Friday, August 01, 2014

Is Common Core on the ropes?

Opponents of rigid and controversial Common Core education standards just may be winning the battle. That pending victory is something Reason has pointed out in the past, as we've urged that libertarians should cheer for such an outcome, and work instead for expanded flexibility in education, and more consideration for the diversity of the kids on the receiving end of educrat ambitions.

It's impassioned moms who are defeating Common Core, suggests Stephanie Simon at Politico, overwhelming "sedate videos" and "talking points."

Honestly, though, Common Core supporters have also resorted to less cerebral tactics, such as condescension and political smears.

Simon's article is tilted more than a little toward the idea that Common Core has the facts on its side, while opponents are driven by emotion.

    "Teachers who like the Common Core say it’s revolutionized their classrooms, prodding students to read texts more closely and think more analytically. But it’s hard to convey that in a tweet. Really good sixth-grade essay questions rarely go viral. A nonsensical math problem might, whether or not it truly has anything to do with the Common Core."

In fact, though, while some of the arguments against the standards—as with anything coming from a grassroots movement—can be a little wild-eyed, opponents raise serious concerns about the way the standards were developed and their one-size-fits-all nature.

In the Washington Post, teacher Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an academic specializing in early childhood education, questioned the appropriateness of the standards for younger students. "It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process."

The Cato Institute's Jason Bedrick focuses on the standards' rigidity, warning that "Common Core-aligned tests (particularly college entrance exams) will essentially dictate content: what concepts are taught when and perhaps even how."

Which is to say, moms (and others) may have good reason to be pissed off.

Whatever the arguments wielded by the opposing sides, though, though, opponents seem to be gaining the upper hand. The public is still split, but opposition to the standards is on the rise in places like California and New York. Nationally, Republicans take a dim view of the scheme.

EdWeek tracks state efforts to ditch Common Core, though its tracker isn't up-to-date. Oklahoma isn't even listed, though that state's Supreme Court recently upheld the legislature's torpedoing of the standards.

Simon says that Common Core supporters "consider it a victory that just five states, so far, have taken steps to back out."

Well, that's a start.


UC Professor Pleads ‘No Contest’ to Attacking Pro-Life Demonstrators

 Mireille Miller-Young, an assistant professor in the University of California/Santa Barbara’s Feminist Studies Department, pled “no contest” last Thursday to misdemeanor charges of theft, battery, and vandalism resulting from her March altercation with pro-life demonstrators on campus. She will be sentenced on August 14.

The altercation arose when Miller-Young grabbed a sign with photos of aborted babies from a group of pro-life activists led by 21-year-old Joan Short, claiming that she was “triggered” by the images.

The professor then pushed and scratched Joan’s sister, 16-year-old Thrin Short, who caught the incident on video. Miller-Young got away with the sign and later destroyed it in her office.

At the time Professor Miller-Young told police that she felt she had “a moral right” to steal the sign and that “she set a good example for her students” by encouraging them to help her.

Even after admitting to police that she took the sign, she entered a plea of "not guilty" on April 4th before changing her plea to "no contest" last week.

In an e-mail interview with, the Short sisters said that while they were mostly satisfied with the plea, they would have liked to see the case go to trial.

“She is going to be sentenced on three misdemeanors, so, in that sense, justice is being done. But we do feel a little disappointed that, because there won’t be a trial, there will never be a full, public airing of what actually happened,” the sisters explained.

“So there will still be people who will think we did something to provoke her, or that pro-lifers in general are trying to cause trouble and make people react like this. Basically, there is still some feeling that 'those girls were asking for it' left hanging in the air, unrefuted,” they added.

Since the incident, the sisters say they have “received both hate mail and messages of support,” but “fortunately, a lot more support than hate.” They added that although they haven’t gone back to the UCSB campus to protest yet, they plan on doing so in the fall.

It is not known whether Miller-Young received any disciplinary action from UCSB as a result of the criminal charges, since the university has yet to comment on the case.

However, in a statement to, George Foulsham, UCSB's director of news and media relations, said, “It is University policy not to discuss personnel matters. Professor Miller-Young is not currently teaching any courses and is not scheduled to teach any courses during the fall quarter. She is still employed by the University.”

Miller-Young’s areas of study include pornography and sex work. She was recently a panelist at the University of Toronto's Feminist Porn Conference. The event "brings together academics, students, cultural critics, sex workers, activists, fans, performers, directors, and producers to explore the intersections between feminism and pornography as well as feminist porn as a genre, industry, and movement."

The Short sisters said that they thought Miller-Young should have been disciplined by the university because “she set an incredibly bad example for her students, she involved students in the crimes she committed, and she has yet to indicate she is at all sorry. She may be parading around at UCSB as a feminist martyr, for all we know.”

“It is impossible to imagine a math professor who would still have his job if he not just committed crimes, but used students to help him to commit crimes,” they added.

When asked the Short sisters what they thought would be an appropriate sentence for Miller-Young, they replied, “Whatever will undo the bad example she set for her students and for everyone who might be thinking of doing something like what she did, and whatever will teach her to keep her hands to herself (something she should have learned in kindergarten).”

“Today’s plea bring us one step closer to seeing justice done in this case,” Katie Short, the girls’ mother and legal director at the Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF), said in a statement. “Pro-life advocates should not be subjected to intimidation and violence for lawfully exercising their right to free speech, and we are happy to see that Ms. Miller-Young is being held accountable for her actions.”


Are Lawsuits Ending or Mending Teacher Tenure?

Last month Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu handed down a landmark decision in Vergara v. California. A group of student plaintiffs supported by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur argued that state tenure laws violated the State Constitution, kept bad teachers on the job, and deprived them of a quality education.

A similar lawsuit is making its way through the State Supreme Court in New York and other state courts across the country, according to the New York Times:

Challenges to teacher tenure laws are moving to the courts since efforts in state legislatures have repeatedly been turned back. Critics of the existing rules say tenure essentially guarantees teachers a job for life. According to the New York suit, only 12 teachers in New York City were fired for poor performance from 1997 to 2007 because of a legally guaranteed hearing process that frequently consumes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. ...

In New York, teachers can earn tenure after a three-year probationary period, which city school officials can extend for another year, and often do. That represents one big difference with California, where teachers can win tenure after 18 months, and even before being certified.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher and president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network explains that even if an anticipated Vergara appeal by the California Teachers Association fails, a new law will have to replace the stricken one. One may already be in the works based on a pending Los Angeles legal settlement, Reed v. the State of California. Seniority-based teacher layoffs, also referred to as last-in, first-out or LIFO, disproportionately affected teachers in 45 of LA’s poorest schools, since the newest teachers are often assigned to schools where more experienced teachers don’t want to work (a longstanding teacher union practice).

After years of wrangling between the local United Teachers of Los Angeles union and the ACLU, who sued on behalf of students, both sides reached a settlement that awards about $25 million annually to affected schools for three years to pay for more administrators, teacher training, and mentor teachers; however, the LIFO issue was never addressed. Reps from both sides applauded the decision, but as Sand notes in his latest City Journal article:

...the agreement never mentions the words “seniority” or “last in/first out.”

What boosters of the Reed settlement can’t explain is how adding administrators to underperforming schools would help retain good teachers. In L.A. Unified, administrators are “at-will” employees, but they’re treated like unionized teachers, and they’re almost never fired for incompetence. ...

