Friday, June 14, 2013

Gun play: 'Zero tolerance' toward schoolkids could backfire, says expert

Little boys around the nation keep getting in trouble for guns – whether they’re made of plastic, formed by fingers or even fashioned from Pop-Tarts – but some experts say having “zero tolerance” for games children have played for centuries is turning the adults into bullies and backfiring on kids.

Elementary educators trying to discourage children from settling pretend beefs with pretend guns is nothing new. But in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, and with the grownups increasingly polarized over the Second Amendment, rules for recess, on the bus and in the classroom have become stricter than ever.

Some say too strict.  “These zero-tolerance policies are psychotic, in the strict sense of the word: psychotic means ‘out of touch with reality,’” Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania psychologist and family physician, and author of “Boys Adrift,” told

In recent months, there have been several examples of children being disciplined for what was once seen as innocent role play.

A group of students was suspended this month from a Washington state elementary school for using Nerf dart guns as part of a math lesson, despite having permission from their teacher.

In March, second-grader Josh Welch was suspended from a Maryland elementary school after unknowingly biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.  "I just kept on biting it and biting it and tore off the top of it, and it kind of looked like a gun," Welch told a local Fox affiliate.

Last month, also in Maryland, a 5-year-old boy who brought an orange-tipped cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for 10 days, according to his family and a lawyer. The child was grilled for more than two hours by a school principal and wet himself, according to his family.

Girls have been swept up in the phenomenon as well. In January, a fifth-grade student in Philadelphia broke down in tears after being scolded in front of her classmates for accidentally bringing to school a piece of paper that was folded into the shape of a gun and given to her by her grandfather.

And a 6-year-old South Carolina girl was expelled after bringing a toy gun to school.

Sax said he worries about the long-term effect, particularly on boys, of being told the games they play make them bad.   “Out-of-touch policies such as these, which criminalize behaviors which have always been common among young kids, are contributing to the growing proportion of American kids, especially boys, who regard school as a stupid waste of time and who can’t wait to get out of school so that they can get back to playing their video games,” Sax said.

“There are more effective ways to encourage good behavior and to discourage criminal behavior, without disengaging boys from school altogether,” Sax said.

A Hayward, Calif., elementary school is planning a toy gun exchange for later this month, modeled after the exchanges law enforcement authorities hold to collect real guns. Kids who hand in the play weapons will get a book and a raffle ticket for a bicycle. Strobridge Elementary Principal Charles Hill said he hopes rounding up the toy guns will stop kids from growing up to play with real ones.

“Playing with toy guns, saying ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ desensitizes them, so as they get older, it’s easier for them to use a real gun,” Hill told the Mercury News.

While the toy gun trade-in may be a more reasonable way to address the issue than suspending or expelling children, Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for Responsible Citizens of California, said kids can handle make-believe games, even if their educators can't.  "Having a group of children playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians is a normal part of growing up,” Chang said.


Put pupils in sets (ability-based groups) at 11 to help brightest, says British schools inspectorate: Call for pupils to be separated to make sure top students don't slip back academically

Children should be placed in sets from the age of 11 because state schools are failing to help the most gifted reach their potential, the chief inspector of schools said yesterday.

Pupils need to be separated according to ability as soon as they reach secondary school because too many top students are being allowed to slip back academically and coast, according to Michael Wilshaw.

Mixed ability classes in particular are responsible for stunting their development because they are pitched at average pupils, he said.

As a result, tens of thousands miss out on top grades they were expected to achieve in GCSEs.

The Ofsted chief said it was ‘shocking’ that many teachers were unaware who their most able children were.

At present, the practice of separating children into sets does not become widespread until they are 14, which is too late according to Sir Michael.

He also called for annual reports to inform parents whether their children are achieving what is expected of them, and for teachers to assign tougher work to bright pupils in classes and at home.

Primaries should identify star students and make secondary schools aware of them to prevent them ‘becoming used to performing at a lower level than they are capable of’.

The recommendations followed an Ofsted report which showed two-thirds of high-attaining primary pupils in non-selective schools are not going on to get an A or A* grade in GCSE maths and English. This represents 65,000 children.  Around a quarter even failed to obtain a B grade in the subjects last year.

Sir Michael said: ‘I’d set from the word go [in secondary schools] .... from Year 7 in core subjects.’  But he insisted he was not attacking the comprehensive system, which has largely been based on mixed ability classes.

He explained: ‘Too many non-selective schools are failing to nurture scholastic excellence. While the best of these schools provide excellent opportunities, many of our most able students receive mediocre provision.

‘Put simply, they are not doing well enough because their secondary schools fail to challenge and support them sufficiently from the beginning.

‘I believe the term “special needs” should be as relevant to the most able as it is to those who require support for their learning difficulties.'

He added: 'Yet some of the schools visited for this survey did not even know who their most able students were.  'This is completely unacceptable.’

Failure to act would have grave consequences for our ability to compete with our main economic competitors in the future, he added.

Some primary schools have sets for maths and English and the practice becomes more commonplace in secondary schools.

But it is not until children start studying for their GCSEs when they are 14 that it becomes widespread. ‘If things go wrong early on at Key Stage 3 then it makes it more difficult to build expectations,’ Sir Michael said.

Just 62 per cent of the ‘most able’ students who attained a Level 5 at Key Stage 2 tests went on to gain an A or A* in their English GCSE last year.  The figure dropped to 53 per cent for maths. Some 25 per cent got a C or less in English and 22 per cent in maths.

Official figures released last year showed the number of children being taught in sets was declining. Some 45 per cent of lessons involved some form of ability setting in 2010/2011, compared with 47 per cent in 2000/2001.

Last night NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates dismissed Sir Michael’s comments as ‘another ideological report condemning our education system’.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said research showed grouping pupils by ability risks widening the gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils.  [So it should]


Australian university and corruption watchdog in bed together over corruption scandal

In the original scandal, Deputy university boss Keniger admitted the stepdaughter of boss Greenfield into the medical school even though she was not qualified.  Greenfield did nothing to reverse or disown that, relying instead on it being covered up.  But Procopis blew the whistle and ended up being fired for doing so.  So on top of all that corruption, the CMC is now involved with corruption and secrecy of its own in the matter.  No wonder all the principal figures have now resigned

THE state's independent anti-corruption body helped the University of Queensland manage the fallout from its nepotism scandal at the same time it was investigating the educational facility.

Documents show the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the state's leading university co-ordinated their media responses even as the CMC was probing UQ's actions, including its public statements about the scandal that forced out its two most senior members of staff.

Queenslanders are still waiting for the CMC report more than 18 months after vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy, Michael Keniger, left UQ over an "irregularity" in the enrolment into the medical faculty of a relative of Mr Greenfield.

The CMC last night said its actions were normal protocol. It said its internal rules obliged it to disclose inquiries relating to UQ internal investigations to the public bodies involved and any "heads-up" alerts were also a courtesy.

But emails obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws show the CMC last year gave the university advance warning of questions about Phil Procopis, the senior UQ staffer who brought the nepotism scandal to light and was later made redundant.

Mr Procopis, who was never the subject of an investigation, also had a part-time job as head of the CMC's audit committee.

In an email forwarded to then-vice-chancellor Debbie Terry on July 3, heavily redacted by UQ to remove references to Mr Procopis, Ms King wrote: "Hi all, just to keep you in the loop, Siobhan Barry of the CMC has just rung to advise she spoke to Mark Solomons yesterday about (redacted) ... She was unable to provide us with a written copy of the statement as it related to (redacted) CMC role but provided this verbal summary instead."

And in an April 2012 email, UQ communications manager Jan King wrote to Ms Terry and executive director (operations) Maurie McNarn: "Shelley Thomas of the CMC has given us a heads-up that she has taken a call from Leisa Scott of The Courier-Mail in relation to a complaint about the offer of a place in the dentistry program and a staff appointment in the School of Psychology ... So we may receive a call."

UQ in turn routinely copied in the CMC on its responses to inquiries from media outlets.

Mr McNarn, when asked to comment on a proposed statement to The Courier-Mail about Mr Procopis, wrote to Prof Terry on July 1: "Looks good to me. CMC media were the only ones that spring to mind, however if the article is unfair or inaccurate we might wish to send it to key government ministers media (both levels, but emphasis on state) with a covering note stating that this is what we provided and what is inaccurate to pre-empt their questions."

Earlier, the university had considered using the crime-fighting body's involvement as an excuse not to answer questions.

