Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fury in South Africa after schoolchildren's drama exam included question on how they would stage the rape of a baby
Teenage students in South Africa were horrified to be asked how they would stage the rape of a baby using a broomstick and a loaf of bread in a drama exam.

Outraged teachers and parents have complained to the national education department about the question which related to a theatre play about the gruesome rape of a nine-month-old baby.

The question, which has been described as 'downright insensitive and immoral,' left some of the 17-year-old students in tears while others felt sick to their stomach.

Horrified by exam question: Many in South Africa are outraged about a question in a school exam which asked teenage students how they would stage the rape of a baby using a broomstick and a loaf of bread

The question, in the compulsory national dramatic arts metric exam, was meant to evaluate the students' understanding of an 'action metaphor' in reference to 'Tshepang,' a play by South African playwright Lara Foot Newton which is based on the 2001 rape of a baby.

Now education officials are due to meet in the city of Pretoria to discuss the issue and how best to mark the paper in light of the situation.

One senior official specialising in drama education said schools were responsible for teaching children the values of appropriateness, and right and wrong.  According to News24, she said: 'I am going to be making a loud clarion call at that meeting for the head of the person responsible for that question to roll.

'This is wrong, vulgar and a perpetuation of social injustice and gender stereotypes.'

In a statement, the South African education department said today: 'Instead of raping a baby or showing the rape or describing the rape, the symbols of a loaf of bread and a broom stick are used to represent and resemble the brutal act of the rape [in the play].

'The horror and aversion the audience feels is achieved without resorting to an actual rape. The candidate has to work out the best way to achieve this theatrically and symbolically.

'Nowhere is it expected of the candidate to have to literally describe the actual act of raping a nine-month-old baby.'

'The Department, however, acknowledges that in examinations, content that invokes negative or adverse feelings or emotions in candidates needs to be avoided. However, given the nature and content of Dramatic Arts, it is assumed that learners are familiar with such passages and would have been trained to deal with their personal emotions relating to the matter.'

One anonymous student reportedly said she was 'sick to her stomach' when she read the question while another burst into tears because the question brought back memories of a young sibling who had been abused. Others were said to be extremely embarrassed by their answers.

The play was part of the syllabus for students in their final year of school and the metric exams are compulsory.

The question has divided child safety activists.

Eureka Olivier, the administration director of child rights advocacy group Bobbi Bear said she was 'absolutely disgusted'.

She said: 'I do not understand the concept of using a broomstick and a loaf of bread to depict such a thing. What are we teaching our children by having such a question in an exam paper?'

In contrast, Rekha Nathoo, the director of Children in Distress said that rape was something that did happen in South Africa and that children needed to be 'made aware of the realities' through education in order to push for change.


Unemployed British mother is told to delete her degree from her CV so that she doesn't 'scare off potential employers'

A mother who escaped an abusive relationship to get a degree was told to remove it from her CV by Jobcentre staff to avoid 'scaring off' employers.

Rachel Sawford, 29, proudly told the careers advisor about her 2:1 in social work as she asked for help finding a job. But she was advised to leave her qualification off applications because it would hamper her chances of getting work.

Ms Sawford, from Portsmouth, has blasted the advice, which 'made my degree seem like nothing'.  She said: 'They are saying everything I have achieved in the past four years is worthless. 'I have worked since I was 16 and this is the first time I have been on benefits.  'I want to get off benefits but I will not take my achievement off my CV.'

The mother-of-one, who graduated from the University of Portsmouth in July this year, hoped to use her qualification to help other vulnerable women in violent relationships.

But straight out of education, she struggled to find work and was forced to sign-on for Jobseeker’s Allowance later that month.  To her dismay, the staff informed her she would be 'more employable' for the jobs they had to offer if she hid her BSc (Hons) from would-be employers.

However, the graduate - who now has a £30,000 student loan to pay off - refuses to do so.  She said: 'I knew it would be difficult for a single mum to find a job, so I went to the Jobcentre to get advice, which is what I thought they are there to do.

'The contract you sign says after 13 weeks you will have to look for jobs outside of your remit.

'When they were building the contract on the computer, they asked if I had my CV, so I gave it to her.

'She said ‘this is lovely but you will have to amend it’ because I would be overqualified for some jobs.  'She said I would scare employers with my degree. I was shocked.  'I said I was not happy with that advice because I had worked really hard for four years to achieve it.  'If I did not want to get a job in this area, I would not have gone to university.'

Ms Sawford, who has a six-year-old daughter, said if she couldn't find a job as a social worker she wants to do support work or youth projects.

But, currently on a four-week placement as a substitute teaching assistant but, she is still struggling to find employment for when her placement finishes.

Her case follows a study by the Office for National Statistics showing half of recent graduates are in jobs they do not need a degree to do.

Liz Holford, a careers advisor at the University of Portsmouth, said: 'If people’s circumstances mean they can’t move, it is about seeing what other roles she could consider.

'A lot of social work jobs say you need experience, but graduates do manage to find employment.

'I have heard other students say employers only want people with experience but there are a lot of jobs for new graduates, too.'

A spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions spokesman did not deny staff tell jobseekers to omit the fact they are a graduate.  He added: 'Jobcentre Plus advisors work with jobseekers to ensure they have the best chance possible of moving into work.