“What these 37 schools need urgently is stability in teacher staffs, and this settlement is tailored to achieve that result,” Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU’s chief counsel in Southern California, told me in an e-mail. “And should budget-based layoffs have to take place in the future, then it will be a no-brainer under current law that the teachers who have been specially trained and taught on these campuses will keep their jobs, no matter their years of seniority.” Rosenbaum is alluding to a part of the education code stipulating that, if a teacher has “special training and experience,” seniority can be waived. This exemption prioritizes teacher credentials, elevating an “input” (training) over an “output” (effectiveness in the classroom). Should layoffs be necessary, schools need to hold on to their best teachers, regardless of whether they have “special training.”

Sand speculates that given the prevailing political climate, a new California seniority law will like be “LIFO lite,” requiring additional teacher training as an alternative to dismissal. He’s right that hiring and firing of teachers should be based on outputs such as teachers’ demonstrated contribution to improved student learning, not more inputs such as time served, training, or additional credentials—none of which have a demonstrated positive impact on improved student achievement. Sand predicts:

Most likely, the legislature would craft a one-size-fits-all state law making small changes to the current system, satisfying the minimum requirements of Vergara and leaving the problem of seniority largely unsolved. Until California has a system that evaluates teachers on how well their students learn, the state’s public education will suffer.

And, until California parents start demanding the right to choose their children’s education providers no matter where they happen to live, don’t expect Sacramento politicians to enact any teacher quality requirements that would benefit students instead of teacher union members.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

More States Abandoning the Sinking Common Core Ship

“Barbarians at the gate.” That’s what Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal called opponents of Common Core national standards several weeks ago. His remarks are symptomatic of just how far elected officials within and outside Arizona have strayed from our Constitution, which doesn’t even contain the word “education.”

Supporters claim Common Core will provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students should know to be prepared for college and their future careers. On the contrary, many experts serving on Common Core review committees warn that academic rigor was compromised for the sake of political buy-in from the various political interest groups involved—including teachers unions.

Unsurprisingly, the curriculum is being used to advance a partisan political agenda, showcasing one-sided labor union, ObamaCare, and global warming materials, along with more graphic, adult-themed books under the auspices of promoting diversity and toleration. But the politicization doesn’t stop there.

Non-academic, personal information is being collected through federally funded Common Core testing consortia about students and their parents, including family income, parents’ political affiliations, their religion, and students’ disciplinary records—all without parental consent. That information, including Social Security numbers of students in at least one state, is being shared with third-party data collection firms, prompting a growing number of parents to opt their children out of Common Core.

But they’re not alone.

Originally, 45 states signed on to Common Core, but so far four states have formally pulled out. Indiana recently became the first one to reverse course and implement state standards instead. This decision earned a threatening letter from the U.S. Department of Education about withholding funds and revoking Indiana’s waiver from onerous federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates.

South Carolina, Missouri, and Oklahoma have also ditched Common Core standards. In fact, Oklahoma’s legislation is considered the strictest to date for expressly reinstating previous standards for a two-year review period and prohibiting any aligning between assessments and Common Core. Seven additional states have pulled out of their federally subsidized testing consortia, and four more are considering doing the same—although one testing consortium, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), still lists several withdrawn states as members.

Common Core is publicized as a state-led, voluntary initiative, but in reality it’s an offer states can’t refuse if they want their share of billions of federal dollars for education programs.

So much for Common Core being “voluntary” or “state-led.” So much, too, for the notion that federal education aid, which historically has averaged at around just 10 percent of all education funding, is “free.”

It’s a sad state of affairs when Americans striving to rid their children’s schools of educational barbarism are vilified for wanting to end federal intrusion in education. Elected state officials like Superintendent Huppenthal should recall that for decades the feds have been effectively bribing them with additional cash (which actually comes from their own constituents’ pockets) and far-fetched promises, including these whoppers:

By 1984 they will eliminate illiteracy (p. 35). That didn’t work.

By 2000 high school graduation rates would reach 90 percent. Nope. Wrong again.

By 2000 again American students were supposed to be global leaders in math and science. Well, not so much based on recent results.

Finally, by 2014 all students will be proficient in reading and math. Not even close.

Over-promising and under-delivering seems to be the legacy of the federal government’s “leadership” in education. With virtually no exceptions, major programs of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), currently dubbed No Child Left Behind (NCLB), have not worked after decades of tinkering.

One Senator from Arizona certainly saw this coming. Nearly 60 years ago U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater opposed the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which included 12 federal mandates on the states—a regulatory pittance by 21st century standards. He rightly predicted that “federal aid to education invariably means federal control of education” (p. 76, emphasis original).

Children need to learn the basics, but there are better ways to accomplish that goal than embracing a national curriculum developed by politicians, special interest groups, and private companies that have a lot of financial skin in the game.

Parental choice programs educate students to high standards, without limiting the diverse schooling options needed to meet their unique, individual needs. Importantly, unlike accountability initiatives involving rigid federal mandates, all parental choice schools face immediate rewards for success or consequences for failure, since parents are empowered to enroll or transfer their children in schools as they see fit.

Ultimately, Common Core rests on the faulty premise that a single, centralized entity knows what’s best for all 55 million students nationwide. Raising the education bar starts with putting the real experts in charge: students’ parents.


The Battle Against Common Core Hits Movie Theaters


Last week, Glenn Beck assembled a group of education experts and grassroots activists in Dallas for a two hour show designed to highlight the flaws of Common Core--and suggest ways activists can fight its implementation. The live show was simulcasted in over seven hundred movie theaters nationwide. A replay of the event is scheduled for Tuesday, July 29th. I had the opportunity to interview four people connected with We Will Not Conform. We discussed the show, Common Core and the fight to stop it. I sat down with:

Joseph Kerry; Chief of Staff, The Glenn Beck Program

Matt Kibbe; President and CEO of FreedomWorks

Dana Loesch; Nationally syndicated radio talk-show host

Michelle Malkin; Blogger, nationally syndicated columnist and bestselling author

MALLOY: Why put a simulcast like this together?

KERRY: You have heard of the phrase soccer mom? When it comes to Common Core there is the equivalent of a warrior mom. And what we found is when Glenn would talk about Common Core, we would get emails, calls, people coming by the studio to talk about it, and these people, predominantly women, are passionate about the education their kids are not getting in public schools.

So there wasn’t an auditorium or stadium big enough to house all these warrior moms. So we put this event together so no matter where you are, you can learn which strategies are working and which ones aren’t. You can compare notes and say “how we can take education back from government and put it back into the home?”

**MALLOY: Why should parents be concerned about Common Core? **

LOESCH: Do they like having control of their kids and what goes into their minds? Because that’s what’s at stake here. I’ve heard so often “why should parents be so concerned about common core?”

Common Core creates new federal standards that are designed to dumb down education. It’s designed to dumb down academic expectations. And it also removes that locality from school districts. You have locally elected school boards, you have locally appointed administration members. This is removing that locality away and it is also reducing parental sovereignty.

If parents aren’t going to get a say in what their school’s curriculum is, they aren’t going to get a say in how their children are being educated. Everything is going to be moved all the way to Washington DC.

MALKIN: Common Core and Fed Ed drive wedges between students and those who know them best: their parents, their teachers & local school districts.

Everything about Common Core's development stinks: The secretive process behind it, the violation of constitutional principles, the shoddy quality, and the exorbitant bribes and costs to taxpayers. Big Business and Big Government profit most from Common Core, not children.

