pupils coming from abroad increased by 5.8 per cent to 26,376;

 *  Hong Kong, China and Germany sent the most pupils, although the number of Russian students has more than doubled in five years;

 *  Fewer pupils were in boarding schools in 2012, with numbers falling by 0.2 per cent on a like-for-like basis to just under 68,000;

 *  Rising numbers of ISC students are choosing to take university degrees overseas, with 27 per cent of schools reporting a rise in pupils shunning British universities in favour of countries such as the US.

In a further disclosure, it emerged that the average annual fee increased from £13,179 to £13,788 this year, although the 4.5 per cent rise was the second lowest since the mid-90s.

Average annual costs stood at just £7,824 in 2002 – representing a 75 per cent increase in 10 years.

Day fees rose from £11,208 to £11,709 in the last 12 months and boarding fees increased from £25,152 to £26,340.

But figures show a third of pupils gained some form of assistance with fees in 2012, with a record £284.7m spent on means-tested bursaries – up by 9.4 per cent in a year.

Kenneth Durham, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 leading schools, said: “Even in deep recession, parents recognise excellence in education. Despite increasing financial pressure, families are determined to find the best and broadest opportunities for their children in the independent sector.”


Thursday, April 26, 2012

To Pay Off Loans, Grads Put Off Marriage, Children

Between the ages of 18 and 22, Jodi Romine took out $74,000 in student loans to help finance her business-management degree at Kent State University in Ohio. What seemed like a good investment will delay her career, her marriage and decision to have children.

Ms. Romine's $900-a-month loan payments eat up 60% of the paycheck she earns as a bank teller in Beaufort, S.C., the best job she could get after graduating in 2008. Her fianc‚ Dean Hawkins, 31, spends 40% of his paycheck on student loans. They each work more than 60 hours a week. He teaches as well as coaches high-school baseball and football teams, studies in a full-time master's degree program, and moonlights weekends as a server at a restaurant. Ms. Romine, now 26, also works a second job, as a waitress. She is making all her loan payments on time.

They can't buy a house, visit their families in Ohio as often as they would like or spend money on dates. Plans to marry or have children are on hold, says Ms. Romine. "I'm just looking for some way to manage my finances."

High school's Class of 2012 is getting ready for college, with students in their late teens and early 20s facing one of the biggest financial decisions they will ever make.

Total U.S. student-loan debt outstanding topped $1 trillion last year, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it continues to rise as current students borrow more and past students fall behind on payments. Moody's Investors Service says borrowers with private student loans are defaulting or falling behind on payments at twice prerecession rates.

Most students get little help from colleges in choosing loans or calculating payments. Most pre-loan counseling for government loans is done online, and many students pay only fleeting attention to documents from private lenders. Many borrowers "are very confused, and don't have a good sense of what they've taken on," says Deanne Loonin, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Boston and head of its Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.

Danielle Jokela will have paid $211,000 for $79,000 in student loans by the time the debt is paid off in 25 years.

More than half of student borrowers fail to max out government loans before taking out riskier private loans, according to research by the nonprofit Project on Student Debt. In 2006, Barnard College, in New York, started one-on-one counseling for students applying for private loans. Students borrowing from private lenders dropped 74% the next year, says Nanette DiLauro, director of financial aid. In 2007, Mount Holyoke College started a similar program, and half the students who received counseling changed their borrowing plans, says Gail W. Holt, a financial-services official at the Massachusetts school. San Diego State University started counseling and tracking student borrowers in 2010 and has seen private loans decline.

The implications last a lifetime. A recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys says members are seeing a big increase in people whose student loans are forcing them to delay major purchases or starting families.

Looking back, Ms. Romine wishes she had taken only "a bare minimum" of student loans. She paid some of her costs during college by working part time as a waitress. Now, she wishes she had worked even more. Given a second chance, "I would never have touched a private loan-ever," she says.

Ms. Romine hopes to solve the problem by advancing her career. At the bank where she works, a former supervisor says she is a hard working, highly capable employee. "Jodi is doing the best she can," says Michael Matthews, a Beaufort, S.C., bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with Ms. Romine's situation. "But she will be behind the eight-ball for years."

Private student loans often carry uncapped, variable interest rates and aren't required to include flexible repayment options. In contrast, government loans offer fixed interest rates and flexible options, such as income-based repayment and deferral for hardship or public service.

Steep increases in college costs are to blame for the student-loan debt burden, and most student loans are now made by the government, says Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, a private lenders' industry group.

Many private lenders encourage students to plan ahead on how to finance college, so "your eyes are open on what it's going to cost you and how you will manage that," says a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae, a Reston, Va., student-loan concern. Federal rules implemented in 2009 require lenders to make a series of disclosures to borrowers, so that "you are made aware multiple times before the loan is disbursed" of various lending options, the spokeswoman says.

Both private and government loans, however, lack "the most fundamental protections we take for granted with every other type of loan," says Alan Collinge, founder of, an advocacy group. When borrowers default, collection agencies can hound them for life, because unlike other kinds of debt, there is no statute of limitations on collections. And while other kinds of debt can be discharged in bankruptcy, student loans must still be paid barring "undue hardship," a legal test that most courts have interpreted very narrowly.

