Friday, August 10, 2012

For Unpaid College Loans, Feds Dock Social Security

More retirees are falling behind on student debt, and Uncle Sam is coming after their benefits

It's no secret that falling behind on student loan payments can squash a borrower's hopes of building savings, buying a home or even finding work. Now, thousands of retirees are learning that defaulting on student-debt can threaten something that used to be untouchable: their Social Security benefits.

According to government data, compiled by the Treasury Department at the request of, the federal government is withholding money from a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans. From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees' Social Security checks on those grounds. That's nearly double the pace of the department's enforcement in 2011; it's up from around 60,000 cases in all of 2007 and just 6 cases in 2000.

Tens of thousands of retirees have fallen behind on student loans--and the feds are coming after their Social Security benefits. SmartMoney's AnnaMaria Andriotis has details on Lunch Break.

The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15%. Assuming the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker of $1,234, that could mean a monthly haircut of almost $190. "This is going to catch an awful lot of people off guard and wreak havoc on their financial lives," says Sheryl Garrett, a financial planner in Eureka Springs, Ark.

Many of these retirees aren't even in hock for their own educations. Consumer advocates say that in the majority of the cases they've seen, the borrowers went into debt later in life to help defray education costs for their children or other dependents. Harold Grodberg, an elder law attorney in Bayonne, N.J., says he's worked with at least six clients in the past two years whose problems started with loans they signed up for to help pay for their grandchildren's tuition. Other attorneys say they're working with older borrowers who had signed up for the federal PLUS loan -- a loan for parents of undergraduates -- to cover tuition costs. Other retirees took out federal loans when they returned to college in midlife, and a few are carrying debt from their own undergraduate or graduate-school years. (No statistics track exactly how many of the defaulting loans fall into which category.

Most consumer advocates and attorneys who work with seniors in this predicament told that their clients were unwilling to speak on the record, because of shame or fear. But they all stress that stakes involved can become very high for older people on a budget. Deanne Loonin, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, says she's been working with an 83-year-old veteran whose Social Security benefits have been reduced for the past five years. The client fell behind on a federal loan that he signed up for in the '90s to help with his son's tuition costs; Loonin says the government's cuts have left the client without enough cash to pay for medications for heart problems and other ailments.

Roughly 2.2 million student-loan debtors were 60 and older during the first quarter of 2012, and nearly 10% of their loans were 90 days or more past due, up from 6% during the first quarter of 2005, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "It's really a unique problem we haven't had to face before, and it's only going to grow," says Robert Applebaum, founder of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit advocacy group in Staten Island, N.Y.


Technology and the world of educational possibilities

My first PhD-level course at the University of Arkansas was math for economic analysis. I entered the course with two degrees in elementary education, but the highest math course I had taken was college algebra for educators. As you can imagine, I was not prepared for the course.

I spent hours studying content that it was assumed an econ PhD student would already know and regularly received help from classmates. The most help, however, came from a former hedge fund analyst and professors at MIT. While I completed my math for economic analysis course, I also watched MIT lectures on linear algebra. I visited Khan Academy regularly to learn how to use the chain rule or product rule when finding derivatives. The videos were more effective in teaching me than my professor, because I could pause the videos, re-watch them, and practice as they played. I am sure the professor would have been quite frustrated if I demanded that he repeat what he said as much as I replayed those videos.

Recently, one of the founders of Coursera, a free online program that delivers free, high-quality college level courses to people around the world, gave a TED Talk on the ability of technology to reinvent how we deliver education (see also Salman Khan’s TED Talk).

High-quality education programs are increasingly being provided for free. There is a real opportunity for schools, especially K-12 schools, to see tremendous benefits from these programs. Imagine a high school student taking introduction to finance, while the student at the computer next to him or her takes Greek and Roman mythology. The technology is available, so what is stopping us from utilizing the power of technology to change how we educate students? Tradition and government regulation.


Tuition fee rise HAS turned thousands of middle class British students off going to university

No surprise to any economist

Thousands of middle-class pupils have been priced out of studying at top universities, according to an independent commission.

The most prestigious universities have seen a sharper drop in applications than less selective institutions following the controversial tripling of tuition fees.

Demand for places at the leading universities, which charge the highest fees, has fallen most sharply among teenagers from wealthier families, the panel found.

Most middle and higher-income students fail to qualify for grants, bursaries or fee discounts and take out a maximum loan to cover fees and living costs.

The commission, set up to monitor the impact of the £9,000-a-year maximum fees coming into effect this autumn, found early evidence that the fees hike is denting university aspirations.

In today’s report, it points out that the number of English applicants seeking university places this autumn has slumped by 37,000 from the 2010 level while demand in the other home nations, where fees are lower or non-existent, has remained buoyant.

The percentage of 18-year-olds from the poorest fifth of households – earning £15,000 a year or less – who applied to at least one of the 30 most selective English universities rose fractionally to eight per cent this year.

Among households earning up to £30,000, the percentage dipped only slightly from 12.9 per cent to 12.7 per cent.

Demand dipped more sharply among middle-income families earning between £30,000 and £50,0000, falling 0.5 points to 17.3 per cent.  Among higher earners, with household incomes of £50,000 to £75,000, the proportion of applicants dropped 1.1 points to 24 per cent.  And among the richest fifth of the country, earning £75,000 and above, demand slid from 38 per cent in 2010 to 37.1 per cent this year.

The report said that among 18- and 19-year-olds applying to the top universities, there are ‘larger relative declines from applicants in the most advantaged areas’.

Will Hutton, chairman of the commission, said the panel was ‘pleased to see that at this stage there has been no relative drop-off in applicants from less advantaged neighbourhoods’.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, representing 24 leading universities, said: ‘Prospective students know that in tough economic times a degree, especially one from a leading university, remains a smart investment.

‘We are especially pleased that .... the increase in fees has not had a disproportionate impact on application rates for prospective students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.’

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: ‘After next week’s A-level results the clearing process will start, and we remain concerned that applicants, particularly those from certain backgrounds, may not be in a position to choose whether and where to study.’

The Department for Business said: ‘The proportion of English school-leavers applying to university is the second highest on record and it’s still not too late to apply.’


