Friday, June 22, 2012

Bigoted N.C. Teacher Who Mentioned Jail Time for Students Who Insulted Obama Won’t be Fired

The Salisbury Post is reporting that a teacher who told a student back in May he could be arrested for talking badly about Obama will be returning to her job in the Rowan-Salisbury School System in the fall.

Yelling at student Hunter Rogers, who tried to defend Mitt Romney, the teacher told the class that people have been arrested for being disrespectful to the president.

In one of the more comical exchanges, Rogers pointed out that “whenever Bush was president, people talked sh*tty about him,” and the teacher responded, “because he was sh*tty.”

Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom condemned the woman’s actions at the time, suspending her after it made national news.

“I expect all teachers to be professional during class discussion and not to force their personal or political views on students, demean students, or instruct students on what to believe…Teachers must create a positive instructional environment conducive to learning within the guidelines of our state curriculum.  Ms. Dixon-Neely’s failure to meet these standards during the recorded portion of class is the basis for my disciplinary action against her,” she said, but has significantly changed her tune in the intervening months.

Grissom is now saying that the the teacher’s actions did not reflect her usual performance, because she had received two formal classroom observations before the recording was released and both had been positive, and she therefore deserves another chance.

She did not say what exactly was being reviewed, or what the standards for review were.

“While I remain deeply concerned about the performance documented in the recording of Ms. Dixon-Neely’s classroom, I have concluded that she should have a chance to improve her teaching skills,” Grissom said. “Under these circumstances, suspension without pay for 10 work days and a requirement that Ms. Dixon-Neely complete a monitored growth plan is an appropriate resolution.”

Grissom added that the teacher has also received racist messages since the incident, and that teachers throughout the school system have been criticized.


More choice British teachers!

'Dear mum, don't cry but I'm dying': Fury over school's creative writing assignment that left a mother distraught

The words in her son’s homework left Vicki Walker numb with shock.

In a letter which began ‘Dear mum’, Wesley, 14, assured her he loved her, made a request for bright colours at his funeral, and listed who should inherit his most prized possessions.

Horrified, she ran to his bedroom praying he had not taken his own life.   In fact, Wesley was sleeping soundly in bed – and the death note turned out to be the result of a creative writing assignment set by his teachers.

Last night his parents demanded an apology from the school, furious that teachers could have set such a piece of work without informing them. But while the Discovery Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, apologised, staff insist the task was justified as an exercise in ‘expressive art’ and an opportunity for pupils to tell their mothers that they love them.  The school said it would ‘review how we communicate to parents in the future’.

Mrs Walker, 42, and her husband Mark described the horrifying moment they read the note at their home in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent and thought their son might be about to commit suicide. Mr Walker, 52, a warehouse worker, said: ‘Wesley came down before going to bed and handed his mum this piece of paper.  ‘He said goodnight and then off he went back upstairs to bed.

‘Vicki read it – and the colour just drained from her face. She just froze stiff and handed me this paper with her hands shaking.

‘She burst into his bedroom and expected to see him hanging there – she was horrified. The poor lad almost jumped out of his skin. It really has shaken us up.’ Wesley was set the task last month in his Expressive Arts class, a subject – also offered at GCSE – which aims to ‘develop pupils’ creativity and imagination’.

Children were asked to imagine they had a terminal illness and express thanks to loved ones. Wesley said: ‘I just thought it was like any other piece of work. I just got on with it.’

In the letter, which is littered with spelling errors, he asked family and friends to wear bright colours at his funeral and apologised for being ‘a pain’ at times. ‘I don’t want you to be sad,’ it said. ‘I’m with Nan and Grandad now so I love you and goodbye.’

Pupils were then told to take the letters home but no warning was given to parents about the notes.

‘I couldn’t believe the school did not warn us they were doing such a sick exercise,’ Mr Walker said. ‘They could have written something on top of the work.’ He added that the assignment could have been harmful to vulnerable teens. ‘It could give some kids the wrong ideas,’ he said. Mrs Walker, a teaching assistant, added: ‘Wesley is a lively boy and to see this made me think there was something seriously wrong.’

Last night the school said many parents and pupils found the exercise ‘valuable’, adding that it was in line with the national curriculum.

A spokesman said: ‘The purpose was to enable young people to explore their feelings and emotions and celebrate the many good things with their loved ones that are usually left unsaid.’


Australia: The charter school revolution comes to Qld.

In Britain they have also recently taken off -- where they're called "academies" or "free schools" -- but the idea, as in America,  is to get them out from under bureaucratic control while remaining government-funded

QUEENSLAND state schools have been invited to apply to become independent public schools next year and qualify for an extra $50,000 in funding.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek today visited Rainworth State School in Brisbane's inner west to spruik the benefits of moving out from his department's control.  He said public independent schools would have autonomy in decision-making, face less red tape and fewer layers of management.

"Independent public schools will have the freedom to directly recruit teachers and to build a team that is able to deliver innovative educational practices and have more autonomy to manage infrastructure and financial resources," Mr Langbroek said.

"Research tells us that parent and community engagement with schools can have a powerful impact on student achievement."

He said schools that already had significant community input would be in a good position to apply, but he would not expand on other criteria for selection.

"We're not going to use the NAPLAN table as a league table to determine whether someone should become an independent school," Mr Langbroek said.

Schools will have the freedom to pull out after a year, and those that remain in the program will have their involvement reviewed after four years.

The Minister said it would not cost parents any more to send their children to an independent public schools, but there would be some opportunities for business sponsorship.

"This is not going to be a case of businesses being able to come in and plaster schools with commercial advertising simply because they're working with schools to deliver the program," he said.

In the first year 30 schools in metropolitan and regional areas will be selected to become independent public schools with that figure rising to 120 in four years.

