Friday, February 21, 2014

Chinese educational achievement

Some of it is due to hard work but there are slackers too. Those who think that achievement in China is due to cramming only might like to reflect that Chinese students in Western schools also do outstandingly well

Consider this January 2011 Los Angeles Times article in which the celebration of China's ability to master the standardized test is lost in Shanghai:

Reporting from Shanghai -- Chinese adolescence is known as a time of scant whimsy: Students rise at dawn, disappear into school until dinnertime and toil into the late night over homework in preparation for university entrance exams that can make or break their future.

So it came as little surprise when international education assessors announced last month that students in Shanghai had outperformed the rest of the industrialized world in standardized exams in math, reading and science.

But even as some parents in the West wrung their hands, fretting over an education gap, Chinese commentators reacted to the results with a bout of soul-searching and even an undertone of embarrassment rarely seen in a country that generally delights in its victories on the international stage.

"I carry a strong feeling of bitterness," Chen Weihua, an editor at the state-run China Daily, wrote in a first-person editorial. "The making of superb test-takers comes at a high cost, often killing much of, if not all, the joy of childhood."

In a sense, this is the underbelly of a rising China: the fear that schools are churning out generations of unimaginative worker bees who do well on tests.

This semester, I happen to have a Chinese exchange student in one of my sophomore English classes. His name is Cheng, and he is 18 years old -- which allows me to use his name in this post. I asked Cheng if he would consider writing an essay comparing his American school experience with what he is accustomed to as a Chinese student. He readily agreed, noting that writing the essay would give him the opportunity to practice his English.

I have reproduced Cheng's essay below.  Here is Cheng's perspective on the American and Chinese education systems:

"Study in China is very hard. For most high school, students must wake up about 6 o'clock and arrive school at 7 o'clock. There is no school buses in my small city (Hubei). So I have to ride my bike to school even in the winter (temperature below zero degrees C). And I spend 13 hours in school, 11 hours for class and 2 hours for lunch block. There are 40 mins per class but I have 10 class everyday. The last class is a long class started at 6 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. We had two types of class you can choose in high school, One is more scientific, like biology, chemical, and physical; One is more about literature -- history, government, and geography. But there are three subjects people must take, Chinese, math and ENGLISH. In my class, my friends all don't like English because all of them will never had chance to go aboard. And maybe they will stay in the small city rest of their life. So they didn't study at all. Same thing happened in all the subjects. So they hated school.

The test in China is not very good. The teacher didn't care about do you learn in class or at home. The teachers just want to see your grades in the exam. So, as everyone know, some people cheat, and some people did very good job on cheating. Some teachers didn't even notice that during the test! So the student who never study got very high grade better than other students who study very hard. So people won't study hard any more. And the student's life is depended on the final exam, the Entrance exam for college. No matter if you study befor, once you got a very high scored, you can go to the best college. That means your salary is two or three times than normal students after graduate. But Chinese people can't change these. If the Chinese education is like the American's there must be some new troubles. Because the population of China is very huge, for now is about 1,400,000,000, people in China. There are 60 students in my class in my school, and it's hard for my teachers, too, because they can't care too many people at the same time. American education is special. I prefer American education.

The ways to have class is different between America and China. In [our American high school], we have to walk in the classroom and only 5 minutes, in China, students stay in the same classroom everyday and the teacher came into classroom, and we have different classes everyday! That's the most different and important things. Like in [our American high school], if you don't have P.E. a year, so you won't have it the whole year. That's the only thing I don't like here [in America].

I don't think American education should change to like China, because they are two different countries, East and West, socialist and capitalism. Chinese education is depend on the population of China. American doesn't have that huge population. The conditions of the country is different. So the education should not be the same.

Test is important to students. Because it's important, many people try to cheat in the test to get high scored. That's the thing we don't want to see. But test is necessary. Student need something to make them want to study, some students make a goal that they will pass the next test. So they will study. If there is no test, people will never study at home. I think it's better to have test. If the teacher can make the student learn without test, that is fine. And the test would be not valuable if people cheat in the test."

I asked Cheng if he preferred American public school, and his face immediately lit up. With an eager nod of the head, he replied, "Oh, yes!" In the United States, Cheng does not attend school from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. He has transportation readily available to and from school. He has time for a life outside of the classroom. In short, he has opportunity for that "joy of childhood," even as he now enters young adulthood.


Academy run by top university attacked over poor results

A school run by one of Britain’s leading universities has been threatened with take-over because education standards are “unacceptably low”, it has emerged.

The Department for Education has reprimanded an academy sponsored by Nottingham University following concerns over poor exam results, inadequate teaching and misbehaviour by pupils.

It is the 40th time that ministers have been forced to issue a “pre-warning letter” to an academy – a flagship independent state school run free of local council control – in the last two years.

The Government has the power to appoint new directors onto the governing body and ultimately place the school in the hands of a new sponsor to address chronic underperformance.

In the latest letter, Nottingham University Samworth Academy is told the school must boost its performance or face further action.

The letter from Lord Nash, the Schools Minister, raises concerns that just 32 per cent of pupils gained good GCSEs last summer, down from 35 per cent a year earlier and below the Government's minimum threshold of 40 per cent.

At the same time, the school was judged to be "inadequate" by Ofsted following an inspection at the end of last year, with the watchdog concluding that teaching was poor, marking and planning of work was inadequate, expectations were too low, pupils had a bad attitude in lessons and the expulsion rate was too high.

The school was opened in 2009 – replacing a community comprehensive on the site.

It had been rated as "good" by inspectors in July 2012 but this was downgraded following another probe last November.

Prof Alan Ford, pro-vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at Nottingham University, which is a member of the elite Russell Group, said: “As soon as it became clear that this year's GCSE results were not where they should be, we put a plan of action in place to improve teaching and learning, strengthen management and leadership, and improve results for pupils at NUSA.

"This represents a new phase for NUSA. It will mean a focus on improving learning outcomes for the school, strengthening leadership and providing the right environment for pupils to succeed."

The school said it was teaming up with the Torch Academy Gateway Trust in an attempt to raise standards.

A pre-warning letter gives schools two weeks to come up with an action plan before being issued with a formal warning notice. This can lead to the Government appointing additional directors and – ultimately – replacing the sponsor altogether.


Schools 'must go back to basics to raise maths standards'

Children are falling behind in maths because of “strong resistance” to traditional teaching methods in the classroom, according to the former Schools Minister.

Pupils struggle to understand basic mathematical concepts following a decline in the use of mental arithmetic and rote learning at a young age, it was claimed.

Nick Gibb said that pupils had to learn maths in the same way that they would attempt to play the piano – with repeated practise and committing methods to their long-term memory.

The comments follow the publication of a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that found a significant gap in performance between British pupils and their peers in parts of the Far East.

Researchers found that the children of factory workers, labourers and cleaners in China were now more than a year ahead of the offspring of British doctors and lawyers.

A delegation of head teachers and education experts will visit Shanghai next week as part of a fact-finding mission to discover why Chinese pupils are so far ahead of their British counterparts.

Mr Gibb, who left the Department for Education last year, said that part of the difference was down to a stronger work ethic in China and a commitment to old-fashioned rote learning.

He said: “With a lot of practise, children not only become fluent and confident in calculation they also develop an understanding of the concepts underlying those calculations as familiar patterns emerge”.

Writing for, he said large numbers of schools rejected the approach in favour of “chunking” – where pupils are encouraged to break sums down into numerous component stages before an answer is reached.

“These methods are now universal in our primary schools, with strong resistance to the teaching and practise of traditional algorithms amongst many in the educational establishment,” he said.

