Friday, October 31, 2014

Afghan cleric jailed for raping 11-year-old girl at mosque school

KABUL: An Afghan cleric has been jailed for 20 years for raping an 11-year old girl, officials said Sunday, after the child confronted her attacker in court despite fierce family opposition.

Activists said the girl appeared in court after being taken to a women’s shelter for safety from her own family, who had threatened to kill her for bringing “dishonour” on them.

The sentence, passed by a court in Kabul on Saturday, came just weeks after five men were hanged for the gang-rape of four adult women.

Hasina Sarwari, the head in Kunduz province of the Women for Afghan Women (WAW) non-government organisation,  said the student at a mosque school was raped in May by Mohammad Aminullah Barez, who taught the girls religious studies.

She first tried to hide what had happened to her but was later admitted to hospital for bleeding, where doctors discovered the rape. He was arrested by police later.

“We are happy for the court’s decision but we wanted him to be executed,” Sarwari told AFP. Her organisation supported the girl in her case and gave her shelter in Kabul.

“After the rape happened the family of the girl wanted to kill her out of shame, even the nurses were not ready to treat her when she was bleeding in the hospital,” she said.

“They would shout ‘May you die, you brought disgrace to our family!’ and ‘We will kill you and dump your body in the river’.

“We got scared too, but we somehow managed to sneak her out of the hospital and take her to a WAW shelter,” she added.

The girl was later brought to Kabul where she was treated for genital injuries and kept in a women’s shelter before she appeared in court.

Benafsha Efaf Amiri, another member of the WAW, said that although the cleric had admitted having sex with the girl, he tried to persuade the court it was consensual and he should therefore only receive 100 lashes as punishment.

Judge Sulaiman Rasouli rejected that argument because it would entail lashing the girl too and treating her as an adulterer rather than a rape victim.

Amiri hailed the verdict as a victory for Afghan women, who still face violence despite reforms since the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001.

“Our assessment from yesterday’s court session has made us optimistic for ensuring justice and for ensuring the rights of women of Afghanistan,” she said.

It was also termed a “just verdict” by the Women’s Affairs ministry in a statement to the media.

Amin’s lawyers are expected to appeal to try to reduce the sentence.


Britain's schools need more resources for 'influx' of immigrant children, chief schools inspector warns

Britain's schools need more support to cope with an "influx" of immigrant children, Osted's chief schools inspector has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was a "big issue" for Government if schools are being faced with a large number of new pupils from other countries without the resources to deal with them.

Speaking on LBC Radio Sir Michael said: “Schools need the resources to deal with that. When they’re faced with an influx of children from other countries, they need the resources and capacity to deal with it and if those resources aren’t there, that’s a big issue for Government. That’s the first thing and we’ll be producing reports on this quite soon.”

His comments will raise fresh concern that high levels of immigration are putting a strain on the education system.

Last week Michael Fallon, the Defence Minister claimed British towns are being “swamped” by immigrants and their residents are “under siege”, comments he later described as careless.

According to official figures, the number of schoolchildren speaking English as a second language has soared by a third in just five years. The proportion of non-native speakers in primary schools has now reached almost 1-in-5 following a year-on-year increase over the last decade. The number of pupils who speak another language in the home exceeded 1.1 million for the first time this year.

In some parts of London, children with English as a second language now make up as much as three quarters of the school roll, with around half of pupils being classified in towns and cities such as Slough, Luton and Leicester.

This summer a report by the Government''s official advisors on migration said that parts of Britain are "struggling to cope" with high levels of immigration that have put huge pressures on public services such as the NHS, schools and transport.

The major report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said that immigration had caused the "composition of many local area populations to alter rapidly" and that such rapid change could lead to friction.

A separate report by Civitas said that classrooms would come under increased pressure in coming years due to uncontrolled immigration.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “As part of our plan for education we are making every effort to ensure local authorities have the resources and flexibility to provide the school places needed by their communities.

“We are giving councils £5billion to spend on new school places over this parliament — double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period – and a further £2.35billion to create the places needed by September 2017. This has already led to the creation of more than 260,000 new places.

“School funding is allocated based on pupil need, whether that is special educational needs or where English is not a pupil’s first language and should a school grow in a single year, local authorities can and do top up their funding to reflect that.”


Second Parent: My Child Got Nation of Islam Paper, Too

A second parent has now come forward acknowledging their child received a Nation of Islam “handout” in a third grade class at Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethton, Tennessee – contradicting claims by the school district that the document was not distributed in the classroom.

I first told you about this story on Monday. Parent Sommer Bauer told me her son’s teacher gave him a document that portrayed the presidents on Mount Rushmore as being racists.

School superintendent E.C. Alexander refuted allegations that the Nation of Islam document had been distributed in class. He told me the document was never meant for public distribution and that the child took the sheet of paper from the teacher’s work station without her permission.

“The student (without permission) took the sheet from a “ton” of discarded teacher’s material on that table; then, the student took it home and gave it to the parent,” Alexander wrote in an email to educators after my column was published.

Supt. Alexander also posted a statement on the school district’s website. He hurled all sorts of allegations my way – words like “misleading” and “totally incorrect” and “sensational.”

Yet, he never got around to telling us what was misleading or totally incorrect or sensational. And we still don’t know how that Nation of Islam information found its way into that third grade classroom.

“Our System has been defamed (possibly permanently),” he bemoaned.

“Now, the thought that we as public educators would deliberately distribute such material is absolutely absurd,” he wrote.

He also took great umbrage at my characterization of the Nation of Islam document as a “handout.”

“The sheet in question was not a hand-out sheet distributed to students,” he wrote on the school district’s website. I should point out that he underlined the word “not.”

Instead, he referred to it as a “sheet.” So for the sake of accuracy, the Nation of Islam “handout” will be known as the Nation of Islam “sheet.”

Parents were given a letter on Tuesday stressing that the material contained in the Nation of Islam “sheet ” was not distributed to students, was not shown during or after the lesson and was not used as a reference.

There’s just one problem with the school district’s explanation – a second parent has now come forward corroborating Mrs. Bauer’s story.

“Yes, they were handed out and yes the students did look at them and read them,” the parent told me.

