Friday, December 07, 2012

What do South Korean and Finnish education have in common?

Both get good results but by very different methods.  Cultural homogeneity is the key factor.  The mention of phonetic spelling below  is interesting.  English spelling is certainly a curse.  It hasn't been phonetic for 600 years.  But German and Italian spelling is phonetic too so that is not the main factor in Finnish success  -- JR

Finland has once again topped an international education ranking table.  This time, the British education firm Pearson has rated Finland the world leader in education. The country has also traditionally had a strong showing in the OECD’s PISA rankings, so it must be doing something right, right?

This success has even spawned a cottage industry dedicated to the so-called Finnish education miracle. One example of this is the book Finnish Lessons: What the World Can Learn From Educational Change in Finland? The book has been a bestseller (well, in the education section of the bookshop, anyway).

In the most recent education table, Britain did not do too badly, coming in at sixth. But what is it about Finland that makes its education system so table-rankingly excellent? It’s certainly not money. Spending on education in Finland is no higher than the OECD average.

Pearson itself explains Finland’s success by factors that are fairly difficult to quantify such as a pro-education culture and the quality of teachers. But other more easily verifiable factors also come into play although most are omitted by many educational experts.

For a start, given that South Korea (alongside Finland) has again finished in the top two, following its first place in the PISA rankings, it’s worth asking what the two countries have in common?

At first glance, not much it would seem. Koreans emphasise testing, discipline, homework and long school days. Finnish kids have one of the shortest school days in the world, are seldom tested, have little homework and address their teachers by their first name from their first day at school.

Yet closer examination shows similarities that are not revealed in the education studies.

One such similarity is orthography. Both languages are written almost exactly as they are pronounced. Therefore, a child who can spell one word will be able to spell every word, even when they hear it for the first time. An eight-year-old Finn will have no trouble identifying every letter when he hears the word ‘kertakäyttösyömäpuikkoteollisuus’. So while native English speakers practise spelling well into their teens, Finnish and Korean kids are busy brushing up on other subjects.

Another thing Finland and Korea share is a fairly homogeneous culture. Ethnic minority groups are small and immigration to both countries is conspicuously low. As Horst Entof and Nicole Miniou of Darmstadt University of Technology noted in their 2004 study, PISA results are higher in countries which have strict and/or highly selective immigration policies than they are in countries with more liberal immigration policies. The name of the study says it all: PISA Results: What a Difference Immigration Law Makes.

This point is underlined by the fact that Finland performs significantly better in PISA studies than neighbouring Sweden. Why? Sweden has an immigrant population that is 10 times bigger. When these socially and economically similar countries are compared, omitting first and second generation immigrant children from sample groups, the results become almost identical.

The chief problem, therefore, with comparative analysis of education is that it is impossibly difficult. Education does not happen in a vacuum. It is an extremely complicated process whereby culture itself is transferred from one generation to another. The idea that we can compare and quantify this transference of culture says more about the modern obsession with statistics than it does about the relative merits of education systems in various countries.

The Finnish education system is probably the best in the world - for Finns. But that does not mean that its lessons should be uncritically copied by others.  Copying someone else’s schoolwork is not true learning. That’s why you get punished for it.


Should College Students be Getting Their XXX Degrees?

Ashley Herzog

That question was posed in response to a new report from WORLD on Campus about the pornification of American universities. According to WORLD, self-styled “porn scholars” in fields ranging from literature to law “believe in immersing their students in the porn culture. Last year, 50 schools offered courses that included in-depth pornography content.”

Students and their parents—many of whom take out massive loans or a second mortgage to cover outrageously inflated tuition—might “be surprised to learn they are paying…to watch, digest and learn to appreciate pornography in college.”

As someone three years out of college, the salacious details of the report didn’t shock me—although porn-y classes are even more extreme now than when I was on campus. Students in Wesleyan’s course “Pornography: The Writing of Prostitutes” are actually required to produce a piece of pornography in order to pass. Other courses require students to photograph their genitals or write out their sexual fantasies in explicit detail.

I also wasn’t surprised to see progressives defend the porno curriculum and lob accusations of “censorship” at critics.

“There's ‘no academic basis’ for studying pornography? That's total bull----,” feminist blog Jezebel declared. “Porn affects economics: it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Porn affects politics and the law: Los Angeles just voted to require actors to use condoms when filming sex scenes.”

I agree wholeheartedly that we should study the political and legal aspects of porn, as well as its effect on our relationships and sexualities. But is open-minded exploration of these issues really taking place in most classrooms? Nah. Instead, X-rated classes are often excuses for students to get their rocks off and get class credit for it, guided by pervy professors who have a prurient interest in their students’ sex lives. Defenders of the porn curriculum should check out “Sex and God at Yale” by alum Nathan Harden. Although limited to one campus, many pornified campuses are going the way of Yale.

America’s most prestigious university has become so awash in porn culture that the main event every year is Sex Week, which is actually “eleven continuous days of nonstop sex, sexuality, sexiness, and sexsationalism,” according to Harden. He says the goal of Sex Week “is not to educate, but to titillate”—and that’s putting it very mildly.

Highlights include sex toy demonstrations and giveaways, as well as a “porn star lookalike” contest judged by an adult film director. The organizers of Sex Week give platforms to head honchos of the porn industry, including Steven Hirsch, who has produced 1,200 adult films. Hirsch bragged to an admiring student audience about how many women he’s slept with (“thousands”) and downplayed the dark side of his industry. (When asked if he’d want his own daughter to appear in one of his films, Hirsch waffled.)

Sex Week doesn’t sound like academic inquiry. It sounds like an eleven-day infomercial for the adult industry, financed by tuition dollars.

While some students undoubtedly think this campus culture is a sweet deal, it creates a hostile, harassing atmosphere for others—especially women. An entire section of Harden’s book is titled “Yale’s war on women: How Yale sends the message to students that women should be valued for their bodies, rather than their minds.”

Yale attracts some of the brightest, most talented young women in the country. But when they arrive on campus, they are shown degrading hard-core porn in class and encouraged to participate in “porn star lookalike” contests. Older students rank incoming freshmen on physical attractiveness. Yale made headlines for a string of incidents involving fraternities, in which young men marched around campus chanting “No means yes, yes means anal” and carried signs declaring, “We love Yale sluts.”

Female students are valued for their willingness to “hook up” and have casual sex with their classmates—and this degradation is egged on by professors and administrators. Harden recounts how the Dean of Students sent out an e-mail on Halloween, ostensibly to address the issues of sexual assault and campus safety.

“He got awkwardly enthusiastic about students’ sexual prospects for the evening, writing wistfully about how ‘having the sex you want’ is something that ‘makes you smile the next day,’” Harden writes. Another administrator encouraged students to “find just the right words that…lead to glorious, consensual sex.”

This in-your-face, sex-obsessed atmosphere eventually led to complaints of discrimination against women. In the spring of 2011, Yale came under federal investigation for creating a “sexually hostile environment,” and for its “inadequate response to a long trend of sexual harassment.” Seventeen female students were named as complainants.