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Silver lining in teacher shortage

Most states use teachers and school staff inefficiently. Since 1970, nationwide student enrollments have risen 8.5 percent, but teaching staff has increased more than 90 percent. Today, North Dakota averages one teacher for about every 12 students--a very low ratio.

The state doesn’t just need more teachers, but more excellent teachers. On average, children who have a teacher in the top 20 percent learn approximately three times as fast as children with one in the bottom 20 percent, according to a recent Public Impact report. Children two years behind their peers academically almost never catch up--unless they have an excellent teacher four years in a row, according to research by Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek. Better teachers mean better future earnings and likelihood for more fulfilling jobs.

Top teachers favor opportunities to advance and control their careers. Current school structures do not allow this. They should. State leaders should remember technology makes it possible for teachers to reach more students, saving taxpayer money and teacher housing scrambles. It’s an opportunity for the state to explore how to extend excellent teachers’ reach, so more children can get the best instruction possible. Starting now will put North Dakota in the national lead.

The report suggests several ways to do this. One is reducing teachers’ administrative work. Don’t have them grade or administer tests or fill out paperwork. Let a computer or aide do that. Another is letting one excellent teacher manage several classrooms staffed by junior teachers she can mentor along with their students. A third is letting star teachers reach more children in more locations by teaching online.

These options also will free money to attract these valuable employees with higher pay. One of the biggest reasons teacher pay cannot rise quickly is today’s teacher can teach only a similar number of students as a teacher 100 years ago. Other professionals have seen their pay rise because improving technology reduces the need for labor, making salaries in the smaller workforce go up because fewer people can do the same amount of work. This has not been true for education--until now.

Letting teachers work remotely part- or full-time also means they can live in areas with no housing shortage and lower living costs. This is an excellent potential benefit to localities beyond the oil boom. It multiplies value further by also allowing students to work remotely full- or part-time, meaning better taxpayer savings from less busing and cafeteria costs.

State leaders already have taken some unprecedented steps toward relieving the shortage. They have agreed teachers certified in other states count as certified in North Dakota and made it easier for qualified professionals to enter education. The state offers teacher loan forgiveness, and districts are working to secure housing.

Officials can do even more--innovative options abound. North Dakota could, like Alaska and New Hampshire, give parents funds and support to homeschool their children. As in Arizona, some or all of the state’s $9,000 per-pupil spending could be tied directly to children, depositing this into an account parents control and can split among various education options, allowing teachers, schools, and other providers to specialize and compete and families to mix and match options.

North Dakota occupies an enviable position among states, with little unemployment and increasing tax revenue. Now is the time to secure that position and lead the nation long-term.


Is Algebra Necessary?

An article from the NYT below.  The destruction of American education marches on

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I've found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn't.

My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators - and much of the public - take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong - unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I'm not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we're actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation's shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I've talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that "to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out." For those who stay in school, there are often "exit exams," almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below "proficient," along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.

California's two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of two-year schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take.

"There are students taking these courses three, four, five times," says Barbara Bonham of Appalachian State University. While some ultimately pass, she adds, "many drop out."

Another dropout statistic should cause equal chagrin. Of all who embark on higher education, only 58 percent end up with bachelor's degrees. The main impediment to graduation: freshman math. The City University of New York, where I have taught since 1971, found that 57 percent of its students didn't pass its mandated algebra course. The depressing conclusion of a faculty report: "failing math at all levels affects retention more than any other academic factor." A national sample of transcripts found mathematics had twice as many F's and D's compared as other subjects.

Nor will just passing grades suffice. Many colleges seek to raise their status by setting a high mathematics bar. Hence, they look for 700 on the math section of the SAT, a height attained in 2009 by only 9 percent of men and 4 percent of women. And it's not just Ivy League colleges that do this: at schools like Vanderbilt, Rice and Washington University in St. Louis, applicants had best be legacies or athletes if they have scored less than 700 on their math SATs.


British High Schools students  could miss out on top marks as exam boards 'fix' grades to stop year-on-year rise of pass rate

Pupils expecting GCSE or A-level results this summer could miss out on top grades after exam boards were told to fix pass rates and grades  to match last year.

The move, outlined in a policy document from the exams regulator Ofqual, is intended to halt year-on-year rises in exam success after the pass rate soared for the 29th year in a row last summer.

This comes after exam boards were heavily criticised for making errors in papers and handing out unfair grades, as 220,000 pupils battled for just 40,000 university places.

However, critics claim it could stop exam-takers from reaching the highest grade that they could have done in other years.

This is the first year in which 'comparable outcomes' will be used in both GCSEs and A-levels.

Results will be predicted based on previous cohorts and the past performance of the exam takers - so at A-level, GCSE grades will be taken into account, and at GCSE level, markers will look at pupils' results from SATs tests aged 11.

An Ofqual document said of the method: 'If we aim for comparable outcomes, roughly the same proportion of students will achieve each grade as in the previous year..... If necessary we will require exam boards to change their grade boundaries.'

Teachers have claimed the move is a return to 'norm referenced' A-levels,  in which a fixed 10 per cent of pupils would be awarded an A grade each year.

Since this was scrapped in 1987, the percentage of A grades has risen from 10 per cent to 27 per cent and the pass rate has gone up from 70 per cent to 97.8 per cent.

Exam boards received a record number of complaints last year, with 200,000 resubmitting their papers for remarking.

A-levels results will be released on 16 August this year, with GCSE results coming out on 23 August.

Nansi Ellis, head of education policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: 'If Ofqual is just ensuring consistency in exam standards with last year then that is good news.

'However, we would be concerned if any changes mean that students don’t get awarded the grades their hard work merits if the grades have been set so that a fixed percentage of students are awarded A*s and As.'

But Ofqual's chief executive Glenys Stacey insists genuine improvements in teaching and learning standards will still be recognised.

The policy of 'comparable outcomes' was in fact introduced at A-level last year and was one of the reasons A* grades only rose from 8.6 per cent to 8.7 per cent.

Headteachers have warned it will make it impossible to deliver on Education Secretary Michael Gove's demand schools increase the percentage of A* to C grade passes at GCSE in maths and English.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: 'We are determined to raise standards across the board. It is vital that all pupils get the grades their work deserves.