'This may include helping someone to highlight relevant skills, experience, and qualifications to ensure their CV is focused towards the job they are applying for.'

Almost 40 per cent of people over the age of 21 are now graduates, compared with 17 per cent in 1992.

The Office for National Statistics say non-graduates experienced the highest unemployment rise during the recession.

But some are are still finding it hard to get a job to match the skills they are qualified in.  Many cannot find work at all.

The University of Portsmouth said 93 per cent of social work graduates from its course were in employment six months after graduating.

The research does not show, however, if these are graduate jobs.


'I know what I'm doing': British father stopped taking his two young children to school on cargo bike insists he WASN'T putting them in danger

Cargo bikes are common in the Netherlands

A father who has been taking his children to school in a wheelbarrow attached to a bicycle told road safety police he 'knew what he was doing' when stopped at rush hour this morning.

Ben Watson said he had been taking daughters to school on the bike for four years and thought the operation launched by Metropolitan police was 'unfair' on cyclists.

Hundreds of officers were deployed to London's most dangerous junctions and roads today in a bid to monitor road safety after the deaths of six cyclists in just two weeks.

Mr Watson was pulled off the road by police this morning near Euston Junction, but was later released.

The 57-year-old criticised the officer in question for not knowing the law, saying: 'This policeman called me over and said "is that bike legal?" I thought "well you’re the policeman surely you should be telling me whether its legal or not"'.

The house husband from Somers Town added: 'I think it seems a bit unfair as this operation is making out cyclists are the problem when it is actually cars that are the problem.

'I know my lights, I know where I’m going.  'I’ve been taking the kids to school on this route for four years, I know what I’m doing.'


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Feds Strike It Rich Indebting Our Nation's Youth

The federal government posted a $41.3 billion profit on its student loan business in fiscal year 2013, a higher profit level than all but two companies in the world: Exxon Mobil ($44.9 billion) and Apple ($41.7 billion). USA Today reports:

The numbers track the entire fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. They come as concern continues to mount about the level of indebtedness by college students and graduates. Estimates show more than $1.2 trillion in student loan debt across the nation, more than the nation owes on credit cards.
Kelly Wilk, a December 2010 graduate from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, feels the impact of her loans all the time. She graduated with about $25,000 in federal loans and now owes slightly more than $22,000, with a monthly payment of $281.

"For some, this payment may not seem too bad," the 25-year-old Livonia resident said. "But for me, it is a huge monthly payment; it is pretty much a car payment or half of rent.

Student loan debt is crushing young Americans and it is the fastest growing type of debt in the nation. While credit card debt has grown by just 2 percent over the last two years, student loan debt has grown by 20 percent. Americans now owe more in student loan debt than any other consumer type of consumer debt except for mortgages.

And yet the federal government insists on continuing to subsidize it, which only sends tuition higher, forcing even more students to take on more debt.

There is a better way.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is working on legalization that would reduce the price of higher education by dismantling the monopoly power existing colleges an universities use to keep tuition rising.

Lee's bill would empower states to create their own accreditation organizations, who would then be able to sanction new higher education options. Lee outlined in October:

Today, only degree-issuing academic institutions are even allowed to be accredited. Under the new, optional state systems that my bill would authorize, accreditation could also be available to specialized programs, individual courses, apprenticeships, professional credentialing, and even competency-based tests. States could accredit online courses, or hybrid models with elements on- and off-campus....

Imagine having access to credit and student aid and for:

a program in computer science accredited by Apple or in music accredited by the New York Philharmonic;

college-level history classes on-site at Mount Vernon or Gettysburg;

medical-technician training developed by the Mayo Clinic;

taking massive, open, online courses offered by the best teachers in the world... from your living room or the public library.

Brick-and-ivy institutions will always be the backbone of our higher-education system, but they shouldn’t be the only option.

If these new models were to succeed, they would create a virtuous cycle. Traditional colleges would be impelled to cut waste, refocus on their students, and embrace innovation and experimentation as part of their campus cultures.

This reform could allow a student to completely customize her transcript – and “college” experience – while allowing federal aid to follow her through all of these different options.

Students could mix and match courses, programs, tests, on-line and on-campus credits a la carte, pursuing their degree or certification at their own pace... while bringing down costs to themselves, their families, and the taxpayers.

The federal government should not be in the business of subsidizing debt for anyone, but particularly not young Americans just starting to live on their own. More Republicans should embrace Lee's vision for a different higher education solution.


Village Academic Curriculum: Feds Try Different Anti-Voucher Tactic

While at first glance it seemed like Eric Holder's Justice Department was giving Louisiana students a break by dropping the request for a permanent injunction against the state's voucher program, they instead are trying to bog down the process by reviewing each and every application. This is the opinion of Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who remarked on the change of tactics that "[t]he Department of Justice's new position is that it wants bureaucrats in Washington to decide where Louisiana children get an education."

The federal government sued in August to stop Louisiana's two-year-old voucher program, claiming it ran afoul of a 1975 anti-discrimination injunction against the state. This is despite the fact that 90% of the 8,000 beneficiaries chosen by lottery are low-income minority students who get the opportunity to move from a poor-performing school to a better one.