“I feel like because I have had to deal with certain sexual misconduct from my peers that I don't have equal access," Hannah Zeavin, a Yale student and complainant in the case, told ABC News. "I can't sleep well anymore and when I walk around Yale campus at night I'm scared." Some might be tempted to blame the students for the campus environment. Harden disagrees. He believes the tone is set by administrators and professors, most of whom are steeped in sexual liberationist ideology.

“Most universities today are run by leftist ideologues and free-love social revolutionaries left over from the sixties,” Harden told me in an interview. “The hyper-sexual culture they helped create has led to a me-first brand of sexuality, where the feelings, the well-being, and even the consent of others is disregarded in an all-out pursuit of getting ‘what I want, when I want it.’”

As a young person, I couldn’t agree more. Our students—and especially our young women—deserve better.


End of teachers' national pay deals in Britain: Union fury as heads win power to freeze salaries

Teachers who under-perform will have their salaries frozen under plans to end the system of national pay deals for classroom staff.

Annual rises for teachers will be scrapped and heads given almost complete freedom to dictate salary increases in the shake-up outlined in the Autumn Statement.

National pay scales which virtually guaranteed teachers annual £2,000 rises will be axed from next September. Instead heads will award increases based on annual appraisals of performance in the classroom, allowing them to reward the best teachers and limit the pay of the least effective.

The reforms also mean that heads will be able to withhold the 1 per cent pay rise due for public sector workers in 2013/14 and 2014/15. Only those on the lowest salaries in three broad pay bands will be guaranteed the increase.

The move – which will be put out to consultation – strikes at the heart of national pay bargaining and severely weakens the power of teaching unions.

Ministers hope it will boost standards in the classroom. Education Secretary Michael Gove said: ‘These recommendations will make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job.

They will give schools greater flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers.’

But union barons declared war over the ‘disastrous’ and ‘cynical’ proposals, raising the prospect of a fresh wave of strike action in schools.

Currently, teachers move up the main pay scale according to length of service in the classroom. The system has meant that long-serving but under-performing teachers are paid the same as more capable colleagues.

Under proposed reforms, heads would be able to promote a teacher from a £21,000-a-year salary to £51,000 in just six months.

The plans were unveiled by George Osborne following recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).

The Chancellor said national pay arrangements for civil servants, prison officers and NHS staff will continue, but told MPs there would be greater flexibility for schools.

‘The School Teachers’ Review Body does recommend much greater freedom for individual schools to set pay in line with performance,’ he said.

National pay negotiations will remain but agreed rises will no longer be guaranteed for the vast majority of staff. Heads will instead have discretion over whether to pass the increases on.

However the Chancellor appears to have abandoned plans for regional pay bargaining for schools, which could have meant that a teacher in the north-east was paid less than one in the south-east.

Under yesterday’s proposals, detailed national pay scales for teachers will be ripped up and replaced with three broad pay bands – starting at £21,804, £34,523 and £37,836 for teachers outside London.

While teachers will be protected from pay cuts, heads will have wide discretion to dictate salaries within each band based on classroom performance – including pupil results – and accelerate staff through the three levels.

There is already an element of performance-related pay for more senior teachers, which will be strengthened and extended to all.

The changes apply only to teachers, with pay arrangements for heads and deputies remaining largely unchanged. Heads of state-funded academies and free schools already have the freedom to dictate teachers’ pay. Yesterday’s proposals apply to the majority of schools which operate under the auspices of local authorities.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said the independent STRB may have been ‘leant on’ – a claim denied by the Government. ‘The war on teachers waged by the Coalition Government continues,’ she said.

‘If implemented, the STRB’s recommendations would leave behind the wreckage of a national pay framework which will be incapable of delivering consistent, fair and transparent approaches to pay.’


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Fiscal Cliff: Michigan Union Experiencing Same Pension Headache it Forces on Schools

When it rains it pours for the Michigan Education Association.  It was recently defeated on Election Day when it attempted to pass a ballot proposal that would have enshrined collective bargaining in the state constitution. Now it’s in full panic mode about a rumored Right to Work bill that may be introduced in the state legislature.

So as the union’s power is waning, it appears the cupboard may be going bare, too.

The MEA has been foundering under staggering liabilities for the last few years, and it may have just gone over the cliff.

Despite only a minor drop in membership – less than 2 percent – a recently-filed financial report reveals the union’s net assets dropped from $-111 million to $-159 million in one year.

That appears largely due to a massive increase in its pension liability for its own employees

The union’s 2011 report revealed its pension and health care liability was $163,921,351. In 12 months, it ballooned by $44.6 million to a new total of $208,524,148. This increase accounts almost completely for the union’s massive $48 million drop in net assets.

The irony, of course, is that the union is suffering from the same type of pension liability headaches it routinely imposes on school districts and the state government.

The union is learning that it costs too much to guarantee employees sweet pension deals, particularly during hard times. Given that reality, one might expect the MEA to have more mercy on local school boards and the state when it comes to demanding cushy pensions for teachers.

MEA employees have demanded from the union what the union has been demanding on behalf of its dues payers. It’s a vicious, unsustainable cycle and everyone is paying the price.


New Hampshire Teachers call dress code ‘Condescending’

Just how far has the culture in government schools devolved?  School district efforts to professionalize staff is now considered an affront to teachers.  At least that’s the attitude emanating from teachers in the Hampton, New Hampshire SAU 90 school district.

The school board is considering an update to its dress-code policy for teachers, and, according to, “several teachers are insulted such a policy exists, telling them blue jeans, sneakers, flip-flops and tank tops are off limits.”

Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said staff members feel the proposed policy is “derogatory and condescending.”

It’s derogatory to ask professionals to dress a little more professionally that the young children in their charge?

Thank goodness several school board members are rejecting this protest as an affront to their authority. Citizens elect the board to run the schools and make the rules. Nobody elected the union to run anything.

“’Who backs up management?” board member Ginny Bridle-Russell asked. “What happens if they go to a teacher and say, ‘I don't feel that dress is appropriate, it's too short,’ and the teacher (responds by saying), ‘Says who?’”

Board Chairwoman Charlotte Ring said dress codes must be standardized in districts like Hampton that have more than one school.

“I wouldn't mind going without a policy if we had one building principal and one school,” Ring said. “But we have three schools and three building principals, and what may be acceptable in one school might not be in another.”

The fact that any school board has to navigate a controversy over the employee dress code illustrates the alarming amount of power teachers unions have grabbed over time.

The unions use that same power to block changes that really matter to students, like new evaluations that increase teacher accountability and improve instruction.

The proposed dress policy in Hampton is on hold for now and the superintendent is planning to report back to the school board in January with more information, according to the news report.

In the meantime, teachers will continue to be free to dress like they’re on the seashore instead of a classroom.