In a December 2011 email exchange, Kelly Robinson, executive general manager of Rowland, the company hired by UQ to give advice on public relations crisis management, wrote to UQ bosses: "Given the CMC is quoted as saying they have requested further information (as per The Courier-Mail story on Saturday), we could simply say `given the CMC has requested further information on this matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further'."

UQ, which promised greater transparency and accountability in the wake of the 2011 scandal, initially refused to deal with The Courier-Mail's Right To Information request in February on the grounds it would be "a substantial and unreasonable diversion of university resources". Many of the documents eventually provided are entirely blanked out, including in some cases the identity of the senders and recipients.

The CMC is struggling for survival after a damning review this year.

Its misconduct arm, which has been probing UQ since 2011, has come under fire for the slow pace of investigations and misplaced priorities.

CMC chairman Ross Martin stepped down in April for health reasons and acting chair Warren Strange quit in May.

The Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said last night it was "critical that the state continues to have an independent statutory body to oversee crime and misconduct".

"We want to ensure this body is able to operate efficiently and with the highest level of integrity, by being open and accountable itself," he said.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

The College Admissions Scam

College has become a scam in America.

We have all heard the horror stories of crippling student debt and graduates that are lucky to land minimum wage retail jobs. But one part of the college scam not receiving much attention is the admissions process.

No longer are good grades and good test scores enough to get you into a desirable university. No, it takes greater resources, time, and existential insight. These new conditions favor the affluent and unscrupulous.

Rich students dominate most top universities. These bastions of higher learning claim to want “diversity,” and they generally are ethnically, religiously, and even geographically diverse. However, socioeconomic differences are sparse.

Many assert that low-income families are either intimidated by the cost of these schools or simply are ignorant of the financial aid packages available for their children. They blame low-income students and their families rather than the root problem inherent in the system.

That problem is the ever increasing cost of jumping through the right hoops and creating the appropriate narrative in order to gain admittance.

You can pay $30,000 or more a year per child to send them to a top prep school. There they will be properly challenged, get to play a sport like lacrosse, and be offered the chance to build orphanages in Africa so their resume looks properly polished for an Ivy League school.

Unless you are in the 1%, your child is not going to such a prep school.

But there is still hope. In public school, you can push your child to focus on one particular subject which they study in their spare time -- the more obscure the better, like the molecular biology of Surinam cockroaches. Make her play a sport or two, enroll in every other extra-curricular, and send her on a summer trip to build a well in Guatemala.

On second thought, that does not seem like a thrifty alternative either.

Many of the paths to the best schools require unpaid internships, founding charities, academic camps, and excellence in sports. The average child and parent are unlikely to be aware of such requirements, much less possess the resources to pursue them.

What this system has become is affirmative action for rich families. Only they can afford to meet these stipulations or pay others to help their kids meet them.

Unfortunately, if your child studies hard to make good grades and test scores, that is not enough to get into one of America’s elite colleges. Children have to have a narrative arch, like a TV show. There must be an epiphany involved, and not one about the teen himself, rather about the plight of the world and how suffering has touched him to want to devote your life to everyone else.

Teaching youths altruism is not a bad thing, and I definitely encourage it, but there also has to be a realistic expectation about the probability of having such grand revelations at that particular age.

Rather than accepting thousands of teenagers who saw the light on the road to Damascus, universities are inadvertently encouraging candidates to be unscrupulous.

Tell someone that they need to set up a charity to get into a school, and they will set up a charity; the actual effectiveness of that charity is of no consequence, it is about good intentions. Tell a kid that in order to get into Harvard, they need to write an essay about the plight of third world children and how they will dedicate their study of cockroaches to ending world hunger, and they will write that essay. Neither motivation nor truth is as important as perceived nobility.

Encouraging kids to go through the motions of charity is not teaching kids the value of helping others. Rather, this teaches children how to fake sincerity. Charity without the resources and drive to make a real, measurable difference is hollow and worthless.

Universities now actively rebuke applicants from announcing a desire to make money. They claim it is base and empty least until they hit you up for contributions.

Today- all other things being equal- a hard working, responsible teenager from a lower economic class who is taking part-time and full-time jobs to pay for themselves and help their family is worth less to Harvard than a well-to-do student who’s parents had the capability to found a charity in their child’s name.

Teens can no longer have a childhood, they cannot be themselves, and they cannot take time to figure out what they want. Instead, they must be pushed and forced into the mold of a proper applicant. They must, at the very least, pretend to be globally conscious and proclaim their altruism.

The process degrades our children and cheapens adolescence.

Unless we recognize and revise this new layer of undisclosed prerequisites, elite higher education will be unattainable for the vast majority of Americans.


Paying Off Student Debt: Can You Find a Financial Balance?

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Dear Carrie, I am relatively new to investing. I have set money aside and plan to take an aggressive approach to paying off my student loans. Can you offer an ideal action plan for both investing and lowering student debt? --A Reader

Dear Reader, With money set aside and wanting to put a plan in action, it sounds like you're already headed in the right direction. Now it's time to get down to specifics so that, ideally, you can accomplish both your investing and debt lowering goals -- and then some.

Student debt can be daunting, and you're right to make it an important economic focus. But student loans are generally low interest and don't appear as a black mark on your credit rating as long as you never miss a payment. So rather than making paying off your loans your primary goal, I'd make it part of a bigger picture in which you take care of current needs as well as plan for the future. Here's what I suggest.

Set a monthly savings goal.

It's great that you already have money set aside. But don't stop there. The key to staying on top of your finances is to make saving as much a part of your monthly budget as paying your bills. Take a look at your current expenses and make saving a line item. Don't think of it as an extra, think of it as a necessary payment to yourself. And be as generous as you can -- because how much you save regularly is fundamental to your financial success.

Cover yourself in case of an emergency.

The first place for your savings is in an emergency fund. You should try to keep at least three to six months living expenses in an easily accessible account like a savings or money market account. With this money tucked away, you'll be better able to cover your bills (and your student loan payments!) in case of a job loss or unexpected illness.

Put your employer to work for you.

If you work for a company that has a retirement plan such as a 401(k), contribute enough to get any company match. Since the money is pre-tax and comes directly out of your paycheck, it's an effortless way to begin to save for retirement -- and the company match is extra money without having to lift a finger.

Consider consolidating your student loans.

President Obama's new "Pay As You Earn" plan, introduced in October 2011, included making it easier for recent graduates to consolidate their federal loans and achieve lower interest rates. If you have federal loans, check to see if this might benefit you. You can also look into consolidating private loans, but understand that you can't combine federal and private loans into one. Whatever your situation, it's worth considering -- both to save money and to make it easier to manage your payments.

In financial terms, student loans are often considered "good debt", sort of like a mortgage (and unlike credit cards!). So while it's great to be rid of student debt, you don't need to rush to pay it off. Just make regular, on-time payments while you get the rest of your financial house in order. However, timing is crucial because a late payment will be a ding on your credit rating.

Of course, you can always accelerate your payments if you find yourself with extra money in your pocket. If you do, pay down your higher interest, adjustable rate loans first. You can think of it as a risk-free rate of return. (For example, if you're paying 7 percent interest on your student loan, paying it off is the same as earning 7 percent on an alternative use of the money. Even in the best of times, a risk-free 7 percent rate of return is hard to beat. These days, it's a no-brainer.)

Take a long-term approach to investing.

Now with all of the above in place, you can think about investing. In volatile times like these, your age is your best advantage. Investment choices depend largely on your time frame and feelings about risk. Generally speaking, you can take more risk with money you won't need for many years, so with a long-time horizon, stocks still offer the best opportunity for growth. You might begin with something like a broad based stock mutual fund or ETF. But before you start, take some time to learn the basics of asset allocation and diversification. These are still the building blocks of smart investing, though they cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses.

Your question was a great first step in tackling your financial challenges. Now you have an even greater opportunity to take action. The steps I've outlined may not seem dramatic in themselves but, believe me, when you put them all together they can add up to significant results. Best of luck.


Some Leftist recognition of the need for rigour in British schools

This morning a new romantic scandal is sweeping Westminster. Michael Gove has fallen in love with Diane Abbott. There’s no need for any injunctions on this one: the Education Secretary stood up at the dispatch box bold as brass yesterday and poured his heart out. “Mr Speaker,” he said dreamily, “I'm in love. If I had been a member of the Labour Party, I would have voted for her as leader.”

The basis for this sudden infatuation was Abbott’s gushing praise for the Government’s plans for GCSE reform. “Does he agree with me that an emphasis on rigorous education and an emphasis on attaining core academic subjects is not, as is sometimes argued, contrary to the interests of working class children, and black minority ethnic children?” she asked. “On the contrary, precisely if you are the first in your family to stay on past school-leaving age, precisely if your family doesn't have social capital, precisely if you don't have parents to put in a word for you in a difficult job market, you need the assurance of rigorous qualification and, if at all possible, core academic qualifications.”

