Friday, October 26, 2012

University Says “Republican War on Women” Forum is Not Partisan‏

The University of Michigan is defending their promotion of a feminist forum that state Republicans believe was an out-right partisan event that violated the university’s tax exempt status.

“The Republican War on Women” forum was held earlier this week and was moderated by a university employee who made political contributions to the Democratic National committee and the Obama campaign.

The event infuriated Rachel Jankowski, the president of the University of Michigan’s College Republicans.  “For a university that totes diversity and acceptance, it shows those feel good words only apply to people who espouse its shared liberal viewpoints,” she wrote. “Such hostile events have no place at a public university. Any use of taxpayer dollars to sponsor this event could be seen as participating in campaigns, which would be a violation of federal law.”

Jankowski said the university broke the law by promoting such a partisan event. she noted that all the panelists were liberals and one wrote an article declaring she was “ashamed” by any woman who would vote for Mitt Romney.

“As a woman, I’m also extremely offended by such events,” she wrote. “The Left claims that the GOP is undermining women, when really, it is the Left and events like this that pin women against women, gender against gender. “

Jankowski shared her story with Celia Bigelow, the campus director for American Majority Action — and the founder of Students Against Barack Obama.

Bigelow noted that after concerns were raised about the title of the forum, it was changed to include a question mark.  “The change in the title doesn’t change the fact that it is an anti-Republican event based on the people involved,” Bigelow wrote. “For it to be a 501(c)3-acceptable event, it must have both sides represented equally.”

But Kelly Cunningham, the director of the university’s office of public affairs, disputed that assertion.  “The event description was not ideally worded and did not capture accurately the content of the program; however, the event itself does comply with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act and with IRS regulations,” she told Fox News.

“To be clear, a ‘Republican war on women’ is not being assumed, nor was the purpose of the forum an examination of whether there is a ‘Republican war on women,’” she added.

Cunningham stressed that the feminist forum was not partisan “nor was there any suggestion of how anyone should vote in the upcoming elections.”

But the participants seemed to be partisan. The website Michigan Capitol Confidential reported that Professor Susan Douglas, the moderator, wrote an article about the election titled, “It’s the Stupid Republicans, Stupid.” They also reported that she gave to both the Obama campaign and the DNC.

“It’s a campaign event and should not be done at a taxpayer-funded college,” Tina Dupont, a member of the Tea Party of West Michigan told the website. “That’s certainly a misuse of our dollars. Without having both sides represented, to me it comes across as a campaign event. I don’t appreciate my money being used like that. I don’t think there is a war on women in the Republican Party.”


The agony of knowing your son's being bullied - and the school is too politically correct to punish his tormentors

Foolish woman failed to check the school first before moving.  Most middle-class British parents know to do that

Each day at 3.15pm, the school gates open and hordes of boisterous children spill happily out on to the Tarmac. My son, however, is not one of them.   He makes his way across the playground, shoulders hunched, head down, dragging his bag. He exudes a weariness that singles him out from his peers.

I can see, from ten yards away, how bad his day has been. I take in the frown, the nervous gesture he makes with his hand across his brow and the way he glances warily about him. I know — my heart lurching — that he is summoning all his energy not to cry.

‘You OK?’ I ask, as casually as I dare. He nods, desperate to hold it together until we get to the car. But I know, and he knows, that all is not ok. We’re into the fourth week at a new school and — I’m going to use a word now that I have discovered is a little like throwing a bomb into a room — he is being bullied.

That’s right. Bullied. Not picked on, teased, or made the butt of some playground pranking. But bullied. I know it’s an emotive word — a word that is often over-used and bandied about unnecessarily (I know this because the school in question keeps telling me this repeatedly).

But when you have a ten-year-old who was previously confident but now shakes on the school run; who loved school but now spends the majority of his evening begging to be allowed to stay at home the next day — then, excuse me, I’ll use any word I damn well please.

Trust me, I’m not a precious mother. Nor am I one of those who feels the need to endlessly enter the school to put my maternal oar in. My approach — until now — has always been one of: ‘Get out of the car — see you in six hours.’

When we decided to move Monty to a new school at the beginning of Year 5, just shy of his tenth birthday, I wasn’t unduly worried.

He had been happily attending the same small, idyllic village primary since 2007. But two years ago we moved to a house ten miles away, out of the area, and since then I’ve been spending an hour in the car each day doing a 40-mile round trip to get him there and back. 

I decided to send him to the local primary at the end of our road. It’s much bigger, with a more mixed social intake. I reasoned that this was surely a good thing. I want my children to learn with children from a variety of backgrounds. It opens their eyes to the wider context that it takes all sorts to make the world go round.

Well, that’s how I felt before. Now I snort at my naivety. Because, from bitter experience, I know that this ideal only works if those other children have a similar code of behaviour and manners — one that is reinforced by school and parents alike.

And before you accuse me of being a judgemental snob let me put this to you. Is it acceptable to kick another child relentlessly in the small of their back during a lesson?

Or to tip them out of their chair? Or to erase the work they have spent the last 30 minutes doing from the whiteboard? And that’s the stuff that went on when there was a teacher in the room.

Bear in mind we are talking here about a village school in the leafy Home Counties — not an inner-city primary on special measures. So when Monty initially admitted to me, in floods of tears, what was going on, I had every faith the problem would be nipped in the bud, swiftly and effectively.

How wrong I was. To begin with, the head teacher acknowledged there was an issue with two of the boys in that year group who were feeling ‘a little insecure’ about Monty’s arrival. I ventured that Monty was feeling a little insecure about being chased up a tree and having his trainers ripped off his feet and thrown over the hedge.

But, hey ho, it was early days and I still felt confident that things would be dealt with.

Monty’s first week was dreadful. I watched as he put a brave face on the business of being the new boy, while sinking further into dismay because these bullies didn’t ‘like’ him.

I could see part of the problem was  that — with three sisters — Monty is probably a bit more in touch with his feminine side than his peers.  By nature, he is  communicative, a little quirky, and more likely to break into song in the playground than kick a football.

He does ballet, musical theatre and talks about his emotions, which, admittedly, might make another type of boy conclude that he’s a weirdo, or a geek — two of the names he was repeatedly called during his first week.

All this is, of course, par for the course. My husband Keith and I explained to him that there will always be people who don’t like you and one of life’s lessons is to toughen up and deal with it.

Then we went to the school to ask what the hell was going on. The head teacher reiterated that the situation was ‘being handled’. These two boys had behavioural issues that they were working on.

Things got worse. In his second week, Monty was repeatedly followed into the toilets (where I suspect he was going to have a quick cry) and relentlessly pursued at every turn.

Any mother will identify with the angst of seeing your child unhappy but having no power to deal with it. I was sorely tempted to speak to the boys’ parents but the look of horror on the head’s face when I suggested it stopped me in my tracks.

Another of my bright ideas was to invite the bullies to tea — but this time it was the look on Monty’s face that made me realise I was clutching at straws.

By now, we were speaking to the school every day. Or rather, they were repeating the same thing to us over and over again: ‘We have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.’

This was beginning to sound like point number one on some Department of Education guideline sheet for schools: ‘Buy time by telling the parents what they want to hear. Eventually they’ll believe you.’