School buses, teamsters, and rent-seeking

A new statute in Illinois makes safety the primary consideration in public schools awarding contracts to school bus operators. This replaces the taxpayer-friendly rule that contracts should be awarded to the qualified provider that bids the lowest price. Safety has already been part of qualification. The statute passed the Illinois Legislature at the behest of the Teamsters Union, which has a master agreement with First Student School Bus Transportation Services (a subsidiary of the UK's First Group). The agreement makes it difficult for First Student to compete on price with relatively union-free operators such as Durham School Services (a subsidiary of the UK's National Express Group).

John T. Coli, a Teamster official, exclaimed, “The new law will finally ensure that driver safety, skills and student security are not trumped by reckless, fly-by-night owner-operators hoping to win contracts with the lowest possible bid.” Which operators are “reckless and fly-by-night”? To the Teamsters and their political satraps, they are, by definition, union-free operators.

Another Teamster boss, James T. Glimco, passionately proclaimed, “It’s one thing for the state to want to save money on its transportation services, but we cannot jeopardize student safety to help Illinois save a few extra bucks on its contracts.” But the new statute has very little to do with student safety. It is really about rent-seeking—that is, decreasing the competitive advantage of operators who are relatively free of excessive Teamster-imposed labor costs. Illinois safety bureaucrats will always rank a Teamster-impaired school bus operator as safer than any of its competitors, notwithstanding that actual safety records show no significant differences.

And First Student is definitely union-impaired. In its commentary regarding First Student's financial prospects for fiscal year 2012, Bank of America wrote,  “We believe that the current school bidding season will be challenging, with [First Student] protecting its margins at the cost of volume, and thus potentially losing a number of contracts to competition.” It has to protect its margins because of its Teamster-driven increases in labor costs. 

How did First Student fall prey to the Teamsters? Beginning in 2001 the union undertook a corporate smear campaign to depreciate First Student's reputational capital. In 2006, Martin Gilbert, the Chairman of FirstGroup, signaled surrender when, at the UK company's Annual General Meeting, he promised to “stamp out anti-union behavior” and declared that the company “would do everything in its power to ensure the company was neutral on the issue of employee representation.” From 2006 to 2008 the Teamsters and their favorite academic union apologists—e.g., John Logan of San Francisco State University and Lance Compa of Cornell University—attacked First Student for its alleged failure to live up to the promises of 2006. Curiously, Logan and Compa argued that United Nations and International Labor Organization rules require employer neutrality in union representation campaigns.

In 2008 First Student fully surrendered to the Teamsters by adopting a “Freedom of Association” policy that compels it to remain neutral in all Teamster organizing efforts. First Student’s freedom of association policy requires it “to refrain from management conduct . . . which is intended to influence an employee's view or choice with regard to labor union representation.” The result? According to William Gould, chairman of the National Labor Relations Board in the Clinton administration and a monitor of First Student's neutrality policy, First Student's “union membership increased from approximately 18 percent to more than 80 percent” from 2008 through 2010. Gould thinks this is wonderful, but it is actually nothing more than a malign consequence of surrender-through-neutrality.

Notwithstanding William Gould to the contrary, when a company that is a target of union organizing refrains from providing its employees with reasons to remain union-free, it trespasses against its employees' freedom of association.

Freedom of association has two parts: any person can agree to associate with any other person (or group) and any person can refuse to associate with any other person (or group). In brief, freedom of association means any person is free to associate with any other person who is willing to associate with him.

To give effect to worker freedom of association the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was amended in 1947 to permit and encourage employer free speech in union organizing campaigns. Freedom of association requires that workers make an uncoerced, informed choice regarding unionization. That choice requires that workers hear both sides of the unionization debate. Employer neutrality is a trap for employers and employees.

The Teamsters are trying to capture Durham in the neutrality trap, but Durham has chosen to speak vigorously and truthfully against unionization whenever and wherever  the Teamsters try to corral more dues-payers among its employees.

More here

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

France: M. Hollande's plan to ditch homework draws criticism

The latest revolt against France's aristocracy is all about ... homework.

President Francois Hollande, the socialist leader swept into office in May, has targeted homework as bestowing an unfair advantage on the rich, and his solution is to eliminate it for all elementary and junior high school students. But the plan is drawing criticism from the very folks it was supposed to help – poor people. And education experts aren't so keen on it either, saying underprivileged kids need the structure and purpose that homework provides.

"Poor people want homework because they know that school is very important, and the only chance — the only possibility — they have to give their children a better life is if their children succeed at school," Emmanuel Davidenkoff, editor-in-chief of L'Etudiant, a magazine and website devoted to French school and education, told NPR.

Hollande reasons that homework favors wealthy families because they are more likely to have the time and ability to support and supervise their children’s after-school efforts. The unorthodox plan is part of a bigger effort aimed at making primary and secondary school more enjoyable for children and comes as the country falls behind other industrialized nations – including the U.S. – in reading and science.

“Education is priority,” Hollande said in an October speech at Paris’s Sorbonne University. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

Students in France attend classes four days a week, but the school day is long and instruction is typically rote. French school is a grind, according to Peter Gumbel, author of a scathing book on the education system in France.

 "There's an enormous amount of pressure, and it's no fun whatsoever,” Gumbel said.

But simply surrendering the idea of homework may not be a good idea, according to some experts. Guy Winch, a psychologist who has written about homework in the American system recently wrote in Psychology Today that educators must strike a balance to ensure healthy childhood development.

“One easy guideline to keep in mind is that children should be assigned no more than 10 minutes a day of homework per grade level,” Winch wrote. “A sixth grader should be doing no more than an hour of homework a day, and a senior in high school should have no more than two hours a day of homework.”

Duke University Professor Harris Cooper, an expert on child development, told Hollande's plan is more likely to hurt poor kids than help them.

"Disadvantaged kids have fewer resources for learning outside school, so removing homework might actually widen the achievement gap, not narrow it," said Cooper, chairman of the school's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. "There are much better ways to close the achievement gap."


British maths pupils lag behind other countries 'because poor teachers don't have a proper grasp of the subject'

Who will teach a generation who were themselves badly taught?

Pupils are lagging behind in maths compared with other countries because not enough primary school teachers have a proper grasp of the subject, a report claims today.

There are too few mathematically competent teachers in primaries, with many achieving only a GCSE grade C.

The problem means thousands of pupils leave primary school without getting to grips with the basics, according to a report published by think-tank Politeia. The Government is introducing a new primary curriculum in 2014 in an effort to raise standards in English, maths and science.

But the report warns the main problem is the poor standard of teachers.  Countries which perform better in maths – including Finland, Japan and Singapore – have more mathematically competent teachers who ‘outperform British teachers in mathematics tests’, it claims.

The report is by David Burghes, who is professor of mathematics teaching at the University of Plymouth and director of the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching.

He said: ‘We have too few teachers at primary school with a real understanding of mathematics, leading to children not being fully extended; the pupils continue into the secondary stage, where there is a shortage of adequately trained mathematicians.

‘This results in not enough students in the sixth form taking mathematics and low numbers of students undertaking mathematics at universities.

‘The cycle continues with not enough mathematically well-qualified young people entering the teaching profession. A route must be found to break this sequence.’