The Queensland Teachers Union has previously raised concerns about the program, saying it will ruin the state school system, and create real concerns about job security for teachers.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

NJ: School agrees to drop “pledge to teachers”

About time.  It sounds pretty obnoxious

After receiving complaints about a New Jersey elementary school's pledge of allegiance to teachers, the school district says it has opted to rewrite the pledge as a school song instead.

"Over the summer, a school spirit song will be created to replace the pledge, and will be put into effect for the 2012-13 school year," The Marlboro Board of Education said in a news release.

For the past decade, every Monday of the school year at Asher Holmes Elementary School in Morganville, N.J., has started with students reciting a pledge honoring the Marlboro Township School District and its teachers, who “help [students] learn” all they need to “know for the future.”

The pledge was written by a fourth-grade teacher and did not replace the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited every day and is also optional.

"I pledge allegiance to Asher Holmes and the Marlboro Township School District and to the teachers who help us learn all that we need to know for the future," the pledge states. "We promise to respect ourselves and others, to try our best and always be proud of our schools."

And until last week, not a single parent had complained about the pledge. But Valerie Kaufman, a mother of a student at the school, told the Marlboro Township Board of Education during a June 12 meeting that she found the pledge to be unconstitutional and suggested administrators “do away” with the practice.

Board member BonnieSue Rosenwald agreed with Kaufman, saying she found the practice to be “inappropriate” since students were likely saluting the flag while reciting the school pledge.

Superintendent David Abbott said Kaufman’s complaint was the first he had received pertaining to the optional pledge.


Huge High School shakeup in Britain

Leaked documents seen by the Mail reveal Education Secretary Michael Gove has drawn up a blueprint which would tear up the current exam system as well as abolishing the National Curriculum.

From September 2014, pupils will begin studying for ‘explicitly harder’ exams in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology.

Tough O-levels will also be drawn up in history, geography and modern languages. The new exams will ‘meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group’.

Mr Gove believes the creation of GCSEs by the Tories in the 1980s was a ‘historic mistake’ that has ‘failed pupils’ and led to the collapse of standards through grade inflation and a proliferation of ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses.

Under his revolutionary plans:

  *  GCSEs will ‘disappear’ from schools within the next few years
*  The National Curriculum in secondary schools will be abolished
*  The requirement that pupils obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C will be scrapped

*   Less intelligent pupils will sit simpler exams, similar to the old CSEs

*    O-level pupils will sit the same gold standard paper nationwide from a single exam board

The extraordinary plans will set Mr Gove on a collision course with the teaching unions, local education authorities, the Liberal Democrats and even his own civil servants.

He is set to announce the plans formally in the next two weeks. In the autumn a public consultation will run for 12 weeks. That will clear the way for them to be implemented early next year. None of the plans require an Act of Parliament.

Mr Gove’s proposal is nothing less than an attempt to reverse three decades of academic decline and create a system that Labour could not reverse if its wins power in 2015.

A leaked document seen by the Mail reveals: ‘Those starting GCSEs in 2013 are the last pupils who will have to do them.’

This means they will sit their exams in 2015. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of pupils who begin in September 2014 will be expected to take O-levels in English, maths and the sciences in 2016.

There will be individual O-levels in physics, chemistry and biology, instead of a combined sciences qualification.

In a bid to end the slide in standards, pupils will have to study complex subjects like calculus to get an A grade in O-level maths. English literature pupils will be banned from taking set texts into exams and will be expected to write longer essays.

Questions like ‘Would you look at the Moon with a microscope or a telescope?’ from science GCSEs will be a thing of the past. As well as the return of O-levels, the Government will create a new exam for less able pupils.

When GCSEs were created they were supposed to help less-gifted students.   But Mr Gove believes those teenagers have been encouraged to think that a D, E, F or G grade at GCSE is a ‘pass’ when the real world treats those grades as a ‘fail’.

From 2014, the bottom 25 per cent of pupils will study more straightforward exams in English, maths and science, so they can get a worthwhile qualification.

Questions on these papers will emphasise real life situations like counting change in a shop or reading a railway timetable.

A return to an exam like the old CSE will be controversial, but ministers will point out that 42 per cent of pupils currently fail to get five good GCSEs, the measure by which schools are judged, meaning teachers have no incentive to help them at all.

This autumn, exam boards will enter a competition to win the right to set the first new O-levels. The Department for Education will announce before Christmas which boards will set the English, maths and science O-levels, with the same exam taken nationwide.

This is expected to lead to resistance from boards like Edexcel, who could lose business unless they land the contracts.

Exam boards will also be told to devise new O-levels in history, geography and modern languages. Mr Gove hopes they will also be ready for pupils beginning study in 2014 but their introduction may take until 2015.

GCSEs will not disappear immediately and schools will be able to continue teaching the English Baccalaureate.  But a document seen by the Mail says: ‘The Department for Education expects that existing GCSEs will disappear’.

In order to persuade schools to adopt the new exams in 2014, the Government will scrap the requirement that pupils should seek to obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C from 2016 – leaving them free to take on the new gold standard O-levels.

Mr Gove is concerned that the current system simply encourages pupils to study three ‘Mickey Mouse’ GCSE courses like food nutrition on top of English and maths in order to fulfil the requirement.

The plans will also spell the end for pupils racking up 13 or more GCSEs and ensure that they engage in rigorous study in a smaller number of subjects. Cambridge University currently sets O-levels for pupils in other countries.

In Singapore, between two-thirds and three-quarters of pupils take O-levels and the Government believes the same should be true of Britain.

Schools will now be encouraged to enter pupils for exams when they are ready. In Singapore, some pupils take O-levels at 15, while others take three years and sit them at 17.

Headteachers will also be given sweeping powers to teach what they like when they like. The leaked document says Mr Gove ‘will abolish the secondary National Curriculum and not replace it. All existing programmes of study will be withdrawn from September 2013’.

Academies, now more than half of secondary schools, can already roam off the National Curriculum. But by tearing it up, Mr Gove will prevent a future Labour government of changing the law to impose it on academies again.