Why? Follow the money. Funding that would have gone to a recipient's former school goes to the new school, and private schools are among those eligible for funding. That didn't sit well with the state's teachers union, which fought the program at the state level all the way to its highest court. The Louisiana Supreme Court allowed the program, but did not allow funding to come from the state's education budget so these vouchers are funded as a state budget line item.

Given the union-friendly slant of the present administration, it was only a matter of time before Washington intervened on the union's behalf. The process will only discourage those who want to improve their child's prospects when faced with the prospect of a 45-day hold before the Justice Department allows the state to notify the scholarship recipient. "The obvious purpose of the gag order would be to prevent parents from learning that the Department of Justice might try to take their child's scholarship away if it decides that the child is the wrong race," Jindal concluded.

With more states either enacting or considering similar programs, it's clear Holder's brand of justice is simply to make an example of Louisiana and protect threatened teacher's unions in the process


Australia:  Education Minister refuses to meet Leftist  panel on school funding

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has said he is too busy to meet the expert panel that devised the so-called Gonski school funding model to discuss how it works before he discards it.

In a move that has angered the nation’s two most populous states and concerned a member of the panel, Kathryn Greiner, Mr Pyne has declared the Gonski needs-based model a "shambles" and has promised to go "back to the drawing board" to create a new system.

Mr Pyne told ABC Radio on Tuesday the government would "stick with what we’ve got" for the 2014 school year but wanted to move to a "flatter, simpler, fairer structure" after that.

He said the Coalition was committed to the same quantum of funding as Labor over the next four years.

But despite saying before the election that the Coalition and Labor were on a "unity ticket" on school funding, Mr Pyne said the Abbott government was not committed to the escalation of funding Labor had promised over six years.

"Our election policy was that we would support a four-year agreement ... we won’t be honouring a six-year agreement," he said.  "There’s no year five or year six in the Coalition’s funding agreement."

Mr Pyne said there was no reason for schools to fear they would receive less funding over the next four years and he defended the Howard government’s socioeconomic status funding model – which remains in place – which he said was also needs-based.

Asked whether he was prepared to meet the Gonski panel, Mr Pyne said he was too busy.  "No, I’ve studied the Gonski model closely and I have to get on with the job of being the education minister," he said.

"I think we’ve had a lot of talk, a lot of conferences, a lot of reports, a lot of analysis of those reports, we’ve had an election campaign, we’ve had election policies from both sides. It’s time for the government to be allowed to get on with the job and that’s exactly what I intend to do."

Gonski panel member Ms Greiner said she was disappointed that Mr Pyne would not meet the panel, and was concerned that the Coalition would not commit to six years of funding.

She contradicted Mr Pyne’s characterisation of the socioeconomic status model, which she described as "very broken".  "It was opaque, it was not transparent, it was confusing. It was, in fact, a beggar’s muddle," she told ABC radio.

She said the "flatter, simpler, fairer" structure Mr Pyne said he wanted could not meet the individual needs of students.  "It’s much more complicated than that," she said.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli rejected Mr Pyne’s criticism of the Gonski model, which he said was "fair and transparent". "It is a much fairer way of funding schools," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

"People have agreed to it and we don’t want to go through another three-year process of unravelling it all."

Mr Piccoli acknowledged the federal budget was under pressure but said NSW had committed to additional funding over six years in return for the Commonwealth’s promise of greater resources over the same period.

"We’re all under the same financial pressures," he said.

The Victorian government has also urged the Commonwealth to honour the schools funding deal it reached while federal Labor was in power.

A Victorian government spokeswoman insisted on Monday that a $12.2 billion deal had been reached guaranteeing "record levels of funding and an unprecedented six years of funding certainty" for schools in Victoria.

"Victoria made it clear that, along with Victorian schools and school communities, we expect the Commonwealth to honour this funding, which was agreed to on 4 August 2013," the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said he was still involved in "arduous" negotiations about funding for Catholic schools with the Victorian government.

"In addition, the Victorian government has foreshadowed another funding review on the back of two years of Gonski negotiations," he said.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said 2014 would be a year of "limited change".  "The Victorian government, over many years, has worked with the non-government schools sectors to update local school funding arrangements and this long-standing process will continue," he said.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A pro-terror rally on a Palestinian campus

by Jeff Jacoby

THEY WEREN'T wearing swastika armbands or chanting "Sieg Heil!" during the Islamic Jihad rally this month on the campus of Al-Quds University. They didn't need to. Everything about the event reeked of fascism and anti-Semitic bloodlust. Demonstrators at the Palestinian school paraded in paramilitary gear, with massed black flags, mock assault weapons, and arms extended in Nazi-style salutes. There were banners lionizing suicide bombers, and hand-drawn Israeli flags on which students trod. Islamic Jihad — long identified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union — posted photos of the rally on its website. In one, students representing dead Israelis sprawl on the ground as black-clad jihadists brandishing weapons stride past.

Such celebrations of terrorism and incitement to violence are pervasive in Palestinian society. Children raised under the Palestinian Authority are indoctrinated from an early age to regard Israelis and Jews as enemies to be destroyed and infidels to be loathed. Nothing about the nearly three-hour rally at Al-Quds would likely have surprised the estimated 1,000 students who saw it. Most of them have been fed a steady diet of such poison all their lives, and not just in schools and mosques. From TV shows and popular music to the naming of sports clubs and public squares, the next generation of Palestinians has grown up amid the most violent culture of Jew-hatred since the Third Reich.

