Friday, July 13, 2012

Up to half of British secondary school teachers lack degrees in their specialist subjects

I actually agree with the views expressed below but cannot quite leave the subject without noting that I myself did for two years successfully teach Geography to final-year High school students although my highest qualification in that subject was a junior school pass!  But I was and am rather enthusiastic about geography so maybe that was the important factor.  My students got good results

Up to half of secondary teachers lack degrees in their specialist subjects, according to figures released yesterday.

Across most of the curriculum, the number of teachers with a relevant post A-level qualification has declined over the past year, falling especially sharply in languages and physics.

More than 50 per cent of teachers in religious education, Spanish and drama did not study the subjects at university or teaching college.  In physics, geography and German, a third have no qualification higher than an A-level.  In maths, chemistry, history and French, the figure is a quarter while in English and PE it is a fifth.

Professor John Howson, managing director of research firm, called for a tightening of the rules to restrict schools' use of non-specialist teachers.  'I don't like parents being hoodwinked into believing their children's teachers are experts in their subjects,' he said.

Figures from the Department for Education show that 55.3 per cent of teachers of religious education - a statutory subject - are not specialists.  Meanwhile 33.7 per cent are attempting to teach physics, and 27.1 per cent maths, with no qualification in the subjects beyond A-level.

Schools tend to put non-specialist staff in front of middle or lower ability children, even though experts say that all pupils require specialist teaching.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that schools were still struggling to recruit good staff to teach physics, maths and foreign languages.  'Some of the people without degrees teaching these subjects may have been drawn in because of these shortages,' Prof Smithers said.  He said it was 'essential' that teachers had expertise in their subject.

Pupils taught by staff that lack sufficient knowledge risked being turned off, he suggested.  'The absolute essential thing is that a teacher has a good understanding of the subject at the level they are teaching it,' he said.  'Our best indicator of that is holding a degree or post-A-level qualification.'

Prof Smithers added: 'If you have a biologist teaching physics, even at age 11, it may well be that their enthusiasm for physics isn't there, and the child isn't excited by it and moves in another direction.  'It's the understanding and enthusiasm that's important.'

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: 'If we want an education system that ranks with the best in the world, we have to attract outstanding people into the profession, and give them excellent training - at the start of - and throughout - their careers.

'The government is overhauling teacher training and offering better financial bursaries to top science, maths and languages graduates to encourage them to become teachers,' she said.


Dem Congressman: American Schools Should Run More Like Muslim Madrassas

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) recently told a Muslim audience that American schools should operate more like Islamic “madrasas,” the Arabic word for schools. He was addressing the Islamic Circle of North America conference in Hartford, Connecticut in May.

    “America will never tap into educational innovation and ingenuity without looking at the model that we have in our madrassas, in our schools where innovation is encouraged, where the foundation is the Koran. And that model that we are pushing in some of our schools meets the multiple needs of students.”

It is certainly wise to call for greater innovation in our public schools. That is vitally necessary. We have an educational system that is reticent to change. The establishment model provides us with a human being in front of 30 students in neatly formed rows of desks. It provides an assembly-line system of students moving from classroom to classroom to receive 50 minutes of instruction about a particular subject.

It prefers the technology of 1980 – testing with Scanton bubble sheets – over today’s. It is the politicians who have protected such a system because they kowtow to political forces that would be wiped away by “innovation.”

But beyond innovation, Carson’s call for a madrasa-like government school system is a disturbing one. Madrasas are commonly seen as anti-Western indoctrination centers which have kept women barred from learning. They’re known for radicalizing young children against the West and the state of Israel. Biased textbooks are routinely criticized for their overt and gross slander, particularly of those of the Jewish faith.

Carson’s idea is a radical departure from the status quo and would not be a step in the right direction. America is, and always will be, a land of religious tolerance, where all people are free to observe their particular beliefs. But we are society built on Judeo/Christian ethics, and they remain the moral building blocks of our educational system, in private as well as public schools.

Beyond that, Americans already haggle over the “separation of church and state.” Leftists are vigilant in their effort to prevent the observance of Christianity on school property. How would people in Carson’s own Democratic Party react to a publicly-financed school “where the foundation is the Koran?” If the Bible is not welcome in American schools, we’d be willing to bet the Muslim holy book would be given a pretty chilly reception.

Muslim schools are free to operate as Muslim schools. But the message they too frequently offer their students is not one many would care to have in our taxpayer-funded classrooms.

Thanks but no thanks, Rep. Carson


Is Socratic Method DOA at Columbia University?

A fine line exists for university educators between teaching and preaching. Young student minds may not discern the difference, accepting the latter as "gospel" rather than subjecting it to Socratic analysis to arrive at a reasoned conclusion. The Socratic Method invokes an individual's common sense to assess whether a viewpoint is reasonable to avoid irresponsibly drawing outrageous conclusions.

At Columbia University, there has been some tilling of the soil in the past to cultivate a friendly environment in which erroneous, and outrageous, positions on Iran's human rights abuses have been voiced by that country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It should come as no surprise then this has led one of Columbia's international relations professors to plant the seed of an idea Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations need not be feared.

His rationale, like Ahmadinejad's before him, escapes Socratic analysis.

Columbia University provided a forum for Ahmadinejad to speak to students when the Iranian leader visited New York to address the United Nations in 2007. There should have been no doubt among faculty and students present Ahmadinejad was a 21st century Adolf Hitler "wannabe."

His continued hatred of Jews blinds him to life's realities. He disavows the Holocaust occurred while threatening to complete what Hitler started by wiping Israel off the face of the Earth.

Ahmadinejad seems to be an equal opportunity denier. He denies Islam's intolerance and, therefore, that apostates have been put to death. He denies the existence of homosexuals in Iran and, therefore, that Iranians have been executed for being gay.

Interestingly, while an anti-gay leader was provided a forum at Columbia from which to preach his Islamic supremacist views, the university has denied the U.S. military a voice on campus for over four decades due to its anti-gay recruitment policy.

Of interest, too, is that while students remained respectful of Ahmadinejad's views, allowing him to complete his outrageous remarks, they failed to extend the same courtesy to a veteran attempting to share his views about Ahmadinejad and those like him.

Last year, a town hall meeting was held to discuss whether ROTC should be allowed to return to the campus due to the military's new policy accepting gays into the service. One student -- a veteran wounded 11 times in Iraq during a single firefight in 2008, requiring a 2-year recovery -- tried explaining ROTC's need on campus as evil men in the world, such as Ahmadinejad, seek to do us harm. He was jeered.

For Columbia University students, tolerance extended to evil leaders but not those endeavoring to warn us about them.

From this university environment now comes faculty member Kenneth Waltz, published in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs" suggesting we should fear nothing by Ahmadinejad having the bomb. In an article entitled "Iran Should Get the Bomb," he astonishingly surmises Iran's possession of such a weapon "would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East."

Recognizing the U.S. claim a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable," Waltz suggests such language is historically typical from major powers, as others attempt to join the nuclear club, but -- in the end -- they accept such membership.

He argues, "by reducing imbalances in military power, new nuclear states generally produce more regional and international stability, not less."

He justifies Iran's effort as one to counter nuclear-armed Israel as "power, after all, begs to be balanced" -- the crisis with Iran will end "only when a balance of military power is restored."

He suggests Iran wouldn't use such nukes as it "would invite massive retaliation and risk destroying everything the Iranian regime holds dear."

A major flaw in Waltz's argument is his focus on historical deterrence -- claiming as states joined the nuclear arms club, they recognized a duty to conduct themselves responsibly. He points out that is why no two nuclear armed nations have ever gone to war with each other.

Ironically, until December 2008, he could have said the same about no two democratic states ever having fought each other in a conventional war. However, that no longer remains true as almost three years after democratic parliamentary elections swept Hamas into power in Gaza, it was at war with democratically elected Israel. It took a "Muslim democracy" to break that streak.