But I didn’t. I was fast losing faith. The school might, indeed, have zero tolerance. I have zero tolerance about crisp packets being shoved down the back of the sofa but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The tricky bit is implementing a consequence. So, I put it to the head teacher: what punishment are you giving these boys for making my son’s life  a misery?  ‘Oh, none,’ she replied. ‘We’re going to set up a drama group to help the three of them (including Monty) deal with their social responses.’

Social responses? What on earth was she talking about? I felt like she had swallowed a whole political correctness dictionary!

I rushed from the room, went straight home and told Monty that if either of those boys came anywhere near him again he had my permission to punch them — a social response I felt was quite appropriate under the circumstances.

But I knew he wouldn’t. He’s no angel, but punching is not his style. Then the school suddenly changed tack. ‘This isn’t actually a bullying matter,’ the head teacher informed me at the beginning of week three.

‘Bullying is the relentless targeting of one individual, and these two boys behave like this towards every child in the class.’ She then suggested — with Monty present — that it might be best to just ‘put up with it, and stop taking their behaviour so personally’.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. By shifting the focus from ‘bullying’ to ‘general bad behaviour’ it seemed as though she had cleverly placed the onus of the problem on Monty — deflecting it away from a word she appeared desperate not to have the school associated with.

According to ChildLine, there has been a rise in bullying in schools and there is much evidence to show there is often a discrepancy between what teachers consider to be bullying behaviour and what their pupils report is actually happening.

Indeed, bullying remains the second most common reason for children to contact ChildLine, with 31,599 counselling sessions being carried out last year — approximately 87 per day.

To this end, the charity are launching a ChildLine schools service next month — run by trained volunteers — who will go into schools across the UK and hold workshops for children, in particular those aged nine to 11 years old, about bullying and how they can be supported.

Of course, it will be too late for Monty. But that’s OK because I have taken matters into my own hands in the best way I know how. I have moved him somewhere else.

Call it running away if you like, but when you have lost all trust in your child’s school to nurture and protect them with common sense and no other agenda, then what other option do you honestly have?

I know my decision was a good one because now, at the end of the day, Monty has a bounce in his step and is bursting with enthusiasm.  He’s still dragging his bag along the ground, mind you. But perhaps you’ll understand when I say I honestly couldn’t care less...


Ill-educated youth in Australia

Knowing the times tables obviously so yesterday

I GO to a gym for my daily constitutional. I love it – lots of mature women like me, trying to compensate for years of now-abandoned bad habits taken up when young and seemingly invincible. And no one laughs at us as we run, crunch, lunge and cycle furiously, sweat pouring down our faces into nooks and crannies that younger women have yet to develop.

The lockers at my gym are tiered vertically in threes: small, small and large, with large at the bottom. Recently I asked the receptionist (a nice young woman and long-term employee who is usually a personal trainer) for a key for a large locker because I was carrying a number of packages, as well as my gym bag. "Oh," she said, "the keys aren't labelled that way. I don't know which keys are for large lockers."

I suggested that given they were in vertical rows of three, with large lockers at the bottom, any locker number that was a multiple of three would be a large locker. She looked at me as though I had asked her to explain Pythagoras' Theorem. Then she offered me a key for locker No. 20. I said no, that would not be a large locker. Next, she offered me the key for No. 26, assuring me that one would be a biggie. Wincing slightly but still smiling, I decided to humour her, and took the key to the locker room where I noted, not unexpectedly, that No. 26 was a middle row, small locker.

Still smiling (almost giggling, in fact) I broke the bad news and suggested she give me the key for No. 27. Alas, that one was already taken. For a moment, I waited for her to come up with 24 or even 30, but nope, she was now leaving it it to me to choose a number, which I did – 18 – an effortless multiple of three that my kelpie, Bluey, could have calculated easily.

This was a pleasant enough, easygoing encounter, but I must say I was astounded that this young woman seemed not to know simple multiplication. Are times-tables not taught in schools these days? No one could accuse me of being a mathematical genius, but really, this is kid stuff. I did wonder how she would cope with counting exercise repetitions when on PT duty, but perhaps there's a phone app that does the job.

When I was a gel back in the day, we had to learn multiplication tables parrot-fashion. It was tedious at the time but people never forgot them. A minor skill, but one that has come in very handy in the intervening (ahem) decades. I can recommend it.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tufts University Bans Christian Student Group for Requiring Leaders to Embrace ‘Basic Biblical Truths of Christianity’‏

Tufts is a great church of Leftism so this sort of anti-Christian Fascism is to be expected.  I rather wonder why Christian students go there.

If the local churches put up on their billboards something like:  "Tufts is anti-Christian.  Don't go there", it would probably have a salutory effect.  I think the time has come for churches to come to the aid of Christian students.  The Leftist oppressors should not have it all their own way

Ironical that Tufts was originally founded by Christians devoted to religious tolerance.

There’s a troubling pattern developing on college campuses across America, as universities are increasingly preventing Christian campus groups from requiring that their leaders be practicing believers. If these clubs fail to comply with so-called “non-discrimination policies,” they are often de-legitimized and banned from official-recognition.

Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, is the latest higher education facility to crack down on student-led religious groups. In a recent move, the school’s student government banned the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), an evangelical organization. The decision was made because TCF, which is the campus’ chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, requires that those serving in leadership positions must embrace “basic biblical truths of Christianity.”

The group’s demand that leaders be Bible-believing Christians was found to be in violation of Tuft’s non-discrimination policy. Last month, the Judiciary recommended that the belief requirement be moved from the constitution’s bylaws to its mission statement; while the bylaws are legally-binding, the mission statement is not. TCF didn’t comply and, now, the group is officially unrecognized by the university.

The ban, which was put in place by the Tufts Community Union Judiciary, means that TCF can no longer use the Tufts name for official campus activities. Additionally, its members are forbidden from scheduling events or reserving space through the school’s Office for Campus Life. As is generally the case when these bans go into effect, the group will also be unable, as other student groups do, to receive money from the school.

While TCF plans to appeal the decision, it could be an uphill battle — especially considering the similar trend that other schools seem to be following. TCF has 10 days to appeal and must file paper work with the Committee on Student Life (CSL), a panel comprised of students and faculty, The Tufts Daily reports.

In 2000, the group faced a similar situation when a student complained that she was denied a leadership role due to her sexual orientation. After being re-recognized, the organization appealed to the CSL and was re-instated.

“We’re deciding to appeal this decision because we feel like just the purpose of our organization is to…encourage understanding and celebration of each belief [in the Basis of Faith], and the best way to fulfill that purpose is to have leaders that are centered on and unified by these beliefs,” one of the student leaders of the InterVarsity chapter told the Daily. ”We feel like we have the right to be selective on the basis of belief for our leaders since we’re a student group that is trying to encourage understanding about a faith-based set of beliefs.”

Tufts isn’t the only campus community battling over Christian student groups’ rights to require faithful leadership. As TheBlaze reported earlier this month, Yale is facing a similar issue after the Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX) fraternity has come under fire for requiring its members to embrace Christianity. And the non-discrimination policy issues at Vanderbilt University have been widely-reported as well.

While non-discrimination policies are well-intentioned, the notion that a Christian group would be forced to allow leaders who don’t embrace the faith is relatively silly. Similarly, a gay rights group being forced to allow someone opposed to same-sex marriage to lead would also be problematic.


Ohio Student Suspended for Growing Out Hair to Donate to Charity‏

I understand where the school authorities are coming from here but -- at the risk of being tediously trite  -- there are exceptions to very rule.  And charity is very much to be encouraged  -- JR
Zachary Aufderheide has run afoul of his Ohio high school's dress code because of his desire to grow his hair long enough to donate it to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs to needy children who've lost their hair because of medical problems.