A fog of political correctness usually keeps events like the Al-Quds rally from getting much attention in the Western media. But this one, first reported by veteran British journalist Tom Gross, made news last week when it led Brandeis University into suspending a longstanding academic partnership with the Palestinian school. It wasn't the grotesque rally itself that provoked Brandeis to pull the plug, though that should have been sufficient: One of Islamic Jihad's many innocent victims was a 20-year-old Brandeis undergraduate, Alisa Flatow, who was one of eight people murdered in 1995 when an Islamic Jihad bomber blew up the bus in which they were riding.

What finally forced the issue was the refusal of Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds and a well-known Palestinian intellectual, to condemn the hate-drenched rally even after being asked to do so by Brandeis president Frederick Lawrence. Nusseibeh replied instead with an outrageous letter that denounced "vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists," and suggested their only purpose in raising the issue was to "prevent Palestinians from achieving our freedom."

Nusseibeh is often described as a Palestinian "moderate." But in a culture as poisoned with vitriolic anti-Semitism as the Palestinian Authority, moderation doesn't go very far. It doesn't even go as far as repudiating the Nazi-like salutes and tableaux of dead Israelis during a public rally on an East Jerusalem college campus. Not even to retain the goodwill of an institution as dovish and liberal as Brandeis, a Jewish-sponsored university that was proud of its relationship with Al-Quds.

The genocidal values of Islamic Jihad are no anomaly. They are the values of Hamas and the PLO.

They are the values that led the Arab League to spurn the UN's proposed two-state solution in 1947, and to announce that it would crush the newborn Jewish state in "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre." They are the values that induced Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the leader of the Palestinians in the 1930s, to form an alliance with Adolf Hitler, eagerly collaborating with the führer in the hope of importing the Final Solution to the Jews of the Middle East.
"Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany," Husseini wrote in his journal, "was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world." He asked Hitler "for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem … according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews."

There may have been no actual swastikas at the Islamic Jihad rally, but the lethal values represented by the swastika have been a part of the Palestinian national movement for the better part of a century. They still are, however much people of goodwill might wish otherwise. So long as even famous Palestinian "moderates" cannot bring themselves to bravely defy those values, Palestinian sovereignty will remain a reckless gamble — and peace as far off as ever.


Universities 'can segregate men and women for debates'

Universities can segregate students during debates as long as the women are not forced to sit behind the men, university leaders have said.

Segregation at the behest of a controversial speaker is an issue which arises "all the time” and banning men and women from sitting next to each during debates is a "big issue" facing universities, Universities UK has said.

As a result they have issued guidance which suggests that segregation is likely to be acceptable as long as men and women are seated side by side and one party is not at a disadvantage.

In a new guidance on external speakers, vice-chancellors' group Universities UK says that universities face a complex balance of promoting freedom of speech without breaking equality and discrimination laws.

When considering a request for segregation, they warn, planners must think about whether a seating plan could be discriminatory to one gender - for example if women were forced to sit at the back of the room it could prove harder for them to participate in the debate.

The report adds: "Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way."

Earlier this year, a student equality group claimed that preaching by extremists and discrimination through segregation at student events has become a "widespread" trend at many UK universities.

Student Rights, which carried out the research, found that radical preachers spoke at 180 events at universities including Cardiff and University College London (UCL) between March 2012 and March 2013. Segregated seating for men and women was promoted or implied at more than a quarter of the events, at 21 separate institutions.

Among the events highlighted in the Student Rights report was a gender-segregated event at UCL on March 9.

The lecture, Islam vs Atheism, was organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), and pitted writer Hamza Tzortzis against Prof Laurence Krauss in a debate.

Apart from the controversies surrounding segregation, Universities UK say that academic institutions are facing a legal minefield when organising external speakers and their guidance aims to help them find the balance.

An example of the fine balance is illustrated when the report goes on to say that if side-by-side seating was enforced without offering an alternative non-segregated seating area, it could be deemed as discriminatory against men or women who hold feminist beliefs.

It adds: "Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system."

The report presents some hypothetical case studies which come up on campuses, including whether a speaker from an ultraorthodox religious group requests an audience is segregated by gender.

"These are issues that are arising all the time and these are really difficult issues," said Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge.

"What emerged from our work on this particular issue is that there is no clearly defined right or wrong here as to whether to allow or outlaw segregation. It is going to very much depend on the facts of the case."

She added: "External speakers play an important role in university life, not least in terms of encouraging students to think for themselves, challenge other people's views and develop their own opinions.

"Although most speakers are uncontroversial, some will express contentious, even inflammatory or offensive views. Universities have to balance their obligation to encourage free speech with their duties to ensure that the law is observed, the safety and security of staff, students and visitors secured, and good campus relations promoted. In practice, achieving this balance is not always easy.



British schools failing to provide science experiments

Pupils are struggling with advanced science because of a lack of time spent undertaking traditional experiments, according to Ofsted.

The education watchdog warned that too many schools fail to allocate proper space in the timetable for practical lessons and often reduce the subject to little more than taking notes from the teacher.

In a highly-critical report, it was claimed that the same experiments were also repeated by schools throughout primary and secondary education, leaving pupils bored.