Waltz badly wants us to believe, just like the ominous responsibility of possessing such weapons caused those who became nuclear club members to behave responsibly by not using them, so, too, will Iran. He argues such an awesome responsibility reduces a nation's bellicose nature.

But Waltz irresponsibly reaches this outrageous conclusion, failing to consider the personality of the man with his hand on Iran's nuclear trigger.

There is no acknowledgement Ahmadinejad believes he is ordained to play a role in the return of Islam's 12th Imam -- who disappeared centuries ago, ascending into a state of occultation, destined to return to Earth in the future to restore Islam to greatness.

There is no acknowledgement Ahmadinejad is part of a cult -- so feared decades ago Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini outlawed it -- believing the return only occurs in the wake of world chaos triggered by man.

Ahmadinejad believes he is that man, claiming he was visited by the 12th Imam and that his future role was revealed by the aura engulfing (and only visible to) him as he spoke at the United Nation.

Waltz makes no acknowledgement an Iranian nuclear trigger would be manned by a madman!

If Waltz were present at Ahmadinejad's 2007 speech at Columbia, he failed to hear what he said. The Iranian leader began with a prayer for the 12th Imam's return and victory. Had Waltz explored what this means for non-Muslims, he would know it means they must convert to Islam -- or die.

Ahmadinejad's prayer, therefore, was one wishing death to non-believers -- a fate he intends to trigger with a nuclear weapon.

For Columbia University, it appears the Socratic Method is DOA.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Does Equality Mean “The Same?”

"All Men are created equal," said Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  We Americans, who are the first to try to live by this idea, have had nothing but trouble with it. The very idea is fraught with problems.  If it means that God has created all men (never mind women or slaves) equally, how can we explain babies born with dreadful defects that prevent them from ever being "equal" to the able-bodied? And if we look around at the distribution of mental, physical, and talent gifts, it is apparent that we are certainly not all equal.

Economist Robert L. Samuelson addressed equality's current difficulties in a column called "Ditch College for All." He traced the admirable program that permitted World War II veterans to get college degrees---adding thousands to the middle class and unprecedented prosperity for the majority of Americans. This success has promoted the idea that all children should have college degrees. Should they?

Young people are encouraged to go into debt to get "a degree," with the notion that this would provide a good-paying job.  Furthermore, universities that have thrived on this influx of too many students and lavish government grants, have jacked up tuitions. Many colleges have dumbed down the curriculums to accommodate students unprepared for college. Damage has been done to the entire educational system, just like the damage from the notion that all Americans should own homes.

In my generation, university education was reserved for the moneyed class and to those exceptional students who received scholarships and worked their way through school. With scholarships and work, many like me got degrees with no debt.  We have lost much by not retaining this system. I have taught university students who had learned little in high school, including critical thinking and ability to read and write intelligently.

Instead of equality meaning "the same," how about equality meaning equal opportunity to develop to one's best ability? We need more technicians, more truck drivers, more plumbers, more electricians - none of these requiring a four-year academic program. They may well be more valuable to society than an Ethnic Studies major.


Quotas Limiting Male Science Enrollment: The New Liberal War on Science


Quotas limiting the number of male students in science may be imposed by the Education Department in 2013. The White House has promised that “new guidelines will also be issued to grant-receiving universities and colleges” spelling out “Title IX rules in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.” These guidelines will likely echo existing Title IX guidelines that restrict men’s percentage of intercollegiate athletes to their percentage in overall student bodies, thus reducing the overall number of intercollegiate athletes. (Under the three-part Title IX test created by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work, colleges are allowed to temporarily comply by increasing the number of female athletes rather than cutting the number of male athletes, but the only viable permanent way to comply with its rule is to restrict men’s participation relative to women’s participation, reducing overall participation.) Thus, as Charlotte Allen notes, the Obama administration’s guidelines are likely to lead to “science quotas” based on gender.

Earlier, writing in Newsweek, President Obama celebrated the fact that 25 percent fewer men than women graduate from college, calling it a “great accomplishment” for America. Ironically, he lamented the fact that a smaller gender disparity — 17 percent fewer women attending college than men — had once existed before Title IX was implemented. To Obama, gender disparities are only bad when they disfavor women. Under his strange idea of equality, equality means men losing out to women.

Obama hinted that Title IX quotas would soon come to engineering and techology, saying that “Title IX isn’t just about sports,” but also about “inequality in math and science education” and “a much broader range of fields, including engineering and technology. I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it.”

Christina Hoff Sommers wrote earlier about this looming liberal war on science. Based on a campaign promise Obama made to feminist groups in October 2008, Sommers foresaw the Obama Administration moving to artificially cap male enrollment in math and science classes to achieve gender proportionality — the way that Title IX currently caps male participation in intercollegiate athletics. The result could be a substantial reduction in the number of scientists graduating from America’s colleges and universities.

Critics have long argued that the Title IX cap on men’s athletic participation is in tension with the Supreme Court’s warnings against proportional representation. In a ruling by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court said that it is “completely unrealistic” to argue that women and minorities should be represented in each field or activity “in lockstep proportion to their representation in the local population.” (See Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989)). In an earlier ruling, Justice O’Connor noted that it is “unrealistic to assume that unlawful discrimination is the sole cause of people failing to gravitate to jobs and employers in accord with the laws of chance.” (See Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust Co. (1988).)

But the Title IX athletics regulation mandates proportional representation. It contains three alternatives for compliance, but two of them are illusory in the long run. The first way (and only permanent way) to comply is to adopt a quota that artificially caps male participation. The second and third ways, which are only short-term fixes, involve continuous expansion of participation by, or satisfaction of all desire to compete by, the “underrepresented” sex. In a world of finite resources, these latter two ways can only work for a short period of time. In light of this fact, courts have rejected lawsuits by men’s teams cut by colleges to achieve proportionality (that is, quotas), concluding that such quotas are required by Title IX, which thus overrides any rights the men’s teams might otherwise enjoy.  See, e.g., Miami University Wrestling Club v. Miami University, 302 F.3d 608 (6th Cir. 2002).

I used to work at the agency, the Office for Civil Rights, which administers that regulation, and I think that it would be a grave mistake to apply its standards, which were designed for allocating resources among all-male and all-female sports teams, to the very different context of math and science classes, which are coed. It is one thing to apply gender-based proportionality rules to single-sex teams, which are already themselves intrinsically gender-based. It is quite another to apply them to classes in science and math that are open to all students, regardless of gender, and are supposed to be gender-blind, not gender-specific or gender-based. Doing so is simply unconstitutional.

Courts have generally forbidden state colleges to engage in gender-balancing in areas other than intercollegiate athletics. For example, a federal judge struck down the University of Georgia’s use of gender in admissions to promote gender balance, ruling it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. See Johnson v. Board of Regents of the University of Georgia, 106 F. Supp.2d 1362 (S.D. Ga 2000).  An attempt by the Obama Education Department to impose gender quotas in math and scientific fields would be equally unconstitutional.  See Lamprecht v. FCC, 958 F.2d 382 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (FCC’s gender preferences for women violated the equal-protection component of the Fifth Amendment, despite FCC’s appeal to “diversity”); Back v. Carter, 933 F.Supp. 738 (N.D. Ind. 1996) (invalidating gender-balance requirement for government board).

The fact that fewer women than men major in science and engineering is the result of their own voluntary choices, not sexism or sex discrimination by schools, notes researcher John Rosenberg, the proud father of a daughter who got a Ph.D. from CalTech. My daughter is bright, and I’d be happy if she got a graduate degree in engineering (or became a physicist, like her grandfather), but I can’t force her to do that if she doesn’t want to, and a college shouldn’t be deemed liable for sex discrimination against women if women like her don’t want to study engineering.