A senior Whitehall source said the plans will put an end to politicians using grade inflation to make outlandish claims about rising standards. Last night a spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘We do not comment on leaks.’


British exam boo-boo

Students furious with exam board for putting 'impossible' question in chemistry paper

An exam board apologised yesterday for a 'confusing' chemistry A-level question that students complain was impossible to answer.  The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance admitted that guidance given in an A2 paper sat by just under 16,000 teenagers was 'unhelpful'.

It has insisted that examiners will take into account 'the potential for confusion' when marking the question and ensure that students are not penalised.

Students have set up a Facebook page, Thechem5paperwasadisgrace, which is 'liked' by over 2,000 people, in protest over the AQA chemistry exam which was sat on Tuesday.

They argue that one question was 'impossible to answer using the data provided' while some claim there wasn't enough time to complete the difficult paper.

The contested question - worth five marks out of a potential 100 for the whole paper - asked students to make a calculation using a ratio they should have come up with in part one.

To help students who could not calculate the original ratio, the paper gave them another ratio to use to answer part two. However, it also told them in bold print that this was 'not the correct ratio'.

One student said: 'A question regarding the percentage of a certain compound required us to use a ratio from the previous question. However if one did not get that ratio, there was a 'wrong' ratio given for use to at least get method marks.  'However, the result using this ratio was more than 100 per cent which is chemically, mathematically and theoretically impossible.'

Another said: 'I know that a lot of students spent a long time trying to work out a rational answer and so ran out of time to answer other questions. I feel sorry for a lot of people who are now worried that they won't get into university because of this exam.'

A spokeswoman for AQA said: 'We expect that the majority of students will have answered part one of the question correctly, used the ratio that they have calculated and will therefore have had no problems.  'However, the alternative ratio given in A6(d) (ii) leads to an answer that is different to what students would normally expect to see.

'Although the question can still be answered, we recognise the alternative ratio given was unhelpful and it has clearly caused confusion for some students.  'We apologise to these students and accept it would have been better to use a different ratio.'

She added: 'We would like to reassure students that we have established procedures in place to deal with issues like this.  'Our examiners will take into account the potential for confusion when they mark the papers and will ensure the results of those students who used the alternative ratio are not affected.'


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Indian Americans lead all in income, education: Survey

Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the US with Indian Americans leading them all in their levels of income and education, according to a new survey.

Seven in 10 Indian-American adults ages 25 and older have a college degree, compared with about half of Americans of Korean, Chinese, Filipino and Japanese ancestry, and about a quarter of Vietnamese Americans, according to the Pew Research Centre report released Tuesday.

Indians also have the highest median household income of $88,000 among the largest Asian-American groups. Asians as a whole have a median household income of $66,000 compared with the US median of $49,800.

On the other side of the socio-economic ledger, Americans with Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and 'other US Asian' origins have a higher poverty rate than does the US general public, while those with Indian, Japanese and Filipino origins have lower rates, the survey of six major Asian groups found.

Their geographic settlement patterns also differ. More than seven in 10 Japanese and two-thirds of Filipinos live in the West, compared with fewer than half of Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans, and only about a quarter of Indians.

There are sub-group differences in social and cultural realms as well. Japanese and Filipino Americans are the most accepting of interracial and intergroup marriage; Koreans, Vietnamese and Indians are less comfortable.

Their pathways into the US are different, the Pew survey found. About half of all Korean and Indian immigrants who received green cards in 2011 got them on the basis of employer sponsorship, compared with about a third of Japanese, a fifth of Chinese, one-in-eight Filipinos and just one percent of Vietnamese.

Compared with the general public, Asian Americans are more likely to support an activist government and less likely to identify as Republicans, according to the Pew report.

Indian Americans are the most heavily Democratic Asian subgroup (65 percent), while Filipino Americans and Vietnamese Americans are the most evenly split between the two parties.

President Barack Obama gets higher ratings from Asian Americans than from the general public: 54 percent approve of the way he is handling his job compared with 44 percent of the general public, the survey found.


British school coverup

This has happened beore.  They don't want anybody to know how out of control the schools are

The outraged parents of a young boy held at knife-point in his school playground were only told about the attack two weeks later by the attacker's mother.

Sean Skinner, 10, was assaulted by another pupil who held a penknife to his throat at Brooklands Primary School in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, on May 31.

But Sean’s parents Stephen and Sally Skinner were not informed about the incident until a fortnight later, and then only when they received a phone call from the mother of the pupil who had threatened their son to apologise.

Mr Skinner, 43, said it was 'diabolical' that the school had not told him what had happened.

He said: 'I was stunned when we were called by the mother of the child who had the knife.  'I checked with my son about what had gone on and when he told me about it I got in touch with the school.  'It was two weeks after the incident that we finally heard about it.'

Headteacher Shaun Thorpe has now made a formal apology to Sean’s parents for leaving them in the dark.  They were not told about about the knife incident - which is now being investigated - until June 11.

Mr Skinner said: 'The mother could not have been more apologetic and told us she fully supported any action we wanted to take.'

Sean is in year five at Brooklands Primary School, which has a 'good' rating from government inspection body OFSTED.

His father said Sean was 'shaken but unhurt'.

Mr and Mrs Skinner have two other children at the school - Dylan, six, and Isobel, four.

Mr Skinner said he had met with Mr Thorpe after discovering what had happened.  He said: 'The headteacher said that it was an oversight that we hadn’t been told.

'But if I was in their position telling the parents of the children would be my main concern. If we don’t know what is going on in the school how can we help?'

Mr Thorpe said: 'The safety of our pupils is our number one priority.  'We will not tolerate pupils bringing knives of any description into school.  'We took immediate action as soon as we knew one of our pupils was carrying a knife and had threatened another pupil.

