Saturday, May 05, 2012

Apology to My Regular Readers

I am in hospital. May be mid next week before I am blogging again

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

When bullies grow up, they can always run teachers unions

Earlier this month, the presidents of America's two largest teachers unions co-hosted a screening of the new documentary "Bully." The movie, of course, aims to combat bullying of schoolchildren.

But even as they publicly eschew bullying, these unions and their locals across the nation bully teachers and competing organizations to maintain membership and power. I have published a new report on the details of this ugly trend in School Reform News.

In February, a Utah teacher named Cole Kelly testified in favor of a bill that would penalize school districts for not granting all teacher organizations -- not just unions, but also other professional organizations -- equal access to teachers. A week later, he was released from his position as athletic director, which for school districts is tantamount to firing. His principal admitted she approved of his job performance but had released him because of pressure.

Subsequently, other teachers texted Kelly to say they agreed with him but were afraid of being fired if they spoke out or left their union. He is contesting his release.

This spring, a Colorado teacher emailed the state director of a nonunion teachers association, explaining why she wouldn't publicly speak for a bill extending the state's two-week window for ending union membership.

"They [the state union] are a large and powerful organization," she wrote. "I want to speak out against them, but I am afraid of the repercussions that I will face as a result and the possibility of them doing something to make me lose my job."

At a new teacher orientation in Jacksonville, Fla., a union representative heard a presentation by a nonunion group. She walked onto the stage before 600 teachers, accused the presenter of being "a desperate former teacher" and stalked about the room ripping up the competition's fliers, said Tim Farmer, membership director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators.

These are not isolated incidents. Teachers unions engage in repeated, unashamed aggression against dissenting teachers and competitor organizations. In regular legislation-tracking for School Reform News, I have uncovered many examples of such behavior across the country. Some are as outrageous as the ones above, while others are mere annoyances. They all, however, represent a consistent effort to intimidate teachers and suppress ideas that might threaten their agenda.

"This is everywhere," said Alexandra Schroeck, communications director for the American Association of Educators, the largest nonunion teachers association. AAE offers teachers liability insurance, professional development grants and legal representation in employment disputes, but it does not engage in collective bargaining or political activism. Its fees are approximately $15 per month, whereas union dues are often $50 per month or more. Like other nonunion teachers organizations, such as Educators4Excellence in New York and the California Teacher Empowerment Network, AAE has been growing, but it constantly runs up against unethical and sometimes illegal union-influenced resistance.

In Utah, for example, a refusal to allow all teachers associations equal access to privileges like payroll deductions, teacher in-services and orientation, and committees (often a union, but no other teachers association, is guaranteed a seat or several) is illegal. Rather than granting access, many principals and superintendents just ignore phone calls and emails requesting it to avoid admitting they are breaking the law, said the state's AAE membership director, Charity Smith.

This year, Smith said, a large male union representative met her at her presentation to a group of teachers and demanded she reveal whom she had talked to, where she was planning to visit next, and her home address. Teachers have whispered to her they were interested in leaving the union but couldn't talk about it openly at school, slipping her their email addresses for later communication. All the states the report covers are right-to-work states, but this is not preventing such persecution.

Teachers unions proclaim to the public that they represent teachers. They also say they are against bullying. My research provides important context for both claims.


British all-girls' schools could lose a quarter of pupils as parents opt for mixed classrooms in world of 'men and careers'

All-girls' schools could lose a quarter of their British pupils as parents decide they're no longer suitable for preparing their daughters for the modern world of 'men, marriage and career'.

The number of pupils attending same sex schools belonging to the renowned Girls' Schools Association has already dropped by 1.4 per cent in the last year.

And Lord Lucas, editor of The Good Schools Guide, has claimed all-girls' schools need to 'up their game' to compete with the growing preference towards mixed classrooms.

He warned that girls' schools that did not change with the times by improving their curriculum to emphasise subjects such as science and engineering - traditionally seen as remit of men - they risk losing a quarter of pupils in the next 20 years.

Lord Lucas told the Daily Telegraph: 'Schools need to give positive reasons to choose a girls’ school.