Deferring payments to avoid default is costly, too. Danielle Jokela of Chicago earned a two-year degree and worked for a while to build savings before deciding to pursue a dream by enrolling at age 25 at a private, for-profit college in Chicago to study interior design. The college's staff helped her fill out applications for $79,000 in government and private loans. "I had no clue" about likely future earnings or the size of future payments, which ballooned by her 2008 graduation to more than $100,000 after interest and fees.

She couldn't find a job as an interior designer and twice had to ask lenders to defer payments for a few months. After interest plus forbearance fees that were added to the loans, she still owes $98,000, even after making payments for most of five years, says Ms. Jokela, 32, who is working as an independent contractor doing administrative tasks for a construction company.

By the time she pays off the loans 25 years from now, she will have paid $211,000. In an attempt to build savings, she and her husband, Mike, 32, a customer-service specialist, are selling their condo. Renting an apartment will save $600 a month. Ms. Jokela has given up on her hopes of getting an M.B.A., starting her own interior-design firm or having children. "How could I consider having children if I can barely support myself?" she says.


The Delaware education civil war ... complete with victims

There are too many "sides" in Delaware public education.

Part of the reason is that there is no consensus surrounding exactly what the mission of public education in  Delaware was, is, or will be.  Are we creating entry-level employees for our corporations?  Prepared college freshmen?  Better American citizens?  Literate individuals?  Are we using the schools to lift up an entire generation of the downtrodden children and their families.  There is no consensus, and all too many people willing to say, "Yes.  All of the above."

Part of the reason is that we have tied ourselves in knots for two decades trying to figure out how to measure our success in doing . . . whatever it is we are doing (if we only agreed).  Performance Assessment.  Authentic Assessment.  Assessment drives instruction.  High-stakes testing.  DSTP.  NAEP. DCAS.  DPAS.  DPAS 2.  NCLB.  RTTT.  Teacher work samples.  Data coaches.  Teachers drive instruction.  Data drives instruction.  The General Assembly wants to mandate CPR and the History of Labor Unions.  Charter schools.  Magnet Schools.  School choice.  Neighborhood schools.  Vo-Tech schools.  Rodel.  Vision 2012 2015.  Delaware PTA.  Chamber of Commerce.  DSEA and associated PACs.  NEA.  Bloggers.  The News Journal.  University of Delaware.  School board elections.  State School Board.

I feel like I am doing some awful reprise of Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire."

You will notice that somewhere in there how we measure our success got mixed up with "who is in charge" and "who pays."

But that's not as bad as the other distinction we have drawn between us:  the idea that people on the wrong "side" [whatever that is] are enemies of children, God, and chocolate desserts, rather than people who want to do what's right for education as they define it.

Thus we engage in naming, shaming hyperbole, coarsened dialogue, and ludicrous allegations.  [I should know:  as a blogger I have done all of the above.]

Yet what has gotten completely ridiculous is the emphasis on the "sides"

On the one side, I'm told, we have the "ed reformists." who want nothing less than to make corporate profits from public education, who want to impose assessments on students and teachers, and to undermine local control in favor of some cabal run by the Federal Department of Education, Wireless Generation, Goldman Sachs, Arne Duncan, and Josef Stalin.  This group includes the Vision 2015 Network, Rodel, the DE PTA, the Delaware Department of Education, the Federal Department of Education, Governor Jack Markell, and a bucket of crabs (which will be used to resegregate the schools).  Oh, and this group sometimes includes the NEA and DSEA when the mood strikes them, there are deals to be struck, and there are rewards for the compliant.

On the other side, I've been lead to believe, are "the teachers" and "the bloggers" and the great silent majority of parents who haven't been asked for their very valuable opinion since 1972 when Richard Nixon bugged their phones to hear what was on their collective mind.  These folks want local control, teacher control, union control, Federal intervention (when they don't agree with something the various "other" locals did), research-based solutions, a monopoly on the support of candidates for school board or General Assembly [everybody else's money is tainted and should be sent back], and the right to sit seriously at the table with the people they have called racists and lampooned as wearing knee-pads to give blowjobs to their supposed Federal and corporate masters.  Oh, and this group sometimes includes the very politicians who are supposed to be kneeling for perverted sex acts, people who have actually attended Vision 2015 meetings, and PTA members/officers if they bring the proper notes to get in.

What these two groups have in common is money and organization.

The "ed reformists" have money to throw at charter schools, money to gain from offering data coaches, money to spend in political campaigns, and access to some really nice meeting rooms at UD that come equipped with sound systems and chilled, bottled water.

The "teacher/blogger/silent majority types" also have money, principally union money (DSEA, NEA, AFL-CIO, and others) that they throw into election campaigns by the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year through an interlocking network of nearly unaccountable and untraceable PACS, while screaming at the top of their chiefly blogger-inflated lungs that "the other side" is trying to buy the election.

Both sides claim to be advocating for children, which is intriguing, because the kids have no money (many of their parents don't either, right now) and fewer voices, and seem to be floundering no matter what we try.

The truly crazy part about this fratricidal education war in Delaware is just talking to people on "the other side" makes you suspect, and allowing somebody from "the other side" to support a political campaign, or visit a school, or show up at the General Assembly appears tantamount to becoming a terrorist who molest children before he blows up their schools.

Yet neither side actually knows (a) what works or (b) what we're all trying to do.

They just know the other side is wrong.  Deeply, dangerously wrong.

There have been too many arrows launched, too many attacks made, and two many apparently unforgiveable sins committed for everybody to sit down again at the table and start fresh.

