Friday, February 20, 2015

How Government Ruined Your Kids' Textbooks

Common core education standards have attracted criticism from across the political spectrum due to lack of choice and competition inherent in a top-down, federal mandate. Students succeed when parents and teachers have flexibility to tailor their education programs to individual children, celebrating rather than ignoring their differences.

But the lack of choice in America’s education system is not unique to one policy. It’s an institutional problem that requires broader reforms than the repeal of a single law. Across the board, choice is sacrificed for uniformity thanks to misguided government policy. One of the areas that receives too little attention is the textbook monopoly by publishing giant Pearson.

This is an important issue for parents concerned specifically with the content and curriculum of their children’s educations, since the textbooks schools purchase will largely determine what is taught. For those worried about the kinds of values children are being exposed to, confronting a lack of choice in textbooks should be a top priority.

Politico recently published an expose on Pearson, revealing the numerous ways that government conspires to limit competition in the textbook market. To begin with, state education departments frequently purchase their materials from Pearson without allowing competitors the opportunity to underbid them. Since public schools are funded by taxation, not happy customers, there is no incentive to purchase cheaper books or ones that would please the students more, so familiarity wins out.

This would be bad enough were it not also for the fact that the education standards necessary for states to receive federal funding. The Common Core standards were developed in alignment with the curricula used by Pearson. This means that school administrators wishing to comply with the standards have few options other than Pearson’s products to ensure that they will maintain their federal funding or waivers from the unpopular No Child Left Behind policy.

Pearson’s business practices have been marked by political corruption as well, with lobbyists from the company spending lavishly (and illegally) on school officials until the practice was reined in in 2013.

The unholy alliance between business and government is at the heart of a great many of our nation’s problems, not least the inflexibility of our education system. Federal funding mandates, Common Core standards at the state level, a lack of competitive bidding for materials, and few mechanisms for students to escape from failing schools all work together to damage educational outcomes and our children’s opportunities for the future.

We need to sever the ties between federal funding and state education policy, as well as promote more school choice at the local level. Only this will help break up the textbook monopoly and give parents more control over what their children are learning.


The Inherent Defectiveness of Public Schooling

The Washington Post reported yesterday that an outgoing superintendent of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, Joshua P. Starr, is lamenting the short tenure of school superintendents. Starr took the job of school superintendent in 2011 and is now leaving because he failed to garner the support of the local school board.

Starr stated, “I think the expectations for the superintendent can be not aligned with reality sometimes. People want to see dramatic improvement quickly. The expectation that a superintendent can do it alone I think just doesn’t work well. And we also have to comply with the accountability regs from the state and the feds.

Unfortunately, all too many believers in public schools just don’t get it: It doesn’t matter who they get to be superintendent, and it doesn’t matter what reforms they adopt. It won’t make any difference whatsoever. The problem with public schooling is public schooling. It is an inherently defective system. When a system is inherently defective, that means it cannot be fixed and it cannot be reformed. In fact, oftentimes when a system is inherently defective, any reforms only make the situation worse.

Why is public schooling inherently defective? In the final analysis, it is a socialist system and as most everyone knows by now, socialism itself is an inherently defective paradigm. It always produces a shoddy product no matter who is in charge of the system and no matter what reforms are brought to the system. The only solution to socialism is the dismantling of socialism, which means the free market. The free market is the only system that works. It produces the best possible product.

Consider the public schooling system in Montgomery County. Eight people on a school board are planning, in a top-down, command-and-control manner, the education of 154,000 students. That is no different in principle from the old central planning models employed by the Soviet Union, those in which a central board planned the production of clothing, food, and other important things. The results in terms of quality of product were always horrendous. The only solution was to dismantle the boards, the commissions, and the central planning and to leave the production of goods and services entirely to the free market.

That normally is a scary thing to people who have become dependent on socialist systems. “What if the free market fails to produce any shoes at all?” a person might ask. “What if all the shoes produced are in the wrong sizes?”

It’s no different with respect to educational socialism. “What if children fail to learn?” What if parents are irresponsible?”

But as someone once said, better to be educated not at all than to be educated by the state.

There are many reasons for that. Education by the state is really army-lite. Think about what the army teaches people — regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Individualism, non-conformity, and independent thinking are not treasured traits within the military structure. In fact, the military does everything they can to stamp them out of its members.

It’s no different with public schooling. It’s army-lite — an environment of regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Like the army, public school authorities stamp out individualism, non-conformity, and independent thinking.

True education is a seeking process, one in which a person voraciously seeks to acquire more knowledge about a particular area about which he is passionate. When a person gets interested in a particular subject, he will do everything he can to learn about it, which oftentimes means learning about other areas that relate to the primary area of interest. Ultimately, a person might seek out a tutor, a class, or even a school that specializes in the area he’s interested in.

That’s what makes education fun and exciting.

From birth to the age of six, it’s that natural love of learning that characterizes everyone. Think about that infamous 3-letter word that bedevils every parent of every child six or under: Why? Why? Why?

By the time the child has spent 12 years in public school, that three-letter word has been smashed out of him. The passionate love of learning is gone. All that matters is doing well on the tests, which inevitably involves lots of memorization. Getting good grades is all that matters because that’s how one gets into college.

At the same time, over those twelve years of state schooling, children have been molded into becoming what one might call a “good, little citizen,” one who is a cog in a vast machinery, deferring to authority, blindly supporting the authorities in whatever they are doing, and not questioning the political, economic, or educational systems in any fundamental way.

Central planning isn’t the only socialistic characteristic of public schooling. Attendance is compulsory and financing is done through force. The textbooks are chosen by the government. The schoolteachers, no matter how good and how dedicated they are, are government employees and must, in the final analysis, make certain that what they are teaching is acceptable to the authorities. That’s why one could do a study of every public school in the land and find very few, if any, courses taught on libertarianism, a subject that is growing in popularity across the land.

In fact, libertarianism provides a good example of how genuine education works. Most every libertarian in the country today knows about libertarianism because he has sought it out and educated himself on libertarian principles. Since libertarianism is a subject that is not taught n public schools or even most state-supported colleges and universities, libertarians have gone out and done the studying themselves, at nights, on weekends, and during work or school breaks. They have found the books, the websites, and the conferences. They seek knowledge, rather than have it crammed into them by others. They don’t memorize, they just learn. And they are passionate about what they are learning. It’s fun for them. It’s like they were age 0-6 again.

That’s the way education should be for everybody, in whatever area they get passionate about. Unfortunately, the public school system, which people would like to think is about education, actually destroys education by destroying the love of learning that comes to every single person naturally.

No reform can fix that. Neither can getting better school superintendents. The only solution to public schooling is to dismantle it — to separate school and state — to rely on freedom and the free market for education.


Australia: Back to basics! Student teachers will have to pass literacy and maths tests before they are allowed to graduate

All student teachers will have to pass a reading, writing and maths test before they can graduate.

The new rule will come into force across Australia in 2016 as part of an overhaul of teacher training.

The government has pledged 'swift and decisive action' to improve the education of teachers, as it releases a report on Friday about how to do just that.

The review, led by Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, found some courses were not up to scratch and said the standard across the board had to be lifted.

In response, the government will beef up regulator Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

All universities offering teaching courses face tougher accreditation to make sure standards are high and kept that way.