'The old reason that without boys they can concentrate may be true for some girls, but most girls who grow up in a co-educational environment do pretty well and find they can manage quite happily.

'I question the old traditional arguments in favour of a girls’ school and I’d like to see something more fundamental and evidence-based and that would make a real difference to the choices parents make.'

His statement has come under fire by heads of all-girls' schools who claim single sex schools are not going out of fashion and it is Lord Lucas' views that are in fact 'old-fashioned'.

Helen Wright, head of St Mary’s School in Calne, Wiltshire, told the Daily Telegraph: 'It is an old fashioned attitude. He seems to have an idea of girls’ schools that they are convent-style establishments from the 19th century.'

All-boys' schools are also seeing a decline with many fee-paying establishments changing their admission rules to accpet girls as well.

Today less than five per cent of schools listed in last year's edition of The Good Schools Guide were all-boys' schools compared to a quarter in the 1980s.


Australia:  Teacher fired by Christian school  over pregnancy

She should not have taken a job there if she did not intend to follow the rules she agreed to

A pregnant and unmarried teacher at a Sunshine Coast Christian college claims she has been sacked for breaking the "lifestyle agreement" part of her contract by having a child out of wedlock.

Jamie Davidson, the sister of kindergarten teacher Jess Davidson, said Jess informed her employer, Caloundra Christian Community Kindergarten, last month that she was pregnant.

Then, two weeks ago after a series of meetings with the principal and deputy principal, she was told she would lose her job at the end of the term.

Jamie said Jess was told she was being sacked for falling pregnant while unmarried.

Jess has had external advice that she should not talk to media.   "She was told that being pregnant and not married did not align with the school's designation as a Christian lifestyle," Jamie said.  "It has put her under a lot of stress and it's really early in her pregnancy.  "She didn't want to tell anyone until around 13 weeks but now everyone knows."

Jess is a single mother who has two children aged seven and nine enrolled at Caloundra Christian College. She was married when she had the children, but when she was first employed by the college two years ago she was a single mother.

"We're just devastated," Jamie said.  "We were really shocked and really surprised it could happen in 2012. We didn't expect this sort of reaction." has obtained a copy of the Lifestyle Agreement which states "it is a genuine occupational requirement" that nothing in the deliberate conduct of the staff "should be incompatible with the intrinsic character of their position, especially, but not only, in relation to the expression of human sexuality through heterosexual, monogamous relationships, expressed intimately through marriage".

Jess signed the agreement when she started at the kindergarten and was working full-time when she was fired.

Principal of Caloundra Christian College Mark Hodges confirmed Jess's employment would be terminated at the end of the term, but said he could not give the reason because of privacy obligations.

"It's not to do with the pregnancy, though she did contravene the lifestyle agreement," he said.

When asked if he was saying he did not sack Jess for being pregnant and unmarried, Mr Hodges said he could not answer because of privacy concerns.  He then sent a statement which said: "As a Christian College we require that all staff have, and demonstrate, a faith and lifestyle consistent with the Christian beliefs taught here.

"These beliefs are set out in College policies and documents, including the agreement under which all staff are employed. This requirement is also made clear to staff prior to appointment.

"Whenever concerns are raised in relation to any issue of staff performance or conduct they are thoroughly investigated by the College and discussed with the staff member concerned.  "Our hope is always to find positive solutions and seek restoration whenever that is possible."

Mr Hodges said he was happy to meet with any parents who wished to discuss the school's policies and practices.

Jamie has set up a Facebook page called "I support Miss Jess" which has attracted more than 300 'likes'.

A parent at the school Melinda Saunders is one of Jess's supporters and has two children who have been taught by her.

She told the Sunshine Coast Daily she met with Mr Hodges to protest Jess's sacking and he gave her a copy of the Lifestyle Agreement as an explanation.

"It's shocking and devastating, it's her job, her whole future and she doesn't need this stress when she is pregnant," Ms Saunders said.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

TN: “Gateway sexual activity” bill heads to governor

Legislation banning teachers from promoting or condoning “gateway sexual activity” is headed to the governor’s desk after approval by the state House of Representatives on Friday.