From this September, a new maths curriculum will be introduced that will place a greater emphasis on times tables and mental arithmetic at a young age. This includes mastering multiplication tables up to 12 by the age of nine.

But Mr Gibb said: “Believe it or not, these are controversial proposals amongst many in the education establishment.

“There is, however, a determination to see these reforms through and the reward will be a transformation in the ability and confidence in maths of the next generation, a generation that I hope will be on a par with their peers in the Far East.”

Dame Rachel de Souza, who leads the Inspiration Trust, a group of seven academies in Norfolk, will be part of the China delegation.

She said her schools already adopted one technique from the Far East – encouraging teachers to timetable maths lessons at the start of each day to ensure “children’s brains are at their freshest” when they tackle sums.

“Teachers are able to mark the work and get it back to the pupils on the same day so that children get speedy feedback,” she said. “Teachers and children go home knowing whether the topic is understood, or where pupils might have gone wrong.

“This is what they do in Shanghai and it is having a very positive effect in our schools too. I would urge others to follow suit.

“I’m looking forward to visiting to see what other methods they employ.”


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cuomo Introduces Initiative to Let Prisoners Take College Courses, Angry New Yorkers Respond

As if alienating pro-life conservatives and gun owners wasn't enough, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seems determined to make everyone in the Empire State an enemy. Meet his latest initiative: Helping prisoners get college degrees - and asking New Yorkers to pay for it.

Cuomo announced his plan to add college courses to ten prisons at Wilborn Temple First Church of God in Albany during the Black, Puerto Rican Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus event. The plan, he argued, would reduce the likelihood of a prisoner returning to prison. Here’s part of his office’s media release:

    "Studies have shown that investing in college education for prisoners dramatically decreased recidivism rates while saving tax dollars on incarceration costs."

Sounds nice, but here’s the less popular part of his plan:

    "Cuomo said the program will cost about $5,000 per year to provide a year of college courses for one inmate. The program will be funded through a partnership among the colleges, state and private sector."

Cuomo may think he’s doing the state a service, but Senator Mark Grisanti (R-I-Buffalo) made an important counterpoint, saying he "supports rehabilitation and reduced recidivism, but not on the taxpayer's dime when so many individuals and families in New York are struggling to meet the ever-rising costs of higher education."

Other New Yorkers agree. Almost as soon as Cuomo’s announcement was posted on Channel 2, Buffalo WGRZ’s Facebook page, 1,000 social media users responded in disgust.

Here were just a few of their justifiably angry responses:

    "Hard working NY families can barely afford to send their children to college and most end up with staggering debt but the Governor thinks giving free college to those who have chosen to break the law get free college so they won't break the law again? What a moronic idea. Takes the gun rights away from honest law-abiding citizens now wants to pay for education for criminals. He's got it real wrong. How about paying for college for law abiding New Yorkers instead."

    - David Texido

    "Here I sit struggling to pay back over $30,000 a student loan debt then you have the nerve to try to say you want to send some prisoners to school for free. Somebody need to talk to me about waving my student loans so that I can be debt free and still have an education."

    - Lisa Fanin


High School Student Athlete Suspended After Stepping in to Stop a Gay Student From Being Assaulted

Lee County High School in Florida has a zero tolerance policy on fighting. It doesn’t matter who started it or who may have tried to stop it, if you’re in a fight at school, you get suspended. In the case of Mark Betterson, a student at the high school, he received a 10-day suspension because, he says, he stepped in to stop a gay student from being bullied. Via the Gay Star News:

    ‘I was just trying to break up the whole thing because its not fair for somebody to get beat up for something that he is. That’s not really called for.’

    Betterson said he had only gotten physical when Griffin had begun throwing punches at him too.

    ‘He swung at me and was like you can get it too so we got into a fight,’ Betterson said.

    Betterson said he understood the school’s policy but thought that 10 days suspension was unfair when all he was trying to was protect another student.

The student who allegedly started the fight, James Griffin, an 18-year-old, wasn’t just suspended for 10 days. He faces battery charges after sheriff’s deputies reviewed surveillance video of the fight, which they say corroborated what the bullied student, Jonathan Colon, told them. Betterson said he’d do the same thing again, fearing Colon would have suffered more injuries without his intervention, but still wishes the penalty were less severe. As for Colon, who said he wasn’t friends with Betterson before the fight, he said he was surprised Betterson stepped in to help. “I was protected by someone who had no reason to protect me, we have nothing in common – he’s on the football team and I’m the flamboyant gay boy,” he told a local TV station.

The state of Florida has a stand-your-ground law that is supposed to protect the right to self-defense. It doesn’t require a “duty to retreat,” keeping that claim out of the toolbox of overzealous prosecutors. But, as with other rights protected by law, or even the Constitution, education administrators would prefer they didn’t apply in school.


Is Matt Damon Right That Tenure is Vital for K-12 Teachers?

A coupla days ago, actor Matt Damon did an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit. In answer to one of the questions, he uncorked this reference to a 2011 exchange he had with Reason at a pro-teacher rally:

    "We would never let business men design warheads, why would you cut out educators when you’re designing education policy? This was for one of those libertarian websites and they had an attack question planned about tenure. Diane Ravitch was there, she’s a huge figure in education and she jumped in and just set them straight about what having tenure meant. It just basically means you have the right to be represented, and have your side of something heard if someone is trying to get rid of you."

There's a lot of things to agree with in Damon's comments about education. Yes, No Child Left Behind is an expensive and ineffective boondoggle (also, a bipartisan one). And K-12 education is fairly obsessed with standardarized tests, a problem that will only get worse as "Common Core" guidelines fully start influencing curricula around the country. As Matt Welch and I point out somewhere in The Declaration of Independents, K-12 education is so ossified that it's still following a 19th-century agricultural schedule that even farmers don't use anymore.

But Damon's understanding of the role of teacher tenure as it applies to K-12 teachers is simply wrong (as is his characterization of Reason's offending question that starts his rant, on display below). To pretend that tenure for elementary and secondary-school teachers - which typically kicks in after a few years on the job - is simply about wrongful termination underscores Damon's complete lack of knowledge of how public education works. And it has nothing in common with tenure at the college and university level, which is far more rigorous and includes important (though often overstated) safeguards for academic freedom.

Teachers are among the very most politically powerful entities in any given local or state decision-making process. Far from somehow being disenfranchised in the setting of educational policy and especially in terms of job dismissal, teachers are doing pretty damn swell. If you want a particularly egregious example of just how far legal protections for teachers can go, check out this 2006 Reason piece by John Stossel. Titled "How do I fire an incompetent teacher?," it documents the virtual impossibility of booting godawful employees from the New York City public school system. That's an extreme situation, but the general outline holds true everywhere.

Damon is hardly alone is suggesting that tenure is some sort of noble bulwark against a particularly nasty and brutish public-sector work jungle. Here's Erik Kain writing at Forbes in 2011:

    "Teachers need protection from over-zealous bosses and ideological politicians. This is the same thinking behind seniority rules, which protect more expensive teachers (i.e. veterans) from being laid off due to budget cuts. Teaching is not a high-paying job compared to jobs in the private sector, and one of the benefits is some job security."

Kain was writing about a Chicago Tribune infographic bemoaning how long it takes to get rid of substandard teachers. Do people really believe that, absent the current system of tenuring, politicians would be firing massive numbers of teachers? Or that "over-zealous bosses" would fire public-school teachers more readily than, I don't know, private-school teachers? Is K-12 education a unique field that would get rid of experienced (and presumably more effective) workers simply because they cost more?