The parent asked not to be identified to protect her child. She told me she came forward because of how the school is treating Mrs. Bauer’s son.

“I don’t want this little boy to be looked at as a liar,” the parent said. “As of right now that’s what all of these adults are making this boy out to be – and that makes me sick to my stomach.”

So what happened inside that third grade classroom at Harold McCormick Elementary School?

According to the parent, the children were separated into four groups. Each group was given two “sheets of paper.”

“The teacher held up each one and said, ‘These do not go home. These are just to use here,” the parent told me.

The Nation of Islam “sheet ” explained that George Washington hailed from Virginia, a “prime breeder of black people.” Of Theodore Roosevelt, it was alleged he called Africans “ape-like.” There were also disparaging comments made about Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

The parent told me that the teacher did not teach students from the Nation of Islam “sheet.” But she did hand it to the students.

Maybe this was just an innocent mistake. It’s possible the teacher may have printed the first thing she Googled without giving it a second glance. It happens. Teachers are busy folks.

But what was not an innocent mistake was a school district trying to portray an eight-year-old boy as the bad guy.

And what is not acceptable is sending out mass emails accusing the child of pilfering a “sheet” from his teacher’s work station.

If I didn’t know better – I’d say that little boy is the victim of grownup bullying.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

UK: Hey, teacher, leave those parents alone

In our recently published book, Parenting Culture Studies, my co-authors and I argue that parental determinism – the belief that social problems are directly caused by the inadequacies of parents – has come to dominate UK public policy. So it comes as no great surprise to read the following, in the latest report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, on what should be done about ‘child poverty’ and ‘social mobility’: ‘The starting point should be parenting. Effective parenting has a bigger influence on a child’s life than wealth, class or education.’

According to author Alan Milburn and his fellow commissioners, four in 10 parents are inadequate, and should be given parenting classes, which would inculcate in them five key tenets of good parenting: ‘Talking, reading, playing, cuddling and communicating.’

The claim that what parents do in the ‘home-learning environment’ makes more of an impact on a child’s attainment than the school they attend has been repeated ad nauseum ever since New Labour’s time in office. Much of what is in this new report could be (and probably is) cut-and-pasted from various policy documents over the past decade. Indeed, the ‘novel idea’ of this report – ‘talking, reading, playing, cuddling and communicating’ – has already been proposed by the Liberal Democrat think-tank Centre Forum. According to Milburn, it is time to break the ‘taboo’ on making parenting a policy issue. One has to wonder: what taboo? The British state has been intervening in parenting for the best part of a decade.

There are two ways, however, in which this latest report takes parenting policy even further.

The first is the way that this report sets the child against the parent. It actually has the temerity to blame parents directly for their own child’s problems, setting the child against their own flesh and blood. An idea that was only ever implied in previous reports and policies – that parents are, more than anything else, the reason for their children’s failings – is presented plainly, and used to justify the most stifling and patronising intervention.

The second is the report’s suggestion that teachers should play an active role in ‘calling out’ bad parents and referring them to parenting classes. Again, there is some precedent for this. The Department for Education (DfE) has implemented fines for parents who take their children out of school during term time, while packed lunches are often inspected at schools to ensure children are eating properly.

However, this is the first time there has been such an overt attempt to undermine the ‘parent-school partnership’ and make it clear to all where the real authority lies. In what world could it benefit kids from worse-off families, in particular, to have their parents manifestly treated as idiot supplicants, ‘called out’ by the teacher and sent off to a parenting class? In what world could such hectoring help to address the issue of discipline, which rests on parents having a sense of confidence and authority?

The best response to this divisive tract would be for us all to have a grown-up conversation about what kind of parenting culture we really want.


Boarding school:  For and against

Harry Wallop makes the No case

The photo in my old school magazine is captioned “Lent 1983”. It shows 14 boys, all wearing Guernsey jumpers and corduroy trousers, posing on their first day at their new school: Summer Fields in north Oxford.

I am there, with a pudding-bowl haircut, a few feet from Tom Parker Bowles, son of Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall.

We both look impossibly young – certainly too young to be there, standing in front of the croquet lawn in north Oxford and destined not to see our parents for another three weeks until our first “exeat”.

So, I was not surprised to read in an interview that Tom [Parker Bowles] gave this week that he’d never send his children there. It was, he claims, “a hotbed of the sorts of things that are coming out now”.

I should declare an interest – Tom and I still bump into each other and are friendly; I’ve always admired how he managed to cope with his mother being thrust into an unforgiving spotlight [as consort of Prince Charles] without going completely off the rails.

He is being a little harsh on the school, alluding to the historic paedophile brush that has disgraced many other prep schools such as Caldicott (an arch football rival of Summer Fields), while simultaneously admitting nothing actually happened. At the time, it was acknowledged to be one of the best prep schools in the country, where most of the “masters” – if eccentric – loved to teach.

But I do share with him a deep distaste for the idea of packing away a child, barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces, for weeks at a time and placing them in the care of strangers. When we arrived that January, we had just turned eight. The only contact with our families in those days, long before the mobile, was a weekly letter home – written in silence before Chapel on a Sunday morning.

I was, in fact, pretty happy there. So, too, was Tom PB, as he was always known, despite both of us being useless at the twin religions of cricket and Latin, which were worshipped with a zealous fervour.

The atmosphere, however, could be more Victorian mental asylum than Hogwarts hijinks. Corporal punishment still took place when I arrived. I can remember us gathering in the changing rooms to examine the cane marks on Charles Money’s bottom.

Sweet rations were handed out on Wednesday and Saturday lunchtimes; when mid-Eighties inflation hit the Mars bar, we were given just half each.

There were definitely – as Tom has hinted – some strange masters, who lingered too long in the communal showers, overseeing the post-games wash.

But that is not the reason I decided I would never send my children away to board, and why my 11-year-old is now at day school.

It is mostly a selfish desire to spend time with them. Of course they drive me up the wall, but they are my children and I want any neuroses and personality defects to be instilled at home, not in a far away establishment. What was the point in having four offspring, only to send them away to another county the moment they start to become interesting individuals?

