Friday, November 22, 2013

Arne Duncan's War on Women and Children

Just when you thought the Obama administration couldn't antagonize America any further, along comes Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He didn't just attack "white suburban moms" and children over their criticism of the Common Core "standards"/testing/data-mining program. The feds' top educrat also managed to insult every one of the nation's minority families and educators who oppose Fed Ed's threat to academic excellence, local control and student privacy.

On Friday, while defending the beleaguered Common Core program in a meeting with state school superintendents, Duncan unleashed a brazen race and class warfare attack on grassroots foes. As The Washington Post reported, Duncan sneered that he found it "fascinating" that the revolt came from "white suburban moms who -- all of a sudden -- their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."

As a brown-skinned suburban mom opposed to Common Core, I can tell you I've personally met moms and dads of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds and parts of the country over the past year who have sacrificed to get their kids into the best schools possible. They are outraged that dumbed-down, untested federal "standards" pose an existential threat to their excellent educational arrangements -- be they public, private, religious or homeschooling.

Duncan's derision exposes the very control-freak impulses that drive Common Core. He condescendingly implies that the only reason "white suburban moms" object to Common Core is that their children are too dumb to score well on tests -- which, by the firsthand accounts of educators from urban New York City schools to rural Kentucky schools to every corner of the country, are a complete and utter mess.

Thousands of moms and dads immediately took to social media to speak truth to bigoted Fed Ed power. The nonpartisan Mothers Against Duncan (MAD) group on Facebook declared: "Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has insulted the Moms of America and our children! This MAD group is intended to be a gathering place where America's Moms can show him that he picked the WRONG group to mess with!"

Patti McKelvey wrote: "I am so angry about the latest comment out of Arne Duncan's mouth. I find it incredibly insulting. I am a clinical laboratory technologist. I have two (master's) degrees. I am a grandmother. He has stirred a real hornet's nest now -- white suburban middle-class women should not be messed with. Nor should parents of any race, creed or religion who care about their (children's) education."

Daphne Scott Yuhas posted: "I ain't white, and it doesn't matter a damn, but I am a Mom, and I am now in angry Mommy Bear mode! Watch out!"

Elle Commanderr, a "white former urban now suburban pissed off mom," directly addressed Duncan: "Education without representation is as egregious as taxation without representation. Our children are not YOUR children nor do we wish to 'assimilate' them to this nonsense in ANY area I know of ... suburban, urban or otherwise."

Michigan homeschool mom Karen Braun, who signed her letter to Duncan "Your boss," ripped the tone-deaf bureaucrat: "Secretary Duncan, you and the feds may control the purse strings, but WE (moms of every color and location) control our 'brilliant' children's shoe strings. We have the final authority, and we're saying no to your 'higher standard' and your high stakes tests... YOU work for US! Get that right, and you and the mothers of America will get along a whole lot better."

Duncan now says his dog-whistle tirade was clumsily worded. But he's used the same talking points before. What's crystal clear is that Duncan and his top-down dictators presume that only technocratic elites in Washington can determine what quality standards and curricula look like. He pretends that minority parents and students in inner-city charter and magnet schools with rigorous locally crafted classical education missions simply don't exist. A textbook liberal racist, Duncan whitewashes all minority parents and educators who oppose Common Core out of the debate.

This is a White House war on uppity women and children of all colors. Duncan's a bigot, a bully, an elitist and a foot-in-mouth fool all rolled into one -- and he continues to enjoy the support of the president. The relentless Beltway attacks on Common Core critics also give lie to the oft-repeated claim that the top-down initiative was "state-led" and grassroots. It should not go unnoticed that the most vocal and defensive advocates of the beleaguered Fed Ed boondoggle are not local teachers or parents, but pale-faced Beltway bureaucrats and their corporate allies.


Village Academic Curriculum: Common Core Curses

In the past five years, this country has seen more government-sanctioned race and class baiting than ever before. These tools have been used to silence opposition to the Obama administration's position on everything from terrorism to taxes. The recent inflammatory statements made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan are just the latest chapter in that political curriculum.

In the face of mounting (and, as it turns out, diversified) opposition to the federal education Common Core program, Duncan remarked, "It's fascinating ... that some of the pushback [against Common Core] is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who -- all of a sudden -- [realize] their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."

Duncan has since been labeled a bigot because his comment was belittling to parents of all races. It was based on several offensive presumptions: first, that the education system's problems are race and class-based; second, that white suburban moms are fine with a subpar education system as long as their children are insulated from it; and third, that race plays a role in a parent's level of sophistication with regards to education. The underlying presumption, of course, is that Big Government must take a larger role in education in order to save the rest of us.

Clearly, Duncan expected his statement to divide and conquer the opposition. Instead, it solidified it. The coalition questioning increased federal control of education through Common Core is made up of people across religious, political, racial and class spectrums. And, as it turns out, people of all ages as well. "I don't like it," one fourth grade girl said of Common Core, "because it seems like they are just teaching us to take the test." How, one wonders, would Duncan seek to discredit her?


Privately-educated British graduates a THIRD more likely to get top jobs: Social mobility tsar in call to 'break open closed shop'

Middle class children are being held back by ‘entrenched elitism’ which means the rich and privately-educated are a third more likely to get top jobs, a government adviser warned today.

Alan Milburn, the social mobility tsar, said it was not just children from poorer families who struggled to ‘move up and get on’.

In the latest high-profile attack on the privileged elite who run Britain, he said it was time to ‘break open the closed shop’ at the top of society.

David Cameron has been stung by criticism of the wealthy background of many in the Cabinet.

Former Tory Prime Minister Sir John Major took a swipe last month, warning the Conservatives cannot win if they fail to understand the ‘silent have-nots’ who suffer in ‘net curtain poverty’.