The bill, which passed the full Senate earlier this month, would require all state sexual education classes to “exclusively and emphatically” promote abstinence while banning teachers from promoting any form of “gateway sexual activity.” The latter term, which has garnered national media attention and been lampooned by comedian Stephen Colbert, is not specifically defined in the bill.

The vote was 68-23, with all but one Republican for it.

Democrats who opposed it said sufficient provisions were already in place in the curriculum and cited a 2007 federal study that said abstinence-only education was not effective in reducing teen pregnancies. Other dissenters said the bill’s definitions of gateway sexual activity are too vague and could force teachers to define when students hold hands or kiss under threat of lawsuits from parents.

“It seems like a totally new requirement for teachers and it’s a totally new way that teachers can now be subject to discipline,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Hermitage, said the legislation he sponsored clearly defines abstinence and takes a harder line supporting its role than the current curriculum both sides said doesn’t work.

“We need to change what we’re doing, and we need to go in a different direction on this, and I feel this bill is a big step forward,” Gotto said.


WKU Art Prof. Actually Defends ‘Vandalism’ of Pro-Life Cross Display With Condoms as ‘Learning’

There’s a battle brewing at Western Kentucky University between a pro-life group, an art professor and at least one student. Hilltopper’s For Life, a student-led anti-abortion group, is claiming that pupils desecrated and vandalized a pro-life display by putting hundreds of condoms on top of some of the crosses that comprised it.

The display, which had been approved by the university, is now the center of intense debate. A member of Hilltoppers apparently caught Elaina Smith, the offending student, as she and another individual were putting the condoms on top of many of the exhibition’s 3,700 crosses. According to sources within the pro-life group, the student claimed that her actions were part of an art project for her class. When Smith refused to stop desecrating the display, campus police were called.

Here’s where the situation gets interesting. Authorities refused to stop Smith and allegedly said that her actions were permitted by the First Amendment. Even more bizarre is the response that came from art Professor Kristina Arnold. In a statement that was released, she did anything but take a stand against Smith and her actions.
“Learning and debating are not always pretty or polite processes. Critical engagement with ideas can get messy,” she wrote. “If we are asked to introduce our students to all the tools of debate and engagement, they will use these tools. The use and discovery of tools, and the use and discovery of voice is exactly what is occurring on our campus, on both sides of this current discussion.”

Smith, too, is doubling down and defending herself. In an e-mail message that was sent to the pro-life group Students for Life earlier this week, Smith apparently defended her actions:
    During the week of April 16th, the Hilltoppers for Life’s pro-life display remained un-interrupted. The student body tolerated this intrusion without major incident. The voice of the pro-life community was heard. On the last day of this event, I attempted to add to the visual dialogue with my own voice and was met with strong resistance. I take this subject very seriously, and had hoped to remind people of the effectiveness of condoms and other forms of contraception in preventing unwanted pregnancies. I do not ask that everyone agree with my point of view or the way in which I tried to express it. However, I stand by my actions. I do not believe that I impeded anyone else’s freedom of expression. I did not break any laws. I did not damage any property. I voluntarily removed the condoms even though I was not required to do so. At the time, I thought that the matter had ended there. I do not feel that I should apologize for attempting to exercise the freedoms that we all are entitled to.

In the letter, Smith is clear about the fact that she doesn’t believe an apology is warranted. Yet, Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell released a contradictory statement this week claiming that an apology had been issued by the student (i.e. Smith).
“No member of our University family should impede another member of our family’s freedom of speech or creative effort, especially when it comes to exercising religious freedoms,” Ransdell’s statement read. “The offending student has apologized. This matter has been dealt with properly, decisively, and brought to a conclusion.”

But according to the e-mail that allegedly came from Smith, she feels no need to apologize. Naturally, Hilltopper’s For Life is flabbergasted that the situation has unfolded as such. With the professor purportedly defending Smith and with the university seemingly attempting to put a stop to the rhetoric surrounding the situation, the group is standing up for its rights. Starnes has more:
    The Hilltoppers For Life are now represented by the Alliance Defense Fund. They’ve sent a letter to the university demanding answers and an official apology.