KIBBE: Parents should also worry about the day after their state legislature actually repeals it, because the other side is already in a rebranding phase. We have made the phrase Common Core politically poison. But they are going to come back and rebrand. So the lesson here is you can’t just fight a one-time fight. I know it’s extraordinary for parents to make these kind of commitments. But, protecting our education system, protecting our freedom to raise our kids the way we see fit is part of our responsibility as parents.

LOESCH: And it’s not just democrats that are for it. We can find common ground here because republicans are just as dirty on this as democrats are. For example, in Indiana, Mike Pence, who acted like he had this tremendous victory defeating Common Core, then he turns around and rebrands it. Of course he was booed after it. That made the news, that he was booed, not his rebranding of Common Core in a new package. A lot of activists engaged in the show tonight did not know that Mike Pence is bad on Common Core.

It’s not just democrats, it’s the republicans too and we will lose if we don’t realize that.

MALLOY: What has been the most troubling aspect of the implementation of Common Core?

KIBBE: I think it’s the way that the feds use doling out money to buy the compliance of state legislatures. It’s always sort of a bait and switch kind of a situation because they use temporary stimulus funds to build it into state budgets and now they're all locked into this. But it’s the way that state legislators are afraid to push back against something that they now know is bad politics, they probably know that it is bad policy and they are afraid to do anything about it.

MALLOY: Is it fair to compare the tactics the feds are using in the implementation of Common Core with those of Medicaid expansion?

KIBBE: Yeah, it’s the short term satisfaction of getting the money to plug your state deficit--because all of the states have to balance their budgets -- and not really caring about the details of what they are signing on for. They all know that there is a train wreck around the corner but they aren’t willing to confront it.

MALLOY: Common Core is complicated and not a sexy topic, do you see it as something that will become a campaign issue in both the 2014 and 2016 elections?

LOESCH: It could be. It depends on messaging and it depends on the ability of grassroots activists, which are mainly parents, if they are going to be able to build these coalitions and inform other parents.

Let me give you an example. I didn’t think Common Core applied to me because I am a homeschooler. I have home-schooled both my kids from the get-go. And I thought I was safe because I wasn’t in a public school. I thought I didn’t have to deal with Common Core. I have friends who send their children to private school. They thought they were safe because they are in a private school.

But it does affect us all because of standardized testing -- and college, the ACTs, all of that is going to be built around Common Core. You can’t hide from it.

Just because you take yourself out of the arena doesn’t mean the arena isn’t going to come to you. Even if you don’t have children this affects you. I personally, don’t want to think of myself as an old person with a person educated by Common Core wiping my butt and being responsible for my medicine. Have you seen the math that they’ve taught? It’s terrifying and it affects everybody.

MALKIN: Parents need to be armed with information. First: Read the standards, then follow the money. Join Twitter. Search out local #stopcommoncore leaders. Hold your public officials at every level accountable.

MALLOY: Can this We Will Not Conform simulcast be used as a blueprint for other issues based shows to get grassroots activists motivated?

KERRY: We have simulcasted a lot of entertainment events before, Glenn is all about the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment. There have been shows that he has taken on the road before that we have simulcast -- but this is the first one that is policy driven. And I think just that judging by the passion and the the attendance, this is something we will absolutely consider doing in the future.

KIBBE: It’s really the convergence of media technology and grassroots boots on the ground. We were talking to potentially tens-of-thousands of people tonight. And I always thought that the most important aspect of a tea-party rally was nothing that was said on stage, it was all about connecting people and having them discover that they aren’t alone -- getting them connected on Facebook and starting to do things together. That just happened in over 700 cities across America, and I think the proponents of Common Core have no idea what is coming next.


We Will Not Conform: Portrait of a Home School Family
We will not conform. We will not conform. We will not conform. No, it isn't a chant or a mantra. It's a statement of fact. Something that we as grassroots activists should be used to by now. How about another group of folks who could be considered full-time protesters? Another group of people who might be used to not conforming for even longer than the tea party groups have been around. How about a group of dedicated home schoolers? This is the portrait of a home school mom and dad.

The home school moms and dads are those parents who decided to throw off the yolk of traditional education and have already chosen not to conform. They decided to keep their children at home, for whatever reason; but no matter if you publicly educate your children or privately educate them, we all ultimately want a well-educated child.

A home school family consists of parents who decided to go against the grain and took their child's education in their own hands, quite literally. I should know, I'm one of them.

I am fortunate enough to live in the great state of Texas, where home schooling is still legal. Home schools are considered a private school, and we aren't regulated by the state or required to take standardized testing. We are free to purchase our own curriculum or to design our own. Then, we are free to choose our own path to graduation. In other words, home schoolers have freedom in Texas! Cool, right?

So, what am I getting at? I'm saying that all of that could change. Not through state standards, but through the introduction of Common Core. Since its introduction into mainstream schools, the move has begun to change ACT and SAT tests to meet the Common Core standards. This means that home schools may be forced to teach according to those same standards. Here is proof from one of my previous blog posts that this can and will happen:

The Common Core will impact home schools and private schools in at least three ways. First, designers of the expanded statewide longitudinal databases fully intend to collect data about home school and private school students. Second, college admissions standards will be affected: Common Core standards for college readiness will be used by institutions of higher learning to determine whether a student is ready to enroll in a postsecondary course. Third, curriculum and standardized tests are being rewritten to conform to the Common Core.

Unless we act. Home schoolers, like grassroots activists are usually at the ready when called to action. I was fortunate enough to be one of five bloggers that were invited to attend the Glenn Beck event called We Will Not Conform: LIVE Making Common Core History that was held last night in theaters across America.

We Will Not Conform was put together by the Glenn Beck team and hosted with other big names in politics and national grassroots leaders, who are no strangers to not conforming. Names such as Michelle Malkin, Dana Loesch, David Barton and Matt Kibbe of Freedomworks. The event was held in an effort to taking one of many 'first steps' to raise awareness and ultimately defeat Common Core.

So what now? The Glenn Beck folks put together a plan for any activist to initiate and employ in their respective communities. For the link, click here. We need to start a discussion with your neighbors and friends and your families for that matter so we can stop the march towards common kids and Common Core. We need to recognize the strength of our own voices and our own actions. Listen to Matt Kibbe's words of encouragement for us all when he said, "Parents represent a voting block that is unstoppable." To be unstoppable, though, we have to get started. As one of the grassroots leaders said last night, "How to defeat Common Core, get the facts, get organized, show up."


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The King of Bryan College

Mike Adams

In my columns, I often write about the swift moral decline within our nation's secular universities. That usually involves writing about corrupt university administrators. But I would be a hypocrite were I to ignore corruption by administrators at Christian colleges and universities. Right now, there is a controversy brewing at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee with moral ramifications that are simply too important to ignore.

At the center of the controversy is Bryan's president Dr. Stephen Livesay. His conduct as Bryan's president has been so far outside the realm of normal professional conduct as to nearly defy description. Nonetheless, I will attempt to do so. The following is an in-exhaustive list of offenses - each of which could arguably justify Dr. Livesay's removal.

1. Sanitizing a sex scandal. When a college or university begins to knowingly cover up sex scandals it simply invites more sex scandals. Such was the case at Bryan College just a couple of years ago when a Bryan professor was arrested in a sting operation for allegedly soliciting sex from a minor.