'Normally in cases of bullying and or threatening behaviour, we would speak to the parents of all of the children involved.  'This did not happened immediately and we apologise for this.

'On this occasion our first priority was to investigate the matter fully and ensure the safety of all our pupils.

'We are doing all we can to ensure children understand the dangers of playing with knives and that they must not bring them into school under any circumstances.

'We are also asking parents for their help in reinforcing these messages and in making sure their children do not bring knives to school.'  Mr Thorpe refused to say whether the child with the knife had been suspended.  [So we know the answer to that]


Some conservative  Concerns about the Limited Understanding Conveyed by Australia's Proposed National History Curriculum

Information without understanding?

One of my concerns is that culture is treated as a consequence, rather than a cause, of history. For example, the proposed Year 1 Content Item H1KU4 refers to considering: 'How the roles of individuals and groups have evolved over time to meet changing human needs".

The problem is that the curriculum does not seem at any stage to require considering how "roles of individuals and groups" (ie how people behave individually or corporately, as a consequence of their cultural assumptions) can affect history. For example, the ability of societies to change (socially, politically and economically) is a function of the "roles of individuals and groups" within the society, and an ability to change is in turn a major determinant a society's success or failure in terms of technological / economic advancement and influence relative to other societies (eg see Competing Civilizations). And the weak "role of individuals and groups" in dealing with change has apparently created major challenges that still need to be faced by Australians with indigenous ancestry (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement).

A closely related concern is that the curriculum would not provide any depth of understanding of the way in which ideas have influenced history. The curriculum would certainly introduce various historical ideas - specifically those of: (a) Egypt or Greece or Rome (H7KU16); (b) China or India or Australasia (H7KU22); (c) Medieval Europe (H8KU13); (d) the Renaissance (H8KU19); and (e) radicals (H10KU4). However this would not lead to a coherent understanding of:

*    the particular ideas that have been the foundation of Australia's culture, institutions, society and economy. For example, a growing scientific understanding of the natural world could emerge in Europe at the time of the Renaissance and subsequently accelerate economic advancement, only because of Christendom's expectation that the natural world would be lawful. Many of the ideas that are needed to understand Australia's heritage seem unfortunately to be either absent from, or optional components in, the proposed curriculum;

*   the way in which different ideas (or the absence interest in abstract ideas) have led to different outcomes. For example, constraining the ideas that may be considered to those consistent with the world-view that Islamic scholars have elaborated around the Qu'ran arguably has significant (adverse) implications for Muslim dominated societies (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science). And the absence of Western societies' commitment to abstract ideas and universal values in some Asian societies (because they lack a classical Greek heritage) can lead to ways of doing things that are quite different ways to those Australians have any basis for understanding (eg see East Asia in Competing Civilizations).

Professor Stuart Macintyre, who spoke about the history component of the proposed curriculum in ACARA's Video Transcript ('Development and Consultation Overview: K–10 Draft Curriculum’, March 2010) emphasised: engaging those with diverse backgrounds; increasing understanding of Australia's regional context and of others; and promoting sustainability.

However there is a sense in which the proposed curriculum's worthy goal of encouraging acceptance of others as they are, conflicts with the need to understand what works and what doesn't work, and perhaps even the distinction between good and evil.

Moreover functionally-useful understanding of Australia's place in a region in which dominant societies lack the commitment to the abstract ideas and universal values that Western societies derived from the West's classical Greek heritage requires far more than brief references to Asia's history. Without much deeper understanding, cultural differences that are 'invisible' to those with 'Western' world views could put Australia's liberal and democratic traditions at risk (eg see Babes in the Asian Woods).

 Other observers perceived defects in the 'Asian' component of the proposed national history curriculum. For example:

*        there is a need for massive further funding to equip teachers if Asian component is introduced to curriculum - as teachers are not yet able to deliver on Asia literacy (according to Kathe Kirby - Asia Education Foundation). The draft curriculum was seen as very Eurocentric [1];

*       attempt to tell Australian story in Asia context was 'lame and impotent' according to Tony Milner (ANU) - as it fails to prepare Australians for the world they are moving into. WWII needs to focus not in Europe but on Japanese conquests in Asia. The curriculum focuses on rights / liberty / progress which does not have same impact in Asian societies [1].

A reasonable case can be made that many of the dysfunctions and conflicts that plague human societies are the unintended outcome of the failure of intellectuals to critically evaluate the consequences of differences in cultural assumptions (see Competing Civilizations) . It would not be constructive at this time to reflect this weakness in Australia's national school history curriculum.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mayors back parents seizing control of schools

Hundreds of mayors from across the United States this weekend called for new laws letting parents seize control of low-performing public schools and fire the teachers, oust the administrators or turn the schools over to private management.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday unanimously endorsed "parent trigger" laws aimed at bypassing elected school boards and giving parents at the worst public schools the opportunity to band together and force immediate change.

Such laws are fiercely opposed by teachers' unions, which stand to lose members in school takeovers. Union leaders say there is no proof such upheaval will improve learning. And they argue that public investment in struggling communities, rather than private management of struggling schools, is the key to boosting student achievement.

But in a sign of the unions' diminishing clout, their traditional political allies, the Democrats, abandoned them in droves during the Orlando vote.

Democratic Mayors Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento led the charge for parent trigger - and were backed by scores of other Democrats as well as Republicans from coast to coast.

"Mayors understand at a local level that most parents lack the tools they need to turn their schools around," Villaraigosa said. Parent trigger laws, he added, can empower parents to do just that.

Representatives from the two largest teachers' unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, were not available for comment Sunday.

Parent trigger laws are in place in several states including California, Texas and Louisiana and are under consideration in states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. So far, though, the concept has never successfully been used to turn around a school.

Parents in two impoverished, heavily minority California cities, Compton and Adelanto, gathered enough signatures to seize control of their neighborhood schools but the process stalled in the face of ferocious opposition from teachers' unions. Both cases are now tied up in court.