'Ministers have been clear that it is only fair to every hard-working young person that there is no grade inflation or dumbing down in the exams system.'


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Malignant British Leftist accuses others of malignancy

That he and his ilk have destroyed government schooling by their woolly-headed and unproven educational theories and  their virtual abolition of discipline he does not confront. 

And I KNOW what they have destroyed.  In my youth I went to a government school where corporal punishment for infractions was routine and I got as good an education as one could want.  I have the most positive memories of my schooling, unlike the unfortunate children of the egotistical Jonathan Miller

At school in a small Australian country town I learnt Schubert Lieder, translated poetry by Goethe, was introduced to Bach, Smetana and the Greats of English literature (I still spout Chaucer at the slightest opportunity), learnt enough physics to identify global warming immediately as absolute hokum, still remember some chemical formulae and acquired a degree of familiarity with Latin that is still useful.  And although my mathematics has always been weak, I did end up teaching statistics at a major Australian university.  What more could I have gotten from school?  Others undoubtedly got less from the same school but it was all readily there for those who wanted it.

And the school was even multicultural.  There were people from all over Europe there.  I was taught German by a Ukrainian!

Socialist Sir Jonathan Miller has admitted being 'ashamed' that he is supporting his grandchildren through private school.

In a war of words with his own son William, the renowned theatre director said the decision was made to ensure they got a good education.

Sir Jonathan added he was furious about 'belonging to a society which makes such as sharp distinction' between Britain's rich and poor.

There was 'something deeply malignant about a structure which makes it necessary to make these invidious choices,' he said.

He sent his own children to state schools but his son William called the decision a 'cavalier social experiment'.

William has sent his own children into private education, which Sir Jonathan says he is contributing towards.

'I do give them a little bit just to ensure there is some sort of security, but I feel rather ashamed of it and I feel ashamed of belonging to a society which makes such a sharp distinction between the prosperous and the assured, whose future is guaranteed, and those who are not,' Sir Jonathan told the Sunday Times this week.

'It all ought to be state education. It’s part and parcel of this profound and malignant separation of the prosperous from the poor.

'People who have huge amounts of can afford to wrap their children in all sorts of protective educational devices which guarantee that they will become like their parents.'

William Miller claims that he and his two siblings would have fared better had they been sent to public schools and Oxbridge, like their parents, but instead they were sent to state schools to appease the couple's socialist principles

'It turned out to be a cavalier social experiment that saw all three of his children fail to gain a single qualification. He is right to feel guilty: it was a wholly avoidable disaster,' he wrote in 2009.

Miller grew up near London's Regent's Park where his parents' neighbours were intellectuals including Alan Bennett, George Melly, Shirley Conran and AJ Ayer. He started school at Primrose Hill state primary in 1969 and went on to Pimlico comprehensive in 1975.

He says: 'If you were to ask me what I remember about learning, I think I could just about recall that the Romans long baths and hated the Scots.'

But Sir Jonathan himself went to the prestigious St Paul's School in London and then on to Cambridge University.

'One wants to have freedom of choice – it is a very important thing – but there is something deeply malignant about a structure which makes it necessary to make these invidious choices to guarantee your children are enveloped in protected devices,' he said.


Toward a More Inclusive Sexuality

Having read the course listings for several departments of Women’s Studies at places that were once universities, such as Dartmouth, I am considering becoming a deep-sea squid. Many considerations recommend this course. Squids are more dignified than people. They make less noise. Universities run by squids do not have Departments of Lesbian, Gay, Cross-gendered, Transmogrified, Transvestite, and Deeply Puzzled Squid Studies. Lady squids are less infuriated than human females in such courses, and frequently better-looking.  Departmental offerings of fascinating import abound:

WMST488R Senior Seminar: Queering the Global South (D)


WMST698D Special Topics in Women’s Studies: The History of Drag.  C. Schuler

I can’t imagine anything more appropriate to a college education than the history of drag. Perhaps there is a chapter on Elizabethan Englishmen, who wore brightly colored pantyhose and swords. Where I come from in West Virginia, any man who wore panty hose would need a sword, so maybe it made sense.  I am not sure how one queers the global south, but I believe I will move north and, just in case, get a Kevlar codpiece.

There was a time, long, long ago, in another universe, when universities were not chiefly comic. We have evolved. Today you can pay fifty thousand withering dollars a year to let your daughter be an extra in Saturday Night Live at, say, Yale, solemnly studying erotic peculiarities. The appeal is multi-faceted. A major in Women’s Studies (or would it be a majorette?) would simultaneously satisfy the teenager’s natural prurience, allow her a pleasant sense of advanced moral superiority, and permit her to avoid any danger of an education.

A tone of aggressive smugness pervades these not-very-scholarly hives, and a whine of misandry like the sound of a dentist’s drill in an adjoining room. Many have noticed that immaturity in today’s society lasts years longer than it did when the young had to work and raise families. This, plus the control of universities by the students, has allowed the coagulation of adolescent consciousness into whole departments. In these academic sandboxes the idea of critical thought seems to have died, equipping students with the self-awareness than one would expect of a peanut-butter sandwich. A department of militant sexism warring against sexism would be an embarrassment to more-logical beings, such as, I suspect,  any other beings.

There is in such courses much nattering about Women of Color. The inmates of these refuges from adulthood apparently regard themselves as being at one with oppressed women of the Third World, which in all likelihood they have never seen one of. If they had any idea of what an actual Nicaraguan woman thinks of pampered brattesses lolling about a pseudo-educational theme park paid for by their fathers, they would hide under their beds.

However, I subscribe to the Californian principle that if a thing is not worth doing, it is worth doing to outrageous excess. After exposing myself to an afternoon of such course descriptions, I decided that I would get into the spirit of the thing, that perhaps I was being retrograde in not having a sufficient respect for cross-gendered, bicephalous, transalpine, trisexual people of pigment. I decided that maybe the dyspeptic children of Dartmouth and worse had a point. Maybe we should study aberrant, non-traditional sexualities. I’m not sure why, but these days the question appears not to be important.