The report adds: ‘It may seem easier (or provide quicker results) to concentrate on secondary school mathematics, but for long-term sustainable enhancement the aim must be to change primary mathematics.’

Professor Burghes welcomes some of the proposals in the Department for Education’s draft maths curriculum, such as early mastery of addition and subtraction.

However, he believes primary school pupils should master multiplication tables at a younger age and also learn algebra and probability.


Clash of British Leftists over access to elite universities

On this occasion I think Ebdon is right and Adonis is the dreamer

The Government’s access tsar faced calls to quit yesterday after he claimed it was ‘dreadful snobbery’ to make schools focus too much on elite universities.

Professor Les Ebdon said teenagers should not feel pressured to apply for the most academic courses when they might be better suited to an apprenticeship or vocational degree.

But his comments started a row with Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Adonis, warning he wasn’t sure if Professor Ebdon was ‘fit to hold his post’ as director of the Office for Fair Access.

Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Adonis, right, said the Professor should 'hand his job on to someone who actually believes in "fair access" to higher education'

He claimed Professor Ebdon should ‘hand his job on to someone who actually believes in “fair access” to higher education’.

Lord Adonis believes Professor Ebdon’s comments show a lack of commitment to his task of helping increase the number of pupils from state schools and poorer homes at the leading universities.

In a letter to the Times Education Supplement, he said: ‘I am not sure that Les Ebdon is fit to hold his post if he believes it is “dreadful snobbery” for schools to be encouraged to send as many pupils as possible to elite universities.

‘Does Professor Ebdon not direct an organisation called the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education?  ‘Is not one of its key purposes to help ensure that every teenager rises to their full potential, including the potential to go to an “elite university”?  ‘Is he therefore saying it is “snobbery” for this potential to be far better realised than at present?’

Lord Adonis added: ‘If Ebdon is saying these things, then he should hand his job on to someone who actually believes in “fair access” to higher education.’

Professor Ebdon made his controversial comments in a TES interview ten days ago.  He expressed dismay that society ‘really undervalues apprenticeships’ and engineering courses.

He said: ‘One of our problems is there’s such a dreadful snobbery about whether people go to university or which university they go to. I would hate to see that work through into undue pressure on schools.’ Professor Ebdon, the former vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, yesterday said his comments had been taken out of context by Lord Adonis.

His appointment to OFFA on September 1 was steeped in controversy, with a number of high-ranking MPs opposing the move.

Professor Ebdon had threatened to use the ‘nuclear option’ of financial penalties against universities that fail to widen their intake of disadvantaged students.

Leading independent schools, which dominate successful applicants to elite universities, have criticised some institutions for making lower offers to students from low performing schools – a policy backed by Professor Ebdon.

Chris Ramsey, headmaster of The King’s School in Chester and co-chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and Girls’ Schools Association’s universities’ committee, also attacked Professor Ebdon’s comments.  He said: ‘It seems to me that it isn’t snobbery to aim high.’


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Away in a manger, two crooks stole the bed: How one school decided to change the story of Christmas

A primary school has been criticised after they ditched the traditional Christmas nativity, opting to stage a 'cops and robbers' themed play.

Parents have been left fuming by the school's decision to choose the modernised play, in which their children sing Away in a Manger with a completely different set of lyrics.

The play, which will be performed by 11-year-olds at Canvey Junior School in Essex, gets rid of traditional characters Mary and Joseph, instead focusing on the tale of two violent robbers.

But parents have described the school's decision a 'tasteless' in light of a number of armed robberies in Canvey Island, where the school is based.

Parents have also complained that themes of theft and violence are inappropriate for young children to intake - with one parent reported to have withdrawn their child from the production and complained about the play's content.

One parent, who did not want to be named, said: 'I can't see that this gangster story is going to be better than something from the Bible.  'What are they going to have our children saying? 'Sorry Mary and Joseph, but there is no room in the cells?'

They added: 'I think it is a little tasteless to stage the play with all the recent reports of armed robberies on the island.  'I don't understand why the politically correct brigade has had to get rid of the traditional story anyway?'

The school has defended the decision not to stage the traditional nativity play - a staple in  schools across the UK.

Headteacher Janet Vaughan said the play, which has been previously published and was downloaded from the internet, is 'fun' and 'lighthearted'.

She said: 'The outcome is the robbers are caught and banged to rights and the true meaning of Christmas comes across very strongly with a nativity at the end.'   'It is nice to have a fun element to any sort of Christmas production and we always have a religious basis to it as well.  'It is very, very funny and nothing more than a light-hearted version of events.'

Referring to the updated lyrics to Away in a Manger, she said: 'It's nonsense to say the words are anything other than tongue-in-cheek and the children understand that.'

After receiving a parent's complaint, Mrs Vaughan wrote to all parents saying if they had similar concerns their child could be withdrawn from the play.

However, she said despite one child not taking part, other parents have been supportive of the production.  She added: 'Our productions are always absolutely excellent, the kids get such a lot out of it.'


2,000 British primary pupils ARRESTED for naughtiness

Six primary school children are being arrested every day leading to youngsters being criminalised for behaviour that was once written off as naughtiness, a report claims.

More than 209,000 young people were detained by police in England and Wales last year with 2,117 under the age of 11.

But campaigners claim just a quarter of those children arrested are ever sentenced for a criminal offence, with most being picked up for indulging in pranks and minor mischief.

In one case in Sussex, four youngsters were swooped upon by police after throwing sticks at a horse chestnut tree and in another case in Cheshire an 11-year-old schoolboy was arrested on suspicion of a hate-crime after calling a classmate gay.

While the number of childhood arrests has fallen in recent years, The Howard League for Penal Reform claims childhood arrests can lead to numerous problems later in life with some youngsters struggling to access further education and even find work.

Researchers have also suggested that being introduced to the criminal justice system at a young age can lead to children becoming entrenched in the culture rather than put off following a life of crime.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Children who get into trouble are more often than not just being challenging teenagers and how we respond to this nuisance behaviour could make a difference for the rest of their lives.

“An arrest can blight a life and lead to a criminal record for just being naughty. Only a handful of children are involved in more serious incidents and they usually suffer from neglect abuse or mental health issues.”

She added: “Under the last government, police success was measured by the number of arrests and children proved a seductive way to make up the numbers.”

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: “As with adults, detention of children in custody is authorised for a number of reasons, including to further a criminal investigation, to uncover the identity of any suspects or because the disappearance of that person would hinder any prosecution.

"The rules for the detention of suspects are set down in law and on every occasion must be authorised by a custody officer.

"Detentions of both children and adults in police custody are reviewed regularly to ensure that they are being held in accordance with the law and not for any longer than required for police investigations."


New British primary school curriculum 'riddled with errors'

Many of the errors are trivial but there has clearly been a lack of expert consultation

The Coalition has been accused of inserting a host of factual mistakes and misconceptions into its proposed new curriculum for primary school children.

Leading scientists and mathematicians have criticised the Government for allowing errors to be made throughout its draft specifications for pupils aged under 11.

It was claimed that a new science curriculum gets the process of breathing wrong and significantly underestimates the number of stars in our galaxy.