It was brave intervention. Diane Abbott fancies herself as an independent Lefty (which is bad news for the love-struck Michael Gove) and her comments won’t have endeared herself to those she regards as her natural constituency. Education is also a sensitive area, given that she ran into trouble during the Labour leadership election for sending her son to a private school.

But it’s also an intervention that causes a bit of trouble for Ed Miliband, because it exposes the gaping hole in his own education policy. Actually, it exposes the fact that Ed hasn’t got an education policy.

Here’s the statement that the shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, put out in response to the Gove statement. "We need changes to assessments in schools that will strengthen rigour and reflect the best ways of testing skills and knowledge. Encouraging more shallow learning of facts alone will not help young people to be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. This will take us backwards.
Michael Gove has had plenty of chances to bring forward evidence-informed policies but I fear he has not learnt from past mistakes. He keeps failing because he hasn't got a thought-through plan to improve exams.”

Labour wants the best ways of testing skills and knowledge. As opposed to what, wanting the worst way of testing them? It wants to “strengthen rigour”. What the hell does that mean? And heaven forbid that our education system would ever stoop so low as to actually start teaching our children some facts.

To be fair to Twigg, it’s not his fault he hasn’t got a policy to speak of, and therefore no means of sensibly critiquing the Coalition’s. It’s common knowledge within the shadow cabinet that if he tried to come up with one, Ed Miliband would sack him. Or rather, Christine Blower of the NUT would be on the phone telling him to sack him. And Ed being Ed, he probably would.

Twigg and almost all of his shadow cabinet colleagues want Labour to adopt a more classically exam-based approach to testing. They want to build on New Labour’s program of Academy Schools, rather than meekly wandering around apologising for them. They’d even like to give Free Schools a fair wind, at least until people are in a position to judge how the programme would play out.

But they can’t. Despite his impressive “pivot” on the economy last week, Ed Miliband still remains wedded to the 35 per cent strategy. And the glue that binds this progressive liberal alliance are perceived by Team Ed to be the teachers and their union reps. He regards taking on the teachers as the political equivalent of landing on the beach at Da Nang. And Christine Blower don’t surf.

Which leaves us with the ludicrous spectacle of the Labour leader and his education secretary being outflanked on the Right by Diane Abbott. The chaste Ms Abbott has taken to the pages of the Guardian to rebuff young Mr Gove’s advances. But to her credit, she’s also sticking to her guns: “An emphasis on academic rigour and core academic qualifications is not against the interests of working-class children. On the contrary, the children who need academic rigour and 'gold-standard' qualifications the most are precisely those who are the first in their family to stay on beyond the official school leaving age, whose families do not have parents 'who can put in a word for them' in today's horrible job market.”

Come on, Ed. Are you really going to let Michael Gove steal your girl?


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Suspicions Confirmed: Academia Shutting Out Conservative Professors

Conservatives have long suspected there is discrimination against conservative professors in academia, and now there is evidence to prove it. Sociology professor Neil Gross, a self-described liberal, reveals the results of surveys showing this bias in his new book, Why Professors are Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care?

Sociologist George Yancy asked professors if they would be more or less likely to hire someone if they were a Republican, evangelical or fundamentalist. Three-quarters said political affiliation would not affect their hiring decision. But the one-quarter that did say it would influence their decision virtually all said they would favor a Democrat over a Republican. Almost half of the sociology professors surveyed said they would look unfavorably upon evangelicals and fundamentalists trying to get a job in their department!

In a 2005 survey, researcher Gary Tobin asked professors how favorably or unfavorably they felt about various religious groups. Fifty-three percent of academics responded that they regard evangelicals unfavorably. The next highest unfavorable rating was 33 percent regarding Mormons.

Professor Gross performed his own “audit study,” sending in fake applications to upper academia at universities around the country. One set of applicants, the control group, had nothing political listed on their resumes. The other two sets of applicants indicated they had either worked on the McCain or Obama 2008 presidential campaigns. He found, “On average, the DGSs (directors of graduate studies) responded less frequently, more slowly, and less enthusiastically to the conservative applicant.”

The average professor is three times as liberal as the average American, and academia is even more liberal now than it was in the 1960s. Gross provides evidence indicating that feminism greatly increased the drift of college faculty to the left, in every field except engineering. Today, 63 percent of female academics describe themselves as feminists. Seventy-three percent of academics describe themselves as moderates, liberals or radical leftists. Gross admits, “…it would be foolish for anyone with truly antifeminist sensibilities to become a sociologist,” due to how liberal that field has become. The Sex and Gender Section is the second largest section in the American Sociological Association. New departments have emerged like Women’s Studies where conservatives would not even bother applying.

Gross’s thesis is that conservatives self-select other professions, independently choosing not to become professors because academia is so liberal. But this sidesteps the clear evidence Gross provides revealing faculty bias in hiring. Gross cites, yet ignores, a study which found that seven percent of conservative academics report having been the victim of political discrimination. Conservative professor Mary Grabar debunks Gross’s thesis, publishing essays from six white male professors who have been blocked out of higher academia, in her new book, Exiled: Stories From Conservative and Moderate Professors Who Have Been Ridiculed, Ostracized, Marginalized, Demonized and Frozen Out. Most of them cannot obtain well-paying full-time work at four-year institutions, and instead are relegated to “perpetual adjunct status, teaching twice as many classes as the average course load, for wages that work out to be less than minimum wage.”

In the second half of Gross’s book, he tries to understand why conservatives care about this bias. Besides the fact that it is unfair to conservatives who want to become professors, the obvious answer is because many professors insert their political biases into their grading and teaching. Gross correctly answers this question on page three in his book’s Introduction and should have stopped there, “Stick an impressionable twenty-year old in a classroom for fifteen weeks with a charismatic instructor who makes the case that conservatives are heartless or deluded and that the United States has evil designs, and the student is likely to veer left.” Gross interviewed professors on whether they engage in political indoctrination, or “critical pedagogy.” Two of fifty-seven professors he interviewed fully admitted they were guilty of it.

Yet Gross cannot understand the conservative mind, and wastes the second half of the book analyzing stereotypes and red herrings. Professor Grabar reviewed Gross’s book and concluded, “Even as he attempts to look fair-minded, Gross presents caricatured pictures of conservatism.”

Gross attempts to make conservatives look bad throughout the book, but much of it backfires. He asserts, “social conservatives tend to come from lower social class origins in the contemporary American context,” and, “Professors tend to come from better educated, higher income families than other Americans.” However, this just goes to validate the complaint by conservatives that academia is composed of elitist liberals who come from wealthy, connected families.

The good news is not all areas of study are heavily dominated by professors on the left. Economics, criminology, and engineering still have a significant portion of conservative professors, although not quite 50 percent.

To his credit, Gross has attempted to put some semblance of fairness into his book, by daring to expose real biases against conservative professors. And for that he was threatened by the very liberal establishment he is a part of. As a result of his audit study, “Two complained to my institutional review board, and one threatened legal action if his case was not removed from our data set (it was).” It is a sad day for academia when the left is not only shutting down conservatives, but also their own who are speaking up about the suppression of free speech and the free flow of ideas at the universities.


Schools of thought vs. the other kind

This morning’s rumination ‘tween awakening and arising was on the objectives and results we get from the various schools we send our children to. I’ve written a bunch on that subject, ran for Idaho Governor with a real cure as one third of my platform *, studied it nearly as much as I have economics and political science, and had our mass-mishandling of youth burning in my head since I observed its effects on my children.

In Community Vision over 5 years ago, I wrote on a community-development seminar the whole town of Grangeville was invited to. An impressive, heartening turnout and inspiring seminar flopped face-down in the mud of the same old people guiding the process into the same old ruts.

Waving at the grand display of trophies ringing the high school auditorium, David Beurl asked what would we get if we encouraged kids to develop their creativity and entrepreneurship as much as we did their athletics? Perhaps instead of sending athletic teens away [from our community], we might retain clever young business people and leaders. I would now add “and artists, inventors, creators, musicians, happy and ambitious people.”

As I said, “our” education system was churning in my brain when I got up. This morning’s news (I get mine online when I want it, on topics I select and from sources who have earned my trust) had this article: Homeschooling Growing Seven Times Faster than Public School Enrollment, which was full of good and bad news … good for the growing number of families and communities that are escaping the Prussian mold.