New research from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that privately-educated graduates are one-third more likely to get top jobs than state school-educated graduates.

In a speech today Mr Miliburn said: ‘A society where opportunities are frozen rather than fluid hurts more than those at the very bottom end.  ‘It hurts the people President Clinton once famously called the “forgotten middle class”.  ‘They, and not just low income families, are the victims of entrenched elitism in our country.’

The former Labour Cabinet minister told social mobility experts that the problem did not affect just people from working class backgrounds, but was also a block on the aspirations of middle class families.

Part of this gap was explained by the fact that top employers continue to recruit from a narrow range of highly selective universities, where those who went to independent schools tend to be over-represented, said the Commission.

But it also found that even where two similarly qualified graduates have attended the same university and got the same degree, a privately-schooled graduate is still 8 per cent more likely to get a top job than a state-schooled one.

Mr Milburn added: ‘Social mobility relies on people across the income spectrum being able to move up and get on.  ‘We have a twin problem in our country:  middle class aspirations and working class opportunities to advance are both being thwarted.’

Commission analysis suggested that some of the career advantage for privately-educated graduates comes from having social connections that state-educated graduates are less likely to enjoy. But it found that most of the gap is unexplained.

Mr Milburn said the expansion of the middle classes would help more people to break through into the top of society.

He said: ‘A twin solution is needed: we need to break open the closed shop at the top of British society and expand the middle.  ‘It should be our country’s ambition to create a bigger middle class with more avenues for advancement. A growing middle-class is the foundation for a more mobile country.’

Mr Milburn outlined a five-point policy agenda, involving expanding early years education; paying the best teachers more for working in disadvantaged areas; opening up universities to a wider pool of talent and making vocational education a national priority; increasing the minimum wage; and expanding entry to the professions by getting firms to recruit from a wider range of universities and ending unpaid internships.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Common Core, Common Complaints

All but a few states have formally adopted Common Core, the state-driven campaign to improve educational outcomes for K-12 students by meeting common academic benchmarks, particularly in math and English. But the program has faced criticism across the spectrum. The basic flaw of Common Core, according to education policy expert and Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki Alger, is that its standards are “weak, costly, politicized, and unconstitutional.” In recent pieces in The Beacon, she has focused on two problems with Common Core: the political overtones of some of its reading recommendations, and the program’s threat to student and family privacy.

Common Core reading recommendations, Alger contends, include material that is pro-Obamacare and pro-union; an example of the latter was woven into the civics curriculum for third graders. But Common Core even politicizes math standards. Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram, who served as a member of the Common Core validation committee, complains that scholastic rigor was “compromised for the sake of political buy-in.” The academic content of Common Core is a major worry, but not the only cause for concern.

Alger notes that civil libertarians are increasingly anxious about Common Core’s threat to student and family privacy. Under a law called FERPA—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act—private contractors, consultants, and other non-government personnel may become privy to data about a student’s family income, religion, student disciplinary records, and parents’ political affiliations. Last month, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) pressed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to explain why, in at least one state, student Social Security numbers were given to a private data collection company. But “as interesting as any official response would be, there is still no legitimate, much less Constitutional, reason for the federal government to be spying on American citizens or their children,” Alger concludes.


What is the point of going to university? Recession means half of British graduates are working in jobs which do not need a degree

Half of all young people who have graduated since the onset of the recession are now working in ‘non-graduate’ jobs, official figures revealed yesterday.

Many are working as secretaries, carers or factory workers because they cannot find better-paid work.

In a separate analysis also published yesterday, it emerged that those who have graduated since 2008 are earning less than their predecessors and owe more in student debt. Experts fear they have poor prospects of ever paying it off.

The figures on non-graduate jobs, from the Office for National Statistics, show that graduates now make up an extraordinary 38 per cent of the population, compared with 17 per cent in 1992.

But their employment prospects have never been worse.

Of those who graduated in the last five years and are now working, 47 per cent are doing ‘a non-graduate role’ – defined as a job for which ‘a higher educational background is not required’.

Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: ‘It used to be you went to university and you got a good job. That was the deal, wasn’t it? But it is not quite like that any more.’

With British undergraduates in England now paying up to £9,000 a year in fees, many suspect the degree they will end up with is no longer worth it.

On top of the fees, many take out heavy loans on credit cards to pay rent and living costs. Analysis of earnings and debt by the Financial Times newspaper found that recent graduates owe about 60 per cent more than those who graduated before the recession.

These graduates are also typically earning 12 per cent less than those who graduated just before the financial crisis began in 2008.

And these recent graduates are now more likely to be unemployed even than non-graduates in older age groups, the ONS figures show.   The unemployment rate among recent graduates is 9 per cent, whereas for graduates who left more than five years ago it is only 3 per cent.

Bill Little, a director of the online jobs website, said: ‘They spend three or four years getting a degree and are then forced to enter jobs that they could probably have secured without any further education.’

Some degrees, however, still provide a good chance of finding well-paid work, particularly those that are vocational or scientific in nature.

Medicine generally leads to the highest salaries and medics are less likely to be unemployed than people with any other type of degree.

A graduate with a degree in medicine typically earns £45,604 annually. Engineering is in second place with an average salary of £42,016, followed by physics and chemistry.

Those who lose out on salaries are graduates with a degree in arts or literature. Media and information studies come lowest, giving an average salary of only £21,008 a year.

A spokesman for the Department for Business said: ‘Graduates are more likely to be in work earning above the average wage.  ‘The lifetime earnings premium for graduates remains comfortably over £100,000.  ‘There are also proven health and social benefits from attending university.’

 Steve Radley, director of policy at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said: ‘Today's figures show that graduates have not escaped the squeeze on pay but they also highlight the major impact that subject choices have on earnings.  'Graduates in engineering are the second highest earners and those in physical sciences earn far beyond average also.