And besides, the war is too much fun.  Who gives a rat's ass if fighting it is killing public education and too many children's chances?

The choice is not Wall Street vs the teacher's union, it's our children v our colossal crusading egos.

Parents, teachers, and children--even some educational administrators, corporate types, and union leaders--are getting pretty damn sick of it.

Unfortunately, those non-aligned parents and teachers are the ones without the money to throw into the fray, and without the time to devote to backbiting and mudslinging.

They're just trying to raise and educate kids, whether they know quite why or not, and whether the research supports them or not.

Because many of the people on both "sides" have forgotten them, and have forgotten the idea that we are (or should be) a small enough state for everybody to sit at the table.


Good teaching `stops pupils going off rails': British government minister praises power of traditional subjects

Teaching children traditional subjects makes them less likely to indulge in `risky behaviour', Michael Gove declared yesterday.

The Education Secretary claimed that a good grounding in core academic disciplines was more effective than teaching life skills `in minutiae'.

His comments to MPs came amid growing controversy over lurid sex education materials used in some schools.  They include a film for nine-year-olds produced by BBC Active that features computer-generated images of genitalia and a couple having sex.  Sex education is typically covered in personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons, which remain optional.

Labour tried to make PSHE compulsory from September last year, which would have required all schools to provide sex education to pupils as young as five.

The Coalition ditched these plans and instead launched a review of PSHE.

It also began ranking schools according to how many pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate - good grades in traditional subjects including maths, English, science and a language.

Giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee, Mr Gove said he wanted to make a `deliberately controversial point'.

`I am all in favour of good sex and relationships education, and our investigation into PSHE is an attempt to find which schools do it best because we want to learn from them,' he said.

`However, if you look at the way in which we can encourage students not to indulge in risky behaviour, one of the best ways we can do that is by educating them so well in a particular range of subjects that they have hope in the future.  `There is a direct correlation between how well students are doing overall academically and their propensity to fall into risky behaviour.'

Instilling character, resilience and intelligence in pupils was more important than `for example, teaching someone in minutiae how to wash their hands,' he said.

Last year, the Daily Mail highlighted a disturbing dossier containing a wide range of graphic resources recommended for use in primary schools, which include explicit images.  Yesterday Damian Hinds, MP for East Hampshire, highlighted concerns over some of the material making its way into schools.  `Some of the BBC stuff and Channel 4 stuff is quite startling,' he said.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Assertiveness classes for Oxford undergraduates

This should be a fad that has run its course but I don't suppose it will ever go away.  There has been a lot of research showing that assertiveness training doesn't do much good, if any

Oxford University has introduced assertiveness classes for female students in a bid to get them to compete for jobs in the City and aspire to the boardroom.

They may be young and gifted but research at the elite institution has found that female undergraduates are shying away from applying to jobs in banking, finance, management consultancy, engineering and resource management.

Partly as a result, starting salaries for women when they graduate are on average £2,000 to £3,000 lower than their male counterparts.

“Women are earning less on leaving Oxford. On the face of it, this is ridiculous,” said Jonathan Black, the careers service director at the university. “We have high quality, high achieving students of both genders.  “From the research it appears that women are selecting lower paid jobs. They perceive more prejudice in certain industries and are saying 'I won’t strive for that really high paid job’.

"We are not trying to push loads of women in to the City but we are trying to say, you should feel able to apply for these sorts of jobs.”

The four day programme at Oxford which starts this week will help 45 female undergraduates improve their self-confidence and decision making, think positively and build on their strengths.

Assertiveness training will teach them how to deal with opposition and thrive in challenging situations.

“What we find is that women can be pretty assertive in some parts of their lives but not in others,” said Jenny Daisley, the chief executive of the Springboard Consultancy which will run the programme along with staff at the university.

“The undergraduate sitting quiet as a mouse in supervision, giving the impression that they have not got anything to say, may have lots to say but needs positive advice so that they are not invisible.”

Successful female employees from RBS and BP, which are sponsoring the course, will talk about their lives and careers. A small number of sought-after internships at the two companies will be made available to the Oxford course participants.

RBS’s involvement follows a commitment by the bank to target female recruits, increasing its national proportion of female graduate applications from 35 per cent to 50 per cent by 2014.

Sophie Kelley, 20, studying law at Corpus Christi College, is hoping the course will make her more confident in tutorials and interviews.

“I am applying to London law firms for vacation schemes and it is so competitive,” she said. “The rejection letters don’t give any real feedback so I’m hoping the Springboard programme might give me an insight and advice.”

Anna Broadley, 19, a first year history student at Brasenose College, who is also taking part said: “Boys seem to have a more self conviction and see the bigger picture generally, even when their self-belief is not necessarily based on any greater academic merit.

"While the girls are freaking out about whether they have done enough work for a tutorial, the boys are more likely to say 'I’ll just blag it’.

“I’m really interested in the elements of the course on being assertive and taking the initiative - turning that uncertainty that women may have in to a positive thing.”

Poppy Waskett, 22, a first year experimental psychology student from Harris Manchester College, said she was tempted by management consultancy but hoped to gain inspiration from the career women giving presentations.

The Springboard programme was developed in the 1980s for the BBC and is now a social enterprise company. Its programmes, tailored to specific groups, have been delivered to hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

Women currently make up just 15 per cent of FTSE 100 directors. A study last year revealed that of the 200 most senior bankers at a sample of 20 investment banks and investment banking divisions, just 17 were women.