Though it has not yet been shown to work, parent trigger has support from many of the big players seeking to inject more free-market competition into public education, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Major philanthropies and wealthy financiers have poured money into backing political candidates and advocacy groups, including one called Parent Revolution, that promote parent trigger, according to campaign finance records in several states.

The concept has even inspired an upcoming Hollywood film, "Won't Back Down," in which Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays a single mother who organizes parents to take control of their failing school over union opposition. The movie was financed by Walden Media, which also backed the 2010 documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" which advocated for another central goal of education reformers - expanding charter schools.

For their part, mayors may have jumped on the bandwagon because parent trigger fits neatly with two of their key goals, said Kenneth Wong, a political scientist focused on education policy at Brown University.


"Mayors are moving in a new direction on education, one that's more consumer oriented... and focused on serving parents and giving them choices," Wong said. Facing tight budgets and huge pension liabilities, many mayors are also looking to rein in the power of teachers unions and force them to accept more austere contracts, Wong said.

Teachers unions have long been among the biggest donors to Democratic politicians, but that alliance has frayed in many cities in the past 18 months.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa blasted union leaders as an "unwavering roadblock to reform." In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has backed a plan to close dozens of neighborhood schools and convert many others to charters, which are publicly funded but privately run - and typically non-union.

And in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel successfully pushed to cancel a scheduled 4 percent raise for teachers and extend the school day by more than an hour. Teachers are so angry, nearly 90 percent of union members just voted to authorize a strike if ongoing contract negotiations falter.

"We are on the path to change," said Gloria Romero, a former California state senator who now runs that state's branch of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that funnels donations to politicians willing to buck the teachers unions. She called the mayoral vote a "landmark" that would inspire poor and minority parents to demand change in their schools. "This is a civil rights fight," she said.

Opponents of parent trigger, however, pointed out that the mayors' endorsement was largely symbolic, since such policies typically require legislative approval.

They said they would continue to fight - in part by reminding voters that parent trigger can be a mechanism for turning public schools over to private control. Some of the private management companies that run charter schools are for-profits that do not divulge much about how they spend public funds.

"Parents don't have control once they pull the trigger," said Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now, an advocacy group that successfully fought to derail a parent trigger bill in Florida earlier this year. "Who profits? Not parents and children."


Sacramento "Teacher of the Year" Laid Off; Who is to Blame?

 Mike Shedlock

I have a great deal of sympathy for Michelle Apperson, the Sacramento "Teacher of the Year" who was laid off. Assuming she deserved the award, she should not have been laid off.
Sixth-grade teacher Michelle Apperson passed down a simple message to her students.

"My favorite teachers growing up were the ones who challenged me to go out of my comfort level a little bit, strive for the stars, and work hard," the veteran California educator wrote on her school's bio page.

Despite just being named Sacramento's "Teacher of the Year," Apperson was laid off as part of a massive budget cut.

"It hurts on a personal level because I really love what I do," Apperson, who taught all subjects, told KXTV-News 10. "But professionally and politically or economically, I get why it happens."

Her pink slip comes just days after President Barack Obama prodded Washington lawmakers to help cash-strapped states with education funding.

The Sacramento City Unified School District has suffered approximately $143 million in budget cuts in recent years. School spokesperson Gabe Ross told News 10 that who gets laid off is mandated by state law and is based on seniority, not performance.

"It's an awful situation," Ross said. "It's another sign of how education's funding really needs an overhaul."

According to her bio, Apperson's goal was to teach her students "how to solve problems with peers, other adults, and the world around them."

Now they know firsthand how difficult that can sometimes be.
Does Apperson Really "Get Why it Happens"?

I like Apperson's Bio, her experience, and her message to her 6th grade class.  However my sympathies end there.

She says she "gets why it happens". Does she? If so why doesn't she explicitly say so?

Who is to Blame?

Teachers' unions are 100% to blame for this mess. Unions protect the under-performers at the expense of those like Apperson. Unions even protect repeated sexual predator teachers.

From the New York Times article Give Schools the Power to Punish
In one case, a male teacher in Manhattan was accused of inappropriately touching a female student in 2010, but the arbitrator imposed only a suspension without pay. And now — after more disturbing episodes — we’ve filed charges against this individual for a third time.

As it stands, public school teachers accused of sexual misconduct enjoy protections that no other city employee has. That puts children in danger, and we cannot allow it to continue.
Rest assured there are thousands of cases like that nationwide. Want some articles?
The Huffington Post reports New York Teachers Paid To Do Nothing: 700 Of Them
Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" _ off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues _ pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.

Here is a Google search of Teachers Paid to Sit if you want more examples.

Now factor in incompetent teachers and poor teachers. The union protects them too.

Overhaul Needed

Yes, indeed. An overhaul is truly needed. Teachers should be hired, fired and receive pay raises based on merit, not seniority.

School spokesperson Gabe Ross told News 10 that who gets laid off is mandated by state law and is based on seniority, not performance.

Ross then whines "It's another sign of how education's funding really needs an overhaul."

An overhaul is indeed needed. It's time to get rid of collective bargaining of public unions, and it's time for merit pay for teachers.

Enormous Sense of Entitlement

With very few exceptions, public union members have an enormous sense of entitlement.

Public union members need to put themselves in the average taxpayer's shoes. Public union members also need to realize promised benefits cannot possibly materialize.

Teachers' Unions Do Not Give a Damn About Kids

Here is the deal, straight up. Teachers' unions do not give a damn about the kids.

Please read that carefully. I said "Teachers' unions" NOT teachers.

Most teachers do care about the kids. However, those teachers are sucked into believing garbage fed by union organizers. That garbage inevitably leads to cannibalization of the lowest on the seniority totem pole, regardless of skills or talent.

Union mentality is also to blame for inability of school districts to get rid of sexual predators and grossly incompetent teachers.