Other howlers include a suggestion that the cheetah is the fastest animal, despite the fact that birds are also animals and some can fly faster than a cheetah can run.

In maths, it was also pointed out that a sentence reminding teachers that pupils should “recognise that tenths arise in dividing an object into tenths” would not be very useful.

The corrections come in a series of responses to the Government’s consultation into its plans to overhaul the science and maths curriculum in England.

Organisations including the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Biology and the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) raised a series of concerns over the proposals.

Some groups claimed the study programmes overemphasised rote learning, the recall of facts and the mechanics of arithmetic at the expense of building a deeper understanding of key subjects.

But the consultation responses also featured a string of corrections to factual mistakes, with almost 200 suggested improvements being made to the draft plans for science alone.

Recommended changes to the maths curriculum outlined by ACME run to 80 pages.

In its response, the organisation said: “Specific mathematical errors in the draft should be corrected and future drafts should be reviewed for mathematical accuracy in advance of publication.”

ACME members had noted “many instances where the mathematical sense and language of statements [within the draft curriculum] are inaccurate”, it said.

The group, which represents maths teachers and academics, criticised a section in the Government document that suggested asking pupils to “compare and classify geometric shapes, including squares, rectangles and triangles”.

ACME said: “Squares are rectangles.”

The Society of Biology took issue with the Government’s description of breathing “as the movements that cause exchange of gases between the body and its surroundings”.

In its response, it said: “This is incorrect: breathing doesn’t cause the exchange of gases – gases move across because of a concentration gradient.”

In physics, the draft curriculum said the star at the centre of our solar system was “one of millions of stars in the galaxy called the Milky Way”.

But the Institute of Physics said: “There are between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way.”

Ministers are currently part-way through a first consultation on new draft national curriculum “programmes of study” for English, maths and science. A second draft will be published in the New Year, with the curriculum designed to be taught from September 2014.

Other learned bodies criticised the English curriculum.

Organisations such as the English Association and the United Kingdom Literacy Association claimed that ministers were overemphasising rote learning and factual recall at the expense of teaching for deeper understanding, meaning learning standards could fall.

The associations also repeatedly question the coherence and logic of specific parts of the draft curriculum.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We published draft programmes of study so that subject specialists could contribute and help us to create a National Curriculum which matches the best in the world. We will incorporate any comments on accuracy and hold a full public consultation on the revised drafts before they are finalised.”


Monday, December 03, 2012

Bankrupt State University

Mike Adams

Many of my friends and readers are disheartened by recent cultural and political trends. Many blame our universities and wonder whether we can ever restore sanity in our nation, given that the enemy seems to control the modern university. They see no chance to win in the war of ideas as long as they are forced to support the public university and, therefore, forced to fund a war against their own cherished values.

But I know something they don't know. The public university that has declined so steadily in recent years will cease to exist in just a few short decades. The moral bankruptcy we have seen over the last twenty years is about to be followed by another sort of bankruptcy. Before long, many of the universities that have betrayed taxpayers and alumni will be forced out of business. It will happen for the following reasons:

1. Federal funding reductions. LBJ got us deeply entrenched in the business of federal funding for institutions of higher education. When he did, tuition began to skyrocket. More recently, the federal government has gotten us deeply entrenched in the business of individual student loans. This has had the same effect. When a lot of people are able to borrow a lot of money to purchase goods or services, the effect on the price of those goods and services is dramatic. Supply and demand is not a rule; it is a law.

State university administrators seized upon the increased demand for higher education by raising tuition. This was done for three reasons: a) because they could, b) because they wanted to give themselves raises, and c) because they wanted to hire associate and assistant administrators to do their work for them.

Now, the federal deficit is spinning out of control. As a result, the federal government will soon have to cut aid to state universities. This will confront administrators with this important decision: will they a) cut administrative spending, or b) raise tuition? The answer will be "b."

2. Student loan bubble. People are easily enticed into taking the bait when offered unlimited funds to pursue education. This applies to those who are not qualified to attend college at all. (Think about the housing bubble for just a moment). As tuition continues to rise, many more students who enroll will figure out that they have been duped long before they graduate. The universities have lied to them during recruitment. Departments in the social sciences and other disciplines have betrayed them by exaggerating the pay scale and availability of jobs they could likely expect upon graduation. These realizations will result in a massive upswing in the dropout rate over the next few years. These dropouts are many times more likely to default on their college loans than students who graduate.

When the whole college loan industry collapses, people will actually have to pay for school as they go. That will result in many empty seats in many college classrooms. Universities will have to make up the difference by turning to alumni donors.

3. Declining donations. Consider the following scenario: just two weeks ago, a fraternity of 80 men was ejected from a public university campus. They were investigated for hazing but then exonerated. They were also investigated for an alcohol violation that was so minor that police declined to arrest anyone. They were found to be guilty of only one offense, which was dubbed "failure to cooperate with the investigation." This was another way of saying the university thought but could not prove they were guilty because they refused to confess. At the end of the day, the 80-man fraternity was banned from campus for three years.

This real life incident will have two real life repercussions: a) the administrator who led the investigation will be promoted for expelling a politically incorrect fraternity (one of their flags has a Confederate symbol embedded within it). b) 80 future alumni will respond to the administrative overreach by refusing to donate for the rest of their adult lives.

This issue is serious. As the university administration has grown, it has assumed more control over the lives of students. In recent years, students have been prosecuted with increasing frequency for increasingly petty offenses with drastically decreasing respect for their due process rights. This includes petty prosecutions for speech code violations that amount to stripping students of the right to participate in the free exchange of ideas - the very reason many came to college in the first place. Is anyone foolish enough to believe this will have no effect on their willingness to donate?

The army of administrators that grew in the 1990s as a result of generous federal funding and the explosion in student loans will soon have to beg in order to retain their positions. Alumni will wisely apply the norm of reciprocity by exercising their power over these overpaid and underworked administrators who once practiced authoritarianism on them. They will wisely withhold donations and instead focus on paying their entirely-too-high student loan payments.

For all of these reasons, the public universities will eventually go bankrupt. And that is good news for a nation that is going morally bankrupt in the shadow of the ivory tower. They had a good thing going but the party is close to being over. The hangover will soon begin.


I was bullied out of Oxford for being a Tory

Petronella Wyatt

It is not just today’s university students who are attacked for their views

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of winning a place at Oxford University. Both my father and my elder brother had been at what I imagined was the world’s greatest seat of learning, a modern-day wine-blushed Greek symposium encouraging the dual pillars of civilisation, free thinking and tolerance.

Yet, within two weeks of taking up my place at Worcester College in the late Eighties to read history, I’d packed my bags, precipitating the first scandal of my life. My father broke down and cried. Friends were baffled. The Evening Standard diary claimed I’d quit because I objected to fellow undergraduates having sex in the room next to mine. The writer A N Wilson announced waggishly that I’d departed because I was forced to drink out of chipped mugs.