It seemed reasonable that bestiality should be our next front in the ongoing battle for sexual liberation. While our Victorian and Puritan inhibitions have driven this form of love into the shadows of fear and repression, history shows that it has had a vibrant existence in more-tolerant societies of the past. Among the ancients there were Europa and the white bull, and Leda and the swan. More recently we have had the Lone Ranger and Silver, and Bill and Hillary. Many clandestine amors have been reported of shepherds in the lonely moors of the Scottish Highlands. (It is reported that Scotsmen wear kilts because sheep can hear zippers, but this may be slander.) Taxonomic miscegenation is thus seen to have a lengthy lineage. It merits exploration.

In furtherance of this idea I tossed together a few collegiate courses that seemed to me a good beginning at legitimizing trans-species relations. Proposed offerings:

Introduction to Bestiality. This marginalized sexuality will be considered in the light of historical intolerance, oppression, and the liberation struggle. Basic concepts to be explored:  The sheep as social construct. Countering institutional humano-centrism. The eroticism of the orangutan in the cultural context of the rain forest. The Bolivian anteater, insertor or insertee? A Latina perspective on the donkey and the Tijuanan folk tradition. Laboratory twice weekly, covering practical techniques to include stepladders and the camel, and positioning the iguana.

Managing Cross-Phylum Relationships, with interdisciplinary emphasis on the Cephalopod. The role of tentacles. Animals of Color, centering on the cockatoo.

The Concept of Species: Socially Constructed or Injection Molded? The course will consider this complex subject from perspectives of sociology, gender struggle, and plasma physics. Accommodating differing reproductive sexualities: Budding vs. the egg strategy. Instructor: Señora Rosalita  Consolador y Alicates

Bestiality and the Law. Barking and the principle of informed consent. Recent Supreme Court decisions. Date rape: When “Moo” means “No.”  Negotiating with parents: the danger of trampling.

In my paroxysms of liberational afflatus it occurred to me that a truly inclusive sexuality would have to embody necrophilia, which suffers today from grave discrimination. It seems unmodern to bar people from the consolations of love merely because they are dead. Cannibalism being nothing but culinary necrophilia it seemed reasonable to combine the two. As the reader can see, I’m nothing if not reasonable.

NECCAN 202 Snuff: The Problem of Finding a Lasting Relationship. Techniques for digging up a date on short notice.

NECCAN 402 Fattening prisoners. Soy substitutes in time of peace. Sausages, gravies, and organ meats. The problem of deserts. Kosher. When baby dies.  Road kill. Cannable vs. bottleable.

Enough. Much as I want to contribute to social advance, I believe I will stick with becoming a squid. It will be less embarrassing.


Australia: Queensland Teachers' Union rejects flaw claims in assessments

QUEENSLAND'S senior student assessment system is open to rorting, is prejudicial towards well resourced schools and creates unrealistic student and teacher workloads, a group of teachers claim.

But academics and the Queensland Teachers' Union say the system, set to be reviewed by the State Government, is world class.

The heated and long-running debate hit a new high last week with the Queensland Studies Authority releasing a defence on its website to teachers' claims.

"The QSA welcomes feedback from the education and wider communities ... However, it is vital that debate and discussion about curriculum and assessment is based on factual information," the QSA website states, before addressing 11 "issues".

The Courier-Mail has heard from about a dozen of more than 100 teachers who met recently to step up claims against Queensland's externally moderated school-based assessment system.

Represented by James Cook University academic Professor Peter Ridd, the teachers dismissed views of Stanford University's Linda Darling-Hammond and Australian College of Educators chair Professor Robert Lingard that Queensland's system inspired higher-order thinking skills among students and was world class.

However, the teachers say the system is open to rorting, with better resourced schools able to facilitate continuous student drafts until written pieces were effectively done by the teacher. They also claim teachers are more likely to teach to the test because they are writing them and can more easily manipulate marks.

The teachers are calling for more external exams, for some maths and science assessments to have a lesser workload and to be allowed to use numerical marks rather than "confusing" criteria.

Prof Ridd said academics who thought the system was world class lived "in fairyland".

"It is the overuse of writing, it is the overuse of assignments which is one of the biggest problems," he said.

A QSA spokeswoman said elite schools and those in disadvantaged areas had similar student result curves, proving there was no bias, and while any system had a potential for rorting, no evidence had been offered.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Successful School Curriculum Under Attack

 Ken Blackwell

As a longtime school choice advocate, I am always in favor of giving parents the tools they need to ensure their children receive a high quality education, which is necessary to compete in today's global marketplace. And as a visiting professor of law at Liberty University and former associate professor at Xavier University, I know how a rigorous education is critical for students to be prepared to get the most value out of their time at college.

Therefore, I am disturbed by a recent development in states such as Idaho, where members of the school board are questioning the worth of this program despite its value to students. Or in New Hampshire, where fringe activists claiming to be members of the Tea Party are supporting bills to shut down a rigorous education program. You may be familiar with schools which have advanced placement (AP) classes, where students are given the opportunity to take accelerated classes. The program in question, International Baccalaureate (IB), was started in 1968 and is even more rigorous. Offered in 1,311 primary and secondary American schools, IB has a track record of helping shape young minds into accomplished life-long learners and ethical leaders. And for poor minority students in rough neighborhoods such as Chicago, IB has been a ticket for many motivated students out of dependency and poverty.

IB is accepted by more than 1000 U.S. universities- such as MIT, John Hopkins, and the Naval and Air Force academies- as an exemplary mark of academic achievement. Some universities automatically enroll high school students who finish the IB Diploma Program. And hundreds of universities offer college credit for IB classes, which saves students time and money.

In addition, according to a recent study by the Stanford Research Institute, not only are IB students much more likely than other students to attend a selective college, most (81%) finish their program within 6 years. That is compared to the national average of 57%, which has been a strain on taxpayers and has added to our current student loan default crisis.

So, what is the objection to IB? Because the program is available across the globe, encourages students to learn a second language, and teaches students about other cultures, it appears that the conspiratorial-right is claiming the program is part of a plot to erode American sovereignty through the United Nations and create a one-world, socialist government.