As part of that new accreditation process, universities will have to prove they have strong partnerships with schools.

This should ensure student teachers get to spend more time in real classrooms instead of university lecture halls and make sure what they are learning matches the skills they will need in the real world.

Professor Craven said having close partnerships between universities and schools was 'the single most important action to be pursued'.

The review found there were many concerns about how 'classroom-ready' beginner teachers were under the current system.

And there isn't enough professional support for new teachers, which can lead to them leaving the job altogether.

The review recommended every new teacher be paired with a highly skilled mentor.

It also said universities must take personal attributes into account when recruiting people into teaching courses, and that trainees should get classroom time early in their study so they can decide if teaching is really for them.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the review set high expectations for everyone involved in initial teacher education including universities.

'It also makes a clear case that providers be held accountable for the quality of the teaching graduates they produce,' he said.

Mr Pyne hopes the majority of the review's five key proposals and 38 recommendations will be implemented within two years.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

What is an educated person?

I recently watched a fascinating documentary entitled Maidentrip about a Dutch teenage girl named Laura Dekker who is the youngest person to ever circumnavigate the world in a sailboat alone. She completed the journey at 16 years of age.

She would have done it sooner but for the Dutch authorities. They filed a custody suit, seeking to prevent the teenager from embarking on the voyage. They felt that the state, not the parents, should have ultimate control over such decisions.

The Dutch courts finally ruled in favor of Laura but only on the condition that she continue her state-approved education while conducting her voyage. I assume that meant learning such things as social studies, Dutch history, chemistry, and trigonometry.

That condition really struck me as I was watching the documentary. Here was a teenage girl who obviously knew everything there is about sailing. She had practically grown up in a sailboat, thanks to her father, who also loved sailing.

In fact, there is rather humorous story about Laura and her father. One day, her father received a telephone call from English authorities telling him that his 14-year-old daughter had arrived in England on her sailboat alone. The authorities told Mr. Dekker that he needed to come and get his daughter. He responded that he didn’t know she was gone and that if she could make it to England alone, she could make it back alone.

As I was watching the documentary, I looked up her biography and learned that this teenage girl could speak three languages — Dutch, German, and English. She was also able to read complicated sea charts. She could handle radio communications. She could maneuver a 27-foot sailboat in some of the scariest storms one could ever imagine.

What was also fascinating was to watch her spirited sense of individualism, optimism, and confidence — all the traits that the state smashes out of children with its system of public schooling.

To satisfy the condition that the Dutch court imposed on her, Dekker signed up for some sort of worldwide self-education course. Along the voyage, however, she mentioned publicly that she wasn’t keeping up with the coursework given the time she had to devote to managing a one-person sailboat on the high seas.

Well, as you can imagine, the Dutch public-school authorities and the Dutch mainstream press went ballistic, even suggesting that the girl had thrown her textbooks overboard and thus was no longer getting educated. That sure seems dumb to me, especially coming from people who presume themselves to be educated because they went through the state’s education system.

In any event, public-school officials in Holland were not amused that Laura Dekker wasn’t getting educated while circumnavigating the world on her own. Here is how the website explained the situation:

"Her lawyer Peter De Lange told Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that truancy officers issued her father a summons to appear late last year after a newspaper quoted her as saying in her blog she had not been giving her studies full attention.

Mr De Lange said the report was a misunderstanding, based on her saying she needed to concentrate on sailing while weather in the Atlantic was poor.

When her father refused to turn up, the truancy agency notified child protective services, infuriating the family.

“Who knows, maybe they’ll be waiting for her with handcuffs at the finish line,” Mr De Lange said."

Well, they didn’t have the chance to put those handcuffs on Laura Dekker because rather than return to Holland, she simply crossed the Atlantic again and headed to New Zealand, where she had dual citizenship.

The public-schooling system would obviously consider Laura Dekker to be an educational failure. I say she exemplifies the deep passion for learning and the thirst for independence and a high-spirited and confident life that characterize all children from birth to six, traits that the state schooling system has smashed out of children by the time they graduate high school.

Good for Laura Dekker! In my books, she’s a free-market education success story!


British PM  backs creation of first new selective State  schools in 50 years in major U-turn just months before the election

David Cameron today backed the creation of new grammar schools, in a major U-turn just months before the election.  The Prime Minister said good grammar schools should be allowed to expand so more children can attend.

Speaking in Hove near Brighton this morning, Mr Cameron also appeared to back the expansion of a nearby grammar to a new campus.

Critics say the move – which was blocked by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove – would effectively crate the first new grammar school in 50 years.

In opposition, Mr Cameron warned his party to drop its obsession with grammar schools, saying it was a key test of whether the party was ready for power.  At the time, he said there would be no return to the 11-plus exam and more new grammar schools.

But today, Mr Cameron said he wanted every youngster to be able to access the quality of state education enjoyed by his own children in London.

The PM said: 'I strongly support the right of all good schools to expand. I think that's very important and that should include grammar schools.

'Under this Government grammar schools have been able to expand and that is all to the good.'

The Prime Minister was asked if he backed the expansion Weald of Kent girls' grammar school in Tonbridge, which has bid to run an annexe in Sevenoaks.

He said: 'I don't want to pre-empt that decision, that's a decision for the Education Secretary to make. But the principle is very clear: good schools should have the freedom to expand.  'Look what we've done with our schooling system in this country. We've made much more independence for schools within the state sector.

'There is huge growth in academies that have more control over their admissions, more control over their finances, more control over their futures and it has helped good schools to expand.

'Because in the end I want for everyone in this country what I have for my three young children. They are at a good state primary school in London.

'It shouldn't be a lottery, it shouldn't be a postcode matter, it should be something everyone gets, the right to have a good school place for your children.

'The only way you can do that is to have more good schools and that's exactly what this government's programme has been all about.'

Mr Cameron made the remarks in a speech setting out the Tories welfare policies ahead of the general election.


Bright flight in Australia

Private schools are partly government supported in Australia so most affluent Australian parents send their kids to such schools -- at least for their High School years.  So ....

When I became a father at a frighteningly young age it was a mixture of ideology and lack of money that had me choosing the state system for my daughter. It didn't even occur to me that the state high school where I lived, in Sydney's prestigious eastern suburbs, could be bad.

It was worse than bad. "Bright Flight" had left only the poorest, roughest kids in the area. Girls in micro-minis and with texta drawings all over their thighs smoked cigarettes with slouching, morbid looking boys at bus stops around the neighbourhood.

At a school performance where parents were invited, screaming children ran down the aisles, prompting neither disapproval nor intervention by the seated teachers. At parent-teacher nights, teachers gave glowing descriptions of my kid's performances despite obvious flaws in essay techniques, in general knowledge and grammar.

Eventually, I sent her to a Catholic girl's school. Ten grand a year… ouch!… and I had to pretend I believed in The Almighty, but at least there was a modicum of discipline.

Later in life, when I was better equipped to afford a good school, I put my two little boys into the French system. I figured, I could spend a million bucks putting them through the elite private system and they might make a contact that could get them into the banking system or at least a few stock tips that might set them up for life. Or, I could choose a system that values philosophy, language, history and civil values and all bound in the most secular of educational frameworks.