‘We need a concerted effort to get more young people studying the science and engineering degrees that will drive our economy forward and more of them taking up well paid opportunities.’

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: ‘While university leavers are still better paid and more likely to have a job than non-graduates of the same age, their prospects are worsening, just as their debts are soaring.

‘Having got themselves tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, nearly half of all recent graduates are doing lower-skilled jobs. This is in turn pushing young people who don't have a degree out of work altogether.

‘The Government's approach of making young people pay more to get less from higher education is deeply unfair and makes no economic sense. Ministers should admit that 'any old job' is not good enough for heavily-indebted graduates and start prioritising high-quality job creation.’


British student loans to Bulgarians and Romanians frozen

It's perfectly legal free money to those who expect to stay poor.  As long as you stay poor, you are never obliged to pay it back

Student loans to Bulgarians and Romanians have been frozen after a “suspicious” surge in the number enrolling at British colleges.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said he had suspended loans to students from the two countries after an unusual increase in the number receiving support from the Student Loans Company (SLC). As many as three quarters of the students involved have so far failed to prove they are entitled to their loans, sources said.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 but restrictions were introduced to stop workers from both countries working in the UK. Those curbs will be lifted next year, leading some MPs to warn of a large influx of workers.

Under the current rules, the SLC offers two sorts of loan, one to pay for tuition fees, and another to cover living costs.

All European Union citizens are allowed to apply for a loan to cover their tuition fees. This means that while Bulgarians and Romanians are not allowed to work in the UK, they can study here.

However, only EU citizens who have lived in the UK for three years are entitled to student support grants to cover their living expenses while they study.

Mr Willetts told MPs: “We identified that there had been a significant increase in the number of Bulgarian and Romanian students applying for full student support in England this year.

“This support is usually only available to EU citizens resident in the UK for a minimum of three years. We have asked each of these students to supply additional information to support their applications for maintenance, before any further public funding is made available to them or to their institutions.”

It is understood that around 5,500 Romanians and Bulgarians have received the first instalment of cost-of-living loans this year, a big increase from last year.

Most of the students are registered at smaller “alternative providers” offering Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and other non-university qualifications. The applications are understood to be concentrated in a handful of institutions.

“Ministers got involved when the numbers for this year set off some warning lights,” a source said. “The increase aroused suspicions that not all of the applications were legitimate.”

Only around a quarter of those asked to prove their UK residency have so far done so, the source said.  Those who fail to provide evidence of their residency face having their maintenance loans clawed back.

Officials expect to recoup around £1 million in loans. In some cases the money will be taken back through tuition loans, to which the students are still entitled.

Mr Willetts said the Government had also stopped some private colleges taking on any more students for HNDs and Higher National Certificates (HNCs).

He said he had written to 23 colleges to tell them not to take any more students as there had been a rapid increase in the numbers applying for loans that cannot be afforded.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

If You Want a Conservative Child

In my last column, I proposed some explanations for why many conservative parents have left-wing children.

In a nutshell, American parents who hold traditional American values — such as belief in small government as the basis of liberty, in a God-based moral code, that American military strength is the greatest contributor to world peace and stability, or in American exceptionalism, not to mention in the man-woman definition of marriage or in the worth of a human fetus — are at war with almost every influence on their children’s lives. This includes, most importantly, the media and the schools.

Here, then are some suggestions for raising a child with American, i.e., conservative, values.

First, parents who are not left-wing need to understand that if they do not articulate their values on a regular basis, there is a good chance that after one year, let alone four, at college, their child will adopt left-wing views and values. Do not think for a moment that values are automatically transmitted. One hundred years ago they may have been — because the outside world overwhelmingly reaffirmed parents’ traditional values — but no longer.

You have to explain to your children — repeatedly — what America and you stand for. (That, if I may note, is why I wrote “Still the Best Hope” and why I started

Second, they need to know what they will be taught at college — and now in many high schools — and how to respond. When they are told from day one at college that America and its white citizens are inherently racist, they need to know how to counter this libel with these truths: America is the least racist society in the world; more black Africans have immigrated here of their own volition than were came here forcibly to be slaves; and “racist” is merely one of many epithets — such as sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, and bigoted — that the left uses instead of arguments.

Third, when possible, it is best that your child not go to college immediately after high school. One reason colleges are able to indoctrinate students is that students enter college young and unworldly. It is very rare that adult students are convinced to abandon their values and become left-wing. Why? Because they have lived life and are much less naive.

For example, someone with life experience is far more likely than a kid just out of high school to understand that the best formula for avoiding poverty is to take personal responsibility — get a job, get married and then have children — not government help.

Teenagers who spend a year before going to college working — in a restaurant, for a moving company, at an office — will mature far more than they would after a year at college. And maturity is an inoculation against leftism.

If your home is Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or Mormon, another option for the year after high school is to have your child devote a year to studying religion in some formal setting. The more your child knows, lives and adheres to the principles of any of these religions, the less likely he or she will convert to Leftism, which has been the most dynamic religion of the last hundred years. For example, it is a fundamental belief of each of these Judeo-Christian religions that the root of evil is within the evildoer. But it is a fundamental belief of leftism that people murder, steal and rape overwhelmingly because of outside influences such as poverty and racism. The moment your child understands that people who commit evil are responsible— not poverty or racism — they cannot be a leftist.

Fourth, don’t be preoccupied with instilling high self-esteem in your child. It is the left that believes that self-esteem is a child’s right, something that parents and society owe children. Conservatives believe that everyone, including children, must earn self-esteem. Indeed, the belief in earning — rather than in being given — is conservative.

Fifth, teach character. The left has essentially defined a good person as one who holds progressive social positions — on race, the environment, taxes, health care, etc. That is why the left, including the feminist left, could so adore Bill Clinton who regularly used his positions of power to take advantage of women: He held progressive positions.