Fortunately, the accused professor resigned. Unfortunately, Bryan College concocted a cover story, which falsely claimed that the professor left to pursue "other opportunities." Being charged with a felony sex crime isn't an "opportunity." It's a lie and a very bad one at that. Arguably, Dr. Livesay should have been terminated for his role in the cover up.

2. Prior restraint of free speech. Fortunately, a brave Bryan College student decided to blow the cover on the aforementioned lie. The student wanted to run the story in the Bryan paper - although he was also employed as a journalist for an off campus paper. But Dr. Livesay quashed the story before it ran citing concerns about its accuracy.

It is notable the student/journalist's story was based on public records. There was never any evidence that the student was off the mark in his reporting of this publicly available information. Obviously, Dr. Livesay's real concern was that it was accurate and exposed the school as having concocted a cover story that was inaccurate.

Furthermore, when the story was about to run, the accused professor was no longer at Bryan College. Additionally, the sting took place off campus. Bryan had no compelling interest in the prior restraint of the student's speech. They should have allowed the story to run. The day Dr. Livesay decided to engage in prior restraint of free and accurate speech was the day Bryan lost its claim to be a serious institution of higher learning.

3. Altering the statement of faith. The Bryan charter states in clear terms that the statement of faith cannot be altered. But now it has been. Bryan altered the statement of faith to include a statement about an historical Adam and Eve. The alteration also calls for faculty to sign a specific rejection of macro-evolution.

Under the leadership of Dr. Livesay, Bryan College has predictably dubbed the patently illegal alteration as a "clarification." The Livesay administration is sounding more like the Clinton Administration every day. I suppose it depends on what the definition of an alteration is.

To make matters worse, this illegal alteration was forced upon faculty shorty before their annual contracts were to be renewed. This did not give dissenters a reasonable amount of time to look for employment elsewhere. These are Gestapo tactics. They are simply indefensible actions by anyone who claims to subscribe to Christian ideals of decency and fairness.

Now, two tenured professors who have been terminated have had to resort to litigation against Bryan. They have a good chance of prevailing in the litigation. If that happens, Bryan's chances of surviving might not be so good. But Dr. Livesay shows no signs of capitulating.

4. Subverting faculty will. In the wake of the clear breach of the Bryan charter there has been a 30-2 vote of no confidence against Dr. Livesay. Yet he refuses to leave. This is a sign that there is something seriously wrong with this man. This is not conduct to be expected of Christians. This is conduct to be expected of dictators.

5. Ordering board resignations. The last sad chapter in the Bryan meltdown has been the resignation of several members of the Board of Trustees. According to numerous credible sources within the Bryan community, Dr. Livesay has simply told his board that those who refuse to support him must leave. The Bryan president appears to want to surround himself with boot licking slaves who will go along with whatever changes he dictates. In twelve years of writing (almost always critically) of higher education, I have never seen this kind of totalitarian arrogance on behalf of a college president. And that includes my coverage of those not claiming to be Christians.

Given this precedent, and the atmosphere of lawlessness at Bryan, faculty and students can probably expect further changes in the Bryan charter in the near future. Maybe there will be a young earth mandate. Or perhaps a change of name is in order for Bryan College.

Livesay College has a nice ring to it. I'm sure both the Board and the bored would agree.


Education fund 'champions' vocational projects

Seven educational projects have today been awarded grants totalling over half a million pounds, in a bid to “champion” vocational, practical and technical education.

The fund, launched in January by the Edge Foundation to mark the charity’s 10 year anniversary, aims to support innovative education projects that have the potential to be scaled up or disseminated across the education sector.

The grants, awarded in the first stage of the £1 million fund, start at £50,000 and reach £100,000. Successful bids for the second round of grants will be announced by the end of the year.

Projects benefiting from the fund are required to have a direct impact on young people aged 11-24 both in the short and the long term.

Beneficiaries include Activate Learning in Oxfordshire, which was awarded a £90,000 grant for a Career Pathway College, designed to provide technical education in construction and heritage craft.

Careers Academies UK was awarded £50,000 for five new academies focusing on the logistics sector; and Hackney Community College in London was awarded £78,540 for an apprenticeship centre providing apprentices for companies taking space in the Olympic Park.

Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation highlighted the importance of “championing” technical and vocational education.

"Edge has worked hard over the past decade to highlight the importance and benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational education and training, seeking a closer alignment between education and the skill needs of the UK economy," she said.

"These projects all have the potential to become beacons of excellence in this regard and exemplars of what can be achieved."

Ian Ashman, principal of Hackney Community College said that apprenticeships in the expanding digital economy are "crucial" to the future of Hackney’s young people.

“As we have already shown, young and diverse apprentices bring many benefits to the companies that take them. It’s a win-win deal with clear benefits for young people and for new tech entrepreneurs. ”

Last week it was reported that Britain faces a growing digital skills shortage, with a report from O2 saying that around 745,000 additional workers with these skills would be needed to meet demand between now and 2017.

Furthermore, recent research commissioned by Edge and City & Guilds found that 72 per cent of employers see vocational qualifications as “essential” for improving the skills of young people.

Writing in the Telegraph in May, David Harbourne, Director of Policy and Research, at the Edge Foundation, also highlighted that only 27 per cent of parents judged a vocational education to be worthwhile, while 22 per cent of students were told they were “too clever” for vocational education.

Ms Hodges says supporting vocational and practical education projects as they get under way is “crucial to bring about change and challenge old ways of thinking.”

Oldham College, a further beneficiary and the UK’s first Digital and Creative Career College, was today awarded £100,000 towards a Digital Skills Centre within the new Career College.

Andrew Harrison, vice principal of strategy and resources at Oldham College said: “The digital and creative industries are vital growth sectors in Greater Manchester, and are expected to generate over 23,000 jobs in the next decade.

“With Britain facing a growing shortage of digital skills, vocational education needs to focus on students learning what they need to progress, whether that’s into employment or onto higher education. Learners need to be able to tackle the digital requirements in today’s world of work.”


'Stop criticising private schools, start learning from them'

Former Chancellor, Lord Lamont, is absolutely right to say we should take more pride in our private schools, and see them as "great national assets".

Private schools are renowned the world over: a British success story increasingly being exported, with top schools like Cranleigh, Dulwich, Harrow, Marlborough and Wellington, all setting up overseas subsidiaries in the Far and Middle East.

Meanwhile Eton itself, founded in 1440, is a byword in educational achievement. How many other institutions, British or otherwise, have flourished for 574 years?

So why are so many, as Lord Lamont observes, so critical of private schools? Is this pure envy?

Whatever the reason, it’s not enough simply to sit back and take pride in these excellent institutions. We need to learn what makes them successful and translate some of the attitudes, some of the culture, to the maintained sector too.

What an irony: Britain has probably the best independent schools in the world; but on the other side of the “Berlin Wall”, has a maintained sector increasingly languishing behind our competitors, as the PISA tests revealed.

So what makes private schools special? First and foremost, the “can do” attitude they foster amongst pupils. Success, achievement, ambition, pride: these are not dirty words, to be avoided at all costs, but are embedded in the ethos of all independent schools – often seen in their mottos.

Cheltenham College’s is typical: “Labor Omnia Vincit” (“Work Conquers All”). Or how about “Industria”, the motto of Tony Blair’s alma mater, Fettes College (often regarded as “Scotland’s Eton”), exhorting its pupils to work harder.