Gender disparities in a major are not the product of sexism, but rather the differing preferences of men and women. The fact that engineering departments are filled mostly with men does not mean they discriminate against women anymore than the fact that English departments are filled mostly with women proves that English departments discriminate against men. The arts and humanities have well over 60 percent female students, yet no one seems to view that gender disparity as a sign of sexism against men. Deep down, the Obama administration knows this, since it is planning to impose its gender-proportionality rules only on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), not other fields that have similarly large gender disparities in the opposite direction.

Many women are quite capable of mastering high-level math and science, but simply don’t find working in such a field all that interesting. As Dr. Sommers notes, many “colleges already practice affirmative action for women in science,” rather than discriminating against them. Susan Pinker, a clinical psychologist, chronicled cases of women who “abandoned successful careers in science and engineering to work in fields like architecture, law and education,” because they wanted jobs that involved more interaction with people, “not because they had faced discrimination in science.” Far from being discouraged by society from pursuing a career in math or science, these women had been strongly encouraged to pursue such a  a career: “Once they showed aptitude for math or physical science, there was an assumption that they’d pursue it as a career even if they had other interests or aspirations. And because these women went along with the program and were perceived by parents and teachers as torch bearers, it was so much more difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that the work made them unhappy.”

As Susan Pinker notes, “A mountain of published research stretching back a hundred years shows that women are far more likely than men to be deeply interested in organic subjects—people, plants and animals—than they are to be interested in things and inanimate systems, such as electrical engineering, or computer systems.”

Women are well-represented in scientific fields that involve lots of interaction with people. As The New York Times’ John Tierney noted, “Despite supposed obstacles like “unconscious bias” and a shortage of role models and mentors, women now constitute about half of medical students, 60 percent of biology majors, and 70 percent of psychology Ph.D.’s. They earn the majority of doctorates in both the life sciences and the social sciences.” By contrast, “They remain a minority in the physical sciences and engineering,” which deal more with inanimate objects rather than people.

These gender-based differences are not the product of discrimination, and manifest themselves at a very early age. As a book on the biology of male-female differences notes, “Girl babies in their cribs are especially inclined to stare at images of human faces, whereas infant boys are likely to find inanimate objects every bit as attractive”; “this difference persists into adulthood: when shown images of people as well as things, men tend to remember the things, and women tend to remember the people.”

To the extent that gender disparities result from the differing interests of men and women, they are not “discrimination” by an institution in which they occur. See EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 839 F.2d 302 (7th Cir. 1988).

These differences, of course, are statistical averages, and are not true of every individual. (My mother is a math major who is more interested in various kinds of abstractions than I am.) No girl should be denied the opportunity to study a STEM field based on her sex; but that does not mean that colleges should adopt a gender quota for female students in math and science. Since a college cannot force a woman to go into math or science, the only way for a college to satisfy a gender quota will be to cut the number of male math and science students, by turning male students away from their favorite subject.

The  Education Department already has the power to punish colleges for discrimination in math and science under Title IX, even without any new guidelines, since the Title IX statute bans discrimination based on sex (except in certain single-sex schools) in any educational field. Based on what the Obama campaign said in 2008, many had expected the Obama Education Department to exercise that power through lengthy investigations (“compliance reviews”) of college math and science programs (such as investigating gender disparities in male vs. female enrollment rates in science classes to determine whether or not they are not the result of discrimination). But to require gender quotas in math and science — as opposed to merely banning discrimination — the Education Department will have to first issue guidelines mandating them, since these quotas are a new substantive obligation for colleges, and cannot be imposed without such notice (even putting aside the fact that they are unconstitutional).


Coddled L.A. schoolteachers are breaking the bank

Union-funded hacks like those at the Economic Policy Institute tell us public employees have it rough. Their pay is so low they resort to eating dog food at night. Their pensions are terrible and no one – and we mean no one – should be subjected to such poor health care coverage.

It baffles the mind, then, to look at the honest numbers. Because when one does, it shows that the people at EPI are little more than union shills spewing cooked up numbers to satisfy the paymaster.

In the latest in a series of reports issued by focused on labor spending in metropolitan school districts across the country, it’s revealed that members of United Teachers Los Angeles (the local teachers union) didn’t pay one thin dime toward health insurance premiums in 2010-11. That cost fell to taxpayers, who parted with a whopping $416 million.

How could this be? The school district’s budget deficit entering the 2010-11 fiscal year was $640 million. Employees were laid off by the thousands and five instructional days were cancelled, yet union employees were allowed to maintain their free and very costly health coverage.

This is different than most school districts around the nation, which have been forcing employees to pay upwards of 30 percent of their insurance premiums.

And the problem in Los Angeles persists. According to media reports, teachers are still not required to contribute toward health insurance premiums.

Instead of emulating private sector trends and cutting labor costs when necessary, the government class in Los Angeles remains in its own little world of free health care, free retirement and automatic raises.

Just imagine if members of the UTLA were required to pay 20 percent toward insurance, which would still be well below the national private sector average. Schools could reap the savings and put them toward their mission: educating children.

That would equal $83.2 million that could go toward recalling laid off teachers and restoring instructional days to the school calendar. According to media reports, the Los Angeles district has eliminated 18 days of instruction over the past four years due to budget constraints.

Instead, unions and their apologists insist that schools are desperate for cash and taxes must be raised. Until public schools get serious and adopt practices common in the private sector, we can’t expect anything to change – except a continued increase in the cost of education.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are university lectures obsolete?

Many of them are certainly badly done but that does not condemn the genre.  I often lectured to a class of 1,000 students or more in a big auditorium and got enough feedback to think I made some impression.  But I always spoke extempore and took questions to some degree so what I saw in front of me were generally very attentive students.

But speaking extemore is, I acknowledge, a big ask.  One needs both considerable self-confidence and a thorough knowledge of one's subject.  I admit to being rather severe about it  but I have always said that if you need to prepare your lectures you don't know your subject well enough.

And being able to approach the lecturer after the lecture and ask for clarifications etc. is not something you can do to a face on a screen.  I regularly had  small groups of students taking up points with me after a lecture  -- something I enjoyed.

So I go half-way with the writer below.  I think live lectures should remain but they should always be recorded and made  available in that form for occasions when that might be helpful  to some or all students -- JR

Imagine sitting in a crowd of 1000 or so students in a university lecture hall and not understanding something. Do you ask a question or do you just zone out and log onto Facebook instead?

Outside our university lecture halls, the rest of the world is in the grips of a digital communications revolution offering an ever increasing number of options for truly engaging, personalised learning.

Today's standard lecture, as a knowledge delivery model, is a legacy of our pre-digital past. We already have decades of research behind us which says that, as far as learning goes, having one person stand up in front of lots of people and talking non-stop is about as ineffective as it gets.

The idea that much learning, and indeed wisdom, was to be found on campus at the foot of the masters — learning by osmosis alongside a visionary physicist in a university science lab, for example — might have once rung true.  But bring in the big, modern lecture halls of mass higher education and those same masters do not necessarily inspire as teachers, nor do they have the opportunity to connect with students on an effective, personal level.

So why persist with a teaching model dating back to the 1200s when alternative, superior digital communications tools are evolving so rapidly around us? Perhaps old habits die hard. Perhaps we haven't yet worked out an alternative strategy to teach the ever increasing cohorts of tertiary students in Australia and worldwide.

But, if universities don't move fast, the rest of the world of teaching and learning  – now increasingly online, global and outside the ivory tower of academia — will have moved on without them.

Accessible online education options are expanding exponentially. Some are offered by entirely new players in the market like the US-based Khan academy, a Bill Gates-backed not for profit online educator which has already delivered some 158 million lessons for free. Others are offered by internationally renowned universities like MIT and Harvard, which recently announced a US $60 million online joint venture to offer their courses worldwide, free.