It is not just home schoolers who escape the dehumanizing, mechanical, rote training model, but the Waldorf system I experienced with my youngest daughter does it well too. I recall hearing of others and am confident they are out there. We as parents, grandparents and people who care about our communities need to encourage them to exist and thrive.

New York state Teacher of the Year, author and educational reform champion John Taylor Gatto explains a big chunk of the problem in Why Schools Don’t Educate. Homeschooling advocates as well as many non-governmental schools highlight and correct a destructive system that was designed to create obedience rather than thoughtfulness.

segregate children by age rather than interest and ability

move from room to room by time and bells rather than completion of task

listen and recite rather than analyze, challenge and comprehend

fit in rather than stand out

spectate rather than participate

defer to experts rather than develop expertise

obey authority rather than morality

There’s more. It’s worse. But it is HUGE. It will take an inspired group to effect serious change in any community. That is why it is so wonderful to see that homeschooling is now at 4% and growing at 7-times annually. Here is one good forum on homeschooling that discusses many of the advantages. There are certainly a lot more resources and encouragements out there.

My ‘great idea’ this morning was to highlight the results of the Prussian model our public schools use compared to homeschool and other models via a survey focusing on valued developmental results. While homeschoolers seriously kick butt in standardized testing, spelling bees, math bees, and college performance, even those are not ideal measures. Others are much more universally important. I would love to see a survey of youths by educational system that asked truly relevant questions.

What do you see as your career opportunities?
What would you like to do to support yourself?
Where do you think you will be as an adult?
What do you think you will be doing as an adult?
What do you enjoy doing?
What do you think of your community?
What do you think of your education?

I don’t really think my list is the end-all of lists, but merely seeds for a good survey. I also don’t think I can or will get it done, but I would love to help. More importantly, I would like others to create their own and get them done in their neighborhoods. Anything but continuing to accept our public educational system as the only model we can imagine.


Tougher texts, advanced algebra and no coursework... British Education Secretary raises the bar on GCSEs as he unveils plans to reform 'discredited' exam

In the biggest exam shake-up in a generation 16-year-olds will have to study classic texts, advanced algebra and sit traditional end-of-course papers rather than being assessed on coursework.

Education Secretary Michael Gove will today unveil details of his plans to reform ‘discredited’ GCSEs, which he says will make them more like the O-levels still taken in Singapore and elsewhere.

He believes a return to traditional academic subjects and the slashing of coursework and resits will ‘restore rigour’ to the education system.

Exams watchdog Ofqual is to consult on a new grading scale based on numbers one to eight, with eight the top grade.

There will be fewer awards, to reflect the harder content, and greater differentiation among more able candidates.

Education Department sources said coursework and ‘controlled assessment’– a kind of supervised coursework, which now accounts for 25 per cent of the final mark – had been ‘very badly abused’ and would be almost entirely replaced with written exams.

A small number of subjects such as science, will still involve practicals.  ‘In what is considered a “pass”, now widely thought of as a C, there will be an increase in demand to reflect that of high-performing jurisdictions like Shanghai and Finland,’ said a source.

The new GCSEs in English language and literature, maths, the three sciences and combined science, history and geography, will start to be taught in September 2015 with exams in 2017.

Other subjects will follow a year later.

Mr Gove’s allies insist Labour will not be able to stop the new exams if they win power in May 2015.

A new curriculum will be in place from September 2014 and exam boards will prepare for the new papers years ahead.

Ofqual is also unlikely to agree to undo the reforms.

Wales and Northern Ireland have made clear they do not want the reform and Ofqual will have to rename the GCSE in England to distinguish it from their exams.

Sources close to Mr Gove did not recognise the name ‘i-Level’, which had been rumoured, and said no decision had been made on what the new exam should be called.

GCSE pass rates have soared in recent years. Last year, 22.4 per cent of passes were at A or A*. In 1988, when the exam began, 8.6 per cent got a top grade.

A study by King’s College London and Durham University found attainment in maths had changed little since the mid-1970s, despite results.

Mr Gove was forced to retreat from a plan to replace the GCSE with an English Baccalaureate Certificate, set by a single exam body, but today’s reforms still represent the biggest shake-up since the GCSE was introduced.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

20 Completely Ridiculous College Courses Being Offered At U.S. Universities

Would you like to know what America's young people are actually learning while they are away at college?  It isn't pretty.  Yes, there are some very highly technical fields where students are being taught some very important skills, but for the most part U.S. college students are learning very little that they will actually use out in the real world when they graduate.  Some of the college courses listed below are funny, others are truly bizarre, others are just plain outrageous, but all of them are a waste of money.  If we are going to continue to have a system where we insist that our young people invest several years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars getting a "college education", they might as well be learning some useful skills in the process.  This is especially true considering how much student loan debt many of our young people are piling up.  Sadly, the truth is that right now college education in the United States is a total joke.  I know - I spent eight years in the system.  Most college courses are so easy that they could be passed by the family dog, and many of these courses "study" some of the most absurd things imaginable.

Listed below are 20 completely ridiculous college courses being offered at U.S. universities.  The description following each course title either comes directly from the official course description or from a news story about the course...

1. "What If Harry Potter Is Real?" (Appalachian State University) - This course will engage students with questions about the very nature of history. Who decides what history is? Who decides how it is used or mis-used? How does this use or misuse affect us? How can the historical imagination inform literature and fantasy? How can fantasy reshape how we look at history? The Harry Potter novels and films are fertile ground for exploring all of these deeper questions. By looking at the actual geography of the novels, real and imagined historical events portrayed in the novels, the reactions of scholars in all the social sciences to the novels, and the world-wide frenzy inspired by them, students will examine issues of race, class, gender, time, place, the uses of space and movement, the role of multiculturalism in history as well as how to read a novel and how to read scholarly essays to get the most out of them.

2. "God, Sex, Chocolate: Desire and the Spiritual Path" (UC San Diego) - Who shapes our desire? Who suffers for it? Do we control our desire or does desire control us? When we yield to desire, do we become more fully ourselves or must we deny it to find an authentic identity beneath? How have religious & philosophical approaches dealt with the problem of desire?

3. "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity" (The University Of Virginia) - In Graduate Arts & Sciences student Christa Romanosky's ongoing ENWR 1510 class, "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity," students analyze how the musician pushes social boundaries with her work. For this introductory course to argumentative essay writing, Romanosky chose the Lady Gaga theme to establish an engaging framework for critical analysis.

4. "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame" (The University Of South Carolina) - Lady Gaga may not have much class but now there is a class on her. The University of South Carolina is offering a class called Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.  Mathieu Deflem, the professor teaching the course describes it as aiming to “unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavours.”

5. "Philosophy And Star Trek" (Georgetown) - Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to learn philosophy, than to watch Star Trek, read philosophy, and hash it all out in class? That's the plan. This course is basically an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments.

6. "Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond" (The University Of Texas) - Why would anyone want to learn Klingon? Who really speaks Esperanto, anyway? Could there ever be a language based entirely on musical scales? Using constructed/invented languages as a vehicle, we will try to answer these questions as we discuss current ideas about linguistic theory, especially ideas surrounding the interaction of language and society. For example, what is it about the structure of Klingon that makes it look so "alien"? What was it about early 20th century Europe that spawned so many so-called "universal" languages? Can a language be inherently sexist? We will consider constructed/invented languages from a variety of viewpoints, such as languages created as fictional plot-devices, for philosophical debates, to serve an international function, and languages created for private fun. We won't be learning any one language specifically, but we will be learning about the art, ideas, and goals behind invented languages using diverse sources from literature, the internet, films, video games, and other aspects of popular culture.

7. "The Science Of Superheroes" (UC Irvine) - Have you ever wondered if Superman could really bend steel bars? Would a “gamma ray” accident turn you into the Hulk? What is a “spidey-sense”? And just who did think of all these superheroes and their powers? In this seminar, we discuss the science (or lack of science) behind many of the most famous superheroes. Even more amazing, we will discuss what kind of superheroes might be imagined using our current scientific understanding.

8. "Learning From YouTube" (Pitzer College) - About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.  Class lessons also are posted and students are encouraged to post videos. One class member, for instance, posted a 1:36-minute video of himself juggling.

9. "Arguing with Judge Judy" (UC Berkeley) - TV "Judge" shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years. A fascinating aspect of these shows from a rhetorical point of view is the number of arguments made by the litigants that are utterly illogical, or perversions of standard logic, and yet are used over and over again. For example, when asked "Did you hit the plaintiff?" respondents often say, "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" This reply avoids answering "yes" or "no" by presenting a perverted form of the logical strategy called "a fortiori" argument ["from the stronger"] in Latin. The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies on "Judge Judy" and "The People's Court" and discussing why such strategies are so widespread. It is NOT a course about law or "legal reasoning." Students who are interested in logic, argument, TV, and American popular culture will probably be interested in this course. I emphasize that it is NOT about the application of law or the operations of the court system in general.