If your child recycles or walks five kilometers on behalf of breast cancer, that is lovely. But if your child refuses to cheat on tests or befriends an unpopular kid at school, that is character. And teaching that definition of character is more often done in a conservative (usually a religiously conservative) context.

It is not all that hard to produce a son or daughter able to withstand left-wing indoctrination. You just have to understand that it doesn’t happen automatically.


School Cancels Christmas Toy Drive After Humanists Threaten to Sue

A South Carolina charter school has canceled its annual Christmas toy drive after a group of self-described humanists complained that the project violated the U.S. Constitution and accused them of bribing children to convert to Christianity.

Renee Mathews, the principal of East Point Academy in West Columbia, S.C., said the annual Operation Christmas Child project was halted because the American Humanist Association threatened to sue the school.

“We received a letter saying we had to cease and desist immediately or they would take legal action against us,” Mathews told me.

"This letter serves as notice to policymaking school officials of the East Point Academy’s unconstitutional conduct and as a demand that the school terminate all promotion, sponsorship, endorsement or affiliation with Operation Christmas Child immediately,” read the letter from the American Humanist Association.

Mathews said their small school had no choice.  “We have a very small budget and very small legal budget. We felt that we could not risk using our school funding for classrooms and teachers to fight a court case.”

The small charter school had been participating in Operation Christmas Child for the past two years without any controversy. The program is associated with Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization.

For the past several weeks, students had been working with their parents to decorate shoe boxes and fill them with toys. They were supposed to deliver the boxes to the school Friday morning.

Even though Operation Christmas Child is connected to an evangelical Christian ministry, Mathews said there were no religious materials included in the boxes. She also pointed out the project was voluntary, non-religious, and not tied to any graded assignments.

Nevertheless, the American Humanist Association decided to intervene on behalf of a perturbed parent.

“The boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries to convert to Christianity, and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert,” read a letter the AHA sent to Mathews.

The AHA said a public school cannot affiliate itself with a group like Operation Christmas Child without violating the Establishment Clause.

“Because the purpose and effect of Operation Christmas Child is to induce impoverished children to convert to Christianity, the school’s promotion of this program violates the Constitution,” read a letter the AHA sent to Mathews.

Kelly Wells, a spokesperson for the ministry, said they don’t hide the religious aspect of the project.

“We are a project that aims to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas -- the birth of Jesus,” Wells said in a statement. “Our purpose is to show God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world.”

The AHA’s Appginani Humanist Legal Center said that’s why public schools cannot participate in the program.

“It is a clear constitutional violation for administrators of a public school to push students to participate in a proselytizing religious program,” attorney Monica Miller said. “Students at East Point Academy should not be used like this.”

Mathews said the entire school was invited to fill shoe boxes -- from boys and girls in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Since many of the boxes had already been completed, she suggested to parents they donate the gifts to charity.

“Parents are understanding,” she said. “There are some parents who are disappointed. They enjoyed doing the project in the past but they understood and they were sympathetic to the school’s position.”

The school also had to inform boys and girls that their good deeds would not be allowed because of a bunch of intolerant non-believers.

“We let them know that because of things beyond our control, we’re not going to be able to do the shoe box collection,” Mathews said.

So, thanks to a bunch of godless, heartless "humanist" bullies, dozens of poor children will wake up on Christmas morning without a single toy.

How inhumane of the humanists.


Britain: Another teacher who hates kids

A headmaster has been branded a Scrooge after calling off a series of Christmas celebrations because school inspectors are visiting.

Steve Rayer, 44, has cancelled a fete, concerts, a disco and a pantomime trip which his primary pupils were looking forward to.

He sent parents a letter saying the events would have to be rearranged, even though the inspectors have since stressed their presence should not interrupt normal school routines.

One mother compared Mr Rayer to the Grinch, the character who ‘stole Christmas’ in the children’s book by Dr Seuss.

She said: ‘It’s something the children look forward to all year.  The children are really disappointed thanks to this Scrooge – there have been lots of tears and lots of upset parents.’

Rogerstone Primary School in Newport, South Wales, sent letters to the parents of its 400 pupils  last week announcing the inspection by officials from Estyn, the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted, starting on December 9.

Mr Rayer wrote: ‘The Christmas panto and concerts will be rearranged in the new year. The Christmas fete and Christmas disco will be rearranged after the inspection is over. More details will be sent out when new arrangements have been made.

‘We are all very much looking forward to the visit by Estyn to show them the wonderful work everyone does here and how well the children progress in their learning.’ The mother, who has an eight-year-old at the school, said the children had been excited about the  trip to see the panto Beauty and the Beast at the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre in Newport.

She added: ‘It’s difficult to see how they are going to do Christmas stuff in the new year. It’s such a shame.

‘The children are seeing their friends at other schools celebrating but they’ve got to work on as normal. It’s usually the highlight of the year for them. As soon as the panto finishes one year they are looking forward to the next one.

‘And lots of the little girls had bought new dresses for the disco – it just means so much to them at that age.’

Acting head Mr Rayer, who has experience of three inspections at other schools, declined to comment.

He joined the school in October after the previous head took temporary leave pending an investigation into how reading and numeracy tests were carried out. Mr Rayer, a rugby coach and keen angler, was photographed last year with the Olympic torch when its round-Britain tour passed near the school.

Newport Council said it was up to the school to decide on Christmas events.

An Estyn spokesman said: ‘We would never recommend any school should cancel any Christmas activities or day-to-day events because of an inspection.’


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Common Core: “If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum”

Common Core’s primary backers have been assuring us for years that the standards do not mandate any specific curriculum or prescribe any particular method of teaching. However, now that states have begun to implement Common Core, those same backers are singing a different tune. Professor Jay P. Greene highlighted the shift at the Education Next blog. For example, just six months ago, prominent Common Core supporters Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern wrote in National Review Online:

    "Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards."