At the same time, the global demand for mass higher education is outstripping the capacity and infrastructure of traditional on-campus universities. In Australia, the federal government is actively pushing university enrolments towards new higher education attainment targets; potentially cramming more students into already crowded lecture halls.

But, why run mass lectures on campus at all? Student attendance and attentiveness is falling, and many lectures can now be viewed on YouTube anyway.

Universities could take the first step towards the future by shifting the classroom, with its human scale interaction, to the top of the on-campus education agenda. Much of the common "content" for particular disciplines can be effectively delivered online.

We could turn back to Confucius for a way forward. He said: "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand." Hearing and seeing is what we call "lean back learning". But doing- via problem solving – is "lean forward learning".

We should be using precious face time in classrooms for these lean forward types of teaching — to ask hard questions, to take part in interactive tasks, for guided problem solving, for working in groups and for engaging with directly and productively with teachers or tutors. Not for "talking at" students en masse. This could lead to a better "productivity of learning" - a measure of how fast and well a concept is learnt.

If students can get through the basic maths, for example, at home using online adaptive eLearning modules which guide them through the steps and give them personalised feedback as they go, wouldn't that mean that universities could concentrate on higher level learning and inquiry and research in class? That is, the future of universities may lie in shifting away from dispensing knowledge on campus towards interpreting and applying knowledge, with consequent gains for innovation.  [Knowledge is never "dispensed".  It is always interpreted]

More here

Scott Walker Prepares to Reform Higher Education

Bad Boy Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, fresh from taking on collective bargaining and triumphant after winning the recall election, is headed for more controversy, more upheaval and more angry squeals as he prepares to go after yet another sacred cow. His next mission is to take on Wisconsin’s higher education system. On June 19, Walker and officials from the University of Wisconsin announced a “revolutionary” flexible degree program. From the press release:

    "The unique self-paced, competency-based model will allow students to start classes anytime and earn credit for what they already know. Students will be able to demonstrate college-level competencies based on material they already learned in school, on the job, or on their own, as soon as they can prove that they know it. By taking advantage of this high quality, flexibility model, and by utilizing a variety of resources to help pay for their education, students will have new tools to accelerate their careers. Working together, the UW System, the State of Wisconsin, and other partners can make a high-quality UW college degree significantly more affordable and accessible to substantially more people."

It is one thing to proclaim an ideal, and something else to develop a system that actually works, but the language at least points toward exactly the kind of flexible programs Via Meadia and others have been advocating.

Change has to come. After World War Two the United States built its modern university system by extending a model that was originally intended to groom the sons of a social elite to succeed their fathers as government and business leaders to manage the preparation of tens of millions of people for the business of life.

The template doesn’t work in many cases, and the result increasingly is that training and job preparation takes too long and costs too much. The problem isn’t that America has “too much” education. The problem is that a 21st century society needs to be able to teach more skills to more people at a much lower cost and in much less time than our 20th century institutions can manage. It’s really that simple. The most urgent business of a state university system at this point must be to reform and improve the kind of education (in many cases, training) that can enable the state’s citizens of any and every age to acquire skills and prepare themselves to flourish in a rapidly changing economy.

Those who like myself are the products of the traditional elite educational system are naturally and properly concerned about the future of liberal as opposed to utilitarian education as this transformation takes place. But even we have to recognize that the first priority of state governments has to be to get the utilitarian stuff right.

Scott Walker will not be the last state governor to try his hand at education reform. It will be a bumpy road, and there will be failures and lessons learned. But through efforts like this one, through borrowing best practice from other states and countries and through trying new ideas in many states and many institutions, public and private, non-profit and for-profit, we will eventually develop an educational system that better serves the people than the one we have now.

Last month saw a crisis erupt at the University of Virginia. Now we have some radical proposals surfacing in Wisconsin. There will be more. The conflict between society’s need for more education and the high costs of the system we’ve built is intensifying. The fiscal squeeze at every level of government makes it impossible to manage the problem simply by shoveling more money into a dysfunctional system. Higher education in the United States is headed towards the biggest and most revolutionary upheaval since the birth of the mass modern university system at the end of World War Two.


The case for school streaming from age 11 in Britain  is overwhelming. But how long will it take the Conservatives to learn from the lessons of the past?

The latest findings of the Sutton Trust Report published today, based on a Buckingham University analysis of the PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) confirm of what we already know. This is why they are so damning.

England, it found, ranked 26th out of 34 OECD countries for the proportion of pupils reaching the top level in maths. It fell behind other nations like Slovenia (3.9%), the Slovak Republic (3.6%) France (3.3%) and the Czech Republic (3.2%), which all scored around the OECD average.

So it is not hard to guess the answer to this question: how many pupils from English comprehensive schools got the highest marks in international tests for maths?   A dunce would get it; almost none.

It comes as no surprise that teenagers in England are half as likely as those in the average developed nation to reach higher levels in maths; that only 1.7% of England's 15-year-olds reached the highest level, Level 6, in maths, as compared with an OECD average of 3.1%; or that in countries as diverse as Switzerland and Korea, 7.8% of pupils reached this level.

It is a damning indictment of our comprehensive education system, the system responsible for dragging the country down.

It is an even more damning indictment that government after government, including the 18 years of Conservative Governments, sanctioned this system along with the progressive deterioration of standards it led to; all in the name  of a bankrupt, bolshy, anti- elitist, anti-competitive, socialist ideology that none dared  challenge.

Those responsible should be bowing their heads in shame.

They include just about every Secretary of State for Education since the arch instigators of this ill advised cultural revolution, Anthony Crosland and Shirley Williams. It was the inverted snobbery of these two – a luxury afforded the upper class left alone – that set this monstrous dumbing down in motion.

"If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to destroy every f….g grammar school in England,” Susan Crosland afterwards reported her late husband to have said. Thanks to the weakness of the Conservative Education Secretaries who succeeded him, he just about did.

How these Conservatives came to betray their own better judgment is hard to understand. But they did – including Margaret Thatcher herself and the neo liberal Keith Joseph. As a result of their intellectual cowardice the number of comprehensive schools doubled between 1970 and 1974. The grammar school success stories of first Harold Wilson, then Edward Heath and most remarkable of all, Margaret Thatcher, apparently counted for nothing.

Mrs Thatcher redeemed herself somewhat by giving back the right to select pupils for secondary education at 11 to LEAs in 1979. Arguably it kept the grammar school dream alive but given the preponderance of socialist local education authorities that was all. The majority of grammar schools were purged.

Through to John Patten and Kenneth Baker, who, while maybe  not accepting the ant elitist socialist paradigm,  they all still failed to challenge it.

Conservative Education Secretaries followed the futile path of reforming the curriculum through top down edicts – ever more narrowly and pedantically interpreted by the educationalists in the vain attempt to raise standards. The critical challenge of taking on teacher training has never happened.

Schooling has been subject to the worst possible cocktail of ideological claptrap and performance management bureaucracy and monitoring. Ironically it has led to almost the entire teaching profession being alienated as a result.

When Keith Joseph first proposed linking teacher appraisal and performance-related pay, the result was a year of industrial action by teachers. The teaching unions have held the government to ransom ever since. The price paid was the loss of parents’ respect for teachers.

The unions have also resolutely buried their heads in the sand.

The  teachers’ union's’ reactions to today’s Sutton report are par for the course. Chris Keates (NASUWT) disputes the validity of the international comparisons. Her alter ego Christine Blower insists (the Today programme this morning) that separating out children at 11 is not the best way.

No? So how would she explain why local authorities like Buckinghamshire, Sutton, Kent and Trafford, all of whom have selective education systems in place, score so much higher on national tests taken at 11 than their local authority counterparts within the comprehensive system. Justin Webb, the Today interviewer did not challenge her on this.

Yet effectively this is what the Sutton Trust is suggesting as their solution to the dire state of pupils’ maths. For what are they describing, when they advocate pulling out the brightest at 11 and tracking them thereafter, other than the introduction of selection at eleven – that is, the Grammar School system?