How is it that good workers in all sorts of industries and fields manage to keep their jobs, get promotions, and be evaluated fairly but K-12 teachers need tenure early on in their careers? Could it have less to do with any sort of pressing need and more to do with the political clout wielded by teachers unions and professional associations? And a taxpaying public essentially held hostage by the same? I'm just throwing out some ideas here...

To that latter point, Damon and others routinely assert that public school teachers don't make good money. That is flatly false. Public school teachers make on average about $13,000 a year more in straight salary than their private-school counterparts, and the compensation gap grows still wider when retirement and health benefits are added in. And when teacher pay is compared to other professionals' pay on an hourly basis, teachers do extremely well. The idea that public-sector workers are trading salary for security is a well-documented myth.

As it happens, National School Choice Week, which annually celebrates a true grassroots movement pushing towards increasing options for all K-12 students, just ended recently (check out this Reason TV video about the future of school choice). I'm curious if Damon believes that's a righteous cause. I think I know the answer. Last year, Damon took a bunch of shit for opting out of sending his children to Los Angeles Unified School District schools. He argued that they weren't "progressive" enough for his tastes, so he had no choice but to opt for a private school. It's great that he exercised his right to choose. But does he support the right of parents without his economic means to do the same? How much do you want to bet that whatever private schools his kids attend have far weaker tenure protections than the LAUSD?


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

University Textbook Says Reagan was Extreme, Sexist, and Pessimistic

What is a leftist supposed to do when history doesn’t perfectly fit their ideological narrative? Well… If you’re in charge of creating textbooks for college students, you just write your own version of historical events. And while you’re at it, throw in a few editorial comments cleverly disguised as “facts”. Apparently, the end result should look something like the textbook that a University of South Carolina student was required to read. In a nutshell, it explained that Ronald Reagan was a sexist, that Conservatives hate people, and that the “rich” like to exploit the lower classes because they don’t want to rake their own yards… Or something. reported the story of Orwellian indoctrination on the University’s campus (I know, I know… Nobody’s surprised). According to Campus Reform:

The mandated reading includes sections such as “Conservative Extremes in the 1980’s and Early 1990’s,” which claims Reagan “ascribed to women primarily domestic functions’ and failed to appoint many women to significant positions of power during his presidency.”

“Conservative Extremes”? Is that what we call it when a President gets elected with 489 electoral votes? Oh, and for the record, Reagan appointed over 1,400 women to positions of power; including Sandra Day O’Connor (first female Supreme Court Justice), and Jeane Kirkpatrick (First female US Rep. appointed to the United Nations)… But I guess neither one of those are “significant positions of power”. (I mean, really, who cares about the first female Supreme Court Justice? Right?)

But, it gets worse. The “textbook” then makes an attempt to define “conservatism”. I guess we should be thankful they didn’t put a picture of Ted Nugent wearing a tin-foil hat holding an AR-15. (Nothing against the Nuge… I’m a huge fan.) The definition was, however, pretty cartoonish:

"Conservatives usually oppose change and thrive on tradition. Conservatives tend to take a basically pessimistic view of human nature. People are conceived of as being corrupt, self-centered, lazy and incapable of true charity."

Pessimistic? Well… I’m beginning to get that way, if this text is typical of university “enlightenment”. It’s true: socialism is a morale buster for free-market advocates. So… Yeah. Euro socialist entitlement programs bum me out a little.

As for the rest of the text’s “definition”… Well, let’s address this piecemeal:

Corrupt? Is there really an argument that corruption exists? To argue that corruption is a minimal risk in any institution is bordering on ignorance of incomprehensible proportions.

Conservatives don’t believe everyone is corrupt… But then again, it doesn’t take everyone in the IRS to target the political opponents of the President. The simple fact is, there will always be a degree of corruption. Conservative philosophy hinges on minimizing government’s influence over daily life so corruption (to any degree) is incapable of infringing on the rights of average citizens. (After all, it’s a lot harder to misuse government resources when there are less resources to misuse.)

Self-Centered? So… Did the authors of this text book read the footnotes of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and scrape together a cartoonish definition of objectivism for their well-documented indoctrination educational material? I guess I wasn’t ever made aware that all my neighbors were looking out for my family. I kinda thought people went to work and saved so they could provide their own families with comfort and opportunity…

Lazy? Well… Only when sloth is subsidized. It’s kinda tough to argue that anyone would turn down “more money for less work”… Especially when you’re being promised more of other people’s money. But lazy still seems like a strong word. Especially when a robust economy (in the minds of Conservatives) depend upon masses of motivated hard working middle-class folks trying to climb their way to success.

By far, the most insulting few words in this passage had to be the supposedly conservative beliefe that people are “incapable of true charity.” The truth is, Conservatives believe intensely in the charitable nature of average Americans. In fact, it is the fundamental decency of human nature that propels the faith in Laissez Faire economics. Private charity, raised through the goodwill of individuals, has traditionally proven to be far more effective than cumbersome bureaucratic wealth redistribution. In fact, government “charity” is non-existent; it is a confiscation scheme orchestrated to reallocate private property to key political constituencies. True private charity is a gesture of benevolence, among members of a community, without the coercive and invasive nature of government force.

Oh… And by the way, this is why wealth creation is a good thing. You know all those rich people that are demonized by the left? Yeah… They’re the ones who have the monetary capital to contribute to “good causes”.

Which brings us to the final stage of the textbook’s Orwellian trifecta… Heck, they’ve already re-written Reagan’s Presidency, redefined “Conservatism”, what’s one more factual edit? (Karl Marx may deserve co-author credit for the following passage.)

The wealthy find that having a social class of poor people is useful. First, poor people can do the ‘dirty work’ for rich people that the latter don’t want to do… Second, having a poor social class emphasizes that the wealthy are higher in the social-structure . . . and allows them to look down on classes below them.

Yeah… Poor people are useful. Of course, so are rich people (AKA: employers). The insinuation that the rich enjoy being rich so they can “look down” on the other classes may be plagiarized from Marx’s Capital… The Euro-socialist trash pushed through these handful of sentences should be sickening for Americans who have grown up in a nation with unparalleled income mobility. While the leftists and progressives concentrate on class structure, conservatives focus on the ability to move upward on the socioeconomic ladder.

Who likes class structure? Leftists. Only by demonizing the rich, can the Bill de Blasio’s of the world create a political class. And what exactly is the alternative to a world with classes? (Oh, how did the Soviet model turn out? From what I remember, it wasn’t such a big hit.) The rich like the poor because they can employ them… And the poor generally have the rich to thank for employment. You want to start a business? You better hope a rich guy decides to invest, directly or indirectly, in your start-up. You’re going to have a tough time raising capital from the impoverished.

The Ministry of Truth is hard at work on the University of South Carolina campus. Remember when half the country called themselves “Conservative”? Remember when Reagan was elected in a landslide? Remember when textbooks were used as a tool to educate instead of indoctrinate? Remember when Orwell’s 1984 was considered far-fetched science fiction? Maybe the textbook was right… Maybe I really don’t like change.


Will Obama Help Poor Whites to Find Jobs?

President Obama is launching a new initiative to help young men of color. It’s called My Brother’s Keeper.

The President told Charles Barkley in a television interview last night that he wants create special educational, mentorship and apprenticeship programs – for a specific segment of the population.

“We’re going to pull together private philanthropies, foundations working with governors, mayors non-profits and we’re going to focus on young men of color and find ways in which to create more pathways to success for them,” the president told Barkley.

He said he wants to expose young men of color to career options that could pay as much as $35 an hour.

“Across the board from the time they’re young all the way to their first job, we want to help more young African-American men and Latino men succeed,” he said.