    “It appears that several WKU officials knew this vandalism would occur, did nothing to stop it, and allowed it to continue,” wrote attorney Travis Barham. “Our clients were exercising their First Amendment rights, and it is the duty of WKU officials to protect those freedoms, not passively allow them to be violated.”

    The Alliance Defense Fund sent a list of eight demands to the university. In addition to a public apology, they also want to know who purchased and supplied Smith with 3,700 condoms. They also want assurances that the student will be punished for her act of vandalism.

With the school claiming that the situation has been put to rest, but will Hilltoppers still pushing for resolution, it’s likely further discussion will be taking place in the coming days.


Final High School exam  overhaul to halt Britain's "rampant grade inflation"

Sweeping reforms to the “gold standard” A-level exams have been signalled by the head of the exam watchdog.  Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, said that after more than a decade of “persistent grade inflation” in exams, which was “impossible to justify”, the value of A-levels and GCSEs have been undermined.

To restore public confidence, wholesale changes were needed to the structure of exams and the culture within exam boards, she warned.

It is the regulator’s first admission that the continuous rise in results has been fuelled in part by the cumulative effect of examiners giving students the “benefit of the doubt”.

The chief sounded the death knell for the two-part A-level, introduced 12 years ago and about to be taken by thousands of sixth formers in this summer’s exam season which starts next month. Her comments herald the scrapping of the AS level, taken in lower sixth, and a return to the traditional A-level where pupils take exams at the end of the course.

* Current A-levels, made up of modules examined at intervals, were not working and needed to be changed

* Resits were robbing schools of teaching time

* Good quality multiple choice questions should form a part of some A-level subjects to ensure more of what pupils are taught in lessons is examined

* England needed to learn lessons from high performing countries where maths and English are compulsory to age 18

The Government is carrying out a fundamental review of the national curriculum and the examination system after fears that endemic “dumbing down” has created a generation of students who struggle to cope with degree level work.

Until now Ms Stacey, who was appointed by Michael Gove last year, has avoided the term “grade inflation”, criticising it as “unhelpful and negative”. She said last year that rising results may be explained by “young people being taught well and working hard.”

But the regulator head admitted that “containing” grade inflation in this year’s A-levels and GCSEs, by ensuring exam boards set “justifiable” grade boundaries, was a major focus. Her remarks pile pressure on the beleagured boards to rein-in examiners to avoid any hikes in results this August.

“If you look at the history, we have seen persistent grade inflation for these key qualifications for at least a decade,” she said. “The grade inflation we have seen is virtually impossible to justify and it has done more than anything, in my view, to undermine confidence in the value of those qualifications.

“One of the reasons why we see grade inflation, and it is a laudable reason, is that a lot of the time there are very small gains just by giving the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit of the doubt factor has an impact over time. We need to find ways to manage grade inflation.”

Experts say modular exams, introduced under Labour, fuel grade inflation because they are easier to pass and pupils are allowed numerous resits.

The chief executive revealed that Ofqual will consult over the summer on proposals to “move away from a modular approach” at A-level.  “We have found that there is a strong and persistent view from universities that the modular approach to A-levels is not achieving what it needs to, that the parts don’t add up to the whole,” Ms Stacey told the Sunday Telegraph.

She said teachers had also raised concerns about the structure of current A-levels.  “There are only so many school hours in a year. When time is spent preparing for modular exams, doing test papers, doing exams, doing resits, where is the time for teaching?” said Ms Stacey. “It is said to me sufficiently often that I am sitting up and taking notice. I think I am quite right to be concerned about it.

“It is not simply a question of 'well, let’s propose we get rid of the January exams’, you do need to have regard to the structure of the two-part A-level. The answer may well be different subject by subject."

Ms Stacey said that England needed to learn lessons from exam systems in high performing countries around the world.  An international report to be published by Ofqual next month will compare the English approach to countries such as Canada, China, the Netherlands, Finland, South Korea and New Zealand.