However, now Porter-Magee and Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute argue that the standards must change “classroom practice”:

    "In order for standards to have any impact, however, they must change classroom practice. In Common Core states, the shifts that these new expectations demand are based on the best research and information we have about how to boost students’ reading comprehension and analysis and thereby prepare them more successfully for college and careers. Whether those shifts will truly transform classroom practice, however, remains to be seen."

What sort of changes will that entail? Well, for one, Common Core uses “lexiles,” which measure things like sentence length and vocabulary to rate the complexity of a text, to determine which books are suitable for each grade level. As Professor Blaine Greteman points out at The New Republic, the simplistic lexile scores absurdly conclude that “The Hunger Games” is more complex than “Grapes of Wrath” and that Sports Illustrated for Kids is more complex than “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Greteman concludes, “Lexile scoring is the intellectual equivalent of a thermometer: perfect for cooking turkeys, but not for encouraging moral growth.”

As Greene notes, the change in tune concerns not only the impact on curriculum, but also whether Common Core prescribes a given manner of teaching:

    "The National Council on Teacher Quality, with support and praise from the Fordham Institute, are grading teacher training programs on whether “The program trains teacher candidates to teach reading as prescribed by the Common Core State Standards.”   Wait.  ”Prescribed?”  I thought Common Core didn’t prescribe pedagogy.  But that was back when I was young and we were dating.

    It would be nice if Fordham and others trying to hold down the right flank of the Common Core advocacy campaign could keep their story straight.  The switch once the fight has shifted from adoption to implementation creates the impression that these folks make whatever argument they think will help them prevail in the current debate rather than relying on principle, evidence, and intellectually serious policy discussion."


The Latest Common Core Fight: Cursive (and Common Core Is Losing in Some States)

The swirling lines from Linden Bateman's pen have been conscripted into a national fight to keep cursive writing in American classrooms.

In years gone by, it helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate.  But now, in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone. No handwritten signature necessary.

Call it a sign of the times. When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, penmanship classes were dropped. But at least seven of the 45 states that adopted the standards are fighting to restore the cursive instruction.


Bateman, a 72-year-old state representative from Idaho, says cursive conveys intelligence and grace, engages creativity and builds brain cells.

"Modern research indicates that more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard," said Bateman, who handwrites 125 ornate letters each year. "We're not thinking this through. It's beyond belief to me that states have allowed cursive to slip from the standards."


State leaders who developed the Common Core - a set of preferred K-12 course offerings for public schools - omitted cursive for a host of reasons, including an increasing need for children in a digital-heavy age to master computer keyboarding and evidence that even most adults use some hybrid of classic cursive and print in everyday life.

"If you just stop and think for a second about what are the sorts of skills that people are likely to be using in the future, it's much more likely that keyboarding will help students succeed in careers and in school than it is that cursive will," said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of K-12 policy and leadership at the University of Southern California.


States that adopted Common Core aren't precluded from deviating from the standards. But in the world of education, where classroom time is limited and performance stakes are high, optional offerings tend to get sidelined in favor of what's required.


Maoist class war wrecked Britain's state schools

For too long teachers have thought it wrong to transmit 'posh' standards of literate speech, or encourage their pupils to betray their own culture

It was all over the media last week: a veritable tidal wave of eloquent regret and outrage over the destruction of the grammar schools. Set off by a political storm over social elites and the resurgence of a private school monopoly on power, it became a thunderous chorus of denunciation of that edict which had undermined the state education system. One commentator after another, supported by legions of letter writers to newspapers and commenters on websites, joined in the public grief over what was once described as the greatest act of vandalism ever committed by a British government against its own people.

None of this was new or unfamiliar – but this time the outpouring was so unflinching in its anger that it silenced even the usual critics. What feeble scraps of argument were flung against the flood of personal testimony and unanswerable historical evidence did not stand up to examination.

The claim that grammars had never really offered opportunity to working-class children, only to ambitious middle-class ones, was beaten back by a million anecdotes from those who had themselves been rescued from what would now be called “deprivation” by the 11-plus. At best, that was an argument that had only ever applied to the richer parts of south-east England: in northern towns (like the one where my husband grew up – and from which he was rescued by school selection) whose populations were overwhelmingly working class, whole tranches of the post-war baby boom generation reached higher education because of the 11 plus examination. Which is why, in the Sixties, Britain had the highest proportion of university students from working-class backgrounds of any European country.

So yes – all those people who gnash their teeth and rend their garments in lament for the loss of grammar schools are right. It was horrendous. It was unforgivable. But, in truth, it was not, in and of itself, the reason for the catastrophic decline of British state schooling. The grammar schools – and the selection process that gave access to them – were simply a mechanism by which a particular understanding of the relationship between education and society was implemented. It was the collapse of belief in the philosophy that underpinned them – in meritocracy – which actually did the damage.

Meritocracy means rule by the most able. It requires that those of greatest talent must be identified, and permitted to reach their full potential, so that they may be elevated to the highest-possible positions in national life. No other considerations – social position at birth, family connections or economic advantage – should be considered more of a qualification for office or public position than individual ability. That was the ethos of the grammar-school movement. But it was also the implicit assumption of the entire educational system.

The whole point of schooling was to enable those who could, to rise, to leave behind the limitations of their origins. In Britain, this had very particular class connotations: the industrial revolution had left a peculiarly ugly form of social deprivation in its wake which involved mass defeatism and passivity of a kind that even compulsory schooling found difficult to penetrate.

One remedy for this was the universal examination at the end of primary school – basically an IQ test that was designed to identify intellectual potential – which would eliminate the need for self-selecting aspiration. But of course, it could not eradicate the advantages that were often (but by no means, always) associated with middle-class life: verbal fluency, higher literacy, parental enthusiasm. So the exam – and more importantly, the idea of selection itself – came to be seen as tainted.