The government should take heed. Only by biting this bullet can they put this shameful episode of education history behind us. This is a Berlin Wall moment.

Michael Gove’s latest sensible edict is to test every eleven year old in the country on their grammar and punctuation skills. So why not go the whole hog and do it through an 11 plus exam? It is the only way to make it meaningful.

There is no reason why there should not be a 13 plus and 14 plus entry exam too – to allow for late developers and less socially advantaged children to feed in. Nor, with high class vocational and technical education, should there be any shame in movement each way.

The dangers of a continued downward slide are too real otherwise -  despite all his good intentions. As Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education points out, the “progressives” will always be ruthless in pursuit of their goals. If they can they will resist, water down or corrupt each and every sensible reform Michael Gove suggests.

The 164 grammar schools that survived the great purge are demonstrably a force for good. They are the only real counterweight to the inevitable top heavy public school domination over politics, business and the professions.

Children gain by being educated with children of similar ability. It is a fact but one that politicians have yet to have  the intellectual courage to grasp  and state.

Grammar school ‘products’ from my own experience  understand meritocracy and hard work. They have no time for entitlement and snobbery and, whatever their background, are rarely beset with anxieties or resentment about class. Grammar schools breed natural confidence and competence.

Many adults, as well as children, would fail the 11 plus today might be true. But that is no argument against setting it. It would sharpen everyone up. It would open up social mobility.

But more importantly, there is no other way to end the stultifying, egalitarian, non-competitive ideology responsible for this catastrophic fall in standards.


Get Rid of the Public Schools

At a park near where I live, every morning there are a dozen or so high-school drop-outs who gather and socialize. They sit in a circle under a tree. They aren't employed, and I suspect probably never will be. Or if they are, it'll be some minimum-wage job. Fast food, perhaps. And if they never end up employed, then they'll live on welfare, which means they're parasites.

These kids may have been "schooled," but they sure haven't been educated.  Schooling is one thing; education is another.

I define "schooling" as the public schools and as such is based on the Political Means, i.e. force and fraud. Education is what you get when you remove the State from interfering in "education." It's voluntary.

Of course sometimes there is education in the public schools. Even they can generally teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Beyond that, though, they start to collapse -- and that collapse has been going on for a long time.

Since "schooling" is involuntary, public schools are essentially prisons (my high school had no windows). For some, boring prisons, which is one out of many kinds of torture. It certainly was for me, which I why I daydreamed all the time and barely did my homework.

I'd have to agree with the late Ray Bradbury on this one: if there have to be schools, they shouldn't do anything else but teach kids to read and write and do arithmetic. He claims math doesn't exist in real life, and for most people it doesn't. How many people who aren't mathematicians ever use algebra in real life? No one, for all practical purposes.

I once had a girlfriend who has an MBA in Accounting and Finance. She had to take a calculus course twice to pass it (she told me it "didn't click" until the second attempt). Does she ever use calculus? No.

I taught myself basic statistics and probability theory. I don't use statistics except now I know when I'm being lied to ("lies, damned lies, and statistics"). I never use the probability theory (and notice that I taught myself both).

For that matter, you can teach the basis of probability theory to a six-year-old, say, how to figure how many possible outcomes there would be to ten coin-flips. ("Well, dad, 10 coin-flips would be 2 to the 10th power, so that would be 1024 possible outcomes.")

Incidentally, I once read my six-year-old nephew a newspaper article about economics (he was whittling a stick and I thought wasn't paying attention). When I asked him if he understood what I had read to him, he said, "Sure, when the price goes down people buy more. When the price goes up people buy less." I just stared at him.

I never learned a thing beyond the first grade. Even in college I had perhaps six classes which were worth anything. That's less than a year in college. This means my 17 years of schooling could have been done in two years.

I learned most of what I know by checking books out of the library and wandering around looking at tadpoles and wondering how they turned into frogs (or mud puppies). Or wondering why my car wouldn't start. Or why my computer broke down.

The only time I ever enjoyed school was when I went to summer school a few months before I turned 12. I took two classes. Each was probably about 30 minutes long, with a half-an-hour break between them. I wasn't in school more than an hour-and-one-half, and I remember the classes I took: German and oceanography. I enjoyed my time there immensely.

I don't remember the names of any of the classes I took in grade school, middle school or high school. (By the way, I don't blame the teachers. It's the crushing bureaucracy inherent in all government, including the schools.)

I also learned a lot as a Cub Scout, and although I never made it into the Boy Scouts, I am a great fan of both organizations, and think it'd be a good thing if more boys joined them. For one thing, boys need mentors to show them how things work. That's what the older are for, to teach the young instead of sitting in a recliner and eating Cheesy Poofs and watching cable.

In my opinion I'd rather have children in the Cub Scouts and the Brownies rather than go to public schools. I still buy cookies from Brownies when they knock on my door. It's my way of supporting them. At least I have a choice, unlike my taxes, which go to people I'd fire if I had my way.

One thing I missed (and regret it) is a grandfather-type who would have taken me on walks and explained things to me. I have met people (a very,very few) who had such mentors, and I have always envied them (I am always reminded of that scene in Meatballs where Bill Murray, a camp counselor, is playing cards with a 12-year-old Chris Makepeace -- who, by the way, wins all of Murray's peanuts).

The purpose of education to develop a person's inherent talents. I tried to teach myself to read when I was four. If anyone had noticed, I could have learned at that age. In school, I wasn't taught until I was six, and to this day I remember how disappointed I was with Dick and Jane and Spot and Pony. After encountering those white-bread bores I had no interest in reading until I was about 11, when by pure chance I encountered Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom (read Mars) novels.

I would have much preferred the Iliad or the Odyssey, even in kindergarten, with the Cyclops eating Odysseus' men and then Odysseus putting the Cyclops' eye out with a spear. That's way cooler than Dick and Jane, even if they did find a toad in the bushes (like I haven't found hundreds of toads. And frogs. And crawdads. And snakes. And snapping turtles).

When I was 12 I taught myself grammar out of the back of a dictionary that belonged to my parents and was published in the '50s. I still have that dictionary, which is right next to me.

What exactly is learned in 13 years of public schooling (and if you count kindergarten, it is 13 years)? A lot of kids would be better off learning to read, write and do arithmetic, then go to vocational school and learn how to repair cars or be plumbers. Someone with an IQ of 104 is not going to be interested in Göat;del's Incompleteness Theorem, or how David Hume influenced Kant.

Back in the '20s and '30s if you wanted to be a lawyer you took the bar exam. These days, you have to get a college degree then go to law school. Obviously there is far too much schooling and far too little education.

As far as I'm concerned a person should be able to take proficiency exams for almost all of a college degree. Sitting in ranks and rows in classes... grade school... middle school... high school... college... graduate school... for many, it's torture and cannot be endured.

Considering that the drop-out rate for high school is 50%, clearly the public schools aren't just failing -- they already have failed. And for those who claim without public school kids wouldn't be educated, well, with a 50% drop-out rate they aren't being educated.

Not all education can be fun. Very few people are going to say that rote memorization of the times tables is "fun." But if learning isn't interesting students will avoid it, especially by voting with their feet.

These days, far too many children are avoiding the public schools, by dropping out the first chance they get. That's bad for them and bad for society. It's good for sitting under trees and socializing in parks, though.


Los Angeles school fires ENTIRE staff after teachers 'sexually abused students and fed them semen'

Faced with a shocking case of a teacher accused of playing classroom sex games with children for years, Los Angeles schools Superintendent John Deasy delivered another jolt: He removed the school's entire staff — from custodians to the principal — to smash what he called a 'culture of silence.'

'It was a quick, responsible, responsive action to a heinous situation,' he said. 'We're not going to spend a long time debating student safety.'