David Cameron has said that business leaders have not made sufficient progress in ensuring women get top jobs.

In February, he attended a summit in Stockholm to learn from countries such as Norway and Iceland, which have so called “golden skirt quotas” to increase the number of women in boardrooms.

So far, the Government has called for firms to voluntarily increase the number of senior female executives to 25 per cent of the total by 2015.


Daniel Pinkwater on Pineapple Exam: ‘Nonsense on Top of Nonsense’

Eighth-graders who thought a passage about a pineapple and a hare on New York state tests this week made no sense, take heart: The author thinks it’s absurd too.

“It’s hilarious on the face of it that anybody creating a test would use a passage of mine, because I’m an advocate of nonsense,” Daniel Pinkwater, the renowned children’s author and accidental exam writer, said in an interview. “I believe that things mean things, but they don’t have assigned meanings.”

Pinkwater, who wrote the original story on which the test question was based, has been deluged with comments from puzzled students — and not for the first time. The passage seems to have been recycled from English tests in other states, bringing him new batches of befuddled students each time it’s used.

The original story, which Pinkwater calls a “fractured fable,” was about a race between a rabbit and an eggplant. By the time it got onto standardized tests, however, it had doubled in length and become a race between a hare and a talking pineapple, with various other animals involved. In the end, the animals eat the pineapple.

The tests can be used to determine whether a student is promoted to the next grade. Once new teacher evaluations are put in place, the tests will also affect teachers’ careers.

Pearson PLC, which created the test as part of a five-year, $32 million state contract, referred questions to the New York State Education Department. The department hasn’t returned requests for comment since Wednesday.

Pinkwater, 70 years old, took a moment to speak with Metropolis while having his tea, after he walked the bluffs along the Hudson River with his dogs in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Metropolis: The pineapple thing…

So you’re calling because– Oh the pineapple thing! I thought you were calling because I’m this great author.

That’s why I originally wanted to call, and then this came up. Once again you’re dealing with this sort of absurd passage on a state test.

There was never all this attention before. Occasionally there would be some mention, every couple of years, that that quote has been appearing on those stupid tests — and you can quote me, stupid tests. There’s big to-do about it now since it ran in New York this past week. I’ve gotten a ton of emails from kids. One kid phoned me up. They had many comments ranging from, “What are you, crazy?” to “That was the funniest thing I ever saw on a test” to “These tests are stupid, aren’t they, Mr. Pinkwater.”

How did the passage become part of the test?

You’re an author, and one of the side benefits — and it’s not a very big one — is that people will pay to use excerpts. You know they’re useless, but on the other hand, I’m not John Grisham, I could use the extra couple of bucks. They used to ask for it gratis. You’d ask, “Are you going to pay me anything?” And they’d go, “Oh, well, we’re educational.”

Can you tell me a little bit about the passage in context of the original novel?

The novel is called “Borgel.” It’s in a collection called “4 Fantastic Novels.”

Quite the modest title.

Well, yeah, I didn’t want to go over the top.

It’s a nuclear little family, a mother, father and three kids. An old man shows up at the door and says, “Hello, I’m your relative, I’m 111 years old.”

“You’re our relative how?”

He said, “I’m not quite clear about that. I know we’re related. I’m moving in.” And he brings in all his valises and moves into the back room. He becomes great friends with his great-great-great nephew.

In this particular passage, they’re on a bus, and Borgel, the old man, is telling him one of these fractured fables after another. And much better things happen. They go on a time-space adventure, and they meet God, who happens to be an orange popsicle. I think this may the only work of fiction in which it’s revealed that God can take the form of an orange popsicle, which I believe he can.

What is the moral of the eggplant story?

In the book, the moral is never bet on an eggplant. The old man is gradually giving the nephew reason to believe that he is senile or crazy by the things he says or does, so that the nephew will be alarmed but not surprised when the old man appears to be stealing a car. They take off on a road trip in it. But as far as I am able to ascertain from my own work, there isn’t necessarily a specifically assigned meaning in anything.

That really is why it’s hilarious on the face of it that anybody creating a test would use a passage of mine, because I’m an advocate of nonsense. I believe that things mean things but they don’t have assigned meanings.

I’m on this earth to put up a feeble fight against the horrible tendency people have to think that there’s a formula. “If I do the following things, I’ll get elected president.” No you won’t. “If I do the following things, my work of art will be good.” Not necessarily. “If I follow this recipe, the dish will come out very delicious.” Maybe.  Trust me, there is no formula for most things that are not math.

When kids are confronted with questions about the modified version of your passage, there seems to be no particular answer. Yet all answers can be correct. Does that actually fit your message?

That’s exactly right — and I must interject that I admire the job they did, because it makes even less sense than mine. If the test company, when you get around to them, can gather their wits together sufficiently to make a case for, “We don’t count that against the kid’s grade, we put that there as a sort of brain teaser to show them that not everything is quantifiable, and to let them have a little fun,” then I’ll retract all my aspersions about how they’re money-grubbing b——- and overcharge for this stuff and sell it over and over again and underpay the poor authors they buy it off of.

They’re referring all questions to the New York State Education Department, which also hasn’t responded to my questions.

It is pretty funny that anybody — anybody — is taking any of this seriously

You say it’s funny people are taking it seriously, but these tests nowadays determine whether kids move on to the next grade, and they also will determine, in part, whether teachers keep their jobs.