Hours, days, months, spent on verb conjugation, on learning the poems of Hugo and Rimbaud by rote (and performed in front of their classmates), of complex forays into European history. And they come out of it able to speak, read and write at a high level in two languages.

I figure, I spend the money, I want something concrete. What a party trick...say something in French, kid!

"Bright Flight" is real. The state system, in whichever state you live, is too slack, too willing to let bad behaviour slide. A great student will be a great student anywhere. But an average kid, someone prone to slipping into bad behaviour, what most of us have, will at least have a shot at a decent future if he gets schooled privately.

It shouldn't be this way.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

School Choice In Virginia Coming Closer To Reality

For the last several months, FreedomWorks has been part of a broad coalition dedicated to improving educational choice in Virginia. Over the last month, FreedomWorks activists in Virginia have made over 125 calls to targeted state legislators to strongly encourage support for HB 2238.

The legislation passed the house today 57-42. The bill applies to special needs students only, but it’s clear the dam is breaking for educational choice in Virginia. We will continue working with families across Virginia to achieve educational choice for all students.

Even with this victory, this bill has a long way to go before it becomes law. Next week, HB 2238 will be heard in the Senate Education Committee. And even if it passes the Senate, there's a chance Governor McAuliffe could veto the bill.


Spare me the shame of glass classrooms
Bad teaching can, apparently, be a problem even at the best schools. Retiring head of Eton College, Tony Little, is keen to stamp out substandard teaching at Eton.

In a new initiative, Eton will introduce a Singapore-style "glass classroom" in May. Here, teachers can be observed, filmed and have all their mistakes pointed out to them, by others smug enough to feel they have the right to criticise their colleagues’ bad practice.

Normally I’m an admirer of most Eton initiatives: like, for example, their excellent scheme of sponsoring a new state boarding school, nearby Holyport College, which opened its doors in 2014. But on this, I beg to differ.

Glass classrooms, wherein teachers may be observed under stresses and strains, carry an Orwellian ring of unfair, undue surveillance. They sound rather too much like school “Room 101s”.

I believe, far from helping to eliminate bad practice, they will end up shaming and humiliating too many teachers: not just bad ones, but more average teachers too.

One of the biggest trends in teaching over the past decade has indeed been this overzealous urge to observe teachers at every possible opportunity – and I’m not sure this trend is entirely healthy. It leads, for example, to a certain smugness in teachers who feel they emerge from such ordeals with flying colours (“Hey, I had the head observe me the other day and she said my lesson on ‘1984’ was fantastic!”).

Not only does all this observation lead to mechanical, over-prepared lessons and unrealistic, artificial behaviour from pupils, it begs the fundamental question, posed by Juvenal all those years ago: “Who will guard the guards themselves?” In other words, if I’m being watched ("guarded") by someone keen to point out all the mistakes in my lessons (and no doubt there will be many), I want to be absolutely sure whoever is doing the finger-pointing knows what he/she is talking about.

Do they truly understand teenagers, or are they mere experts in iPads, pie charts and progress graphs?

I’ll never forget the first time I was observed, almost exactly 10 years ago. It was, naturally, a nerve-racking experience. And whilst, yes, it undoubtedly made me watch my every word and move, I feel the whole process, repeated many times since, has robbed me of some of the idiosyncrasies that helped bring even the most comatose pupils to life, late on a Friday afternoon.

Can teaching be so easily reduced to such simple, observable time-segments? I would argue not. What if you catch poor Mr or Ms X on a bad day? We’ve all had our “off days”, after all: even, I’m sure, as a younger teacher, Mr Little himself.

That’s why I believe the long-term results of this initiative will be to accelerate the process whereby teachers lose the individual quirks, charm, warmth and humanity that helps make them so memorable to their charges. Instead, under the ever-watchful gaze of classroom “Big Brothers”, they could become overcautious automata, blinking haplessly at cameras the whole time.

If we really want to subject teachers to such conformity, why don’t we go the whole hog and design machines to teach schoolchildren? This scheme seems another step along that hellish road.


Australia: Aspiring teachers abandoning senior maths

One in six aspiring teachers did not do any maths for the HSC, with new research showing the proportion of students starting teaching degrees in NSW without maths beyond year 10 has tripled in the past decade.

The serious decline in maths participation means an increasing number of primary and high school teachers in NSW are in the classroom with only the most basic level of maths.

Researcher Rachel Wilson, a senior education academic at the University of Sydney, warned that the findings had serious ramifications for school students as well as industry and the national economy.

"Not only are we seeing declines in math and science participation among high school students in general, we are seeing a steeper decline among those students going on to study to be teachers," Dr Wilson said.

The research found between 2001 and 2013, the proportion of students who received university offers to study teaching but did not do HSC maths tripled, and those studying 2 unit maths dropped from 30.6 per cent  to 14.2 per cent. The only rise was in elementary-level general maths.

The study also found that the proportion of all students going on to do the HSC without any maths tripled between 2001 and 2013, while there was a small increase in general maths but a decline in 2 unit maths.

Dr Wilson said the big concern was the increasing number of students applying to study teaching who had dropped maths before the HSC.

"Together, these analyses raise serious concerns for maths and numeracy standards and for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and industry," Dr Wilson said.

"In particular, the declining participation rates among prospective teachers are deeply concerning, with the potential to create a vicious cycle of declining engagement with maths in NSW schools."

Dr Wilson said the last external assessment for maths in NSW was year 9 NAPLAN.

"There is a message going to students that maths is not important."

The research comes as federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne released on Friday the long-awaited review into teacher training, which found that too many teaching degrees were not equipping new teachers with the skills to teach students maths and science.

Dr Wilson, who co-authored the report with Honorary Associate Professor John Mack for the International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, said Australia lagged behind much of the developed world.

She said the redesigned HSC introduced in 2001 removed the long-standing requirement for students in NSW to study at least one maths or science subject.

Dr Wilson said this was at odds with the rest of world, where 45 of the US's 50 states required maths to be studied to the end of secondary school, and   Japan, Korea and China had similar requirements.

"The removal of this requirement and the increase in alternative subject choices over the 10-year period must be seen as contributing factors in the declining rates of math and science study," Dr Wilson's paper said.

A spokesman for NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said the state had the highest standards in Australia, with school leavers entering teaching degrees with the HSC required to have three band five results.

"From 2016, before they graduate, education students wanting to work in NSW schools will have to pass a literacy and numeracy test to demonstrate that their numeracy skills are strong enough to teach mathematics," he said.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Common Core Is Costing Us Our Best Teachers

Because of Common Core, more teachers are throwing in the towel

The United States education system is home to many thousands of teachers. Some are good, some are less good, and some stand head and shoulders above the rest, setting an example in educational excellence that others can only hope to achieve.

Stacie Starr is just such a teacher - or at least she was. After a 16-year career capped with winning the 2014 Top Teacher Search, Starr has announced that she is getting out of the teaching game, citing Common Core standards and increased testing requirements as her reason.

“I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere,” Starr said. “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”

Starr taught at Elyria High School in Lorain County, Ohio, one of the states that advanced legislation to combat Common Core standards - and their accompanying testing requirements, last year. More recently, a bill passed unanimously in the House that would limit schools’ ability to share test scores with outside parties, but stops short of repealing Common Core or removing testing requirements.