Zachary, 17, of Canton is about an inch away from the 10 inches of hair he needs to donate to the organization. Faced with an ultimatum, the Canton South High School junior decided to accept an in-school suspension rather than cut his ponytail.

The minimum length of hair needed for a hairpiece is 10 inches, according the Locks of Love website.

Zachary said he is passionate about donating hair to the organization because he was picked on as a child and now wants to help sick children who might have lost their hair avoid the feelings he experienced when he was teased.

"I was picked on so I know where they're coming from, I know how they feel so I sort of sympathize with them because I've been there," he said Monday.

Zachary's mother, Robin, said she understood and respected the school's dress code, but wanted officials to make an exception in her son's case.

She said her son went to a school board meeting in September, explained what he was doing and asked them to consider allowing him to reach his goal.

She said board members came up to him after the meeting and commended his efforts, but said the board had voted to uphold the school's dress code, without giving him an explanation.

The school's principal told her son he had until Monday to get his hair cut, she said.  "And we didn't do it. We didn't do it. I measured it and he's got, oh, less than an inch to grow …," she said.

The school's principal, Todd Osborn, has not replied to requests for comment placed by as of this writing.

Robin Aufderheide said she was surprised by the board's decision, but her son wasn't.

"I feel pretty disappointed with their decision because, honestly, I really put a lot of heart and soul into my demonstration, like, my presentation of the idea to them, and then when they just all unanimously voted against it … it was just kind of heartbreaking to me," he said.

According to the dress code in the Canton Local School District's student handbook, "Hair for male students shall be neat and clean and shall not be worn covering the eyes, in a ponytail, or extending beyond the bottom of the regular shirt collar."

Zachary isn't sure what will happen after the two-day suspension ends, but says if he cut his hair before reaching his goal, "then, personally, that would be admitting defeat to them. It would be meaning that I would just give up on what I view as important to myself. So this is more or less like a battle of my morals and my values, really."

After he donates his hair, he said, he'll be happy to maintain it at regulation length.


Homework controversy in Australia

Working by yourself is an important part of learning and THAT  is what homework is for -- JR

HOMEWORK has no benefit for very young children and only small benefits for those in upper primary, academics say.

Their comments come after France announced last week it was planning to ban homework altogether for children under 11.

Controversy around homework is set to reignite with the launch of a new book today urging reform of homework policies in Australia.

Central Queensland University professor Mike Horsley, co-author of Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies, said research showed students who did the most homework on international exams performed the worst, while those who did the least performed the best.

Fellow author and University of Sydney professor Richard Walker said Australian students needed more challenging homework that gave them some autonomy and control.

"A lot of homework in schools is just drill and practice worksheets that students get to take home and that is really of no benefit to students," he said. 

"There are a whole lot of ways in which the quality of homework can be improved. I think there is a very strong case that (younger) students should be doing other things."

Prof Horsley said they were not calling for a homework ban.

"We argue that far too much homework involves tasks kids can already do and isn't challenging enough," he said.

"Instead, there is scope for less homework that is of a higher quality and more highly structured."

Education Queensland's homework policy states Prep pupils generally aren't assigned any, while Years 1 to 3 students could have up to one hour each week. From Year 4 homework can be set daily, with Year 4 and 5 students set "up to but generally not more than 2-3 hours per week".

"Homework in Year 8 and Year 9 could be up to but generally not more than five hours per week."

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said homework remained "the subject of significant debate" and individual school communities needed to make their own decisions on whether to use it.

"I don't necessarily accept the view 'it is not good to do just drilling', in that practice is an important part of the whole learning process. For some children sight words and doing word lists is an important part of the process of picking that learning up," Mr Bates said.

"To have anybody from outside come in and say this is how homework will be done is totally unacceptable because it has to fit within the school's ethos of learning. It is equally valid for a school to decide to have no homework or to have regular weekly homework."


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unlearning Liberty

 Mike Adams

Despite their feigned interest in tolerance, college campuses are among the most punitive and stifling environments in the country. Students are routinely punished for "offenses" ranging from penning mild satire to holding the wrong opinions on important social and political issues. One book, Unlearning Liberty, by Greg Lukianoff, documents these abuses better than any other that has been written since I joined the campus culture wars over a decade ago. Greg is able to document these things well and for a simple reason: he has been the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for the last seven years.

The stories Greg tells in his new book are so disturbing it will be difficult for some to believe that they are all real and all come from American universities. Unlearning Liberty at times sounds like an account from some far away land that never valued the kinds of freedoms our constitution guarantees. For example,

* A student is punished for racial insensitivity for publicly reading a book that condemns the KKK.

* Students are required to lobby before legislatures for political bills they disagree with in order to graduate from a public university.

* A student Senate passes a Sedition Act to punish other students for criticizing them at, of all places, a public university governed by the First Amendment and funded by their tuition dollars.

However strange these stories seem, they deserve our undivided attention. The reason is simple: when these students graduate, their anti-liberty mindset is unleashed on the larger society.

Indeed, after a generation of unlearning liberty, these things will begin to seem normal if not addressed soon. FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors said it best when he stated that "A nation that does not educate in liberty will not long preserve it and will not even know when it is lost."

For over a decade, I have been trying to explain that the campus free speech war transcends politics and religion. It is a threat to everyone. That is why I am glad that a book echoing my arguments - but in far greater depth and with much greater eloquence - was written by someone who disagrees with me on a broad range of issues. Greg Lukianoff is an atheist, a Democrat, a supporter of same-sex marriage, and a supporter of abortion rights. We have worked together for years as allies in the free speech wars because we both recognize that liberty is a sacred process, not a pre-ordained result.

We also understand that true commitment to liberty is measured by the conduct of our institutions of higher learning, and not by their statements about their conduct. For example, Harvard University claims that "Curtailment of free speech undercuts the intellectual freedom that defines (Harvard's) purpose." In reality, it fires even presidents who refuse to bow down to the gods of political correctness and gender sensitivity.

Harvard and other private universities claim to be free from the technical requirement that they conform to the dictates of the First Amendment. That much is true. But they are not free from the moral requirement that they must always be honest about the true state of the marketplace of ideas in their classrooms and across their campuses.

Truth be known, Harvard has a long record of suppressing free speech among students, faculty, and, more recently, non conforming administrators. Given that reality, they should refrain from telling prospective students that, "The free exchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas."

To the extent that administrators make these patently false claims, they fraudulently induce students into taking on debt, often in the realm of six digits. All this, in order to join a marketplace of ideas that barely exists in an age of administratively mandated and supervised political correctness.

The best and most accurate measure of the depth of our constitutional crisis in higher education can be seen in the campus speech codes of our public university campuses. These codes are a measure of not just the censoriousness of our public administrators but also their audacity. The fact that they knowingly enforce them - even with no prospect of winning in court shows us two things:

1. They know that even when they lose in individual cases, the presence of the often multiply-layered speech codes will help maintain orthodoxy by chilling speech that is not politically correct.

2. Due to qualified immunity, they will never have to pay personal damages and the general public - the same people they seek to censor - will have to foot the bill for the litigation.