For all the fun I had (and I did), I think boarding so young made the relationship with my parents more distant than it otherwise would have been. How could it not, when we spent half of the year apart?

My mother admits that she cried and cried as she drove away from Summer Fields that first time. I would, too, and see no reason for the pattern to be repeated.

Anna Pasternak says Yes

I honestly can’t believe that I have become that woman. I am the hearty mother, championing boarding school, waving wincing doubters off with an impatient hand.

To those naysayers, I say: you simply must update your script. Boarding schools today have about as much in common with those cold, cruel bastions of the past as black-and-white televisions have with flat-screens in HD.

Still, I never thought that I would be the one advocating noisy, bustling, communal life for kids. As a child, I adored my education at St Paul’s Girls School in London, and was so wedded to day school that I practically suffered homesickness on a class trip to Milton Keynes.

My father, too, went to a grammar school – so we’re hardly from a long line of gung-ho boarders. And I know enough men eternally damaged by boarding school – my 50-something husband is still traumatised from his grim experiences at Lancing College in West Sussex – to appreciate that boarding has indelibly scarred many.

But my personal experience, through my 11-year-old daughter, Daisy, is that modern boarding schools can be jolly, caring, stimulating and, crucially, loving environs, where your children can thrive.

It was Daisy, then aged five, who first asked me if she could board. Not because she was desperate to get out of the house, but because at her school, Godstowe Prep in Buckinghamshire, she thought that boarding looked such fun. I thought that she was off her rocker until we went for a tour around the boarding house and I ended up wishing that I could sign up, too.

Godstowe advocates flexi-boarding, the most ingenious invention as it allows you part-time parenting. Aged six, Daisy began to stay over one night a week and loved it. For her, it was more like going on a glorified sleepover than being banished from home.

Far from being dreary dorms gripped by a Dickensian cold, with homesick children sobbing under duvets, today’s boarding houses are a riot of energy and colour. Many have house dogs bounding about, while mobile phones mean contact with parents is hardly the agony of waiting weeks for a solitary letter.

It’s more Mallory Towers [In Enid Blyton's novels] than you might imagine – all that Cath Kidston everywhere, while the girls are sweetly excited by “treat night” of Pot Noodles for dinner. Their tuck of choice is seaweed. I told you times had changed.

As our school run takes an hour’s round trip, the two nights that Daisy currently boards per week knock four hours off my weekly driving. We have two evenings a week free (meaning we can go out without a babysitter) and two lie-ins. Bliss.

I’m also spared the horrors of the school nit check. Mrs S, Daisy’s saintly house mistress, does that. OK, so I did feel suitably guilty (yet secretly relieved) when, the other week, Daisy had a bug on a boarding night and vomited all night long. But I wasn’t told until breakfast time, so swanned in, refreshed, to take her from poor, hollow-eyed Mrs S and her deputy.

When my husband and I travel during term, Daisy boards full time. Of course, sometimes she gets a bit homesick – but the upsides far outweigh the temporary ache of missing her. She is undoubtedly more robust and emotionally capable as a result, while her confidence has soared.

Flexi-boarding has fostered an independent spirit; she mucks in and gets on with people and situations. Daisy recently went for a testing boarder’s weekend to Cheltenham Ladies College. When I collected her, the housemistress said: “She’s been an absolute delight. She’s a natural boarder.” I allowed myself a rare burst of maternal pride.

It reminded me of the nosy mother at the school gate, who, when she heard that six-year-old Daisy was to board, looked at me, horrified, as if I were sending my daughter down a mine. “Yes,” I said, eyeing this woman’s clingy child. “Isn’t it marvellous that my daughter is so securely attached that she is as happy boarding as she is at home?”

If she didn’t love it, I’d whip her out and send her back to day school faster than you could say “lights out”.


Australia: The Leftist education "revolution" of the 70s led to a rot in standards

Larry Pickering

[Recently deceased Leftist PM Gough Whitlam] gave us universities full of dickheads who can now call themselves doctors and professors. Once upon a time a university education was fought for and deserved. Without excellent marks, a scholarship or doting parents prepared to go without, it was hello workforce.

Now anyone can dodge getting a job, go to uni and the taxpayer will finance you. And we wonder why our education status has slipped well below the international average.

Well Gough certainly achieved his aim because degrees in union thuggery, Marxism, political science, green pursuits, global warming and any other bloody useless subject Left of centre are now held proudly by those who make up the Labor Party... the party of the struggling "working man".

Higher education will never make a person smarter, nor will it increase any person’s IQ. It may make a person more aware of a chosen subject, most of which could be gleaned from the net but the net doesn’t offer fair dinkum doctorates.

Left wing law firms, like Slater & Gordon and Maurice Blackburn, soak up the rubbish with law degrees, like Shorten, Bandt, Roxon and Gillard... all utterly unemployable outside the Labor fraternity and all locked into a Marxist philosophy of new world egalitarianism.

Those who can’t enter the Labor movement return to uni as lecturers to recycle the same garbage that made them unemployable in the first place. And the uni lecturers I know couldn’t teach a bloody fish to swim anyway.

Shorten this morning launched his campaign against Abbott’s university reform policy. A reform that is critical to repairing a broken education regime that Gough started and Gillard perpetuated.

As usual, Labor’s solution to correct its own failures involves dipping into that bottomless piggy bank of the “privileged elite”, ergo those awful employers.

Gonski’s billions won’t mend our illiterate educators any more than the billions thrown at aborigines will mend that disaster.

Higher education should be a reward, a privilege earned from dedicated hard work in secondary school.

As long as taxpayers are forced to finance dickheads through uni we will finish up with Prime Ministers like Julia Gillard and, perish the thought, Bill Shorten.

But you’re entitled to disregard my opinion, I left school at 14 and never returned.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In defence of the ‘white’ curriculum

Student campaigns for 'inclusive' courses are undermining academic freedom

Why is my curriculum white?’ This provocative question is the title of a film being made by University College London’s (UCL) Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ Network. The film, produced in conjunction with academic staff, is part of a campaign ‘pushing for the most inclusive, well-rounded and progressive learning environment possible’. UCL students are acting on recommendations from the National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities Scotland that state ‘institutions must strive to minimise Euro-centric bias in curriculum design, content and delivery, and establish mechanisms to ensure this happens’.