It is a shame William F. Buckley is not alive today because he spent a lifetime building a respectable and electorally-successful conservative movement, while rejecting kooks from organizations such as the John Birch Society. Our movement needs to be concerned about actual threats to our sovereignty, such as unelected judges who cite international law in their decisions or inappropriate treaties such as the Law of the Sea. No one can fill WFB's shoes, but I am here to insist that an intense and vigorous education to prepare students for a global world is a good thing! To claim otherwise makes self-labeled conservatives sound anti-intellectual, paranoid, and detached from legitimate political discourse.

As Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said while visiting an elementary school with a successful IB program, "I think the one-size-fits-all (model) coming out of Washington is not the way to go. I think we need to empower innovative, creative, talented principals and teachers to do their jobs and let the success come." Programs such as No Child Left Behind and the elimination of voucher programs are examples of how busybody bureaucrats inflict permanent damage on entire generations of students.

We were each endowed with abilities from the Almighty. And education policy must free up local communities to offer programs to allow students to maximize their God-given potential. School choice, parental control, and a vigorous, classical education are at the heart of conservative philosophy.


Hypocrisy of the rich British liberals who buy their way out of the schools calamity their dogma created

Sometimes, a spotlight shone harshly into one private life can starkly illuminate a calamity for an entire society.

It was reported yesterday that Sir Jonathan Miller, the theatre and opera director, playwright, neurologist, polymath and icon of the Leftist intelligentsia, is helping pay for at least some of his grandchildren to attend independent schools.

This is all the more notable since Sir Jonathan's profound aversion to private education is well known. In accordance with his principles, in the Seventies he sent his own children to Pimlico comprehensive school in Central London.

Some years ago, however, his son William revealed his fury at having been forced to endure an education that he said had blighted the lives of himself and his siblings, all to conform to their parents' political beliefs.

In a newspaper interview he revealed the bullying and poor education that he had endured at Pimlico school, calling the experience a 'wholly avoidable disaster' arising from a 'mistaken ideology'.

Eventually, Sir Jonathan and his wife relented and sent William to the fee-paying Bedales school in Hampshire.

Now William says that he and his wife have decided to educate their primary school-age children privately to ensure that they, too, do not become - as he has characterised himself and his siblings - the 'victims of the most cavalier of social experiments'. And his father is helping foot the bill.

Of course, it is not just the Millers but hundreds of thousands of other children who, for several decades now, have been forced to pay a devastating price for this 'cavalier' experiment.

They were the victims of their parents' ideological fixation with abolishing privilege - a fixation expressed by refusing to give their children the educational advantages that all too often they themselves had enjoyed.

Sir Jonathan, for example, was educated at St Paul's, one of Britain's top public schools. Like a number of other ex-public school pupils, however, he turned venomously against the education system that had provided such advantages.

Whether as the result of personal guilt or socialist ideology, such people decided that selective schools discriminated against both poor and less academically-able children.

So through an utterly misplaced idealism, they resolved that if everyone could  not benefit from such schools, then  no one should.  Accordingly, the principle of equality of opportunity that lay behind selective education - including that provided in the state system by the grammar schools - was replaced by the doctrine of equality  of outcomes.

The result was a disastrous confluence of comprehensive schooling with child-centred educational theories, which in the interests of eradicating both 'illegitimate' adult authority over children and equally 'illegitimate' differences in achievement, simply undid the very concept of education altogether. The result was countless numbers of children abandoned to ignorance and under-achievement, with middle-class ones such as William Miller bullied at their comprehensives - and with those at the very bottom of the social heap, who depended most of all upon school, left locked into disadvantage.

This was because the aim of this experiment had nothing to do with education and instead everything to do with social engineering - to create a society without privilege. But this aim was always unattainable.

The result was that education was now geared to the lowest common denominator, producing a catastrophic decline in standards from top to bottom of the system.

The damage done by this experiment has been incalculable. The further irony is that it actually increased the numbers going to independent schools. 

To avoid the poor standards of education and discipline at so many comprehensives, more and more desperate parents proceeded to impoverish themselves to educate their children privately - just to give them the kind of education they once would have received at the grammar schools.

Yet even now, Sir Jonathan Miller appears to have not an iota of insight into the disaster to which he subscribed. Indeed, his hatred of independent schools remains as strong as ever - even while he pays towards his grandchildren's education.

Obviously, he is reported to have said, he wanted to secure his grandchildren's safety and future. Nevertheless, he felt ashamed of doing so, and of belonging to a society which created a 'profound and malignant separation of the prosperous from the poor'.

And he went on to rail at the 'protective educational devices' of independent schooling provided by 'prosperity and big money' which guaranteed that such pupils would 'become like their parents'.

It is obvious to Sir Jonathan that he should look after his grandchildren's interests by helping fund their private education. How extraordinary that he thinks this is, nevertheless, 'malign' and 'invidious'.

This seems to be because he thinks that parents' motivation for educating their children privately is to turn them into clones of themselves.  But this is not what drives such parents at all. They merely want their children to have a good education so that they can make the best of themselves in life. Isn't that what the vast majority of parents want?

So why does Sir Jonathan assume independent school parents have less noble objectives? It must be because he believes that the better-off are wholly driven by self-interest, whereas the poor are not.  This is as absurd as it is offensive. It's also more than a bit rich coming from Sir Jonathan who is himself?.?.?. well, rich.

So does he think, therefore, that he himself is motivated only by self-interest? Plainly not, when he was prepared to sacrifice the interests of his own children supposedly to further those of the poor. So why does he damn independent school parents as an apparently obnoxious breed apart?

One thing he does say, which is correct, is that the gulf in education between rich and poor is even wider now than it was when he chose comprehensive schools for his children.

But what he utterly fails to acknowledge is that the cause of this widening gap is the very doctrine of educational equality that he supported. That doctrine was swung like a wrecking ball at the very foundation of British society.

It is no coincidence that, back in the Sixties, Sir Jonathan Miller was also a founding member of the seminal Beyond The Fringe satirical troupe, whose anti-establishment views started to unravel the skein of Britain's entire moral framework.

But then, those from the Left can never admit they can be wrong - because they assume that they embody virtue itself.  Accordingly, they demonise and sneer at all who dare disagree. Pinning their faith on utopian fantasies, they tend to regard theoretical ideas as having more substance than what's going on under their noses.