The problem is not just at Harvard and Yale. It is at other universities - even ones located in conservative areas of the nation. For example, Texas A&M has a speech code that prohibits violating the "right" to "respect for personal feelings" and protects "freedom from indignity of any type."

Of course, many of the smaller liberal arts colleges are even worse. Davidson College bans "inquiries about dating." So you can't ask someone on a date at Davidson without violating the speech code. Even if you could, you would not be able to ask your date to go see Guys and Dolls. Use of the word "doll" is considered sexual harassment.

The University of Iowa does the best job of combining the speech code and the sexual harassment policy into a powerful weapon people can use to destroy just about anyone they don't like: sexual harassment is when "somebody says or does something sexually related that you don't want them to say or do, regardless of who it is." Did you get that folks? If you are a student at Iowa and the girl you like has sex with someone else and you get jealous then guess what? You've been sexually harassed!

Because the speech code issue is so important and because this book is so important, I will review it in several installments. In the meantime, go to this link and order a copy now. Learn about the American values students are unlearning on campuses all across America today.


Why not a free market in educational loans?

Suppose investments in education are every bit as fantastic as we're supposed to believe: Ability bias and signaling are myths, so the entire observed education premium is causal and socially valuable.  Even so, it's hard to see why government should subsidize education.  Why can't students simply fund their ever-so-valuable investment in human capital with unsubsidized educational loans?

Non-economists' favorite argument is something like: "The interest rates would be so high that few people would borrow."  At least on the surface, though, this objection clashes with the "education is a fantastic investment" premise.  If education really has enormous benefits, people should be happy to pay high interest rates to acquire it.  Furthermore, if education yields such reliable returns, lenders should be confident of repayment, and therefore happily lend at a low rate.

At this point, many economists will leap to the non-economists' defense.  Free-market educational loans would have high interest rates despite the fantasticness of the investment.  Why?  Because of imperfect information.

Now things get really interesting.  Imperfect information, you say?  Which kind?  Symmetric or asymmetric?

Case 1: Symmetric Imperfect Information

You might say, "No one really knows if an educational investment will pay off."  If so, we've got symmetric imperfect information.  Contrary to much loose talk, this is not a "market failure."  If an investment turns out to be worthless 5% of the time, the efficient response is to take this bad eventuality into account.  Maybe the investment will still be worth it.  Maybe it won't.  But it's stupid for government to subsidize loans so borrowers and lenders act as if this 5% downside didn't exist.

Case 2: Asymmetric Imperfect Information

You might say, "Borrowers know better than lenders if an educational investment will pay off."  If so, we've got asymmetric imperfect information.  This can be a market failure.  But it depends.  If desire to borrow and default probability are positively correlated, you can get the standard market-for-lemons "unraveling" outcome.  But is this really likely in the market for student loans?  It seems like the people most willing to borrow will be the students with unusually promising post-graduation career prospects.  So even with hidden information, the market could still work fine.

If desire to borrow and default probability do happen to be3 positively correlated, simple market responses remain.  Can borrowers offer collateral?  Down payments?  Guarantees?  If so, the market can still work very well despite the information asymmetry.  To take an extreme case, suppose that educational lenders had as much latitude to recover bad debts as the IRS.  Do you really think they'd still be reluctant to lend students money?  Or consider this keyhole solution: For a small handling charge, the IRS directly collects student loan payments when you pay your income tax, and remits payment to your lender.  Unless you flee the country, you're on the hook for whatever you borrow - and the asymmetric information problem vanishes.

Before you take extreme measures to overcome asymmetric information, of course, you might want to double check that the problem is genuine.  Would borrowers really have a big information edge over lenders?  In a free market, lenders could - and probably would - verify students' test scores, grades, school, intended major, and so on.  Given all this information, it's far from obvious that borrowers do have superior information.  Yes, students know lots of details about their lives, but lenders have the power of actuarial science behind them.

Overall, then, neither symmetric nor asymmetric imperfect information provide compelling arguments against a free market in educational loans.  But maybe this just reflects the narrowness of neoclassical economic reasoning.  When people say "imperfect information" they often mean "irrationality."  Perhaps the problem isn't that interest rates are too high, but that people are too myopic to see that even high-interest educational loans are, all things considered, a great deal.

While I'm sympathetic to this argument, it's a double-edged sword.  Yes, irrationality might lead borrowers to spurn good loans.  But as we've seen in recent years, irrationality can just as easily lead lenders to make bad loans.  In fact, lenders' recklessness, not borrowers' paranoia, had turned out to be the more serious psychological pitfall.  Why then are we so sure that we need heavy government subsidies to make educational lenders even more reckless than they'd be on their own dime?


Bad behaviour is no bar to sixth–form study in Britain

Grammar school must offer its unruly pupil a place ... it's exam results that count, says the Government's admission code.

Leading schools are being told not to bar badly behaved teenagers from taking up sixth–form places.  Schools can only prevent pupils from progressing onto A–level–style courses at 16 if they fail their GCSEs – but not for disciplinary reasons, it was revealed.

Under the Government's admissions code, schools are told that progression into the sixth form must not be dependent on attitude, attendance or behaviour records. The ruling emerged as a grammar school was reprimanded by the local government watchdog for refusing to offer an A–level place to an unruly teenager.

The Latymer School, in Enfield, north London, was ordered to allow the boy into the sixth form because he met strict academic criteria, despite concerns over his attitude.

Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: "The Government's school admissions code specifically prohibits the school from selecting sixthform pupils based on their behaviour records. As the boy had satisfied the academic requirements to join the sixth form, he should have been admitted."

It was revealed that the school could only prevent the pupil from taking up a sixth–form place if he had been expelled during his GCSEs.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "A school should not be forced to have a disruptive pupil in the sixth form or any other part of the school.  If any schools have concerns in this way, they should use full exclusion procedures."

The Latymer School selects 11–year-olds on the basis of academic ability. It said that admission to its sixth form was dependent on pupils having the necessary GCSE results along with acting in an "evidently self–disciplined" manner, including abiding by attendance, punctuality and uniform rules.

It emerged that an unnamed boy – already at the school – was denied entry to the sixth form this year because of poor behaviour in the previous academic year that resulted in him being suspended.

The school insisted it should be able to turn down pupils for the sixth form if "admission would prejudice the school's ability to provide an efficient education".

But the ombudsman insisted that the ruling contravened the 2010 admissions code introduced by Labour to dictate entry to English state schools, which said that places "must not be dependent on attendance, behaviour record, or perceptions of attitude or motivation". The 2010 code has been replaced for admissions in 2013. The Department for Education said the updated document still carries similar rules that would have bound the school in the same way.

A spokesman said: "If a pupil's behaviour falls below the school's expected standard, it should take the appropriate action. A school can exclude a pupil permanently in response to a serious breach, or persistent breaches, of the school's behaviour policy."


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Neither real nor right

"Won’t Back Down" is a feel-good film about the power of a single individual, armed with a vision and a voice, to move a bureaucracy.....

The film addresses most of the right problems, with union bylaws and tenure protection at the top of the list. A teacher refuses to stay after school to help a dyslexic student with her reading; it turns out that teachers are actually prevented from staying after school by their union contract. An administrator responds to each complaint with the same tired phrase, “We are addressing that,” as a way to placate the parent while promising nothing. He acknowledges that tenured teachers can’t be fired for being poor teachers, so they are moved from school to school. Woe to the children who are stuck in their classrooms for an entire year!