Time For Reflection

This is a time for serious reflection. We all need to think about what government owes us (or doesn't), what taxpayers owe public union workers (or don't), and what promises have been made by politicians at taxpayer expense that cannot possibly be met.

The problem is not a lack of education funding.

The problem is absurd expectations as to what benefits public union workers receive, coupled with inability to get rid of union workers, except on the basis of seniority, even in the face of repeated sexual predator behavior.


British School days could be extended to 8pm: PM  signals shake-up to improve childcare

School days could be extended until 8pm and red tape on childcare provision slashed under Government reforms.

David Cameron will today launch a commission on childcare to draw up measures to reduce costs for parents and ease bureaucratic restrictions on providers.

It will investigate whether there is red tape that could be abolished or rules – such as adult-to-child ratios for organisations offering childcare – that could be relaxed.

Childminders are generally restricted to looking after no more than three children, but this could be increased to five.

Mr Cameron also wants schools to examine innovative ways of providing after-school childcare.

For example, the Free School Norwich offers affordable childcare six days a week, 51 weeks a year. And the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, London, operates a longer day, with some pupils staying until 8pm.

The Prime Minister wants more academies and free schools to extend their days, and others to offer after-school clubs.

Parents would generally pay a fee if they wanted their children to go to clubs, but the costs would be considerably less than other forms of childcare.

Work and pensions minister Maria Miller and children's minister Sarah Teather will lead the commission, which is to report to Mr Cameron by the autumn.

The Prime Minister, speaking at the G20 summit in Mexico, said: 'Working parents want to know that after school or in the holidays their children will be looked after in a safe, happy environment that is affordable.

'We want to do all we can to reduce the cost of childcare for parents, and make sure they can find and afford high-quality nurseries, after-school clubs and holiday schemes for their children.'

An Education Department study shows only four in ten parents believe there is sufficient  care in their areas for over-fives. And a recent survey by Save the Children and the Daycare Trust suggested working parents are spending more than a third of their incomes on childcare.

State spending on childcare is already among the highest in the world. By 2014, the Coalition will have increased investment by more than £1billion a year.

The commission will look at whether more value for money could be squeezed from some providers. Bureaucratic 'lunacy' governing the work of childminders is of particular concern. Ministers believe rules introduced by the last government helped fuel a dramatic collapse in the cheapest, most traditional form of care for working parents.

In 1997, when Labour came to power, there were 100,000 childminders catering for half of families paying for childcare.

But Labour introduced a raft of regulations, including Ofsted inspections and a 'nappy curriculum' of targets to be achieved by a child's fifth birthday. Carers said they were being required to put 'wash your hands' signs in bathrooms even though children are often too young to read, and to conduct 'risk assessments' if there were pets such as hamsters in their house.

The number of childminders has fallen to 55,000, pushing more families into using nurseries.

Tory MP Elizabeth Truss, who has led a campaign for childcare reform, said: 'Becoming a childminder is a bureaucratic process, involving registering with Ofsted, a local network and insurance provider.

'British child-adult ratios are some of the lowest in Europe – 3:1 for childminders looking  after under-fives. In the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland that ratio is 5:1.

'The UK should raise ratios  for childminders to 5:1 for the under-fives whilst improving supervision.

'This would enable higher-paid staff to be attracted to the profession, improving quality, or would make the service more affordable and widely available.'


Monday, June 18, 2012

TX: Parents sue school staff for forcibly bathing “dirty” child

Sounds like the teachers deserve a medal and some parents have got a lot to learn

The parents of a third-grade boy have sued two Texas school employees, alleging that they forced their son to strip and shower in front of them because he "smelled badly, was dirty and had bad hygiene."

The eight-year-old was singled out last November and taken to the nurse's office at Peaster Elementary School where he was forced to remove his clothes, the suit alleges, the Courthouse News Service reported.

The two school officials then "began violently washing his body with a washcloth, scrubbing him over a large portion of his body, stuck cotton balls in his ears, all while ridiculing and harassing him about being 'dirty,'" the complaint claims.

The child's parents, Amber and Michael Tilley, said they lodged a police report over the incident but no charges were laid.

On Thursday, the Tilleys filed their lawsuit against Peaster Independent School District and Peaster Elementary School employees Julie West and Debbie Van Rite in federal court in Fort Worth.

"It's terrible, and we don't want anything like that to happen to any other children," Amber Tilley told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

According to the lawsuit, the incident left the boy "visibly and severely distraught," and he had to see a therapist after.

"He just kept on and on, wanting to take baths," Amber Tilley said. "You know, he just felt so disgusting."

She added that her son did not have a problem with body odour or cleanliness.


Do we need more education?

Krugman criticizes Romney:
    In the remarks Mr. Romney later tried to deny, he derided President Obama: “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.” Then he declared, “It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

    You can see why I was ready to give points for honesty. For once, he actually admitted what he and his allies mean when they talk about shrinking government. Conservatives love to pretend that there are vast armies of government bureaucrats doing who knows what; in reality, a majority of government workers are employed providing either education (teachers) or public protection (police officers and firefighters).

    So would getting rid of teachers, police officers, and firefighters help the American people? Well, some Republicans would prefer to see Americans get less education; remember Rick Santorum’s description of colleges as “indoctrination mills”? Still, neither less education nor worse protection are issues the G.O.P. wants to run on.

    But the more relevant question for the moment is whether the public job cuts Mr. Romney applauds are good or bad for the economy. And we now have a lot of evidence bearing on that question.

I didn’t follow the Romney narrative. But he was on to something even if he indeed did backtrack –- Obama wants to grow the public sector and so does Krugman. They both want more teachers (and police and firefighters, presumably.) The current level is never optimal. More is better. It doesn’t matter if the number has grown dramatically lately. More is better. Similarly, we never spend enough on education. So if you want to spend less on education, that means you’re against education. The fact that there is little evidence that spending more actually produces more education is ignored. Spending on education is presumed to produce more education. Similarly, adding teachers and reducing class size means more education even if there is little evidence of this effect.