The state’s governor, John Kasich, will be a significant obstacle in removing Common Core from the classrooms, as he has defended the standards and denied that they are federally directed. The governor’s argument is splitting hairs over a technicality, since federal funding is denied to states that don’t adopt Common Core standards, or standards that are “substantially identical.” The claim that the standards are state-controlled is misleading at best.

Starr continued to explain her frustration with testing requirement: “Each and every day, I have to look in my students’ eyes and tell them I can’t help them because the state has decided they have to prove what they know.”

The loss of good teachers is just one of the consequence of sacrificing local control of education. From unsolvable math problems to questionable political content, Common Core is making education worse all over the country.

Fortunately, states are stepping up to try to end the damaging standards, and a number of federal bills have emerged to break the ties between federal funding and standard requirements. This is a fight we can win, as long as we keep speaking out and demanding more education freedom for our children.


School Choice for Lower-Income Children

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Congressman Luke Messer (R-IN) have introduced legislation allowing federal grants for low-income parents to choose public or private education for their children.

Through their bill, low-income children will have the ability to escape rough schools. Kevin Chavous, former Washington D.C. city councilman, recently described our failing public schools:

"During my time on the D.C. council, I faced firsthand the results of our failing to educate all children. Educational choice has become a lifeline for far too many residents here in the District of Columbia who should be getting what they are entitled to with their neighborhood public school but frankly do not."

Strenuously and viscously, our public school, teacher unions oppose the Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Act, which would impact the lives of less-affulent children from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Fortunately, approximately 70% of Americans support school choice and have recently voted for candidates also supporting school choice creating a major, political dilemma for Democrats and President Obama. Do they support America's lower-income children or do they appease the powerful public, teacher unions, which donate enormous bundles of campaign cash to Democrats.

Beyond politics, education in America is an imperative, moral issue. As Kevin Chavous, currently executive of the American Federation for Children, states, "school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century."

The Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Act must be enacted posthaste. Then, school districts, states and our federal government can enact school choice for every child. It is extremely good for our children and good for America.


UK: The ironic effects of campus censorship

Recently, at the university where I study, I was accused of the Three Great Sins of our politically correct age – homophobia, racism and sexism. Why? Merely because I had violated the modern campus’s new unwritten law: don’t touch any language that might be deemed offensive to a particular group – ever. Not even if you represent the groups that the language could be deemed as offensive to. And not even if no one else is upset, let alone ‘harmed’, by what you say.

God help you if you use coarse language merely to make a broader point – in my case, referencing racial, sexist and homophobic slurs as part of a reasoned argument about free speech. On campuses today, students can’t even make a sarcastic, even satirical, remark about particular groups – perhaps, even, to mock prejudice. In universities today, irony and insincerity are not to be tolerated, either, if they’re produced using officially inappropriate words.

This illiberal trend is deeply harmful to students in two ways. Firstly because it undermines universities as places for learning and the confrontation of ideas. If students are not encouraged to engage in the free and open battle of ideas, they will not be equipped to assess different ideologies and to make up their own minds about them. The result is that students hold opinions merely as slogans – what John Stuart Mill called ‘dead dogma’ – with no understanding of why they hold that opinion in the first place.

Secondly, the inability to appreciate irony and subtlety in language renders students less able to use language as a tool – to persuade, to explore ideas, or simply to have a laugh.

The few genuine bigots on campus who use hateful language explicitly and sincerely will not stop venting their ugly views just because we tell them to watch their language. They will simply find a new, more poisonous way to do so. And, in the meantime, the rest of us will suffer for defending precisely those values that are traditionally associated with the university: the aesthetic, the multifaceted, the ironic. It’s high time we fought back against the campus language police and embraced our capability to be creative, free and unpredictable.


Monday, February 16, 2015

UK: How the academy green-lit student censorship

Those little authoritarians didn’t come from nowhere

Spiked’s Free Speech University Rankings, which launched this week, shows that many of the day-to-day restrictions on campus free speech emanate not from universities but rather from students themselves. This free-speech league table came out in the same week as a debate about the impact of the government’s proposed anti-terror legislation on higher education really took off. Vice chancellors have taken to the airwaves, started petitions, and penned letters to national newspapers in defence of academic freedom. It would be easy to get the impression that students have created an environment in which banning things on a whim is the new normal, while academics look on in horror and champion the cause of free speech.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Restricting what can be said on campus began with academics and university administrators. While, in recent years, a proportion of the student body may have taken censorship to heart with all the fervour of a moral crusade, it is academics who legitimised the notion that words and images offend, that people should be protected from offence, and that restricting free speech is the best way to achieve this aim.

Universities have never permitted unfettered free speech. The religious foundations of the first institutions led the ecclesiastical hierarchy to demand universities had freedom from the state while, at the very same time, aggressively restricting the liberty of those individuals within universities.

There is a long history of students campaigning against such curbs on free speech. In 1833, students at a college in Cincinnati, in the US, formed an anti-slavery society which was promptly banned by the institution’s board of trustees. The students responded with a written statement declaring: ‘Free discussion, being a duty, is consequently a right, and as such is inherent and inalienable. It is our right.’ Their arguments fell on deaf ears and faculty continued to consider students as intellectually innocent, easily corruptible and, therefore, in need of firm discipline.

It was well over a century later before students’ demands for free speech began to be taken seriously. The 1960s saw students throughout Europe and America successfully challenge institutional restrictions on their liberty. In the UK, universities lifted in loco parentis legislation in 1970, when the legal age of majority was lowered from 21 to 18.

Yet, even at that very moment, new arguments against free speech were being marshalled. Now, however, it wasn’t stuffy professors or interfering managers who wanted to curb free expression but lecturers influenced by academic trends such as critical theory and post-structuralism, as well as political developments within feminism and left-wing politics more broadly.

These anti-Enlightenment radicals took their lead from key thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and later, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, who argued that there is ‘no truly universal truth’ and all knowledge is ideology, or in other words, simply a product of the dominant economic and political conditions that give rise to it. Post-structuralists such as Roland Barthes made the case for the death of the author and declared texts had no fixed meaning and were open to different interpretations with every new reader. Later, feminist literary theorists such as Julia Kristeva argued that language itself was a cause of oppression.

The general interpretation of such views within the academy led to a new interest in the power of words to shape people’s existence. Vocabulary and images, and their allegedly oppressive or corrupting power, became pre-eminent in campus politics. An older interpretation of Marxism was turned on its head: changing the material conditions of people’s lives, it was argued, needed to start by altering the language they used and the pictures they saw.

Feminist scholars took this baton and campaigned against sexist language, pornography and the depiction of women in the media. The American legal academic Catharine Mackinnon argued: ‘What you need is people who see through literature like [fellow feminist] Andrea Dworkin, who see through law like me, to see through art and create the uncompromised women’s visual vocabulary.’ The creation of such a ‘visual vocabulary’ led Mackinnon and Dworkin to campaign for a ban on pornography.

More broadly, it led to the view that academics and students had a moral responsibility to use their feminist insight to ban images and words they perceived as oppressive. From the students’ perspective, censorship went from being something to rail against, to a morally righteous and politically radical act.