(Years ago I complained about a teacher who showed movies almost every day, while she played games on the computer. When I told the administrator that she showed The Lion King that day, his face darkened. “Lion King??” he raged. “I told them they couldn’t show Lion King!” Then he shrugged and added, “I know she’s a lousy teacher. There’s nothing I can do. She has tenure.” And she was the department chair to boot. I moved my daughter to a private school. But many parents can’t afford that option.)

So why don’t more parents and teachers take over their failing schools? Time is the biggest deterrent. It usually takes three to five years to get through the process of gathering support, filing papers, writing a charter, hiring teachers, and selecting curriculum. By that time, most children will have moved on to middle school. It requires a person with genuine dedication to the neighborhood to be willing to go through this effort for someone else’s kids. In the film, one teachers’ union administrator complains cynically, “When students start paying union dues, I will start protecting the interests of children,” and he’s right about that. One of the biggest problems with the public school system is that the payer is not the recipient of the service.

Moreover, it takes skill and experience to teach a class or manage a school. That same union administrator suggests that having parents take over a school is “like handing over the plane to the passengers,” and to a certain extent, he is right about that, too. Consider the kinds of neighborhoods that harbor failing schools. Parents with good educations, good jobs, and good incomes will simply move to another neighborhood, or deposit their children in private schools, as I did. They are too busy earning a living to have time to run a school.

Nevertheless, this film ends with cheering crowds and a crescendo of violins. (But is it any surprise that they manage to succeed? In a matter of months? Does Secretariat win the Triple Crown?) But there is no true victory in this film. A charter school may be better than a failing public school, but it is still based on a failing premise: although they are run by parents and teachers, these are still government schools. Salaries are still funded by local property taxes, and students are still tested according to federal standardized guidelines. The film even ends with a rap version of Kennedy’s famous message: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The first is socialism, the second is feudalism. Neither bodes well for creativity and individual success. Whatever happened to “Do what you can to take care of yourself”?

The biggest deterrent to good education — standardized testing — isn’t even addressed in this film. I could write a whole treatise on the unintended consequences of “No Child Left Behind.” We now have an entire generation of young people who have been taught that there is only one correct answer to any question: the one they have been spoonfed by the teacher. Creativity and innovation are rewarded with an F.

As for the teachers? They’re getting burned out too. I attended an early evening screening. Just before the film began, several groups of women walked into the theater. All of them talked to each other throughout the screening, looked at their cell phones, and went out to buy treats or visit the bathroom. I would have been more distracted, had I not been used to this kind of behavior; I’m a teacher. I interviewed these ladies after the show. You guessed it: most were teachers. They probably didn’t even realize that they were acting like their students.

Won’t Back Down is an earnest little film, one that is well intentioned but overlong and overacted. Viola Davis looks too tired to be a fighter; and Holly Hunter, normally such a fine actress, is particularly posed and affected in her delivery, her trademark speech impediment, and her gigantic hairstyle. Maggie Gyllenhaal does her best to ignite the enthusiasm of the cast in the same way her character tries to ignite the enthusiasm of the community, brightening her eyes and smiling until her face nearly explodes with goodwill. But it doesn’t work. At just over two hours, the film is 30 minutes too long for a story with no action and little suspense.

Moreover, although Won’t Back Down claims to be “inspired by true events,” it is neither true nor realistic. I couldn’t find a single actual case in which parents have successfully taken over a school under a parent-trigger law. Some have tried, but my research did not turn up any that have succeeded.

If you are genuinely interested in films about failing school systems and want to know how to fix them, I recommend two recent documentaries: Waiting for Superman (2010, directed by Davis Guggenheim) and The Cartel (2009, directed by Bob Bowdon).


Dumb professors think Pres. Emptyhead is smart

A survey conducted by the University at Buffalo School of Management that evaluated the leadership skills of President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has found that Obama scored significantly better than Romney in most leadership categories and in overall leadership skill.

Jerry Newman, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the UB School of Management, conducted a nationwide survey of 250 professors specializing in American politics and the presidency. He asked them to rate the two presidential candidates using the 10 leadership dimensions that are at the heart of the School of Management's LeaderCORE™ program, a unique leadership certification for UB MBAs.

More than 100 professors responded, rating Obama and Romney on the 10 competencies of LeaderCORE: problem solving/decision making, global and diversity mindset, strategic thinking, team leadership, team skills, communication, interpersonal skills, integrity, results orientation and self-management/adaptability.

"We put the candidates under the same LeaderCORE lens that we use to assess our MBA students," says Newman, who initially conceived the LeaderCORE program. "The students then use the results to create their personal development plans."

The survey asked the professors to rate the candidates' skill level in the 10 leadership competencies on a scale of 1 (well below the average president) to 7 (well above the average president). They also were asked to rank the candidates for overall leadership using the same scale.

According to the results, Obama particularly showed strength as a leader in global and diversity mindset, communication and interpersonal skills.

In fact, on seven of the 10 competencies, Obama's scores were significantly better than Romney's. The only areas where there were no significant differences between the two candidates were team skills, team leadership and results orientation.

Respondents who gave a score of 1 or 7 on any dimension were asked to give an open-ended example of what behavior led to that evaluation.

"We've seen what a good presenter Obama can be," Newman says. "But the professors also commented on his management of the financial and automotive crises. Obama's ability to adapt in the ever-changing landscape of health care reform and his stance on gay marriage also earned him high marks in adaptability and results orientation."

In a final question, the respondents were asked to provide their political orientation on a scale of 1 (very conservative) to 7 (very liberal).

Seventy-four percent of the professors described themselves on the liberal end of the scale, yet in a regression analysis, the professors' political leaning was not a significant determinant of how they evaluated overall leadership.


Illiterate teachers in Australia

TEACHERS are filling lessons, report cards and letters home with errors, including SMS-style spelling, grammatical mistakes and misspelt spelling lists, parents have claimed.

A survey of 480 people about the literacy skills of the nation's teachers found half thought the quality was poor.

More than 40 per cent had noticed spelling or grammatical errors on letters sent home from school and 35 per cent had seen mistakes in report cards and marked assignments.

Other parents claimed their child's teachers lacked passion and skill, taught incorrect information and provided misspelt word lists for children to learn from. Some had even noticed teachers using SMS-style spellings, like l8r (later) and coz (because).

The "must do better" grading comes as the federal government reveals current teachers will be given specialist training to make sure future educators get better mentoring.Current and ex-teachers who took the survey were among those who complained about substandard quality, saying it was depressing.

One teacher from a state high school said many graduate teachers lacked a basic understanding of grammar, spelling and punctuation through their own schooling.  "It's those 20-somethings who just missed out and I'm scared that they're going to be teaching my kids," she said.

Some respondents defended teachers, however, saying they had a difficult job and passion was more important than perfection. Others were angry about "teacher bashing" and argued educators should be afforded more respect.

The survey findings come as the government works on its goal of pushing Aussie children into the top five world performers in numeracy and literacy by 2025.

Under the plan, student teachers will spend more of their degree inside a classroom paired with a specialist mentor. They will get clearer instructions on what's expected of them as their teaching methods are scrutinised.

State governments and independent education authorities will decide what training their mentors will need. At the moment trainees can be instructed by teachers with very little experience themselves.

Parents and teachers who spoke to The Daily Telegraph did not want to be identified, but told of the profession changing from one full of passionate people, to people "just filling in their work day".They wanted graduate teachers tested to validate their skills before they were put into classrooms.