The fact such mottos are still unashamedly in Latin, itself makes a statement about excellence: “You don’t know the meaning? Why not look it up and learn something?”

Apart from “Floreat Etona”, “May Eton Flourish” (no shortage of pride there), one of the most famous mottos is Winchester College’s “Manners makyth man”.

This may sound unfashionable, until you remember that Winchester, founded in 1382, has been around for over 600 years – even predating Eton. Surely that’s something to take pride in?

In contrast, every time I pass a comprehensive, I am struck by the bland, meaningless “mission statements” posted proudly outside school gates. Usually these run something along the lines of “excellence for everyone”, or “achievement for all”, or some such other woolly, waffly, slogan. How exactly is this to be achieved, I find myself wondering?

Next, private schools encourage competition – and not just in the classroom itself, with well-publicised grading systems and form orders, so everyone knows exactly how they stand, but also on the sports field.

Competitive sport is, sadly, on its way out in too many maintained schools. But in the private sector, sport flourishes: with regular rugby, soccer, cricket fixtures. This is why 40 per cent of medals at the London Olympics were won by former private pupils. When will we realise that “competition” too is not taboo?

Crucially, private schools also give every pupil a sense of community and belonging. They achieve this through their “house” systems. No matter how large the school, from two hundred to the huge size of Eton, boys and girls will be split into smaller, friendlier, school houses of fifty or sixty pupils.

Fierce rivalries between houses are engendered; fierce loyalties develop. A strong sense of identity and confidence is the end result.

So let’s stop criticising private schools and start learning a few lessons from them for a change.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lessons from Teach For America

There is widespread agreement among education reformers that public school teachers should be hired based on their subject matter competence rather than their formal credentials; that the best teachers should be assigned to the lowest performing schools; and that teachers should be paid based on performance rather than tenure.

Exactly the opposite takes place in most school districts.  However, there is a program that does recruit, select, train, pay and evaluate teachers in a manner that most reformers would support. This privately funded program shows what can be done within the existing education system and suggests that system-wide educational improvement could be achieved through universal school choice.

The Problem with Traditional Teacher Education.  Traditionally, public school teachers are selected and retained based on formal criteria, such as:

    Participation in a traditional, three-year teacher training program, usually leading to a degree in education.

    Obtaining certification or licensure required by the state or school district.

    Performance in the student teaching portion of their education curriculum.

Many public school teachers end up in “tenured” teaching positions after only two years on the job.  Experienced teachers have more choices regarding the public schools to which they are assigned.  As a result, the most experienced teachers are often found in higher performing schools, whereas less experienced teachers are assigned to low performing schools.  Low performing schools tend to be located in high-poverty areas with high minority student populations.

The Teach For America Alternative.  Teach For America (TFA) is an alternative teacher placement program that has been in operation since 1990.  The selection process for teachers in Teach For America (TFA) begins with a rigorous interview and screening process. TFA provides:

    A guaranteed first and second year salary at a public school which accepts TFA participants, paid by the school district.

    A rigorous training schedule that better and more expediently prepares TFA corps members than do education degrees, licensing and certifications.

    A competitive market based on subject knowledge and teacher quality.

Moreover, in contrast to traditional teacher education programs, the more than 32,000 teachers TFA has trained and placed have been almost entirely in high poverty schools.1  They have taught more than 3 million children across the nation since the program began.2

After finishing the program, nearly two-thirds of Teach For America corps members continue careers in education, and half continue to teach.3  Many have gone on to work at every level in education, public policy and other professions.  TFA is now active in 48 regions in 35 states and the District of Columbia.4 An estimated 11,000 corps members taught more than 750,000 students during the 2013-14 school year.5

The Quality of TFA Teachers. Teach For America differs from traditional teacher programs in that it puts less emphasis on classroom management and more on knowledge of the subject material.  Rather than putting their recruits through four years of classroom management and child development classes, TFA recruits graduates with practical, subject-based experience and runs them through five weeks of intensive training designed to provide the basic knowledge required to manage a classroom. After they begin teaching, the program continues to support corps members through ongoing interaction with their alumni and staff.

Critics claim that these five week programs do not properly prepare new teachers.  For instance, a 2005 Stanford University study found that teachers recruited through TFA and other alternative certification programs were less effective than their classically trained counterparts.6 However, more recent studies have found just the opposite. For example:

    A 2008 study of New York City public schools found that experience was more important to teachers’ effectiveness than initial certification.7

    A 2011 Harvard University study found that Teach For America produced teachers who held stronger convictions regarding their students’ academic success and were more likely than traditional teachers to continue working in the education field.8

    A 2013 study by Edvance Research found that students taught by Teach For America corps members score at the same level or better than similar students taught by non-TFA teachers.9

Thus, research suggests that TFA corps members are at least as effective as traditionally-trained teachers with similar levels of experience. In many cases, studies have found that TFA corps members are better prepared than other novice teachers.  A 2013 survey of school principals found that 84 percent who had experience with TFA corps members said they would hire other corps members, and 92 percent reported they were from “somewhat likely” to “extremely likely” to recommend hiring corps members to a colleague.10  [See the figure.]

Impact on Student Achievement.Recent studies in Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee show that, with respect to their impact on student achievement, Teach For America is a top provider of new teachers:

    In Louisiana, a 2009 study found that students taught by TFA teachers performed significantly better in English Language Arts, Reading, Mathematics and Science than those taught by other new teachers.11

    In North Carolina, a 2010 study found that middle school mathematics students taught by TFA members received the equivalent of an extra half-year of learning.12

    In Tennessee, a 2013 study found Teach For America corps members were equally or more effective as veteran teachers in most subject areas.13

Academic Gains Due to TFA. Teach For America corps members have had a positive impact on student learning, particularly in math and reading.  For example, a study by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management found that high school students taught by TFA members did better in science overall. Those already in the top one-fourth of their class saw even larger benefits than those in lower quartiles.  Further:

A 2008 study of students in New York City found that students taught by Teach For America corps members scored higher in math than similar students taught by noncorps members.14
A 2012 study by the Harvard Strategic Data Project found higher academic gains in math and reading in grades 3 to 9 among students taught by first-year corps members.15
 A 2013 study by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. found that students of TFA corps members scored higher than peers taught by teachers from other alternative and traditional teacher preparation programs.

How Likely Principals Are to Recommend a Teach For America Recruit to a Colleague

The latest research suggests that students of Teach For America corps members experience significant gains in math. One study equates the gains to the equivalent of 2.6 months of additional learning or a jump from the 27th percentile to the 30th percentile on standard end-of-year, secondary math student assessments.16

TFA Fills Teacher Shortages. TFA places teachers in participating school districts.  TFA is known for its ability to fill teacher shortages in areas that have no other recourse.  For example, in 2010, the Pine Bluff School District in Arkansas filled its teacher shortage with TFA corps members when none of the education programs in Arkansas and surrounding states provided new teachers.  Arkansas school districts hired 169 TFA corps members in the 2010-11 school year — more than ever before. “This year, we could not have started school without them,” said Joyce Vaught, superintendent of the Lakeside School District in Chicot County.17  Superintendent Ray Spain in Warren County, North Carolina, accepted about 30 TFA recruits and says that without them, “we would probably be in the crisis stage.”18

In 2004, the Philadelphia school district hired TFA to help the district fill its yearly teacher vacancies.  The 200,000-student school district had 120 teacher vacancies the previous year. “Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that he supported programs such as TFA that could stem the teacher shortage, but that he hoped the teachers would stay longer than two years.”19

To significantly increase the number of students from low-income communities who continue their education through college graduation, the Teach For America 2015 growth plan makes the recruitment and development of individuals with backgrounds similar to students served by the program a priority for TFA. It aims to increase the number of teachers it prepares in order to better match students with effective teachers.