The testing of thermal insulation – lagging containers of warm water and recording how long they take to cool – "can be seen in classrooms from reception to year 13" in a move branded a "waste of students’ time".

Ofsted levelled particular criticism at existing GCSE courses which fail to properly explore the subject of experimentation – creating little incentive for schools to develop pupils’ practical skills.

It means that many teenagers do not have the knowledge needed to continue studying the subject at A-level, inspectors warned, with girls in particular shunning the subject in "alarmingly high" numbers.

In a damning conclusion, the report warned that the sciences were now largely the preserve of fee-paying schools.

"Opportunities for illustrative and investigative scientific enquiry were limited, and so was the achievement of students," the report said.

"They achieved their GCSE grades but not the science practical skills they needed at the next stage. Sixth-form teachers told inspectors that this lack of practical skill is revealed starkly for many students at A-level, as they try to catch up with the demands of accurate, individual practical and experimental work."

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, suggested that a shortage of high-level science skills risked damaging the economy.

But the Department for Education insisted it was introducing a new science curriculum to address the failings and had encouraged schools to ensure pupils take GCSEs in the three separate sciences.

The report – Maintaining Curiosity – was based on inspections of 91 primaries and 89 secondary schools in England.

In all, standards of science were not good enough in more than a quarter of those visited.

It told how experiments were relegated to special one-off "science days" in some primary schools. Inspectors gave the example of one school that only allowed two pupils to carry out practical works while other children "just sat on the carpet and watched and drifted away".

In secondary schools, GCSE "exams do not test scientific practical skills enough, so that teachers often do not see the need to teach those skills to pupils thoroughly", Ofsted said.

This leads to too many pupils being "poorly prepared for any science learning or for any job that involves science", it was claimed.

A DfE spokesman said: "Ofsted is right – pupils must learn through high-quality practical work if we are to produce the brilliant scientists vital for our economic prosperity.

"That is why there is a real focus on practical science in our new curriculum, at both primary and secondary and we are also strengthening practical elements in our new science GCSEs."


Monday, November 25, 2013

Children of 8 are 'racist' if they miss Islam trip: British school's threatening letter to parents is met with outrage

Parents were ordered to send their children to a workshop on Islam or have them labelled  as racist for the rest of their  school career.

They were sent a letter warning that the primary school pupils would have a ‘racial discrimination note’ put on their records if they did not go.

Families were told to pay £5 per child for the Explore Islam trip next Wednesday to Staffordshire University, which would involve Year 4 and Year 6 children being shown Islamic artefacts.

Mothers and fathers were warned: ‘Refusal to allow your child to attend will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child’s education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career.

‘All absences on this day will be investigated for their credibility and will only be sanctioned with a GP sick note.’

Yesterday parents at Littleton Green Community School in Huntington, Staffordshire, said the threat to the pupils aged between eight and 11 was ‘ludicrous’. Gillian Claridge, 55, said: ‘How dare they threaten to brand the children racist at such a young age? It’s going to make them feel like little criminals.

‘The very nature of religion is all about choice. On this occasion they were not being given any choice at all. It was a draconian move and it’s left a lot of parents fuming.’

Stacy Waldron, 26, whose eight-year-old daughter is a pupil, said: ‘I feel my child will be [seen as] racist if I don’t allow her to go. This is my choice, not hers, and she shouldn’t have to pay for it.’

South Staffordshire MP Gavin  Williamson described the threat  as ‘bonkers’ and ‘a very heavy-handed approach’.

He added: ‘The idea of attaching a “racial discrimination note” to children’s education records saying it will remain on their file for the duration for their school career seems unfair, particularly when it is not the child’s decision whether or not he or she attends.’

According to the letter sent last Wednesday, the visit is part of  the National Curriculum for religious education and also reflects ‘the multi-cultural community in which we live’.  It went on: ‘It is a statutory requirement for primary school children to experience and learn about different cultures.

'The workshop will give your child the opportunity to explore other religions.  ‘Children will be looking at religious artefacts similar to those that would be on display in a museum. They will not be partaking in any religious practices.

‘If you would like to discuss this further, please contact our RE  co-ordinator, Mrs Edmonds.’

However, the school backtracked just one day later after council officers intervened.

A revised letter sent out on  Thursday apologised for ‘inaccuracies’ and told parents: ‘On  reflection, disregard a section from the earlier letter.’

Headmistress Lynn Small said:  ‘We are a mainly Christian school, but we have to cover at least one other religion as part of the National Curriculum. This visit is part of that.

‘They would not be taking part in any religious practices. We have had similar workshops on a variety of religions in the past, including one on Islam, with no problems at all and the children have absolutely loved it.

‘We have pupils and teachers who belong to the Islam faith and it is right for the children to understand and appreciate their faith as well as their own.’

A spokesman for Staffordshire County Council said it was important for children to learn about  different cultures but that parents had the right to withdraw their children if they wished.

‘Clearly it is not appropriate for comments about racial discrimination to be made in these circumstances,’ he added.

An Ofsted report this year concluded that the school, which has 341 pupils, ‘required improvement’.


How to Control Exploding Federal Subsidies for College

A new CBO report exposes the explosion in Pell grant subsidies for college students over the last seven years and options to rein in the substantially-higher spending. From 2006 to 2011, Pell grant spending increased by 158% and eligibility for the program rose by 80%. While one of the reasons for increased spending is because more low-income students became eligible due to the recession, the Obama Administration also undertook a general eligibility expansion.