The UCL campaign follows hot on the heels of protests staged by students at Colgate University in New York, demanding the liberal-arts college ‘fulfil its promise of being an inclusive institution for students of all backgrounds’. One of the protesters’ demands was for the core curriculum to be ‘revised to bring in explicit study and understanding of systemic power dynamics and inequities; and how these shape even our most personal relationships with others and ourselves’.

Universities around the world are keen to promote their inclusive credentials. The University of Leicester claims to be ‘the most inclusive of Britain’s top-20, leading universities, with the greatest proportion of students from underrepresented groups’. In Canada, Queen’s University describes itself as ‘an inclusive community’ in which ‘each person feels safe to be themselves and to explore differences, where diverse views and ideas are met with openness and curiosity, and where we can approach our commonalities and differences with mutual respect’. The University of New Hampshire is ‘committed to supporting and sustaining an educational community that is inclusive, diverse and equitable’.

Though suitably vague, the concept of inclusivity has become a firmly entrenched part of the higher-education landscape. It stretches across campus and into the curriculum. While students often lead the way in demands for their courses to be more culturally diverse and less ‘pale, male and stale’, academics and institutions are quick to repent, ditch classic texts and populate the syllabus with material that takes account of diverse backgrounds and views. The students demanding changes to the curriculum are widely lauded as more enlightened and progressive than their out-of-touch lecturers.

This follows a precedent dating back to the 1960s when students, particularly in America, campaigned for the university curriculum to be more representative of the intellectual contributions made by people other than just white men. Then, as now, academics readily capitulated to such demands. As Allan Bloom says in The Closing of the American Mind, black students at Cornell University in the 1960s became aware that they ‘were not just students but negotiating partners in the process of determining what an education is’. That academics so readily acquiesce to student demands in this area suggests they are embarrassed by, and unable to defend, the knowledge traditionally taught in universities.

Despite this long history, it’s worth unpicking what lies behind the demands for an inclusive curriculum. The 2011 NUS report Race for Equality states that 42 per cent of black students do not believe their curriculum reflects issues of diversity, equality and discrimination. The report highlights ‘a frustration that courses were designed and taught by non-black teachers, and often did not take into account diverse backgrounds and views’.

The assumption that an academic course, on anything from astrophysics to Ancient Greek philosophy, should take account of diversity, equality and discrimination speaks to the notion that higher education today is less about engaging with a particular body of knowledge than it is about the promotion of certain values. This assumes that all curricular knowledge is equally valid, that it doesn’t really matter whether you read literature by Dickens or Achebe; study the sociology of WEB Du Bois or Émile Durkheim; or the philosophy of Alain Locke or John Locke. When all knowledge is of equal worth, its merit is entirely dependent on the cultural identity of the theorist. According to this reasoning, all knowledge propounded by white males is reduced simply to a reflection of dominant power structures and is therefore tainted. It becomes morally better to study work that gives a voice to underrepresented groups.

The Race for Equality report argues that a multicultural curriculum is needed in order to promote the academic achievement of black students. It cites evidence suggesting that ‘teachings based on unfamiliar cultural norms, histories and points of reference may have the potential to affect the educational attainment of certain minority-ethnic groups’. This erroneously assumes that students can only really engage with subject matter which reflects their own cultural background. By this argument, black, female or minority-ethnic students would be excluded from a university curriculum that doesn’t include people who look like them. Further, it suggests that academics should encourage students to imbibe knowledge entirely uncritically, and, regardless of whether students are taught Marx or Keynes, Nietzsche or Aristotle, that they are incapable of thinking for themselves.

The implication that universities should confirm identity rather than challenge students to think beyond their own limited horizons is problematic for a number of reasons. A young white male has no more in common with Keynes, Shakespeare or Plato than a mature black female. The whole point of learning is to transcend the limitations of one’s existing circumstances and cultural background through the expansion of knowledge. It seems we’ve come a long way from the days in which people aspired towards the view that ‘nothing that is human is alien to me’. Instead, well-meaning campaigners for inclusivity are determined to limit students to knowledge deemed appropriate to their cultural background.

There are very good reasons why a philosophy, economics or history curriculum might be full of the works of dead white males. To leave out such knowledge in favour of inclusive alternatives leaves students without a good grounding in the major intellectual developments that have occurred within their discipline. Academics make decisions about what to include in the curriculum based on their own knowledge of the subject, which has been hard-won over years of study. For this knowledge then to be jettisoned on the basis of a student campaign sends out the message that acquiring that knowledge was never really worth it in the first place.

It’s almost the centenary of the American Association of University Professors’ Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom, a central tenet of which was ‘freedom of teaching within the university or college’. The signatories demanded to teach and research as they saw best, free from the whims of both university patrons and students. For many scholars today, the desire to keep students satisfied, combined with a lack of confidence in the body of knowledge they have to teach, means academic freedom loses out to inclusivity. Affording a privileged place in the curriculum for ideas based on the cultural identity of their originator, or respecting all ideas as equally valid, is antithetical to the principles of academic freedom, which demand ideas are rigorously critiqued on their intellectual merit, and that, on this basis alone, some win out over others. More than ever, we need a university curriculum that is academically elitist, but which all can be free to aspire towards.


New Degrees Challenge “Time Served” Model

The University of Michigan is now on course to become one of the first public higher education institutions to offer a degree that can be achieved not through credit hours but on demonstrated proficiency in the subjects studied. According to Inside Higher Ed, Michigan’s regional accreditor has just approved a competency-based Master’s of Health Professions Education. The program is designed to give health professionals training in “carry[ing] out the full range of responsibilities of a scholarly educator-leader.”

This is a small but significant step toward one of the most important higher education reforms currently on offer, alongside MOOCs. NPR provides some excellent background, noting that the current system measures “not how much you’ve learned, but how long you’ve spent trying to learn it.” More:

The conventions of the credit hour, the semester and the academic year were formalized in the early 1900s. Time forms the template for designing college programs, accrediting them and — crucially — funding them using federal student aid.