Meanwhile, across campus, the old view of students as simultaneously morally depraved and intellectually innocent was also being quietly rehabilitated. An institutional duty of care to student-customers replaced the old in loco parentis legislation. Student support services flourished and academic expectations were lowered. The perception of students as autonomous adults in control of their own lives was gradually replaced by a view that students were emotionally vulnerable not-quite-adults.

Given the assumed power of words and images to demean and objectify, it was not a huge leap to imagine that these overgrown adolescents would wilt at a racist joke, crumble at a sexist song lyric or, alternatively, take on board such offensive views themselves without question. Such dangerous speech, it was now argued, needed to be restricted to protect the innocent and curb the depraved. In America, the rise of trigger warnings on academic texts has further encouraged academics to remove potentially upsetting topics from the curriculum and has legitimised students opting out of debates they find uncomfortable.

From the first day they arrive on campus, students are taught that words and images are powerful and can hurt or corrupt; that as students they are too vulnerable, and their peers too easily led, to be exposed to potentially harmful ideas; and that the way to deal with anything that makes them feel uncomfortable is either to avoid it or, even better, to ban it. More observant students may even see their lecturers acting in this way themselves by removing contentious material from the syllabus, organising boycotts of Israeli academics and universities, and campaigning against lads’ mags.

Spiked’s Free Speech University Rankings reveals the shocking extent to which today’s student leaders rush to censor everything from songs to sombreros. Students should be challenged and held to account for their role in creating a climate of prudishness and conformity which is anathema to debate. However, university lecturers, with their resurgent interest in academic freedom, need to be far more honest about their role in instigating, legitimising and encouraging such restrictions.


Some California Schools Now Grading Students for 'Grit' & 'Sensitivity’

In addition to evaluating students on their academic proficiency, at least two California school districts will also be grading them on their "grit" and "sensitivity."

In the San Juan Unified School District, which is located in Sacramento County, teachers in 11 elementary schools will begin grading students from kindergarten through the sixth grade on attributes such as "grit, gratitude, and sensitivity," the Sacramento Bee reports.

All schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District will also begin grading "behaviors that support learning," which include whether a student "makes respectful choices and considers the well-being of others."

Students will receive grades for how often they exhibit these behavior traits, with an A for "almost always"; an O for "often"; an S for "sometimes"; or an R for "rarely."

What constitutes "sensitive" or "respectful" choices? There is no state standard and the state is not directly mandating the new grading system, so that will be up to officials in local school districts to determine, said Pam Slater, a public information officer with the California Department of Education.

"Basically, the state, along with many other states, have new educational standards that define what children should be learning and when they should be learning it," Slater stated in an email to

"Along with the new standards, districts must create new student report cards that reflect this. So this is a local issue and a local decision [emphasis in the original]. We at the state level play no role in this process."

The new educational standards Slater refers to are Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were adopted by the California State Board of Education (SBE) in 2010. According to the National Education Association’s CCSS guidebook, "The goal of the CCSS is to provide a clear, consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn."

Though Slater stressed that the state does not take responsibility for district practices, she said it would not be surprising if a local school district cited state-mandated Common Core standards as a reason for grading students on non-academic attributes such as "sensitivity."

"Whether this is germane to the standards would be something the district has studied and found relevant," Slate added. "Apparently this particular school district decided to grade students on such things as grit and gratitude."

Among other things, the Common Core standards suggest that schools should impart "21st century skills." In part, those skills are defined as "learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts."

Trent Allen, the senior director of community relations at the San Juan Unified School District, told that the new grades fall within that purview.

"The inclusion of grit and gratitude reflect local decisions aligned with our identified character trait education and 21st century skill sets," Allen wrote in an email. But he did not respond when asked him to provide a written standard explaining how such grades were to be determined.

According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) exam conducted every two years, California’s fourth-graders  ranked 47th in the nation in both math and reading in 2013. Eighth-graders performed only slightly better, ranking 45th in math and 42nd in reading nationwide.


School Choice Could Erode Inequality. So Why Doesn’t Obama’s Budget Include D.C. School Choice Funding?

Barack Obama is a Washington, D.C., resident–and one with a high income. As he likes to openly admit, he’s one of the privileged one percent that he thinks can afford to pay more taxes.

As one of the “privileged,” Barack Obama enjoys all sorts of choices unavailable to  many middle class Americans and to  nearly  all of the poorest Americans. Accordingly, President Obama opted out of the Washington, D.C., public schools and sends his daughters to Sidwell Friends School, a first rate school with very high achievement standards. The Obama girls will surely benefit from this enriching educational environment. What parent wouldn’t want that for his children?

Which brings me to arguably the most unconscionable policy choice hidden in Obama’s $4 trillion budget: Obama proposed no funding next year for these vouchers.

School Choice Works

The $20 million annual program, which began under George W. Bush, has proven extremely effective. Nearly 6,000 kids from lower-income families have benefited from these scholarships–which reach more than $8,300 a year for primary school and more than $12,500 a year for high school. That’s still about one-third lower overall than what it costs per pupil to educate students in Washington, D.C.’s public schools.

Research by Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas tracked how well these kids did over time. Graduation rates of voucher students were 21 percentage points higher compared with those who applied for the vouchers but didn’t win (91 percent to 70 percent); and the graduation rate was 35 percentage points higher than the graduation rate for all D.C. public schools.

97.4 percent of the D.C. students who get the scholarship money are blacks and Latinos

So in a $4 trillion budget Obama couldn’t find $20 million for a program that indisputably works.

“The parents love the wide range of educational choices,” says Center for Education Reform president Kara Kerwin. “But President Obama just doesn’t support private school choice.” She adds that Obama has tried to shut down this education program every year.

Obama likes to say that he puts science over ideology, but in shutting down the scholarship program, he has clearly put ideology and political favoritism above reason.

Minority Students Benefit From School Choice

Almost all – 97.4 percent  — of the D.C. students who get the scholarship money are blacks and Latinos. Even more would like to take advantage of the program: Every year four times as many D.C. minority children sign up for the voucher program as there are funded slots available.

The scholarships are popular with parents. Several years ago when Obama tried to shut down the program, black and Hispanic parents locked arm-to-arm with Republicans in Congress who support the program and marched in front of the Capitol. That was an amazing optic. In the 1960s and 1970s, civil rights leaders and “community activists” fought against laws that prevent blacks from getting in to the public schools.

Now liberals refuse to let them out.

Why Does Obama Oppose School Choice?

Obama likely wants to shutdown private school choice for two reasons. First, teachers unions hate private school choice because many private school teachers aren’t in the teachers union. Second, the success of choice based private-schools in educating minorities and poor children gives public educators a big black eye because the kids do so much better in choice.

How can these private and Catholic schools out-educate the kids who go to well-funded public schools? Maybe money for the classroom isn’t the cure-all it is advertised as.

The Left also argues that school choice programs hurt kids left in the public schools.

But private school choice doesn’t make public schools weaker as liberals fear. The money saved from kids attending private schools means more dollars per child for those who stay in public schools. This is a win-win. And competition always leads to higher, not lower, quality.