The truth was less droll. I ran away. Yes, ran, because I had been subject to systematic bullying and intimidation. Not on account of my rather outré name, or the fact that I came from a private school. I was persecuted for one reason only, and in this cradle of supposed enlightenment it was both bigoted and barbaric: my father, the late Woodrow Wyatt, was a high-profile adviser to Margaret Thatcher and I was a Conservative supporter.

Why bring this up now, you might ask. Well, recent reports suggest that a new generation of Right-of-centre students are suffering a similar persecution. Such is the institutionalised and increasing hatred of Tory students at Oxford that last week a group of them demanded the same equal-rights protection as gays, disabled people and ethnic minorities.

Conservative members of Corpus Christi College’s junior common room (JCR) claim they are “often actively isolated, personally attacked and made to feel unwelcome” because of their political views. They want to create a post on the college’s equal opportunities committee to ensure that their opinions can be aired freely.

Their situation wasn’t helped by a recent BBC Two documentary, Wonderland: Young, Bright and on the Right, about student politics, which portrayed Tories as oddballs and neo-Nazis. It featured graduate Joe Cooke, former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), travelling in a Rolls-Royce, sporting a silver suit and silver-topped cane.

At other universities, Conservative students say they are being treated as “scapegoats” for the introduction of higher tuition fees. Luke Black, 20, vice-president of Nottingham University Conservative Association, told a Sunday newspaper that “there is a growing Left-wing bias at universities. People assume we are like the Bullingdon Club without meeting us.”

Samuel Roberts, 21, a history student at Corpus Christi, who proposed the motion for greater protection, says such a climate is “uncomfortable”, while Stephanie Cherill, 19, president elect of OUCA, says there has been a deterioration in the attitude of JCR members towards people who are Right of centre. “This poses a threat to the atmosphere of intellectual discussion, as well as to the welfare of members,” she says.

I was in a minority of one during my first few weeks at Oxford. I had gone up in September 1986, a cripplingly shy 18-year-old. Hatred of the Conservative Party was at its most febrile. The year before, the university had voted to refuse Margaret Thatcher – a former student – an honorary degree, because of cuts in higher education funding. The atmosphere would have made a Stalinist shudder with apprehension.

During the first few days of freshers’ week, when new students socialise with each other and the dons, I had a taste of the wormwood that was to come. I was to find that the dons not only connived in the taunting of Tory undergraduates but took part with relish.

The politics of the miners’ strike, privatisation and the government’s opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa were brought into the wood-panelled rooms of the tutorial. My first one involved translating 18th-century French texts into English, and I was unprepared for what followed.

“Miss Wyatt,” said the don, Harry Pitt (now deceased), “please translate the first paragraph.” I stumbled over it. A small man with a face like cake batter, Pitt was big on bile.

“Do Thatcherites refuse to learn French or are they just stupid?” he demanded. The other undergraduates giggled. Tears pricked the back of my eyes. “I suggest you take some basic French lessons in your spare time – that is, if you’re not too busy socialising,” Pitt snarled.

I walked back to my rooms a disconsolate figure. At dinner in college that evening I sat by myself; then I felt a light tap on my shoulder. It was a second-year English student named James who introduced himself as a member of the OUCA. “I know who you are,” he said kindly. “I’m afraid it’s like that. Anyone suspected of being a Tory is picked on. It’s bad enough for me, but they know your father is close to Margaret Thatcher, so it will be worse for you. Most Tory freshers pretend they’re Labour.”

Later, at a local pub, I cravenly attempted to dissimulate. I insisted that I didn’t agree with everything Mrs Thatcher said. This ploy proved unsuccessful. A first year PPE student, who, ironically, had been to Eton, said: “You’re the daughter of a fascist pig. You’re contaminated.” Other students took up the refrain. I was perverted, dirty. “How do Tories have sex?” one asked. “They beat each other, don’t they?”

I felt the way homosexuals must have felt before the liberal legislation of the Sixties. Would I ever be able to lead a normal life at Oxford? Would I be forced to meet like-minded people only after dark? Would I have to turn to Labour and suppress my natural inclinations? The three years before me stretched out as a purgatory of ostracism and isolation.

The only openly Tory don was Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, who was based at my college. He was hated for being not only a Conservative but a foreign policy adviser to Thatcher and one of her speech writers. He was hardly ever there. He loathed the place as provincial and petty, and for its adherence to the Marxist-determinist view of history. (In 1997 he took up a professorship at the University of Bilkent, in Ankara, Turkey.)

“You won’t be happy here,” he told me. “I get out as much as possible to escape these -----.”

I began commuting from Oxford to my parents’ house in London, finding refuge with my more open-minded metropolitan friends and family. I told my father I hated Oxford and why. He was incredulous. During his time there in the Forties, all political views had been accepted. “But it’s the best place in the world,” he said pathetically. “They wouldn’t do that, not among my dreaming spires. Even my Communist friends always had impeccable manners.” His rheumy eyes began to cloud. “Give it a chance. I’m sure it’s all just a tease. It would break my heart if you left.”

Exhausted by my frequent trips to London, my emotional resistance was deteriorating. A male friend of mine, also a Tory supporter, had succumbed to pressure and renounced his creed. During a tutorial the following week, when another history don had suggested, in complete seriousness, that I was an “enemy of the people”, I decided to do the same. Inwardly blushing with shame, I admitted to being “brainwashed by my parents” and called them “old fools”.

The respite was short. It was my father who drove the nail into the coffin of my Oxford career. At the time, he wrote two columns in the Murdoch press each week. Early one morning a group of undergraduates began banging on my door. I heard vicious shouts. My father had written a piece supporting Margaret Thatcher’s stance against South African sanctions. “Let’s lynch her dad. I bet he’d like to lynch coloured people. Does he call them niggers? Let’s lynch you. Like father like daughter.”

My door was locked. I cowered inside, and after five minutes, my pursuers gave up. When they left, I packed a suitcase and caught the first train to London. I never went back.

You may call me a snivelling wimp. But no 18-year-old should be subject to such intimidation and vitriol in an educational institution. Even more tragic is that it was Oxford, which not only produced 14 Tory prime ministers, but, to this day, hides behind an ill-deserved reputation for equality and freedom of thought.


Sir James Dyson warns over graduate engineer shortage

Britain’s top companies are failing to recruit enough skilled engineers because of a dire shortage of highly-trained graduates, Sir James Dyson has warned.  Sir James warned that his own company had “struggled to fill” 200 vacancies this year.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the inventor and entrepreneur called on the Government to ease restrictions on the number of overseas students remaining in the country after their courses had ended, insisting bright foreigners were needed to “develop technology for export and relieve our skills shortage”.

The comments come just days after Boris Johnson claimed that current immigration policy risks driving the most talented international students to rival countries such as Australia and the United States.

Last week, the Telegraph also told how rising numbers of British students were now moving overseas after completing their degree courses.

It was revealed that almost 5,200 graduates sought employment in mainland Europe, the Far East and North America last year – up by a quarter since 2008 – with those from the best universities most likely to move abroad.