Missing from Krugman’s article is any historical perspective on how many teachers, police officers, or firefighters we had five or ten years ago. The fact that employment is falling at the state and local level is seen to be a sort of exogenous bad turn of events. But my guess is that the source of the calamity was a previous increase in state and local employment that was not sustainable. The states can’t afford these workers any longer.

If someone has reliable link to time-series data on state and local, please post in the comment. I could only find 1997, 2002, and 2007 in the Census data.

The New York Times titled Krugman’s piece, We Don’t Need No Education, as if opposing increases in the number of teachers or educational spending means you want zero education. More education would be nice. Spending more or expanding the number of teachers isn’t the way to get there from here.


No pork sausages in British school meals

Roast pork and sausages have always been a staple of British diets.    But now hundreds of school children will be denied them for school lunches because of 'religious reasons'.

Pork, which is not eaten by devout Jews or Muslims, has been banned by councils across the country to satisfy the needs of staff and pupils who are not allowed contact with it.

However, it is thought many schools do not serve halal or kosher meat, so Jewish and Muslim children would not be able to eat it anyway.

The decision has been criticised by MPs who have said the ban will cause unnecessary resentment among pupils and religious leaders who said they never asked for a ban in the first place.

John Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said it was simply not an issue and added that Jews of a certain level would choose not to eat in non-kosher environments.

'Children at mainstream school who are bothered would probably have packed lunches,' he said to the Sunday Telegraph.

'Children who are comfortable with using the same cutlery and crockery as everyone else would choose their dishes from the options available. It is live and let live - we are certainly not calling for this.'

Muslim leaders have only ever asked that halal and non-halal meat be handled separately in an effort to avoid any cross contamination and for clear labelling when serving school dinners.

Haringey Council, north London, recently issued advice to all its schools and recommended a ban to meet the needs of staff and pupils who are not allowed contact with pork for religious reasons.

Figures supplied by school caterer Pabulum, in the south-east of England, show that around 20 of the 48 schools it supplied chose non-pork options.

In Haringey's infant, junior and primary schools, 37 out of 47 have a no pork rule. In Bradford 24 out of 160 schools choose not to have pork and in Newham, east London, 25 out of 75 opt out.

Luton has 23 out of 57 schools which choose not to supply pork to pupils and in Tower Hamlets, east London, 85 out of 90 do not offer a pork option. All schools offer a vegetarian option.

Conservative MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, Philip Davies, who has campaigned for clearer labelling on meat products said the bans were 'misguided political correctness'.

He said he fully believed that pupils should be able to choose not to have pork but added that it was unfair to deny those with no objection to the meat.

Mr Davies said decisions like these could cause resentment among pupils and added that he hoped schools would change their stance.

Stewart Houston, chief executive of the National Pig Association said the decision by schools was disappointing and added that sausages and roast pork were a staple of British diets.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Obama proposal to raise dropout age falls flat

President Barack Obama's call for states to raise the minimum age at which students can drop out of high school seems about as popular as a homework assignment on Friday afternoon.

Since the president urged the change in his State of the Union speech in January, only one state has raised its dropout age to 18, and that won't take effect for five years.

Even legislators in Obama's home state of Illinois wouldn't go along with his proposal, despite an endorsement from the governor. They quickly dumped the issue into the limbo of a special study commission after it became clear there wasn't enough money to support it.

One of the biggest concerns is the cost. If states simply force unwilling students to spend an extra year or two in school, many teens could stay until they are 18 but still leave without a diploma because of poor grades. And extra counseling and remedial courses to help are expensive.

"Where are we going to get the money?" asked state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Chicago Democrat who heads the Illinois Senate's education committee.

Twenty-nine states let students leave school before they turn 18. Obama urged lawmakers to require them to stay in school until graduation or age 18.

"When students aren't allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma," the president said in the speech.

But since then, only Maryland has approved a plan to raise the dropout age, first to 17 in 2015 and then to 18 in 2017.

At least 13 states considered legislation this year to raise the age, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although the bills weren't necessarily introduced in response to Obama.

Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky made raising the dropout age a major goal for the last few years but hasn't found enough support among state lawmakers. In Wyoming, there was a short-lived suggestion to raise the age and deny driver's licenses to students who drop out before 18.

Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois embraced Obama's proposal, immediately calling for legislation but without proposing additional funding or programs. The measure never made it out of committee, and lawmakers wound up approving a watered-down version that creates a commission to come up with recommendations on the issue by November.

The White House has not made the idea a public priority. Asked for details about the proposal nearly a week after the State of the Union, spokesman Jay Carney said he didn't have any. And the president himself has hardly mentioned it since.

Neither the White House nor the U.S. Department of Education would discuss the slow response to Obama's call for action or address objections raised by critics. White House spokeswoman Caroline Hughes issued a statement saying the president "continues to believe that when students stay in school, they are more likely to succeed in today's economy."

About three out of every 10 students leave high school without a diploma, according to a report from Education Week. Research shows high school dropouts are more likely to spend time in jail, endure unemployment and earn lower wages.

Legislators and education experts welcomed the emphasis on education and the dropout age but say it's not a simple fix.

"It can't just be 'tie them to their chairs until they are 18.' It has to be giving them a meaningful education," said Lily Eskelsen, an elementary teacher from Utah and the vice president of the National Education Association.

With many students facing disadvantages such as poverty, learning disabilities or weak English skills, the effort to keep them enrolled has to be wide-ranging.

"How do we catch them before they are falling behind? If you don't do all of it as a system, it won't work," Eskelsen said.

In Maryland, the state expects to spend $35 million more on education when the age rises to 17 and $54 million more when the age reaches 18 in 2017.

Proponents argued the state will save money in the long run by having a better-educated workforce that will pay more taxes.