Sir Jonathan has previously expressed disappointment that his children seemed indifferent to his work. None of them, he complained, identified with or took pleasure from the world in which ideas and the life of the mind took priority.

But the life of the mind surely should not take priority over life in the actual world. To allow it to do so is to lose sight of reality altogether - which is surely the whole problem with the Left-wing intelligentsia.

In the past, Sir Jonathan has also expressed deep regret, and even shame, that he chose the theatre over being a neurologist, which he said he felt he was 'meant to do'.

Sometimes, parents unwittingly force their children to pay a price for the parents' own resentments. How sad if Sir Jonathan's difficulties played a part in creating  such bitterness and disappointment in  his family.

But how sad also for Britain that such a brilliant mind became so twisted by socially destructive dogma, when it could have been used to contribute immeasurably to helping the most vulnerable instead of knocking the ground from under their feet.


Australia: Olympic boss calls for more sport in schools

With Australia trailing Kazakhstan, you can see why

AUSTRALIA'S Olympic boss John Coates believes there needs to be a greater emphasis on sport in schools in the hope of finding the next Cathy Freeman or Ian Thorpe.

The Australian team so far has failed to live up to Coates' expectations of a top-five finish at the London Games, languishing at 24 on the medals tally after the first week of competition.

The Australian Olympic Committee president says before the next Olympics in 2016 Australia needs to "talent-build" by making sport a focus in schools.

He has called on the federal government to consider changing its policy and funding to give priority to school sports.

"Perhaps the area that needs a lot of attention - and if not, funding and government intention in terms of policy - is getting sport back into the school curricula," Coates told the ABC on Monday.

The British were making "a big thing" of that being one of the legacies they're looking towards, he said.

"They've been achieving that, a greater emphasis on sport in the schools."

Some children would benefit from the health and fitness, but the next Freeman or Thorpe may also be discovered, Coates said.

Federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy is happy with the level of sports participation in schools.

"What we're seeing over at the Olympics at the moment is that we're coming so close so many times ... and it's just not going our way," she told ABC radio.

"But we're still way up there with the best of the best in the world in sport."

Senator Lundy said it was important to continue to innovate to keep sports programs strong.

"Australia's great strength is we've always punched above our weight in sport and we need to be smarter about how we use our resources to stay right up there," she said.


Monday, August 06, 2012

The bottomless pit of teachers' union demands

Union apologists fail to quantify their “fully funded education” demand.

Teachers unions and their apologists constantly talk about the pressing need for a “fully funded” education system. We at have yet to see anyone actually quantify that argument and clearly define what “fully funded” means.

In 2006, New Jersey school districts spent an average of $14,630 per student while the national average was around $9,138. Does that mean New Jersey’s system is “fully funded”? Considering the fact that the statewide graduation rate is 83 percent, it seems the Garden State’s government education system has some problems to address. Of course the educrats would reflexively say New Jersey schools need even more money to get the job done.

Such is the case in Chicago. There, a union shill group, the “Chicago Teacher Solidarity Committee,” has been circulating a pledge form to gather names and contact information for union sympathizers who buy into the “money equals quality education” argument.

The language on the that the CTSC was “first proposed by the Occupy Chicago Labor Outreach,” responded to my email:

“It's difficult to quantify ‘fully compensated’ and ‘fully funded’ because there are a lot of variables in play - work hours, class size, curriculum quality, job security, etc. We are advocating that the budget and salary negotiations be considered with all of those things as priorities, rather than with charter schools and standardized testing and other private profit making endeavors as priorities.”
She then referred us to a document on the Chicago Teachers Union website.

So, in fact, she was really saying, “I don’t know, it’s not on my sheet of talking points, go ask the union.”

It’s obvious there is no amount of money that will fix the problems of government education. If there was, the problems would have been fixed long ago. The United States is among the world leaders in public school investment, and the returns have been disappointing for decades.

But citizens still fall into the trap of wanting a “fully funded” education system, whatever that means.

And “fully compensated” teachers? We think that’s already been accomplished in Chicago.

CBS2 reports the average Chicago teacher salary is $76,000 a year, and that doesn’t include benefits. The school district said that made Chicago’s teachers the highest paid in any city in the nation. The CTU disputed that, saying they’re just the second highest – behind New York City. Big whoop.

But who cares about comparing teachers to teachers? How about comparing them to private sector employees, who work 12 months a year, compared to nine months in a typical government school. The median household income in Chicago is $50,897, according to

It seems as though Chicago’s teachers have it pretty good – likely better than Stavroula Harissis. So what exactly is a “fully compensated” teacher? One with a bigger pension and lower deductibles and co-pays for health insurance? Bigger sick leave payouts? Who knows?

But the talking points are working like a charm, especially with average citizens and an overly-compliant Chicago media that never presses the CTU and its allies to back up their absurd claims.


Shake up sport so more state pupils can win: Olympics chief blasts 'unacceptably' high number of privately educated Team GB medallists

They could start by DOING more sport in Comprehensive schools.  Many of them do very little

The high proportion of privately-educated Team GB medallists is 'unacceptable', the chairman of the British Olympic Association said yesterday.

Just 7 per cent of the population go to independent schools - but more than half of Britain's golds in the 2008 Beijing Games were won by former private school pupils.

So far, Team GB has nine gold medallists in the 2012 Games. Four were privately educated, and a fifth went to school in Germany.

BOA chief Lord Moynihan, himself a former public schoolboy, called for an overhaul of school sport policy to provide more chances for state pupils.  'It's one of the worst statistics in British sport,' he claimed.  'It is wholly unacceptable that over 50 per cent of our medallists in Beijing came from the private sector.

'It tells you that 50 per cent of the medals came from 7 per cent of the population. 'There is so much talent out there in the 93 per cent that should be identified and developed. That has got to be a priority for future sports policy.  'I have spoken about it many times and I will continue to speak about it until there is not breath left in me.'

The Conservative peer continued: 'The balance of professional football is that around 7 per cent of players come from the private sector, which is an absolute mirror image of society.