I applaud the president’s initiative – but what about the young, white man looking for a job?

Where are the special programs designed to help him get a leg up in the world? Where are the mentoring and interning opportunities for white kids from impoverished neighborhoods?

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once had a dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Let’s hope in the future that President Obama applies that same standard when it comes time to helping young men find jobs – no matter the color of their skin.


China’s poorest beat Britain's best pupils

British schoolchildren are lagging so far behind their peers in the Far East that even pupils from wealthy backgrounds are now performing worse in exams than the poorest students in China, an international study shows.

The children of factory workers and cleaners in parts of the Far East are more than a year ahead of the offspring of British doctors and lawyers, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Researchers said the study, which looked at the performance of 15-year-olds in mathematics, showed countries to could overcome traditional social class divides to raise education standards among relatively deprived pupils.

The report was published as a senior European Commission politician attacked the standards of British schools and warned that UK politicians must improve the education system before focusing on changing the country’s relationship with the EU.

Viviane Reding, the vice-president of the European Commission, warned that ministers should focus on raising school standards instead of blaming the country’s problems on foreigners. In a speech in Cambridge she suggested that the UK’s poor education system is the reason Britons cannot compete with foreigners for jobs. She said politicians needed to “work on the quality of education and welfare, so that people in this country can find employment and enjoy reasonable social standards”.

The OECD findings underline the extent to which British pupils now lag behind their peers in high-performing countries in subjects seen as vital to the nation’s economic future and will intensify calls for the UK to adopt a more rigorous education system.

Elizabeth Truss, the education minister, will next week lead a delegation of head teachers and education experts to China in a fact-finding mission. The visit could lead to schools adopting Chinese-style tactics such as more evening classes and eliminating time-wasting between lessons to boost performance in key subjects.

She said English schools needed to adopt the “teaching practices and positive philosophy” that characterised schools in parts of the Far East.

“They have a can-do attitude to maths, which contrasts with the long-term anti-maths culture that exists here,” she said.

“The reality is that unless we change our philosophy, and get better at maths, we will suffer economic decline. At the moment our performance in maths is weakening our skills base and threatening our productivity and growth.” The OECD study was based on performance in independently-administered exams in reading, maths and science sat by 15-year-olds in 65 developed nations.

Overall, the UK was ranked just 26th for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science while China’s Shanghai district was the top-rated jurisdiction in each subject. The study assessed how students would be able to use their maths knowledge and skills in real life, rather than just repeating facts and figures.

As part of the study, children were asked to name their parents’ occupation to determine its effect on pupil performance. Across the world, children whose parents work in professional careers generally outperform those in elementary jobs such as caterers, cleaners, factory workers and labourers.

The study, involving more than 500,000 pupils worldwide, found children of elementary workers in many Far Eastern nations outperformed the sons and daughters of professional British children.

The children of UK professionals scored an average of 526 points in maths. But this was overshadowed by an average score of 656 registered by the children of professionals in Shanghai-China and 569 among children of the country’s elementary workers. The children of parents in unskilled jobs in the UK scored an average of 461, the equivalent of two and a half years behind.

Elementary workers’ children in Hong Kong (542), South Korea (538) and Singapore (534), also outperformed more affluent British peers. In Japan, Vietnam, Liechtenstein, Japan and China-Taipei, relatively poor children were only marginally behind the wealthiest British pupils.

The report said: “In the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest-paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries — nor do they perform as we as the children in Shanghai-China and Singapore whose parents work in manual occupations.”

Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education and skills at the OECD, said: “If school systems want all their students to succeed in school, they should give the children of factory workers and cleaners the same education opportunities as the children of doctors and lawyers enjoy.”

The delegation to China will include Dame Rachel de Souza, of the Inspiration Trust academies group in Norfolk, Shahed Ahmed, who runs Elmhurst Primary School in east London, and Charlie Stripp, of Mathematics in Education and Industry.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Obstructionism of university gun club at UNC

Mike Adams

Dear Chancellor Miller (;

After laying the groundwork in my previous correspondence, I finally have an opportunity to respond to the sweeping claim that UNCW's student affairs division treats student groups equally, regardless of their political viewpoint. I will also respond to the Dean's claim that there are hundreds of student groups on campus that have been approved without any difficulties whatsoever. That claim suggests that those who are not approved have somehow failed to comply with university policies and procedures. The contrary evidence I will present will demonstrate that there has been a pattern of misconduct in the Dean's office extending over a period of more than a decade.

Let us start by going back to the first letter I wrote to you. We can learn something by focusing on just one of the groups in question, the Second Amendment Club. I have a special interest in this club because I am their advisor.

I began to help the club with its application for official recognition all the way back in August. The student affairs division has required multiple resubmissions of the application since that time. Let me provide some examples of suggested revisions from a recent application, which was submitted seven months into the process. Again, these are suggested revisions coming from your administration seven months into the application process:

- The administrator doesn't like the fact that we have the word "sixty" in our application. He prefers that we use the numerical "60."

- The administrator doesn't like our use of the phrase "during academic year." He wants us to say "during THE academic year."

- The administrator doesn't like the fact that one of the sentences in our nine-page typed single-spaced application has two periods. He wants that second period removed before we become an official organization and reclaim some of the student activity fee money being used to pay the salaries of the document approvers in the Student Affairs division.

I won't bore you, Chancellor, because there were literally scores of these unnecessary cosmetic changes, which were suddenly brought to our attention in the seventh month of the application process - as we rapidly approached the deadline to received SGA funding as an official student group.

With all these new suggestions we were still given a chance to go all the way to the university student club approval committee so we could have our shot at official recognition – almost seven months after beginning the application process. But, predictably, we ran into a new set of concerns after the committee had a chance to look over our application. Here are some choice examples:

-The committee found an apostrophe before an "s" that should have been after an "s." In other words, the student affairs document inspector missed a typo in all his previous proof readings of the document.

-The committee decided it didn't like that we use a hyphen in the word "late-comers." They prefer "latecomers." Too bad we were not told of this preference at any time previously in the seven month approval process. I guess they are late-deciders.

-They also found a sentence that should have had a comma. I guess the committee caught the official document approver sleeping on this one. Maybe he was comma-tose when he was proof-reading (or is proofreading just one word?).

-They also didn't like it that we had an official club officer called a "gatekeeper." They wanted us to call the officer something else. I suggested we call him gate-keeper, just for kicks.

-Then they found another comma missing. Next, they found another apostrophe missing. Good thing we are paying the salaries of these committee members to find all the typos that are missed by the official document inspector. But why are we paying that guy's salary? And why can't he do a better job of spotting all these typos - especially if that's his official responsibility?

After finding all these typos, the committee did something gracious. They gave us another chance to resubmit the application to the university administrator who missed all the typos. Yippee! They even sent us an email saying "congratulations! You're getting an extension!"

I'm not kidding, Chancellor Miller. They actually congratulated us on getting a chance to head into our eight month of reapplication. And they actually used exclamation points in their email. They could not contain their excitement! I thought about writing back with a few “XOs” to express my heartfelt appreciation. But I couldn’t decide whether it was proper to say “heart-felt” or to say “heartfelt” instead.