Aisha Braveboy, a Democratic delegate who sponsored the measure, also noted that people without a high school diploma are eight times more likely to end up in the state's criminal justice system.

"From a financial perspective, it makes absolute sense to invest in education instead of incarceration," Braveboy said.

In Illinois, Democratic state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia sponsored the House legislation to raise the dropout age but now says it was the wrong move.

While calling the Democratic governor a good "team player" for backing the president's proposal, she said raising the age is not realistic considering the state's budget cuts. This week, lawmakers voted to cut $495 million from education, 3.9 percent of the state's funding for schools.

The governor still supports raising the dropout age, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

More than 18,000 Illinois high school students dropped out in the 2010-11 school year, out of a total of 636,000 students. Legislative staff said they could not reliably estimate the cost to the state if those students were kept in school until 18.

But one group has taken a stab at calculating the cost of allowing those students to drop out. The Chicago-based Alternative Schools Network estimates that each dropout costs Illinois a net lifetime average of about $70,000, while high school graduates contribute a net amount of about $236,000.

For some Illinois lawmakers, the idea of raising the dropout age isn't even worth sending to a commission for study. Sen. David Luechtefeld, a former teacher and high school coach, said he's never talked to a school administrator who thinks raising the age is a good idea.

"Most of the time," Luechtefeld said, "a kid who doesn't want to be in school is a problem for the kids who want to be there."


Litigation almost a given with education reform

Critics of Gov. Bobby Jindal's education legislation, passed by the Louisiana Legislature in April, already have filed lawsuits against it, citing violations of the state constitution and other matters.

"It's almost a given that education reforms will be challenged by someone when you have a statewide voucher piece," said Kathy Christie, vice president of knowledge, information management and dissemination for the Education Commission of the States in Denver.

The Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the education package, which among other things spends public school funds on tuition at private schools and alters the public school funding formula.

Louisiana Superintendent of Education John C. White, the architect of the legislation, is confident the state will prevail in court.

"It's for the courts to decide, but the constitution is clear that it gives the Legislature the authority to enact such systems," White said. "I just think it's sad that the lawsuit is about adult issues and not child issues. It's sad that people would want to get in the way of choosing what's right for their kids."

Adam Emerson, director of parental choice for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group based in Washington, D.C., and Dayton, Ohio, said voucher programs like Louisiana's often undergo closer legal scrutiny than programs such as the one in Florida.

That one is funded by tax credits given to donors who contribute to scholarship funds issued by nonprofits. When the money for vouchers comes directly from state coffers, as it does in Louisiana, the legal battle can be more difficult to win.

"Any private option like this is going to start off with a lawsuit," Emerson said. "There is always going to be a challenge to this, and legislatures already know that. The U.S. Supreme Court has already given a few rulings in favor of tax-credit scholarships, but at the state level, not all voucher programs have fared very well."


British school inspectorate to tackle 'anti-school culture' in poor areas

Generations of white working-class boys are being consigned to the scrapheap because of an "anti-school culture" in deprived areas, according to the head of Ofsted.

Hundreds of thousands of poor children are growing up with little hope of a good education or career after being raised by families that fail to set proper boundaries or fully understand the difference between right and wrong, Sir Michael Wilshaw warned.

He said problems were particularly acute among disadvantaged white boys who perform worse than almost every other group at the age of 16.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Sir Michael said that old-fashioned values such as “self-help” and support for education had been eroded in many communities, particularly those in post-industrial cities with high levels of unemployment.

He said teachers from the best schools in these areas were now expected to act as “surrogate parents” – escorting pupils to bus stops, helping with homework, providing meals and giving them advice – in place of families “who can’t or won’t support their children”.

The comments were made as Ofsted prepared to launch a major inquiry on Friday intended to tackle the gulf between rich and poor pupils in the English education system.

Experts from schools, social services and higher education will sit on a panel established to assess the scale of underachievement in deprived communities and make sweeping recommendations designed to “close the gap”.

The programme – due to be concluded next year – comes two decades after a landmark study from Ofsted, Access and Achievement in Urban Education, raised major concerns over the issue. A follow-up report was published in 2003.

Sir Michael said: “We still have this long tail of underperformance in our state education system and we’re not closing the gap between the best and the worst, the richest and the poorest. We still have failure which largely resides in the poorest communities.

“Schools in these areas have to counter generations of failure and a culture which is often anti-school and anti-learning. We must show how that is tackled.”

According to figures, children from the poorest homes – those eligible for free school meals – fall behind wealthier classmates throughout compulsory education.

Last year, just a third of these pupils gained five good GCSEs, including the core subjects of English and mathematics, compared with some 62 per cent of other children.

White British boys eligible for free meals officially performed worse than any other group – aside from gypsy and traveller children – with fewer than 29 per cent gaining good grades.

Speaking before a major address to the National College for School Leadership in Birmingham on Friday, Sir Michael said the report would outline how outstanding schools in tough areas gained good results.

He also said it would tackle underperformance among certain groups, with white working-class boys being seen as a “big issue”.

Many of these children were surrounded by “generations of worklessness” following the demise of industries such as coalmining and shipbuilding, he said.

He added: “We need to look back as well as forward. By that I mean, working-class communities in the past valued education, with that spirit of working men’s institutes and technical colleges and so on. Those communities thought long and hard about the future of their children and supported schools and were very much into self-help. We need to bring that back.”

Sir Michael, former head of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, east London, also said that school leaders had to “understand that they are not going to close the gap unless they act as surrogate parents in place of those families who can’t or won’t support their children”.

“A lot of children will depend on the school to help with homework, to come in at weekends and to work in extension programmes,” he said. “Often these youngsters come from unstructured environments where there are few boundaries and few social, cultural and family norms.

“It is really important that school, from the very word go, introduces those boundaries; behaviour boundaries, understanding the difference between right and wrong, talking to children in the way that you expect good families to do.”