But in 2013, for the first time, the Department of Education took steps to loosen the rules.

The new idea: Allow institutions to get student-aid funding by creating programs that directly measure learning, not time. Students can move at their own pace. The school certifies — measures — what they know and are able to do.

This kind of approach shifts higher education from what we at the AI have called a “time served” to a “stuff learned” model, allowing students to learn what they need to learn and then graduate without spending unnecessary time in a program or racking up unnecessary debt. According to NPR, the DoE attempt to “loosen the rules” means that as many as 350 schools nationwide can now try out competency-based degrees without risking their eligibility for federal financial aid. Read the whole thing for an overview of the current status of those programs and their prospects for success. The more schools have the freedom to grant degrees on the basis of proficiency rather than “time served,” the more relevant to the demands of today’s economy higher education will become.


Poor careers advice failing to address STEM skills 'crisis'

Britain is facing a skills "crisis" as not enough is being done to encourage young people into STEM related careers, despite there being enthusiasm for the subjects, according to new research.

The study, carried out by Nestlé UK & Ireland, suggests that nearly four out of five 14 to 16-year-olds would consider a career in a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related industry, but more than half of those surveyed admitted that they knew very little about the type of jobs on offer.

Many science and maths teachers also admitted that they felt in the dark about careers within the industry, with 52 per cent of those surveyed saying that they do not know what STEM-related businesses are looking for in new employees.

The survey revealed that 62 per cent of UK businesses feel that Britain is facing a worrying skills gap in the industry with the current number of recruits failing to meet future demand.

Furthermore, 67 per cent of STEM employers said there had been little improvement in the situation over the past five years, while 34 per cent said they felt the situation had in fact worsened.

The research comes amid concerns that little is being done to improve careers guidance in schools – with many young people relying on parents and friends to deliver advice.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, David Blunkett, former education secretary, said that schools shouldn’t achieve a good or outstanding rating by Ofsted unless careers advice was up to scratch.

The Labour politician claimed that if schools do not provide an appropriate careers service, then Ofsted should be restricted from awarding a school anything higher than ‘requires improvement’.

Research published earlier in the year suggested that many pupils feel that current careers provision within the school environment is irrelevant and often doesn’t keep pace with demand.

The study, conducted by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), found that 84 per cent of 14-19 year olds would like more advice from their school or college regarding future options.

Speaking yesterday, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary said that while the National Careers Service had been recently extended, there was “more to do in terms of building partnerships between employers and schools."

Commenting on today’s findings, Greg Clark, the universities minister said: "This research shows that there is clear need to do more to inspire young people to study STEM subjects and enable them to have the opportunity to access science and engineering careers.

Fiona Kendrick, CEO of Nestlé UK & Ireland said: "It is a promising sign that so many young people in the UK are considering pursuing STEM subjects in higher education and as a career.

"However, there is evidently a breakdown that needs to be addressed, as while young people are interested in STEM subjects at schools, the uptake of careers in these areas is low – with many saying they don't know enough about the careers that are available.

"It is essential that businesses play their part and I am delighted to see that more and more companies are engaging with schools and colleges to help highlight the vast and diverse number of rewarding careers on offer."


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Government preschool waste

While 15 states this week begged the Obama administration to direct programs for their youngest children, Indiana decided to chart its own course, with Gov. Mike Pence (R) refusing to sign off on an expensive, intrusive federal preschool grant application. Concurrently, the Cato Institute issued a highly useful review of the major and highest-quality research on government preschool, which continues to show such programs, at best, don’t benefit kids beyond first grade. Here’s a summary:

"Before considering expanding preschool offerings--especially making it universal--policymakers need to seek more randomized trials that track control and treatment groups over several years, and they should only attempt to replicate programs that have statistically significant, lasting effects that can be achieved at scale and an affordable price.

The original logic of helping disadvantaged children catch up may still be valid, because Head Start–type programs do show modest benefits during the preschool year. However, the proposal to expand preschool to everyone defeats the purpose of closing achievement gaps by giving disadvantaged children a ‘head start.’

 More importantly, the evidence as it currently exists demonstrates only short-term skill gains that fade after a few years, and there is insufficient evidence--two small, old, very intensive programs--for the type of long-term behavioral changes envisioned by the Heckman Group.

Pre-K education may help, but the available research does not support expanding existing government programs. New preschool programs should not be introduced unless they have statistically significant, non-negligible benefits, even though that’s the opposite of the headlines seen by anyone who reads newspapers and policy briefs about “early education.”"

The Cato report shows the studies that supposedly find preschool will end all our education and economic woes are misleading and typically based on three boutique programs from 50 years ago that were nothing like current preschool programs or proposals.

At best, government preschool is an early remediation possibility for children in mind-starved home environments, and it may be able to help some of these children avoid jail and graduate from high school. But so far, very enthused teachers and researchers, even with lots of money, have only been able to take tiny steps towards these laudable goals. That’s no reason to push government preschool programs. Far better to take the millions in private dollars currently expended trying to get lawmakers to coerce taxpayers into funding such highly speculative programs and send them to valid, well-planned research groups.


A four-year-old boy was expelled because his mother vented about his preschool on Facebook

When was the last time you vented on Facebook? Bad traffic or weather, a news story that’s made your blood boil, even a frustrated swipe at a friend or family member who pressed your buttons. Facebook is the world’s punching bag; it listens placidly, it absorbs all our woes and after a good old-fashioned rant everyone feels better.

At least they do until a hot-headed Facebook post causes problems in the real world. This happened to a US mum, Ashley Habat, whose four-year-old son Will was expelled from his preschool for something Ashley wrote on Facebook. Ashley was frustrated that she hadn’t been given sufficient warning about School Photo Day, and in a fit of anger let loose at her son’s school on her personal Facebook page. “Why is it that every single day there is something new I dislike about Will’s School?” she wrote. “Are my standards really too high or are people working in the education field really just that ignorant.” She also ‘tagged’ the school, The Sonshine Christian Academy in Florida.