Dean Walker wrote to you earlier defending his office's handling of student groups. In that defense, he gave a description of the UNCW student group approval process. It was inaccurate. Here’s what the process really looks like:

1. Make the student group application so long that there are guaranteed to be spelling and grammar errors.
2. Don't say anything to students about any grammar errors until several meetings have occurred.
3. Only reveal a few grammar errors per meeting in order to justify more meetings with the administration.
4. When doing revisions, add in wording preference recommendations that are not actually grammar or spelling recommendations with a “right” answer.
5. Repeat step four until the date has passed for student groups to apply for SGA funding.
6. Inform students that they are ineligible for SGA funding.
7. Respond to any outside inquiries about intentional obstruction of student group applications with some sort of internal investigation.
8. Declare the administration innocent by insisting that the non-approval of clubs is not about speech but instead about words – and hyphens and commas, too.
9. Make sure that the outside investigators who are looking into the dean’s treatment of the SAE fraternity get copies of all self-investigations by administrators declaring themselves to be innocent.

Of course, there is another step in the process that is both unwritten and unintended:

10. Lose all credibility as an institution that respects viewpoint diversity and cares about its students.

Chancellor Miller, I know what you're probably thinking. While it looks like these constant revisions are merely a pretext for denying the group, it isn't conclusive. The administration doesn't actually tell them that their beliefs are the problem. So where is the smoking gun? (Please pardon the gun pun and the crime rhyme).

Fortunately, I have two more cases to share with you. In both cases, student affairs did identify the applicants’ beliefs as an obstacle to granting them official recognition. In both cases, the groups were conservative in nature.

Postscript: One hour after completing this column, the university finally capitulated and recognized the Second Amendment Club. The author wishes to thank those who read this series and took the time to write to Chancellor Miller. Dr. Adams is relieved that he can now go back to teaching his classes and doing research instead of doing the chancellor's job for him.


British schools told: stop hiding behind health and safety rules

Teachers should adopt a “common sense” approach to health and safety to boost the number of school trips and expose pupils to risks, according to new guidelines.

Schools in England have been told to dramatically cut back on levels of red tape because of concerns that too many outings are being cancelled amid fears staff will be sued over accidents.

Guidance issued to head teachers says that health and safety rules should “not stop them” embarking on a range of outings to museums, adventure centres, parks and trips abroad.

The document from the Department for Education says that legal action is rare and schools can protect themselves by taking care of pupils “in a way that a prudent parents would have done”.

It is unnecessary to carry out separate risk assessments or seek parental consent for every outing, guidance says.

All staff can be given necessary health and safety advice without attending costly and time-consuming training courses, it says, adding that “basic instructions” are often the only necessary requirement.

The 10 page document represents a dramatic change of course compared with the 150 pages of health and safety guidance issued under the last government.

It comes amid concerns that health and safety may still be getting in the way of traditional cornerstones of school life such as trips out and science experiments.

Last year, Prof Tanya Byron, the child psychologist and former government advisor, said that children’s natural development was being stunted because “paranoia about health and safety and well-being” had reached “insane” levels.

But the latest document says: “Children should be able to experience a wide range of activities. Health and safety measures should help them to do this safely, not stop them.

“It is important that children learn to understand and manage the risks that are a normal part of life. Common sense should be used in assessing and managing the risks of any activity.”

The guidance – covering more than 21,000 state schools – says that separate written risk assessments are often not needed, saying staff should “avoid needless or unhelpful paperwork”.

It says infrequent activities such as annual trips should involve risk assessments. But schools need not carry out them out for activities that form a regular part of the day, such as trips to the swimming pool, park or a place of worship.

The document also says that written consent from parents is not required for the “majority of off-site activities” that take place during school hours. It is only needed for those such as adventure activities and off-site sporting fixtures outside the school day.

Concerns have been raised about the possibility of schools being sued by parents if a child is injured during an outing. But the guidance says that legal action is “very rare”.

Claims are only likely to be successful if the school had failed to act like “a prudent parent” or allowed a child to be injured as a “foreseeable consequence” of a dangerous activity.

A DfE spokesman said: “Exciting school trips broaden children’s horizons and are an important of their education.  “That is why we are cutting unnecessary red tape in schools and putting teachers back in charge. “Our advice to schools outlines a common-sense approach which will make it easier for schools to make lessons inspiring and fun.”


Australians are paying for the teaching of Marxist politics

MARXISTS murdered millions and wrecked every country they’ve led. Yet 25 years after the Berlin Wall’s fall, they still cling to power in Australia’s universities.

Amazing. Yes, our universities are the last refuge of the Marxist — of people such as Victoria University politics lecturer Max Lane, recently on the executive council of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

Lane is now with the Socialist Alternative, which urges “the smashing of the capitalist state apparatus”, including the “dismantling” of “parliaments, courts, the armed forces and police”.

Its followers “reject Australian patriotism” and “oppose all immigration controls”, and Lane last week dutifully sent a letter to the Jakarta Post to warn its Indonesian readers our immigration minister is actually a pirate who kills innocent people.

“The forcible seizure of other people’s boats ... and the coerced towing them to a destination not of their choice would all seem to amount to piracy,” Lane thundered. “These are immoral, inhumane acts.

“I would like to see Immigration and Border Protection Minister, Scott Morrison, and the puppet General doing his work charged with piracy and criminal negligence causing death.”

It’s odd that we pay a man with such extreme views — and so ready to trash our reputation abroad — to teach students at a university.

Sure, universities should teach all perspectives, so an odd Lane here and there is a detour to be expected. But scores of them?

In fact, Lane is one of 12 academics listed to speak at Marxism 2014, a four-day conference over Easter, which the Socialist Alliance organisers persuaded Melbourne University to host on its grounds. (Would the university similarly play host to a conference of fascists?)

Twelve academics is an astonishing turnout of speakers for a conference to promote a totalitarian ideology which has caused such devastation.

But how well has the far Left captured our institutions — and public funding.

And so the Marxism 2014 speakers include, for example, Professor Jane Kenway, of Monash University’s education faculty, who teaches tomorrow’s teachers.

Then there’s socialist Rick Kuhn, a politics reader at the Australian National University; “socialist activist” Tom Bramble, a senior lecturer in industrial relations at the University of Queensland; Diane Fieldes, a teacher in industrial relations at the University of NSW; Lisa Milner, a filmmaker teaching media students at Southern Cross University; and Aboriginal radical Gary Foley of Victoria University.

Other speakers include academics whose influence goes beyond the students they teach.

Sarah Gregson, an industrial relations academic at the University of NSW, is also the president of her National Tertiary Education Union branch. (Her conference topic: “The RSL: foot soldiers of capital.”)

Ali Alizadeh, who teaches literature and creative writing at Monash, also writes regularly for Overland, a far-Left magazine generously funded by the Australia Council with more of our money.

By coincidence, another speaker is Melbourne Workers Theatre co-founder Patricia Cornelius, a former academic now on the Australia Council’s Literature Assessment Panel, which helps to decide how much in grants to give magazines like — hey! — Overland.

Hmmm. Why is it that Marxists are so dependent on state funding?

And why do they get so much of it? Why, when even these Marxists’ children have shown their parents their politics is unworkable?

You see, Marxism 2014 will hold a “School of Rebellion” to teach children as young as five “constructive, collective and organised rebellion” with lessons on “why unions matter” and “organising a student strike”, plus a little fun with “smashing capitalism: a piñata party”.

But even the Green Left Weekly had to admit last year’s School of Rebellion ended with its 30 students rebelling against the school itself.

It reported the children were given a “graffiti workshop” which “involved the kids making their demands and ideas known with spray paint”.

They sure did: “Their demands included, ‘Free internet’, ‘Free Food’, ‘Free everything!’ ”

And then: “The older kids rebelled in a slam poetry session, electing a 10-year-old girl as their spokesperson and demanding to go outside and play soccer. Which they did.”

Marxism in a nutshell: Here are mini-Marxists demanding everything be given to them free, and then refusing to work themselves.