It will say that high quality multiple choice questions, project work, oral assessment and compulsory subjects all featured more strongly in overseas exam systems.

The findings will bolster the case for making maths and English mandatory in sixth form, which is likely to be part of the Government’s reforms.

“We are quite unusual in this country in that students here have a free choice about what they study,” said Ms Stacey. “That is not the approach internationally. We are concerned about whether A-levels are preparing students in the round and subject specifically for university study.”

Ms Stacey, was previously the chief executive of the now defunct Standards Board for England, a non-departmental body responsible for promoting high ethical standards in local democracy.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Wacky British school inspectors

Teachers claim they have been reprimanded by Ofsted inspectors for having pupils who are ‘too well behaved and polite’ and for marking work with ‘back to front’ left-handed ticks.

A list of bizarre complaints has been revealed, including one about a teacher who was eight months pregnant but told she was being downgraded because she ‘didn’t move around the room enough’.

The Times Educational Supplement yesterday reported that hundreds of teachers are flooding its online forum to share scathing accounts of the inspectors employed to judge them. Some inspectors are accused of falling asleep on the job.

One PE teacher was reportedly told that their lesson was ‘unsatisfactory’ as there were ‘children doing nothing at some points in the lesson’. The decision was overturned after it was pointed out that the pupils were fielding in a cricket match.

Another teacher described how a group of eight-year-olds were building models to demonstrate the Roman central heating system. The inspector declared it ‘the best design and technology lesson I’ve seen this year’.

One teacher was told: ‘That was a good lesson, but I’m going to mark it down as satisfactory because you talked too much.’

A food and technology teacher was told that the way to improve their lesson from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ was to ‘put all the pupils in chef’s whites instead of aprons’.

And one teacher said an inspector observed her lesson and complained: ‘Your children are rather too well behaved and polite.’

Ofsted’s desire to ensure that all minority groups achieve highly also led to confusion. One teacher was told that the 25 per cent ‘success rate’ for male Bengali sixth-formers was a ‘serious issue’ that could lead to a downgrading. In fact, out of only four such pupils, one was being treated for cancer, another had died in a road accident and a third was in a young offenders’ institution.

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘It is difficult to respond to rumour and anecdote.  'It is worth keeping in mind that out of thousands of inspections each year, Ofsted receives complaints about less than 3 per cent.’


The Federal government's college money pit

by Jeff Jacoby

IF INSANITY is doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different outcome, then the federal government's strategy for keeping higher education affordable is crazier than Norman Bates.

For decades, American politicians have waxed passionate on the need to put college within every family's reach. To ensure that anyone who wants to go to college will be able to foot the bill, Washington has showered hundreds of billions of dollars into student aid of all kinds -- grants and loans, subsidized work-study jobs, tax credits and deductions. Today, that shower has become a monsoon. As Neal McCluskey points out in a Cato Institute white paper, government outlays intended to hold down the price of a college degree have ballooned, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $29.6 billion in 1985 to $139.7 billion in 2010: an increase of 372 percent since Ronald Reagan's day.

Most of that prodigious growth is very recent. The College Board, which tracks each type of financial assistance in a comprehensive annual report, shows total federal aid soaring by more than $100 billion in the space of a single decade -- from $64 billion in 2000 to $169 billion in 2010. (The College Board's data, unlike Cato's, includes higher-education tax credits and deductions.)

And what have we gotten for this vast investment in college affordability? Colleges that are more unaffordable than ever.

Year in, year out, Washington bestows tuition aid on students and their families. Year in, year out, the cost of tuition surges, galloping well ahead of inflation. And year in, year out, politicians vie to outdo each other in promising still more public subsidies that will keep higher education within reach of all. Does it never occur to them that there might be a cause-and-effect relationship between the skyrocketing aid and the skyrocketing price of a college education? That all those grants and loans and tax credits aren't containing the fire, but fanning it?