The qualification bar has already been set higher, with entrants to teaching courses needing to score in the top 30 per cent for literacy and numeracy to get in.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the government wanted the "best and brightest" in classrooms.

Parents who took the survey wanted teachers paid more to attract the best candidates.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Minnesota Schools Close So Teachers Can Play with Dolls, Learn About Teaching Islam

Each year, Minnesota government schools close for two days (just before the weekend, of course) so teachers’ union members can gather at a conference organized by their union.

It’s meant to “inspire teachers,” reported, and the conference includes a session titled, “Using Persona Dolls to Promote Social Emotional Intelligence and Acceptance of Diversity.”

The union describes it this way: “Used around the world, persona dolls are lifelike dolls with personalities and stories you create. The dolls become members of your classroom community and children learn by empathizing with the dolls and giving them heartfelt advice on the same kinds of situations they struggle with daily in the classroom and on the playground.”

That’s weird. Teachers are taking time away from the classroom to learn how to play with dolls?

The conference also includes a workshop on how to teach about Islam. The union says about the session:

“An expert panel will present information on teaching about Islam in the context of social studies and world religion. They will share perspectives on how educators can help improve intercultural communication and well-being for immigrant and refugee students and families from Muslim countries.”

That sounds nice. Who’s betting they won’t hear anything about the September 11, 2001 hijackers’ jihad or suicide bombers blowing up American soldiers or Israeli children? And why the focus on only one religion?

And of course no teachers union conference would be complete without a session about the importance of the upcoming presidential election (it will become an Obama rally), and a discussion about how education reform efforts are misguided and dangerous.

Couldn’t the union hold this session during the summer, or on a weekend, when there are no classes to interrupt? They have to annually take time out of the school calendar to hold their union pep rally and play with dolls?

Is it any wonder American students are trailing behind their counterparts in South Korea, Estonia and Luxembourg? Is it too much for union teachers to remain in in the classroom and focus on the basics, instead of cancelling classes to talk about their ideas of “social justice” and promote their union’s political agenda?


Compulsory Latin, suspension for a skinhead haircut and prizes for coming first! It's not Eton or Harrow, but it may just be the strictest state school in Britain

Cicero said ‘a mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than a field, however fertile, without cultivation’. So it is perhaps fitting that his head is on pupils’ blazer badges at one of London’s newest and most audacious schools.

The immaculate uniform is just one thing the West London Free School has in common with other, better-known seats of learning. There is the rigorous discipline, too, as well as a focus on competitive sport, musical excellence, a house system and mandatory Latin.

But what’s truly surprising is that this isn’t a private, fee-paying school, or even one of the country’s surviving grammars, but funded by the taxpayer – and is non-selective. Here is a working example of Michael Gove’s vision of how a state school might be freed from central or local authority control.

Nor is this just any free school: it was founded by author Toby Young, the most prominent of the campaigners for state-funded independent schools. His WLFS, opened last year by Mayor Boris Johnson, is the scheme’s flagship.

Education Secretary Gove’s encouragement of free schools is controversial. Some fear they will appeal only to the middle class and could undermine existing schools. But on this rare visit behind the scenes, Young was unapologetic about the school or its ethos, which is more akin to that of a prep school or old-fashioned grammar. After all, nine children chase each place.

The school is proud of its strict discipline: one boy was sent home for his hair being too short. The few who get in live in the catchment area or are drawn in a lottery, and enjoy what Young calls a ‘classical, liberal’ education.

Mobile phones are all but banned, classes are small and teachers wear black gowns on special occasions. Chewing gum earns a detention and there’s an hour’s homework daily. Attendance at after-school clubs is compulsory four days a week – subjects on offer include debating, drama, Mandarin and Arabic. The neat blazers, by the way, are supplied by Eton and Harrow’s outfitters.

Young refuses to accept that children from low-income and single-parent households or ethnic minorities should set their sights any lower than those from white, middle-class homes.

‘Too often schools make excuses for children, particularly children on free school meals, children from low-income families. We don’t do that,’ he says. ‘Critics said if you include Latin and expect children to do at least eight academic GCSEs you won’t have a single Special Education Needs applicant, but that has proved to be wrong.

‘We were also told that because of the classical liberal curriculum we would only attract rich, white children with educated, middle-class parents. Actually, 50 per cent of our intake have English as an additional language, and 35 per cent are black, Asian or minority ethnic. A quarter of our pupils are  eligible for free school dinners.

‘It is a really accurate microcosm of the area it is in, and that is one of the things parents single out – it is a comprehensive mix. Yes, we are attracting children whose parents would otherwise send them to fee-paying schools but we always set out to do that, as well as attracting the very poorest children in the community, because we want our school to be a genuine comprehensive.’

He adds: ‘We don’t have a boathouse, but we have high expectations of all the children.’

A tour of the school in Hammersmith, West London, proves his point. It stands on an unprepossessing cul-de-sac, but within its modest walls the emphasis on intellectual aspiration is everywhere, from the school’s Latin motto, ‘Sapere aude’ – ‘dare to be wise’ – to the four houses named after citizens of Greek city states: Athenians, Corinthians, Olympians and Spartans.

In a Latin class in the first year of 11 to 12-year-olds, the 23 pupils stood respectfully as I entered the room. A minute later, eight hands shot up when the teacher asked for a translation of a Latin phrase, ‘feminae pugnant’. The class listened in silence as a pupil supplied the answer: ‘The women fight.’

Most would never have come across Latin before the school, but here they were enthusiastically translating phrases from their workbooks, encouraged by a young, female teacher.

Along the corridor, a group of children stood around a teacher singing What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor? before sitting down and playing individual keyboards. Music is heavily emphasised by the school: two-thirds of pupils learn an instrument, against eight per cent across the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. A dozen children are given places on the basis of their musical talent, the evidence for which might simply be their ability to tap out a rhythm.

The quiet corridors display another school obsession: competitive sport. A trophy cabinet stands alongside notices announcing rugby and netball fixtures. Young ardently opposes the ‘all-must-have-prizes’ philosophy prevalent in parts of the state sector. ‘We take the highly controversial position that only children who come first should win a prize,’ he says.

In another parallel with the independent sector, children must stay long past the normal end of a school day to attend clubs which give breadth to their learning, largely staffed by volunteers. Parents are encouraged to make voluntary payments towards costs.

Young places great value on the strict codes of conduct at the school as well as the expectations of excellence placed on all its pupils.

'If you create a well-ordered, structured environment, that makes it easier for children to learn, especially if you have zero tolerance towards disruption in lessons'

As I walked through the school,  I saw notices reminding children to treat adults and each other with courtesy. Girls and boys chatted quietly to each other while hurrying between classes, but fell silent as they queued for their next lesson. In the Latin class, they showed no inhibitions before asking questions, after raising hands first, of course. The teacher kept control with a quiet word here and there. Rules are strict, but the children seem happy.

Soon after the school opened, two children were temporarily excluded, one for fighting, one for stealing.

Then there was the case of 11-year-old Kai Fizzle, who was sent home after he came to school with a close haircut 3mm shorter than the rules allow. At the time, his mother Tania Scott said the school failed to understand Afro-Caribbean hair needed to be kept short to be easily manageable.

Young says: ‘We were criticised on the grounds that it was discriminatory because the boy in question was black and there were cultural differences to account for, but we thought that was nonsense. You can’t have one rule for the white boys and another for the black boys.