And how often have we seen what inevitably follows: the state using force to make some work to provide what the others take, and to crack down on those who protest? There will be no graffiti workshop at the School of Rebellion this year.

That’s Marxism, kids. It’s amazing that after so many disastrous failures, your parents still believe this stuff.

But far worse is that so many of your parents’ gurus are in our universities, trying to turn them into Schools of Rebellion, too. And we pay them.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Children sue in order to learn

Schoolchildren in Los Angeles are currently pleading in court for the opportunity to learn. They claim bad teachers prevent them from doing so.

California’s teachers’ unions are among the most powerful in the nation. California statutes are so skewed in favor of teachers’ job security that even grossly incompetent educators are almost impossible to dismiss. For instance, it can cost $250,000 to $450,000 — and years of legal effort — to remove a grossly incompetent K–12 public-school teacher from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Once removed, the teacher can still be reinstated by a separate governing board.

The extreme difficulty of dismissal became apparent in 2012 with the defeat of a bill aimed at making it easier to fire teachers who are accused of sex crimes. A headline in the California Catholic Daily (July 17, 2012) read, “California Teachers Union Kills Anti-Pedophile Law.” A year later (Sept. 16, 2013), the National Review protested a union-backed policy that closed a window on many sex-abuse victims, preventing them from suing public schools. The article stated, “If you want to molest children in California … [m]ake sure you have a good union,” because “if it comes down to the interests of a unionized government employee vs. those of a nonunionized sex-crime victim, look for the union label.”

On January 27, Vergara v. California began a non-jury trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu. The plaintiffs are nine public-school students and their parents. They claim that statutes protecting the jobs of grossly incompetent teachers constitute a denial of education. Minority children suffer especially, because such teachers are often transferred to schools in minority and poor areas; thus, implementation of the statutes violates the state’s constitutional guarantee of an equal education as well. The trial is expected to stretch through February. If successful, Vergara may overturn some of the rules that form the current foundation of the state’s teachers’ unions.

The trial could become a national test case of similar rules governing teachers’ employment in other states where the same concerns for children and criticisms of teachers’ unions are being voiced. Many school officials join in the call for a dramatic overhaul. Three states and Washington, DC, have already swept away tenure for teachers; others have eliminated seniority as the touchstone for promoting or retaining teachers. The New York Times (Jan. 31, 2014) reported that now “school districts in 29 states use poor effectiveness as grounds for dismissal.… [And, just] five years ago, no states allowed student performance to be considered in teachers’ evaluations.… Now, 20 states require such data.”

In each instance, teachers’ unions have fought for the status quo. Parents — and now children — have fought for change that allows real education to occur in schools.

Background of Vergara

The two largest teachers’ unions in the state are the California Teachers Association (CTA), an affiliate of the National Education Association, and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. They have successfully controlled the politics of education in the state and protected the interests of their members, even of those who commit severe misconduct.

On November 1, 2010, the education-reform group Students Matter was formed in California. It describes itself as a “national nonprofit dedicated to sponsoring impact litigation to promote access to quality public education.” Its first case is Vergara. Founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch, and backed by several wealthy supporters, Vergara has the finances to field an expert legal team, including former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson.

The lawsuit (PDF) was filed in the California Superior Court for Los Angeles County on May 14, 2012. Predictably, Vergara had to jump through various hoops, including several motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, before being cleared for trial. The trial targets five California statutes:

    A permanent employment statute, by which teachers are granted or denied tenure (lifetime employment) after only 18 months.
Three dismissal statutes that are so protective of teachers that “in the past 10 years in the entire state of California, only 91 teachers have been dismissed.” (There are currently about 275,000 K–12 public-school teachers in California.)
 The “last in, first out” layoff statute, by which layoffs are determined by seniority rather than by merit.

The defendants originally named in the complaint included the state of California and two individual school districts. Although the teachers’ unions were not named, they chose to become intervenors; that is, they voluntarily joined as defendants to contest the plaintiffs’ claims. (The defendants have changed in other ways over time.) All the defendants argue that legally protecting teachers’ jobs is necessary to retain and attract quality educators who would otherwise be lured away by the private sector.

Students Matter responds that Vergara would not diminish teachers’ protection from arbitrary and capricious firing. Federal and state laws already protect all employees against discrimination and wrongful termination. Additionally, the California Constitution ensures all public employees due process and especially protects all public employees from unfounded termination — just as the Constitution protects the educational rights of children.

Vergara pointedly targets only teacher-employment laws “that go far, far beyond due process.”

Vergara is assured of national headlines, because the controversy is widespread. The plaintiffs plan to have children testify under oath about their inability to learn due to grossly incompetent teachers. According to the plaintiff’s attorney Theodore Boutrous, the now-17-year-old plaintiff Beatriz Vergara will testify about “teachers falling asleep in class, sitting and reading newspapers or playing YouTube videos while ignoring students.”

At a press conference outside the courthouse on the first day of the trial, one student explained that having negligent teachers meant she couldn’t read before the 3rd grade. Student plaintiff Raylene Monterroza stated:

    "When I’ve had great teachers, I’ve felt like my dreams were possible. Having teachers, who believed in me and cared about whether I learned and grew as a student or not, made all the difference in the world. But when I had teachers who seemed like they didn’t even want to be there and couldn’t teach, I had to find a way out."

No parent can hear such reports of teacher incompetence and apathy without feeling rage and betrayal. This is especially true given California’s remarkably high tax rate, which is justified in the name of education.

The case also pits school official against school official and union. The first witness called by the plaintiffs’ attorneys was Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy. The Superintendent claimed the permanent employment statute (mentioned above) did not allow enough time to assess whether teachers should have tenure. “Not remotely,” he said. He also denied that tenure was necessary to attract and retain teachers, saying “Job stability and tenure do not appear to be linked.”


Vergara is a compelling case with implications that will ripple outward, whether or not there is a victory in court. As one plaintiff’s attorney stated, “Even though we’re focused in California constitutional provisions, we think it could provide a model for challenging the laws of other states that have the same arbitrary unequal effects on rights of students.”


The real ‘spaghetti monster’ is campus censorship

It's not just faith-baiting atheists who are under attack from Britain’s ban-happy students' unions

Anyone familiar with the New Atheism movement will be familiar with the supposedly hilarious comparisons of the idea of a god to that of a ‘flying spaghetti monster’. In the same way that it is impossible to disprove the prospect of a god, it is also impossible to disprove the existence of a ‘flying spaghetti monster’. Ergo, the onus to prove the existence of an all-mighty supreme being lies with those proposing it. Observe any debate between the partisans of New Atheism and their religious opponents, and soon you will encounter this argument being wheeled out, with the usual self-satisfaction of Dawkinites. This rhetorical device, along with other roughly-correct-but-tired clichés, forms a central part of the lexicon of the New Atheism movement.

So it was only to be expected that the spaghetti monster would find itself being used as an advertisement by a group of students united in their lack of belief, the South Bank University Atheist Society. As a design for a poster, the society decided to replace the image of God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, The Creation of Adam, with the image of a spaghetti monster.

As has become an all-too-familiar occurrence in recent years, the big wigs of the students’ union swung into action, resulting in the poster being removed and the Atheist Society being banned from a start-of-term student event. Originally, the society was told the ban was due to a shame-free Adam bearing his bodily all in the poster, as shown in the original image in that great den of licentiousness, the Vatican. However, the students’ union soon changed its mind and decided it was the edited part of the poster – the replacement of God with spaghetti – that was the cause of offence.

The case is similar to the incident at the London School of Economics (LSE) freshers’ fair last year, in which a group of atheist students decided to don t-shirts depicting Jesus and the prophet Muhammad in cartoon form. University officials forced students to cover up the offending images, citing religious offence.