900,000 additional students received Pell grant eligibility as a result of expansion implemented in the last decade than would have otherwise. This massive expansion tracks with President Obama's explicit goal to send as many Americans to college as possible - no matter what the cost or consequences:

    In President Obama's first speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009 outlined his administration's ambitious higher education agenda, saying that "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." As Peter Wood wrote at the Chronicle of Higher Education, "that would mean more than doubling the number of domestic students attending the nation's colleges and universities."

This ignores that not every college education is a good investment. But President Obama has pushed a massive expansion of college subsidies, and we're seeing this in the numbers released in the CBO's recent report.

Luckily, there are easy ways to rein in these costs. The CBO also outlines potential solutions. A mere $700 cut in the maximum Pell grant award would save $68 billion - and that would have come after the maximum Pell grant increased by $1500 in the last few years, so that would represent a return to a level higher than we'd seen before Pell expansion.

The Obama Administration's push for a massive expansion of college attendance will bring benefits to many students, but does not come without downsides. The CBO has outlined ways that the federal government can constrain the costs. Hopefully the Obama Administration will pay attention.


British schools  inspector tells Cumbrian teacher working in Berkshire school to sound 'more southern' and makes changing her accent an official target

A young teacher has been advised to sound ‘more southern’ by senior staff after an Ofsted inspector said she should lose her northern accent, it was claimed today.

The woman, who works at an unidentified secondary school in Berkshire, has been told ‘sounding less Cumbrian’ is now one of her official targets, following the advice given by an Ofsted inspector.

The order by school bosses to take the comment seriously has been confirmed by a teaching union representative, who described it as the ‘most extreme and bizarre objective’ he had ever heard.

The teacher did not make an official complaint to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), but raised the issue when mentioning her school targets.

Paul Watkins, NASUWT national executive member for the west Berkshire area, said the school has a number of other issues which the union is challenging, including it potentially becoming an academy.

He said: ‘Apparently the beginning of this was Ofsted, who made a comment about her accent. She was told she needed to make her northern Cumbrian accent sound more southern.

‘We are very disturbed by this issue - it is victimisation and I think this is the most extreme and bizarre objective I have ever heard of.’

He described the accent target as ‘outrageous in the extreme’, adding: ‘It could initially have been seen as humorous, but the more you talk about it, the more annoyed and outraged you become.

‘It is the most extreme form of discrimination and bullying in a country where we are supposed to be celebrating diversity. It is the most bizarre thing I have ever heard of in my career - and I’ve been doing this for a long time.’

Louise Green, editor of the Lakeland Dialect Society, said that Cumbria’s accent and dialect is the ‘most wonderful thing’ about the county, adding: ‘To try and remove it is like trying to remove Beefeaters.’

She said: ‘We should be celebrating our different regional ways of speech and promoting and protecting them.

'I love to hear the Cumbrian accent and dialect, and I just wish more people appreciated it. Often people don’t understand the value of an accent until somebody tries to ban it.’

An Ofsted spokesman told MailOnline: 'We would be happy to look into this matter if we are told the name of the school. Inspectors comment on the standard of teaching at schools.

'Negative comments about the suitability of regional accents are clearly inappropriate, and should form no part of our assessment of a school's or teacher’s performance.'

Last week, MailOnline reported how children at a primary school in Halesowen, West Midlands, were told to speak proper English instead of the Black Country dialect to halt a ‘decline in standards’.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

University is not the only way to success, British heads told: Leading teacher says parents and independent schools should stop being 'sniffy' about vocational qualifications

Parents and independent schools should stop being ‘sniffy’ about vocational qualifications and assuming university is the automatic route after A-levels, a leading headteacher has said.

Hilary French, the headmistress of Central Newcastle High School, said employers were increasingly demanding skills that were of genuine use in the work place.

The cost of taking a degree and the introduction of low-cost online higher education courses added to the need to consider ‘alternative avenues’.

The comments will surprise many parents who can spend tens of thousands a year sending their children to private schools in the hope they will go on to win a place at a top university.

But Mrs French, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association, told delegates at the organisation’s annual conference: ‘I predict that we’re going to see the focus shift away from university as the automatic first choice next step for those who are in the fortunate position of being able to weigh up the pros and cons of alternative pathways after sixth form and a move instead to employment skills and training while working.’

She added: ‘Increasingly, we - teachers, parents and girls - will need to be open-minded about what further and higher education looks like.

‘I believe and hope that the link between schools and employers will strengthen over the coming years and that there will be an increasing focus on developing employment skills.  ‘I’d like to challenge independent schools heads to embrace these alternative avenues. Parents too.

‘There is a huge potential in employer training courses and the new types of apprenticeships which are emerging. We must not be sniffy about them.’

The number of higher apprenticeships - designed for people with good A-level or equivalent qualifications - has soared, going up 147 per cent between 2009 and 2012.

At the same time the proportion of school leavers entering higher education has gone up, to a record 49 per cent in 2011-2012.

Business Secretary Vince Cable last week criticised the ‘qualification inflation’ that meant degrees had become a minimum entry requirement in many jobs, including nursing and accountancy.

The government was trying to persuade professional associations to ‘relax their qualifications’, he said.