10. "Elvis As Anthology" (The University Of Iowa) - The class, “Elvis as Anthology,” focuses on Presley’s relationship to African American history, social change, and aesthetics. It focuses not just on Elvis, but on other artists who inspired him and whom he inspired.

11. "The Feminist Critique Of Christianity" (The University Of Pennsylvania) - An overview of the past decades of feminist scholarship about Christian and post-Christian historians and theologians who offer a feminist perspective on traditional Christian theology and practice. This course is a critical overview of this material, presented with a summary of Christian biblical studies, history and theology, and with a special interest in constructive attempts at creating a spiritual tradition with women's experience at the center.

12. "Zombies In Popular Media" (Columbia College) - This course explores the history, significance, and representation of the zombie as a figure in horror and fantasy texts. Instruction follows an intense schedule, using critical theory and source media (literature, comics, and films) to spur discussion and exploration of the figure's many incarnations. Daily assignments focus on reflection and commentary, while final projects foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie.

13. "Far Side Entomology" (Oregon State) - For the last 20 years, a scientist at Oregon State University has used Gary Larson's cartoons as a teaching tool. The result has been a generation of students learning — and laughing — about insects.

14. "Interrogating Gender: Centuries of Dramatic Cross-Dressing" (Swarthmore) - Do clothes make the man? Or the woman? Do men make better women? Or women better men? Is gender a costume we put on and take off? Are we really all always in drag? Does gender-bending lead to transcendence or chaos? These questions and their ramifications for liminalities of race, nationality and sexuality will be our focus in a course that examines dramatic works from The Bacchae to M. Butterfly.

15. "Oh, Look, a Chicken!" Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing (Belmont University) - Students must write papers using their personal research on the five senses. Entsminger reads aloud illustrated books The Simple People and Toby’s Toe to teach lessons about what to value by being alive. Students listen to music while doodling in class. Another project requires students to put themselves in situations where they will be distracted and write a reflection tracking how they got back to their original intent.

16. "The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur" (University of Washington) - The UW is not the first college with a class dedicated to Shakur -- classes on the rapper have been offered at the University of California Berkeley and Harvard -- but it is the first to relate Shakur's work to literature.

17. "Cyberporn And Society" (State University of New York at Buffalo) - With classwork like this, who needs to play? Undergraduates taking Cyberporn and Society at the State University of New York at Buffalo survey Internet porn sites.

18. "Sport For The Spectator" (The Ohio State University) - Develop an appreciation of sport as a spectacle, social event, recreational pursuit, business, and entertainment. Develop the ability to identify issues that affect the sport and spectator behavior.

19. "Getting Dressed" (Princeton) - Jenna Weissman Joselit looks over the roomful of freshmen in front of her and asks them to perform a warm-up exercise: Chart the major moments of your lives through clothes. "If you pop open your closet, can you recall your lives?" she posits on the first day of the freshman seminar "Getting Dressed."

20. "How To Watch Television" (Montclair) - This course, open to both broadcasting majors and non-majors, is about analyzing television in the ways and to the extent to which it needs to be understood by its audience. The aim is for students to critically evaluate the role and impact of television in their lives as well as in the life of the culture. The means to achieve this aim is an approach that combines media theory and criticism with media education.

Are you starting to understand why our college graduates can't function effectively when they graduate and go out into the real world?

All of this would be completely hilarious if not for the fact that we have millions of young people going into enormous amounts of debt to pay to go to these colleges.


The TOY Gun Buyback Program in California

Strobridge Elementary School in Hayward, California is hosting a gun buyback program for kids. What a great way to get unwanted guns off the street, not to mention a great way to get guns out of the hands of minors. Guns are not toys, and gun buyback programs can get unwanted guns out of homes and off the streets for a financial incentive. People participate in buyback programs because they would rather trade an unwanted gun for a one hundred dollar gift card or other incentive.

The real problem with gun buyback programs is that people really bring in unwanted guns, as in guns that are pieces of junk and do not work. Like other gun buyback programs, the Strobridge Elementary School is also collecting useless pieces of plastic and metal in their very own buyback program for kids. The difference in this buyback program is that it is targeting toy guns, and children who participate are entered into a raffle to win a new bicycle.

On the surface, this program seems to be a decent deal for the children and parents in a tough economic time in that they trade one toy gun for a chance to win a new bike. The children also learn about gun safety – not toy gun safety – and bicycle safety in case they win the raffle or move to New York and take advantage of Mayor Bloomberg's new bicycle rental program. In either event, the toy gun buyback program clearly reveals another example of public education going above and beyond its job description, while failing to educate children on how to read the labels on their toy guns or learning to count their pretend bullets, they are once again melding in childish affairs.The toy gun buyback program is not about gun education but control.

Charles Hill, the school’s principal, explained, "Playing with toys guns, saying 'I'm going to shoot you,' desensitizes them, so as they get older, it's easier for them to use a real gun." First, there is no way to prove or disprove this statement, so it is equal to propaganda. Propaganda is the process of influencing the attitudes of a community by only presenting one side of the argument, or in this case, using political theater to steal children's toys. Obviously, taking toy guns out the hands of children will not stop gun violence, and education by parents will have the most effect. Toy manufacturers are forced to paint toy guns bright colors, and this point was brought up to the social crusader teaching young children in California with no response to the actual question except that toy guns look real enough. So, putting the actual gun debate aside, and all good intentions of Principal Hull, this gun buyback program is about control because it is using propaganda to change the behavior of children in regards to future actions that may result from the use of toys.

This may sound extreme, but this is not an isolated case. Recently a 5-year-old child who brought a fake looking cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for ten days after showing the orange tipped toy gun to a friend. First, the child was questioned for over two hours before his mother was even called and actually wet himself because of the of long interrogation. Other children have also received unwarranted discipline for pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun that were in first and second grade. Another child was suspended for biting a pop tart pastry into the shape of a gun, while in Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for a Lego-shaped gun. This over reaction will do nothing to stop gun violence in schools and only shows an attitude of complete contempt for proper education of dangerous firearms. This reaction towards children also reveals a deeper agenda of reeducating children, not on gun safety, but on why guns are truly unnecessary even if they are toys.

When you combine these issues in light of the progressive transformation of public education, it is no wonder why charter and home schooling is thriving. Classical education is at an all time high, and the idea of social progress through public education versus the study of fixed human nature will only over time make public education more and more unattractive. What true education teaches us is that America was founded on the idea that the government was not smarter than the people. This is the present day assumption of not only the American government but also of public education. The reason America was not founded on this principle was that our constitution was set into place to protect us from the powers of government. Our founding fathers also understood that government not only represented the people within the restrictions set into place by the Constitution but also that our government was nothing more than a reflection of the people themselves.


Grammar schools: why they still trump all other  government schools in Britain

There are more grammar school places than there have been for decades – but competition for them remains maniacally fierce, says Graeme Paton

Most parents have a decent story to tell about the nightmare of the school admissions system. But the best anecdotes – the ones that tell of the extreme lengths to which some are willing go – are reserved for the small but exclusive bunch of state-funded grammar schools in England.

There’s the one about the police being called to stop chaos breaking out after hundreds of parents suddenly descended on a Surrey grammar school car park on the day of the entrance test. There’s the Slough grammar school that gets 14 applications for every available place. Then there’s the grammar school in Kent that’s in such high demand among local families that pupils are required to score at least 99.5 per cent in the eleven-plus to guarantee a place.

Susan Hamlyn knows as much as anyone about what she calls this annual “frenzy”. As a private tutor with 30 years of experience and the director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, she has had parents requesting help to prepare their children for grammar school entrance exams at the age of two – a full nine years before they would be expecting to take up places.

“It’s crazy,” she says. “I heard about a child going for one of the big Surrey grammars last year who lived in Birmingham. I get parents ringing up from Bangladesh, Singapore, South Africa and Canada all saying they’d like to get a place at a grammar school and would like to know how the admissions system works. The fact is, there is a finite number of school places and a seemingly infinite number of people who want to get in. The demand is grotesquely out of proportion to supply.”

Grammar schools – traditionally academically selective secondary schools – have existed for centuries but ballooned in England on the back of the 1944 Education Act, when they made up one-third of the “tripartite system”, alongside technical schools and secondary moderns. To their supporters, they were engines of social mobility, giving children – irrespective of background – the sort of free academic education usually reserved for the fee-paying elite. To critics, the system was a form of social selection that sorted children into successes and failures at 11.