The controversial decision underscores the 51-year-old superintendent's shake-up of the lethargic bureaucracy at the nation's second-largest school district. His swift, bold moves have rankled some and won praise from others during his first year of leadership.

Hired with a mandate to boost achievement in the 660,000-pupil Los Angeles Unified School District, Deasy has become known for 18-hour days that involve everything from surprise classroom visits and picking up playground litter to lobbying city elite for donations and blasting Sacramento politicians over funding cuts.

He's also gained a reputation for outspokenness and a brisk decision-making style some have criticized as heavy-handed. Earlier this year, for instance, Deasy ordered a substitute teacher fired after finding students doing busy work.

'I'm intolerant when it comes to students being disrespected,' he said in an interview sandwiched between school visits and meetings. 'I do what I think is right and everyone has the right to criticize. You appreciate the critics, but you wouldn't get up in the morning if you listened to them.'

Doing what he thinks is right has put him in some unusual positions, such as siding with plaintiffs who successfully sued the district over closely protected teachers' union tenets — seniority-based layoff policies and leaving out student test scores in teacher performance evaluations.

'He acts on behalf of kids, you can't fault him for that,' said A.J. Duffy, the former president of the teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, who now runs a charter school. 'But there are processes. People do deserve a fair and equitable hearing.'

As the school year was ending last month, Deasy was focused on hiring 80 new principals; particularly at troubled urban high schools some have called 'dropout factories.' Deasy pushed 50 current principals to retire or transferred them and he aims to interview replacement candidates himself. Developing leadership is a cornerstone of his reform strategy.

Deasy moves at a rapid clip, whether it's through the candidate lists, his reform agenda or in striding around school campuses. 'Keeping up with Dr. Deasy' is a well-worn joke around the district.

He is under a tight, self-imposed, deadline to get reforms in place in four years and see higher test scores, graduation rates and other education metrics in eight years.  'The culture in this district has been talk, protest, argue, not actually do,' he said. 'This style has come up against that.'

School board President Monica Garcia applauds Deasy's speed. 'People are feeling very confident in his leadership,' she said.

The urgency of his mission drives Deasy.  He's up at 3:30 a.m., goes for a run and reads emails and the news before starting office meetings at 5:30 a.m. His wiry frame, topped with a crewcut, emphasizes that meals are often a luxury unless connected with work — he keeps energy bars in an office drawer. A recent lunch consisted of frozen yogurt.

He works through much of the weekend, too, although he reserves Sunday nights for Patty, his wife of 27 years. The couple has three grown children who live in the Los Angeles area.

Deasy is not concerned about burnout, but he worries about getting engulfed in pessimism. 'It's 101 per cent negativity all the time,' he said.  So when there's good news, he revels in it. He ticks off recent increases in language proficiency rates for English learners, and declines in dropouts and suspensions.

He hopes to see more results from new policies he's pushed through, including giving teachers and principals more autonomy and more rigorous graduation requirements.

Once a week, his driver takes him on a round of unannounced visits to a few of the 1,000-plus schools, a source of both inspiration and exasperation as he moseys around corridors alone, introducing himself to students as 'Dr. D.'

There's no idle chitchat. Deasy fires questions about grades or graduation at students and enrolment or staffing at administrators.

He gets advice on managing an organization with a $6 billion budget and 65,000 employees from his executive coach, Kevin Sharer, the former chief executive of Amgen, the world's largest biotech company.

However, there was nothing to prepare him for the case of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to accusations of feeding students cookies smeared with his semen in 'tasting games.'

Deasy's removal of the school's staff resulted in protests by parents and a raft of union grievances. The teachers, who were warehoused at another location, may now return to the classroom at Miramonte or another school, Deasy said.

Deasy also ordered principals to pull teacher misconduct files from the past 40 years. Those files are under reviewed by a special panel to determine if further action is warranted. Some 500 previously unreported cases have been forwarded so far to the state teacher licensing commission.

Teachers union President Warren Fletcher lambasted the move as a hasty and counterproductive effort to deflect attention from managerial failures.

Fiscal issues loom as the district's greatest challenge. The district has lost $2.7 billion in state funding and laid off 12,000 employees over the past five years. For the upcoming school year, 4,300 employees lost their jobs, and the rest agreed to 10 furlough days, including five fewer school days, to close a $390 million shortfall.

'He got handed a pretty rough plate,' said Charles Kerchner, education professor at Claremont Graduate University. 'The whole district is sort of teetering financially.'

Deasy has formed a foundation, The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, to seek private donors.  'That a city this size and this wealthy does not invest more philanthropically in its public education, that, to me, has been pretty amazing,' he said.

Deasy hadn't planned to pursue an education career. The son of two Massachusetts teachers, he aimed to be a doctor but couldn't afford medical school. He wanted to get married so he became a science teacher and found his calling.

He quickly ascended the career ladder, serving as superintendent at school districts in Rhode Island, California and Maryland before taking a job with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he worked on policy issues, including teacher evaluations.

He jumped at the chance to go to LAUSD, a district that is 73 per cent Latino and 80 per cent low income. One of his motivations is working to offer privileges afforded him, a white male, to others. Pictures of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and a Barack Obama 'Hope' poster decorate his office.  'This is where it matters,' he said. 'Delivering opportunities to kids.'

On a recent visit to Esteban Torres High School in East Los Angeles, two seniors inform him they are the first in their families to graduate high school. Both said they plan to pursue criminal justice studies at community college.

A wide smile breaks out on Deasy's face as he congratulates them heartily. 'You see these men,' he said later. 'It's what keeps you going.'


Priced out of a degree: 15,000 young Brits give up on university dream as £9,000 fees hammer middle class

Thousands of middle-class pupils have been put off going to university by the increase in tuition fees to as much as £9,000 a year.  Demand for places this autumn has fallen most sharply among sixth-formers from middle and higher-income homes following the near-trebling of fees from £3,375.

Most fail to qualify for grants, bursaries or fee discounts and must take out the maximum available loan to cover fees and living costs.

Figures published yesterday by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reveal how 15,000 18-year-olds in England have been deterred by higher tuition fees.

The figures suggest they are deciding in greater numbers to bypass university and use their A-level results to look for jobs to avoid building up predicted £40,000 debts.

The number of UK university applicants has fallen 8.9 per cent – or 50,339 – following news that universities will impose higher charges this autumn. In England, with fees considerably higher than in other home nations, demand plunged 10 per cent.

Older students have deserted higher education in greatest numbers, with lesser falls among 18-year-old school leavers.

Analysis accompanying the figures reveals that the percentage of 18-year-olds applying from the poorest fifth of families in England has dipped slightly, from 19 per cent in 2011 to 18.8 per cent. These students’ families earn up to £15,000 before tax.

Among households earning up to £30,000, the proportion of applicants dropped 0.7 points to 26.5 per cent.

Demand dipped more sharply among  middle-income families earning between £30,000 and £50,000, falling 1.1 points to 32.8 per cent.

Among higher-earners, with household incomes of £50,000 to £75,000, the proportion of applicants dropped 2.1 points to 40.7 per cent.

And among the richest fifth of families in England, earning at least £75,000, demand slid 2.6 points to 53.7 per cent.

‘The application rates for young people from all backgrounds have fallen in 2012 with the largest declines for those from the most advantaged backgrounds,’ the report said.

Overall, one in 20 18-year-olds in England who would have been expected to apply to university this year has failed to do so.  In contrast, in the other UK nations where fee levels are unchanged on last year, application rates ‘continue on trend’.

The Mail reported yesterday how students from  middle-income families are expected to graduate with the most debt – £43,585 – according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. They are also less likely to be eligible for grants after the qualifying income level was reduced from £50,695 to £42,600.

UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: ‘This in-depth analysis of the 2012 applications data shows that, although there has been a reduction in application rates where tuition fees have increased, there has not been a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups.’