School Choice Can Erode Inequality

What is hopefully embarrassing to Obama is that some of the scholarship money goes to poor kids who want to go to Sidwell Friends. His girls sit in the same class rooms with these kids. If Obama succeeds, schools like this will be attended almost exclusively by kids of rich parents like Barack Obama.

Remember this the next time the president gives a lecture on income inequality and fairness.

The decision by this White House to defund the D.C. voucher program is a disgrace.

Republicans must go on the offensive on school choice. A quality education is the best anti-poverty program ever invented. This is the best path to reducing income inequality.

Rich liberals would never condemn their kids to rotten and dangerous inner city public schools. But they force these schools on the poor and minorities they pretend to care for. School choice, as Jack Kemp used to say, is the new civil rights issue in America.

Democrats are on the wrong side on this issue. They put unions ahead of kids. Let’s hope Republicans in Congress not only restore funding of this program but expand its budget so that every poor child in Washington, D.C., can get the same education that Barack Obama’s daughters do.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Leftist insanity masquerading as education

A long-cherished belief held by Americans for decades is on the verge of being upended. A quartet of stories is the latest indication that a college "education" has become the most-overrated commodity on the planet, save for the elitist institutions whose primary mission is to keep our ruling class populated with like-minded Masters of the Universe. For the rest? A stupendous waste of time and (taxpayer-backed) money.

We begin at the epicenter of institutional quackery, more familiarly known as the University of California. The UC Student Association Board, representing all 233,000 students enrolled at the 10 campuses that comprise the UC system, passed the "Resolution Toward Socially Responsible Investment at the University of California" by a lopsided vote of  11-1-3. Much like the popular and anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) resolutions ginned up by the likes of Muslim Student Associations (MSA) determined to turn many colleges into anti-Semitic wastelands, this resolution demands a similar divestment.

"The government of the United States of America is engaged in drone strikes that have killed over 2,400 people in Pakistan and Yemen, many of them civilians," the resolution stated. "The government oversees, by far, the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement agencies, particularly for drug-related offenses. 400,000 undocumented immigrants are held in detention centers every year, and millions have been deported since the current administration took office, and the government is directly supporting and propping up numerous dictatorships around the world with weapons sales and foreign aid."

While they were at it, the student board added the governments of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Sri Lanka and Mexico to the list.

"This resolution aims neither to condemn entire countries, peoples, or communities nor to determine political solutions, but is solely aimed at ending our university’s support of governments that directly engage in and enable human rights violations," it stated.

Naturally they passed a second resolution aimed at Israel, not because separate UC campuses have failed to do so, but so that UC could boast about being the "first multi-campus student association to vote in favor of divestment." That one passed by a vote of 9-1-6.

Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson notes the utter absurdity. "Think about that. If they had their way, the student government of the U. Cal. system would require divestment from U.S. Treasuries and most of the world," he writes. "The U. Cal. student government has proven a point I’ve made repeatedly in terms of the academic boycott: If you are going to boycott Israel, then you need to apply those standards to the whole world, which will result in boycotting yourselves."

Estimated costs for attending UC? For the 2014-15 school year, CA resident, on-campus living costs are $33,100. Off-campus, $29,200. Non-residents? A whopping $55,978 on-campus and $52,078 off-campus.

Moving on to the University of Michigan brings us to the latest assault on free speech, better known as the "right" not to be offended. An "Inclusive Language Campaign" has led to the spending of $16,000 to pay for posters pasted all over campus, urging students to avoid certain words that may hurt peoples' feelings. The posters warned students that "YOUR WORDS MATTER," and pose questions such as: "If you knew that I grew up in poverty, would you still call things ‘ghetto’ and ‘ratchet’?"

Additional words that are frowned upon include "crazy," "insane," "retarded," "gay," "tranny," "gypped," "illegal alien," "fag," "ghetto" and "raghead." Other insensitive phrases, such as, "I want to die" and "that test raped me" are also frowned upon.

Junior Kidada Malloy helped promote the venture and is known as an "Expect Respect program assistant" in reference to a program that began on campus in 2005. She is worried that program won’t be as impactful as it once was because most of the students who promoted it have graduated. She’s hoping the Inclusive Language Campaign will pick up the slack. "I’m really happy we have the ILC this year that does more action around campus," she said. "A lot of students know about the Expect Respect pledge and they know that on campus they’re supposed to be respectful of people of different cultures, but I’m not sure if they actually do that. The ILC actually gets them to do those things that Expect Respect wants from the community. I’m excited to bring it back."

No doubt. Students have also been asked to sign a pledge to "use inclusive language" and to help their fellow students to "understand the importance of using inclusive language." A Facebook page is also dedicated to the effort, described by The College Fix as a "variety of inclusion-based material, inspirational quotes, personal stories, and even a video that details how to address a person by the correct pronouns," that "operates in conjunction with…Expect Respect and Change It Up!"

Additionally, students in dormitories are "urged" to take part in the Change It Up! workshop, a process that includes filling out surveys before and after taking the program, in which they are supposed to reflect on "internal biases" that may roil the campus-wide Utopian tranquility sought by their oh-so-sensitive peers.

U of M's tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year are a relative bargain, at least for in-state students. They pay a modest $13,977. Out-of-state students? Not such a bargain at $41,811.

And then there’s UC Berkeley. Next week the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, is offering a presentation entitled "Queering Agriculture." "This talk highlights vital ways queering and trans-ing ideas and practices of agriculture are necessary for more sustainable, sovereign, and equitable food systems for the creatures and systems involved in systemic reproductions that feed humans and other creatures," their website states. "Since agriculture is literally the backbone of economics, politics, and ‘civilized’ life as we know it, and the manipulation of reproduction and sexuality are a foundation of agriculture, it is absolutely crucial queer and transgender studies begin to deal more seriously with the subject of agriculture."

This bunch is concerned that since 9/11, "the growing popularity of sustainable food is laden with anthroheterocentric assumptions of the ‘good life’ coupled with idealized images and ideas of the American farm, and gender, radicalized and normative standards of health, family, and nation." One is left to ponder the true meaning of such mindless jargon, but I’m guessing the current images that embody one of the American heartland’s most valuable contribution to the nation’s sustainability aren’t "queer" enough to satisfy UC Berkeley’s LBGT community.

Where’s a gay Mr. Ed when you really need one?

Kidding aside, Americans should be very concerned about this ongoing educational deterioration masquerading as enlightened thinking for one very big reason: they are ultimately on the hook for it. And we’re not talking about peanuts. Right now there is more than $1 trillion dollars of outstanding student debt, with each student from the class of 2013 amassing an average of $28,400. The current default rate has fallen to 13.7 percent from 14.7 percent the previous year, but the Obama administration was still forced to raise its estimated cost for student loans by $22 billion.

Why? Because the Obama administration is rigging the payback system. "The government is on pace to forgive billions of dollars more in student loans than previously thought as droves of borrowers enroll in federal repayment plans," the Wall Street Journal reports. The additional $22 billion is needed "due to plans that peg monthly student-loan payments to borrowers' income and permit balances to be forgiven in as little as 10 years."

That’s not a repayment plan. It’s nothing more than welfare, ultimately backed up by the taxpayer.

Why the taxpayer? Because universities themselves have no skin in the game. They get paid in full, no matter how many students default on their loans. And that’s because the Obama administration nationalized the student loan program in 2010 – as part of ObamaCare, no less.