Other Alternative Certification Programs. Others have tried to emulate TFA’s success.  For instance:

In 2011, Emily Feistritzer and Kunali Sanghvi created Teach-Now, an alternative, technology-based, online teacher training and certification program. 20
The New Teacher Project (TNTP) was formed in 1997 with a focus on training effective teachers to work primarily with low-income and minority students. 21
New York State University offers two alternative preparation models for second-career professionals going in to teaching.22
The University of Minnesota has also joined with TFA to create a new alternative teacher preparation program that is as rigorous as the TFA program and lasts 8 weeks.23

Conclusion. There is a shortage of qualified classroom teachers, especially in inner-city schools.  Teach For America fills the teacher gap in many schools.  In a competitive free market, teachers throughout the educational system would compete for pay based on their performance and would be selected based on merit rather than formal credentials.


It’s time to scrap Ofsted

Ofsted, the UK schools inspectorate body, has won few prizes for popularity in the 22 years it’s been around. The reputation and continued existence of a school, as well as the career prospects of individual teachers, depend upon securing that all-important ‘good’ or, even better, ‘outstanding’ rating. Although the stakes are high, such pressure might be thought worthwhile if education improved as a result. A report out last week, written by teacher and researcher Robert Peal, suggests the opposite is the case: the pervasive influence of Ofsted is actually detrimental to children’s learning.

In Playing the Game: The Enduring Influence of the Preferred Ofsted Teaching Style Peal describes how one particular child-centred teaching style has come to dominate education. In order to please inspectors, teachers have to pay homage to Ofsted orthodoxy, requiring them to perform ‘jazzy’ lessons filled with group work and roleplay where children are seen to be busily engaged in independent learning activities. Teachers who direct lessons, talk to the whole class for more than five minutes at a stretch, expect children to spend time silently listening, reading or writing, bear the brunt of criticism.

As Peal suggests, this deprofessionalises teachers; their subject knowledge is considered less relevant than a few approved pedagogical tips and tricks. Worse, the dominance of the Ofsted-sanctioned teaching style enforces an approach to education many teachers know to be less effective at bringing about learning. Indeed, as Peal shows, for many Ofsted inspectors evidence of children having learnt something new about a subject is not a requirement of a ‘good’ lesson. Instead, inspectors single out a seemingly ‘arbitrary selection’ of features as indicators of good practice, such as a focus on ‘spiritual, moral and cultural development’, relevance to the life experiences of pupils, and teaching to the test.

Ironically, as Peal notes, Ofsted was established by then Conservative education secretary Kenneth Clarke in order to ‘waylay the education establishment’s preference for child-centred teaching methods’. However, since Christine Gilbert was made Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools in 2006, it has become the ‘most powerful vehicle for promoting such ideas’. In recent years, Michael Gove’s attempts to challenge the tyranny of child-centredness saw Gilbert controversially replaced by Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Despite making frequent public denials of the existence of a preferred Ofsted teaching-style, Wilshaw issued new guidance at the end of 2013 specifically requiring inspectors not to criticise lessons that ‘do not conform to a particular view of how children should be taught’. This is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, as Peal illustrates superbly, Wilshaw’s recommendations have been reduced to a list of banned phrases and redrafted reports. While Ofsted’s rhetoric may have changed, too often its meaning remains the same. The industry that has been created around replicating a child-centred, Ofsted-approved teaching style will take more to crack than the issuing of a few directives.
Related categories

Playing the Game is a badly needed report and one that deserves to be widely read. Peal details a weight of evidence to make a persuasive case that Ofsted should no longer have the power to grade the quality of teaching. I’d go further: the only way to lessen the pernicious influence of Ofsted is to abolish it completely.


Britain should be 'proud' of private schools, says Lord Lamont

British people must learn to be "proud" of the country's private schools, a former Conservative chancellor has said.  Lord Lamont, who served as chancellor in Sir John Major’s government, said that he is “surprised” that British people are so critical about the private education sector.

He described schools such as Eton, which was attended by David Cameron and Boris Johnson, as “great national assets”.

Lord Lamont attended Loretto school in Scotland, an independent boarding and day school, which was also attended by Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor.

“I’m always surprised that people are so critical of private education in this country,” Lord Lamont said.

“It seems to me that so many foreigners want to come here and want to use the private sector for education is something we should be proud of.”

Senior politicians have in recent months criticised the dominance of a privately educated elite in the “upper echelons” of British public life.

Sir John last year said it was “truly shocking” that “every single sphere of British influence” is dominated by men and women who went to private school or who are from the “affluent middle class”.

And Michael Gove, the former education secretary, in March said that the number of Etonians in Mr Cameron’s inner circle is “ridiculous”.

Mr Gove, the adopted son of an Aberdeen fish processor, said that a similar concentration of privilege running the country does not exist in “any other developed economy”.

Mr Cameron and a number of his most trusted aides went to Eton.

However, Lord Lamont said that people should refrain from having “any envy” about private schools in Britain.

He said: “I certainly did not go to the same school as David Cameron, but I regard the school David Cameron went to as being a great national asset.

“It’s something of which we should be proud. I don’t think we should have any envy about that. The fact I didn’t go there doesn’t mean it isn’t a very, very good school and I applaud the fact it exists.”

Mr Gove’s comments earlier this year were thought to have angered Downing Street.

In a newspaper interview, Mr Gove compared Mr Cameron’s team and cabinet to that of the Eton Educated former Tory Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, who was heavily criticised for nepotism.

Mr Gove attended a state primary before receiving a scholarship to go to a fee paying school.

Mr Gove said that he hoped that future Prime Ministers will be able to choose from a wider pool of talent.

He said that every child should be the “author of their own life story” and have the chance to get to the top.

Referring to Mr Cameron's Cabinet and inner circle, he said: “It doesn’t make me feel personally uncomfortable because I like each of the individuals concerned, but it is ridiculous. I don't know where you can find some such similar situation in a developed economy.

“I don’t blame any of the individuals concerned, that would be equally silly. But it’s a function of the fact that, as we pointed out a couple of years ago, more boys from Eton went to Oxford and Cambridge than boys eligible for free school meals.”


Monday, July 28, 2014

Affirmative Action = Discrimination Against Asians, NYC Schools Edition

New York City politicians—including Mayor Bill de Blasio—want to change the admissions system for the city's nine highly-selective premiere public high schools, including nationally-renowned Stuyvesant High School. The schools currently use a single exam, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, to determine admittance. Less than three percent of applicants are admitted to Stuyvesant.

The problem, in the eyes of some, is that black and Latino students are increasingly underrepresented at the elite schools. So are white students. When a test score is the only criteria, it seems that Asian Americans are more likely than other racial groups to gain admission to Stuyvesant.

Is that a problem? A coalition that includes de Blasio and teachers unions says that it is, according to Bloomberg:

“I do not believe a single test should be determinative, particularly for something that is as life-changing for so many young people,” de Blasio, who would need to persuade the state Legislature to amend the law, said last week. “We have to determine what combination of measures will be fair.”