By the mid-Sixties, government guidelines had been distributed to local authorities, reflecting the left-leaning educational philosophy of the day, that ordered them to start disbanding the tripartite structure in favour of the all-ability comprehensive school. The death of the grammar was brutal. From a post-war high of 1,207, numbers almost halved to 675 by the mid-Seventies and reached a low of 150 in the Eighties. However, a small number of local authorities – principally Conservative shire counties – resisted Whitehall pressure and retained, to some extent, a selective system.

Today, 164 grammar schools quirkily remain, with the highest concentrations in areas such as Kent, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Essex, Gloucestershire, Slough, Trafford and Lincolnshire. And, to the horror of opponents, they remain very popular among parents. Figures published in 2011 suggest that almost half the children who pass the eleven-plus – the traditional grammar school entrance exam – fail to get a place.

At some schools, the rejection rate is far higher, with figures compiled by the Telegraph showing Herschel Grammar, Slough, had 14 applications for every place; neighbouring Langley Grammar had 13. At least six more had more than 10 applications for every place.

The sheer popularity of grammars suggests that, for too many parents, the 40-year dream of a comprehensive utopia has not been realised. Nidhi Jaiswal, a mother of two from west London, is typical. Her daughter, Adya, has secured a place at one of the capital’s most sought-after grammars – Henrietta Barnett in Hampstead Garden Suburb – starting in September. The bright 11-year-old took exams for five state grammars, and won places at each before settling on the all-girls’ school.

“She went to a state primary that was rated outstanding by Ofsted, but they didn’t challenge her enough,” Jaiswal says. “The focus seemed to be on bringing those children who aren’t doing that well up to a certain level rather than really pushing those who were high achieving. We didn’t want to face the same issue in a comprehensive school. If we hadn’t have got a grammar, we would have gone private, but it would have cost a lot of money and meant many sacrifices.”

In recent years, despite the continuing popularity of state-funded grammars, calls for an all-out expansion of academically selective schools have been rejected. After the 1997 general election, Labour introduced legislation banning the opening of any new grammars and drafted rules allowing local communities to petition for the end of selection at existing schools (only one was ever held, in North Yorkshire, and local parents rejected the change by two to one).

Controversially, Labour’s policy was endorsed by the Conservatives in Opposition. David Cameron – striving to shift his party to the centre – refused to back the return of academic selection, focusing his education policy instead on new, non-selective “free schools”.

In power, the Tory-led Coalition has also allowed all popular state schools to expand to meet local demand for places. But, in a concession to the Conservative heartlands, this liberation of places has been vocally extended to existing grammar schools. In Kent, the freedom has been exercised in an innovative way by the local council, which intends to building an entirely new grammar school in the town of Sevenoaks – but branding it as an “annexe” of an existing school 20 miles away in Maidstone. It is hoped the new school will cater for 120 pupils a year by the time it opens in 2016.

This development alone could, by stealth, trigger the biggest resurgence in grammar schools since the Seventies, with similar plans being considered in areas such as Torbay and south London.

But Robert McCartney, the chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, says that councils have been – for the past 30 years – quietly allowing individual schools to grow, often adding a class at a time to meet extra demand, largely under the radar of Whitehall.

New figures published by the House of Commons library appear to bear this out. In 1983, just 117,147 pupils were in English grammar schools – 3.1 per cent of the total secondary-age population. By 2007, numbers had grown to 156,800 – 4.8 per cent of pupils – and by last year numbers increased to 161,000, or five per cent. “It is indicative of the strength of parental demand for selective education,” says Mr McCartney.

But places still fall dramatically short of demand, particularly in the midst of the deepest economic crisis in history, when more families are seeking a cheap alternative to fee-paying education.

The scramble has triggered what the head of selective Chelmsford County High recently dubbed an “endemic” culture of tutoring, with parents subjecting sons and daughters to anything up to six years of academic coaching to prepare them for the eleven-plus. It has reached such a point that some local authorities – namely Buckinghamshire, Kent and Bexley, London – are planning to scrap the eleven-plus in its current form in the hope of creating a new “tutor-proof” entrance test.

With the toxic issue of academic selection continuing to divide opinion, it is unlikely that the annual scramble for places will ease any time soon. “It’s such a political hot potato,” Susan Hamlyn says. “I would like some government or other to put me out of my job and make sure everyone can have a good school at the end of their road and put an end to this frenzy. I can’t see it happening.”


Monday, June 10, 2013

Education Secretary Praises School's 'Courageous Choice' to Stop Buying Textbooks

Computer games for all?  Lots of purple prose below but where is the evidence that there will be any lasting beneficial effect?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the Mooresville, N.C. school district on Thursday for placing technology above textbooks.

"[T]his is not a well-funded district," Duncan said. "They made the courageous choice in about 2007 to stop buying textbooks, and they used all the money that they put in for textbooks to put in to technology. So they have sort of paved the way on this move from print to digital. And it's been amazing to see not just increase in test scores, but significant increases in high school graduate rates.

Duncan called technology a "game-changer" that can "empower students to be engaged in their own learning."

"Young people should have access to AP classes, to foreign language classes, to online tutoring. It's a fantastic way to help teachers do their job better and engage them in really important ways. Teachers can collaborate across the country with their peers. They can individualize instruction in ways that just hasn't been able to happen historically."

Duncan was traveling to Mooresville, N.C., with President Obama, who announced a multi-billion-dollar plan to bring high-speed Internet connections to 99 percent of America’s students. Obama is giving the Federal Communications Commission five years to make it happen.

"This is not connectivity for connectivity’s sake," the White House website says. "It is laying the foundation for a vision of classrooms where students are engaged in individualized digital learning and where teachers can assess progress, lesson by lesson and day by day. It’s about creating learning environments where students can both succeed and struggle without embarrassment, where barriers for children with disabilities are removed, and where we can bring the most modern, innovative, and up-to-date content into the classroom."

Duncan could not tell reporters how much the president's plan to bring high-speed Internet to all schools would cost, but the White House said the ConnectED initiative will require "a major capital investment." The Associated Press said it will cost "several billion dollars."

"I think it's really important that the FCC do that analysis, figure out what we could do with existing resources," Duncan said. If there's a need on a temporary basis for some additional resources, we need to look at that." Duncan specifically mentioned a "temporary slight increase in fees for the short term to get this done." A surcharge, in other words.

"And none of this requires any congressional approval?" a reporter asked Duncan:

"Which is the fantastic part of this," Duncan replied, prompting laughter. "We can get this done. And our kids can't wait and our teachers can't wait. We're trying to get better, faster educationally in tough economic times.

"We want to partner with Congress in everything we do," Duncan added. "And, as you know, we try to work in an absolutely bipartisan, nonpartisan way in everything we're doing. But we have to educate our way to a better economy. And the path to the middle class goes right through our nation's public schools.

And we're either going to see children in South Korea and India and China and Singapore have competitive advantages, or not. And I just think that's not fair to our kids. Our children are as smart, as talented, as committed, as entrepreneurial as children anywhere in the globe. We just have to give them a chance to compete on a level playing field. And today, quite frankly, we're not doing that."

Giving all students access to high-speed broadband is a "no-brainer," Duncan said. "We open up a new world of educational opportunity."


Guns and Grade-School Panic

The specter of school shootings has brought a too-typical staple to local newspaper sections: the boys disciplined at (or suspended from) grade school for bringing a toy gun or anything resembling a gun.

The Washington Post just found the latest wild overreaction, from Calvert County, Md., a blue state that's cracked down on gun rights. "A kindergartner who brought a cowboy-style cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for 10 days after showing a friend the orange-tipped toy, which he had tucked inside his backpack on his way to school," according to the family.

Post reporter Donna St. George relayed, "The child was questioned for more than two hours before his mother was called, she said, adding that he uncharacteristically wet his pants during the episode. The boy is 5 - 'all bugs and frogs and cowboys,' his mother said."

After an uproar stoked by local talk radio hosts erupted the next day, the district held a conference with the parents and reduced the suspension to two days (or "time served").

Your dictionary word here is "hoplophobia" — an irrational fear of firearms, even toy guns or ... pointed fingers.

This isn't the first time St. George and the Post have reported wrong-headed overreaction since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary. In February, an 8-year-old boy in Prince William County, Va., was suspended after he "pointed his finger like a gun in a school hallway after a friend pretended to shoot him with a bow and arrow. The class had been studying Native American culture and had just learned a deer-hunting song."