So what do universities who have no worries about the bottom line do? Pay professors more. Hire legions of worthless "diversity" specialists that now inhabit the bureaucracies of campuses across the nation. Build more expensive and fancier campus facilities designed to attract more students – all of which contribute to tuition costs that are completely out of control.

How out of control? In the last 30 years, the cost of tuition has skyrocketed by 1,120 percent.

Forget high-minded political solutions. This is one stunningly easy: put these America-hating, speech-squashing, gender-bending Marxist finishing schools on the hook for some or all of the defaults incurred by students who take out loans. There isn’t a single reason why taxpayers, including hard-working Americans who have never been able to afford going to college, should be underwriting the costs of college tuition – much less the salaries of blowhard and overwhelmingly progressive Ivory Tower elitists who hold most of Middle America in utter contempt.

The quarter of a million dollars or more that it costs to attend four years of college is not only outrageous in and of itself, but also an unmitigated disaster in terms of its so-called payoff: a January 2014 report by the New York Federal Reserve reveals that 44 percent of recent graduates between the ages of 22-27 who obtained a B.A. degree or higher had jobs that did not demand a college degree. More than 40 percent are working at jobs that pay less than $45,000 per year, with 20 percent making $25,000 or less.

Parents: imagine the same quarter of a million dollars invested directly in your child’s training in a genuinely lucrative skill, or a small business, much like the ones that form the backbone of this nation, and maybe, just maybe, you get a genuine sense of perspective regarding the "cherished" belief that a college diploma is an absolute necessity.

It’s time to put some "boo" in the boolah-boolah. For those of you still enmeshed in the fog that currently passes for a college education, it’s called a free-market solution to the problem. Colleges are still free to engage in whatever pernicious nonsense they choose to abide. Just not on someone else’s dime.

It’s an idea whose time has come. But trust me, you’ll never hear about it in college.


UK: Fired  for being too good: He was the head every parent dreams of

Rory Fox was one of our most successful 'superheads'. The 'bespectacled superhero' some called him, because of his record in turning around failing schools. 'Inspirational' was another word that often preceded his name.

Until a few days ago, he was doing what he was born to do — leading by example, both inside and outside the classroom, as principal of Ryde Academy on the Isle of Wight.

Then suddenly he was gone. His post was immediately advertised, offering a six-figure salary and generous relocation package. Staff didn't even have time to say goodbye to him.

Officially, Dr Fox, 46, who was parachuted into Ryde in 2013, has been redeployed to other duties within the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), the country's largest academy chain, which runs Ryde.

In reality, he is effectively on 'gardening leave', twiddling his thumbs, his career and reputation seemingly in ruins.

Why? Did he embezzle school funds? Anyone who has met Dr Fox would know the answer to that. You could not wish to meet a less materialistic individual (he commuted to the Isle of Wight from his home in Cambridge, staying during the week in a £30-a-night B&B).

Was he guilty of inappropriate behaviour with a pupil? Absolutely not. Dr Fox is happily married to wife Helen, also a teacher. They have five young children.

Did he fail to get the desired results at Ryde? No, the complete opposite is true.  Ryde Academy was an educational basket case when Dr Fox arrived 13 months ago; there was little discipline and even less evidence of academic achievement.

He promptly introduced a zero tolerance school uniform policy, sending home girls whose skirts were too short. Mobile phones, he decreed, should not be 'seen or heard' (if they were, they were confiscated and handed back at the end of the day).

Every child had to bring a 'learning kit' of pencil, pad, ruler, rubber and timetable to every class or risk an hour's detention. Within a few months, a school rated as 'inadequate' by Ofsted rose to merely 'requires improvement'. Dr Fox was said to be doing a fantastic job, instilling traditional values and encouraging teaching methods derided by the Left-wing teaching establishment.

So the question remains: why was such an outstanding headmaster removed?

Rory Fox — and many of those who have worked with him and under him down the years — are convinced the answer can be found in that aforementioned Ofsted report back in November.

His supporters point to one sentence in particular: 'The determined principal [Dr Fox] and the new senior staff have been tenacious in tackling *teachers'* under-performance; teaching is now better for students at the academy.'

In the process, however, Dr Fox repeatedly clashed with militant teaching unions. Today, those same unions stand accused of driving a decent man, and an 'inspirational' leader, out of his school.

These are the same people former Education Secretary Michael Gove famously likened to the 'The Blob' after Steve McQueen's science-fiction film about an amoeba devouring the world: an army of bureaucrats, academics and teachers' unions Gove blamed for thwarting the changes that have to be made if we are to have a world-class education service.

Our own inquiries into Dr Fox's departure support his version of events — events that culminated in his being summoned to a meeting in London on February 3 with Ian Comfort, the £225,000-a-year chief executive of the Academies Enterprise Trust, the body in ultimate control of Ryde, which caters for 1,000 pupils between the ages of 11 and 18.

No notes or minutes were taken at the meeting. But afterwards Dr Fox revealed: 'It was clear from the start that the purpose of the meeting was to eradicate the problem that was causing disquiet between the Trust and the unions. That problem was me.'

Could there be a more damning indictment, if true, of an organisation responsible for 77 academies across the country?

The 'disquiet', as Dr Fox put it, has been well documented in the Press over the past turbulent year.

Some teachers, it was claimed, turned up late for classes or not at all, bullied junior members of staff, spilled coffee on homework or refused to mark it.

Others tied Dr Fox up in petty, time-consuming correspondence with the unions over the most routine changes in duties, such as switching someone from manning the school gate at the end of the day to supervising youngsters onto the bus home.

'We have had teachers with pins in their noses telling children to take the pins out of theirs,' Dr Fox recalled.

In all, around 15 out of the 80-strong teaching contingent left Ryde in the months after he was appointed.

But the 'disquiet' went deeper than that. Three teachers were still facing serious disciplinary meetings with Dr Fox before he was removed. Guess when they were due to take place? Answer: on February 4 — just 24 hours before Dr Fox left Ryde without notice.

Just a coincidence?  Not according to the hardline National Union of Teachers, one of the unions behind a series of walkouts and strikes in schools across the country last year.

On the same fateful day — February 4 — the NUT sent a crowing email to staff at Ryde Academy. 'By now you will have noticed a change has taken place at the Academy,' the union boasted, before declaring triumphantly: 'The absence of Dr Fox follows union action in bringing to the attention of AET [Academies Enterprise Trust] concerns regarding various management practices at Ryde Academy.' (No mention here, obviously, of the stinging criticisms made against their own members in the recent Ofsted report.)

Teaching staff at Ryde, the NUT announced in a separate self-serving statement posted on the internet, had been 'bullied'. This had 'forced many to leave the school'.

In case there is any doubt, Dr Fox's bosses at the Academies Enterprise Trust have never received a single complaint or grievance against him from any teacher at Ryde. Not one.

When staff loyal to Dr Fox challenged the union's defamatory claims, the NUT said questionnaires had been circulated among teachers at Ryde to gather evidence — dirt, some might say — against Dr Fox.

Yet the closing date for the survey was only yesterday. So what evidence did the union have to justify publicly vilifing Dr Fox nine days earlier on February 4?  None at all, it would seem.