Apparently not.  "We've got to make college more affordable for more young people," President Obama declaimed during campaign appearances at the universities of Iowa, North Carolina, and Colorado last week. "We can't price the middle class out of a college education." Like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, Obama argued for keeping the aid spigot open. He hit all the usual notes ("extend the tuition tax credit … cap student loan payments … make sure the Pell grants are there"), and for good measure used the federal student-loan interest rate -- which will double in July unless Congress acts -- to paint Republicans as clueless Grinches. Yet Mitt Romney also wants to extend the current rate. The myth that government can control the price of higher education by driving up the demand for it commands broad and bipartisan belief.

"It's not enough just to increase student aid. We've also got to stop subsidizing skyrocketing tuition," Obama said to applause in Iowa City. He might as well have declared that it's not enough to keep flooring the accelerator; we've also got to stop the car from going faster. Reality doesn't work that way. Rising government aid underwrites rising demand for higher education, and when demand is forced up, prices follow suit. (See under: Crisis, subprime mortgage.)

Federal financial aid is a major source of revenue for colleges and universities, and aid packages are generally based on the gap between what a family can afford to pay to send a student to a given college, and the tuition and fees charged by that college. That gives schools every incentive to keep their tuition unaffordable. Why would they reduce their sticker price to a level more families could afford, when doing so would mean kissing millions of government dollars goodbye?

Directly or indirectly, government loans and grants have led to massive tuition inflation. That has been a boon for colleges and universities, where budgets, payrolls, and amenities have grown amazingly lavish. And it has been a boon for politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, who are happy to exploit anxiety over tuition to win votes.

But for students and their families, let alone for taxpayers who don't go to college, it has been a disaster. The more government has done to make higher education affordable, the more unaffordable it has become. Doing more of the same won't yield a different outcome. By now, even Norman Bates would have figured that out.


Loneliness among university students:  Is it worse in Australia?

I think Adele Horin has a point below.  My undergraduate years were in the '60s and I had an exceptionally good time in campus politics at that time.  Being one of the few outspoken conservatives on campus in the Vietnam era was immensely entertaining.  But what I enjoyed most was my time in one of the university's army units.  So I was the complete counterformist.  Donning an army uniform when most of the campus was scared stiff of being drafted into the army was real defiance.  And I could tell of other adventures ....

Rather to my regret, however, my own son in his undergraduate years was rather like those Adele Horin describes below: Sticking to his studies and his old school friends.  Fortunately, however, he has now moved interstate to do his Ph.D. and he seems to be having there the sort of fun I would wish for him.  In his undergraduate years I kept telling him that your time at university is a time for having fun so I am glad he has finally realized it

Having just read the latest American literary sensation, The Art of Fielding, about college baseball, I am struck once again at the deep emotional connection young Americans feel towards their university; for the American college student the years between 18 and 22 are seminal when new friendships are forged and campus experiences can be life-changing.

It could not be more different from the narrow, often lonely and alienating experience of going to university in Australia.

This week, new figures showed record numbers of students from migrant, indigenous and otherwise hard-up backgrounds are going to university.

But I could not help wonder how these students will fare without a pack - or a pair - of high school mates as a ballast against loneliness.

Some parents once feared university might corrupt their darlings by bringing them into contact with strange and subversive elements. But nowadays parents are more inclined to worry that university is not the broadening and enlivening experience it once was.

The old school tie is more important than ever. Many young people cling to their high school friends for dear life as they progress through the university years, barely making a new acquaintance.

So big and inhospitable are campuses, so large are the numbers in tutorials, so depleted are university clubs, and so pervasive are the changes in life outside the campus that the university experience has become less vital, interesting and social for many students.

A few years ago the mother of a gorgeous and vivacious young woman from Sydney's north shore - now a journalist - revealed how friendless her daughter found university. The only sources of welcome and cheer were the campus Christian clubs that unsurprisingly had gained a huge following. If this young woman with bountiful social skills found university a bit lonely what hope do the shy, awkward and socially disadvantaged have?

My assertions are based on observations over the past five years of a group of young people still making their way through university and backed by three research reports since 2005 charting the engagement - and disengagement - experience of thousands of students.