The boy served an in-school suspension for the day, charged with "threatening to harm self or others," on par with bringing an actual weapon to school. The boy's father was understandably stunned: "There was no threat, which is the part I can't fathom," he stated. "(My) son is going to have this in his file for playing."

This kind of nonsense does indeed go on a youngster's permanent record." Prince William County also suspended a 10-year-old for showing off an orange-tipped cap gun from a dollar store.

Here's another story demonstrating how amazingly stupid educators can be. In March, a school district in Anne Arundel Country in Maryland suspended a 7-year-old boy after school officials charged him with — ready? — chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. The boy, Josh Welch, said he was actually trying to shape his toaster pastry like a mountain, which figured prominently in a recent drawing he made.

In an appeal, lawyer Robin Ficker included pictures of the states of Idaho and Florida because "they look more like guns than Josh's Pop-Tart." Yes, a boy 7 years of age needed a lawyer.

But he isn't the only dangerous 7-year-old lurking out there. Two 7-year-old boys were suspended from school in Suffolk County, Va. for pointing pencils at each other while making shooting sounds. One boy was pretending to be a Marine and the other a bad guy. One of the boy's fathers is a former Marine.

This can even happen to girls, too. In Mount Carmel, Pa., A 5-year-old girl was suspended from school in January after she made what the school called a "terrorist threat." What weapon was she packing? A "small, Hello Kitty automatic bubble blower."

But maybe the silliest panic came in Grand Island, Neb., where school officials wanted deaf 3-year-old Hunter Spanjer to find a different sign for his first name, since in American Sign Language, you make a gesture resembling a gun for "Hunter." Under pressure, school officials quickly insisted they weren't going to make any deaf child change the sign language for their name.

Even teacher permission won't protect you. In breaking news, several grade-school students in Edmonds, Wash., were just suspended for a day for shooting Nerf gun darts before class — after parents say a teacher asked students to bring in Nerf guns for use in a probability study.

One parent protested: "If the teacher and the school staff don't even know their own rules, how are the children supposed to know them?"

When, oh, when, are we going to start firing these idiots running these schools?


British private schools abandon A-levels for international qualifications

Top private schools are abandoning A-levels in favour of alternative qualifications sat abroad because of growing concerns over “political interference” in the examinations system.  Headmasters warned that schools were moving towards tests taken by children overseas to address fears over constant “tinkering” with national assessments.

As sixth-formers across the country sit end-of-course tests this month, examiners reported more interest in International A-levels — a version of the British qualification created for the foreign market.

It also emerged that more pupils were taking the Cambridge Pre-U, which is seen as a return to traditional A-level study, before it was divided into a series of “bite-sized” modules, and the International Baccalaureate diploma.

In all, 72 British schools are entering pupils for International A-levels this year, 99 are taking the Pre-U and 188 are offering the IB.

The Coalition has insisted that it is addressing major concerns over the standard of A-levels by moving towards rigorous end-of-course exams and asking elite universities to help write course syllabuses.

But Ed Elliott, head of The Perse School, Cambridge, said many schools were unwilling to wait for the reforms or risk them being reversed by a future Labour administration.

The school offers the Pre-U in psychology, music, physics and chemistry and will move towards the International A-level in biology from September.

“The Perse does not want to be part of a game of political ping pong which will destabilise the exam system to the disadvantage of students,” he said.

“By sitting international qualifications we can take a 'wait and see’ approach to UK domestic exam reform, whilst ensuring our pupils benefit from studying proven, rigorous and internationally recognised qualifications free from political interference.”

Pre-Us were developed by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) in 2008 as a more rigorous form of A-level, with a greater emphasis on exams and less coursework. It is already offered by schools such as Eton, Charterhouse, Winchester and Dulwich.

International A-levels have also been run for more than 50 years by CIE for schools overseas, with syllabuses avoiding cultural bias and taking a more global approach.

The IB — championed by schools such as Sevenoaks, Wellington College and King Edward’s, Birmingham — is a diploma qualification developed in Geneva and is designed to offer a more rounded experience for sixth-formers, with students taking a range of subjects, as well as completing an extended essay and doing community work.

Latest figures from CIE show that 99 schools made entries for the Pre-U this year, up from 98 in 2012, and a further 150 are registered to teach it from September this year.

In all, the number of pupils taking exams in “principal subjects” — English literature, maths, history, physics and economics — is up by seven per cent this year.

The exam board said that a further 72 British schools were entering pupils for International A-levels in 2012/3, mainly in English, geography, biology, physics and maths, with numbers expected to rise next year.

A spokeswoman said: “We are expecting to see growth of both Cambridge Pre-U and International A-level in the UK as schools look at tried and tested alternatives in times of reform.”

Figures show that 188 schools in Britain run the IB, with 47,238 candidates sitting the qualification. It represents a 63 per cent growth in schools in the past five years.

The Department for Education said changes to the A-level were being made to ensure it would “match the world’s best and command the respect of the top universities and employers”.

“Our reforms will enhance A-levels so students are better prepared for higher education,” a spokesman said. “For too long academics at leading universities have been concerned with current A-levels, with nearly three-quarters of lecturers having to adapt their teaching for poorly prepared students.

“Linear A-levels will end an over reliance on resits so all pupils develop a real understanding of a subject.”


Sunday, June 09, 2013

Collectivized children

All Your Kids Are Belong to Us

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife is head of an innovative private start-up school in Austin. My son is a student there, along with six other great kids. Last week we celebrated the school’s first anniversary. My wife was glad to break even. Maybe next year she’ll be able to pay herself a small salary. But she isn’t really in it for the money.

In our city, however, voters just approved two bonds for the government schools totaling $489.7 million. Yet despite having to compete with “free,” and being forced to subsidize her competition, my wife goes on. You see, she is a true believer—in her educational philosophy, in her school community, and in our son.

Perhaps you can imagine our consternation when we saw this:

"We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities."

Those are the words of Melissa Harris-Perry, a Tulane professor of political science and television personality, speaking in a controversial MSNBC spot.

There is probably no greater threat to real community than the conflation of community with State power. Yet look around: You can see this conflation used almost daily to justify all manner of injustices. And many of these injustices are committed against children.

I realize evoking “the children” is almost always a cheap rhetorical tactic—a conversation killer, maybe the punch line of a joke. But education is as personal for my wife and me as it is an issue of general principle. All around us, people are using the vagaries of community not only to achieve any of a thousand illiberal ends, but to perpetuate the government school system and specifically to propagate the idea that children are the property of the State.

At The Freeman we’re familiar with all sorts of collectivist bromides. Still, if I had read Harris-Perry’s sentence above in isolation, I might be tempted to give her the benefit of the doubt—especially if we think of community not as the state, but as what it is and should be: the voluntary association of people who find one another, work together, and provide assistance to each other in times of need.

Community is not something that can be fashioned by elites or simply coerced into being. It is an emergent phenomenon. It is the product of intertwining commitments. Community is built by a free people and held together by invisible bonds—bonds of love, charity, and trust. Community cannot be fashioned by State largesse, central planners, or police power. So, yes, communities can certainly participate in the development of children.

But Melissa Harris-Perry is not talking about real community:

"We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we've always had a private notion of children; your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven't had a very collective notion of these are our children."

Let that settle for a moment.

Award-winning education reformer John Taylor Gatto, who understands real community, has written volumes about the effects on children of 12 years in government schools:

Inevitably, large compulsory institutions want more and more, until there isn’t any more to give. School takes our children away from any possibility of an active role in community life—in fact, it destroys communities by relegating the training of children to the ends of certified experts—and by doing so it ensures our children cannot grow up fully human. Aristotle taught that without a fully active role in community life one could not hope to become a healthy human being. Surely he was right. Look around you the next time you are near a school or an old person’s reservation if you wish a demonstration.

I don’t have to look. I remember it well: “Line up.” “Remain in your seats.” “Raise your hand.” “Open your books…” “Head down on your desks.” “The bell is about to ring.” “Today we’re covering…” “You’re tardy.” “Tests up to the front.” “You passed.” “You failed.” “CAT” “ACT” “SAT” “State standards” “No talking.” “Pass up your work.” “First period, second period, third period, lunch.” “No, you can’t go to the bathroom.” “You were so obedient today; here’s a sticker.” It often seems more like an internment camp than a community.

But if Harris-Perry had been talking about a more Aristotelian idea, we might have concluded she was speaking figuratively, perhaps idiomatically about the relationship between families and communities. After all, we human beings need each other to develop fully, and a good-neighbor ethic is perfectly consistent with an individualism that respects freedom of association. I call it “rugged communitarianism.”

But Harris-Perry’s worldview is not rugged communitarianism. It is ruthless collectivism. It’s a worldview that compels people to sustain a system that cartelizes teachers and alienates children from the very communities in which they will eventually have to live.