Surely Dr Fox is not alone in thinking he was just the victim in a gratuitous mud-slinging exercise to discredit him for doing no more than putting his pupils first.

'Children get one chance at education,' Dr Fox said. 'To have their education at risk of being damaged, and their life chances blighted, because of avoidable union-related activity is unfair and unacceptable. It is a form of educational 'abuse'.

'Union resistance caused internal systems of school improvement to become dysfunctional. This led to significant numbers of children being let down.

'As we all know, and as statistics very clearly show, children come to Ryde with broadly average ability. But they have been going out with GCSE results which are below average. This is unacceptably letting children down and I hope we can all agree that it needs to change.'

Is there anyone outside the NUT or NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) who would disagree?

The Academies Enterprise Trust itself, whose executive board, we now know, includes a leading member of the NUT, Jerry Glazier, was criticised by Ofsted inspectors for not always providing the appropriate support for the school's leaders.

The AET insists, however, that Dr Fox's relationship with the unions played no part in the decision to replace him with a temporary appointment until a permanent successor is found — even though its boss Ian Comfort, CEO of AET, is mentioned by name in email correspondence from the NUT to staff urging them to fill in the survey forms.

'Ian Comfort has asked for any evidence of intimidation and bullying from the management over the last year,' one email read. 'He wants members to know that this [giving evidence] will be viewed as a positive thing by AET.'

For its part, the AET insists that Mr Glazier, the NUT official conveniently sitting on the AET board, was not consulted about Dr Fox's removal. It was an 'operational decision' by the chief executive alone, for reasons the AET declined to disclose. And disciplinary proceedings, it stressed, against the trio of teachers at Ryde had not been dropped.

We shall have to take the AET's word on all this.

Even so, the timing and the circumstances surrounding Dr Fox's exit from Ryde Academy could hardly be more controversial.

Nor should the 'assurances' from the AET mitigate the disgraceful behaviour of the unions which, in the eyes of many, remains at the heart of this story.

The irony is that academies — 'publicly funded independent schools' — were launched by Labour more than a decade ago to replace failing schools in poor areas. They have a number of freedoms which are not available to comprehensives run by local authorities, such as setting their own pay and conditions for staff.

The AET says protocols for tackling incompetent teachers at Ryde are effective. But you have only to study the organisation's appraisal policy to discover the influence the unions have at the school in this crucial area.

'Teachers being observed [in class] will under normal circumstances be notified at least five working days in advance,' the guidelines state. 'As far as possible, classroom observations will take place at a time agreed between the teacher and the observer [the headmaster].' Such restrictions surely make it impossible for the head to catch out underperforming staff.

In the words of Dr Fox: 'This ridiculously advantages lazy teachers. They can put on a show for the lesson they have had five days' notice for, and then teach poorly afterwards.

'If you were to phone other academy chains they will probably laugh at any chain committing itself to rules that are so clearly in the interests of the unions and which are so clearly against improving the schools to benefit the children.'

Dr Fox himself, whose parents left school at 14, was educated in the state system until A-levels. He then studied philosophy and theology in London, and got a first and a scholarship to Oxford, where he completed masters degrees in the same subjects. He moved into teaching after being asked to tutor children with learning difficulties.

After improving results at a school in Essex, he took up the role at Ryde. Almost from day one, Dr Fox, who was previously head of learning at a prison, faced union intransigence and alleged dirty tricks to undermine him.

He sent a 12-page letter listing some of the worst practices to local representatives of the NUT and NASUWT last year. A copy is on my desk as I write. At times, it is difficult to believe what is being described took place — is still taking place — at a school in 21st-century Britain. The sub-headings tell their own story.

Heading: 'Union Bias and extremism' ... 'The unions carried out a survey in the Academy in the summer term,' Dr Fox wrote. 'One member came forward and deemed the union to be acting in a biased way as she was not even invited to fill in the survey form. She wanted to praise the way the school improvement was taking place but she was not allowed to, because the union did not give her a survey form.'

Heading: 'Union members are scared of their own union' .... 'A union member came to see me in the summer term and said she wanted me to know that she was 100 per cent behind what we are doing to improve the school. But when she is in union meetings she feels under pressure to criticise the Principal and leadership in case the union turns on her.'

Heading: 'Union teacher who let down children' ... 'We had a pupil who did not get a qualification on results day because the teacher concerned did not teach an essential part of the course.'

Heading: 'Unhelpful inappropriate appeals to unions' ... 'I have had a number of instances of staff telling me that they 'will get the unions on me' or that they 'will get me in the papers' if I don't do what they want.'

Heading: 'Union influenced pettiness' .... 'We have had several instances of staff saying 'that under union advice' they refuse to do something.'

Other headings included 'Union subversion of line management' and 'Staff focused on union activities instead of improvement'. But perhaps one section, above all, epitomises the pernicious culture at Ryde. It is Dr Fox's rebuttal of accusations that 'excessive burdens' were being imposed on staff.

'If you consider wanting to see a teacher's teaching, and then giving helpful 'feedback', to be placing an excessive burden on a teacher, then I think we have a very fundamental disagreement about what constitutes 'excessive'.

'We have teachers complaining about being asked to set homework. Some have been complaining about having to mark work regularly. It seems to be that there are some very odd views about what is 'excessive'.'

The NUT says it had not sought Dr Fox's removal and denied rigging staff surveys; now or in the past. 'The intention has been to obtain a clear and balanced picture from all members,' the union said in a statement.

Dr Fox has been inundated with messages of support since he left. Only last month, in the minutes of a school parents' forum, he was praised for 'making a difference' and local resident George Hollett said: 'I know several parents who send their children to this school and also staff members. They all have nothing but praise for Dr Fox.

'The only people who complained were ineffective teachers who couldn't do their job and the unruly children with needy parents who obviously couldn't instil discipline in their own children.'

But one in particular encapsulates everything he stood for. It is from a teacher at the school and reads: 'Gutted about you not being here. I came here because you inspired me. I wanted to work under your leadership.

'You are all for the children and care so passionately about not letting them down. You have empowered me and many others to be able to teach in a way that allows the kids to progress. Thank you so much.'

What a tragedy — and a scandal — that Rory Fox is not still at the school.


School Choice Gets Personal for North Carolina Dad

Brian Lewis used to fight school vouchers. He was the chief lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state teachers union. Vouchers threaten teachers unions’ power by diffusing children and education authority more broadly among parents and schools. Everywhere voucher programs come to life, teachers unions try to kill them.

But then Lewis’s daughter entered middle school, and public school stopped working for her. Lewis and his wife tried to work within the system, meeting with teachers and administrators and getting testing accommodations. "Still, Isabel was slipping away," Lewis wrote in the News & Observer this week. "She dreaded school, we dreaded school, and it was clear the teachers dreaded it, too. We hit the wall in November and came to the conclusion that public middle school was not the answer. In fact, it was the problem."

The Lewis family enrolled Isabel in a private school with tiny class sizes. Her father writes she has regained her joy, and so have her parents. His op-ed continues:

"This experience is not only about my daughter’s education. It has become my education. I can afford this option for my daughter, but what about the thousands of families, unlike me, who cannot afford tuition to send their child to a private school? Don’t their daughters’ struggles count, too?"