The UCAS analysis presents tentative evidence that sixth-formers are more likely to apply to the most prestigious universities following the reforms, and choose courses which bring higher estimated graduate salaries. Many arts courses saw a decline in popularity while the sciences held up well.

Universities Minister David Willetts said: ‘The proportion of English school leavers applying to university is the second highest on record and people are still applying. This will still be a competitive year as people continue to understand that university remains a good long-term investment for their future.’


Monday, July 09, 2012

Enforced conformity in class condemns boys to mediocrity

HENRY V is one of Shakespeare's most appealing characters. He was rambunctious when young and courageous when older. But suppose Henry went to an American school.

By about the third week of kindergarten, Henry's teacher would be sending notes home saying that Henry ''had another hard day today.'' By mid-year, there'd be sly little hints dropped that maybe Henry's parents should think about medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many of the other boys are on it, and they find school much easier.

By primary school, Henry would be lucky to get 20-minute snatches of recess. During one, he'd jump off the top of the jungle gym, and, by the time he hit the ground, the supervising teachers would be all over him for breaking the safety rules. He'd get in a serious wrestling match with his buddy Falstaff, and, by the time he got him in a headlock, there'd be suspensions all around. First, Henry would withdraw. He'd decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he'd just disengage. In kindergarten, he'd wonder why he just couldn't be good. By high school, he'd lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.

Then he'd rebel. If the official high school culture was uber-nurturing, he'd be uber-crude. If it valued co-operation and sensitivity, he'd devote his mental energies to violent video games and aggressive music. If university wanted him to be focused and tightly ambitious, he'd exile himself into a lewd and unsupervised laddie subculture. He'd have vague high ambitions but no realistic way to realise them. Day to day, he'd look completely adrift

This is roughly what's happening in schools across the Western world. The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don't fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

Far from all, but many of the people who don't fit in are boys. A decade or so ago, people started writing books and articles on the boy crisis. At the time, the evidence was disputable and some experts pushed back. Since then, the evidence that boys are falling behind has mounted. The case is closed. The numbers for boys get worse and worse. By year 12, male reading test scores are far below female test scores. Psychologist Michael Thompson said recently that year 11 boys are now writing at the same level as year 8 girls. Boys used to have an advantage in maths and science, but that gap is nearly gone. Boys are much more likely to have discipline problems. As far back as 2004 an education journal noted that boys accounted for nearly three-quarters of the D's and F's. Some colleges are lowering the admissions requirements just so they can admit a decent number of men. Even so, men make up just over 40 per cent of university students. Two million fewer men graduated from university over the past decade than women. The gap in graduate school is even higher.

Some of the decline in male performance may be genetic. The information age rewards people who mature early, who are verbally and socially sophisticated, who can control their impulses. Girls may, on average, do better at these things. After all, boys are falling behind not just in the US, but in all 35 member-nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can't pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he'll sit quietly at story time. If schools want to educate a fiercely rambunctious girl, they can't pretend they will successfully tame her by assigning some of those exquisitely sensitive Newbery award-winning novellas. Social engineering is not that easy.

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate co-operation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honour environmental virtues, but teachers who honour military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don't fit the ethos get left out.

Little Prince Hal has a lot going on inside. He's not the unfeeling, uncommunicative, testosterone-driven cretin of common boy stereotype. He's just inspired by a different honour code. He doesn't find much inspiration in school, but he should.


The British boy who was allowed to sit maths A-level papers TWENTY NINE times until he got enough marks to pass

A struggling teenager was allowed to take his maths A-level papers a staggering 29 times until he passed, it emerged today.

In a damning indictment of the resit culture, the student sat one paper for each of the six modules needed for the qualification.  He then went on take an astonishing 23 resits, an exam board chief revealed.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the exam board AQA, used the pupil as an extreme example of the retake culture surrounding A Levels, the Sunday Times reported.  He backs plans by exam regulator Ofqual to limit retakes to just one per paper as part of a huge shake up of A-level exams.

Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum last week he said 'resits have done serious damage' to the credibility of exam system, and refereed to the AQA pupil who finally gained the qualification in 2010.

Universities have added pressure to the proposals, where growing numbers of departments are refusing to accept results of resits  when offering places.

An analysis of last year's A-level results by AQA, one of the three main boards in England, has shown resits have boosted grade inflation.  Without the possibility of retakes, the proportion gaining A* or A grades would fall from 24.5 per cent to 19.6 per cent.  Those scoring B or above would have slipped from 50.3 per cent to 42.4 per cent.

Ofqual's proposals for new A-levels a tougher grading system and an end of january resits.  The AS-level could be scrapped entirely, marking a return to the two-year A Level.

The new A-levels would be phased in subject by subject over four years, with traditional disciplines likely to be prioritised. By 2018, all old-style  A-levels would be scrapped.


Australia: Blatant Leftist bias in national curriculum could damage our democracy

The draft shape of the national curriculum's "civics and citizenship" subject was released last month. It is blatantly ideological. It displays its progressive, left-of-centre politics like a billboard.

The national curriculum was announced by Julia Gillard in 2008 and is forecast to be implemented in Victoria and NSW sometime after next year. The curriculum authority is rolling out one subject at a time.

But from the start, the curriculum's politics were obvious. In its own words, it will create "a more ecologically and socially just world". The phrase "ecological justice" is rarely seen outside environment protests. Social justice is a more mainstream concept, but it's solidly of the left - it usually refers to "fixing" inequality by redistributing wealth.

Civics is a small subject in the curriculum, but a crucial one. The national curriculum wants to sculpt future citizens out of today's students. So the emphasis civics places on certain political ideas will echo through Australian life for decades. And when a group of academics tries to summarise the essential values of our liberal democracy, we should pay attention. After all, they hope to drill them into every child.

So what are our nation's values? According to the civics draft, they are "democracy, active citizenship, the rule of law, social justice and equality, respect for diversity, difference and lawful dissent, respect for human rights, stewardship of the environment, support for the common good, and acceptance of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship".

It's quite a list. Some of the values, such as democracy and the rule of law, we all should agree on. But most are skewed sharply to the left.

Where, for instance, is individual liberty? The curriculum describes Australia as a liberal democracy but doesn't seem comfortable with what that means: a limited government protecting the freedom for individuals to pursue their own lives.

Conservatives should be troubled "tradition" is absent. Our institutions are the inheritance of centuries of experiment and conflict. To respect tradition is to value those institutions. Yet tradition only pops up when the draft talks about multiculturalism. It's part of "intercultural understanding". In other words, we are merely to tolerate the traditions of others, not value our own.

And liberals should be appalled at the emphasis on "civic duty". The curriculum could have said that individuals and families living their own lives in their own way is virtuous in itself. After all, people who do things for others in a market economy contribute to society as much as the most passionate political activist.

But instead the civics subject will pound into children that they should work for international non-profit groups to pursue "the common good".

This may be uncontroversial to the left but it is political dynamite. Liberals are sceptical of the common good because throughout history it has been used to justify nationalism, oppression, militarism, intolerance and privilege. It's one of the reasons liberals support small government. But the common good has been tossed absent-mindedly into the civics draft, alongside that other vague and loaded concept, social justice.

It gets worse. The suggestion we have a duty to be "stewards" of the environment comes straight from green political philosophy. It reduces humans to mere trustees of nature. This directly conflicts with the liberal belief that the Earth's bounty can be used for the benefit of humanity.

Politics drenches the entire curriculum. Three "cross-curriculum priorities" infuse everything from history to maths. They are: sustainability, engagement with Asia, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Perhaps on first glance the priorities don't seem too political. But the history curriculum will offer perspectives on "the overuse of natural resources" and "the global energy crisis". The English curriculum will teach students how to "advocate … actions for sustainable futures". The ideology here is so flagrant teachers might as well just tell the kids who to vote for.