The mayor would like the schools to consider other factors—such as grades and extracurricular activities—that would theoretically give non-Asians a better chance.

Writing for The New York Post, Dennis Saffran—an attorney and former GOP city council candidate—explains why that's not such a great idea. It's very difficult for low-income 13-year-olds to cobble together appealing resumes, he writes. In fact, moving away from an objective test might further decrease the enrollment of poor black and Latino students, while also hurting Asian enrollment, since kids with wealthy parents are the ones best equipped to build portfolios of volunteer work and extracurricular activities:

A Chinese student like Ting Shi who has to help out in his parents’ laundromat is not going on “service” trips to Nicaragua with the children in de Blasio’s affluent Park Slope neighborhood. The LDF’s suggested admissions criteria — student portfolios, leadership skills and community service — are all subject to privileged parents’ ability to buy their children the indicia of impressiveness.

Ironically, eliminating the SHSAT would magnify the role of what progressives call “unconscious bias” — the idea that we have a preference for those who look like us and share our backgrounds. Subjective evaluation measures like interviews and portfolio reviews are much more susceptible to such bias than is an objective examination.

Sure, the decision makers will do their best to admit a few more black and Latino kids (especially those from the same upper-middle-class backgrounds), but the primary beneficiaries will be affluent white students who didn’t study hard enough to perform really well on the test but seem more “well-rounded” than those who did. As always, the losers in this top-bottom squeeze will be the lower middle and working classes. Among the applicant pool for the specialized high schools, that means Asians.

As Saffran's critique makes clear, attempting to engineer admissions to produce some politically desirable racial mixture is both dubious and difficult. On the latter point, whose to say that a reformed admissions system won't cause further problems? It could exacerbate the very discrepancies it's attempting to resolve. It could also incidentally result in the admission of unqualified students—something administrators expect to happen if the test is no longer the focus—harming the rigor of the schools.

While I can understand the desire to assist groups that aren't making the cut for selective public schools, it doesn't seem fair—or morally justifiable—to stack the game against Asians seeking admittance merely because other Asians have fared well.

Of course, this is exactly what universities practicing affirmative action have done for years, using ethnicity-based admission systems that grade Asian applicants on a much higher curve. Should students be judged on their own merits or against the expected accomplishments of other people who happen to look like them?



How students' union zealots are stifling controversial ethical debates

Vibrant intellectual exchange forms part of the joy of being human. Unfortunately, rigorous, intelligent debate that is receptive to controversy and disagreement is in increasingly short supply. Perversely, this is especially true on university campuses. That is, in a space in which debate should be most encouraged, limitations on controversial speech are becoming more common.

In October last year, I was scheduled to give a talk to the Catholic Society (or ‘CathSoc’) of University College London (UCL). The subject was to be the right of Catholics to have their own view on the contentious issue of homosexuality. I had prepared to explain what the Catholic teaching on homosexuality was, why the Church actually preaches and argues against homophobia, what the implications for this teaching are for Catholics in public life, and why civil liberties (such as freedoms of speech, religion and association) should be respected.

Ironically, given the subject matter, the talk was cancelled at the last minute by officials of the UCL Students’ Union (UCLU). While the official reason was that the requisite paperwork had not been completed, it soon became clear that the union’s sabbatical officers, alarmed and angered about the fact that the talk was taking place, had deployed any means necessary to have it stopped. This was no mere pedantic paper-pushing; it was censorship-by-bureaucracy.

UCLU’s external affairs and campaigns officer, Hannah Webb, on a thread about my talk on the UCLU LGBT society Facebook group, celebrated the fact that ‘[t]his was cancelled!’. After being asked how this was achieved, she answered, ‘Their speaker hadn’t been preapproved, so fairly easily’. In explaining this, she revealed that the event ‘was flagged up’ – that is, someone had complained about it – and consequently ‘several of us were alarmed that such a speaker had been allowed through the external speakers vetting process’. As a result, the union officials went out of their way to look into the event and when they found out the Catholic Society had not been given approval, they moved to stop the event altogether. As Beth Sutton, the UCLU’s women’s officer, boasted on Twitter: ’[W]e managed to stop it [the talk] because union protocol wasn’t followed.’

When I asked Webb on Twitter whether she’d have been so legalistic about any other event, she replied that she would for those events that are ‘on the boundaries of what UCLU allows and requires discussion’. Such a discriminatory attitude certainly puts to bed any last-minute cancellation fears for unconfirmed speakers at the UCLU baking society, or the badminton club, but something tells me the UCLU Friends of Palestine and assorted anti-war groups are probably similarly at ease.

Webb argued that the union has to have an ‘awareness for student welfare’, which recognises that ‘[p]eople have a right to feel safe on campus’. Were anyone ‘homophobic’ allowed to speak at a student society event, she said, this would involve making ‘an oppressed group [in this case, gay people] feel even more unsafe’, and thus such speech must be prohibited.

Dan Warham, the UCLU democracy (!) and communications officer, went even further, saying that he would ‘happily do anything to stop people speaking if they were causing distress to a member of the union, at a union society event, especially if those students identify as part of a liberation group (ie, LGBT+)’. Thus, the right of a society like the CathSoc to hear the Catholic teaching on sex and sexuality explained to them is trumped by the perceived need for privileged minority treatment.

After being challenged on how infantilising to students his approach to speech on campus is, Warham claimed the aim was to minimise the possibility of ‘LGBT people committing suicide due to things they are subjected to by people who are allowed to “upset” people with hate speech’. So, the assumption is that not only would my talk have constituted ‘hate speech’, but it would have potentially helped cause someone to commit suicide. Clearly the likes of Warham think gay people are sorely lacking in personal strength and intellectual and emotional integrity, as well as basic tolerance and moral conviction. It is precisely this impoverished view of its fellow students that leads the UCLU to insist that its members be wrapped in cotton wool.

I am fully aware of the deeply controversial nature of the subjects on which I was going to speak. But regardless of what you think of Catholic sexual ethics, and even if you do believe the caricature of them that is often presented, surely one would have thought the proper response to such a controversial position in a free society – and most especially at a university – would be to allow people to raise, discuss and debate it openly. If I am wrong (ever a possibility), then I expect that the rational scrutiny of others will bring me to recognise my error.

Unfortunately, this belief was apparently absent among the UCLU leadership, as we can see from the response from Webb to the idea of rational debate: ‘Generally, bigots aren’t that swayed by “reasoned argument”.’ This is not only a gratuitous kneejerk response to those with whom she disagrees – it also highlights a radical pessimism towards the potential of reasonable discussion. This is a poisonous attitude, especially in a students’ union. When we lose our confidence in the ability of people to reason and engage in controversy, even when they possess radically divergent worldviews, all that is left is for one side to impose its will on the other coercively, with no respect for the other’s moral (let alone legal) right to free speech and expression.

This sort of attitude is nothing new at UCLU, as the struggle in 2012 over the rights of the Catholic Society to hold talks on abortion made clear. It will remain a potential and perennial problem until such attitudes are challenged by all liberal and broad-minded people, regardless of their views on controversial ethical issues, and until the longstanding dominance of illiberal ideologues in students’ union posts is ended by a coalition of students who prize free speech, and who have a positive and optimistic view of the ability of human beings to debate and discuss controversies with reason and charity. Only if that happens can an exciting and progressive battle of ideas truly occur.


Australian teachers face significant classroom challenges

In 2008, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development conducted a survey of teachers, asking them about their working conditions and the learning environment in their schools.