To give credit where it is due, the universities are keenly aware that student disengagement is a major issue that needs to be addressed. But a lot of the forces causing the alienation are outside the universities' control.

The First Year Experiences in Australian Universities report, which traced changes from 1994 to 2009, found only half the students in 2009 felt a sense of belonging to their university and one-quarter had not made a friend - a significant worsening from previous years. As well, there had been a significant decline in the proportion that felt confident that at least one teacher knew their name.

Decreasing proportions participated through university sports, clubs or societies, and, of course, students spent less time on campus than in the past, and the less time they spent, the less they felt they belonged.

The report also points to improvements in student satisfaction with the quality of teaching, and enjoyment of courses. Academically, life is better.

If university is a less exciting and social place than it used to be for many, it is partly because students are holding down jobs, on average 13 hours a week, and not just to pay for ski trips. Another report, "Studying and Working", which looked at student finances and engagement, found many were in financial hardship and 14 per cent sometimes could not afford to eat.

The decline in shared houses due to soaring rents is another reason for the diminution of university experience. Thinking back, it was the network of shared houses that linked students into a constant party in the long-ago 1970s that made the era so vivid. Living with mum and dad will not be so memorable.

And then there's Facebook. Stephen Marche, writing in The Atlantic, posed the question "Is Facebook making us lonely?" If you use it to make arrangements to meet friends it is an asset. But when Facebook - and online interactive games - become a substitute for meeting people then it robs students of the richness and complexity of real relationships.

That is what makes Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding so fascinating. It is a novel, at heart, about the deep and complex relationships forged at university, with the central character being a shy, awkward and socially disadvantaged young man.

The American system is entirely different from ours, propelling students across the continent to reside at college. It is enormously wasteful. Students and parents rack up huge debts to pay for tuition and board when often perfectly good institutions of higher learning are in their home town.

But it does have the advantage of expanding student horizons and friendship networks, and of imparting a thrilling edge to the university experience, and a deep attachment to the institution.

For the 40,203 students from low socio-economic postcodes who started university this year, the opportunity is priceless. Previous research shows such students have more clarity of purpose, study more consistently and skip fewer classes. But they are also less likely to make friends or like being a university student.

Young people are lucky in so many ways with a world of connection and information at their finger tips. But the university experience seems less special and more impersonal than it used to be, and that's a pity.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Political Spin in the Classroom- How it’s Hurting America
Benjamin Franklin once said “The good education of youth has been esteemed by wise men in all ages, as the surest foundation of the happiness both of private families and of common-wealths,”

He and the rest of the Founders recognized that the continuation of liberty is in the hands of an educated electorate. When the people are uninformed, they can be manipulated and enslaved- case in point- the feudalist system in the Middle Ages.

So, if the education of the public, and particularly young people, is crucial in a free society, the role of the teacher is perhaps one of the most important. They influence the individual at a crucial age- when they are discovering the world and learning to think for themselves. By opening the young mind to the wonders of society and humanity, a good professor can inspire passion in a student to succeed and change the world. And that is a truly beautiful thing.

But what happens when the teacher misuses their position? What happens when the teacher uses their position to push a private agenda, poisoning the student’s mind through malicious lies?

Given the trust and importance placed in public educators, is this duplicity not a betrayal of the free society they are supposed to be preserving?

I have spent many lectures fighting back tears of anger as my professors malign everything I believe in, mocking the conservative way of thinking, lying about the goals of an opposing party, snickering at anyone who has the guts to stand up and try to defend what they believe in. Can there be anything more despicable than a professor who uses their position to put down young people who are just learning to stand up for themselves? Yes, freedom of speech is crucial to public dialogue, and teachers have a right to their opinion, but do those opinions have a place in the classroom, especially when they are used it to be divisive and to bully?

And what about the lies? How many students take what their teachers say at face value, as they should be able to, and live in the manufactured reality of political spin? Shouldn’t we be able to place trust in our educators? Is it any wonder then, when the classroom is used as a propaganda platform, that the right wing is so unabashedly maligned in the public dialogue?