And imagine the priorities were, instead, material progress, the Australia-US alliance, and British culture. Progressives would line up to condemn the curriculum's reactionary politics. Remember the outrage over conservative bias in John Howard's citizenship test? And that was just for migrants. The curriculum is for every Australian child.

The irony is that this iteration of the national curriculum wasn't Labor's idea. The Howard government set the ball rolling. The Coalition was unhappy how terribly left-wing state curriculums were.

So people who are pleased with the curriculum as it stands should think how it could be when an Abbott government takes over. We may hear again the same dark warnings about ideologues taking over the education system that we heard during the Howard years.

In theory, teaching all students the virtues of liberal democracy is a good idea. But if educationalists can't do so without imposing their own political values, we may be no better off than where we started.


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Teachers’ Union Expelled from School District

The trouble with education in this country starts and ends with unions. They are out-of- touch museum relics, fitting for a day that used rotary presses to distribute the news, but wildly inappropriate for an age that‘s both wired and wireless.

Unions have prevented, and continue to prevent, much-needed reforms in education, public finance and government. They cultivate a sense of entitlement wholly out of order for the times, which call for more self-reliance and entrepreneurship.

Frankly, unions suck.  Really.  They suck the money out of our wallets; they suck productivity out of workers; and suck up all the leavings from the public trough.

Increasingly, the public has had it with the private country clubs known as “public” unions. 

So it should surprise no one that one county school district is fed up. And they have finally decided to boot their left-leaning union and try life and education in the 21st century. 

The Douglas County School District, a suburban community south of Denver, Colorado, has decided to part ways with their teachers’ union in the absence of progress on a new contract which expired June 30th, 2012.

“The Board of Education finds and declares that the Collective Bargaining Agreements between the District and the Unions,” said the district on July 3rd in its formal resolution dissolving the bonds between the union and the district, “which had been effective from July 1, 2011 through and including June 30, 2012, are now expired and of no legal effect whatsoever.”

The dissolution between the district and the union is unprecedented  and sources close to the union tell me that unions are pensively watching, worried that other districts around Colorado and the country could take the same action as Douglas County has.  We can only hope.   

The main issue between the district and the union was the union’s insistence on being the sole bargaining agents for the teachers. The district, in the interest of transparency, wanted other professional teacher associations to be able to appear at the bargaining table.

“Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy,” said Brenda Smith, local head of the AFL-CIO affiliated American Federation of Teachers according to Colorado Ed News. “It is order rather than chaos. It allows employees to select their representative freely, without coercion from the employer. It allows them to amplify their voice through collective action under our constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.”  Could we get a little more Orwellian please, Ms. Smith? 

From our friends at Colorado Peak Politics: “Let's get this straight -- allowing only one organization to represent all teachers is democracy, but allowing teachers multiple options for representation, including themselves, is a monopoly? Please tell us Brenda Smith wasn't previously a civics teacher.”  

But also at issue were years of venality, self-dealing and conflicts of interest routinely engaged in by the union and the school district.

In 2009 the district faced severe budget shortfalls, in part, because previous union contracts were fudged in order to make it appear that the pupil growth in the county was going to rise faster than could reasonably expected.

For the union, it was a win at the time the contract was approved because they could point to the out years of the contract while the union president got the district to agree to pay a portion of what was believed to be a six-figure union salary out of district funds, along with generous grants from the district to other union workers.

What the heck? They could always raise taxes to make up for the deception- which, of course, should have been known to the union at the time.

At the same time the administration was looking to try to increase taxes to make up their phony numbers in the budget. They also tried to gain approval to sell close to half a billion dollars in bonds to build new schools for non-existent children. And- remember this is a government service that’s “all about the kids”- they were awarding contracts to build new schools to a sitting board member on the advice of the district’s attorney.

Unions win; administration wins; board member wins; taxpayers lose; parents lose; teachers lose.  You know? The usual balanced equation when it comes to liberals and unions.

As a result, taxpayers staged a revolt in 2009 in Douglas County throwing out union-friendly board members and voting in a reform-minded slate of candidates.

And reform they have.  The district has worked on merit pay, a voucher program, finance transparency- along with making union negotiations open to the public. All of these initiatives have been opposed by the union.

And so now the union has found that the ringing in their ears is just the sound of a school bell ringing for the dismissal.

That bell?  It rings for thee, Ms. Smith.  And I told you so.

Let’s hope that other school districts start to do the same.


Far too many British Olympians went to public school (i.e. private schools), says PM as he calls for barriers to be broken down

He's pissing into the wind.  For a start, British public schools are far more likely to give their pupils a good exposure to sport than State schools are.  And practice makes perfect.

Secondly, the rich and their children tend to have better health and hence greater sporting potential.  Both their environment and  genetics favour public school pupils.

Only 7% of British children go to private schools but they dominate just about everything in Britain because they are just about the only ones who get a decent all-round education.

Sorry for the very British confusion here about "public" and "private" schools but it is all explained in the sidebar

Too many of Britain's Olympic athletes went to public schools, David Cameron said yesterday as he called for barriers to be broken so all children could achieve their sporting potential.

The Prime Minister claimed that fee-paying schools were producing 'more than their fair share' of medal winners while sport in state schools was being 'squeezed out' with rundown facilities and children lacking ambition.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, almost 40 per cent of Great Britain's medal winners had been privately educated – and that rose to 100 per cent of winners in equestrian events.

With about a third of the 2012 squad expected to have been educated privately, Mr Cameron lamented the numbers of top sportsmen from less well-off backgrounds.

He said: 'Sport can change lives. So why is it that in so many schools sport has been squeezed out and facilities run down?

'The result is that independent schools produce more than their fair share of medal winners and too many children think taking part in sport just isn't for them. We've got to change that.'

In a speech at Loughborough University yesterday, Mr Cameron, who went to Eton, one of the top fee-paying schools in the country, urged young people to look up to elite athletes such as runner Mo Farah and cyclist Victoria Pendleton who were both educated at state schools.

He added: 'Some of the barriers that hold young people back are in their minds: about imagined barriers of aspiration and confidence. The Olympics are a chance to break  them down.

'I'm not claiming one Olympics will turn every child into tomorrow's Mo Farah or Victoria Pendleton, but just look where our great athletes have come from.  Seb Coe started running with the Hallamshire Harriers. Amir Khan started boxing at Bury ABC.

'Sustaining the momentum of the Games means opening people's eyes to the possibility of sport.  'Getting young people to follow their heroes and take part at school and in their local clubs.'

His comments came after Education Secretary Michael Gove warned that a 'profoundly unequal' education system meant that private school pupils were dominating positions of wealth and power in Britain.


New Australian book: Educating your child: it’s not rocket science

 Kevin Donnelly is a  very experienced teacher and one of the voices of reason in Australian education.  He is a good antidote to Leftist fashions in that field.

I don't agree with him on all issues but if you want an alternative view to what your kid is probably getting at school, this book should be helpful.  Donnelly stresses that parents have a huge educative role too.  Some of his major recommendations:

*    Say ‘no’ to children and teach them respect and self-control

*   Always have dinner at the table and make sure TVs, computers, game boys, electronic readers and mobile phones are turned off (and no computers in the bedroom)

*   Surround children with myths, fables, legends, music, creative and practical arts

*   Let children take risks and give them the space to make mistakes

*   Give children a moral compass that will help them decide right from wrong

*    Respect teachers and support schools in educating your child

*   Understand that every child is different

*   Understand that you cannot live your child’s life

*   Realise that you are your child’s first teacher

*    Enjoy and love being a parent – there is nothing that will ever equal the experience

He gives his reasons for each of those ideas in his book.

You can get it here.  His website is here.

One area where I am less wary than Donnelly is in computer usage.  I allowed my son to play computer games to his heart's content.  But he is bright so always did well at school nonetheless and is now in Australia's premier university mathematics Dept. working on his Ph.D.  So a lot depends on the child.