I might have said, “They’re making a dishonest living doing these tests, but they’re doing no harm.” But maybe now they are. And certainly they’re sucking up a lot of money that could be put to better uses in education, and I think the whole thing is shameful.


Australia: Compensation claim fears cramp students after classmate sues girl over tennis mishap

COMPENSATION claims against schools for playground and sporting field accidents are creating a "nanny state" harmful to children's health, a childhood obesity expert says.

Professor Geoff Cleghorn said a growing number of compensation claims by students and parents could lead to more schools banning or restricting sports and outdoor activities.

His concerns follow revelations in The Courier-Mail that Julia Wright-Smith, 13, a student at prestigious Somerset College, was served with legal papers by lawyers acting for architect Paul Burns, whose daughter Finley was allegedly accidentally hit in the eye with a tennis ball by Julia, her classmate.

Other Queensland schools have also moved to ban activities including tiggy, red rover and cartwheels because of injury fears and a flood of compensation claims.

Prof Cleghorn, from the University of Queensland, said accidents happened in the playground and risks could be eliminated only if all sports and outdoor games were banned.  "If you try to legislate against every element of chance, you're not going to have them (activities)," he said.  "In the drive to provide a caring and nurturing environment, you could be creating a nanny state. I feel strongly that kids should be out exercising."

An investigation by The Courier-Mail in 2010 found Queensland state schools had been successfully sued for thousands of dollars for playground and sporting field accidents.  They included lawsuits by children injured while doing handstands, running on the school oval and being thrown in a judo demonstration.

But compensation law expert Mark O'Connor, of Brisbane firm Bennett and Philp lawyers, said most school sport injuries lawsuits were thrown out.

"Sports injuries rarely succeed in the courts because the courts expect people doing physical sports to be aware of any possible risks involved," Mr O'Connor said.

But the Burns' lawyer, Mark Frampton, said there was "nothing malicious" in the case and Finley had to serve legal papers on Julia in case she suffered long-term eye damage and needed to mount a compensation claim "down the track".  Mr Frampton said the Burns family was required to give notice of a potential claim.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

TN: “Don’t Say Gay” bill advances in House

Tennessee’s elementary and middle school teachers could face more pressure not to talk about homosexuality with their students next year after the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill cleared a House education committee Tuesday.

Some Republican leaders have questioned the need for House Bill 229, which prevents the teaching of alternative lifestyles, noting that it is already illegal under state law to teach sex education in grades K-8.

House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, voted against the measure, but it passed on an 8-7 vote and goes to the calendar committee before a floor vote.

Bill sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and others argued that outside groups and some teachers slip those conversations in, and the bill serves as an accountability reminder.

“I have two children — in the third- and fourth-grade — and don’t want them to be exposed to things I don’t agree with,” Hensley said. “... Even though the state board disallows this now, I’m afraid it does happen, and sex education is talked about in a way that it is acceptable.”

Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who voted for the bill, said he’s seen documentation that outside groups are entering classrooms at the invitation of principals and teachers and not staying within the curriculum guidelines.

“And they should,” he said after the vote.

Schools caught in violation of the state’s sex education policies can have state money withheld, and teachers face a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail, according to state law. The bill passed the Senate last year.


British PM praises children who rise when adults enter the room

Children should stand up when their parents or teachers walk into the room, David Cameron has suggested.  The Prime Minister made the remarks in a speech praising the return of “real discipline” to British schools.

He said reforms to the education system would lead to “fantastic outcomes” like children who observe the old-fashioned practice of rising in the presence of an adult.

Mr Cameron also applauded schools where children are allowed to be competitive and learn about failure.

"Give headteachers and their staff the freedom to teach and run their schools; give parents greater choice and transparency about schools and their results and you can see fantastic outcomes,” he said.

“Children who stand up when their parents or teacher walks in the room. Real discipline, rigorous standards, hard subjects. Sports where children can learn about success and, yes, sometimes failure too.”

The Prime Minister was speaking in Dumfries as part of the Conservatives' local election campaign.  He told Scottish party members they must be the “insurgent force” campaigning for greater freedom in public services and the right for citizens to run their own local areas.

The Prime Minister also gave his support to towns and villages across Britain fighting the spread of wind farms. “We shouldn’t be plonking wind farms all over communities that don’t want them,” he said.

The Tories are only the fourth most powerful party of local government in Scotland, as the Scottish National Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all have more councillors.

In a light-hearted introduction, Mr Cameron joked about his relationship with Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, saying they are “like any couple”.

Amid signs of strain in the Coalition over recent weeks, the Prime Minister admitted there had been ups and downs to their relationship.

“I love coming to Dumfries,” he said. “I pass, as you do, Gretna Green on the way, and I'm reminded of my own shotgun wedding.

"It feels like years ago. Like any marriage there's good times, there's bad times. We - that's Nick and I - we have to work at it like any couple.

"I didn't expect to end up with a Liberal Democrat, but there we are. You have to make it work - and we do make it work for the good of our country."


Some top Australian private schools to face reduction in Federal subsidies  -- maybe

Prime Ministers Howard, Rudd and Gillard knew better than to cut any private school funding.  Private schooling is sacrosanct to a big proportion of Australians. 39% of Australian teenagers go to private schools.  Former Leftist leader  Latham wanted to attack private school funding but lost the election,  in part because of that threat

LORETO Kirribilli is among the independent schools in NSW with the most to lose - estimated at up to $3.9 million a year - in the proposed Gonski reforms of schools funding, a preliminary analysis shows.