The very possession of ability was an unjust kind of privilege. Having the sort of home or family (even if it was not a wealthy one) that encouraged you to strive, was an unfair advantage. Intelligence was unevenly distributed – and therefore must not be grounds for discrimination. So when the grammar schools went, that was just the beginning.

If comprehensives had involved simple mergers between existing schools: if they had retained academic streams and technical ones, with the basic understanding of what education was for remaining intact, then the loss of those old institutions – while still sad – would not have been ruinous. But their abolition was only one victory in a much larger political struggle to preserve class loyalty.

If all of this sounds absurd to you, then you are still running on the assumption that education exists to develop individual human potential. And that is precisely what the new educational philosophy was determined to dismantle. Schooling was no longer about encouraging children to escape from the milieu that would sink their feet in the concrete of low expectations. It was consciously designed not to do that: not to imply in any way that the child’s background was inferior – however impoverished or genuinely deprived it might be. To impose correct grammar, or academic content, or “bourgeois culture”, on working-class children was a form of social imperialism.

The language of cultural revolution was entirely appropriate – because this was a Maoist class war. You did not want able children to escape from the working class: you cannot fight a war if your troops keep going over to the other side.

So the idea was explicitly instilled in a whole generation of teachers that they must not transmit “posh” standards of literate speech, or encourage their pupils to betray their own culture which was just as “valid” as all those elitist pastimes which were “irrelevant” to the reality of their lives.

Well, you know all this. Like many others, I wrote about it so often over two decades that I became sick to death of the subject. And, you may say, the worst is over now in terms of the preposterous ideology that was drilled into a generation of teachers. But here’s the thing: pupils who were taught back in the Dark Age of British state education are now teachers themselves.

They may not share the views of the headbangers who monopolise teaching union conferences, or accept the more ludicrous social engineering ambitions of their predecessors. But they have inherited a professional ethos which, until very recently, was designed not to instruct the young (“instructional” being the most pejorative word in the lexicon) in the accumulated knowledge of the adult world, in the best that their own heritage had to offer.

Which is why bringing back the grammar schools would not be a solution to our problems. What we really need is a restored belief in the liberation and the fulfilment that genuine education can provide.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Anti-Semitism, academic freedom and Brooklyn College

Does Brooklyn College have a Jewish problem?

For the second time this year, the university's political science department has outraged the Jewish community by agreeing to co-sponsor events hosted by Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization whose sole mission is to engage in campus activities that demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.

In February, the department co-sponsored a Students for Justice event advertised as "a lecture by Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti on the importance of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) in helping END Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine."

Both Butler and Barghouti, who are major figures in the BDS movement, consider all of the State of Israel as part of the "illegal occupation of Palestine" and advocate for BDS as a nonviolent means of ending Israel as a Jewish state. In addition, virtually all of the 22 other organizations that joined the political science department in co-sponsoring the Students for Justice event actively promote BDS, many openly advocate elimination of the Jewish state and some - like Adalah-NY and Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition - condone terrorism against Israel.

Despite the outcry of Jewish students and community members over the highly offensive nature of this Students for Justice event and the political science department's unwillingness to rescind its sponsorship, the department has once again decided to stick it to the members of its community who support Israel, most of them Jews, by co-sponsoring two more Students for Justice events. According to the department's website:

"The department of political science at Brooklyn College is pleased to announced that it is co-sponsoring two talks organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College. The first is by Josh Ruebner, whose talk - ‘Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace' - will be on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m., on the sixth floor of the student center. The second is by Ben White, whose talk - ‘Israel: Apartheid, Not Democracy" - will be on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 6:30 p.m., on the sixth floor of the student center."

Not surprisingly, the speakers at these two Students for Justice events - Ruebner, the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid, and White, a virulently anti-Israel journalist - are leaders in the BDS movement who both publicly advocate the elimination of the Jewish state and condone terrorism against Israel.

Let's be clear: Advocating for and working toward the elimination of the Jewish state - whether by violent or non-violent means - is considered anti-Semitic by every contemporary scholar of anti-Semitism, as well as by official government bodies in the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

It is not hard to understand why. The elimination of the Jewish state poses an existential threat to the 6 million Jews who live there - nearly half of the worldwide Jewish population.

Furthermore, no other country on Earth has had its very existence challenged. The fact that only Jewish self-determination is open to such threats underscores the deeply hypocritical and anti-Semitic nature of calls for the elimination of the Jewish state.

Nevertheless, both Brooklyn College President Karen Gould and the political science department defend the anti-Semitic activities of a university-sanctioned student organization and the right of a university department to bestow academic legitimacy on implicit Jew-hatred, by wrapping them both in the mantle of "academic freedom."

In an open letter to the Brooklyn College community last February, Gould suggested that calling for the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state are part of the "critical debate" that is the "hallmark of the American education system."

Sadly, that may be true. However, there is no doubt that giving academic legitimacy to rank anti-Semitism is the hallmark of Brooklyn College.

The Jewish community, New York taxpayers and decent people everywhere should be outraged.


Condom Manufacuturer Smears Religious Schools in "Sexual Health Report Card"

For the past eight years, condom manufacturer Trojan Brand Condoms has released a "report card" that claims to rank various colleges and universities by their level of sexual health. Schools are ranked according to a variety of factors, including hours of operation of the student health center, student clubs that discuss sexual health, STD/HIV testing, and usability of the website. Somewhat ironically, the actual health of the student body is never taken into accord in the ranking system.

Out of the 140 schools ranked on the list, the first school affiliated with a religion, Georgetown, appears at 96th. Three schools in the bottom ten are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church (St. John's University in New York, Seton Hall University, and Providence College, my alma mater) and the lowest ranked school, Brigham Young University, is affiliated with the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).