In a letter, Sir James said Britain would have a major deficit of engineers by 2017, adding: “Dyson has experienced this first hand, and struggled to fill the 200 extra engineering roles created this year.”

He said that Britain continued to recruit more bright foreign students than most other countries, but insisted more than eight-in-10 science and engineering postgraduates returned home after completing their research.

Sir James, who invented the bagless vacuum cleaner among other technological innovations, said: “It is now too difficult for the brightest graduates to stay in Britain.  “Rather than sending science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates packing, encourage them to stay.  “Britain needs their expertise to develop technology for export and relieve our skills shortage.”


Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Tyranny of "Good Intentions" at U.S. Colleges

In 1902, journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote a book called "The Shame of the Cities." At the time, Americans took pride in big cities, with their towering skyscrapers, productive factories and prominent cultural institutions.

Steffens showed there were some rotten things underneath the gleaming veneers -- corrupt local governments and political machines, aided and abetted by business leaders.

In recent weeks, two books have appeared about another of America's gleaming institutions, our colleges and universities, either of which could be subtitled "The Shame of the Universities."

In "Mismatch," law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor expose, in the words of their subtitle, "How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It." In "Unlearning Liberty," Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, describes how university speech codes create, as his subtitle puts it, "Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate."

"Mismatch" is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. Sander and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices' racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well prepared than others.

As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and math courses, and drop out without graduating. The effect is particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.

This happens, Sander and Taylor argue, not because these students lack ability but because they've been thrown in with students of exceptional ability -- the mismatch of the authors' title. At schools where everyone has similar levels of test scores and preparation, these students do much better. And they don't suffer the heartache of failure.

That was shown when California's state universities temporarily obeyed a 1996 referendum banning racial quotas and preferences. UCLA law school had fewer black students but just as many black graduates. The university system as a whole produced more black and Hispanic graduates.

Similarly, black students interested in math and science tend to get degrees in those subjects in historically black colleges, while those in schools with a mismatch switch to easier majors because math instruction is pitched to classmates with better preparation.

University admissions officers nevertheless maintain what Taylor calls "an enormous, pervasive and carefully concealed system of racial preferences," even while claiming they aren't actually doing so. The willingness to lie systematically seems to be a requirement for such jobs.

The willingness to lie systematically is also a requirement for administrators who profess a love of free speech while imposing speech codes and penalizing students for violations.

All of which provides plenty of business for Lukianoff's FIRE, which opposes speech codes and brings lawsuits on behalf of students -- usually, but not always, conservatives -- who are penalized.

Those who graduated from college before the late 1980s may not realize that speech codes have become, in Lukianoff's words, "the rule rather than the exception" on American campuses.

They are typically vague and all-encompassing. One school prohibits "actions or attitudes that threaten the welfare" of others. Another bans emails that "harass, annoy or otherwise inconvenience others." Others ban "insensitive" communication, "inappropriate jokes" and "patronizing remarks."

"Speech codes can only survive," Lukianoff writes, "through selective enforcement." Conservatives and religious students are typically targeted. But so are critics of administrators, like the student expelled for a Facebook posting critical of a proposed $30 million parking garage.

Students get the message: Keep your mouth shut. An Association of American Colleges and Universities survey of 24,000 students found that only 40 percent of freshmen thought it was "safe to hold unpopular views on campus." An even lower 30 percent of seniors agreed.

So institutions that once prided themselves as arenas for free exchange of ideas -- and still advertise themselves as such -- have become the least free part of our society.

How? One answer is that university personnel almost all share the same liberal-left beliefs. Many feel that contrary views and criticism are evil and should be stamped out.

It also helps to follow the money. Government student loan programs have pumped huge sums into colleges and universities that have been raising tuition and fees far faster than inflation.

The result is administrative bloat. Since 2005, universities have employed more administrators than teachers.

There are signs that what's Glenn Reynolds calls the higher education bubble is about to burst. And perhaps people are waking up to the rottenness beneath the universities' gleaming veneer.


'Real School Employees of Buffalo': Taxpayers Pick Up Tab for Plastic Surgeries, 5-Star Hotels and Limousines

Check out this jaw-dropping story from

Just call them the “Real School Employees of Buffalo.”

Like the rich folks in the famous television show with the similar name, employees of Buffalo Public Schools routinely spend a great deal of money on extravagant things like plastic surgery, airline travel, expensive hotels and limousines.

The only difference is that the wealthy people in “Real Housewives” are spending their own money. In Buffalo they’re throwing around taxpayer dollars.

EAGnews recently completed an inspection of credit card records and the check registry for the City of Buffalo School District in 2011. We also filed a freedom of information request to measure the latest cost of the district’s infamous employee cosmetic surgery program.

The dollar figures we found were breathtaking, and not in a good way.

The amount spent on cosmetic surgery for teachers came to $2.7 million. The total cost for hotels, airline tickets, limousines and the like came to $196,986. You read it correctly. A struggling public school district with a budget deficit of nearly $50 million spent almost $3 million in one year on plastic surgery and travel. District officials declined an invitation to explain these expenses before publication of this story.

One local media outlet, WGRZ-TV (NBC 2), already picked up this story and ran a report last night.

We don’t suppose the taxpayers of Buffalo will be too amused the next time they are asked to approve a tax increase for general operations. School officials have already demonstrated they can’t handle large sums of money in any sort of responsible fashion. Who in their right mind would give them any more to waste?

Union negotiated facelifts

What’s more amazing than a struggling public school district paying the total cost of elective cosmetic surgery for employees?

The fact that the program has been public knowledge for a few years now, and nobody has done anything to stop it.

As the Atlantic put it in a 2010 story, “Hair removal. Microdermabrasion. Liposuction. If you name the procedure, it’s probably covered. This is a city where the average teacher makes $52,000 a year. The plastic surgery tab would pay salaries for 100 extra educators.”

The program is the result of a negotiated provision in the Buffalo teacher union collective bargaining agreement, dating back to the 1970s. In later decades cosmetic surgery boomed in America and doctors began advertising to Buffalo teachers in their union newsletter, according to the Atlantic.

By 2009, about 500 employees were taking advantage of this unbelievable perk. The district’s annual tab grew as high as $9 million in 2009.

When the program was exposed to the public a few years ago, Buffalo union boss Philip Rumore said he would be glad to drop the perk in the next round of contract negotiations. But Buffalo hasn’t had a new teachers contract since the last one expired in 2004, according to the Atlantic.

That’s because the state of New York allows teachers to keep working under the terms of expired contracts until a new pact is negotiated. While would the Buffalo union want a new contract when the old one pays out so well?

At one point the school board offered to cancel 100 teacher layoffs if the union would drop the cosmetic surgery program for a year, according to The Atlantic. The union declined the offer.

“The urgency of negotiating a new contract really isn’t there,” Amber Dixon, a recent interim superintendent for the district, told The Atlantic. “You get to keep your benefits. You get to keep your cosmetic rider. You get to keep your 2.5 percent step increase. It makes getting back to the table difficult.”

Of course all of this is old news. The taxpayers of Buffalo long ago accepted the fact that they have to fork over hard earned dollars so teachers can get free nips and tucks.