Other schools at risk of having their federal funding reduced are Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College at North Sydney, St Aloysius' College at Milsons Point and Oakhill College at Castle Hill.

They are among the 17 per cent of independent schools in NSW that have had their funding maintained and indexed at the levels they were at before the Howard government changed the system in 2001.

The Commonwealth formula uses census data to allocate funding on the basis of need according to the socio-economic status of parents.

Since the introduction of the so-called SES funding formula, the wealth profile of many schools has increased, entitling them to less funding under the formula.

But the Howard government introduced a "no losers" policy, which was continued under the Rudd and Gillard governments, which meant annual funding for schools would not decrease.

Analysis by the Association of Independent Schools using 2009 data from the federal Department of Education suggests 86 NSW independent schools would lose between $65,000 and $3.9 million each year under the Gonski system.

The NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said government figures showed Loreto Kirribilli would have received $32 million less than it has since 2001 if the SES formula had been applied strictly. This year it will receive an estimated $3.6 million above its strict SES entitlement of about $1.7 million.

"Losing some of that money would be more than fair and reasonable, especially if it ends up back in public schools," Dr Kaye said.

Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, said an examination of the proposed Gonski model using 2009 data showed a number of schools to have had their funding maintained and indexed would receive more funding, casting doubt on claims that these schools were "overfunded and rorting the system. Other schools, however, will have their funding reduced by amounts ranging from relatively low levels to up to $4 million," he said.

He said all education sectors were awaiting 2010 data to allow the Gonski model's indexation rate to be calculated.

If it was below 6 per cent, the "feasibility of the Gonski model will be struck a severe blow".

It would need to reflect "the real increases in the annual cost of education which has averaged around 6.5 per cent to 8 per cent per annum". A spokeswoman for the Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the Gillard government had said repeatedly that no school would lose a dollar per student as a result of the funding review.

"Mr Gonski and the review panel have made clear that there is still a lot of work to do to test and refine the various elements of their proposed funding model.

"This includes testing the proposed funding amount per student, and examining whether the loadings for disadvantage are set at the right levels."


Monday, April 23, 2012

For colleges, rape cases a legal minefield

A closed- door encounter between two college acquaintances. Both have been drinking. One says she was raped; the other insists it was consensual. There are no other witnesses.

It’s a common scenario in college sexual assault cases, and a potential nightmare to resolve. But under the 40-year-old federal gender equity law Title IX — and guidance handed down last year by the Obama administration on how to apply it — colleges can’t just turn such cases over to criminal prosecutors, who often won’t touch them anyway. Instead, they must investigate, and in campus proceedings do their best to balance the accused’s due process rights with the civil right of the victim to a safe education.

Lately, though, the legal ramifications of such cases are spilling off campus, with schools caught in the middle.

Colleges that do too little about sexual assault could lose federal funds. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating a dozen colleges and universities over their response to sexual violence (documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show schools that have recently agreed to take steps to resolve OCR complaints over Title IX policies include universities such as Notre Dame, Northwestern and George Washington).

Meanwhile, judgments in Title IX lawsuits against colleges, usually brought by accusers, are soaring. Compounding the fear: In some such cases, college administrators may be found personally liable.

But when colleges do take action against accused students, those students are increasingly lawyering up themselves, suing for breach of contract and negligence. And in at least two recent cases, in Tennessee and Massachusetts, male students have tread novel legal ground by alleging violations of their own Title IX protections against gender discrimination, arguing a college’s sexual assault policies or procedures were unfairly stacked against men.

Whether or not such Title IX arguments hold up, they underscore a new fact of life: For better or for worse, the days when colleges could count on handling such matters quietly behind closed doors are over.

A 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision established potential liability under Title IX for schools that fail to address sexual harassment and, in its extreme form, sexual assault.

Now, Title IX cases represent “the most expensive lawsuits in history’’ against colleges, said Brett Sokolow, managing partner of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management.


Why Federal Education Department may be safe for now, even though it's a GOP target

The US Department of Education is probably safe, for now. No matter who wins in November.

It's been a favored target of the GOP presidential hopefuls, with candidates from Ron Paul to Rick Perry promising it would be one of the first government agencies to face the chopping block.

But – at least according to remarks overheard by reporters Sunday night, during a fundraising event – Mitt Romney would keep it. Although reduce its budget.

"I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are to go," Mr. Romney told donors, according to reporters standing on the sidewalk who overheard his remarks. Although he went on to say that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) might be eliminated, he said he had different plans for education. "The Department of Education I will either consolidate with another agency or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I'm not going to get rid of it entirely."

He also addressed teachers unions in his overheard remarks, promising his donors that he'd stand up to them. "The unions will put in hundreds of millions of dollars" to support President Obama's campaign, Romney said. "There's nothing like it on our side."

The smallest cabinet-level department, Education is also one of the most recent. It was established under President Carter and started operating in 1980.

And it's long been a whipping boy of many Republicans, who argue that the federal government has no business being involved in education.

Abolition of the department has been part of the official GOP platform at various times since it was established (and Ronald Reagan tried, and failed, to eliminate it). George W. Bush, however, increased the federal government's role in education with the creation of No Child Left Behind.