While the report card purports to define the sexual health of the student body, schools scored lower if they did not distribute free or low-cost condoms or other forms of contraception to its student body. This has no effect on the actual sexual health of their students, as students are able to acquire contraceptives on their own. Many Catholic schools choose not to distribute these items to their students, as they violate Church teachings on contraception, but students are free to acquire them on their own off-campus.

Additionally, students at Brigham Young University are required to sign an honor code saying they will not engage in (among other things) premarital sex. BYU famously suspended star basketball player Brandon Davies for violating this section of the code in 2011. Given this information, it certainly is head-scratching how a school composed of students who are literally required to abstain from premarital sexual activity could be labeled as being one of the least sexually healthy schools in the country.

Other low-ranking schools on the list are primarily commuter schools, meaning that less than 20 percent of its student body resides in campus housing. If a student is not living on campus, it certainly makes sense that they would not rely on the school for contraceptive needs or make frequent use of a university health center. This is an unfair assessment of their student body as well.

It goes without saying that this list could be a backhanded attempt by Trojan to force religious schools to purchase and distribute their product. Students at lower-ranking schools are unfairly smeared by this list as being a bunch of disease-ridden freaks. This list does not take into account the actual sexual health of the students at the ranked schools, but rather combines a bunch of arbitrary factors that have little to no effect on a student's health. A student is no more or less sexually healthy if a health center is open until 6:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Under the current system, a school with extremely high rates of STD infections yet distributes contraception and tests for STDs would be ranked higher than a school that has zero infected students—but does not have free contraception available. That is insane. This list is dishonest reporting at best, and libel at worst.


Who needs a degree? You never meet a poor plumber

I got some stick on Twitter the other day when I said I couldn’t see the point of a degree in media studies.

Obviously, if you’re spending three years of your life examining the history of British soaps or highs and lows of radio comedy, it might come as a shock to be told that knowing all about Tony Hancock or the birth of breakfast telly doesn’t guarantee you a job.

The truth is, Labour’s big push to attract more youngsters than ever to sign up for a university education has resulted in too many worthless degree courses, dreamt up by academic establishments anxious to fill their coffers.

Since the recession, some have been cancelled, but it’s about time education experts spoke out about the current system which sees young men and women saddled with thousands of pounds’ worth of debt and no guarantee of a job that matches their aspirations or their area of study.

The sooner technical colleges take students from 14 and offer practical courses in areas where we are desperate for home-grown expertise, such as plumbing, building construction, electrical engineering and all aspects of the hospitality industry from catering to front of house staff, the better.

Far from thinking these are second-division jobs, these are the careers of the future. Show me a poor plumber — there certainly aren’t any in Central London.

Now, the heads of private and independent schools — the places where pupils would be channelled towards the best universities — are saying that employment, rather than further education, can be better for pupils.

The head of the Girls’ School Association is giving a speech this week claiming that there will be a shift ‘away from university as an automatic first choice’.

Hilary French thinks pupils should be looking at employer training and apprenticeships, instead of running up £27,000 worth of debt.

The Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, agrees — he says that of the 200,000 undergraduates studying communications, marketing, art and design and business, many would be more employable if they had opted for work-based training schemes.

At the moment, the Government has increased funding for apprenticeships, but there are still far too few — 75 per cent of the 520,000 places starting this year went to people aged 25 or older. There were only 61,000 new apprenticeships for young people, compared to 570,000 in Germany.

Education charity The Sutton Trust says we need to invest in 300,000 new apprenticeships for young people every single year.

We must prioritise investing in the young by giving employers who offer training tax breaks instead of handing out benefits when they can’t get a job because they are unqualified or have useless degrees.

Time to give honours to plumbers and builders — maybe that would reverse the snobbery about the value of a degree.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fixing Sweden’s schools

Swedish pupils have fallen behind their international peers.  Why?  No mention of the main reason:  A big new minority of thick Middle-Easterners pulling down the averages

A NEW study from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will land on the desks of policymakers around the world next month. It will make sobering reading for political leaders in many countries. In Sweden Jan Bjorklund, the education minister, is prepared for poor marks too.

The triennial study by the OECD, a think-tank, measures the reading, maths and science proficiency of 15-year-olds. In the first study, in 2000, Swedish pupils performed a lot better than those in most other countries. But even as the country’s schools inspired imitators elsewhere, their results have deteriorated. In 2009 Sweden’s overall score fell below the OECD average. Other rankings show a similar trend.

“I assume the results will continue falling. It will take several more years before the positive effects of our policy begin to show in global ratings,” says Mr Bjorklund, referring to an overhaul of Sweden’s education system. Since coming to power in 2006, the centre-right coalition government has introduced reforms such as a new national curriculum. Mr Bjorklund, who heads the Liberal party, is convinced he can reverse the decline. But will voters have the patience to wait? With universities complaining that students arrive unprepared and companies worrying that Sweden will lose out to other countries, a sense of urgency is in the air. Education will be important in next year’s election.

What went wrong? Money is not the problem. Free education from primary school to university has long been a pillar of Sweden’s welfare system, and public spending on education is among the world’s highest, according to the OECD (see chart). Immigration is high, though this according to Skolverket—the National Agency for Education—had only a marginal effect on overall results.

Mr Bjorklund blames the poor results on the period when the Social Democrats were in charge. Others say poorly paid teachers are at fault. The profession, once highly regarded, has seen salaries fall far behind other jobs requiring a higher-education degree. The student demand for teaching programmes is so low that almost anyone applying will be accepted. As many teachers approach retirement, unions warn of a teacher crisis ahead. In hopes of making the job more attractive, a career programme with better pay was launched this year.