‘One of the reasons Afro-Caribbean boys underachieve is because schools don’t have the same expectations of them and don’t hold them to the same standards as other ethnic groups. At our school we hold every child to the same high standards. What is unusual about our school isn’t that we have strict rules, but that we enforce them. Quite often in school they will have an elaborate code of conduct, but they just won’t enforce it, and that sends a very bad message to children.

‘We have just as many challenging children as the local community schools but they know we have a fairly strict code of conduct and we are not frightened to enforce it.’

Happily, Kai has continued at the school – with regulation-length hair – and Young says he is ‘thriving’. He adds: ‘If you create a well-ordered, structured environment, that makes it easier for children to learn, especially if you have zero tolerance towards disruption in lessons.’

The school says that, as a result of imposing tough rules early on, the pupils, many from difficult backgrounds, soon learn to behave and are happier for it.

It currently has 240 pupils in two year groups, each composed of 120 children in five forms. This will grow by 120 a year as it fills up. Eventually there will be seven year groups, going from 11 to 18.

I spoke to one parent, Filipe Simoes, 49, who is doing ‘The Knowledge’ to become a black cab driver, and whose 12-year-old son James is at the school.

Filipe said: ‘The school doesn’t have a track record, but the children are coming home happy. They are definitely academically challenged. James is doing very well. The only thing is whether he is doing enough homework.

‘He gets up at 6am and leaves for school at 8am and doesn’t get home until about 6pm or after that. Then he will do about an hour’s homework, which will usually include practising the guitar and reading.

‘James hasn’t been in trouble. I think it is fantastic, the discipline they have there.’

Critics claim many free schools have been established by ‘sharp-elbowed, well-off parents’ in affluent areas for middle-class children. Some say free schools in poorer areas will drain other schools of high-attaining children with the most advantaged backgrounds, creating a two-tier education system.

The leading critic is Fiona Millar, the partner of Alastair Campbell. She wrote: ‘This free schools project may satisfy some individual groups of parents and teachers and certainly benefit the edu-chains [private education companies] who stand to make a profit, but they will do little to ben-efit the rest of us, or our children.’

Best known as author of the memoir How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, Young was a contemporary of David Cameron at Oxford. Unlike the Prime Minister, an Old Etonian, he was a comprehensive schoolboy, but sees nothing wrong in apeing the  rigour and excellence of a prep school or an old-fashioned grammar.

He rejects the argument of Millar and other critics that free schools  disadvantage children from low-income families. ‘All the evidence is that if a school in a particular area starts attracting all the most aspirational parents and their children, the other neighbouring schools raise the game in order to compete.’

Headmaster Thomas Packer was head of two schools in the independent sector. He says he runs WLFS in much the same way, but on a tighter budget. He receives the same funding from the Department for Education as any other state head in the borough, about £6,000 per pupil.

His school’s prospectus proclaims its ambition that 100 per cent of its pupils should gain at least eight A-C grades at GCSE or equivalent, including in English, English literature, history, maths, science and a language.

Packer, 53, a Royal Navy reservist, admits this is an ambitious aim: the borough school average for five GCSE A-C grades is 65 per cent.  He says: ‘Most people agree that the independent sector provides a good education. I don’t see why state schools can’t aspire to the same.  ‘The background of the child should not matter. So far, we are  on course.’


Bad teaching rules poorer pupils out of Oxbridge

Students from poorer backgrounds are failing to get in to Oxbridge because of the quality of teaching in state schools, a leading scientist has warned.

Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal and a Cambridge professor, said the middle-class dominance at many top institutions was explained by the “killer fact” that half of all pupils do not receive the quality of teaching needed to qualify for the most competitive courses.

The former president of the Royal Society also cited teachers who discouraged their pupils from “aiming high enough”.

His comments, in a paper to be published tomorrow by the think tank Politeia, will reignite the debate about fair access by blaming continuing inequality on failing schools rather than university admission tutors.

Among secondary schools inspected last year by Ofsted, 42 per cent were found to have teaching that was not good enough.

As a way to lift students from poorly-performing schools, Lord Rees, Cambridge’s Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, proposes a Californian-style system where students could switch universities part-way through their studies.

Sixth-formers would being by taking a foundation degree at a low-ranked university, then could transfer to a more selective university after a year or two if they performed well enough.

“Higher education is a driver of social mobility but this will be inhibited until high-quality teaching at school is available across the full geographical and social spectrum,” said the professor, who recently stepped down as master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

“In the meantime, the most distinguished academic institutions could widen access by admitting able students who have earned their spurs in less competitive institutions - indeed we should strive for greater mobility and flexibility.”

In California, many of those who attend elite colleges such as Berkeley and UCLA have come via a lower-tier institution.

Last week, Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility chief and former Labour minister, heaped more pressure on universities to recruit pupils from poorer backgrounds.

His study - called How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility - recommended that all institutions use “contextual data” - taking in to account a student’s background - when deciding who to accept, and that bright pupils from poorer homes be guaranteed interviews.

It said the millions spent on bursaries and fee waivers for poorer students should be switched to financial grants to help ensure those pupils stayed on at school. In addition, all institutions should offer a foundation year programme so less advantaged youngsters have a chance to catch up with peers.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Leftist hatred of selective schools still seething among British academics

The BBC has been criticised by Oxbridge academics for painting too rosy a picture of grammar schools.  In a formal complaint to the corporation, a group of 16 historians and educationalists accused it of using “manipulative rhetoric” on the subject.

With selective education a contentious political topic, the corporation has a “statutory obligation” to present it in an unbiased light, they argued.

The academics singled out a two-part BBC programme about grammar schools that aired in January, claiming it used “emotive and value-laden language …accompanied by romantic piano music” to provoke a positive response among viewers.

The programme, called The Grammar School: A Secret History, broadcast on BBC Four, was said to be “largely uncritical, factually careless and reliant upon unrepresentative personal testimony”.

Prof Richard Pring, an Oxford University research fellow who led the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education and training in 2009, was among those who complained about the documentary.

He accused it of ignoring research evidence that did not support the practice of dividing children at the age of 11.

“It gave a cosy picture of that division at a time when we have a government who wants to return to these ways, so we need to have balance in their broadcasts,” he told the Times Educational Supplement.

“If there’s going to be a reinvention of education, all possible arguments, views and recollections [must] get an airing and not just one kind. It’s these views that are shaping public opinion.”

The academics attacked other programmes too, accusing the broadcaster of displaying a general bias towards grammar schools across its channels.

The achievements of the comprehensive school system should be given a “fair crack of the whip”, they argued.

The grammar schools documentary was given three and a half stars out of five in a Daily Telegraph review that praised it for cutting through “much of the romanticised poppycock that is spoken about grammar schools as part of the never-ending education debate”.

In a response to the initial complaint from the academics, Nick Shearman, the BBC’s knowledge commissioning executive, defended the documentary as “an insightful and even-handed history of the grammar school”.

But the group made a further complaint to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit, a response from which they say is 15 weeks overdue.

A BBC spokesman said: “We have written to the complainant directly to apologise for the delay.

“This matter is being dealt with, as a priority, by the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit, who will respond directly within the next seven days.”

Other academics to sign the letter of complaint included Prof Anne Edwards, the director of Oxford University’s department of education, and Diane Reay, professor of education at Cambridge University.