The next day, she was called to the office. Ashley was told that Will could no longer attend the school, that he “wasn’t the right fit”.  “I was in shock,” Ashley told a Florida TV station. “Why would you expel a four-year-old over something his mom posts on her private Facebook page only people on her friends list can see? He did nothing wrong.” She insisted that the school made no effort to work through the issues with her; they simply expelled Will as their first response.


More British private school pupils flock to overseas universities

Increasing numbers of pupils from leading private schools are taking university courses overseas because of concerns over rising tuition fees in the UK.

A survey of members of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 260 top fee-paying schools, found evidence of a significant shift towards international universities.

According to figures, nine-in-10 heads have seen an increase in students wanting to study overseas over the last three years. Some 84 per cent are actively encouraging pupils to include international universities in their options, it emerged.

It marks a major shift since the introduction of higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year for the first time in 2012.

The study, which was commissioned by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, found that a rise in domestic tuition fees was the biggest driver of overseas study, followed by increased awareness of opportunities and an attempt to enhance students’ career prospects.

The United States is often seen as the most popular destination for students studying outside the UK, with 9,500 crossing the Atlantic for higher education courses last year. But courses in mainland Europe are now also increasingly popular, with more teenagers taking degrees in countries such as Holland, France, Germany and Sweden.

Universities in Canada and Australia are also growing in popularity, it emerged.

But the study said heads believed more should be done to encourage overseas study in the country generally, particularly in the state system. More than half claimed that careers advisers failed to promote international universities enough and a similar number believed students taking domestic degrees should be given more opportunity to spend part of their course abroad.

Richard Harman, chairman of HMC and headmaster of Uppingham School, said: “For many decades students studying languages at university have expected and looked forward to a period of study abroad. In recent years the value of this experience had become recognised as something from which all undergraduates can benefit.”

Bedales School, Hampshire, now sends almost one-in-10 pupils to universities abroad, including those in Italy, Holland, Canada and the US.

Keith Budge, the headmaster, said: “At Bedales we encourage our students to consider all university options – in particular to look at overseas universities especially in North America and Europe, and we certainly seeing more demand from our students for this.

“Also, for the majority going on to a UK university, we promote the massive benefits of spending some time abroad; there is no doubt that these experiences improve students’ employability.”

Prof Martin Paul, president of Maastricht University, where the number of UK undergraduates has more than doubled in the past three years, said: “While the message is getting through to students that studying abroad can significantly improve employability, there continues to be a need to provide more opportunities and information. Maastricht University has been a trend-setter in enhancing international career prospects by stimulating student mobility, and we welcome other European universities to join this strategy.”


Monday, October 27, 2014

Kids React to Common Core: 'Mommy, Please Home-School Me'

Another day of school, another Common Core horror story. Parents in Royal Palm Beach, Florida complained to administrators that their children are languishing under Core-aligned instruction and standardized testing. One parent reported that her third-grade son comes home from school every day thinking he is stupid because he can't pass his tests. "Mommy, please home-school me," he begged, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Lest anyone assume the kid is the problem, keep in mind that some teachers don't even have access to textbooks that are aligned to the required tests, according to statements made by a teacher at the parents meeting last week. (Note: This is a common occurrence.)

The test themselves are wholly computerized, which presents a problem for the kindergartners required to take them:

Hours to prep for computerized testing of kindergartners:

 “I watched a student suffer for over an hour. They had no idea how to work the computer mouse.” 

Five teachers, working one-on-one with students got only 10 of 120 students done in one school day. “That night I went home and cried.”  – Chris White, teacher at a Title 1 elementary school

"Children don’t know the language – what’s ‘drag and drop’ to a child who’s not worked on a computer? . The books were designed to go with one test, we’re using another". – Karla Yurick, 5th grade math teacher

I can understand the desire to impose some amount of standardized testing on schoolchildren for the purposes of measuring teacher effectiveness. But there comes a point where the insanity of computerized exams for five-year-olds trumps any legitimate interest taxpayers may have in holding teachers accountable for their students' progress.

The best that can be said for Common Core is that it encourages home-schooling.


School Doesn't Have to Suck When You Teach Your Own Kids

J.D. Tuccille

One of the problems my son ran into when he still attended a brick-and-mortar school is the current mania for turning every damned arithmetic problem into the equivalent of a New York cabbie taking a rube tourist to Rockefeller Center via Staten Island. Why go the direct route when you can run up the meter?

There's widespread agreement in the U.S. that math is being taught badly, though experts disagree over whether it's Common Core's fault or whether the education establishment is blowing the teaching of math without assistance from the controversial new standards. Either way, it's easy to find recent examples of math problems seemingly designed to turn numbers into an incomprehensible mystery (see one delightful example pictured).

Jeff SevertJeff SevertFortunately, my son is now homeschooled—or, technically, attends a private online school. He uses online lessons and offline texts and workbooks to learn, coached by his mother and me. The lessons are means to an end; he takes them as needed, and can take as much or little time as necessary, until he demonstrates his mastery of a topic in a unit assessment test. Then he moves on. Find your vocabulary set a breeze? Then skip the review lessons. Stumped by long division? Then spend a few hours working it out.

And when the approach recommended by the book comes from education-establishment bizarro land, we can explain (not ask permission) in a conversation with his homeroom teacher (really, an advisor/contact at the school) that we won't be taking the scenic route across a mathematical Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Instead, my wife taught Anthony basic long division as she learned the subject. He has my mind for math which is, admittedly, missing a few circuits, so that was challenging enough. So she spread the lesson over two days. And she had him work at it repeatedly.

And he passed his unit assessment with 100 percent. Even better, he said he liked math. Last year he cried over his homework.

School doesn't have to suck, when the lessons are tailored for kids' learning style, and the pace matches their ability to absorb any given skill or bit of information. It's easiest to do that when you don't have somebody else's education philosophy of the moment forced on you.


UK: Bright pupils are held back by 'swot' taunts

Clever children are being held back at school and leading miserable lives due to ribbing from classmates for being ‘swots’ and ‘geeks’, a charity warned today.

Potential Plus UK, formerly the National Association for Gifted Children, urged schools to do more to tackle ‘unacceptable’ levels of bullying targeted at bright pupils.