What’s most troubling to me is that Melissa Harris-Perry claims State ownership of children before a very nice camera, in a most unapologetic fashion, so as to be piped into the living rooms of a lot of people. She represents millions. Her words and image were taken and packaged up by complicit producers, color treated, and allowed to represent the ethos of an entire television network.

I try to distance myself from TV rhetoric, hysterical talking points, or the otherwise squirrely narratives of an increasingly polarized media. But Harris-Perry’s words chilled me to my bones. I knew once I saw that commercial I could never let my child set foot in a government school.

It’s not just because I think of my son as belonging to me, though admittedly he’s mine in some limited sense. I think of my son as also belonging to himself, more and more every day. He is in the process of becoming the captain of his own life. He is not the product of a five-year plan. Nor is he a bucket into which any expert’s contrived curriculum should be poured like so much thin gruel. My son is an amazing person ready to undertake learning pursuits that could go down any of a million forking paths. At six, he is certainly no pliable drone to be molded by standardization and trained to serve Harris-Perry’s collective. And he won’t be at 16 or 26, either.

My son, like almost every other child, is an autodidact. Unlike other children, though, he is a member of a dynamic school community that includes people of all ages. He is not the product of a State contrivance—a Skinner Box that requires he sit at attention at one desk arranged 5 x 5 while a State employee reads from a script. My son’s school community is much more robust than any institution that purports to prepare children for life by taking them out of it. And his community is as unique as he is, because each member of that community is unique and their collective actions are the product of intimate, localized processes. The pedagogy offers a living quest, not standardized tests.

In Melissa Harris-Perry, I had seen the face of statist collectivism. It was soft, sweet and delivered at very low cost to millions in a glossy TV ad. Thankfully, a lot of people were outraged by that MSNBC spot. But some weren’t.

In fact, people who think like Melissa Harris-Perry are legion. Many are parents. Generally, they work in education, at all levels, feeding like parasites on the wider economy. In fact, they are educating most people’s kids. And that is why, year by year, more people sound like Harris-Perry. She is the product of an ideology forged in Bismarck’s Germany, refined in Mussolini’s Italy, and given expression in our U.S. school system. I’m sure a great chunk of Americans saw the Harris-Perry ad on television and nodded their heads as if someone—finally—had brought clear articulation to what they’d secretly believed all along: Government is our parent.

As Gatto reminds us: "Institutional leaders have come to regard themselves as great synthetic fathers to millions of synthetic children, by which I mean to all of us. This theory sees us bound together in some abstract family relationship in which the state is the true mother and father; hence it insists on our first and best loyalty."

The public school system—planned for your kids by central power elites—is the status quo. It has been for a long time thanks to the fully subsidized childcare it offers. Those who express any skepticism about this scheme are painted as radicals, or worse—uncaring, atomized individualists. People like Gatto, whom I quoted above, are considered fringe. Why? Because, as Gatto himself reminds us, “The sociology of government monopoly schools has evolved in such a way that a premise like mine jeopardizes the total institution if it spreads.” Gatto describes teacher innovation or system critiques of the schools cartel as a “bacillus” the system must eradicate.

Any system is composed of agents who benefit from the system, so the system wants to protect and perpetuate itself. And you know, that’s kind of understandable. But behind this dangerous conflation between community and State power in education, there is also an ideology. It is like a religion, only its adherents worship government.


Brightest pupils targeted in new British standards drive

Secondary schools will be ordered to prepare more pupils for top universities amid claims from Ofsted that large numbers of the brightest teenagers are failing to reach their potential.

The education watchdog will tell teachers to do more to stretch children between the age of 11 and 18 to prevent the most sought-after higher education places being dominated by students from a small number of elite schools.

It is believed that comprehensives will be told to set and stream pupils by ability and ensure talented teenagers sit the toughest A-level subjects that are currently seen as a route into leading universities.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, claimed it was a “big issue for our country” that so many bright students failed to achieve their potential at secondary school.

Speaking recently, he criticised the fact that just four private schools and one sixth-form college now send more pupils to Oxbridge than 2,000 state comprehensives combined.

An Ofsted analysis has shown that around one-in-five pupils who gain top scores in English and maths at the age of 11 currently fail to go on to gain A* or A grades in GCSEs at the end of secondary education.

Next week, the watchdog will publish a major report into the reasons why so many comprehensives are letting down the most able pupils.

“It will be a ground-breaking report that will say some important things about the standard of provision for our most able pupils,” Sir Michael said.

“It’s a big issue for our country. Do we need more youngsters from the state system to get into universities? Yes, we do.”

The report is likely to call a greater use of setting and streaming – rather than teaching in mixed-ability groups.

This follows comments by Sir Michael last year when he warned that mixed-ability classes were a “curse” on both bright and low-skilled pupils.

According to previous Ofsted figures, just 45 per cent of the 22,834 lessons observed by inspectors in 2010/11 employed some form of setting by ability.


Compliance toll a lose-lose game for Australian universities

LET'S hope that the mooted review of red tape in higher education is quick, accurate and decisive. The weight of regulatory compliance confronting the sector is monumental, to the point where institutions must consider regulation among their greatest risks.

What passes for regulation at present seems more akin to paranoia. Rather than a sensible underpinning of quality in the sector, regulation has become an obsessive overburden that is stifling development and innovation.

And the cost? The public appropriations to run the regulator pale into insignificance by comparison with the real cost to the sector. The cost of compliance, in the hundreds of millions, must rankle university leaders as they contemplate cuts to fund Gonski reforms.

Private providers in the sector also are hit hard. At their scale, they simply can't absorb the compliance overburden without risking their whole operation.

And the apotheosis of compliance overburden? The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The national regulator is fast engulfing the sector with controlling tentacles pushing into the furthest corners of institutional life. The cost to the sector is high, the threat to institutional autonomy real and regression to a TEQSA-determined norm spine chilling.

The impost of escalating compliance on higher education is amplified by opportunity cost. Resources lost to compliance reduce teaching and research quality and stifle innovation. It's a lose-lose game.

Several universities are in the middle of the TEQSA re-accreditation exercise. Here, swaths of academics and administrators struggle to interpret the regulator's requirements for quantitative and qualitative data. Time is eaten up compiling and delivering portfolios, responding to interrogatories, correcting errors of fact and misinterpretation, commenting on the regulator's drafts and ultimately responding to commendations and recommendations in the public arena. And then they must prepare for regulatory follow-up that demands to know of any change in circumstance in the interim.

Universities now have risk managers, risk assessors, quality assurance directors and departments and the back-up dedicated to regulation.

University committees, executives, legal officers and vice-chancellors oversee TEQSA reporting, pore over responses, handle the misinterpretations and design the communication strategies to cope with the agency. It's a monster. Compare all this with the more rational peer and self-regulatory regime that previously served the universities and the community well.

Recall that the compliance overburden came to pass because a few private providers played wide and loose with international student visas, dodgy courses, poor services and insufficient financial viability.

The upshot? Universities and the best of the private providers now find themselves in a web of regulation that has punished the entire sector, rather than just dealing with the recalcitrants.

Draining resources, though, is not the only problem of this overburden.

Compliance is taming the sector. Fear of the regulator's red flag embeds timidity, works against diversity and pushes the sector towards a line of regression.

The capacity of an institution, public or private, to develop a world view, shape a vision and innovate is at risk.

Colouring a different teaching and research profile, shaping distinctive graduates and creating innovative ideas is the lifeblood of any institution. A monocultural approach to sector regulation, imposing sector-wide standards and metrics, pushes institutions towards a norm - or, if they resist, into liminal existence.

This is particularly true in the case of private providers. By and large this sector provides a valued education to many Australians.

The best private providers are agile and innovative. They maintain quality programs and deliver highly proficient graduates into the professions and industry. They are highly focused, often specialising in areas that universities will not or cannot offer. They have a different but valuable approach to education from the universities.

Yet they fall within the purview of TEQSA and are little appreciated or understood. The regulator has a conventional and university-led view of higher education culture, and it seems determined to push this orthodoxy hard into a diverse sector in which private providers are integral but different.

A one-size model may be convenient to the regulator but tough on quality private providers, especially those in more liminal areas, which may be the real movers and shakers of the sector.

Ironically, TEQSA itself is now at risk because it seems determined to regulate from a position of singularity.

The agency has failed to recognise that a flexible, contextualised and nuanced model is needed, one that moderates risk for all concerned but encourages innovation and respects difference. And one that is more in tune with Australia's diverse regions, communities and democratic ethos.