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, last week added his voice to the education debate, backing a return to academic selection in state school entry.


Public education going the way of the post office

Recent news of the United States Postal Service’s debt problems has brought the agency’s mounting business troubles back into the spotlight. Many post offices were shut down last year (20 in Missouri), as the USPS used one if its few tools to respond to changing business conditions.

This is an example of an industry where there are strong private alternatives to a government-provided service. USPS has a monopoly on first class mail, but UPS and FedEx provide consumers with many other options to meet shipping needs.

As I read James Shuls’ blog post “What is Public Education?” it occurred to me that traditional public schools and the postal service have more in common than one might expect.

Public schools and post offices obviously provide different services, but they are both trailing behind their private counterparts. These government services are highly regulated, in what I assume is an attempt to make them well-run. But the opposite is true. Under these conditions, the postal service cannot adapt to the changing marketplace as easily as UPS and FedEx. Similarly, public schools cannot respond to changing school and student needs as swiftly as private and charter schools.

The success of UPS, FedEx, charter schools, and private schools shows us that people often prefer non-government services and (gasp) receive a better product.

Traditional public schools are not always able to attract and retain the best teachers, nor can they remediate or remove the worst. Bad schools stay open when they should close. And regulations prevent students from using technology to learn at their own pace.

I am certainly no anarchist, but I am rational enough to see when markets are better than government. Businesses thrive when they are able to adapt and compete. Just as restrictive burdens on the USPS have hindered the organization’s performance, government regulations are stifling education. In Saint Louis, for example, it often takes more than 100 days to remove a low-performing teacher.

We need to take a clue from the postal service: freedom, not regulation, produces better results.


Unbridled use of race in school admissions must be curtailed

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, to be argued October 10, 2012, the US Supreme Court wades back into the affirmative action thicket, taking up the issue of the proper role, if any, of race in college admissions.

Abigail Fisher, who is white, was denied admission to University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) even though her academic credentials exceeded those of many admitted minority applicants. She challenged the school's use of race in selecting its incoming freshmen but lost before the US District Court for the Western District of Texas in light of the Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger.

In Grutter, a divided Court held that using race as a factor (not policies tied to racial quotas or a racial point system) was justified in the name of "diversity." However, UT-Austin treats race in a different way, and gets different results, than did the admissions program Grutterupheld at the University of Michigan Law School. That is, Grutter upheld Michigan's racial preferences because the school showed that minority enrollment would have plummeted without them — an assertion itself belied by California's experience post-Proposition 209, which outlawed racial preferences in public education and employment — while UT-Austin had already achieved real diversity (beyond even that created by Michigan's preferences) with a race-neutral law that guarantees admission to anyone graduating in the top 10 percent of a Texas public high school.

A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit nevertheless affirmed the district court's ruling for the university. Judge Emilio Garza specially concurred, however, to say that while he was bound by Grutter, that decision seemed to conflict with other precedent and with the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The Fifth Circuit then voted 9-7 against rehearing the case en banc (before all judges on the court), over a sharp dissent from Chief Judge Edith Jones that emphasized how the ruling would allow states to play fast-and-loose with Grutter's narrow-tailoring requirement.

That is how the case got to the Supreme Court — where the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief supporting Fisher and arguing that the Fifth Circuit showed blind deference to UT-Austin's policy rather than utilizing the constitutionally demanded strict scrutiny test (a test mandating that a policy be struck down if it is not narrowly tailored to fit a compelling interest). Here, the Fifth Circuit explicitly declined to utilize the strict scrutiny test and evaluate the merits of the school's decision to consider race, instead assuming the institution's good faith. Under this rule, a public university's mere assertion of a diversity interest, irrespective of the university's precise circumstances or actual motivations, trumps an applicant's right to be treated as an individual rather than a racial specimen. The Fifth Circuit ignored the Supreme Court's requirement (from the 1989 case of City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co.) that reviewing courts must use the strict scrutiny test, where the challenged entity must demonstrate a "compelling interest" and "strong basis in evidence" for racial classifications in order to "smoke out" the illegitimate motivations that can underlie such schemes.

As the Court opined in Croson: "The history of racial classifications in this country suggests that blind judicial deference to legislative or executive pronouncements of necessity has no place in equal protection analysis." However, "blind deference" is the only possible characterization of the Fifth Circuit's decision to uphold UT-Austin's policy. While acknowledging that all racial classifications by government are subject to strict scrutiny, the Fifth Circuit declined to scrutinize "the merits of the University's decision" here.

Instead, the Fifth Circuit simply presumed the university's "good faith" in both choosing to discriminate among applicants based on race and implementing that choice through a "personal achievement score." A public university's mere assertion of a "diversity" interest, no matter the precise circumstances, thus trumps the applicant's right to be regarded as an individual rather than as a specimen of a particular race or ethnicity.

Grutter certainly does not compel that result. Contrary to popular belief, Grutter did not overrule the Supreme Court's settled precedent requiring a "strong basis in evidence" to support a governmental entity's use of racial classifications, even where its interest is one that the Court has recognized, in general terms, to be compelling. Absent such a showing, the Croson Court said, "there is simply no way of determining what classifications are 'benign' or 'remedial' and what classifications are in fact motivated by illegitimate notions of racial inferiority or simple racial politics." Beyond serving to "smoke out" illegitimate motivations, a strong basis in evidence is essential to define the contours of the government's interest so as to make possible the narrow tailoring of racial preferences that is required even in the exceptional circumstances when such preferences are allowed. Only such specificity prevents general assertions of interest from being used to "justify race-based decisionmaking essentially limitless in scope and duration."

The importance of the strong-basis-in-evidence requirement is confirmed by UT-Austin's claim that its use of racial preferences was necessary to achieve a "critical mass" of underrepresented minorities. The (dubious, but accepted) evidence in Grutter demonstrated that, absent preferences, the University of Michigan Law School's minority student population would have dropped to almost nothing. However, as mentioned above, UT-Austin has achieved substantial racial diversity through its race-neutral "Top 10 Percent Law." For that reason, UT-Austin cannot demonstrate the necessity of its use of race or the scope of the preferences that it assigns to different minority groups. In reality, the UT-Austin's racial preferences have only a minimal effect on the composition of the student body, far from commensurate with the heavy toll that consideration of race exacts and hardly the "compelling" interest required to satisfy strict scrutiny.

Finally, even if UT-Austin could show that racial preferences were necessary for some legitimate reason, its chosen paradigm for applying such preferences is arbitrary. For example, the school justifies preferences for Hispanics by pointing to the need for a "critical mass" of such students — even as it denies preferences to Asians, who comprise a smaller portion of the student body.

However, the result would be the same even if UT-Austin could demonstrate that racial references are necessary to achieve a "critical mass" of underrepresented minorities. The concept of "critical mass" is arbitrary in every respect, such that its use can be supported in every instance by manipulation of the racial groups for which a "critical mass" is sought or the level at which "critical mass" is applied. "Critical mass" is antithetical to individualized consideration and the true pluralism that is the hallmark of diversity. Far from necessary to realize any legitimate end, "critical mass" is a hindrance to achieving what Justice Anthony Kennedy called in his Grutter dissent, "the harmony and mutual respect among all citizens that our constitutional tradition has always sought."

The Supreme Court should reign in UT-Austin's unbridled use of race in admissions decisions and take an important step toward ensuring that young Americans are judged on their qualifications rather than their skin color.