But just out of curiosity, we decided to get an update on the annual cost of this monstrous waste of money. The school district responded politely to our request:

“Pursuant to your FOIL request dated October 15, 2012, the Buffalo public school district spent $2,728,201 on cosmetic procedures for members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation for the period of June 2011-July 2012.”

Hmm. $2.7 million. At least that’s less than the $5.2 million the district shelled out the year before.

“Please feel free to contact (so and so at some number) should you care to discuss the matter any further,” the school district letter continued.

No thanks. We’ve learned all we care to know about this sickening disposal of taxpayer dollars. Just let us know when somebody finds the courage to end this fiasco.

Big travel costs

Given the crazy cost of the cosmetic surgery program, one might expect Buffalo school officials to economize in other ways.

After all, they’re dealing with a budget deficit of roughly $49 million. No such luck.

We found 199 credit card transactions at various hotels around the nation, totaling $80,784. Then we discovered 24 checks written to various hotels, costing another $47,704.

That brings the district’s one-year lodging tab to nearly $130,000, which might be nearly enough to employ two first-year teachers with benefits – if they don’t have plastic surgery performed.

What were some of the more expensive lodging bills?

Let’s see. The district had nine credit card charges for a total of $7,541 at the Hyatt Hotels Regency in Jersey City on July 11, 2011. Sounds like fun. There were eight charges for a total of $4,011 at Hyatt Hotels San Antonio on Feb. 28, 2011.

Five transactions at Residence Inns Downtown Tampa on Feb. 3, 2011 came to $4,975. There were 11 charges totaling $4,163 at Residence Inns Greenbelt (wherever that is) on May 15, 2011. There were nine charges at the Hilton Saratoga Hotel on May 3, 2011 for $2,465.

It appears that checks were the preferred mode of payment for instate lodging. One check for $1,828 was written to the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort on July 8, 2011. Another for $1,560 was written to Marriott Hotel Corporation in Albany on Sept. 2, 2011, while one for $1,428 went to Hampton Inn and Suites in Poughkeepsie on April 15, 2011.

The largest single hotel transaction was for $36,870 at Buffalo’s own Adams Mark Hotel on July 22, 2011.

Of course school officials had to get to their destinations, which meant a lot of flying. We found 181 transactions with various airlines in 2011, costing the district $60,805.

That’s a lot of frequent flier miles. To be fair, the school district appears to have made an effort to fly budget airlines, like Jetblue, on a fairly frequent basis. But there were also plenty of bookings on more expensive airlines like United, Southwest and Delta.

Let’s not forget the limousine costs. District credit cards were used for $669 worth of service from Kings Limo Service, Moon Limo Services, RTC Chauffer Service and VC Limousine Service on various days in 2011. School officials, as mentioned above, failed to respond to our offer to explain these costs. But based on what we’ve heard from other district around the nation, we can almost guess what they would have said:

Some or most of the money spent on travel came from state or federal grants. Some or most of the money was used for professional development trips. Expensive hotels were used because that’s where the conferences were. Some of the money was spent on student travel.


Tax money is tax money, whether it comes from school coffers or the state or federal government. And Buffalo school officials spent a lot of it on questionable transactions in 2011. They may not have offered us an explanation, but we think they owe one to the taxpayers of their city.


One of Britain's unemployed Ph.D.s writes:

His pumped-up Leftist ego is starting to deflate as he faces reality

Passing my viva without corrections was just the latest addition to a spotless educational record. Despite any initial fears, my work was warmly-received and plans were quickly put in motion to transform the thesis into a book. This was the final validation from colleagues and mentors who had long assured me that I would have a bright future as a sociologist.

So how did I end up unemployed?

Understand that I would usually consider it distasteful to list my achievements like this, but am finding that modesty is becoming an obsolete quality in today's labour market. I tell you my achievements only to put my recent experiences in context. Life since the PhD has been hard.

Unlike many of my peers, I did not prioritise my employability when I was still a student. Though I did teach and present at a few conferences, I chose to focus most of my energy on crafting my thesis and getting it finished within the funding period. I am passionate about my work and stick by this decision, but what I am now learning is that while I left my viva exam ready to make a mark on the world, ready to prove that I merited the praise given me, I was still just one candidate in a congested academic job market.

After graduating, I spent two months finishing my leftover teaching and marking before becoming unemployed. I have applied for around twenty jobs and received one interview, which was unsuccessful. I am out in the cold but I try to remain positive. There are undoubtedly merits to my situation as an unemployed academic; it is wonderful to have so much time in which to think and write. I do, however, feel distant from the warmth of the institution that, over the past years, has validated who I am and what I think.

One of the unfortunate things about creative achievements within academia is that they cannot always be expressed in a way that is meaningful to the 'outside world'. Floating free of the university, I encounter few people in my daily life who care about my talents as a writer and researcher. I have been claiming Jobseekers' allowance for the previous three months and my advisors at the Job Centre are certainly not impressed.

One of the problems I am encountering is that most of the activities that young academics need to perform in order to improve their chances of employment – presenting at conferences, networking, writing articles to satisfy the upcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF), or crafting watertight personal statements – are not seen by Job Centre advisors as legitimate uses of time as an 'unemployee'. In a recent review with an advisor, not even my hours spent preparing for a job interview were considered a legitimate use of time. Time spent researching the role was considered time wasted, in which I should have been contacting further prospective employers.

After only three months claiming Jobseekers' Allowance, my advisors are already suggesting that my aspirations to work in academia are unrealistic. They do not understand the nature of my qualifications and call me complacent for failing to respond to listed vacancies for cleaners and checkout operators at Asda and Tesco. It is the unperturbed nature of these tellings-off that I find most distressing; the eerily casual manner in which it is suggested that I turn my back on my vocation, my identity, and eight years worth of learning and training.

I am familiar with the theories that explain the social mechanics and emotional consequences of what I am going through – I used to teach them. This irony has been a source of wry amusement. I make a lot of jokes these days, sometimes telling friends that I am going to draw on my experiences to write a satirical sequel to Harry Potter, whereby, realising his degree from Hogwarts has no value in the labour market, Harry is forced to get a job in a Virgin Media call centre. On gloomier days I flesh out the story: the narrative will move between Harry looking depressed in his headset taking call after call, and flashbacks to the good old days with Ron and the gang, back when a young wizard's skills were worth something. But I do wonder how long my friends will find this joke funny.

Humour is a horribly transparent coping strategy. A more enduring strategy is to take a sort of sociological interest in one's experiences. Following the philosopher Bertrand Russell, I believe that any experience that does not cause significant harm can be interesting, regardless of whether its character is positive or negative. Whilst visiting the job centre has been a particularly disheartening experience, I have certainly valued it as a source of social insight.

Still, as time goes on and I remain out of work, I can feel my sociological curiosity starting to wear off. Perhaps I am worrying too early, but I do feel like I am walking into a trap. In my struggle to find even a part-time academic job, I am forced to wonder how long the welfare system will tolerate me.