Mrs French also used her speech in Newcastle-upon-Tyne yesterday to attack successive governments’ obsession with curriculum and exam reforms in state schools, saying they were not the way to bring about social change.

Schools were being turned into ‘exam factories’, she warned, leaving children ‘dehumanised’.

‘Soft skills’ such as resilience, leadership, integrity, compassion and adaptability also needed to be taught, as well as the ability to ‘filter ideas’ as children are now ‘bombarded’ with so much information and data.

In a further attack on the maintained system, she said healthy pursuits such as outdoor play, school allotments and taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme were seen as ‘extra-curricular’ activities that had become ‘largely the preserve of independent schools’.

‘Many students graduate without any integrated sense of the unity of things,’ Mrs French said.

‘Independent schools, however, have the advantage of being just that - independent - and have always been good at educating what they call “the whole person”.’


New Evidence Raises Doubts on Obama’s Preschool for All

Last week legislation was introduced in the Senate and House to create federally funded universal pre-k for 4-year-olds.  The details of the legislation are largely consistent with the White House proposal, called Preschool for All, that was announced in the president’s state of the union address in February.

The rhetoric around the introduction of the legislation includes the by now entirely predictable and thoroughly misleading appeal to the overwhelming research evidence supporting such an investment.  For example, Senator Harkin, the lead author of the Senate version of the legislation, declared that “Decades of research tell us that … early learning is the best investment we can make to prepare our children for a lifetime of success.”

By way of background, I’m a developmental psychologist by training and spent the majority of my career designing and evaluating programs intended to enhance the cognitive development of young children.  For instance, I directed a national Head Start Quality Research Center; created a program, Dialogic Reading (which is a widely used and effective intervention for enhancing the language development and book knowledge of young children from low-income families); and authored an assessment tool, the Get Ready to Read Screen, that has become a staple of early intervention program evaluation.  My point is that I care about early childhood education and believe it is important – as witnessed by how I spent my professional life for 30 years.

My career since 2001 has largely been about advancing evidence-based education, which is the endeavor of collecting and using the best possible evidence to support policy and practice in education.  Since the president’s state of the union address, I’ve been writing that the evidence is decidedly mixed on the impact of the type of preschool investments the president has called for and that we now see in the legislation introduced in Congress.  It may seem in the pieces I’ve written that I’m wearing only my evidence-based education hat.   But in fact if you’re an advocate of strengthening early childhood programs, as I am, you also need to pay careful attention to the evidence – all of it.  Poor children deserve effective programs, not just programs that are well-intentioned.

Unfortunately, supporters of Preschool for All, including some academics who are way out in front of what the evidence says and know it, have turned a blind eye to the mixed and conflicting nature of research findings on the impact of pre-k for four-year-olds.  Instead, they highlight positive long term outcomes of two boutique programs from 40-50 years ago that served a couple of hundred children.  And they appeal to recent research with serious methodological flaws that purports to demonstrate that district preschool programs in places such as Tulsa and the Abbott districts in New Jersey are effective.  Ignored, or explained away, are the results from the National Head Start Impact Study (a large randomized trial), which found no differences in elementary school outcomes between children who had vs. had not attended Head Start as four-year-olds.  They also ignore research showing negative impacts on children who receive child care supported through the federal child development block grant program, as well as evidence that the universal pre-k programs in Georgia and Oklahoma, which are closest to what the Obama administration has proposed,  have had , at best, only small impacts on later academic achievement.

Here I want to draw your attention to a newly released study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK). TN‐VPK is a full day pre-k program for four‐year‐olds from low-income families.  It has quality standards that are high and in keeping with those proposed by the Obama administration under Preschool for All, including the requirement of a licensed teacher in each classroom, no more than 10 children per adult, and an approved and appropriate curriculum.

The study, conducted by a stellar team of researchers at Vanderbilt, began in 2009.  It is a randomized trial (the gold standard for evaluating program impacts) involving about 3,000 four-year-olds whose parents had applied for their admission to oversubscribed TN-VPK programs.  A lottery was used to select those to whom an offer of admission was made.  Those winning the lottery constitute the intervention group.  Those losing the lottery constitute the control group.  Only about a quarter of children in the control group found their way into other center-based programs such as Head Start or private pre-k, so the study compares groups that are very different in their levels of access to early childhood education.

An intensively studied subset of about 1,100 children drawn from both groups was directly tested on cognitive skills, such as knowledge of vocabulary, at the beginning and end of the pre-k year and at the end of kindergarten and first grade.  These same children were rated by teachers at the end of first grade on a number of non-cognitive characteristics, such as the ability to play well with other children and work independently.  Outcomes for the full sample of 3,000 children were only available with respect to data routinely collected by schools and part of state administrative records, such as days of school attendance and special education status.  I focus here on the findings for the intensively study subset of participants.

The research team previously reported positive impacts on cognitive measures favoring the TN-VPK participants at the end of the pre-k year.  The recently released findings are with respect to how TN-VPK participation affects children’s later performance in kindergarten and first grade.  The whole justification for investing in pre-k is that it provides long-term benefits, so these follow-up data are critically important.