'That should be the case in every single sport, and that should be the priority in each and every sport, and that is something that every government should strive for.'

At the previous Olympics, a third of Team GB went to independent schools.  They included multiple gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy, who attended George Watson's College in Edinburgh, and every equestrian medallist.

Non-state schools can afford to devote more time to sport. They usually have better facilities and often boast top-class coaches.

The discrepancy is especially noticeable in sports whose basic entry costs are high, such as equestrian events and sailing.

Rowing has already taken action to address the imbalance, with Mo Sbihi, who won bronze in the men's eight on Wednesday, among the beneficiaries.  The Start programme, launched more than a decade ago, has encouraged rowing coaches to visit comprehensive schools and scout teenagers with the necessary physique to become elite rowers. As a result, half of Team GB's rowers at the London Games are from state schools.

When asked if too many medals were being won by former public school pupils, David Cameron said: 'We need to spend on state school sport and we are spending a billion pounds over the next five years.

'We need to make sure people have those opportunities. Frankly, one of the best things will be the Olympics and the legacy and the inspiration for young people to take part.'

Tory MP Charlotte Leslie  said the statistics were 'really, really worrying'.  She told BBC Radio 4's PM  programme that state schools were often reluctant to promote competition.

'There's a massive problem with sports and facilities in our schools, but it's also a much deeper problem,' she said.  'I wonder if it's a problem to do with culture. The reason the private sector does well in education is that it's very unapologetic about competition - there are winners and there are losers - and this is certainly not the case for all state schools.'


Australia:  Back to school for Queensland teachers who get Ds

UNDER-PERFORMING teachers will be identified and given extra training and development under a new national framework signed off by Education Ministers yesterday.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework, which entitles teachers to annual performance reviews, would be rolled out in Queensland schools from next year.

While Queensland teachers currently undergo performance reviews, not all schools carry them out annually.

"For the first time, teachers will be entitled to a yearly review of their progress, and will receive ongoing support and training throughout their career to help them become even better teachers," Mr Garrett said.

"Once implemented, the new agreement signed off today means that schools will offer their teachers feedback on their performance, based on evidence including classroom observation, parental and student feedback and student results.

"Teachers will have to set goals for the year and will be helped to reach their goals. Those who are found to be under-performing or who need extra support will be given access to more training and development opportunities."

The new framework will assess teachers against the National Professional Standards for Teachers developed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).

Under the standards teachers will be able to apply to become a highly accomplished or lead teacher and receive a one-off bonus in 2014, based on their status in 2013.

Ministers also endorsed the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

AITSL chair Anthony Mackay said the endorsement reinforced that developing teachers was the best way to improve student learning.

Education Ministers also agreed to continue working on improving the regulation and oversight of non-Government schools to ensure public funds are spent appropriately and a national curriculum for the National Trade Cadetships scheme Years 11 and 12.


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Liberal profs admit they'd discriminate against conservatives in hiring, advancement

'Impossible lack of diversity' reflects ideological intimidation on campus

It's not every day that left-leaning academics admit that they would discriminate against a minority.

But that was what they did in a peer-reviewed study of political diversity in the field of social psychology, which will be published in the September edition of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers, based at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, surveyed a roughly representative sample of academics and scholars in social psychology and found that "In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues."

This finding surprised the researchers. The survey questions "were so blatant that I thought we'd get a much lower rate of agreement," Mr. Inbar said. "Usually you have to be pretty tricky to get people to say they'd discriminate against minorities."

One question, according to the researchers, "asked whether, in choosing between two equally qualified job candidates for one job opening, they would be inclined to vote for the more liberal candidate (i.e., over the conservative)."

More than a third of the respondents said they would discriminate against the conservative candidate. One respondent wrote in that if department members "could figure out who was a conservative, they would be sure not to hire them."

Mr. Inbar, who volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008, cautions that the finding reflects only what respondents said they would do - not necessarily what they actually would do in real life.

Generally speaking, the more liberal the respondent, the more willingness to discriminate and, paradoxically, the higher the assumption that conservatives do not face a hostile climate in the academy.

To Massimo Pigliucci, chairman of the philosophy department at the City University of New York-Lehman College, the problem is not that conservatives face discrimination; it's that any hint of political bias, whether conservative or liberal, necessarily flouts the standards of objectivity to which scholarship must adhere.

"It is to be expected that people would reject papers and grant proposals that smacked of clear ideological bias," he says. Mr. Inbar and Mr. Lammers, he says, should have examined the extent of bias against liberal-leaning papers and grant proposals. If the degree of bias against liberals and conservatives is similar, maybe the data on discrimination against conservatives would not be so alarming after all.

But Harvey Mansfield, a conservative professor of government at Harvard University, argues that the anti-conservative bias is real and pronounced. He says conservatism is "just not a respectable position to hold" in the academy, where Republicans are caricatured as Fox News enthusiasts who listen to Rush Limbaugh.

Beyond that, conservatives represent a distinct minority on college and university campuses. A 2007 report by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons found that 80 percent of psychology professors at elite and non-elite universities are Democrats. Other studies reveal that 5 percent to 7 percent of faculty openly identify as Republicans. By contrast, about 20 percent of the general population are liberal and 40 percent are conservative.

Mr. Inbar and Mr. Lammers found that conservatives fear that revealing their political identity will have negative consequences. This is why New York University-based psychologist Jonathan Haidt, a self-described centrist, has compared the experience of being a conservative graduate student to being a closeted gay student in the 1980s.

In 2011, Mr. Haidt addressed this very issue at a meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology - the same group that Mr. Inbar and Mr. Lammer surveyed. Mr. Haidt's talk, "The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology," caused a stir.

The professor, whose new book "The Righteous Mind" examines the moral roots of our political positions, asked the nearly 1,000 academics and students in the room to raise their hands if they were liberals. Nearly 80 percent of the hands went up. When he asked whether there were any conservatives in the house, just three hands - 0.3 percent - went up.

This is "a statistically impossible lack of diversity," Mr. Haidt said.