A growing gap between schools is another reason, says Skolverket. Sweden is now one of the few countries to show both worse results and more inequality. Free school choice is a contributing factor. The system, introduced 20 years ago, allows parents to choose between municipal schools and independent schools, all financed by tax money. The aim was to increase quality by competition, but it has also led to the best students flocking to the same schools.

Many worry that school inequality will spur segregation. Extra resources for schools with weaker students could be a solution but abolishing independent schools is not on any party’s agenda. Polls show a majority of Swedes want to keep the free-school choice. Still, letting private companies run tax-funded schools is controversial. Critics say profit-seeking puts quality at risk. In the wake of several school companies’ bankruptcies, the government has indicated that private-equity funds will no longer be welcome owners.

The PISA study, due on December 3rd, will make headlines. But educationalists say such rankings don’t give the whole picture. Swedish students are good at social science, history and English. Democratic values and gender-equality permeate the curriculum. Those are important, to be sure, but they are of little solace to exporters in need of engineers.


We're weeding out rich thickos who may have got places in the past, boasts Oxford admissions chief

The head of admissions at Oxford University has declared that he is weeding out ‘thick rich’ applicants who might have been offered places in the past.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions, said the admissions  process selects students based on their aptitude alone.  Privileged hopefuls who might have been given preferential treatment a generation ago will now struggle to win a place, according to Mr Nicholson.

He said the world-class university is looking for the brightest and the best, irrespective of their backgrounds.

‘I really don’t care whether candidates are poor and bright or rich and bright. I want the bright ones. If they’re thick and rich, they’re the ones I’m hoping our  process can exclude,’ he said.

Mr Nicholson said tougher testing was key to differentiating between deserving students and those who have been schooled to make it through the interview process for the prestigious university.

He said the ‘thing that really links our students together is that they are all selected on their academic merit, they’ve demonstrated that they can cope with the tutorial environment and they’re all really smart’.

His comments come in the wake of a high-profile example of a man trying to beat the system to win a place at Oxford. He placed an advert offering £122,300 for a private tutor to help him become an  eligible candidate.

The unnamed Arab businessman’s advert in the Times Education Supplement said he needed an understanding of jazz piano, major works of opera and Shakespeare in order to apply.

Mr Nicholson suggested applicants from the 70s and 80s were more likely to have been accepted based on social status.  He said: ‘Of those people who were admitted 20, 30, 40 years ago, it would be interesting to see how many of them would be admitted now.’ He told an  international higher education conference run by the Sutton Trust charity: ‘We’re supposed to be identifying  students with real potential for success, irrespective of social background.’

Oxford invests £8million in bursaries to help students from low-income backgrounds pay for their degrees. More than £3million is spent each year on outreach work that aims to encourage applicants from a variety of backgrounds.


Midlands primary school bans pupils from using Black Country dialect

The Black Country is more or less in the middle of England.  I rather hope Black Country speech is preserved.  It is a sort of linguistic museum.  It contains expressions and pronunciations  that go back as much as 600 years, expressions that are no longer heard in modern English.  Thee, Thy and Thou are still in use -- JR

A Midlands primary school has been accused of snobbery after banning pupils from talking or writing in their "damaging" Black Country dialect

Staff have drawn up a list of ten offending phrases after introducing the "zero tolerance" policy against the use of local words.

The controversial ruling was announced in a letter to parents claiming the harsh crackdown would "get children out of the habit" of speaking the way their parents do.

But parents and local residents have criticised the move by Colley Lane Primary School, in Halesowen, West Mids, as "snobbish".

The ban comes two months after a study was published claiming that accents from the Birmingham area make people seem less intelligent and untrustworthy.

Outlawed phrases now include "I cor do that" instead of "I can't do that" and "It wor me" instead of "it wasn't me."

The letter, which was posted to parents last Thursday, said: "Recently we asked each class teacher to write a list of the top ten most damaging phrases used by children in the classroom.

"We are introducing a 'zero tolerance' in the classroom to get children out of the habit of using the phrases on the list.

"We want the children in our school to have the best start possible: Understanding when it is and is not acceptable to use slang and colloquial language.

"We value the local dialect but are encouraging children to learn the skill of turning it on and off in different situations."

Parent reacted angrily, claiming that the Black Country ban was "insulting."

Alana Willetts, 30, an engineer whose nine-year-old son George attends the school, said: "I do not agree with this zero tolerance policy and am not the only one.

"The teachers should be teaching the children about the Black Country and our dialect.

"There are a lot of children who have no idea about local history. It's a very multicultural school, there are quite a few kids who don't speak English as a first language and know nothing of our history, they should be concentrating on that.

"Some of my friends have gone on to be doctors and lawyers, I'm an engineer it doesn't affect you as a person.  "I got a double A in my English GCSE and I have a Black Country accent.  "I think it is patronising and insulting to say that people with a Black Country accent are disadvantaged.

"All the parents are outraged, English is a living language, we can't all talk the same, we don't all speak in ye olde English and new words are being added to the dictionary every day."

The Black Country includes the three Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall and the southern parts of the city of Wolverhampton, but does not include Birmingham.

It's most famous sons include Lenny Henry, who has recently been given the Freedom of his hometown of Dudley, and Noddy Holder.

But Zheyan Kareem, 31, who has a seven-year-old boy at the school and moved to the UK eight years ago, supported the language ban.  She said: "English is my second language so for me, as a parent, it is good if my child speaks English in the house and not slang picked up at school.  "I believe it is good for their education.”

Yesterday the school, which caters for 592 pupils aged 4-11, defended outlawing local dialect saying Black Country words and phrases contributed to a "decline in standards."

Headteacher John White said: "If they can't say it, it is likely they can't read it, and even less likely they can write it.

"We value the dialect but we want to encourage children to learn when to use and when not, like for a job interview. It is, of course, fine to use in other situations and we would celebrate that.”