Both cases are similar in that they are both instances where claims of religious offence have led to censorship. The supposed right of certain, seemingly unidentified students not to have their religious sensitivities offended has trumped the right of groups of atheist students to wear moderately funny t-shirts or display unfunny posters – a trampling of their freedom of expression. In both cases, the authorities eventually reversed their decision after an outcry.

However, there is another similarity. Both these cases involving an infringement of freedom of expression in the name of religion have been taken up by certain big names. Ever itching for a fight with religion, certain public figures will furiously tweet about the injustice of it all, write a blog or opinion piece, and proclaim boldly (and correctly) that ‘no one has the right not to be offended’.

However, these acts of censorship at universities are not taking place in isolation. Banning and censoring has become an all-too-common occurrence on university campuses. Since September 2013, beginning with the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, roughly 20 students’ unions have banned the summer hit ‘Blurred Lines’ by R&B singer Robin Thicke from being played in union facilities, on the grounds that its lyrics are sexist and offensive. Likewise, over 30 universities have banned the sale of the Sun newspaper on campus due to its Page 3 feature, where buxom young women bare their breasts.

While bans and acts of censorship on the grounds of religious offence are not justified, they are based on the idea that if something is offensive – actually or potentially – to certain segments of the student population, then it can rightfully be banned. Bans, whether on the basis of religion or sexism, are based on intolerance, an intolerance of certain things that some people may find objectionable, distasteful, uncouth or offensive, and which in turn compels them to be censored – whether it is Robin Thicke’s lewd lyrics or Photoshopped frescos.

Yet the faith-bashing warriors who raged against the censoring of t-shirts at the LSE and the censoring of a poster at South Bank University will, for the most part, have little to say about the wider culture of bans and censorship at universities. The banning of the spaghetti-monster poster at South Bank is not a creeping resurgence of intolerant religion or a capitulation to Christian complainers by university officials. Rather, it is part of an increasingly intolerant climate at universities in which offence, religion-based or otherwise, is deemed a legitimate ground for something to be banned. Were it not for this nexus of intolerance and offence-taking at the modern university, the spaghetti-monster poster would have survived. 


British Schools could use scout leaders to break teachers’ strike

Schools are being told to recruit an army of volunteers made up of scout leaders and sports coaches to break a looming national teachers’ strike.

Guidance issued by the Department for Education says that volunteers with criminal record checks could “work unsupervised with children” to keep schools open during strike days.

Head teachers should consider dropping the national curriculum for the day and merging classes together to ensure children can remain in school in the face of industrial action, it is claimed.

The document praises the actions of schools that have brought in theatre companies or football coaches to deliver whole-school activities – and covered the costs by deducting a day’s pay from striking teachers.

It comes after one of the country’s biggest teaching unions announced plans for the first national walk-out in almost three years.

The National Union of Teachers said members would walk out on March 26 as part of a long-running row over pay, pensions and working conditions.

The strike threatens to paralyse the state education system, causing chaos for millions of parents who will be forced take the day off work or pay for childcare.

But guidance to more than 21,000 state schools in England – updated by the DfE this month – says head teachers should “take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible”.

Under employment rules, teacher supply agencies are barred from making staff on their books available to cover a strike.

However, the guidance says schools can get around the ban by directly employing them for the day, “building up a bank” of temporary teachers.

It also says that schools should use "existing members of the school volunteer workforce” – normally parents or members of the local community who regularly help out – provided they have full criminal record checks to provide supervision.

“Use volunteers who have a [Disclosure and Barring Service] check from another walk of life, for example as a sports coach or scout group helper,” says the guidance. “These volunteers could work unsupervised with children subject to the head teacher carrying out a risk assessment.”

The document even says that schools can bring in a “retired head teacher” to cover for the head if he or she is taking part in the industrial action.

The guidance provides a series of examples in which schools have been able to stay open by taking a “flexible” approach to lessons.

One school “collapsed classes” into one so that large groups could be supervised to carry out exam practice or revision sessions.

Another suspended the usual timetable in favour an “activity day”, with a theatre company invited in to deliver performances and workshops in the school hall.

One school asked a local football coaching company to deliver activities for the whole day, adding: “The school used the money saved from the deduction of a day’s pay from striking teachers to support this approach.”


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Kline: Focus on Strengthening Existing Early Ed Programs, Not Rubber-Stamping Another

The House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today held a full committee hearing entitled, “The Foundation for Success: Discussing Early Childhood Education and Care in America.” During the hearing, members discussed the federal investment in early childhood development, and explored opportunities to better support the nation’s youngest citizens.

“Early childhood education and development programs can have a lasting influence on a child, laying the foundation for future success and achievement in school, the workplace, and life,” said Chairman Kline. “Since the 1960s, the federal government has played an active role in helping children – especially those in low-income families – gain access to critical early care and development services.”

However, Chairman Kline continued, “A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office [found] 45 federal programs linked to early childhood education and care operated by several different federal agencies.” Chairman Kline shared an infographic illustrating the dozens of existing programs that provide or support federal and state early childhood education and care. He noted that many of the federal programs, such as Head Start, are in need of serious review and improvement. “This should be our first priority, not rubber-stamping a 46th federal program,” Chairman Kline said, alluding to President Obama’s call for universal pre-k.

Kay Brown, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), discussed the disjointed federal early childhood education and care system. “Multiple agencies administer the federal investment in early learning and child care through multiple programs that sometimes have similar goals and are targeted to similar groups of children… the federal investment in these programs is fragmented [and] some of these programs overlap one another.” Ms. Brown recommended a renewed focus on program coordination and evaluation to ensure programs are more effectively serving children and taxpayers.

Dr. Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, Senior Fellow and Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, reiterated the importance of reassessing the current federal system of early childhood programs. “I’ve spent a lot of time in childcare facilities that were under the sway of federal legislation… I observed classrooms that I would have been pleased to have my own children attend, but I also saw far too many situations that made me want to cry… The current system, a mishmash of 45 separate, incoherent, and largely ineffective programs, fails to serve the broader public and certainly is less than optimal for the children and families to which it is directed.”

In addition to federal and state programs, there are a number of successful private-sector early childhood programs. Dr. Elanna Yalow, Chief Executive Officer for Knowledge Universe Early Learning Programs, explained the value of public-private partnerships in strengthening early childhood education. “For instance, Knowledge Universe participates in the state voluntary pre-k programs in Florida and Georgia, among others, and we participate in a number of Head Start partnerships in Ohio. All these varieties of public-private partnerships could be better utilized to provide more children and families access to a high-quality early learning experience that best meets their family’s needs.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Kline said, “No one denies the importance of early childhood education and care. But we simply do not have unlimited resources, so we must focus on ensuring our existing federal investments are getting maximum results. As the committee continues to discuss the early childhood programs in its jurisdiction, such as Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, we will focus on exploring opportunities to strengthen the programs through enhanced coordination and transparency, while also taking steps to ensure the programs prioritize serving children and families most in need.”


Forever Thirteen

by Fred Reed

Oh, help. It seems that at Columbia University a rat pack of nursery feminists have got their skivvies in a knot because the library, Butler, is named for an, ugh!, man. Yes. It cannot be denied. In protest, these girls, apparently having nothing more important to do, have filmed “feminist pornography” in the library. A scandal arose. What feminist porn might be is not clear. Since feminism has more dykes than the Zuiderzee, presumably they will show it to each other.

Anyway, one of these drab libertines, a Sara Grace Powell, says, “Butler is an extremely charged space—the names emblazoned on the stone facade are, for me, a stimulant for resistance.”