The survey, called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), is to be repeated every five years. The results of the 2013 survey, with 34 participating countries including Australia, were released recently.

Among other things, it reveals that Australian teachers have some of the most challenging working conditions among participating countries, and far more challenging circumstances than countries with which Australia competes in international tests such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The following statistics apply to lower secondary teachers (usually years 7 to 10):

    33% of Australian teachers work in schools where for more than one in ten students the language of instruction is not their first language. The average for participating countries is 21%, and the averages for high-performing PISA countries Korea, Japan and Finland are between 0% and 9%.

    26% of Australian teachers work in schools where more than one in three students is from a socioeconomically disadvantaged home. The average for participating countries is 19%, and the averages for high-performing PISA countries Korea, Singapore, Japan and Finland are between 3% and 8%.

    66% of Australian teachers work in schools where students frequently arrive late. The average for participating countries is 52%.

    59% of Australian teachers work in schools where students are frequently absent. The average for participating countries is 39%.

    25% of teachers work in schools where students frequently intimidate and verbally abuse school staff. The average for participating countries is 3.4%.

These statistics reveal the different context within which teachers in different countries must work, requiring caution when making cross-country comparisons. They confirm the need for teachers to be well-prepared for these challenges with rigorous and comprehensive teacher education. According to the TALIS report, Australian teachers are among the most highly-educated in terms of completion of tertiary educational qualifications, but the content of the courses is not as strong as it might be.

In addition, the TALIS statistics on the working conditions of teachers are a reminder of the need for school management at all levels to support teachers to deal effectively and early with disciplinary issues, both for the sake of teachers themselves and other students.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

New university rankings out

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) publishes the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.

CWUR uses eight objective and robust indicators to rank the world's top 1000 universities:

1) Quality of Education, measured by the number of a university's alumni who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals relative to the university's size [25%]
2) Alumni Employment, measured by the number of a university's alumni who currently hold CEO positions at the world's top companies relative to the university's size [25%]
3) Quality of Faculty, measured by the number of academics who have won major international awards, prizes, and medals [25%]
4) Publications, measured by the number of research papers appearing in reputable journals [5%]
5) Influence, measured by the number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals [5%]
6) Citations, measured by the number of highly-cited research papers [5%]
7) Broad Impact, measured by the university's h-Index [5%]
8) Patents, measured by the number of international patent filings [5%]

The top 5 this time are unsurprising:

1     Harvard University   
2    Stanford University   
3    Massachusetts Institute of Technology   
4    University of Cambridge       
5    University of Oxford

The rankings in the top 100 were overwhelmingly dominated by U.S. universities.  There were 4 other UK universities in the top 100 and only two Australian universities:  The two oldest, University of Sydney and University of Melbourne.  I hold a large document issued to me by the first of those


British parents 'losing faith' in the education system

Parents are losing faith in the education system as nearly two thirds admit to being worried that British children are trailing academically, a recent study suggests.

Research from tuition provider, Explore Learning, found that 72 per cent of UK parents are worried that British children aren’t leading the field in educational attainment, whilst 66 per cent have lost faith in the education system entirely.

This data comes to light following the release of the most recent PISA results, which saw the UK trailing in the international league tables, failing to make the top 20 in maths, reading and science.

The research of 1,000 UK-based parents also found that 62 per cent are entirely unaware that a new national curriculum will be taught in schools across England from September this year.

It is feared that, without awareness of the approaching curriculum changes, most parents will be ‘ill-prepared’ to aid their child with their studies and support them in their development.

Lisa Hobbs, a Crawley mother of two, was only made aware of the pending changes by a fellow parent last week and still remains unsure of what exactly the new curriculum will mean for her children.

“I have one son in particular who is very bright and is being seriously let down by the education system. As a parent, I have concerns about the new curriculum but with so little information available, I’m unsure of whether the new changes will be good or bad.

“Teachers are afraid to do too much for fear of upsetting parents and are afraid of pushing children. They are very limited in what they can do.”

Carey Ann Dodah, Head of Curriculum at Explore Learning said: “The new curriculum is a response to the feeling that England is slipping behind international competitors. There are some drastic changes which, for most children and parents, will appear more challenging.

"Many concepts in maths and English will be introduced earlier, which will feel like quite a jump when children return to class in September.

“While the changes to the curriculum are well intended, the implementation is messy and the lack of money or additional time for teacher training or resource development could be troublesome.

"Transitioning schools to a new curriculum without a clear method of assessment or levelling is confusing at best, and at worst, will leave schools and teachers frustrated and disillusioned with the new system.

“There is a definite need for change and as the demands on the UK workforce develop, it’s important that there is a focus on the skills needed in the future," she continued. "However, parents must always remain a partner with schools in their child’s education and, in this respect, the lack of information made available to parents about the new curriculum is worrying.”

Ms Dodah suggested that although core learning - such as reading, science and maths - was important, other skills should be developed alongside these subjects, in order to prepare children for the ever-changing world.

“We’re preparing children for a very different world of work. We need to teach them to have the confidence to think for themselves and create unique ideas. Creativity and innovation aren’t measured by PISA but these are qualities that the workforce will want to see today.

"We want to lead in education, but not in a way that will only see the regurgitation of information. Children must be able to apply information to the new situations they’ll be facing”.


Australia: Gifted students vie for a seat in popular OC classes

If your watch gained two minutes every hour and you set it to the correct time at 7am, what time would it show at 1.30pm?

It was questions like this that nine-year-old Gabriella Moussa found “pretty easy” in her opportunity class (OC) placement test on Wednesday morning.

The McCallums Hill Public School student was one of more than 10,000 year 4 students across the state vying for a spot in the specialty classes for academically gifted children in years 5 and 6.

The students attempted 70 multiple choice questions over 60 minutes – less than one minute per question – meaning a successful candidate would probably know by now that the time on the watch would be 1.43pm.

“I got to the end but I had to quickly rush the last few questions,” Gabriella, who sat the test at Kingsgrove North High School, said. “I feel like I did well.”

With fewer than 1800 positions available across 75 schools, only one in five applicants will be chosen.

The classes, designed to nurture the state’s brightest students, are highly sought after, with many parents viewing them as a stepping stone to selective high schools. While they do not act as formal feeder schools, a high proportion of students do transition to selective high schools.

The Education Department stresses it does not endorse intensive tutoring for the test but many coaching colleges in Sydney offer group classes and private tuition specifically tailored to the OC exam.

Gabriella had a quick look at some sample questions on Tuesday night but her mother Claudia Moussa wanted the experience to be as stress-free as possible.

“She hasn’t done multiple choice before, so I explained that to her and told her to read things twice and not worry too much,” she said. “But she had no real practice. I only want her to get in if she’s naturally going to get in. I wouldn’t push her.”

Mrs Moussa's two preferences were Greenacre and Hurstville public schools, both about five kilometres from her daughter’s school. “If she got in, it would be a big decision but it would definitely be up to her,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, many of the primary schools that record the highest NAPLAN results are those with OC classes.

As a result, they are also among the largest and fastest-growing schools in the state. Artarmon Public School has swelled from 753 students in 2010 to almost 1000 this year and Chatswood jumped from 710 to 928 over the same period.

Matthew Pearce Public School at Baulkham Hills, consistently one of the top academic performers, is the largest primary school in NSW with 1184 students this year, up from 875 in 2010.