These days, Mr. Obama's policies on education – in which he's greatly increased the department's power and used it to push for state laws favoring accountability – are more in accord with some conservatives' views than with, say, the teachers unions'. Indeed, there are rifts within both the Democratic and Republican parties about how the federal government should approach education.

It's not a topic Romney has elaborated on much so far. But in 1994, when he ran for a US Senate seat against Edward Kennedy, he did favor eliminating the department. It was a stance that hurt him at the time and that he brought up in a recent interview to illustrate why he's vague on some positions.

“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney told The Weekly Standard.

Between now and November, Romney will probably need to get more specific on some of his proposals – including his views on education. He almost certainly favors less of a federal role, and less federal money, in education than Obama or Mr. Bush do. But if his remarks to donors can be believed, the department is likely to stick around awhile longer.


British private   school to create chain of 'happy academies' (charters)

Sounds absurd  -- like California around 1990

A new chain of “happy schools” is being launched by a leading public school and a former aide to the Prime Minister.

The network of state-funded academies will have “well being” at the heart of the curriculum, with lessons in positive psychology for all pupils based on classes pioneered at Wellington College in Berkshire, where fees for boarders are £30,000 a year.

Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington, has appointed James O’Shaughnessy, who until October was David Cameron’s head of policy, to run the scheme.

Mr O’Shaughnessy, a Wellington old boy, is a proponent of the Prime Minister’s controversial “happiness index”, a measure of the nation’s well-being levels to be published this summer.

He said the private school’s brand of education could benefit thousands of children in up to a dozen new academies in the next five years.

“I was initially very sceptical about the happiness and wellbeing stuff,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “But at Number 10 we did a lot of work on it and I came to believe that there was a science to it and that it wasn’t just airy-fairy wishful thinking.

“The field of positive psychology has demonstrable, scientifically tested benefits to people’s mental health. It helps people to lead better lives. It doesn’t mean that money or jobs or other traditional things don’t matter but we all have a sense that there is more to life than that. We want to encapsulate that in an education context.”

Mr Seldon, the biographer of Tony Blair, is in the vanguard of the “happiness agenda”, having introduced it in Wellington in 2006.

The lessons, designed by Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, are aimed at developing pupils’ mindfulness, optimism, emotional resilience and self-confidence.

They are also taught at the new Wellington Academy, in Tidworth, Wiltshire, a state-funded boarding school, sponsored by the independent college with a £2 million donation from Goldman Sachs. It opened in 2009, replacing a failing school.

Mr Seldon is in a minority of independent school head masters who has answered David Cameron’s call for the private sector to play its part in the academies programme by sponsoring nearby state schools.

His new chain, for which he is seeking £5 million private funding, will include a mixture of failing schools, new schools and good schools which want to convert to academy status under the Government’s expansion plan.

They will join the 1,641 secondary schools in England, out of a total of 3,261, that are now academies or have applied to be one.

The Wellington chain curriculum will be built around the aim of developing pupils’ character.

For instance, English lessons could involve looking at the strengths and weaknesses of characters in classic English literature to encourage pupils to consider their own.

“There is a false dichotomy in British education – that it is about learning facts or producing happy people,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “The truth is, it is about both.

“If you think about what those really good public schools do so well, develop the personality traits of optimism and ambition, altruism, service, character and grit, these things are not advertised in the glossy brochures but they are implicit in the kind of education parents pay good money for.

“They have developed over decades of tradition and they are in every brick. That is what we want to transfer. We don’t just want a good group of schools, but a tangible 'Wellington group’ of schools.”

The former adviser said the approach, based on the positive psychology pioneered by Martin Seligman, an American psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, had a scientific basis.

As a result, it differed from the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme, which the Labour government spend millions of pounds on to little discernible effect, he claimed.

“It is not the same thing,” said Mr O’Shaughnessy. “It is very far from the 'Are you all right, are you happy?’ approach that turns into fluff at one end of the spectrum. The resilience programme developed by Pennsylvania University has been adopted by the US Army for over a million soldiers, it is a tough approach.”

Academies are schools which are funded directly from Whitehall and independent of local authority control. They employ their own staff and set their own pay, conditions and curriculum.

Many successful academies are members of chains run by charities and not-for-profit companies such as Oasis Community Learning, the United Learning Trust, Harris Federation, E-ACT and ARK.

The Government argues that academies produce better results. Opponents point to statistics which show that the schools exclude three times more pupils than the national average.

The Office for National Statistics is due to deliver the first official “happiness index” in July.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Florida standardized science tests are a disaster

Florida students and their teachers are held to account based the scores on the high-stakes FCAT tests. School funding is partially contingent on test performance. Robert Krampf, a Florida science educator, has been reviewing the test-prep materials given to teachers in order to refine his own curriculum and prepare his students.

However, the test-prep materials were very poor. They consist of multiple-choice questions with more than one correct answer. For example: "This sample question offers the following observations, and asks which is scientifically testable: 1 The petals of red roses are softer than the petals of yellow roses; 2 The song of a mockingbird is prettier than the song of a cardinal; 3 Orange blossoms give off a sweeter smell than gardenia flowers; 4 Sunflowers with larger petals attract more bees than sunflowers with smaller petals."