A stimulant to grow up might be more to the point. She means “stimulus,” of course, but why would a child at an Ivy university be expected to know English?

What droning boilerplate. If her thoughts were any shallower I would suspect her brainpan of being a cookie sheet. It is a case of Darwinian reversal. We regress to cephalopody.

To an extent I have to sympathize with Sara. I grant that seeing a horrible male name “emblazoned” (the pretentious verbiage of a high-school newspaper) would send me into a decline also. Wouldn’t it you? Never mind that if the man thus emblazoned had not made the money to donate the library, Sara wouldn’t have one in which to make pornography, presumably the purpose of libraries. Nor, if it weren’t for men, would she have anything to study except, I suppose, her fascinating angsts. (I will guess without evidence that her presence at a pricey finishing school like Columbia depends on a parasitic relationship to her father’s bank account.)

The adage that children should be seen and not heard gets half of it right.

More from Miss Powell, again writing with more Sara than Grace:

I work in Butler but sometimes feel suffocated by it….The point was to transgress the relative conservatism (and its history) of the space with this hysterical intervention.

What godawful pedestrian self-important prose. Couldn’t she, you know, like, go do her homework or something? If I had in my beginnings written that mysteriously or badly, I would not have been permitted on the obit desk. Perhaps she means “histrionic,” or merely that the participants are hysterics, which hardly needs emphasis. With Sara Grace, one is never sure.

The silly self-admiring solemnity of it all! I’m not sure whether to be amused or annoyed. Hers is dishwater academese of the hormonally unfinished that says ”look at me I’m all grown up really, really, see the really neat words I use.” It is the language of a federal report improved by narcissism.

One expects pubescent behavior from the pubescent. Yet this pseudo-literate pretentiousness is standard at hundreds of Women’s Studies departments everywhere: priggish, self-righteous, moralizing. But aren’t universities places where teenagers grow up instead of avoiding doing so? (No.) Today in America adulthood seems to flow upward like sap in a tree, reaching the genitals at age twelve or so, and the head at twenty-eight. We approach perpetual juvenility.

One expects middle-school behavior in middle school. One expects students in high school infallibly to know everything about everything, to be sure how to correct an erring world that has puzzled adults for at least several thousand years. But shouldn’t they get over it? How did our universities and graduate schools turn into intellectual litter boxes?

Let us return to the work of feminist pornographers:

It begins with a group of girls sitting around a library table taking their shirts off. As the film progresses, the girls engage in activities including kissing, rubbing eggs on their bodies and twerking around a chicken carcass.

I consulted the Wikipedia to see what “twerking” might be:

Twerking is a type of dancing in which an individual dances to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance.

Ah, I thought, enlightened. It sounds like SueBob’s Red Rooster Lounge and Poon Pit in Wheeling. It takes place in the library at Columbia, thank God. If these painfully asexual co-eds took their show on the road to SueBob’s, the customers would give up sex and become stylite monks in the Syrian Desert. It is interesting, though, that that their approach to attacking men involves taking their shirts off. Merchandising seems a female instinct. I remember when feminists burned their bras, thinking that this was a blow at males. Being a boy myself at the time, I encouraged them in this political action.

But I promised psychoanalysis. My diagnosis is that Sara-kind suffer from a Fredipus Complex, which consists in a failure to separate emotionally from their parents, with whom they confuse the university. Thus the desperate desire to outrage. They could get the same effect by dyeing their hair green or going to a secluded glen and rolling in anchovy oil, thus allowing others to study. That isn’t the spirit of the thing somehow.

What I particularly like, being a connoisseur of all forms of cultural collapse, is that the grown-ups at Columbia, if any, let this stuff go on. A reasonable course would be to tell these excessively serious gal-chillun that a university is not the place for acting like stupid, self-indulgent little twits, and suspend them for a semester. Apparently this doesn’t happen, in part because the faculty are little better than the children. At the high end of the age distribution are professors who came out of the Sixties and their aftermath. These (I know: I was there) had little interest is scholarship, which they regarded as irrelevant, racist, sexist, ageist, elitist, capitalist, and male—which latter, thank God, it is. Add to this the spinelessness of academics, and the conversion of universities into profit-making corporations, and…voilá! Hail Columbia.

Per force, I yield to reality. Twerk until you drop. However, I demand democracy. It is elitist that only Columbia girls can embarrass themselves in the library, dancing around a dead chicken like ditz-rabbit Twerpsichores. I too want to squat and make thrusting movements with my pelvis at Columbia. (I worry about the chicken, though. Isn’t there an animal-rights issue here?) Yes, I know. These pole-dancers without a pole are merely expressing their deepest political conceptions. (I am prepared to believe this.) No doubt it is their right. All I ask is that I have an equal right to make an ass of myself.


British inspectorate launches new clampdown on scruffy teachers

Education inspectors are to launch a clampdown on scruffy teachers amid fears adults may be setting a bad example to pupils by wearing casual clothes in lessons.

Ofsted said inspections of teacher training would be overhauled to place a greater focus on “professional dress and conduct” in the classroom.

For the first time, the watchdog will mark down training institutions in England that fail to show student teachers the importance of adopting smart attire.

The watchdog insisted it was "not being prescriptive" about teachers’ clothes.

But Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, has previously emphasised the importance of teachers adopting “business-like” attire.

This is likely to include a focus on suits for ties, shirts and suits for men and smart skirts or dresses for women, with jeans and T-shirts being frowned upon.

The change comes as part of a shake-up of the way Ofsted inspects training courses based in universities or schools following concerns that too many new teachers are unable to control unruly pupils and conduct themselves properly in front of lessons.

Figures published last month showed that at least four-in-10 teachers fail to last longer than five years in the job, often after being poorly prepared for the classroom.

Sean Harford, the regulator’s national director for initial teacher training, said: “Too often newly qualified teachers enter the classroom ill-prepared for the challenges of teaching pupils.

“If they are to succeed then they need the continued support of middle and senior managers after their training. Our more rigorous way of inspecting will help make sure that teachers are better prepared when they enter the teaching profession.”

Ofsted published a consultation document on Tuesday setting out the proposed new inspection regime, which will be implemented from June this year.

It places a far higher emphasis on the “management of pupil behaviour and discipline”, ensuring new teachers have the expertise needed to control lessons.

The watchdog will also spend more time directly observing trainees in the classroom, with inspectors watching them at the end of the training year and again a few weeks into their new jobs to make sure they meet the relevant professional standards.

In a key move, Ofsted said it was amending guidelines on teacher training “to include reference to the standard of professional dress and conduct adopted by trainees”.

A spokesman said it was “not being prescriptive about what teachers should and should not wear”, but added: “We are clear that teachers must, on day one, conduct themselves and be dressed in a manner which befits their professional status.”

Staff at Sir Michael’s old school – Mossbourne Academy in Hackney – were expected to wear “business-like” clothes in lessons.

In a recent speech, he said: “How many times have I heard that trainees have been sent into schools without proper guidance on professional behaviour or dress?

“How many times have I heard that trainees have been inadequately prepared to deal with poor behaviour?”

Further reforms to teacher training inspections include:

 *  Ensuring trainees are taught about the causes of low achievement among pupils and how to raise exam results;

 *  Strategies to boost standards among children from the poorest backgrounds;

 *  Making sure teachers can use “continuous assessment and summative tests” to monitor the performance of pupils;

 *  Ensuring training institutions have a rigorous recruitment and selection process to focus on “high quality trainees”;

 *  Efforts made by teacher training partnerships to focus on tough schools that struggle to recruit good teachers, particularly in "areas of the country where recruitment is extremely difficult".