The first figure below illustrates the impact of TN-VPK participation on cognitive abilities at the end of first grade (kindergarten findings are very similar).  The impacts are presented as effect sizes (which represent the differences between groups in standard deviation units) for eight measured outcomes across the domains of literacy, language, and math.  An effect size that is larger than zero favors the participants in the TN-VPK whereas a negative effect size favors the control group.  As the figure shows, seven of the outcomes are negative, with one (quantitative concepts) being statistically significant.  In other words, the group that experienced the Tennessee Voluntary State Pre-K Program performed somewhat less well on cognitive tasks at the end of first grade than the control group, even though ¾ of the children in the control group had no experience as four-year-olds in a center-based early childhood program.

Cognitive Outcomes at the end of first grade

What about social/emotional skills and dispositions as rated by teachers?  The following figure presents those results, again at the end of first grade.  None of the differences is statistically significant.  Four of the seven signs are negative, meaning that the control group scored better than the pre-k group.

Social and emotional outcomes at the end of first grade

Finally, what about differences on routinely collected school records?  Here the results are mixed.  Participants in the TN-VPK were less likely to have been retained in kindergarten than non-participants (4% to 6%). In contrast, children served by TN-VPK were more likely to have received school-based special education services than children in the control group (14% to 9% for the full sample – reported results aren’t separated for the intensively studied sub sample).  There were no statistically significant differences between the two groups on absences from school or disciplinary actions.

What do these findings mean? The authors of the study hold out hope that the positive finding on kindergarten retentions means that the TN-VPK had a positive effect on children’s social/emotional development, which will lead to long term positive outcomes like those that were found in the famous Perry Preschool Project (in which, for example, participants were less likely than nonparticipants to have had encounters with the criminal justice system as adults).  This seems to me to be grasping at straws, given the lack of any differences among participants and non-participants in teacher rated social/emotional outcomes, and given other research showing no association between kindergarten retentions and later school performance.  The authors of the study also refer frequently to the prevalence of fade-out of cognitive gains in other research on the impact of preschool programs.  But there is a big difference between the fade-out of group differences on academic and cognitive outcomes somewhere in late elementary school or middle school, which is the pattern in some previous research, versus gains that don’t last even until the end of kindergarten, which is the finding in the present research and the National Head Start Impact Study.

I see these findings as devastating for advocates of the expansion of state pre-k programs.  This is the first large scale randomized trial of a present-day state pre-k program.  Its methodology soundly trumps the quasi-experimental approaches that have heretofore been the only source of data on which to infer the impact of these programs.  And its results align almost perfectly with those of the Head Start Impact Study, the only other large randomized trial that examines the longitudinal effects of having attended a public pre-k program.  Based on what we have learned from these studies, the most defensible conclusion is that these statewide programs are not working to meaningfully increase the academic achievement or social/emotional skills and dispositions of children from low-income families.  I wish this weren’t so, but facts are stubborn things.  Maybe we should figure out how to deliver effective programs before the federal government funds preschool for all.


Australia:  Freedom of religion preserved against homosexual push

A bill to overturn controversial laws that allow private schools to expel students for being gay or transgender has been shelved indefinitely after the NSW Coalition indicated it was unlikely to support the change.

But Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich, who had been pushing for the change, said he was pleased by statements from Education Minister Adrian Piccoli highlighting the impact of discrimination and urging students to report private schools which did not look after their welfare to the Board of Studies.

Mr Greenwich had introduced a private member's bill to remove exemptions for private schools from parts of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, which otherwise makes it unlawful to expel or discriminate against gay students.

Labor, the Greens, mental health advocacy groups including BeyondBlue and the Law Society of NSW have voiced support for the bill, but some faith-based schools argued it could threaten religious freedom.

Mr Greenwich withdrew the bill on Wednesday after indications that the government, whose support would be required to pass it, was unlikely to do so.

But he said he was heartened by comments from Mr Piccoli saying discriminatory language, vilification and bullying of any student had no place in schools.

Mr Piccoli told Parliament he was "moved and concerned" by stories of bullying and mistreatment highlighted by Mr Greenwich. He had asked the Board of Studies, which registers non-government schools, to advise him of what it could do to protect student welfare.

Mr Piccoli said providing a "safe and supportive" environment for students was a requirement of registration and the board would investigate complaints from students where schools had failed to do so.

‘‘I urge anyone who has concerns about a school’s welfare policy to bring it to the attention of the Board where it will be investigated fully,’’ he said.

Mr Greenwich said he was disappointed the government had not demonstrated support for his bill but was pleased by the comments.

"I will reintroduce my bill in parliament next year if the new Board of Studies process fails to protect vulnerable students from discrimination and I remain committed to anti-discrimination law reform and removing religious exemptions,’’ he said.

Two groups working in the mental health sector - BeyondBlue and the Australian Clinical Psychology - had thrown their support behind Mr Greenwich’s bill, as had the Law Society of NSW.

‘‘As private educational authorities are recipients of public funds, the standards that apply to public educational authorities in terms of the protection of students or prospective students against discrimination on protected attributes should also apply...’’ the Law Society wrote in a letter.

But groups representing private schools have argued there are few if indeed any known cases of students being expelled for being gay, and said their religious freedom was at stake.

‘‘Removing exemptions wouldn't increase protections for the students at all, but what it would do is remove protection for the school to teach their ethos and values and expose them to litigation,’’ Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, told Fairfax Media this year.