Many talented youngsters are simply coasting at school or even causing trouble in an effort to fit in with their peers and avoid jibes such as ‘geek’, ‘clever clogs’, ‘teacher’s pet’ and ‘swot’ or ‘worse’, it was claimed.

Schools are urged to consider using mixed age classes and making greater use of computer-based lessons to avoid singling out children who can work at a faster pace.

The warning came in a new guide for parents and schools aimed at helping youngsters who are being bullied because they are ‘different’.

Other forms of bullying are dealt with in further titles in the Being Me series, launched today in conjunction with several charities.

In a guide tackling issues faced by gifted pupils, Potential Plus UK warns that the ‘level of bullying they experience is unacceptable’.

It cites leading physicist and Potential Plus ambassador, Professor Jeff Forshaw, of Manchester University, who warns: ‘It is easy to think that clever children are going to sail through school without facing many problems.

‘However, for some children and young people that couldn’t be further from the truth.  ‘Labelled as “geeks”, “clever clogs”, “teacher’s pet”, “swot” or worse, and being bullied on a daily basis can make the lives of these children with high learning potential absolutely miserable.’

In a section for teachers on catering for bright pupils, the guide states: ‘More than anything they want to fit in with their peers and to stop being singled out as the clever one or the geek or the oddball or the one who doesn’t make friends easily.

‘If left in this environment they will try to behave in a way to help them fit in – coasting or causing trouble, rather than excelling in what they are good at.  ‘The higher their IQ, the more difficult it can be for them.’

It adds: ‘All these children have to offer their friends, their school and their communities and this world can so easily go to waste and the child can be left feeling bullied and ostracised and lose confidence in their special talents.’

Many youngsters feel ‘frustration and anger’ due to their treatment by peers, which in turn upsets parents.

The guide urges schools to provide pastoral support to gifted pupils and consider ‘mixed age classes or the introduction of new technology in the classroom so children can work at a pace that suits them without being singled out for doing so’.

It also features anonymised diary entries from gifted children, including one from a boy who was told by his teacher not to put his hand up so much in class to prevent him being picked on.

Denise Yates, chief executive of Potential Plus UK, said: ‘I believe that “Being Me” could be the start of one of most important initiatives in schools to address this issue head on. Certainly for Potential Plus UK this publication shows that it is just not acceptable to bully a child because they are clever, with everything that goes with it.

‘If just one child is supported as a result of this work, just one more pupil understands the damage that this can cause or just one more teacher knows how to help prevent it, it will have been a great success.’


Sunday, October 26, 2014

British universities 'packing in too many students': Academics say standards are slipping because institutions are admitting more undergraduates than they can cope with

Standards in universities are slipping due to a ‘rack ‘em, pack ‘em and stack ‘em’ culture which has seen rising numbers of undergraduates squeezed into lecture halls, it has been claimed.

Academics say that institutions are undermining standards by admitting too many students and over-marking work to satisfy ‘money obsessed’ senior staff.

Almost a third believe that quality is being ‘compromised’ due to soaring numbers of students admitted onto degree courses.

And about four in ten lecturers surveyed by the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine admit they are increasingly encouraged to inflate results, helping boost the proportion of top degrees being awarded.

The research comes as Oxford revealed it had record applications from students this year while Cambridge said its entrant level was about the same as the previous record level.

There is growing concern over the impact of government reforms, designed to increase numbers of students entering higher education.

Last week, it was revealed that due to limited space in some universities’ halls of residence, students were being forced to share single rooms or take up places in bed and breakfast accommodation.

The THE magazine questioned more than 1,000 academics. Thirty-eight per cent claimed the ‘pressure to give better marks has risen’.

And 32 per cent said they believed their university had ‘compromised on student quality in order to maintain or boost student numbers’.

A lecturer in engineering and technology at a university in the South of England said the vice chancellor was ‘money obsessed’ and had ‘implemented a culture of rack ‘em, pack ‘em and stack ‘em’ regarding student recruitment.

He claimed that the ‘senior management team encourages unethical and immoral recruitment’.

A science scholar at one new university said: ‘It is not sensible for 50 per cent of students to graduate with first or upper second class degrees.

‘Forty years ago it was about ten per cent. Senior management do not openly admit to that change, but frontline staff more or less passively fall into line.’ A senior lecturer in northeast England claimed that ‘students on science degrees enter barely numerate and don’t always leave much better off’.

A professor in biosciences at a Russell Group university said: ‘Academic standards are slipping…marking not hard enough. Too many students are getting a first – 33 per cent in my subject.’

Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in January showed that that 69,625 students (18.4 per cent) gained a first last year compared with just 28,635 (11 per cent) a decade earlier.

In all, some 256,990 students (68 per cent) gained at least a 2.1 last year.


Illustration to be Handed Out at Public Schools: Human Bible Sexually Assaulting Woman

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, is planning to hand out in several Florida public high schools a pamphlet that features an illustration on its cover depicting a humanized Bible sexually assaulting a young woman.

The pamphlet is entitled: “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible.”

The front cover of the small purple booklet is illustrated with a cartoon Bible--which has arms, legs, face and drooling mouth--sexually assaulting a screaming woman as she tries to escape its grasp.

According to a news release posted on its website, FFRF plans to distribute the pamphlet, along with several other brochures and a few books, in 11 public high schools in Orange County, Florida, in January. Orange County is in central part of the state and includes the city of Orlando.

The materials will be available at the high schools of the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) on National Religious Freedom Day, which is Jan. 16. Each year, on this day, the OCPS allows outside religious groups to set up a table with pre-approved literature—including Bibles--that students can take if they choose.

Members of the outside groups are allowed to stay near the table and restock it as needed, but they are not allowed to have contact with students per school district rules.

FFRF Legal Counsel Andrew Seidel contended to that the pamphlet with the cover depicting a Bible engaging in sexual assault is “pretty tame” compared to the Bible itself.

“I think if you look at the content of that brochure and what is actually in the Bible, and some of the things that are in the Bible in terms of sex and compare that to the cover [of the pamphlet], the cover is pretty tame compared to anything that is in the Bible,” Seidel said.