Education: No Longer a Panacea for Blacks

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted a particular segment of the nation's struggling unemployed. That is in itself is not surprising. After all, black unemployment exceeds the unemployment level for handicapped people and many other challenged groups within our nation. The group that the Post profiled was people with Ph.D.s in the sciences. An increasing number of chemists, biologists and other scientists who have invested heavily in their education are finding themselves jobless. Of those who are employed, thousands are doing lower-wage "post-doc" work in laboratories, as opposed to heading up research projects or teaching in universities.

I have always believed that education is one of the vital keys to upward mobility and overcoming poverty. Ph.D. unemployment however, is a startling fact for African Americans who have been taught that education is the great racial equalizer. They have been encouraged to sell or sacrifice almost anything to achieve the highest levels of education. The Washington Post, however, shows us that the most sought-after Ph.D.s may not be the great career makers. Those who are advising today's students often imply that a college or graduate degree is some sort of financial guarantee. The Post article noted the loud clamoring by groups like the National Science Foundation and the current administration for more American students to pursue advanced degrees in the sciences.

These groups fail to mention that highly-trained students may not find jobs in their field when they finish their degrees.

I'll never forget a discussion I had with my father at the ripe old age of 12 years. He told me that he was not going to give me a traditional inheritance. He informed me that there would be no money left. Instead, he would give me my inheritance now. My inheritance would be in the form of him financing my entire education as far as I chose to go. The only thing that he asked in return was that I would commit myself to being the best I could be at whatever career path I chose. I thank God for his wisdom and because of his guidance I excelled in a private high school, a private college and in Ivy League graduate school. I will never forget that somebody had to pay for my schooling and I will never forgot that Dad had to work very hard to pay it off.

Students from wealthy or upper-middle class families may find themselves out of work for a while, but they likely have a support system to help them change course and find something else to do. Poorer students, however, particularly those who may be the first in their families to go to college, often borrow huge amounts of money just to obtain a bachelor's degree. And it is not just the students themselves who are affected: parents or grandparents have often co-signed for the loans, only to find themselves deeply in debt during their retirement years.

Education is an investment, and like any investment it requires thorough research beforehand. There is nothing wrong with majoring in social work, for example. But you should not borrow tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a degree that leads to a career with an average annual salary of $30,000. Students must research the job market, as well as the salaries they can reasonably expect to earn upon graduating before taking out loans that can cripple them financially for decades to come.

Nationwide, we are now facing almost $1 trillion dollars in student loan debt. A 2010 report from the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center revealed that black college graduates have more student loan debt than any other racial group. Twenty-seven percent of African Americans with bachelor's degrees are carrying at least $30,500 in student loan debt, compared to just 16% of their white counterparts and 9% of Asian American college graduates. The top 1% of all borrowers is facing over $150,000 of debt!

What is the consequence of all this debt? It hinders the very progress we want all students, and racial minorities in particular, to make. Debt ridden graduates are hindered from buying houses and delay getting married and having children. Common sense would indicate this has not helped our nation's slowing economy.

Many experts have offered policy proposals in response to the mounting student debt crisis. Some have proposed complete student loan forgiveness. Besides being impractical, this is markedly unfair to the adults who declined opportunities to attend high-priced prestigious institutions in order to avoid such debt. Others, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, have called for making four-year college free, just as K-12 education is. But that will still cost money.

Personally, I want to call on all education advocates to start being honest about what a college education is and is not. It is a vital part of improving one's prospects in life. It is not a magic bullet that guarantees financial security regardless of major or debt burden. Every family should research the most affordable option for college, as well as the job market for various majors. All students should make plans for how they will realistically use their degrees upon graduation.


Rise of the IGCSE: Hundreds of British state schools go for  tough new exam

State schools are turning away from the traditional GCSE and offering pupils a tougher exam based on O-levels, figures show.  The number teaching the international GCSE has soared by 300 per cent since Education Secretary Michael Gove gave them more freedom to do so.

Two-thirds of public schools already enter students for the IGCSE, which does not focus on coursework.

Labour had banned state schools from adopting IGCSEs in key subjects amid fears they would undermine the domestic version.

According to data published by the University of Cambridge International Examinations, which offers the qualifications, increasing numbers are offering the IGCSE instead of the traditional exam, with English, history and biology particularly popular.  Four hundred state schools now teach IGCSEs compared with 97 in 2010 and 220 last year.

Some 500 public schools are also using the exams, up from 302 two years ago and 350 in 2011. Overall, schools made 50,000 IGCSE entries this year, the exam board said.

Peter Monteath, UK schools manager for CIE, said the structure of IGCSEs, which means pupils sit exams at the end, rather than throughout the course, is popular.  'The feedback we are getting from schools is that they like the flexibility of these syllabuses, which gives teachers more scope to explore different topics with students,' he said.  'Their linear structure also gives students space and time to study topics in depth.'

The Department for Education said it was excellent news that schools were taking advantage of new freedoms and giving pupils the chance to leave school with the same set of qualifications as their peers at top private schools.

Government sources said the figures justified Mr Gove's plans to replace GCSEs with a tougher,  O-level qualification - which are being resisted by the Liberal Democrats.

'Employers and universities are desperate for the exam system to be fixed,' said one source.  'GCSEs and A-levels are not preparing pupils for work or further study. That is why we are restoring universities' role in A-levels and why we are fixing the broken GCSE system.

'Those complaining should spend a day in Oxford or Cambridge to understand the effects of the disastrous devaluation of exams over 20 years.'

Mr Gove, in an interview with the Catholic Herald newspaper, said he was passionate about reforming education because 'earned success is the route to happiness'.

'People say I want children to learn by rote. I don't. I want them to learn by heart,' he added.  'Think of musical scales. It's only when you really know your scales backwards, when they are ingrained, that you are able to be creative..... and to understand music.'

Mr Gove said he was unapologetic about his focus on discipline, rigour, standards and foreign languages.  'There are people out there who are victims of an invincible prejudice, who believe that teaching, for example, classical languages is ipso facto for the elite,' he added.

'But the synapses connect in a different way when you learn a foreign language. The mind is framed to assess knowledge.

'I simply want young people to be exposed to the very best that has been thought and written.  'There's no reason why children should be denied the opportunity to understand history, to discover the story of those who made them, on the basis that it is assumed they are incapable of appreciating it.'