The curriculum guide says that the correct answer is 4, but 1 and 3 are also correct. Krampf asked FLDOE's Test Development Center for clarification, and the Center told him that although the question had three answers, only one was "correct" in the context of the curriculum -- that is, students would only have learned about testing 1, and not about the chemistry needed to test 3, or the observational methodologies to test 4. This is just dumb. It means that the test doesn't distinguish between students who misunderstand the curriculum, students who are making guesses, and students who have progressed beyond the curriculum. In other words, the test can't tell you anything useful about the students' understanding or the teachers' methodology.

The question about isn't an isolated example, apparently. Krampf reports finding many examples like this from all parts of the test, some of which weren't just bad test-design, but factually incorrect; for example, the test defines a "predator" as "An organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms." As Krampf points out, "By that definition, cows are predators because they obtain nutrients from plants. The plants are predators too, since they obtain nutrients from decaying remains of other organisms."
    I wonder how many students got "wrong" answers on the FCAT because their teachers taught them too much. How many "F" schools would have higher grades if those scientifically correct "wrong" answers were counted as correct answers. How many "B" schools would get the extra funding that "A" schools get, if those scientifically correct "wrong" answers were counted as correct answers?

    We may never know the answers to those questions. The Test Item Specifications are the guidelines that are used to write the test questions. If the Science FCAT test is reviewed by the same Content Advisory Committee that reviewed the Test Item Specifications, then it probably has similar errors. But as much as I would LOVE to check the accuracy of the questions from the actual Science FCAT, I can't. Teachers, scientists, and the general public are not allowed to see actual test questions, even after the tests have been graded and the penalties for those grades have been imposed.

Standardized testing is usually a mess. High-stakes standardized testing is usually a bigger mess. But even by those standards, the FCAT science tests are a disaster, and the lack of transparency and accountability in them means that they're doomed to fail Florida's students for a long time to come.


Teacher who starred in porn film fired by school

A southern California school science teacher who once appeared in a porn film has been fired by her school district over concerns the issue could pose a distraction to students, officials said on Thursday.

The five-person Oxnard school board voted unanimously on Wednesday night in favour of the dismissal of Stacie Halas, who had been a teacher at the Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School for almost three years.

Superintendent Jeff Chancer said that, as a result of Halas' role as a porn actress, the district found she had displayed immoral conduct, dishonesty and evident unfitness for service.

"To have Ms Halas back at school would cause continued distraction and disruption, and it would be difficult for the students to concentrate," Chancer said. "I don't know Ms Halas, but I feel badly for her."

Halas, whose school in Oxnard is about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, has been on leave from teaching for nearly two months amid allegations she had performed in pornography.

Chancer said she will have 30 days to appeal the decision.

Video snippets of the porn film in question were shown on the website of Los Angeles news station KTLA. The movie showed a woman welcoming a pizza delivery man into her house. Halas' precise role in the film was not clear.

Chancer said he believed Halas performed in the porn film prior to starting her career teaching in Oxnard, but he added that he could not verify that.

Diane Duke, the executive director of pornography trade group the Free Speech Coalition, defended Halas and complained the school district was discriminating against her.

"Many adult performers work to put themselves through school, especially now when support for education has hit an all-time low," Duke said. "Ms Halas worked in a legal industry in order to supplement her income, allowing her to go to college and better her life."

Halas could not be reached for comment.

In Florida, a teacher was fired last year when it was revealed he was in gay porn films, but a school commission later reinstated him because he technically did not violate any rules.


British private schools 'risk extinction over fees' - former top headmaster warns

Private schools are risking extinction because they are pricing themselves beyond the pockets of ‘normal’ parents,

They are losing the confidence of the public because they are increasingly the preserve of the super-rich, according to Dr Martin Stephen, who was High Master of St Paul’s School.

Parents earning more than £50,000 a year would struggle to afford many day schools, let alone boarding, he said.

In an outspoken critique, Dr Stephen warned that schools were increasingly reliant on the ‘fool’s gold’ of fees from overseas students, while ‘sucking out’ the best pupils from state schools.

It was now unlikely they would win the support of most voters if asked whether they wanted to keep them, he claimed.

‘The result is that the independent sector is becoming socially exclusive in a way not seen since Victorian times,’ he said.

‘Independent schools, like any other species, must evolve or face extinction.’

Parents with children at fee-paying schools have endured annual inflation-busting fee rises.  Average boarding fees for schools in the Independent Schools Council were £25,152, while average day fees were £11,208.  St Paul’s School, in Barnes, West London, charges boarders £29,466 a year and day pupils £19,674.

Dr Stephen stepped down in January 2011.  Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, he said: ‘Of course, the “great” schools will survive.  Apart from anything else, they thrive in a recession through the rush to quality ... But for most independents, it is time for a radical rethink.’

Claims that private schools are thriving because they are turning pupils away are ‘fool’s gold’, he added. ‘The sector has become too dependent on overseas parents and is profiting from a state sector in some turmoil as a result of radical change.’

Dr Stephen said Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms would massively improve state education, which would ‘present independents with the same sort of challenge they last faced from grammar schools’.

Dr Stephen, the new director of education at GEMS, an international private schools group which aims to make private education ‘affordable’ for many, went on to criticise Government plans for independents to sponsor state academy schools.

‘Independents have little experience of dealing with children who don’t want to go to school and parents who don’t care if they do,’ he said.

And he criticised schemes to lure top state school students with lucrative bursaries.  ‘Independent schools educate only seven per cent of children in the UK, yet they back too many schemes that “support” state schools by seeking to suck out their best pupils: a brilliant idea for independent schools, but lethal to the health of the state sector,’ he said.