“I think the bottom line is, you can’t consider any of our materials obscene when compared to the Bible,” he said.

The text of the pamphlet includes dozens of snippets from Bible verses that FFRF deems “obscene,” including Biblical passages mentioning sex, nudity and circumcision.

Seidel said that even if the image on the pamphlet does offend Christians, that’s a fair trade-off for how atheists feel when Bibles are passed out in school.

“I think we recognize that it might upset some people, but the Bible upsets many, many non-believers, especially when it’s being pushed in the public schools,” Seidel said. “So really, all it’s doing is placing believers and people who are in the majority in the position that we in the minority have been in for a very long time, and are in every time the government espouses one religion over another. That’s what we feel like all the time.”

FFRF gained the chance to distribute their “An X-Rated Book” pamphlet after engaging in a legal battle with the OCPS.

According to court documents, FFRF protested in 2013 when Orange County Public Schools began allowing World Changers of Florida, a Christian group, to distribute Bibles at 11 public high schools on Freedom of Religion Day.

In response, on Jan. 29, 2013, FFRF announced a plan to begin passing out packets of atheist literature, including “An X-Rated Book,” to the same public high schools that May. David Williamson, an FFRF member, then submitted the group’s literature to the Orange County School Board for consideration before it was going to be distributed, in accordance with the district’s rules.

After reviewing the FFRF materials, however, the school district decided to ban about half of its literature, including “An X-Rated Book.”

In a letter to FFRF dated April 22, OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins explained why some of the group’s literature, including the pamphlet, would not be allowed in the schools.

“An X-Rated Book: This brochure may not be distributed,” Jenkins wrote. “This brochure will cause substantial disruption and is age inappropriate. There is a picture on the cover of a Bible book given human features sticking its hand up the dress of a woman.”

Jenkins added that the pamphlet included information on how to become a member of FFRF, and that the school district may “prohibit the distribution of materials which contain solicitations.”

On June 13, 2013, the FFRF filed a lawsuit against OCPS, claiming the school district had unlawfully discriminated against it and violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, according to court documents.

The OCPS and FFRF then made an agreement.

A Motion to Dismiss handed down in the Orlando District Court on June 3, 2014, states: “On or about January 3, 2014, Defendant unconditionally agreed to allow Plaintiffs to distribute the materials that Defendant had previously prohibited.”

The Motion to Dismiss also says: “Moreover, Defendant represented that it has ‘no intention in the future to prohibit these materials.’”

But, in keeping with a previous Florida court ruling relating to what outside groups can and cannot be distributed in public schools, the court also said in the Motion to Dismiss: “Indeed, Defendant may lawfully prohibit outside groups from distributing materials that are not appropriate for distribution in a school setting with the aim of controlling student conduct in the schools.”

“This includes dissemination of content that is sexually explicit, indecent, lewd, or offensive in such would ‘undermine the school’s basic educational mission,’” the court said. called and emailed OCPS and the school district’s legal counsel to find out why the school district had decided to allow FFRF to pass out the materials OCPS had previously banned, given that the court conceded that schools could lawfully prohibit indecent and lewd materials.

Katherine Marsh, communications director for OCPS, stated after speaking with the school district’s legal counsel: “At this time, Legal indicates they have shared what they can since we still are in litigation.”


Professor at top university was suspended for nine months after he was accused of sighing and being sarcastic during job interviews

A professor at a top university was suspended for nine months after he was accused of sighing and being sarcastic during job interviews.

Thomas Docherty was banned from the University of Warwick in January following allegations he had given off 'negative vibes' and undermined the authority of the former head of the English department.

The English and Comparative Literature professor was said to have been 'making ironic comments' and 'projecting negative body language' when interviewing candidates for a job.

Professor Docherty was banned from the campus and from writing references for students without permission during the suspension.

He was also stopped from returning their work or providing guidance on PhDs and was not permitted to have contact with undergraduates.

Today it emerged the professor - whose suspension was lifted last month - is set to be cleared of all allegations against him.

Professor Docherty, who is well-known as a critic of the marketisation and bureaucratisation of higher education in the UK, said: 'I'm looking forward to getting back to teaching, working with students and colleagues, and writing again, as normal.'

And writing on a Facebook page set up by students to show support for the popular professor, he added: 'I'm now able to say that none of the allegations against me were upheld.

'Throughout this past year, I have been deeply moved and touched by the level of support that I have received.

'The only way I can think of beginning to repay that is through my teaching and writing - and I look forward to returning properly to that in the hope that it will be adequate to what you deserve.

'There are many colleagues - students as well as staff - whose position has been more difficult than mine.  'They now deserve the benefit of our combined reasoning, arguing, and sustained democratic debate.

'Thanks again to you all - and, with luck, I'll see some of you in class, in conference, or just around and about.'

Katja Rebmann, a research assistant at the university, replied: 'Your teaching has been and I'm sure will continue to be inspiring - very pleased to have you back.'

The University and College Union (UCU) - who welcomed the lifting of the suspension - have now blasted the University of Warwick's procedures.

UCU regional official Anne O'Sullivan said: 'It beggars belief that an academic can be suspended with no contact with students or colleagues for almost a year while charges are finalised.

'The one thing this protracted process should ensure is that the University of Warwick looks closely at its internal procedures.

'There is clearly the need for a better structure to deal with these kinds of issues and to ensure that academics have a speedier form of redress.

'Academic freedom is a key tenet of our universities and staff should not be worried for their careers if they wish to speak out about matters of concern.'

Dennis Leech, president of the University & College Union branch at Warwick, added: 'The fact that a member of the academic staff can be suspended for almost nine months and subject to such a protracted disciplinary process suggests that there is a need to review the governance of the university.

'I hope the university will look again at how it can strengthen its procedures to protect and defend academic freedom, which this case exemplifies to be threatened from obtrusive managerialism.'

A spokesperson for the University of Warwick said the process had taken the time it did 'in order to accommodate the specific requests and needs of all the participants in the process'. 

In 2011 Professor Docherty published 'For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution', which has been described as book that 'helps to make more people aware of the contradictory and short-sighted way that universities are now discussed and managed in Britain.'