And perhaps the most crucial question, what does this mean for the future of our country? When students are lied to, taught not to think for themselves, and believe in the absolute evil of a certain way of thinking, how can a free society survive? This is where education becomes a national security issue. This is what the Founders warned about. The teacher has the power to shape the destiny of the next generation. And when they use their position to indoctrinate rather than promote critical thought, teach them to be guided by the opinions of others- that is when the next generation becomes slaves to the government, rather than the masters of it.


State pupils 'not being pushed for Oxbridge' prompting fears hundreds of youngsters are being held back

More than half of state school teachers are failing to encourage their brightest pupils to apply to Oxford and Cambridge, according to a survey out today.

They ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ advise their most gifted pupils to apply to the elite institutions, prompting fears that hundreds of youngsters are being held back.

The survey results suggest that many teachers perceive Oxbridge to be the preserve of wealthy private school pupils, even though 57 per cent of entrants are state-educated.

The Sutton Trust, the education charity that commissioned the study, called for action to ‘dispel myths’ surrounding Oxbridge.  ‘It is deeply concerning that the majority of state school teachers are not encouraging their brightest children to apply to Oxford and Cambridge,’ said Sir Peter Lampl, the trust’s chairman.

‘It is also worrying that almost all state school teachers, even the most senior school leaders, think that Oxbridge is dominated by public schools.’

He added: ‘The sad consequence of these findings is that Oxford and Cambridge are missing out on talented students in state schools, who are already under-represented at these institutions based on their academic achievements.’

Institutions are coming under intense Government pressure to increase their intake of state school pupils despite fears such moves could introduce crude ‘social engineering’ into admissions.

Today’s survey suggests too few bright pupils are applying in the first place amid a failure by their teachers to encourage them.

The poll of 730 secondary state school teachers, by the National Foundation for Educational Research, showed nearly two thirds believed less than 30 per cent of Oxbridge pupils came from state schools.  One in five said they would ‘never’ advise their brightest pupils to apply to Oxbridge, while 29 per cent would do so ‘rarely’.  Only 16 per cent said they would ‘always’ advise applying, with 28 per cent saying ‘usually’ and 10 per cent saying they ‘didn’t know’.

Head teachers last night insisted that Oxbridge was ‘only one of many’ routes for bright students.

Brian Lightman, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘There are many good universities in the UK and other excellent employment-based routes into top careers, all of which are available to high calibre applicants from all backgrounds.

‘Social mobility is about far more than entry to Oxbridge.

‘If teachers and for that matter the general public are not aware of admissions trends to Oxbridge, surely those universities should be addressing the misconception in their own communication.

‘We agree that young people should be made aware of the opportunities available to them, which is why we have been so concerned about the removal of national funding for  face-to-face careers guidance by a qualified adviser. This should be an entitlement for all students.’


Western Australia: Education Department Director General calls for calm over National Assessment fears

WA's education chief has urged parents to ignore the "fear campaign" surrounding national literacy and numeracy tests amid calls for parents to boycott the tests next month.

Education Department director-general Sharyn O'Neill called for calm as Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students across WA prepare to sit the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests from May 15 to 17.

Her comments followed a call from the Literacy Educators Coalition for parents to withdraw their children from the tests because they "create fear and stifle creativity".

“This kind of testing has been active in WA schools for the past 12 years, and the information we gather from NAPLAN is for teachers to better educate their students,” Ms O’Neill said.

“NAPLAN can be a call to parents to talk to their school and gather information about their child’s results, and we have an overwhelming response from parents who do just that.

Ms O’Neill also denied claims that the tests put undue pressure on students, likening the anxiety a child might feel ahead of the tests to that of a sports carnival or music performance.

“It is reasonable for teachers to do some preparation with students just like they would for a concert, for example,” Ms O’Neill said.

“However, if parents feel their child’s anxiety is caused by undue pressure from teachers, I encourage them to contact their school to discuss this.

“With these results a teacher can be at the forefront of diagnosing a problem, and parents have good information on the performance of their child.”